I am aware that the realization of such an ideal involves a great change in the habits and sentiments of men. It argues a new object of central interest, a new enthusiasm, a new magnanimity blended with a new ardor. It is not uncommon to hear, even in the most liberal of Christian denominations (the Unitarian), that a religious body must, as a matter of course, have religious doctrines.1 It seems to be taken for granted that good and earnest men who differ intellectually cannot belong to one fellowship, that varying theological or philosophical views are necessarily more potent to divide than moral aims can be to unite. It is a sad and saddening opinion; yet I am afraid there is more in the religious history of the race to confirm it than there is to encourage the aim I cherish. Never has there been, to my knowledge, such a fellowship as I crave. Men seem always to have been ready to magnify their intellectual agreements or disagreements, and to put a slight on the good purpose and the pure heart. I have come across, indeed, in Matthew Arnold's essay on " Saint Paul and Protestantism,"2 an observation of Epiphanius, one of the Christian Fathers, to the effect that in the primitive period of the Church wickedness was the only heresy; that impious and pious living divided the whole world into erroneous and orthodox. I should like to believe that this was so, and no doubt there was some approximation to it; but I am afraid that it was largely an ideal of the bishop's mind, transferred to a time in regard to which he had imperfect knowledge. In any case, not much later than the time of Epiphanius, when a bishop was charged in a Church council with unchas-tity, the cry went up, " What do we care about his chastity ? Is he orthodox ? — that is the question;" and again, " Worse than a Sodomite is he who will not call Mary mother of God ! " 1 No, history does not give much encouragement to such a fellowship as I propose; and as with morality in general, the dream of a moral basis of religious union is an ideal of the heart rather than anything else. Those who believe in it will have to strive for it: it will not come of itself. Yet it has on its side, I make bold to say, the best instincts of not a few men to-day; the larger minds in almost all the historic Christian communions are moving in this direction, though they may be far from having a clear vision as yet of the goal. Any one who is impatient with old walls of separation between churches, and asks that all who love the Lord Jesus Christ shall join hands for united warfare against sin and wrong, really works in this direction ; any one who still more generously summons all, whether Christians or not, to unite in the love of God and the service of man, really works in this direction. Yes, both are prophets, however unconsciously, of that grander fellowship to come, which shall include all who, whatever their differences in the past and whatever their intellectual differences still, are ready to work together to put down the evil and to enthrone the good in the world.
1 See " The Unitarian," October, 1888, p. 442.
2 Page 120.
Let me now state a little more distinctly what a moral basis of fellowship would involve.
First, it would not necessitate the giving up of any theological or philosophical beliefs which one might hold dear. Because one's beliefs are not made a part of the bond of union does not mean that one shall not be free to hold them. If one found satisfaction in the theistic theory of the universe, he should be free to cherish it; if one felt compelled to be an agnostic as to the nature of Deity, or if one took materialistic ground, he should be equally free. The aim of the fellowship would not be to make theists or materialists or agnostics, but to confirm the good purpose in the soul, to make good citizens, good fathers and mothers, to make lovers of justice and haters of all wrong. If one wished to keep company only with those of his own creed, he would of course not enter the body; but the body would not exclude him: he would simply, by the narrow range of his sympathies, exclude himself. One would not have to renounce Christianity nor Judaism in entering the fellowship; his entering would simply involve a willingness to live on terms of brotherhood with others who might not be Christians or Jews ; that is, he would give up Christianity or Judaism as the basis of religious fellowship.
1 See an article by Rev. Dr. F. H. Hedge, in The Unitarian Review, January, 1884, p. 14.
Secondly, the free expression of theological or philosophical opinions would not be prevented any more than the holding of them. It might even happen that those who were drawn together by the affinity of intellectual conviction would form subordinate groups, just as those who were united in holding to certain practical solutions of the problem of society might do the same. Uniformity is not to be expected nor desired ; uniformity is apt to be the high road to spiritual death, while unity in variety means life. The only necessity would be that no group should make so much of its peculiar views and aims that it would be in danger of losing sympathy and the sense of union with the body at large. One fellowship with many branches, one body with many members, one subtle life-blood running through the whole and making every part kin to every other, — that would be the ideal of a true religious fellowship.
Hence, thirdly, a new meaning would attach to heresy in connection with such a fellowship. That word, I well know, is no longer covered with opprobrium. Men who have stood faithful to the light that was in them, and have refused for the sake of life itself to be untrue to it, have made heresy almost glorious. Apart, however, from its historical associations, the meaning of heresy is simply separation: a heretic is one who is separated, or separates himself, from a religious body. Whether heresy is honorable or dishonorable depends, then, on the attitude of the religious body in question. The Christian Church has not allowed liberty of thought, save within comparatively narrow limits; it has even decreed from time to time that certain ideas were to be accepted on pain of eternal damnation. The Church has thus become to many minds a very emblem of intolerance. A fundamental principle, however, of the ideal religious fellowship I have in mind would be freedom of belief ; the body should neither decree nor prescribe, nor in any way stand for, any set of theological or philosophical opinions. The query might arise, would not heresy cease to have any meaning in connection with such a body ? It certainly would, in the customary sense of the word. There would be neither necessity nor motive for any one to leave the body, to the end of gaining liberty of thought or utterance. But suppose that another set of motives should arise.