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Dr. Trevor on Reason Supplanting Dogma

John Owen, Evenings with the Skeptics: Free Discussion on Free thinkers, Vol. II: Christian Skepticism (Longmans, Green & Co: 1881), p.24.

We begin to perceive, too, what a powerful lever was afforded by the dualism of Faith and Reason for emancipating the human intellect from the thralldom of Ecclesiasticism; for, leaving out of consideration the legitimacy of the instrument, we cannot deny its unrivaled potency. Never was there a more conspicuous instance of the effectiveness of the ‘Divide et impera’ method. The dogmas of the Church, with their manifold accretions of ignorance and superstition, were found to have lost at least half of their authority and thereby half of the terrorism they had long exercised over humanity. We cannot, I think, feel surprised that the Church from her standpoint of exclusiveness and infallibility should have hurled her anathemas against the authors and propagators of these opinions. Keenness of insight far less prompt than that which has always characterized Romanism might have easily discerned the issue involved in Twofold Truth. It clearly undermined her own position as the divine and sole accredited source of all truth. The verities she chose to stamp with her own brand were to have no longer the exclusive monopoly hitherto assigned them. Philosophy as a rival trader and bidder for the patronage of humanity set up a store of her own, with her own special commodities, authenticated by her own mark, and trader-like did not scruple to boast the superiority of her goods in certain respects to those retailed by the Church. Whatever other effects might attend this rivalry, at least there was opposition — rudimentary free-trade in human dogmas and opinions. A new condition of human liberty was established, which if not destined to bear much fruit for the present was full of promise for the distant future.

The Church could only fall back on her ancient claim of oneness and individuality. To her boasted unity of form she was astute enough to add the philosophic conception of the essential oneness of all truth, and laid claim to both alike. Truth was not biform as those dualists
asserted — a kind of centaur, half divine, half human. On the contrary, truth was ex vi termini, whole, complete, and indiscerptible, fully embodied and revealed in her own doctrine, form, and polity. It was to no purpose that divines like Abelard and Aquinas, and philosophers like Giordano Bruno, pleaded for the separate existence of secular truth, and expatiated on the natural diversity in object and method between Religion and Philosophy. Both the reasoning and the conclusion were alike disclaimed. As the virtues of the heathen were to earlier ecclesiastics only”splendid vices,’ so the mediaeval Church was eager to pronounce all truths not originated by herself, and which had never received her sanction, mere plausible forms of falsehood. Nor is this prejudice confined to any one part of the history of Romanism. Up to the present day she has reserved her most implacable hostility, her choicest vocabulary of vituperation, for the daring propounders of truth, of whatever kind, outside the limits of her own dogma. What was
true of philosophy in the time of the Schoolmen became true of astronomy in the time of Galileo, and of general physical science in all subsequent periods.

Declaring Reason to be autonomous, it demanded scope for its free exercise. Nor was the territory thus claimed a small one. With a true perception of the rights of Reason, it required a field for criticism and research in every direction. ‘Philosophy,’ said the maintainers of
double-truth — perhaps in satirical imitation of the claims of theologians — ‘should be conversant with all things.’ When we come to the Renaissance we shall find how much this encyclopædic view of knowledge governed human research. In this commencement of science the human mind, on account of its long starvation, claimed to be omnivorous. All knowledge, real and supposed, was devoured with a passionate craving which men nurtured on regular and plentiful diet fail to understand.