Richard Whately


English Anglican Archbishop of Dublin , Philosopher, Logician, Economist and Theologian

Author Quotes

There is a heresy of indifference to revealed religion which is the most deadly of all heresies.

When complaints are made?often not altogether without reason?of the prevailing ignorance of facts on such or such subjects, it will often be found that the parties censured, though possessing less knowledge than is desirable, yet possess more than they know what to do with. Their deficiency in arranging and applying their knowledge, in combining facts, and correctly deducing, and rightly employing, general principles, will be perhaps greater than their ignorance of facts.

There is a strange difference in the ages at which different persons acquire such maturity as they are capable of, and at which some of those who have greatly distinguished themselves have done, and been, something remarkable. Some of them have left the world at an earlier age than that at which others have begun their career of eminence. It was remarked to the late Dr. Arnold by a friend, as a matter of curiosity, that several men who have filled a considerable page in history have lived but forty-seven years (Philip of Macedon, Joseph Addison, Sir William Jones, Nelson, Pitt), and he was told in a jocular way to beware of the forty-seventh year. He was at that time in robust health; but he died at forty-seven! Alexander died at thirty-two; Sir Stamford Raffles at forty-five. Sir Isaac Newton did indeed live to a great age; but it is said that all his discoveries were made before he was forty; so that he might have died at that age and been as celebrated as he is. On the other hand, Herschel is said to have taken to astronomy at forty-seven. Swedenborg, if he had died at sixty, would have been remembered by those that did remember him merely as a sensible worthy man, and a very considerable mathematician. The strange fancies which took possession of him, and which survive in the sect he founded, all came on after that age.

When first we practise to deceive.?

There is no more striking instance of the silent and imperceptible changes brought about by what is called ?Time,? than that of a language becoming dead. To point out the precise period at which Greek or Latin ceased to be a living language would be as impossible as to say when a man becomes old. And much confusion of thought and many important practical results arise from not attending to this.

Whenever men have become heartily wearied of licentious anarchy, their eagerness has been proportionality great to embrace the opposite extreme of rigorous despotism.

There is perhaps no one quality that can produce a greater amount of mischief than may be done by thoughtless good-nature. For instance, if any one, out of tenderness of heart and reluctance to punish or to discard the criminal and worthless, lets loose on society, or advances to important offices, mischievous characters, he will have conferred a doubtful benefit on a few, and done incalculable hurt to thousands. So, also, to take one of the commonest and most obvious cases, that of charity to the poor,?a man of great wealth, by freely relieving all idle vagabonds, might go far towards ruining the industry, and the morality, and the prosperity, of a whole nation.

While the children of the higher classes always call their parents ?papa? and ?mamma,? the children of the peasantry usually call them ?father? and ?mother.?

The object that strikes the eye is to all of these persons the same; the difference of the impressions produced on the mind of each is referable to the differences in their minds.

There is, in fact, a danger of its proving a great hindrance to the profitable study of Scripture; for so strong an association is apt to be established in the mind between certain expressions, and the technical sense to which they have been confined in some theological system, that when the student meets with them in Scripture he at once understands them in that sense, in passages where perhaps an unbiassed examination of the context would plainly show that such was not the author?s meaning.

With some minds of a baser nature, there is a difficulty, proverbially, in forgiving those whom one is conscious of having injured; and, again, those (especially if equals or inferiors) who have done very great and important services, beyond what can ever receive an adequate return. Rochefoucault even says that ?to most men it is less dangerous to do hurt than to do them too much good.? But then it was his system to look on the dark side only of mankind.

The proper office of candour is to prepare the mind not for the rejection of all evidence, but for the right reception of evidence;?not to be a substitute for reasons, but to enable us fairly to weigh the reasons on both sides.

Those works of fiction are worse than unprofitable that inculcate morality, with an exclusion of all reference to religious principle. This is obviously and notoriously the character of Miss Edgeworth?s Moral Tales. And so entire and resolute is this exclusion, that it is maintained at the expense of what may be called poetical truth: it destroys, in many instances, the probability of the tale, and the naturalness of the characters. That Christianity does exist, every one must believe as an incontrovertible truth; nor can any one deny that, whether true or false, it does exercise?at least is supposed to exercise?an influence on the feelings and conduct of some of the believers in it. To represent, therefore, persons of various ages, sex, country, and station in life, as practising, on the most trying occasions, every kind of duty, and encountering every kind of danger, difficulty, and hardship, while none of them ever makes the least reference to a religious motive, is as decidedly at variance with reality?what is called in works of fiction unnatural?as it would be to represent Mahomet?s enthusiastic followers as rushing into battle without any thought of his promised paradise.

The system, then, of reasoning from our own conjectures as to the necessity of the Most High doing so and so, tends to lead a man to proceed from the rejection of his own form of Christianity to a rejection of revelation altogether. But does it stop here? Does not the same system lead naturally to Atheism also? Experience shows that that consequence, which reason might have anticipated, does often actually take place.

Though few men are likely to be called on to take part in the reformation of any public institutions, yet there is no one of us but what ought to engage in the important work of self-reformation, and according to the well-known proverb, ?If each would sweep before his own door, we should have a clean street.? Some may have more, and some less, of dust and other nuisances to sweep away; some of one kind, and some of another. But those who have the least to do have something to do; and they should feel it an encouragement to do it, that they can so easily remedy the beginnings of small evils before they have accumulated into a great one. Begin reforming, therefore, at once: proceed in reforming steadily and cautiously, and go on reforming forever.

The truth is, mankind have an innate propensity, as to other errors, so, to that of endeavouring to serve God by proxy;?to commit to some distinct Order of men the care of their religious concerns, in the same manner as they confide the care of their bodily health to the physician, and of their legal transactions to the lawyer; deeming it sufficient to follow implicitly their directions, without attempting themselves to become acquainted with the mysteries of medicine or of law. For man, except when unusually depraved, retains enough of the image of his Maker to have a natural reverence for religion, and a desire that God should be worshipped; but, through the corruption of his nature, his heart is (except when divinely purified) too much alienated from God to take delight in serving Him. Hence the disposition men have ever shown to substitute the devotion of the priest for their own; to leave the duties of piety in his hands, and to let him serve God in their stead. This disposition is not so much the consequence, as itself the origin, of priestcraft.

Though people censure any one for making a display beyond his station, if he falls below it in what are considered the decencies of his station, he is considered as either absurdly penurious or else very poor.

The unwise and incautious are always prone to rush from an error on one side into an opposite error. And a reaction accordingly took place, from the abuse of reasoning, to the undue neglect of it, and from the fault of not sufficiently observing facts, to that of trusting to a mere accumulation of ill-arranged knowledge. It is as if men had formerly spent vain labour in threshing over and over again the same straw and winnowing the same chaff, and then their successors had resolved to discard these processes altogether, and to bring home and use wheat and weeds, straw, chaff, and grain, just as they grew, and without any preparation at all.

To believe in Christianity, without knowing why we believe it, is not Christian faith, but blind credulity.

The word fable is, at present, generally limited to those fictions in which the resemblance to the matter in question is not direct, but analogical; the other class being called novels, tales, etc.

Too religious, in the proper sense of the word, we cannot be. We cannot have the religious sentiments and principles too strong, or too deeply fixed, if only they have a right object. We cannot love God too warmly?or honour him too highly?or strive to serve Him too earnestly?or trust Him too implicitly; because our duty is to love Him ?with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength.?

The word knowledge strictly employed implies three things, viz., truth, proof, and conviction.

We cannot be too much on our guard against reactions, lest we rush from one fault into another contrary fault.

The word synonyme is, in fact, a misnomer,? Literally, it implies an exact coincidence of meaning in two or more words, in which case there would be no room for discussion; but it is generally applied to words which would be more correctly termed pseudo-synonymes, i.e. words having a shade of difference, yet with a sufficient resemblance of meaning to make them liable to be confounded together: and it is in the number and variety of these that (as the Abb‚ Girard well remarks) the richness of a language consists.

We find?in the case of political affairs?that the most servile submission to privileged classes, and the grossest abuses of power by these, have been the precursors of the wildest ebullitions of popular fury,?of the overthrow indiscriminately of ancient institutions, good and bad,?and of the most turbulent democracy; generally proportioned in its extravagance and violence to the degree of previous oppression and previous degradation. And again we find that whenever men have become heartily wearied of licentious anarchy, their eagerness has been proportionably great to embrace the opposite extreme of rigorous despotism; like shipwrecked mariners clinging to a bare and rugged rock as a refuge from the waves.

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English Anglican Archbishop of Dublin , Philosopher, Logician, Economist and Theologian