Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 28.djvu/885

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S U P P L E M E N T.



AMONG recent works on the origin and history of religions by distinguished authors, a somewhat conspicuous place may be awarded to the "Prolégomènes de l'Histoire des Religions," by Dr. Réville, Professor in the College of France, and Hibbert Lecturer in 1884. The volume has been translated into English by Mr. Squire, and the translation[1] comes forth with all the advantage, and it is great, which can be conferred by an introduction from the pen of Professor Max Müller. It appears, if I may presume to speak of it, to be characterized, among other merits, by marked ingenuity and acuteness, breadth of field, great felicity of phrase, evident candor of intention, and abundant courtesy.

Whether its contents are properly placed as prolegomena may at once be questioned; for surely the proper office of prolegomena is to present preliminaries, and not results. Such is not, however, the aim of this work. It starts from assuming the subjective origin of all religions, which are viewed as so many answers to the call of a strong human appetite for that kind of food, and are examined as the several varieties of one and the same species. The conclusions of opposing inquirers, however, are not left to be confuted by a collection of facts and testimonies drawn from historical investigation, but are thrust out of the way beforehand in the preface (for, after all, prolegomena can be nothing but a less homely phrase for a preface). These inquirers are so many pretenders, who have obstructed the passage of the rightful heir to his throne, and they are to be put summarily out of the way, as disturbers of the public peace. The method pursued appears to be not to allow the facts and arguments to dispose of them, but to condemn them before the cause is heard. I do not know how to reconcile this method with Dr. Réville's declaration that he aims (p. vi) at proceeding in a "strictly scientific spirit." It might be held that such a spirit required the regular presentation of the evidence before the delivery of the verdict upon it. In any case I venture to observe that these are not truly prolegomena, but epilegomena to a History of Religions not yet placed before us.

The first enemy whom Dr. Réville dispatches is M. de Bonald, as the champion of the doctrine that "in the very beginning of the human race the creative power revealed to the first men by supernatural means the essential principles of religious truth," together with "language and even the art of writing" (pp. 35, 30).

In passing. Dr. Réville observes that "the religious schools, which maintain the truth of a primitive revelation, are guided by a very evident theological interest" (ibid.): the Protestant, to fortify the authority of the Bible; and the Roman Catholic, to prop the infallibility of the Church.

It is doubtless true that the doctrine of a primitive revelation tends to fortify the authority of religion. But is it not equally true, and equally obvious, that the denial of a primitive revelation tends to undermine it? and, if so, might it not be retorted upon the school of Dr. Réville that the schools which deny a primitive revelation are guided by a very evident anti-theological interest?

Against this antagonist Dr. Réville observes, inter alia (p. 37), that an appeal to the supernatural is per se inadmissible; that a divine revelation, containing the sublime doctrines of the purest inspiration, given to man at an age indefinitely remote, and in a state of "absolute ignorance," is "infinitely hard" to imagine; that it is not

  1. In his "Prolegomena to the History of Religions." My references throughout are to the translation by Mr. Squire (Williams & Norgate, 1884).