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London: Duckworth; New York: Scribner’s, 1916. Pp. xx+ 313. 1

The International Journal of Ethics, 27 (Oct 1916) 111-12

There is no one better qualified than Canon Rashdall for the task which he has set himself. What is the relation of conscience to authority? When must conscience appeal to the teaching of Jesus for justification, and how far is the teaching of Jesus justified by appeal to conscience? Dr. Rashdall is distinguished both as a Christian and as a moral philosopher. In this volume of lectures (delivered at Oberlin College in 1913) he succeeds in arbitrating between the claims of theology and ethics, not without exacting considerable sacrifices from both sides.

The reader who is interested in the technical defences of Dr. Rashdall’s theory of conscience will already be familiar with them. It is enough to say that he believes in “the existence and validity of an objective Morality” [10] and in a power in us of “distinguishing between right and wrong” [7]. And moral judgments come from the intellectual part of our nature. It is to such a conscience that Jesus addresses himself. Now it follows almost inevitably, if one holds a theory of conscience similar to Dr. Rashdall’s, that conscience will consist in the usual structure of prejudices of the enlightened middle classes. To this middle-class conscience the teaching of Jesus is gradually assimilated. In the second lecture Dr. Rashdall disposes of eschatology. He is anxious to show that the moral teaching of Jesus can be valued quite independently of eschatological considerations, though his argument is diverted by his desire to deal a death blow to modernist pessimism in passing. He admits that Jesus sometimes emphasised “the unimportance of worldly goods . . . to an extent which would require some correction before it could be literally applied to the case of those who do not believe that the world is just coming to an end” (63).

Dr. Rashdall pursues his reconciliation through the rest of the book. Thus we learn that Christ was not ascetic, that he did not consider celibacy superior to marriage, that monasticism was not improbably an imitation of paganism, that Christ was not a socialist, and did not disapprove of private property (Lecture IV). All that is anarchic, or unsafe or disconcerting in what Jesus said and did is either denied, or boiled away by the “principle of development” (Lecture V) [195].

When we come to the interesting lecture on “Christian Ethics and Other Systems” we find Dr. Rashdall taking up a position hardly different from Unitarianism. 2 But Dr. Rashdall has an argument of his own. He proceeds, I believe, first to assimilate Christ’s teaching to his own morality, then makes Christ the representative of this morality, then leads us to concede that Jesus will be best followed “in a society which actually recognizes His unique position” (277). For Canon Rashdall, “the following of Christ is made easier by thinking of Him . . . as the Being in whom that union of God and Man after which all ethical Religion aspires is most fully accomplished” [284-85]. Certain saints found the following of Christ very hard, but modern methods have facilitated everything. Yet I am not sure, after reading modern theology, that the pale Galilean has conquered. 3

t. stearns eliot / london, england.

Published By:   Faber & Faber logo    Johns Hopkins University Press