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Title: An Essay In Aid Of A Grammar Of Assent
Author: Newman, John Henry, 1801-1890
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "An Essay In Aid Of A Grammar Of Assent" ***

                                 An Essay

                                In Aid Of

                           A Grammar Of Assent.


                            John Henry Newman,

                             Of the Oratory.

       Non in dialecticà complacuit Deo salvum facere populum suum.

                               ST. AMBROSE.


                           Burns, Oates, & Co.

            17 & 18, Portman Street, and 63, Paternoster Row.



Part I. Assent And Apprehension.
   Chapter I. Modes Of Holding And Apprehending Propositions.
      § 1. Modes of Holding Propositions.
      § 2. Modes of apprehending Propositions.
   Chapter II. Assent Considered As Apprehensive.
   Chapter III. The Apprehension Of Propositions.
   Chapter IV. Notional And Real Assent.
      § 1. Notional Assents.
      § 2. Real Assents.
      § 3. Notional and Real Assents Contrasted.
   Chapter V. Apprehension And Assent In The Matter Of Religion.
      § 1. Belief in One God.
      § 2. Belief in the Holy Trinity.
      § 3. Belief in Dogmatic Theology.
Part II. Assent And Inference.
   Chapter VI. Assent Considered As Unconditional.
      § 1. Simple Assent.
      § 2. Complex Assent.
   Chapter VII. Certitude.
      § 1. Assent and Certitude Contrasted.
      § 2. Indefectibility of Certitude.
   Chapter VIII. Inference.
      § 1. Formal Inference.
      § 2. Informal Inference.
      § 3. Natural Inference.
   Chapter IX. The Illative Sense.
      § 1. The Sanction of the Illative Sense.
      § 2. The Nature of the Illative Sense.
      § 3. The Range of the Illative Sense.
   Chapter X. Inference And Assent In The Matter Of Religion.
      § 1. Natural Religion.
      § 2. Revealed Religion.



Edward Bellasis,

Serjeant At Law,

In Remembrance

Of A Long, Equable, Sunny Friendship;

In Gratitude

For Continual Kindnesses Shown To Me,

For An Unwearied Zeal In My Behalf,

For A Trust In Me Which Has Never Wavered,

And A Prompt, Effectual Succour And Support

In Times Of Special Trial,

From His Affectionate

J. H. N.

_February 21, 1870._


Chapter I. Modes Of Holding And Apprehending Propositions.

§ 1. Modes of Holding Propositions.

1. Propositions (consisting of a subject and predicate united by the
copula) may take a categorical, conditional, or interrogative form.

(1) An interrogative, when they ask a Question, (e. g. Does Free-trade
benefit the poorer classes?) and imply the possibility of an affirmative
or negative resolution of it.

(2) A conditional, when they express a Conclusion (e. g. Free-trade
therefore benefits the poorer classes), and both imply, and imply their
dependence on, other propositions.

(3) A categorical, when they simply make an Assertion (e. g. Free-trade
does benefit), and imply the absence of any condition or reservation of
any kind, looking neither before nor behind, as resting in themselves and
being intrinsically complete.

These three modes of shaping a proposition, distinct as they are from each
other, follow each other in natural sequence. A proposition, which starts
with being a Question, may become a Conclusion, and then be changed into
an Assertion; but it has of course ceased to be a question, so far forth
as it has become a conclusion, and has rid itself of its argumentative
form—that is, has ceased to be a conclusion,—so far forth as it has become
an assertion. A question has not yet got so far as to be a conclusion,
though it is the necessary preliminary of a conclusion; and an assertion
has got beyond being a mere conclusion, though it is the natural issue of
a conclusion. Their correlation is the measure of their distinction one
from another.

No one is likely to deny that a question is distinct both from a
conclusion and from an assertion; and an assertion will be found to be
equally distinct from a conclusion. For, if we rest our affirmation on
arguments, this shows that we are not asserting; and, when we assert, we
do not argue. An assertion is as distinct from a conclusion, as a word of
command is from a persuasion or recommendation. Command and assertion, as
such, both of them, in their different ways, dispense with, discard,
ignore, antecedents of any kind, though antecedents may have been a _sine
quâ non_ condition of their being elicited. They both carry with them the
pretension of being personal acts.

In insisting on the intrinsic distinctness of these three modes of putting
a proposition, I am not maintaining that they may not co-exist as regards
one and the same subject. For what we have already concluded, we may, if
we will, make a question of; and what we are asserting, we may of course
conclude over again. We may assert, to one man, and conclude to another,
and ask of a third; still, when we assert, we do not conclude, and, when
we assert or conclude, we do not question.

2. The internal act of holding propositions is for the most part analogous
to the external act of enunciating them; as there are three ways of
enunciating, so are there three ways of holding them, each corresponding
to each. These three mental acts are Doubt, Inference, and Assent. A
question is the expression of a doubt; a conclusion is the expression of
an act of inference; and an assertion is the expression of an act of
assent. To doubt, for instance, is not to see one’s way to hold that
Free-trade is or that it is not a benefit; to infer, is to hold on
sufficient grounds that Free-trade may, must, or should be a benefit; to
assent to the proposition, is to hold that Free-trade is a benefit.

Moreover, propositions, while they are the material of these three
enunciations, are the objects of the three corresponding mental acts; and
as without a proposition, there cannot be a question, conclusion, or
assertion, so without a proposition there is nothing to doubt about,
nothing to infer, nothing to assent to. Mental acts of whatever kind
presuppose their objects.

And, since the three enunciations are distinct from each other, therefore
the three mental acts also, Doubt, Inference, and Assent, are, with
reference to one and the same proposition, distinct from each other; else,
why should their several enunciations be distinct? And indeed it is very
evident, that, so far forth as we infer, we do not doubt, and that, when
we assent, we are not inferring, and, when we doubt, we cannot assent.

And in fact, these three modes of entertaining propositions,—doubting
them, inferring them, assenting to them, are so distinct in their action,
that, when they are severally carried out into the intellectual habits of
an individual, they become the principles and notes of three distinct
states or characters of mind. For instance, in the case of Revealed
Religion, according as one or other of these is paramount within him, a
man is a sceptic as regards it; or a philosopher, thinking it more or less
probable considered as a conclusion of reason; or he has an unhesitating
faith in it, and is recognized as a believer. If he simply disbelieves, or
dissents, he is assenting to the contradictory of the thesis, viz. that
there is no Revelation.

Many minds of course there are, which are not under the predominant
influence of any one of the three. Thus men are to be found of
irreflective, impulsive, unsettled, or again of acute minds, who do not
know what they believe and what they do not, and who may be by turns
sceptics, inquirers, or believers; who doubt, assent, infer, and doubt
again, according to the circumstances of the season. Nay further, in all
minds there is a certain coexistence of these distinct acts; that is, of
two of them, for we can at once infer and assent, though we cannot at once
either assent or infer and also doubt. Indeed, in a multitude of cases we
infer truths, or apparent truths, before, and while, and after we assent
to them.

Lastly, it cannot be denied that these three acts are all natural to the
mind; I mean, that, in exercising them, we are not violating the laws of
our nature, as if they were in themselves an extravagance or weakness, but
are acting according to it, according to its legitimate constitution.
Undoubtedly, it is possible, it is common, in the particular case, to err
in the exercise of Doubt, of Inference, and of Assent; that is, we may be
withholding a judgment about propositions on which we have the means of
coming to some definitive conclusion; or we may be assenting to
propositions which we ought to receive only on the credit of their
premisses, or again to keep ourselves in suspense about; but such errors
of the individual belong to the individual, not to his nature, and cannot
avail to forfeit for him his natural right, under proper circumstances, to
doubt, or to infer, or to assent. We do but fulfil our nature in doubting,
inferring, and assenting; and our duty is, not to abstain from the
exercise of any function of our nature, but to do what is in itself right

3. So far in general:—in this Essay I treat of propositions only in their
bearing upon concrete matter, and I am mainly concerned with Assent; with
Inference, in its relation to Assent, and only such inference as is not
demonstration; with Doubt hardly at all. I dismiss Doubt with one
observation. I have here spoken of it simply as a suspense of mind, in
which sense of the word, to have “no doubt” about a thesis is equivalent
to one or other of the two remaining acts, either to inferring it or else
assenting to it. However, the word is often taken to mean the deliberate
recognition of a thesis as being uncertain; in this sense Doubt is nothing
else than an assent, viz. an assent to a proposition at variance with the
thesis, as I have already noticed in the case of Disbelief.

Confining myself to the subject of Assent and Inference, I observe two
points of contrast between them.

The first I have already noted. Assent is unconditional; else, it is not
really represented by assertion. Inference is conditional, because a
conclusion at least implies the assumption of premisses, and still more,
because in concrete matter, on which I am engaged, demonstration is

The second has regard to the apprehension necessary for holding a
proposition. We cannot assent to a proposition, without some intelligent
apprehension of it; whereas we need not understand it at all in order to
infer it. We cannot give our assent to the proposition that “x is z,” till
we are told something about one or other of the terms; but we can infer,
if “x is y, and y is z, that x is z,” whether we know the meaning of x and
z or no.

These points of contrast and their results will come before us in due
course: here, for a time leaving the consideration of the modes of holding
propositions, I proceed to inquire into what is to be understood by
apprehending them.

§ 2. Modes of apprehending Propositions.

By our apprehension of propositions I mean our imposition of a sense on
the terms of which they are composed. Now what do the terms of a
proposition, the subject and predicate, stand for? Sometimes they stand
for certain ideas existing in our own minds, and for nothing outside of
them; sometimes for things simply external to us, brought home to us
through the experiences and informations we have of them. All things in
the exterior world are unit and individual, and are nothing else; but the
mind not only contemplates those unit realities, as they exist, but has
the gift, by an act of creation, of bringing before it abstractions and
generalizations, which have no existence, no counterpart, out of it.

Now there are propositions, in which one or both of the terms are common
nouns, as standing for what is abstract, general, and non-existing, such
as “Man is an animal, some men are learned, an Apostle is a creation of
Christianity, a line is length without breadth, to err is human, to
forgive divine.” These I shall call notional propositions, and the
apprehension with which we infer or assent to them, notional.

And there are other propositions, which are composed of singular nouns,
and of which the terms stand for things external to us, unit and
individual, as “Philip was the father of Alexander,” “the earth goes round
the sun,” “the Apostles first preached to the Jews;” and these I shall
call real propositions, and their apprehension real.

There are then two apprehensions or interpretations to which propositions
may be subjected, notional and real.

Next I observe, that the same proposition may admit of both of these
interpretations at once, having a notional sense as used by one man, and a
real as used by another. Thus a schoolboy may perfectly apprehend, and
construe with spirit, the poet’s words, “Dum Capitolium scandet cum tacitâ
Virgine Pontifex;” he has seen steep hills, flights of steps, and
processions; he knows what enforced silence is; also he knows all about
the Pontifex Maximus, and the Vestal Virgins; he has an abstract hold upon
every word of the description, yet without the words therefore bringing
before him at all the living image which they would light up in the mind
of a contemporary of the poet, who had seen the fact described, or of a
modern historian who had duly informed himself in the religious phenomena,
and by meditation had realized the Roman ceremonial, of the age of
Augustus. Again, “Dulce et decorum est pro patriâ mori,” is a mere
common-place, a terse expression of abstractions in the mind of the poet
himself, if Philippi is to be the index of his patriotism, whereas it
would be the record of experiences, a sovereign dogma, a grand aspiration,
inflaming the imagination, piercing the heart, of a Wallace or a Tell.

As the multitude of common nouns have originally been singular, it is not
surprising that many of them should so remain still in the apprehension of
particular individuals. In the proposition “Sugar is sweet,” the predicate
is a common noun as used by those who have compared sugar in their
thoughts with honey or glycerine; but it may be the only distinctively
sweet thing in the experience of a child, and may be used by him as a noun
singular. The first time that he tastes sugar, if his nurse says, “Sugar
is sweet” in a notional sense, meaning by sugar, lump-sugar, powdered,
brown, and candied, and by sweet, a specific flavour or scent which is
found in many articles of food and many flowers, he may answer in a real
sense, and in an individual proposition “Sugar is sweet,” meaning “this
sugar is this sweet thing.”

Thirdly, in the same mind and at the same time, the same proposition may
express both what is notional and what is real. When a lecturer in
mechanics or chemistry shows to his class by experiment some physical
fact, he and his hearers at once enunciate it as an individual thing
before their eyes, and also as generalized by their minds into a law of
nature. When Virgil says, “Varium et mutabile semper fœmina,” he both sets
before his readers what he means to be a general truth, and at the same
time applies it individually to the instance of Dido. He expresses at once
a notion and a fact.

Of these two modes of apprehending propositions, notional and real, real
is the stronger; I mean by stronger the more vivid and forcible. It is so
to be accounted for the very reason that it is concerned with what is
either real or taken for real; for intellectual ideas cannot compete in
effectiveness with the experience of concrete facts. Various proverbs and
maxims sanction me in so speaking, such as, “Facts are stubborn things,”
“Experientia docet,” “Seeing is believing;” and the popular contrast
between theory and practice, reason and sight, philosophy and faith. Not
that real apprehension, as such, impels to action, any more than notional;
but it excites and stimulates the affections and passions, by bringing
facts home to them as motive causes. Thus it indirectly brings about what
the apprehension of large principles, of general laws, or of moral
obligations, never could effect.


Reverting to the two modes of holding propositions, conditional and
unconditional, which was the subject of the former Section, that is,
inferences and assents, I observe that inferences, which are conditional
acts, are especially cognate to notional apprehension, and assents, which
are unconditional, to real. This distinction, too, will come before us in
the course of the following chapters.

And now I have stated the main subjects of which I propose to treat; viz.,
the distinctions in the use of propositions, which I have been drawing,
and the questions which those distinctions involve.

Chapter II. Assent Considered As Apprehensive.

I have already said of an act of Assent, first, that it is in itself the
absolute acceptance of a proposition without any condition; and next that,
in order to its being made, it presupposes the condition, not only of some
previous inference in favour of the proposition, but especially of some
concomitant apprehension of its terms. I proceed to the latter of these
two subjects; that is, of Assent considered as apprehensive, leaving the
discussion of Assent as unconditional for a later place in this Essay.

By apprehension of a proposition, I mean, as I have already said, the
interpretation given to the terms of which it is composed. When we infer,
we consider a proposition in relation to other propositions; when we
assent to it, we consider it for its own sake and in its intrinsic sense.
That sense must be in some degree known to us; else, we do but assert the
proposition, we in no wise assent to it. Assent I have described to be a
mental assertion; in its very nature then it is of the mind, and not of
the lips. We can assert without assenting; assent is more than assertion
just by this much, that it is accompanied by some apprehension of the
matter asserted. This is plain; and the only question is, what measure of
apprehension is sufficient.

And the answer to this question is equally plain:—it is the predicate of
the proposition which must be apprehended. In a proposition one term is
predicated of another; the subject is referred to the predicate, and the
predicate gives us information about the subject;—therefore to apprehend
the proposition is to have that information, and to assent to it is to
acquiesce in it as true. Therefore I apprehend a proposition, when I
apprehend its predicate. The subject itself need not be apprehended _per
se_ in order to a genuine assent: for it is the very thing which the
predicate has to elucidate, and therefore by its formal place in the
proposition, so far as it is the subject, it is something unknown,
something which the predicate makes known; but the predicate cannot make
it known, unless it is known itself. Let the question be, “What is Trade?”
here is a distinct profession of ignorance about “Trade;” and let the
answer be, “Trade is the interchange of goods;”—trade then need not be
known, as a condition of assent to the proposition, except so far as the
account of it which is given in answer, “the interchange of goods,” makes
it known; and that must be apprehended in order to make it known. The very
drift of the proposition is to tell us something about the subject; but
there is no reason why our knowledge of the subject, whatever it is,
should go beyond what the predicate tells us about it. Further than this
the subject need not be apprehended: as far as this it must; it will not
be apprehended thus far, unless we apprehend the predicate.

If a child asks, “What is Lucern?” and is answered, “Lucern is medicago
sativa, of the class Diadelphia and order Decandria;” and henceforth says
obediently, “Lucern is medicago sativa, &c.,” he makes no act of assent to
the proposition which he enunciates, but speaks like a parrot. But, if he
is told, “Lucern is food for cattle,” and is shown cows grazing in a
meadow, then though he never saw lucern, and knows nothing at all about
it, besides what he has learned from the predicate, he is in a position to
make as genuine an assent to the proposition “Lucern is food for cattle,”
on the word of his informant, as if he knew ever so much more about
lucern. And as soon as he has got as far as this, he may go further. He
now knows enough about lucern, to enable him to apprehend propositions
which have lucern for their predicate, should they come before him for
assent, as, “That field is sown with lucern,” or “Clover is not lucern.”

Yet there is a way, in which the child can give an indirect assent even to
a proposition, in which he understood neither subject nor predicate. He
cannot indeed in that case assent to the proposition itself, but he can
assent to its truth. He cannot do more than assert that “Lucern is
medicago sativa,” but he can assent to the proposition, “That lucern is
medicago sativa is true.” For here is a predicate which he sufficiently
apprehends, what is inapprehensible in the proposition being confined to
the subject. Thus the child’s mother might teach him to repeat a passage
of Shakespeare, and when he asked the meaning of a particular line, such
as “The quality of mercy is not strained,” or “Virtue itself turns vice,
being misapplied,” she might answer him, that he was too young to
understand it yet, but that it had a beautiful meaning, as he would one
day know: and he, in faith on her word, might give his assent to such a
proposition,—not, that is, to the line itself which he had got by heart,
and which would be beyond him, but to its being true, beautiful, and good.

Of course I am speaking of assent itself, and its intrinsic conditions,
not of the ground or motive of it. Whether there is an obligation upon the
child to trust his mother, or whether there are cases where such trust is
impossible, are irrelevant questions, and I notice them in order to put
them aside. I am examining the act of assent itself, not its
preliminaries, and I have specified three directions, which among others
the assent may take, viz. assent immediately to a proposition, assent to
its truth, and assent both to its truth and to the ground of its being
true together,—“Lucern is food for cattle,”—“That lucern is medicago
sativa is true,”—and “My mother’s word, that lucern is medicago sativa,
and is food for cattle, is the truth.” Now in each of these there is one
and the same absolute adhesion of the mind to the proposition, on the part
of the child; he assents to the apprehensible proposition, and to the
truth of the inapprehensible, and to the veracity of his mother in her
assertion of the inapprehensible. I say the same absolute adhesion,
because, unless he did assent without any reserve to the proposition that
lucern was food for cattle, or to the accuracy of the botanical name and
description of it, he would not be giving an unreserved assent to his
mother’s word: yet, though these assents are all unreserved, still they
certainly differ in strength, and this is the next point to which I wish
to draw attention. It is indeed plain, that, though the child assents to
his mother’s veracity, without perhaps being conscious of his own act,
nevertheless that particular assent of his has a force and life in it
which the other assents have not, insomuch as he apprehends the
proposition, which is the subject of it, with greater keenness and energy
than belongs to his apprehension of the others. Her veracity and authority
is to him no abstract truth or item of general knowledge, but is bound up
with that image and love of her person which is part of himself, and makes
a direct claim on him for his summary assent to her general teachings.

Accordingly, by reason of this circumstance of his apprehension he would
not hesitate to say, did his years admit of it, that he would lay down his
life in defence of his mother’s veracity. On the other hand, he would not
make such a profession in the case of the propositions, “Lucern is food
for cattle,” or “That lucern is medicago sativa is true;” and yet it is
clear too, that, if he did in truth assent to these propositions, he would
have to die for them also, rather than deny them, when it came to the
point, unless he made up his mind to tell a falsehood. That he would have
to die for all three propositions severally rather than deny them, shows
the completeness and absoluteness of assent in its very nature; that he
would not spontaneously challenge so severe a trial in the case of two out
of the three particular acts of assent, illustrates in what sense one
assent may be stronger than another.

It appears then, that, in assenting to propositions, an apprehension in
some sense of their terms is not only necessary to assent, as such, but
also gives a distinct character to its acts. If therefore we would know
more about Assent, we must know more about the apprehension which
accompanies it. Accordingly to the subject of Apprehension I proceed.

Chapter III. The Apprehension Of Propositions.

I said in my Introductory Chapter that there can be no assent to a
proposition, without some sort of apprehension of its terms; next that
there are two modes of apprehension, notional and real; thirdly, that,
while assent may be given to a proposition on either apprehension of it,
still its acts are elicited more heartily and forcibly, when they are made
upon real apprehension which has things for its objects, than when they
are made in favour of notions and with a notional apprehension. The first
of these three points I have just been discussing; now I will proceed to
the second, viz. the two modes of apprehending propositions, leaving the
third for the Chapters which follow.

I have used the word _apprehension_, and not _understanding_, because the
latter word is of uncertain meaning, standing sometimes for the faculty or
act of conceiving a proposition, sometimes for that of comprehending it,
neither of which come into the sense of _apprehension_. It is possible to
apprehend without understanding. I apprehend what is meant by saying that
John is Richard’s wife’s father’s aunt’s husband, but, if I am unable so
to take in these successive relationships as to understand the upshot of
the whole, viz. that John is great-uncle-in-law to Richard, I cannot be
said to understand the proposition. In like manner, I may take a just view
of a man’s conduct, and therefore apprehend it, and yet may profess that I
cannot understand it; that is, I have not the key to it, and do not see
its consistency in detail: I have no just conception of it. Apprehension
then is simply an intelligent acceptance of the idea or of the fact which
a proposition enunciates. “Pride will have a fall;” “Napoleon died at St.
Helena;” I have no difficulty in entering into the sentiment contained in
the former of these, or into the fact declared in the latter; that is, I
apprehend them both.

Now apprehension, as I have said, has two subject-matters:—according as
language expresses things external to us, or our own thoughts, so is
apprehension real or notional. It is notional in the grammarian, it is
real in the experimentalist. The grammarian has to determine the force of
words and phrases; he has to master the structure of sentences and the
composition of paragraphs; he has to compare language with language, to
ascertain the common ideas expressed under different idiomatic forms, and
to achieve the difficult work of recasting the mind of an original author
in the mould of a translation. On the other hand, the philosopher or
experimentalist aims at investigating, questioning, ascertaining facts,
causes, effects, actions, qualities: these are things, and he makes his
words distinctly subordinate to these, as means to an end. The primary
duty of a literary man is to have clear conceptions, and to be exact and
intelligible in expressing them; but in a philosopher it is even a merit
to be not altogether vague, inchoate and obscure in his teaching, and if
he fails even of this low standard of language, we remind ourselves that
his obscurity perhaps is owing to his depth. No power of words in a
lecturer would be sufficient to make psychology easy to his hearers; if
they are to profit by him, they must throw their minds into the matters in
discussion, must accompany his treatment of them with an active, personal
concurrence, and interpret for themselves, as he proceeds, the dim
suggestions and adumbrations of objects, which he has a right to
presuppose, while he uses them, as images existing in their apprehension
as well as in his own.

In something of a parallel way it is the least pardonable fault in an
Orator to fail in clearness of style, and the most pardonable fault of a

So again, an Economist is dealing with facts; whatever there is of theory
in his work professes to be founded on facts, by facts alone must his
sense be interpreted, and to those only who are well furnished with the
necessary facts does he address himself; yet a clever schoolboy, from a
thorough grammatical knowledge of both languages, might turn into English
a French treatise on national wealth, produce, consumption, labour,
profits, measures of value, public debt, and the circulating medium, with
an apprehension of what it was that his author was stating sufficient for
making it clear to an English reader, while he had not the faintest
conception himself what the treatise, which he was translating really
determined. The man uses language as the vehicle of things, and the boy of

Hence in literary examinations, it is a test of good scholarship to be
able to construe aright, without the aid of understanding the sentiment,
action, or historical occurrence conveyed in the passage thus accurately
rendered, let it be a battle in Livy, or some subtle train of thought in
Virgil or Pindar. And those who have acquitted themselves best in the
trial, will often be disposed to think they have most notably failed, for
the very reason that they have been too busy with the grammar of each
sentence, as it came, to have been able, as they construed on, to enter
into the facts or the feelings, which, unknown to themselves, they were
bringing out of it.

To take a very different instance of this contrast between notions and
facts;—pathology and medicine, in the interests of science, and as a
protection to the practitioner, veil the shocking realities of disease and
physical suffering under a notional phraseology, under the abstract terms
of debility, distress, irritability, paroxysm, and a host of Greek and
Latin words. The arts of medicine and surgery are necessarily
experimental; but for writing and conversing on these subjects they
require to be stripped of the association of the facts from which they are

Such are the two modes of apprehension. The terms of a proposition do or
do not stand for things. If they do, then they are singular terms, for all
things that are, are units. But if they do not stand for things they must
stand for notions, and are common terms. Singular nouns come from
experience, common from abstraction. The apprehension of the former I call
real, and of the latter notional. Now let us look at this difference
between them more narrowly.

1. Real Apprehension, is, as I have said, in the first instance an
experience or information about the concrete. Now, when these informations
are in fact presented to us, (that is, when they are directly subjected to
our bodily senses or our mental sensations, as when we say, “The sun
shines,” or “The prospect is charming,” or indirectly by means of a
picture or even a narrative,) then there is no difficulty in determining
what is meant by saying that our enunciation of a proposition concerning
them implies an apprehension of things; because we can actually point out
the objects which they indicate. But supposing those things are no longer
before us, supposing they have passed beyond our field of view, or the
book is closed in which the description of them occurs, how can an
apprehension of things be said to remain to us? It remains on our minds by
means of the faculty of memory. Memory consists in a present imagination
of things that are past; memory retains the impressions and likenesses of
what they were when before us; and when we make use of the proposition
which refers to them, it supplies us with objects by which to interpret
it. They are things still, as being the reflections of things in a mental

Hence the poet calls memory “the mind’s eye.” I am in a foreign country
among unfamiliar sights; at will I am able to conjure up before me the
vision of my home, and all that belongs to it, its rooms and their
furniture, its books, its inmates, their countenances, looks and
movements. I see those who once were there and are no more; past scenes,
and the very expression of the features, and the tones of the voices, of
those who took part in them, in a time of trial or difficulty. I create
nothing; I see the facsimiles of facts; and of these facsimiles the words
and propositions which I use concerning them are from habitual association
the proper or the sole expression.

And so again, I may have seen a celebrated painting, or some great
pageant, or some public man; and I have on my memory stored up and ready
at hand, but latent, an impress more or less distinct of that experience.
The words “the Madonna di S. Sisto,” or “the last Coronation,” or “the
Duke of Wellington,” have power to revive that impress of it. Memory has
to do with individual things and nothing that is not individual. And my
apprehension of its notices is conveyed in a collection of singular and
real propositions.

I have hitherto been adducing instances from (for the most part) objects
of sight; but the memory preserves the impress, though not so vivid, of
the experiences which come to us through our other senses also. The memory
of a beautiful air, or the scent of a particular flower, as far as any
remembrance remains of it, is the continued presence in our minds of a
likeness of it, which its actual presence has left there. I can bring
before me the music of the _Adeste Fideles_, as if I were actually hearing
it; and the scent of a clematis as if I were in my garden; and the flavour
of a peach as if it were in season; and the thought I have of all these is
as of something individual and from without,—as much as the things
themselves, the tune, the scent, and the flavour, are from
without,—though, compared with the things themselves, these images (as
they may be called) are faint and intermitting.

Nor need such an image be in any sense an abstraction, though I may have
eaten a hundred peaches in times past, the impression, which remains on my
memory of the flavour, may be of any of them, of the ten, twenty, thirty
units, as the case may be, not a general notion, distinct from every one
of them, and formed from all of them by a fabrication of my mind.

And so again the apprehension which we have of our past mental acts of any
kind, of hope, inquiry, effort, triumph, disappointment, suspicion,
hatred, and a hundred others, is an apprehension of the memory of those
definite acts, and therefore an apprehension of things; not to say that
many of them do not need memory, but are such as admit of being actually
summoned and repeated at our will. Such an apprehension again is elicited
by propositions embodying the notices of our history, of our pursuits and
their results, of our friends, of our bereavements, of our illnesses, of
our fortunes, which remain imprinted upon our memory as sharply and deeply
as is any recollection of sight. Nay, and such recollections may have in
them an individuality and completeness which outlives the impressions made
by sensible objects. The memory of countenances and of places in times
past may fade away from the mind; but the vivid image of certain anxieties
or deliverances never.

And by means of these particular and personal experiences, thus impressed
upon us, we attain an apprehension of what such things are at other times
when we have not experience of them; an apprehension of sights and sounds,
of colours and forms, of places and persons, of mental acts and states,
parallel to our actual experiences, such, that, when we meet with definite
propositions expressive of them, our apprehension cannot be called
abstract and notional. If I am told “there is a raging fire in London,” or
“London is on fire,” “fire” need not be a common noun in my apprehension
more than “London.” The word may recall to my memory the experience of a
fire which I have known elsewhere, or of some vivid description which I
have read. It is of course difficult to draw the line and to say where the
office of memory ends, and where abstraction takes its place; and again,
as I said in my first pages, the same proposition is to one man an image,
to another a notion; but still there is a host of predicates, of the most
various kinds, “lovely,” “vulgar,” “a conceited man,” “a manufacturing
town,” “a catastrophe,” and any number of others, which, though as
predicates they would be accounted common nouns, are in fact in the mouths
of particular persons singular, as conveying images of things individual,
as the rustic in Virgil says,—

    “Urbem, quam dicunt Romam, Melibœe, putavi,
    Stultus ego, huic nostræ similem.”

And so the child’s idea of a king, as derived from his picture-book, will
be that of a fierce or stern or venerable man, seated above a flight of
steps, with a crown on his head and a sceptre in his hand. In these two
instances indeed the experience does but mislead, when applied to the
unknown; but it often happens on the contrary, that it is a serviceable
help, especially when a man has large experiences and has learned to
distinguish between them and apply them duly, as in the instance of the
hero “who knew many cities of men and many minds.”

Further, we are able by an inventive faculty, or, as I may call it, the
faculty of composition, to follow the descriptions of things which have
never come before us, and to form, out of such passive impressions as
experience has heretofore left on our minds, new images, which, though
mental creations, are in no sense abstractions, and though ideal, are not
notional. They are concrete units in the minds both of the party
describing and the party informed of them. Thus I may never have seen a
palm or a banana, but I have conversed with those who have, or I have read
graphic accounts of it, and, from my own previous knowledge of other
trees, have been able with so ready an intelligence to interpret their
language, and to light up such an image of it in my thoughts, that, were
it not that I never was in the countries where the tree is found, I should
fancy that I had actually seen it. Hence again it is the very praise we
give to the characters of some great poet or historian that he is so
individual. I am able as it were to gaze on Tiberius, as Tacitus draws
him, and to figure to myself our James the First, as he is painted in
Scott’s Romance. The assassination of Cæsar, his “Et tu, Brute?” his
collecting his robes about him, and his fall under Pompey’s statue, all
this becomes a fact to me and an object of real apprehension. Thus it is
that we live in the past and in the distant; by means of our capacity of
interpreting the statements of others about former ages or foreign climes
by the lights of our own experience. The picture, which historians are
able to bring before us, of Cæsar’s death, derives its vividness and
effect from its virtual appeal to the various images of our memory.

This faculty of composition is of course a step beyond experience, but we
have now reached its furthest point; it is mainly limited as regards its
materials, by the sense of sight. As regards the other senses, new images
cannot well be elicited and shaped out of old experiences. No description,
however complete, could convey to my mind an exact likeness of a tune or
an harmony, which I have never heard; and still less of a scent, which I
have never smelt. Generic resemblances and metaphorical substitutes are
indeed producible; but I should not acquire any real knowledge of the
Scotch air “There’s nae luck” by being told it was like “Auld lang syne,”
or “Robin Gray;” and if I said that Mozart’s melodies were as a summer sky
or as the breath of Zephyr, I should be better understood by those who
knew Mozart than by those who did not. Such vague illustrations suggest
intellectual notions, not images.

And quite as difficult is it to create or to apprehend by description
images of mental facts, of which we have no direct experience. I may
indeed, as I have already said, bring home to my mind so complex a fact as
an historical character, by composition out of my experiences about
character generally; Tiberius, James the First, Louis the Eleventh, or
Napoleon; but who is able to infuse into me, or how shall I imbibe, a
sense of the peculiarities of the style of Cicero or Virgil, if I have not
read their writings? or how shall I gain a shadow of a perception of the
wit or the grace ascribed to the conversation of the French salons, being
myself an untravelled John Bull? And so again, as regards the affections
and passions of our nature, they are _sui generis_ respectively, and
incommensurable, and must be severally experienced in order to be
apprehended really. I can understand the _rabbia_ of a native of Southern
Europe, if I am of a passionate temper myself; and the taste for
speculation or betting found in great traders or on the turf, if I am fond
of enterprise or games of chance; but on the other hand, not all the
possible descriptions of headlong love will make me comprehend the
_delirium_, if I have never had a fit of it; nor will ever so many sermons
about the inward satisfaction of strict conscientiousness create in my
mind the image of a virtuous action and its attendant sentiments, if I
have been brought up to lie, thieve and indulge my appetites. Thus we meet
with men of the world who cannot enter into the very idea of devotion, and
think, for instance, that, from the nature of the case, a life of
religious seclusion must be either one of unutterable dreariness or
abandoned sensuality, because they know of no exercise of the affections
but what is merely human; and with others again, who, living in the home
of their own selfishness, ridicule as something fanatical and pitiable the
self-sacrifices of generous high-mindedness and chivalrous honour. They
cannot create images of these things, any more than children can on the
contrary of vice, when they ask whereabouts and who the bad men are; for
they have no personal memories, and have to content themselves with
notions drawn from books or from what others tell them.

So much on the apprehension of things and on the real sense in our use of
language; now let us pass on to the notional sense.

2. Experience tells us only of individual things, and these things are
innumerable. Our minds might have been so constructed as to be able to
receive and retain an exact image of each of these various objects, one by
one, as it came before us, but only in and for itself, without the power
of comparing it with any of the others. But this is not our case: on the
contrary, to compare and to contrast are among the most prominent and busy
of our intellectual functions. Instinctively, even though unconsciously,
we are ever instituting comparisons between the manifold phenomena of the
external world, as we meet with them, criticizing, referring to a
standard, collecting, analyzing them. Nay, as if by one and the same
action, as soon as we perceive them, we also perceive that they are like
each other or unlike, or rather both like and unlike at once. We apprehend
spontaneously, even before we set about apprehending, that man is like
man, yet unlike; and unlike a horse, a tree, a mountain, or a monument,
yet in some, though not the same respects, like each of them. And in
consequence, as I have said, we are ever grouping and discriminating,
measuring and sounding, framing cross classes and cross divisions, and
thereby rising from particulars to generals, that is from images to

In processes of this kind we regard things, not as they are in themselves,
but mainly as they stand in relation to each other. We look at nothing
simply for its own sake; we cannot look at any one thing without keeping
our eyes on a multitude of other things besides. “Man” is no longer what
he really is, an individual presented to us by our senses, but as we read
him in the light of those comparisons and contrasts which we have made him
suggest to us. He is attenuated into an aspect, or relegated to his place
in a classification. Thus his appellation is made to suggest, not the real
being which he is in this or that specimen of himself, but a definition.
If I might use a harsh metaphor, I should say he is made the logarithm of
his true self, and in that shape is worked with the ease and satisfaction
of logarithms.

It is plain what a different sense language will bear in this system of
intellectual notions from what it has when it is the representative of
things: and such a use of it is not only the very foundation of all
science, but may be, and is, carried out in literature and in the ordinary
intercourse of man with man. And then it comes to pass that individual
propositions about the concrete almost cease to be, and are diluted or
starved into abstract notions. The events of history and the characters
who figure in it lose their individuality. States and governments, society
and its component parts, cities, nations, even the physical face of the
country, things past, and things contemporary, all that fulness of meaning
which I have described as accruing to language from experience, now that
experience is absent, necessarily becomes to the multitude of men nothing
but a heap of notions, little more intelligible than the beauties of a
prospect to the short-sighted, or the music of a great master to a
listener who has no ear.

I suppose most men will recollect in their past years how many mistakes
they have made about persons, parties, local occurrences, nations and the
like, of which at the time they had no actual knowledge of their own: how
ashamed or how amused they have since been at their own gratuitous
idealism when they came into possession of the real facts concerning them.
They were accustomed to treat the definite Titus or Sempronius as the
_quidam homo_, the _individuum vagum_ of the logician. They spoke of his
opinions, his motives, his practices, as their traditional rule for the
_species_ Titus or Sempronius enjoined. In order to find out what
individual men in flesh and blood were, they fancied that they had nothing
to do but to refer to commonplaces, alphabetically arranged. Thus they
were well up with the character of a Whig statesman or Tory magnate, a
Wesleyan, a Congregationalist, a parson, a priest, a philanthropist, a
writer of controversy, a sceptic; and found themselves prepared, without
the trouble of direct inquiry, to draw the individual after the
peculiarities of his type. And so with national character; the late Duke
of Wellington must have been impulsive, quarrelsome, witty, clever at
repartee, for he was an Irishman; in like manner, we must have cold and
selfish Scots, crafty Italians, vulgar Americans, and Frenchmen, half
tiger, half monkey. As to the French, those who are old enough to
recollect the wars with Napoleon, know what eccentric notions were
popularly entertained about them in England; how it was even a surprise to
find some military man, who was a prisoner of war, to be tall and stout,
because it was a received idea that all Frenchmen were undersized and
lived on frogs.

Such again are the ideal personages who figure in romances and dramas of
the old school; tyrants, monks, crusaders, princes in disguise, and
captive damsels; or benevolent or angry fathers, and spendthrift heirs;
like the symbolical characters in some of Shakespeare’s plays, “a
Tapster,” or “a Lord Mayor,” or in the stage directions “Enter two

What I have been illustrating in the case of persons, might be instanced
in regard to places, transactions, physical calamities, events in history.
Words which are used by an eye-witness to express things, unless he be
especially eloquent or graphic, may only convey general notions. Such is,
and ever must be, the popular and ordinary mode of apprehending language.
On few subjects only have any of us the opportunity of realizing in our
minds what we speak and hear about; and we fancy that we are doing justice
to individual men and things by making them a mere _synthesis_ of
qualities, as if any number whatever of abstractions would, by being fused
together, be equivalent to one concrete.


Here then we have two modes of thought, both using the same words, both
having one origin, yet with nothing in common in their results. The
informations of sense and sensation are the initial basis of both of them;
but in the one we take hold of objects from within them, and in the other
we view them from without them; we perpetuate them as images in the one
case, we transform them into notions in the other. And natural to us as
are both processes in their first elements and in their growth, however
divergent and independent in their direction, they cannot really be
inconsistent with each other; yet no one from the sight of a horse or a
dog would be able to anticipate its zoological definition, nor from a
knowledge of its definition to draw such a picture as would direct another
to the living specimen.

Each use of propositions has its own excellence and serviceableness, and
each has its own imperfection. To apprehend notionally is to have breadth
of mind, but to be shallow; to apprehend really is to be deep, but to be
narrow-minded. The latter is the conservative principle of knowledge, and
the former the principle of its advancement. Without the apprehension of
notions, we should for ever pace round one small circle of knowledge;
without a firm hold upon things, we shall waste ourselves in vague
speculations. However, real apprehension has the precedence, as being the
scope and end and the test of notional; and the fuller is the mind’s hold
upon things or what it considers such, the more fertile is it in its
aspects of them, and the more practical in its definitions.

Of course, as these two are not inconsistent with each other, they may
co-exist in the same mind. Indeed there is no one who does not to a
certain extent exercise both the one and the other. Viewed in relation to
Assent, which has led to my speaking of them, they do not in any way
affect the nature of the mental act, which is in all cases absolute and
unconditional; but they give it an external character corresponding
respectively to their own: so much so, that at first sight it might seem
as if Assent admitted of degrees, on account of the variation of vividness
in these different apprehensions. As notions come of abstractions, so
images come of experiences; the more fully the mind is occupied by an
experience, the keener will be its assent to it, if it assents, and on the
other hand, the duller will be its assent and the less operative, the more
it is engaged with an abstraction; and thus a scale of assents is
conceivable, either in the instance of one mind upon different subjects,
or of many minds upon one subject, varying from an assent which looks like
mere inference up to a belief both intense and practical,—from the
acceptance which we accord to some accidental news of the day to the
supernatural dogmatic faith of the Christian.

It follows to treat of Assent under this double aspect of its
subject-matter,—assent to notions, and assent to things.

Chapter IV. Notional And Real Assent.

1. I have said that our apprehension of a proposition varies in strength,
and that it is stronger when it is concerned with a proposition expressive
to us of things than when concerned with a proposition expressive of
notions; and I have given this reason for it, viz. that what is concrete
exerts a force and makes an impression on the mind which nothing abstract
can rival. That is, I have argued that, because the object is more
powerful, therefore so is the apprehension of it.

I do not think it unfair reasoning thus to take the apprehension for its
object. The mind is ever stimulated in proportion to the cause stimulating
it. Sights, for instance, sway us, as scents do not; whether this be owing
to a greater power in the thing seen, or to a greater receptivity and
expansiveness in the sense of seeing, is a superfluous question. The
strong object would make the apprehension strong. Our sense of seeing is
able to open to its object, as our sense of smell cannot open to its own.
Its objects are able to awaken the mind, take possession of it, inspire
it, act through it, with an energy and variousness which is not found in
the case of scents and their apprehension. Since we cannot draw the line
between the object and the act, I am at liberty to say, as I have said,
that, as is the thing apprehended, so is the apprehension.

And so in like manner as regards apprehension of mental objects. If an
image derived from experience or information is stronger than an
abstraction, conception, or conclusion—if I am more arrested by our Lord’s
bearing before Pilate and Herod than by the “Justum et tenacem” &c. of the
poet, more arrested by His Voice saying to us, “Give to him that asketh
thee,” than by the best arguments of the Economist against indiscriminate
almsgiving, it does not matter for my present purpose whether the objects
give strength to the apprehension or the apprehension gives large
admittance into the mind to the object. It is in human nature to be more
affected by the concrete than by the abstract; it may be the reverse with
other beings. The apprehension, then, may be as fairly said to possess the
force which acts upon us, as the object apprehended.

2. Real apprehension, then, may be pronounced stronger than notional,
because things, which are its objects, are confessedly more impressive and
affective than notions, which are the objects of notional. Experiences and
their images strike and occupy the mind, as abstractions and their
combinations do not. Next, passing on to Assent, I observe that it is this
variation in the mind’s apprehension of an object to which it assents, and
not any incompleteness in the assent itself, which leads us to speak of
strong and weak assents, as if Assent itself admitted of degrees. In
either mode of apprehension, be it real or be it notional, the assent
preserves its essential characteristic of being unconditional. The assent
of a Stoic to the “Justum et tenacem” &c. may be as genuine an assent, as
absolute and entire, as little admitting of degree or variation, as
distinct from an act of inference, as the assent of a Christian to the
history of our Lord’s Passion in the Gospel.

3. However, characteristic as it is of Assent, to be thus in its nature
simply one and indivisible, and thereby essentially different from
Inference, which is ever varying in strength, never quite at the same
pitch in any two of its acts, still it is at the same time true that it
may be difficult in fact, by external tokens, to distinguish certain acts
of assent from certain acts of inference. Thus, whereas no one could
possibly confuse the real assent of a Christian to the fact of our Lord’s
crucifixion, with the notional acceptance of it, as a point of history, on
the part of a philosophical heathen (so removed from each other, _toto
cœlo_, are the respective modes of apprehending it in the two cases,
though in both the assent is in its nature one and the same), nevertheless
it would be easy to mistake the Stoic’s notional assent, genuine though it
might be, to the moral nobleness of the just man “struggling in the storms
of fate,” for a mere act of inference resulting from the principles of his
Stoical profession, or again for an assent merely to the inferential
necessity of the nobleness of that struggle. Nothing, indeed, is more
common than to praise men for their consistency to their principles,
whatever those principles are, that is, to praise them on an inference,
without thereby implying any assent to the principles themselves.

The cause of this resemblance between acts so distinct is obvious. It
exists only in cases of notional assents; when the assent is given to
notions, then it is possible to hesitate in deciding whether it is assent
or inference, whether the mind is merely without doubt or whether it is
actually certain. And the reason is this: notional Assent seems like
Inference, because the apprehension which accompanies acts of inference is
notional also,—because Inference is engaged for the most part on notional
propositions, both premiss and conclusion. This point, which I have
implied throughout, I here distinctly record, and shall enlarge upon
hereafter. Only propositions about individuals are not notional, and they
are seldom the matter of inference. Thus, did the Stoic infer the fact of
our Lord’s death instead of assenting to it, the proposition would have
been as much an abstraction to him as the “Justum et tenacem,” &c; nay
further, the “Justus et tenax” was at least a notion in his mind, but
“Jesus Christ” would, in the schools of Athens or of Rome, have stood for
less, for an unknown being, the x or y of a formula. Except then in some
of the cases of singular conclusions, inferences are employed on notions,
that is, unless they are employed on mere symbols; and, indeed, when they
are symbolical, then are they clearest and most cogent, as I shall
hereafter show. The next clearest are such as carry out the necessary
results of previous classifications, and therefore may be called
definitions or conclusions, as we please. For instance, having divided
beings into their classes, the definition of man is inevitable.

4. We may call it then the normal state of Inference to apprehend
propositions as notions:—and we may call it the normal state of Assent to
apprehend propositions as things. If notional apprehension is most
congenial to Inference, real apprehension will be the most natural
concomitant on Assent. An act of Inference includes in its object the
dependence of its thesis upon its premisses, that is, upon a relation,
which is abstract; but an act of Assent rests wholly on the thesis as its
object, and the reality of the thesis is almost a condition of its

5. I am led on to make one remark more, and it shall be my last.

An act of assent, it seems, is the most perfect and highest of its kind,
when it is exercised on propositions, which are apprehended as experiences
and images, that is, which stand for things; and, on the other hand, an
act of inference is the most perfect and highest of its kind, when it is
exercised on propositions which are apprehended as notions, that is, which
are creations of the mind. An act of inference indeed may be made with
either of these modes of apprehension; so may an act of assent; but, when
inferences are exercised on things, they tend to be conjectures or
presentiments, without logical force; and when assents are exercised on
notions, they tend to be mere assertions without any personal hold on them
on the part of those who make them. If this be so, the paradox is true,
that, when Inference is clearest, Assent may be least forcible, and, when
Assent is most intense, Inference may be least distinct;—for, though acts
of assent require previous acts of inference, they require them, not as
adequate causes, but as _sine quâ non_ conditions: and, while the
apprehension strengthens Assent, Inference often weakens the apprehension.

§ 1. Notional Assents.

I shall consider Assent made to propositions which express abstractions or
notions under five heads; which I shall call Profession, Credence,
Opinion, Presumption, and Speculation.

1. _Profession._

There are assents so feeble and superficial, as to be little more than
assertions. I class them all together under the head of Profession. Such
are the assents made upon habit and without reflection; as when a man
calls himself a Tory or a Liberal, as having been brought up as such; or
again, when he adopts as a matter of course the literary or other fashions
of the day, admiring the poems, or the novels, or the music, or the
personages, or the costume, or the wines, or the manners, which happen to
be popular, or are patronized in the higher circles. Such again are the
assents of men of wavering restless minds, who take up and then abandon
beliefs so readily, so suddenly, as to make it appear that they had no
view (as it is called) on the matter they professed, and did not know to
what they assented or why.

Then, again, when men say they have no doubt of a thing, this is a case,
in which it is difficult to determine whether they assent to it, infer it,
or consider it highly probable. There are many cases, indeed, in which it
is impossible to discriminate between assent, inference, and assertion, on
account of the otiose, passive, inchoate character of the act in question.
If I say that to-morrow will be fine, what does this enunciation mean?
Perhaps it means that it ought to be fine, if the glass tells truly; then
it is the inference of a probability. Perhaps it means no more than a
surmise, because it is fine to-day, or has been so for the week past. And
perhaps it is a compliance with the word of another, in which case it is
sometimes a real assent, sometimes a polite assertion or a wish.

Many a disciple of a philosophical school, who talks fluently, does but
assert, when he seems to assent to the _dicta_ of his master, little as he
may be aware of it. Nor is he secured against this self-deception by
knowing the arguments on which those _dicta_ rest, for he may learn the
arguments by heart, as a careless schoolboy gets up his Euclid. This
practice of asserting simply on authority, with the pretence and without
the reality of assent, is what is meant by formalism. To say “I do not
understand a proposition, but I accept it on authority,” is not formalism,
but faith; it is not a direct assent to the proposition, still it _is_ an
assent to the authority which enunciates it; but what I here speak of is
professing to understand without understanding. It is thus that political
and religious watchwords are created; first one man of name and then
another adopts them, till their use becomes popular, and then every one
professes them, because every one else does. Such words are “liberality,”
“progress,” “light,” “civilization;” such are “justification by faith
only,” “vital religion,” “private judgment,” “the Bible and nothing but
the Bible.” Such again are “Rationalism,” “Gallicanism,” “Jesuitism,”
“Ultramontanism”—all of which, in the mouths of conscientious thinkers,
have a definite meaning, but are used by the multitude as war-cries,
nicknames, and shibboleths, with scarcely enough of the scantiest
grammatical apprehension of them to allow of their being considered really
more than assertions.

Thus, instances occur now and then, when, in consequence of the urgency of
some fashionable superstition or popular delusion, some eminent scientific
authority is provoked to come forward, and to set the world right by his
“ipse dixit.” He, indeed, himself knows very well what he is about; he has
a right to speak, and his reasonings and conclusions are sufficient, not
only for his own, but for general assent, and, it may be, are as simply
true and impregnable, as they are authoritative; but an intelligent hold
on the matter in dispute, such as he has himself, cannot be expected in
the case of men in general. They, nevertheless, one and all, repeat and
retail his arguments, as suddenly as if they had not to study them, as
heartily as if they understood them, changing round and becoming as strong
antagonists of the error which their master has exposed, as if they had
never been its advocates. If their word is to be taken, it is not simply
his authority that moves them, which would be sensible enough and suitable
in them, both apprehension and assent being in that case grounded on the
maxim “Cuique in arte suâ credendum,” but so far forth as they disown this
motive, and claim to judge in a scientific question of the worth of
arguments which require some real knowledge, they are little better, not
of course in a very serious matter, than pretenders and formalists.

Not only Authority, but Inference also may impose on us assents which in
themselves are little better than assertions, and which, so far as they
are assents, can only be notional assents, as being assents, not to the
propositions inferred, but to the truth of those propositions. For
instance, it can be proved by irrefragable calculations, that the stars
are not less than billions of miles distant from the earth; and the
process of calculation, upon which such statements are made, is not so
difficult as to require authority to secure our acceptance of both it and
of them; yet who can say that he has any real, nay, any notional
apprehension of a billion or a trillion? We can, indeed, have some notion
of it, if we analyze it into its factors, if we compare it with other
numbers, or if we illustrate it by analogies or by its implications; but I
am speaking of the vast number in itself. We cannot assent to a
proposition of which it is the predicate; we can but assent to the truth
of it.

This leads me to the question, whether belief in a mystery can be more
than an assertion. I consider it can be an assent, and my reasons for
saying so are as follows:—A mystery is a proposition conveying
incompatible notions, or is a statement of the inconceivable. Now we can
assent to propositions (and a mystery is a proposition), provided we can
apprehend them; therefore we can assent to a mystery, for, unless we in
some sense apprehended it, we should not recognize it to be a mystery,
that is, a statement uniting incompatible notions. The same act, then,
which enables us to discern that the words of the proposition express a
mystery, capacitates us for assenting to it. Words which make nonsense, do
not make a mystery. No one would call Warton’s line—“Revolving swans
proclaim the welkin near”—an inconceivable assertion. It is equally plain,
that the assent which we give to mysteries, as such, is notional assent;
for, by the supposition, it is assent to propositions which we cannot
conceive, whereas, if we had had experience of them, we should be able to
conceive them, and without experience assent is not real.

But the question follows, Can processes of inference end in a mystery?
that is, not only in what is incomprehensible, that the stars are billions
of miles from each other, but in what is inconceivable, in the
co-existence of (seeming) incompatibilities? For how, it may be asked, can
reason carry out notions into their contradictories? since all the
developments of a truth must from the nature of the case be consistent
both with it and with each other. I answer, certainly processes of
inference, however accurate, can end in mystery; and I solve the objection
to such a doctrine thus:—our notion of a thing may be only partially
faithful to the original; it may be in excess of the thing, or it may
represent it incompletely, and, in consequence, it may serve for it, it
may stand for it, only to a certain point, in certain cases, but no
further. After that point is reached, the notion and the thing part
company; and then the notion, if still used as the representative of the
thing, will work out conclusions, not inconsistent with itself, but with
the thing to which it no longer corresponds.

This is seen most familiarly in the use of metaphors. Thus, in an Oxford
satire, which deservedly made a sensation in its day, it is said that Vice
“from its hardness takes a polish too.”(1) Whence we might argue, that,
whereas Caliban was vicious, he was therefore polished; but politeness and
Caliban are incompatible notions. Or again, when some one said, perhaps to
Dr. Johnson, that a certain writer (say Hume) was a clear thinker, he made
answer, “All shallows are clear.” But supposing Hume to be in fact both a
clear and a deep thinker, yet supposing clearness and depth are
incompatible in their literal sense, which the objection seems to imply,
and still in their full literal sense were to be ascribed to Hume, then
our reasoning about his intellect has ended in the mystery, “Deep Hume is
shallow;” whereas the contradiction lies, not in the reasoning, but in the
fancying that inadequate notions can be taken as the exact representations
of things.

Hence in science we sometimes use a definition or a _formula_, not as
exact, but as being sufficient for our purpose, for working out certain
conclusions, for a practical approximation, the error being small, till a
certain point is reached. This is what in theological investigations I
should call an economy.

A like contrast between notions and the things which they represent is the
principle of suspense and curiosity in those enigmatical sayings which
were frequent in the early stage of human society. In them the problem
proposed to the acuteness of the hearers, is to find some real thing which
may unite in itself certain conflicting notions which in the question are
attributed to it: “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong
came forth sweetness;” or, “What creature is that, which in the morning
goes on four legs, at noon on two, and on three in the evening?” The
answer, which names the thing, interprets and thereby limits the notions
under which it has been represented.

Let us take an example in algebra. Its calculus is commonly used to
investigate, not only the relations of quantity generally, but geometrical
facts in particular. Now it is at once too wide and too narrow for such a
purpose, fitting on to the doctrine of lines and angles with a bad fit, as
the coat of a short and stout man might serve the needs of one who was
tall and slim. Certainly it works well for geometrical purposes up to a
certain point, as when it enables us to dispense with the cumbrous method
of proof in questions of ratio and proportion, which is adopted in the
fifth book of Euclid; but what are we to make of the fourth power of _a_,
when it is to be translated into geometrical language? If from this
algebraical expression we determined that space admitted of four
dimensions, we should be enunciating a mystery, because we should be
applying to space a notion which belongs to quantity. In this case algebra
is in excess of geometrical truth. Now let us take an instance in which it
falls short of geometry,—What is the meaning of the square root of _minus
a_? Here the mystery is on the side of algebra; and, in accordance with
the principle which I am illustrating, it has sometimes been considered as
an abortive effort to express, what is really beyond the capacity of
algebraical notation, the direction and position of lines in the third
dimension of space, as well as their length upon a plane. When the
calculus is urged on by the inevitable course of the working to do what it
cannot do, it stops short as if in resistance, and protests by an

Our notions of things are never simply commensurate with the things
themselves; they are aspects of them, more or less exact, and sometimes a
mistake _ab initio_. Take an instance from arithmetic:—We are accustomed
to subject all that exists to numeration; but, to be correct, we are bound
first to reduce to some level of possible comparison the things which we
wish to number. We must be able to say, not only that they are ten,
twenty, or a hundred, but so many definite somethings. For instance, we
could not without extravagance throw together Napoleon’s brain, ambition,
hand, soul, smile, height, and age at Marengo, and say that there were
seven of them, though there are seven words; nor will it even be enough to
content ourselves with what may be called a negative level, viz. that
these seven were an un-English or are a departed seven. Unless numeration
is to issue in nonsense, it must be conducted on conditions. This being
the case, there are, for what we know, collections of beings, to whom the
notion of number cannot be attached, except _catachrestically_, because,
taken individually, no positive point of real agreement can be found
between them, by which to call them. If indeed we can denote them by a
plural noun, then we can measure that plurality; but if they agree in
nothing, they cannot agree in bearing a common name, and to say that they
amount to a thousand these or those, is not to number them, but to count
up a certain number of names or words which we have written down.

Thus, the Angels have been considered by divines to have each of them a
species to himself; and we may fancy each of them so absolutely _sui
similis_ as to be like nothing else, so that it would be as untrue to
speak of a thousand Angels as of a thousand Hannibals or Ciceros. It will
be said, indeed, that all beings but One at least will come under the
notion of creatures, and are dependent upon that One; but that is true of
the brain, smile, and height of Napoleon, which no one would call three
creatures. But, if all this be so, much more does it apply to our
speculations concerning the Supreme Being, whom it may be unmeaning, not
only to number with other beings, but to subject to number in regard to
His own intrinsic characteristics. That is, to apply arithmetical notions
to Him may be as unphilosophical as it is profane. Though He is at once
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the word “Trinity” belongs to those notions
of Him which are forced on us by the necessity of our finite conceptions,
the real and immutable distinction which exists between Person and Person
implying in itself no infringement of His real and numerical Unity. And if
it be asked how, if we cannot properly speak of Him as Three, we can speak
of Him as One, I reply that He is not One in the way in which created
things are severally units; for one, as applied to ourselves, is used in
contrast to two or three and a whole series of numbers; but of the Supreme
Being it is safer to use the word “monad” than unit, for He has not even
such relation to His creatures as to allow, philosophically speaking, of
our contrasting Him with them.

Coming back to the main subject, which I have illustrated at the risk of
digression, I observe, that an alleged fact is not therefore impossible
because it is inconceivable; for the incompatible notions, in which
consists its inconceivableness, need not each of them really belong to it
in that fulness which involves their being incompatible with each other.
It is true indeed that I deny the possibility of two straight lines
enclosing a space, on the ground of its being inconceivable; but I do so
because a straight line is a notion and nothing more, and not a thing, to
which I may have attached a notion more or less unfaithful. I have defined
a straight line in my own way at my own pleasure; the question is not one
of facts at all, but of the consistency with each other of definitions and
of their logical consequences.

“Space is not infinite, for nothing but the Creator is such:”—starting
from this thesis as a theological information, to be assumed as a fact,
though not one of experience, we arrive at once at an insoluble mystery;
for, if space be not infinite, it is finite, and finite space is a
contradiction in notions, space, as such, implying the absence of
boundaries. Here again it is our notion that carries us beyond the fact,
and in opposition to it, showing that from the first what we apprehend of
space does not in all respects correspond to the thing, of which indeed we
have no image.

This, then, is another instance in which the juxtaposition of notions by
the logical faculty lands us in what are commonly called mysteries.
Notions are but aspects of things; the free deductions from one of these
necessarily contradicts the free deductions from another. After proceeding
in our investigations a certain way, suddenly a blank or a maze presents
itself before the mental vision, as when the eye is confused by the
varying slides of a telescope. Thus, we believe in the infinitude of the
Divine Attributes, but we can have no experience of infinitude as a fact;
the word stands for a definition or a notion. Hence, when we try how to
reconcile in the moral world the fulness of mercy with exactitude in
sanctity and justice, or to explain that the physical tokens of creative
skill need not suggest any want of creative power, we feel we are not
masters of our subject. We apprehend sufficiently to be able to assent to
these theological truths as mysteries; did we not apprehend them at all,
we should be merely asserting; though even then we might convert that
assertion into an assent, if we wished to do so, as I have already shown,
by making it the subject of a proposition, and predicating of it that it
is true.

2. _Credence._

What I mean by giving credence to propositions is pretty much the same as
having “no doubt” about them. It is the sort of assent which we give to
those opinions and professed facts which are ever presenting themselves to
us without any effort of ours, and which we commonly take for granted,
thereby obtaining a broad foundation of thought for ourselves, and a
medium of intercourse between ourselves and others. This form of notional
assent comprises a great variety of subject-matters; and is, as I have
implied, of an otiose and passive character, accepting whatever comes to
hand, from whatever quarter, warranted or not, so that it convey nothing
on the face of it to its own disadvantage. From the time that we begin to
observe, think, and reason, to the final failure of our powers, we are
ever acquiring fresh and fresh informations by means of our senses, and
still more from others and from books. The friends or strangers whom we
fall in with in the course of the day, the conversations or discussions to
which we are parties, the newspapers, the light reading of the season, our
recreations, our rambles in the country, our foreign tours, all pour their
contributions of intellectual matter into the storehouses of our memory;
and, though much may be lost, much is retained. These informations, thus
received with a spontaneous assent, constitute the furniture of the mind,
and make the difference between its civilized condition and a state of
nature. They are its education, as far as general knowledge can so be
called; and, though education is discipline as well as learning, still,
unless the mind implicitly welcomes the truths, real or ostensible, which
these informations supply, it will gain neither formation nor a stimulus
for its activity and progress. Besides, to believe frankly what it is
told, is in the young an exercise of teachableness and humility.

Credence is the means by which, in high and low, in the man of the world
and in the recluse, our bare and barren nature is overrun and diversified
from without with a rich and living clothing. It is by such ungrudging,
prompt assents to what is offered to us so lavishly, that we become
possessed of the principles, doctrines, sentiments, facts, which
constitute useful, and especially liberal knowledge. These various
teachings, shallow though they be, are of a breadth which secures us
against those _lacunæ_ of knowledge which are apt to befall the professed
student, and keep us up to the mark in literature, in the arts, in
history, and in public matters. They give us in great measure our
morality, our politics, our social code, our art of life. They supply the
elements of public opinion, the watchwords of patriotism, the standards of
thought and action; they are our mutual understandings, our channels of
sympathy, our means of co-operation, and the bond of our civil union. They
become our moral language; we learn them as we learn our mother tongue;
they distinguish us from foreigners; they are, in each of us, not indeed
personal, but national characteristics.

This account of them implies that they are received with a notional, not a
real assent; they are too manifold to be received in any other way. Even
the most practised and earnest minds must needs be superficial in the
greater part of their attainments. They know just enough on all subjects,
in literature, history, politics, philosophy, and art, to be able to
converse sensibly on them, and to understand those who are really deep in
one or other of them. This is what is called, with a special appositeness,
a gentleman’s knowledge, as contrasted with that of a professional man,
and is neither worthless nor despicable, if used for its proper ends; but
it is never more than the furniture of the mind, as I have called it; it
never is thoroughly assimilated with it. Yet of course there is nothing to
hinder those who have even the largest stock of such notions from devoting
themselves to one or other of the subjects to which those notions belong,
and mastering it with a real apprehension; and then their general
knowledge of all subjects may be made variously useful in the direction of
that particular study or pursuit which they have selected.

I have been speaking of secular knowledge; but religion may be made a
subject of notional assent also, and is especially so made in our own
country. Theology, as such, always is notional, as being scientific:
religion, as being personal, should be real; but, except within a small
range of subjects, it commonly is not real in England. As to Catholic
populations, such as those of medieval Europe, or the Spain of this day,
or quasi-Catholic as those of Russia, among them assent to religious
objects is real, not notional. To them the Supreme Being, our Lord, the
Blessed Virgin, Angels and Saints, heaven and hell, are as present as if
they were objects of sight; but such a faith does not suit the genius of
modern England. There is in the literary world just now an affectation of
calling religion a “sentiment;” and it must be confessed that usually it
is nothing more with our own people, educated or rude. Objects are barely
necessary to it. I do not say so of old Calvinism or Evangelical Religion;
I do not call the religion of Leighton, Beveridge, Wesley, Thomas Scott,
or Cecil a mere sentiment; nor do I so term the high Anglicanism of the
present generation. But these are only denominations, parties, schools,
compared with the national religion of England in its length and breadth.
“Bible Religion” is both the recognized title and the best description of
English religion.

It consists, not in rites or creeds, but mainly in having the Bible read
in Church, in the family, and in private. Now I am far indeed from
undervaluing that mere knowledge of Scripture which is imparted to the
population thus promiscuously. At least in England, it has to a certain
point made up for great and grievous losses in its Christianity. The
reiteration, again and again, in fixed course in the public service, of
the words of inspired teachers under both Covenants, and that in grave
majestic English, has in matter of fact been to our people a vast benefit.
It has attuned their minds to religious thoughts; it has given them a high
moral standard; it has served them in associating religion with
compositions which, even humanly considered, are among the most sublime
and beautiful ever written; especially, it has impressed upon them the
series of Divine Providences in behalf of man from his creation to his
end, and, above all, the words, deeds, and sacred sufferings of Him in
whom all the Providences of God centre.

So far the indiscriminate reading of Scripture has been of service; still,
much more is necessary than the benefits which I have enumerated, to
answer to the idea of a Religion; whereas our national form professes to
be little more than thus reading the Bible and living a correct life. It
is not a religion of persons and things, of acts of faith and of direct
devotion; but of sacred scenes and pious sentiments. It has been
comparatively careless of creed and catechism; and has in consequence
shown little sense of the need of consistency in the matter of its
teaching. Its doctrines are not so much facts, as stereotyped aspects of
facts; and it is afraid, so to say, of walking round them. It induces its
followers to be content with this meagre view of revealed truth; or,
rather, it is suspicious and protests, or is frightened, as if it saw a
figure in a picture move out of its frame, when our Lord, the Blessed
Virgin, or the Holy Apostles, are spoken of as real beings, and really
such as Scripture implies them to be. I am not denying that the assent
which it inculcates and elicits is genuine as regards its contracted range
of doctrine, but it is at best notional. What Scripture especially
illustrates from its first page to its last, is God’s Providence; and that
is nearly the only doctrine held with a real assent by the mass of
religious Englishmen. Hence the Bible is so great a solace and refuge to
them in trouble. I repeat, I am not speaking of particular schools and
parties in England, whether of the High Church or the Low, but of the mass
of piously-minded and well-living people in all ranks of the community.

3. _Opinion._

That class of assents which I have called Credence, being a spontaneous
acceptance of the various informations, which are by whatever means
conveyed to our minds, sometimes goes by the name of Opinion. When we
speak of a man’s opinions, what do we mean, but the collection of notions
which he happens to have, and does not easily part with, though he has
neither sufficient proof nor firm grasp of them? This is true; however,
Opinion is a word of various significations, and I prefer to use it in my
own. Besides standing for Credence, it is sometimes taken to mean
Conviction, as when we speak of the “variety of religious opinions,” or of
being “persecuted for religious opinions,” or of our having “no opinion on
a particular point,” or of another having “no religious opinions.” And
sometimes it is used in contrast with Conviction, as synonymous with a
light and casual, though genuine assent; thus, if a man was every day
changing his mind, that is, his assents, we might say, that he was very
changeable in his opinions.

I shall here use the word to denote an assent, but an assent to a
proposition, not as true, but as probably true, that is, to the
probability of that which the proposition enunciates; and, as that
probability may vary in strength without limit, so may the cogency and
moment of the opinion. This account of Opinion may seem to confuse it with
Inference; for the strength of an inference varies with its premisses, and
is a probability; but the two acts of mind are really distinct. Opinion,
as being an assent, is independent of premisses. We have opinions which we
never think of defending by argument, though, of course, we think they can
be so defended. We are even obstinate in them, or what is called
“opinionated,” and may say that we have a right to think just as we
please, reason or no reason; whereas Inference is in its nature and by its
profession conditional and uncertain. To say that “we shall have a fine
hay-harvest if the present weather lasts,” does not come of the same state
of mind as, “I am of opinion that we shall have a fine hay-harvest this

Opinion, thus explained, has more connexion with Credence than with
Inference. It differs from Credence in these two points, viz. that, while
Opinion explicitly assents to the probability of a given proposition,
Credence is an implicit assent to its truth. It differs from Credence in a
third respect, viz. in being a reflex act;—when we take a thing for
granted, we have credence in it; when we begin to reflect upon our
credence, and to measure, estimate, and modify it, then we are forming an

It is in this sense that Catholics speak of theological opinion, in
contrast with faith in dogma. It is much more than an inferential act, but
it is distinct from an act of certitude. And this is really the sense
which Protestants give to the word, when they interpret it by Conviction;
for their highest opinion in religion is, generally speaking, an assent to
a probability—as even Butler has been understood or misunderstood to
teach,—and therefore consistent with toleration of its contradictory.

Opinion, being such as I have described, is a notional assent, for the
predicate of the proposition, on which it is exercised, is the abstract
word “probable.”

4. _Presumption._

By Presumption I mean an assent to first principles; and by first
principles I mean the propositions with which we start in reasoning on any
given subject-matter. They are in consequence very numerous, and vary in
great measure with the persons who reason, according to their judgment and
power of assent, being received by some minds, not by others, and only a
few of them received universally. They are all of them notions, not
images, because they express what is abstract, not what is individual and
from direct experience.

1. Sometimes our trust in our powers of reasoning and memory, that is, our
implicit assent to their telling truly, is treated as a first principle;
but we cannot properly be said to have any trust in them as faculties. At
most we trust in particular acts of memory and reasoning. We are sure
there was a yesterday, and that we did this or that in it; we are sure
that three times six is eighteen, and that the diagonal of a square is
longer than the side. So far as this we may be said to trust the mental
act, by which the object of our assent is verified; but, in doing so, we
imply no recognition of a general power or faculty, or of any capability
or affection of our minds, over and above the particular act. We know
indeed that we have a faculty by which we remember, as we know we have a
faculty by which we breathe; but we gain this knowledge by abstraction or
inference from its particular acts, not by direct experience. Nor do we
trust in the faculty of memory or reasoning as such, even after that we
have inferred its existence; for its acts are often inaccurate, nor do we
invariably assent to them.

However, if I must speak my mind, I have another ground for reluctance to
speak of our trusting memory or reasoning, except indeed by a figure of
speech. It seems to me unphilosophical to speak of trusting ourselves. We
are what we are, and we use, not trust our faculties. To debate about
trusting in a case like this, is parallel to the confusion implied in
wishing I had had a choice if I would be created or no, or speculating
what I should be like, if I were born of other parents. “Proximus sum
egomet mihi.” Our consciousness of self is prior to all questions of trust
or assent. We act according to our nature, by means of ourselves, when we
remember or reason. We are as little able to accept or reject our mental
constitution, as our being. We have not the option; we can but misuse or
mar its functions. We do not confront or bargain with ourselves; and
therefore I cannot call the trustworthiness of the faculties of memory and
reasoning one of our first principles.

2. Next, as to the proposition, that things exist external to ourselves,
this I do consider a first principle, and one of universal reception. It
is founded on an instinct; I so call it, because the brute creation
possesses it. This instinct is directed towards individual phenomena, one
by one, and has nothing of the character of a generalization; and, since
it exists in brutes, the gift of reason is not a condition of its
existence, and it may justly be considered an instinct in man. What the
human mind does is what brutes cannot do, viz. to draw from our
ever-recurring experiences of its testimony in particulars a general
proposition, and, because this instinct or intuition acts whenever the
phenomena of sense present themselves, to lay down in broad terms, by an
inductive process, the great aphorism, that there is an external world,
and that all the phenomena of sense proceed from it. This general
proposition, to which we go on to assent, goes (_extensivè_, though not
_intensivè_) far beyond our experience, illimitable as that experience may
be, and represents a notion.

3. I have spoken, and I think rightly spoken, of instinct as a force which
spontaneously impels us, not only to bodily movements, but to mental acts.
It is instinct which leads the quasi-intelligent principle (whatever it
is) in brutes to perceive in the phenomena of sense a something distinct
from and beyond those phenomena. It is instinct which impels the child to
recognize in the smiles or the frowns of a countenance which meets his
eyes, not only a being external to himself, but one whose looks elicit in
him confidence or fear. And, as he instinctively interprets these physical
phenomena, as tokens of things beyond themselves, so from the sensations
attendant upon certain classes of his thoughts and actions he gains a
perception of an external being, who reads his mind, to whom he is
responsible, who praises and blames, who promises and threatens. As I am
only illustrating a general view by examples, I shall take this analogy
for granted here. As then we have our initial knowledge of the universe
through sense, so do we in the first instance begin to learn about its
Lord and God from conscience; and, as from particular acts of that
instinct, which makes experiences, mere images (as they ultimately are)
upon the retina, the means of our perceiving something real beyond them,
we go on to draw the general conclusion that there is a vast external
world, so from the recurring instances in which conscience acts, forcing
upon us importunately the mandate of a Superior, we have fresh and fresh
evidence of the existence of a Sovereign Ruler, from whom those particular
dictates which we experience proceed; so that, with limitations which
cannot here be made without digressing from my main subject, we may, by
means of that induction from particular experiences of conscience, have as
good a warrant for concluding the Ubiquitous Presence of One Supreme
Master, as we have, from parallel experience of sense, for assenting to
the fact of a multiform and vast world, material and mental.

However, this assent is notional, because we generalize a consistent,
methodical form of Divine Unity and Personality with Its attributes, from
particular experiences of the religious instinct, which are themselves,
only _intensivè_, not _extensivè_, and in the imagination, not
intellectually, notices of Its Presence; though at the same time that
assent may become real of course, as may the assent to the external world,
viz. when we apply our general knowledge to a particular instance of that
knowledge, as, according to a former remark, the general “varium et
mutabile” was realized in Dido. And in thus treating the origin of these
great notions, I am not forgetting the aid which from our earliest years
we receive from teachers, nor am I denying the influence of certain
original forms of thinking or formative ideas, connatural with our minds,
without which we could not reason at all. I am only contemplating the mind
as it moves in fact, by whatever hidden mechanism; as a locomotive engine
could not move without steam, but still, under whatever number of forces,
it certainly does start from Birmingham and does arrive in London.

4. And so again, as regards the first principles expressed in such
propositions as “There is a right and a wrong,” “a true and a false,” “a
just and an unjust,” “a beautiful and a deformed;” they are abstractions
to which we give a notional assent in consequence of our particular
experiences of qualities in the concrete, to which we give a real assent.
As we form our notion of whiteness from the actual sight of snow, milk, a
lily, or a cloud, so, after experiencing the sentiment of approbation
which arises in us on the sight of certain acts one by one, we go on to
assign to that sentiment a cause, and to those acts a quality, and we give
to this notional cause or quality the name of virtue, which is an
abstraction, not a thing. And in like manner, when we have been affected
by a certain specific admiring pleasure at the sight of this or that
concrete object, we proceed by an arbitrary act of the mind to give a name
to the hypothetical cause or quality in the abstract, which excites it. We
speak of it as beautifulness, and henceforth, when we call a thing
beautiful, we mean by the word nothing else than a certain quality of
things which creates in us this special sensation.

These so-called first principles, I say, are really conclusions or
abstractions from particular experiences; and an assent to their existence
is not an assent to things or their images, but to notions, real assent
being confined to the propositions directly embodying those experiences.
Such notions indeed are an evidence of the reality of the special
sentiments in particular instances, without which they would not have been
formed; but in themselves they are abstractions from facts, not elementary
truths prior to reasoning.

I am not of course dreaming of denying the objective existence of the
Moral Law, nor our instinctive recognition of the immutable difference in
the moral quality of acts, as elicited in us by one instance of them. Even
one act of cruelty, ingratitude, generosity, or justice reveals to us at
once _intensivè_ the immutable distinction between those qualities and
their contraries; that is, in that particular instance and _pro hac vice_.
From such experience—an experience which is ever recurring—we proceed to
abstract and generalize; and thus the abstract proposition “There is a
right and a wrong,” as representing an act of inference, is received by
the mind with a notional, not a real assent. However, in proportion as we
obey the particular dictates which are its tokens, so are we led on more
and more to view it in the association of those particulars, which are
real, and virtually to change our notion of it into the image of that
objective fact, which in each particular case it undeniably is.

5. Another of these presumptions is the belief in causation. It is to me a
perplexity that grave authors seem to enunciate as an intuitive truth,
that every thing must have a cause. If this were so, the voice of nature
would tell false; for why in that case stop short at One, who is Himself
without cause? The assent which we give to the proposition, as a first
principle, that nothing happens without a cause, is derived, in the first
instance, from what we know of ourselves; and we argue analogically from
what is within us to what is external to us. One of the first experiences
of an infant is that of his willing and doing; and, as time goes on, one
of the first temptations of the boy is to bring home to himself the fact
of his sovereign arbitrary power, though it be at the price of
waywardness, mischievousness, and disobedience. And when his parents, as
antagonists of this wilfulness, begin to restrain him, and to bring his
mind and conduct into shape, then he has a second series of experiences of
cause and effect, and that upon a principle or rule. Thus the notion of
causation is one of the first lessons which he learns from experience,
that experience limiting it to agents possessed of intelligence and will.
It is the notion of power combined with a purpose and an end. Physical
phenomena, as such, are without sense; and experience teaches us nothing
about physical phenomena as causes. Accordingly, wherever the world is
young, the movements and changes of physical nature have been and are
spontaneously ascribed by its people to the presence and will of hidden
agents, who haunt every part of it, the woods, the mountains and the
streams, the air and the stars, for good or for evil;—just as children
again, by beating the ground after falling, imply that what has bruised
them has intelligence;—nor is there anything illogical in such a belief.
It rests on the argument from analogy.

As time goes on, and society is formed, and the idea of science is
mastered, a different aspect of the physical universe presents itself to
the mind. Since causation implies a sequence of acts in our own case, and
our doing is always posterior, never contemporaneous or prior, to our
willing, therefore, when we witness invariable antecedents and
consequents, we call the former the cause of the latter, though
intelligence is absent, from the analogy of external appearances. At
length we go on to confuse causation with order; and, because we happen to
have made a successful analysis of some complicated assemblage of
phenomena, which experience has brought before us in the visible scene of
things, and have reduced them to a tolerable dependence on each other, we
call the ultimate points of this analysis, and the hypothetical facts in
which the whole mass of phenomena is gathered up, by the name of causes,
whereas they are really only the formula under which those phenomena are
conveniently represented. Thus the constitutional formula, “The king can
do no wrong,” is not a fact, or a cause of the Constitution, but a happy
mode of bringing out its genius, of determining the correlations of its
elements, and of grouping or regulating political rules and proceedings in
a particular direction and in a particular form. And in like manner, that
all the particles of matter throughout the universe are attracted to each
other with a force varying inversely with the square of their respective
distances, is a profound idea, harmonizing the physical works of the
Creator; but even could it be proved to be a universal fact, and also to
be the actual cause of the movements of all bodies in the universe, still
it would not be an experience, any more than is the mythological doctrine
of the presence of innumerable spirits in physical phenomena.

Of these two senses of the word “cause,” viz. that which brings a thing to
be, and that on which a thing under given circumstances follows, the
former is that of which our experience is the earlier and more intimate,
being suggested to us by our consciousness of willing and doing. The
latter of the two requires a discrimination and exactness of thought for
its apprehension, which implies special mental training; else, how do we
learn to call food the cause of refreshment, but day never the cause of
night, though night follows day more surely than refreshment follows food?
Starting, then, from experience, I consider a cause to be an effective
will; and, by the doctrine of causation, I mean the notion, or first
principle, that all things come of effective will; and the reception or
presumption of this notion is a notional assent.

6. As to causation in the second sense (viz. an ordinary succession of
antecedents and consequents, or what is called the Order of Nature), when
so explained, it falls under the doctrine of general laws; and of this I
proceed to make mention, as another first principle or notion, derived by
us from experience, and accepted with what I have called a presumption. By
natural law I mean the fact that things happen uniformly according to
certain circumstances, and not without them and at random: that is, that
they happen in an order; and, as all things in the universe are unit and
individual, order implies a certain repetition, whether of things or like
things, or of their affections and relations. Thus we have experience, for
instance, of the regularity of our physical functions, such as the beating
of the pulse and the heaving of the breath; of the recurring sensations of
hunger and thirst; of the alternation of waking and sleeping, and the
succession of youth and age. In like manner we have experience of the
great recurring phenomena of the heavens and earth, of day and night,
summer and winter. Also, we have experience of a like uniform succession
in the instance of fire burning, water choking, stones falling down and
not up, iron moving towards a magnet, friction followed by sparks and
crackling, an oar looking bent in the stream, and compressed steam
bursting its vessel. Also, by scientific analysis, we are led to the
conclusion that phenomena, which seem very different from each other,
admit of being grouped together as modes of the operation of one
hypothetical law, acting under varied circumstances. For instance, the
motion of a stone falling freely, of a projectile, and of a planet, may be
generalized as one and the same property, in each of them, of the
particles of matter; and this generalization loses its character of
hypothesis, and becomes a probability, in proportion as we have reason for
thinking on other grounds that the particles of all matter really move and
act towards each other in one certain way in relation to space and time,
and not in half a dozen ways; that is, that nature acts by uniform laws.
And thus we advance to the general notion or first principle of the
sovereignty of law throughout the universe.

There are philosophers who go farther, and teach, not only a general, but
an invariable, and inviolable, and necessary uniformity in the action of
the laws of nature, holding that every thing is the result of some law or
laws, and that exceptions are impossible; but I do not see on what ground
of experience or reason they take up this position. Our experience rather
is adverse to such a doctrine, for what concrete fact or phenomenon
exactly repeats itself? Some abstract conception of it, more perfect than
the recurrent phenomenon itself, is necessary, before we are able to say
that it has happened even twice, and the variations which accompany the
repetition are of the nature of exceptions. The earth, for instance, never
moves exactly in the same orbit year by year, but is in perpetual
vacillation. It will, indeed, be replied that this arises from the
interaction of one law with another, of which the actual orbit is only the
accidental issue, that the earth is under the influence of a variety of
attractions from cosmical bodies, and that, if it is subject to continual
aberrations in its course, these are accounted for accurately or
sufficiently by the presence of those extraordinary and variable
attractions:—science, then, by its analytical processes sets right the
_primâ facie_ confusion. Of course; still let us not by our words imply
that we are appealing to experience, when really we are only accounting,
and that by hypothesis, for the absence of experience. The confusion is a
fact, the reasoning processes are not facts. The extraordinary attractions
assigned to account for our experience of that confusion are not
themselves experienced phenomenal facts, but more or less probable
hypotheses, argued out by means of an assumed analogy between the cosmical
bodies to which those attractions are referred and falling bodies on the
earth. I say “assumed,” because that analogy (in other words, the
unfailing uniformity of nature) is the very point which has to be proved.
It is true, that we can make experiment of the law of attraction in the
case of bodies on the earth; but, I repeat, to assume from analogy that,
as stones do fall to the earth, so Jupiter, if let alone, would fall upon
the earth and the earth upon Jupiter, and with certain peculiarities of
velocity on either side, is to have recourse to an explanation which is
not necessarily valid, unless nature is necessarily uniform. Nor, indeed,
has it yet been proved, nor ought it to be assumed, even that the law of
velocity of falling bodies on the earth is invariable in its operation;
for that again is only an instance of the general proposition, which is
the very thesis in debate. It seems safer then to hold that the order of
nature is not necessary, but general in its manifestations.

But, it may be urged, if a thing happens once, it must happen always; for
what is to hinder it? Nay, on the contrary, why, because one particle of
matter has a certain property, should all particles have the same? Why,
because particles have instanced the property a thousand times, should the
thousand and first instance it also? It is _primâ facie_ unaccountable
that an accident should happen twice, not to speak of its happening
always. If we expect a thing to happen twice, it is because we think it is
not an accident, but has a cause. What has brought about a thing once, may
bring it about twice. _What_ is to hinder its happening? rather, What is
to make it happen? Here we are thrown back from the question of Order to
that of Causation. A law is not a cause, but a fact; but when we come to
the question of cause, then, as I have said, we have no experience of any
cause but Will. If, then, I must answer the question, What is to alter the
order of nature? I reply, That which willed it;—That which willed it, can
unwill it; and the invariableness of law depends on the unchangeableness
of that Will.

And here I am led to observe that, as a cause implies a will, so order
implies a purpose. Did we see flint celts, in their various receptacles
all over Europe, scored always with certain special and characteristic
marks, even though those marks had no assignable meaning or final cause
whatever, we should take that very repetition, which indeed is the
principle of order, to be a proof of intelligence. The agency then which
has kept up and keeps up the general laws of nature, energizing at once in
Sirius and on the earth, and on the earth in its primary period as well as
in the nineteenth century, must be Mind, and nothing else, and Mind at
least as wide and as enduring in its living action, as the immeasurable
ages and spaces of the universe on which that agency has left its traces.

In these remarks I have digressed from my immediate subject, but they have
some bearing on points which will subsequently come into discussion.

5. _Speculation._

Speculation is one of those words which, in the vernacular, have so
different a sense from what they bear in philosophy. It is commonly taken
to mean a conjecture, or a venture on chances; but its proper meaning is
mental sight, or the contemplation of mental operations and their results
as opposed to experience, experiment, or sense, analogous to its meaning
in Shakspeare’s line, “Thou hast no speculation in those eyes.” In this
sense I use it here.

And I use it in this sense to denote those notional assents which are the
most direct, explicit, and perfect of their kind, viz. those which are the
firm, conscious acceptance of propositions as true. This kind of assent
includes the assent to all reasoning and its conclusions, to all general
propositions, to all rules of conduct, to all proverbs, aphorisms,
sayings, and reflections on men and society. Of course mathematical
investigations and truths are the subjects of this speculative assent. So
are legal judgments, and constitutional maxims, as far as they appeal to
us for assent. So are the determinations of science; so are the
principles, disputations, and doctrines of theology. That there is a God,
that He has certain attributes, and in what sense He can be said to have
attributes, that He has done certain works, that He has made certain
revelations of Himself and of His will, and what they are, and the
multiplied bearings of the parts of the teaching, thus developed and
formed, upon each other, all this is the subject of notional assent, and
of that particular department of it which I have called Speculation. As
far as these particular subjects can be viewed in the concrete and
represent experiences, they can be received by real assent also; but as
expressed in general propositions they belong to notional apprehension and

§ 2. Real Assents.

I have in a measure anticipated the subject of Real Assent by what I have
been saying about Notional. In comparison of the directness and force of
the apprehension, which we have of an object, when our assent is to be
called real, Notional Assent and Inference seem to be thrown back into one
and the same class of intellectual acts, though the former of the two is
always an unconditional acceptance of a proposition, and the latter is an
acceptance on the condition of an acceptance of its premisses. In its
notional assents as well as in its inferences, the mind contemplates its
own creations instead of things; in real, it is directed towards things,
represented by the impressions which they have left on the imagination.
These images, when assented-to, have an influence both on the individual
and on society, which mere notions cannot exert.

I have already given various illustrations of Real Assent; I will follow
them up here by some instances of the change of Notional Assent into Real.

1. For instance: boys at school look like each other, and pursue the same
studies, some of them with greater success than others; but it will
sometimes happen, that those who acquitted themselves but poorly in class,
when they come into the action of life, and engage in some particular
work, which they have already been learning in its theory and with little
promise of proficiency, are suddenly found to have what is called an eye
for that work—an eye for trade matters, or for engineering, or a special
taste for literature—which no one expected from them at school, while they
were engaged on notions. Minds of this stamp not only know the received
rules of their profession, but enter into them, and even anticipate them,
or dispense with them, or substitute other rules instead. And when new
questions are opened, and arguments are drawn up on one side and the other
in long array, they with a natural ease and promptness form their views
and give their decision, as if they had no need to reason, from their
clear apprehension of the lie and issue of the whole matter in dispute, as
if it were drawn out in a map before them. These are the reformers,
systematizers, inventors, in various departments of thought, speculative
and practical; in education, in administration, in social and political
matters, in science. Such men indeed are far from infallible; however
great their powers, they sometimes fall into great errors, in their own
special department, while second-rate men who go by rule come to sound and
safe conclusions. Images need not be true; but I am illustrating what
vividness of apprehension is, and what is the strength of belief
consequent upon it.

2. Again:—twenty years ago, the Duke of Wellington wrote his celebrated
letter on the subject of the national defences. His authority gave it an
immediate circulation among all classes of the community; none questioned
what he said, nor as if taking his words on faith merely, but as
intellectually recognizing their truth; yet few could be said to see or
feel that truth. His letter lay, so to say, upon the pure intellect of the
national mind, and nothing for a time came of it. But eleven years
afterwards, after his death, the anger of the French colonels with us,
after the attempt upon Louis Napoleon’s life, transferred its facts to the
charge of the imagination. Then forthwith the national assent became in
various ways an operative principle, especially in its promotion of the
volunteer movement. The Duke, having a special eye for military matters,
had realized the state of things from the first; but it took a course of
years to impress upon the public mind an assent to his warning deeper and
more energetic than the reception it is accustomed to give to a clever
article in a newspaper or a review.

3. And so generally: great truths, practical or ethical, float on the
surface of society, admitted by all, valued by few, exemplifying the
poet’s adage, “Probitas laudatur et alget,” until changed circumstances,
accident, or the continual pressure of their advocates, force them upon
its attention. The iniquity, for instance, of the slave-trade ought to
have been acknowledged by all men from the first; it was acknowledged by
many, but it needed an organized agitation, with tracts and speeches
innumerable, so to affect the imagination of men as to make their
acknowledgment of that iniquitousness operative.

In like manner, when Mr. Wilberforce, after succeeding in the slave
question, urged the Duke of Wellington to use his great influence in
discountenancing duelling, he could only get from him in answer, “A relic
of barbarism, Mr. Wilberforce;” as if he accepted a notion without
realizing a fact: at length, the growing intelligence of the community,
and the shock inflicted upon it by the tragical circumstances of a
particular duel, were fatal to that barbarism. The governing classes were
roused from their dreamy acquiescence in an abstract truth, and recognized
the duty of giving it practical expression.

4. Let us consider, too, how differently young and old are affected by the
words of some classic author, such as Homer or Horace. Passages, which to
a boy are but rhetorical commonplaces, neither better nor worse than a
hundred others which any clever writer might supply, which he gets by
heart and thinks very fine, and imitates, as he thinks, successfully, in
his own flowing versification, at length come home to him, when long years
have passed, and he has had experience of life, and pierce him, as if he
had never before known them, with their sad earnestness and vivid
exactness. Then he comes to understand how it is that lines, the birth of
some chance morning or evening at an Ionian festival, or among the Sabine
hills, have lasted generation after generation, for thousands of years,
with a power over the mind, and a charm, which the current literature of
his own day, with all its obvious advantages, is utterly unable to rival.
Perhaps this is the reason of the medieval opinion about Virgil, as if a
prophet or magician; his single words and phrases, his pathetic half
lines, giving utterance, as the voice of Nature herself, to that pain and
weariness, yet hope of better things, which is the experience of her
children in every time.

5. And what the experience of the world effects for the illustration of
classical authors, that office the religious sense, carefully cultivated,
fulfils towards Holy Scripture. To the devout and spiritual, the Divine
Word speaks of things, not merely of notions. And, again, to the
disconsolate, the tempted, the perplexed, the suffering, there comes, by
means of their very trials, an enlargement of thought, which enables them
to see in it what they never saw before. Henceforth there is to them a
reality in its teachings, which they recognize as an argument, and the
best of arguments, for its divine origin. Hence the practice of meditation
on the Sacred Text, so highly thought of by Catholics. Reading, as we do,
the Gospels from our youth up, we are in danger of becoming so familiar
with them as to be dead to their force, and to view them as a mere
history. The purpose, then, of meditation is to realize them; to make the
facts which they relate stand out before our minds as objects, such as may
be appropriated by a faith as living as the imagination which apprehends

It is obvious to refer to the unworthy use made of the more solemn parts
of the sacred volume by the mere popular preacher. His very mode of
reading, whether warnings or prayers, is as if he thought them to be
little more than fine writing, poetical in sense, musical in sound, and
worthy of inspiration. The most awful truths are to him but sublime or
beautiful conceptions, and are adduced and used by him, in season and out
of season, for his own purposes, for embellishing his style or rounding
his periods. But let his heart at length be ploughed by some keen grief or
deep anxiety, and Scripture is a new book to him. This is the change which
so often takes place in what is called religious conversion, and it is a
change so far simply for the better, by whatever infirmity or error it is
in the particular case accompanied. And it is strikingly suggested to us,
to take a saintly example, in the confession of the patriarch Job, when he
contrasts his apprehension of the Almighty before and after his
afflictions. He says he had indeed a true apprehension of the Divine
Attributes before as well as after; but with the trial came a great change
in the character of that apprehension:—“With the hearing of the ear,” he
says, “I have heard Thee, but now mine eye seeth Thee; therefore I
reprehend myself, and do penance in dust and ashes.”


Let these instances suffice of Real Assent in its relation to Notional;
they lead me to make three remarks in further illustration of its

1. The fact of the distinctness of the images, which are required for real
assent, is no warrant for the existence of the objects which those images
represent. A proposition, be it ever so keenly apprehended, may be true or
may be false. If we simply put aside all inferential information, such as
is derived from testimony, from general belief, from the concurrence of
the senses, from common sense, or otherwise, we have no right to consider
that we have apprehended a truth, merely because of the strength of our
mental impression of it. Hence the proverb, “Fronti nulla fides.” An
image, with the characters of perfect veracity and faithfulness, may be
ever so distinct and eloquent an object presented before the mind (or, as
it is sometimes called, an “objectum internum,” or a “subject-object”);
but, nevertheless, there may be no external reality in the case,
corresponding to it, in spite of its impressiveness. One of the most
remarkable instances of this fallacious impressiveness is the illusion
which possesses the minds of able men, those especially who are exercised
in physical investigations, in favour of the inviolability of the laws of
nature. Philosophers of the school of Hume discard the very supposition of
miracles, and scornfully refuse to hear evidence in their behalf in given
instances, from their intimate experience of physical order and of the
ever-recurring connexion of antecedent and consequent. Their imagination
usurps the functions of reason; and they cannot bring themselves even to
entertain as a hypothesis (and this is all that they are asked to do) a
thought contrary to that vivid impression of which they are the victims,
that the uniformity of nature, which they witness hour by hour, is
equivalent to a necessary, inviolable law.

Yet it is plain, and I shall take it for granted here, that when I assent
to a proposition, I ought to have some more legitimate reason for doing
so, than the brilliancy of the image of which that proposition is the
expression. That I have no experience of a thing happening except in one
way, is a cause of the intensity of my assent, if I assent, but not the
reason of my assenting. In saying this, I am not disposed to deny the
presence in some men of an idiosyncratic sagacity, which really and
rightly sees reasons in impressions which common men cannot see, and is
secured from the peril of confusing truth with make-belief; but this is
genius, and beyond rule. I grant too, of course, that accidentally
impressiveness does in matter of fact, as in the instance which I have
been giving, constitute the motive principle of belief; for the mind is
ever exposed to the danger of being carried away by the liveliness of its
conceptions, to the sacrifice of good sense and conscientious caution, and
the greater and the more rare are its gifts, the greater is the risk of
swerving from the line of reason and duty; but here I am not speaking of
transgressions of rule any more than of exceptions to it, but of the
normal constitution of our minds, and of the natural and rightful effect
of acts of the imagination upon us, and this is, not to create assent, but
to intensify it.

2. Next, Assent, however strong, and accorded to images however vivid, is
not therefore necessarily practical. Strictly speaking, it is not
imagination that causes action; but hope and fear, likes and dislikes,
appetite, passion, affection, the stirrings of selfishness and self-love.
What imagination does for us is to find a means of stimulating those
motive powers; and it does so by providing a supply of objects strong
enough to stimulate them. The thought of honour, glory, duty,
self-aggrandisement, gain, or on the other hand of Divine Goodness, future
reward, eternal life, perseveringly dwelt upon, leads us along a course of
action corresponding to itself, but only in case there be that in our
minds which is congenial to it. However, when there is that preparation of
mind, the thought does lead to the act. Hence it is that the fact of a
proposition being accepted with a real assent is accidentally an earnest
of that proposition being carried out in conduct, and the imagination may
be said in some sense to be of a practical nature, inasmuch as it leads to
practice indirectly by the action of its object upon the affections.

3. There is a third remark suggested by the view which I have been taking
of real assents, viz. that they are of a personal character, each
individual having his own, and being known by them. It is otherwise with
notions; notional apprehension is in itself an ordinary act of our common
nature. All of us have the power of abstraction, and can be taught either
to make or to enter into the same abstractions; and thus to co-operate in
the establishment of a common measure between mind and mind. And, though
for one and all of us to assent to the notions which we thus apprehend in
common, is a further step, as requiring the adoption of a common
stand-point of principle and judgment, yet this too depends in good
measure on certain logical processes of thought, with which we are all
familiar, and on facts which we all take for granted. But we cannot make
sure, for ourselves or others, of real apprehension and assent, because we
have to secure first the images which are their objects, and these are
often peculiar and special. They depend on personal experience; and the
experience of one man is not the experience of another. Real assent, then,
as the experience which it presupposes, is proper to the individual, and,
as such, thwarts rather than promotes the intercourse of man with man. It
shuts itself up, as it were, in its own home, or at least it is its own
witness and its own standard; and, as in the instances above given, it
cannot be reckoned on, anticipated, accounted for, inasmuch as it is the
accident of this man or that.

I call the characteristics of an individual accidents, in spite of the
universal reign of law, because they are severally the co-incidents of
many laws, and there are no laws as yet discovered of such coincidence. A
man who is run over in the street and killed, in one sense suffers
according to rule or law; he was crossing, he was short-sighted or
preoccupied in mind, or he was looking another way; he was deaf, lame, or
flurried; and the cab came up at a great pace. If all this was so, it was
by a necessity that he was run over; it would have been a miracle if he
had escaped. So far is clear; but what is not clear is how all these
various conditions met together in the particular case, how it was that a
man, short-sighted, hard of hearing, deficient in presence of mind,
happened to get in the way of a cab hurrying along to catch a train. This
concrete fact does not come under any law of sudden deaths, but, like the
earth’s yearly path which I spoke of above, is the accident of the

It does not meet the case to refer to the law of averages, for such laws
deal with percentages, not with individuals, and it is about individuals
that I am speaking. That this particular man out of the three millions
congregated in the metropolis, was to have the experience of this
catastrophe, and to be the select victim to appease that law of averages,
no statistical tables could foretell, even though they could determine
that it was in the fates that in that week or day some four persons in the
length and breadth of London should be run over. And in like manner that
this or that person should have the particular experiences necessary for
real assent on any point, that the Deist should become a Theist, the
Erastian a Catholic, the Protectionist a Free-trader, the Conservative a
Legitimist, the high Tory an out-and-out Democrat, are facts, each of
which may be the result of a multitude of coincidences in one and the same
individual, coincidences which we have no means of determining, and which,
therefore, we may call accidents. For—

    “There’s a Divinity that shapes our ends,
    Rough hew them how we will.”

Such accidents are the characteristics of persons, as _differentiæ_ and
properties are the characteristics of species or natures.

That a man dies when deprived of air, is not an accident of his person,
but a law of his nature; that he cannot live without quinine or opium, or
out of the climate of Madeira, is his own peculiarity. If all men every
where usually had the yellow fever once in their lives, we should call it
(speaking according to our knowledge) a law of the human constitution; if
the inhabitants of a particular country commonly had it, we should call it
a law of the climate; if a healthy man has a fever in a healthy place, in
a healthy season, we call it an accident, though it be reducible to the
coincidence of laws, because there is no known law of their coincidence.
To be rational, to have speech, to pass through successive changes of mind
and body from infancy to death, belong to man’s nature; to have a
particular history, to be married or single, to have children or to be
childless, to live a given number of years, to have a certain
constitution, moral temperament, intellectual outfit, mental formation,
these and the like, taken all together, are the accidents which make up
our notion of a man’s person, and are the ground-work or condition of his
particular experiences.

Moreover, various of the experiences which befall this man may be the same
as those which befall that, although those experiences result each from
the combination of its own accidents, and are ultimately traceable each to
its own special condition or history. That is, images which are possessed
in common, with their apprehensions and assents, may nevertheless be
personal characteristics. If two or three hundred men are to be found, who
cannot live out of Madeira, that inability would still be an accident and
a peculiarity of each of them. Even if in each case it implied delicacy of
lungs, still that delicacy is a vague notion, comprehending under it a
great variety of cases in detail. If “five hundred brethren at once” saw
our risen Lord, that common experience would not be a law, but a personal
accident which was the prerogative of each. And so again in this day the
belief of so many thousands in His Divinity, is not therefore notional,
because it is common, but may be a real and personal belief, being
produced in different individual minds by various experiences and
disposing causes, variously combined; such as a warm or strong
imagination, great sensibility, compunction and horror at sin, frequenting
the Mass and other rites of the Church, meditating on the contents of the
Gospels, familiarity with hymns and religious poems, dwelling on the
Evidences, parental example and instruction, religious friends, strange
providences, powerful preaching. In each case the image in the mind, with
the experiences out of which it is formed, would be a personal result;
and, though the same in all, would in each case be so idiosyncratic in its
circumstances, that it would stand by itself, a special formation,
unconnected with any law; though at the same time it would necessarily be
a principle of sympathy and a bond of intercourse between those whose
minds had been thus variously wrought into a common assent, far stronger
than could follow upon any multitude of mere notions which they
unanimously held. And even when that assent is not the result of
concurrent causes, if such a case is possible, but has one single origin,
as the study of Scripture, careful teaching, or a religious temper, still
its presence argues a special history, and a personal formation, which an
abstraction does not. For an abstraction can be made at will, and may be
the work of a moment; but the moral experiences which perpetuate
themselves in images, must be sought after in order to be found, and
encouraged and cultivated in order to be appropriated.


I have now said all that occurs to me on the subject of Real Assents,
perhaps not without some risk of subtlety and minuteness. They are
sometimes called beliefs, convictions, certitudes; and, as given to moral
objects, they are perhaps as rare as they are powerful. Till we have them,
in spite of a full apprehension and assent in the field of notions, we
have no intellectual moorings, and are at the mercy of impulses, fancies,
and wandering lights, whether as regards personal conduct, social and
political action, or religion. These beliefs, be they true or false in the
particular case, form the mind out of which they grow, and impart to it a
seriousness and manliness which inspires in other minds a confidence in
its views, and is one secret of persuasiveness and influence in the public
stage of the world. They create, as the case may be, heroes and saints,
great leaders, statesmen, preachers, and reformers, the pioneers of
discovery in science, visionaries, fanatics, knight-errants, demagogues,
and adventurers. They have given to the world men of one idea, of immense
energy, of adamantine will, of revolutionary power. They kindle sympathies
between man and man, and knit together the innumerable units which
constitute a race and a nation. They become the principle of its political
existence; they impart to it homogeneity of thought and fellowship of
purpose. They have given form to the medieval theocracy and to the
Mahometan superstition; they are now the life both of “Holy Russia,” and
of that freedom of speech and action which is the special boast of

§ 3. Notional and Real Assents Contrasted.

It appears from what has been said, that, though Real Assent is not
intrinsically operative, it accidentally and indirectly affects practice.
It is in itself an intellectual act, of which the object is presented to
it by the imagination; and though the pure intellect does not lead to
action, nor the imagination either, yet the imagination has the means,
which pure intellect has not, of stimulating those powers of the mind from
which action proceeds. Real Assent then, or Belief, as it may be called,
viewed in itself, that is, simply as Assent, does not lead to action; but
the images in which it lives, representing as they do the concrete, have
the power of the concrete upon the affections and passions, and by means
of these indirectly become operative. Still this practical influence is
not invariable, nor to be relied on; for given images may have no tendency
to affect given minds, or to excite them to action. Thus, a philosopher or
a poet may vividly realize the brilliant rewards of military genius or of
eloquence, without wishing either to be a commander or an orator. However,
on the whole, broadly contrasting Belief with Notional Assent and with
Inference, we shall not, with this explanation, be very wrong in
pronouncing that acts of Notional Assent and of Inference do not affect
our conduct, and acts of Belief, that is, of Real Assent, do (not
necessarily, but do) affect it.

I have scarcely spoken of Inference since my Introductory Chapter, though
I intend, before I conclude, to consider it fully; but I have said enough
to admit of my introducing it here in contrast with Real Assent or Belief,
and that contrast is necessary in order to complete what I have been
saying about the latter. Let me then, for the sake of the latter, be
allowed here to say, that, while Assent, or Belief, presupposes some
apprehension of the things believed, Inference requires no apprehension of
the things inferred; that in consequence, Inference is necessarily
concerned with surfaces and aspects; that it begins with itself, and ends
with itself; that it does not reach as far as facts; that it is employed
upon formulas; that, as far as it takes real objects of whatever kind into
account, such as motives and actions, character and conduct, art, science,
taste, morals, religion, it deals with them, not as they are, but simply
in its own line, as materials of argument or inquiry, that they are to it
nothing more than major and minor premisses and conclusions. Belief, on
the other hand, being concerned with things concrete, not abstract, which
variously excite the mind from their moral and imaginative properties, has
for its object, not only directly what is true, but inclusively what is
beautiful, useful, admirable, heroic; objects which kindle devotion, rouse
the passions, and attach the affections; and thus it leads the way to
actions of every kind, to the establishment of principles, and the
formation of character, and is thus again intimately connected with what
is individual and personal.


I insisted on this marked distinction between Beliefs on the one hand, and
Notional Assents and Inferences on the other, many years ago in words
which it will be to my purpose to use now.(2) I quote them, because, over
and above their appositeness in this place, they present the doctrine on
which I have been insisting, from a second point of view, and with a
freshness and force which I cannot now command, and, moreover, (though
they are my own, nevertheless, from the length of time which has elapsed
since their publication,) almost with the cogency of an independent

They occur in a protest which I had occasion to write in February, 1841,
against a dangerous doctrine maintained, as I considered, by two very
eminent men of that day, now no more—Lord Brougham and Sir Robert Peel.
That doctrine was to the effect that the claims of religion could be
secured and sustained in the mass of men, and in particular in the lower
classes of society, by acquaintance with literature and physical science,
and through the instrumentality of Mechanics’ Institutes and Reading
Rooms, to the serious disparagement, as it seemed to me, of direct
Christian instruction. In the course of my remarks is found the passage
which I shall here quote, and which, with whatever differences in
terminology, and hardihood of assertion, befitting the circumstances of
its publication, nay, as far as words go, inaccuracy of theological
statement, suitably illustrates the subject here under discussion. It runs

“People say to me, that it is but a dream to suppose that Christianity
should regain the organic power in human society which once it possessed.
I cannot help that; I never said it could. I am not a politician; I am
proposing no measures, but exposing a fallacy and resisting a pretence.
Let Benthamism reign, if men have no aspirations; but do not tell them to
be romantic and then solace them with ‘glory:’ do not attempt by
philosophy what once was done by religion. The ascendency of faith may be
impracticable, but the reign of knowledge is incomprehensible. The problem
for statesmen of this age is how to educate the masses, and literature and
science cannot give the solution.

“Science gives us the grounds or premisses from which religious truths are
to be enforced; but it does not set about inferring them, much less does
it reach the inference—that is not its province. It brings before us
phenomena, and it leaves us, if we will, to call them works of design,
wisdom, or benevolence; and further still, if we will, to proceed to
confess an Intelligent Creator. We have to take its facts, and to give
them a meaning, and to draw our own conclusions from them. First comes
knowledge, then a view, then reasoning, and then belief. This is why
science has so little of a religious tendency; deductions have no power of
persuasion. The heart is commonly reached, not through the reason, but
through the imagination, by means of direct impressions, by the testimony
of facts and events, by history, by description. Persons influence us,
voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us. Many a man will live
and die upon a dogma: no man will be a martyr for a conclusion. A
conclusion is but an opinion; it is not a thing which _is_, but which we
are ‘_quite sure about_;’ and it has often been observed, that we never
say we are sure and certain without implying that we doubt. To say that a
thing _must_ be, is to admit that it _may not_ be. No one, I say, will die
for his own calculations: he dies for realities. This is why a literary
religion is so little to be depended upon; it looks well in fair weather;
but its doctrines are opinions, and, when called to suffer for them, it
slips them between its folios, or burns them at its hearth. And this again
is the secret of the distrust and raillery with which moralists have been
so commonly visited. They say and do not. Why? Because they are
contemplating the fitness of things, and they live by the square, when
they should be realizing their high maxims in the concrete. Now Sir Robert
Peel thinks better of natural history, chemistry, and astronomy than of
such ethics; but these too, what are they more than divinity _in posse_?
He protests against ‘_controversial_ divinity:’ is _inferential_ much

“I have no confidence, then, in philosophers who cannot help being
religious, and are Christians by implication. They sit at home, and reach
forward to distances which astonish us; but they hit without grasping, and
are sometimes as confident about shadows as about realities. They have
worked out by a calculation the lie of a country which they never saw, and
mapped it by means of a gazetteer; and, like blind men, though they can
put a stranger on his way, they cannot walk straight themselves, and do
not feel it quite their business to walk at all.

“Logic makes but a sorry rhetoric with the multitude; first shoot round
corners, and you may not despair of converting by a syllogism. Tell men to
gain notions of a Creator from His works, and, if they were to set about
it (which nobody does) they would be jaded and wearied by the labyrinth
they were tracing. Their minds would be gorged and surfeited by the
logical operation. Logicians are more set upon concluding rightly, than on
right conclusions. They cannot see the end for the process. Few men have
that power of mind which may hold fast and firmly a variety of thoughts.
We ridicule ’men of one idea;’ but a great many of us are born to be such,
and we should be happier if we knew it. To most men argument makes the
point in hand only more doubtful, and considerably less impressive. After
all, man is _not_ a reasoning animal; he is a seeing, feeling,
contemplating, acting animal. He is influenced by what is direct and
precise. It is very well to freshen our impressions and convictions from
physics, but to create them we must go elsewhere. Sir Robert Peel ‘never
can think it possible that a mind can be so constituted, that, after being
familiarized with the wonderful discoveries which have been made in every
part of experimental science, it can retire from such contemplation
without more enlarged conceptions of God’s providence, and a higher
reverence for His Name!’ If he speaks of religious minds, he perpetrates a
truism; if of irreligious, he insinuates a paradox.

“Life is not long enough for a religion of inferences; we shall never have
done beginning, if we determine to begin with proof. We shall ever be
laying our foundations; we shall turn theology into evidences, and divines
into textuaries. We shall never get at our first principles. Resolve to
believe nothing, and you must prove your proof and analyze your elements,
sinking farther and farther, and finding ‘in the lowest depth a lower
deep,’ till you come to the broad bosom of scepticism. I would rather be
bound to defend the reasonableness of assuming that Christianity is true,
than to demonstrate a moral governance from the physical world. Life is
for action. If we insist on proofs for every thing, we shall never come to
action: to act you must assume, and that assumption is faith.

“Let no one suppose, that in saying this I am maintaining that all proofs
are equally difficult, and all propositions equally debatable. Some
assumptions are greater than others, and some doctrines involve postulates
larger than others, and more numerous. I only say, that impressions lead
to action, and that reasonings lead from it. Knowledge of premisses, and
inferences upon them,—this is not to _live_. It is very well as a matter
of liberal curiosity and of philosophy to analyze our modes of thought:
but let this come second, and when there is leisure for it, and then our
examinations will in many ways even be subservient to action. But if we
commence with scientific knowledge and argumentative proof, or lay any
great stress upon it as the basis of personal Christianity, or attempt to
make man moral and religious by libraries and museums, let us in
consistency take chemists for our cooks, and mineralogists for our masons.

“Now I wish to state all this as matter of fact, to be judged by the
candid testimony of any persons whatever. Why we are so constituted that
faith, not knowledge or argument, is our principle of action, is a
question with which I have nothing to do; but I think it is a fact, and,
if it be such, we must resign ourselves to it as best we may, unless we
take refuge in the intolerable paradox, that the mass of men are created
for nothing, and are meant to leave life as they entered it.

“So well has this practically been understood in all ages of the world,
that no religion yet has been a religion of physics or of philosophy. It
has ever been synonymous with revelation. It never has been a deduction
from what we know; it has ever been an assertion of what we are to
believe. It has never lived in a conclusion; it has ever been a message, a
history, or a vision. No legislator or priest ever dreamed of educating
our moral nature by science or by argument. There is no difference here
between true religions and pretended. Moses was instructed not to reason
from the creation, but to work miracles. Christianity is a history
supernatural, and almost scenic: it tells us what its Author is, by
telling us what He has done.

“Lord Brougham himself has recognized the force of this principle. He has
not left his philosophical religion to argument; he has committed it to
the keeping of the imagination. Why should he depict a great republic of
letters, and an intellectual pantheon, but that he feels that instances
and patterns, not logical reasonings, are the living conclusions which
alone have a hold over the affections or can form the character?”

Chapter V. Apprehension And Assent In The Matter Of Religion.

We are now able to determine what a dogma of faith is, and what it is to
believe it. A dogma is a proposition; it stands for a notion or for a
thing; and to believe it is to give the assent of the mind to it, as it
stands for the one or for the other. To give a real assent to it is an act
of religion; to give a notional, is a theological act. It is discerned,
rested in, and appropriated as a reality, by the religious imagination; it
is held as a truth, by the theological intellect.

Not as if there were in fact, or could be, any line of demarcation or
party-wall between these two modes of assent, the religious and the
theological. As intellect is common to all men as well as imagination,
every religious man is to a certain extent a theologian, and no theology
can start or thrive without the initiative and abiding presence of
religion. As in matters of this world, sense, sensation, instinct,
intuition, supply us with facts, and the intellect uses them; so, as
regards our relations with the Supreme Being, we get our facts from the
witness, first of nature, then of revelation, and our doctrines, in which
they issue, through the exercise of abstraction and inference. This is
obvious; but it does not interfere with holding that there is a
theological habit of mind, and a religious, each distinct from each,
religion using theology, and theology using religion. This being
understood, I propose to consider the dogmas of the Being of a God, and of
the Divine Trinity in Unity, in their relation to assent, both notional
and real, and principally to real assent;—however, I have not yet finished
all I have to say by way of introduction.

Now first, my subject is assent, and not inference. I am not proposing to
set forth the arguments which issue in the belief of these doctrines, but
to investigate what it is to believe in them, what the mind does, what it
contemplates, when it makes an act of faith. It is true that the same
elementary facts which create an object for an assent, also furnish matter
for an inference: and in showing what we believe, I shall unavoidably be
in a measure showing why we believe; but this is the very reason that
makes it necessary for me at the outset to insist on the real distinction
between these two concurring and coincident courses of thought, and to
premise by way of caution, lest I should be misunderstood, that I am not
considering the question that there is a God, but rather what God is.

And secondly, I mean by belief, not precisely faith, because faith, in its
theological sense, includes a belief, not only in the thing believed, but
also in the ground of believing; that is, not only belief in certain
doctrines, but belief in them expressly because God has revealed them; but
here I am engaged only with what is called the material object of faith,
not with the formal,—with the thing believed. The Almighty witnesses to
Himself in Revelation; we believe that He is One and that He is Three,
because He says so. We believe also what He tells us about His Attributes,
His providences and dispensations, His determinations and acts, what He
has done and what He will do. And if all this is too much for us, whether
to bring before our minds at one time from its variety, or even to
apprehend at all or enunciate from our narrowness of intellect or want of
learning, then at least we believe _in globo_ all that He has revealed to
us about Himself, and that, because He has revealed it. However, this
“because He says it” does not enter into the scope of the present inquiry,
but only the truths themselves, and these particular truths, “He is One,”
“He is Three;” and of these two, both of which are in Revelation, I shall
consider “He is One,” not as a revealed truth, but as, what it is also, a
natural truth, the foundation of all religion. And with it I begin.

§ 1. Belief in One God.

There is one GOD, such and such in Nature and Attributes.

I say “such and such,” for, unless I explain what I mean by “one God,” I
use words which may mean any thing or nothing. I may mean a mere _anima
mundi_; or an initial principle which once was in action and now is not;
or collective humanity. I speak then of the God of the Theist and of the
Christian: a God who is numerically One, who is Personal; the Author,
Sustainer, and Finisher of all things, the life of Law and Order, the
Moral Governor; One who is Supreme and Sole; like Himself, unlike all
things besides Himself, which all are but His creatures; distinct from,
independent of them all; One who is self-existing, absolutely infinite,
who has ever been and ever will be, to whom nothing is past or future; who
is all perfection, and the fulness and archetype of every possible
excellence, the Truth Itself, Wisdom, Love, Justice, Holiness; One who is
All-powerful, All-knowing, Omnipresent, Incomprehensible. These are some
of the distinctive prerogatives which I ascribe unconditionally and
unreservedly to the great Being whom I call God.

This being what Theists mean when they speak of God, their assent to this
truth admits without difficulty of being what I have called a notional
assent. It is an assent following upon acts of inference, and other purely
intellectual exercises; and it is an assent to a large development of
predicates, correlative to each other, or at least intimately connected
together, drawn out as if on paper, as we might map a country which we had
never seen, or construct mathematical tables, or master the methods of
discovery of Newton or Davy, without being geographers, mathematicians, or
chemists ourselves.

So far is clear; but the question follows, Can I attain to any more vivid
assent to the Being of a God, than that which is given merely to notions
of the intellect? Can I enter with a personal knowledge into the circle of
truths which make up that great thought? Can I rise to what I have called
an imaginative apprehension of it? Can I believe as if I saw? Since such a
high assent requires a present experience or memory of the fact, at first
sight it would seem as if the answer must be in the negative; for how can
I assent as if I saw, unless I have seen? but no one in this life can see
God. Yet I conceive a real assent is possible, and I proceed to show how.

When it is said that we cannot see God, this is undeniable; but in what
sense have we a discernment of His creatures, of the individual beings
which surround us? The evidence which we have of their presence lies in
the phenomena which address our senses, and our warrant for taking these
for evidence is our instinctive certitude that they are evidence. By the
law of our nature we associate those sensible phenomena or impressions
with certain units, individuals, substances, whatever they are to be
called, which are outside and out of the reach of sense, and we picture
them to ourselves in those phenomena. The phenomena are as if pictures;
but at the same time they give us no exact measure or character of the
unknown things beyond them;—for who will say there is any uniformity
between the impressions which two of us would respectively have of some
third thing, supposing one of us had only the sense of touch, and the
other only the sense of hearing? Therefore, when we speak of our having a
picture of the things which are perceived through the senses, we mean a
certain representation, true as far as it goes, but not adequate.

And so of those intellectual and moral objects which are brought home to
us through our senses:—that they exist, we know by instinct; that they are
such and such, we apprehend from the impressions which they leave upon our
minds. Thus the life and writings of Cicero or Dr. Johnson, of St. Jerome
or St. Chrysostom, leave upon us certain impressions of the intellectual
and moral character of each of them, _sui generis_, and unmistakable. We
take up a passage of Chrysostom or a passage of Jerome; there is no
possibility of confusing the one with the other; in each case we see the
man in his language. And so of any great man whom we may have known: that
he is not a mere impression on our senses, but a real being, we know by
instinct; that he is such and such, we know by the matter or quality of
that impression.

Now certainly the thought of God, as Theists entertain it, is not gained
by an instinctive association of His presence with any sensible phenomena;
but the office which the senses directly fulfil as regards creation that
devolves indirectly on certain of our mental phenomena as regards the
Creator. Those phenomena are found in the sense of moral obligation. As
from a multitude of instinctive perceptions, acting in particular
instances, of something beyond the senses, we generalize the notion of an
external world, and then picture that world in and according to those
particular phenomena from which we started, so from the perceptive power
which identifies the intimations of conscience with the reverberations or
echoes (so to say) of an external admonition, we proceed on to the notion
of a Supreme Ruler and Judge, and then again we image Him and His
attributes in those recurring intimations, out of which, as mental
phenomena, our recognition of His existence was originally gained. And, if
the impressions which His creatures make on us through our senses oblige
us to regard those creatures as _sui generis_ respectively, it is not
wonderful that the notices, which He indirectly gives us through our
conscience, of His own nature are such as to make us understand that He is
like Himself and like nothing else.

I have already said I am not proposing here to prove the Being of a God;
yet I have found it impossible to avoid saying where I look for the proof
of it. For I am looking for that proof in the same quarter as that from
which I would commence a proof of His attributes and character,—by the
same means as those by which I show how we apprehend Him, not merely as a
notion, but as a reality. The last indeed of these three investigations
alone concerns me here, but I cannot altogether exclude the two former
from my consideration. However, I repeat, what I am directly aiming at, is
to explain how we gain an image of God and give a real assent to the
proposition that He exists. And next, in order to do this, of course I
must start from some first principle;—and that first principle, which I
assume and shall not attempt to prove, is that which I should also use as
a foundation in those other two inquiries, viz. that we have by nature a

I assume, then, that Conscience has a legitimate place among our mental
acts; as really so, as the action of memory, of reasoning, of imagination,
or as the sense of the beautiful; that, as there are objects which, when
presented to the mind, cause it to feel grief, regret, joy, or desire, so
there are things which excite in us approbation or blame, and which we in
consequence call right or wrong; and which, experienced in ourselves,
kindle in us that specific sense of pleasure or pain, which goes by the
name of a good or bad conscience. This being taken for granted, I shall
attempt to show that in this special feeling, which follows on the
commission of what we call right or wrong, lie the materials for the real
apprehension of a Divine Sovereign and Judge.

The feeling of conscience (being, I repeat, a certain keen sensibility,
pleasant or painful,—self-approval and hope, or compunction and
fear,—attendant on certain of our actions, which in consequence we call
right or wrong) is twofold:—it is a moral sense, and a sense of duty; a
judgment of the reason and a magisterial dictate. Of course its act is
indivisible; still it has these two aspects, distinct from each other, and
admitting of a separate consideration. Though I lost my sense of the
obligation which I lie under to abstain from acts of dishonesty, I should
not in consequence lose my sense that such actions were an outrage offered
to my moral nature. Again; though I lost my sense of their moral
deformity, I should not therefore lose my sense that they were forbidden
to me. Thus conscience has both a critical and a judicial office, and
though its promptings, in the breasts of the millions of human beings to
whom it is given, are not in all cases correct, that does not necessarily
interfere with the force of its testimony and of its sanction: its
testimony that there is a right and a wrong, and its sanction to that
testimony conveyed in the feelings which attend on right or wrong conduct.
Here I have to speak of conscience in the latter point of view, not as
supplying us, by means of its various acts, with the elements of morals,
such as may be developed by the intellect into an ethical code, but simply
as the dictate of an authoritative monitor bearing upon the details of
conduct as they come before us, and complete in its several acts, one by

Let us then thus consider conscience, not as a rule of right conduct, but
as a sanction of right conduct. This is its primary and most authoritative
aspect; it is the ordinary sense of the word. Half the world would be
puzzled to know what was meant by the moral sense; but every one knows
what is meant by a good or bad conscience. Conscience is ever forcing on
us by threats and by promises that we must follow the right and avoid the
wrong; so far it is one and the same in the mind of every one, whatever be
its particular errors in particular minds as to the acts which it orders
to be done or to be avoided; and in this respect it corresponds to our
perception of the beautiful and deformed. As we have naturally a sense of
the beautiful and graceful in nature and art, though tastes proverbially
differ, so we have a sense of duty and obligation, whether we all
associate it with the same certain actions in particular or not. Here,
however, Taste and Conscience part company: for the sense of
beautifulness, as indeed the Moral Sense, has no special relations to
persons, but contemplates objects in themselves; conscience, on the other
hand, is concerned with persons primarily, and with actions mainly as
viewed in their doers, or rather with self alone and one’s own actions,
and with others only indirectly and as if in association with self. And
further, taste is its own evidence, appealing to nothing beyond its own
sense of the beautiful or the ugly, and enjoying the specimens of the
beautiful simply for their own sake; but conscience does not repose on
itself, but vaguely reaches forward to something beyond self, and dimly
discerns a sanction higher than self for its decisions, as is evidenced in
that keen sense of obligation and responsibility which informs them. And
hence it is that we are accustomed to speak of conscience as a voice,—a
term which we should never think of applying to the sense of the
beautiful; and moreover a voice, or the echo of a voice, imperative and
constraining, like no other dictate in the whole of our experience.

And again, in consequence of this prerogative of dictating and commanding,
which is of its essence, Conscience has an intimate bearing on our
affections and emotions, leading us to reverence and awe, hope and fear,
especially fear, a feeling which is foreign for the most part, not only to
Taste, but even to the Moral Sense, except in consequence of accidental
associations. No fear is felt by any one who recognizes that his conduct
has not been beautiful, though he may be mortified at himself, if perhaps
he has thereby forfeited some advantage; but, if he has been betrayed into
any kind of immorality, he has a lively sense of responsibility and guilt,
though the act be no offence against society,—of distress and
apprehension, even though it may be of present service to him,—of
compunction and regret, though in itself it be most pleasurable,—of
confusion of face, though it may have no witnesses. These various
perturbations of mind, which are characteristic of a bad conscience, and
may be very considerable,—self-reproach, poignant shame, haunting remorse,
chill dismay at the prospect of the future,—and their contraries, when the
conscience is good, as real though less forcible, self-approval, inward
peace, lightness of heart, and the like,—these emotions constitute a
specific difference between conscience and our other intellectual
senses,—common sense, good sense, sense of expedience, taste, sense of
honour, and the like,—as indeed they would also constitute between
conscience and the moral sense, supposing these two were not aspects of
one and the same feeling, exercised upon one and the same subject-matter.

So much for the characteristic phenomena, which conscience presents, nor
is it difficult to determine what they imply. I refer once more to our
sense of the beautiful. This sense is attended by an intellectual
enjoyment, and is free from whatever is of the nature of emotion, except
in one case, viz. when it is excited by personal objects; then it is that
the tranquil feeling of admiration is exchanged for the excitement of
affection and passion. Conscience too, considered as a moral sense, an
intellectual sentiment, is a sense of admiration and disgust, of
approbation and blame: but it is something more than a moral sense; it is
always, what the sense of the beautiful is only in certain cases; it is
always emotional. No wonder then that it always implies what that sense
only sometimes implies; that it always involves the recognition of a
living object, towards which it is directed. Inanimate things cannot stir
our affections; these are correlative with persons. If, as is the case, we
feel responsibility, are ashamed, are frightened, at transgressing the
voice of conscience, this implies that there is One to whom we are
responsible, before whom we are ashamed, whose claims upon us we fear. If,
on doing wrong, we feel the same tearful, broken-hearted sorrow which
overwhelms us on hurting a mother; if, on doing right, we enjoy the same
sunny serenity of mind, the same soothing, satisfactory delight which
follows on our receiving praise from a father, we certainly have within us
the image of some person, to whom our love and veneration look, in whose
smile we find our happiness, for whom we yearn, towards whom we direct our
pleadings, in whose anger we are troubled and waste away. These feelings
in us are such as require for their exciting cause an intelligent being:
we are not affectionate towards a stone, nor do we feel shame before a
horse or a dog; we have no remorse or compunction on breaking mere human
law: yet, so it is, conscience excites all these painful emotions,
confusion, foreboding, self-condemnation; and on the other hand it sheds
upon us a deep peace, a sense of security, a resignation, and a hope,
which there is no sensible, no earthly object to elicit. “The wicked
flees, when no one pursueth;” then why does he flee? whence his terror?
Who is it that he sees in solitude, in darkness, in the hidden chambers of
his heart? If the cause of these emotions does not belong to this visible
world, the Object to which his perception is directed must be Supernatural
and Divine; and thus the phenomena of Conscience, as a dictate, avail to
impress the imagination with the picture(3) of a Supreme Governor, a
Judge, holy, just, powerful, all-seeing, retributive, and is the creative
principle of religion, as the Moral Sense is the principle of ethics.

And let me here refer again to the fact, to which I have already drawn
attention, that this instinct of the mind recognizing an external Master
in the dictate of conscience, and imaging the thought of Him in the
definite impressions which conscience creates, is parallel to that other
law of, not only human, but of brute nature, by which the presence of
unseen individual beings is discerned under the shifting shapes and
colours of the visible world. Is it by sense, or by reason, that brutes
understand the real unities, material and spiritual, which are signified
by the lights and shadows, the brilliant ever-changing calidoscope, as it
may be called, which plays upon their _retina_? Not by reason, for they
have not reason; not by sense, because they are transcending sense;
therefore it is an instinct. This faculty on the part of brutes, unless we
were used to it, would strike us as a great mystery. It is one peculiarity
of animal natures to be susceptible of phenomena through the channels of
sense; it is another to have in those sensible phenomena a perception of
the individuals to which this or that group of them belongs. This
perception of individual things, amid the maze of shapes and colours which
meets their sight, is given to brutes in large measures, and that,
apparently from the moment of their birth. It is by no mere physical
instinct, such as that which leads him to his mother for milk, that the
new-dropped lamb recognizes each of his fellow lambkins as a whole,
consisting of many parts bound up in one, and, before he is an hour old,
makes experience of his and their rival individualities. And much more
distinctly do the horse and dog recognize even the personality of their
masters. How are we to explain this apprehension of things, which are one
and individual, in the midst of a world of pluralities and transmutations,
whether in the instance of brutes or again of children? But until we
account for the knowledge which an infant has of his mother or his nurse,
what reason have we to take exception at the doctrine, as strange and
difficult, that in the dictate of conscience, without previous experiences
or analogical reasoning, he is able gradually to perceive the voice, or
the echoes of the voice, of a Master, living, personal, and sovereign?

I grant, of course, that we cannot assign a date, ever so early, before
which he had learned nothing at all, and formed no mental associations,
from the words and conduct of those who have the care of him. But still,
if a child of five or six years old, when reason is at length fully awake,
has already mastered and appropriated thoughts and beliefs, in consequence
of their teaching, in such sort as to be able to handle and apply them
familiarly, according to the occasion, as principles of intellectual
action, those beliefs at the very least must be singularly congenial to
his mind, if not connatural with its initial action. And that such a
spontaneous reception of religious truths is common with children, I shall
take for granted, till I am convinced that I am wrong in so doing. The
child keenly understands that there is a difference between right and
wrong; and when he has done what he believes to be wrong, he is conscious
that he is offending One to whom he is amenable, whom he does not see, who
sees him. His mind reaches forward with a strong presentiment to the
thought of a Moral Governor, sovereign over him, mindful, and just. It
comes to him like an impulse of nature to entertain it.

It is my wish to take an ordinary child, but still one who is safe from
influences destructive of his religious instincts. Supposing he has
offended his parents, he will all alone and without effort, as if it were
the most natural of acts, place himself in the presence of God, and beg of
Him to set him right with them. Let us consider how much is contained in
this simple act. First, it involves the impression on his mind of an
unseen Being with whom he is in immediate relation, and that relation so
familiar that he can address Him whenever he himself chooses; next, of One
whose goodwill towards him he is assured of, and can take for granted—nay,
who loves him better, and is nearer to him, than his parents; further, of
One who can hear him, wherever he happens to be, and who can read his
thoughts, for his prayer need not be vocal; lastly, of One who can effect
a critical change in the state of feeling of others towards him. That is,
we shall not be wrong in holding that this child has in his mind the image
of an Invisible Being, who exercises a particular providence among us, who
is present every where, who is heart-reading, heart-changing,
ever-accessible, open to impetration. What a strong and intimate vision of
God must he have already attained, if, as I have supposed, an ordinary
trouble of mind has the spontaneous effect of leading him for consolation
and aid to an Invisible Personal Power!

Moreover, this image brought before his mental vision is the image of One
who by implicit threat and promise commands certain things which he, the
same child, coincidently, by the same act of his mind, approves; which
receive the adhesion of his moral sense and judgment, as right and good.
It is the image of One who is good, inasmuch as enjoining and enforcing
what is right and good, and who, in consequence, not only excites in the
child hope and fear,—nay (it may be added), gratitude towards Him, as
giving a law and maintaining it by reward and punishment,—but kindles in
him love towards Him, as giving him a good law, and therefore as being
good Himself, for it is the property of goodness to kindle love, or rather
the very object of love is goodness; and all those distinct elements of
the moral law, which the typical child, whom I am supposing, more or less
consciously loves and approves,—truth, purity, justice, kindness, and the
like,—are but shapes and aspects of goodness. And having in his degree a
sensibility towards them all, for the sake of them all he is moved to love
the Lawgiver, who enjoins them upon him. And, as he can contemplate these
qualities and their manifestations under the common name of goodness, he
is prepared to think of them as indivisible, correlative, supplementary of
each other in one and the same Personality, so that there is no aspect of
goodness which God is not; and that the more, because the notion of a
perfection embracing all possible excellences, both moral and
intellectual, is especially congenial to the mind, and there are in fact
intellectual attributes, as well as moral, included in the child’s image
of God, as above represented.

Such is the apprehension which even a child may have of his Sovereign
Lawgiver and Judge; which is possible in the case of children, because, at
least, some children possess it, whether others possess it or no; and
which, when it is found in children, is found to act promptly and keenly,
by reason of the paucity of their ideas. It is an image of the good God,
good in Himself, good relatively to the child, with whatever
incompleteness; an image before it has been reflected on, and before it is
recognized by him as a notion. Though he cannot explain or define the word
“God,” when told to use it, his acts show that to him it is far more than
a word. He listens, indeed, with wonder and interest to fables or tales;
he has a dim, shadowy sense of what he hears about persons and matters of
this world; but he has that within him which actually vibrates, responds,
and gives a deep meaning to the lessons of his first teachers about the
will and the providence of God.

How far this initial religious knowledge comes from without, and how far
from within, how much is natural, how much implies a special divine aid
which is above nature, we have no means of determining, nor is it
necessary for my present purpose to determine. I am not engaged in tracing
the image of God in the mind of a child or a man to its first origins, but
showing that he can become possessed of such an image, over and above all
mere notions of God, and in what that image consists. Whether its
elements, latent in the mind, would ever be elicited without extrinsic
help is very doubtful; but whatever be the actual history of the first
formation of the divine image within us, so far at least is certain, that,
by informations external to ourselves, as time goes on, it admits of being
strengthened and improved. It is certain too, that, whether it grows
brighter and stronger, or, on the other hand, is dimmed, distorted, or
obliterated, depends on each of us individually, and on his circumstances.
It is more than probable that, in the event, from neglect, from the
temptations of life, from bad companions, or from the urgency of secular
occupations, the light of the soul will fade away and die out. Men
transgress their sense of duty, and gradually lose those sentiments of
shame and fear, the natural supplements of transgression, which, as I have
said, are the witnesses of the Unseen Judge. And, even were it deemed
impossible that those who had in their first youth a genuine apprehension
of Him, could ever utterly lose it, yet that apprehension may become
almost undistinguishable from an inferential acceptance of the great
truth, or may dwindle into a mere notion of their intellect. On the
contrary, the image of God, if duly cherished, may expand, deepen, and be
completed, with the growth of their powers and in the course of life,
under the varied lessons, within and without them, which are brought home
to them concerning that same God, One and Personal, by means of education,
social intercourse, experience, and literature.

To a mind thus carefully formed upon the basis of its natural conscience,
the world, both of nature and of man, does but give back a reflection of
those truths about the One Living God, which have been familiar to it from
childhood. Good and evil meet us daily as we pass through life, and there
are those who think it philosophical to act towards the manifestations of
each with some sort of impartiality, as if evil had as much right to be
there as good, or even a better, as having more striking triumphs and a
broader jurisdiction. And because the course of things is determined by
fixed laws, they consider that those laws preclude the present agency of
the Creator in the carrying out of particular issues. It is otherwise with
the theology of a religious imagination. It has a living hold on truths
which are really to be found in the world, though they are not upon the
surface. It is able to pronounce by anticipation, what it takes a long
argument to prove—that good is the rule, and evil the exception. It is
able to assume that, uniform as are the laws of nature, they are
consistent with a particular Providence. It interprets what it sees around
it by this previous inward teaching, as the true key of that maze of vast
complicated disorder; and thus it gains a more and more consistent and
luminous vision of God from the most unpromising materials. Thus
conscience is a connecting principle between the creature and his Creator;
and the firmest hold of theological truths is gained by habits of personal
religion. When men begin all their works with the thought of God, acting
for His sake and to fulfil His will, when they ask His blessing on
themselves and their life, pray to Him for the objects they desire, and
see Him in the event, whether it be according to their prayers or not,
they will find every thing that happens tend to confirm them in the truth
about Him which live in their imagination, varied and unearthly as those
truths may be. Then they are brought into His presence as that of a Living
Person, and are able to hold converse with Him, and that with a directness
and simplicity, with a confidence and intimacy, _mutatis mutandis_, which
we use towards an earthly superior; so that it is doubtful whether we
realize the company of our fellow-men with greater keenness than these
favoured minds are able to contemplate and adore the Unseen,
Incomprehensible Creator.

This vivid apprehension of religious objects, on which I have been
enlarging, is independent of the written records of Revelation; it does
not require any knowledge of Scripture, nor of the history or the teaching
of the Catholic Church. It is independent of books. But if so much may be
traced out in the twilight of Natural Religion, it is obvious how great an
addition in fulness and exactness is made to our mental image of the
Divine Personality and Attributes, by the light of Christianity. And,
indeed, to give us a clear and sufficient object for our faith, is one
main purpose of the supernatural Dispensations of Religion. This purpose
is carried out in the written Word, with an effectiveness which
inspiration alone could secure, first, by the histories which form so
large a portion of the Old Testament; and scarcely less impressively in
the prophetical system, as it is gradually unfolded and perfected in the
writings of those who were its ministers and spokesmen. And as the
exercise of the affections strengthens our apprehension of the object of
them, it is impossible to exaggerate the influence exerted on the
religious imagination by a book of devotions so sublime, so penetrating,
so full of deep instruction as the Psalter, to say nothing of other
portions of the Hagiographa. And then as regards the New Testament, the
Gospels, from their subject, contain a manifestation of the Divine Nature,
so special, as to make it appear from the contrast as if nothing were
known of God, when they are unknown. Lastly, the Apostolic Epistles, the
long history of the Church, with its fresh exhibitions of Divine Agency,
the Lives of the Saints, and the reasonings, internal collisions, and
decisions of the Theological School, form an extended comment on the words
and works of our Lord.

I think I need not say more in illustration of the subject which I
proposed for consideration in this Section. I have wished to trace the
process by which the mind arrives, not only at a notional, but at an
imaginative or real assent to the doctrine that there is One God, that is,
an assent made with an apprehension, not only of what the words of the
proposition mean, but of the object denoted by them. Without a proposition
or thesis there can be no assent, no belief, at all; any more than there
can be an inference without a conclusion. The proposition that there is
One Personal and Present God may be held in either way; either as a
theological truth, or as a religious fact or reality. The notion and the
reality assented-to are represented by one and the same proposition, but
serve as distinct interpretations of it. When the proposition is
apprehended for the purposes of proof, analysis, comparison, and the like
intellectual exercises, it is used as the expression of a notion; when for
the purposes of devotion, it is the image of a reality. Theology, properly
and directly, deals with notional apprehension; religion with imaginative.

Here we have the solution of the common mistake of supposing that there is
a contrariety and antagonism between a dogmatic creed and vital religion.
People urge that salvation consists, not in believing the propositions
that there is a God, that there is a Saviour, that our Lord is God, that
there is a Trinity, but in believing in God, in a Saviour, in a
Sanctifier; and they object that such propositions are but a formal and
human medium destroying all true reception of the Gospel, and making
religion a matter of words or of logic, instead of its having its seat in
the heart. They are right so far as this, that men can and sometimes do
rest in the propositions themselves as expressing intellectual notions;
they are wrong, when they maintain that men need do so or always do so.
The propositions may and must be used, and can easily be used, as the
expression of facts, not notions, and they are necessary to the mind in
the same way that language is ever necessary for denoting facts, both for
ourselves as individuals, and for our intercourse with others. Again, they
are useful in their dogmatic aspect as ascertaining and making clear for
us the truths on which the religious imagination has to rest. Knowledge
must ever precede the exercise of the affections. We feel gratitude and
love, we feel indignation and dislike, when we have the informations
actually put before us which are to kindle those several emotions. We love
our parents, as our parents, when we know them to be our parents; we must
know concerning God, before we can feel love, fear, hope, or trust towards
Him. Devotion must have its objects; those objects, as being supernatural,
when not represented to our senses by material symbols, must be set before
the mind in propositions. The formula, which embodies a dogma for the
theologian, readily suggests an object for the worshipper. It seems a
truism to say, yet it is all that I have been saying, that in religion the
imagination and affections should always be under the control of reason.
Theology may stand as a substantive science, though it be without the life
of religion; but religion cannot maintain its ground at all without
theology. Sentiment, whether imaginative or emotional, falls back upon the
intellect for its stay, when sense cannot be called into exercise; and it
is in this way that devotion falls back upon dogma.

§ 2. Belief in the Holy Trinity.

Of course I cannot hope to carry all inquiring minds with me in what I
have been laying down in the foregoing Section. I have appealed to the
testimony given implicitly by our conscience to the Divine Being and His
Attributes, and there are those, I know, whose experience will not respond
to the appeal:—doubtless; but are there any truths which have reality,
whether of experience or of reason, which are not disputed by some schools
of philosophy or some bodies of men? If we assume nothing but what has
universal reception, the field of our possible discussions will suffer
much contraction; so that it must be considered sufficient in any inquiry,
if the principles or facts assumed have a large following. This condition
is abundantly fulfilled as regards the authority and religious meaning of
conscience;—that conscience is the voice of God has almost grown into a
proverb. This solemn dogma is recognized as such by the great mass both of
the young and of the uneducated, by the religious few and the irreligious
many. It is proclaimed in the history and literature of nations; it has
had supporters in all ages, places, creeds, forms of social life,
professions, and classes. It has held its ground under great intellectual
and moral disadvantages; it has recovered its supremacy, and ultimately
triumphed in the minds of those who had rebelled against it. Even
philosophers, who have been antagonists on other points, agree in
recognizing the inward voice of that solemn Monitor, personal, peremptory,
unargumentative, irresponsible, minatory, definitive. This I consider
relieves me of the necessity of arguing with those who would resolve our
sense of right and wrong into a sense of the Expedient or the Beautiful,
or would refer its authoritative suggestions to the effect of teaching or
of association. There are those who can see and hear for all the common
purposes of life, yet have no eye for colours or their shades, or no ear
for music; moreover, there are degrees of sensibility to colours and to
sounds, in the comparison of man with man, while some men are stone-blind
or stone-deaf. Again, all men, as time goes on, have the prospect of
losing that keenness of sight and hearing which they possessed in their
youth; and so, in like manner, we may lose in manhood and in age that
sense of a Supreme Teacher and Judge which was the gift of our first
years; and that the more, because in most men the imagination suffers from
the lapse of time and the experience of life, long before the bodily
senses fail. And this accords with the advice of the sacred writer to
“remember our Creator in the days of our youth,” while our moral
sensibilities are fresh, “before the sun and the light and the moon and
the stars be darkened, and the clouds return after the rain.” Accordingly,
if there be those who deny that the dictate of conscience is ever more
than a taste, or an association, it is a less difficulty to me to believe
that they are deficient either in the religious sense or in their memory
of early years, than that they never had at all what those around them
without hesitation profess to have received from nature.


So much on the doctrine of the Being and Attributes of God, and of the
real apprehension with which we can contemplate and assent to it:—now I
turn to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, with the purpose of
investigating in like manner how far it belongs to theology, how far to
the faith and devotion of the individual; how far the propositions
enunciating it are confined to the expression of intellectual notions, and
how far they stand for things also, and admit of that assent which we give
to objects presented to us by the imagination. And first I have to state
what our doctrine is.

No one is to be called a Theist, who does not believe in a Personal God,
whatever difficulty there may be in defining the word “Personal.” Now it
is the belief of Catholics about the Supreme Being, that this essential
characteristic of His Nature is reiterated in three distinct ways or
modes; so that the Almighty God, instead of being One Person only, which
is the teaching of Natural Religion, has Three Personalities, and is at
once, according as we view Him in the one or the other of them, the
Father, the Son, and the Spirit—a Divine Three, who bear towards Each
Other the several relations which those names indicate, and are in that
respect distinct from Each Other, and in that alone.

This is the teaching of the Athanasian Creed; viz. that the One Personal
God, who is not a logical or physical unity, but a Living _Monas_, more
really one even than an individual man is one—He (“unus,” not “unum,”
because of the inseparability of His Nature and Personality),—He at once
is Father, is Son, is Holy Ghost, Each of whom is that One Personal God in
the fulness of His Being and Attributes; so that the Father is all that is
meant by the word “God,” as if we knew nothing of Son, or of Spirit; and
in like manner the Son and the Spirit are Each by Himself all that is
meant by the word, as if the Other Two were unknown; moreover, that by the
word “God” is meant nothing over and above what is meant by the “Father,”
or by “the Son,” or by “the Holy Ghost;” and that the Father is in no
sense the Son, nor the Son the Holy Ghost, nor the Holy Ghost the Father.
Such is the prerogative of the Divine Infinitude, that that One and Single
Personal Being, the Almighty God, is really Three, while He is absolutely

Indeed, the Catholic dogma may be said to be summed up in this very
formula on which St. Augustine lays so much stress, “Tres et Unus,” not
merely “Unum;” hence that formula is the key-note, as it may be called, of
the Athanasian Creed. In that Creed we testify to the Unus Increatus, to
the Unus Immensus, Omnipotens, Deus, and Dominus; yet Each of the Three
also is by Himself Increatus, Immensus, Omnipotens, for Each is that One
God, though Each is not the Other; Each, as is intimated by Unus
Increatus, is the One Personal God of Natural Religion.

That this doctrine, thus drawn out, is of a notional character, is plain;
the question before me is whether in any sense it can become the object of
real apprehension, that is, whether any portion of it may be considered as
addressed to the imagination, and is able to exert that living mastery
over the mind, which is instanced as I have shown above, as regards the
proposition, “There is a God.”

“There is a God,” when really apprehended, is the object of a strong
energetic adhesion, which works a revolution in the mind; but when held
merely as a notion, it requires but a cold and ineffective acceptance,
though it be held ever so unconditionally. Such in its character is the
assent of thousands, whose imaginations are not at all kindled, nor their
hearts inflamed, nor their conduct affected, by the most august of all
conceivable truths. I ask, then, as concerns the doctrine of the Holy
Trinity, such as I have drawn it out to be, is it capable of being
apprehended otherwise than notionally? Is it a theory, undeniable indeed,
but addressed to the student, and to no one else? Is it the elaborate,
subtle, triumphant exhibition of a truth, completely developed, and
happily adjusted, and accurately balanced on its centre, and impregnable
on every side, as a scientific view, “totus, teres, atque rotundus,”
challenging all assailants, or, on the other hand, does it come to the
unlearned, the young, the busy, and the afflicted, as a fact which is to
arrest them, penetrate them, and to support and animate them in their
passage through life? That is, does it admit of being held in the
imagination, and being embraced with a real assent? I maintain it does,
and that it is the normal faith which every Christian has, on which he is
stayed, which is his spiritual life, there being nothing in the exposition
of the dogma, as I have given it above, which does not address the
imagination, as well as the intellect.

Now let us observe what is not in that exposition;—there are no scientific
terms in it. I will not allow that “Personal” is such, because it is a
word in common use, and though it cannot mean precisely the same when used
of God as when it is used of man, yet it is sufficiently explained by that
common use, to allow of its being intelligibly applied to the Divine
Nature. The other words, which occur in the above account of the
doctrine,—Three, One, He, God, Father, Son, Spirit,—are none of them words
peculiar to theology, have all a popular meaning, and are used according
to that obvious and popular meaning, when introduced into the Catholic
dogma. No human words indeed are worthy of the Supreme Being, none are
adequate; but we have no other words to use but human, and those in
question are among the simplest and most intelligible that are to be found
in language.

There are then no terms in the foregoing exposition which do not admit of
a plain sense, and they are there used in that sense; and, moreover, that
sense is what I have called real, for the words in their ordinary use
stand for things. The words, Father, Son, Spirit, He, One, and the rest,
are not abstract terms, but concrete, and adapted to excite images. And
these words thus simple and clear, are embodied in simple, clear, brief,
categorical propositions. There is nothing abstruse either in the terms
themselves, or in their setting. It is otherwise of course with formal
theological treatises on the subject of the dogma. There we find such
words as substance, essence, existence, form, subsistence, notion,
circumincession; and, though these are far easier to understand than might
at first sight be thought, still they are doubtless addressed to the
intellect, and can only command a notional assent.

It will be observed also that not even the words “mysteriousness” and
“mystery” occur in the exposition which I have above given of the
doctrine; I omitted them, because they are not parts of the Divine Verity
as such, but in relation to creatures and to the human intellect; and
because they are of a notional character. It is plain of course even at
first sight that the doctrine is an inscrutable mystery, or has an
inscrutable mysteriousness; few minds indeed but have theology enough to
see this; and if an educated man, to whom it is presented, does not
perceive that mysteriousness at once, that is a sure token that he does
not rightly apprehend the propositions which contain the doctrine. Hence
it follows that the thesis “the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in Unity is
mysterious” is indirectly an article of faith. But such an article, being
a reflection made upon a revealed truth in an inference, expresses a
notion, not a thing. It does not relate to the direct apprehension of the
object, but to a judgment of our reason upon the object. Accordingly the
mysteriousness of the doctrine is not, strictly speaking, intrinsical to
it, as it is proposed to the religious apprehension, though in matter of
fact a devotional mind, on perceiving that mysteriousness, will lovingly
appropriate it, as involved in the divine revelation; and, as such a mind
turns all thoughts which come before it to a sacred use, so will it dwell
upon the Mystery of the Trinity with awe and veneration, as a truth
befitting, so to say, the Immensity and Incomprehensibility of the Supreme

However, I do not put forward the mystery as the direct object of real or
religious apprehension; nor again, the complex doctrine (when it is
viewed, _per modum unius_, as one whole), in which the mystery lies. Let
it be observed, it is possible for the mind to hold a number of
propositions either in their combination as one whole, or one by one; one
by one, with an intelligent perception indeed of each, and of the general
direction of each towards the rest, yet of each separately from the rest,
for its own sake only, and not in connexion and one with the rest. Thus I
may know London quite well, and find my way from street to street in any
part of it without difficulty, yet be quite unable to draw a map of it.
Comparison, calculation, cataloguing, arranging, classifying, are
intellectual acts subsequent upon, and not necessary for, a real
apprehension of the things on which they are exercised. Strictly speaking
then, the dogma of the Holy Trinity, as a complex whole, or as a mystery,
is not the formal object of religious apprehension and assent; but as a
number of propositions, taken one by one. That mystery also is of course
the object of assent, but it is the notional object; and when presented to
religious minds, it is received by them notionally; and again implicitly,
viz. in the real assent which they give to the word of God as conveyed to
them through the instrumentality of His Church. On these points it may be
right to enlarge.

Of course, as I have been saying, a man of ordinary intelligence will be
at once struck with the apparent contrariety between the propositions one
with another which constitute the Heavenly Dogma, and, by reason of his
spontaneous activity of mind and by an habitual association, he will be
compelled to view the Dogma in the light of that contrariety,—so much so,
that to hold one and all of these separate propositions will be to such a
man all one with holding the mystery, as a mystery; and in consequence he
will so hold it;—but still, I say, so far he will hold it only with a
notional apprehension. He will accurately take in the meaning of each of
the dogmatic propositions in its relation to the rest of them, combining
them into one whole and embracing what he cannot realize, with an assent,
notional indeed, but as genuine and thorough as any real assent can be.
But the question is whether a real assent to the mystery, as such, is
possible; and I say it is not possible, because, while we can image the
separate propositions, we cannot image them all together. We cannot,
because the mystery transcends all our experience; we have no experiences
in our memory which we can put together, compare, contrast, unite, and
thereby transmute into an image of the Ineffable Verity;—certainly; but
what is in some degree a matter of experience, what is presented for the
imagination, the affections, the devotion, the spiritual life of the
Christian to repose upon with a real assent, what stands for things, not
for notions only, is each of those propositions taken one by one, and
that, not in the case of intellectual and thoughtful minds only, but of
all religious minds whatever, in the case of a child or a peasant, as well
as of a philosopher.

This is only one instance of a general principle which holds good in all
such real apprehension as is possible to us, of God and His Attributes.
Not only do we see Him at best only in shadows, but we cannot bring even
those shadows together, for they flit to and fro, and are never present to
us at once. We can indeed combine the various matters which we know of Him
by an act of the intellect, and treat them theologically, but such
theological combinations are no objects for the imagination to gaze upon.
Our image of Him never is one, but broken into numberless partial aspects,
independent each of each. As we cannot see the whole starry firmament at
once, but have to turn ourselves from east to west, and then round to east
again, sighting first one constellation and then another, and losing these
in order to gain those, so it is, and much more, with such real
apprehensions as we can secure of the Divine Nature. We know one truth
about Him and another truth,—but we cannot image both of them together; we
cannot bring them before us by one act of the mind; we drop the one while
we turn to take up the other. None of them are fully dwelt on and enjoyed,
when they are viewed in combination. Moreover, our devotion is tried and
confused by the long list of propositions which theology is obliged to
draw up, by the limitations, explanations, definitions, adjustments,
balancings, cautions, arbitrary prohibitions, which are imperatively
required by the weakness of human thought and the imperfections of human
language. Such exercises of reasoning indeed do but increase and harmonize
our notional apprehension of the dogma, but they add little to the
luminousness and vital force with which its separate propositions come
home to our imagination, and if they are necessary, as they certainly are,
they are necessary not so much for faith, as against unbelief.

Break a ray of light into its constituent colours, each is beautiful, each
may be enjoyed; attempt to unite them, and perhaps you produce only a
dirty white. The pure and indivisible Light is seen only by the blessed
inhabitants of heaven; here we have but such faint reflections of it as
its diffraction supplies; but they are sufficient for faith and devotion.
Attempt to combine them into one, and you gain nothing but a mystery,
which you can describe as a notion, but cannot depict as an imagination.
And this, which holds of the Divine Attributes, holds also of the Holy
Trinity in Unity. And hence, perhaps, it is that the latter doctrine is
never spoken of as a Mystery in the New Testament, which is addressed far
more to the imagination and affections than to the intellect. Hence, too,
what is more remarkable, the dogma is not called a mystery in the Creeds;
not in the Apostles’ nor the Nicene, nor even in the Athanasian. The
reason seems to be, that the Creeds have a place in the Ritual; they are
devotional acts, and of the nature of prayers, addressed to God; and, in
such addresses, to speak of intellectual difficulties would be out of
place. It must be recollected especially that the Athanasian Creed has
sometimes been called the “Psalmus _Quicunque_.” It is not a mere
collection of notions, however momentous. It is a psalm or hymn of praise,
of confession, and of profound, self-prostrating homage, parallel to the
canticles of the elect in the Apocalypse. It appeals to the imagination
quite as much as to the intellect. It is the war-song of faith, with which
we warn first ourselves, then each other, and then all those who are
within its hearing, and the hearing of the Truth, who our God is, and how
we must worship Him, and how vast our responsibility will be, if we know
what to believe, and yet believe not. It is

    “The Psalm that gathers in one glorious lay
    All chants that e’er from heaven to earth found way;
    Creed of the Saints, and Anthem of the Blest,
    And calm-breathed warning of the kindliest love
    That ever heaved a wakeful mother’s breast.”

For myself, I have ever felt it as the most simple and sublime, the most
devotional formulary to which Christianity has given birth, more so even
than the _Veni Creator_ and the _Te Deum_. Even the antithetical form of
its sentences, which is a stumbling-block to so many, as seeming to force,
and to exult in forcing a mystery upon recalcitrating minds, has to my
apprehension, even notionally considered, a very different drift. It is
intended as a check upon our reasonings, lest they rush on in one
direction beyond the limits of the truth, and it turns them back into the
opposite direction. Certainly it implies a glorying in the Mystery; but it
is not simply a statement of the Mystery for the sake of its

What is more remarkable still, a like silence as to the mysteriousness of
the doctrine is observed in the successive definitions of the Church
concerning it. Confession after confession, canon after canon is drawn up
in the course of centuries; Popes and Councils have found it their duty to
insist afresh upon the dogma; they have enunciated it in new or additional
propositions; but not even in their most elaborate formularies do they use
the word “mystery,” as far as I know. The great Council of Toledo pursues
the scientific ramifications of the doctrine, with the exact diligence of
theology, at a length four times that of the Athanasian Creed; the fourth
Lateran completes, by a final enunciation, the development of the sacred
doctrine after the mind of St. Augustine; the Creed of Pope Pius IV.
prescribes the general rule of faith against the heresies of these latter
times; but in none of them do we find either the word “mystery,” or any
suggestion of mysteriousness.

Such is the usage of the Church in its dogmatic statements concerning the
Holy Trinity, as if fulfilling the maxim, “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” I
suppose it is founded on a tradition, because the custom is otherwise as
regards catechisms and theological treatises. These belong to particular
ages and places, and are addressed to the intellect. In them, certainly,
the mysteriousness of the doctrine is almost uniformly insisted on. But,
however this contrast of usage is to be explained, the Creeds are enough
to show that the dogma may be taught in its fulness for the purposes of
popular faith and devotion without directly insisting on that
mysteriousness, which is necessarily involved in the combined view of its
separate propositions. That systematized whole is the object of notional
assent, and its propositions, one by one, are the objects of real.

To show this in fact, I will enumerate the separate propositions of which
the dogma consists. They are nine, and stand as follows:—

1. There are Three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word or
Son, and the Holy Spirit. 2. From the Father is, and ever has been, the
Son. 3. From the Father and Son is, and ever has been, the Spirit.

4. The Father is the One Eternal Personal God. 5. The Son is the One
Eternal Personal God. 6. The Spirit is the One Eternal Personal God.

7. The Father is not the Son. 8. The Son is not the Holy Ghost. 9. The
Holy Ghost is not the Father.

Now I think it is a fact, that, whereas these nine propositions contain
the Mystery, yet, taken, not as a whole, but separately, each by itself,
they are not only apprehensible, but admit of a real apprehension.

Thus, for instance, if the proposition “There is One who bears witness of
Himself,” or “reveals Himself,” would admit of a real assent, why does not
also the proposition “There are Three who bear witness”?

Again, if the word “God” may create an image in our minds, why may not the
proposition “The Father is God”? or again, “The Son,” or “The Holy Ghost
is God”?

Again, to say that “the Son is other than the Holy Ghost,” or “neither Son
nor Holy Ghost is the Father,” is not a simple negative, but also a
declaration that Each of the Divine Three by Himself is complete in
Himself, and simply and absolutely God as though the Other Two were not
revealed to us.

Again, from our experience of the works of man, we accept with a real
apprehension the proposition “The Angels are made by God,” correcting the
word “made,” as is required in the case of a creating Power, and a
spiritual work:—why may we not in like matter refine and elevate the human
analogy, yet keep the image, when a Divine Birth is set before us in terms
which properly belong to what is human and earthly? If our experience
enables us to apprehend the essential fact of sonship, as being a
communication of being and of nature from one to another, why should we
not thereby in a certain measure realize the proposition “The Word is the
Son of God”?

Again, we have abundant instances in nature of the general law of one
thing coming from another or from others:—as the child issues in the man
as his successor, and the child and the man issue in the old man, like
them both, but not the same, so different as almost to have a fresh
personality distinct from each, so we may form some image, however vague,
of the procession of the Holy Spirit from Father and Son. This is what I
should say of the propositions which I have numbered two and three, which
are the least susceptible of a real assent out of the nine.

So much at first sight; but the force of what I have been saying will be
best understood, by considering what Scripture and the Ritual of the
Church witness in accordance with it. In referring to these two great
store-houses of faith and devotion, I must premise, as when I spoke of the
Being of a God, that I am not proving by means of them the dogma of the
Holy Trinity, but using the one and the other in illustration of the
action of the separate articles of that dogma upon the imagination, though
the complex truth, in which, when combined, they issue, is not in sympathy
or correspondence with it, but altogether beyond it; and next of the
action and influence of those separate articles, by means of the
imagination, upon the affections and obedience of Christians, high and

This being understood, I ask what chapter of St. John or St. Paul is not
full of the Three Divine Names, introduced in one or other of the above
nine propositions, expressed or implied, or in their parallels, or in
parts or equivalents of them? What lesson is there given us by these two
chief writers of the New Testament, which does not grow out of Their
Persons and Their Offices? At one time we read of the grace of the Second
Person, the love of the First, and the communication of the Third; at
another we are told by the Son, “I will pray the Father, and He will send
you another Paraclete;” and then, “All that the Father hath are Mine; the
Paraclete shall receive of Mine.” Then again we read of “the foreknowledge
of the Father, the sanctification of the Spirit, the Blood of Jesus
Christ;” and again we are to “pray in the Holy Ghost, abide in the love of
God, and look for the mercy of Jesus.” And so, in like manner, to Each, in
one passage or another, are ascribed the same titles and works: Each is
acknowledged as Lord; Each is eternal; Each is Truth; Each is Holiness;
Each is all in all; Each is Creator; Each wills with a Supreme Will; Each
is the Author of the new birth; Each speaks in His ministers; Each is the
Revealer; Each is the Lawgiver; Each is the Teacher of the elect; in Each
the elect have fellowship; Each leads them on; Each raises them from the
dead. What is all this, but “the Father Eternal, the Son Eternal, and the
Holy Ghost Eternal; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost Omnipotent; the
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost God,” of the Athanasian Creed? And if the New
Testament be, as it confessedly is, so real in its teaching, so luminous,
so impressive, so constraining, so full of images, so sparing in mere
notions, whence is this but because, in its references to the Object of
our supreme worship, it is ever ringing the changes (so to say) on the
nine propositions which I have set down, and on the particular statements
into which they may be severally resolved?

Take one of them, as an instance, viz. the dogmatic sentence “The Son is
God.” What an illustration of the real assent which can be given to this
proposition, and its power over our affections and emotions, is the first
half of the first chapter of St. John’s gospel! or again the vision of our
Lord in the first chapter of the Apocalypse! or the first chapter of St.
John’s first Epistle! Again, how burning are St. Paul’s words when he
speaks of our Lord’s crucifixion and death! what is the secret of that
flame, but this same dogmatic sentence, “The Son is God”? why should the
death of the Son be more awful than any other death, except that He,
though man, was God? And so, again, all through the Old Testament, what is
it which gives an interpretation and a persuasive power to so many
passages and portions, especially of the Psalms and the Prophets, but this
same theological formula, “The Messias is God,” a proposition which never
could thus vivify in the religious mind the letter of the sacred text,
unless it appealed to the imagination, and could be held with a much
stronger assent than any that is merely notional.

This same power of the dogma may be illustrated from the Ritual. Consider
the services for Christmas or Epiphany; for Easter, Ascension, and (I may
say) pre-eminently Corpus Christi; what are these great Festivals but
comments on the words, “The Son is God”? Yet who will say that they have
the subtlety, the aridity, the coldness of mere scholastic science? Are
they addressed to the pure intellect, or to the imagination? do they
interest our logical faculty, or excite our devotion? Why is it that
personally we often find ourselves so ill-fitted to take part in them,
except that we are not good enough, that in our case the dogma is far too
much a theological notion, far too little an image living within us? And
so again, as to the Divinity of the Holy Ghost: consider the breviary
offices for Pentecost and its Octave, the grandest perhaps in the whole
year; are they created out of mere abstractions and inferences, or has not
the categorical proposition of St. Athanasius, “The Holy Ghost is God,”
such a place in the imagination and the heart, as suffices to give birth
to the noble Hymns, _Veni Creator_, and _Veni Sancte Spiritus_?


I sum up then to the same effect as in the preceding Section. Religion has
to do with the real, and the real is the particular; theology has to do
with what is notional, and the notional is the general and systematic.
Hence theology has to do with the dogma of the Holy Trinity as a whole
made up of many propositions; but Religion has to do with each of those
separate propositions which compose it, and lives and thrives in the
contemplation of them. In them it finds the motives for devotion and
faithful obedience; while theology on the other hand forms and protects
them by virtue of its function of regarding them, not merely one by one,
but as a system of truth.

One other remark is in place here. If the separate articles of the
Athanasian Creed are so closely connected with vital and personal religion
as I have shown them to be, if they supply motives on which a man may act,
if they determine the state of mind, the special thoughts, affections, and
habits, which he carries with him from this world to the next, is there
cause to wonder, that the Creed should proclaim aloud, that those who are
not internally such as Christ, by means of it, came to make them, are not
capable of the heaven to which He died to bring them? Is not the
importance of accepting the dogma the very explanation of that careful
minuteness with which the few simple truths which compose it are
inculcated, are reiterated, in the Creed? And shall the Church of God, to
whom “the dispensation” of the Gospel is committed, forget the concomitant
obligation, “Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel”? Are her ministers
by their silence to bring upon themselves the Prophet’s anathema, “Cursed
is he that doth the work of the Lord deceitfully”? Can they ever forget
the lesson conveyed to them in the Apostle’s protestation, “God is
faithful, as our preaching which was among you was not Yea and Nay.... For
we are a good odour of Christ unto God in them that are in the way of
salvation, and in them that are perishing. For we are not as the many, who
adulterate the word of God; but with sincerity, but as from God, in the
presence of God, so speak we in Christ”?

§ 3. Belief in Dogmatic Theology.

It is a familiar charge against the Catholic Church in the mouths of her
opponents, that she imposes on her children as matters of faith, not only
such dogmas as have an intimate bearing on moral conduct and character,
but a great number of doctrines which none but professed theologians can
understand, and which in consequence do but oppress the mind, and are the
perpetual fuel of controversy. The first who made this complaint was no
less a man than the great Constantine, and on no less an occasion than the
rise of the Arian heresy, which he, as yet a catechumen, was pleased to
consider a trifling and tolerable error. So, deciding the matter, he wrote
at once a letter to Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, and to Arius, who was
a presbyter in the same city, exhorting them to drop the matter in
dispute, and to live in peace with one another. He was answered by the
meeting of the Council of Nicæa, and by the insertion of the word
“Consubstantial” into the Creed of the Church.

What the Emperor thought of the controversy itself, that Bishop Jeremy
Taylor thought of the insertion of the “Consubstantial,” viz. that it was
a mischievous affair, and ought never to have taken place. He thus quotes
and comments on the Emperor’s letter: “The Epistle of Constantine to
Alexander and Arius tells the truth, and chides them both for commencing
the question, Alexander for broaching it, Arius for taking it up. And
although this be true, that it had been better for the Church it had never
begun, yet, being begun, what is to be done with it? Of this also, in that
admirable epistle, we have the Emperor’s judgment (I suppose not without
the advice and privity of Hosius), ... for first he calls it a certain
vain piece of a question, ill begun, and more unadvisedly published,—a
question which no law or ecclesiastical canon defineth; a fruitless
contention; the product of idle brains; a matter so nice, so obscure, so
intricate, that it was neither to be explicated by the clergy nor
understood by the people; a dispute of words, a doctrine inexplicable, but
most dangerous when taught, lest it introduce discord or blasphemy; and,
therefore, the objector was rash, and the answer unadvised, for it
concerned not the substance of faith or the worship of God, nor the chief
commandment of Scripture; and, therefore, why should it be the matter of
discord? for though the matter be grave, yet, because neither necessary
nor explicable, the contention is trifling and toyish.... So that the
matter being of no great importance, but vain and a toy in respect of the
excellent blessings of peace and charity, it were good that Alexander and
Arius should leave contending, keep their opinions to themselves, ask each
other forgiveness, and give mutual toleration.(4)”

Moreover, Taylor is of opinion that “they both did believe One God, and
the Holy Trinity;” an opinion in the teeth of historical fact. Also he is
of opinion, that “that faith is best which hath greatest simplicity, and
that it is better in all cases humbly to submit, than curiously to inquire
and pry into the mystery under the cloud, and to hazard our faith by
improving knowledge.” He is, further, of opinion, that “if the Nicene
Fathers had done so too, possibly the Church would never have repented
it.” He also thinks that their insertion of the “Consubstantial” into the
Creed was a bad precedent.

Whether it was likely to act as a precedent or not, it has not been so in
fact, for fifteen hundred years have passed since the Nicene Council, and
it is the one instance of a scientific word having been introduced into
the Creed from that day to this. And after all, the word in question has a
plain meaning, as the Council used it, easily stated and intelligible to
all; for “consubstantial with the Father,” means nothing more than “really
one with the Father,” being adopted to meet the evasion of the Arians. The
Creed then remains now what it was in the beginning, a popular form of
faith, suited to every age, class, and condition. Its declarations are
categorical, brief, clear, elementary, of the first importance, expressive
of the concrete, the objects of real apprehension, and the basis and rule
of devotion. As to the proper Nicene formula itself, excepting the one
term “Consubstantial,” it has not a word which does not relate to the
rudimental facts of Christianity. The Niceno-Constantinopolitan and the
various ante-Nicene Symbols, of which the Apostles’ is one, add summarily
one or two notional articles, such as “the communion of Saints,” and “the
forgiveness of sins,” which, however, may be readily converted into real
propositions. On the other hand, one chief dogma, which is easy to popular
apprehension, is necessarily absent from all of them, the Real Presence;
but the omission is owing to the ancient “Disciplina Arcani,” which
withheld the Sacred Mystery from catechumens and heathen, to whom the
Creed was known.

So far the charge which Taylor brings forward has no great plausibility;
but it is not the whole of his case. I cannot deny that a large and
ever-increasing collection of propositions, abstract notions, not concrete
truths, become, by the successive definitions of Councils, a portion of
the _credenda_, and have an imperative claim upon the faith of every
Catholic; and this being the case, it will be asked me how I am borne out
by facts in enlarging, as I have done, on the simplicity and directness,
on the tangible reality, of the Church’s dogmatic teaching.

I will suppose the objection urged thus:—why has not the Catholic Church
limited her _credenda_ to propositions such as those in her Creed,
concrete and practical, easy of apprehension, and of a character to win
assent? such as “Christ is God;” “This is My Body;” “Baptism gives life to
the soul;” “The Saints intercede for us;” “Death, judgment, heaven, hell,
the four last things;” “There are seven gifts of the Holy Ghost,” “three
theological virtues,” “seven capital sins,” and the like, as they are
found in her catechisms. On the contrary, she makes it imperative on every
one, priest and layman, to profess as revealed truth all the canons of the
Councils, and innumerable decisions of Popes, propositions so various, so
notional, that but few can know them, and fewer can understand them. What
sense, for instance, can a child or a peasant, nay, or any ordinary
Catholic, put upon the Tridentine Canons, even in translation? such as,
“Siquis dixerit homines sine Christi justitiâ, per quam nobis meruit,
justificari, aut per eam ipsam formaliter justos esse, anathema sit;” or
“Siquis dixerit justificatum peccare, dum intuitu æternæ mercedis bene
operatur, anathema sit.” Or again, consider the very anathema annexed by
the Nicene Council to its Creed, the language of which is so obscure, that
even theologians differ about its meaning. It runs as follows:—“Those who
say that once the Son was not, and before He was begotten He was not, and
that He was made out of that which was not, or who pretend that He was of
other hypostasis or substance, or that the Son of God is created, mutable,
or alterable, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes.” These
doctrinal enunciations are _de fide_; peasants are bound to believe them
as well as controversialists, and to believe them as truly as they believe
that our Lord is God. How then are the Catholic _credenda_ easy and within
reach of all men?

I begin my answer to this objection by recurring to what has already been
said concerning the relation of theology with its notional propositions to
religious and devotional assent. Devotion is excited doubtless by the
plain, categorical truths of revelation, such as the articles of the
Creed; on these it depends; with these it is satisfied. It accepts them
one by one; it is careless about intellectual consistency; it draws from
each of them the spiritual nourishment which it was intended to supply.
Far different, certainly, is the nature and duty of the intellect. It is
ever active, inquisitive, penetrating; it examines doctrine and doctrine;
it compares, contrasts, and forms them into a science; that science is
theology. Now theological science, being thus the exercise of the
intellect upon the _credenda_ of revelation, is, though not directly
devotional, at once natural, excellent, and necessary. It is natural,
because the intellect is one of our highest faculties; excellent, because
it is our duty to use our faculties to the full; necessary, because,
unless we apply our intellect to revealed truth rightly, others will
exercise their minds upon it wrongly. Accordingly, the Catholic intellect
makes a survey and a catalogue of the doctrines contained in the
_depositum_ of revelation, as committed to the Church’s keeping; it
locates, adjusts, defines them each, and brings them together into a
whole. Moreover, it takes particular aspects or portions of them; it
analyzes them, whether into first principles really such, or into
hypotheses of an illustrative character. It forms generalizations, and
gives names to them. All these deductions are true, if rightly deduced,
because they are deduced from what is true; and therefore in one sense
they are a portion of the _depositum_ of faith or _credenda_, while in
another sense they are additions to it: however, additions or not, they
have, I readily grant, the characteristic disadvantage of being abstract
and notional statements.

Nor is this all: error gives opportunity to many more additions than
truth. There is another set of deductions, inevitable also, and also part
or not part of the revealed _credenda_, according as we please to view
them. If a proposition is true, its contradictory is false. If then a man
believes that Christ is God, he believes also, and that necessarily, that
to say He is not God is false, and that those who so say are in error.
Here then again the prospect opens upon us of a countless multitude of
propositions, which in their first elements are close upon devotional
truth,—of groups of propositions, and those groups divergent, independent,
ever springing into life with an inexhaustible fecundity, according to the
ever-germinating forms of heresy, of which they are the antagonists. These
too have their place in theological science.

Such is theology in contrast to religion; and as follows from the
circumstances of its formation, though some of its statements easily find
equivalents in the language of devotion, the greater number of them are
more or less unintelligible to the ordinary Catholic, as law-books to the
private citizen. And especially those portions of theology which are the
indirect creation, not of orthodox, but of heretical thought, such as the
repudiations of error contained in the Canons of Councils, of which
specimens have been given above, will ever be foreign, strange, and hard
to the pious but uncontroversial mind; for what have good Christians to
do, in the ordinary course of things, with the subtle hallucinations of
the intellect? This is manifest from the nature of the case; but then the
question recurs, why should the refutations of heresy be our objects of
faith? if no mind, theological or not, can believe what it cannot
understand, in what sense can the Canons of Councils and other
ecclesiastical determinations be included in those _credenda_ which the
Church presents to every Catholic as if apprehensible, and to which every
Catholic gives his firm interior assent?

In solving this difficulty I wish it first observed, that, if it is the
duty of the Church to act as “the pillar and ground of the Truth,” she is
manifestly obliged from time to time, and to the end of time, to denounce
opinions incompatible with that truth, whenever able and subtle minds in
her communion venture to publish such opinions. Suppose certain Bishops
and priests at this day began to teach that Islamism or Buddhism was a
direct and immediate revelation from God, she would be bound to use the
authority which God has given her to declare that such a proposition will
not stand with Christianity, and that those who hold it are none of hers;
and she would be bound to impose such a declaration on that very knot of
persons who had committed themselves to the novel proposition, in order
that, if they would not recant, they might be separated from her
communion, as they were separate from her faith. In such a case, her
masses of population would either not hear of the controversy, or they
would at once take part with her, and without effort take any test, which
secured the exclusion of the innovators; and she on the other hand would
feel that what is a rule for some Catholics must be a rule for all. Who is
to draw the line between who are to acknowledge it, and who are not? It is
plain, there cannot be two rules of faith in the same communion, or
rather, as the case really would be, an endless variety of rules, coming
into force according to the multiplication of heretical theories, and to
the degrees of knowledge and varieties of sentiment in individual
Catholics. There is but one rule of faith for all; and it would be a
greater difficulty to allow of an uncertain rule of faith, than (if that
was the alternative, as it is not), to impose upon uneducated minds a
profession which they cannot understand.

But it is not the necessary result of unity of profession, nor is it the
fact, that the Church imposes dogmatic statements on the interior assent
of those who cannot apprehend them. The difficulty is removed by the dogma
of the Church’s infallibility, and of the consequent duty of “implicit
faith” in her word. The “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” is an
article of the Creed, and an article, which, inclusive of her
infallibility, all men, high and low, can easily master and accept with a
real and operative assent. It stands in the place of all abstruse
propositions in a Catholic’s mind, for to believe in her word is virtually
to believe in them all. Even what he cannot understand, at least he can
believe to be true; and he believes it to be true because he believes in
the Church.

The _rationale_ of this provision for unlearned devotion is as follows:—It
stands to reason that all of us, learned and unlearned, are bound to
believe the whole revealed doctrine in all its parts and in all that it
implies, according as portion after portion is brought home to our
consciousness as belonging to it; and it also stands to reason, that a
doctrine, so deep and so various, as the revealed _depositum_ of faith,
cannot be brought home to us and made our own all at once. No mind,
however large, however penetrating, can directly and fully by one act
understand any one truth, however simple. What can be more intelligible
than that “Alexander conquered Asia,” or that “Veracity is a duty”? but
what a multitude of propositions is included under either of these theses!
still, if we profess either, we profess all that it includes. Thus, as
regards the Catholic Creed, if we really believe that our Lord is God, we
believe all that is meant by such a belief; or, else, we are not in
earnest, when we profess to believe the proposition. In the act of
believing it at all, we forthwith commit ourselves by anticipation to
believe truths which at present we do not believe, because they have never
come before us;—we limit henceforth the range of our private judgment in
prospect by the conditions, whatever they are, of that dogma. Thus the
Arians said that they believed in our Lord’s divinity, but when they were
pressed to confess His eternity, they denied it: thereby showing in fact
that they never had believed in His divinity at all. In other words, a man
who really believes in our Lord’s proper divinity, believes _implicitè_ in
His eternity.

And so, in like manner, of the whole _depositum_ of faith, or the revealed
word:—if we believe in the revelation, we believe in what is revealed, in
all that is revealed, however it may be brought home to us, by reasoning
or in any other way. He who believes that Christ is the Truth, and that
the Evangelists are truthful, believes all that He has said through them,
though he has only read St. Matthew and has not read St. John. He who
believes in the _depositum_ of Revelation, believes in all the doctrines
of the _depositum_; and since he cannot know them all at once, he knows
some doctrines, and does not know others; he may know only the Creed, nay,
perhaps only the chief portions of the Creed; but, whether he knows little
or much, he has the intention of believing all that there is to believe,
whenever and as soon as it is brought home to him, if he believes in
Revelation at all. All that he knows now as revealed, and all that he
shall know, and all that there is to know, he embraces it all in his
intention by one act of faith; otherwise, it is but an accident that he
believes this or that, not because it is a revelation. This virtual,
interpretative, or prospective belief is called a believing _implicitè_;
and it follows from this, that, granting that the Canons of Councils and
the other ecclesiastical documents and confessions, to which I have
referred, are really involved in the _depositum_ or revealed word, every
Catholic, in accepting the _depositum_, does _implicitè_ accept those
dogmatic decisions.

I say, “granting these various propositions are virtually contained in the
revealed word,” for this is the only question left; and that it is to be
answered in the affirmative, is clear at once to the Catholic, from the
fact that the Church declares that they really belong to it. To her is
committed the care and the interpretation of the revelation. The word of
the Church is the word of the revelation. That the Church is the
infallible oracle of truth is the fundamental dogma of the Catholic
religion; and “I believe what the Church proposes to be believed” is an
act of real assent, including all particular assents, notional and real;
and, while it is possible for unlearned as well as learned, it is
imperative on learned as well as unlearned. And thus it is, that by
believing the word of the Church _implicitè_, that is, by believing all
that that word does or shall declare itself to contain, every Catholic,
according to his intellectual capacity, supplements the shortcomings of
his knowledge without blunting his real assent to what is elementary, and
takes upon himself from the first the whole truth of revelation,
progressing from one apprehension of it to another according to his
opportunities of doing so.


Chapter VI. Assent Considered As Unconditional.

I have now said as much as need be said about the relation of Assent to
Apprehension, and shall turn to the consideration of the relation existing
between Assent and Inference.

As apprehension is a concomitant, so inference is ordinarily the
antecedent of assent;—on this surely I need not enlarge;—but neither
apprehension nor inference interferes with the unconditional character of
the assent, viewed in itself. The circumstances of an act, however
necessary to it, do not enter into the act; assent is in its nature
absolute and unconditional, though it cannot be given except under certain

This is obvious; but what presents some difficulty is this, how it is that
a conditional acceptance of a proposition,—such as is an act of
inference,—is able to lead, as it does, to an unconditional acceptance of
it,—such as is assent; how it is that a proposition which is not, and
cannot be, demonstrated, which at the highest can only be proved to be
truth-like, not true, such as “I shall die,” nevertheless claims and
receives our unqualified adhesion. To the consideration of this paradox,
as it may be called, I shall now proceed; that is, to the consideration,
first, of the act of assent to a proposition, which act is unconditional;
next, of the act of inference, which goes before the assent and is
conditional; and, thirdly, of the solution of the apparent inconsistency
which is involved in holding that an unconditional acceptance of a
proposition can be the result of its conditional verification.

§ 1. Simple Assent.

The doctrine which I have been enunciating requires such careful
explanation, that it is not wonderful that writers of great ability and
name are to be found who have put it aside for a doctrine of their own;
but no doctrine on the subject is without its difficulties, and certainly
not theirs, though it carries with it a show of common sense. The authors
to whom I refer wish to maintain that there are degrees of assent, and
that, as the reasons for a proposition are strong or weak, so is the
assent. It follows from this that absolute assent has no legitimate
exercise, except as ratifying acts of intuition or demonstration. What is
thus brought home to us is indeed to be accepted unconditionally; but, as
to reasonings in concrete matters, they are never more than probabilities,
and the probability in each conclusion which we draw is the measure of our
assent to that conclusion. Thus assent becomes a sort of necessary shadow,
following upon inference, which is the substance; and is never without
some alloy of doubt, because inference in the concrete never reaches more
than probability.

Such is what may be called the _à priori_ method of regarding assent in
its relation to inference. It condemns an unconditional assent in concrete
matters on what may be called the nature of the case. Assent cannot rise
higher than its source; inference in such matters is at best conditional,
therefore assent is conditional also.

Abstract argument is always dangerous, and this instance is no exception
to the rule; I prefer to go by facts. The theory to which I have referred
cannot be carried out in practice. It may be rightly said to prove too
much; for it debars us from unconditional assent in cases in which the
common voice of mankind, the advocates of this theory included, would
protest against the prohibition. There are many truths in concrete matter,
which no one can demonstrate, yet every one unconditionally accepts; and
though of course there are innumerable propositions to which it would be
absurd to give an absolute assent, still the absurdity lies in the
circumstances of each particular case, as it is taken by itself, not in
their common violation of the pretentious axiom that probable reasoning
can never lead to certitude.

Locke’s remarks on the subject are an illustration of what I have been
saying. This celebrated writer, after the manner of his school, speaks
freely of degrees of assent, and considers that the strength of assent
given to each proposition varies with the strength of the inference on
which the assent follows; yet he is obliged to make exceptions to his
general principle,—exceptions, unintelligible on his abstract doctrine,
but demanded by the logic of facts. The practice of mankind is too strong
for the antecedent theorem, to which he is desirous to subject it.

First he says, in his chapter “On Probability,” “Most of the propositions
we think, reason, discourse, nay, act upon, are such as we cannot have
undoubted knowledge of their truth; yet some of them _border so near_ upon
certainty, that we _make no doubt at all_ about them, but _assent_ to them
_as firmly_, and act according to that assent as resolutely, _as if they
were infallibly demonstrated_, and that our knowledge of them was perfect
and certain.” Here he allows that inferences, which are only “near upon
certainty,” are so near, that we legitimately accept them with “no doubt
at all,” and “assent to them as firmly as if they were infallibly
demonstrated.” That is, he affirms and sanctions the very paradox to which
I am committed myself.

Again; he says, in his chapter on “The Degrees of Assent,” that “when any
particular thing, consonant to the constant observation of ourselves and
others in the like case, comes attested by the concurrent reports of all
that mention it, we receive it as easily, and build as firmly upon it, as
if it were certain knowledge, and we reason and act thereupon, _with as
little doubt as if it were perfect demonstration_.” And he repeats, “These
_probabilities_ rise so near to certainty, that they _govern our thoughts
as absolutely_, and influence all our actions as fully, as _the most
evident demonstration_; and in what concerns us, we make little or no
difference between them and certain knowledge. _Our belief thus grounded,
rises to assurance._” Here again, “probabilities” may be so strong as to
“govern our thoughts as absolutely” as sheer demonstration, so strong that
belief, grounded on them, “rises to assurance,” that is, certitude.

I have so high a respect both for the character and the ability of Locke,
for his manly simplicity of mind and his outspoken candour, and there is
so much in his remarks upon reasoning and proof in which I fully concur,
that I feel no pleasure in considering him in the light of an opponent to
views, which I myself have ever cherished as true with an obstinate
devotion; and I would willingly think that in the passage which follows in
his chapter on “Enthusiasm,” he is aiming at superstitious extravagances
which I should repudiate myself as much as he can do; but, if so, his
words go beyond the occasion, and contradict what I have quoted from him

“He that would seriously set upon the search of truth, ought, in the first
place, to prepare his mind with a love of it. For he that loves it not
will not take much pains to get it, nor be much concerned when he misses
it. There is nobody, in the commonwealth of learning, who does not profess
himself a lover of truth,—and there is not a rational creature, that would
not take it amiss, to be thought otherwise of. And yet, for all this, one
may truly say, there are very few lovers of truth, for truth-sake, even
amongst those who persuade themselves that they are so. How a man may
know, whether he be so, in earnest, is worth inquiry; and I think, there
is this one unerring mark of it, viz. _the not entertaining any
proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built on will
warrant_. Whoever goes beyond this measure of assent, it is plain,
receives not truth in the love of it, loves not truth for truth-sake, but
for some other by-end. For the evidence that any proposition is true
(_except such as are self-evident_) lying only in the proofs a man has of
it, whatsoever degrees of assent he affords it _beyond the degrees of
that_ evidence, it is plain _all that surplusage of assurance_ is owing to
some other affection, and not to the love of truth; it being as
_impossible_ that the love of truth should carry _my assent above the
evidence_ there is to me that it is true, as that the love of truth should
make me assent to any proposition for the sake of that evidence which it
has not that it is true; which is in effect to love it as a truth, because
it is possible or probable that it may not be true.(5)”

Here he says that it is not only illogical, but immoral to “carry our
_assent above_ the _evidence_ that a proposition is true,” to have “a
surplusage of _assurance beyond_ the degrees of that evidence.” And he
excepts from this rule only self-evident propositions. How then is it not
inconsistent with right reason, with the love of truth for its own sake,
to allow, in his words quoted above, certain strong “probabilities” to
“govern our thoughts as absolutely as the most evident demonstration”? how
is there no “surplusage of assurance beyond the degrees of evidence” when
in the case of those strong probabilities, we permit “our belief, thus
grounded, to rise to assurance,” as he pronounces we are rational in
doing? Of course he had in view one set of instances, when he implied that
demonstration was the condition of absolute assent, and another set when
he said that it was no such condition; but he surely cannot be acquitted
of slovenly thinking in thus treating a cardinal subject. A philosopher
should so anticipate the application, and guard the enunciation of his
principles, as to secure them against the risk of their being made to
change places with each other, to defend what he is eager to denounce, and
to condemn what he finds it necessary to sanction. However, whatever is to
be thought of his _à priori_ method and his logical consistency, his
_animus_, I fear, must be understood as hostile to the doctrine which I am
going to maintain. He takes a view of the human mind, in relation to
inference and assent, which to me seems theoretical and unreal. Reasonings
and convictions which I deem natural and legitimate, he apparently would
call irrational, enthusiastic, perverse, and immoral; and that, as I
think, because he consults his own ideal of how the mind ought to act,
instead of interrogating human nature, as an existing thing, as it is
found in the world. Instead of going by the testimony of psychological
facts, and thereby determining our constitutive faculties and our proper
condition, and being content with the mind as God has made it, he would
form men as he thinks they ought to be formed, into something better and
higher, and calls them irrational and immoral, if (so to speak) they take
to the water, instead of remaining under the narrow wings of his own
arbitrary theory.

1. Now the first question which this theory leads me to consider is,
whether there is such an act of the mind as assent at all. If there is, it
is plain it ought to show itself unequivocally as such, as distinct from
other acts. For if a professed act can only be viewed as the recessary and
immediate repetition of another act, if assent is a sort of reproduction
and double of an act of inference, if when inference determines that a
proposition is somewhat, or not a little, or a good deal, or very like
truth, assent as its natural and normal counterpart says that it is
somewhat, or not a little, or a good deal, or very like truth, then I do
not see what we mean by saying, or why we say at all, that there is any
such act. It is simply superfluous, in a psychological point of view, and
a curiosity of subtle minds, and the sooner it is got out of the way the
better. When I assent, I am supposed, it seems, to do precisely what I do
when I infer, or rather not quite so much, but something which is included
in inferring; for, while the disposition of my mind towards a given
proposition is identical in assent and in inference, I merely drop the
thought of the premisses when I assent, though not of their influence on
the proposition inferred. This, then, and no more after all, is what
nature prescribes; and this, and no more than this, is the conscientious
use of our faculties, so to assent forsooth as to do nothing else than
infer. Then, I say, if this be really the state of the case, if assent in
no real way differs from inference, it is one and the same thing with it.
It is another name for inference, and to speak of it at all does but
mislead. Nor can it fairly be urged as a parallel case that an act of
conscious recognition, though distinct from an act of knowledge, is after
all only its repetition. On the contrary, such a recognition is a reflex
act with its own object, viz. the act of knowledge itself. As well might
it be said that the hearing of the notes of my voice is a repetition of
the act of singing:—it gives no plausibility then to the anomaly I am

I lay it down, then, as a principle that either assent is intrinsically
distinct from inference, or the sooner we get rid of the word in
philosophy the better. If it be only the echo of an inference, do not
treat it as a substantive act; but on the other hand, supposing it be not
such an idle repetition, as I am sure it is not, supposing the word
“assent” does hold a necessary place in language and in thought, if it
does not admit of being confused with concluding and inferring, if the two
words are used for two operations of the intellect which cannot change
their character, if in matter of fact they are not always found together,
if they do not vary with each other, if one is sometimes found without the
other, if one is strong when the other is weak, if sometimes they seem
even in conflict with each other, then, since we know perfectly well what
an inference is, it comes upon us to consider what, as distinct from
inference, an assent is, and we are, by the very fact of its being
distinct, advanced one step towards that account of it which I think is
the true one. The first step then towards deciding the point, will be to
inquire what the experience of human life, as it is daily brought before
us, teaches us of the relation to each other of inference and assent.

(1.) First, we know from experience that assents may endure without the
presence of the inferential acts upon which they were originally elicited.
It is plain, that, as life goes on, we are not only inwardly formed and
changed by the accession of habits, but we are also enriched by a great
multitude of beliefs and opinions, and that on a variety of subjects.
These beliefs and opinions, held, as some of them are, almost as first
principles, are assents, and they constitute, as it were, the clothing and
furniture of the mind. I have already spoken of them under the head of
“Credence” and “Opinion.” Sometimes we are fully conscious of them;
sometimes they are implicit, or only now and then come directly before our
reflective faculty. Still they are assents; and, when we first admitted
them, we had some kind of reason, slight or strong, recognized or not, for
doing so. However, whatever those reasons were, even if we ever realized
them, we have long forgotten them. Whether it was the authority of others,
or our own observation, or our reading, or our reflections, which became
the warrant of our assent, any how we received the matters in question
into our minds as true, and gave them a place there. We assented to them,
and we still assent, though we have forgotten what the warrant was. At
present they are self-sustained in our minds, and have been so for long
years; they are in no sense conclusions; they imply no process of thought.
Here then is a case in which assent stands out as distinct from inference.

(2.) Again; sometimes assent fails, while the reasons for it and the
inferential act which is the recognition of those reasons, are still
present, and in force. Our reasons may seem to us as strong as ever, yet
they do not secure our assent. Our beliefs, founded on them, were and are
not; we cannot perhaps tell when they went; we may have thought that we
still held them, till something happened to call our attention to the
state of our minds, and then we found that our assent had become an
assertion. Sometimes, of course, a cause may be found why they went; there
may have been some vague feeling that a fault lay at the ultimate basis,
or in the underlying conditions, of our reasonings; or some misgiving that
the subject-matter of them was beyond the reach of the human mind; or a
consciousness that we had gained a broader view of things in general than
when we first gave our assent; or that there were strong objections to our
first convictions, which we had never taken into account. But this is not
always so; sometimes our mind changes so quickly, so unaccountably, so
disproportionately to any tangible arguments to which the change can be
referred, and with such abiding recognition of the force of the old
arguments, as to suggest the suspicion that moral causes, arising out of
our condition, age, company, occupations, fortunes, are at the bottom.
However, what once was assent is gone; yet the perception of the old
arguments remains, showing that inference is one thing, and assent

(3.) And as assent sometimes dies out without tangible reasons, sufficient
to account for its failure, so sometimes, in spite of strong and
convincing arguments, it is never given. We sometimes find men loud in
their admiration of truths which they never profess. As, by the law of our
mental constitution, obedience is quite distinct from faith, and men may
believe without practising, so is assent also independent of our acts of
inference. Again, prejudice hinders assent to the most incontrovertible
proofs. Again, it not unfrequently happens, that while the keenness of the
ratiocinative faculty enables a man to see the ultimate result of a
complicated problem in a moment, it takes years for him to embrace it as a
truth, and to recognize it as an item in the circle of his knowledge. Yet
he does at last so accept it, and then we say that he assents.

(4.) Again; very numerous are the cases, in which good arguments, and
really good as far as they go, and confessed by us to be good,
nevertheless are not strong enough to incline our minds ever so little to
the conclusion at which they point. But why is it that we do not assent a
little, in proportion to those arguments? On the contrary, we throw the
full _onus probandi_ on the side of the conclusion, and we refuse to
assent to it at all, until we can assent to it altogether. The proof is
capable of growth; but the assent either exists or does not exist.

(5.) I have already alluded to the influence of moral motives in hindering
assent to conclusions which are logically unimpeachable. According to the

    “A man convinced against his will
    Is of the same opinion still;”—

assent then is not the same as inference.

(6.) Strange as it may seem, this contrast between inference and assent is
exemplified even in the province of mathematics. Argument is not always
able to command our assent, even though it be demonstrative. Sometimes of
course it forces its way, that is, when the steps of the reasoning are
few, and admit of being viewed by the mind altogether. Certainly, one
cannot conceive a man having before him the series of conditions and
truths on which it depends that the three angles of a triangle are
together equal to two right angles, and yet not assenting to that
proposition. Were all propositions as plain, though assent would not in
consequence be the same act as inference, yet it would certainly follow
immediately upon it. I allow then as much as this, that, when an argument
is in itself and by itself conclusive of a truth, it has by a law of our
nature the same command over our assent, or rather the truth which it has
reached has the same command, as our senses have. Certainly our
intellectual nature is under laws, and the correlative of ascertained
truth is unreserved assent.

But I am not speaking of short and lucid demonstrations; but of long and
intricate mathematical investigations; and in that case, though every step
may be indisputable, it still requires a specially sustained attention and
an effort of memory to have in the mind all at once all the steps of the
proof, with their bearings on each other, and the antecedents which they
severally involve; and these conditions of the inference may interfere
with the promptness of our assent.

Hence it is that party spirit or national feeling or religious
prepossessions have before now had power to retard the reception of truths
of a mathematical character; which never could have been, if
demonstrations were _ipso facto_ assents. Nor indeed would any
mathematician, even in questions of pure science, assent to his own
conclusions, on new and difficult ground, and in the case of abstruse
calculations, however often he went over his work, till he had the
corroboration of other judgments besides his own. He would have carefully
revised his inference, and would assent to the probability of his accuracy
in inferring, but still he would abstain from an immediate assent to the
truth of his conclusion. Yet the corroboration of others cannot add to his
perception of the proof; he would still perceive the proof, even though he
failed in gaining their corroboration. And yet again he might arbitrarily
make it his rule, never to assent to his conclusions without such
corroboration, or at least before the lapse of a sufficient interval. Here
again inference is distinct from assent.

I have been showing that inference and assent are distinct acts of the
mind, and that they may be made apart from each other. Of course I cannot
be taken to mean that there is no legitimate or actual connexion between
them, as if arguments adverse to a conclusion did not naturally hinder
assent; or as if the inclination to give assent were not greater or less
according as the particular act of inference expressed a stronger or
weaker probability; or as if assent did not always imply grounds in
reason, implicit, if not explicit, or could be rightly given without
sufficient grounds. So much is it commonly felt that assent must be
preceded by inferential acts, that obstinate men give their own will as
their very reason for assenting, if they can think of nothing better;
“stat pro ratione voluntas.” Indeed, I doubt whether assent is ever given
without some preliminary, which stands for a reason; but it does not
follow from this, that it may not be withheld in cases when there are good
reasons for giving it to a proposition, or may not be withdrawn after it
has been given, the reasons remaining, or may not remain when the reasons
are forgotten; or must always vary in strength, as the reasons vary; and
this substantiveness, as I may call it, of the act of assent is the very
point which I have wished to establish.

2. And in showing that assent is distinct from an act of inference, I have
gone a good way towards showing in what it differs from it. If assent and
inference are each of them the acceptance of a proposition, but the
special characteristic of inference is that it is conditional, it is
natural to suppose that assent is unconditional. Again, if assent is the
acceptance of truth, and truth is the proper object of the intellect, and
no one can hold conditionally what by the same act he holds to be true,
here too is a reason for saying that assent is an adhesion without reserve
or doubt to the proposition to which it is given. And again, it is to be
presumed that the word has not two meanings: what it has at one time, it
has at another. Inference is always inference; even if demonstrative, it
is still conditional; it establishes an incontrovertible conclusion on the
condition of incontrovertible premisses. To the conclusion thus drawn,
assent gives its absolute recognition. In the case of all demonstrations,
assent, when given, is unconditionally given. In one class of subjects,
then, assent certainly is always unconditional; but if the word stands for
an undoubting and unhesitating act of the mind once, why does it not
denote the same always? what evidence is there that it ever means any
thing else than that which the whole world will unite in witnessing that
it means in certain cases? why are we not to interpret what is
controverted by what is known? This is what is suggested on the first view
of the question; but to continue:—

In demonstrative matters assent excludes the presence of doubt: now are
instances producible, on the other hand, of its ever co-existing with
doubt in cases of the concrete? As the above instances have shown, on very
many questions we do not give an assent at all. What commonly happens is
this, that, after hearing and entering into what may be said for a
proposition, we pronounce neither for nor against it. We may accept the
conclusion as a conclusion, dependent on premisses, abstract, and tending
to the concrete; but we do not follow up our inference of a proposition by
giving an assent to it. That there are concrete propositions to which we
give unconditional assents, I shall presently show; but I am now asking
for instances of conditional, for instances in which we assent a little
and not much. Usually, we do not assent at all. Every day, as it comes,
brings with it opportunities for us to enlarge our circle of assents. We
read the newspapers; we look through debates in Parliament, pleadings in
the law courts, leading articles, letters of correspondents, reviews of
books, criticisms in the fine arts, and we either form no opinion at all
upon the subjects discussed, as lying out of our line, or at most we have
only an opinion about them. At the utmost we say that we are inclined to
believe this proposition or that, that we are not sure it is not true,
that much may be said for it, that we have been much struck by it; but we
never say that we give it a degree of assent. We might as well talk of
degrees of truth as of degrees of assent.

Yet Locke heads one of his chapters with the title “Degrees of Assent;”
and a writer, of this century, who claims our respect from the tone and
drift of his work, thus expresses himself after Locke’s manner: “Moral
evidence,” he says, “may produce a variety of degrees of assents, from
suspicion to moral certainty. For, here, the degree of assent depends upon
the degree in which the evidence on one side preponderates, or exceeds
that on the other. And as this preponderancy may vary almost infinitely,
so likewise may the degrees of assent. For a few of these degrees, though
but for a few, names have been invented. Thus, when the evidence on one
side preponderates a very little, there is ground for suspicion, or
conjecture. Presumption, persuasion, belief, conclusion, conviction, moral
certainty,—doubt, wavering, distrust, disbelief,—are words which imply an
increase or decrease of this preponderancy. Some of these words also admit
of epithets which denote a further increase or diminution of the

Can there be a better illustration than this passage supplies of what I
have been insisting on above, viz. that, in teaching various degrees of
assent, we tend to destroy assent, as an act of the mind, altogether? This
author makes the degrees of assent “infinite,” as the degrees of
probability are infinite. His assents are really only inferences, and
assent is a name without a meaning, the needless repetition of an
inference. But in truth “suspicion, conjecture, presumption, persuasion,
belief, conclusion, conviction, moral certainty,” are not “assents” at
all; they are simply more or less strong inferences of a proposition; and
“doubt, wavering, distrust, disbelief,” are recognitions, more or less
strong, of the probability of its contradictory.

There is only one sense in which we are allowed to call such acts or
states of mind assents. They are opinions; and, as being such, they are,
as I have already observed, when speaking of Opinion, assents to the
plausibility, probability, doubtfulness, or untrustworthiness, of a
proposition; that is, not variations of assent to an inference, but
assents to a variation in inferences. When I assent to a doubtfulness, or
to a probability, my assent, as such, is as complete as if I assented to a
truth; it is not a certain degree of assent. And, in like manner, I may be
certain of an uncertainty; that does not destroy the specific notion
convened in the word “certain.”

I do not know then when it is that we ever deliberately profess assent to
a proposition without meaning to convey to others the impression that we
accept it unreservedly, and that because it is true. Certainly, we
familiarly use such phrases as a half-assent, as we also speak of
half-truths; but a half-assent is not a kind of assent any more than a
half-truth is a kind of truth. As the object is indivisible, so is the
act. A half-truth is a proposition which in one aspect is a truth, and in
another is not; to give a half-assent is to feel drawn towards assent, or
to assent one moment and not the next, or to be in the way to assent to
it. It means that the proposition in question deserves a hearing, that it
is probable, or attractive, that it opens important views, that it is a
key to perplexing difficulties, or the like.

3. Treating the subject then, not according to _à priori_ fitness, but
according to the facts of human nature, as they are found in the concrete
action of life, I find numberless cases in which we do not assent at all,
none in which assent is evidently conditional;—and many, as I shall now
proceed to show, in which it is unconditional, and these in
subject-matters which admit of nothing higher than probable reasoning. If
human nature is to be its own witness, there is no medium between
assenting and not assenting. Locke’s theory of the duty of assenting more
or less according to degrees of evidence, is invalidated by the testimony
of high and low, young and old, ancient and modern, as continually given
in their ordinary sayings and doings. Indeed, as I have shown, he does not
strictly maintain it himself; yet, though he feels the claims of nature
and fact to be too strong for him in certain cases, he gives no reason why
he should violate his theory in these, and yet not in many more.

Now let us review some of those assents, which men give on evidence short
of intuition and demonstration, yet which are as unconditional as if they
had that highest evidence.

First of all, starting from intuition, of course we all believe, without
any doubt, that we exist; that we have an individuality and identity all
our own; that we think, feel, and act, in the home of our own minds; that
we have a present sense of good and evil, of a right and a wrong, of a
true and a false, of a beautiful and a hideous, however we analyze our
ideas of them. We have an absolute vision before us of what happened
yesterday or last year, so as to be able without any chance of mistake to
give evidence upon it in a court of justice, let the consequences be ever
so serious. We are sure that of many things we are ignorant, that of many
things we are in doubt, and that of many things we are not in doubt.

Nor is the assent which we give to facts limited to the range of
self-consciousness. We are sure beyond all hazard of a mistake, that our
own self is not the only being existing; that there is an external world;
that it is a system with parts and a whole, a universe carried on by laws;
and that the future is affected by the past. We accept and hold with an
unqualified assent, that the earth, considered as a phenomenon, is a
globe; that all its regions see the sun by turns; that there are vast
tracts on it of land and water; that there are really existing cities on
definite sites, which go by the names of London, Paris, Florence, and
Madrid. We are sure that Paris or London, unless swallowed up by an
earthquake or burned to the ground, is to-day just what it was yesterday,
when we left it.

We laugh to scorn the idea that we had no parents, though we have no
memory of our birth; that we shall never depart this life, though we can
have no experience of the future; that we are able to live without food,
though we have never tried; that a world of men did not live before our
time, or that that world has had no history; that there has been no rise
and fall of states, no great men, no wars, no revolutions, no art, no
science, no literature, no religion.

We should be either indignant or amused at the report of our intimate
friend being false to us; and we are able sometimes, without any
hesitation, to accuse certain parties of hostility and injustice to us. We
may have a deep consciousness, which we never can lose, that we on our
part have been cruel to others, and that they have felt us to be so, or
that we have been, and have been felt to be, ungenerous to those who love
us. We may have an overpowering sense of our moral weakness, of the
precariousness of our life, health, wealth, position, and good fortune. We
may have a clear view of the weak points of our physical constitution, of
what food or medicine is good for us, and what does us harm. We may be
able to master, at least in part, the course of our past history; its
turning-points, our hits, and our great mistakes. We may have a sense of
the presence of a Supreme Being, which never has been dimmed by even a
passing shadow, which has inhabited us ever since we can recollect any
thing, and which we cannot imagine our losing. We may be able, for others
have been able, so to realize the precepts and truths of Christianity, as
deliberately to surrender our life, rather than transgress the one or to
deny the other.

On all these truths we have an immediate and an unhesitating hold, nor do
we think ourselves guilty of not loving truth for truth’s sake, because we
cannot reach them through a series of intuitive propositions. Assent on
reasonings not demonstrative is too widely recognized an act to be
irrational, unless man’s nature is irrational, too familiar to the prudent
and clear-minded to be an infirmity or an extravagance. None of us can
think or act without the acceptance of truths, not intuitive, not
demonstrated, yet sovereign. If our nature has any constitution, any laws,
one of them is this absolute reception of propositions as true, which lie
outside the narrow range of conclusions to which logic, formal or virtual,
is tethered; nor has any philosophical theory the power to force on us a
rule which will not work for a day.

When, then, philosophers lay down principles, on which it follows that our
assent, except when given to objects of intuition or demonstration, is
conditional, that the assent given to propositions by well-ordered minds
necessarily varies with the proof producible for them, and that it does
not and cannot remain one and the same while the proof is strengthened or
weakened,—are they not to be considered as confusing together two things
very distinct from each other, a mental act or state and a scientific
rule, an interior assent and a set of logical formulas? When they speak of
degrees of assent, surely they have no intention at all of defining the
position of the mind itself relative to the adoption of a given
conclusion, but they mean to determine the relation of that conclusion
towards its premisses. They are contemplating how representative symbols
work, not how the intellect is affected towards the thing which those
symbols represent. In real truth they as little mean to assert the
principle of measuring our assents by our logic, as they would fancy they
could record the refreshment which we receive from the open air by the
readings of the graduated scale of a thermometer. There is a connexion
doubtless between a logical conclusion and an assent, as there is between
the variation of the mercury and our sensations; but the mercury is not
the cause of life and health, nor is verbal argumentation the principle of
inward belief. If we feel hot or chilly, no one will convince us to the
contrary by insisting that the glass is at 60°. It is the mind that
reasons and assents, not a diagram on paper. I may have difficulty in the
management of a proof, while I remain unshaken in my adherence to the
conclusion. Supposing a boy cannot make his answer to some arithmetical or
algebraical question tally with the book, need he at once distrust the
book? Does his trust in it fall down a certain number of degrees,
according to the force of his difficulty? On the contrary, he keeps to the
principle, implicit but present to his mind, with which he took up the
book, that the book is more likely to be right than he is; and this mere
preponderance of probability is sufficient to make him faithful to his
belief in its correctness, till its incorrectness is actually proved.

My own opinion is, that the class of writers of whom I have been speaking,
have themselves as little misgiving about the truths which they pretend to
weigh out and measure, as their unsophisticated neighbours; but they think
it a duty to remind us, that since the full etiquette of logical
requirements has not been satisfied, we must believe those truths at our
peril. They warn us, that an issue which can never come to pass in matter
of fact, is nevertheless in theory a possible supposition. They do not,
for instance, intend for a moment to imply that there is even the shadow
of a doubt that Great Britain is an island, but they think we ought to
know, if we do not know, that there is no proof of the fact, in mode and
figure, equal to the proof of a proposition of Euclid; and that in
consequence they and we are all bound to suspend our judgment about such a
fact, though it be in an infinitesimal degree, lest we should seem not to
love truth for truth’s sake. Having made their protest, they subside
without scruple into that same absolute assurance of only partially-proved
truths, which is natural to the illogical imagination of the multitude.

4. It remains to explain some conversational expressions, at first sight
favourable to that doctrine of degrees in assent, which I have been

(1.) We often speak of giving a modified and qualified, or a presumptive
and _primâ facie_ assent, or (as I have already said) a half-assent to
opinions or facts; but these expressions admit of an easy explanation.
Assent, upon the authority of others is often, as I have noticed, when
speaking of notional assents, little more than a profession or
acquiescence or inference, not a real acceptance of a proposition. I
report, for instance, that there was a serious fire in the town in the
past night; and then perhaps I add, that at least the morning papers say
so;—that is, I have perhaps no positive doubt of the fact; still, by
referring to the newspapers I imply that I do not take on myself the
responsibility of the statement. In thus qualifying my apparent assent, I
show that it was not a genuine assent at all. In like manner a _primâ
facie_ assent is an assent to an antecedent probability of a fact, not to
the fact itself; as I might give a _primâ facie_ assent to the Plurality
of worlds or to the personality of Homer, without pledging myself to
either absolutely. “Half-assent,” of which I spoke above, is an
inclination to assent, or again, an intention of assenting, when certain
difficulties are surmounted. When we speak without thought, assent has as
vague a meaning as half-assent; but when we deliberately say, “I assent,”
we signify an act of the mind so definite, as to admit of no change but
that of its ceasing to be.

(2.) And so, too, though we sometimes use the phrase “conditional assent,”
yet we only mean thereby to say that we will assent under certain
contingencies. Of course we may, if we please, include a condition in the
proposition to which our assent is given; and then, that condition enters
into the matter of the assent, but not into the assent itself. To assent
to—“If this man is in a consumption, his days are numbered,”—is as little
a conditional assent, as to assent to—“Of this consumptive patient the
days are numbered,”—which, (though without the conditional form,) is an
equivalent proposition. In such cases, strictly speaking, the assent is
given neither to antecedent nor consequent of the conditional proposition,
but to their connexion, that is, to the enthymematic _inferentia_. If we
place the condition external to the proposition, then the assent will be
given to “That ‘his days are numbered’ is conditionally true;” and of
course we can assent to the conditionality of a proposition as well as to
its probability. Or again, if so be, we may give our assent not only to
the _inferentia_ in a complex conditional proposition, but to each of the
simple propositions, of which it is made up, besides. “There will be a
storm soon, for the mercury falls;”—here, besides assenting to the
connexion of the propositions, we may assent also to “The mercury falls,”
and to “There will be a storm.” This is assenting to the premiss,
_inferentia_, and thing inferred, all at once;—we assent to the whole
syllogism, and to its component parts.

(3.) In like manner are to be explained the phrases, “deliberate assent,”
a “rational assent;” a “sudden,” “impulsive,” or “hesitating” assent.
These expressions denote, not kinds or qualities, but the circumstances of
assenting. A deliberate assent is an assent following upon deliberation.
It is sometimes called a conviction, a word which commonly includes in its
meaning two acts, both the act of inference, and the act of assent
consequent upon the inference. This subject will be considered in the next
Section. On the other hand, a hesitating assent is an assent to which we
have been slow and intermittent in coming; or an assent which, when given,
is thwarted and obscured by external and flitting misgivings, though not
such as to enter into the act itself, or essentially to damage it.

There is another sense in which we speak of a hesitating or uncertain
assent; viz. when we assent in act, but not in the habit of our minds.
Till assent to a doctrine or fact is my habit, I am at the mercy of
inferences contrary to it; I assent to-day, and give up my belief, or
incline to disbelief, to-morrow. I may find it my duty, for instance,
after the opportunity of careful inquiry and inference, to assent to
another’s innocence, whom I have for years considered guilty; but from
long prejudice I may be unable to carry my new assent well about me, and
may every now and then relapse into momentary thoughts injurious to him.

(4.) A more plausible objection to the absolute absence of all doubt or
misgiving in an act of assent is found in the use of the terms firm and
weak assent, or in the growth of belief and trust. Thus, we assent to the
events of history, but not with that fulness and force of adherence to the
received account of them with which we realize a record of occurrences
which are within our own memory. And again, we assent to the praise
bestowed on a friend’s good qualities with an energy which we do not feel,
when we are speaking of virtue in the abstract: and if we are political
partisans, our assent is very cold, when we cannot refuse it, to
representations made in favour of the wisdom or patriotism of statesmen
whom we dislike. And then as to religious subjects we speak of “strong”
faith and “feeble” faith; of the faith which would move mountains, and of
the ordinary faith “without which it is impossible to please God.” And as
we can grow in graces, so surely can we inclusively in faith. Again we
rise from one work of Christian Evidences with our faith enlivened and
invigorated; from another perhaps with the distracted father’s words in
our mouth, “I believe, help my unbelief.”

Now it is evident, first of all, that habits of mind may grow, as being a
something permanent and continuous; and by assent growing, it is often
only meant that the habit grows and has greater hold upon the mind.

But again, when we carefully consider the matter, it will be found that
this increase or decrease of strength does not lie in the assent itself,
but in its circumstances and concomitants; for instance, in the emotions,
in the ratiocinative faculty, or in the imagination.

For instance, as to the emotions, this strength of assent may be nothing
more than the strength of love, hatred, interest, desire, or fear, which
the object of the assent elicits, and this is especially the case when
that object is of a religious nature. Such strength is adventitious and
accidental; it may come, it may go; it is found in one man, not in
another; it does not interfere with the genuineness and perfection of the
act of assent. Balaam assented to the fact of his own intercourse with the
supernatural, as well as Moses; but, to use religious language, he had
light without love; his intellect was clear, his heart was cold. Hence his
faith would popularly be considered wanting in strength. On the other
hand, prejudice implies strong assents to the disadvantage of its object;
that is, it encourages such assents, and guards them from the chance of
being lost.

Again, when a conclusion is recommended to us by the number and force of
the arguments in proof of it, our recognition of them invests it with a
luminousness, which in one sense adds strength to our assent to it, as it
certainly does protect and embolden that assent. Thus we assent to a
review of recent events, which we have studied from original documents,
with a triumphant peremptoriness which it neither occurs to us, nor is
possible for us, to exercise, when we make an act of assent to the
assassination of Julius Caesar, or to the existence of the Abipones,
though we are as securely certain of these latter facts as of the doings
and occurrences of yesterday.

And further, all that I have said about the apprehension of propositions
is in point here. We may speak of assent to our Lord’s divinity as strong
or feeble, according as it is given to the reality as impressed upon the
imagination, or to the notion of it as entertained by the intellect.

(5.) Nor, lastly, does this doctrine of the intrinsic integrity and
indivisibility (if I may so speak) of assent interfere with the teaching
of Catholic theology as to the pre-eminence of strength in divine faith,
which has a supernatural origin, when compared with all belief which is
merely human and natural. For first, that pre-eminence consists, not in
its differing from human faith, merely in degree of assent, but in its
being superior in nature and kind,(7) so that the one does not admit of a
comparison with the other; and next, its intrinsic superiority is not a
matter of experience, but is above experience.(8) Assent is ever
assent;(9) but in the assent which follows on a divine announcement, and
is vivified by a divine grace, there is, from the nature of the case, a
transcendant adhesion of mind, intellectual and moral, and a special
self-protection,(10) beyond the operation of those ordinary laws of
thought, which alone have a place in my discussion.

§ 2. Complex Assent.

I have been considering assent as the mental assertion of an intelligible
proposition, as an act of the intellect direct, absolute, complete in
itself, unconditional, arbitrary, yet not incompatible with an appeal to
argument, and at least in many cases exercised unconsciously. On this last
characteristic of assent I have not dwelt, as it has not come in my way;
nor is it more than an accident of acts of assent, though an ordinary
accident. That it is of ordinary occurrence cannot be doubted. A great
many of our assents are merely expressions of our personal likings,
tastes, principles, motives, and opinions, as dictated by nature, or
resulting from habit; in other words, they are acts and manifestations of
self: now what is more rare than self-knowledge? In proportion then to our
ignorance of self, is our unconsciousness of those innumerable acts of
assent, which we are incessantly making. And so again in what may be
almost called the mechanical operation of our minds, in our continual acts
of apprehension and inference, speculation, and resolve, propositions pass
before us and receive our assent without our consciousness. Hence it is
that we are so apt to confuse together acts of assent and acts of
inference. Indeed, I may fairly say, that those assents which we give with
a direct knowledge of what we are doing, are few compared with the
multitude of like acts which pass through our minds in long succession
without our observing them.

That mode of assent which is exercised thus unconsciously, I may call
simple assent, and of it I have treated in the foregoing Section; but now
I am going to speak of such assents as must be made consciously and
deliberately, and which I shall call complex or reflex assents. And I
begin by recalling what I have already stated about the relation in which
Assent and Inference stand to each other,—Inference, which holds
propositions conditionally, and Assent, which unconditionally accepts
them; the relation is this:—

Acts of inference are both the antecedents of assent before assenting, and
its usual concomitants after assenting. For instance, I hold absolutely
that the country which we call India exists, upon trustworthy testimony;
and next, I may continue to believe it on the same testimony. In like
manner, I have ever believed that Great Britain is an island, for certain
sufficient reasons; and on the same reasons I may persist in the belief.
But it may happen that I forget my reasons for what I believe to be so
absolutely true; or I may never have asked myself about them, or formally
marshalled them in order, and have been accustomed to assent without a
recognition of my assent or of its grounds, and then perhaps something
occurs which leads to my reviewing and completing those grounds, analyzing
and arranging them, yet without on that account implying of necessity any
suspense, ever so slight, of assent, to the proposition that India is in a
certain part of the earth, and that Great Britain is an island. With no
suspense of assent at all; any more than the boy in my former illustration
had any doubt about the answer set down in his arithmetic-book, when he
began working out the question; any more than he would be doubting his
eyes and his common sense, that the two sides of a triangle are together
greater than the third, because he drew out the geometrical proof of it.
He does but repeat, after his formal demonstration, that assent which he
made before it, and assents to his previous assenting. This is what I call
a reflex or complex assent.

I say, there is no necessary incompatibility between thus assenting and
yet proving,—for the conclusiveness of a proposition is not synonymous
with its truth. A proposition may be true, yet not admit of being
concluded;—it may be a conclusion and yet not a truth. To contemplate it
under one aspect, is not to contemplate it under another; and the two
aspects may be consistent, from the very fact that they are two _aspects_.
Therefore to set about concluding a proposition is not _ipso facto_ to
doubt its truth; we may aim at inferring a proposition, while all the time
we assent to it. We have to do this as a common occurrence, when we take
on ourselves to convince another on any point in which he differs from us.
We do not deny our faith, because we become controversialists; and in like
manner we may employ ourselves in proving what we believe to be true,
simply in order to ascertain the producible evidence in its favour, and in
order to fulfil what is due to ourselves and to the claims and
responsibilities of our education and social position.

I have been speaking of investigation, not of inquiry; it is quite true
that inquiry is inconsistent with assent, but inquiry is something more
than the mere exercise of inference. He who inquires has not found; he is
in doubt where the truth lies, and wishes his present profession either
proved or disproved. We cannot without absurdity call ourselves at once
believers and inquirers also. Thus it is sometimes spoken of as a hardship
that a Catholic is not allowed to inquire into the truth of his Creed;—of
course he cannot, if he would retain the name of believer. He cannot be
both inside and outside of the Church at once. It is merely common sense
to tell him that, if he is seeking, he has not found. If seeking includes
doubting, and doubting excludes believing, then the Catholic who sets
about inquiring, thereby declares that he is not a Catholic. He has
already lost faith. And this is his best defence to himself for inquiring,
viz. that he is no longer a Catholic, and wishes to become one. They who
would forbid him to inquire, would in that case be shutting the
stable-door after the steed is stolen. What can he do better than inquire,
if he is in doubt? how else can he become a Catholic again? Not to inquire
is in his case to be satisfied with disbelief.

However, in thus speaking, I am viewing the matter in the abstract, and
without allowing for the manifold inconsistencies of individuals, as they
are found in the world, who attempt to unite incompatibilities; who do not
doubt, but who act as if they did; who, though they believe, are weak in
faith, and put themselves in the way of losing it by unnecessarily
listening to objections. Moreover, there are minds, undoubtedly, with whom
at all times to question a truth is to make it questionable, and to
investigate is equivalent to inquiring; and again, there may be beliefs so
sacred or so delicate, that, if I may use the metaphor, they will not wash
without shrinking and losing colour. I grant all this; but here I am
discussing broad principles, not individual cases; and these principles
are, that inquiry implies doubt, and that investigation does not imply it,
and that those who assent to a doctrine or fact may without inconsistency
investigate its credibility, though they cannot literally inquire about
its truth.

Next, I consider that, in the case of educated minds, investigations into
the argumentative proof of the things to which they have given their
assent, is an obligation, or rather a necessity. Such a trial of their
intellects is a law of their nature, like the growth of childhood into
manhood, and analogous to the moral ordeal which is the instrument of
their spiritual life. The lessons of right and wrong, which are taught
them at school, are to be carried out into action amid the good and evil
of the world; and so again the intellectual assents, in which they have in
like manner been instructed from the first, have to be tested, realized,
and developed by the exercise of their mature judgment.

Certainly, such processes of investigation, whether in religious subjects
or secular, often issue in the reversal of the assents which they were
originally intended to confirm; as the boy who works out an arithmetical
problem from his book may end in detecting, or thinking he detects, a
false print in the answer. But the question before us is whether acts of
assent and of inference are compatible; and my vague consciousness of the
possibility of a reversal of my belief in the course of my researches, as
little interferes with the honesty and firmness of that belief while those
researches proceed, as the recognition of the possibility of my train’s
oversetting is an evidence of an intention on my part of undergoing so
great a calamity. My mind is not moved by a scientific computation of
chances, nor can any law of averages affect my particular case. To incur a
risk is not to expect reverse; and if my opinions are true, I have a right
to think that they will bear examining. Nor, on the other hand, does
belief, viewed in its idea, imply a positive resolution in the party
believing never to abandon that belief. What belief, as such, does imply
is, not an intention never to change, but the utter absence of all
thought, or expectation, or fear of changing. A spontaneous resolution
never to change is inconsistent with the idea of belief; for the very
force and absoluteness of the act of assent precludes any such resolution.
We do not commonly determine not to do what we cannot fancy ourselves ever
doing. We should readily indeed make such a formal promise if we were
called upon to do so; for, since we have the truth, and truth cannot
change, how can we possibly change in our belief, except indeed through
our own weakness or fickleness? We have no intention whatever of being
weak or fickle; so our promise is but the natural guarantee of our
sincerity. It is possible then, without disloyalty to our convictions, to
examine their grounds, even though in the event they are to fail under the
examination, for we have no suspicion of this failure.

And such examination, as I have said, does but fulfil a law of our nature.
Our first assents, right or wrong, are often little more than prejudices.
The reasonings, which precede and accompany them, though sufficient for
their purpose, do not rise up to the importance and energy of the assents
themselves. As time goes on, by degrees and without set purpose, by
reflection and experience, we begin to confirm or to correct the notions
and the images to which those assents are given. At times it is a
necessity formally to undertake a survey and revision of this or that
class of them, of those which relate to religion, or to social duty, or to
politics, or to the conduct of life. Sometimes this review begins in doubt
as to the matters which we propose to consider, that is, in a suspension
of the assents hitherto familiar to us; sometimes those assents are too
strong to allow of being lost on the first stirring of the inquisitive
intellect, and if, as time goes on, they give way, our change of mind, be
it for good or for evil, is owing to the accumulating force of the
arguments, sound or unsound, which bear down upon the propositions which
we have hitherto received. Objections, indeed, as such, have no direct
force to weaken assent; but, when they multiply, they tell against the
implicit reasonings or the formal inferences which are its warrant, and
suspend its acts and gradually undermine its habit. Then the assent goes;
but whether slowly or suddenly, noticeably or imperceptibly, is a matter
of circumstance or accident. However, whether the original assent is
continued on or not, the new assent differs from the old in this, that it
has the strength of explicitness and deliberation, that it is not a mere
prejudice, and its strength the strength of prejudice. It is an assent,
not only to a given proposition, but to the claim of that proposition on
our assent as true; it is an assent to an assent, or what is commonly
called a conviction.

Of course these reflex acts may be repeated in a series. As I pronounce
that “Great Britain is an island,” and then pronounce “That ‘Great Britain
is an island’ has a claim on my assent,” or is to “be assented-to,” or to
be “accepted as true,” or to be “believed,” or simply “is true” (these
predicates being equivalent), so I may proceed, “The proposition ‘that
_Great-Britain-is-an-island_ is to be believed,’ is to be believed,” &c.,
&c., and so on to _ad infinitum_. But this would be trifling. The mind is
like a double mirror, in which reflexions of self within self multiply
themselves till they are undistinguishable, and the first reflexion
contains all the rest. At the same time, it is worth while to notice two
other reflex propositions:—“That ‘Great Britain is an island’ is probable”
is true;—and “That ‘Great Britain is an island’ is uncertain” is true:—for
the former of these is the expression of Opinion, and the latter of formal
or theological Doubt, as I have already determined.


I have one step farther to make:—let the proposition to which the assent
is given be as absolutely true as the reflex act pronounces it to be, that
is, objectively true as well as subjectively:—then the assent may be
called a _perception_, the conviction a _certitude_, the proposition or
truth a _certainty_, or thing known, or a matter of _knowledge_, and to
assent to it is to _know_.

Of course, in thus speaking, I open the all-important question, what is
truth, and what apparent truth? what is genuine knowledge, and what is its
counterfeit? what are the tests for discriminating certitude from mere
persuasion or delusion? Whatever a man holds to be true, he will say he
holds for certain; and for the present I must allow him in his assumption,
hoping in one way or another, as I proceed, to lessen the difficulties
which lie in the way of calling him to account for so doing. And I have
the less scruple in taking this course, as believing that, among fairly
prudent and circumspect men, there are far fewer instances of false
certitude than at first sight might be supposed. Men are often doubtful
about propositions which are really true; they are not commonly certain of
such as are simply false. What they judge to be a certainty is in matter
of fact for the most part a truth. Not that there is not a great deal of
rash talking even among the educated portion of the community, and many a
man makes professions of certitude, for which he has no warrant; but that
such off-hand, confident language is no token how these persons will
express themselves when brought to book. No one will with justice consider
himself certain of any matter, unless he has sufficient reasons for so
considering; and it is rare that what is not true should be so free from
every circumstance and token of falsity as to create no suspicion in his
mind to its disadvantage, no reason for suspense of judgment.

However, I shall have to remark on this difficulty by and by; here I will
mention two conditions of certitude, in close connexion with that
necessary preliminary of investigation and proof of which I have been
speaking, which will throw some light upon it. The one, which is _à
priori_, or from the nature of the case, will tell us what is not
certitude; the other, which is _à posteriori_, or from experience, will
tell us in a measure what certitude is.

1. Certitude, as I have said, is the perception of a truth with the
perception that it is a truth, or the consciousness of knowing, as
expressed in the phrase, “I know that I know,” or “I know that I know that
I know,”—or simply “I know;” for one reflex assertion of the mind about
self sums up the series of self-consciousnesses without the need of any
actual evolution of them.

Certitude is the knowledge of a truth:—but what is once true is always
true, and cannot fail, whereas what is once known need not always be
known, and is capable of failing. It follows, that if I am certain of a
thing, I believe it will remain what I now hold it to be, even though my
mind should have the bad fortune to let it drop. Since mere argument is
not the measure of assent, no one can be called certain of a proposition,
whose mind does not spontaneously and promptly reject, on their first
suggestion, as idle, as impertinent, as sophistical, any objections which
are directed against its truth. No man is certain of a truth, who can
endure the thought of the fact of its contradictory existing or occurring;
and that not from any set purpose or effort to reject that thought, but,
as I have said, by the spontaneous action of the intellect. What is
contradictory to the truth, with its apparatus of argument, fades out of
the mind as fast as it enters it; and though it be brought back to the
mind ever so often by the pertinacity of an opponent, or by a voluntary or
involuntary act of imagination, still that contradictory proposition and
its arguments are mere phantoms and dreams, in the light of our certitude,
and their very entering into the mind is the first step of their going out
of it. Such is the position of our minds towards the heathen fancy that
Enceladus lies under Etna; or, not to take so extreme a case, that Joanna
Southcote was a messenger from heaven, or the Emperor Napoleon really had
a star. Equal to this peremptory assertion of negative propositions is the
revolt of the mind from suppositions incompatible with positive statements
of which we are certain, whether abstract truths or facts; as that a
straight line is the longest possible distance between its two extreme
points, that Great Britain is in shape an exact square or circle, that I
shall escape dying, or that my intimate friend is false to me.

We may indeed say, if we please, that a man ought not to have so supreme a
conviction in a given case, or in any case whatever; and that he is
therefore wrong in treating opinions which he does not himself hold, with
this even involuntary contempt;—certainly, we have a right to say so, if
we will; but if, in matter of fact, a man has such a conviction, if he is
sure that Ireland is to the West of England, or that the Pope is the Vicar
of Christ, nothing is left to him, if he would be consistent, but to carry
his conviction out into this magisterial intolerance of any contrary
assertion; and if he were in his own mind tolerant, I do not say patient
(for patience and gentleness are moral duties, but I mean intellectually
tolerant), of objections as objections, he would virtually be giving
countenance to the views which those objections represented. I say I
certainly should be very intolerant of such a notion as that I shall one
day be Emperor of the French; I should think it too absurd even to be
ridiculous, and that I must be mad before I could entertain it. And did a
man try to persuade me that treachery, cruelty, or ingratitude were as
praiseworthy as honesty and temperance, and that a man who lived the life
of a knave and died the death of a brute had nothing to fear from future
retribution, I should think there was no call on me to listen to his
arguments, except with the hope of converting him, though he called me a
bigot and a coward for refusing to inquire into his speculations. And if,
in a matter in which my temporal interests were concerned, he attempted to
reconcile me to fraudulent acts by what he called philosophical views, I
should say to him, “Retro Satana,” and that, not from any suspicion of his
ability to reverse immutable principles, but from a consciousness of my
own moral changeableness, and a fear, on that account, that I might not be
intellectually true to the truth. This, then, from the nature of the case,
is a main characteristic of certitude in any matter, to be confident
indeed that that certitude will last, but to be confident of this also,
that, if it did fail, nevertheless, the thing itself, whatever it is, of
which we are certain, will remain just as it is, true and irreversible. If
this be so, it is easy to instance cases of an adherence to propositions,
which does not fulfil the conditions of certitude; for instance:—

(1.) How positive and circumstantial disputants may be on both sides of a
question of fact, on which they give their evidence, till they are called
to swear to it, and then how guarded and conditional their testimony
becomes! Again, how confident are they in their rival accounts of a
transaction at which they were present, till a third person makes his
appearance, whose word will be decisive about it! Then they suddenly drop
their tone, and trim their statements, and by provisos and explanations
leave themselves loopholes for escape, in case his testimony should turn
out to their disadvantage. At first no language could be too bold or
absolute to express the distinctness of their knowledge on this side or
that; but second thoughts are best, and their giving way shows that their
belief does not come up to the mark of certitude.

(2.) Again, can we doubt that many a confident expounder of Scripture, who
is so sure that St. Paul meant this, and that St. John and St. James did
not mean that, would be seriously disconcerted at the presence of those
Apostles, if their presence were possible, and that they have now an
especial “boldness of speech” in treating their subject, because there is
no one authoritatively to set them right, if they are wrong?

(3.) Take another instance, in which the absence of certitude is professed
from the first. Though it is a matter of faith with Catholics that
miracles never cease in the Church, still that this or that professed
miracle really took place, is for the most part only a matter of opinion,
and when it is believed, whether on testimony or tradition, it is not
believed to the exclusion of all doubt, whether about the fact or its
miraculousness. Thus I may believe in the liquefaction of St. Pantaleon’s
blood, and believe it to the best of my judgment to be a miracle, yet,
supposing a chemist offered to produce exactly the same phenomena under
exactly similar circumstances by the materials put at his command by his
science, so as to reduce what seemed beyond nature within natural laws, I
should watch with some suspense of mind and misgiving the course of his
experiment, as having no Divine Word to fall back upon as a ground of
certainty that the liquefaction was miraculous.

(4.) Take another virtual exhibition of fear; I mean irritation and
impatience of contradiction, vehemence of assertion, determination to
silence others,—these are the tokens of a mind which has not yet attained
the tranquil enjoyment of certitude. No one, I suppose, would say that he
was certain of the Plurality of worlds: that uncertitude on the subject is
just the explanation, and the only explanation satisfactory to my mind, of
the strange violence of language which has before now dishonoured the
philosophical controversy upon it. Those who are certain of a fact are
indolent disputants; it is enough for them that they have the truth; and
they have little disposition, except at the call of duty, to criticize the
hallucinations of others, and much less are they angry at their
positiveness or ingenuity in argument; but to call names, to impute
motives, to accuse of sophistry, to be impetuous and overbearing, is the
part of men who are alarmed for their own position, and fear to have it
approached too nearly. And in like manner the intemperance of language and
of thought, which is sometimes found in converts to a religious creed, is
often attributed, not without plausibility (even though erroneously in the
particular case), to some flaw in the completeness of their certitude,
which interferes with the harmony and repose of their convictions.

(5.) Again, this intellectual anxiety, which is incompatible with
certitude, shows itself in our running back in our minds to the arguments
on which we came to believe, in not letting our conclusions alone, in
going over and strengthening the evidence, and, as it were, getting it by
heart, as if our highest assent were only an inference. And such too is
our unnecessarily declaring that we are certain, as if to reassure
ourselves, and our appealing to others for their suffrage in behalf of the
truths of which we are so sure; which is like our asking another whether
we are weary and hungry, or have eaten and drunk to our satisfaction.

All laws are general; none are invariable; I am not writing as a moralist
or casuist. It must ever be recollected that these various phenomena of
mind, though signs, are not infallible signs of uncertitude; they may
proceed, in the particular case, from other circumstances. Such anxieties
and alarms may be merely emotional and from the imagination, not
intellectual; parallel to the beating of the heart, nay, as I have been
told, the trembling of the limbs, of even the bravest men, before a
battle, when standing still to receive the first attack of the enemy. Such
too is that palpitating self-interrogation, that trouble of the mind lest
it should not believe strongly enough, which, and not doubt, underlies the
sensitiveness described in the well-known lines,—

    “With eyes too tremblingly awake,
    To bear with dimness for His sake.”

And so again, a man’s over-earnestness in argument may arise from zeal or
charity; his impatience from loyalty to the truth; his extravagance from
want of taste, from enthusiasm, or from youthful ardour; and his restless
recurrence to argument, not from personal disquiet, but from a vivid
appreciation of the controversial talent of an opponent, or of his own, or
of the mere philosophical difficulties of the subject in dispute. These
are points for the consideration of those who are concerned in registering
and explaining what may be called the meteorological phenomena of the
human mind, and do not interfere with the broad principle which I would
lay down, that to fear argument is to doubt the conclusion, and to be
certain of a truth is to be careless of objections to it;—nor with the
practical rule, that mere assent is not certitude, and must not be
confused with it.

2. Now to consider what Certitude positively is, as a matter of

It is accompanied, as a state of mind, by a specific feeling, proper to
it, and discriminating it from other states, intellectual and moral, I do
not say, as its practical test or as its _differentia_, but as its token,
and in a certain sense its form. When a man says he is certain, he means
he is conscious to himself of having this specific feeling. It is a
feeling of satisfaction and self-gratulation, of intellectual security,
arising out of a sense of success, attainment, possession, finality, as
regards the matter which has been in question. As a conscientious deed is
attended by a self-approval which nothing but itself can create, so
certitude is united to a sentiment _sui generis_ in which it lives and is
manifested. These two parallel sentiments indeed have no relationship with
each other, the enjoyable self-repose of certitude being as foreign to a
good deed, as the self-approving glow of conscience is to the perception
of a truth; yet knowledge, as well as virtue, is an end, and both
knowledge and virtue, when reflected on, carry with them respectively
their own reward in the characteristic sentiment, which, as I have said,
is proper to each. And, as the performance of what is right is
distinguished by this religious peace, so the attainment of what is true
is attested by this intellectual security.

And, as the feeling of self-approbation, which is proper to good conduct,
does not belong to the sense or to the possession of the beautiful or of
the becoming, of the pleasant or of the useful, so neither is the special
relaxation and repose of mind, which is the token of Certitude, ever found
to attend upon simple Assent, on processes of Inference, or on Doubt; nor
on investigation, conjecture, opinion, as such, or on any other state or
action of mind, besides Certitude. On the contrary, those acts and states
of mind have gratifications proper to themselves, and unlike that of
Certitude, as will sufficiently appear on considering them separately.

(1.) Philosophers are fond of enlarging on the pleasures of Knowledge,
(that is, Knowledge as such,) nor need I here prove that such pleasures
exist; but the repose in self and in its object, as connected with self,
which I attribute to Certitude, does not attach to mere knowing, that is,
to the perception of things, but to the consciousness of having that
knowledge. The simple and direct perception of things has its own great
satisfaction; but it must recognize them as realities, and recognize them
as known, before it becomes the perception and has the satisfaction of
certitude. Indeed, as far as I see, the pleasure of perceiving truth
without reflecting on it as truth, is not very different, except in
intensity and in dignity, from the pleasure, as such, of assent or belief
given to what is not true, nay, from the pleasure of the mere passive
reception of recitals or narratives, which neither profess to be true nor
claim to be believed. Representations of any kind are in their own nature
pleasurable, whether they be true or not, whether they come to us, or do
not come, as true. We read a history, or a biographical notice, with
pleasure; and we read a romance with pleasure; and a pleasure which is
quite apart from the question of fact or fiction. Indeed, when we would
persuade young people to read history, we tell them that it is as
interesting as a romance or a novel. The mere acquisition of new images,
and those images striking, great, various, unexpected, beautiful, with
mutual relations and bearings, as being parts of a whole, with continuity,
succession, evolution, with recurring complications and corresponding
solutions, with a crisis and a catastrophe, is highly pleasurable, quite
independently of the question whether there is any truth in them. I am not
denying that we should be baulked and disappointed to be told they were
all untrue, but this seems to arise from the reflection that we have been
taken in; not as if the fact of their truth were a distinct element of
pleasure, though it would increase the pleasure, as investing them with a
character of marvellousness, and as associating them with known or
ascertained places. But even if the pleasure of knowledge is not thus
founded on the imagination, at least it does not consist in that
triumphant repose of the mind after a struggle, which is the
characteristic of Certitude.

And so too as to such statements as gain from us a half-assent, as
superstitious tales, stories of magic, of romantic crime, of ghosts, or
such as we follow for the moment with a faint and languid
assent,—contemporary history, political occurrences, the news of the
day,—the pleasure resulting from these is that of novelty or curiosity,
and is like the pleasure arising from the excitement of chance and from
variety; it has in it no sense of possession: it is simply external to us,
and has nothing akin to the thought of a battle and a victory.

(2.) Again, the Pursuit of knowledge has its own pleasure,—as distinct
from the pleasures of knowledge, as it is distinct from that of
consciously possessing it. This will be evident at once, if we consider
what a vacuity and depression of mind sometimes comes upon us on the
termination of an inquiry, however successfully terminated, compared with
the interest and spirit with which we carried it on. The pleasure of a
search, like that of a hunt, lies in the searching, and ends at the point
at which the pleasure of Certitude begins. Its elements are altogether
foreign to those which go to compose the serene satisfaction of Certitude.
First, the successive steps of discovery, which attend on an
investigation, are continual and ever-extending informations, and
pleasurable, not only as such, but also as the evidence of past efforts,
and the earnest of success at the last. Next, there is the interest which
attaches to a mystery, not yet removed, but tending to removal,—the
complex pleasure of wonder, expectation, sudden surprises, suspense, and
hope, of advances fitful, yet sure, to the unknown. And there is the
pleasure which attaches to the toil and conflict of the strong, the
consciousness and successive evidences of power, moral and intellectual,
the pride of ingenuity and skill, of industry, patience, vigilance, and

Such are the pleasures of investigation and discovery; and to these we
must add, what I have suggested in the last sentence, the logical
satisfaction, as it may be called, which accompanies these efforts of
mind. There is great pleasure, as is plain, at least to certain minds, in
proceeding from particular facts to principles, in generalizing,
discriminating, reducing into order and meaning the maze of phenomena
which nature presents to us. This is the kind of pleasure attendant on the
treatment of probabilities which point at conclusions without reaching
them, or of objections which must be weighed and measured, and adjusted
for what they are worth, over and against propositions which are
antecedently evident. It is the special pleasure belonging to Inference as
contrasted with Assent, a pleasure almost poetical, as twilight has more
poetry in it than noon-day. Such is the joy of the pleader, with a good
case in hand, and expecting the separate attacks of half a dozen acute
intellects, each advancing from a point of his own. I suppose this was the
pleasure which the Academics had in mind, when they propounded that
happiness lay, not in finding the truth, but in seeking it. To seek,
indeed, with the certainty of not finding what we seek, cannot in any
serious matter, be pleasurable, any more than the labour of Sisyphus or
the Danaides; but when the result does not concern us very much, clever
arguments and rival ones have the attraction of a game of chance or skill,
whether or not they lead to any definite conclusion.

(3.) Are there pleasures of Doubt, as well as of Inference and of Assent?
In one sense, there are. Not indeed, if doubt simply means ignorance,
uncertainty, or hopeless suspense; but there is a certain grave
acquiescence in ignorance, a recognition of our impotence to solve
momentous and urgent questions, which has a satisfaction of its own. After
high aspirations, after renewed endeavours, after bootless toil, after
long wanderings, after hope, effort, weariness, failure, painfully
alternating and recurring, it is an immense relief to the exhausted mind
to be able to say, “At length I know that I can know nothing about any
thing,”—that is, while it can maintain itself in a posture of thought
which has no promise of permanence, because it is unnatural. But here the
satisfaction does not lie in not knowing, but in knowing there is nothing
to know. It is a positive act of assent or conviction, given to what in
the particular case is an untruth. It is the assent and the false
certitude which are the cause of the tranquillity of mind. Ignorance
remains the evil which it ever was, but something of the peace of
Certitude is gained in knowing the worst, and in having reconciled the
mind to the endurance of it.


I may seem to have been needlessly diffuse in thus dwelling on the
pleasurable affections severally attending on these various conditions of
the intellect, but I have had a purpose in doing so. That Certitude is a
natural and normal state of mind, and not (as is sometimes objected) one
of its extravagances or infirmities, is proved indeed by the remarks which
I have made above on the same objection, as directed against Assent; for
Certitude is only one of its forms. But I have thought it well in addition
to suggest, even at the expense of a digression, that as no one would
refuse to Inquiry, Doubt, and Knowledge a legitimate place among our
mental constituents, so no one can reasonably ignore a state of mind which
not only is shown to be substantive by possessing a sentiment _sui
generis_ and characteristic, but is analogical to Inquiry, Doubt, and
Knowledge, in the fact of its thus having a sentiment of its own.

Chapter VII. Certitude.

§ 1. Assent and Certitude Contrasted.

In proceeding to compare together simple assent and complex, that is,
Assent and Certitude, I begin by observing, that popularly no distinction
is made between the two; or rather, that in religious teaching that is
called Certitude to which I have given the name of Assent. I have no
difficulty in adopting such a use of the words, though the course of my
investigation has led me to another. Perhaps religious assent may be fitly
called, to use a theological term, “material certitude;” and the first
point of comparison which I shall make between the two states of mind,
will serve to set me right with the common way of speaking.

1. It certainly follows then, from the distinctions which I have made,
that great numbers of men must be considered to pass through life with
neither doubt nor, on the other hand, certitude (as I have used the words)
on the most important propositions which can occupy their minds, but with
only a simple assent, that is, an assent which they barely recognize, or
bring home to their consciousness or reflect upon, as being assent. Such
an assent is all that religious Protestants commonly have to show, who
believe nevertheless with their whole hearts the contents of Holy
Scripture. Such too is the state of mind of multitudes of good Catholics,
perhaps the majority, who live and die in a simple, full, firm belief in
all that the Church teaches, because she teaches it,—in the belief of the
irreversible truth of whatever she defines and declares,—but who, as being
far removed from Protestant and other dissentients, and having but little
intellectual training, have never had the temptation to doubt, and never
the opportunity to be certain. There were whole nations in the middle ages
thus steeped in the Catholic Faith, who never used its doctrines as matter
for argument or research, or changed the original belief of their
childhood into the more scientific convictions of philosophy. As there is
a condition of mind which is characterized by invincible ignorance, so
there is another which may be said to be possessed of invincible
knowledge; and it would be paradoxical in me to deny to such a mental
state the highest quality of religious faith,—I mean certitude.

I allow this, and therefore I will call simple assent _material_
certitude; or, to use a still more apposite term for it, _interpretative_
certitude. I call it interpretative, signifying thereby that, though the
assent in the individuals contemplated is not a reflex act, still the
question only has to be started about the truth of the objects of their
assent, in order to elicit from them an act of faith in response which
will fulfil the conditions of certitude, as I have drawn them out. As to
the argumentative process necessary for such an act, it is valid and
sufficient, if it be carried out seriously, and proportionate to their
several capacities:—“The Catholic Religion is true, because its objects,
as present to my mind, control and influence my conduct as nothing else
does;” or “because it has about it an odour of truth and sanctity _sui
generis_, as perceptible to my moral nature as flowers to my sense, such
as can only come from heaven;” or “because it has never been to me any
thing but peace, joy, consolation, and strength, all through my troubled
life.” And if the particular argument used in some instances needs
strengthening, then let it be observed, that the keenness of the real
apprehension with which the assent is made, though it cannot be the
legitimate basis of the assent, may still legitimately act, and strongly
act, in confirmation. Such, I say, would be the promptitude and
effectiveness of the reasoning, and the facility of the change from assent
to certitude proper, in the case of the multitudes in question, did the
occasion for reflection occur; but it does not occur; and accordingly,
most genuine and thorough as is the assent, it can only be called virtual,
material, or interpretative certitude, if I have above explained certitude

Of course these remarks hold good in secular subjects as well as
religious:—I believe, for instance, that I am living in an island, that
Julius Cæsar once invaded it, that it has been conquered by successive
races, that it has had great political and social changes, and that at
this time it has colonies, establishments, and imperial dominion all over
the earth. All this I am accustomed to take for granted without a thought;
but, were the need to arise, I should not find much difficulty in drawing
out from my own mental resources reasons sufficient to justify me in these

It is true indeed that, among the multitudes who are thus implicitly
certain, there may be those who would change their assents, did they seek
to place them upon an argumentative footing; for instance, some believers
in Christianity, did they examine into its claims, might end in renouncing
it. But this is only saying that there are genuine assents, and assents
that ultimately prove to be not genuine; and again, that there is an
assent which is not a virtual certitude, and is lost in the attempt to
make it certitude. And of course we are not gifted with that insight into
the minds of individuals, which enables us to determine before the event,
when it is that an assent is really such, and when not, or not a deeply
rooted assent. Men may assent lightly, or from mere prejudice, or without
understanding what it is to which they assent. They may be genuine
believers in Revelation up to the time when they begin formally to
examine,—nay, and really have implicit reasons for their belief,—and then,
being overcome by the number of views which they have to confront, and
swayed by the urgency of special objections, or biassed by their
imaginations, or frightened by a deeper insight into the claims of
religion upon the soul, may, in spite of their habitual and latent grounds
for believing, shrink back and withdraw their assent. Or again, they may
once have believed, but their assent has gradually become a mere
profession, without their knowing it; then, when by accident they
interrogate themselves, they find no assent within them at all, to turn
into certitude. The event, I say, alone determines whether what is
outwardly an assent is really such an act of the mind as admits of being
developed into certitude, or is a mere self-delusion or a cloak for

2. Next, I observe, that, of the two modes of apprehending propositions,
notional and real, assent, as I have already said, has closer relations
with real than with notional. Now a simple assent need not be notional;
but the reflex or confirmatory assent of certitude always is given to a
notional proposition, viz. to the truth, necessity, duty, &c., of our
assent to the simple assent and to its proposition. Its predicate is a
general term, and cannot stand for a fact, whereas the original
proposition, included in it, may, and often does, express a fact. Thus,
“The cholera is in the midst of us” is a real proposition; but “That ‘the
cholera is in the midst of us’ is beyond all doubt” is a notional. Now
assent to a real proposition is assent to an imagination, and an
imagination, as supplying objects to our emotional and moral nature, is
adapted to be a principle of action: accordingly, the simple assent to
“The cholera is among us,” is more emphatic and operative, than the
confirmatory assent, “It is beyond reasonable doubt that ‘the cholera is
among us.’ ” The confirmation gives momentum to the complex act of the
mind, but the simple assent gives it its edge. The simple assent would
still be operative in its measure, though the reflex assent was, not “It
is undeniable,” but “It is probable” that “the cholera is among us;”
whereas there would be no operative force in the mental act at all, though
the reflex assent was to the truth, not to the probability of the fact, if
the fact which was the object of the simple assent was nothing more than
“The cholera is in China.” The reflex assent then, which is the
characteristic of certitude, does not immediately touch us; it is purely
intellectual, and, taken by itself, has scarcely more force than the
recording of a conclusion.

I have taken an instance, in which the matter which is submitted for
examination and for assent, can hardly fail of being interesting to the
minds employed upon it; but in many cases, even though the fact
assented-to has a bearing upon action, it is not directly of a nature to
influence the feelings or conduct, except of particular persons. And in
such instances of certitude, the previous labour of coming to a
conclusion, and that repose of mind which I have above described as
attendant on an assent to its truth, often counteracts whatever of lively
sensation the fact thus concluded is in itself adapted to excite; so that
what is gained in depth and exactness of belief is lost as regards
freshness and vigour. Hence it is that literary or scientific men, who may
have investigated some difficult point of history, philosophy, or physics,
and have come to their own settled conclusion about it, having had a
perfect right to form one, are far more disposed to be silent as to their
convictions, and to let others alone, than partisans on either side of the
question, who take it up with less thought and seriousness. And so again,
in the religious world, no one seems to look for any great devotion or
fervour in controversialists, writers on Christian Evidences, theologians,
and the like, it being taken for granted, rightly or wrongly, that such
men are too intellectual to be spiritual, and are more occupied with the
truth of doctrine than with its reality. If, on the other hand, we would
see what the force of simple assent can be, viewed apart from its reflex
confirmation, we have but to look at the generous and uncalculating energy
of faith as exemplified in the primitive Martyrs, in the youths who defied
the pagan tyrant, or the maidens who were silent under his tortures. It is
assent, pure and simple, which is the motive cause of great achievements;
it is a confidence, growing out of instincts rather than arguments, stayed
upon a vivid apprehension, and animated by a transcendent logic, more
concentrated in will and in deed for the very reason that it has not been
subjected to any intellectual development.

It must be borne in mind, that, in thus speaking, I am contrasting with
each other the simple and the reflex assent, which together make up the
complex act of certitude. In its complete exhibition keenness in believing
is united with repose and persistence.

3. We must take the constitution of the human mind as we find it, and not
as we may judge it ought to be;—thus I am led on to another remark, which
is at first sight disadvantageous to Certitude. Introspection of our
intellectual operations is not the best of means for preserving us from
intellectual hesitations. To meddle with the springs of thought and action
is really to weaken them; and, as to that argumentation which is the
preliminary to Certitude, it may indeed be unavoidable, but, as in the
case of other serviceable allies, it is not so easy to discard it, after
it has done its work, as it was in the first instance to obtain its
assistance. Questioning, when encouraged on any subject-matter, readily
becomes a habit, and leads the mind to substitute exercises of inference
for assent, whether simple or complex. Reasons for assenting suggest
reasons for not assenting, and what were realities to our imagination,
while our assent was simple, may become little more than notions, when we
have attained to certitude. Objections and difficulties tell upon the
mind; it may lose its elasticity, and be unable to throw them off. And
thus, even as regards things which it may be absurd to doubt, we may, in
consequence of some past suggestion of the possibility of error, or of
some chance association to their disadvantage, be teazed from time to time
and hampered by involuntary questionings, as if we were not certain, when
we are. Nay, there are those, who are visited with these even permanently,
as a sort of _muscæ volitantes_ of their mental vision, ever flitting to
and fro, and dimming its clearness and completeness—visitants, for which
they are not responsible, and which they know to be unreal, still so
seriously interfering with their comfort and even with their energy, that
they may be tempted to complain that even blind prejudice has more of
quiet and of durability than certitude.

As even Saints may suffer from imaginations in which they have no part, so
the shreds and tatters of former controversies, and the litter of an
argumentative habit, may beset and obstruct the intellect,—questions which
have been solved without their solutions, chains of reasoning with missing
links, difficulties which have their roots in the nature of things, and
which are necessarily left behind in a philosophical inquiry because they
cannot be removed, and which call for the exercise of good sense and for
strength of will to put them down with a high hand, as irrational or
preposterous. Whence comes evil? why are we created without our consent?
how can the Supreme Being have no beginning? how can He need skill, if He
is omnipotent? if He is omnipotent, why does He permit suffering? If He
permits suffering, how is He all-loving? if He is all-loving, how can He
be just? if He is infinite, what has He to do with the finite? how can the
temporary be decisive of the eternal?—these, and a host of like questions,
must arise in every thoughtful mind, and, after the best use of reason,
must be deliberately put aside, as beyond reason, as (so to speak)
no-thoroughfares, which, having no outlet themselves, have no legitimate
power to divert us from the King’s highway, and to hinder the direct
course of religious inquiry from reaching its destination. A serious
obstruction, however, they will be now and then to particular minds,
enfeebling the faith which they cannot destroy,—being parallel to the
uncomfortable, associations with which sometimes we regard one whom we
have fallen-in with, acquaintance or stranger, arising from some chance
word, look, or action of his which we have witnessed, and which prejudices
him in our imagination, though we are angry with ourselves that it should
do so.

Again, when, in confidence of our own certitude, and with a view to
philosophical fairness, we have attempted successfully to throw ourselves
out of our habits of belief into a simply dispassionate frame of mind,
then vague antecedent improbabilities, or what seem to us as such,—merely
what is strange or marvellous in certain truths, merely the fact that
things happen in one way and not in another, when they must happen in some
way,—may disturb us, as suggesting to us, “Is it possible? who would have
thought it! what a coincidence!” without really touching the deep assent
of our whole intellectual being to the object, whatever it be, thus
irrationally assailed. Thus we may wonder at the Divine Mercy of the
Incarnation, till we grow startled at it, and ask why the earth has so
special a theological history, or why we are Christians and others not, or
how God can really exert a particular governance, since He does not punish
such sinners as we are, thus seeming to doubt His power or His equity,
though in truth we are not doubting at all.

The occasion of this intellectual waywardness may be slighter still. I
gaze on the Palatine Hill, or on the Parthenon, or on the Pyramids, which
I have read of from a boy, or upon the matter-of-fact reality of the
sacred places in the Holy Land, and I have to force my imagination to
follow the guidance of sight and of reason. It is to me so strange that a
lifelong belief should be changed into sight, and things should be so near
me, which hitherto had been visions. And so in times, first of suspense,
then of joy; “When the Lord turned the captivity of Sion, then” (according
to the Hebrew text) “we were like unto them that dream.” Yet it was a
dream which they were certain was a truth, while they seemed to doubt it.
So, too, was it in some sense with the Apostles after our Lord’s

Such vague thoughts, haunting or evanescent, are in no sense akin to that
struggle between faith and unbelief, which made the poor father cry out,
“I believe, help Thou mine unbelief!” Nay, even what in some minds seems
like an undercurrent of scepticism, or a faith founded on a perilous
substratum of doubt, need not be more than a temptation, though robbing
Certitude of its normal peacefulness. In such a case, faith may still
express the steady conviction of the intellect; it may still be the grave,
deep, calm, prudent assurance of mature experience, though it is not the
ready and impetuous assent of the young, the generous, or the

4. There is another characteristic of Certitude, in contrast with Assent,
which it is important to insist upon, and that is, its persistence.
Assents may and do change; certitudes endure. This is why religion demands
more than an assent to its truth; it requires a certitude, or at least an
assent which is convertible into certitude on demand. Without certitude in
religious faith there may be much decency of profession and of observance,
but there can be no habit of prayer, no directness of devotion, no
intercourse with the unseen, no generosity of self-sacrifice. Certitude
then is essential to the Christian; and if he is to persevere to the end,
his certitude must include in it a principle of persistence. This it has;
as I shall explain in the next Section.

§ 2. Indefectibility of Certitude.

It is the characteristic of certitude that its object is a truth, a truth
as such, a proposition as true. There are right and wrong convictions, and
certitude is a right conviction; if it is not right with a consciousness
of being right, it is not certitude. Now truth cannot change; what is once
truth is always truth; and the human mind is made for truth, and so rests
in truth, as it cannot rest in falsehood. When then it once becomes
possessed of a truth, what is to dispossess it? but this is to be certain;
therefore once certitude, always certitude. If certitude in any matter be
the termination of all doubt or fear about its truth, and an unconditional
conscious adherence to it, it carries with it an inward assurance, strong
though implicit, that it shall never fail. Indefectibility almost enters
into its very idea, enters into it at least so far as this, that its
failure, if of frequent occurrence, would prove that certitude was after
all and in fact an impossible act, and that what looked like it was a mere
extravagance of the intellect. Truth would still be truth, but the
knowledge of it would be beyond us and unattainable. It is of great
importance then to show, that, as a general rule, certitude does not fail;
that failures of what was taken for certitude are the exception; that the
intellect, which is made for truth, can attain truth, and, having attained
it, can keep it, can recognize it, and preserve the recognition.

This is on the whole reasonable; yet are the stipulations, thus obviously
necessary for an act or state of certitude, ever fulfilled? We know what
conjecture is, and what opinion, and what assent is, can we point out any
specific state or habit of thought, of which the distinguishing mark is
unchangeableness? On the contrary, any conviction, false as well as true,
may last; and any conviction, true as well as false, may be lost. A
conviction in favour of a proposition may be exchanged for a conviction of
its contradictory; and each of them may be attended, while they last, by
that sense of security and repose, which a true object alone can
legitimately impart. No line can be drawn between such real certitudes as
have truth for their object, and apparent certitudes. No distinct test can
be named, sufficient to discriminate between what may be called the false
prophet and the true. What looks like certitude always is exposed to the
chance of turning out to be a mistake. If our intimate, deliberate
conviction may be counterfeit in the case of one proposition, why not in
the case of another? if in the case of one man, why not in the case of a
hundred? Is certitude then ever possible without the attendant gift of
infallibility? can we know what is right in one case, unless we are
secured against error in any? Further, if one man is infallible, why is he
different from his brethren? unless indeed he is distinctly marked out for
the prerogative. Must not all men be infallible by consequence, if any man
is to be considered as certain?

The difficulty, thus stated argumentatively, has only too accurate a
response in what actually goes on in the world. It is a fact of daily
occurrence that men change their certitudes, that is, what they consider
to be such, and are as confident and well-established in their new
opinions as they were once in their old. They take up forms of religion
only to leave them for their contradictories. They risk their fortunes and
their lives on impossible adventures. They commit themselves by word and
deed, in reputation and position, to schemes which in the event they
bitterly repent of and renounce; they set out in youth with intemperate
confidence in prospects which fail them, and in friends who betray them,
ere they come to middle age; and they end their days in cynical disbelief
of truth and virtue any where;—and often, the more absurd are their means
and their ends, so much the longer do they cling to them, and then again
so much the more passionate is their eventual disgust and contempt of
them. How then can certitude be theirs, how is certitude possible at all,
considering it is so often misplaced, so often fickle and inconsistent, so
deficient in available criteria? And, as to the feeling of finality and
security, ought it ever to be indulged? Is it not a mere weakness or
extravagance, a deceit, to be eschewed by every clear and prudent mind?
With the countless instances, on all sides of us, of human fallibility,
with the constant exhibitions of antagonist certitudes, who can so sin
against modesty and sobriety of mind, as not to be content with
probability, as the true guide of life, renouncing ambitious thoughts,
which are sure either to delude him, or to disappoint?

This is what may be objected: now let us see what can be said in answer,
particularly as regards religious certitude.


First, as to fallibility and infallibility. It is very common, doubtless,
especially in religious controversy, to confuse infallibility with
certitude, and to argue that, since we have not the one, we have not the
other, for that no one can claim to be certain on any point, who is not
infallible about all; but the two words stand for things quite distinct
from each other. For example, I remember for certain what I did yesterday,
but still my memory is not infallible; I am quite clear that two and two
makes four, but I often make mistakes in long addition sums. I have no
doubt whatever that John or Richard is my true friend, but I have before
now trusted those who failed me, and I may do so again before I die. A
certitude is directed to this or that particular proposition; it is not a
faculty or gift, but a disposition of mind relatively to a definite case
which is before me. Infallibility, on the contrary, is just that which
certitude is not; it is a faculty or gift, and relates, not to some one
truth in particular, but to all possible propositions in a given
subject-matter. We ought in strict propriety, to speak, not of infallible
acts, but of acts of infallibility. A belief or opinion as little admits
of being called infallible, as a deed can correctly be called immortal. A
deed is done and over; it may be great, momentous, effective, anything but
immortal; it is its fame, it is the work which it brings to pass, which is
immortal, not the deed itself. And as a deed is good or bad, but never
immortal, so a belief, opinion, or certitude is true or false, but never
infallible. We cannot speak of things which exist or things which once
were, as if they were something _in posse_. It is persons and rules that
are infallible, not what is brought out into act, or committed to paper. A
man is infallible, whose words are always true; a rule is infallible, if
it is unerring in all its possible applications. An infallible authority
is certain in every particular case that may arise; but a man who is
certain in some one definite case, is not on that account infallible.

I am quite certain that Victoria is our Sovereign, and not her father, the
late Duke of Kent, without laying any claim to the gift of infallibility;
as I may do a virtuous action, without being impeccable. I may be certain
that the Church is infallible, while I am myself a fallible mortal;
otherwise, I cannot be certain that the Supreme Being is infallible, until
I am infallible myself. It is a strange objection, then, which is
sometimes urged against Catholics, that they cannot prove and assent to
the Church’s infallibility, unless they first believe in their own.
Certitude, as I have said, is directed to one or other definite concrete
proposition. I am certain of proposition one, two, three, four, or five,
one by one, each by itself. I may be certain of one of them, without being
certain of the rest; that I am certain of the first makes it neither
likely nor unlikely that I am certain of the second; but were I
infallible, then I should be certain, not only of one of them, but of all,
and of many more besides, which have never come before me as yet.
Therefore we may be certain of the infallibility of the Church, while we
admit that in many things we are not, and cannot be, certain at all.

It is wonderful that a clear-headed man, like Chillingworth, sees this as
little as the run of every-day objectors to the Catholic religion; for in
his celebrated “Religion of Protestants” he writes as follows:—“You tell
me they cannot be saved, unless they believe in your proposals with an
infallible faith. To which end they must believe also your propounder, the
Church, to be simply infallible. Now how is it possible for them to give a
rational assent to the Church’s infallibility, _unless they have some
infallible means to know that she is infallible_? Neither can they
infallibly know the infallibility of this means, but by some other; and so
on for ever, unless they can dig so deep, as to come at length to the
Rock, that is, to settle all upon something evident of itself, which is
not so much as pretended.(11)”

Now what is an “infallible means”? It is a means of coming at a fact
without the chance of mistake. It is a proof which is sufficient for
certitude in the particular case, or a proof that is certain. When then
Chillingworth says that there can be no “rational assent to the Church’s
infallibility” without “some infallible means of knowing that she is
infallible,” he means nothing else than some means which is certain; he
says that for a rational assent to infallibility there must be an
absolutely valid or certain proof. This is intelligible; but observe how
his argument will run, if worded according to this interpretation: “The
doctrine of the Church’s infallibility requires a proof that is certain;
and that certain proof requires another previous certain proof, and that
again another, and so on _ad infinitum_, unless indeed we dig so deep as
to settle all upon something evident of itself.” What is this but to say
that nothing in this world is certain but what is self-evident? that
nothing can be absolutely proved? Can he really mean this? What then
becomes of physical truth? of the discoveries in optics, chemistry, and
electricity, or of the science of motion? Intuition by itself will carry
us but a little way into that circle of knowledge which is the boast of
the present age.

I can believe then in the infallible Church without my own personal
infallibility. Certitude is at most nothing more than infallibility _pro
hac vice_, and promises nothing as to the truth of any proposition beside
its own. That I am certain of this proposition to-day, is no ground for
thinking that I shall have a right to be certain of that proposition
to-morrow; and that I am wrong in my convictions about to-day’s
proposition, does not hinder my having a true conviction, a genuine
certitude, about to-morrow’s proposition. If indeed I claimed to be
infallible, one failure would shiver my claim to pieces; but I may claim
to be certain of the truth to which I have already attained, though I
should arrive at no new truths in addition as long as I live.


Let us put aside the word “infallibility;” let us understand by certitude,
as I have explained it, nothing more than a relation of the mind towards
given propositions:—still, it may be urged, it involves a sense of
security and of repose, at least as regards these in particular. Now how
can this security be mine,—without which certitude is not,—if I know, as I
know too well, that before now I have thought myself certain, when I was
certain after all of an untruth? Is not the very possibility of certitude
lost to me for ever by that one mistake? What happened once, may happen
again. All my certitudes before and after are henceforth destroyed by the
introduction of a reasonable doubt, underlying them all. _Ipso facto_ they
cease to be certitudes,—they come short of unconditional assents by the
measure of that counterfeit assurance. They are nothing more to me than
opinions or anticipations, judgments on the verisimilitude of intellectual
views, not the possession and enjoyment of truths. And who has not thus
been balked by false certitudes a hundred times in the course of his
experience? and how can certitude have a legitimate place in our mental
constitution, when it thus manifestly ministers to error and to

This is what may be objected, and it is not, as I think, difficult to
answer. Certainly, the experience of mistakes in the assents which we have
made are to the prejudice of subsequent ones. There is an antecedent
difficulty in our allowing ourselves to be certain of something to-day, if
yesterday we had to give up our belief of something else, of which we had
up to that time professed ourselves to be certain. This is true; but
antecedent objections to an act are not sufficient of themselves to
prohibit its exercise; they may demand of us an increased circumspection
before committing ourselves to it, but may be met with reasons more than
sufficient to overcome them.

It must be recollected that certitude is a deliberate assent given
expressly after reasoning. If then my certitude is unfounded, it is the
reasoning that is in fault, not my assent to it. It is the law of my mind
to seal up the conclusions to which ratiocination has brought me, by that
formal assent which I have called a certitude. I could indeed have
withheld my assent, but I should have acted against my nature, had I done
so when there was what I considered a proof; and I did only what was
fitting, what was incumbent on me, upon those existing conditions, in
giving it. This is the process by which knowledge accumulates and is
stored up both in the individual and in the world. It has sometimes been
remarked, when men have boasted of the knowledge of modern times, that no
wonder we see more than the ancients, because we are mounted upon their
shoulders. The conclusions of one generation are the truths of the next.
We are able, it is our duty, deliberately to take things for granted which
our forefathers had a duty to doubt about; and unless we summarily put
down disputation on points which have been already proved and ruled, we
shall waste our time, and make no advances. Circumstances indeed may
arise, when a question may legitimately be revived, which has already been
definitely determined; but a re-consideration of such a question need not
abruptly unsettle the existing certitude of those who engage in it, or
throw them into a scepticism about things in general, even though
eventually they find they have been wrong in a particular matter. It would
have been absurd to prohibit the controversy which has lately been held
concerning the obligations of Newton to Pascal; and supposing it had
issued in their being established, the partisans of Newton would not have
thought it necessary to renounce their certitude of the law of gravitation
itself, on the ground that they had been mistaken in their certitude that
Newton discovered it.

If we are never to be certain, after having been once certain wrongly,
then we ought never to attempt a proof because we have once made a bad
one. Errors in reasoning are lessons and warnings, not to give up
reasoning, but to reason with greater caution. It is absurd to break up
the whole structure of our knowledge, which is the glory of the human
intellect, because the intellect is not infallible in its conclusions. If
in any particular case we have been mistaken in our inferences and the
certitudes which followed upon them, we are bound of course to take the
fact of this mistake into account, in making up our minds on any new
question, before we proceed to decide upon it. But if, while weighing the
arguments on one side and the other and drawing our conclusion, that old
mistake has already been allowed for, or has been, to use a familiar mode
of speaking, discounted, then it has no outstanding claim against our
acceptance of that conclusion, after it has actually been drawn. Whatever
be the legitimate weight of the fact of that mistake in our inquiry,
justice has been done to it, before we have allowed ourselves to be
certain again. Suppose I am walking out in the moonlight, and see dimly
the outlines of some figure among the trees;—it is a man. I draw
nearer,—it is still a man; nearer still, and all hesitation is at an
end,—I am certain it is a man. But he neither moves, nor speaks when I
address him; and then I ask myself what can be his purpose in hiding among
the trees at such an hour. I come quite close to him, and put out my arm.
Then I find for certain that what I took for a man is but a singular
shadow, formed by the falling of the moonlight on the interstices of some
branches or their foliage. Am I not to indulge my second certitude,
because I was wrong in my first? does not any objection, which lies
against my second from the failure of my first, fade away before the
evidence on which my second is founded?

Or again: I depose on my oath in a court of justice, to the best of my
knowledge and belief, that I was robbed by the prisoner at the bar. Then,
when the real offender is brought before me, I am obliged, to my great
confusion, to retract. Because I have been mistaken in my certitude, may I
not at least be certain that I have been mistaken? And further, in spite
of the shock which that mistake gives me, is it impossible that the sight
of the real culprit may give me so luminous a conviction that at length I
have got the right man, that, were it decent towards the court, or
consistent with self-respect, I may find myself prepared to swear to the
identity of the second, as I have already solemnly committed myself to the
identity of the first? It is manifest that the two certitudes stand each
on its own basis, and the antecedent objection to the admission of a truth
which was brought home to me second, drawn from a hallucination which came
first, is a mere abstract argument, impotent when directed against good
evidence lying in the concrete.


If in the criminal case which I have been supposing, the second certitude,
felt by a witness, was a legitimate state of mind, so was the first. An
act, viewed in itself, is not wrong, because it is done wrongly. False
certitudes are faults because they are false, not because they are
(so-called) certitudes. They are, or may be, the attempts and the failures
of an intellect insufficiently trained, or off its guard. Assent is an act
of the mind, congenial to its nature; and it, as other acts, may be made
both when it ought to be made, and when it ought not. It is a free act, a
personal act for which the doer is responsible, and the actual mistakes in
making it, be they ever so numerous or serious, have no force whatever to
prohibit the act itself. We are accustomed in such cases, to appeal to the
maxim, “Usum non tollit abusus;” and it is plain that, if what may be
called functional disarrangements of the intellect are to be considered
fatal to the recognition of the functions themselves, then the mind has no
laws whatever and no normal constitution. I just now spoke of the growth
of knowledge; there is also a growth in the use of those faculties by
which knowledge is acquired. The intellect admits of an education; man is
a being of progress; he has to learn how to fulfil his end, and to be what
facts show that he is intended to be. His mind is in the first instance in
disorder, and runs wild; his faculties have their rudimental and inchoate
state, and are gradually carried on by practice and experience to their
perfection. No instances then whatever of mistaken certitude are
sufficient to constitute a proof, that certitude itself is a perversion or
extravagance of his nature.

We do not dispense with clocks, because from time to time they go wrong,
and tell untruly. A clock, organically considered, may be perfect, yet it
may require regulating. Till that needful work is done, the moment-hand
may mark the half-minute, when the minute-hand is at the quarter-past, and
the hour hand is just at noon, and the quarter-bell strikes the
three-quarters, and the hour-bell strikes four, while the sun-dial
precisely tells two o’clock. The sense of certitude may be called the bell
of the intellect; and that it strikes when it should not is a proof that
the clock is out of order, no proof that the bell will be untrustworthy
and useless, when it comes to us adjusted and regulated from the hands of
the clock-maker.

Our conscience too may be said to strike the hours, and will strike them
wrongly, unless it be duly regulated for the performance of its proper
function. It is the loud announcement of the principle of right in the
details of conduct, as the sense of certitude is the clear witness to what
is true. Both certitude and conscience have a place in the normal
condition of the mind. As a human being, I am unable, if I were to try, to
live without some kind of conscience; and I am as little able to live
without those landmarks of thought which certitude secures for me; still,
as the hammer of a clock may tell untruly, so may my conscience and my
sense of certitude be attached to mental acts, whether of consent or of
assent, which have no claim to be thus sanctioned. Both the moral and the
intellectual sanction are liable to be biassed by personal inclinations
and motives; both require and admit of discipline; and, as it is no
disproof of the authority of conscience that false consciences abound,
neither does it destroy the importance and the uses of certitude, because
even educated minds, who are earnest in their inquiries after the truth,
in many cases remain under the power of prejudice or delusion.

To this deficiency in mental training a wider error is to be
attributed,—the mistaking for conviction and certitude states and frames
of mind which make no pretence to the fundamental condition on which
conviction rests as distinct from assent. The multitude of men confuse
together the probable, the possible, and the certain, and apply these
terms to doctrines and statements almost at random. They have no clear
view what it is they know, what they presume, what they suppose, and what
they only assert. They make little distinction between credence, opinion,
and profession; at various times they give them all perhaps the name of
certitude, and accordingly, when they change their minds, they fancy they
have given up points of which they had a true conviction. Or at least
bystanders thus speak of them, and the very idea of certitude falls into

In this day the subject-matter of thought and belief has so increased upon
us, that a far higher mental formation is required than was necessary in
times past, and higher than we have actually reached. The whole world is
brought to our doors every morning, and our judgment is required upon
social concerns, books, persons, parties, creeds, national acts, political
principles and measures. We have to form our opinion, make our profession,
take our side on a hundred matters on which we have but little right to
speak at all. But we do speak, and must speak, upon them, though neither
we nor those who hear us are well able to determine what is the real
position of our intellect relatively to those many questions, one by one,
on which we commit ourselves; and then, since many of these questions
change their complexion with the passing hour, and many require elaborate
consideration, and many are simply beyond us, it is not wonderful, if, at
the end of a few years, we have to revise or to repudiate our conclusions;
and then we shall be unfairly said to have changed our certitudes, and
shall confirm the doctrine, that, except in abstract truth, no judgment
rises higher than probability.

Such are the mistakes about certitude among educated men; and after
referring to them, it is scarcely worth while to dwell upon the
absurdities and excesses of the rude intellect, as seen in the world at
large; as if any one could dream of treating as deliberate assents, as
assents upon assents, as convictions or certitudes, the prejudices,
credulities, infatuations, superstitions, fanaticisms, the whims and
fancies, the sudden irrevocable plunges into the unknown, the obstinate
determinations,—the offspring, as they are, of ignorance, wilfulness,
cupidity, and pride,—which go so far to make up the history of mankind;
yet these are often set down as instances of certitude and of its failure.


I have spoken of certitude as being assigned a definite and fixed place
among our mental acts;—it follows upon examination and proof, as the bell
sounds the hour, when the hands reach it,—so that no act or state of the
intellect is certitude, however it may resemble it, which does not observe
this appointed law. This proviso greatly diminishes the catalogue of
genuine certitudes. Another restriction is this:—the occasions or
subject-matters of certitude are under law also. Putting aside the daily
exercise of the senses, the principal subjects in secular knowledge, about
which we can be certain, are the truths or facts which are its basis. As
to this world, we are certain of the elements of knowledge, whether
general, scientific, historical, or such as bear on our daily needs and
habits, and relate to ourselves, our homes and families, our friends,
neighbourhood, country, and civil state. Beyond these elementary points of
knowledge, lies a vast subject-matter of opinion, credence, and belief,
viz. the field of public affairs, of social and professional life, of
business, of duty, of literature, of taste, nay, of the experimental
sciences. On subjects such as these the reasonings and conclusions of
mankind vary,—“mundum tradidit disputationi eorum;”—and prudent men in
consequence seldom speak confidently, unless they are warranted to do so
by genius, great experience, or some special qualification. They determine
their judgments by what is probable, what is safe, what promises best,
what has verisimilitude, what impresses and sways them. They neither can
possess, nor need certitude, nor do they look out for it.

Hence it is that—the province of certitude being so contracted, and that
of opinion so large—it is common to call probability the guide of life.
This saying, when properly explained, is true; however, we must not suffer
ourselves to carry a true maxim to an extreme; it is far from true, if we
so hold it as to forget that without first principles there can be no
conclusions at all, and that thus probability does in some sense
presuppose and require the existence of truths which are certain.
Especially is the maxim untrue, in respect to the other great department
of knowledge, if taken to support the doctrine, that the first principles
and elements of religion, which are universally received, are mere matter
of opinion; though in this day, it is too often taken for granted that
religion is one of those subjects on which truth cannot be discovered, and
on which one conclusion is pretty much on a level with another. But on the
contrary, the initial truths of divine knowledge ought to be viewed as
parallel to the initial truths of secular: as the latter are certain, so
too are the former. I cannot indeed deny that a decent reverence for the
Supreme Being, an acquiescence in the claims of Revelation, a general
profession of Christian doctrine, and some sort of attendance on sacred
ordinances, is in fact all the religion that is usual with even the better
sort of men, and that for all this a sufficient basis may certainly be
found in probabilities; but if religion is to be devotion, and not a mere
matter of sentiment, if it is to be made the ruling principle of our
lives, if our actions, one by one, and our daily conduct, are to be
consistently directed towards an Invisible Being, we need something higher
than a mere balance of arguments to fix and to control our minds.
Sacrifice of wealth, name, or position, faith and hope, self-conquest,
communion with the spiritual world, presuppose a real hold and habitual
intuition of the objects of Revelation, which is certitude under another

To this issue indeed we may bring the main difference, viewed
philosophically, between nominal Christianity on the one hand, and vital
Christianity on the other. Rational, sensible men, as they consider
themselves, men who do not comprehend the very notion of loving God above
all things, are content with such a measure of probability for the truths
of religion, as serves them in their secular transactions; but those who
are deliberately staking their all upon the hopes of the next world, think
it reasonable, and find it necessary, before starting on their new course,
to have some points, clear and immutable, to start from; otherwise, they
will not start at all. They ask, as a preliminary condition, to have the
ground sure under their feet; they look for more than human reasonings and
inferences, for nothing less than the “strong consolation,” as the Apostle
speaks, of those “immutable things in which it is impossible for God to
lie,” His counsel and His oath. Christian earnestness may be ruled by the
world to be a perverseness or a delusion; but, as long as it exists, it
will presuppose certitude as the very life which is to animate it.

This is the true parallel between human and divine knowledge; each of them
opens into a large field of mere opinion, but in both the one and the
other the primary principles, the general, fundamental, cardinal truths
are immutable. In human matters we are guided by probabilities, but, I
repeat, they are probabilities founded on certainties. It is on no
probability that we are constantly receiving the informations and dictates
of sense and memory, of our intellectual instincts, of the moral sense,
and of the logical faculty. It is on no probability that we receive the
generalizations of science, and the great outlines of history. These are
certain truths; and from them each of us forms his own judgments and
directs his own course, according to the probabilities which they suggest
to him, as the navigator applies his observations and his charts for the
determination of his course. Such is the main view to be taken of the
separate provinces of probability and certainty in matters of this world;
and so, as regards the world invisible and future, we have a direct and
conscious knowledge of our Maker, His attributes, His providences, acts,
works, and will; and, beyond this knowledge lies the large domain of
theology, metaphysics, and ethics, on which it is not allowed to us to
advance beyond probabilities, or to attain to more than an opinion.

Such on the whole is the analogy between our knowledge of matters of this
world and matters of the world unseen;—indefectible certitude in primary
truths, manifold variations of opinion in their application and


I have said that Certitude, whether in human or divine knowledge, is
attainable as regards general and cardinal truths; and that in neither
department of knowledge, on the whole, is certitude discredited, lost, or
reversed; for, in matter of fact, whether in human or divine, those
primary truths have ever kept their place from the time when they first
took possession of it. However, there is one obvious objection which may
be made to this representation, and I proceed to take notice of it.

It may be urged then, that time was when the primary truths of science
were unknown, and when in consequence various theories were held, contrary
to each other. The first element of all things was said to be water, to be
air, to be fire; the framework of the universe was eternal; or it was the
ever-new combination of innumerable atoms: the planets were fixed in solid
crystal revolving spheres; or they moved round the earth in epicycles
mounted upon circular orbits; or they were carried whirling round about
the sun, while the sun was whirling round the earth. About such doctrines
there was no certitude, no more than there is now certitude about the
origin of languages, the age of man, or the evolution of species,
considered as philosophical questions. Now theology is at present in the
very same state in which natural science was five hundred years ago; and
this is the proof of it,—that, instead of there being one received
theological science in the world, there are a multitude of hypotheses. We
have a professed science of Atheism, another of Deism, a Pantheistic, ever
so many Christian theologies, to say nothing of Judaism, Islamism, and the
Oriental religions. Each of these creeds has its own upholders, and these
upholders all certain that it is the very and the only truth, and these
same upholders, it may happen, presently giving it up, and then taking up
some other creed, and being certain again, as they profess, that it and it
only is the truth, these various so-called truths being incompatible with
each other. Are not Jews certain about their interpretation of their law?
yet they become Christians: are not Catholics certain about the new law?
yet they become Protestants. At present then, and as yet, there is no
clear certainty anywhere about religious truth at all; it has still to be
discovered; and therefore for Catholics to claim the right to lay down the
first principles of theological science in their own way, is to assume the
very matter in dispute. First let their doctrines be universally received,
and then they will have a right to place them on a level with the
certainty which belongs to the laws of motion or of refraction. This is
the objection which I propose to consider.

Now first as to the want of universal reception which is urged against the
Catholic dogmas, this part of the objection will not require many words.
Surely a truth or a fact may be certain, though it is not generally
received;—we are each of us ever gaining through our senses various
certainties, which no one shares with us; again, the certainties of the
sciences are in the possession of a few countries only, and for the most
part only of the educated classes in those countries; yet the philosophers
of Europe and America would feel certain that the earth rolled round the
sun, in spite of the Indian belief of its being supported by an elephant
with a tortoise under it. The Catholic Church then, though not universally
acknowledged, may without inconsistency claim to teach the primary truths
of religion, just as modern science, though but partially received, claims
to teach the great principles and laws which are the foundation of secular
knowledge, and that with a significance to which no other religious system
can pretend, because it is its very profession to speak to all mankind,
and its very badge to be ever making converts all over the earth, whereas
other religions are more or less variable in their teaching, tolerant of
each other, and local, and professedly local, in their _habitat_ and

This, however, is not the main point of the objection; the real difficulty
lies not in the variety of religions, but in the contradiction, conflict,
and change of religious certitudes. Truth need not be universal, but it
must of necessity be certain; and certainty, in order to be certainty,
must endure; yet how is this reasonable expectation fulfilled in the case
of religion? On the contrary, those who have been the most certain in
their beliefs are sometimes found to lose them, Catholics as well as
others; and then to take up new beliefs, perhaps contrary ones, of which
they become as certain as if they had never been certain of the old.

In answering this representation, I begin with recurring to the remark
which I have already made, that assent and certitude have reference to
propositions, one by one. We may of course assent to a number of
propositions all together, that is, we may make a number of assents all at
once; but in doing so we run the risk of putting upon one level, and
treating as if of the same value, acts of the mind which are very
different from each other in character and circumstance. An assent,
indeed, is ever an assent; but given assents may be strong or weak,
deliberate or impulsive, lasting or ephemeral. Now a religion is not a
proposition, but a system; it is a rite, a creed, a philosophy, a rule of
duty, all at once; and to accept a religion is neither a simple assent to
it nor a complex, neither a conviction nor a prejudice, neither a notional
assent nor a real, not a mere act of profession, nor of credence, nor of
opinion, nor of speculation, but it is a collection of all these various
kinds of assents, some of one description, some of another; but, out of
all these different assents, how many are of that kind which I have called
certitude? Certitudes indeed do not change, but who shall pretend that
assents are indefectible?

For instance: the fundamental dogma of Protestantism is the exclusive
authority of Holy Scripture; but in holding this a Protestant holds a host
of propositions, explicitly or implicitly, and holds them with assents of
various character. Among these propositions, he holds that Scripture is
the Divine Revelation itself, that it is inspired, that nothing is known
in doctrine but what is there, that the Church has no authority in matters
of doctrine, that, as claiming it, it condemned long ago in the
Apocalypse, that St. John wrote the Apocalypse, that justification is by
faith only, that our Lord is God, that there are seventy-two generations
between Adam and our Lord. Now of which, out of all these propositions, is
he certain? and to how many of them is his assent of one and the same
description? His belief, that Scripture is commensurate with the Divine
Revelation, is perhaps implicit, not conscious; as to inspiration, he does
not well know what the word means, and his assent is scarcely more than a
profession; that no doctrine is true but what can be proved from Scripture
he understands, and his assent to it is what I have called speculative;
that the Church has no authority he holds with a real assent or belief;
that the Church is condemned in the Apocalypse is a standing prejudice;
that St. John wrote the Apocalypse is his opinion; that justification is
by faith only, he accepts, but scarcely can be said to apprehend; that our
Lord is God perhaps he is certain; that there are seventy-two generations
between Adam and Christ he accepts on credence. Yet, if he were asked the
question, he would most probably answer that he was certain of the truth
of “Protestantism,” though “Protestantism” means these things and a
hundred more all at once, and though he believes with actual certitude
only one of them all,—that indeed a dogma of most sacred importance, but
not the discovery of Luther or Calvin. He would think it enough to say
that he was a foe to “Romanism” and “Socinianism,” and to avow that he
gloried in the Reformation. He looks upon each of these religious
professions, Protestantism, Romanism, Socinianism and Theism, merely as
units, as if they were not each made up of many elements, as if they had
nothing in common, as if a transition from the one to the other involved a
simple obliteration of all that had been as yet written on his mind, and
would be the reception of a new faith.

When, then, we are told that a man has changed from one religion to
another, the first question which we have to ask, is, have the first and
the second religions nothing in common? If they have common doctrines, he
has changed only a portion of his creed, not the whole: and the next
question is, has he ever made much of those doctrines which are common to
his new creed and his old? and then again, what doctrines was he certain
of among the old, and what among the new?

Thus, of three Protestants, one becomes a Catholic, a second a Unitarian,
and a third an unbeliever: how is this? The first becomes a Catholic,
because he assented, as a Protestant, to the doctrine of our Lord’s
divinity, with a real assent and a genuine conviction, and because this
certitude, taking possession of his mind, led him on to welcome the
Catholic doctrines of the Real Presence and of the Theotocos, till his
Protestantism fell off from him, and he submitted himself to the Church.
The second became a Unitarian, because, proceeding on the principle that
Scripture was the rule of faith and that a man’s private judgment was its
rule of interpretation, and finding that the doctrine of the Nicene and
Athanasian Creeds did not follow by logical necessity from the text of
Scripture, he said to himself, “The word of God has been made of none
effect by the traditions of men,” and therefore nothing was left for him
but to profess what he considered primitive Christianity, and to become a
Humanitarian. The third gradually subsided into infidelity, because he
started with the Protestant dogma, cherished in the depths of his nature,
that a priesthood was a corruption of the simplicity of the Gospel. First,
then, he would protest against the sacrifice of the Mass; next he gave up
baptismal regeneration, and the sacramental principle; then he asked
himself whether dogmas were not a restraint on Christian liberty as well
as sacraments; then came the question, what after all was the use of
teachers of religion? why should any one stand between him and his Maker?
After a time it struck him, that this obvious question had to be answered
by the Apostles, as well as by the Anglican clergy; so he came to the
conclusion that the true and only revelation of God to man is that which
is written on the heart. This did for a time, and he remained a Deist. But
then it occurred to him, that this inward moral law was there within the
breast, whether there was a God or not, and that it was a roundabout way
of enforcing that law, to say that it came from God, and simply
unnecessary, considering it carried with it its own sacred and sovereign
authority, as our feelings instinctively testified; and when he turned to
look at the physical world around him, he really did not see what
scientific proof there was there of the Being of God at all, and it seemed
to him as if all things would go on quite as well as at present, without
that hypothesis as with it; so he dropped it, and became a _purus_,
_putus_ Atheist.

Now the world will say, that in these three cases old certitudes were
lost, and new were gained; but it is not so: each of the three men started
with just one certitude, as he would have himself professed, had he
examined himself narrowly; and he carried it out and carried it with him
into a new system of belief. He was true to that one conviction from first
to last; and on looking back on the past, would perhaps insist upon this,
and say he had really been consistent all through, when others made much
of his great changes in religious opinion. He has indeed made serious
additions to his initial ruling principle, but he has lost no conviction
of which he was originally possessed.

I will take one more instance. A man is converted to the Catholic Church
from his admiration of its religious system, and his disgust with
Protestantism. That admiration remains; but, after a time, he leaves his
new faith, perhaps returns to his old. The reason, if we may conjecture,
may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s
infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her
infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held
all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the
question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at
that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really
meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.” Thus,
he never had the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic, and was
simply no subject for reception into the fold of the Church. This being
the case, when the Immaculate Conception is defined, he feels that it is
something more than he bargained for when he became a Catholic, and
accordingly he gives up his religious profession. The world will say that
he has lost his certitude of the divinity of the Catholic Faith, but he
never had it.

The first point to be ascertained, then, when we hear of a change of
religious certitude in another, is, what the doctrines are on which his
so-called certitude before now and at present has respectively fallen. All
doctrines besides these were the accidents of his profession, and the
indefectibility of certitude would not be disproved, though he changed
them every year. There are few religions which have no points in common;
and these, whether true or false, when embraced with an absolute
conviction, are the pivots on which changes take place in that collection
of credences, opinions, prejudices, and other assents, which make up what
is called a man’s selection and adoption of a form of religion, a
denomination, or a Church. There have been Protestants whose idea of
enlightened Christianity has been a strenuous antagonism to what they
consider the unmanliness and unreasonableness of Catholic morality, an
antipathy to the precepts of patience, meekness, forgiveness of injuries,
and chastity. All this they have considered a woman’s religion, the
ornament of monks, of the sick, the feeble, and the old. Lust, revenge,
ambition, courage, pride, these, they have fancied, made the man, and want
of them the slave. No one could fairly accuse such men of any great change
of their convictions, or refer to them in proof of the defectibility of
certitude, if they were one day found to have taken up the profession of

And if this intercommunion of religions holds good, even when the common
points between them are but errors held in common, much more natural will
be the transition from one religion to another, without injury to existing
certitudes, when the common points, the objects of those certitudes, are
truths; and still stronger in that case and more constraining will be the
sympathy, with which minds that love truth, even when they have surrounded
it with error, will yearn towards the Catholic faith, which contains
within itself, and claims as its own, all truth that is elsewhere to be
found, and more than all, and nothing but truth. This is the secret of the
influence, by which the Church draws to herself converts from such various
and conflicting religions. They come, not to lose what they have, but to
gain what they have not; and in order that, by means of what they have,
more may be given to them. St. Augustine tells us that there is no false
teaching without an intermixture of truth; and it is by the light of those
particular truths, contained respectively in the various religions of men,
and by our certitudes about them, which are possible wherever those truths
are found, that we pick our way, slowly perhaps, but surely, into the One
Religion which God has given, taking our certitudes with us, not to lose,
but to keep them more securely, and to understand and love their objects
more perfectly.

Not even are idolaters and heathen out of the range of some of these
religious truths and their correlative certitudes. The old Greek and Roman
polytheists had, as they show in their literature, clear and strong
notions, nay, vivid mental images, of a Particular Providence, of the
power of prayer, of the rule of Divine Governance, of the law of
conscience, of sin and guilt, of expiation by means of sacrifices, and of
future retribution: I will even add, of the Unity and Personality of the
Supreme Being. This it is that throws such a magnificent light over the
Homeric poems, the tragic choruses, and the Odes of Pindar; and it has its
counterpart in the philosophy of Socrates and of the Stoics, and in such
historians as Herodotus. It would be out of place to speak confidently of
a state of society which has passed away, but at first sight it does not
appear why the truths which I have enumerated should not have received as
genuine and deliberate an assent on the part of Socrates or Cleanthes, (of
course with divine aids, but they do not enter into this discussion,) as
was given to them by St. John or St. Paul, nay, an assent which rose to
certitude. Much more safely may it be pronounced of a Mahometan, that he
may have a certitude of the Divine Unity, as well as a Christian; and of a
Jew, that he may believe as truly as a Christian in the resurrection of
the body; and of a Unitarian that he can give a deliberate and real assent
to the fact of a supernatural revelation, to the Christian miracles, to
the eternal moral law, and to the immortality of the soul. And so, again,
a Protestant may, not only in words, but in mind and heart, hold, as if he
were a Catholic, with simple certitude, the doctrines of the Holy Trinity,
of the fall of man, of the need of regeneration, of the efficacy of Divine
Grace, and of the possibility and danger of falling away. And thus it is
conceivable that a man might travel in his religious profession all the
way from heathenism to Catholicity, through Mahometanism, Judaism,
Unitarianism, Protestantism, and Anglicanism, without any one certitude
lost, but with a continual accumulation of truths, which claimed from him
and elicited in his intellect fresh and fresh certitudes.

In saying all this, I do not forget that the same doctrines, as held in
different religions, may be and often are held very differently, as
belonging to distinct wholes or _forms_, as they are called, and exposed
to the influence and the bias of the teaching, perhaps false, with which
they are associated. Thus, for instance, whatever be the resemblance
between St. Augustine’s doctrine of Predestination and the tenet of Calvin
upon it, the two really differ from each other _toto cœlo_ in significance
and effect, in consequence of the place they hold in the systems in which
they are respectively incorporated, just as shades and tints show so
differently in a painting according to the masses of colour to which they
are attached. But, in spite of this, a man may so hold the doctrine of
personal election as a Calvinist, as to be able still to hold it as a

However, I have been speaking of certitudes which remain unimpaired, or
rather confirmed, by a change of religion; on the contrary there are
others, whether we call them certitudes or convictions, which perish in
the change, as St. Paul’s conviction of the sufficiency of the Jewish Law
came to an end on his becoming a Christian. Now how is such a series of
facts to be reconciled with the doctrine which I have been enforcing? What
conviction could be stronger than the faith of the Jews in the perpetuity
of the Mosaic system? Those, then, it may be said, who abandoned Judaism
for the Gospel, surely, in so doing, bore the most emphatic of testimonies
to the defectibility of certitude. And, in like manner, a Mahometan may be
so deeply convinced that Mahomet is the prophet of God, that it would be
only by a quibble about the meaning of the word “certitude” that we could
maintain, that, on his becoming a Catholic, he did not unequivocally prove
that certitude is defectible. And it may be argued, perhaps, in the case
of some members of the Church of England, that their faith in the validity
of Anglican orders, and the invisibility of the Church’s unity, is so
absolute, so deliberate, that their abandonment of it, did they become
Catholics or sceptics, would be tantamount to the abandonment of a

Now, in meeting this difficulty, I will not urge (lest I should be accused
of quibbling), that certitude is a conviction of what is true, and that
these so-called certitudes have come to nought, because, their objects
being errors, not truths, they really were not certitudes at all; nor will
I insist, as I might, that they ought to be proved first to be something
more than mere prejudices, assents without reason and judgment, before
they can fairly be taken as instances of the defectibility of certitude;
but I simply ask, as regards the zeal of the Jews for the sufficiency of
their law, (even though it implied genuine certitude, not a prejudice, not
a mere conviction,) still was such zeal, such professed certitude, found
in those who were eventually converted, or in those who were not; for, if
those who had not that certitude became Christians and those who had it
remained Jews, then loss of certitude in the latter is not instanced in
the fact of the conversion of the former. St. Paul certainly is an
exception, but his conversion, as also his after-life, was miraculous;
ordinarily speaking, it was not the zealots who supplied members to the
Catholic Church, but those “men of good will,” who, instead of considering
the law as perfect and eternal, “looked for the redemption of Israel,” and
for “the knowledge of salvation in the remission of sins.” And, in like
manner, as to those learned and devout men among the Anglicans at the
present day, who come so near the Church without acknowledging her claims,
I ask whether there are not two classes among them also,—those who are
looking out beyond their own body for the perfect way, and those on the
other hand who teach that the Anglican communion is the golden mean
between men who believe too much and men who believe too little, the
centre of unity to which East and West are destined to gravitate, the
instrument and the mould, as the Jews might think of their own moribund
institutions, through which the kingdom of Christ is to be established all
over the earth. And next I would ask, which of these two classes supplies
converts to the Church; for if they come from among those who never
professed to be quite certain of the special strength of the Anglican
position, such men cannot be quoted as instances of the defectibility of

There is indeed another class of beliefs, of which I must take notice, the
failure of which may be taken at first sight as a proof that certitude may
be lost. Yet they clearly deserve no other name than prejudices, as being
founded upon reports of facts, or on arguments, which will not bear
careful examination. Such was the disgust felt towards our predecessors in
primitive times, the Christians of the first centuries, as a secret
society, as a conspiracy against the civil power, as a set of mean,
sordid, despicable fanatics, as monsters revelling in blood and impurity.
Such also is the deep prejudice now existing against the Church among
Protestants, who dress her up in the most hideous and loathsome images,
which rightly attach, in the prophetic descriptions, to the evil spirit,
his agents and instruments. And so of the numberless calumnies directed
against individual Catholics, against our religious bodies, and men in
authority, which serve to feed and sustain the suspicion and dislike with
which everything Catholic is regarded in this country. But as a
persistence in such prejudices is no evidence of their truth, so an
abandonment of them is no evidence that certitude can fail.

There is yet another class of prejudices against the Catholic Religion,
which is far more tolerable and intelligible than those on which I have
been dwelling, but still in no sense certitudes. Indeed, I doubt whether
they would be considered more than presumptive opinions by the persons who
entertain them. Such is the idea which has possessed certain philosophers,
ancient and modern, that miracles are an infringement and disfigurement of
the beautiful order of nature. Such, too, is the persuasion, common among
political and literary men, that the Catholic Church is inconsistent with
the true interests of the human race, with social progress, with rational
freedom, with good government. A renunciation of these imaginations is not
a change in certitudes.

So much on this subject. All concrete laws are general, and persons, as
such, do not fall under laws. Still, I have gone a good way, as I think,
to remove the objections to the doctrine of the indefectibility of
certitude in matters of religion.


One further remark may be made. Certitude does not admit of an interior,
immediate test, sufficient to discriminate it from false certitude. Such a
test is rendered impossible from the circumstance that, when we make the
mental act expressed by “I know,” we sum up the whole series of reflex
judgments which might, each in turn, successively exercise a critical
function towards those of the series which precede it. But still, if it is
the general rule that certitude is indefectible, will not that
indefectibility itself become at least in the event a criterion of the
genuineness of the certitude? or is there any rival state or habit of the
intellect, which claims to be indefectible also? A few words will suffice
to answer these questions.

Premising that all rules are but general, especially those which relate to
the mind, I observe that indefectibility may at least serve as a negative
test of certitude, or _sine quâ non_ condition, so that whoever loses his
conviction on a given point is thereby proved not to have been certain of
it. Certitude ought to stand all trials, or it is not certitude. Its very
office is to cherish and maintain its object, and its very lot and duty is
to sustain rude shocks in maintenance of it without being damaged by them.

I will take an example. Let us suppose we are told on an unimpeachable
authority, that a man whom we saw die is now alive again and at his work,
as it was his wont to be; let us suppose we actually see him and converse
with him; what will become of our certitude of his death? I do not think
we should give it up; how could we, when we actually saw him die? At
first, indeed, we should be thrown into an astonishment and confusion so
great, that the world would seem to reel round us, and we should be ready
to give up the use of our senses and of our memory, of our reflective
powers, and of our reason, and even to deny our power of thinking, and our
existence itself. Such confidence have we in the doctrine that when life
goes it never returns. Nor would our bewilderment be less, when the first
blow was over; but our reason would rally, and with our reason our
certitude would come back to us. Whatever came of it, we should never
cease to know and to confess to ourselves both of the contrary facts, that
we saw him die, and that after dying we saw him alive again. The
overpowering strangeness of our experience would have no power to shake
our certitude in the facts which created it.

Again, let us suppose, for argument’s sake, that ethnologists,
philologists, anatomists, and antiquarians agreed together in separate
demonstrations that there were half a dozen races of men, and that they
were all descended from gorillas, or chimpanzees, or ourang-outangs, or
baboons; moreover, that Adam was an historical personage, with a
well-ascertained dwelling-place, surroundings and date, in a comparatively
modern world. On the other hand, let me believe that the Word of God
Himself distinctly declares that there were no men before Adam, that he
was immediately made out of the slime of the earth, and that he is the
first father of all men that are or ever have been. Here is a
contradiction of statements more direct than in the former instance; the
two cannot stand together; one or other of them is untrue. But whatever
means I might be led to take, for making, if possible, the antagonism
tolerable, I conceive I should never give up my certitude in that truth
which on sufficient grounds I determined to come from heaven. If I so
believed, I should not pretend to argue, or to defend myself to others; I
should be patient; I should look for better days; but I should still
believe. If, indeed, I had hitherto only half believed, if I believed with
an assent short of certitude, or with an acquiescence short of assent, or
hastily or on light grounds, then the case would be altered; but if, after
full consideration, and availing myself of my best lights, I did think
that beyond all question God spoke as I thought He did, philosophers and
experimentalists might take their course for me,—I should consider that
they and I thought and reasoned in different mediums, and that my
certitude was as little in collision with them or damaged by them, as if
they attempted to counteract in some great matter chemical action by the
force of gravity, or to weigh magnetic influence against capillary
attraction. Of course, I am putting an impossible case, for philosophical
discoveries cannot really contradict divine revelation.

So much on the indefectibility of certitude; as to the question whether
any other assent is indefectible besides it, I think prejudice may be
such; but it cannot be confused with certitude, for the one is an assent
previous to rational grounds, and the other an assent given expressly
after careful examination.

It seems then that on the whole there are three conditions of certitude:
that it follows on investigation and proof, that it is accompanied by a
specific sense of intellectual satisfaction and repose, and that it is
irreversible. If the assent is made without rational grounds, it is a rash
judgment, a fancy, or a prejudice; if without the sense of finality, it is
scarcely more than an inference; if without permanence, it is a mere

Chapter VIII. Inference.

§ 1. Formal Inference.

Inference is the conditional acceptance of a proposition, Assent is the
unconditional; the object of Assent is a truth, the object of Inference is
the truth-like or a verisimilitude. The problem which I have undertaken is
that of ascertaining how it comes to pass that a conditional act leads to
an unconditional; and, having now shown that assent really is
unconditional, I proceed to show how inferential exercises, as such,
always must be conditional.

We reason, when we hold this by virtue of that; whether we hold it as
evident or as approximating or tending to be evident, in either case we so
hold it because of holding something else to be evident or tending to be
evident. In the next place, our reasoning ordinarily presents itself to
our mind as a simple act, not a process or series of acts. We apprehend
the antecedent and then apprehend the consequent, without explicit
recognition of the medium connecting the two, as if by a sort of direct
association of the first thought with the second. We proceed by a sort of
instinctive perception, from premiss to conclusion. I call it instinctive,
not as if the faculty were one and the same to all men in strength and
quality (as we generally conceive of instinct), but because ordinarily, or
at least often, it acts by a spontaneous impulse, as prompt and inevitable
as the exercise of sense and memory. We perceive external objects, and we
remember past events, without knowing how we do so; and in like manner we
reason without effort and intention, or any necessary consciousness of the
path which the mind takes in passing from antecedent to conclusion.

Such is ratiocination, in what may be called a state of nature, as it is
found in the uneducated,—nay, in all men, in its ordinary exercise; nor is
there any antecedent ground for determining that it will not be as correct
in its informations as it is instinctive, as trustworthy as are sensible
perception and memory, though its informations are not so immediate and
have a wider range. By means of sense we gain knowledge directly; by means
of reasoning we gain it indirectly, that is, by virtue of a previous
knowledge. And if we may justly regard the universe, according to the
meaning of the word, as one whole, we may also believe justly that to know
one part of it is necessarily to know much more than that one part. This
thought leads us to a further view of ratiocination. The proverb says, “Ex
pede Herculem;” and we have actual experience how the practised zoologist
can build up some intricate organization from the sight of its smallest
bone, evoking the whole as if it were a remembrance; how, again, a
philosophical antiquarian, by means of an inscription, interprets the
mythical traditions of former ages, and makes the past live; and how a
Columbus is led, from considerations which are common property, and
fortuitous phenomena which are successively brought to his notice, to have
such faith in a western world, as willingly to commit himself to the
terrors of a mysterious ocean in order to arrive at it. That which the
mind is able thus variously to bring together into unity, must have some
real intrinsic connexion of part with part. But if this _summa rerum_ is
thus one whole, it must be constructed on definite principles and laws,
the knowledge of which will enlarge our capacity of reasoning about it in
particulars;—thus we are led on to aim at determining on a large scale and
on system, what even gifted or practised intellects are only able by their
own personal vigour to reach piece-meal and fitfully, that is, at
substituting scientific methods, such as all may use, for the action of
individual genius.

There is another reason for attempting to discover an instrument of
reasoning (that is, of gaining new truths by means of old), which may be
less vague and arbitrary than the talent and experience of the few or the
common-sense of the many. As memory is not always accurate, and has on
that account led to the adoption of writing, as being a _memoria
technica_, unaffected by the failure of mental impressions,—as our senses
at times deceive us, and have to be corrected by each other; so is it also
with our reasoning faculty. The conclusions of one man are not the
conclusions of another; those of the same man do not always agree
together; those of ever so many who agree together may differ from the
facts themselves, which those conclusions are intended to ascertain. In
consequence it becomes a necessity, if it be possible, to analyze the
process of reasoning, and to invent a method which may act as a common
measure between mind and mind, as a means of joint investigation, and as a
recognized intellectual standard,—a standard such as to secure us against
hopeless mistakes, and to emancipate us from the capricious _ipse dixit_
of authority.

As the index on the dial notes down the sun’s course in the heavens, as a
key, revolving through the intricate wards of the lock, opens for us a
treasure-house, so let us, if we can, provide ourselves with some ready
expedient to serve as a true record of the system of objective truth, and
an available rule for interpreting its phenomena; or at least let us go as
far as we can in providing it. One such experimental key is the science of
geometry, which, in a certain department of nature, substitutes a
collection of true principles, fruitful and interminable in consequences,
for the guesses, _pro re natâ_, of our intellect, and saves it both the
labour and the risk of guessing. Another far more subtle and effective
instrument is algebraical science, which acts as a spell in unlocking for
us, without merit or effort of our own individually, the _arcana_ of the
concrete physical universe. A more ambitious, because a more comprehensive
contrivance still, for interpreting the concrete world is the method of
logical inference. What we desiderate is something which may supersede the
need of personal gifts by a far-reaching and infallible rule. Now, without
external symbols to mark out and to steady its course, the intellect runs
wild; but with the aid of symbols, as in algebra, it advances with
precision and effect. Let then our symbols be words: let all thought be
arrested and embodied in words. Let language have a monopoly of thought;
and thought go for only so much as it can show itself to be worth in
language. Let every prompting of the intellect be ignored, every
_momentum_ of argument be disowned, which is unprovided with an equivalent
wording, as its ticket for sharing in the common search after truth. Let
the authority of nature, common-sense, experience, genius, go for nothing.
Ratiocination, thus restricted and put into grooves, is what I have called
Inference, and the science, which is its regulating principle, is Logic.

The first step in the inferential method is to throw the question to be
decided into the form of a proposition; then to throw the proof itself
into propositions, the force of the proof lying in the comparison of these
propositions with each other. When the analysis is carried out fully and
put into form, it becomes the Aristotelic syllogism. However, an inference
need not be expressed thus technically; an enthymeme fulfils the
requirements of what I have called Inference. So does any other form of
words with the mere grammatical expressions, “for,” “therefore,”
“supposing,” “so that,” “similarly,” and the like. Verbal reasoning, of
whatever kind, as opposed to mental, is what I mean by inference, which
differs from logic only inasmuch as logic is its scientific form. And it
will be more convenient here to use the two words indiscriminately, for I
snail say nothing about logic which does not in its substance also apply
to inference.

Logical inference, then, being such, and its office such as I have
described, the question follows, how far it answers the purpose for which
it is used. It proposes to provide both a test and a common measure of
reasoning; and I think it will be found partly to succeed and partly to
fail; succeeding so far as words can in fact be found for representing the
countless varieties and subtleties of human thought, failing on account of
the fallacy of the original assumption, that whatever can be thought can
be adequately expressed in words.

In the first place, Inference, being conditional, is hampered with other
propositions besides that which is especially its own, that is, with the
premisses as well as the conclusion, and with the rules connecting the
latter with the former. It views its own proper proposition in the medium
of prior propositions, and measures it by them. It does not hold a
proposition for its own sake, but as dependent upon others, and those
others it entertains for the sake of the conclusion. Thus it is
practically far more concerned with the comparison of propositions, than
with the propositions themselves. It is obliged to regard all the
propositions, with which it has to do, not so much for their own sake, as
for the sake of each other, as regards the identity or likeness,
independence or dissimilarity, which has to be mutually predicated of
them. It follows from this, that the more simple and definite are the
words of a proposition, and the narrower their meaning, and the more that
meaning in each proposition is restricted to the relation which it has to
the words of the other propositions compared with it,—in other words, the
nearer the propositions concerned in the inference approach to being
mental abstractions, and the less they have to do with the concrete
reality, and the more closely they are made to express exact,
intelligible, comprehensible, communicable notions, and the less they
stand for objective things, that is, the more they are the subjects, not
of real, but of notional apprehension,—so much the more suitable do they
become for the purposes of Inference.

Hence it is that no process of argument is so perfect, as that which is
conducted by means of symbols. In Arithmetic 1 is 1, and just 1, and never
anything else but 1; it never is 2, it has no tendency to change its
meaning, and to become 2; it has no portion, quality, admixture of 2 in
its meaning. And 6 under all circumstances is 3 times 2, and the sum of 2
and 4; nor can the whole world supply anything to throw doubt upon these
elementary positions. It is not so with language. Take, by contrast, the
word “inference,” which I have been using: it may stand for the act of
inferring, as I have used it; or for the connecting principle, or
_inferentia_, between premisses and conclusions; or for the conclusion
itself. And sometimes it will be difficult, in a particular sentence, to
say which it bears of these three senses. And so again in Algebra, _a_ is
never _x_, or anything but _a_, wherever it is found; and _a_ and _b_ are
always standard quantities, to which _x_ and _y_ are always to be
referred, and by which they are always to be measured. In Geometry again,
the subjects of argument, points, lines, and surfaces, are precise
creations of the mind, suggested indeed by external objects, but meaning
nothing but what they are defined to mean: they have no colour, no motion,
no heat, no qualities which address themselves to the ear or to the
palate; so that, in whatever combinations or relations the words denoting
them occur, and to whomsoever they come, those words never vary in their
meaning, but are just of the same measure and weight at one time and at

What is true of Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry, is true also of
Aristotelic argumentation in its typical modes and figures. It compares
two given words separately with a third, and then determines how they
stand towards each other, in a _bona fide_ identity of sense. In
consequence, its formal process is best conducted by means of symbols, A,
B, and C. While it keeps to these, it is safe; it has the cogency of
mathematical reasoning, and draws its conclusions by a rule as unerring as
it is blind.

Symbolical notation, then, being the perfection of the syllogistic method,
it follows that, when words are substituted for symbols, it will be its
aim to circumscribe and stint their import as much as possible, lest
perchance A should not always exactly mean A, and B mean B; and to make
them, as much as possible, the _calculi_ of notions, which are in our
absolute power, as meaning just what we choose them to mean, and as little
as possible the tokens of real things, which are outside of us, and which
mean we do not know how much, but so much certainly as may run away with
us, in proportion as we enter into them, beyond the range of scientific
management. The concrete matter of propositions is a constant source of
trouble to syllogistic reasoning, as marring the simplicity and perfection
of its process. Words, which denote things, have innumerable implications;
but in inferential exercises it is the very triumph of that clearness and
hardness of head, which is the characteristic talent for the art, to have
stripped them of all these connatural senses, to have drained them of that
depth and breadth of associations which constitute their poetry, their
rhetoric, and their historical life, to have starved each term down till
it has become the ghost of itself, and everywhere one and the same ghost,
“omnibus umbra locis,” so that it may stand for just one unreal aspect of
the concrete thing to which it properly belongs, for a relation, a
generalization, or other abstraction, for a notion neatly turned out of
the laboratory of the mind, and sufficiently tame and subdued, because
existing only in a definition.

Thus it is that the logician for his own purposes, and most usefully as
far as those purposes are concerned, turns rivers, full, winding, and
beautiful, into navigable canals. To him dog or horse is not a thing which
he sees, but a mere name suggesting ideas; and by dog or horse universal
he means, not the aggregate of all individual dogs or horses brought
together, but a common aspect, meagre but precise, of all existing or
possible dogs or horses, which all the while does not really correspond to
any one single dog or horse out of the whole aggregate. Such minute
fidelity in the representation of individuals is neither necessary nor
possible to his art; his business is not to ascertain facts in the
concrete, but to find and dress up middle terms; and, provided they and
the extremes which they go between are not equivocal, either in themselves
or in their use, and he can enable his pupils to show well in a _vivâ
voce_ disputation, or in a popular harangue, or in a written dissertation,
he has achieved the main purpose of his profession.

Such are the characteristics of reasoning, viewed as a science or
scientific art, or inferential process, and we might anticipate that,
narrow as by necessity is its field of view, for that reason its
pretensions to be demonstrative were incontrovertible. In a certain sense
they really are so; while we talk logic, we are unanswerable; but then, on
the other hand, this universal living scene of things is after all as
little a logical world as it is a poetical; and, as it cannot without
violence be exalted into poetical perfection, neither can it be attenuated
into a logical formula. Abstract can only conduct to abstract; but we have
need to attain by our reasonings to what is concrete; and the margin
between the abstract conclusions of the science, and the concrete facts
which we wish to ascertain, will be found to reduce the force of the
inferential method from demonstration to the mere determination of the
probable. Thus, whereas (as I have already said) Inference starts with
conditions, as starting with premisses, here are two reasons why, when
employed upon matters of fact, it can only conclude probabilities: first,
because its premisses are assumed, not proved; and secondly, because its
conclusions are abstract, and not concrete. I will now consider these two
points separately.


Inference comes short of proof in concrete matters, because it has not a
full command over the objects to which it relates, but merely assumes its
premisses. In order to complete the proof, we are thrown upon some
previous syllogism or syllogisms, in which the assumptions may be proved;
and then, still farther back, we are thrown upon others again, to prove
the new assumptions of that second order of syllogisms. Where is this
process to stop? especially since it must run upon separated, divergent,
and multiplied lines of argument, the farther the investigation is carried
back. At length a score of propositions present themselves, all to be
proved by propositions more evident than themselves, in order to enable
them respectively to become premisses to that series of inferences which
terminates in the conclusion which we originally drew. But even now the
difficulty is not at an end; it would be something to arrive at length at
premisses which are undeniable, however long we might be in arriving at
them; but in this case the long retrospection lodges us at length at what
are called first principles, the recondite sources of all knowledge, as to
which logic provides no common measure of minds,—which are accepted by
some, rejected by others,—in which, and not in the syllogistic
exhibitions, lies the whole problem of attaining to truth,—and which are
called self-evident by their respective advocates because they are evident
in no other way. One of the two uses contemplated in reasoning by rule, or
in verbal argumentation, was, as I have said, to establish a standard of
truth and to supersede the _ipse dixit_ of authority: how does it fulfil
this end, if it only leads us back to first principles, about which there
is interminable controversy? We are not able to prove by syllogism that
there are any self-evident propositions at all; but supposing there are
(as of course I hold there are), still who can determine these by logic?
Syllogism, then, though of course it has its use, still does only the
minutest and easiest part of the work, in the investigation of truth, for
when there is any difficulty, that difficulty commonly lies in determining
first principles, not in the arrangement of proofs.

Even when argument is the most direct and severe of its kind, there must
be those assumptions in the process which resolve themselves into the
conditions of human nature; but how many more assumptions does that
process in ordinary concrete matters involve, subtle assumptions not
directly arising out of these primary conditions, but accompanying the
course of reasoning, step by step, and traceable to the sentiments of the
age, country, religion, social habits and ideas, of the particular
inquirers or disputants, and passing current without detection, because
admitted equally on all hands! And to these must be added the assumptions
which are made from the necessity of the case, in consequence of the
prolixity and elaborateness of any argument which should faithfully note
down all the propositions which go to make it up. We recognize this
tediousness even in the case of the theorems of Euclid, though
mathematical proof is comparatively simple.

Logic then does not really prove; it enables us to join issue with others;
it suggests ideas; it opens views; it maps out for us the lines of
thought; it verifies negatively; it determines when differences of opinion
are hopeless; and when and how far conclusions are probable; but for
genuine proof in concrete matter we require an _organon_ more delicate,
versatile, and elastic than verbal argumentation.


I ought to give an illustration of what I have been stating in general
terms; but it is difficult to do so without a digression. However, if it
must be, I look round the room in which I happen to be writing, and take
down the first book which catches my eye. It is an old volume of a
Magazine of great name; I open it at random and fall upon a discussion
about the then lately discovered emendations of the text of Shakespeare.
It will do for my purpose.

In the account of Falstaff’s death in “Henry V.” (act ii. scene 3) we
read, according to the received text, the well-known words, “His nose was
as sharp as a pen, and ’a babbled of green fields.” In the first authentic
edition, published in 1623, some years after Shakespeare’s death, the
words, I believe, ran, “and a table of green fields,” which has no sense.
Accordingly, an anonymous critic, reported by Theobald in the last
century, corrected them to “and ’a talked of green fields,” Theobald
himself improved the reading into “and ’a babbled of green fields,” which
since his time has been the received text. But just twenty years ago an
annotated copy of the edition of 1632 was found, annotated perhaps by a
contemporary, which, among as many as 20,000 corrections of the text,
substituted for the corrupt reading of 1623, the words “on a table of
green frieze,” which has a sufficient sense, though far less acceptable to
an admirer of Shakespeare, than Theobald’s. The genuineness of this copy
with its annotations, as it is presented to us, I shall here take for

Now I understand, or at least will suppose, the argument, maintained in
the article of the Magazine in question, to run thus:—“Theobald’s reading,
as at present received, is to be retained, to the exclusion of the text of
1623 and of the emendation made on the copy of the edition of 1632;—to the
exclusion of the text of 1623 because that text is corrupt; to the
exclusion of the annotation of 1632 because it is anonymous.” I wish it
then observed how many large questions are opened in the discussion which
ensues, how many recondite and untractable principles have to be settled,
and how impotent is logic, or any reasonings which can be thrown into
language, to deal with these indispensable first principles.

The first position is, “The authoritative reading of 1623 is not to be
restored to the received text, because it is corrupt.” Now are we to take
it for granted, as a first principle, which needs no proof, that a text
may be tampered with, because it is corrupt? However the corrupt reading
arose, it is authoritative. It is found in an edition, published by known
persons, only six years after Shakespeare’s death, from his own
manuscript, as it appears, and with his corrections of earlier faulty
impressions. Authority cannot sanction nonsense, but it can forbid critics
from experimentalizing upon it. If the text of Shakespeare is corrupt, it
should be published as corrupt.

I believe the best editors of the Greek tragedians have given up the
impertinence of introducing their conjectures into the text; and a classic
like Shakespeare has a right to be treated with the same respect as
Æschylus. To this it will be replied, that Shakespeare is for the general
public and Æschylus for students of a dead language; that the run of men
read for amusement or as a recreation, and that, if the editions of
Shakespeare were made on critical principles, they would remain unsold.
Here, then, we are brought to the question whether it is any advantage to
read Shakespeare except with the care and pains which a classic demands,
and whether he is in fact read at all by those whom such critical
exactness would offend; and thus we are led on to further questions about
cultivation of mind and the education of the masses. Further, the question
presents itself, whether the general admiration of Shakespeare is genuine,
whether it is not a mere fashion, whether the multitude of men understand
him at all, whether it is not true that every one makes much of him,
because every one else makes much of him. Can we possibly make Shakespeare
light reading, especially in this day of cheap novels, by ever so much
correction of his text?

Now supposing this point settled, and the text of 1623 put out of court,
then comes the claim of the Annotator to introduce into Shakespeare’s text
the emendation made upon his copy of the edition of 1632; why is he not of
greater authority than Theobald, the inventor of the received reading, and
his emendation of more authority than Theobald’s? If the corrupt reading
must any how be got out of the way, why should not the Annotator, rather
than Theobald, determine its substitute? For what we know, the authority
of the anonymous Annotator may be very great. There is nothing to show
that he was not a contemporary of the poet; and if so, the question
arises, what is the character of his emendations? are they his own private
and arbitrary conjectures, or are they informations from those who knew
Shakespeare, traditions of the theatre, of the actors or spectators of his
plays? Here, then, we are involved in intricate questions which can only
be decided by a minute examination of the 20,000 emendations so
industriously brought together by this anonymous critic. But it is obvious
that a verbal argumentation upon 20,000 corrections is impossible: there
must be first careful processes of perusal, classification,
discrimination, selection, which mainly are acts of the mind without the
intervention of language. There must be a cumulation of arguments on one
side and on the other, of which only the heads or the results can be put
upon paper. Next come in questions of criticism and taste, with their
recondite and disputable premisses, and the usual deductions from them, so
subtle and difficult to follow. All this being considered, am I wrong in
saying that, though controversy is both possible and useful at all times,
yet it is not adequate to this occasion; rather that that sum-total of
argument (whether for or against the Annotator) which is furnished by his
numerous emendations,—or what may be called the multiform, evidential
fact, in which the examination of these emendations results,—requires
rather to be photographed on the individual mind as by one impression,
than admits of delineation for the satisfaction of the many in any known
or possible language, however rich in vocabulary and flexible in

And now as to the third point which presents itself for consideration, the
claim of Theobald’s emendation to retain its place in the _textus
receptus_. It strikes me with wonder that an argument in its defence could
have been put forward to the following effect, viz. that true though it
be, that the Editors of 1623 are of much more authority than Theobald, and
that the Annotator’s reading in the passage in question is more likely to
be correct than Theobald’s, nevertheless Theobald’s has by this time
acquired a prescriptive right to its place there, the prescription of more
than a hundred years;—that usurpation has become legitimacy; that
Theobald’s words have sunk into the hearts of thousands; that in fact they
have become Shakespeare’s; that it would be a dangerous innovation and an
evil precedent to touch them. If we begin an unsettlement of the popular
mind, where is it to stop?

Thus it appears, in order to do justice to the question before us, we have
to betake ourselves to the consideration of myths, pious frauds, and other
grave matters, which introduce us into a _sylva_, dense and intricate, of
first principles and elementary phenomena, belonging to the domains of
archeology and theology. Nor is this all; when such views of the duty of
garbling a classic are propounded, they open upon us a long vista of
sceptical interrogations which go far to disparage the claims upon us, the
genius, the very existence of the great poet to whose honour these views
are intended to minister. For perhaps, after all, Shakespeare is really
but a collection of many Theobalds, who have each of them a right to his
own share of him. There was a great dramatic school in his day; he was one
of a number of first-rate artists,—perhaps they wrote in common. How are
we to know what is his, or how much? Are the best parts his, or the worst?
It is said that the players put in what is vulgar and offensive in his
writings; perhaps they inserted the beauties. I have heard it urged years
ago, as an objection to Sheridan’s claim of authorship to the plays which
bear his name, that they were so unlike each other; is not this the very
peculiarity of those imputed to Shakespeare? Were ever the writings of one
man so various, so impersonal? can we form any one true idea of what he
was in history or character, by means of them? is he not in short “_vox et
præterea nihil_”? Then again, in corroboration, is there any author’s life
so deficient in biographical notices as his? We know about Hooker,
Spenser, Spelman, Raleigh, Harvey, his contemporaries: what do we know of
Shakespeare? Is he much more than a name? Is not the traditional object of
an Englishman’s idolatry after all a nebula of genius, destined, like
Homer, to be resolved into its separate and independent luminaries, as
soon as we have a criticism powerful enough for the purpose? I must not be
supposed for a moment to countenance such scepticism myself,—though it is
a subject worthy the attention of a sceptical age: here I have introduced
it simply to suggest how many words go to make up a thoroughly valid
argument; how short and easy a way to a true conclusion is the logic of
good sense; how little syllogisms have to do with the formation of
opinion; how little depends upon the inferential proofs, and how much upon
those pre-existing beliefs and views, in which men either already agree
with each other or hopelessly differ, before they begin to dispute, and
which are hidden deep in our nature, or, it may be, in our personal


So much on the multiplicity of assumptions, which in spite of formal
exactness, logical reasoning in concrete matters is forced to admit, and
on the consequent uncertainty which attends its conclusions. Now I come to
the second reason why its conclusions are thus wanting in precision.

In this world of sense we have to do with things, far more than with
notions. We are not solitary, left to the contemplation of our own
thoughts and their legitimate developments. We are surrounded by external
beings, and our enunciations are directed to the concrete. We reason in
order to enlarge our knowledge of matters, which do not depend on us for
being what they are. But how is an exercise of mind, which is for the most
part occupied with notions, not things, competent to deal with things,
except partially and indirectly? This is the main reason why an inference,
however fully worded, (except perhaps in some peculiar cases, which are
out of place here,) never can reach so far as to ascertain a fact. As I
have already said, arguments about the abstract cannot handle and
determine the concrete. They may approximate to a proof, but they only
reach the probable, because they cannot reach the particular.

Even in mathematical physics a margin is left for possible imperfection in
the investigation. When the planet Neptune was discovered, it was
deservedly considered a triumph of science, that abstract reasonings had
done so much towards determining the planet and its orbit. There would
have been no triumph in success, had there been no hazard of failure; it
is no triumph to Euclid, in pure mathematics, that the geometrical
conclusions of his second book can be worked out and verified by algebra.

The motions of the heavenly bodies are almost mathematical in their
precision; but there is a multitude of matters, to which mathematical
science is applied, which are in their nature intricate and obscure, and
require that reasoning by rule should be completed by the living mind. Who
would be satisfied with a navigator or engineer, who had no practice or
experience whereby to carry on his scientific conclusions out of their
native abstract into the concrete and the real? What is the meaning of the
distrust, which is ordinarily felt, of speculators and theorists but this,
that they are dead to the necessity of personal prudence and judgment to
qualify and complete their logic? Science, working by itself, reaches
truth in the abstract, and probability in the concrete; but what we aim at
is truth in the concrete.

This is true of other inferences besides mathematical. They come to no
definite conclusions about matters of fact, except as they are made
effectual for their purpose by the living intelligence which uses them.
“All men have their price; Fabricius is a man; he has his price;” but he
had not his price; how is this? Because he is more than a universal;
because he falls under other universals; because universals are ever at
war with each other; because what is called a universal is only a general;
because what is only general does not lead to a necessary conclusion. Let
us judge him by another universal. “Men have a conscience; Fabricius is a
man; he has a conscience.” Until we have actual experience of Fabricius,
we can only say, that, since he is a man, perhaps he will take a bribe,
and perhaps he will not. “Latet dolus in generalibus;” they are arbitrary
and fallacious, if we take them for more than broad views and aspects of
things, serving as our notes and indications for judging of the
particular, but not absolutely touching and determining facts.

Let units come first, and (so-called) universals second; let universals
minister to units, not units be sacrificed to universals. John, Richard,
and Robert are individual things, independent, incommunicable. We may find
some kind of common measure between them, and we may give it the name of
man, man as such, the typical man, the _auto-anthropos_. We are justified
in so doing, and in investing it with general attributes, and bestowing on
it what we consider a definition. But we think we may go on to impose our
definition on the whole race, and to every member of it, to the thousand
Johns, Richards, and Roberts who are found in it. No; each of them is what
he is, in spite of it. Not any one of them is man, as such, or coincides
with the _auto-anthropos_. Another John is not necessarily rational,
because “all men are rational,” for he may be an idiot;—nor because “man
is a being of progress,” does the second Richard progress, for he may be a
dunce;—nor, because “man is made for society,” must we therefore go on to
deny that the second Robert is a gipsy or a bandit, as he is found to be.
There is no such thing as stereotyped humanity; it must ever be a vague,
bodiless idea, because the concrete units from which it is formed are
independent realities. General laws are not inviolable truths; much less
are they necessary causes. Since, as a rule, men are rational,
progressive, and social, there is a high probability of this rule being
true in the case of a particular person; but we must know him to be sure
of it.

Each thing has its own nature and its own history. When the nature and the
history of many things are similar, we say that they have the same nature;
but there is no such thing as one and the same nature; they are each of
them itself, not identical, but like. A law is not a fact, but a notion.
“All men die; therefore Elias has died;” but he has not died, and did not
die. He was an exception to the general law of humanity; so far, he did
not come under that law, but under the law (so to say) of Elias. It was
the peculiarity of his individuality, that he left the world without
dying: what right have we to subject the person of Elias to the scientific
notion of an abstract humanity, which we have formed without asking his
leave? Why must the tyrant majority find a rule for his history? “But all
men are mortal;” not so; what is really meant is, that “man, as such, is
mortal,” or the abstract, typical _auto-anthropos_; therefore the minor
premiss ought to be, “Elias was the _auto-anthropos_ or abstract man;” but
he was not, and could not be the abstract man, nor could any one else, any
more than the average man of an Insurance Company is every individual man
who insures his life with it. Such a syllogism proves nothing about the
veritable Elias, except in the way of antecedent probability. If it be
said that Elias was exempted from death, not by nature, but by miracle,
what is this to the purpose, undeniable as it is? Still, to have this
miraculous exemption was the personal prerogative of Elias. We call it
miracle, because God ordinarily acts otherwise. He who causes men in
general to die, gave to Elias not to die. This miraculous gift comes into
the individuality of Elias. On this individuality we must fix our
thoughts, and not begin our notion of him by ignoring it. He was a man,
and something more than “man”; and if we do not take this into account, we
fall into an initial error in our thoughts of him.

What is true of Elias is true of every one in his own place and degree. We
call rationality the distinction of man, when compared with other animals.
This is true in logic; but in fact a man differs from a brute, not in
rationality only, but in all that he is, even in those respects in which
he is most like a brute; so that his whole self, his bones, limbs, make,
life, reason, moral feeling, immortality, and all that he is besides, is
his real _differentia_, in contrast to a horse or a dog. And in like
manner as regards John and Richard, when compared with one another; each
is himself, and nothing else, and, though, regarded abstractedly, the two
may fairly be said to have something in common, (viz. that abstract
sameness which does not exist at all,) yet, strictly speaking, they have
nothing in common, for each of them has a vested interest in all that he
himself is; and, moreover, what seems to be common in the two, becomes in
fact so uncommon, so _sui simile_, in their respective individualities—the
bodily frame of each is so singled out from all other bodies by its
special constitution, sound or weak, by its vitality, activity,
pathological history and changes, and, again, the mind of each is so
distinct from all other minds, in disposition, powers, and habits,—that,
instead of saying, as logicians say, that the two men differ only in
number, we ought, I repeat, rather to say that they differ from each other
in all that they are, in identity, in incommunicability, in personality.

Nor does any real thing admit, by any calculus of logic, of being
dissected into all the possible general notions which it admits, nor, in
consequence, of being recomposed out of them; though the attempt thus to
treat it is more unpromising in proportion to the intricacy and
completeness of its make. We cannot see through any one of the myriad
beings which make up the universe, or give the full catalogue of its
belongings. We are accustomed, indeed, and rightly, to speak of the
Creator Himself as incomprehensible; and, indeed, He is so by an
incommunicable attribute; but in a certain sense each of His creatures is
incomprehensible to us also, in the sense that no one has a perfect
understanding of it but He. We recognize and appropriate aspects of them,
and logic is useful to us in registering these aspects and what they
imply; but it does not give us to know even one individual being.

So much on logical argumentation; and in speaking of the syllogism, I have
spoken of all inferential processes whatever, as expressed in language,
(if they are such as to be reducible to science,) for they all require
general notions, as conditions of their coming to a conclusion.

Thus, in the deductive argument, “Europe has no security for peace, till
its large standing armies in its separate states are reduced; for a large
standing army is in its very idea provocative of war,” the conclusion is
only probable, for it may so be that in no country is that pure idea
realized, but in every country in concrete fact there may be
circumstances, political or social, which destroy the abstract

So, too, as regards Induction and Analogy, as modes of Inference; for,
whether I argue, “This place will have the cholera, unless it is drained;
for there are a number of well-ascertained cases which point to this
conclusion;” or, “The sun will rise to-morrow, for it rose to-day;” in
either method of reasoning I appeal, in order to prove a particular case,
to a general principle or law, which has not force enough to warrant more
than a probable conclusion. As to the cholera, the place in question may
have certain antagonist advantages, which anticipate or neutralize the
miasma which is the principle of the poison; and as to the sun’s rising
to-morrow, there was a first day of the sun’s rising, and therefore there
may be a last.


This is what I have to say on formal Inference, when taken to represent
Ratiocination. Science in all its departments has too much simplicity and
exactness, from the nature of the case, to be the measure of fact. In its
very perfection lies its incompetency to settle particulars and details.
As to Logic, its chain of conclusions hangs loose at both ends; both the
point from which the proof should start, and the points at which it should
arrive, are beyond its reach; it comes short both of first principles and
of concrete issues. Even its most elaborate exhibitions fail to represent
adequately the sum total of considerations by which an individual mind is
determined in its judgment of things; even its most careful combinations
made to bear on a conclusion want that steadiness of aim which is
necessary for hitting it. As I said when I began, thought is too keen and
manifold, its sources are too remote and hidden, its path too personal,
delicate, and circuitous, its subject-matter too various and intricate, to
admit of the trammels of any language, of whatever subtlety and of
whatever compass.

Nor is it any disparagement of the proper value of formal reasonings thus
to speak of them. That they cannot proceed beyond probabilities is most
readily allowed by those who use them most. Philosophers,
experimentalists, lawyers, in their several ways, have commonly the
reputation of being, at least on moral and religious subjects, hard of
belief; because, proceeding in the necessary investigation by the
analytical method of verbal inference, they find within its limits no
sufficient resources for attaining a conclusion. Nay, they do not always
find it possible in their own special province severally; for, even when
in their hearts they have no doubt about a conclusion, still often, from
the habit of their minds, they are reluctant to own it, and dwell upon the
deficiencies of the evidence, or the possibility of error, because they
speak by rule and by book, though they judge and determine by

Every exercise of nature or of art is good in its place; and the uses of
this logical inference are manifold. It is the great principle of order in
our thinking; it reduces a chaos into harmony; it catalogues the
accumulations of knowledge; it maps out for us the relations of its
separate departments; it puts us in the way to correct its own mistakes.
It enables the independent intellects of many, acting and re-acting on
each other, to bring their collective force to bear upon one and the same
subject-matter, or the same question. If language is an inestimable gift
to man, the logical faculty prepares it for our use. Though it does not go
so far as to ascertain truth, still it teaches us the direction in which
truth lies, and how propositions lie towards each other. Nor is it a
slight benefit to know what is probable, and what is not so, what is
needed for the proof of a point, what is wanting in a theory, how a theory
hangs together, and what will follow, if it be admitted. Though it does
not itself discover the unknown, it is one principal way by which
discoveries are made. Moreover, a course of argument, which is simply
conditional, will point out when and where experiment and observation
should be applied, or testimony sought for, as often happens both in
physical and legal questions. A logical hypothesis is the means of holding
facts together, explaining difficulties, and reconciling the imagination
to what is strange. And, again, processes of logic are useful as enabling
us to get over particular stages of an investigation speedily and surely,
as on a journey we now and then gain time by travelling by night, make
short cuts when the high-road winds, or adopt water-carriage to avoid

But reasoning by rule and in words is too natural to us, to admit of being
regarded merely in the light of utility. Our inquiries spontaneously fall
into scientific sequence, and we think in logic, as we talk in prose,
without aiming at doing so. However sure we are of the accuracy of our
instinctive conclusions, we as instinctively put them into words, as far
as we can; as preferring, if possible, to have them in an objective shape
which we can fall back upon,—first for our own satisfaction, then for our
justification with others. Such a tangible defence of what we hold,
inadequate as it necessarily is, considered as an analysis of our
ratiocination in its length and breadth, nevertheless is in such sense
associated with our holdings, and so fortifies and illustrates them, that
it acts as a vivid apprehension acts, giving them luminousness and force.
Thus inference becomes a sort of symbol of assent, and even bears upon

I have enlarged on these obvious considerations, lest I should seem
paradoxical; but they do not impair the main position of this Section,
that Inference, considered in the shape of verbal argumentation,
determines neither our principles, nor our ultimate judgments,—that it is
neither the test of truth, nor the adequate basis of assent.(12)

§ 2. Informal Inference.

It is plain that formal logical sequence is not in fact the method by
which we are enabled to become certain of what is concrete; and it is
equally plain, from what has been already suggested, what the real and
necessary method is. It is the cumulation of probabilities, independent of
each other, arising out of the nature and circumstances of the particular
case which is under review; probabilities too fine to avail separately,
too subtle and circuitous to be convertible into syllogisms, too numerous
and various for such conversion, even were they convertible. As a man’s
portrait differs from a sketch of him, in having, not merely a continuous
outline, but all its details filled in, and shades and colours laid on and
harmonized together, such is the multiform and intricate process of
ratiocination, necessary for our reaching him as a concrete fact, compared
with the rude operation of syllogistic treatment.

Let us suppose I wish to convert an educated, thoughtful Protestant, and
accordingly present for his acceptance a syllogism of the following
kind:—“All Protestants are bound to join the Church; you are a Protestant:
ergo.” He answers, we will say, by denying both premisses; and he does so
by means of arguments, which branch out into other arguments, and those
into others, and all of them severally requiring to be considered by him
on their own merits, before the syllogism reaches him, and in consequence
mounting up, taken all together, into an array of inferential exercises
large and various beyond calculation. Moreover, he is bound to submit
himself to this complicated process from the nature of the case; he would
act rashly, if he did not; for he is a concrete individual unit, and being
so, is under so many laws, and is the subject of so many predications all
at once, that he cannot determine, offhand, his position and his duty by
the law and the predication of one syllogism in particular. I mean he may
fairly say, “Distinguo,” to each of its premisses: he says, “Protestants
are bound to join the Church,—under circumstances,” and “I am a
Protestant—in a certain sense;” and therefore the syllogism, at first
sight, does not touch him at all.

Before, then, he grants the major, he asks whether all Protestants really
are bound to join the Church—are they bound in case they do not feel
themselves bound; if they are satisfied that their present religion is a
safe one; if they are sure it is true; if, on the other hand, they have
grave doubts as to the doctrinal fidelity and purity of the Church; if
they are convinced that the Church is corrupt; if their conscience
instinctively rejects certain of its doctrines; if history convinces them
that the Pope’s power is not _jure divino_, but merely in the order of
Providence? if, again, they are in a heathen country where priests are
not? or where the only priest who is to be found exacts of them, as a
condition of their reception, a profession, which the Creed of Pope Pius
IV. says nothing about; for instance, that the Holy See is fallible even
when it teaches, or that the Temporal Power is an anti-Christian
corruption? On one or other of such grounds he thinks he need not change
his religion; but presently he asks himself, Can a Protestant be in such a
state as to be really satisfied with his religion, as he has just now been
professing? Can he possibly believe Protestantism came from above, as a
whole? how much of it can he believe came from above? and, as to that
portion which he feels did come from above, has it not all been derived to
him from the Church, when traced to its source? Is not Protestantism in
itself a negation? Did not the Church exist before it? and can he be sure,
on the other hand, that any one of the Church’s doctrines is not from
above? Further, he finds he has to make up his mind what is a corruption,
and what are the tests of it; what he means by a religion; whether it is
obligatory to profess any religion in particular; what are the standards
of truth and falsehood in religion; and what are the special claims of the

And so, again, as to the minor premiss, perhaps he will answer, that he is
not a Protestant; that he is a Catholic of the early undivided Church;
that he is a Catholic, but not a Papist. Then he has to determine
questions about division, schism, visible unity, what is essential, what
is desirable; about provisional states; as to the adjustment of the
Church’s claims with those of personal judgment and responsibility; as to
the soul of the Church contrasted with the body; as to degrees of proof,
and the degree necessary for his conversion; as to what is called his
providential position, and the responsibility of change; as to the
sincerity of his purpose to follow the Divine Will, whithersoever it may
lead him; as to his intellectual capacity of investigating such questions
at all.

None of these questions, as they come before him, admit of simple
demonstration; but each carries with it a number of independent probable
arguments, sufficient, when united, for a reasonable conclusion about
itself. And first he determines that the questions are such as he
personally, with such talents or attainments as he has, may fairly
entertain; and then he goes on, after deliberation, to form a definite
judgment upon them; and determines them, one way or another, in their
bearing on the bald syllogism which was originally offered to his
acceptance. And, we will say, he comes to the conclusion, that he ought to
accept it as true in his case; that he is a Protestant in such a sense, of
such a complexion, of such knowledge, under such circumstances, as to be
called upon by duty to join the Church; that this is a conclusion of which
he can be certain, and ought to be certain, and that he will be incurring
grave responsibility, if he does not accept it as certain, and act upon
the certainty of it. And to this conclusion he comes, as is plain, not by
any possible verbal enumeration of all the considerations, minute but
abundant, delicate but effective, which unite to bring him to it; but by a
mental comprehension of the whole case, and a discernment of its upshot,
sometimes after much deliberation, but, it may be, by a clear and rapid
act of the intellect, always, however, by an unwritten summing-up,
something like the summation of the terms, _plus_ and _minus_ of an
algebraical series.

This I conceive to be the real method of reasoning in concrete matters;
and it has these characteristics:—First, it does not supersede the logical
form of inference, but is one and the same with it; only it is no longer
an abstraction, but carried out into the realities of life, its premisses
being instinct with the substance and the momentum of that mass of
probabilities, which, acting upon each other in correction and
confirmation, carry it home definitely to the individual case, which is
its original scope.

Next, from what has been said it is plain, that such a process of
reasoning is more or less implicit, and without the direct and full
advertence of the mind exercising it. As by the use of our eyesight we
recognize two brothers, yet without being able to express what it is by
which we distinguish them; as at first sight we perhaps confuse them
together, but, on better knowledge, we see no likeness between them at
all; as it requires an artist’s eye to determine what lines and shades
make a countenance look young or old, amiable, thoughtful, angry or
conceited, the principle of discrimination being in each case real, but
implicit;—so is the mind unequal to a complete analysis of the motives
which carry it on to a particular conclusion, and is swayed and determined
by a body of proof, which it recognizes only as a body, and not in its
constituent parts.

And thirdly, it is plain, that, in this investigation of the method of
concrete inference, we have not advanced one step towards depriving
inference of its conditional character; for it is still as dependent on
premisses, as it is in its elementary idea. On the contrary, we have
rather added to the obscurity of the problem; for a syllogism is at least
a demonstration, when the premisses are granted, but a cumulation of
probabilities, over and above their implicit character, will vary both in
their number and their separate estimated value, according to the
particular intellect which is employed upon it. It follows that what to
one intellect is a proof is not so to another, and that the certainty of a
proposition does properly consist in the certitude of the mind which
contemplates it. And this of course may be said without prejudice to the
objective truth or falsehood of propositions, since it does not follow
that these propositions on the one hand are not true, and based on right
reason, and those on the other not false, and based on false reason,
because not all men discriminate them in the same way.

Having thus explained the view which I would take of reasoning in the
concrete, viz. that, from the nature of the case, and from the
constitution of the human mind, certitude is the result of arguments
which, taken in the letter, and not in their full implicit sense, are but
probabilities, I proceed to dwell on some instances and circumstances of a
phenomenon which seems to me as undeniable as to many it may be


Let us take three instances belonging respectively to the present, the
past, and the future.

1. We are all absolutely certain, beyond the possibility of doubt, that
Great Britain is an island. We give to that proposition our deliberate and
unconditional adhesion. There is no security on which we should be better
content to stake our interests, our property, our welfare, than on the
fact that we are living in an island. We have no fear of any geographical
discovery which may reverse our belief. We should be amused or angry at
the assertion, as a bad jest, did any one say that we were at this time
joined to the main-land in Norway or in France, though a canal was cut
across the isthmus. We are as little exposed to the misgiving, “Perhaps we
are not on an island after all,” as to the question, “Is it quite certain
that the angle in a semi-circle is a right-angle?” It is a simple and
primary truth with us, if any truth is such; to believe it is as
legitimate an exercise of assent, as there are legitimate exercises of
doubt or of opinion. This is the position of our minds towards our
insularity; yet are the arguments producible for it (to use the common
expression) in black and white commensurate with this overpowering
certitude about it?

Our reasons for believing that we are circumnavigable are such as
these:—first, we have been so taught in our childhood, and it is so in all
the maps; next, we have never heard it contradicted or questioned; on the
contrary, every one whom we have heard speak on the subject of Great
Britain, every book we have read, invariably took it for granted; our
whole national history, the routine transactions and current events of the
country, our social and commercial system, our political relations with
foreigners, imply it in one way or another. Numberless facts, or what we
consider facts, rest on the truth of it; no received fact rests on its
being otherwise. If there is anywhere a junction between us and the
continent, where is it? and how do we know it? is it in the north or in
the south? There is a manifest _reductio ad absurdum_ attached to the
notion that we can be deceived on such a point as this.

However, negative arguments and circumstantial evidence are not all, in
such a matter, which we have a right to require. They are not the highest
kind of proof possible. Those who have circumnavigated the island have a
right to be certain: have we ever ourselves even fallen in with any one
who has? And as to the common belief, what is the proof that we are not
all of us believing it on the credit of each other? And then, when it is
said that every one believes it, and everything implies it, how much comes
home to me personally of this “every one” and “everything”? The question
is, Why do I believe it myself? A living statesman is said to have fancied
Demerara an island; his belief was an impression; have we personally more
than an impression, if we view the matter argumentatively, a lifelong
impression about Great Britain, like the belief, so long and so widely
entertained, that the earth was immovable, and the sun careered round it?
I am not at all insinuating that we are not rational in our certitude; I
only mean that we cannot analyze a proof satisfactorily, the result of
which good sense actually guarantees to us.

2. Father Hardouin maintained that Terence’s Plays, Virgil’s “Æneid,”
Horace’s Odes, and the Histories of Livy and Tacitus, were the forgeries
of the monks of the thirteenth century. That he should be able to argue in
behalf of such a position, shows of course that the proof in behalf of the
received opinion is not overwhelming. That is, we have no means of
inferring absolutely, that Virgil’s episode of Dido, or of the Sibyl, and
Horace’s “Te quoque mensorem” and “Quem tu Melpomene,” belong to that
Augustan age, which owes its celebrity mainly to those poets. Our
common-sense, however, believes in their genuineness without any
hesitation or reserve, as if it had been demonstrated, and not in
proportion to the available evidence in its favour, or the balance of

So much at first sight;—but what are our grounds for dismissing thus
summarily, as we are likely to do, a theory such as Hardouin’s? For let it
be observed first, that all knowledge of the Latin classics comes to us
from the medieval transcriptions of them, and they who transcribed them
had the opportunity of forging or garbling them. We are simply at their
mercy; for neither by oral transmission, nor by monumental inscriptions,
nor by contemporaneous manuscripts are the works of Virgil, Horace, and
Terence, of Livy and Tacitus, brought to our knowledge. The existing
copies, whenever made, are to us the autographic originals. Next, it must
be considered, that the numerous religious bodies, then existing over the
face of Europe, had leisure enough, in the course of a century, to
compose, not only all the classics, but all the Fathers too. The question
is, whether they had the ability. This is the main point on which the
inquiry turns, or at least the most obvious; and it forms one of those
arguments, which, from the nature of the case, are felt rather than are
convertible into syllogisms. Hardouin allows that the Georgics, Horace’s
Satires and Epistles, and the whole of Cicero, are genuine: we have a
standard then in these undisputed compositions of the Augustan age. We
have a standard also, in the extant medieval works, of what the thirteenth
century could do; and we see at once how widely the disputed works differ
from the medieval. Now could the thirteenth century simulate Augustan
writers better than the Augustan could simulate such writers as those of
the thirteenth? No. Perhaps, when the subject is critically examined, the
question may be brought to a more simple issue; but as to our personal
reasons for receiving as genuine the whole of Virgil, Horace, Livy,
Tacitus, and Terence, they are summed up in our conviction that the monks
had not the ability to write them. That is, we take for granted that we
are sufficiently informed about the capabilities of the human mind, and
the conditions of genius, to be quite sure that an age which was fertile
in great ideas and in momentous elements of the future, robust in thought,
hopeful in its anticipations, of singular intellectual curiosity and
acumen, and of high genius in at least one of the fine arts, could not,
for the very reason of its pre-eminence in its own line, have an equal
pre-eminence in a contrary one. We do not pretend to be able to draw the
line between what the medieval intellect could or could not do; but we
feel sure that at least it could not write the classics. An instinctive
sense of this, and a faith in testimony, are the sufficient, but the
undeveloped argument on which to ground our certitude.

I will add, that, if we deal with arguments in the mere letter, the
question of the authorship of works in any case has much difficulty. I
have noticed it in the instance of Shakespeare, and of Newton. We are all
certain that Johnson wrote the prose of Johnson, and Pope the poetry of
Pope; but what is there but prescription, at least after contemporaries
are dead, to connect together the author of the work and the owner of the
name? Our lawyers prefer the examination of present witnesses to
affidavits on paper; but the tradition of “testimonia,” such as are
prefixed to the classics and the Fathers, together with the absence of
dissentient voices, is the adequate groundwork of our belief in the
history of literature.

3. Once more: what are my grounds for thinking that I, in my own
particular case, shall die? I am as certain of it in my own innermost
mind, as I am that I now live; but what is the distinct evidence on which
I allow myself to be certain? how would it tell in a court of justice? how
should I fare under a cross-examination upon the grounds of my certitude?
Demonstration of course I cannot have of a future event, unless by means
of a Divine Voice; but what logical defence can I make for that
undoubting, obstinate anticipation of it, of which I could not rid myself,
if I tried?

First, the future cannot be proved _à posteriori_; therefore we are
compelled by the nature of the case to put up with _à priori_ arguments,
that is, with antecedent probability, which is by itself no logical proof.
Men tell me that there is a law of death, meaning by law a necessity; and
I answer that they are throwing dust into my eyes, giving me words instead
of things. What is a law but a generalized fact? and what power has the
past over the future? and what power has the case of others over my own
case? and how many deaths have I seen? how many ocular witnesses have
imparted to me their experience of deaths, sufficient to establish what is
called a law?

But let there be a law of death; so there is a law, we are told, that the
planets, if let alone, would severally fall into the sun—it is the
centrifugal law which hinders it, and so the centripetal law is never
carried out. In like manner I am not under the law of death alone, I am
under a thousand laws, if I am under one; and they thwart and counteract
each other, and jointly determine the irregular line, along which my
actual history runs, divergent from the special direction of any one of
them. No law is carried out, except in cases where it acts freely: how do
I know that the law of death will be allowed its free action in my
particular case? We often are able to avert death by medical treatment:
why should death have its effect, sooner or later, in every case

It is true that the human frame, in all instances which come before me,
first grows, and then declines, wastes, and decays, in visible preparation
for dissolution. We see death seldom, but of this decline we are witnesses
daily; still, it is a plain fact, that most men who die, die, not by any
law of death, but by the law of disease; and some writers have questioned
whether death is ever, strictly speaking, natural. Now, are diseases
necessary? is there any law that every one, sooner or later, must fall
under the power of disease? and what would happen on a large scale, were
there no diseases? Is what we call the law of death anything more than the
chance of disease? Is the prospect of my death, in its logical
evidence,—as that evidence is brought home to me—much more than a high

The strongest proof I have for my inevitable mortality is the _reductio ad
absurdum_. Can I point to the man, in historic times, who has lived his
two hundred years? What has become of past generations of men, unless it
is true that they suffered dissolution? But this is a circuitous argument
to warrant a conclusion to which in matter of fact I adhere so
relentlessly. Anyhow, there is a considerable “surplusage,” as Locke calls
it, of belief over proof, when I determine that I individually must die.
But what logic cannot do, my own living personal reasoning, my good sense,
which is the healthy condition of such personal reasoning, but which
cannot adequately express itself in words, does for me, and I am possessed
with the most precise, absolute, masterful certitude of my dying some day
or other.

I am led on by these reflections to make another remark. If it is
difficult to explain how a man knows that he shall die, is it not more
difficult for him to satisfy himself how he knows that he was born? His
knowledge about himself does not rest on memory, nor on distinct
testimony, nor on circumstantial evidence. Can he bring into one focus of
proof the reasons which make him so sure? I am not speaking of scientific
men, who have diverse channels of knowledge, but of an ordinary
individual, as one of ourselves.

Answers doubtless may be given to some of these questions; but, on the
whole, I think it is the fact that many of our most obstinate and most
reasonable certitudes depend on proofs which are informal and personal,
which baffle our powers of analysis, and cannot be brought under logical
rule, because they cannot be submitted to logical statistics. If we must
speak of Law, this recognition of a correlation between certitude and
implicit proof seems to me a law of our minds.


I said just now that an object of sense presents itself to our view as one
whole, and not in its separate details: we take it in, recognize it, and
discriminate it from other objects, all at once. Such too is the
intellectual view we take of the _momenta_ of proof for a concrete truth;
we grasp the full tale of premisses and the conclusion, _per modum
unius_,—by a sort of instinctive perception of the legitimate conclusion
in and through the premisses, not by a formal juxta-position of
propositions; though of course such a juxta-position is useful and
natural, both to direct and to verify, just as in objects of sight our
notice of bodily peculiarities, or the remarks of others may aid us in
establishing a case of disputed identity. And, as this man or that will
receive his own impression of one and the same person, and judge
differently from others about his countenance, its expression, its moral
significance, its physical contour and complexion, so an intellectual
question may strike two minds very differently, may awaken in them
distinct associations, may be invested by them in contrary
characteristics, and lead them to opposite conclusions;—and so, again, a
body of proof, or a line of argument, may produce a distinct, nay, a
dissimilar effect, as addressed to one or to the other.

Thus in concrete reasonings we are in great measure thrown back into that
condition, from which logic proposed to rescue us. We judge for ourselves,
by our own lights, and on our own principles; and our criterion of truth
is not so much the manipulation of propositions, as the intellectual and
moral character of the person maintaining them, and the ultimate silent
effect of his arguments or conclusions upon our minds.

It is this distinction between ratiocination as the exercise of a living
faculty in the individual intellect, and mere skill in argumentative
science, which is the true interpretation of the prejudice which exists
against logic in the popular mind, and of the animadversions which are
levelled against it, as that its formulas make a pedant and a
_doctrinaire_, that it never makes converts, that it leads to rationalism,
that Englishmen are too practical to be logical, that an ounce of
common-sense goes farther than many cartloads of logic, that Laputa is the
land of logicians, and the like. Such maxims mean, when analyzed, that the
processes of reasoning which legitimately lead to assent, to action, to
certitude, are in fact too multiform, subtle, omnigenous, too implicit, to
allow of being measured by rule, that they are after all personal,—verbal
argumentation being useful only in subordination to a higher logic. It is
this which was meant by the Judge who, when asked for his advice by a
friend, on his being called to important duties which were new to him,
bade him always lay down the law boldly, but never give his reasons, for
his decision was likely to be right, but his reasons sure to be
unsatisfactory. This is the point which I proceed to illustrate.

1. I will take a question of the present moment. “We shall have a European
war, _for_ Greece is audaciously defying Turkey.” How are we to test the
validity of the reason, implied, not expressed, in the word “for”? Only
the judgment of diplomatists, statesmen, capitalists, and the like,
founded on experience, strengthened by practical and historical knowledge,
controlled by self-interest, can decide the worth of that “for” in
relation to accepting or not accepting the conclusion which depends on it.
The argument is from concrete fact to concrete fact. How will mere logical
inferences, which cannot proceed without general and abstract
propositions, help us on to the determination of this particular case? It
is not the case of Switzerland attacking Austria, or of Portugal attacking
Spain, or of Belgium attacking Prussia, but a case without parallels. To
draw a scientific conclusion, the argument must run somewhat in this
way:—“All audacious defiances of Turkey on the part of Greece must end in
a European war; these present acts of Greece are such: ergo;”—where the
major premiss is more difficult to accept than the conclusion, and the
proof becomes an “obscurum per obscurius.” But, in truth, I should not
betake myself to some one universal proposition to defend my view of the
matter; I should determine the particular case by its particular
circumstances, by the combination of many uncatalogued experiences
floating in my memory, of many reflections, variously produced, felt
rather than capable of statement; and if I had them not, I should go to
those who had. I assent in consequence of some such complex act of
judgment, or from faith in those who are capable of making it, and
practically syllogism has no part, even verificatory, in the action of my

I take this instance at random in illustration; now let me follow it up by
more serious cases.

2. Leighton says, “What a full confession do we make of our
dissatisfaction with the objects of our bodily senses, that in our
attempts to express what we conceive of the best of beings and the
greatest of felicities to be, we describe by the exact contraries of all
that we experience here,—the one as infinite, incomprehensible, immutable,
&c.; the other as incorruptible, undefiled, and that passeth not away. At
all events, this coincidence, say rather identity of attributes, is
sufficient to apprise us that, to be inheritors of bliss, we must become
the children of God.” Coleridge quotes this passage, and adds, “Another
and more fruitful, perhaps more solid, inference from the facts would be,
that there is something in the human mind which makes it know that in all
finite quantity, there is an infinite, in all measures of time an eternal;
that the latter are the basis, the substance, of the former; and that, as
we truly are only as far as God is with us, so neither can we truly
possess, that is, enjoy our being or any other real good, but by living in
the sense of His holy presence.(13)”

What is this an argument for? how few readers will enter into either
premiss or conclusion! and of those who understand what it means, will not
at least some confess that they understand it by fits and starts, not at
all times? Can we ascertain its force by mood and figure? Is there any
royal road by which we may indolently be carried along into the acceptance
of it? Does not the author rightly number it among his “aids” for our
“reflection,” not instruments for our compulsion? It is plain that, if the
passage is worth anything, we must secure that worth for our own use by
the personal action of our own minds, or else we shall be only professing
and asserting its doctrine, without having any ground or right to assert
it. And our preparation for understanding and making use of it will be the
general state of our mental discipline and cultivation, our own
experiences, our appreciation of religious ideas, the perspicacity and
steadiness of our intellectual vision.

3. It is argued by Hume against the actual occurrence of the Jewish and
Christian miracles, that, whereas “it is experience only which gives
authority to human testimony, and it is the same experience which assures
us of the laws of nature,” therefore, “when these two kinds of experience
are contrary” to each other, “we are bound to subtract the one from the
other;” and, in consequence, since we have no experience of a violation of
natural laws, and much experience of the violation of truth, “we may
establish it as a maxim that no human testimony can have such force as to
prove a miracle, and make it a just foundation for any such system of

I will accept the general proposition, but I resist its application.
Doubtless it is abstractedly more likely that men should lie than that the
order of nature should be infringed; but what is abstract reasoning to a
question of concrete fact? To arrive at the fact of any matter, we must
eschew generalities, and take things as they stand, with all their
circumstances. _À priori_, of course the acts of men are not so
trustworthy as the order of nature, and the pretence of miracles is in
fact more common than the occurrence. But the question is not about
miracles in general, or men in general, but definitely, whether these
particular miracles, ascribed to the particular Peter, James, and John,
are more likely to have been or not; whether they are unlikely, supposing
that there is a Power, external to the world, who can bring them about;
supposing they are the only means by which He can reveal Himself to those
who need a revelation; supposing He is likely to reveal Himself; that He
has a great end in doing so; that the professed miracles in question are
like His natural works, and such as He is likely to work, in case He
wrought miracles; that great effects, otherwise unaccountable, in the
event followed upon the acts said to be miraculous; that they were from
the first accepted as true by large numbers of men against their natural
interests; that the reception of them as true has left its mark upon the
world, as no other event ever did; that, viewed in their effects, they
have—that is, the belief of them has—served to raise human nature to a
high moral standard, otherwise unattainable: these and the like
considerations are parts of a great complex argument, which so far can be
put into propositions, but which, even between, and around, and behind
these, still is implicit and secret, and cannot by any ingenuity be
imprisoned in a formula, and packed into a nut-shell. These various
conditions may be decided in the affirmative or in the negative. That is a
further point; here I only insist upon the nature of the argument, if it
is to be philosophical. It must be no smart antithesis which may look well
on paper, but the living action of the mind on a great problem of fact;
and we must summon to our aid all our powers and resources, if we would
encounter it worthily, and not as if it were a literary essay.

4. “Consider the establishment of the Christian religion,” says Pascal in
his “Thoughts.” “Here is a religion contrary to our nature, which
establishes itself in men’s minds with so much mildness, as to use no
external force; with so much energy, that no tortures could silence its
martyrs and confessors; and consider the holiness, devotion, humility of
its true disciples; its sacred books, their superhuman grandeur, their
admirable simplicity. Consider the character of its Founder; His
associates and disciples, unlettered men, yet possessed of wisdom
sufficient to confound the ablest philosopher; the astonishing succession
of prophets who heralded Him; the state at this day of the Jewish people
who rejected Him and His religion; its perpetuity and its holiness; the
light which its doctrines shed upon the contrarieties of our nature;—after
considering these things, let any man judge if it be possible to doubt
about its being the only true one.(14)”

This is an argument parallel in its character to that by which we ascribe
the classics to the Augustan age. We urge, that, though we cannot draw the
line definitely between what the monks could do in literature, and what
they could not, anyhow Virgil’s “Æneid” and the Odes of Horace are far
beyond the highest capacity of the medieval mind, which, however great,
was different in the character of its endowments. And in like manner we
maintain, that, granting that we cannot decide how far the human mind can
advance by its own unaided powers in religious ideas and sentiments, and
in religious practice, still the facts of Christianity, as they stand, are
beyond what is possible to man, and betoken the presence of a higher
intelligence, purpose, and might.

Many have been converted and sustained in their faith by this argument,
which admits of being powerfully stated; but still such statement is after
all only intended to be a vehicle of thought, and to open the mind to the
apprehension of the facts of the case, and to trace them and their
implications in outline, not to convince by the logic of its mere wording.
Do we not think and muse as we read it, try to master it as we proceed,
put down the book in which we find it, fill out its details from our own
resources, and then resume the study of it? And, when we have to give an
account of it to others, should we make use of its language, or even of
its thoughts, and not rather of its drift and spirit? Has it never struck
us what different lights different minds throw upon the same theory and
argument, nay, how they seem to be differing in detail when they are
professing, and in reality showing, a concurrence in it? Have we never
found, that, when a friend takes up the defence of what we have written or
said, that at first we are unable to recognize in his statement of it what
we meant it to convey? It will be our wisdom to avail ourselves of
language, as far as it will go, but to aim mainly by means of it to
stimulate, in those to whom we address ourselves, a mode of thinking and
trains of thought similar to our own, leading them on by their own
independent action, not by any syllogistic compulsion. Hence it is that an
intellectual school will always have something of an esoteric character;
for it is an assemblage of minds that think; their bond is unity of
thought, and their words become a sort of _tessera_, not expressing
thought, but symbolizing it.

Recurring to Pascal’s argument, I observe that, its force depending upon
the assumption that the facts of Christianity are beyond human nature,
therefore, according as the powers of nature are placed at a high or low
standard, that force will be greater or less; and that standard will vary
according to the respective dispositions, opinions, and experiences, of
those to whom the argument is addressed. Thus its value is a personal
question; not as if there were not an objective truth and Christianity as
a whole not supernatural, but that, when we come to consider where it is
that the supernatural presence is found, there may be fair differences of
opinion, both as to the fact and the proof of what is supernatural. There
is a multitude of facts, which, taken separately, may perhaps be natural,
but, found together, must come from a source above nature; and what these
are, and how many are necessary, will be variously determined. And while
every inquirer has a right to determine the question according to the best
exercise of his judgment, still whether he so determine it for himself, or
trust in part or altogether to the judgment of those who have the best
claim to judge, in either case he is guided by the implicit processes of
the reasoning faculty, not by any manufacture of arguments forcing their
way to an irrefragable conclusion.

5. Pascal writes in another place, “He who doubts, but seeks not to have
his doubts removed, is at once the most criminal and the most unhappy of
mortals. If, together with this, he is tranquil and self-satisfied, if he
be vain of his tranquillity, or makes his state a topic of mirth and
self-gratulation, I have not words to describe so insane a creature. Truly
it is to the honour of religion to have for its adversaries men so bereft
of reason; their opposition, far from being formidable, bears testimony to
its most distinguishing truths; for the great object of the Christian
religion is to establish the corruption of our nature, and the redemption
by Jesus Christ.(15)” Elsewhere he says of Montaigne, “He involves
everything in such universal, unmingled scepticism, as to doubt of his
very doubts. He was a pure Pyrrhonist. He ridicules all attempts at
certainty in anything. Delighted with exhibiting in his own person the
contradictions that exist in the mind of a free-thinker, it is all one to
him whether he is successful or not in his argument. The virtue he loved
was simple, sociable, gay, sprightly, and playful; to use one of his own
expressions, ‘Ignorance and incuriousness are two charming pillows for a
sound head.’(16)”

Here are two celebrated writers in direct opposition to each other in
their fundamental view of truth and duty. Shall we say that there is no
such thing as truth and error, but that anything is truth to a man which
he troweth? and not rather, as the solution of a great mystery, that truth
there is, and attainable it is, but that its rays stream in upon us
through the medium of our moral as well as our intellectual being; and
that in consequence that perception of its first principles which is
natural to us is enfeebled, obstructed, perverted, by allurements of sense
and the supremacy of self, and, on the other hand, quickened by
aspirations after the supernatural; so that at length two characters of
mind are brought out into shape, and two standards and systems of
thought,—each logical, when analyzed, yet contradictory of each other, and
only not antagonistic because they have no common ground on which they can

6. Montaigne was endowed with a good estate, health, leisure, and an easy
temper, literary tastes, and a sufficiency of books: he could afford thus
to play with life, and the abysses into which it leads us. Let us take a
case in contrast.

“I think,” says the poor dying factory-girl in the tale, “if this should
be the end of all, and if all I have been born for is just to work my
heart and life away, and to sicken in this dree place, with those
mill-stones in my ears for ever, until I could scream out for them to stop
and let me have a little piece of quiet, and with the fluff filling my
lungs, until I thirst to death for one long deep breath of the clear air,
and my mother gone, and I never able to tell her again how I loved her,
and of all my troubles,—I think, if this life is the end, and that there
is no God to wipe away all tears from all eyes, I could go mad!(17)”

Here is an argument for the immortality of the soul. As to its force, be
it great or small, will it make a figure in a logical disputation, carried
on _secundum artem_? Can any scientific common measure compel the
intellects of Dives and Lazarus to take the same estimate of it? Is there
any test of the validity of it better than the _ipse dixit_ of private
judgment, that is, the judgment of those who have a right to judge, and
next, the agreement of many private judgments in one and the same view of

7. “In order to prove plainly and intelligibly,” says Dr. Samuel Clarke,
“that God is a Being, which must of necessity be endued with perfect
knowledge, ’tis to be observed that knowledge is a perfection, without
which the foregoing attributes are no perfections at all, and without
which those which follow can have no foundation. Where there is no
Knowledge, Eternity and Immensity are as nothing, and Justice, Goodness,
Mercy, and Wisdom can have no place. The idea of eternity and
omnipresence, devoid of knowledge, is as the notion of darkness compared
with that of light. ’Tis as a notion of the world without the sun to
illuminate it; ’tis as the notion of inanimate matter (which is the
atheist’s supreme cause) compared with that of light and spirit. And as
for the following attributes of Justice, Goodness, Mercy, and Wisdom, ’tis
evident that without knowledge there could not possibly be any such things
as these at all.(18)”

The argument here used in behalf of the Divine Attribute of Knowledge
comes under the general proposition that the attributes imply each other,
for the denial of one is the denial of the rest. To some minds this thesis
is self-evident; others are utterly insensible to its force. Will it bear
bringing out into words throughout the whole series of its argumentative
links? for if it does, then either those who maintain it or those who
reject it, the one or the other, will be compelled by logical necessity to
confess that they are in error. “God is wise, if He is eternal; He is
good, if He is wise; He is just, if He is good.” What skill can so arrange
these propositions, so add to them, so combine them, that they may be
able, by the force of their juxta-position, to follow one from the other,
and become one and the same by an inevitable correlation. That is not the
method by which the argument becomes a demonstration. Such a method, used
by a Theist in controversy against men who are unprepared personally for
the question, will but issue in his retreat along a series of major
propositions, farther and farther back, till he and they find themselves
in a land of shadows, “where the light is as darkness.”

To feel the true force of an argument like this, we must not confine
ourselves to abstractions, and merely compare notion with notion, but we
must contemplate the God of our conscience as a Living Being, as one
Object and Reality, _under_ the aspect of this or that attribute. We must
patiently rest in the thought of the Eternal, Omnipresent, and
All-knowing, rather than of Eternity, Omnipresence, and Omniscience; and
we must not hurry on and force a series of deductions, which, if they are
to be realized, must distil like dew into our minds, and form themselves
spontaneously there, by a calm contemplation and gradual understanding of
their premisses. Ordinarily speaking, such deductions do not flow forth,
except according as the Image,(19) presented to us through conscience, on
which they depend, is cherished within us with the sentiments which,
supposing it be, as we know it is, the truth, it necessarily claims of us,
and is seen reflected, by the habit of our intellect, in the appointments
and the events of the external world. And, in their manifestation to our
inward sense, they are analogous to the knowledge which we at length
attain of the details of a landscape, after we have selected the right
stand-point, and have learned to accommodate the pupil of our eye to the
varying focus necessary for seeing them; have accustomed it to the glare
of light, have mentally grouped or discriminated lines and shadows and
given them their due meaning, and have mastered the perspective of the
whole. Or they may be compared to a landscape as drawn by the pencil
(unless the illustration seem forced), in which by the skill of the
artist, amid the bold outlines of trees and rocks, when the eye has
learned to take in their reverse aspects, the forms or faces of historical
personages are discernible, which we catch and lose again, and then
recover, and which some who look on with us are never able to catch at

Analogous to such an exercise of sight, must be our mode of dealing with
the verbal expositions of an argument such as Clarke’s. His words speak to
those who understand the speech. To the mere barren intellect they are but
the pale ghosts of notions; but the trained imagination sees in them the
representations of things. He who has once detected in his conscience the
outline of a Lawgiver and Judge, needs no definition of Him, whom he dimly
but surely contemplates there, and he rejects the mechanism of logic,
which cannot contain in its grasp matters so real and so recondite. Such a
one, according to the strength and perspicacity of his mind, the force of
his presentiments, and his power of sustained attention, is able to
pronounce about the great Sight which encompasses him, as about some
visible object; and, in his investigation of the Divine Attributes, is not
inferring abstraction from abstraction, but noting down the aspects and
phases of that one thing on which he ever is gazing. Nor is it possible to
limit the depth of meaning, which at length he will attach to words, which
to the many are but definitions and ideas.

Here then again, as in the other instances, it seems clear, that
methodical processes of inference, useful as they are, as far as they go,
are only instruments of the mind, and need, in order to their due
exercise, that real ratiocination and present imagination which gives them
a sense beyond their letter, and which, while acting through them, reaches
to conclusions beyond and above them. Such a living _organon_ is a
personal gift, and not a mere method or calculus.


That there are cases, in which evidence, not sufficient for a scientific
proof, is nevertheless sufficient for assent and certitude, is the
doctrine of Locke, as of most men. He tells us that belief, grounded on
sufficient probabilities, “rises to assurance;” and as to the question of
sufficiency, that where propositions “border near on certainty,” then “we
assent to them as firmly as if they were infallibly demonstrated.” The
only question is, what these propositions are: this he does not tell us,
but he seems to think that they are few in number, and will be without any
trouble recognized at once by common-sense; whereas, unless I am mistaken,
they are to be found throughout the range of concrete matter, and that
supra-logical judgment, which is the warrant for our certitude about them,
is not mere common-sense, but the true healthy action of our ratiocinative
powers, an action more subtle and more comprehensive than the mere
appreciation of a syllogistic argument. It is often called the “judicium
prudentis viri,” a standard of certitude which holds good in all concrete
matter, not only in those cases of practice and duty, in which we are more
familiar with it, but in questions of truth and falsehood generally, or in
what are called “speculative” questions, and that, not indeed to the
exclusion, but as the supplement of logic. Thus a proof, except in
abstract demonstration, has always in it, more or less, an element of the
personal, because “prudence” is not a constituent part of our nature, but
a personal endowment.

And the language in common use, when concrete conclusions are in question,
implies the presence of this personal element in the proof of them. We are
considered to feel, rather than to see, its cogency; and we decide, not
that the conclusion must be, but that it cannot be otherwise. We say, that
we do not see our way to doubt it, that it is impossible to doubt, that we
are bound to believe it, that we should be idiots, if we did not believe.
We never should say, in abstract science, that we could not escape the
conclusion that 25 was a mean proportional between 5 and 125; or that a
man had no right to say that a tangent to a circle at the extremity of the
radius makes an acute angle with it. Yet, though our certitude of the fact
is quite as clear, we should not think it unnatural to say that the
insularity of Great Britain is as good as demonstrated, or that none but a
fool expects never to die. Phrases indeed such as these are sometimes used
to express a shade of doubt, but it is enough for my purpose if they are
also used when doubt is altogether absent. What, then, they signify, is,
what I have so much insisted on, that we have arrived at these
conclusions—not _ex opere operato_, by a scientific necessity independent
of ourselves,—but by the action of our own minds, by our own individual
perception of the truth in question, under a sense of duty to those
conclusions and with an intellectual conscientiousness.

This certitude and this evidence are often called moral; a word which I
avoid, as having a very vague meaning; but using it here for once, I
observe that moral evidence and moral certitude are all that we can
attain, not only in the case of ethical and spiritual subjects, such as
religion, but of terrestrial and cosmical questions also. So far, physical
Astronomy and Revelation stand on the same footing. Vince, in his treatise
on Astronomy, does but use the language of philosophical sobriety, when,
after speaking of the proofs of the earth’s rotatory motion, he says,
“When these reasons, all upon different principles, are considered, they
amount to a proof of the earth’s rotation about its axis, which is as
satisfactory to the mind as the most direct demonstration could be;” or,
as he had said just before, “the mind rests equally satisfied, as if the
matter was strictly proved.(20)” That is, first there is no demonstration
that the earth rotates; next there is a cluster of “reasons on _different_
principles,” that is, independent probabilities in cumulation; thirdly,
these “_amount_ to a proof,” and “the mind” feels “_as if_ the matter was
strictly proved,” that is, there is the equivalent of proof; lastly, “the
mind rests _satisfied_,” that is, it is certain on the point. And though
evidence of the fact is now obtained which was not known fifty years ago,
that evidence on the whole has not changed its character.

Compare with this avowal the language of Butler, when discussing the proof
of Revelation. “Probable proofs,” he says, “by being added, not only
increase the evidence, but multiply it. The truth of our religion, like
the truth of common matters, is to be judged by the whole evidence taken
together ... in like manner as, if in any common case numerous events
acknowledged were to be alleged in proof of any other event disputed, the
truth of the disputed event would be proved, not only if any one of the
acknowledged ones did of itself clearly imply it, but though no one of
them singly did so, if the whole of the acknowledged events taken together
could not in reason be supposed to have happened, unless the disputed one
were true.(21)” Here, as in Astronomy, is the same absence of
demonstration of the thesis, the same cumulating and converging
indications of it, the same indirectness in the proof, as being _per
impossibile_, the same recognition nevertheless that the conclusion is not
only probable, but true. One other characteristic of the argumentative
process is given, which is unnecessary in a subject-matter so clear and
simple as astronomical science, viz. the moral state of the parties
inquiring or disputing. They must be “as much in earnest about religion,
as about their temporal affairs, capable of being convinced, on real
evidence, that there is a God who governs the world, and feel themselves
to be of a moral nature and accountable creatures.(22)”

This being the state of the case, the question arises, whether, granting
that the personality (so to speak) of the parties reasoning is an
important element in proving propositions in concrete matter, any account
can be given of the ratiocinative method in such proofs, over and above
that analysis into syllogism which is possible in each of its steps in
detail. I think there can; though I fear, lest to some minds it may appear
far-fetched or fanciful; however, I will hazard this imputation. I
consider, then, that the principle of concrete reasoning is parallel to
the method of proof which is the foundation of modern mathematical
science, as contained in the celebrated lemma with which Newton opens his
“Principia.” We know that a regular polygon, inscribed in a circle, its
sides being continually diminished, tends to become that circle, as its
limit; but it vanishes before it has coincided with the circle, so that
its tendency to be the circle, though ever nearer fulfilment, never in
fact gets beyond a tendency. In like manner, the conclusion in a real or
concrete question is foreseen and predicted rather than actually attained;
foreseen in the number and direction of accumulated premisses, which all
converge to it, and approach it, as the result of their combination, more
nearly than any assignable difference, yet do not touch it logically,
(though only not touching it,) on account of the nature of its
subject-matter, and the delicate and implicit character of at least part
of the reasonings on which it depends. It is by the strength, variety, or
multiplicity of premisses, which are only probable, not by invincible
syllogisms,—by objections overcome, by adverse theories neutralized, by
difficulties gradually clearing up, by exceptions proving the rule, by
unlooked-for correlations found with received truths, by suspense and
delay in the process issuing in triumphant reactions,—by all these ways,
and many others, the practised and experienced mind is able to make a sure
divination that a conclusion is inevitable, of which his lines of
reasoning do not actually put him in possession. This is what is meant by
a proposition being “as good as proved,” a conclusion as undeniable “as if
it were proved,” and by the reasons for it “amounting to a proof,” for a
proof is the limit of converging probabilities.

It may be added, that, whereas the logical form of this argument, is, as I
have already observed, indirect, viz. that “the conclusion cannot be
otherwise,” and Butler says that an event is proved, if its antecedents
“could not in reason be supposed to have happened _unless_ it were true,”
and law-books tell us that the principle of circumstantial evidence is the
_reductio ad absurdum_, so Newton is forced to the same mode of proof for
the establishment of his lemma, about prime and ultimate ratios. “If you
deny that they become ultimately equal,” he says, “let them be ultimately
unequal;” and the consequence follows, “which is against the supposition.”

Such being the character of the mental process in concrete reasoning, I
should wish to adduce some good instances of it in illustration, instances
in which the person reasoning confesses that he is reasoning on this very
process, as I have been stating it; but these are difficult to find, from
the very circumstance that the process from first to last is carried on as
much without words as with them. However, I will set down three such.

1. First, an instance in physics. Wood, treating of the laws of motion,
thus describes the line of reasoning by which the mind is certified of
them. “They are not indeed self-evident, nor do they admit of accurate
proof by experiment, on account of the effects of friction and the air’s
resistance, which cannot entirely be removed. They are, however,
constantly and invariably suggested to our senses, and they agree with
experiment, as far as experiment can go; and the more accurately the
experiments are made, and the greater care we take to remove all those
impediments which tend to render the conclusions erroneous, the more
nearly do the experiments coincide with these laws.

“Their truth is also established upon a different ground: from these
general principles innumerable particular conclusions have been deducted;
sometimes the deductions are simple and immediate, sometimes they are made
by tedious and intricate operations; yet they are all, without exception,
consistent with each other and with experiment. It follows thereby, that
the principles upon which the calculations are founded are true.(23)”

The reasoning of this passage (in which the uniformity of the laws of
nature is assumed) seems to me a good illustration of what must be
considered the principle or form of an induction. The conclusion, which is
its scope, is, by its own confession, not proved; but it ought to be
proved, or is as good as proved, and a man would be irrational who did not
take it to be virtually proved; first, because the imperfections in the
proof arise out of its subject-matter and the nature of the case, so that
it _is_ proved _interpretativè_; and next, because in the same degree in
which these faults in the subject-matter are overcome here or there, are
the involved imperfections here or there of the proof remedied; and
further, because, when the conclusion is assumed as an hypothesis, it
throws light upon a multitude of collateral facts, accounting for them,
and uniting them together in one whole. Consistency is not always the
guarantee of truth; but there may be a consistency in a theory so
variously tried and exemplified as to lead to belief in it, as reasonably
as a witness in a court of law may, after a severe cross-examination,
satisfy and assure judge, jury, and the whole court, of his simple

2. And from the courts of law shall my second illustration be taken.

A learned writer says, “In criminal prosecutions, the circumstantial
evidence should be such, as to produce nearly the same degree of certainty
as that which arises from direct testimony, and to exclude a rational
probability of innocence.(24)” By degrees of certainty he seems to mean,
together with many other writers, degrees of proof, or approximations
towards proof, and not certitude, as a state of mind; and he says that no
one should be pronounced guilty on evidence which is not equivalent in
weight to direct testimony. So far is clear; but what is meant by the
expression “_rational_ probability”? for there can be no probability but
what is rational. I consider that the “exclusion of a rational
probability” means “the exclusion of any argument in the man’s favour
which has a rational claim to be called probable,” or rather, “the
rational exclusion of any supposition that he is innocent;” and “rational”
is used in contradistinction to argumentative, and means “resting on
implicit reasons,” such as we feel, indeed, but which for some cause or
other, because they are too subtle or too circuitous, we cannot put into
words so as to satisfy logic. If this is a correct account of his meaning,
he says that the evidence against a criminal, in order to be decisive of
his guilt, to the satisfaction of our conscience, must bear with it, along
with the palpable arguments for that guilt, such a reasonableness, or body
of implicit reasons for it in addition, as may exclude any probability,
really such, that he is not guilty,—that is, it must be an evidence free
from anything obscure, suspicious, unnatural, or defective, such as (in
the judgment of a prudent man) to hinder that summation or coalescence of
the evidence into a proof, which I have compared to the running into a
limit, in the case of mathematical ratios. Just as an algebraical series
may be of a nature never to terminate or admit of valuation, as being the
equivalent of an irrational quantity or surd, so there may be some grave
imperfections in a body of reasons, explicit or implicit, which is
directed to a proof, sufficient to interfere with its successful issue or
resolution, and to balk us with an irrational, that is, an indeterminate,

So much as to the principle of conclusions made upon evidence in criminal
cases; now let us turn to an instance of its application in a particular
instance. Some years ago there was a murder committed, which unusually
agitated the popular mind, and the evidence against the culprit was
necessarily circumstantial. At the trial the Judge, in addressing the
Jury, instructed them on the kind of evidence necessary for a verdict of
_guilty_. Of course he could not mean to say that they must convict a man,
of whose guilt they were not certain, especially in a case in which two
foreign countries, Germany and the American States, were attentively
looking on. If the Jury had any doubt, that is, reasonable doubt, about
the man’s guilt, of course they would give him the benefit of that doubt.
Nor could the certitude, which would be necessary for an adverse verdict,
be merely that which is sometimes called a “practical certitude,” that is,
a certitude indeed, but a certitude that it was a “duty,” “expedient,”
“safe,” to bring in a verdict of guilty. Of course the Judge spoke of what
is called a “speculative certitude,” that is, a certitude of the fact that
the man was guilty; the only question being, what evidence was sufficient
for the proof, for the certitude of that fact. This is what the Judge
meant; and these are among the remarks which, with this drift, he made
upon the occasion:—

After observing that by circumstantial evidence he meant a case in which
“the facts do not directly prove the actual crime, but lead to the
conclusion that the prisoner committed that crime,” he went on to disclaim
the suggestion, made by counsel in the case, that the Jury could not
pronounce a verdict of _guilty_, unless they were as much satisfied that
the prisoner did the deed as if they had seen him commit it. “That is not
the certainty,” he said, “which is required of you to discharge your duty
to the prisoner, whose safety is in your hands.” Then he stated what was
the “degree of certainty,” that is, of certainty or perfection of proof,
which was necessary to the question, “involving as it did the life of the
prisoner at the bar,”—it was such as that “with which,” he said, “you
decide upon and conclude your own most important transactions in life.
Take the facts which are proved before you, separate those you believe
from those which you do not believe, and all the conclusions that
naturally and almost necessarily result from those facts, you may confide
in as much as in the facts themselves. The case on the part of the
prosecution is the _story_ of the murder, told by the _different_
witnesses, who _unfold the circumstances one after another_, according to
their occurrence, together with the _gradual_ discovery of some apparent
connexion between the property that was lost, and the possession of it by
the prisoner.”

Now here I observe, that whereas the conclusion which is contemplated by
the Judge, is what may be pronounced (on the whole, and considering all
things, and judging reasonably) a proved or certain conclusion, that is, a
conclusion of the truth of the allegation against the prisoner, or of the
fact of his guilt, on the other hand, the _motiva_ constituting this
reasonable, rational proof, and this satisfactory certitude, needed not,
according to him, to be stronger than those on which we prudently act on
matters of important interest to ourselves, that is, probable reasons
viewed in their convergence and combination. And whereas the certitude is
viewed by the Judge as following on converging probabilities, which
constitute a real, though only a reasonable, not an argumentative, proof,
so it will be observed in this particular instance, that, in illustration
of the general doctrine which I have laid down, the process is one of
“line upon line, and letter upon letter,” of various details accumulating
and of deductions fitting in to each other; for, in the Judge’s words,
there was a story—and that not told right out and by one witness, but
taken up and handed on from witness to witness—gradually unfolded, and
tending to a proof, which of course might have been ten times stronger
than it was, but was still a proof for all that, and sufficient for its
conclusion,—just as we see that two straight lines are meeting, and are
certain they will meet at a given distance, though we do not actually see
the junction.

3. The third instance I will take is one of a literary character, the
divination of the authorship of a certain anonymous publication, as
suggested mainly by internal evidence, as I find it in a critique written
some twenty years ago. In the extract which I make from it, we may observe
the same steady march of a proof towards a conclusion, which is (as it
were) out of sight;—a reckoning, or a reasonable judgment, that the
conclusion really is proved, and a personal certitude upon that judgment,
joined with a confession that a logical argument could not well be made
out for it, and that the various details in which the proof consisted were
in no small measure implicit and impalpable.

“Rumour speaks uniformly and clearly enough in attributing it to the pen
of a particular individual. Nor, although a cursory reader might well skim
the book without finding in it anything to suggest, &c., ... will it
appear improbable to the more attentive student of its internal evidence;
and the improbability will decrease more and more, in proportion as the
_reader is capable_ of judging and appreciating the _delicate, and at
first invisible touches_, which limit, to _those who understand them_, the
individuals who can have written it to a very small number indeed. The
utmost scepticism as to its authorship (_which we do not feel ourselves_)
cannot remove it farther from him than to that of some one among his most
intimate friends; so that, leaving others to discuss antecedent
probabilities,” &c.

Here is a writer who professes to have no doubt at all about the
authorship of a book,—which at the same time he cannot prove by mere
argumentation set down in words. The reasons of his conviction are too
delicate, too intricate; nay, they are in part invisible; invisible,
except to those who from circumstances have an intellectual perception of
what does not appear to the many. They are personal to the individual.
This again is an instance, distinctly set before us, of the particular
mode in which the mind progresses in concrete matter, viz. from merely
probable antecedents to the sufficient proof of a fact or a truth, and,
after the proof, to an act of certitude about it.

I trust the foregoing remarks may not deserve the blame of a needless
refinement. I have thought it incumbent on me to illustrate the
intellectual process by which we pass from conditional inference to
unconditional assent; and I have had only the alternative of lying under
the imputation of a paradox or of a subtlety.

§ 3. Natural Inference.

I commenced my remarks upon Inference by saying that reasoning ordinarily
shows as a simple act, not as a process, as if there were no medium
interposed between antecedent and consequent, and the transition from one
to the other were of the nature of an instinct,—that is, the process is
altogether unconscious and implicit. It is necessary, then, to take some
notice of this natural or material Inference, as an existing phenomenon of
mind; and that the more, because I shall thereby be illustrating and
supporting what I have been saying of the characteristics of inferential
processes as carried on in concrete matter, and especially of their being
the action of the mind itself, that is, by its ratiocinative or illative
faculty, not a mere operation as in the rules of arithmetic.

I say, then, that our most natural mode of reasoning is, not from
propositions to propositions, but from things to things, from concrete to
concrete, from wholes to wholes. Whether the consequents, at which we
arrive from the antecedents with which we start, lead us to assent or only
towards assent, those antecedents commonly are not recognized by us as
subjects for analysis; nay, often are only indirectly recognized as
antecedents at all. Not only is the inference with its process ignored,
but the antecedent also. To the mind itself the reasoning is a simple
divination or prediction; as it literally is in the instance of
enthusiasts, who mistake their own thoughts for inspirations.

This is the mode in which we ordinarily reason, dealing with things
directly, and as they stand, one by one, in the concrete, with an
intrinsic and personal power, not a conscious adoption of an artificial
instrument or expedient; and it is especially exemplified both in
uneducated men, and in men of genius,—in those who know nothing of
intellectual aids and rules, and in those who care nothing for them,—in
those who are either without or above mental discipline. As true poetry is
a spontaneous outpouring of thought, and therefore belongs to rude as well
as to gifted minds, whereas no one becomes a poet merely by the canons of
criticism, so this unscientific reasoning, being sometimes a natural,
uncultivated faculty, sometimes approaching to a gift, sometimes an
acquired habit and second nature, has a higher source than logical
rule,—“nascitur, non fit.” When it is characterized by precision,
subtlety, promptitude, and truth, it is of course a gift and a rarity: in
ordinary minds it is biassed and degraded by prejudice, passion, and
self-interest; but still, after all, this divination comes by nature, and
belongs to all of us in a measure, to women more than to men, hitting or
missing, as the case may be, but with a success on the whole sufficient to
show that there is a method in it, though it be implicit.

A peasant who is weather-wise may be simply unable to assign intelligible
reasons why he thinks it will be fine to-morrow; and if he attempts to do
so, he may give reasons wide of the mark; but that will not weaken his own
confidence in his prediction. His mind does not proceed step by step, but
he feels all at once the force of various combined phenomena, though he is
not conscious of them. Again, there are physicians who excel in the
_diagnosis_ of complaints; though it does not follow from this, that they
could defend their decision in a particular case against a brother
physician who disputed it. They are guided by natural acuteness and varied
experience; they have their own idiosyncratic modes of observing,
generalizing, and concluding; when questioned, they can but rest on their
own authority, or appeal to the future event. In a popular novel,(25) a
lawyer is introduced, who “would know, almost by instinct, whether an
accused person was or was not guilty; and he had already perceived by
instinct” that the heroine was guilty. “I’ve no doubt she’s a clever
woman,” he said, and at once named an attorney practising at the Old
Bailey. So, again, experts and detectives, when employed to investigate
mysteries, in cases whether of the civil or criminal law, discern and
follow out indications which promise solution with a sagacity
incomprehensible to ordinary men. A parallel gift is the intuitive
perception of character possessed by certain men, while others are as
destitute of it, as others again are of an ear for music. What common
measure is there between the judgments of those who have this intuition,
and those who have not? What but the event can settle any difference of
opinion which occurs in their estimation of a third person? These are
instances of a natural capacity, or of nature improved by practice and
habit, enabling the mind to pass promptly from one set of facts to
another, not only, I say, without conscious media, but without conscious

Sometimes, I say, this illative faculty is nothing short of genius. Such
seems to have been Newton’s perception of truths mathematical and
physical, though proof was absent. At least that is the impression left on
my own mind by various stories which are told of him, one of which was
stated in the public papers a few years ago. “Professor Sylvester,” it was
said, “has just discovered the proof of Sir Isaac Newton’s rule for
ascertaining the imaginary roots of equations.... This rule has been a
Gordian-knot among algebraists for the last century and a half. The proof
being wanting, authors became ashamed at length of advancing a
proposition, the evidence for which rested on no other foundation than
belief in Newton’s sagacity.(26)”

Such is the gift of the calculating boys who now and then make their
appearance, who seem to have certain short-cuts to conclusions, which they
cannot explain to themselves. Some are said to have been able to determine
off-hand what numbers are prime,—numbers, I think, up to seven places.

In a very different subject-matter, Napoleon supplies us with an instance
of a parallel genius in reasoning, by which he was enabled to look at
things in his own province, and to interpret them truly, apparently
without any ratiocinative media. “By long experience,” says Alison,
“joined to great natural quickness and precision of eye, he had acquired
the power of judging, with extraordinary accuracy, both of the amount of
the enemy’s force opposed to him in the field, and of the probable result
of the movements, even the most complicated, going forward in the opposite
armies.... He looked around him for a little while with his telescope, and
immediately formed a clear conception of the position, forces, and
intention of the whole hostile array. In this way he could, with
surprising accuracy, calculate in a few minutes, according to what he
could see of their formation and the extent of the ground which they
occupied, the numerical force of armies of 60,000 or 80,000 men; and if
their troops were at all scattered, he knew at once how long it would
require for them to concentrate, and how many hours must elapse before
they could make their attack.(27)”

It is difficult to avoid calling such clear presentiments by the name of
instinct; and I think they may so be called, if by instinct be understood,
not a natural sense, one and the same in all, and incapable of
cultivation, but a perception of facts without assignable media of
perceiving. There are those who can tell at once what is conducive or
injurious to their welfare, who are their friends, who their enemies, what
is to happen to them, and how they are to meet it. Presence of mind,
fathoming of motives, talent for repartee, are instances of this gift. As
to that divination of personal danger which is found in the young and
innocent, we find a description of it in one of Scott’s romances, in which
the heroine, “without being able to discover what was wrong either in the
scenes of unusual luxury with which she was surrounded, or in the manner
of her hostess,” is said nevertheless to have felt “an instinctive
apprehension that all was not right,—a feeling in the human mind,” the
author proceeds to say, “allied perhaps to that sense of danger, which
animals exhibit, when placed in the vicinity of the natural enemies of
their race, and which makes birds cower when the hawk is in the air, and
beasts tremble when the tiger is abroad in the desert.(28)”

A religious biography, lately published, affords us an instance of this
spontaneous perception of truth in the province of revealed doctrine. “Her
firm faith,” says the Author of the Preface, “was so vivid in its
character, that it was almost like an intuition of the entire prospect of
revealed truth. Let an error against faith be concealed under expressions
however abstruse, and her sure instinct found it out. I have tried this
experiment repeatedly. She might not be able to separate the heresy by
analysis, but she saw, and felt, and suffered from its presence.(29)”

And so of the great fundamental truths of religion, natural and revealed,
and as regards the mass of religious men: these truths, doubtless, may be
proved and defended by an array of invincible logical arguments, but such
is not commonly the method in which those same logical arguments make
their way into our minds. The grounds, on which we hold the divine origin
of the Church, and the previous truths which are taught us by nature—the
being of a God, and the immortality of the soul—are felt by most men to be
recondite and impalpable, in proportion to their depth and reality. As we
cannot see ourselves, so we cannot well see intellectual motives which are
so intimately ours, and which spring up from the very constitution of our
minds; and while we refuse to admit the notion that religion has not
irrefragable arguments in its behalf, still the attempts to argue, on the
part of an individual _hic et nunc_, will sometimes only confuse his
apprehension of sacred objects, and subtracts from his devotion quite as
much as it adds to his knowledge.

This is found in the case of other perceptions besides that of faith. It
is the case of nature against art: of course, if possible, nature and art
should be combined, but sometimes they are incompatible. Thus, in the case
of calculating boys, it is said, I know not with what truth, that to teach
them the ordinary rules of arithmetic is to endanger or to destroy the
extraordinary endowment. And men who have the gift of playing on an
instrument by ear, are sometimes afraid to learn by rule, lest they should
lose it.

There is an analogy, in this respect, between Ratiocination and Memory,
though the latter may be exercised without antecedents or media, whereas
the former requires them in its very idea. At the same time association
has so much to do with memory, that we may not unfairly consider that
memory, as well as reasoning, depends on certain previous conditions.
Writing, as I have already observed, is a _memoria technica_, or logic of
memory. Now it will be found, I think, that indispensable as is the use of
letters, still, in fact, we weaken our memory in proportion as we
habituate ourselves to commit all that we wish to remember to memorandums.
Of course in proportion as our memory is weak or over-burdened, and
thereby treacherous, we cannot help ourselves; but in the case of men of
strong memory in any particular subject-matter, as in that of dates, all
artificial expedients, from the “Thirty days has September,” &c., to the
more formidable formulas which are offered for their use, are as difficult
and repulsive as the natural exercise of memory is healthy and easy to
them; just as the clear-headed and practical reasoner, who sees
conclusions at a glance, is uncomfortable under the drill of a logician,
being oppressed and hampered, as David in Saul’s armour, by what is
intended to be a benefit.

I need not say more on this part of the subject. What is called reasoning
is often only a peculiar and personal mode of abstraction, and so far,
like memory, may be said to exist without antecedents. It is a power of
looking at things in some particular aspect, and of determining their
internal and external relations thereby. And according to the subtlety and
versatility of their gift, are men able to read what comes before them
justly, variously, and fruitfully. Hence, too, it is, that in our
intercourse with others, in business and family matters, in social and
political transactions, a word or an act on the part of another is
sometimes a sudden revelation; light breaks in upon us, and our whole
judgment of a course of events, or of an undertaking, is changed. We
determine correctly or otherwise, as it may be; but in either case, by a
sense proper to ourselves, for another may see the objects which we are
thus using, and give them quite a different interpretation, inasmuch as he
abstracts another set of general notions from those same phenomena which
present themselves to us.

What I have been saying of Ratiocination, may be said of Taste, and is
confirmed by the obvious analogy between the two. Taste, skill, invention
in the fine arts—and so, again, discretion or judgment in conduct—are
exerted spontaneously, when once acquired, and could not give a clear
account of themselves, or of their mode of proceeding. They do not go by
rule, though to a certain point their exercise may be analyzed, and may
take the shape of an art or method. But these parallels will come before
us presently.

And now I come to a further peculiarity of this natural and spontaneous
ratiocination. This faculty, as it is actually found in us, proceeding
from concrete to concrete, belongs to a definite subject-matter, according
to the individual. In spite of Aristotle, I will not allow that genuine
reasoning is an instrumental art; and in spite of Dr. Johnson, I will
assert that genius, as far as it is manifested in ratiocination, is not
equal to all undertakings, but has its own peculiar subject-matter, and is
circumscribed in its range. No one would for a moment expect that because
Newton and Napoleon both had a genius for ratiocination, that, in
consequence, Napoleon could have generalized the principle of gravitation,
or Newton have seen how to concentrate a hundred thousand men at
Austerlitz. The ratiocinative faculty, then, as found in individuals, is
not a general instrument of knowledge, but has its province, or is what
may be called departmental. It is not so much one faculty, as a collection
of similar or analogous faculties under one name, there being really as
many faculties as there are distinct subject-matters, though in the same
person some of them may, if it so happen, be united,—nay, though some men
have a sort of literary power in arguing in all subject-matters, _de omni
scibili_, a power extensive, but not deep or real.

This surely is the conclusion, to which we are brought by our ordinary
experience of men. It is almost proverbial that a hard-headed
mathematician may have no head at all for what is called historical
evidence. Successful experimentalists need not have talent for legal
research or pleading. A shrewd man of business may be a bad arguer in
philosophical questions. Able statesmen and politicians have been before
now eccentric or superstitious in their religious views. It is notorious
how ridiculous a clever man may make himself, who ventures to argue with
professed theologians, critics, or geologists, though without positive
defects in knowledge of his subject. Priestley, great in electricity and
chemistry, was but a poor ecclesiastical historian. The Author of the
Minute Philosopher is also the Author of the Analyst. Newton wrote not
only his “Principia,” but his comments on the Apocalypse; Cromwell, whose
actions savoured of the boldest logic, was a confused speaker. In these,
and various similar instances, the defect lay, not so much in an ignorance
of facts, as in an inability to handle those facts suitably; in feeble or
perverse modes of abstraction, observation, comparison, analysis,
inference, which nothing could have obviated, but that which was
wanting,—a specific talent, and a ready exercise of it.

I have already referred to the faculty of memory in illustration; it will
serve me also here. We can form an abstract idea of memory, and call it
one faculty, which has for its subject-matter all past facts of our
personal experience; but this is really only an illusion; for there is no
such gift of universal memory. Of course we all remember, in a way, as we
reason, in all subject-matters; but I am speaking of remembering rightly,
as I spoke of reasoning rightly. In real fact memory, as a talent, is not
one indivisible faculty, but a power of retaining and recalling the past
in this or that department of our experience, not in any whatever. Two
memories, which are both specially retentive, may also be incommensurate.
Some men can recite the canto of a poem, or good part of a speech, after
once reading it, but have no head for dates. Others have great capacity
for the vocabulary of languages, but recollect nothing of the small
occurrences of the day or year. Others never forget any statement which
they have read, and can give volume and page, but have no memory for
faces. I have known those who could, without effort, run through the
succession of days on which Easter fell for years back; or could say where
they were, or what they were doing, on a given day, in a given year; or
could recollect accurately the Christian names of friends and strangers;
or could enumerate in exact order the names on all the shops from Hyde
Park Corner to the Bank; or had so mastered the University Calendar as to
be able to bear an examination in the academical history of any M. A.
taken at random. And I believe in most of these cases the talent, in its
exceptional character, did not extend beyond several classes of subjects.
There are a hundred memories, as there are a hundred virtues. Virtue is
one indeed in the abstract; but, in fact, gentle and kind natures are not
therefore heroic, and prudent and self-controlled minds need not be
open-handed. At the utmost such virtue is one only _in posse_; as
developed in the concrete, it takes the shape of species which in no sense
imply each other.

So is it with Ratiocination; and as we should betake ourselves to Newton
for physical, not for theological conclusions, and to Wellington for his
military experience, not for statesmanship, so the maxim holds good
generally, “Cuique in arte suâ credendum est:” or, to use the grand words
of Aristotle, “We are bound to give heed to the undemonstrated sayings and
opinions of the experienced and aged, not less than to demonstrations;
because, from their having the eye of experience, they behold the
principles of things.(30)” Instead of trusting logical science, we must
trust persons, namely, those who by long acquaintance with their subject
have a right to judge. And if we wish ourselves to share in their
convictions and the grounds of them, we must follow their history, and
learn as they have learned. We must take up their particular subject as
they took it up, beginning at the beginning, give ourselves to it, depend
on practice and experience more than on reasoning, and thus gain that
mental insight into truth, whatever its subject-matter may be, which our
masters have gained before us. By following this course, we may make
ourselves of their number, and then we rightly lean upon ourselves; we
follow our own moral or intellectual judgment, but not our skill in

This doctrine, stated in substance as above by the great philosopher of
antiquity, is more fully expounded in a passage which he elsewhere quotes
from Hesiod. “Best of all is he,” says that poet, “who is wise by his own
wit; next best he who is wise by the wit of others; but whoso is neither
able to see, nor willing to hear, he is a good-for-nothing fellow.”
Judgment then in all concrete matter is the architectonic faculty; and
what may be called the Illative Sense, or right judgment in ratiocination,
is one branch of it.

Chapter IX. The Illative Sense.

My object in the foregoing pages has been, not to form a theory which may
account for those phenomena of the intellect of which they treat, viz.
those which characterize inference and assent, but to ascertain what is
the matter of fact as regards them, that is, when it is that assent is
given to propositions which are inferred, and under what circumstances. I
have never had the thought of an attempt which would be ambitious in me,
and which has failed in the hands of others, if that attempt may not
unfairly be called unsuccessful, which, though made by the acutest minds,
has not succeeded in convincing opponents. Especially have I found myself
unequal to antecedent reasonings in the instance of a matter of fact.
There are those, who, arguing _à priori_, maintain, that, since experience
leads by syllogism only to probabilities, certitude is ever a mistake.
There are others, who, while they deny this conclusion, grant the _à
priori_ principle assumed in the argument, and in consequence are obliged,
in order to vindicate the certainty of our knowledge, to have recourse to
the hypothesis of intuitions, intellectual forms, and the like, which
belong to us by nature, and may be considered to elevate our experience
into something more than it is in itself. Earnestly maintaining, as I
would, with this latter school of philosophers, the certainty of
knowledge, I think it enough to appeal to the common voice of mankind in
proof of it. That is to be accounted a normal operation of our nature,
which men in general do actually instance. That is a law of our minds,
which is exemplified in action on a large scale, whether _à priori_ it
ought to be a law or no. Our hoping is a proof that hope, as such, is not
an extravagance; and our possession of certitude is a proof that it is not
a weakness or an absurdity to be certain. How it comes about that we can
be certain is not my business to determine; for me it is sufficient that
certitude is felt. This is what the schoolmen, I believe, call treating a
subject _in facto esse_, in contrast with _in fieri_. Had I attempted the
latter, I should have been falling into metaphysics; but my aim is of a
practical character, such as that of Butler in his _Analogy_, with this
difference, that he treats of probability, doubt, expedience, and duty,
whereas in these pages, without excluding, far from it, the question of
duty, I would confine myself to the truth of things, and to the mind’s
certitude of that truth.

Certitude is a mental state: certainty is a quality of propositions. Those
propositions I call certain, which are such that I am certain of them.
Certitude is not a passive impression made upon the mind from without, by
argumentative compulsion, but in all concrete questions (nay, even in
abstract, for though the reasoning is abstract, the mind which judges of
it is concrete) it is an active recognition of propositions as true, such
as it is the duty of each individual himself to exercise at the bidding of
reason, and, when reason forbids, to withhold. And reason never bids us be
certain except on an absolute proof; and such a proof can never be
furnished to us by the logic of words, for as certitude is of the mind, so
is the act of inference which leads to it. Every one who reasons, is his
own centre; and no expedient for attaining a common measure of minds can
reverse this truth;—but then the question follows, is there any
_criterion_ of the accuracy of an inference, such as may be our warrant
that certitude is rightly elicited in favour of the proposition inferred,
since our warrant cannot, as I have said, be scientific? I have already
said that the sole and final judgment on the validity of an inference in
concrete matter is committed to the personal action of the ratiocinative
faculty, the perfection or virtue of which I have called the Illative
Sense, a use of the word “sense” parallel to our use of it in “good
sense,” “common sense,” a “sense of beauty,” &c.;—and I own I do not see
any way to go farther than this in answer to the question. However, I can
at least explain my meaning more fully; and therefore I will now speak,
first of the sanction of the Illative Sense, next of its nature, and then
of its range.

§ 1. The Sanction of the Illative Sense.

We are in a world of facts, and we use them; for there is nothing else to
use. We do not quarrel with them, but we take them as they are, and avail
ourselves of what they can do for us. It would be out of place to demand
of fire, water, earth, and air their credentials, so to say, for acting
upon us, or ministering to us. We call them elements, and turn them to
account, and make the most of them. We speculate on them at our leisure.
But what we are still less able to doubt about or annul, at our leisure or
not, is that which is at once their counterpart and their witness, I mean,
ourselves. We are conscious of the objects of external nature, and we
reflect and act upon them, and this consciousness, reflection, and action
we call our rationality. And as we use the (so called) elements without
first criticizing what we have no command over, so is it much more
unmeaning in us to criticize or find fault with our own nature, which is
nothing else than we ourselves, instead of using it according to the use
of which it ordinarily admits. Our being, with its faculties, mind and
body, is a fact not admitting of question, all things being of necessity
referred to it, not it to other things.

If I may not assume that I exist, and in a particular way, that is, with a
particular mental constitution, I have nothing to speculate about, and had
better let speculation alone. Such as I am, it is my all; this is my
essential stand-point, and must be taken for granted; otherwise, thought
is but an idle amusement, not worth the trouble. There is no medium
between using my faculties, as I have them, and flinging myself upon the
external world according to the random impulse of the moment, as spray
upon the surface of the waves, and simply forgetting that I am.

I am what I am, or I am nothing. I cannot think, reflect, or judge about
my being, without starting from the very point which I aim at concluding.
My ideas are all assumptions, and I am ever moving in a circle. I cannot
avoid being sufficient for myself, for I cannot make myself anything else,
and to change me is to destroy me. If I do not use myself, I have no other
self to use. My only business is to ascertain what I am, in order to put
it to use. It is enough for the proof of the value and authority of any
function which I possess, to be able to pronounce that it is natural. What
I have to ascertain is the laws under which I live. My first elementary
lesson of duty is that of resignation to the laws of my nature, whatever
they are; my first disobedience is to be impatient at what I am, and to
indulge an ambitious aspiration after what I cannot be, to cherish a
distrust of my powers, and to desire to change laws which are identical
with myself.

Truths such as these, which are too obvious to be called irresistible, are
illustrated by what we see in universal nature. Every being is in a true
sense sufficient for itself, so as to be able to fulfil its particular
needs. It is a general law that, whatever is found as a function or an
attribute of any class of beings, or is natural to it, is in its substance
suitable to it, and subserves its existence, and cannot be rightly
regarded as a fault or enormity. No being could endure, of which the
constituent parts were at war with each other. And more than this; there
is that principle of vitality in every being, which is of a sanative and
restorative character, and which brings all its parts and functions
together into one whole, and is ever repelling and correcting the
mischiefs which befall it, whether from within or without, while showing
no tendency to cast off its belongings as if foreign to its nature. The
brute animals are found severally with limbs and organs, habits,
instincts, appetites, surroundings, which play together for the safety and
welfare of the whole; and, after all exceptions, may be said each of them
to have, after its own kind, a perfection of nature. Man is the highest of
the animals, and more indeed than an animal, as having a mind; that is, he
has a complex nature different from theirs, with a higher aim and a
specific perfection; but still the fact that other beings find their good
in the use of their particular nature, is a reason for anticipating that
to use duly our own is our interest as well as our necessity.

What is the peculiarity of our nature, in contrast with the inferior
animals around us? It is that, though man cannot change what he is born
with, he is a being of progress with relation to his perfection and
characteristic good. Other beings are complete from their first existence,
in that line of excellence which is allotted to them; but man begins with
nothing realized (to use the word), and he has to make capital for himself
by the exercise of those faculties which are his natural inheritance. Thus
he gradually advances to the fulness of his original destiny. Nor is this
progress mechanical, nor is it of necessity; it is committed to the
personal efforts of each individual of the species; each of us has the
prerogative of completing his inchoate and rudimental nature, and of
developing his own perfection out of the living elements with which his
mind began to be. It is his gift to be the creator of his own sufficiency;
and to be emphatically self-made. This is the law of his being, which he
cannot escape; and whatever is involved in that law he is bound, or rather
he is carried on, to fulfil.

And here I am brought to the bearing of these remarks upon my subject. For
this law of progress is carried out by means of the acquisition of
knowledge, of which inference and assent are the immediate instruments.
Supposing, then, the advancement of our nature, both in ourselves
individually and as regards the human family, is, to every one of us in
his place, a sacred duty, it follows that that duty is intimately bound up
with the right use of these two main instruments of fulfilling it. And as
we do not gain the knowledge of the law of progress by any _à priori_ view
of man, but by looking at it as the interpretation which is provided by
himself on a large scale in the ordinary action of his intellectual
nature, so too we must appeal to himself, as a fact, and not to any
antecedent theory, in order to find what is the law of his mind as regards
the two faculties in question. If then such an appeal does bear me out in
deciding, as I have done, that the course of inference is ever more or
less obscure, while assent is ever distinct and definite, and yet that
what is in its nature thus absolute does, in fact follow upon what in
outward manifestation is thus complex, indirect, and recondite, what is
left to us but to take things as they are, and to resign ourselves to what
we find? that is, instead of devising, what cannot be, some sufficient
science of reasoning which may compel certitude in concrete conclusions,
to confess that there is no ultimate test of truth besides the testimony
born to truth by the mind itself, and that this phenomenon, perplexing as
we may find it, is a normal and inevitable characteristic of the mental
constitution of a being like man on a stage such as the world. His
progress is a living growth, not a mechanism; and its instruments are
mental acts, not the formulas and contrivances of language.

We are accustomed in this day to lay great stress upon the harmony of the
universe; and we have well learned the maxim so powerfully inculcated by
our own English philosopher, that in our inquiries into its laws, we must
sternly destroy all idols of the intellect, and subdue nature by
co-operating with her. Knowledge is power, for it enables us to use
eternal principles which we cannot alter. So also is it in that microcosm,
the human mind. Let us follow Bacon more closely than to distort its
faculties according to the demands of an ideal optimism, instead of
looking out for modes of thought proper to our nature, and faithfully
observing them in our intellectual exercises.

Of course I do not stop here. As the structure of the universe speaks to
us of Him who made it, so the laws of the mind are the expression, not of
mere constituted order, but of His will. I should be bound by them even
were they not His laws; but since one of their very functions is to tell
me of Him, they throw a reflex light upon themselves, and, for resignation
to my destiny, I substitute a cheerful concurrence in an overruling
Providence. We may gladly welcome such difficulties as there are in our
mental constitution, and in the interaction of our faculties, if we are
able to feel that He gave them to us, and He can overrule them for us. We
may securely take them as they are, and use them as we find them. It is He
who teaches us all knowledge; and the way by which we acquire it is His
way. He varies that way according to the subject-matter; but whether He
has set before us in our particular pursuit the way of observation or of
experiment, of speculation or of research, of demonstration or of
probability, whether we are inquiring into the system of the universe, or
into the elements of matter and of life, or into the history of human
society and past times, if we take the way proper to our subject-matter,
we have His blessing upon us, and shall find, besides abundant matter for
mere opinion, the materials in due measure of proof and assent.

And especially, by this disposition of things, shall we learn, as regards
religious and ethical inquiries, how little we can effect, however much we
exert ourselves, without that Blessing; for, as if on set purpose, He has
made this path of thought rugged and circuitous above other
investigations, that the very discipline inflicted on our minds in finding
Him, may mould them into due devotion to Him when He is found. “Verily
Thou art a hidden God, the God of Israel, the Saviour,” is the very law of
His dealings with us. Certainly we need a clue into the labyrinth which is
to lead us to Him; and who among us can hope to seize upon the true
starting-points of thought for that enterprise, and upon all of them, who
is to understand their right direction, to follow them out to their just
limits, and duly to estimate, adjust, and combine the various reasonings
in which they issue, so as safely to arrive at what it is worth any labour
to secure, without a special illumination from Himself? Such are the
dealings of Wisdom with the elect soul. “She will bring upon him fear, and
dread, and trial; and She will torture him with the tribulation of Her
discipline, till She try him by Her laws, and trust his soul. Then She
will strengthen him, and make Her way straight to him, and give him joy.”

§ 2. The Nature of the Illative Sense.

It is the mind that reasons, and that controls its own reasonings, not any
technical apparatus of words and propositions. This power of judging and
concluding, when in its perfection, I call the Illative Sense, and I shall
best illustrate it by referring to parallel faculties, which we commonly
recognize without difficulty.

For instance, how does the mind fulfil its function of supreme direction
and control, in matters of duty, social intercourse, and taste? In all of
these separate actions of the intellect, the individual is supreme, and
responsible to himself, nay, under circumstances, may be justified in
opposing himself to the judgment of the whole world; though he uses rules
to his great advantage, as far as they go, and is in consequence bound to
use them. As regards moral duty, the subject is fully considered in the
well-known ethical treatises of Aristotle.(31) He calls the faculty which
guides the mind in matters of conduct, by the name of _phronesis_, or
judgment. This is the directing, controlling, and determining principle in
such matters, personal and social. What it is to be virtuous, how we are
to gain the just idea and standard of virtue, how we are to approximate in
practice to our own standard, what is right and wrong in a particular
case, for the answers in fulness and accuracy to these and similar
questions, the philosopher refers us to no code of laws, to no moral
treatise, because no science of life, applicable to the case of an
individual, has been or can be written. Such is Aristotle’s doctrine, and
it is undoubtedly true. An ethical system may supply laws, general rules,
guiding principles, a number of examples, suggestions, landmarks,
limitations, cautions, distinctions, solutions of critical or anxious
difficulties; but who is to apply them to a particular case? whither can
we go, except to the living intellect, our own, or another’s? What is
written is too vague, too negative for our need. It bids us avoid
extremes; but it cannot ascertain for us, according to our personal need,
the golden mean. The authoritative oracle, which is to decide our path, is
something more searching and manifold than such jejune generalizations as
treatises can give, which are most distinct and clear when we least need
them. It is seated in the mind of the individual, who is thus his own law,
his own teacher, and his own judge in those special cases of duty which
are personal to him. It comes of an acquired habit, though it has its
first origin in nature itself, and it is formed and matured by practice
and experience; and it manifests itself, not in any breadth of view, any
philosophical comprehension of the mutual relations of duty towards duty,
or any consistency in its teachings, but it is a capacity sufficient for
the occasion, deciding what ought to be done here and now, by this given
person, under these given circumstances. It decides nothing hypothetical,
it does not determine what a man should do ten years hence, or what
another should do at this time. It may indeed happen to decide ten years
hence as it does now, and to decide a second case now as it now decides a
first; still its present act is for the present, not for the distant or
the future.

State or public law is inflexible, but this mental rule is not only minute
and particular, but has an elasticity, which, in its application to
individual cases, is, as I have said, not studious to maintain the
appearance of consistency. In old times the mason’s rule which was in use
at Lesbos was, according to Aristotle, not of wood or iron, but of lead,
so as to allow of its adjustment to the uneven surface of the stones
brought together for the work. By such the philosopher illustrates the
nature of equity in contrast with law, and such is that _phronesis_, from
which the science of morals forms its rules, and receives its complement.

In this respect of course the law of truth differs from the law of duty,
that duties change, but truths never; but, though truth is ever one and
the same, and the assent of certitude is immutable, still the reasonings
which carry us on to truth and certitude are many and distinct, and vary
with the inquirer; and it is not with assent, but with the controlling
principle in inferences that I am comparing _phronesis_. It is with this
drift that I observe that the rule of conduct for one man is not always
the rule for another, though the rule is always one and the same in the
abstract, and in its principle and scope. To learn his own duty in his own
case, each individual must have recourse to his own rule; and if his rule
is not sufficiently developed in his intellect for his need, then he goes
to some other living, present authority, to supply it for him, not to the
dead letter of a treatise or a code. A living, present authority, himself
or another, is his immediate guide in matters of a personal, social, or
political character. In buying and selling, in contracts, in his treatment
of others, in giving and receiving, in thinking, speaking, doing, and
working, in toil, in danger, in his recreations and pleasures, every one
of his acts, to be praiseworthy, must be in accordance with this practical
sense. Thus it is, and not by science, that he perfects the virtues of
justice, self-command, magnanimity, generosity, gentleness, and all
others. _Phronesis_ is the regulating principle of every one of them.

These last words lead me to a further remark. I doubt whether it is
correct, strictly speaking, to consider this _phronesis_ as a general
faculty, directing and perfecting all the virtues at once. So understood,
it is little better than an abstract term, including under it a circle of
analogous faculties, severally proper to the separate virtues. Properly
speaking, there are as many kinds of _phronesis_ as there are virtues; for
the judgment, good sense, or tact which is conspicuous in a man’s conduct
in one subject-matter, is not necessarily traceable in another. As in the
parallel cases of memory and reasoning, he may be great in one aspect of
his character, and little-minded in another. He may be exemplary in his
family, yet commit a fraud on the revenue; he may be just and cruel, brave
and sensual, imprudent and patient. And if this be true of the moral
virtues, it holds good still more fully when we compare what is called his
private character with his public. A good man may make a bad king;
profligates have been great statesmen, or magnanimous political leaders.

So, too, I may go on to speak of the various callings and professions
which give scope to the exercise of great talents, for these talents also
are matured, not by mere rule, but by personal skill and sagacity. They
are as diverse as pleading and cross-examining, conducting a debate in
Parliament, swaying a public meeting, and commanding an army; and here,
too, I observe that, though the directing principle in each case is called
by the same name,—sagacity, skill, tact, or prudence,—still there is no
one ruling faculty leading to eminence in all these various lines of
action in common, but men will excel in one of them, without any talent
for the rest.

The parallel may be continued in the case of the Fine Arts, in which,
though true and scientific rules may be given, no one would therefore deny
that Phidias or Rafael had a far more subtle standard of taste and a more
versatile power of embodying it in his works, than any which he could
communicate to others in even a series of treatises. And here again genius
is indissolubly united to one definite subject-matter; a poet is not
therefore a painter, or an architect a musical composer.

And so, again, as regards the useful arts and personal accomplishments, we
use the same word “skill,” but proficiency in engineering or in
ship-building, or again in engraving, or again in singing, in playing
instruments, in acting, or in gymnastic exercises, is as simply one with
its particular subject-matter, as the human soul with its particular body,
and is, in its own department, a sort of instinct or inspiration, not an
obedience to external rules of criticism or of science.

It is natural, then, to ask the question, why ratiocination should be an
exception to a general law which attaches to the intellectual exercises of
the mind; why it is held to be commensurate with logical science; and why
logic is made an instrumental art sufficient for determining every sort of
truth, while no one would dream of making any one formula, however
generalized, a working rule at once for poetry, the art of medicine, and
political warfare?

This is what I have to remark concerning the Illative Sense, and in
explanation of its nature and claims; and on the whole, I have spoken of
it in four respects,—as viewed in itself, in its subject-matter, in the
process it uses, and in its function and scope.

First, viewed in its exercise, it is one and the same in all concrete
matters, though employed in them in different measures. We do not reason
in one way in chemistry or law, in another in morals or religion; but in
reasoning on any subject whatever, which is concrete, we proceed, as far
indeed as we can, by the logic of language, but we are obliged to
supplement it by the more subtle and elastic logic of thought; for forms
by themselves prove nothing.

Secondly, it is in fact attached to definite subject-matters, so that a
given individual may possess it in one department of thought, for
instance, history, and not in another, for instance, philosophy.

Thirdly, in coming to its conclusion, it proceeds always in the same way,
by a method of reasoning, which is the elementary principle of that
mathematical calculus of modern times, which has so wonderfully extended
the limits of abstract science.

Fourthly, in no class of concrete reasonings, whether in experimental
science, historical research, or theology, is there any ultimate test of
truth and error in our inferences besides the trustworthiness of the
Illative Sense that gives them its sanction; just as there is no
sufficient test of poetical excellence, heroic action, or gentleman-like
conduct, other than the particular mental sense, be it genius, taste,
sense of propriety, or the moral sense, to which those subject-matters are
severally committed. Our duty in each of these is to strengthen and
perfect the special faculty which is its living rule, and in every case as
it comes to do our best. And such also is our duty and our necessity, as
regards the Illative Sense.

§ 3. The Range of the Illative Sense.

Great as are the services of language in enabling us to extend the compass
of our inferences, to test their validity, and to communicate them to
others, still the mind itself is more versatile and vigorous than any of
its works, of which language is one, and it is only under its penetrating
and subtle action that the margin disappears, which I have described as
intervening between verbal argumentation and conclusions in the concrete.
It determines what science cannot determine, the limit of converging
probabilities and the reasons sufficient for a proof. It is the
ratiocinative mind itself, and no trick of art, however simple in its form
and sure in operation, by which we are able to determine that a moving
body left to itself will never stop, and that no man can live without

Nor, again, is it by any diagram that we are able to scrutinize, sort, and
combine the many premisses which must be first run together before we
answer duly a given question. It is to the living mind that we must look
for the means of using correctly principles of whatever kind, facts or
doctrines, experiences or testimonies, true or probable, and of discerning
what conclusion from these is necessary, suitable, or expedient, when they
are taken for granted; and this, either by means of a natural gift, or
from mental formation and practice and a long familiarity with those
various starting-points. Thus, when Laud said that he did not see his way
to come to terms with the Holy See, “till Rome was other than she was,” no
Catholic would admit the sentiment: but any Catholic may understand that
this is just the judgment consistent with Laud’s actual condition of
thought and cast of opinions, his ecclesiastical position, and the
existing state of England.

Nor, lastly, is an action of the mind itself less necessary in relation to
those first elements of thought which in all reasoning are assumptions,
the principles, tastes, and opinions, very often of a personal character,
which are half the battle in the inference with which the reasoning is to
terminate. It is the mind itself that detects them in their obscure
recesses, illustrates them, establishes them, eliminates them, resolves
them into simpler ideas, as the case may be. The mind contemplates them
without the use of words, by a process which cannot be analyzed. Thus it
was that Bacon separated the physical system of the world from the
theological; thus that Butler connected together the moral system with the
religious. Logical formulas could never have sustained the reasonings
involved in such investigations.

Thus the Illative Sense, that is, the reasoning faculty, as exercised by
gifted, or by educated or otherwise well-prepared minds, has its function
in the beginning, middle, and end of all discussion and inquiry, and in
every step of the process. It is a rule to itself, and appeals to no
judgment beyond its own; and attends upon the whole course of thought from
antecedents to consequents, with a minute diligence and unwearied
presence, which is impossible to a cumbrous apparatus of verbal reasoning,
though, in communicating with others, words are the only instrument we
possess, and a serviceable, though imperfect instrument.

One function indeed there is of Logic, to which I have referred in the
preceding sentence, which the Illative Sense does not and cannot perform.
It supplies no common measure between mind and mind, as being nothing else
than a personal gift or acquisition. Few there are, as I said above, who
are good reasoners on all subject-matters. Two men, who reason well each
in his own province of thought, may, one or both of them, fail and
pronounce opposite judgments on a question belonging to some third
province. Moreover, all reasoning being from premisses, and those
premisses arising (if it so happen) in their first elements from personal
characteristics, in which men are in fact in essential and irremediable
variance one with another, the ratiocinative talent can do no more than
point out where the difference between them lies, how far it is
immaterial, when it is worth while continuing an argument between them,
and when not.

Now of the three main occasions of the exercise of the Illative Sense,
which I have been insisting on, and which are the measure of its range,
the start, the course, and the issue of an inquiry, I have already, in
treating of Informal Inference, shown the place it holds in the final
resolution of concrete questions. Here then it is left to me to illustrate
its presence and action in relation to the elementary premisses, and,
again, to the conduct of an argument. And first of the latter.


There has been a great deal written of late years on the subject of the
state of Greece and Rome during the pre-historic period; let us say before
the Olympiads in Greece, and the war with Pyrrhus in the annals of Rome.
Now, in a question like this, it is plain that the inquirer has first of
all to decide on the point from which he is to start in the presence of
the received accounts; on what side, from what quarter he is to approach
them; on what principles his discussion is to be conducted; what he is to
assume, what opinions or objections he is summarily to put aside as
nugatory, what arguments, and when, he is to consider as apposite, what
false issues are to be avoided, when the state of his arguments is ripe
for a conclusion. Is he to commence with absolutely discarding all that
has hitherto been received; or to retain it in outline; or to make
selections from it; or to consider and interpret it as mythical, or as
allegorical; or to hold so much to be trustworthy, or at least of _primâ
facie_ authority, as he cannot actually disprove; or never to destroy
except in proportion as he can construct? Then, as to the kind of
arguments suitable or admissible, how far are tradition, analogy, isolated
monuments and records, ruins, vague reports, legends, the facts or sayings
of later times, language, popular proverbs, to tell in the inquiry? what
are marks of truth, what of falsehood, what is probable, what suspicious,
what promises well for discriminating facts from fictions? Then, arguments
have to be balanced against each other, and then lastly the decision is to
be made, whether any conclusion at all can be drawn, or whether any before
certain issues are tried and settled, or whether a probable conclusion or
a certain. It is plain how incessant will be the call here or there for
the exercise of a definitive judgment, how little that judgment will be
helped on by logic, and how intimately it will be dependent upon the
intellectual complexion of the writer.

This might be illustrated at great length, were it necessary, from the
writings of any of those able men, whose names are so well known in
connexion with the subject I have instanced; such as Niebuhr, Mr. Clinton,
Sir George Lewis, Mr. Grote, and Colonel Mure. These authors have
severally views of their own on the period of history which they have
selected for investigation, and they are too learned and logical not to
know and to use to the utmost the testimonies by which the facts which
they investigate are to be ascertained. Why then do they differ so much
from each other, whether in their estimate of those testimonies or of
those facts? Because that estimate is simply their own, coming of their
own judgment; and that judgment coming of assumptions of their own,
explicit or implicit; and those assumptions spontaneously issuing out of
the state of thought respectively belonging to each of them; and all these
successive processes of minute reasoning superintended and directed by an
intellectual instrument far too subtle and spiritual to be scientific.

What was Niebuhr’s idea of the office he had undertaken? I suppose it was
to accept what he found in the historians of Rome, to interrogate it, to
take it to pieces, to put it together again, to re-arrange and interpret
it. Prescription together with internal consistency was to him the
evidence of fact, and if he pulled down he felt he was bound to build up.
Very different is the spirit of another school of writers, with whom
prescription is nothing, and who will admit no evidence which has not
first proved its right to be admitted. “We are able,” says Niebuhr, “to
trace the history of the Roman constitution back to the beginning of the
Commonwealth, as accurately as we wish, and even more perfectly than the
history of many portions of the middle ages.” But, “we may rejoice,” says
Sir George Lewis, “that the ingenuity or learning of Niebuhr should have
enabled him to advance many noble hypotheses and conjectures respecting
the form of the early constitution of Rome, but, unless he can support
those hypotheses by sufficient evidence, they are not entitled to our
belief.” “Niebuhr,” says a writer nearly related to myself, “often
expresses much contempt for mere incredulous criticism and negative
conclusions; ... yet wisely to disbelieve is our first grand requisite in
dealing with materials of mixed worth.” And Sir George Lewis again, “It
may be said that there is scarcely any of the leading conclusions of
Niebuhr’s work which has not been impugned by some subsequent writer.”

Again, “It is true,” says Niebuhr, “that the Trojan war belongs to the
region of fable, yet undeniably it has an historical foundation.” But Mr.
Grote writes, “If we are asked whether the Trojan war is not a legend ...
raised upon a basis of truth, ... our answer must be, that, as the
possibility of it cannot be denied, so neither can the reality of it be
affirmed.” On the other hand, Mr. Clinton lays down the general rule, “We
may acknowledge as real persons, all those whom there is no reason for
rejecting. The presumption is in favour of the early tradition, if no
argument can be brought to overthrow it.” Thus he lodges the _onus
probandi_ with those who impugn the received accounts; but Mr. Grote and
Sir George Lewis throw it upon those who defend them. “Historical
evidence,” says the latter, “is founded on the testimony of credible
witnesses.” And again, “It is perpetually assumed in practice, that
historical evidence is different in its nature from other sorts of
evidence. This laxity seems to be justified by the doctrine of taking the
best evidence which can be obtained. The object of [my] inquiry will be to
apply to the early Roman history the same rules of evidence which are
applied by common consent to modern history.” Far less severe is the
judgment of Colonel Mure: “Where no positive historical proof is
affirmable, the balance of historical probability must reduce itself very
much to a reasonable indulgence to the weight of national conviction, and
a deference to the testimony of the earliest native authorities.”
“Reasonable indulgence” to popular belief, “deference” to ancient
tradition, are principles of writing history abhorrent to the judicial
temper of Sir George Lewis. He considers the words “reasonable indulgence”
to be “ambiguous,” and observes that “the very point which cannot be taken
for granted, and in which writers differ, is, as to the extent to which
contemporary attestation may be presumed without direct and positive
proof, ... the extent to which the existence of a popular belief
concerning a supposed matter of fact authorizes the inference that it grew
out of authentic testimony.” And Mr. Grote observes to the same effect:
“The word _tradition_ is an equivocal word, and begs the whole question.
It is tacitly understood to imply a tale descriptive of some real matter
of fact, taking rise at the time when the fact happened, originally
accurate, but corrupted by oral transmission.” And Lewis, who quotes the
passage, adds, “This _tacit understanding_ is the key-stone of the whole

I am not contrasting these various opinions of able men, who have given
themselves to historical research, as if it were any reflection on them
that they differ from each other. It is the cause of their differing on
which I wish to insist. Taking the facts by themselves, probably these
authors would come to no conclusion at all; it is the “tacit
understandings” which Mr. Grote speaks of, the vague and impalpable
notions of “reasonableness” on his own side as well as on that of others,
which both make conclusions possible, and are the pledge of their being
contradictory. The conclusions vary with the particular writer, for each
writes from his own point of view and with his own principles, and these
admit of no common measure.

This in fact is their own account of the matter: “The results of
speculative historical inquiry,” says Colonel Mure, “can rarely amount to
more than fair presumption of the reality of the events in question, as
limited to their general substance, not as extending to their details. Nor
can there consequently be expected in the minds of different inquirers any
such unity regarding the precise degree of reality, as may frequently
exist in respect to events attested by documentary evidence.” Mr. Grote
corroborates this decision by the striking instance of the diversity of
existing opinions concerning the Homeric Poems. “Our means of knowledge,”
he says, “are so limited, that no one can produce arguments sufficiently
cogent to contend against opposing preconceptions, and it creates a
painful sensation of diffidence, when we read the expressions of equal and
absolute persuasion with which the two opposite conclusions have both been
advanced.” And again, “There is a difference of opinion among the best
critics, which is probably not destined to be adjusted, since so much
depends partly upon critical feeling, partly upon the general reasonings
in respect to ancient epical unity, with which a man sits down to the
study.” Exactly so; every one has his own “critical feeling,” his
antecedent “reasonings,” and in consequence his own “absolute persuasion,”
coming in fresh and fresh at every turn of the discussion; and who,
whether stranger or friend, is to reach and affect what is so intimately
bound up with the mental constitution of each?

Hence the categorical contradictions between one writer and another, which
abound. Colonel Mure appeals in defence of an historical thesis to the
“fact of the Hellenic confederacy combining for the adoption of a common
national system of chronology in 776 B.C.” Mr. Grote replies: “Nothing is
more at variance with my conception,”—he just now spoke of the
preconceptions of others,—“of the state of the Hellenic world in 776 B.C.,
than the idea of a combination among all the members of the race for any
purpose, much more for the purpose of adopting a common national system of
chronology.” Colonel Mure speaks of the “bigoted Athenian public;” Mr.
Grote replies that “no public ever less deserved the epithet of ‘bigoted’
than the Athenian,” Colonel Mure also speaks of Mr. Grote’s “arbitrary
hypothesis;” and again (in Mr. Grote’s words), of his “unreasonable
scepticism.” He cannot disprove by mere argument the conclusions of Mr.
Grote; he can but have recourse to a personal criticism. He virtually
says, “We differ in our personal view of things.” Men become personal when
logic fails; it is their mode of appealing to their own primary elements
of thought, and their own illative sense, against the principles and the
judgment of another.

I have already touched upon Niebuhr’s method of investigation, and Sir
George Lewis’s dislike of it: it supplies us with as apposite an instance
of a difference in first principles as is afforded by Mr. Grote and
Colonel Mure. “The main characteristic of his history,” says Lewis, “is
the extent to which he relies upon internal evidence, and upon the
indications afforded by the narrative itself, independently of the
testimony of its truth.” And, “Ingenuity and labour can produce nothing
but hypotheses and conjectures, which may be supported by analogies, but
can never rest upon the solid foundation of proof.” And it is undeniable,
that, rightly or wrongly, disdaining the scepticism of the mere critic,
Niebuhr does consciously proceed by the high path of divination. “For my
own part,” he says, “I _divine_ that, since the censorship of Fabius and
Decius falls in the same year, that Cn. Flavius became mediator between
his own class and the higher orders.” Lewis considers this to be a process
of guessing; and says, “Instead of employing those tests of credibility
which are consistently applied to modern history,” Niebuhr, and his
followers, and most of his opponents, “attempt to guide their judgment by
the indication of internal evidence, and assume that the truth is
discovered by an occult faculty of historical divination.” Niebuhr defends
himself thus: “The real geographer has a tact which determines his
judgment and choice among different statements. He is able from isolated
statements to draw inferences respecting things that are unknown, which
are closely approximate to results obtained from observation of facts, and
may supply their place. He is able with limited data to form an image of
things which no eyewitness has described.” He applies this to himself. The
principle set forth in this passage is obviously the same as I should put
forward myself; but Sir George Lewis, though not simply denying it as a
principle, makes little account of it, when applied to historical
research. “It is not enough,” he says, “for an historian to claim the
possession of a retrospective second-sight, which is denied to the rest of
the world—of a mysterious doctrine, revealed only to the initiated.” And
he pronounces, that “the history of Niebuhr has opened more questions than
it has closed, and it has set in motion a large body of combatants, whose
mutual variances are not at present likely to be settled by deference to a
common principle.(32)”

We see from the above extracts how a controversy, such as that to which
they belong, is carried on from starting-points, and with collateral aids,
not formally proved, but more or less assumed, the process of assumption
lying in the action of the Illative Sense, as applied to primary elements
of thought respectively congenial to the disputants. Not that explicit
argumentation on these minute or minor, though important, points is not
sometimes possible to a certain extent; but, as I had said, it is too
unwieldy an expedient for a constantly recurring need, even when it is
tolerably exact.


And now secondly, as to the first principles themselves. In illustration,
I will mention under separate heads some of those elementary contrarieties
of opinion, on which the Illative Sense has to act, discovering them,
following them out, defending or resisting them, as the case may be.

1. As to the statement of the case. This depends on the particular aspect
under which we view a subject, that is, on the abstraction which forms our
representative notion of what it is. Sciences are only so many distinct
aspects of nature; sometimes suggested by nature itself, sometimes created
by the mind. (1) One of the simplest and broadest aspects under which to
view the physical world, is that of a system of final causes, or, on the
other hand, of initial or effective causes. Bacon, having it in view to
extend our power over nature, adopted the latter. He took firm hold of the
idea of causation (in the common sense of the word) as contrasted with
that of design, refusing to mix up the two ideas in one inquiry, and
denouncing such traditional interpretations of facts, as did but obscure
the simplicity of the aspect necessary for his purpose. He saw what others
before him might have seen in what they saw, but who did not see as he saw
it. In this achievement of intellect, which has been so fruitful in
results, lie his genius and his fame.

(2) So again, to refer to a very different subject-matter, we often hear
of the exploits of some great lawyer, judge or advocate, who is able in
perplexed cases, when common minds see nothing but a hopeless heap of
facts, foreign or contrary to each other, to detect the principle which
rightly interprets the riddle, and, to the admiration of all hearers,
converts a chaos into an orderly and luminous whole. This is what is meant
by originality, in thinking: it is the discovery of an aspect of a
subject-matter, simpler, perhaps, and more intelligible than any hitherto

(3) On the other hand, such aspects are often unreal, as being mere
exhibitions of ingenuity, not of true originality of mind. This is
especially the case in what are called philosophical views of history.
Such seems to me the theory advocated in a work of great learning, vigour,
and acuteness, Warburton’s “Divine Legation of Moses.” I do not call
Gibbon merely ingenious; still his account of the rise of Christianity is
the mere subjective view of one who could not enter into its depth and

(4) The aspect under which we view things is often intensely personal;
nay, even awfully so, considering that, from the nature of the case, it
does not bring home its idiosyncrasy either to ourselves or to others.
Each of us looks at the world in his own way, and does not know that
perhaps it is characteristically his own. This is the case even as regards
the senses. Some men have little perception of colours; some recognize one
or two; to some men two contrary colours, as red and green, are one and
the same. How poorly can we appreciate the beauties of nature, if our eyes
discern, on the face of things, only an Indian-ink or a drab creation!

(5) So again, as regards form: each of us abstracts the relation of line
to line in his own personal way,—as one man might apprehend a curve as
convex, another as concave. Of course, as in the case of a curve, there
may be a limit to possible aspects; but still, even when we agree
together, it is not perhaps that we learn one from another, or fall under
any law of agreement, but that our separate idiosyncrasies happen to
concur. I fear I may seem trifling, if I allude to an illustration which
has ever had a great force with me, and that for the very reason it is so
trivial and minute. Children, learning to read, are sometimes presented
with the letters of the alphabet turned into the figures of men in various
attitudes. It is curious to observe from such representations, how
differently the shape of the letters strikes different minds. In
consequence I have continually asked the question in a chance company,
which way certain of the great letters look, to the right or to the left;
and whereas nearly every one present had his own clear view, so clear that
he could not endure the opposite view, still I have generally found that
one half of the party considered the letters in question to look to the
left, while the other half thought they looked to the right.

(6) This variety of interpretation in the very elements of outlines seems
to throw light upon other cognate differences between one man and another.
If they look at the mere letters of the alphabet so differently, we may
understand how it is they form such distinct judgments upon handwriting;
nay, how some men may have a talent for decyphering from it the
intellectual and moral character of the writer, which others have not.
Another thought that occurs is, that perhaps here lies the explanation why
it is that family likenesses are so variously recognized, and how mistakes
in identity may be dangerously frequent.

(7) If we so variously apprehend the familiar objects of sense, still more
various, we may suppose, are the aspects and associations attached by us,
one with another, to intellectual objects. I do not say we differ in the
objects themselves, but that we may have interminable differences as to
their relations and circumstances. I have heard say (again to take a
trifling matter) that at the beginning of this century, it was a subject
of serious, nay, of angry controversy, whether it began with January 1800,
or January 1801. Argument, which ought, if in any case, to have easily
brought the question to a decision, was but sprinkling water upon a flame.
I am not clear that, if it could be fairly started now, it would not lead
to similar results; certainly I know those who studiously withdraw from
giving an opinion on the subject, when it is accidentally mooted, from
their experience of the eager feeling which it is sure to excite in some
one or other who is present. This eagerness can only arise from an
overpowering sense that the truth of the matter lies in the one
alternative, and not in the other.

These instances, because they are so casual, suggest how it comes to pass,
that men differ so widely from each other in religious and moral
perceptions. Here, I say again, it does not prove that there is no
objective truth, because not all men are in possession of it; or that we
are not responsible for the associations which we attach, and the
relations which we assign, to the objects of the intellect. But this it
does suggest to us, that there is something deeper in our differences than
the accident of external circumstances; and that we need the interposition
of a Power greater than human teaching and human argument to make our
beliefs true and our minds one.

2. Next I come to the implicit assumption of definite propositions in the
first start of a course of reasoning, and the arbitrary exclusion of
others, of whatever kind. Unless we had the right, when we pleased, of
ruling that propositions were irrelevant or absurd, I do not see how we
could conduct an argument at all; our way would be simply blocked up by
extravagant principles and theories, gratuitous hypotheses, false issues,
unsupported statements, and incredible facts. There are those who have
treated the history of Abraham as an astronomical record, and have spoken
of our Adorable Saviour as the sun in _Aries_. Arabian Mythology has
changed Solomon into a mighty wizard. Noah has been considered the
patriarch of the Chinese people. The ten tribes have been pronounced still
to live in their descendants, the Red Indians; or to be the ancestors of
the Goths and Vandals, and thereby of the present European races. Some
have conjectured that the Apollos of the Acts of the Apostles was
Apollonius Tyaneus. Able men have reasoned out, almost against their will,
that Adam was a negro. These propositions, and many others of various
kinds, we should think ourselves justified in passing over, if we were
engaged in a work on sacred history; and there are others, on the
contrary, which we should assume as true by our own right and without
notice, and without which we could not set about or carry on our work.

(1) However, the right of making assumptions has been disputed; but, when
the objections are examined, I think they only go to show that we have no
right in argument to make any assumption we please. Thus, in the
historical researches which just now came before us, it seems fair to say
that no testimony should be received, except such as comes from competent
witnesses, while it is not unfair to urge, on the other side, that
tradition, though unauthenticated, being (what is called) in possession,
has a prescription in its favour, and may, _primâ facie_, or
provisionally, be received. Here are the materials of a fair dispute; but
there are writers who seem to have gone far beyond this reasonable
scepticism, laying down as a general proposition that we have no right in
philosophy to make any assumption whatever, and that we ought to begin
with a universal doubt. This, however, is of all assumptions the greatest,
and to forbid assumptions universally is to forbid this one in particular.
Doubt itself is a positive state, and implies a definite habit of mind,
and thereby necessarily involves a system of principles and doctrines all
its own. Again, if nothing is to be assumed, what is our very method of
reasoning but an assumption? and what our nature itself? The very sense of
pleasure and pain, which is one of the most intimate portions of
ourselves, inevitably translates itself into intellectual assumptions.

Of the two, I would rather have to maintain that we ought to begin with
believing everything that is offered to our acceptance, than that it is
our duty to doubt of everything. The former, indeed, seems the true way of
learning. In that case, we soon discover and discard what is contradictory
to itself; and error having always some portion of truth in it, and the
truth having a reality which error has not, we may expect, that when there
is an honest purpose and fair talents, we shall somehow make our way
forward, the error falling off from the mind, and the truth developing and
occupying it. Thus it is that the Catholic religion is reached, as we see,
by inquirers from all points of the compass, as if it mattered not where a
man began, so that he had an eye and a heart for the truth.

(2) An argument has been often put forward by unbelievers, I think by
Paine, to this effect, that “a revelation, which is to be received as
true, ought to be written on the sun.” This appeals to the common-sense of
the many with great force, and implies the assumption of a principle which
Butler, indeed, would not grant, and would consider unphilosophical, and
yet I think something may be said in its favour. Whether abstractedly
defensible or not, Catholic populations would not be averse, _mutatis
mutandis_, to admitting it. Till these last centuries, the Visible Church
was, at least to her children, the light of the world, as conspicuous as
the sun in the heavens; and the Creed was written on her forehead, and
proclaimed through her voice, by a teaching as precise as it was
emphatical; in accordance with the text, “Who is she that looketh forth at
the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in
array?” It was not, strictly speaking, a miracle, doubtless; but in its
effect, nay, in its circumstances, it was little less. Of course I would
not allow that the Church fails in this manifestation of the truth now,
any more than in former times, though the clouds have come over the sun;
for what she has lost in her appeal to the imagination, she has gained in
philosophical cogency, by the evidence of her persistent vitality. So far
is clear, that if Paine’s aphorism has a _primâ facie_ force against
Christianity, it owes this advantage to the miserable deeds of the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

(3) Another conflict of first principles or assumptions, which have often
been implicit on either side, has been carried through in our day, and
relates to the end and scope of civil society, that is, whether government
and legislation ought to be of a religious character, or not; whether the
state has a conscience; whether Christianity is the law of the land;
whether the magistrate, in punishing offenders, exercises a retributive
office or a corrective; or whether the whole structure of society is
raised upon the basis of secular expediency. The relation of philosophy
and the sciences to theology comes into the question. The old
time-honoured theory has, during the last forty years, been vigorously
contending with the new; and the new is in the ascendant.

(4) There is another great conflict of first principles, and that among
Christians, which has occupied a large space in our domestic history,
during the last thirty or forty years, and that is the controversy about
the Rule of Faith. I notice it as affording an instance of an assumption
so deeply sunk into the popular mind, that it is a work of great
difficulty to obtain from its maintainers an acknowledgment that it is an
assumption. That Scripture is the Rule of Faith is in fact an assumption
so congenial to the state of mind and course of thought usual among
Protestants, that it seems to them rather a truism than a truth. If they
are in controversy with Catholics on any point of faith, they at once ask,
“Where do you find it in Scripture?” and if Catholics reply, as they must
do, that it is not necessarily in Scripture in order to be true, nothing
can persuade them that such an answer is not an evasion, and a triumph to
themselves. Yet it is by no means self-evident that all religious truth is
to be found in a number of works, however sacred, which were written at
different times, and did not always form one book; and in fact it is a
doctrine very hard to prove. So much so, that years ago, when I was
considering it from a Protestant point of view, and wished to defend it to
the best of my power, I was unable to give any better account of it than
the following, which I here quote from its appositeness to my present

“It matters not,” I said, speaking of the first Protestants, “whether or
not they only happened to come right on what, in a logical point of view,
are faulty premisses. They had no time for theories of any kind; and to
require theories at their hand argues an ignorance of human nature, and of
the ways in which truth is struck out in the course of life. Common sense,
chance, moral perception, genius, the great discoverers of principles do
not reason. They have no arguments, no grounds, they see the truth, but
they do not know how they see it; and if at any time they attempt to prove
it, it is as much a matter of experiment with them, as if they had to find
a road to a distant mountain, which they see with the eye; and they get
entangled, embarrassed, and perchance overthrown in the superfluous
endeavour. It is the second-rate men, though most useful in their place,
who prove, reconcile, finish, and explain. Probably, the popular feeling
of the sixteenth century saw the Bible to be the Word of God, so as
nothing else is His Word, by the power of a strong sense, by a sort of
moral instinct, or by a happy augury.(33)”

That is, I considered the assumption an act of the Illative Sense;—I
should now add, the Illative Sense, acting on mistaken elements of

3. After the aspects in which a question is to be viewed, and the
principles on which it is to be considered, come the arguments by which it
is decided; among these are antecedent reasons, which are especially in
point here, because they are in great measure made by ourselves and belong
to our personal character, and to them I shall confine myself.

Antecedent reasoning, when negative, is safe. Thus no one would say that,
because Alexander’s rash heroism is one of the leading characteristics of
his history, therefore we are justified, except in writing a romance, in
asserting that at a particular time and place, he distinguished himself by
a certain exploit about which history is altogether silent; but, on the
other hand, his notorious bravery would be almost decisive against any
charge against him of having on a particular occasion acted as a coward.

In like manner, good character goes far in destroying the force of even
plausible charges. There is indeed a degree of evidence in support of an
allegation, against which reputation is no defence; but it must be
singularly strong to overcome an established antecedent probability which
stands opposed to it. Thus historical personages or great authors, men of
high and pure character, have had imputations cast upon them, easy to
make, difficult or impossible to meet, which are indignantly trodden under
foot by all just and sensible men, as being as anti-social as they are
inhuman. I need not add what a cruel and despicable part a husband or a
son would play, who readily listened to a charge against his wife or his
father. Yet all this being admitted, a great number of cases remain which
are perplexing, and on which we cannot adjust the claims of conflicting
and heterogeneous arguments except by the keen and subtle operation of the
Illative Sense.

Butler’s argument in his _Analogy_ is such a presumption used negatively.
Objection being brought against certain characteristics of Christianity,
he meets it by the presumption in their favour derived from their
parallels as discoverable in the order of nature, arguing that they do not
tell against the Divine origin of Christianity, unless they tell against
the Divine origin of the natural system also. But he could not adduce it
as a positive and direct proof of the Divine origin of the Christian
doctrines that they had their parallels in nature, or at the utmost as
more than a recommendation of them to the religious inquirer.

Unbelievers use the antecedent argument from the order of nature against
our belief in miracles. Here, if they only mean that the fact of that
system of laws, by which physical nature is governed, makes it
antecedently improbable that an exception should occur in it, there is no
objection to the argument; but if, as is not uncommon, they mean that the
fact of an established order is absolutely fatal to the very notion of an
exception, they are using a presumption as if it were a proof. They are
saying,—What has happened 999 times one way cannot possibly happen on the
1000th time another way, _because_ what has happened 999 times one way is
likely to happen in the same way on the 1000th. If, however, they mean
that the order of nature constitutes a physical necessity, and that a law
is an unalterable fate, this is to assume the very point in debate, and is
much more than its antecedent probability.

Facts cannot be proved by presumptions, yet it is remarkable that in cases
where nothing stronger than presumption was even professed, scientific men
have sometimes acted as if they thought this kind of argument, taken by
itself, decisive of a fact which was in debate. In the controversy about
the Plurality of worlds, it has been considered, on purely antecedent
grounds, as far as I see, to be so necessary that the Creator should have
filled with living beings the luminaries which we see in the sky, and the
other cosmical bodies which we imagine there, that it almost amounts to a
blasphemy to doubt it.

Theological conclusions, it is true, have often been made on antecedent
reasoning; but then it must be recollected that theological reasoning
professes to be sustained by a more than human power, and to be guaranteed
by a more than human authority. It may be true, also, that conversions to
Christianity have often been made on antecedent reasons; yet, even
admitting the fact, which is not quite clear, a number of antecedent
probabilities, confirming each other, may make it a duty in the judgment
of a prudent man, not only to act as if a statement were true, but
actually to accept and believe it. This is not unfrequently instanced in
our dealings with others, when we feel it right, in spite of our
misgivings, to oblige ourselves to believe their honesty. And in all these
delicate questions there is constant call for the exercise of the Illative

Chapter X. Inference And Assent In The Matter Of Religion.

And now I have completed my review of the second subject to which I have
given my attention in this Essay, the connexion existing between the
intellectual acts of Assent and Inference, my first being the connexion of
Assent with Apprehension; and as I closed my remarks upon Assent and
Apprehension by applying the conclusions at which I had arrived to our
belief in the Truths of Religion, so now I ought to speak of its
Evidences, before quitting the consideration of the dependence of Assent
upon Inference. I shall attempt to do so in this Chapter, not without much
anxiety, lest I should injure so large, momentous, and sacred a subject by
a necessarily cursory treatment.

I begin with expressing a sentiment, which is habitually in my thoughts,
whenever they are turned to the subject of mental or moral science, and
which I am as willing to apply here to the Evidences of Religion as it
properly applies to Metaphysics or Ethics, viz. that in these provinces of
inquiry egotism is true modesty. In religious inquiry each of us can speak
only for himself, and for himself he has a right to speak. His own
experiences are enough for himself, but he cannot speak for others: he
cannot lay down the law; he can only bring his own experiences to the
common stock of psychological facts. He knows what has satisfied and
satisfies himself; if it satisfies him, it is likely to satisfy others;
if, as he believes and is sure, it is true, it will approve itself to
others also, for there is but one truth. And doubtless he does find in
fact, that, allowing for the difference of minds and of modes of speech,
what convinces him, does convince others also. There will be very many
exceptions, but these will admit of explanation. Great numbers of men
refuse to inquire at all; they put the subject of religion aside
altogether; others are not serious enough to care about questions of truth
and duty and to entertain them; and to numbers, from their temper of mind,
or the absence of doubt, or a dormant intellect, it does not occur to
inquire why or what they believe; many, though they tried, could not do so
in any satisfactory way. This being the case, it causes no uneasiness to
any one who honestly attempts to set down his own view of the Evidences of
Religion, that at first sight he seems to be but one among many who are
all in opposition to each other. But, however that may be, he brings
together his reasons, and relies on them, because they are his own, and
this is his primary evidence; and he has a second ground of evidence, in
the testimony of those who agree with him. But his best evidence is the
former, which is derived from his own thoughts; and it is that which the
world has a right to demand of him; and therefore his true sobriety and
modesty consists, not in claiming for his conclusions an acceptance or a
scientific approval which is not to be found anywhere, but in stating what
are personally his own grounds for his belief in Natural and Revealed
Religion,—grounds which he holds to be so sufficient, that he thinks that
others do hold them implicitly or in substance, or would hold them, if
they inquired fairly, or will hold if they listen to him, or do not hold
from impediments, invincible or not as it may be, into which he has no
call to inquire. However, his own business is to speak for himself. He
uses the words of the Samaritans to their countrywoman, when our Lord had
remained with them for two days, “Now we believe, not for thy saying, for
we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of
the world.”

In these words it is declared both that the Gospel Revelation is divine,
and that it carries with it the evidence of its divinity; and this is of
course the matter of fact. However, these two attributes need not have
been united; a revelation might have been really given, yet given without
credentials. Our Supreme Master might have imparted to us truths which
nature cannot teach us, without telling us that He had imparted them, as
is actually the case now, as regards heathen countries, into which
portions of revealed truth overflow and penetrate, without their
populations knowing whence those truths came. But the very idea of
Christianity in its profession and history, is something more than this;
it is a “Revelatio revelata;” it is a definite message from God to man
distinctly conveyed by His chosen instruments, and to be received as such
a message; and therefore to be positively acknowledged, embraced, and
maintained as true, on the ground of its being divine, not as true on
intrinsic grounds, not as probably true, or partially true, but as
absolutely certain knowledge, certain in a sense in which nothing else can
be certain, because it comes from Him who neither can deceive nor be

And the whole tenor of Scripture from beginning to end is to this effect:
the matter of revelation is not a mere collection of truths, not a
philosophical view, not a religious sentiment or spirit, not a special
morality,—poured out upon mankind as a stream might pour itself into the
sea, mixing with the world’s thought, modifying, purifying, invigorating
it;—but an authoritative teaching, which bears witness to itself and keeps
itself together as one, in contrast to the assemblage of opinions on all
sides of it, and speaks to all men, as being ever and everywhere one and
the same, and claiming to be received intelligently, by all whom it
addresses, as one doctrine, discipline, and devotion directly given from
above. In consequence, the exhibition of credentials, that is, of
evidence, that it is what it professes to be, is essential to
Christianity, as it comes to us; for we are not left at liberty to pick
and choose out of its contents according to our judgment, but must receive
it all, as we find it, if we accept it at all. It is a religion in
addition to the religion of nature; and as nature has an intrinsic claim
upon us to be obeyed and used, so what is over and above nature, or
supernatural, must also bring with it valid testimonials of its right to
demand our homage.

Next, as to its relation to nature. As I have said, Christianity is simply
an addition to it; it does not supersede or contradict it; it recognizes
and depends on it, and that of necessity: for how possibly can it prove
its claims except by an appeal to what men have already? be it ever so
miraculous, it cannot dispense with nature; this would be to cut the
ground from under it; for what would be the worth of evidences in favour
of a revelation which denied the authority of that system of thought, and
those courses of reasoning, out of which those evidences necessarily grew?

And in agreement with this obvious conclusion we find in Scripture our
Lord and His Apostles always treating Christianity as the completion and
supplement of Natural Religion, and of previous revelations; as when He
says that the Father testified of Him; that not to know Him was not to
know the Father; and as St. Paul at Athens appeals to the “Unknown God,”
and says that “He that made the world” “now declareth to all men to do
penance, because He hath appointed a day to judge the world by the man
whom He hath appointed.” As then our Lord and His Apostles appeal to the
God of nature, we must follow them in that appeal; and, to do this with
the better effect, we must first inquire into the chief doctrines and the
grounds of Natural Religion.

§ 1. Natural Religion.

By Religion I mean the knowledge of God, of His Will, and of our duties
towards Him; and there are three main channels which Nature furnishes for
our acquiring this knowledge, viz. our own minds, the voice of mankind,
and the course of the world, that is, of human life and human affairs. The
informations which these three convey to us teach us the Being and
Attributes of God, our responsibility to Him, our dependence on Him, our
prospect of reward or punishment, to be somehow brought about, according
as we obey or disobey Him. And the most authoritative of these three means
of knowledge, as being specially our own, is our own mind, whose
informations give us the rule by which we test, interpret, and correct
what is presented to us for belief, whether by the universal testimony of
mankind, or by the history of society and of the world.

Our great internal teacher of religion is, as I have said in an earlier
part of this Essay, our Conscience.(34) Conscience is a personal guide,
and I use it because I must use myself; I am as little able to think by
any mind but my own as to breathe with another’s lungs. Conscience is
nearer to me than any other means of knowledge. And as it is given to me,
so also is it given to others; and being carried about by every individual
in his own breast, and requiring nothing besides itself, it is thus
adapted for the communication to each separately of that knowledge which
is most momentous to him individually,—adapted for the use of all classes
and conditions of men, for high and low, young and old, men and women,
independently of books, of educated reasoning, of physical knowledge, or
of philosophy. Conscience, too, teaches us, not only that God is, but what
He is; it provides for the mind a real image of Him, as a medium of
worship; it gives us a rule of right and wrong, as being His rule, and a
code of moral duties. Moreover, it is so constituted that, if obeyed, it
becomes clearer in its injunctions, and wider in their range, and corrects
and completes the accidental feebleness of its initial teachings.
Conscience, then, considered as our guide, is fully furnished for its
office. I say all this without entering into the question how far external
assistances are in all cases necessary to the action of the mind, because
in fact man does not live in isolation, but is everywhere found as a
member of society. I am not concerned here with abstract questions.

Now Conscience suggests to us many things about that Master, whom by means
of it we perceive, but its most prominent teaching, and its cardinal and
distinguishing truth, is that He is our Judge. In consequence, the special
Attribute under which it brings Him before us, to which it subordinates
all other Attributes, is that of justice—retributive justice. We learn
from its informations to conceive of the Almighty, primarily, not as a God
of Wisdom, of Knowledge, of Power, of Benevolence, but as a God of
Judgment and Justice; as One, who not simply for the good of the offender,
but as an end good in itself, and as a principle of government, ordains
that the offender should suffer for his offence. If it tells us anything
at all of the characteristics of the Divine Mind, it certainly tells us
this; and, considering that our shortcomings are far more frequent and
important than our fulfilment of the duties enjoined upon us, and that of
this point we are fully aware ourselves, it follows that the aspect under
which Almighty God is presented to us by Nature, is (to use a figure) of
One who is angry with us, and threatens evil. Hence its effect is to
burden and sadden the religious mind, and is in contrast with the
enjoyment derivable from the exercise of the affections, and from the
perception of beauty, whether in the material universe or in the creations
of the intellect. This is that fearful antagonism brought out with such
soul-piercing reality by Lucretius, when he speaks so dishonourably of
what he considers the heavy yoke of religion, and the “æternas pœnas in
morte timendum;” and, on the other hand, rejoices in his “Alma Venus,”
“quæ rerum naturam sola gubernas.” And we may appeal to him for the fact,
while we repudiate his view of it.

Such being the _primâ facie_ aspect of religion which the teachings of
Conscience bring before us individually, in the next place let us consider
what are the doctrines, and what the influences of religion, as we find it
embodied in those various rites and devotions which have taken root in the
many races of mankind, since the beginning of history, and before history,
all over the earth. Of these also Lucretius gives us a specimen; and they
accord in form and complexion with that doctrine about duty and
responsibility, which he so bitterly hates and loathes. It is scarcely
necessary to insist, that wherever Religion exists in a popular shape, it
has almost invariably worn its dark side outwards. It is founded in one
way or other on the sense of sin; and without that vivid sense it would
hardly have any precepts or any observances. Its many varieties all
proclaim or imply that man is in a degraded, servile condition, and
requires expiation, reconciliation, and some great change of nature. This
is suggested to us in the many ways in which we are told of a realm of
light and a realm of darkness, of an elect fold and a regenerate state. It
is suggested in the almost ubiquitous and ever-recurring institution of a
Priesthood; for wherever there is a priest, there is the notion of sin,
pollution, and retribution, as, on the other hand, of intercession and
mediation. Also, still more directly, is the notion of our guilt impressed
upon us by the doctrine of future punishment, and that eternal, which is
found in mythologies and creeds of such various parentage.

Of these distinct rites and doctrines embodying the severe side of Natural
Religion, the most remarkable is that of atonement, that is, “a
substitution of something offered, or some personal suffering, for a
penalty which would otherwise be exacted;” most remarkable, I say, both
from its close connexion with the notion of vicarious satisfaction, and,
on the other hand, from its universality. “The practice of atonement,”
says the author, whose definition of the word I have just given, “is
remarkable for its antiquity and universality, proved by the earliest
records that have come down to us of all nations, and by the testimony of
ancient and modern travellers. In the oldest books of the Hebrew
Scriptures, we have numerous instances of expiatory rites, where atonement
is the prominent feature. At the earliest date, to which we can carry our
inquiries by means of the heathen records, we meet with the same notion of
atonement. If we pursue our inquiries through the accounts left us by the
Greek and Roman writers of the barbarous nations with which they were
acquainted, from India to Britain, we shall find the same notions and
similar practices of atonement. From the most popular portion of our own
literature, our narratives of voyages and travels, every one, probably,
who reads at all will be able to find for himself abundant proof that the
notion has been as permanent as it is universal. It shows itself among the
various tribes of Africa, the islanders of the South Seas, and even that
most peculiar race, the natives of Australia, either in the shape of some
offering, or some mutilation of the person.(35)”

These ceremonial acknowledgments, in so many distinct forms of worship, of
the existing degradation of the human race, of course imply a brighter, as
well as a threatening aspect of Natural Religion; for why should men adopt
any rites of deprecation or of purification at all, unless they had some
hope of attaining to a better condition than their present? Of this
happier side of religion I will speak presently; here, however, a question
of another kind occurs, viz. whether the notion of atonement can be
admitted among the doctrines of Natural Religion,—I mean, on the ground
that it is inconsistent with those teachings of Conscience, which I have
recognized above, as the rule and corrective of every other information on
the subject. If there is any truth brought home to us by conscience, it is
this, that we are personally responsible for what we do, that we have no
means of shifting our responsibility, and that dereliction of duty
involves punishment; how, it may be asked, can acts of ours of any
kind—how can even amendment of life—undo the past? And if even our own
subsequent acts of obedience bring with them no promise of reversing what
has once been committed, how can external rites, or the actions of another
(as of a priest), be substitutes for that punishment which is the
connatural fruit and intrinsic development of violation of the sense of
duty? I think this objection avails as far as this, that amendment is no
reparation, and that no ceremonies or penances can in themselves exercise
any vicarious virtue in our behalf; and that, if they avail, they only
avail in the intermediate season of probation; that in some way we must
make them our own; and that, when the time comes, which conscience
forebodes, of our being called to judgment, then, at least, we shall have
to stand in and by ourselves, whatever we shall have by that time become,
and must bear our own burden. But it is plain that in this final account,
as it lies between us and our Master, He alone can decide how the past and
the present will stand together who is our Creator and our Judge.

In thus making it a necessary point to adjust the religions of the world
with the intimations of our conscience, I am suggesting the reason why I
confine myself to such religions as have had their rise in barbarous
times, and do not recognize the religion of what is called civilization,
as having legitimately a part in the delineation of Natural Religion. It
may at first sight seem strange, that, considering I have laid such stress
upon the progressive nature of man, I should take my ideas of his religion
from his initial, and not his final testimony about its doctrines; and it
may be urged that the religion of civilized times is quite opposite in
character to the rites and traditions of barbarians, and has nothing of
that gloom and sternness, on which I have insisted as their
characteristic. Thus the Greek Mythology was for the most part cheerful
and graceful, and the new gods certainly more genial and indulgent than
the old ones. And, in like manner, the religion of philosophy is more
noble and more humane than those primitive conceptions which were
sufficient for early kings and warriors. But my answer to this objection
is obvious: the progress of which man’s nature is capable is a
development, not a destruction of its original state; it must subserve the
elements from which it proceeds, in order to be a true development and not
a perversion.(36)

And it does in fact subserve and complete that nature with which man is
born. It is otherwise with the religion of so-called civilization; such
religion does but contradict the religion of barbarism; and since this
civilization itself is not a development of man’s whole nature, but mainly
of the intellect, recognizing indeed the moral sense, but ignoring the
conscience, no wonder that the religion in which it issues has no sympathy
either with the hopes and fears of the awakened soul, or with those
frightful presentiments which are expressed in the worship and traditions
of the heathen. This artificial religion, then, has no place in the
inquiry; first, because it comes of a one-sided progress of mind, and
next, for the very reason that it contradicts informants which speak with
greater authority than itself.

Now we come to the third natural informant on the subject of Religion; I
mean the system and the course of the world. This established order of
things, in which we find ourselves, if it has a Creator, must surely speak
of His will in its broad outlines and its main issues. This principle
being laid down as certain, when we come to apply it to things as they
are, our first feeling is one of surprise and (I may say) of dismay, that
His control of the world is so indirect, and His action so obscure. This
is the first lesson that we gain from the course of human affairs. What
strikes the mind so forcibly and so painfully is, His absence (if I may so
speak) from His own world.(37) It is a silence that speaks. It is as if
others had got possession of His work. Why does not He, our Maker and
Ruler, give us some immediate knowledge of Himself? Why does He not write
His Moral Nature in large letters upon the face of history, and bring the
blind, tumultuous rush of its events into a celestial, hierarchical order?
Why does He not grant us in the structure of society at least so much of a
revelation of Himself as the religions of the heathen attempt to supply?
Why from the beginning of time has no one uniform steady light guided all
families of the earth, and all individual men, how to please Him? Why is
it possible without absurdity to deny His will, His attributes, His
existence? Why does He not walk with us one by one, as He is said to have
walked with His chosen men of old time? We both see and know each other;
why, if we cannot have the sight of Him, have we not at least the
knowledge? On the contrary, He is specially “a Hidden God;” and with our
best efforts we can only glean from the surface of the world some faint
and fragmentary views of Him. I see only a choice of alternatives in
explanation of so critical a fact:—either there is no Creator, or He has
disowned His creatures. Are then the dim shadows of His Presence in the
affairs of men but a fancy of our own, or, on the other hand, has He hid
His face and the light of His countenance, because we have in some special
way dishonoured Him? My true informant, my burdened conscience, gives me
at once the true answer to each of these antagonist questions:—it
pronounces without any misgiving that God exists:—and it pronounces quite
as surely that I am alienated from Him; that “His Hand is not shortened,
but that our iniquities have divided between us and our God.” Thus it
solves the world’s mystery, and sees in that mystery only a confirmation
of its own original teaching.

Let us pass on to another great fact of experience, bearing on Religion,
which confirms this testimony both of conscience and of the forms of
worship which prevail among mankind;—I mean, the amount of suffering,
bodily and mental, which is our portion in this life. Not only is the
Creator far off, but some being of malignant nature seems, as I have said,
to have got hold of us, and to be making us his sport. Let us say there
are a thousand millions of men on the earth at this time; who can weigh
and measure the aggregate of pain which this one generation has endured
and will endure from birth to death? Then add to this all the pain which
has fallen and will fall upon our race through centuries past and to come.
Is there not then some great gulf fixed between us and the good God? Here
again the testimony of the system of nature is more than corroborated by
those popular traditions about the unseen state, which are found in
mythologies and superstitions, ancient and modern; for those traditions
speak, not only of present misery, but of pain and evil hereafter, and
even without end. But this dreadful addition is not necessary for the
conclusion which I am here wishing to draw. The real mystery is, not that
evil should never have an end, but that it should ever have had a
beginning. Even a universal restitution could not undo what had been, or
account for evil being the necessary condition of good. How are we to
explain it, the existence of God being taken for granted, except by saying
that another will, besides His, has had a part in the disposition of His
work, that there is an intractable quarrel, a chronic alienation, between
God and man?

I have implied that the laws on which this world is governed do not go so
far as to prove that evil will never die out of the creation;
nevertheless, they look in that direction. No experience indeed of life
can assure us about the future, but it can and does give us means of
conjecturing what is likely to be; and those conjectures coincide with our
natural forebodings. Experience enables us to ascertain the moral
constitution of man, and thereby to presage his future from his present.
It teaches us, first, that he is not sufficient for his own happiness, but
is dependent upon the sensible objects which surround him, and that these
he cannot take with him when he leaves the world; secondly, that
disobedience to his sense of right is even by itself misery, and that he
carries that misery about him, wherever he is, though no divine
retribution followed upon it; and thirdly, that he cannot change his
nature and his habits by wishing, but is simply himself, and will ever be
himself and what he now is, wherever he is, as long as he continues to
be,—or at least that pain has no natural tendency to make him other than
he is, and that the longer he lives, the more difficult he is to change.
How can we meet these not irrational anticipations, except by shutting our
eyes, turning away from them, and saying that we have no call, no right,
to think of them at present, or to make ourselves miserable about what is
not certain, and may be not true?(38)

Such is the severe aspect of Natural Religion: also it is the most
prominent aspect, because the multitude of men follow their own likings
and wills, and not the decisions of their sense of right and wrong. To
them Religion is a mere yoke, as Lucretius describes it; not a
satisfaction or refuge, but a terror and a superstition. However, I must
not for an instant be supposed to mean, that this is its only, its chief,
or its legitimate aspect. All Religion, so far as it is genuine, is a
blessing, Natural as well as Revealed. I have insisted on its severe
aspect in the first place, because, from the circumstances of human
nature, though not by the fault of Religion, such is the shape in which we
first encounter it. Its large and deep foundation is the sense of sin and
guilt, and without this sense there is for man, as he is, no genuine
religion. Otherwise, it is but counterfeit and hollow; and that is the
reason why this so-called religion of civilization and philosophy is so
great a mockery. However, true as this judgment is which I pass on
philosophical religion, and troubled as are the existing relations between
God and man, as both the voice of mankind and the facts of Divine
Government testify, equally true are other general laws which govern those
relations, and they speak another language, and compensate for what is
stern in the teaching of nature, without tending to deny that sternness.

The first of these laws, relieving the aspect of Natural Religion, is the
very fact that religious beliefs and institutions, of some kind or other,
are of such general acceptance in all times and places. Why should men
subject themselves to the tyranny which Lucretius denounces, unless they
had either experience or hope of benefits to themselves by so doing?
Though it be mere hope of benefits, that alone is a great alleviation of
the gloom and misery which their religious rites presuppose or occasion;
for thereby they have a prospect, more or less clear, of some happier
state in reserve for them, or at least the chances of it. If they simply
despaired of their fortunes, they would not care about religion. And hope
of future good, as we know, sweetens all suffering.

Moreover, they have an earnest of that future in the real and recurring
blessings of life, the enjoyment of the gifts of the earth, and of
domestic affection and social intercourse, which is sufficient to touch
and to subdue even the most guilty of men in his better moments, reminding
him that he is not utterly cast off by Him whom nevertheless he is not
given to know. Or, in the Apostle’s words, though the Creator once
“suffered all nations to walk in their own ways,” still, “He left not
Himself without testimony, doing good from heaven, giving rains and
fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

Nor are these blessings of physical nature the only tokens in the Divine
System, which in that heathen time, and indeed in every age, bring home to
our experience the fact of a Good God, in spite of the tumult and
confusion of the world. It is possible to give an interpretation to the
course of things, by which every event or occurrence in its order becomes
providential: and though that interpretation does not hold good unless the
world is contemplated from a particular point of view, in one given
aspect, and with certain inward experiences, and personal first principles
and judgments, yet these may be fairly pronounced to be common conditions
of human thought, that is, till they are wilfully or accidentally lost;
and they issue in fact, in leading the great majority of men to recognize
the Hand of unseen power, directing in mercy or in judgment the physical
and moral system. In the prominent events of the world, past and
contemporary, the fate, evil or happy, of great men, the rise and fall of
states, popular revolutions, decisive battles, the migration of races, the
replenishing of the earth, earthquakes and pestilences, critical
discoveries and inventions, the history of philosophy, the advancement of
knowledge, in these the spontaneous piety of the human mind discerns a
Divine Supervision. Nay, there is a general feeling, originating directly
in the workings of conscience, that a similar governance is extended over
the persons of individuals, who thereby both fulfil the purposes and
receive the just recompenses of an Omnipotent Providence. Good to the
good, and evil to the evil, is instinctively felt to be, even from what we
see, amid whatever obscurity and confusion, the universal rule of God’s
dealings with us. Hence come the great proverbs, indigenous in both
Christian and heathen nations, that punishment is sure, though slow, that
murder will out, that treason never prospers, that pride will have a fall,
that honesty is the best policy, and that curses fall on the heads of
those who utter them. To the unsophisticated apprehension of the many, the
successive passages of life, social or political, are so many miracles, if
that is to be accounted miraculous which brings before them the immediate
Divine Presence; and should it be objected that this is an illogical
exercise of reason, I answer, that since it actually brings them to a
right conclusion, and was intended to bring them to it, if logic finds
fault with it, so much the worse for logic.

Again, prayer is essential to religion, and, where prayer is, there is a
natural relief and solace in all trouble, great or ordinary: now prayer is
not less general in mankind at large than is faith in Providence. It has
ever been in use, both as a personal and as a social practice. Here again,
if, in order to determine what the Religion of Nature is, we may justly
have recourse to the spontaneous acts and proceedings of our race, as
viewed on a large field, we may safely say that prayer, as well as hope,
is a constituent of man’s religion. Nor is it a fair objection to this
argument, to say that such prayers and rites as have obtained in various
places and times, are in their character, object, and scope inconsistent
with each other; because their contrarieties do not come into the idea of
religion, as such, at all, and the very fact of their discordance destroys
their right to be taken into account, so far as they are discordant; for
what is not universal has no claim to be considered natural, right, or of
divine origin. Thus we may determine prayer to be part of Natural
Religion, from such instances of the usage as are supplied by the priests
of Baal and by dancing Dervishes, without therefore including in our
notions of prayer the frantic excesses of the one, or the artistic
spinning of the other, or sanctioning their respective objects of belief,
Baal or Mahomet.

As prayer is the voice of man to God, so Revelation is the voice of God to
man. Accordingly, it is another alleviation of the darkness and distress
which weigh upon the religions of the world, that in one way or other such
religions are founded on some idea of express revelation, coming from the
unseen agents whose anger they deprecate; nay, that the very rites and
observances, by which they hope to gain the favour of these beings, are by
these beings themselves communicated and appointed. The Religion of Nature
is not a deduction of reason, or the joint, voluntary manifesto of a
multitude meeting together and pledging themselves to each other, as men
move resolutions now for some political or social purpose, but it is a
tradition or an interposition vouchsafed to a people from above. To such
an interposition men even ascribed their civil polity or citizenship,
which did not originate in any plebiscite, but in _dii minores_ or heroes,
was inaugurated with portents or palladia, and protected and prospered by
oracles and auguries. Here is an evidence, too, how congenial the notion
of a revelation is to the human mind, so that the expectation of it may
truly be considered an integral part of Natural Religion.

Among the observances imposed by these professed revelations, none is more
remarkable, or more general, than the rite of sacrifice, in which guilt
was removed or blessing gained by an offering, which availed instead of
the merits of the offerer. This, too, as well as the notion of divine
interpositions, may be considered almost an integral part of the Religion
of Nature, and an alleviation of its gloom. But it does not stand by
itself; I have already spoken of the doctrine of atonement, under which it
falls, and which, if what is universal is natural, enters into the idea of
religious service. And what the nature of man suggests, the providential
system of the world sanctions by enforcing. It is the law, or the
permission, given to our whole race, to use the Apostle’s words, to “bear
one another’s burdens;” and this, as I said when on the subject of
Atonement, is quite consistent with his antithesis that “every one must
bear his own burden.” The final burden of responsibility when we are
called to judgment is our own; but among the media by which we are
prepared for that judgment are the exertions and pains taken in our behalf
by others. On this vicarious principle, by which we appropriate to
ourselves what others do for us, the whole structure of society is raised.
Parents work and endure pain, that their children may prosper; children
suffer for the sin of their parents, who have died before it bore fruit.
“Delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi.” Sometimes it is a compulsory,
sometimes a willing mediation. The punishment which is earned by the
husband falls upon the wife; the benefits in which all classes partake are
wrought out by the unhealthy or dangerous toil of the few. Soldiers endure
wounds and death for those who sit at home; and ministers of state fall
victims to their zeal for their countrymen, who do little else than
criticize their actions. And so in some measure or way this law embraces
all of us. We all suffer for each other, and gain by each other’s
sufferings; for man never stands alone here, though he will stand by
himself one day hereafter; but here he is a social being, and goes forward
to his long home as one of a large company.

Butler, it need scarcely be said, is the great master of this doctrine, as
it is brought out in the system of nature. In answer to the objection to
the Christian doctrine of satisfaction, that it “represents God as
indifferent whether He punishes the innocent or the guilty,” he observes
that “the world is a constitution or system, whose parts have a mutual
reference to each other; and that there is a scheme of things gradually
carrying on, called the course of nature, to the carrying on of which God
has appointed us, in various ways, to contribute. And in the daily course
of natural providence, it is appointed that innocent people should suffer
for the faults of the guilty. Finally, indeed and upon the whole, every
one shall receive according to his personal deserts; but during the
progress, and, for aught we know, even in order to the completion of this
moral scheme, vicarious punishments may be fit, and absolutely necessary.
We see in what variety of ways one person’s sufferings contribute to the
relief of another; and being familiarized to it, men are not shocked with
it. So the reason of their insisting on objections against the [doctrine
of] satisfaction is, either that they do not consider God’s settled and
uniform appointments as His appointments at all; or else they forget that
vicarious punishment is a providential appointment of every day’s
experience.(39)” I will but add, that, since all human suffering is in its
last resolution the punishment of sin, and punishment implies a Judge and
a rule of justice, he who undergoes the punishment of another in his stead
may be said in a certain sense to satisfy the claims of justice towards
that other in his own person.

One concluding remark has to be made here. In all sacrifices it was
specially required that the thing offered should be something rare, and
unblemished; and in like manner in all atonements and all satisfactions,
not only was the innocent taken for the guilty, but it was a point of
special importance that the victim should be spotless, and the more
manifest that spotlessness, the more efficacious was the sacrifice. This
leads me to a last principle which I shall notice as proper to Natural
Religion, and as lightening the prophecies of evil in which it is founded;
I mean the doctrine of meritorious intercession. The man in the Gospel did
but speak for the human race everywhere, when he said, “God heareth not
sinners; but if a man be a worshipper of God, and doth His will, him He
heareth.” Hence every religion has had its eminent devotees, exalted above
the body of the people, mortified men, brought nearer to the Source of
good by austerities, self-inflictions, and prayer, who have influence with
Him, and extend a shelter and gain blessings for those who become their
clients. A belief like this has been, of course, attended by numberless
superstitions; but those superstitions vary with times and places, and the
belief itself in the mediatorial power of the good and holy has been one
and the same everywhere. Nor is this belief an idea of past times only or
of heathen countries. It is one of the most natural visions of the young
and innocent. And all of us, the more keenly we feel our own distance from
holy persons, the more are we drawn near to them, as if forgetting that
distance, and proud of them because they are so unlike ourselves, as being
specimens of what our nature may be, and with some vague hope that we,
their relations by blood, may profit in our own persons by their holiness.

Such, then, in outline is that system of natural beliefs and sentiments,
which, though true and divine, is still possible to us independently of
Revelation, and is the preparation for it; though in Christians themselves
it cannot really be separated from their Christianity, and never is
possessed in its higher forms in any people without some portion of those
inward aids which Christianity imparts to us, and those endemic traditions
which have their first origin in a paradisiacal illumination.

§ 2. Revealed Religion.

In determining, as above, the main features of Natural Religion, and
distinguishing it from the religion of philosophy or civilization, I may
be accused of having taken a course of my own, for which I have no
sufficient warrant. Such an accusation does not give me much concern.
Every one who thinks on these subjects takes a course of his own, though
it will also happen to be the course which others take besides himself.
The minds of many separately bear them forward in the same direction, and
they are confirmed in it by each other. This I consider to be my own case;
if I have mis-stated or omitted notorious facts in my account of Natural
Religion, if I have contradicted or disregarded anything which He who
speaks through my conscience has told us all directly from Heaven, then
indeed I have acted unjustifiably and have something to unsay; but, if I
have done no more than view the notorious facts of the case in the medium
of my primary mental experiences, under the aspects which they
spontaneously present to me, and with the aid of my best illative sense, I
only do on one side of the question what those who think differently do on
the other. As they start with one set of first principles, I start with
another. I gave notice just now that I should offer my own witness in the
matter in question; though of course it would not be worth while my
offering it, unless what I felt myself agreed with what is felt by
hundreds and thousands besides me, as I am sure it does, whatever be the
measure, more or less, of their explicit recognition of it.

In thus speaking of Natural Religion as in one sense a matter of private
judgment, and that with a view of proceeding from it to the proof of
Christianity, I seem to give up the intention of demonstrating either.
Certainly I do; not that I deny that demonstration is possible. Truth
certainly, as such, rests upon grounds intrinsically and objectively and
abstractedly demonstrative, but it does not follow from this that the
arguments producible in its favour are unanswerable and irresistible.
These latter epithets are relative, and bear upon matters of fact;
arguments in themselves ought to do, what perhaps in the particular case
they cannot do. The fact of revelation is in itself demonstrably true, but
it is not therefore true irresistibly; else, how comes it to be resisted?
There is a vast distance between what it is in itself, and what it is to
us. Light is a quality of matter, as truth is of Christianity; but light
is not recognized by the blind, and there are those who do not recognize
truth, from the fault, not of truth, but of themselves. I cannot convert
men, when I ask for assumptions which they refuse to grant to me; and
without assumptions no one can prove anything about anything.

I am suspicious then of scientific demonstrations in a question of
concrete fact, in a discussion between fallible men. However, let those
demonstrate who have the gift; “unusquisque in suo sensu abundet.” For me,
it is more congenial to my own judgment to attempt to prove Christianity
in the same informal way in which I can prove for certain that I have been
born into this world, and that I shall die out of it. It is pleasant to my
own feelings to follow a theological writer, such as Amort, who has
dedicated to the great Pope, Benedict XIV., what he calls “a new, modest,
and easy way of demonstrating the Catholic Religion.” In this work he
adopts the argument merely of the _greater_ probability;(40) I prefer to
rely on that of an _accumulation_ of various probabilities; but we both
hold (that is, I hold with him), that from probabilities we may construct
legitimate proof, sufficient for certitude. I follow him in holding, that,
since a Good Providence watches over us, He blesses such means of argument
as it has pleased Him to give us, in the nature of man and of the world,
if we use them duly for those ends for which He has given them; and that,
as in mathematics we are justified by the dictate of nature in withholding
our assent from a conclusion of which we have not yet a strict logical
demonstration, so by a like dictate we are not justified, in the case of
concrete reasoning and especially of religious inquiry, in waiting till
such logical demonstration is ours, but on the contrary are bound in
conscience to seek truth and to look for certainty by modes of proof,
which, when reduced to the shape of formal propositions, fail to satisfy
the severe requisitions of science.(41)

Here then at once is one momentous doctrine or principle, which enters
into my own reasoning, and which another ignores, viz. the providence and
intention of God; and of course there are other principles, explicit or
implicit, which are in like circumstances. It is not wonderful then, that,
while I can prove Christianity divine to my own satisfaction, I shall not
be able to force it upon any one else. Multitudes indeed I ought to
succeed in persuading of its truth without any force at all, because they
and I start from the same principles, and what is a proof to me is a proof
to them; but if any one starts from any other principles but ours, I have
not the power to change his principles or the conclusion which he draws
from them, any more than I can make a crooked man straight. Whether his
mind will ever grow straight, whether I can do anything towards its
becoming straight, whether he is not responsible, responsible to his
Maker, for being mentally crooked, is another matter; still the fact
remains, that, in any inquiry about things in the concrete, men differ
from each other, not so much in the soundness of their reasoning as in the
principles which govern its exercise, that those principles are of a
personal character, that where there is no common measure of minds, there
is no common measure of arguments, and that the validity of proof is
determined, not by any scientific test, but by the illative sense.

Accordingly, instead of saying that the truths of Revelation depend on
those of Natural Religion, it is more pertinent to say that belief in
revealed truths depends on belief in natural. Belief is a state of mind;
belief generates belief; states of mind correspond to each other; the
habits of thought and the reasonings which lead us on to a higher state of
belief than our present, are the very same which we already possess in
connexion with the lower state. Those Jews became Christians in Apostolic
times who were already what may be called crypto-Christians; and those
Christians in this day remain Christian only in name, and (if it so
happen) at length fall away, who are nothing deeper or better than men of
the world, _savants_, literary men, or politicians.

That a special preparation of mind is required for each separate
department of inquiry and discussion (excepting, of course, that of
abstract science) is strongly insisted upon in well-known passages of the
Nicomachean Ethics. Speaking of the variations which are found in the
logical perfection of proof in various subject-matters, Aristotle says, “A
well-educated man will expect exactness in every class of subjects,
according as the nature of the thing admits; for it is much the same
mistake to put up with a mathematician using probabilities, and to require
demonstration of an orator. Each man judges skilfully in those things
about which he is well-informed; it is of these, that he is a good judge;
viz. he, in each subject-matter, is a judge, who is well-educated in that
subject-matter, and he is in an absolute sense a judge, who is in all of
them well-educated.” Again: “Young men come to be mathematicians and the
like, but they cannot possess practical judgment; for this talent is
employed upon individual facts, and these are learned only by experience;
and a youth has not experience, for experience is only gained by a course
of years. And so, again, it would appear that a boy may be a
mathematician, but not a philosopher, or learned in physics, and for this
reason,—because the one study deals with abstractions, while the other
studies gain their principles from experience, and in the latter subjects
youths do not give assent, but make assertions, but in the former they
know what it is that they are handling.”

These words of a heathen philosopher, laying down broad principles about
all knowledge, express a general rule, which in Scripture is applied
authoritatively to the case of revealed knowledge in particular;—and that
not once or twice only, but continually, as is notorious. For instance:—“I
have understood,” says the Psalmist, “more than all my teachers, because
Thy testimonies are my meditation.” And so our Lord: “He that hath ears,
let him hear.” “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the
doctrine.” And “He that is of God, heareth the words of God.” Thus too the
Angels at the Nativity announce “Peace to men of good will.” And we read
in the Acts of the Apostles of “Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened to
attend to those things which were said by Paul.” And we are told on
another occasion, that “as many as were ordained,” or disposed by God, “to
life everlasting, believed.” And St. John tells us, “He that knoweth God,
heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth us not; by this we know the
spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”


Relying then on these authorities, human and Divine, I have no scruple in
beginning the review I shall take of Christianity by professing to consult
for those only whose minds are properly prepared for it; and by being
prepared, I mean to denote those who are imbued with the religious
opinions and sentiments which I have identified with Natural Religion. I
do not address myself to those, who in moral evil and physical see nothing
more than imperfections of a parallel nature; who consider that the
difference in gravity between the two is one of degree only, not of kind;
that moral evil is merely the offspring of physical, and that as we remove
the latter so we inevitably remove the former; that there is a progress of
the human race which tends to the annihilation of moral evil; that
knowledge is virtue, and vice is ignorance; that sin is a bugbear, not a
reality; that the Creator does not punish except in the sense of
correcting; that vengeance in Him would of necessity be vindictiveness;
that all that we know of Him, be it much or little, is through the laws of
nature; that miracles are impossible; that prayer to Him is a
superstition; that the fear of Him is unmanly; that sorrow for sin is
slavish and abject; that the only intelligible worship of Him is to act
well our part in the world, and the only sensible repentance to do better
in future; that if we do our duties in this life, we may take our chance
for the next; and that it is of no use perplexing our minds about the
future state, for it is all a matter of guess. These opinions characterize
a civilized age; and if I say that I will not argue about Christianity
with men who hold them, I do so, not as claiming any right to be impatient
or peremptory with any one, but because it is plainly absurd to attempt to
prove a second proposition to those who do not admit the first.

I assume then that the above system of opinion is simply false, inasmuch
as it contradicts the primary teachings of nature in the human race,
wherever a religion is found and its workings can be ascertained. I assume
the Presence of God in our conscience, and the universal experience, as
keen as our experience of bodily pain, of what we call a sense of sin or
guilt. This sense of sin, as of something not only evil in itself, but an
affront to the good God, is chiefly felt as regards one or other of three
violations of His Law. He Himself is Sanctity, Truth, and Love; and the
three offences against His Majesty are impurity, inveracity, and cruelty.
All men are not distressed at these offences alike; but the piercing pain
and sharp remorse which one or other inflicts upon the mind, till
habituated to them, brings home to it the notion of what sin is, and is
the vivid type and representative of its intrinsic hatefulness.

Starting from these elements, we may determine without difficulty the
class of sentiments, intellectual and moral, which constitute the formal
preparation for entering upon what are called the Evidences of
Christianity. These Evidences, then, presuppose a belief and perception of
the Divine Presence, a recognition of His attributes and an admiration of
His Person viewed under them, a conviction of the worth of the soul and of
the reality and momentousness of the unseen world, an understanding that,
in proportion as we partake in our own persons of the attributes which we
admire in Him, we are dear to Him, a consciousness on the contrary that we
are far from partaking them, a consequent insight into our guilt and
misery, an eager hope of reconciliation to Him, a desire to know and to
love Him, and a sensitive looking-out in all that happens, whether in the
course of nature or of human life, for tokens, if such there be, of His
bestowing on us what we so greatly need. These are specimens of the state
of mind for which I stipulate in those who would inquire into the truth of
Christianity; and my warrant for so definite a stipulation lies in the
teaching, as I have described it, of conscience and the moral sense, in
the testimony of those religious rites which have ever prevailed in all
parts of the world, and in the character and conduct of those who have
commonly been selected by the popular instinct as the special favourites
of Heaven.


I have appealed to the popular ideas on the subject of religion, and to
the objects of popular admiration and praise, as illustrating my account
of the preparation of mind which is necessary for the inquirer into
Christianity. Here an obvious objection occurs, in noticing which I shall
be advanced one step farther in the work which I have undertaken.

It may be urged, then, that no appeal will avail me, which is made to
religions so notoriously immoral as those of paganism; nor indeed can it
be made without an explanation. Certainly, as regards ethical teaching,
various religions, which have been popular in the world, have not supplied
any; and in the corrupt state in which they appear in history, they are
little better than schools of imposture, cruelty, and impurity. Their
objects of worship were immoral as well as false, and their founders and
heroes have been in keeping with their gods. This is undeniable, but it
does not destroy the use that may be made of their testimony. There is a
better side of their teaching; purity has often been held in reverence, if
not practised; ascetics have been in honour; hospitality has been a sacred
duty; and dishonesty and injustice have been under a ban. Here then, as
before, I take our natural perception of right and wrong as the standard
for determining the characteristics of Natural Religion, and I use the
religious rites and traditions which are actually found in the world, only
so far as they agree with our moral sense.

This leads me to lay down the general principle, which I have all along
implied:—that no religion is from God which contradicts our sense of right
and wrong. Doubtless; but at the same time we ought to be quite sure that,
in a particular case which is before us, we have satisfactorily
ascertained what the dictates of our moral nature are, and that we apply
them rightly, and whether the applying them or not comes into question at
all. The precepts of a religion certainly may be absolutely immoral; a
religion which simply commanded us to lie, or to have a community of
wives, would _ipso facto_ forfeit all claim to a divine origin. Jupiter
and Neptune, as represented in the classical mythology, are evil spirits,
and nothing can make them otherwise. And I should in like manner repudiate
a theology which taught that men were created in order to be wicked and

I alluded just now to those who consider the doctrine of retributive
punishment, or of divine vengeance, to be incompatible with the true
religion; but I do not see how they can maintain their ground. In order to
do so, they have first to prove that an act of vengeance must, as such, be
a sin in our own instance; but even this is far from clear. Anger and
indignation against cruelty and injustice, resentment of injuries, desire
that the false, the ungrateful, and the depraved should meet with
punishment, these, if not in themselves virtuous feelings, are at least
not vicious; but, first from the certainty that, if habitual, it will run
into excess and become sin, and next because the office of punishment has
not been committed to us, and further because it is a feeling unsuitable
to those who are themselves so laden with imperfection and guilt,
therefore vengeance, in itself allowable, is forbidden to us. These
exceptions do not hold in the case of a perfect being, and certainly not
in the instance of the Supreme Judge. Moreover, we see that even men on
earth have different duties, according to their personal qualifications
and their positions in the community. The rule of morals is the same for
all; and yet, notwithstanding, what is right in one is not necessarily
right in another. What would be a crime in a private man to do, is a crime
in a magistrate not to have done; still wider is the difference between
man and his Maker. Nor must it be forgotten, that, as I have observed
above, retributive justice is the very attribute under which God is
primarily brought before us in the teachings of our natural conscience.

And further, we cannot determine the character of particular actions, till
we have the whole case before us out of which they arise; unless, indeed,
they are in themselves distinctively vicious. We all feel the force of the
maxim, “Audi alteram partem.” It is difficult to trace the path and to
determine the scope of Divine Providence. We read of a day when the
Almighty will condescend to place His actions in their completeness before
His creatures, and “will overcome when He is judged.” If, till then, we
feel it to be a duty to suspend our judgment concerning certain of His
actions or precepts, we do no more than what we do every day in the case
of an earthly friend or enemy, whose conduct in some point requires
explanation. It surely is not too much to expect of us that we should act
with parallel caution, and be “memores conditionis nostræ” as regards the
acts of our Creator. There is a poem of Parnell’s which strikingly brings
home to us how differently the divine appointments will look in the light
of day, from what they appear to be in our present twilight. An Angel, in
disguise of a man, steals a golden cup, strangles an infant, and throws a
guide into the stream, and then explains to his horrified companion, that
acts which would be enormities in man, are in him, as God’s minister,
deeds of merciful correction or of retribution.

Moreover, when we are about to pass judgment on the dealings of Providence
with other men, we shall do well to consider first His dealings with
ourselves. We cannot know about others, about ourselves we do know
something; and we know that He has ever been good to us, and not severe.
Is it not wise to argue from what we actually know to what we do not know?
It may turn out in the day of account, that unforgiven souls, while
charging His laws with injustice in the case of others, may be unable to
find fault with His dealings severally towards themselves.

As to those various religions which, together with Christianity, teach the
doctrine of eternal punishment, here again we ought, before we judge, to
understand, not only the whole state of the case, but what is meant by the
doctrine itself. Eternity, or endlessness, is in itself only a negative
idea, though punishment is positive. Its fearful force, as added to
punishment, lies in what it is not; it means no change of state, no
annihilation, no restoration. But it cannot become a quality of
punishment, any more than a man’s living seventy years is a quality of his
mind, or enters into the idea of his virtues or talents. If punishment be
attended by continuity, by a sense of duration and succession, by the
mental presence of its past and its future, by a sustained power of
realizing it,(42) this must be because it is endless and something more;
such inflictions are an addition to its endlessness, and do not
necessarily belong to it because it is endless. As I have already said,
the great mystery is, not that evil has no end, but that it had a
beginning. But I submit the whole subject to the Theological School.


One of the most important effects of Natural Religion on the mind, in
preparation for Revealed, is the anticipation which it creates, that a
Revelation will be given. That earnest desire of it, which religious minds
cherish, leads the way to the expectation of it. Those who know nothing of
the wounds of the soul, are not led to deal with the question, or to
consider its circumstances; but when our attention is roused, then the
more steadily we dwell upon it, the more probable does it seem that a
revelation has been or will be given to us. This presentiment is founded
on our sense, on the one hand, of the infinite goodness of God, and, on
the other, of our own extreme misery and need—two doctrines which are the
primary constituents of Natural Religion. It is difficult to put a limit
to the legitimate force of this antecedent probability. Some minds will
feel it so powerfully, as to recognize in it almost a proof, without
direct evidence, of the divinity of a religion claiming to be the true,
supposing its history and doctrine are free from positive objection, and
there be no rival religion with plausible claims of its own. Nor ought
this trust in a presumption to seem preposterous to those who are so
confident, on _à priori_ grounds, that the moon is inhabited by rational
beings, and that the course of nature is never crossed by miraculous
agency. Any how, very little positive evidence seems to be necessary, when
the mind is penetrated by the strong anticipation which I am supposing. It
was this instinctive apprehension, as we may conjecture, which carried on
Dionysius and Damaris at Athens to a belief in Christianity, though St.
Paul did no miracle there, and only asserted the doctrines of the Divine
Unity, the Resurrection, and the universal judgment, while, on the other
hand, it had had no tendency to attach them to any of the mythological
rites in which the place abounded.

Here my method of argument differs from that adopted by Paley in his
Evidences of Christianity. This clear-headed and almost mathematical
reasoner postulates, for his proof of its miracles, only thus much, that,
under the circumstances of the case, a revelation is not improbable. He
says, “We do not assume the attributes of the Deity, or the existence of a
future state.” “It is not necessary for our purpose that these
propositions (viz. that a future existence should be destined by God for
His human creation, and that, being so destined, He should have acquainted
them with it,) be capable of proof, or even that, by arguments drawn from
the light of nature, they can be made out as probable; it is enough that
we are able to say of them, that they are not so violently improbable, so
contradictory to what we already believe of the divine power and
character, that [they] ought to be rejected at first sight, and to be
rejected by whatever strength or complication of evidence they be
attested.” He has such confidence in the strength of the testimony which
he can produce in favour of the Christian miracles, that he only asks to
be allowed to bring it into court.

I confess to much suspicion of legal proceedings and legal arguments, when
used in questions whether of history or of philosophy. Rules of court are
dictated by what is expedient on the whole and in the long run; but they
incur the risk of being unjust to the claims of particular cases. Why am I
to begin with taking up a position not my own, and unclothing my mind of
that large outfit of existing thoughts, principles, likings, desires, and
hopes, which make me what I am? If I am asked to use Paley’s argument for
my own conversion, I say plainly I do not want to be converted by a smart
syllogism;(43) if I am asked to convert others by it, I say plainly I do
not care to overcome their reason without touching their hearts. I wish to
deal, not with controversialists, but with inquirers.

I think Paley’s argument clear, clever, and powerful; and there is
something which looks like charity in going out into the highways and
hedges, and compelling men to come in; but in this matter some exertion on
the part of the persons whom I am to convert is a condition of a true
conversion. They who have no religious earnestness are at the mercy, day
by day, of some new argument or fact, which may overtake them, in favour
of one conclusion or the other. And how, after all, is a man better for
Christianity, who has never felt the need of it or the desire? On the
other hand, if he has longed for a revelation to enlighten him and to
cleanse his heart, why may he not use, in his inquiries after it, that
just and reasonable anticipation of its probability, which such longing
has opened the way to his entertaining?

Men are too well inclined to sit at home, instead of stirring themselves
to inquire whether a revelation has been given; they expect its evidences
to come to them without their trouble; they act, not as suppliants, but as
judges.(44) Modes of argument such as Paley’s, encourage this state of
mind; they allow men to forget that revelation is a boon, not a debt on
the part of the Giver; they treat it as a mere historical phenomenon. If I
was told that some great man, a foreigner, whom I did not know, had come
into town, and was on his way to call on me, and to go over my house, I
should send to ascertain the fact, and meanwhile should do my best to put
my house into a condition to receive him. He would not be pleased if I
left the matter to take its chance, and went on the maxim that seeing was
believing. Like this is the conduct of those who resolve to treat the
Almighty with dispassionateness, a judicial temper, clearheadedness, and
candour. It is the way with some men, (surely not a good way,) to say,
that without these lawyerlike qualifications conversion is immoral. It is
their way, a miserable way, to pronounce that there is no religious love
of truth where there is fear of error. On the contrary, I would maintain
that the fear of error is simply necessary to the genuine love of truth.
No inquiry comes to good which is not conducted under a deep sense of
responsibility, and of the issues depending upon its determination. Even
the ordinary matters of life are an exercise of conscientiousness; and
where conscience is, fear must be. So much is this acknowledged just now,
that there is almost an affectation, in popular literature, in the case of
criticisms on the fine arts, on poetry, and music, of speaking about
conscientiousness in writing, painting, or singing; and that earnestness
and simplicity of mind, which makes men fear to go wrong in these minor
matters, has surely a place in the most serious of all undertakings.

It is on these grounds that, in considering Christianity, I start with
conditions different from Paley’s; not, however, as undervaluing the force
and the serviceableness of his argument, but as preferring inquiry to
disputation in a question about truth.


There is another point on which my basis of argument differs from Paley’s.
He argues on the principle that the credentials, which ascertain for us a
message from above, are necessarily in their nature miraculous; nor have I
any thought of venturing to say otherwise. In fact, all professed
revelations have been attended, in one shape or another, with the
profession of miracles; and we know how direct and unequivocal are the
miracles of both the Jewish Covenant and of our own. However, my object
here is to assume as little as possible as regards facts, and to dwell
only on what is patent and notorious; and therefore I will only insist on
those coincidences and their cumulations, which, though not in themselves
miraculous, do irresistibly force upon us, almost by the law of our
nature, the presence of the extraordinary agency of Him whose being we
already acknowledge. Though coincidences rise out of a combination of
general laws, there is no law of those coincidences;(45) they have a
character of their own, and seem left by Providence in His own hands, as
the channel by which, inscrutable to us, He may make known to us His will.

For instance, if I am a believer in a God of Truth and Avenger of
dishonesty, and know for certain that a market-woman, after calling on Him
to strike her dead if she had in her possession a piece of money not hers,
did fall down dead on the spot, and that the money was found in her hand,
how can I call this a blind coincidence, and not discern in it an act of
Providence over and above its general laws? So, certainly, thought the
inhabitants of an English town, when they erected a pillar as a record of
such an event at the place where it occurred. And if a Pope excommunicates
a great conqueror; and he, on hearing the threat, says to one of his
friends, “Does he think the world has gone back a thousand years? does he
suppose the arms will fall from the hands of my soldiers?” and within two
years, on the retreat over the snows of Russia, as two contemporary
historians relate, “famine and cold tore their arms from the grasp of the
soldiers,” “they fell from the hands of the bravest and most robust,” and
“destitute of the power of raising them from the ground, the soldiers left
them in the snow;” is not this too, though no miracle, a coincidence so
special, as rightly to be called a Divine judgment? So thinks Alison, who
avows with religious honesty, that “there is something in these marvellous
coincidences beyond the operation of chance, and which even a Protestant
historian feels himself bound to mark for the observation of future
years.(46)” And so, too, of a cumulation of coincidences, separately less
striking; when Spelman sets about establishing the fact of the ill-fortune
which in a multitude of instances has followed upon acts of sacrilege,
then, even though in many instances it has not followed, and in many
instances he exaggerates, still there may be a large residuum of cases
which cannot be properly resolved into the mere accident of concurrent
causes, but must in reason be considered the warning voice of God. So, at
least, thought Gibson, Bishop of London, when he wrote, “Many of the
instances, and those too well-attested, are so terrible in the event, and
in the circumstances so surprising, that no considering person can well
pass them over.”

I think, then, that the circumstances under which a professed revelation
comes to us, may be such as to impress both our reason and our imagination
with a sense of its truth, even though no appeal be made to strictly
miraculous intervention—in saying which I do not mean of course to imply
that those circumstances, when traced back to their first origins, are not
the outcome of such intervention, but that the miraculous intervention
addresses us at this day in the guise of those circumstances; that is, of
coincidences, which are indications, to the illative sense of those who
believe in a Moral Governor, of His immediate Presence, especially to
those who in addition hold with me the strong antecedent probability that,
in His mercy, He will thus supernaturally present Himself to our


Now as to the fact; has what is so probable in anticipation actually been
granted to us, or have we still to look out for it? It is very plain,
supposing it has been granted, which among all the religions of the world
comes from God: and if it is not that, a revelation is not yet given, and
we must look forward to the future. There is only one Religion in the
world which tends to fulfil the aspirations, needs, and foreshadowings of
natural faith and devotion. It may be said, perhaps, that, educated in
Christianity, I merely judge of it by its own principles; but this is not
the fact. For, in the first place, I have taken my idea of what a
revelation must be, in good measure, from the actual religions of the
world; and as to its ethics, the ideas with which I come to it are derived
not simply from the Gospel, but prior to it from heathen moralists, whom
Fathers of the Church and Ecclesiastical writers have imitated or
sanctioned; and as to the intellectual position from which I have
contemplated the subject, Aristotle has been my master. Besides, I do not
here single out Christianity with reference simply to its particular
doctrines or precepts, but for a reason which is on the surface of its
history. It alone has a definite message addressed to all mankind. As far
as I know, the religion of Mahomet has brought into the world no new
doctrine whatever, except, indeed, that of its own divine origin; and the
character of its teaching is too exact a reflection of the race, time,
place, and climate in which it arose, to admit of its becoming universal.
The same dependence on external circumstances is characteristic, so far as
I know, of the religions of the far East; nor am I sure of any definite
message from God to man which they convey and protect, though they may
have sacred books. Christianity, on the other hand, is in its idea an
announcement, a preaching; it is the depositary of truths beyond human
discovery, momentous, practical, maintained one and the same in substance
in every age from its first, and addressed to all mankind. And it has
actually been embraced and is found in all parts of the world, in all
climates, among all races, in all ranks of society, under every degree of
civilization, from barbarism to the highest cultivation of mind. Coming to
set right and to govern the world, it has ever been, as it ought to be, in
conflict with large masses of men, with the civil power, with physical
force, with adverse philosophies; it has had successes, it has had
reverses; but it has had a grand history, and has effected great things,
and is as vigorous in its age as in its youth. In all these respects it
has a distinction in the world and a pre-eminence of its own; it has upon
it _primâ facie_ signs of divinity; I do not know what can be advanced by
rival religions to match prerogatives so special; so that I feel myself
justified in saying either Christianity is from God, or a revelation has
not yet been given to us.

It will not surely be objected, as a point in favour of some of the
Oriental religions, that they are older than Christianity by some
centuries; yet, should it be so said, it must be recollected that
Christianity is only the continuation and conclusion of what professes to
be an earlier revelation, which may be traced back into prehistoric times,
till it is lost in the darkness that hangs over them. As far as we know,
there never was a time when that revelation was not,—a revelation
continuous and systematic, with distinct representatives and an orderly
succession. And this, I suppose, is far more than can be said for the
religions of the East.


Here, then, I am brought to the consideration of the Hebrew nation and the
Mosaic religion, as the first step in the direct evidence for

The Jews are one of the few Oriental nations who are known in history as a
people of progress, and their line of progress is the development of
religious truth. In that their own line they stand by themselves among all
the populations, not only of the East, but of the West. Their country may
be called the classical home of the religious principle, as Greece is the
home of intellectual power, and Rome that of political and practical
wisdom. Theism is their life; it is emphatically their national religion,
for they never were without it, and were made a people by means of it.
This is a phenomenon singular and solitary in history, and must have a
meaning. If there be a God and Providence, it must come from Him, whether
immediately or indirectly; and the people themselves have ever maintained
that it has been His direct work, and has been recognized by Him as such.
We are apt to treat pretences to a divine mission or to supernatural
powers as of frequent occurrence, and on that score to dismiss them from
our thoughts; but we cannot so deal with Judaism. When mankind had
universally denied the first lesson of their conscience by lapsing into
polytheism, is it a thing of slight moment that there was just one
exception to the rule, that there was just one people who, first by their
rulers and priests, and afterwards by their own unanimous zeal, professed,
as their distinguishing doctrine, the Divine Unity and Government of the
world, and that, moreover, not only as a natural truth, but as revealed to
them by that God Himself of whom they spoke,—who so embodied it in their
national polity, that a Theocracy was the only name by which it could be
called? It was a people founded and set up in Theism, kept together by
Theism, and maintaining Theism for a period from first to last of 2000
years, till the dissolution of their body politic; and they have
maintained it since in their state of exile and wandering for 2000 years
more. They begin with the beginning of history, and the preaching of this
august dogma begins with them. They are its witnesses and confessors, even
to torture and death; on it and its revelation are moulded their laws and
government; on this their politics, philosophy, and literature are
founded; of this truth their poetry is the voice, pouring itself out in
devotional compositions which Christianity, through all its many countries
and ages, has been unable to rival; on this aboriginal truth, as time goes
on, prophet after prophet bases his further revelations, with a sustained
reference to a time when, according to the secret counsels of its Divine
Object and Author, it is to receive completion and perfection,—till at
length that time comes.

The last age of their history is as strange as their first. When that time
of destined blessing came, which they had so accurately marked out, and
were so carefully waiting for—a time which found them, in fact, more
zealous for their Law, and for the dogma it enshrined, than they ever had
been before—then, instead of any final favour coming on them from above,
they fell under the power of their enemies, and were overthrown, their
holy city razed to the ground, their polity destroyed, and the remnant of
their people cast off to wander far and away through every land except
their own, as we find them at this day; lasting on, century after century,
not absorbed in other populations, not annihilated, as likely to last on,
as unlikely to be restored, as far as outward appearances go, now as a
thousand years ago. What nation has so grand, so romantic, so terrible a
history? Does it not fulfil the idea of, what the nation calls itself, a
chosen people, chosen for good and evil? Is it not an exhibition in a
course of history of that primary declaration of conscience, as I have
been determining it, “With the upright Thou shalt be upright, and with the
froward Thou shalt be froward”? It must have a meaning, if there is a God.
We know what was their witness of old time; what is their witness now?

Why, I say, was it that, after so memorable a career, when their sins and
sufferings were now to come to an end, when they were looking out for a
deliverance and a Deliverer, suddenly all was reversed for once and for
all? They were the favoured servants of God, and yet a peculiar reproach
and note of infamy is affixed to their name. It was their belief that His
protection was unchangeable, and that their Law would last for ever;—it
was their consolation to be taught by an uninterrupted tradition, that it
could not die, except by changing into a new self, more wonderful than it
was before;—it was their faithful expectation that a promised King was
coming, the Messiah, who would extend the sway of Israel over all
people;—it was a condition of their covenant, that, as a reward to
Abraham, their first father, the day at length should dawn when the gates
of their narrow land should open, and they should pour out for the
conquest and occupation of the whole earth;—and, I repeat, when the day
came, they did go forth, and they did spread into all lands, but as
hopeless exiles, as eternal wanderers.

Are we to say that this failure is a proof that, after all, there was
nothing providential in their history? For myself, I do not see how a
second portent obliterates a first; and, in truth, their own testimony and
their own sacred books carry us on towards a better solution of the
difficulty. I have said they were in God’s favour under a
covenant,—perhaps they did not fulfil the conditions of it. This indeed
seems to be their own account of the matter, though it is not clear what
their breach of engagement was. And that in some way they did sin,
whatever their sin was, is corroborated by the well-known chapter in the
Book of Deuteronomy, which so strikingly anticipates the nature of their
punishment. That passage, translated into Greek as many as 350 years
before the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, has on it the marks of a wonderful
prophecy; but I am not now referring to it as such, but merely as an
indication that the disappointment, which actually overtook them at the
Christian era, was not necessarily out of keeping with the original divine
purpose, or again with the old promise made to them, and their confident
expectation of its fulfilment. Their national ruin, which came instead of
aggrandizement, is described in that book, in spite of all promises, with
an emphasis and minuteness which prove that it was contemplated long
before, at least as a possible issue of the fortunes of Israel. Among
other inflictions which should befall the guilty people, it was told them
that they should fall down before their enemies, and should be scattered
throughout all the kingdoms of the earth; that they never should have
quiet in those nations, or have rest for the sole of their foot; that they
were to have a fearful heart and languishing eyes, and a soul consumed
with heaviness; that they were to suffer wrong, and to be crushed at all
times, and to be astonished at the terror of their lot; that their sons
and daughters were to be given to another people, and they were to look
and to sicken all the day, and their life was ever to hang in doubt before
them, and fear to haunt them day and night; that they should be a proverb
and a by-word of all people among whom they were brought; and that curses
were to come on them, and to be signs and wonders on them and their seed
for ever. Such are some portions, and not the most terrible, of this
extended anathema; and its partial accomplishment at an earlier date of
their history was a warning to them, when the destined time drew near,
that, however great the promises made to them might be, those promises
were dependent on the terms of the covenant which stood between them and
their Maker, and that, as they had turned to curses at that former time,
so they might turn to curses again.

This grand drama, so impressed with the characters of supernatural agency,
concerns us here only in its bearing upon the evidence for the divine
origin of Christianity; and it is at this point that Christianity comes
upon the historical scene. It is a notorious fact that it issued from the
Jewish land and people; and, had it no other than this historical
connexion with Judaism, it would have some share in the prestige of its
original home. But it claims to be far more than this; it professes to be
the actual completion of the Mosaic Law, the promised means of deliverance
and triumph to the nation, which that nation itself, as I have said, has
since considered to be, on account of some sin or other, withheld or
forfeited. It professes to be, not the casual, but the legitimate
offspring, heir, and successor of the Mosaic covenant, or rather to be
Judaism itself, developed and transformed. Of course it has to prove its
claim, as well as to prefer it; but if it succeeds in doing so, then all
those tokens of the Divine Presence, which distinguish the Jewish history,
at once belong to it, and are a portion of its credentials.

And at least the _primâ facie_ view of its relations towards Judaism is in
favour of these pretensions. It is an historical fact, that, at the very
time that the Jews committed their unpardonable sin, whatever it was, and
were driven out from their home to wander over the earth, their Christian
brethren, born of the same stock, and equally citizens of Jerusalem, did
also issue forth from the same home, but in order to subdue that same
earth and make it their own; that is, they undertook the very work which,
according to the promise, their nation actually was ordained to execute;
and, with a method of their own indeed, and with a new end, and only
slowly and painfully, but still really and thoroughly, they did it. And
since that time the two children of the promise have ever been found
together—of the promise forfeited and the promise fulfilled; and whereas
the Christian has been in high place, so the Jew has been degraded and
despised—the one has been “the head,” and the other “the tail;” so that,
to go no farther, the fact that Christianity actually has done what
Judaism was to have done, decides the controversy, by the logic of facts,
in favour of Christianity. The prophecies announced that the Messiah was
to come at a definite time and place; Christians point to Him as coming
then and there, as announced; they are not met by any counter claim or
rival claimant on the part of the Jews, only by their assertion that He
did not come at all, though up to the event they had said He was then and
there coming. Further, Christianity clears up the mystery which hangs over
Judaism, accounting fully for the punishment of the people, by specifying
their sin, their heinous sin. If, instead of hailing their own Messiah,
they crucified Him, then the strange scourge which has pursued them after
the deed, and the energetic wording of the curse before it, are explained
by the very strangeness of their guilt;—or rather, their sin is their
punishment; for in rejecting their Divine King, they _ipso facto_ lost the
living principle and tie of their nationality. Moreover, we see what led
them into error; they thought a triumph and an empire were to be given to
them at once, which were given indeed eventually, but by the slow and
gradual growth of many centuries and a long warfare.

On the whole, then, I observe, on the one hand, that, Judaism having been
the channel of religious traditions which are lost in the depth of their
antiquity, of course it is a great point for Christianity to succeed in
proving that it is the legitimate heir to that former religion. Nor is it,
on the other, of less importance to the significance of those early
traditions to be able to determine that they were not lost together with
their original store-house, but were transferred, on the failure of
Judaism, to the custody of the Christian Church. And this apparent
correspondence between the two is in itself a presumption for such
correspondence being real. Next, I observe, that if the history of Judaism
is so wonderful as to suggest the presence of some special divine agency
in its appointments and fortunes, still more wonderful and divine is the
history of Christianity; and again it is more wonderful still, that two
such wonderful creations should span almost the whole course of ages,
during which nations and states have been in existence, and should
constitute a professed system of continued intercourse between earth and
heaven from first to last amid all the vicissitudes of human affairs. This
phenomenon again carries on its face, to those who believe in a God, the
probability that it has that divine origin which it professes to have;
and, (when viewed in the light of the strong presumption which I have
insisted on, that in God’s mercy a revelation from Him will be granted to
us, and of the contrast presented by other religions, no one of which
professes to be a revelation direct, definite, and integral as this
is,)—this phenomenon, I say, of cumulative marvels raises that
probability, both for Judaism and Christianity, in religious minds, almost
to a certainty.


If Christianity is connected with Judaism as closely as I have been
supposing, then there have been, by means of the two, direct
communications between man and his Maker from time immemorial down to this
day—a great prerogative such, that it is nowhere else even claimed. No
other religion but these two professes to be the organ of a formal
revelation, certainly not of a revelation which is directed to the benefit
of the whole human race. Here it is that Mahometanism fails, though it
claims to carry on the line of revelation after Christianity; for it is
the mere creed and rite of certain races, bringing with it, as such, no
gifts to our nature, and is rather a reformation of local corruptions, and
a return to the ceremonial worship of earlier times, than a new and larger
revelation. And while Christianity was the heir to a dead religion,
Mahometanism was little more than a rebellion against a living one.
Moreover, though Mahomet professed to be the Paraclete, no one pretends
that he occupies a place in the Christian Scriptures as prominent as that
which the Messiah fills in the Jewish. To this especial prominence of the
Messianic idea I shall now advert; that is, to the prophecies of the Old
Scriptures, and to the argument which they furnish in favour of
Christianity; and though I know that argument might be clearer and more
exact than it is, and I do not pretend here to do much more than refer to
the fact of its existence, still so far forth as we enter into it, will it
strengthen our conviction of the claim to divinity both of the Religion
which is the organ of those prophecies, and of the Religion which is their

Now that the Jewish Scriptures were in existence long before the Christian
era, and were in the sole custody of the Jews, is undeniable; whatever
then their Scriptures distinctly say of Christianity, if not attributable
to chance or to happy conjecture, is prophetic. It is undeniable too, that
the Jews gathered from those books that a great Personage was to be born
of their stock, and to conquer the whole world and to become the
instrument of extraordinary blessings to it; moreover, that he would make
his appearance at a fixed date, and that, the very date when, as it turned
out, our Lord did actually come. This is the great outline of the
prediction, and if nothing more could be said about them than this, to
prove as much as this is far from unimportant. And it is undeniable, I
say, both that the Jewish Scriptures contain thus much, and that the Jews
actually understood them as containing it.

First, then, as to what Scripture declares. From the book of Genesis we
learn that the chosen people was set up in this one idea, viz. to be a
blessing to the whole earth, and that, by means of one of their own race,
a greater than their father Abraham. This was the meaning and drift of
their being chosen. There is no room for mistake here; the divine purpose
is stated from the first with the utmost precision. At the very time of
Abraham’s call, he is told of it:—“I will make of thee a great nation, and
in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.” Thrice is this promise
and purpose announced in Abraham’s history; and after Abraham’s time it is
repeated to Isaac, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be
blessed;” and after Isaac to Jacob, when a wanderer from his home, “In
thee and in thy seed shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed.” And
from Jacob the promise passes on to his son Judah, and that with an
addition, viz. with a reference to the great Person who was to be the
world-wide blessing, and to the date when He should come. Judah was the
chosen son of Jacob, and his staff or sceptre, that is, his patriarchal
authority, was to endure till a greater than Judah came, so that the loss
of the sceptre, when it took place, was the sign of His near approach.
“The sceptre,” says Jacob on his death-bed, “shall not be taken away from
Judah, until He come for whom it is reserved,” or “who is to be sent,”
“and He shall be the expectation of the nations.(47)”

Such was the categorical prophecy, literal and unequivocal in its wording,
direct and simple in its scope. One man, born of the chosen tribe, was the
destined minister of blessing to the whole world; and the race, as
represented by that tribe, was to lose its old self in gaining a new self
in Him. Its destiny was sealed upon it in its beginning. An expectation
was the measure of its life. It was created for a great end, and in that
end it had its ending. Such were the initial communications made to the
chosen people, and there they stopped;—as if the outline of promise, so
sharply cut, had to be effectually imprinted on their minds, before more
knowledge was given to them; as if, by the long interval of years which
passed before the more varied prophecies in type and figure, after the
manner of the East, were added, the original notices might stand out in
the sight of all in their severe explicitness, as archetypal truths, and
guides in interpreting whatever else was obscure in its wording or complex
in its direction.

And in the second place it is quite clear that the Jews did thus
understand their prophecies, and did expect their great Ruler, in the very
age in which our Lord came, and in which they, on the other hand, were
destroyed, losing their old self without gaining their new. Heathen
historians shall speak for the fact. “A persuasion had possession of most
of them,” says Tacitus, speaking of their resistance to the Romans, “that
it was contained in the ancient books of the priests that at that very
time the East should prevail, and that men who issued from Judea should
obtain the empire. The common people, as is the way with human cupidity,
having once interpreted in their own favour this grand destiny, were not
even by their reverses brought round to the truth of facts.” And Suetonius
extends the belief:—“The whole East was rife with an old and persistent
belief, that at that time persons who issued from Judea, should possess
the empire.” After the event of course the Jews drew back, and denied the
correctness of their expectation, still they could not deny that the
expectation had existed. Thus the Jew Josephus, who was of the Roman
party, says that what encouraged them in the stand they made against the
Romans was “an ambiguous oracle, found in their sacred writings, that at
that date some one of them from that country should rule the world.” He
can but pronounce that the oracle was ambiguous; he cannot state that they
thought it so.

Now, considering that at that very time our Lord did appear as a teacher,
and founded not merely a religion, but (what was then quite a new idea in
the world) a system of religious warfare, an aggressive and militant body,
a dominant Catholic Church, which aimed at the benefit of all nations by
the spiritual conquest of all; and that this warfare, then begun by it,
has gone on without cessation down to this day, and now is as living and
real as ever it was; that that militant body has from the first filled the
world, that it has had wonderful successes, that its successes have on the
whole been of extreme benefit to the human race, that it has imparted an
intelligent notion about the Supreme God to millions who would have lived
and died in irreligion, that it has raised the tone of morality wherever
it has come, has abolished great social anomalies and miseries, has
elevated the female sex to its proper dignity, has protected the poorer
classes, has destroyed slavery, encouraged literature and philosophy, and
had a principal part in that civilization of human kind, which, with some
evils still, has on the whole been productive of far greater
good,—considering, I say, that all this began at the destined, expected,
recognized season when the old prophecy said that in one Man, born of the
tribe of Judah, all the tribes of the earth were to be blessed, I feel I
have a right to say (and my line of argument does not lead me to say
more), that it is at the very least a remarkable coincidence,—that is, one
of those coincidences which, when they are accumulated, come close upon
the idea of miracle, as being impossible without the Hand of God directly
and immediately in them.

When we have got as far as this, we may go on a great deal farther.
Announcements, which could not be put forward in the front of the
argument, as being figurative, vague, or ambiguous, may be used validly
and with great effect, when they have been interpreted for us, first by
the prophetic outline, and still more by the historical object. It is a
principle which applies to all matters on which we reason, that what is
only a maze of facts, without order or drift prior to the explanation,
may, when we once have that explanation, be located and adjusted with
great facility in all its separate parts, as we know is the case as
regards the motions of the heavenly bodies since the hypothesis of Newton.
In like manner the event is the true key to prophecy, and reconciles
conflicting and divergent descriptions by embodying them in one common
representative. Thus it is that we learn how, as the prophecies said, the
Messiah could both suffer, yet be victorious; His kingdom be Judaic in
structure, yet evangelic in spirit; and His people the children of
Abraham, yet “sinners of the Gentiles.” These seeming paradoxes, are only
parallel and akin to those others which form so prominent a feature in the
teaching of our Lord and His Apostles.

As to the Jews, since they lived before the event, it is not wonderful,
that, though they were right in their general interpretation of Scripture
as far as it went, they stopped short of the whole truth; nay, that even
when their Messiah came, they could not recognize Him as the promised King
as we recognize Him now;—for we have the experience of His history for
nearly two thousand years, by which to interpret their Scriptures. We may
partly understand their position towards those prophecies, by our own at
present towards the Apocalypse. Who can deny the superhuman grandeur and
impressiveness of that sacred book! yet, as a prophecy, though some
outlines of the future are discernible, how differently it affects us from
the predictions of Isaiah! either because it relates to undreamed-of
events still to come, or because it has been fulfilled long ago in events
which in their detail and circumstance have never become history. And the
same remark applies doubtless to portions of the Messianic prophecies
still; but, if their fulfilment has been thus gradual in time past, we
must not be surprised though portions of them still await their slow but
true accomplishment in the future.


When I implied that in some points of view Christianity has not answered
the expectations of the old prophecies, of which it claims to be the
fulfilment, I had in mind principally the contrast which is presented to
us between the picture which they draw of the universality of the kingdom
of the Messiah, and that partial development of it through the world,
which is all the Christian Church can show; and again the contrast between
the rest and peace which they said He was to introduce, and the Church’s
actual history,—the conflicts of opinion which have raged within its pale,
the violent acts and unworthy lives of many of its rulers, and the moral
degradation of great masses of its people. I do not profess to meet these
difficulties here, except by saying that the failure of Christianity in
one respect in corresponding to those prophecies cannot destroy the force
of its correspondence to them in others; just as we may allow that the
portrait of a friend is a faulty likeness to him, and yet be quite sure
that it is his portrait. What I shall actually attempt to show here is
this,—that Christianity was quite aware from the first of its own
prospective future, so unlike the expectations which the prophets would
excite concerning it, and that it meets the difficulty thence arising by
anticipation, by giving us its own predictions of what it was to be in
historical fact, predictions which are at once explanatory comments upon
the Jewish Scriptures, and direct evidences of its own prescience.

I think it observable then, that, though our Lord claims to be the
Messiah, He shows so little of conscious dependence on the old Scriptures,
or of anxiety to fulfil them; as if it became Him, who was the Lord of the
Prophets, to take His own course, and to leave their utterances to adjust
themselves to Him as they could, and not to be careful to accommodate
Himself to them. The evangelists do indeed show some such natural zeal in
His behalf, and thereby illustrate what I notice in Him by the contrast.
They betray an earnestness to trace in His Person and history the
accomplishment of prophecy, as when they discern it in His return from
Egypt, in His life at Nazareth, in the gentleness and tenderness of His
mode of teaching, and in the various minute occurrences of His passion;
but He Himself goes straight forward on His way, of course claiming to be
the Messiah of the Prophets,(48) still not so much recurring to past
prophecies, as uttering new ones, with an antithesis not unlike that which
is so impressive in the Sermon on the Mount, when He first says, “It has
been said by them of old time,” and then adds, “But I say unto you.”
Another striking instance of this is seen in the Names under which He
spoke of Himself, which have little or no foundation in any thing which
was said of Him beforehand in the Jewish Scriptures. They speak of Him as
Ruler, Prophet, King, Hope of Israel, Offspring of Judah, and Messiah; and
His Evangelists and Disciples call Him Master, Lord, Prophet, Son of
David, King of Israel, King of the Jews, and Messiah or Christ; but He
Himself, though, I repeat, He acknowledges these titles as His own,
especially that of the Christ, chooses as His special designations these
two, Son of God and Son of Man, the latter of which is only once given Him
in the Old Scriptures, and by which He corrects any narrow Judaic
interpretation of them; while the former was never distinctly used of Him
before He came, and seems first to have been announced to the world by the
Angel Gabriel and St. John the Baptist. In those two Names, Son of God and
Son of Man, declaratory of the two natures of Emmanuel, He separates
Himself from the Jewish Dispensation, in which He was born, and
inaugurates the New Covenant.

This is not an accident, and I shall now give some instances of it, that
is, of what I may call the independent autocratic view which He takes of
His own religion, into which the old Judaism was melting, and of the
prophetic insight into its spirit and its future which that view involves.
In quoting His own sayings from the Evangelists for this purpose, I assume
(of which there is no reasonable doubt) that they wrote before any
historical events had happened of a nature to cause them unconsciously to
modify or to colour the language which their Master used.

1. First, then, the fact has been often insisted on as a bold conception,
unheard of before, and worthy of divine origin, that He should even
project a universal religion, and that to be effected by what may be
called a propagandist movement from one centre. Hitherto it had been the
received notion in the world, that each nation had its own gods. The
Romans legislated upon that basis, and the Jews had held it from the
first, holding of course also, that all gods but their own God were idols
and demons. It is true that the Jews ought to have been taught by their
prophecies what was in store for the world and for them, and that their
first dispersion through the Empire centuries before Christ came, and the
proselytes which they collected around them in every place, were a kind of
comment on the prophecies larger than their own; but we see what was, in
fact, when our Lord came, their expectation from those prophecies, in the
passages which I have quoted above from the Roman historians of His day.
But He from the first resisted those plausible, but mistaken
interpretations of Scripture. In His cradle indeed He had been recognized
by the Eastern sages as their king; the Angel announced that He was to
reign over the house of Jacob; Nathanael, too, owned Him as the Messiah
with a regal title; but He, on entering upon His work, interpreted these
anticipations in His own way, and that not the way of Theudas and Judas of
Galilee, who took the sword, and collected soldiers about them,—nor the
way of the Tempter, who offered Him “all the kingdoms of the world.” In
the words of the Evangelists, He began, not to fight, but “to preach;” and
further, to “preach the kingdom of heaven,” saying, “The time is
accomplished, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe the
Gospel.” This is the significant title, “the kingdom of heaven,”—the more
significant, when explained by the attendant precept of repentance and
faith,—on which He founds the polity which He was establishing from first
to last. One of His last sayings before He suffered was, “My kingdom is
not of this world.” And His last words, before He left the earth, when His
disciples asked Him about His kingdom, were that they, preachers as they
were, and not soldiers, should “be His witnesses to the end of the earth,”
should “preach to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem,” should “go into
the world and preach the Gospel to every creature,” should “go and make
disciples of all nations till the consummation of all things.”

The last Evangelist of the four is equally precise in recording the
initial purpose with which our Lord began His ministry, viz. to create an
empire, not by force, but by persuasion. “Light is come into the world;
every one that doth evil, hateth the light, but he that doth truth, cometh
to the light.” “Lift up your eyes, and see the countries, for they are
white already to harvest.” “No man can come to Me, except the Father, who
hath sent Me, draw him.” “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will
draw all things to Myself.”

Thus, while the Jews, relying on their Scriptures with great appearance of
reason, looked for a deliverer who should conquer with the sword, we find
that Christianity, from the first, not by an after-thought upon trial and
experience, but as a fundamental truth, magisterially set right that
mistake, transfiguring the old prophecies, and bringing to light, as St.
Paul might say, “the mystery which had been hidden from ages and
generations, but now was made manifest in His saints, the glory of this
mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you,” not simply over you,
but in you, by faith and love, “the hope of glory.”

2. I have partly anticipated my next remark, which relates to the means by
which the Christian enterprise was to be carried into effect. That
preaching was to have a share in the victories of the Messiah was plain
from Prophet and Psalmist; but then Charlemagne preached, and Mahomet
preached, with an army to back them. The same Psalm which speaks of those
“who preach good tidings,” speaks also of their King’s “foot being dipped
in the blood of His enemies;” but what is so grandly original in
Christianity is, that on its broad field of conflict its preachers were to
be simply unarmed, and to suffer, but to prevail. If we were not so
familiar with our Lord’s words, I think they would astonish us. “Behold, I
send you as sheep in the midst of wolves.” This was to be their normal
state, and so it was; and all the promises and directions given to them
imply it. “Blessed are they that suffer persecution;” “blessed are ye when
they revile you;” “the meek shall inherit the earth;” “resist not evil;”
“you shall be hated of all men for My Name’s sake;” “a man’s enemies shall
be they of his own household;” “he that shall persevere to the end, he
shall be saved.” What sort of encouragement was this for men who were to
go about an immense work? Do men in this way send out their soldiers to
battle, or their sons to India or Australia? The King of Israel hated
Micaiah, because he always “prophesied of him evil.” “So persecuted they
the Prophets that were before you,” says our Lord. Yes, and the Prophets
failed; they were persecuted and they lost the battle. “Take, my
brethren,” says St. James, “for an example of suffering evil, of labour
and patience, the Prophets, who spake in the Name of the Lord.” They were
“racked, mocked, stoned, cut asunder, they wandered about,—of whom the
world was not worthy,” says St. Paul. What an argument to encourage them
to aim at success by suffering, to put before them the precedent of those
who suffered and who failed!

Yet the first preachers, our Lord’s immediate disciples, saw no difficulty
in a prospect to human eyes so appalling, so hopeless. How connatural this
strange, unreasoning, reckless courage was with their regenerate state is
shown most signally in St. Paul, as having been a convert of later
vocation. He was no personal associate of our Lord’s, yet how faithfully
he echoes back our Lord’s language! His instrument of conversion is “the
foolishness of preaching;” “the weak things of the earth confound the
strong;” “we hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have
no home;” “we are reviled and bless, we are persecuted, and blasphemed,
and are made the refuse of this world, and the offscouring of all things.”
Such is the intimate comprehension, on the part of one who had never seen
our Lord on earth, and knew little from His original disciples of the
genius of His teaching;—and considering that the prophecies, upon which he
had lived from his birth, for the most part bear on their surface a
contrary doctrine, and that the Jews of that day did commonly understand
them in that contrary sense, we cannot deny that Christianity, in tracing
out the method by which it was to prevail in the future, took its own,
independent line, and, in assigning from the first a rule and a history to
its propagation, a rule and a history which have been carried out to this
day, rescues itself from the charge of but partially fulfilling those
Jewish prophecies, by the assumption of a prophetical character of its

3. Now we come to a third point, in which the Divine Master explains, and
in a certain sense corrects, the prophecies of the Old Covenant, by a more
exact interpretation of them from Himself. I have granted that they seemed
to say that His coming would issue in a period of peace and religiousness.
“Behold,” says the Prophet, “a king shall reign in justice, and princes
shall rule in judgment. The fool shall no more be called prince, neither
shall the deceitful be called great. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard lie down with the kid. They shall not hurt nor kill in all
My holy mountain, for the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord,
as the covering waters of the sea.”

These words seem to predict a reversal of the consequences of the fall,
and that reversal has not been granted to us, it is true; but let us
consider how distinctly Christianity warns us against any such
anticipation. While it is so forcibly laid down in the Gospels that the
history of the kingdom of heaven begins in suffering and sanctity, it is
as plainly said that it results in unfaithfulness and sin; that is to say,
that, though there are at all times many holy, many religious men in it,
and though sanctity, as at the beginning, is ever the life and the
substance and the germinal seed of the Divine Kingdom, yet there will be
many too, there will be more, who by their lives are a scandal and injury
to it, not a defence. This again, is an astonishing announcement, and the
more so when viewed in contrast with the precepts delivered by our Lord in
His Sermon on the Mount, and His description to the Apostles of their
weapons and their warfare. So perplexing to Christians was the fact when
fulfilled, as it was in no long time on a large scale, that three of the
early heresies more or less originated in obstinate, unchristian refusal
to readmit to the privileges of the Gospel those who had fallen into sin.
Yet our Lord’s words are express: He tells us that “Many are called, few
are chosen;” in the parable of the Marriage Feast, the servants who are
sent out gather together “all that they found, both bad and good;” the
foolish virgins “had no oil in their vessels;” amid the good seed an enemy
sows seed that is noxious or worthless; and “the kingdom is like to a net
which gathered together all kind of fishes;” and “at the end of the world
the Angels shall go forth, and shall separate the wicked from among the

Moreover, He not only speaks of His religion as destined to possess a wide
temporal power, such, that, as in the case of the Babylonian, “the birds
of the air should dwell in its branches,” but He opens on us the prospect
of ambition and rivalry in its leading members, when He warns His
disciples against desiring the first places in His kingdom; nay, of
grosser sins, in His description of the Ruler, who “began to strike his
fellow-servants, and to eat and drink and be drunken,”—passages which have
an awful significance, considering what kind of men have before now been
His chosen representatives, and have sat in the chair of His Apostles.

If then it be objected that Christianity does not, as the old prophets
seem to promise, abolish sin and irreligion within its pale, we may
answer, not only that it did not engage to do so, but that actually in a
prophetical spirit it warned its followers against the expectation of its
so doing.


According to our Lord’s announcements before the event, Christianity was
to prevail and to become a great empire, and to fill the earth; but it was
to accomplish this destiny, not as other victorious powers had done, and
as the Jews expected, by force of arms or by other means of this world,
but by the novel expedient of sanctity and suffering. If some aspiring
party of this day, the great Orleans family, or a branch of the
Hohenzollern, wishing to found a kingdom, were to profess, as their only
weapon, the practice of virtue, they would not startle us more than it
startled a Jew eighteen hundred years ago, to be told that his glorious
Messiah was not to fight, like Joshua or David, but simply to preach. It
is indeed a thought so strange, both in its prediction and in its
fulfilment, as urgently to suggest to us that some Divine Power went with
him who conceived and proclaimed it. This is what I have been saying;—now
I wish to consider the fact, which was predicted, in itself, without
reference to its being the subject whether of a prediction or of a
fulfilment; that is, the history of the rise and establishment of
Christianity; and to inquire whether it is a history that admits of being
resolved, by any philosophical ingenuity, into the ordinary operation of
moral, social, or political causes.

As is well known, various writers have attempted to assign human causes in
explanation of the phenomenon: Gibbon especially has mentioned five, viz.
the zeal of Christians, inherited from the Jews, their doctrine of a
future state, their claim to miraculous power, their virtues, and their
ecclesiastical organization. Let us briefly consider them.

He thinks these five causes, when combined, will fairly account for the
event; but he has not thought of accounting for their combination. If they
are ever so available for his purpose, still that availableness arises out
of their coincidence, and out of what does that coincidence arise? Until
this is explained, nothing is explained, and the question had better have
been let alone. These presumed causes are quite distinct from each other,
and, I say, the wonder is, what made them come together. How came a
multitude of Gentiles to be influenced with Jewish zeal? How came zealots
to submit to a strict, ecclesiastical _régime_? What connexion has a
secular _régime_ with the immortality of the soul? Why should immortality,
a philosophical doctrine, lead to belief in miracles, which is a
superstition of the vulgar? What tendency had miracles and magic to make
men austerely virtuous? Lastly, what power was there in a code of virtue,
as calm and enlightened as that of Antoninus, to generate a zeal as fierce
as that of Maccabæus? Wonderful events before now have apparently been
nothing but coincidences, certainly; but they do not become less wonderful
by cataloguing their constituent causes, unless we also show how these
came to be constituent.

However, this by the way; the real question is this,—are these historical
characteristics of Christianity, also in matter of fact, historical causes
of Christianity? Has Gibbon given proof that they are? Has he brought
evidence of their operation, or does he simply conjecture in his private
judgment that they operated? Whether they were adapted to accomplish a
certain work, is a matter of opinion; whether they did accomplish it is a
question of fact. He ought to adduce instances of their efficiency before
he has a right to say that they are efficient. And the second question is,
what is this effect, of which they are to be considered as causes? It is
no other than this, the conversion of bodies of men to the Christian
faith. Let us keep this in view. We have to determine whether these five
characteristics of Christianity were efficient causes of bodies of men
becoming Christians? I think they neither did effect such conversions, nor
were adapted to do so, and for these reasons:—

1. For first, as to zeal, by which Gibbon means party spirit, or _esprit
de corps_; this doubtless is a motive principle when men are already
members of a body, but does it operate in bringing them into it? The Jews
were born in Judaism, they had a long and glorious history, and would
naturally feel and show _esprit de corps_; but how did party spirit tend
to transplant Jew or Gentile out of his own place into a new society, and
that a society which as yet scarcely was formed in a society? Zeal,
certainly, may be felt for a cause, or for a person; on this point I shall
speak presently; but Gibbon’s idea of Christian zeal is nothing better
than the old wine of Judaism decanted into new Christian bottles, and
would be too flat a stimulant, even if it admitted of such a transference,
to be taken as a cause of conversion to Christianity without definite
evidence in proof of the fact. Christians had zeal for Christianity after
they were converted, not before.

2. Next, as to the doctrine of a future state. Gibbon seems to mean by
this doctrine the fear of hell; now certainly in this day there are
persons converted from sin to a religious life, by vivid descriptions of
the future punishment of the wicked; but then it must be recollected that
such persons already believe in the doctrine thus urged upon them. On the
contrary, give some Tract upon hell-fire to one of the wild boys in a
large town, who has had no education, who has no faith; and, instead of
being startled by it, he will laugh at it as something frightfully
ridiculous. The belief in Styx and Tartarus was dying out of the world at
the time that Christianity came in, as the parallel belief now seems to be
dying out in all classes of our own society. The doctrine of eternal
punishment does only anger the multitude of men in our large towns now,
and make them blaspheme; why should it have had any other effect on the
heathen populations in the age when our Lord came? Yet it was among those
populations, that He and His made their way from the first. As to the hope
of eternal life, that doubtless, as well as the fear of hell, was a most
operative doctrine in the case of men who had been actually converted, of
Christians brought before the magistrate, or writhing under torture, but
the thought of eternal glory does not keep bad men from a bad life now,
and why should it convert them then from their pleasant sins, to a heavy,
mortified, joyless existence, to a life of ill-usage, fright, contempt,
and desolation?

3. That the claim to miracles should have any wide influence in favour of
Christianity among heathen populations, who had plenty of portents of
their own, is an opinion in curious contrast with the objection against
Christianity which has provoked an answer from Paley, viz. that “Christian
miracles are not recited or appealed to, by early Christian writers
themselves, so fully or so frequently as might have been expected.” Paley
solves the difficulty as far as it is a fact, by observing, as I have
suggested, that “it was their lot to contend with magical agency, against
which the mere production of these facts was not sufficient for the
convincing of their adversaries:” “I do not know,” he continues, “whether
they themselves thought it quite decisive of the controversy.” A claim to
miraculous power on the part of Christians, which was so unfrequent as to
become now an objection to the fact of their possessing it, can hardly
have been a principal cause of their success.

4. And how is it possible to imagine with Gibbon that what he calls the
“sober and domestic virtues” of Christians, their “aversion to the luxury
of the age,” their “chastity, temperance, and economy,” that these dull
qualities were persuasives of a nature to win and melt the hard heathen
heart, in spite too of the dreary prospect of the _barathrum_, the
amphitheatre, and the stake? Did the Christian morality by its severe
beauty make a convert of Gibbon himself? On the contrary, he bitterly
says, “It was not in this world that the primitive Christians were
desirous of making themselves either agreeable or useful.” “The virtue of
the primitive Christians, like that of the first Romans, was very
frequently guarded by poverty and ignorance.” “Their gloomy and austere
aspect, their abhorrence of the common business and pleasures of life, and
their frequent predictions of impending calamities, inspired the Pagans
with the apprehension of some danger which would arise from the new sect.”
Here we have not only Gibbon hating their moral and social bearing, but
his heathen also. How then were those heathen overcome by the amiableness
of that which they viewed with such disgust? We have here plain proof that
the Christian character repelled the heathen; where is the evidence that
it converted them?

5. Lastly, as to the ecclesiastical organization, this, doubtless, as time
went on, was a special characteristic of the new religion; but how could
it directly contribute to its extension? Of course it gave it strength,
but it did not give it life. We are not born of bones and muscles. It is
one thing to make conquests, another to consolidate an empire. It was
before Constantine that Christians made their great conquests. Rules are
for settled times, not for time of war. So much is this contrast felt in
the Catholic Church now, that, as is well known, in heathen countries and
in countries which have thrown off her yoke, she suspends her diocesan
administration and her Canon Law, and puts her children under the
extraordinary, extra-legal jurisdiction of Propaganda.

This is what I am led to say on Gibbon’s Five Causes. I do not deny that
they might have operated now and then; Simon Magus came to Christianity in
order to learn the craft of miracles, and Peregrinus from love of
influence and power; but Christianity made its way, not by individual, but
by broad, wholesale conversions, and the question is, how they originated?

It is very remarkable that it should not have occurred to a man of
Gibbon’s sagacity to inquire, what account the Christians themselves gave
of the matter. Would it not have been worth while for him to have let
conjecture alone, and to have looked for facts instead? Why did he not try
the hypothesis of faith, hope, and charity? Did he never hear of
repentance towards God, and faith in Christ? Did he not recollect the many
words of Apostles, Bishops, Apologists, Martyrs, all forming one
testimony? No; such thoughts are close upon him, and close upon the truth;
but he cannot sympathize with them, he cannot believe in them, he cannot
even enter into them, _because_ he needs the due formation of mind.(49)
Let us see whether the facts of the case do not come out clear and
unequivocal, if we will but have the patience to endure them.

A Deliverer of the human race through the Jewish nation had been promised
from time immemorial. The day came when He was to appear, and He was
eagerly expected; moreover, One actually did make His appearance at that
date in Palestine, and claimed to be He. He left the earth without
apparently doing much for the object of His coming. But when He was gone,
His disciples took upon themselves to go forth to preach to all parts of
the earth with the object of preaching _Him_, and collecting converts _in
His Name_. After a little while they are found wonderfully to have
succeeded. Large bodies of men in various places are to be seen,
professing to be His disciples, owning Him as their King, and continually
swelling in number and penetrating into the populations of the Roman
Empire; at length they convert the Empire itself. All this is historical
fact. Now, we want to know the farther historical fact, viz. the cause of
their conversion; in other words, what were the topics of that preaching
which was so effective? If we believe what is told us by the preachers and
their converts, the answer is plain. They “preached Christ;” they called
on men to believe, hope, and place their affections, in that Deliverer who
had come and gone; and the moral instrument by which they persuaded them
to do so, was a description of the life, character, mission, and power of
that Deliverer, a promise of His invisible Presence and Protection here,
and of the Vision and Fruition of Him hereafter. From first to last to
Christians, as to Abraham, He Himself is the centre and fulness of the
dispensation. They, as Abraham, “see His day, and are glad.”

A temporal sovereign makes himself felt by means of his subordinate
administrators, who bring his power and will to bear upon every individual
of his subjects who personally know him not; the universal Deliverer, long
expected, when He came, He too, instead of making and securing subjects by
a visible graciousness or majesty, departs;—_but_ is found, through His
preachers, to have imprinted the Image(50) or Idea of Himself in the minds
of His subjects individually; and that Image, apprehended and worshipped
in individual minds, becomes a principle of association, and a real bond
of those subjects one with another, who are thus united to the body by
being united to that Image; and moreover that Image, which is their moral
life, when they have been already converted, is also the original
instrument of their conversion. It is the Image of Him who fulfils the one
great need of human nature, the Healer of its wounds, the Physician of the
soul, this Image it is which both creates faith, and then rewards it.

When we recognize this central Image as the vivifying idea both of the
Christian body and of individuals in it, then, certainly, we are able to
take into account at least two of Gibbon’s causes, as having, in connexion
with that idea, some influence both in making converts and in
strengthening them to persevere. It was the Thought of Christ, not a
corporate body or a doctrine, which inspired that zeal which the historian
so poorly comprehends; and it was the Thought of Christ which gave a life
to the promise of that eternity, which without Him would be, in any soul,
nothing short of an intolerable burden.

Now a mental vision such as this, perhaps will be called cloudy, fanciful,
unintelligible; that is, in other words, miraculous. I think it is so.
How, without the Hand of God, could a new idea, one and the same, enter at
once into myriads of men, women, and children of all ranks, especially the
lower, and have power to wean them from their indulgences and sins, and to
nerve them against the most cruel tortures, and to last in vigour as a
sustaining influence for seven or eight generations, till it founded an
extended polity, broke the obstinacy of the strongest and wisest
government which the world has ever seen, and forced its way from its
first caves and catacombs to the fulness of imperial power?

In considering this subject, I shall confine myself to the proof, as far
as my limits allow, of two points,—first, that this Thought or Image of
Christ was the principle of conversion and of fellowship; and next, that
among the lower classes, who had no power, influence, reputation, or
education, lay its principal success.(51)

As to the vivifying idea, this is St. Paul’s account of it: “I make known
to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received,
and wherein you stand; by which also you are saved. For I delivered to you
first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,” &c., &c. “I am the least of the Apostles;
but, whether I or they, so we preached, and so you believed.” “It has
pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”
“We preach Christ crucified.” “I determined to know nothing among you, but
Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” “Your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ, who is your life, shall appear, then you also shall appear
with Him in glory.” “I live, but now not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

St. Peter, who has been accounted the master of a separate school, says
the same: “Jesus Christ, whom you have not seen, yet love; in whom you now
believe, and shall rejoice.”

And St. John, who is sometimes accounted a third master in Christianity:
“It hath not yet appeared what we shall be; but we know that, when He
shall appear, we shall be like to Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”

That their disciples followed them in this sovereign devotion to an
Invisible Lord, will appear as I proceed.

And next, as to the worldly position and character of His disciples, our
Lord, in the well-known passage, returns thanks to His Heavenly Father
“because,” He says, “Thou hast hid these things”—the mysteries of His
kingdom—“from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little
ones.” And, in accordance with this announcement, St. Paul says that “not
many wise men according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble,”
became Christians. He, indeed, is one of those few; so were others his
contemporaries, and, as time went on, the number of these exceptions
increased, so that converts were found, not a few, in the high places of
the Empire, and in the schools of philosophy and learning; but still the
rule held, that the great mass of Christians were to be found in those
classes which were of no account in the world, whether on the score of
rank or of education.

We all know this was the case with our Lord and His Apostles. It seems
almost irreverent to speak of their temporal employments, when we are so
simply accustomed to consider them in their spiritual associations; but it
is profitable to remind ourselves that our Lord Himself was a sort of
smith, and made ploughs and cattle-yokes. Four Apostles were fishermen,
one a petty tax collector, two husbandmen, and another is said to have
been a market gardener.(52) When Peter and John were brought before the
Council, they are spoken of as being, in a secular point of view,
“illiterate men, and of the lower sort,” and thus they are spoken of in a
later age by the Fathers.

That their converts were of the same rank as themselves, is reported, in
their favour or to their discredit, by friends and enemies, for four
centuries. “If a man be educated,” says Celsus in mockery, “let him keep
clear of us Christians; we want no men of wisdom, no men of sense. We
account all such as evil. No; but, if there be one who is inexperienced,
or stupid, or untaught, or a fool, let him come with good heart.” “They
are weavers,” he says elsewhere, “shoemakers, fullers, illiterate,
clowns.” “Fools, low-born fellows,” says Trypho. “The greater part of
you,” says Cæcilius, “are worn with want, cold, toil, and famine; men
collected from the lowest dregs of the people; ignorant, credulous women;”
“unpolished, boors, illiterate, ignorant even of the sordid arts of life;
they do not understand even civil matters, how can they understand
divine?” “They have left their tongs, mallets, and anvils, to preach about
the things of heaven,” says Libanius. “They deceive women, servants, and
slaves,” says Julian. The author of Philopatris speaks of them as “poor
creatures, blocks, withered old fellows, men of downcast and pale
visages.” As to their religion, it had the reputation popularly, according
to various Fathers, of being an anile superstition, the discovery of old
women, a joke, a madness, an infatuation, an absurdity, a fanaticism.

The Fathers themselves confirm these statements, so far as they relate to
the insignificance and ignorance of their brethren. Athenagoras speaks of
the virtue of their “ignorant men, mechanics, and old women.” “They are
gathered,” says St. Jerome, “not from the Academy or Lyceum, but from the
low populace.” “They are whitesmiths, servants, farm-labourers, woodmen,
men of sordid trades, beggars,” says Theodoret. “We are engaged in the
farm, in the market, at the baths, wine-shops, stables, and fairs; as
seamen, as soldiers, as peasants, as dealers,” says Tertullian. How came
such men to be converted? and, being converted, how came such men to
overturn the world? Yet they went forth from the first, “conquering and to

The first manifestation of their formidable numbers is made just about the
time when St. Peter and St. Paul suffered martyrdom, and was the cause of
a terrible persecution. We have the account of it in Tacitus. “Nero,” he
says, “to put an end to the common talk [that Rome had been set on fire by
his order], imputed it to others, visiting with a refinement of punishment
those detestable criminals who went by the name of Christians. The author
of that denomination was Christus, who had been executed in Tiberius’s
time by the procurator, Pontius Pilate. The pestilent superstition,
checked for a while, burst out again, not only throughout Judea, the first
seat of the evil, but even throughout Rome, the centre both of confluence
and outbreak of all that is atrocious and disgraceful from every quarter.
First were arrested those who made no secret of their sect; and by this
clue a vast multitude of others, convicted, not so much of firing the
city, as of hatred to the human race. Mockery was added to death; clad in
skins of beasts, they were torn to pieces by dogs; they were nailed up to
crosses; they were made inflammable, so that, when day failed, they might
serve as lights. Hence, guilty as they were, and deserving of exemplary
punishment, they excited compassion, as being destroyed, not for the
public welfare, but from the cruelty of one man.”

The two Apostles suffered, and a silence follows of a whole generation. At
the end of thirty or forty years, Pliny, the friend of Trajan, as well as
of Tacitus, is sent as that Emperor’s Proprætor into Bithynia, and is
startled and perplexed by the number, influence, and pertinacity of the
Christians whom he finds there, and in the neighbouring province of
Pontus. He has the opportunity of being far more fair to them than his
friend the historian. He writes to Trajan to know how he ought to deal
with them, and I will quote some portions of his letter.

He says he does not know how to proceed with them, as their religion has
not received toleration from the state. He never was present at any trial
of them; he doubted whether the children among them, as well as grown
people, ought to be accounted as culprits, whether recantation would set
matters right, or whether they incurred punishment all the same; whether
they were to be punished, merely because Christians, even though no
definite crime was proved against them. His way had been to examine them,
and put questions to them; if they confessed the charge, he gave them one
or two chances, threatening them with punishment; then, if they persisted,
he gave orders for their execution. “For,” he argues, “I felt no doubt
that, whatever might be the character of their opinions, stubborn and
inflexible obstinacy deserved punishment. Others there were of a like
infatuation, whom, being citizens, I sent to Rome.”

Some satisfied him; they repeated after him an invocation to the gods, and
offered wine and incense to the Emperor’s image, and in addition, cursed
the name of Christ. “Accordingly,” he says, “I let them go; for I am told
nothing can compel a real Christian to do any of these things.” There were
others, too, who sacrificed; who had been Christians, some of them for as
many as twenty years.

Then he is curious to know something more definite about them. “This, the
informers told me, was the whole of their crime or mistake, that they were
accustomed to assemble on a stated day before dawn, and to say together a
hymn to Christ as a god, and to bind themselves by an oath [sacramento]
(not to any crime, but on the contrary) to keep from theft, robbery,
adultery, breach of promise, and making free with deposits. After this
they used to separate, and then to meet again for a meal, which was social
and harmless. However, they left even that off, after my Edict against
their meeting.”

This information led him to put to the torture two maid-servants, “who
were called ministers,” in order to find out what was true, what was false
in it; but he says he could make out nothing, except a depraved and
excessive superstition. This is what led him to consult the Emperor,
“especially because of the number who were implicated in it; for these
are, or are likely to be, many, of all ages, nay, of both sexes. For the
contagion of this superstition has spread, not only in the cities, but
about the villages and the open country.” He adds that already there was
some improvement. “The almost forsaken temples begin to be filled again,
and the sacred solemnities after a long intermission are revived. Victims,
too, are again on sale, purchasers having been most rare to find.”

The salient points in this account are these, that, at the end of one
generation from the Apostles, nay, almost in the lifetime of St. John,
Christians had so widely spread in a large district of Asia, as nearly to
suppress the Pagan religions there; that they were people of exemplary
lives; that they had a name for invincible fidelity to their religion;
that no threats or sufferings could make them deny it; and that their only
tangible characteristic was the worship of our Lord.

This was at the beginning of the second century; not a great many years
after, we have another account of the Christian body, from an anonymous
Greek Christian, in a letter to a friend whom he was anxious to convert.
It is far too long to quote, and difficult to compress; but a few
sentences will show how strikingly it agrees with the account of the
heathen Pliny, especially in two points,—first, in the numbers of the
Christians, secondly, on devotion to our Lord as the vivifying principle
of their association.

“Christians,” says the writer, “differ not from other men in country, or
speech, or customs. They do not live in cities of their own, or speak in
any peculiar dialect, or adopt any strange modes of living. They inhabit
their native countries, but as sojourners; they take their part in all
burdens, as if citizens, and in all sufferings, as if they were strangers.
In foreign countries they recognize a home, and in every home they see a
foreign country. They marry like other men, but do not disown their
children. They obey the established laws, but they go beyond them in the
tenor of their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all; they
are not known, and they are condemned; they are poor, and make many rich;
they are dishonoured, yet in dishonour they are glorified; they are
slandered, and they are cleared; they are called names, and they bless. By
the Jews they are assailed as aliens, by the Greeks they are persecuted,
nor can they who hate them say why.

“Christians are in the world, as the soul in the body. The soul pervades
the limbs of the body, and Christians the cities of the world. The flesh
hates the soul, and wars against it, though suffering no wrong from it;
and the world hates Christians. The soul loves the flesh that hates it,
and Christians love their enemies. Their tradition is not an earthly
invention, nor is it a mortal thought which they so carefully guard, nor a
dispensation of human mysteries which is committed to their charge; but
God Himself, the Omnipotent and Invisible Creator, has from heaven
established among men His Truth and His Word, the Holy and
Incomprehensible, and has deeply fixed the same in their hearts; not, as
might be expected, sending any servant, angel, or prince, or administrator
of things earthly or heavenly, but the very Artificer and Demiurge of the
Universe. Him God hath sent to man, not to inflict terror, but in clemency
and gentleness, as a King sending a King who was His Son; He sent Him as
God to men, to save them. He hated not, nor rejected us, nor remembered
our guilt, but showed Himself long-suffering, and, in His own words, bore
our sins. He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the just for the unjust.
For what other thing, except His Righteousness, could cover our guilt? In
whom was it possible for us, lawless sinners, to find justification, save
in the Son of God alone? O sweet interchange! O heavenly workmanship past
finding out! O benefits exceeding expectation! Sending, then, a Saviour,
who is able to save those who of themselves are incapable of salvation, He
has willed that we should regard Him as our Guardian, Father, Teacher,
Counsellor, Physician; our Mind, Light, Honour, Glory, Strength, and

The writing from which I have been quoting is of the early part of the
second century. Twenty or thirty years after it St. Justin Martyr speaks
as strongly of the spread of the new Religion: “There is not any one race
of men,” he says, “barbarian or Greek, nay, of those who live in waggons,
or who are Nomads, or Shepherds in tents, among whom prayers and
eucharists are not offered to the Father and Maker of the Universe,
through the name of the crucified Jesus.”

Towards the end of the century, Clement:—“The word of our Master did not
remain in Judea, as philosophy remained in Greece, but has been poured out
over the whole world, persuading Greeks and Barbarians alike, race by
race, village by village, every city, whole houses, and hearers one by
one, nay, not a few of the philosophers themselves.”

And Tertullian, at the very close of it, could in his _Apologia_ even
proceed to threaten the Roman Government:—“We are a people of yesterday,”
he says; “and yet we have filled every place belonging to you, cities,
islands, castles, towns, assemblies, your very camp, your tribes,
companies, palaces, senate, forum. We leave you your temples only. We can
count your armies, and our numbers in a single province will be greater.
In what war with you should we not be sufficient and ready, even though
unequal in numbers, who so willingly are put to death, if it were not in
this Religion of ours more lawful to be slain than to slay?”

Once more, let us hear the great Origen, in the early part of the next
century:—“In all Greece and in all barbarous races within our world, there
are tens of thousands who have left their national laws and customary gods
for the law of Moses and the word of Jesus Christ; though to adhere to
that law is to incur the hatred of idolaters, and the risk of death
besides to have embraced that word. And considering how, in so few years,
in spite of the attacks made on us, to the loss of life or property, and
with no great store of teachers, the preaching of that word has found its
way into every part of the world, so that Greek and barbarians, wise and
unwise, adhere to the religion of Jesus, doubtless it is a work greater
than any work of man.”

We need no proof to assure us that this steady and rapid growth of
Christianity was a phenomenon which startled its contemporaries, as much
as it excites the curiosity of philosophic historians now; and they too
then had their own ways of accounting for it, different indeed from
Gibbon’s, but quite as pertinent, though less elaborate. These were
principally two, both leading them to persecute it,—the obstinacy of the
Christians and their magical powers, of which the former was the
explanation adopted by educated minds, and the latter chiefly by the

As to the former, from first to last, men in power magisterially reprobate
the senseless obstinacy of the members of the new sect, as their
characteristic offence. Pliny, as we have seen, found it to be their only
fault, but one sufficient to merit capital punishment. The Emperor Marcus
seems to consider obstinacy the ultimate motive-cause to which their
unnatural conduct was traceable. After speaking of the soul, as “ready, if
it must now be separated from the body, to be extinguished, or dissolved,
or to remain with it;” he adds, “but the readiness must come of its own
judgment, not from simple perverseness, as in the case of Christians, but
with considerateness, with gravity, and without theatrical effect, so as
to be persuasive.” And Diocletian, in his Edict of persecution, professes
it to be his “earnest aim to punish the depraved persistence of those most
wicked men.”

As to the latter charge, their founder, it was said, had gained a
knowledge of magic in Egypt, and had left behind him in his sacred books
the secrets of the art. Suetonius himself speaks of them as “men of a
magical superstition;” and Celsus accuses them of “incantations in the
name of demons.” The officer who had custody of St. Perpetua, feared her
escape from prison “by magical incantations.” When St. Tiburtius had
walked barefoot on hot coals, his judge cried out that Christ had taught
him magic. St. Anastasia was thrown into prison as dealing in poisons; the
populace called out against St. Agnes, “Away with the witch! away with the
sorceress!” When St. Bonosus and St. Maximilian bore the burning pitch
without shrinking, Jews and heathen cried out, “Those wizards and
sorcerers!” “What new delusion,” says the magistrate concerning St.
Romanus, in the Hymn of Prudentius, “has brought in these sophists who
deny the worship of the Gods? how doth this chief sorcerer mock us,
stilled by his Thessalian charm to laugh at punishment?(54)”

It is indeed difficult to enter into the feelings of irritation and fear,
of contempt and amazement, which were excited, whether in the town
populace or in the magistrates in the presence of conduct so novel, so
unvarying, so absolutely beyond their comprehension. The very young and
the very old, the child, the youth in the heyday of his passions, the
sober man of middle age, maidens and mothers of families, boors and slaves
as well as philosophers and nobles, solitary confessors and companies of
men and women,—all these were seen equally to defy the powers of darkness
to do their worst. In this strange encounter it became a point of honour
with the Roman to break the determination of his victim, and it was the
triumph of faith when his most savage expedients for that purpose were
found to be in vain. The martyrs shrank from suffering like other men, but
such natural shrinking was incommensurable with apostasy. No intensity of
torture had any means of affecting what was a mental conviction; and the
sovereign Thought in which they had lived was their adequate support and
consolation in their death. To them the prospect of wounds and loss of
limbs was not more terrible than it is to the combatant of this world.
They faced the implements of torture as the soldier takes his post before
the enemy’s battery. They cheered and ran forward to meet his attack, and
as it were dared him, if he would, to destroy the numbers who kept closing
up the foremost rank, as their comrades who had filled it fell. And when
Rome at last found she had to deal with a host of Scævolas, then the
proudest of earthly sovereignties, arrayed in the completeness of her
material resources, humbled herself before a power which was founded on a
mere sense of the unseen.

In the colloquy of the aged Ignatius, the disciple of the Apostles, with
the Emperor Trajan, we have a sort of type of what went on for three, or
rather four centuries. He was sent all the way from Antioch to Rome to be
devoured by the beasts in the amphitheatre. As he travelled, he wrote
letters to various Christian Churches, and among others to his Roman
brethren, among whom he was to suffer. Let us see whether, as I have said,
the Image of that Divine King, who had been promised from the beginning,
was not the living principle of his obstinate resolve. The old man is
almost fierce in his determination to be martyred. “May those beasts,” he
says to his brethren, “be my gain, which are in readiness for me! I will
provoke and coax them to devour me quickly, and not to be afraid of me, as
they are of some whom they will not touch. Should they be unwilling, I
will compel them. Bear with me; I know what is my gain. Now I begin to be
a disciple. Of nothing of things visible or invisible am I ambitious, save
to gain Christ. Whether it is fire or the cross, the assault of wild
beasts, the wrenching of my bones, the crunching of my limbs, the crushing
of my whole body, let the tortures of the devil all assail me, if I do but
gain Christ Jesus.” Elsewhere in the same Epistle he says, “I write to
you, still alive, but longing to die. My Love is crucified! I have no
taste for perishable food. I long for God’s Bread, heavenly Bread, Bread
of life, which is Flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I long for God’s
draught, His Blood, which is Love without corruption, and Life for
evermore.” It is said that, when he came into the presence of Trajan, the
latter cried out, “Who are you, poor devil, who are so eager to transgress
our rules?” “That is no name,” he answered, “for Theophorus.” “Who is
Theophorus?” asked the Emperor. “He who bears Christ in his breast.” In
the Apostle’s words, already cited, he had “Christ in him, the hope of
glory.” All this may be called enthusiasm; but enthusiasm affords a much
more adequate explanation of the confessorship of an old man, than do
Gibbon’s five reasons.

Instances of the same ardent spirit, and of the living faith on which it
was founded, are to be found wherever we open the _Acta Martyrum_. In the
outbreak at Smyrna, in the middle of the second century, amid tortures
which even moved the heathen bystanders to compassion, the sufferers were
conspicuous for their serene calmness. “They made it evident to us all,”
says the Epistle of the Church, “that in the midst of those sufferings
they were absent from the body, or rather, that the Lord stood by them,
and walked in the midst of them.”

At that time Polycarp, the familiar friend of St. John, and a contemporary
of Ignatius, suffered in his extreme old age. When, before his sentence,
the Proconsul bade him “swear by the fortunes of Cæsar, and have done with
Christ,” his answer betrayed that intimate devotion to the self-same Idea,
which had been the inward life of Ignatius. “Eighty and six years,” he
answered, “have I been His servant, and He has never wronged me, but ever
has preserved me; and how can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” When
they would have fastened him to the stake, he said, “Let alone; He who
gives me to bear the fire, will give me also to stand firm upon the pyre
without your nails.”

Christians felt it as an acceptable service to Him who loved them, to
confess with courage and to suffer with dignity. In this chivalrous
spirit, as it may be called, they met the words and deeds of their
persecutors, as the children of men return bitterness for bitterness, and
blow for blow. “What soldier,” says Minucius, with a reference to the
invisible Presence of our Lord, “does not challenge danger more daringly
under the eye of his commander?” In that same outbreak at Smyrna, when the
Proconsul urged the young Germanicus to have mercy on himself and on his
youth, to the astonishment of the populace he provoked a wild beast to
fall upon him. In like manner, St. Justin tells us of Lucius, who, when he
saw a Christian sent off to suffer, at once remonstrated sharply with the
judge, and was sent off to execution with him; and then another presented
himself, and was sent off also. When the Christians were thrown into
prison, in the fierce persecution at Lyons, Vettius Epagathus, a youth of
distinction who had given himself to an ascetic life, could not bear the
sight of the sufferings of his brethren, and asked leave to plead their
cause. The only answer he got was to be sent off the first to die. What
the contemporary account sees in his conduct is, not that he was zealous
for his brethren, though zealous he was, nor that he believed in miracles,
though he doubtless did believe; but that he “was a gracious disciple of
Christ, following the Lamb whithersoever He went.”

In that memorable persecution, when Blandina, a slave, was seized for
confessorship, her mistress and her fellow-Christians dreaded lest, from
her delicate make, she should give way under the torments; but she even
tired out her tormentors. It was a refreshment and relief to her to cry
out amid her pains, “I am a Christian.” They remanded her to prison, and
then brought her out for fresh suffering a second day and a third. On the
last day she saw a boy of fifteen brought into the amphitheatre for death;
she feared for him, as others had feared for her; but he too went through
his trial generously, and went to God before her. Her last sufferings were
to be placed in the notorious red-hot chair, and then to be exposed in a
net to a wild bull; they finished by cutting her throat. Sanctus, too,
when the burning plates of brass were placed on his limbs, all through his
torments did but say, “I am a Christian,” and stood erect and firm,
“bathed and strengthened,” say his brethren who write the account, “in the
heavenly well of living water which flows from the breast of Christ,” or,
as they say elsewhere of all the martyrs, “refreshed with the joy of
martyrdom, the hope of blessedness, love towards Christ, and the spirit of
God the Father.” How clearly do we see all through this narrative what it
was which nerved them for the combat! If they love their brethren, it is
in the fellowship of their Lord; if they look for heaven, it is because He
is the Light of it.

Epipodius, a youth of gentle nurture, when struck by the Prefect on the
mouth, while blood flowed from it, cried out, “I confess that Jesus Christ
is God, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost.” Symphorian, of
Autun, also a youth, and of noble birth, when told to adore an idol,
answered, “Give me leave, and I will hammer it to pieces.” When Leonidas,
the father of the young Origen, was in prison for his faith, the boy, then
seventeen, burned to share his martyrdom, and his mother had to hide his
clothes to prevent him from executing his purpose. Afterwards he attended
the confessors in prison, stood by them at the tribunal, and gave them the
kiss of peace when they were led out to suffer, and this, in spite of
being several times apprehended and put upon the rack. Also in Alexandria,
the beautiful slave, Potamiæna, when about to be stripped in order to be
thrown into the cauldron of hot pitch, said to the Prefect, “I pray you
rather let me be dipped down slowly into it with my clothes on, and you
shall see with what patience I am gifted by Him of whom you are ignorant,
Jesus Christ.” When the populace in the same city had beaten out the aged
Apollonia’s teeth, and lit a fire to burn her, unless she would blaspheme,
she leaped into the fire herself, and so gained her crown. When Sixtus,
Bishop of Rome, was led to martyrdom, his deacon, Laurence, followed him
weeping and complaining, “O my father, whither goest thou without thy
son?” And when his own turn came, three days afterwards, and he was put
upon the gridiron, after a while he said to the Prefect, “Turn me; this
side is done.” Whence came this tremendous spirit, scaring, nay,
offending, the fastidious criticism of our delicate days? Does Gibbon
think to sound the depths of the eternal ocean with the tape and
measuring-rod of his merely literary philosophy?

When Barulas, a child of seven years old, was scourged to blood for
repeating his catechism before the heathen judge—viz. “There is but one
God, and Jesus Christ is true God”—his mother encouraged him to persevere,
chiding him for asking for some drink. At Merida, a girl of noble family,
of the age of twelve, presented herself before the tribunal, and
overturned the idols. She was scourged and burned with torches; she
neither shed a tear, nor showed other signs of suffering. When the fire
reached her face, she opened her mouth to receive it, and was suffocated.
At Cæsarea, a girl, under eighteen, went boldly to ask the prayers of some
Christians who were in chains before the Prætorium. She was seized at
once, and her sides torn open with the iron rakes, preserving the while a
bright and joyous countenance. Peter, Dorotheus, Gorgonius, were boys of
the imperial bedchamber; they were highly in favour with their masters,
and were Christians. They too suffered dreadful torments, dying under
them, without a shadow of wavering. Call such conduct madness, if you
will, or magic: but do not mock us by ascribing it in such mere children
to simple desire of immortality, or to any ecclesiastical organization.

When the persecution raged in Asia, a vast multitude of Christians
presented themselves before the Proconsul, challenging him to proceed
against them. “Poor wretches!” half in contempt and half in affright, he
answered, “if you must die, cannot you find ropes or precipices for the
purpose?” At Utica, a hundred and fifty Christians of both sexes and all
ages were martyrs in one company. They are said to have been told to burn
incense to an idol, or they should be thrown into a pit of burning lime;
they without hesitation leapt into it. In Egypt a hundred and twenty
confessors, after having sustained the loss of eyes or of feet, endured to
linger out their lives in the mines of Palestine and Cilicia. In the last
persecution, according to the testimony of the grave Eusebius, a
contemporary, the slaughter of men, women, and children, went on by
twenties, sixties, hundreds, till the instruments of execution were worn
out, and the executioners could kill no more. Yet he tells us, as an
eye-witness, that, as soon as any Christians were condemned, others ran
from all parts, and surrounded the tribunals, confessing the faith, and
joyfully receiving their condemnation, and singing songs of thanksgiving
and triumph to the last.


Thus was the Roman power overcome. Thus did the Seed of Abraham, and the
Expectation of the Gentiles, the meek Son of man, “take to Himself His
great power and reign” in the hearts of His people, in the public theatre
of the world. The mode in which the primeval prophecy was fulfilled is as
marvellous, as the prophecy itself is clear and bold.

“So may all Thy enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love Thee shine,
as the sun shineth in his rising!”


I will add the memorable words of the two great Apologists of the period:—

“Your cruelty,” says Tertullian, “though each act be more refined than the
last, doth profit you nothing. To our sect it is rather an inducement. We
grow up in greater numbers, as often as you cut us down. The blood of the
martyrs is their seed for the harvest.”

Origen even uses the language of prophecy. To the objection of Celsus that
Christianity from its principles would, if let alone, open the whole
empire to the irruption of the barbarians, and the utter ruin of
civilization, he replies, “If all Romans are such as we, then too the
barbarians will draw near to the Word of God, and will become the most
observant of the Law. And every worship shall come to nought, and that of
the Christians alone obtain the mastery, for the Word is continually
gaining possession of more and more souls.”

One additional remark:—It was fitting that those mixed unlettered
multitudes, who for three centuries had suffered and triumphed by virtue
of the inward Vision of their Divine Lord, should be selected, as we know
they were, in the fourth, to be the special champions of His Divinity and
the victorious foes of its impugners, at a time when the civil power,
which had found them too strong for its arms, attempted, by means of a
portentous heresy in the high places of the Church, to rob them of that
Truth which had all along been the principle of their strength.


I have been forestalling all along the thought with which I shall close
these considerations on the subject of Christianity; and necessarily
forestalling it, because, it properly comes first, though the course which
my argument has taken has not allowed me to introduce it in its natural
place. Revelation begins where Natural Religion fails. The Religion of
Nature is a mere inchoation, and needs a complement,—it can have but one
complement, and that very complement is Christianity.

Natural Religion is based upon the sense of sin; it recognizes the
disease, but it cannot find, it does but look out for the remedy. That
remedy, both for guilt and for moral impotence, is found in the central
doctrine of Revelation, the Mediation of Christ. I need not go into a
subject so familiar to all men in a Christian country.

Thus it is that Christianity is the fulfilment of the promise made to
Abraham, and of the Mosaic revelations; this is how it has been able from
the first to occupy the world and gain a hold on every class of human
society to which its preachers reached; this is why the Roman power and
the multitude of religions which it embraced could not stand against it;
this is the secret of its sustained energy, and its never-flagging
martyrdoms; this is how at present it is so mysteriously potent, in spite
of the new and fearful adversaries which beset its path. It has with it
that gift of staunching and healing the one deep wound of human nature,
which avails more for its success than a full encyclopedia of scientific
knowledge and a whole library of controversy, and therefore it must last
while human nature lasts. It is a living truth which never can grow old.

Some persons speak of it as if it were a thing of history, with only
indirect bearings upon modern times; I cannot allow that it is a mere
historical religion. Certainly it has its foundations in past and glorious
memories, but its power is in the present. It is no dreary matter of
antiquarianism; we do not contemplate it in conclusions drawn from dumb
documents and dead events, but by faith exercised in ever-living objects,
and by the appropriation and use of ever-recurring gifts.

Our communion with it is in the unseen, not in the obsolete. At this very
day its rites and ordinances are continually eliciting the active
interposition of that Omnipotence in which the Religion long ago began.
First and above all is the Holy Mass, in which He who once died for us
upon the Cross, brings back and perpetuates, by His literal presence in
it, that one and the same sacrifice which cannot be repeated. Next, there
is the actual entrance of Himself, soul and body, and divinity, into the
soul and body of every worshipper who comes to Him for the gift, a
privilege more intimate than if we lived with Him during His long-past
sojourn upon earth. And then, moreover, there is His personal abidance in
our churches, raising earthly service into a foretaste of heaven. Such is
the profession of Christianity, and, I repeat, its very divination of our
needs is in itself a proof that it is really the supply of them.

Upon the doctrines which I have mentioned as central truths, others, as we
all know, follow, which rule our personal conduct and course of life, and
our social and civil relations. The promised Deliverer, the Expectation of
the nations, has not done His work by halves. He has given us Saints and
Angels for our protection. He has taught us how by our prayers and
services to benefit our departed friends, and to keep up a memorial of
ourselves when we are gone. He has created a visible hierarchy and a
succession of sacraments, to be the channels of His mercies, and the
Crucifix secures the thought of Him in every house and chamber. In all
these ways He brings Himself before us. I am not here speaking of His
gifts as gifts, but as memorials; not as what Christians know they convey,
but in their visible character; and I say, that, as human nature itself is
still in life and action as much as ever it was, so He too lives, to our
imaginations, by His visible symbols, as if He were on earth, with a
practical efficacy which even unbelievers cannot deny, to be the
corrective of that nature, and its strength day by day, and that this
power of perpetuating His Image, being altogether singular and special,
and the prerogative of Him and Him alone, is a grand evidence how well He
fulfils to this day that Sovereign Mission which, from the first beginning
of the world’s history, has been in prophecy assigned to Him.

I cannot better illustrate this argument than by recurring to a deep
thought on the subject of Christianity, which has before now attracted the
notice of philosophers and preachers,(55) as coming from the wonderful man
who swayed the destinies of Europe in the first years of this century. It
was an argument not unnatural in one who had that special passion for
human glory, which has been the incentive of so many heroic careers and of
so many mighty revolutions in the history of the world. In the solitude of
his imprisonment, and in the view of death, he is said to have expressed
himself to the following effect:—

    “I have been accustomed to put before me the examples of Alexander
    and Cæsar, with the hope of rivalling their exploits, and living
    in the minds of men for ever. Yet, after all, in what sense does
    Cæsar, in what sense does Alexander live? Who knows or cares
    anything about them? At best, nothing but their names is known;
    for who among the multitude of men, who hear or who utter their
    names, really knows anything about their lives or their deeds, or
    attaches to those names any definite idea? Nay, even their names
    do but flit up and down the world like ghosts, mentioned only on
    particular occasions, or from accidental associations. Their chief
    home is the schoolroom; they have a foremost place in boys’
    grammars and exercise-books; they are splendid examples for
    themes; they form writing-copies. So low is heroic Alexander
    fallen, so low is imperial Cæsar, ‘ut pueris placeant et
    declamatio fiant.’

    “But, on the contrary” (he is reported to have continued), “there
    is just One Name in the whole world that lives; it is the Name of
    One who passed His years in obscurity, and who died a malefactor’s
    death. Eighteen hundred years have gone since that time, but still
    it has its hold upon the human mind. It has possessed the world,
    and it maintains possession. Amid the most varied nations, under
    the most diversified circumstances, in the most cultivated, in the
    rudest races and intellects, in all classes of society, the Owner
    of that great Name reigns. High and low, rich and poor,
    acknowledge Him. Millions of souls are conversing with Him, are
    venturing on His word, are looking for His presence. Palaces,
    sumptuous, innumerable, are raised to His honour; His image, as in
    the hour of his deepest humiliation, is triumphantly displayed in
    the proud city, in the open country, in the corners of streets, on
    the tops of mountains. It sanctifies the ancestral hall, the
    closet, and the bedchamber; it is the subject for the exercise of
    the highest genius in the imitative arts. It is worn next the
    heart in life; it is held before the failing eyes in death. Here,
    then, is One who is _not_ a mere name, who is not a mere fiction,
    who is a reality. He is dead and gone, but still He lives,—lives
    as the living, energetic thought of successive generations, as the
    awful motive-power of a thousand great events. He has done without
    effort what others with life-long struggles have not done. Can He
    be less than Divine? Who is He but the Creator Himself; who is
    sovereign over His own works, towards whom our eyes and hearts
    turn instinctively, because He is our Father and our God?(56)”

Here I end my specimens, among the many which might be given, of the
arguments adducible for Christianity. I have dwelt upon them, in order to
show how I would apply the principles of this Essay to the proof of its
divine origin. Christianity is addressed, both as regards its evidences
and its contents, to minds which are in the normal condition of human
nature, as believing in God and in a future judgment. Such minds it
addresses both through the intellect and through the imagination; creating
a certitude of its truth by arguments too various for enumeration, too
personal and deep for words, too powerful and concurrent for refutation.
Nor need reason come first and faith second (though this is the logical
order), but one and the same teaching is in different aspects both object
and proof, and elicits one complex act both of inference and of assent. It
speaks to us one by one, and it is received by us one by one, as the
counterpart, so to say, of ourselves, and is real as we are real.

In the sacred words of its Divine Author and Object concerning Himself, “I
am the Good Shepherd, and I know mine, and Mine know Me. My sheep hear My
voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them everlasting
life, and they shall never perish; and no man shall pluck them out of My


1. On the first publication of this volume, a Correspondent did me the
favour of marking for me a list of passages in Chillingworth’s celebrated
work, besides that which I had myself quoted, in which the argument was
more or less brought forward, on which I have animadverted in ch. vii. §
2, p. 226. He did this with the purpose of showing, that Chillingworth’s
meaning, when carefully inquired into, would be found to be in substantial
agreement with the distinction I had myself made between infallibility and
certitude; those inaccuracies of language into which he fell, being
necessarily involved in the _argumentum ad hominem_, which he was urging
upon his opponent, or being the accidental result of the peculiar
character of his intellect, which, while full of ideas, was wanting in the
calmness and caution which are conspicuous in Bishop Butler. Others more
familiar with Chillingworth than I am must decide on this point; but I can
have no indisposition to accept an explanation, which deprives
controversialists of this day of the authority of a vigorous and acute
mind in their use of an argument, which is certainly founded on a great
confusion of thought.

I subjoin the references with which my Correspondent has supplied me:—

    (1.) Passages tending to show an agreement of Chillingworth’s
    opinion on the distinction between certitude and infallibility
    with that laid down in the foregoing essay:—

    1. “Religion of Protestants,” ch. ii. § 121 (vol. i. p. 243, Oxf.
    ed. 1838), “For may not a private man,” &c.

    2. _Ibid._ § 152 (p. 265). The last sentence, however, after “when
    they thought they dreamt,” is a fall into the error which he had
    been exposing.

    3. _Ibid._ § 160 (p. 275).

    4. Ch. iii. § 26 (p. 332), “Neither is your argument,” &c.

    5. _Ibid._ § 36 (p. 346).

    6. _Ibid._ § 50 (p. 363), “That Abraham,” &c.

    7. Ch. v. § 63 (vol ii. p. 215).

    8. _Ibid._ § 107 (p. 265).

    9. Ch vii. § 13 (p. 452). _Vide_ also vol. i. pp. 115, 121, 196,
    236, 242, 411.

    (2.) Passages inconsistent with the above:—

    1. Ch. ii. § 25 (vol. i. p. 177). _An argumentum ad hominem._

    2. _Ibid._ § 28 (p. 180).

    3. _Ibid._ § 45 (p. 189). _An argumentum ad hominem._

    4. _Ibid._ § 149 (p. 263). _An argumentum ad hominem._

    5. _Ibid._ § 154 (p. 267). Quoted in the text, p. 226.

    6. Ch. v. § 45 (vol. ii. p. 391). He is arguing on his opponent’s

2. Also, I have to express my obligation to another Correspondent, who
called my attention to a passage of Hooker (“Eccles. Pol.” ii. 7)
beginning “An earnest desire,” &c., which seemed to anticipate the
doctrine of Locke about certitude. It is so difficult to be sure of the
meaning of a writer whose style is so foreign to that of our own times,
that I am shy of attempting to turn this passage into categorical
statements. Else, I should ask, does not Hooker here assume the absolute
certainty of the inspiration and divine authority of Scripture, and
believe its teaching as the very truth unconditionally and without any
admixture of doubt? Yet what had he but probable evidence as a warrant for
such a view of it? Again, did he receive the Athanasian Creed on any
logical demonstration that its articles were in Scripture? Yet he felt
himself able without any misgiving to say aloud in the congregation,
“Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, _without doubt_
he shall perish everlastingly.” In truth it is the happy inconsistency of
his school to be more orthodox in their conclusions than in their
premisses; to be sceptics in their paper theories, and believers in their
own persons.

3. Also, a friend sends me word, as regards the controversy on the various
readings of Shakespeare to which I have referred (_supra_, ch. viii. §1,
p. 271) in illustration of the shortcomings of Formal Inference, that,
since the date of the article in the magazine, of which I have there
availed myself, the verdict of critics has been unfavourable to the
authority and value of the Annotated Copy, discovered twenty years ago. I
may add, that, since my first edition, I have had the pleasure of reading
Dr. Ingleby’s interesting dissertation on the “Traces of the Authorship of
the Works attributed to Shakespeare.”


    1 “The Oxford Spy,” 1818; by J. S. Boone, p. 107.

    2 Vide “Discussions and Arguments on Various Subjects,” art. 4.

    3 On the Formation of Images, _vide supr._ ch. iii. 1, pp. 27, 28.

    4 Liberty of Prophesying, § 2.

    5 This passage is already quoted in my “Essay on Development of
      Doctrine,” vi. 1, § 2.

    6 Gambier on Moral Evidence, p. 6.

    7 “Supernaturalis mentis assensus, rebus fidei exhibitus, cùm præcipuè
      dependeat à gratiâ Dei intrinsecus mentem illuminante et commovente,
      potest esse, et est, major quocunque assensu certitudini naturali
      præstito, seu ex motivis naturalibus orto,” &c.—Dmouski, Instit. t.
      i. p. 28.

    8 “Hoc [viz. multo certior est homo de eo quod audit à Deo qui falli
      non potest, quàm de eo quod videt propriâ ratione quâ falli potest]
      intelligendum est de certitudine fidei secundum appretiationem, non
      secundum intentionem; nam sæpe contingit, ut scientia clariùs
      percipiatur ab intellectu, atque ut connexio scientiæ cum veritate
      magis appareat, quàm connexio fidei cum eâdem; cognitiones enim
      naturales, utpote captui nostro accommodatæ, magis animum quietant,
      delectant, et veluti. satiant.”—Scavini, Theol. Moral. t. ii. p.

    9 “Suppono enim, veritatem fidei non esse certiorem veritate
      metaphysicâ aut geometricâ quoad modum assensionis, sed tantum quoad
      modum adhæsionis; quia utrinque intellectus absolutè sine modo
      limitante assentitur. Sola autem adhæsio voluntatis diversa est;
      quia in actu fidei gratia seu habitus infusus roborat intellectum et
      voluntatem, ne tam facilè mutentur aut perturbentur.”—Amort, Theol.
      t. i. p. 312.

      “Hæc distinctio certitudinis [ex diversitate motivorum] extrinsecam
      tantum differentiam importat, cùm omnis naturalis certitudo,
      formaliter spectata, sit æqualis; debet enim essentialiter erroris
      periculum amovere, exclusio autem periculi erroris in indivisibili
      consistit; aut enim babetur aut non habetur.”—Dmouski, ibid. p. 27.

   10 “Fides est certior omni veritate naturali, etiam geometricè aut
      metaphysicè certâ; idque non solum certitudine adhæsionis sed etiam
      assentionis.... Intellectus sentit se in multis veritatibus etiam
      metaphysicè certis posse per objectiones perturbari, e. g. si legat
      scepticos.... E contrà circa ea, quæ constat esse revelata à Deo,
      nullus potest perturbari.”—Amort, ibid. p. 367.

   11 ii. n. 154. _Vide_ Note at the end of the volume.

   12 I have assumed throughout this Section that all verbal argumentation
      is ultimately syllogistic; and in consequence that it ever requires
      universal propositions and comes short of concrete fact. A friend
      refers me to the dispute between Des Cartes and Gassendi, the latter
      maintaining against the former that “Cogito ergo sum” implies the
      universal “All who think exist.” I should deny this with Des Cartes;
      but I should say (as indeed he said), that his dictum was not an
      argument, but was the expression of a ratiocinative instinct, as I
      explain below under the head of “Natural Logic.”

      As to the instance “Brutes are not men; therefore men are not
      brutes,” there seems to me no consequence here, neither a _præter_
      nor a _propter_, but a tautology. And as to “It was either Tom or
      Dick that did it; it was not Dick, ergo,” this may be referred to
      the one great principle on which all logical reasoning is founded,
      but really it ought not to be accounted an inference any more than
      if I broke a biscuit, flung half away, and then said of the other
      half, “This is what remains.” It does but state a fact. So, when the
      1st, 2nd, or 3rd proposition of Euclid II. is put before the eyes in
      a diagram, a boy, before he yet has learned to reason, sees with his
      eyes the fact of the thesis, and this _seeing_ it even makes it
      difficult for him to master the mathematical proof. Here, then, a
      _fact_ is stated in the form of an _argument_.

      However, I have inserted parentheses at pp. 277 and 283, in order to
      say “transeat” to the question.

   13 “Aids to Reflection,” p. 59, ed. 1839.

   14 Taylor’s Translation, p. 131.

   15 Ibid. pp. 108-110.

   16 Ibid. pp. 429-436.

   17 “North and South.”

   18 Serm. xi. init.

_   19 Vide supr._ ch. v. § 1, pp. 109, 113.

   20 Pp. 84, 85.

   21 “Analogy,” pp. 329, 330, ed. 1836.

   22 Ibid. p. 278.

   23 “Mechanics,” p. 31.

   24 Phillipps’ “Law of Evidence,” vol. i. p. 456.

   25 “Orley Farm.”

_   26 Guardian_, June 28, 1865.

   27 History, vol. x. pp. 286, 287.

   28 “Peveril of the Peak.”

   29 “Life of Mother Margaret M. Hallahan,” p. vii.

   30 Eth. Nicom. vi. 11, fin.

   31 Though Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, speaks of φρόνησις as
      the virtue of the δοξαστικὸν generally, and as being concerned
      generally with contingent matter (vi. 4), or what I have called the
      concrete, and of its function being, as regards that matter,
      ἀληθεύειν τῷ καταφάναι ἢ ἀποφάναι (_ibid._ 3), he does not treat of
      it in that work in its general relation to truth and the affirmation
      of truth, but only as it bears upon τὰ πρακτά.

   32 Niebuhr, “Roman History,” vol. i. p. 177; vol. iii. pp. 262. 318.
      322. “Lectures,” vol. iii. App. p. xxii. Lewis, “Roman History,”
      vol. i. pp. 11-17; vol. ii. pp. 489-492. F. W. Newman, “Regal Rome,”
      p. v. Grote, “Greece,” vol. ii. pp. 67, 68. 218. 630-639. Mure,
      “Greece,” vol. iii. p. 503; vol. iv. p. 318. Clinton, ap. Grote,

   33 “Prophetical Office of the Church,” pp. 347, 348, ed. 1837.

_   34 Supra_, p. 105, &c. _Vide_ also Univ. Serm. ii. 7-13.

_   35 Penny Cyclopædia_, art. “Atonement” (abridged).

   36 On these various subjects I have written in “University Sermons”
      (Oxford), No. vi. “Idea of the University,” Disc. viii. “History of
      Turks,” ch. iv. “Development of Doctrine,” ch. i. sect. 3.

_   37 Vide_ “Apologia,” p. 241.

_   38 Vide_ “Callista,” ch. xix.

   39 “Analogy,” Pt. ii. ch. 5 (abridged).

   40 “Scopus operis est, planiorem Protestantibus aperire viam ad veram
      Ecclesiam. Cùm enim hactenus Polemici nostri insudarint toti in
      demonstrandis singulis Religionis Catholicæ articulis, in id ego
      unum incumbo, ut hæc tria evincam. Primo: Articulos fundamentales
      Religionis Catholicæ esse evidenter credibiliores oppositis, &c.
      &c.... Demonstratio autem hujus novæ, modestæ, ac facilis viæ, quâ
      ex articulis fundamentalibus solùm probabilioribus adstruitur summa
      Religionis certitudo, hæc est: Deus, cùm sit sapiens ac providus,
      tenetur, Religionem à se revelatam reddere evidenter credibiliorem
      religionibus falsis. Imprudenter enim vellet, suam Religionem ab
      hominibus recipi, nisi eam redderet evidenter credibiliorem
      religionibus cæteris. Ergo illa religio, quæ est evidenter
      credibilior cæteris, est ipsissima religio a Deo revelata, adeoque
      certissimè vera, seu demonstrata. Atqui, &c.... Motivum aggrediendi
      novam hanc, modestam, ac facilem viam illud præcipuum est, quòd
      observem, Protestantium plurimos post innumeros concertationum
      fluctus, in iis tandem consedisse syrtibus, ut credant, nullam dari
      religionem undequaque demonstratam, &c.... Ratiociniis denique
      opponunt ratiocinia; præjudiciis præjudicia ex majoribus sua,” &c.

   41 “Docet naturalis ratio, Deum, ex ipsâ naturâ bonitatis ac
      providentiæ suæ, si velit in mundo habere religionem puram, eamque
      instituere ac conservare usque in finem mundi, teneri ad eam
      religionem reddendam evidenter credibiliorem ac verisimiliorem
      cæteris, &c. &c.... Ex hoc sequitur ulterius; certitudinem moralem
      de verâ Ecclesiâ elevari posse ad certitudinem metaphysicam, si homo
      advertat, certitudinem moralem absolutè fallibilem substare in
      materiâ religionis circa ejus constitutiva fundamentalia speciali
      providentiæ divinæ, præservatrici ab omni errore.... Itaque homo
      semel ex serie historicâ actorum perductus ad moralem certitudinem
      de auctore, fundatione, propagatione, et continuatione Ecclesiæ
      Christianæ, per reflexionem ad existentiam certissimam providentiæ
      divinæ in materiâ religionis, à priori lumine naturæ certitudine
      metaphysicâ notam, eo ipso eadem infallibili certitudine intelliget,
      argumenta de auctore,” &c.—Amort. Ethica Christiana, p. 252.

   42 “De hac damnatorum saltem hominum respiratione, nihil adhuc certi
      decretum est ab Ecclesiâ Catholicâ: ut propterea non temerè, tanquam
      absurda, sit explodenda sanctissimorum Patrum hæc opinio: quamvis à
      communi sensu Catholicorum hoc tempore sit aliena.”—Petavius de
      Angelis, fin.

_   43 Vide supra_, p. 302.

_   44 Vide_ the author’s Occasional Sermons, No. 5.

_   45 Vide supra_, p. 84.

   46 History, vol. viii.

   47 Before and apart from Christianity, the Samaritan Version reads,
      “donec veniat Pacificus, et ad ipsum congregabuntur populi.” The
      Targum, “donec veniat Messias, cujus est regnum, et obedient
      populi.” The Septuagint, “donec veniant quæ reservata sunt illi” (or
      “donec veniat cui reservatum est”), “et ipse expectatio gentium.”
      And so again the Vulgate, “donec veniat qui mittendus est, et ipse
      erit expectatio gentium.”

      The ingenious translation of some learned men (“donec venerit Juda
      Siluntem,” i. e. “the tribe-sceptre shall not depart from Judah till
      Judah comes to Shiloh”), with the explanation that the tribe of
      Judah had the leadership in the war against the Canaanites, _vide_
      Judges i. 1, 2; xx. 18 (i. e. after Joshua’s _death_), and that
      possibly, and for what we know, the tribe gave up that war-command
      at Shiloh, _vide_ Joshua xviii. 1 (i. e. in Joshua’s _life-time_),
      labours under three grave difficulties: 1. That the patriarchal
      sceptre is a temporary war-command. 2. That this command belonged to
      Judah at the very time that it belonged to Joshua. And 3. That it
      was finally lost to Judah (Joshua living) before it had been
      committed to Judah (Joshua dead).

   48 He appeals to the prophecies in evidence of His Divine mission, in
      addressing the Nazarites (Luke iv. 18), St. John’s disciples (Matt.
      xi. 5), and the Pharisees (Matt. xxi. 42, and John v. 39), but not
      in details. The appeal to details He reserves for His disciples.
      _Vide_ Matt. xi. 10; xxvi. 24, 31, 54: Luke xxii. 37; xxiv. 27, 46.

_   49 Vide supra_, pp. 341, 375, 413-416.

_   50 Vide supra._

   51 Had my limits allowed it, I ought, as a third subject, to have
      described the existing system of impure idolatry, and the wonderful
      phenomenon of such multitudes, who had been slaves to it, escaping
      from it by the power of Christianity,—under the guidance of the
      great work (“On the Gentile and the Jew”) of Dr. Döllinger.

   52 On the subjects which follow, _vide_ Lami, _De Eruditione
      Apostolorum_; Mamachius, _Origines Christ._; Ruinart, _Act. Mart._;
      Lardner, _Credibility_, &c.; Fleury, _Eccles. Hist._; Kortholt,
      _Calumn. Pagan._; and _De Morib. Christ._, &c.

   53 Ep. ad Diognet.

   54 Essay on Development of Doctrine, ch. iv. § 1.

   55 Fr. Lacordaire and M. Nicolas.

   56 Occas. Serm., pp. 49-51.

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