Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 54

The meeting between Nigel and Endymion was not an ordinary one, and when they were at length alone, neither of them concealed his feelings of pleasure and surprise at its occurrence. Nigel had been a curate in the northern town which was defended by Lord Montfort’s proud castle, and his labours and reputation had attracted the attention of Lady Montfort. Under the influence of his powerful character, the services of his church were celebrated with a precision and an imposing effect, which soon occasioned a considerable excitement in the neighbourhood, in time even in the county. The pulpit was frequently at his command, for his rector, who had imbibed his Church views, was not equal to the task of propagating them, and the power and fame of Nigel as a preacher began to be much rumoured. Although the church at which he officiated was not the one which Lady Montfort usually attended, she was soon among his congregation and remained there. He became a constant guest at the castle, and Lady Montfort presented his church with a reredos of alabaster. She did more than this. Her enthusiasm exceeded her selfishness, for though the sacrifice was great which would deprive her of the ministrations and society of Nigel in the country, she prevailed upon the prime minister to prefer him to a new church in London, which had just fallen vacant, and which, being situated in a wealthy and populous district, would afford him the opportunity of making known to the world his eloquence and genius. This was Nigel’s simple, yet not uneventful history; and then, in turn, he listened to Endymion’s brief but interesting narrative of his career, and then they agreed to adjourn to Endymion’s chambers and have a good talk over the past and the present.

“That Lady Montfort is a great woman,” said Nigel, standing with his back to the fire. “She has it in her to be another Empress Helena.”

“Indeed!”

“I believe she has only one thought, and that the only thought worthy the human mind — the Church. I was glad to meet you at her house. You have cherished, I hope, those views which in your boyhood you so fervently and seriously embraced.”

“I am rather surprised,” said Endymion, not caring to answer this inquiry, “at a Whig lady entertaining such high views in these matters. The Liberal party rather depends on the Low Church.”

“I know nothing about Whigs or Tories or Liberals, or any other new names which they invent,” said Nigel. “Nor do I know, or care to know, what Low Church means. There is but one Church, and it is catholic and apostolic; and if we act on its principles, there will be no need, and there ought to be no need, for any other form of government.”

“Well, those are very distinct views,” said Endymion, “but are they as practical as they are clear?”

“Why should they not be practical? Everything is practical which we believe; and in the long run, which is most likely that we should believe, what is taught by God, or what is taught by man?”

“I confess,” said Endymion, “that in all matters, both civil and religious, I incline to what is moderate and temperate. I always trace my dear father’s sad end, and all the terrible events in my family, to his adopting in 1829 the views of the extreme party. If he had only followed the example and the advice of his best friend, Mr. Sidney Wilton, what a different state of affairs might have occurred!”

“I know nothing about politics,” said Nigel. “By being moderate and temperate in politics I suppose you mean being adroit, and doing that which is expedient and which will probably be successful. But the Church is founded on absolute truth, and teaches absolute truth, and there can be no compromise on such matters.”

“Well, I do not know,” said Endymion, “but surely there are many very religious people, who do not accept without reserve everything that is taught by the Church. I hope I am a religious person myself, and yet, for example, I cannot give an unreserved assent to the whole of the Athanasian Creed.”

“The Athanasian Creed is the most splendid ecclesiastical lyric ever poured forth by the genius of man. I give to every clause of it an implicit assent. It does not pretend to be divine; it is human, but the Church has hallowed it, and the Church ever acts under the influence of the Divine Spirit. St. Athanasius was by far the greatest man that ever existed. If you cavil at his creed, you will soon cavil at other symbols. I was prepared for infidelity in London, but I confess, my dear Ferrars, you alarm me. I was in hopes that your early education would have saved you from this backsliding.”

“But let us be calm, my dear Nigel. Do you mean to say, that I am to be considered an infidel or an apostate, because, although I fervently embrace all the vital truths of religion, and try, on the whole, to regulate my life by them, I may have scruples about believing, for example, in the personality of the Devil?”

“If the personality of Satan be not a vital principle of your religion, I do not know what is. There is only one dogma higher. You think it is safe, and I daresay it is fashionable, to fall into this lax and really thoughtless discrimination between what is and what is not to be believed. It is not good taste to believe in the Devil. Give me a single argument against his personality which is not applicable to the personality of the Deity. Will you give that up; and if so, where are you? Now mark me; you and I are young men — you are a very young man. This is the year of grace 1839. If these loose thoughts, which you have heedlessly taken up, prevail in this country for a generation or so — five and twenty or thirty years — we may meet together again, and I shall have to convince you that there is a God.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19