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  1. Works of the Period classified under Authors. (The more important monographs are cited.) Names of philosophical journals.
  2. Books on the Period.
  3. Comparative Table showing contemporary German and Anglo-American Works from 1851 to 1921.
It was against such a background of ecclesiastical and political affairs that the play of ideas upon religion went on. Such was the environment, the tradition which surrounded our thinkers, and we may very firmly claim that only by a recognition that their religious and national milieu was of such a type as we have outlined, can the real significance of their religious thought be understood. Only when we have grasped the essential attitude of authority and tradition of the Roman Church, its ruthless attitude to modern thought of all kinds, can we understand the religious attitude of men like Renan, Renouvier and Guyau.

We are also enabled to see why the appeal of the Saint-Simonist group could present itself as a religious and, indeed, Christian appeal outside the Church. It enables us to understand why Cousin's spiritualism pleased neither the Catholics nor their opponents, and to realise why the "Religion of Humanity," which Auguste Comte inaugurated, made so little appeal.† This has been well styled an "inverted Catholicism," since it endeavours to preserve the ritual of that religion and to embody the doctrines of humanitarianism. Naturally enough it drew upon itself the scorn of both these groups. The Catholic saw in it only blasphemy: the humanitarian saw no way in which it might further his ends.

[Footnote † : Littré, his disciple, as we have already noted, rejected this part of his master's teaching. Littré was opposed by Robinet, who laid the stress upon the "Religion of Humanity" as the crown of Comte's work.]

Comte's attempt to base his new religion upon Catholicism was quite deliberate, for he strove to introduce analogies with "everything great and deep which the Catholic system of the Middle Ages effected or even projected." He offered a new and fantastic trinity, compiled a calendar of renowned historical personalities, to replace that of unknown saints. He proclaimed "positive dogmas "and aspired to all the authority and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff, supported by a trained clergy, whose word should be law. Curiously enough he, too, had his anathemas, in that he had days set apart for the solemn cursing of the great enemies of the human race, such as Napoleon. It was indeed a reversed Catholicism, offering a fairly good caricature of the methods of the Roman Church, and it was equally obnoxious in its tyrannical attitude.* While it professed to express humanity and love as its central ideas it proceeded to outline a method which is the utter negation of these. Comte made the great mistake of not realising that loyalty to these ideals must involve spiritual freedom, and that the religion of humanity must be a collective inspiration of free individuals, who will in love and fellowship tolerate differences upon metaphysical questions. Uniformity can only be mischievous.

[Footnote * : Guyau's criticisms of Comte's "Religion of Humanity" in his L'Irreligion de l'Avenir are interesting. "The marriage of positive science and blind sentiment cannot produce religion" (p. 314; Eng. trans., p. 366). "Comtism, which consists of the rites of religion and nothing else, is an attempt to maintain life in the body after the departure of the soul" (p. 307; Eng. trans., p. 359).]

It was because he grasped this vital point that Renan's discussion of the religious question is so instructive. For him, religion is essentially an affair of personal taste. Here we have another indication of the clear way in which Renan was able to discern the tendencies of his time. He published his Etudes d'Histoire religieuse in 1857, and his Preface to the Nouvelles Etudes d'Histoire religieuse was written in 1884. He claims there that freedom is essential to religion, and that it is absolutely necessary that the State should have no power whatever over it. Religion is as personal and private a matter as taste in literature or art. There should be no State laws, he claims, relating to religion at all, any more than dress is prescribed for citizens by law. He well points out that only a State which is strictly neutral in religion can ever be absolutely free from playing the rôle of persecutor. The favouring of one sect will entail some persecution or hardship upon others. Further, he sees the iniquity of taxing the community to pay the expenses of clergy to whose teachings they may object, or whose doctrines are not theirs. Freedom, Renan believed, would claim its own in the near future and, denouncing the Concordat, he prophesied the abolition of the State Church.

The worst type of organisation Renan holds to be the theocratic state, like Islam, or the ancient Pontifical State in which dogma reigns supreme. He condemns also the State whose religion is based upon the profession of a majority of its citizens. There should be, as Spinoza was wont to style it, "liberty of philosophising." The days of the dominance of dogma are passing, in many quarters gone by already, "Religion has become for once and all a matter of personal taste."

Renan himself was deeply religious in mind. He was never an atheist and did not care for the term "free-thinker" because of its implied associations with the irreligion of the previous century. He stands out, however, not only in our period of French thought, but in the world development of the century as one of the greatest masters of religious criticism. His historical work is important, and he possessed a knowledge and equipment for that task. His distinguished Semitic scholarship led to his obtaining the chair of Hebrew at the Collège de France, and enabled him to write his Histories, one of the Jews and one of Christianity.

It was as a volume of this Histoire des Origines du Christianisme that his Vie de Jésus appeared in 1863. This life of the Founder of Christianity produced a profound stir in the camps of religious orthodoxy, and drew upon its author severe criticisms. Apart from the particular views set forth in that volume, we must remember that the very fact of his writing upon "a sacred subject," which was looked upon as a close preserve, reserved for the theologians or churchmen alone, was deemed at that time an original and daring feat in France.

His particular views, which created at the time such scandal, were akin to those of Baur and the Tubingen School, which Strauss (Renan's contemporary) had already set forth in his Leben Jesu.* Briefly, they may be expressed as the rejection of the supernatural. Herein is seen the scientific or "positive" influence at work upon the dogmas of the Christian religion, a tendency which culminated in "Modernism" within the Church, only to be condemned violently by the Pope in 1907. It was this temper, produced by the study of documents, by criticism and historical research which put Renan out of the Catholic Church. His rational mind could not accept the dogmas laid down. Lamennais (who was conservative and orthodox in his theology, and possessed no taint of "modernism" in the technical sense) had declared that the starting-point should be faith and not reason. Renan aptly asks in reply to this, "and what is to be the test, in the last resort, of the claims of faith is not reason?".....
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