Religion and HistoryOctober 7, 2018
We have till now, in our treatment of the intellectual side of religion, confined our attention to the philosophic or theological content ; but if we are right in supposing the religious life to be all-inclusive, it must also include the activity of historical thought. Religion, as Coleridge says, must contain “ facts ” as well as “ ideas. ”
The historical aspect of religion is not likely to suffer neglect at the present time. The application to religious problems of historical research has been the most conspicuous and brilliant feature in the theology of the last half-century.
Even thirty years ago, so little was generally known of the origins and antecedents of Christianity that when the Apocalypse of Enoch was first produced in English in 1883, its editor could gloat with an almost comic delight over the publication of “ the Semitic romance from which Jesus of Nazareth borrowed his conceptions of the triumphant return of the Son of Man. ” To-day no writer, however ignorant of recent research, could compose such a sentence.
Every one knows that Christianity was deeply rooted in Judaism, and the relations of the two can be discussed without shocking the orthodox or causing malicious glee to the critics.
This great historical movement in theology has taken two chief forms. They cannot indeed be sharply separated, but they may be broadly distinguished for the sake of convenience. One is Comparative Religion, with its anthropological and psychological branches ; the other is Historical Theology, concentrating upon the antecedents, origin, history, and development of Christian doctrine. Each of these has made enormous and most valuable contributions to theology ; indeed whatever progress has been made in the last fifty years has been due almost entirely to their help.