Page images
PDF
EPUB

to do mischief by that very authority, which, though repudiated, will assume importance in the eyes of the many; and thus the influence of a great example is too likely to be extensively and mischievously felt.

And we have almost simultaneously been called upon to read the posthumous utterances of another great intellect-of a mind saturated with logical formulæ, but who himself had already declared that he was an entire stranger to the subject; of one who had set aside all the ordinary means of access to a knowledge of the topic upon which he writes; but who, following his own intellect wherever it would lead him unassisted, has found it a will-o'-the-wisp, which has guided him into the slough of infidelity, and into the morass of materialism. Of such things have we been witnesses during the past twelve months, and they are suggestive of many and important considerations. These writings and examples are not the causes of the spread of materialism and infidelity, however, so much as signs of the times in which we live; and we have only to read the article on Mill's Essays in the current number of the Westminster Review to perceive that he had ready-made disciples, who were prepared not only to follow him, but even to outstrip him in the race of scepticism ; and confessions of faith, or rather of the greater or lesser want of it, are now rife, and furnish abundant material for reflection for the psychological as well as for the religious student.

It has not unfrequently occurred to me to inquire whether, in this crisis, the New Church has occupied the position not only to which it is entitled, but which, as it appears to the writer, it is bound to assume, and has, through its exponents, been brought to the front as much as might be expected of it, or as is possible ;-or whether it has not stood too much aloof in the cold shade, leaving the conflicting intellectual world to fight out its own battle in the dark. For what student is there, or can there be, of the New Church doctrines, but is convinced that those doctrines are destined to prevail, bearing as they do upon them the stamp of Divine Truth? Or what intelligent man is there, who, having studied them, does not see that these doctrines, scorned only in proportion as they are lightly skimmed over or misunderstood, are the very touchstone of the intellect,—the rational exponent of the mysteries of Christianity? If Scepticism is the order of the day, here we håve its Antidote ; for here a Mill or a Tyndall would find ample scope for the exercise of their intellectual powers in the examination and verification of those theological arguments and beliefs which are the stumbling-blocks of science. Would not these, and such men, rejoice to be put in possession of a clue which would render the great truths of Christian revelation approachable through the processes of scientific induction ? Would not the barriers of intellectual pride be broken down if that intellect itself was pressed into the service (not unworthy of it) of examining the philosophic scheme which the New Church possesses? And would not prejudice disappear, and conviction ensue,-slowly, it may be, but certainly,that here we have no contradictory or hardly credible dogmas, calling at once for a blind and unsupported faith and a starved rationality, but a luminous, self-contained and consistent scheme, which unfolds a thousand beauties of wisdom, and holds the key to a thousand mysteries in the world around us. For such cannot fail to be the verdict of any educated and intelligent man, who not merely dips into, but conscientiously studies, the works of Emanuel Swedenborg.

And this is the more desirable since there is evidence in the writings of some of those to whom reference has been made of aspirations which express a yearning for truth such as would be painful, seeing how far (they know) they are from it, were it not an encouraging sign that if truth would only fall in their way they would be ready to seize upon it and embrace it with delight and enthusiasm. Nor need we go far for an extract which shall most interestingly confirm my statement. In a work entitled On Compromise we find the following striking and suggestive passage

“Whatsoever form may be ultimately imposed on our vague religious aspirations by some prophet to come, who shall unite sublime depth of feeling and lofty purity of life with strong intellectual grasp and a noble gift of eloquence, we may at least be sure of this,-that it will stand as closely related to Christianity as Christianity stood to the old Judaic dispensation. . ... The modern denier, if he is anything better than that, or entertains hopes of a creed to come, is nearer to the position of a Christianizing Jew. Just as what was once the new dispensation was preached a Judæis, ad Judæos, apud Judæos, so must the new that is to be find a Christian teacher and Christian hearers. It can hardly be other than an expansion, a develop. ment, or a re-adaptation of all the moral and spiritual truth that lay hidden under the worn-out forms. It must be such a harmonizing of the truth with our intellectual conceptions as shall fit it to be an active guide to conduct. In a word, where men sit and hear each other groan, where but to think is to be full of sorrow, it is hard to imagine a time when we shall be indifferent to that sovereign legend of pity.” -On Compromise, by John Morley (p. 120).

Now, does not every one conversant with the works containing the doctrines of the New Church at once recognise in this remarkable passage, as it were, a prophetic utterance? And has not the author of this passage, by the truest instinct, described what we are convinced is the Truth, as it comes from the source which we are constrained to acknowledge as sanctioned by a Divine commission ? And if the author of the work in question were to study the doctrines of the New Church without prejudice, are we not assured that he would therein find what he seeks? There he would find that the human instrument by which the truth is harmonized with our intellectual conceptions was a man of sublime depth of feeling and lofty purity of life, with pre-eminently strong intellectual grasp, and a gift of a noble eloquence. There he would discover how nearly, how essentially related to Christianity is the orderly form of our religious aspirations-standing in fact in the same relation to Christianity as Christianity stood to the old Jewish dispensation. He would therein learn that the newest dispensation springs from an essentially Christian source, and is addressed to essentially Christian hearers, in a paramount sense which the ordinary Christian even little imagines. He would find that the New Church is not a New Church in the sense of being built upon a new basis other than the foundation of the Old Church, but is, in fact, in its fullest extent, an expansion, a development, and a re-adaptation of all the moral and spiritual truth which lay under the old worn-out forms. He would find in it not only a harmonizing of the truth with our intellectual conceptions, but also, in its strictest sense, an active guide to conduct. In a word, he would find in the “sovereign legend of

' Pity" the key to our doctrines, and in the finishing of Christ's work the ground of our belief and hope.

This being the case (and what New Churchman will question that it is so ?), are we not bound to uphold these desiderated doctrines to the utmost, and to strive to cast them by every means in our power, like life-buoys, before the outstretched and clutching hands of drowning sceptics? I think we are ; and that now is the time when we may expect to see progress made in the spread of truth. Man's extremity is God's opportunity, and doubtless many might be led to embrace the religion of common sense and rational faith, if we can agree upon the best means of promulgating and drawing attention to this Antidote to scepticism.

M. A. Oxon.

SCRIPTURE BOTANY.

(LEO GRINDON.) 38. THE CHRIST'S-THORN (Paliurus aculeatus. Nat. Ord. Rhamnaceæ). In the narrative of the events which immediately preceded the Crucifixion occur those well-remembered ones, the platting of the crown of thorns, the mockery of the reed-sceptre, and the cry, in derision, of “Hail ! King of the Jews !” It cannot be without profound interest that the question arises presently, Of what description of thorn was the crown platted ? The Greek word, very properly translated by the general or indefinite one of “thorns,” is ökavbos (the crown being otépavos é ákavowv), and is derived, like acacia, from árý, a point or prickle. In the original application, it was clearly intended to denote any kind of prickly plant, like the term “thorns” in our own vernacular, though in many cases it received ultimately a special sense, precisely again as with English gardeners, “Thorns" mean the different species of Crataegus. The term is the same as that employed in the celebrated inquiry, “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles ? ” and in the Parable of the Sower, some of whose grain fell among åkavdou. Taking several different shapes, under one or another it was applied in old times to the Egyptian acacia (the shittah-tree of the Old Testament); to a spinous genista, as in Virgil ; and to that noble and classic plant from which Callimachus, according to the suggestive legend, derived the idea of the capital of the Corinthian column, and which has been allowed by modern science to retain it. The story of Callimachus and the acanthus, by the way, is probably only a well-constructed fable, designed to express how to a man of genius the most trivial incident may become a power, and that where the incurious see only a weed Art and Poetry find inspiration,

Of course, where a term is so vague, or at all events so various in its application, and where the context throws no light, there can only be conjecture as to an occasional special sense, as in the present case of the crown of acanthus prepared by the soldiers. Some have supposed it to signify one of the identical Cratægus kind just spoken of, and perhaps the common hawthorn, which in May dapples the hedgerows with its odorous white. But the idea has no basis, and it must have been purely by guess, or because the common hawthorn was the image most familiar to his mind, that Guido employed this shrub, or what appears to be intended for it, in the most celebrated of the Ecce Homo pictures—that old familiar Dresden one which has been copied and recopied in a thousand different styles.

Tradition and probability point, nevertheless, in the present instance, to the plant named at the outset—the Paliurus aculeatus, the “Spina Christi” of the early Christian authors, those of mediæval times, and of the mediæval botanists. Nothing has ever been adduced

a

as an objection to it, and modern research gives the belief its full approval. Hasselquist, it is true, applied the name of Spina Christi to a plant slightly different, but there can be little doubt that he did so under a wrong impression, the only difference between the two being found in the fruit, which he would seem to have overlooked. One of the first who made the identity pretty clear appears to have been the celebrated and unfortunate French naturalist and traveller, Peter Belon, by whom various countries in the East were visited between the years 1546 and 1549. Our indebtedness to these old explorers, as said before, it is difficult to place too high. They are like the men who built the simple wooden bridges, so that people should cross the river dryshod, though to-day the stream is spanned by splendid stonework, and of the first we think no more. Belon began life with captivity in a Spanish prison, and after exposure to all the perils of several years' adventure in distant countries, and returning unscathed, was at last assassinated while returning from Paris to his home in the Bois de Boulogne. The account of his Eastern travels was first published at Paris in 1553.1 Old Gerard, in the famous “Herbal," p. 1335, gives a long account of the Paliurus, recognising it as the indubitable “Spina Christi," and says that he had a plant of it in his garden, “ brought forth by sowing of the seed.” Linnæus gave it the name of Rhamnus Paliurus. Willdenow called it Zizyphus Paliurus, under which name it is figured and described in the Botanical Magazine for 1817, fol. 1893. Gærtner most inappropriately called it Paliurus australis; and lastly, we have Lamarck's appellation, well bestowed, since it invites attention to the immense abundance of the aculei or prickles. “Paliurus” was adopted from the ancient Greeks, who gave this name to the jujube-tree ;2 though in Virgil it is transferred to the identical shrub under consideration, the P. aculeatus, which sprang up, so he tells us, on the occasion of the death of Daphnis, taking the place of the violet and the narcissus :

Pro molli violâ, pro purpureo narcisso,

Carduus, et spinis surgit paliurus acutis.3 In most of the countries bordering the Mediterranean, as well as in Palestine, the Paliurus is very common, growing especially in dry and

* Afterwards, or in 1605, by Clusius. “Petri Bellonii cenomani plurimarum singularium et memorabilium rerum in Græcia, Asia, Ægypti, Judæa, Arabia, aliisque exteris Provinciis ab ipso conspectarum observationes tribus libris expressa."

? As in Theophrastus, iv. 4 ; Dioscorides, i. 121 ; and Theocritus, xxiv. 88.

;

3 Ecl. v. 39.

« PreviousContinue »