Essays on the work entitled "Supernatural Religion"
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Title: Essays on "Supernatural Religion"
Author: Joseph B. Lightfoot
Release Date: April 17, 2006 [EBook #18191]
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ESSAYS ON THE WORK ENTITLED "SUPERNATURAL RELIGION"
Reprinted from The Contemporary Review.
J.B. LIGHTFOOT, D.D., D.C.L., LL.D.LATE BISHOP OF DURHAM.
MACMILLAN AND CO.
AND NEW YORK.
First Edition, 1889.Second Edition, 1893.
This republication of Essays which were written several years ago hasno reference to any present controversies. Its justification is thefact that strangers and friends in England and America alike had urgedme from time to time to gather them together, that they might be had ina more convenient form, believing that they contained some elements ofpermanent value which deserved to be rescued from the past numbers ofa Review not easily procurable, and thus rendered more accessible tostudents. I had long resisted these solicitations for reasons whichI shall explain presently; but a few months ago, when I was prostratedby sickness and my life was hanging on a slender thread, it becamenecessary to give a final answer to the advice tendered to me. Thisvolume is the result. The kind offices of my chaplain the Rev. J.R.Harmer, who undertook the troublesome task of verifying the references,correcting the press, and adding the indices, when I was far too ill toattend to such matters myself, have enabled me to bring it out soonerthan I had hoped.
When I first took up the book entitled 'Supernatural Religion,' I felt,whether rightly or wrongly, that its criticisms were too loose andpretentious, and too full of errors, to produce any permanent effect;and for the most part attacks of this kind on the records of the DivineLife are best left alone. But I found that a cruel and unjustifiableassault was made on a very dear friend to whom I was attached by themost sacred personal and theological ties; and that the book whichcontained this attack was from causes which need not be specifiedobtaining a notoriety unforeseen by me. Thus I was forced to breaksilence; and, as I advanced with my work, I seemed to see that, thoughundertaken to redress a personal injustice, it might be made subservientto the wider interests of the truth.
Paper succeeded upon paper, and I had hoped ultimately to cover thewhole ground, so far as regards the testimony of the first two centuriesto the New Testament Scriptures. But my time was not my own, as I wasnecessarily interrupted by other literary and professional duties whichclaimed the first place; and meanwhile I was transferred to another andmore arduous sphere of practical work, being thus obliged to postponeindefinitely my intention of giving something like completeness to thework.
In republishing these papers then, the only course open to me, injustice to my adversary as well as to myself, was to reprint them insuccession word for word as they appeared, correcting obvious misprints;though in many cases my argument might have been strengthenedconsiderably. Recently discovered documents for instance haveestablished the certainty of the main conclusions respecting Tatian'sDiatessaron, to which the criticism of the available evidence had ledme. Again I have since treated the Ignatian question more fullyelsewhere, and satisfied myself on points about which I had expressedindecision in these Essays. On the other hand on one or two minorquestions I might have used less confident language.
What shocked me in the book was not the extravagance of the opinions orthe divergence from my own views; though I cannot pretend to beindifferent about the veracity of the records which profess to revealHim, whom I believe to be not only the very Truth, but the very Life. Ihave often learnt very much even from extreme critics, and have freelyacknowledged my obligations; but here was a writer who (to judge fromhis method) seemed to me, and not to me only [Footnote: See Salmon'sIntroduction to the New Testament p. 9.], where it was a question ofweighing probabilities, as is the case in most historicalinvestigations, to choose invariably that alternative, even though theleast probable, which would enable him to score a point against hisadversary. For the rest I disclaim any personal bias, as against anypersonal opponent. The author of 'Supernatural Religion,' as distinctfrom the work, is a mere blank to me. I do not even know his name, norhave I attempted to discover it. Whether he is living or dead, I knownot. He preferred to write anonymously, and so far as I am concerned, Iam glad that it was so; though, speaking for myself, I prefer taking theresponsibility of my opinions and statements on important subjects.
In several instances the author either vouchsafed an answer to mycriticisms, or altered the form of his statements in a subsequentedition. In all such cases references are scrupulously given in thisvolume to his later utterances. In most cases my assailant had the lastword. He is welcome to it. I am quite willing that careful and impartialcritics shall read my statements and his side by side, and judge betweenus. It is my sole desire, in great things and in small, to be found[Greek: sunergos tê alêtheia].
BOURNEMOUTH,May 2, 1889.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
PAGE I. INTRODUCTION 1—31 II. THE SILENCE OF EUSEBIUS 32—58 III. THE IGNATIAN EPISTLES 59—88 IV. POLYCARP OF SMYRNA 89—141 V. PAPIAS OF HIERAPOLIS I. 142—177 VI. PAPIAS OF HIERAPOLIS II. 178—216 VII. THE LATER SCHOOL OF ST JOHN 217—250VIII. THE CHURCHES OF GAUL 251—271 IX. TATIAN'S DIATESSARON 272—288
DISCOVERIES ILLUSTRATING THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 291—302 INDICES 303—324
If the author of Supernatural Religion [Footnote 1:1] designed, bywithholding his name, to stimulate public curiosity and thus to extendthe circulation of his work, he has certainly not been disappointed inhis hope. When the rumour once got abroad, that it proceeded from thepen of a learned and venerable prelate, the success of the book wassecured. For this rumour indeed there was no foundation in fact. It waspromptly and emphatically denied, when accidentally it reached the earsof the supposed author. But meanwhile the report had been efficacious.The reviewers had taken the work in hand and (with one exception)lavished their praises on the critical portions of it. The first editionwas exhausted in a few months.
No words can be too strong to condemn the heartless cruelty of thisimputation. The venerable prelate, on whom the authorship of thisanonymous work was thrust, deserved least of all men to be exposed tosuch an insult. As an academic teacher and as an ecclesiastical ruleralike, he had distinguished himself by a courageous avowal of hisopinions at all costs. For more than a quarter of a century he had livedin the full blaze of publicity, and on his fearless integrity no breathof suspicion had ever rested. Yet now, when increasing infirmitiesobliged him to lay down his office, he was told that his life for yearspast had been one gigantic lie. The insinuation involved nothing lessthan this. Throughout those many years, during which the anonymousauthor, as he himself tells us, had been preparing for the publicationof an elaborate and systematic attack upon Christianity, the bishop waspreaching Christian doctrine, confirming Christian children, ordainingChristian ministers, without breathing a hint to the world that he feltany misgiving of the truths which he thus avowed and taught. Yet mentalked as if, somehow or other, the cause of 'freethinking' had gainedgreat moral support from the conversion of a bishop, though, if therumour had been true, their new convert had for years past been guiltyof the basest fraud of which a man is capable.
And all the while there was absolutely nothing to recommend thisidentification of the unknown author. The intellectual characteristicsof the work present a trenchant contrast to the refined scholarship andcautious logic of this accomplished prelate. Only one point ofresemblance could be named. The author shows an acquaintance with thetheological critics of the modern Dutch school; and a knowledge of Dutchwriters was known, or believed, to have a place among the acquisitionsof this omniscient scholar. Truly no reputation is safe, when such areputation is traduced on these grounds.
I have been assuming however that the work entitled SupernaturalReligion, which lies before me, is the same work which the reviewershave applauded under this name. But, when I remember that the St Mark ofPapias cannot possibly be our St Mark, I feel bound to throw upon thisassumption the full light of modern critical principles; and, so tested,it proves to be not only hasty and unwarrantable, but altogether absurd.It is only necessary to compare the statements of highly intellectualreviewers with the work itself; and every unprejudiced mind must beconvinced that 'the evidence is fatal to the claims' involved in thisidentification. Out of five reviews or notices of the work which I haveread, only one seems to refer to our Supernatural Religion. The otherfour are plainly dealing with some apocryphal work, bearing the samename and often using the same language, but in its main characteristicsquite different from and much more authentic than the volumes before me.
1. It must be