[Spiritualism and the Christian Churches]
Theosophist, December, 1881
Magna est veritas et prevalebit. The reality of the phenomena has prevailed, and the Church is now forced to seek alliance with the Spiritualists against “materialism and infidelity.” How will the faithful Christian “sceptics” receive the news, and what effect it will produce on the churchgoing “scoffers of spiritual phenomena” is a question which time alone can answer.
For the first time, since the “raps” and “knockings” of an alleged disembodied pedlar, at Rochester, in 1848, inaugurated the era of Spiritualism, which has gradually led the people to accept the hypothesis of discarnated spirits communicating with the world of life, the divines have become alive to the danger of dogmatizing too strongly. For the first time, as the reader may see in the long account of the Congress we reprint further on, the divines seem ready for any concession—even to giving up their hitherto immovable and cherished dogma of eternal torments and damnation. And now they seek to compromise. While Dr. Thomas, the liberal-minded Wesleyan minister in America, is brought on his trial before a Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church (as so many other clergymen have been of late before him), for the same heresy of denying endless torments in hell-fire, the English divines are seriously discussing the advisability of giving the doctrine up. They are ready, they say, to “thankfully acknowledge the truths of Spiritualist teaching, as weapons which we (they) are too glad to wield against Positivism, and Secularism, and all the anti-Christian ‘isms’ of this age of godless thought.” (Rev. R. Thornton’s speech.) Mirabile dictu!—the reverend gentleman went so far as to say: “Let us lay to heart the hints given (by Spiritualists) as to our own shortcomings” ! !
The extracts from the reports of the Congress which we here republish from Light will give the reader a better idea of the position of the Protestant clergy in England. It is evidently very precarious. The divines seem to find themselves most uncomfortably situated between the horns of a dilemma. How they will emerge from it is one problem; whether many Spiritualists are likely to succumb to the unexpected coquetry of the Church they have parted company with is another one—and of a still more difficult solution. If, en desespoir de cause the reverends finally accept the theory of spirits—and we do not see how the reconciliation could be otherwise effected—then, acting upon the rule: “every spirit that confesseth not Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God”—they will have with the exception of a handful of “spirits” acting through a handful of so-called “Christian Spiritualists,” or rather their mediums who accept Jesus Christ—to pronounce the enormous majority of the “angels” who do not, as—“of the Devil.” Then, they will have to encounter a still greater difficulty. Even the Christian Spiritualists have their own peculiar views upon Christ, which, according to the canons of the established Church are “heretical,” but which, we doubt, the Spiritualists will ever give up. Then again, how about—“Though an angel from Heaven preach unto us any other Gospel than that which has been preached unto us, let him be accursed”? Well, time will show, and time is the only and best inspirer of wise schemes and devices. Meanwhile, the Spiritualists—and so far the Theosophists with them—have won the day, for the reality of the phenomena has been admitted at the Church Congress; and we have as good hopes, that, whatever happens, it is neither the Spiritualists nor the Theosophists who will be the conquered in the long run. For, divided as we may be in our conflicting beliefs as to the agency of the phenomena, we are at one as regards the reality of the manifestations, mediumship in all its various aspects,1 and the highest phases of Spiritualism such as personal inspiration, clairvoyance, etc., and even the subjective intercourse between the living and the disembodied souls and spirits under conditions fully defined in Part I of “Fragments of Occult Truth” (See October Theosophist ) At all events, there is a far lesser abyss between the Spiritualists and the Theosophists than there is between the Protestants and the Roman Catholic clergy, their common Christianity notwithstanding. Their house is one and, divided against itself, it must finally fall; while our houses are two. And if we are wise and, instead of quarrelling, support each other, both will be found built on a rock, the foundation being the same though the architecture be different.
The “Banner of Light.”
We see that our old friend the Boston Banner of Light, the leading Spiritualist paper of America, begins its ___th Volume by enlarging its size with four additional pages. We heartily desire that veteran organ the success it so well deserves. For over a quarter of a century it has remained a staunch defender of its colours. It possesses qualities that many of us might well envy. The spirit it uniformly exhibits, is that of tolerance, charity, and true brotherly feeling to all men. It always had on its staff, the most excellent and learned writers. It strenuously avoids acrimonious polemic and wrangling, and seems to have tacitly adopted the noble motto: “Better give the accused the benefit of the doubt and even forgive ten culprits, than unjustly accuse one innocent.” We may and do differ with it in our views and opinions; nevertheless we most sincerely respect and admire it. All honour to our esteemed old friend, Mr. L. Colby, and that may his Banner prosper and wave for long years to come—is the hearty wish of The Theosophist and its editor.
The Church Congress and Spiritualism
Article Selections | Notes by H.P.B.
. . . October the 4th, 1881, at Newcastle-on-Tyne, the Church Congress assembled to discuss “The Duty of the Church in respect to the Prevalence of Spiritualism.” The Lord Bishop of Durham occupied the chair, and the attendance was very large. . . .
[Note: here followed a detailed account of the proceedings of the above-mentioned meeting]
[From the opening remarks by Rev. Dr. Thornton] . . . There is much of the Spiritualist’s teaching with which the Church can most cordially agree.
(1) It is a system of belief, not of mere negation of all that is not logically demonstrated.1 Its adherents are not ashamed to avow that they hold as true, propositions which are incapable of mathematical proof. . . .2
1. We are not sure Spiritualists will agree with this definition. They claim to take nothing on faith.—Ed. Theos. [H.P.B.]
2. If so, the Theosophists disagree with the Spiritualists.—Ed. Theos. [H.P.B.]
[From the remarks of Mr. W. R. Browne] . . . Some years ago several men of the very highest culture agreed together to investigate the phenomena called Spiritualism. . . . The remarkable feature was that at the end, of the time they were unable to come to any final conclusion on the subject, or to make up their minds as to whether the claims of the Spiritualists were true or false. . . . If these men with all their experience and all their skill, could not settle the matter, there must be something in it. . . . The next conclusion was that the belief in the reality of these phenomena was not a mere hallucination, a delusion, which was a theory that certain medical men had very strongly put forward. . . . It was absurd to suppose that over the period of two or three years they should be subject to hallucinations at the moments during which they were investigating this subject, and at no other time. Thirdly, they must adopt the view that the course of these phenomena was a very difficult scientific problem, and that it must be solved by scientific methods; that, firstly, there must be a supernatural cause, as the advocates of Spiritualism said;3 or, secondly, that there were certain natural laws of mind and matter which were not as yet understood . . .
3. We never heard of a Spiritualist attributing phenomena to supernatural causes, or even believing in the possibility of anything “supernatural” or miraculous.—Ed. Theos. [H.P.B.]
[From the remarks of Rev. Canon Wilberforce] . . . It may be briefly stated that the signs and wonders of Modern Spiritualism, which are now undoubtedly exercising a potent influence upon the religious beliefs of thousands, originated in the village of Hydesville, State of New York . . . In July, 1869, the first noteworthy attempt at public investigation was made by the London Dialectical Society . . . Some of [those on the committee] attributed the phenomena to the agency of disembodied human beings, some to Satanic influence, some to psychological causes, and others to imposture and delusion. . . . Appealing as it does to the yearnings of the soul . . . for sensible evidence of the continuity of life after death, belief in modern Spiritualism continues rapidly to increase . . . But it may be asked, is there no evil in Spiritualism? Assured there is, especially as caricatured and misrepresented in the lives, sentiments, and language of many professed Spiritualists. The effects have been summed up by Professor Barret . . . who is convinced by painstaking investigations of the supernatural character of the phenomena in the following words:4—a morbid, unhealthy curiosity is excited; (2) the mind is distrated from the pursuits and present duties of daily life; (3) intellectual confusion is created by uncertain and contradictory teachings; (4) moral and spiritual confusion is created by anarchic manifestation; (5) the will is subjected to the slavery of an unknown power, and the spiritual nature of man may be preyed upon by unseen parasites; (6) it offers a demonstration whic is the negation of facts, much so-called Spiritualism being merely a kind of inebriated materialism. . . .
4. Prof. Barrett we know to be a firm believer in the phenomena; but why should he regard them as supernatural?—Ed. Theos. [H.P.B.]
[From the remarks by Mr. Stuart Cumberland who] said this was a question of evidence alone. In Spiritualism there was a variety of manifestations, of which the most objectionable was the so-called materialization of Spirit forms, but which was meant the power of calling up deceased relatives and friends . . . He [Mr. Cumberland] had seen a great deal of these materializations, and had found that the so-called SPirit was always the medium or a confederate. A few months ago he went to a seance . . . [when] a very eminent clergyman . . . recognized, in the form that was called up, the person of his deceased son . . . Two nights after he (Mr. S. Cumberland) returned . . . determined to expose the true nature of these manifestations. They were kept sitting for so long of a time in a state of expectancy that a person was disposed at last to recognize in even a dressed-up broomstick his maternal grandmother or paternal grandfather. At last the Spirit appeared. The medium was supposed to be in a state of trance in a neighbouring room meanwhile. The Spirit came up to him (Mr. Cumberland) and declared most emphatically that it was his brother. Very happily he had not lost a brother. In pursuance of a little plot he had arranged, he squirted over the Spirit some liquid cochineal. He tried to grasp the Spirit, but it nearly broke his fingers in the struggle. At the close of the seance they found that the medium was covered with liquid cochineal. This proved that the Spirit and the medium were one and the same person.5
5. It proves nothing of the kind; but simply, that the “animal soul” of the Kama-rupa, the living inner man of the medium has more to do with the “materializations” than the spirits of “dead” men.—Ed. Theos. [H.P.B.]
[Note: the article contained the accounts of several speakers at the above-mentioned meeting; those selected from above are the only ones commented upon by H.P.B.]
1. We never denied mediumship, we have only pointed out its great dangers and questioned the advisability of giving way to it and to the control of yet (to Spiritualists) unknown forces.—Ed. [Theos.] [H.P.B.]