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THE AMERICAN 

JOURNAL OF THEOLOGY 

Vol«me Xm OCTOBER, \ 909 Number 4 



DOES THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGIONS 
YIELD A DOGMATIC THEOLOGY? 



PROFESSOR HUGH R. MACKINTOSH 

Edinburgh, Scotland 



The new method of study, familiar to Germans as the religionsge- 
schichtliche Methode, is in theology the question of the hour. Issues 
are raised by it of such cardinal importance that for the present it 
tends to overshadow all other problems. In an age of trusts, often 
hostile to individual enterprise, it is perhaps not wonderful that the 
science of comparative religion should propose to take over the busi- 
ness of Christian theology. The work, it is held, can be better done 
on the larger scale. Every religion is a syncretism; every religion has 
in it elements which can be traced to alien sources and differ consider- 
ably in value. Is it not antecedently probable that the man who 
studies Christianity, not by itself, but as one member of a group, with 
the knowledge and trained insight gained by comparative investiga- 
tion, will take a saner view of it, its strength and perhaps its weakness, 
than the man who is a Church theologian and nothing more? 
In Kipling's familiar words, 

What can they know of England who only England know ? 

How can we reach truth at all except as we define various types of 
religion by contrast to one another, thus fixing and authenticating by 
reference to history the beliefs and practices that are relatively highest ? 
This is the problem of present-day theology; but it is perhaps 
worth while to point out that it is in no sense a novel one. Not to 
speak of the early apologists, we know that the place of Christianity 

5°5 



506 THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF THEOLOGY 

in the religions of the world evoked lively interest in the eighteenth 
century. The age of rationalism indeed brought to the discussion 
several qualities of immense value — a cool urbanity of temper, a singular 
absence of ecclesiastical prejudice, and a real interest in psychology. 
Its weak point was its sense for history. In the nineteenth century 
also there have been forerunners of the new movement. The late 
Professor Otto Pfleiderer had for at least thirty years been making 
substantial contributions to a philosophy of religion which should 
embody, and interpret to reason, the ascertained results of the his- 
torical study of religion. In a recent History of Theology he is 
actually styled the father of the new school. The widely current 
impression that the movement as a whole is of a novel and unpre- 
cedented kind may be due rather to the sharp contrast that obviously 
exists between it and the tendencies of Ritschlianism. So jealously 
and so completely had Ritschl isolated the religion of the New Testa- 
ment from ethnic influences that in the end some of his ablest scholars 
were provoked into reaction; and not unnaturally they have some- 
times spoken as if the direction taken by their revolt were a wholly new 
thing in the world, and spelt revolution. Already, however, the 
Christian mind has begun to accommodate itself more or less calmly 
to the fresh issues thus flung into the arena. Someone has said that 
every new idea, before it is received, has to submit to three successive 
modes of treatment. First people say, severely, " We never heard of 
such a thing before;" next, "It is contrary to the Bible;" finally, "We 
knew it all the time." And even now, I think, we can see this process 
of self-recovery going on in the church. For the hundredth time the 
gospel is finding its own in the changes of human thought. 

Let me now state clearly what this paper does not aim at. It does 
not aim at a discussion of the value of the new method for biblical 
exegesis. It was of course certain beforehand that scholarship would 
advance from a study of primitive Christian documents to a historical 
study of the ideas which these documents contain; answers to the 
question how certain ideas took literary form scarcely decide anything 
as to the origin or worth of the ideas themselves. Hence the work 
of Gunkel and Bousset on a writing like the Apocalypse was at once 
felt to supply a palpable want. At first, it is true, wild ideas were 
entertained as to the far-reaching modifications in store for biblical 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGIONS 507 

theology, and we are still agreeably conscious of the sobering influence 
exerted by the Babel-Bibel controversy. Still, whatever the diseases 
of its childhood, anyone can see that the new method of inquiry has 
come to stay. As Professor Denney has said, "Its right is unques- 
tioned, and though like all new things it is apt to go to some heads 
with intoxicating power, it has brought light into a few dark places in 
the New Testament, and has doubtless more to bring." 1 

Neither is it the aim of this paper to ask what may be the signifi- 
cance for apologetics of the parallels to specifically Christian doctrines 
which are or may be discoverable in the records of non-Christian 
faiths. The importance of this question no one will dispute. Let us 
waive for one moment all uncertainty as to whether the myths of 
virgin-births, of descents into the underworld, of resurrections and 
ascensions which certain writers have pointed out in the religions of 
Egypt, Arabia, Phoenicia, or Persia are veritable analogues of the 
ideas enshrined in the New Testament; let us assume rather that the 
analogy has been proved to the very hilt. Is this supposed result a 
hindrance to the apologist or a help ? Does it make his task of 
justifying the gospel to the modern mind an easier thing, or create a 
fresh and perhaps an exceptionally grave difficulty? Farther on I 
have ventured to indicate briefly the elements of a reply to this subtle 
and complicated question, but for the present we must leave it on one 
side. 

Our problem is rather the more general one whether the method of 
comparative religion, moving always in its proper limits, and using 
no principles but its own, can furnish us with a tenable dogmatic. 
Sanguine things have been said as to the prospect of this, and as to 
the attractiveness it is likely to have for the normal intelligence of today. 
Can these eager words of promise be made good ? Has the effort 
been made to substantiate them, and if so with what success ? It is 
perhaps a fact of significance that so far only one prominent writer, 
Professor Troeltsch, of Heidelberg, has tried his hand, and even he, 
in spite of his great ability, has scarcely got much beyond the prolego- 
mena to a possible dogmatic system. From this we have no right, 
certainly, to infer that the task is too much for human powers, but 
at least we may cherish a salutary sense of its extreme difficulty. 

1 Jesus and the Gospel, p. 11. 



508 THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF THEOLOGY 

Let us then take in turn the laws of historical inquiry formulated 
by Troeltsch, in their application to the field of religion, and let us 
scrutinize the bearing of each on the construction of a doctrinal system. 
Be it remembered, also, that no system of theology is possible or 
conceivable except as it rests upon the apprehension by religious men 
of an absolute criterion of truth and value. Christian beliefs imply 
that in Jesus the Christian mind has felt itself to be in contact with the 
last and highest reality in the universe. Human appreciation of 
truth, as truth is in Jesus, may change or vary in respect to depth, 
accuracy, and comprehensiveness; but except for the irrefragable 
conviction generated in the soul that Jesus Christ puts very God 
within our reach, as Father and Redeemer of men, not a single article 
of Christian faith would ever have been formulated anywhere in the 
world. It is a crucial point, therefore, whether the rules of scientific 
history, as Troeltsch conceives them, still leave to the gospel this 
fundamental character of absoluteness and finality. 

The laws of historic method, says Professor Troeltsch," under 
which all religious phenomena of the past must be subsumed, are 
three in number; those, namely, of criticism, analogy, and relativity. 
According to the first of these, each historical conclusion is in itself no 
more than a judgment of probability, which cannot at the utmost rise 
higher than moral certainty. This makes our hold upon each particu- 
lar an insecure one. The law of analogy asserts the essential uni- 
formity of occurrences in this world, so that events far apart in space 
and time must be regarded as having taken place in that manner 
which general experience proves to be normal. Finally, the law of 
relativity proclaims that history is a seamless robe, each personality 
or episode of the past being only a subordinate element in the limitless 
context. Or, to change the figure, all things are born in the river of 
time; every change in the current is the outcome of previous change; 
and to speak of ultimate isolation or originality is therefore purely 
unmeaning. No one can believe in it who sees what history is. 

Now it is plain that if the fact of Christianity, and especially the 
facts in which Christianity originated, are to be interpreted by these 

2 Ueber historische und dogmatische Methode, pp. 89 ff. On the whole subject 
see Hunzinger's able book, Probleme und Aufgaben der gegenwartigen systematise/ten 
Theologie (1909). 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGIONS 509 

laws, as conceptions assumed to cover all the details without remainder, 
a stupendous problem is being approached with very grave dogmatic 
prejudices. They are so grave that the faith of the New Testament 
may turn out to be discredited from the first. In any case, it is always 
depressing to be told in advance how much you are permitted to 
believe; and these " summary and a priori decisions in which courage- 
ous spirits lay down the law beforehand to a world of which we know 
so little" do not lead us to anticipate that the greatest things in Chris- 
tianity will be handled with the requisite sympathy and fairness. 
One may go farther, and say that it is a direct offense against the prin- 
ciples of exact thought to import into the investigation of Christianity 
methods which are no doubt quite trustworthy in general research, 
but which yet bar out by definition the claim of this religion to bring 
to men a wholly unique embodiment of divine grace. If we may 
put it so, the Christian faith has achieved results, in the consolation 
and renewal of human lives, which merit treatment of a more respect- 
ful kind. Nor can we consent that the lips of the apostles should be 
sealed on the mere ground that they lived so long ago, when it was 
still believed that amazing things could happen. It is possible that 
amazing things happen to this day. Indeed " if anything is certain, 
it is that the world is not made to the measure of any science or 
philosophy, but on a scale which perpetually summons philosophy and 
science to construct themselves anew." 3 The estimate of Christianity 
proposed by the new school has naturally suffered from a failure to 
allow for this. And in particular, a closer scrutiny of the three rules 
laid down by Professor Troeltsch will prove, I think, that the obstacles 
they present to the construction of a theology are really of an insuper- 
able kind. 4 

a) We may grant without hesitation, apropos of the law of criticism, 
that exact history can never furnish a mathematically certain demon- 
stration of facts belonging to the past. For half a century, indeed, 
it has been held as a theological commonplace that the apologist or 
preacher has no coercive proofs at his diposal. History, sacred or 
profane, can yield no more than verdicts of probability. It can 

3 Denney, op. cit., p. 6. 

4 1 take them in a slightly different order from Troeltsch, but this makes no differ- 
ence to the argument. 



5IO THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF THEOLOGY 

neither make it certain that Jesus rose from the grave, nor that, if he 
did so rise, the incident was part of a unique and definitive manifesta- 
tion of divine mercy. Yet on the other hand the Christian gospel, as 
we rightly remind ourselves, in no sense lives and moves and has its 
being in the pure vacuum of historical science. Rooted in history 
once for all, it yet stands in another and richer context. For one 
thing, it is energizing in the world at this hour, touching hearts and 
changing lives; and Christianity, so far as historians may study it 
apart from this, is a mere abstraction, a detached and unmeaning 
fragment of reality. For another thing, Christianity does not fly loose 
in the air, but is in itself simply a brief name for effects due to the 
influence of Jesus, with whose personality we are confronted in the 
New Testament, and who makes his own divine impression on the 
conscience and the mind. He shines be ore the souls of men in ways 
that are their own evidence. Thus it is in complex fashion that the 
gospe makes its appeal to our entire personality, flowing in upon us 
by many channels; and our motives in responding to it are not the 
product of merely historical argument, but something much more 
diverse and constraining. Hence the discovery that each particular 
fact in the New Testament record may be called in question by the 
critic need not perturb us, for we have other and deeper grounds 
for being infallibly sure of Jesus. On the other hand, the failure of 
a pure y historic proof is very serious for the man who determines to 
build re igious certainty on history alone. It means that the central 
support of the edifice has given way. Thus in the case before us, the 
historical study of religion, operating with the law of criticism as 
Professor Troe'tsch expounds it, deprives us of full assurance as to the 
origins of Christianity. And this means, so far, the ruling-out and 
withdrawal of data without which dogmatic cannot be produced. 

b) The second law of history, in the religious field or any other, 
is the law of relativity. It excludes at the outset all facts of a sup- 
posed unique or absolute character, and levels even the most remark- 
able down to a point at which they become amenable to exact scientific 
method. Past events are only phenomena at the best, and phe- 
nomena have all their assignable place in the uniform sequence of 
effects and causes. It is this place in the series that makes them what 
they are. Hence the milieu creates the man. Clearly, when such a 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGIONS 51 1 

view is confronted with Jesus Christ, it will be tempted to disparage his 
singularity, not arbitrarily but on principle, for it will regard itself as 
bound to show him to his place in the normal process of the world, and 
to frown upon excited talk about a clear distinction between him and all 
other children of men. It will tend to interpret what the gospels say as 
to Jesus' own consciousness of himself with an estimate of the situation 
held in reserve which is certain to minimize the impact of the evidence. 
Unbiased study of the documents is rendered nearly impossible by a 
private theory which discounts the evidence beforehand. 

In a single word, the issue at this point is whether the new method 
of study can make room for a redeeming self-revelation of God. If 
history is the domain of the merely relative, each constituent part 
being only a greater or less function of the whole, it has been so denned 
as to make the presence of an absolute religion on the earth impossible. 
The character of the world vetoes it. It can no more be put in a 
universe like this than lightning in a matchbox. All things being 
relative only, the person of Jesus is also relative; He can have no 
absolute significance for religion, as the one Mediator between God 
and man. The meaning of his life, the impression he made on the 
apostles, has no final value for faith now. It has a value of its own no 
doubt as an indication of the Power behind the universe; it is one of 
many phenomena that reveal the great noumenon. But to speak of 
it as conclusive is merely thoughtless. It may yet be modified or 
transcended. Hence once more, this time from a fresh point of view, 
the materials of a Christian theology — as an interpretation of life based 
expressly on Christ's absolute redeemership — are seen to be beyond 
our reach. 

The insufficiency of the conclusions yielded by the history of religion, 
accordingly, is manifest. Does the psychology of religion carry us 
farther ? Let us remember what the psychology of religion is. Its 
function may be described in a few words. First, in abstraction from 
the time process, we simply analyze the contents of the religious con- 
sciousness; next, we inquire whether the religious psychosis is a 
primary or secondary element, an original and distinct kind of men- 
tality — as logical thought is, or ethical judgment, or aesthetic intuition 
— or on the other hand a mere result of combination, a derived and 
collateral product born of the consilience of ideas and feelings not 



512 THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF THEOLOGY 

themselves religious. Further than this the scope of psychology does 
not extend. It is to be noted therefore that in the first place a psycho- 
logical history of religion is incompetent to pronounce upon the truth 
of the beliefs it has encountered in the human documents and records 
of the past. What the beliefs in question exactly are, with what feel- 
ings they are associated causally or by mere concomitance, in what 
acts of worship they find expression — on all these points abundant 
information may be had. But as to their objective veracity, their 
correspondence with a system of reality existing elsewhere than in the 
individual's mind, no psychological discipline can tell us anything. 
In the same way, secondly, the psychological history of religion has no 
right to decide upon the ethical value of the faiths it has been seeking 
to analyze. Its methods do not permit of a verdict as to the compara- 
tive merits even of different stages in the evolution of a single religion, 
for its resources supply no absolute criterion by means of which the 
necessary measurements and comparisons may be carried out. You 
can say whether one religion is more powerful than another, or more 
widely disseminated, or longer lived; but you cannot say that it 
represents a nearer approximation to a perfect religion, for the idea 
of a perfect religion is, at this point and in this context, illegitimate. 
Before this tribunal every religion is as good as its neighbor, and 
proves its right to live by living. To appeal to an absolute revelation, 
as a canon of truth to which our minds have to conform, is, as from 
this point of view we are told, quite consistently, to cease to be pure 
historians, and to ask questions which must be disallowed. In your 
capacity of historian or psychologist you can no more declare for one 
religion as against others than as a tax-collector you could give a 
personal friend the privileges of exemption. 

To pass to another point, the advocates of the new method have 
never concealed their predilection for the idea of a general evolution 
of religion which makes a peculiar revelation, strictly, inconceivable. 
A typical passage from Bousset may be quoted. 

The modern conception of the world [he writes] postulates certain inviolable 
norms and rules of the development of man's spiritual life. By the side of the 
laws of nature there has come to stand for historical science the idea of historical 
evolution. With the aid of this idea, that science undertakes the immanent 
interpretation of every occurrence in the spiritual world All things are 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGIONS 513 

in flux, all things are reciprocally determined. When history has done its leveling 
work, it is impossible to maintain that anywhere in human life there exists in 

the old sense a quite special realm of divine revelation But if we must 

thus lower our flag to historical science, and abandon the notion of special acts 
of divine revelation, all the more is it our duty to step forward without fear and 
take seriously the idea of a universal revelation. On the one hand therefore 
we say, composedly, nowhere in history is a spot discoverable where God works 
in a special manner, by action that goes on alongside of human action, and can 
be distinguished from it; for the whole is human. On the other hand we say, 
all is divine. 5 

It is evident that the philosophical presuppositions so candidly 
avowed in these words make Christian doctrine in the older sense 
quite futile. If reality, as dealt with by history, is a self-contained and 
internally controlled sphere, every change in which is completely 
explicable by means of resident forces, no intrusions from without can 
be tolerated, and none in the last resort are called for. The system is 
self-sufficient, and, like unwinding clockwork, it liberates for ever and 
ever the energies with which it was charged in the beginning. At no 
point is there room for that remedial interposition on the part of God, 
belief in which is the very stamp and seal of the Christian religion. No 
one religion of the past, nor all religions together, can avail to bring 
God near to us in a decisive way. This compromise with the princi- 
ples of natural science — in which faith bears all the loss and science 
really gains nothing — fixes in advance the dimensions which are to be 
assigned to the person of Jesus. No view of Jesus can be admitted, 
be the historical or experiential evidence what it may, that sees in him 
the definitive personal appeal of Almighty God to a world of sin, 
for that would be to affirm the existence in human life of " a quite 
special realm of Divine revelation;" and this, as we have already seen, 
is vetoed from the start. 

I think it is clear that a certain view of the actualities of history 
emerges as a conclusion in the writings of Professor Bousset and his 
friends for the simple reason that it has been put into their funda- 
mental premises. It applies no doubt to what they call "history;" 
but it need not apply to the real world. To suppose that it must is — 
to borrow an illustration from Dr. James Ward — as absurd "as it 
would be to say that a man must fit his coat, and not that the coat must 

s Das Wesen der Religion, pp. 253 S. 



514 THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF THEOLOGY 

fit the man." 6 On the strength of their assumptions, indeed, a special 
Christian revelation is affirmed to be unthinkable; but the only 
statement logically permissible is that the descriptive apparatus 
named by them "history" cannot recognize any such thing. So that 
the sweeping conclusion has been demonstrated by turning it into an 
axiom. " And how often in the history of science have false and hasty 
assumptions been called axioms, only because they were simple and 
could not be proved." 

We demur therefore to a theory which discredits the Christian 
religion beforehand, forbidding men to think of it as a new beginning 
in human life, absolute, unique, original, and thus the very type of 
divine preferential action. But this does not condemn us to a view of 
the world's past which is cold and narrow. We have no interest in 
denying that revelation has been going on in all places and at all times 
— in nature, in history, and specially in the history of all religions. It 
is not possible, indeed, at once to believe in God the Father as Jesus 
made him known, and to maintain that he has sedulously hid himself 
from all but Jews and Christians. But universality is not uniformity. 
That God has spoken to the world through prophets, seers, saints in 
every clime, is no reason why he should not have spoken finally in 
his Son, to make an end of sin and bring in everlasting righteousness. 
A great missionary was once heard to say that he had never preached 
the gospel anywhere, without finding that God had been there before 
him. Yet that divine presence and action did not serve to make the 
Christian message superfluous, but to make it appreciated when it 
came. So far therefore from belief in the absoluteness of Chris- 
tianity compelling us to regard a universal operation of the Spirit of 
God as something incredible, or at all events excessively improbable, 
it reveals it rather as luminously fit and religiously certain. Let us 
not so conceive the good as to make it the enemy of the best. That, 
however, would be the case if the gifts of God elsewhere were taken to 
disprove his supreme and incomparable gift in Jesus Christ. It is 
much wiser, surely to point to the signs of divine providence which 
appear in the fact that this is an age both of missions and compara- 
tive religion. The more we learn of other religions, the more clearly 
do we perceive the absolute place of the gospel in comparison. 

* Naturalism and Agnosticism, II, 68. 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGIONS 515 

One feels that men have drifted into a negation of the absolute 
character of Christianity, however unconsciously, because they have 
first come to hold the absoluteness of Christ himself with an uncertain 
grasp. In fact, a recent exponent of the new method has blurted out 
the truth by declaring that the difference between the group to which 
he belongs and the more positive school is a difference not of method 
simply, but of religion. 7 This incautious but well-founded observation 
is corroborated by their allusions to the person and work of Jesus. In 
strictness they have as yet given us no real Christology; which is not 
to- be wondered at, for it is only in a non-natural sense that they are 
able to speak of him as the object of faith; but we can discern whither 
their argument is tending. He is a religious genius; he is the hero of 
faith par excellence; he is the first Christian, in whom belief in God, 
immortality, and virtue were seen in unique and amazing power; but 
only in a partial sense is he the Mediator between God and man. 
And the inference appears to be that those who trust in him are only 
partially redeemed. He may bring men rather nearer God than other 
great religious souls have done, but there can be no question of his 
bringing them into a quite new relation to the Father. I do not sup- 
pose that Christians of the type represented in the New Testament 
would know what to make of the notion that Jesus is a partial Savior, 
who accomplished much for us, but, as later revelations may yet prove, 
by no means all. Of course we are assured that Christians of that 
period were very far astray. With increasing boldness the theory 
has been worked out that the New Testament view of Christ had 
scarcely anything to do with him who bears that name; as Weinel 
puts it, the Christology was almost complete before Jesus appeared. 
Even his existence (one feels) might be called gratuitous, for the ideas 
we associate with him were familiar previously. But the arguments 
employed to support this specious hypothesis are obviously less con- 
vincing than the supreme importance of the case demands. No serious 
effort has been made to explain how the apostles came to fix on Jesus, 
a crucified Jew, as the object of those infinite epithets of glory and 
transcendence which Weinel says it was inevitable they should use. 
Granted that the idea of a divine and pre-existent Savior was current 
in the world of that day, why identify Jesus with this sublime Figure 
of religious hope ? 

' Theologischer Jahresbericht, 1907, IV, 553. 



516 THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF THEOLOGY 

We may sum up our results so far. The historical law of relativity 
is interpreted in such a sense as to invalidate beforehand the concep- 
tion of Christianity as a message of absolute redemption. History 
cannot be the medium of absolute values. God cannot use it to 
communicate himself wholly to man. Inviolable principles of criti- 
cism forbid us to believe that there is anything not completely explica- 
ble by the immanent laws of the world-process. It is not merely that 
we cannot apprehend God's gift of himself except relatively — this we 
shall all concede; but God cannot give himself, except relatively, and in 
degrees of more and less. Evidently, if this be true, there is no longer a 
Christian gospel. In sober fact, however, the idea that history is 
incapable of anything but relatives is a mere prejudice of the mind. 
Our first duty is to listen to evidence, not to dictate off-hand to reality 
as to the possible or impossible. Moreover, when we consider the 
content of the gospel, to deny its sheer and unconditional uniqueness 
is open to no one who sees clearly what the gospel is. Nor does it 
appear to have dawned on writers of the new school that a reading of 
Christianity like theirs, if past experience is worth anything, will be 
found by the modern mind just as incredible as that of the more 
familiar evangelicalism. A personal God who reveals himself 
partially in Jesus, but not completely, is in no sense more probable than 
a God who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son to 
save it. Mysthre pour mystbre, the more amazing gospel is the more 
convincing. In any case the tentative and hypothetical conclusions 
of Troeltsch and Bousset do not permit of our making the person of 
Christ the organic and all-determining center of theological interpre- 
tation, and for this reason alone the dogmatic thinker who takes that 
person as his regulative principle must look for light and help else- 
where. 

c) The law of analogy may be dealt with more briefly. According 
to it the human mind, in every land or century, has been working on 
parallel and related lines, so that virtually all the more striking doc- 
trines of Christianity have their counterpart in other faiths. Here 
also tout connaitre, c'est tout pardonner. Let us only take pains to 
understand how men have always thought about Deity, and its opera- 
tions in the world, and we shall readily make allowances for beliefs 
such as those in the incarnation, the resurrection, the miracles of Jesus. 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGIONS 517 

Ideas of that kind have no historical truth, indeed, but they have the 
timeless truth of religious poetry, and they represent the grand sym- 
bolism into which the soul is wont to cast its ineffable intuitions. 

What then are we to say about analogies that have been pointed 
out in other religions ? In the first place, it behooves us to be quite 
sure of our facts. I believe it to be true to say that no exact parallel 
to birth from a pure virgin has been found. Assertions to the contrary 
have indeed been made, but on a close inspection the parallel has 
invariably broken down at some crucial point. This holds good also 
of the resurrection of Jesus, as the New Testament represents it. 
Yet granted for the moment that such analogies exist; what then ? 
Then, as it appears to me, there are two wrong kinds of attitude, and 
one right kind. The first wrong attitude is the panic of orthodoxy. 
Men who still hold, even if it be unconsciously, the older ideas of 
revelation, according to which a number of theological propositions are 
supernaturally imposed on the human intelligence, are not unnaturally 
bewildered to find elsewhere ideas curiously resembling some that 
enter into Christianity. But no difficulty exists for the truer view 
that revelation is given, not in bare dogmatic theorems, but through 
the medium of historic fact and personality. The second wrong 
attitude is the hasty dogmatism of some writers on comparative 
religion. To them it is self-evident that analogy means borrowing. 
The analogous elements in Christianity have simply been lifted out 
of the legends of the East. All one can say of this is that it degrades 
the apostolic mind to a quite incredibly low level. Does the New 
Testament really look like the production of men who had to borrow 
their great ideas ? The life that vibrates in it, " the life that always 
fills us again with wonder as it beats upon us from its pages" — is it, 
in truth and soberness, the kind of thing that we naturally associate 
with plagiarism ? Surely to say that the idea of the resurrection is a 
christianized pagan myth is to miss the whole point of the New Testa- 
ment situation; for what confronts us there, as the first and funda- 
mental reality, is a wonderful new life called into being by experiences 
of which the apostles claim to give a simple historical account; it is 
not a general idea about what must have been the destiny of one like 
Jesus, to which they then proceed to give expression in copied or 
borrowed symbolisms. People do not borrow ideas who already 



518 THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF THEOLOGY 

have the concrete fact. But apart from this, it will not be difficult to 
offer a reasonable account of the analogies in question, if we believe, 
as surely we may, that in the Christian gospel there is given the historic 
fulfilment of great religious ideas which from the first had been dimly 
moving in the human mind. After all, it was not an irreligious world 
into which Christ came. On the contrary, it was a world in which 
countless wistful religious experiments had been made, and in which 
many of the vast conceptions given in the Christian salvation, and now 
at last realized in pure and final form, had long before assumed rudi- 
mentary but prophetic shape. Sacrifice, incarnation, atonement, 
resurrection — these ideas are present in many ethnic faiths; by 
their presence they bear witness to the deepest religious needs of man; 
and these dreams, often expressed unconsciously in myth, are answered 
in Jesus Christ. And Christianity becomes greater, not less, one may 
feel, by owning a real kinship with these profound and immemorial 
desires. In every worthy sense, it comes not to destroy but to fulfil. Yet 
it does not fulfil by borrowing ideas; it fulfils by offering to the world, 
in the concreteness of divine reality, what had hitherto been the object 
only of faint and broken expectation. The analogies, therefore, 
which are or may be proved to obtain between the Christian facts and 
pagan legends need embarrass no one. They become luminous and 
significant in the light of these two facts, that the religious instinct is 
universal, and that all along there has been the steady pressure of 
divine revealing action on susceptible and earnest souls. 

Hence we by no means demur to the law of analogy as such, but 
only to a particular application of it. As interpreted by the new 
school it discounts the spontaneity and independence of the Christian 
religion, and assigns it a place of reduced importance as in some ways 
but the satellite of older faiths. Gunkel's words could not well be 
plainer. " The religion of the New Testament," he writes, " in its origin 
and its shaping, fell under the influence of alien religions in important 
points, and even in some points that are essential." 8 One of the 
essential points, as we have seen, was its Christology. But if, as 
Pfleiderer also has suggested, the Christian view of Christ is little more 
than a compound of ideas to each of which real and sufficient analogies 
can be found elsewhere, 9 the claim of Christianity to fill a place all by 

8 Zum religions gesch. Verstandniss d. N. T., p. i. 

» Cf. his Das Christusbild des urchristlischen Glaubens, pp. 102 fi. 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGIONS 519 

itself is vain, and no ground remains for continuing to speak of Jesus, 
in any incomparable sense, as our Lord and Savior. That belief also 
the law of analogy sweeps away. So that the newer school is really 
unable to offer us a Christian dogmatic, because first of all it is unable 
to offer us a Christian faith. It has detached salvation, as believers 
have known it, from Jesus Christ; it has left him, when all is said and 
done, no distinction but that of being the first of Christians. But Jesus 
is not the first Christian; his work is to make the Christian life possible. 
Far from being one in a series, it was his aim that men's eyes might be 
opened to see what he and he only is. 

In three points of view, therefore, we have examined the prospects 
of a dogmatic being built up with materials at the disposal of the most 
modern school of writers; and the result, in many respects, has been of a 
negative and unsatisfactory character. With all their brilliant service 
to the cause of biblical exegesis, they are useless for the purposes of 
Christian theology. For there is no evading the principle laid down by 
the instinctive feeling of the church: unless a theologian takes the spe- 
cifically Christian attitude to Jesus — unless with the saints of every time 
he puts Jesus in the supreme place, a place that covers and determines 
everything in the relations of God and man — he is not a Christian 
theologian any more. That which he is building up is not Christianity, 
but something quite different. It is the outcome of an attempt to 
make all over again a religion that has passed its nineteen-hundredth 
birthday.