Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


An Episcopal Trilogy
by [?]

I repeat that it is not upon any a priori considerations that objections, either to the supposed efficacy of prayer in modifying the course of events, or to the supposed occurrence of miracles, can be scientifically based. The real objection, and, to my mind, the fatal objection, to both these suppositions, is the inadequacy of the evidence to prove any given case of such occurrences which has been adduced. It is a canon of common sense, to say nothing of science, that the more improbable a supposed occurrence, the more cogent ought to be the evidence in its favour. I have looked somewhat carefully into the subject, and I am unable to find in the records of any miraculous event evidence which even approximates to the fulfilment of this requirement.

But, in the case of prayer, the Bishop points out a most just and necessary distinction between its effect on the course of nature, outside ourselves, and its effect within the region of the supplicator’s mind.

It is a “law of nature,” verifiable by everyday experience, that our already formed convictions, our strong desires, our intent occupation with particular ideas, modify our mental operations to a most marvellous extent, and produce enduring changes in the direction and in the intensity of our intellectual and moral activities. Men can intoxicate themselves with ideas as effectually as with alcohol or with bang, and produce, by dint of intense thinking, mental conditions hardly distinguishable from monomania. Demoniac possession is mythical; but the faculty of being possessed, more or less completely, by an idea is probably the fundamental condition of what is called genius, whether it show itself in the saint, the artist, or the man of science. One calls it faith, another calls it inspiration, a third calls it insight; but the “intending of the mind,” to borrow Newton’s well-known phrase, the concentration of all the rays of intellectual energy on some one point, until it glows and colours the whole cast of thought with its peculiar light, is common to all.

I take it that the Bishop of Manchester has psychological science with him when he insists upon the subjective efficacy of prayer in faith, and on the seemingly miraculous effects which such “intending of the mind” upon religious and moral ideals may have upon character and happiness. Scientific faith, at present, takes it no further than the prayer which Ajax offered; but that petition is continually granted.

Whatever points of detail may yet remain open for discussion, however, I repeat the opinion I have already expressed, that the Manchester sermons concede all that science, has an indisputable right, or any pressing need, to ask, and that not grudgingly but generously; and, if the three bishops of 1887 carry the Church with them, I think they will have as good title to the permanent gratitude of posterity as the famous seven who went to the Tower in defence of the Church two hundred years ago.

Will their brethren follow their just and prudent guidance? I have no such acquaintance with the currents of ecclesiastical opinion as would justify me in even hazarding a guess on such a difficult topic. But some recent omens are hardly favourable. There seems to be an impression abroad–I do not desire to give any countenance to it–that I am fond of reading sermons. From time to time, unknown correspondents–some apparently animated by the charitable desire to promote my conversion, and others unmistakably anxious to spur me to the expression of wrathful antagonism–favour me with reports or copies of such productions.

I found one of the latter category among the accumulated arrears to which I have already referred.

It is a full, and apparently accurate, report of a discourse by a person of no less ecclesiastical rank than the three authors of the sermons I have hitherto been considering; but who he is, and where or when the sermon was preached, are secrets which wild horses shall not tear from me, lest I fall again under high censure for attacking a clergyman. Only if the editor of this Review thinks it his duty to have independent evidence that the sermon has a real existence, will I, in the strictest confidence, communicate it to him.