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Christ, and elsewhere of John the Baptist, that he opened his mission by preaching "repentance." Why "repentance"? Why then, more than at any other time?
Her reason for addressing this remark to me was, that she fancied there might be some error in the translation of the Greek expression. I replied that, in my opinion, there was; and that I had myself always been irritated by the entire irrelevance of the English word, and by something very like cant, on which the whole burden of the passage is thrown. How was it any natural preparation for a vast spiritual revolution, that men should first of all acknowledge any special duty of repentance? The repentance, if any movement of that nature could intelligibly be supposed called for, should more naturally follow this great revolution - which, as yet, both in its principle and in its purpose, was altogether mysterious than herald it, or ground it. In my opinion, the Greek word metanoia concealed a most profound meaning- a meaning of prodigious compass - which bore no allusion to any ideas whatever of repentance. The meta carried with it an emphatic expression of its original idea - the idea of transfer, of translation, of transformation; or, if we prefer a Grecian to a Roman apparelling, the idea of a metamorphosis. And this idea, to what is it applied? Upon what object is this idea of spiritual transfiguration made to bear? Simply upon the noetic or intellectual faculty- the faculty of shaping and conceiving things under their true relations. The holy herald of Christ, and Christ himself the finisher of prophecy, made proclamation alike of the same mysterious summons, as a baptism or rite
of initiation, namely, Metavoɛl, Henceforth transfigure your theory of moral truth; the old theory is laid aside as infinitely insufficient; a new and spiritual revelation is established. Metanoeite—contemplate moral truth as radiating from a new centre ; apprehend it under transfigured relations.
John the Baptist, like other earlier prophets, delivered a message which, probably enough, he did not himself more than dimly understand, and never in its full compass of meaning. Christ occupied another station. Not only was he the original Interpreter, but he was himself the Author - Founder, at once, and Finisher of that great transfiguration applied to ethics, which he and the Baptist alike announced as forming the code for the new and revolutionary era now opening its endless career. The human race was summoned to bring a transfiguring sense and spirit of interpretation (metanoia) to a transfigured ethics — an altered organ to an altered object. This is by far the grandest miracle recorded in Scripture. No exhibition of blank not the arresting of power the earth's motion -not the calling back of the dead unto life, can approach in grandeur to this miracle which we all daily behold; namely, the inconceivable mystery of having written and sculptured upon the tablets of man's heart a new code of moral distinctions, all modifying- many reversing - the old ones. What would have been thought of any prophet, if he should have promised to transfigure the celestial mechanics; if he had said, I will create a new pole-star, a new zodiac, and new laws of gravitation; briefly, I will make new earth and new heavens? And yet a thousand times more awful it
was to undertake the writing of new laws upon the spiritual conscience of man. Metanoeite (was the cry from the wilderness), wheel into a new centre your moral system; geocentric has that system been up to this hour- that is, having earth and the earthly for its starting-point; henceforward make it heliocentric (that is, with the sun, or the heavenly for its principle of motion).
2. A second remark of mine was, perhaps, not more important, but it was, on the whole, better calculated to startle the prevailing preconceptions; for, as to the new system of morals introduced by Christ, generally speaking, it is too dimly apprehended in its great differential features to allow of its miraculous character being adequately appreciated; one flagrant illustration of which is furnished by our experience in Affghanistan, where some officers, wishing to impress Akhbar Khan with the beauty of Christianity, very judiciously repeated to him the Lord's Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount, by both of which the Khan was profoundly affected, and often recurred to them; but others, under the notion of conveying to him a more comprehensive view of the Scriptural ethics, repeated to him the Ten Commandments; although, with the sole exception of the two first, forbidding idolatry and Polytheism, there is no word in these which could have displeased or surprised a Pagan, and therefore nothing characteristic of Christianity. Meantime my second remark was substantially this which follows: What is a religion? To Christians it means, over and above a mode of worship, a dogmatic (that is, a doctrinal) system; a great body of doctrinal truths,
moral and spiritual. But to the ancients (to the Greeks and Romans, for instance), it meant nothing of the kind. A religion was simply a cultus, a Ognoxɛia, a mode of ritual worship, in which there might be two differences, namely: 1. As to the particular deity who furnished the motive to the worship; 2. As to the ceremonial, or mode of conducting the worship. But in no case was there so much as a pretence of communicating any religious truths, far less any moral truths. The obstinate error rooted in modern minds is, that, doubtless, the moral instruction was bad, as being heathen; but that still it was as good as heathen opportunities allowed it to be. No mistake can be greater. Moral instruction had no existence even in the plan or intention of the religious service. The Pagan priest or flamen never dreamed of any function like that of teaching as in any way connected with his office. He no more undertook to teach morals than to teach geography or cookery. He taught nothing. What he undertook was, simply to do: namely, to present authoritatively (that is, authorized and supported by some civil community, Corinth, or Athens, or Rome, which he represented) the homage and gratitude of that community to the particular deity adored. As to morals or just opinions upon the relations to man of the several divinities, all this was resigned to the teaching of nature; and for any polemic functions the teaching was resigned to the professional philosophers academic, peripatetic, stoic, etc. By religion it was utterly ignored.
The reader must do me the favor to fix his attention upon the real question at issue. What I say
what then I said to Lady Carbery - is this: that, by failing to notice as a differential feature of Christianity this involution of a doctrinal part, we elevate Paganism to a dignity which it never dreamed of. Thus, for instance, in the Eleusinian mysteries, what was the main business transacted? I, for my part, in harmony with my universal theory on this subject, -namely, that there could be no doctrinal truth delivered in a Pagan religion, -have always maintained that the only end and purpose of the mysteries was a more solemn and impressive worship of a particular goddess. Warburton, on the other hand, would insist upon it that some great affirmative doctrines, interesting to man, such as the immortality of the soul, a futurity of retribution, &c., might be here commemorated. And now, nearly a hundred years after Warburton, what is the opinion of scholars upon this point? Two of the latest and profoundest I will cite: 1. Lobeck, in his "Aglaophamus," expressly repels all such notions; 2. Otfried Mueller, in the twelfth chapter, twentyfourth section, of his "Introduction to a System of Mythology," says: "I have here gone on the assumption which I consider unavoidable, that there was no regular instruction, no dogmatical communication, connected with the Grecian worship in general. There could be nothing of the kind introduced into the public service from the way in which it was conducted, for the priest did not address the people at all." These opinions, which exactly tallied with my own assertion to Lady Carbery, that all religion amongst the Pagans resolved itself into a mere system of ceremonial worship, a pompous and elaborate