Illogic Primer Quotes Clippings Books and Bibliography Paper Trails Links Film

The “Skeptics” on Essentials and Non-Essentials

John Owen, "The Relation of Christianity to Free-Thought" in Evenings with the Skeptics (Longmans, Green, and co: 1881), pp.61-2.

Arundel. There must always be, so long as creeds are words and men are reasoning beings, a variety of interpretation and opinion as to the essentials or non-essentials of any religious faith. The frequently quoted maxim attributed to Augustine is epigrammatic and pretty: In necesaariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus charitas, but it leaves the main difficulty unsolved. What are necessaria, and why? and what is the boundary line between dubia and necessaria? Certainly the necessaria which can be gathered from the direct utterances of Jesus Christ may be packed in a very small dogmatic parcel.

Leycester. I
have often thought what a different answer — different in spirit and in form — would have been given to the question, ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ by Hildebrand on the one hand or Calvin on the other, compared with the simple injunction of clear duty to God and man, and the noble inculcation of unsectarian charity which it elicited from Jesus Christ. On the other hand, I have sometimes reversed the process, i.e. I have tried to extract from the developed form of one of the most dogmatic sections of Christianity — I mean the Church of Rome —w hat the logical and consistent idea of the founder of such a system could be; in other words, I tried to conceive the Teacher of whom Hildebrand, Alexander VI., Leo X., and Julius II. could claim to be the legitimate and worthy vicars. I need not say that in the attempt Jesus of Nazareth, with His wise, gentle, loving teachings, quite disappeared, and what seemed to occupy His place was a hideous compound of Jewish High Priest, a Grand Inquisitor, and an Oriental despot.

Arundel. In other words, Miss Leycester, you tried to discover the acorn in the oak of some centuries’ growth. I don’t think you can feel surprised that you did not find it.

Miss Leycester. At least I had a right to expect that “the oak of some centuries’ growth” was actually bearing acorns, and not some gaudy-looking but poisonous berry. I could not have anticipated that the acorn would have produced a Upas Tree… The spirit of Christianity may doubtless exist in a variety of forms, just as you may have a jewel in a variety of settings. What I complain of is the wilful abstraction of the precious stone of Christ’s own teaching, and the substitution of the base imitation of hierarchical pride and ambition.

Mrs. Arundel. But agreeing, as we all do, that the Revelation of Jesus Christ is Divine, does not every criticism and examination of it become by the very fact profane?