Thursday, December 1, 2016

Congreve's Sermon on Positivism

The religion of Positivism has been formally inaugurated among us, and the great church and worship of humanity is actually at work. The first altar—“sacred desk” is, we believe, the true phrase—of this new religion was set up on the 10th of January, in South Fields, Wandsworth, and the inaugural sermon preached on that occasion has been published under the title of “The New Religion in its Attitude towards the Old, by Richard Congreve.” Mr. John Chapman is the publisher, and the price, one shilling, is moderate. We have stated the historical fact in the vernacular language—we might have been more precise by fixing the date of this sermon according to the Positivist Calendar, as “Wednesday, 19th Moses, 71.” We have a preliminary difficulty as to this date 71, nor are we clear about the Comtian Genesis; and as it appears that the Prophet of Humanity, Auguste Comte, was born on 19th January, 1798— hence the epoch selected for the British organization and Mr. Congreve's sermon—we cannot quite understand how the regeneration began ten years before Comte was. However, the year 1 synchronizes with the secular A.D. 1788, and Mr. Congreve in his sermon (page 9) points to the existence, “ten years before Comte's birth, of a feeling in the European world,” which, we suppose, was of sufficient, though mysterious, importance to authenticate the convocation of the States General in 1788, as the real beginning of the Church of Humanity. Be this as it may, the world is ten years older than Auguste Comte—which we should scarcely have expected, he being clearly the Alpha of creation.

We do not propose to enter upon a criticism of Mr. Conreve's somewhat dull discourse. We shall, perhaps, do better if we attempt some description of what the New Religion, now formally inaugurated, professes to be. “Religion,” we say, because it is quite an error to criticise Positivism as a mere, philosophy. As a philosophy, Comtism may have its intellectual adherents. Miss Martineau, in some particulars Mr. Mill, and in some Mr. Buckle, are said to have adopted its conclusions or its formulae, especially as to the three normal stages of humanity; but it is not in this aspect that Mr. Congreve comes forward. His “general conclusion is that the boldest course is the wisest—that the doctrine we advocate, and the faith we hold, must be put forward as a religion—as something to believe in and to live by—not as something which demands intellectual assent—that here in England we can do nothing if we do not claim and show grounds for our claim to be everything; and that we must make it clear that we are not a philosophical school, but a church. . . . . Hence the inauguration, however imperfect, of the ministerial functions in the English branch of the Church of Humanity.”

Mr. Congreve apologises for the inchoate and tentative, not to say titubant, character of the infant Hercules, cradled in South Fields, Wandsworth. He himself cannot “speak as a Priest of Humanity,” because he is not forty-two years of age. Nor, “were his church in possession of its full organization could he speak as one of the second order of her ministers, as a Vicar, because his insufficient scientific training would prevent him”— seven years being required as the noviciate to the Vicariate. Mr. Edger, however—who, we presume, has obtained that good degree, and whose name we recognise as the only other English writer in the Church of Humanity—considers that Mr. Congreve may provisionally exercise, “in a sense, the Vicar's office.” Hence the Sermon. It was addressed as it seems, to a little flock. The Positivist Church at Wandsworth has not emerged from the wilderness. “Our small number makes speaking difficult." Fit audience, however, Mr. Congreve assumes, though few. “Where there are disciples or members, however limited their number, there is a church,”—a sentiment by the way, borrowed from Tertullian, who fixes the minimum at three. How many more met on the famous 19 Moses, anno Comtii 71, in the Wandsworth Temple of Humanity, we are not informed; but Mr. Congreve asserts on behalf of his co-religionists—“We have a faith, the outlines of a ritual, and sufficient members.” We endeavour to supply from other sources what these or some of them are, in order that we in England may understand something of the last and splendid addition to the extant religions of the world.

Mr. Congreve is quite right in characterising his profession as a religion. In all that makes religion objective, as he would say, the Church of Humanity is more churchish than the Church. It has three orders of the ministry, nine sacraments, and a calendar so replete with impartial hagiology (ranging from Orpheus to Captain Cook), that every day is a Saint's day. Three periods of daily private prayer are enjoined; Humanity is worshipped; the guardian angel under the form of the triple female influence of mother, wife, and daughter, is worshipped; the dead are worshipped. Mr. Congreve regrets that the first day of the year, the epoch of the more abstract conclave of humanity in general, had not been selected for the inauguration of his English Church of Humanity; but he consoles himself with the reflection that “we worship Humanity in and through her noblest servant and organ, Auguste Comte—our master, teacher, and guide.” Not that Auguste Comte stands alone. With him, in the piety of Positivism, must ever be associated “Clotilde de Vaux, is wife, his mother, and his adopted daughter,” who, it is satisfactory to be assured, still lives “in the singular beauty of that lofty yet self-denying and humble love to him, and not to him only, but towards all who share the faith” of the Prophet-Priest of Humanity.

Mr. Congreve does not, we think, look very hopefully to the future, when he observes that “it is not very likely to occur that there should be at present a call for the administration of the indispensable sacraments, Presentation and Marriage;" and certainly, considering the large demands made upon the disciples of the Church of Humanity upon their faith, purses, and obedience by their spiritual pastors and masters, we share in his forebodings as to the rare calls which are likely to be made upon his ministrations among ourselves. Still it must be satisfactory to Postulants or Neophytes, if Posivitism has any British Proselytes of the Gate, to be assured that Mr. Congreve “has the power to administer the sacraments.” People will therefore be anxious to know what the religion is which Mr. Congreve proffers. The spiritual history of the Humanitarian from birth to the grave, or rather beyond it, to the period in which the objective is swallowed up in the subjective—that is, from birth to deification—consists in passing through nine sacraments, nine stages and preparations, by which “the worthy servant of Humanity proceeds in an unbroken series to the subjective eternity which constitutes him the organ of the Divinity we worship.”

The first sacrament is “Presentation.” In this, the new scion of humanity is presented to the priesthood by two pairs of parents—the natural parents, and an artificial couple, adopted rom the sponsorship of Christianity. But this is not all. The neophyte is inaugurated by being further placed under the spiritual tutelage of two patrons, whose names he bears—one selected from the theoretical, one from the practical, servants of humanity. These two names he must, “at the term of his emancipation”— which looks very like what we call confirmation—complete by a third from the consecrated representatives of humanity. The humanitarian's full bead-roll of names in the next generation, would be perhaps Confucius Columbus Comte Congreve. The second Sacrament is called Initiation, and takes place at fourteen, when the child passes from the mother to the systematic education of the priesthood. The third Sacrament, Admission, is conferred at twenty-one. But even in this the Positivist professor only becomes a humanitarian unattached. He is a servant of humanity, but he must wait for another seven years till he receives the awful consecration to the business of life, in the fourth Sacrament of Declaration, by which a man is set apart with equal solemnity to the offices of king and cowboy, or rather cowman. But, as even a humanitarian may mistake his vocation, this sacrament, and this alone, may be repeated. Next follows the most important sacrament of Marriage. But now occurs a complexity. In the case of the woman, the Sacrament of Marriage may—only may—concur with the Sacrament of Admission. In the case of man, it must not precede the Sacrament of Destination. M. Comte recommends the Government to prohibit marriage in the man while under thirty, and fixes the marriageable epoch at thirty-five—a provision which betrays the Gallic origin of the new religion. The sixth Sacrament is that of Maturity, which it may well be, considering that it is received at forty-two; and, with a politeness characteristic of his country, M. Comte dispenses with this in the case of the ladies. Maturity can only be predicated of the male—women, of course, are never to be supposed approaching to that ripeness which savours of the autumn of life. Twenty-one years now elapse for the work of positive existence. Between the sixth and seventh Sacraments the whole objective life is to be passed, on which depends man's subjective immortality. At sixty-three comes the grand climacteric, and a climacteric Sacrament in its hand; and M. Comte and the officials who have drawn up the superannuation clauses in the Civil Service Bill —is there no Comtian element at work in that subtle legislation? let Spooner and Newdegate look to it—agree in announcing the sacrament of Retirement. This seventh Sacramental stage may well be saluted as most august, though we doubt whether Lord Palmerston or Lord John Russell are prepared for a religion which requires the citizen aetatis suae, 63," of his own free will to renounce active life, as his active powers are exhausted, and to nominate his successor,” henceforth only to assist Humanity as chamber counsel—the rich having divested themselves of all their superfluous wealth, receiving only a modest competency for personal wants in the closing evening of life. As to the eighth sacrament, Transformation, it is a mere imitation of Extreme Unction “divested of its horrors.” The final sacrament of Incorporation is a post mortem baptism of the dead, very like the process known as Beatification in the Catholic Church. It takes place, seven years after death, and is a process, we suppose, with an official somewhat akin to the avvocato del diavolo. It is entirely in the hands of the priesthood. If the inquiry into the virtues of the departed is successful, the holy relics of the sanctified are translated with solemn pomp from the plebeian “burial-place of the city to the Sacred Grove which surrounds the Temple of Humanity;” while the wretched corpses of the condemned “are consigned to the waste place of the reprobate, amongst suicides, duellists, and those executed by the hands of justice.” Women, we ought to observe, being only inchoate angels— as all Frenchmen must hold—are excluded public life, which will hardly recommend Positivism to Miss Bessie Rayner Parkes; and we must add that a true Positivist marriage implies the law of perpetual widowhood.

As to the public worship of Positivism we regret to find that not only is its Liturgy, on the principle of the Disciplina Arcani, withheld from us—which is scarcely fair, as Mr. Congreve says that the Wandsworth Church has a ritual—but that its architecture is at present of the future. The wants of the social organization will, however, we are assured, develope one day a novel style of architecture—which we can quite believe. Meanwhile, one condition of the Temple worship alone is matured. The Temples must orientate according to a symbolic law; the Kebla at least is settled; the world has but one centre, and we have not far to seek the λάς όμϕαλον. It is of course to Paris, as the general metropolis of the world, that all the Temples of humanity must turn. In the Temples we only gather generally, that the symbol of worship is to be what must look very like the Madonna—“a woman with her son in her arms,” and the priest is to be surrounded in the sanctuary by women. Processions and banners are to be part of the ritual. The latter are to be “white on one side with the holy image, on the other green with the sacred formula of Positivism.” Coux compax, perhaps. The signature of the cross is imitated by an unintelligible gesture, “which symbolizes the characteristic formula of Positivism, by placing the hand successively on the three chief organs of love, order, and progress.” This masonic mark may be simplified by mentioning successively three mystical Pythagorean numbers, which are said to symbolize these functions. This obsignation can, however, only be understood by adepts and experts in M. Comte's cerebral theory. With respect to the priesthood it consists of three orders—that of Aspirants, who look very like deacons, and take office or orders at twenty-eight—salary £120; Vicars, who answer to Christian priests, ordained at thirty-five to benefices of £240; and Priests, who are scarcely distinguishable, except in poverty, from the Bishops of the old religion, but who are not to be consecrated till 42, and get £48, “besides the expenses of visiting their dioceses.” Above these three orders of the ministry towers sublime a very fair copy of the Pope—“the High Priest of Humanity, whose natural residence will be Paris, the metropolis of the regenerated West, at a stipend five times that of the ordinary priests, £2400.” This Pontifex Maximus is to be assisted by “four national superiors”—we had nearly said patriarchs—“of the four great Churches, Italian, Spanish, English, and German.” The Positivist Pope nominates his own successors—we should like to know who the present Dalai Lama of Humanity enthroned at Paris is—but such nomination must be accepted by the four patriarchs. When the whole world becomes Positivist, it is calculated that the hieratical caste will be one hundred thousand strong, at the rate—which argues a scanty provision of spiritual food—of one priest to every six thousand -we had almost said souls, but neither name nor thing occurs in the Positivist Philosophy. The priesthood is not to possess any personal property; but it has strong powers of discipline. It is invested (1), with remonstrance in foro domestico; (2) public condemnation in the Temple of Humanity; (3) with excommunication from society, either temporary or eternal. This last places a man absolutely under the worst form of interdict; “there will be occasions in which a man may see all his friends drop off, and, in spite of his wealth, as no one will hold any converse with him, he may be reduced to provide himself his own food." Nor, in the long run, can he escape, like the Neapolitan fugitives to some Queenstown, or heterodox City of Refuge which has not yet adopted the Positive faith. For, as M. Comte remarks, with a glowing anticipation of the splendid completeness of the Positivist's Power of the Keys, “ultimately even this refuge will be closed, as it is certain that the faith will spread over the whole earth.” With this sublime picture of the triumphs of oecumenical Positivism and of its day of wrath in the person of its final Cain, we may appropriately close our sketch of the religion which Mr. Congreve has tendered to the acceptance of the British gentleman in search of a religion,

Saturday Review, March 12, 1859.

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