Text: N. C. Brooks (???), “The Atlantis [part 6]” [Text-02], American Museum (Baltimore, MD), vol. II, no. 6, June 1839, pp. 482-484


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[page 42:]

THE ATLANTIS.

BY PETER PROSPERO, LL. D.

CHAPTER XV. — Continued.

The events of Sunday or the Sabbath.

AFTER we had finished our frugal meal, and drunk a few glasses of excellent wine, Dr. Clarke took me into his library, which I found one of the largest and best selected for a private man, I had ever seen. The shelves were crowded with all the greatest productions of the human mind. His conversation about them, too, was lively, various, and enchanting, and their authors appeared to be friends with whom his spirit had held long and familiar converse. He was equally at home upon subjects of philosophy, of literature, and of theology. With alike success he had penetrated into the profoundest depths of science, mastered the most difficult arts of reasoning, collected the rich treasures of elegant letters, and replenished his mind with the noblest conceptions and variegated images of poetry and imagination. His understanding was of that large, manly and liberal cast, which, viewing every object with a philosophic eye, and as tinged with the mild colors of charity and philanthropy, disdains the trammels of bigotry, and the narrow prejudices and exclusive assumptions of ignorance, presumption, and spiritual self-conceit. The works of sound philosophers, of eminent divines of all sects, and fine writers in all languages, furnished him a daily aliment most refreshing and acceptable. Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, along with Chillingworth, Stillingfleet, Cranmer, Hooker, and the great English theologians, were the objects of his fervent panegyrics Of Newton and Locke, he spoke with idolatrous veneration; and with scarcely less enthusiasm, of all their great compeers in science, discoverers in philosophy, and inventors in the arts While he reprehended the exertions, and deprecated the mischiefs produced by those who had signalized themselves in their hostility to Christianity, he did ample justice to their pretensions, allowed the full benefit of their virtues, and with true Christian moderation, deplored the extreme infatuation of their counsels, the mischievous tendency of their principles, and the misdirection of their zeal. In a word, while standing in the presence of Dr. Clarke, and holding high converse [page 482:] with him upon those topics, which are the noblest that can engage the attention or occupy the labors of the human mind, I felt myself in communion with one of the choicest intelligences ever despatched from heaven to become the lights of earth. From my previous knowledge of the unrivalled excellence of his works, I thought I beheld him exhibited as a perfect model of the profound philosopher, the finished scholar, the consummate critic, the exemplary christian, the learned theologian, and the heaven-accredited minister at the altar of his God. He seemed to occupy a similar position in the church, as Newton does in natural philosophy, and Locke in metaphysics.

In turning over the volumes which lay upon a table, I came to one of such prayer-books as we had used in the church; and upon examining its contents, my attention was attracted by a perceptible difference in the calendar, from that which is established in the Episcopal Church of England and America. What do I see here, Dr. Clarke? exclaimed I. You have no moveable feasts in your church of Saturnia; but all your great days are stationary, like our Christmas. What has induced you to make an arrangement of this kind?

Because, he replied, since there were precise days in the year in which Christ was crucified and arose from the dead, and those days could be exactly ascertained by mathematical calculations, we concluded it to be much wiser to have those computations completed, and those events celebrated at the very periods in which they transpired. This adjustment has the double advantage, of communicating a greater air of verisimilitude to those great epochs themselves, and of relieving the services of the church from their intricacy and obscurity. To the reflecting and intelligent mind, it gives a semblance of fiction instead of reality, to the resurrection of Christ, to commemorate it days, weeks, and a month later in one year, than in another. It might suit the Jews, in the infancy of astronomy, to regulate their passover by lunar calculations, but it ill comports with the present perfection of science, to subject our Easter to the inconvenience and embarrassment of the same imperfect computations of time. Mankind need no longer walk upon crutches, when their limbs are restored to soundness, and their nerves are strung with vigor.

That, said I, is an admirable suggestion, and obvious improvement. Simplicity is a crowning recommendation in every arrangement of art, as well as system of science.

But now, Doctor, continued I, that you have disclosed to me with so much candor and ingenuousness, the grounds of those, alterations and improvements you have made in our [page 483:] liturgy, will you allow me to inquire, whether you ever really held opinions different from what are called the orthodox doctrines of the church, upon the subject of the trinity and the divinity of Christ?

Clarke. Most willingly shall I answer any interrogatories upon that or any other dogma of Christian theology. I never entertained any sentiments which I was disinclined to avow, and in this republic, at any rate, there can be no motive to concealment. We are all here indulged a perfect liberty of thought and action. Upon the subject of the trinity, I never held any opinions inconsistent with the tenets of the Church of England. If those who were so keen-scented in the detection of latent heresies in doctrine, had thoroughly studied and comprehended my catholic doctrine of the trinity, they might have discerned that my propositions were, at least, innocent, if not correspondent to their views. My purpose in that tract — a purpose to which I still firmly adhere — was to keep up the scriptural distinctions between what are denominated the several persons or hypostasies in the Godhead, although, perhaps, no language supplies us with a term adequate to convey our conceptions of that mysterious and incomprehensible topic. But is it not important to religion and theological science, that the conceptions we entertain of the persons in the Godhead, should be precisely ascertained, and clearly distinguished? Would it answer to throw into confusion their characteristic traits? May not some properties be affirmed of the Father, the fountain of divinity, which are not justly attributable to the Son,’ and vice versa? Could it be affirmed of the Father, that he became incarnate, and was crucified for our sins? or that he was derived from the Son? Neither, without a jumble of incongruous ideas, can it be said of the Son, that he exists by the necessity of his nature, since his being is derivative. And yet, both these persons are co-equal and co-eternal, as well as one. These were the distinctions which I endeavored to delineate, ascertain, define, and establish; and a nice attention to them would render our admirable liturgy faultless in its language. They are nice and metaphysical subtleties, it is true, but nevertheless sound, and, upon a mysterious subject, by no means unimportant. Instead of savoring of heresy, at some future day, they might be found to prevent its influx into the church.

Prospero. From this statement it would appear, that you make not the smallest approximation in your creed to the system of Unitarianism For you know, that you, as well as Newton and Locke, have been accused of favoring that doctrine. [page 484:]

Clarke. I know that those opinions have been ascribed to me, as well as to those illustrious men, and with similar injustice to us all. None of us agree with Dr. Waterland, indeed, in his expositions of the orthodox faith, or with his fraternity of theologians, who would have attributes communicated to a being or person, which are incommunicable in their nature, and mingle in confusion, inconsistent attributes. But we are not, on this account, tinctured with Unitarianism. The Unitarians form a learned and respectable denomination of Christians, in Saturnia; and, under the impression to which you have alluded, Newton, Locke, and myself were invited to join their society. But. they are now convinced, that our opinions are entirely discrepant from theirs.

At this moment, the bell summoned us to the afternoon church, and after attending a second time, the ministrations of my admirable acquaintance, I returned to my room in the hotel to spend the evening.

Would the alterations made by Dr. Clarke, I inwardly exclaimed, be real improvements in the inimitable liturgy of the Episcopal Church? This must be left to her collected wisdom to decide. A church whose affairs are judiciously conducted, should neither rush precipitately into plans of amendment, nor be withheld from wholesome changes by a panic of innovation. A too tremulous apprehension of change would have refused Christendom the immense and incalculable benefits of the Reformation.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - AM, 1838] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Rejected - The Atlantis [part 6] [Text-02]