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Frederick Denison Maurice. In Memoriam
by [?]

But Mr. Maurice, above all men whom I have ever met, conquered both these temptations. For, first, he had no system of the Universe. To have founded a sect, or even a school, would be, he once said, a sure sign that he was wrong and was leading others wrong. He was a Catholic and a Theologian, and he wished all men to be such likewise. To be so, he held, they must know God in Christ. If they knew God, then with them, as with himself, they would have the key which would unlock all knowledge, ecclesiastical, eschatological (religious, as it is commonly called), historic, political, social. Nay even, so he hoped, that knowledge of God would prove at last to be the key to the right understanding of that physical science of which he, unfortunately for the world, knew but too little, but which he accepted with a loyal trust in God, and in fact as the voice of God, which won him respect and love from men of science to whom his theology was a foreign world. If he could make men know God, and therefore if he could make men know that God was teaching them; that no man could see a thing unless God first showed it to him–then all would go well, and they might follow the Logos, with old Socrates, whithersoever he led. Therefore he tried not so much to alter men’s convictions, as, like Socrates, to make them respect their own convictions, to be true to their own deepest instincts, true to the very words which they used so carelessly, ignorant alike of their meaning and their wealth. He wished all men, all churches, all nations, to be true to the light which they had already, to whatsoever was godlike, and therefore God-given, in their own thoughts; and so to rise from their partial apprehensions, their scattered gleams of light, toward that full knowledge and light which was contained–so he said, even with his dying lips–in the orthodox Catholic faith. This was the ideal of the man and his work; and it left him neither courage nor time to found a school or promulgate a system. God had His own system: a system vaster than Augustine’s, vaster than Dante’s, vaster than all the thoughts of all thinkers, orthodox and heterodox, put together; for God was His own system, and by Him all thing’s consisted, and in Him they lived and moved and had their being; and He was here, living and working, and we were living and working in Him, and had, instead of building systems of our own, to find out His eternal laws for men, for nations, for churches; for only in obedience to them is Life. Yes, a man who held this could found no system. “Other foundation,” he used to say, “can no man lay, save that which is laid, even Jesus Christ.” And as he said it, his voice and eye told those who heard him that it was to him the most potent, the most inevitable, the most terrible, and yet the most hopeful, of all facts.

As for temptations to vanity, and love of power–he may have had to fight with them in the heyday of youth, and genius, and perhaps ambition. But the stories of his childhood are stories of the same generosity, courtesy, unselfishness, which graced his later years. At least, if he had been tempted, he had conquered. In more than five-and-twenty years, I have known no being so utterly unselfish, so utterly humble, so utterly careless of power or influence, for the mere enjoyment–and a terrible enjoyment it is–of using them. Staunch to his own opinion only when it seemed to involve some moral principle, he was almost too ready to yield it, in all practical matters, to anyone whom he supposed to possess more practical knowledge than he. To distrust himself, to accuse himself, to confess his proneness to hard judgments, while, to the eye of those who knew him and the facts, he was exercising a splendid charity and magnanimity; to hold himself up as a warning of “wasted time,” while he was, but too literally, working himself to death–this was the childlike temper which made some lower spirits now and then glad to escape from their consciousness of his superiority by patronising and pitying him; causing in him–for he was, as all such great men are like to be, instinct with genial humour–a certain quiet good-natured amusement, but nothing more.