For once Dr. Close is quite right. His difficulty is the result of his obtuseness. No one ever felt a more characteristic difficulty, or expressed it with greater simplicity. If Dr. Close, and the party to which he belongs, could be brought to see what every layman of ordinary intelligence sees upon these points—if they could be shaken into some faint conception of the extent of their own ignorance and obtuseness—so great a benefit to the public would be cheaply purchased at the expense of all the theological scandals of the last two or three years. What was the difficulty which so puzzled Dr. Close? Mr. Maurice said – “I agree neither with Mr. Jowett nor with Dr. Pusey, but I think that if each be allowed to express his views fully and freely, those views will both sustain and counteract each other.” Dr. Close cannot conceive how anything can sustain what it counteracts. The solution is easier than that of the great problem about the fingers which puzzled the lay Dundreary. If Dr. Close will set up his Bible and Prayer Book on end, and will then gently incline them towards, each other till their top edges meet, he may in time contrive to make them stand in the shape of an inverted V. The two books will sustain each other, because, if either were removed, the other would fall. They will counteract each other for precisely the same reason. Dr. Close has strong reasons for knowing that there are such things as Cabinet Ministers, and he may in time come to understand that they represent political parties of different opinions which sustain and counteract each other. What gives Mr. Bright his locus standi, and keeps him in a state of vigour and excitement? The existence of a system which he dislikes and tries to alter. What does the same kind office for Mr. Bright's opponents? Mr. Bright and others like him. Mr. Bright sustains his political opponents, and they sustain him. How they counteract each other Dr. Close can, perhaps, understand without explanation. If he will think quietly of one thing at a time, and try to consider whether, after all, words in writings rather beyond him may not be used with a meaning, he may in time arrive at the point of putting two ideas together. It is never too late to learn, not even when one is a Dean.
Why should not theological opinions sustain and counteract each other as well as any others? To the lay understanding there is no reason at all. Every man of ordinary intelligence and feeling—every one who has known what it is to live, to expect to die, to love, and to lose what we love—every one who knows the part which religion has played in the world at large, and especially in the history of our own nation, must feel that it is the greatest subject of human thought, that its existence makes life worth having, and that to know the truth respecting it— as far as it can be known—would be a discovery as much greater than all science and all learning, as eternity is greater than time. Those who think thus will respect every one who tries to convey the truth to their minds, will listen to and compare their teaching, and will not despair of catching some outline of the truth, even from the stammering lips which imperfectly describe what the weak eye obscurely sees. Ignorance which knows, and weakness which feels, its own extent, command the sympathy of all who know how weak and ignorant they are themselves; and when such men meet with one who hopes that his defects and those of other men may mutually sustain and counteract each other, they must not only understand but honour him.
There is, however, another form of ignorance and weakness. That obtuseness, which supposes that its own little theory accounts for everything in heaven and earth, and that insensibility which mistakes the absence of feeling for the presence of strength, may introduce a man to the notice of those who can give him a deanery, but give him no access to the esteem of those whose esteem is an honour. Dean Close's letter comes, in plain words, to this:—“I know all about this world and the next. I have no difficulties; or if I have, I can give you chapter and verse for the proof that they are temptations of the devil. If any man wants to know about God and man, life and death, let him take his knowledge out of the four corners of my little theory, and be thankful. He may, if he likes, talk in a conventional way about difficulties and mysteries, but only on condition that he views them, not as subjects to be studied, but as tests to be swallowed, and that he renounces and abjures the notion of any real discussion of really important subjects, and the possibility of any real progress in religious knowledge.” There is a sense in which believers in systems are humble enough — as humble as Uriah Heep. They will call themselves any number of unpleasant names. “Poor worm” is an habitual title. If it would give any additional satisfaction they would probably not object to “poor maggot.” Bible phrases break no bones, and as times go a worm who lives in a deanery is a respectable animal. There is, however, one thing that such men will never do. They will never say, bonà fide, “I don't know.” True humility, when they happen to see it, scandalizes and puzzles them. That Mr. Maurice should differ from Mr. Jowett and yet not wish to silence him, is a far greater stumbling block to Dean Close than that Dr. Pusey should wish to “banish" him. No doubt, in Dean Close's eyes, Dr. Pusey is a heretic—a very wicked man for thinking as he thinks, the parent of all sorts of doubt and unbelief; but then he is a heretic with a system. He stands in a recognised position. He plays pot to Dean Close's kettle, and ten years hence may be ready to burn, or be burnt, on precisely the same principles as he avows to-day. It is the absence of this in Mr. Maurice that so puzzles his opponent. He does not know where to have him. “You expect to learn, and to learn from those with whom you do not agree—what do you mean? You bewilder me. You have bewildered me before, and now you are getting quite out of my sight. Do you know what you are doing? You are actually suggesting that people should think upon these subjects; that there is still something for them to learn, and not only something to learn, but something to learn from your adversaries; you seem to think that the matter is not to choose between system A and system B, but to study the facts for themselves in the order in which their Maker placed them. O tempora, o mores.” This is the real scope of the little difficulty which Dean Close states with such charming simplicity, and attributes, with an air of such merry satisfaction, to his own obtuseness. When he gets a glimpse of the extent of his own obtuseness, and of the nature of the controversies amongst which he is living, he will perhaps think that the best thing he can do is to keep quiet in his deanery, and be glad that he has got one over his head. When Javert got a notion of a higher standard of right and wrong than that which police regulations imply, he went and drowned himself. It is to be hoped that Dean Close does not set the same yalue on his raison d'être. It would be vain to hope that he is in equal danger of seeing that he has not got one.
Saturday Review, February 28, 1863.