Page images

rity are honorable names among men. The result of the struggle was what had been anticipated, and is well known. Our Unitarian brethren formed a new Presbytery, in which I trust they will enjoy the full measure of the liberty and peace which in their ancient connexion were denied them. And though compelled, contrary to their habits and their inclination, to enter upon a controversial war, we may hope that it will be overruled, as similar events were overruled in this country, to the more firm establishment and more wide diffusion of the simple truth.

The excitement which thus- existed in the north of Ireland, extended forward to the south, and I was present at a meeting of the friends of Unitarianism in Dublin, at which the feelings called forth by the solemn crisis were uttered with great fervor and power. There had long existed in that city, as in Belfast and other places, societies of Liberal Christians, who worshiped God according to their consciences, and left their fellow christians to do the same, without attaching themselves to any party in the church. But the times were changed, and they could do so no longer. They were compelled to assume an attitude and take a name; and consequently there have suddenly appeared to spring up about forty churches, bearing the Unitarian name, and many of them willing to associate in defence. of their calumniated faith. The Unitarian Christian Society of Ireland is organized, and we hail many among the devout and intelligent inhabitants of that island as our open coadjutors in the holy cause of religious freedom and christian truth.

I have only to add a few words respecting Geneva, in which place I spent a few days. This undoubtedly is one of the most interesting spots in Christendom. The past history of the Genevan church, as one of the elder and most illustrious daughters of the Reformation, its advancement in liberality beyond the other reformed churches, the obloquy to which it has in consequence been exposed, and the violence and perseverance of the recent assaults upon its fame, all conspire to render it an object of intense interest, and have drawn toward it alike the regards of the friends and the enemies of religious progress.

The Genevan church is a national establishment, as truly as the English church; being under the control of the government of the state, and its ministers being supported from the treasury of the commonwealth. It is of course subject to all the evils which spring from such an arrangement; of which not the least is the difficulty of amending old abuses, and reforming inconvenient practices. Hence it is its greater honor, that it has stepped forward in the cause of theological im provement beyond the rest of the Protestant world; for it is the nature of an establishment to remain sta tionary, yet Geneva has made signal advances. It has thus drawn upon itself the enmity of the Orthodox in all quarters of the christian world. Within a few years systematic efforts have been made to produce a revolution in opinion. Strangers from abroad, emissaries of foreign nations, have interfered to decry the ministers as heretics and deceivers, to render the people dissatisfied, and to convulse the peaceful community with a polemic war, and restore the doctrines of

Calvin to their ancient influence. In consequence of these attempts, the authority which pertains to an establishment to declare what shall be preached by its ministers was exercised, and measures were taken to prevent the discussion of doctrinal differences in the national pulpits. The Calvinists, who could not remain in the establishment on this condition, formed themselves into a society of dissenters, which was tolerated by government, and has continued in existence to the present time. It has done what it could to carry back the people to the old doctrines of Calvin, and alienate them from the present order of things. But I could not learn that its success had been great. The people are still attached to the existing institutions; and know the piety and fidelity of their ministers too well to withdraw from them their confidence and affection.

It has been the great object of the national church to keep the people from the agitation of questions which would endanger the ancient harmony of this little community. This is the anxious desire of the community itself. The ministers, who, though liberal, are by no means of an exact uniformity of faith, acquiesce in this state of the public mind. They preach the great principles of truth and duty in which all can agree, and leave untouched those discussions which might kindle sectarian fires. Even the press, notwithstanding the virulent assaults made upon the faith and character of the clergy, has remained comparatively silent, through an extreme reluctance to all theological agitation. Individuals however there are, who greatly question the propriety of this course, and would have

the press made active. Of these an aged layman, M. de Luc, had just published a small treatise on the trinity when I visited the city, and M. Chenevière, the distinguished Rector of the Academy, was preparing a work on the same subject, which has since been printed. Whether the controversy will be pursued, and if it be, what will be its effects, time only can disclose.

The measures which were taken by the authorities of Geneva to prevent the growth of doctrinal controversy have been represented as persecution, and a violent outcry has been made as if this were the consequence of the theological opinions of the clergy. Now those measures may have been wrong and unwise; but they had their origin simply in the fact, that the church is a national establishment; and in what was done it only acted consistently with its character as an establishment. A national church never allows its ministers to infringe its rules of discipline. All we can ask is, that it exercise its authority with moderation and equity; and this praise I think we cannot withhold in the present instance, however we may disapprove the principle of state establishments in general. The virulence of the outcry seems to have arisen from confounding together the proceedings at Geneva, and those in the neighboring Canton de Vaud. the latter, where the establishment is Orthodox, violent measures have been resorted to, of banishment &c, for the purpose of silencing the more zealous Orthodox who exercised a warmer zeal in their religion than the government of the church thought reasonable; and this persecution of warm Calvinists by lukewarm Calvinists has been all laid at the door of the Unita-'

rians of Geneva. But the truth is, that Geneva tolerates these zealous Calvinists, allowing them to worship quietly within her walls, while the Orthodox state imprisons and banishes them; a state, which at the same time shows its zeal for Orthodoxy by anathemas against the heresy of Geneva.

I find that I have left myself no room for enlarging on several other topics, as I designed. I will therefore close with briefly saying, that as far as I could learn, there is little danger of any retrograde movement in religious opinion. The people will continue faithful to their light. There are evils attendant on the present form of their religious institutions, which are not inconsiderable in the view of an American Congregationalist, and of which they themselves appear to be not altogether insensible. But they will not go back to Calvinism. They are, however, less grounded in the evidences of the doctrines they hold than they should be, and their extreme aversion to theological controversy may expose individuals to the power of able assailants without the requisite means of defence. In this respect, and in the consequent greater clearness and definiteness of their views, the Unitarians of Great Britain and America may possibly be considered as having the advantage of them. They are accustomed to regard practical religion, founded on the leading undisputed truths of the New Testament, as the one only thing. This their ministers inculcate in fervent and eloquent discourses from the pulpit, and by a thorough course of religious education, through which all the young are expected to pass. expected to pass. This latter feature in their system, of which something has been

« PreviousContinue »