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§ 1. Meaning and Usage of the Word.

By Rationalism is meant the system or theory which assigns undue authority to reason in matters of religion. By reason is not to be understood the Logos as revealed in man, as held by some of the Fathers, and by Cousin and other modern philosophers, nor the intuitional faculty as distinguished from the understanding or the discursive faculty. The word is taken in its ordinary sense for the cognitive faculty, that which perceives, compares, judges, and infers.

Rationalism has appeared under different forms. (1.) The Deistical, which denies either the possibility or the fact of any supernatural revelation, and maintains that reason is both the source and ground of all religious knowledge and conviction. (2.) That which while it admits the possibility and the fact of a supernatural revelation, and that such a revelation is contained in the Christian Scriptures, nevertheless maintains that the truths revealed are the truths of reason; that is, truths which reason can comprehend and demonstrate. (3.) The third form of Rationalism has received the name of Dogmatism, which admits that many of the truths of revelation are undiscoverable by human reason, and that they are to be received upon authority. Nevertheless, it maintains that those truths when revealed admit of being philosophically explained and established and raised from the sphere of faith into that of knowledge.

Rationalism in all its forms proceeds on the ground of Theism, that is, the belief of an extramundane personal God. When, therefore, Monism, which denies all dualism and affirms the identity of God and the world, took possession of the German mind, Rationalism, in its old form, disappeared. There was no longer any room for the distinction between reason and God, between the natural and the supernatural. No class of men, therefore, are more contemptuous in their opposition to the Rationalists, than the advocates 35of the modern, or, as it perhaps may be more properly designated, the modern pantheistic philosophy of Germany.

Although in a measure banished from its recent home, it continues to prevail in all its forms, variously modified, both in Europe and America. Mansel, in his “Limits of Religious Thought,”99Page 47, edit. Boston, 1859. includes under the head of Rationalism every system which makes the final test of truth to be “the direct assent of the human consciousness, whether in the form of logical deduction, or moral judgment, or religious intuition, by whatever previous process these faculties may have been raised to their assumed dignity as arbitrators.” This, however, would include systems radically different in their nature.


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