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THE EVOLUTION OF THE INDIVIDUAL.
law of private right.
Unquestionably, the great fosterer of liberty in the modern world has been the Christian religion. For it, more than anything else, has developed a feeling of the infinite worth of human personality. And it is from personality that the rights of man, as man, spring. I do not undervalue the other factors which have been cooperant to this end. Chief among them is the Stoic philosophy, which taking as its starting-point the consciousness of the individual, dealt, in a way untrodden by any previous system of thought, with his moral nature, his attribute of self-determination, developing the idea of ethical obligation, and seeking to estimate truly the meaning and worth of human life. Again, the tradition of virile independence which the Teutonic tribes brought from the forests of Germany certainly did much to teach Europe the dignity of man. Still, certain it is, as a matter of historical fact, that in Christianity, and in Christianity alone, was found a force able to destroy the domination of the State over the immaterial part of our nature. It enfranchised religion from secular chains, and laid the only true foundation for that liberty of conscience before human law, which is the most precious of all liberties, and the tutor of the rest. "Le premier arbre de la liberté," said Victor Hugo-finely, if with all too French rhetoric-"le premier arbre de la liberté a été planté, il y a dix-huit cents ans, par Dieu même sur le Golgotha. Le premier arbre de la
liberté, c'est cette croix sur laquelle Jésus Christ s'est offert en sacrifice pour la liberté, l'égalité, et la fraternité du genre humain." And for the first three centuries the truth preached by the noble army of martyrs from the rack, the stake, the jaws of lions, was the self-same which the King of Martyrs had preached from His cross; that the children of men, brothers in Divine sonship, equal in their spiritual nature, were, of indefeasible right, independent of all earthly power in the domain of conscience; each of them, even to the humblest, the most degraded, autonomous in that sacred sphere, and accountable to God alone.
This is the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. All the great religions are, indeed, at one, in proclaiming the doctrine of a limit to human sovereignty, and a region in which it does not enter. The special glory of Christianity is to have made this doctrine triumph over the greatest political power the world had ever known, and to have engrained it into the minds of the most progressive I know well how imperfectly this conception of liberty of conscience was apprehended for long ages, even by those who, in other respects, had drunk most deeply into the idea of Christ. Sad and strange, indeed, it is to contemplate a Christian saint, as he turns from ecstatic communing with the God of love, to superintend the racking of a suspected heretic, or the burning of a relapsed one. But the philosophic historian must be equitable,
even to Saint Peter Martyr, and to St. Peter d'Arbues ; in the medieval Inquisition he will recognise a relative right. The modern conception of religious liberty was as impossible in the Middle Ages as was the medieval conception of personal liberty in that phase of Rome civilisation, when the paterfamilias exercised over his children the power of life and death. Religious unity was the keystone of mediæval polity, just as the patria potestas was the keystone of the archaic family. The advance of the general mind is so slow as to be imperceptible, unless viewed at a distance: e pur si muove. And the public order follows tardily and unwillingly the general evolution of thought. It has taken the world, as represented by its foremost races, fifteen hundred years to enter fully into that idea of spiritual freedom upon which Christianity itself rests. I know it may be said that this freedom is not the product of Christianity at all, but of the loosened hold of Christianity upon the public mind; that the true source of spiritual liberty is not to be found in any religion, but in the philosophy which has taught men to doubt the absolute value of all religions: that here, as in so many other instances, we shall find the first expression of the modern spirit in Montaigne, when he counsels us, "Après tout, c'est mettre ses conjectures à bien haut prix, que d'en faire cuire un homme tout vif;" that the man who gave the death blow to theological persecution was no St. François de Sales,
no St. Vincent de Paul, no Wesley, no Butler, but Voltaire. To whatever extent this may be true, as mere matter of historical fact, assuredly it is not the whole truth. Irreligious fanaticism-Voltaire himself may serve to show it-is as intolerant as religious. The only true school of spiritual freedom is the absolute idealism of the Divine Founder of Christianity. The only sure foundation of liberty of conscience is the doctrine of the autonomy of conscience, as the voice of Him whom it is better to obey than man. Yes. Religious liberty, the most sacred attribute of human personality, is of the essence of the principle for which Christ died. It is the bread-panis vivus et vitalis—which He cast upon the waters of Time: and we have found it, after many days.
Ideas have a life of their own. No generation can do more than surmise dimly, if at all, their future developments. The cause of religious liberty in the Middle Ages was bound up with the struggle of the Church against secular sovereignty. It meant little more to the most clear-sighted of its champions than the independence of the spiritualty from "kings, tyrants, dukes, princes, and all the jailers of human souls." Yet in these words of Gregory VII., we have the root of the matter, and, potentially, all that has grown out of that root. For they involve the conception of freedom as ethical and spiritual, as resting upon the infinite worth of the individual and his direct relation to God, which prevailed in
THE DIGNITY OF LABOUR.
the Middle Ages, and which was the source of the great growth of individuality so strikingly characteristic of them. It has been said, "Classical history is a part of modern history; only mediæval history is ancient." There never was a more foolish saying. Mediæval history, considered as a whole, is the history of the gradual emancipation of all the forces which make up individual life, and of the assignment to them of their due place in the public order.
Adequately to deal even with the outlines of this great subject would require a volume. Here I shall merely touch upon one point: the work done by Christianity for those whom we call "the masses;" the multitudes condemned by the inexorable laws of life to manual toil. We speak of the elevation of the labourer from slavery, through serfdom, to personal freedom, as having been mainly wrought out by the Church. And truly. But this was only one part of the freedom wherewith she endowed him. If you regard the toil of the agriculturist, of the artisan, from a merely material point of view, what an ignoble drudgery it is!"a naturally servile occupation," as Aristotle deemed it. But Christianity, inspiring that toil with a higher motive than the needs of the physical organism, proclaiming the spiritual worth of all honest work, as a divinely appointed ordinance, nay, placing it upon a level with the highest exercises of devotion laborare est orare nobled in a supreme degree the lives of the