Uncollected Prose, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

A Letter to Rev. Wm. E. Channing, D. D. by O. A. Brownson Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown. 1842.

That there is no knowledge of God possible to man but a subjective knowledge, — no revelation but the development of the individual within himself, and to himself, — are prevalent statements, which Mr. Brownson opposes by a single formula, that life is relative in its very nature. God alone is; all creatures live by virtue of what is not themselves, no less than by virtue of what is themselves, the prerogative of man being to do consciously, that is, more or less intelligently. Mr. Brownson carefully discriminates between Essence and Life. Essence, being object to itself, alone has freedom, which is what the old theologians named sovereignty; — a noble word for the thing intended, were it not desecrated in our associations, in being usurped by creatures that are slaves to time and circumstance. But life implies a causative object, as well as causative subject; wherefore creatures are only free by Grace of God.

That men should live, with God for predominating object, is the Ideal of Humanity, or the Law of Holiness, in the highest sense; for this object alone can emancipate them from what is below themselves. But a nice discrimination must be made here. The Ideal of Humanity, as used by Mr. Brownson, does not mean the highest idea of himself, which a man can form by induction on himself as an individual; it means God’s idea of man, which shines into every man from the beginning; “Enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world,” though his darkness comprehendeth it not, until it is “made flesh.” It is by virtue of that freedom which is God’s alone, and which is the issue of absolute love, that is, “because God so loved the world,” he takes up the subject, Jesus, and makes himself objective to him without measure, thereby rendering his life as divine as it is human, though it remains also as human, — strictly speaking, — as it is divine.

To all men’s consciousness it is true that God is objective in a degree, or they were not distinctively human. His glory is refracted, as it were, to their eyes, through the universe. But only in a man, to whom he has made himself the imperative object, does he approach men, in all points, in such degree as to make them divine. He is no less free (sovereign) in coming to each man in Christ, than, in the first instance, in making Jesus of Nazareth the Christ. Men are only free inasmuch as they are open to this majestic access, and are able to pray with St. Augustine, “What art thou to me, oh Lord? Have mercy on me that I may ask. The house of my soul is too strait for thee to come into; but let it, oh Lord, be enlarged by thee. It is ruinous, but let it be repaired by thee,” &c.

The Unitarian Church, as Mr. Brownson thinks, indicates truth, in so far as it insists on the life of Jesus as being that wherein we find grace; but in so far as it does not perceive that this life is something more than a series of good actions, which others may reproduce, it leans on an arm of flesh, and puts an idol in the place of Christ. The Trinitarian Church, he thinks, therefore, has come nearer the truth, by its formulas of doctrine; and especially the Roman Catholic Church, by the Eucharist. The error of both Churches has been to predicate of the being, Jesus, what is only true of his life. The being, Jesus, was a man; his life is God. It is the doctrine of John the Evangelist throughout, that the soul lives by the real presence of Jesus Christ, as literally as the body lives by bread. The unchristianized live only partially, by so much of the word as shines in the darkness which may not hinder it quite. This partial life repeats in all time the prophecies of antiquity, and is another witness to Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.”

Mr. Brownson thinks that he has thus discovered a formula of “the faith once delivered to the saints,” which goes behind and annihilates the controversy between Unitarians and Trinitarians, and may lead them both to a deeper comprehension and clearer expression of the secret of life.

Literary Intelligence

The death of Dr. Channing at Bennington in Vermont, on the 2d October, is an event of great note to the whole country. The great loss of the community is mitigated by the new interest which intellectual power always acquires by the death of the possessor. Dr. Channing was a man of so much rectitude, and such power to express his sense of right, that his value to this country, of which he was a kind of public Conscience, can hardly be overestimated. Not only his merits, but his limitations also, which made all his virtues and talents intelligible and available for the correction and elevation of society, made our Cato dear, and his loss not to be repaired. His interest in the times, and the fidelity and independence, with which, for so many years, he had exercised that censorship on commercial, political, and literary morals, which was the spontaneous dictate of his character, had earned for him an accumulated capital of veneration, which caused his opinion to be waited for in each emergency, as that of the wisest and most upright of judges. We shall probably soon have an opportunity to give an extended account of his character and genius. In most parts of this country notice has been taken of this event, and in London also. Beside the published discourses of Messrs. Gannett, Hedge, Clarke, Parker, Pierpont, and Bellows, Mr. Bancroft made Dr. Channing’s genius the topic of a just tribute in a lecture before the Diffusion Society at the Masonic Temple. We regret that the city has not yet felt the propriety of paying a public honor to the memory of one of the truest and noblest of its citizens.

Confessions of St. Augustine. Boston: E. P. Peabody.

We heartily welcome this reprint from the recent London edition, which was a revision, by the Oxford divines, of an old English translation. It is a rare addition to our religious library. The great Augustine, — one of the truest, richest, subtlest, eloquentest of authors, comes now in this American dress, to stand on the same shelf with his far-famed disciples, with A-Kempis, Herbert, Taylor, Scougal, and Fenelon. The Confessions have also a high interest as one of the honestest autobiographies ever written. In this view it takes even rank with Montaigne’s Essays, with Luther’s Table Talk, the Life of John Bunyan, with Rousseau’s Confessions, and the Life of Dr. Franklin. In opening the book at random, we have fallen on his reflections on the death of an early friend.

“O madness, which knowest not how to love men like men! I fretted, sighed, wept, was distracted, had neither rest nor counsel. For I bore about a shattered and bleeding soul, impatient of being borne by me, yet where to repose it I found not. All things looked ghastly; yea the very light; whatsoever was not what he was, was revolting and hateful, except groaning and tears. In those alone found I a little refreshment. I fled out of my country; for so should mine eyes look less for him where they were not wont to see him. And thus from Thagaste I came to Carthage. Times lose no time; nor do they roll idly by; through our senses they work strange operations on the mind. Behold, they went and came day by day, and by coming and going introduced into my mind other imaginations and other remembrances; and little by little patched me up again with my old kind of delights unto which that my sorrow gave way. And yet there succeeded not indeed other griefs, yet the causes of other griefs. For whence had that former grief so easily reached my inmost soul but that I had poured out my soul upon the dust in loving one, that must die, as if he would never die. For what restored and refreshed me chiefly, was the solaces of other friends with whom I did love what instead of thee I loved: and this was a |P1249|p1 great fable and protracted lie, by whose adulterous stimulus our soul, which lay itching in our ears, was defiled. But that fable would not die to me so oft as any of my friends died. There were other things which in them did more take my mind; to talk and jest together; to do kind offices by turns; to read together honied books; to play the fool or be earnest together; to dissent at times without discontent, as a man might with his ownself; and even with the seldomness of those dissentings, to season our more frequent consentings; sometimes to teach, and sometimes learn; long for the absent with impatience, and welcome the coming with joy.”

— BOOK 4.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/e/emerson/ralph_waldo/e53u/essay22.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37