Popular Science Monthly/Volume 56/April 1900/Editor's Table

Editor's Table.


AFTER many uncomfortable turnings in his narrow theological quarters, the eminent biologist. Professor St. George Mivart, seems to have made up his mind that he may as well, before he dies, know what it is to enjoy the air of liberty. For many years he has been pining for this, and almost inviting the authorities of the Church to give him his passports. The Church was not anxious, however, to quarrel with a man of recognized ability and wide knowledge, and therefore writings which might well have been expected to give serious umbrage were allowed to pass unnoticed. The professor then made a most audacious raid upon the venerable doctrine that there remains for the majority of mankind a place of unutterable and eternal misery. He ventured to speak of The Happiness in Hell, maintaining that, while the inhabitants of that abode would always have a profound and harrowing sense of having missed the supreme happiness of heaven, they would still be able to occupy themselves in a variety of ways which would give them a certain amount of happiness, just as in this world a man may carry a profound sorrow in his heart and yet, under the stimulus of business or society or intellectual study, have his attention happily diverted for many hours every day. At this point the authorities drew the line. It is related of an old Scotch lady that, referring to the Universalists, she said, "Those people say that all men will be saved at last, but we hope for better things." Whether this was the point of view of the ecclesiastical powers or not, certain it is that they refused to sanction the notion of any happiness, of howsoever humble an order, in the abode of gloom, and gave a peremptory order to the professor to take it all back. Well, he took it back as a matter of submission to those whom he regarded as his lawful spiritual guides, but the submission did not give him rest. If ecclesiastical authority was entitled to respect on one side, science was urging even stronger claims on the other. In August last, as we now learn, the professor wrote to the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Index, explaining how he wished his submission to be understood, and as he and the prefect could not come to an agreement about it, he withdrew the submission altogether. Then he resolved to relieve his mind. It took two articles in two separate magazines to do it—one in the Fortnightly and one in the Nineteenth Century—but then it was done in a manner admitting of no recall. No sooner had these articles appeared than Cardinal Vaughan drew up an iron-clad declaration affirming the falsity of every position the writer had taken, and required him to sign it. Too late! The biologist and evolutionist in Professor Mivart had finally triumphed over the theologian, and he met the cardinal's demand with a flat refusal. Thereupon his Eminence issued an order excluding the recalcitrant savant from the sacraments of the Church.

Mr. Mivart now knows where he is. He occupies the broad ground of scientific truth. He breathes the free air of intellectual and moral liberty. He still professes loyalty to the Church according to his own conception of it, but he will no longer bow down to an authority that assumes to prescribe his opinions in matters which he is quite capable of judging for himself. He has arrived at the conclusion that even as regards the interpretation of Scripture the Church is just as liable to err as the humble layman. He quotes most persistently the case of Galileo, in which the Church, in the most formal and official manner, declared that Scripture taught what for nearly a century now it has admitted Scripture does not teach. If the highest organs of ecclesiastical authority could make such a blunder in Galileo's day, what blunders may they not commit in our day? But if the Church can err egregiously in what is its own peculiar province—if anything is—how great is likely to be its inaptitude when it undertakes to deal with scientific questions!

"God has taught us," says Mr. Mivart, "through history, that it is not to ecclesiastical congregations but to men of science that he has committed the elucidation of scientific questions, whether such questions are or are not treated of by Scripture, the Fathers, the Church's common teaching, or special congregations or tribunals of ecclesiastics actually summoned for the purpose. This also applies to all science—to Scripture criticism, to biology, and to all questions concerning evolution, the antiquity of man, and the origin of either his body or his soul or of both. For all ecclesiastics who know nothing of natural science it is an act necessarily as futile as impertinent to express any opinion on such subjects."

The opposition of the rulers of the Church to the true theory of the solar system in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is paralleled, according to Mr. Mivart, by their opposition to the doctrine of evolution to-day. He refers to the fact that two Catholic professors who had ventured to give a partial support to the doctrine in question—one of them Father Zahm, who contributed an article, as many of our readers will remember, to this magazine a couple of years ago—had both been compelled to retract and disavow what they had published on the subject. Professor Mivart draws a distinction, however, between the rulers of the Church and the Church. The latter he idealizes and we by no means dispute his right to do so—as a vast organization the office of which is to keep alive man's sense of spiritual things, and to bear eternal testimony in favor of those truths of the heart which do not admit, like intellectual truths, of logical demonstration. Though cut off by authority from participation in the rites of the Church, he feels himself still one in sympathy with all who in the Church are aspiring to a higher life. We look upon his case as a very instructive one, affording as it does clear evidence of the absolute incompatibility between any authoritative system of dogma and the free pursuit of truth. It has taken Professor Mivart a long time to arrive at his present standpoint, but it is well that he has got there at last. His example, we believe, will encourage not a few to assert in like manner their right to think freely and to utter what they think.


When our article of last month, entitled A Commission in Difficulties, was written we had not seen the paper by Mr. Theodore Dreiser, in Harper's Magazine for February, describing the important educational work which the Western railways are doing with a view to promoting the prosperity of the agricultural regions through which they pass. In our article we observed that "the more interference there is between parties who, in the last resort, are dependent upon one another's good will, the less likely they are to recognize their substantial identity of interest." What Mr. Dreiser clearly shows is how great the community of interest is between the railroads on the one side and the farming community on the other, and how fully that community of interest is recognized by the railways at least. The freight agent of a given line is charged with the duty of developing to the utmost—in the interest, primarily, of his road, it may readily be granted—the agricultural resources of the country through which it runs. He has his assistants, who look after different branches of the work, such as crop-raising, cattle-grazing, dairying, poultry-raising, etc. "Through this department," the writer says, "the railroads are doing a remarkably broad educational work, not only of inspecting the land, but of educating the farmers and merchants, and helping them to become wiser and more successful. They give lectures on soil nutrition and vegetable growing, explain conditions and trade shipments, teach poultry-raising and cattle-feeding, organize creameries for the manufacture of cheese and butter, and explain new business methods to merchants who are slow and ignorant in the matter of conducting their affairs." An agent of the railway will visit every town along the line a certain number of times every year to see what he can do to quicken trade. Finally, in the great centers there are special agents who "look after incoming shipments, and work for the interests of the merchants and farmers by finding a market for their products." Examples are given showing how the railways are able to impart, and do impart, information of the highest value to the farmers, such as puts them in the way of getting greatly improved returns from their land.

Of course, the railways want business, but it is eminently satisfactory when one party who wants business uses his best efforts on behalf of another in order that by making him prosperous he himself may prosper. When things get into this shape they are all right, as the phrase is. The accepted definition of a perfect action is one which benefits all who are parties to it. Things are on a much better foundation when people are mutually benefiting one another, each primarily in his own interest, than when it is all philanthropy on one side and passive acceptance of benefits on the other. Philanthropy is an uncertain thing, and its effects are uncertain. Its quality will take, in general, a good deal of training; but business, on an honest and reciprocally helpful basis, is good all through.

It is a happy circumstance that there are natural laws and forces at work which tend to produce a healthful social equilibrium. The true statesman is he who is on the watch to discern these forces and these laws, resolved that if he can not aid their operation he shall at least throw no obstacle in the way of their activity. The amount of harm that is done by coming between people who would be certain to arrange their business relations satisfactorily, if they were only left to do it without interference, can hardly be estimated. Man is fundamentally a social animal, and he wants, if he can possibly get it, the good opinion of his fellows. This is a principle which legislation too much overlooks, but it is one on which, as we believe, the future progress of society depends, and which, in spite of the blunders of legislators, will more and more assert itself as the years go on.