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ART. I. CHRIST THE SPIRIT.
Christ the Spirit: being an Attempt to state the Primitive View of Christianity. 2 vols. New York: James Miller.
IN many respects this is a very remarkable book. It is remarkable as being the production of a soldier in the regular army of the United States, who has spent the greater part of a life now well advanced in active military service on the field and the Indian frontier, away from libraries and the association of thinking men, and has risen by merit to the rank of Brigadier-General. In 1855, General Hitchcock, for he is the author, left the army, but on the breaking out of the present war, the Administration, anxious to secure the service of his tried ability, commissioned him a Major-General, and tendered to him very important military commands. These he declined accepting; but being called to the important post of military adviser at Washington, he continued until recently in that office, the duties of which he discharged in a manner highly honorable to himself and satisfactory to the government. The book is remarkable for the spiritual, we may almost say the mystical, character of its thought, for the serenity of its view, the purity of its speculation, the unceasing boldness and unaffected loftiness which we are apt to regard as the solitary student's peculiarity, and which we find it difficult to associate with the military habit of mind. It is remarkable again, and still more remarkable, for the lovely temper in which it is written. A sweeter moral atmosphere VOL. LXXIII. 5TH S. VOL. XI. NO. III.
we never breathed than pervades every paragraph of the two volumes. There is no harshness, there is no intolerance, there is no aggression, there is no disagreeable dogmatism, no assumption of superior wisdom. Its charity is perfect, for there is no air of charitableness about it; it is the good-will of an honest, believing, and gentle mind. We can scarcely think of a theologian, living or dead, who might not with profit sit at the feet of this brave soldier, and listen to him as he talks about religion. "I would ask," he says, "with as much earnestness as may not compromise a reasonable degree of diffidence, that the suggestions in the following pages may receive the attention of those who feel that they do not well know what to make of the miraculous portions of the Scriptures; not, indeed, as a final solution of the multitude of problems that may arise on a perusal of the sacred volume, but as furnishing some clew to a method of study by which, with patience and the Divine blessing, some valuable results may be obtained." We quote this beautiful paragraph, instead of others equally beautiful, of which there are so many of similar strain that the selection would be embarrassing, because it indicates one of the motives of the author haps we may call it his chief motive in offering his work to the public. He would aid those who are stumbling over the miraculous portion of the Scriptures. He has no scruple about showing openly the side which will be most offensive to the readers of such a review as this; but he has not the least intention of making himself offensive to anybody, nor does he seem to suspect that he may be making himself so. He is quietly persuaded that multitudes of men are stumbling over the supernatural in the life of Jesus, and that great numbers will thank him for removing that stone of stumbling from their path. He assumes the mythical character of the miraculous portions of the New Testament, without the least reserve, the slightest emotion, or the feeblest apology. "If," he says, "we accept the miracles as historical realities, we must refuse the idea of law altogether, and must admit that there is no truth in the doctrine which affirms an order in the course of nature; we must then deny the possibility of science in all its branches; and this must be extended to logic and
reasoning, for these depend upon the permanent operation of our faculties; and then we must hold our hands and receive everything as equally possible, and must live in an acknowledged anarchy of both nature and intellect." It will be perceived that the writer carries the mythical out to its full conclusions. What Strauss intimates at the end of his work, Hitchcock avows at the beginning of his. Strauss labors through his heavy volumes to destroy the historical character of individual narratives, and finally puts forth the philosophical principle that makes his previous labor needless. Hitchcock asserts the principle, and declines the labor. But this is not the whole extent of his iniquity, as most will esteem it. The German critic, terror of his time, who was thought to have made havoc of historical Christianity, and who drew down on his head the condign wrath of the defenders of the New Testament, not only allowed a substantial basis of honest literal fact in the story of the Evangelists, but endeavored, while setting the supernatural aside, to show a basis of literal fact beneath much of the marvellous itself. He resolved the supernatural into the natural. The American thinker not only admits no basis of fact for the miraculous, but concedes only the faintest vestige of literal truth to the unmiraculous portions of the biography. The whole story is to him a mythus. The entire narrative is poetical in its nature. The Gospels are not biographies of a living person, but are poems setting forth philosophical truths under the form of symbol. The miracles are symbolical; the life, in which the miracles are set, is symbolical; the main figure, by whom the miracles are said to have been wrought, is symbolical. The writer is ready to grant that such a person as Jesus may have existed; on the whole, he is inclined to believe that such a person did exist, and did lay down his life as a martyr to a higher truth than his age could understand; but the historical existence of Jesus is of no importance to his argument, as he admits himself; and to us it seems a blemish, if thus unimportant. The theory is more complete if the Christ is made as mythical as his deeds; for after all he is significant only as a mythus. It is only as a mythus that he is introduced; it is only as a mythus that he is used.
General Hitchcock's theory is, we venture to say, the boldest ever propounded as an account of the composition of the New Testament. It is bolder than Baur's, for Baur proceeds according to the rules of historical criticism, and moreover does leave a foundation of literal truth in the Evangelical biography, though he finds it impossible to determine just what it was. But the author of the volume before us cuts all the cords of historical tradition, and the mighty fabric of Primitive Christianity floats like a magnificent bubble in the air. Let us not be understood as casting any reproach on the hypothesis before us by the terms in which we describe it; we simply wish to present its features by the fewest possible touches of the pen. Far less would we throw the thinnest shadow of doubt over the author's purpose in framing and making exposition of it. He writes, as we fully believe, and as he earnestly asseverates, in a mood of utter reverence, and in the interest of a pure intellectual faith. He writes with a sincere desire to relieve the doubting from the weight of their doubt, to remove obstacles that lie in the way of faith, to offer deeper views of truth, and to plant the verities of religion on everlasting foundations. He says: "In order to reach a right conception of the spirit of the [New Testament] writings, it seems necessary for modern Christians to look upon the Scriptures, not with less, but with more respect and awe than they are commonly supposed to do. The Scriptures must rise, or be exalted in their estimation to that point of holiness and sacredness when they shall seem as it were to touch divinity." Again: "So far as the seeming historical is herein denied, it is only denied in favor of the spiritual. As mere history, the Gospel would be a thing of the past; but as a divine allegory, it was designed to teach the ever-living truth. To hold pertinaciously to the letter, is to lose its significance to the spirit; but to yield the letter, not in a spirit of doubt or denial, but in devotion to the truth, is to find the very spirit from which the letter proceeded."
Once more, speaking of infidelity, he remarks, with a touching beauty: "Man loves truth instinctively, and hates falsehood. Give him truth, indeed, and if he understands it, he will drink it as the water of life. Error is only ac
ceptable when it wears the face of truth. A reputed infidelity turns out almost always to be a protest against a real or an apparent falsehood. For truth is an eternal virgin, and the first love of all mankind, the first-born among many brethren. To wander from it is to love, that is to worship, some mistaken image or shadow of it: and this it is that leads man into the wilderness, through and out of which, however, every man carries with him a Moses, a Joshua, a Jesus, a word in the heart, an angel, a prophet, through whom the pure wine of truth may be brought to that soul which hungers and thirsts after righteousness.”
So much for the general character of this book, for the spirit in which it was conceived, and the object for which it was composed. Let us now examine with some care the account it gives of primitive Christianity. The writer was led to the opinions he holds respecting the character of the Gospels by a course of study in cabalistic literature running back through a considerable term of years. His first investigations and they were very diligently pursued — were directed towards the people who devoted their lives to a search for the philosopher's stone. The result of these investigations he published in 1857, in a small volume entitled
Alchemy and the Alchemists," the purpose of which was to show that the philosopher's stone was spiritual truth; that these strange old men were not trying to find the charm which converted the baser metals into gold, but were trying to find the charm which converted the earthly dross of mortal existence into immortal wisdom; that the paraphernalia of their pretended science-their elixirs and essences, their acids and alkalies, their astrolabes and alembics, their lilies, lions, and dragons—were but the occult symbols of things they dared not utter in common speech, the grotesquely painted curtain behind which they carried on researches into the inmost nature of moral truth, and entertained speculations concerning the sublime verities of the soul.
In the course of these studies on the alchemists he came, by natural sequence, to Swedenborg, in whom he detected a member of the same great fraternity of seekers behind the veil, men who talked in symbols, and uttered their profound