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Yet the distinction remains to be observed, unless we wish to stultify ourselves; for although both are (if you like) for present purposes equally impossible, the practical impossibility is the only one which may perhaps disappear.
Now we have lately seen the end of many practical impossibilities. It was once impossible for man to fly, or to calculate the distance of a star, or to communicate in a moment with the other side of the world. But we did not need experience to tell us that these impossibilities might some day be resolved; reason would have told us that from the first, if we but had intelligence to question her. And reason tells us now, without wasting vain expectation, that any rational impossibility remains eternal. Yet we confusedly argue that because many things have of late wonderfully become known or done, therefore any thing may be done or known. It all depends upon the nature of the case. We have explored farther north than our ancestors; but our descendants will never go farther still, because we have reached the North Pole. You know many things that Solomon did not know; but you are none the nearer to knowing how it is that you can lift your hand, for it is you who lift it.
From the beginning of the world, people have said that some things were supernatural. It may be so, or not. But why should we expect any light upon that question from our wonderfully increased knowledge and control of nature? Though you read this page ever so carefully, you will none the more have read what is upon its other side. By holding it up to the light, you may discern a vague palimpsest of shadows, illegible suggestions of picture or print. And you might have done that just as well without reading. It is true that many miracles of yesterday are playthings of to-day. Old stories told of magic boats moved without sails by a mysterious force within; we give such a boat to children for a toy. But that only means that we have found certain natural causes whose effects our forefathers would have called magical. It means that some natural things were once thought supernatural; not that no supernatural things remain. It is as if you have been
told that there are black beans in a box in a dark room; but all those which you bring out into the light and examine turn out to be white ones. That does not prove that you were misinformed. It does not even remotely suggest or indicate such a thing. To make that inference, you would have to know how many beans there were altogether. Now, if this number were very great, it might be practically impossible to test the truth of the assertion that some were black; but if the total number were infinite, then to do so would be rationally impossible.
And there is in many of those matters which we term mental or spiritual a curious inherent uncertainty, a quality in the very question which puts it forever outside of any certain answer. Dreams are reported subsequently to have come true. But if they had not come true, they might not have been remembered. How shall we verify the tale of what another person has dreamed, or by what test shall we distinguish in advance which of our dreams will come true? It is said that men have prophesied. But a fulfilled prophecy may always have a coincidence; one unfulfilled may not have been a prophecy. Telepathy is said to require concentration of mind upon the message to be transferred. If this be so, we can never be certain of telepathy; for to test the existence of such a faculty is to concentrate attention not upon the message but upon the test. Angels and ghosts, they say, appear only to those who believe in them. Very well; then the believer can have no criterion and the unbeliever no evidence. So in general with what are now usually called psychic phenomena in lieu of the older and clearer term. And so with many another problem of mental or social action whose subject is the very humanity which inquires. We see not our own eyes, nor know that soul in us which does the knowing. In the mirror, you say? But that is to see only an image: suppose the mirror is incorrect, or your own sight distorted. We cannot study in the same way the habits of ants and the habits of men; for that we need ants and men at once. We can look back upon past evolution; but we cannot
with intent evolve the future, since in that case it would not evolve. We breed horses as we choose, by science. But the horses themselves cannot do so; no more, and for precisely the same reason, can we scientifically breed men. It is no question of intelligence, but of applying that intelligence by a superior mind to an inferior animal; and therein lie both the fallacy and the insolence of the silly babble about eugenics. Applying experimental conditions to these matters simply begs the whole question according to the whim of the investigator; for the question is of what takes place in the absence of experimental conditions. It is rationally impossible to solve such problems.
There is no better type of these indemonstrable mysteries than the old question of immortality. People believe that they have assurance thereof from another world; but they must die in order to find out if such another world exists. And the one possible test or definition of death is its finality. So far as intellectual surety may extend, whoso recovers life cannot be proven to have died. Nevertheless, men say this thing has been. And so the miracle remains, eternally beyond proof or disproof, for us to envisage as we will: almost as if there were a law or purpose in all Mystery, to remind vain understanding of its limitations, and to force upon every one in this or that the choice between sheer faith and sheer unfaith.
Stopping the Leaks
OVERY once in a while an editorial appears in one of the
Every year our bishops lay their hands upon many thousands of people young and old in confirmation; every year some thousands pass through the door of death into the Church Expectant. The difference between the number of those confirmed and those who have died, ought, ideally, to represent the net increase in our communicant list; but that it actually
does not is a fact so well known as to make a re-statement of the case something of a bore. Many of us, no doubt, do not so regard it, however, no matter how uninterestingly recurrent this matter of" leaks" may appear to be. Rather do we regard it either as a matter for prayer, or for new legislation in General Convention.
It is the opinion of the writer, however, that "leaks " are unnecessary and in most cases rather easily preventable, and that what is required for their elimination and ultimate disappearance is nothing more than careful and intelligent work on the part of every parish priest, comparable in difficulty to the work of a "follow-up "man in any good-sized store which sells goods by mail or to out of town customers.
Of course the fact must be faced that lapses from good and regular standing as communicants which occur because of indifference or because of honest change in religious conviction complicate the situation with which we have to deal. In every parish, probably, there are a few persons in every decade who cease coming to Church and receiving the Holy Communion because they have gone over to the Church of Rome or "joined some Protestant denomination, or have simply quit. It may be well to consider these classes of leaks first before taking up the consideration of the greatest single cause for such leaks - the removal of persons from a parish without letters of transfer and the consequent absolute neglect of such persons for the rest of their lives - a deplorable condition of things which is reasonably certain to insure such persons either being drawn into various religious bodies other than the Church, or their drifting entirely away from any kind of organized Christianity.
First, let us speak of the comparatively small loss to Rome. There would seem to be one best way of preventing this, namely: for the parson to convince his people that in this Church of ours we have everything that is essential in the Catholic religion, and especially that we do not labor under the many difficulties which the Roman Church has to contend with and which are peculiar to her genius. It should be clearly explained to all who lean towards Rome-it is not difficult to pick them out in a
that perspective lends a peculiar glamour to the papal Church. "Unity and certainty " sound well, when heard at a certain distance from the great Church which presses these claims upon the attention of dissatisfied Anglicans. The "Roman disease" is probably as common among our divinity students as the adolescent Period of Doubt, and there is little reason to deny that the germ infects lay people of a certain temperament. My point is that the skillful pastor will be watching for the outbreak of this disease and will be equipped with the remedies. Reasonable care, added to the presentation of a normal catholicity will do much to minimize this leak, which to-day is almost negligible. There is practically no such thing nowadays as "the drift to Rome". That was the "
itching of a healing wound," and is not likely to recur again in the Church. Then there is the loss which ensues upon communicants "leaving the Church" and affiliating themselves with some protestant body. The most fertile source, of course, is the mixed marriage. When a communicant of the Church is unaware that he is a catholic, has rarely exercised his churchly privileges, fails to realize his churchly responsibilities, is generally lax, and has little or no conception of the Body of Christ, comes to Church "to hear Mr. So-and-So- in other words when his pastor has not instructed him- then the parson can begin to anticipate this kind of leak in his parish when he observes that the communicant in question is beginning to pay marked attention to the alto singer in the First Congregational Church. In the case of properly taught Church people, marriage with those who have grown up outside the Church is a source of gain to the Church. Other things equal, it is almost an impossibility for a thorough Churchman to leave the Church. He will not want to do so, he will hardly dare contemplate such a thing, because no reasonable man or woman with a fair understanding of what membership in the Church means will care, for light reasons, to attempt to rend himself away from Christ's
1E. g., On What Are Modern Papal Claims Founded? The Rt. Rev. G. F. Browne, D.D., in Church Historical Society Lectures, Series I.