[Letter of John James Taylor to Francis William Newman.]
September 17th, 1847
We accept with many thanks your offer of an article on the Berber language.—I have been now at work for the last four or five weeks in collecting materials for the completion of my course on the History of Christianity; and I mean to stick to this object, and take up no other principal pursuit—till I have brought down my course to a century or two subsequent to the Reformation, and am pretty clearly possessed of the principles which have resulted in the present religious condition of the world.—I take as a basis Gieseler's Handbuch, which is almost made up of copious extracts from contemporary writers in the original. All these I carefully read, and for the most part abstract. The work is sometimes not a little tedious; but one gets in this way at the heart of the time, and almost everything, when pursued with an object and with reference to large pervading principles, becomes interesting. If I get through this preliminary task in reasonable time, I hope to re-descend as it were on the critical periods, and examine them more particularly from the original sources, and my own individual point of view. I am however more and more convinced, that any attempts to penetrate into the philosophy of Christianity, must be preceded by a thoughtful and connected study of its history.—Upon the whole, the more I know of the mediæval hierarchy, and especially of the papacy, the worse I think of it—the more selfish, calculating and worldly does it seem to me. On the other hand, it is rather remarkable, that some of the most earnest and disinterested men—such as Bernard of Clairvaux—should have been such staunch papists. I am inclined to think we must account for it by their desire to effect a more entire separation of the spiritual and secular powers, and by their regarding the papal system, idealised in their enthusiastic minds, as the only agency that could check the corrruption resulting from the secularisation of the Church. It is curious to observe how the reverence attached to Bernard's severe and holy life, created the general belief in his power miraculously to heal disease, and how he appears himself to have shared in that belief. Neander says, that the cases in which he is recorded to have effected a cure—were nervous diseases, fevers, and insanity, then usually ascribed to demoniacal possession. Abelard, the rationalist of the day, mocked at these pretensions. There are many curious questions yet unsolved in the history of Religion, and perhaps deeply connected with the psychological laws of humanity, which the narrow way of handling these subjects has kept us from approaching at once with freedom and with reverence.