Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Christian College
By Noah Porter (18111892)
[Fifteen Years in the Chapel of Yale College. 1888.]
IT may still be argued, that in the present divided state of Christendom a college which is positively Christian must, in fact, be controlled by some religious denomination, and this must necessarily narrow and belittle its intellectual and emotional life. We reply, a college need not be administered in the interests of any religions sect, even if it be controlled by it. We have contended, at length, that science and culture tend to liberalize sectarian narrowness. We know that Christian philosophy, history, and literature are eminently catholic and liberal. No class of men so profoundly regret the divisions of Christendom as do Christian scholars; and, we add, their liberality is often in proportion to their fervor. While a college may be, and sometimes is, a nursery of petty prejudices, and a hiding-place for sectarian bigotry, it is untrue to all the lessons of Christian thoughtfulness if it fails to honor its own nobler charity, and will sooner or later outgrow its narrowness.
It may be still further urged, that a Christian college must limit itself in the selection of instructors to men of positive Christian belief, and may thus deprive itself of the ablest instruction. We reply, no positive inferences of this sort can be drawn from the nature or duties of a Christian college. The details of administration are always controlled by wise discretion. A seeker after God, if he has not found rest in faith, may be even more devout and believing in his influence than a fiery dogmatist or an uncompromising polemic. And yet it may be true, that a teacher who is careless of misleading confiding youth, and who is fertile in suggestions of unbelief, may, for this reason and this only, be disqualified from being a safe and useful instructor in any college, whether Christian or secular. Personal characteristics very properly enter very largely into a just estimate of the requisites for an ennobling and successful instructor; and among personal qualities, those which we call Christian are esteemed the most ennobling, except by those who are ashamed of the Christian name.
Last of all, it may be urged that a Christian college may become the nursery of pietistic sentimentalism or fanatical fervor. This is true; but there are other sentimentalising than those which are inspired by Christian truth and the Christian history, and there are other fanaticisms than such as flame in the Christian Church. The best security against all excesses of this sort is to be found in that soundness of mind which earnest Christian devotion is fitted to inspire, when instructed by solid learning, and enlightened by science; when refined by imaginative literature, and made graceful by consummate art.
We conclude as we began,that a Christian college, to be worthy of its name, must be the home of enlarged knowledge and varied culture. It must abound in all the appliances of research and instruction; its libraries and collections must be rich to affluence; its corps of instructors must be well trained and enthusiastic in the work of teaching. For all this, money is needed; and it should be gathered into great centresnot wasted in scanty fountains, nor subdivided into insignificant rills. Into such a temple of science the Christian spirit should enter as the shekinah of old, purifying and consecrating all to itself. In such a college the piety should inspire the science, and the culture should elevate and refine the piety, and the two should lift each the other upward toward God, and speed each other outward and onward in errands of blessing to man.
Whether a Christian college shall surpass one that is purely or chiefly secular in its scientific training and literary culture, must be tested by time; but, in order that the test should be fair, the advantages must be equal. The endowments, the appliances, the libraries, the museums, and all else that wealth can furnish, must be similar in attractiveness and solidity. The friends of each must give to each an enthusiastic and unwavering support. We do not contend that religious zeal can be a substitute for scientific ardor, but we do argue that it may and will furnish the highest aspiration when directed to scientific studies. We are not so simple as to hold that the culture of the religious feelings is a substitute for the training of the imagination; but we do contend that the imagination, when fired by Christian faith and fervor, rises to its loftiest achievements. In a word, we believe that the Christian faith is the perfection of the human reason, as truly as a necessity to the human heart, and is, therefore, essential to the highest forms of human culture.
We conclude that no institution of higher education can attain the highest ideal excellence in which the Christian faith is not exalted as supreme; in which its truth is not asserted with a constant fidelity, defended with unremitting ardor, and enforced with a fervent and devoted zeal; in which Christ is not honored as the inspirer of mans best affections, the model of mans highest excellence, and the master of all human duties. Let two instructions be placed side by side, with equal advantages in other particulars; let the one be positively Christian, and the other consistently secular, and the Christian will assuredly surpass the secular in the contributions which it will make to science and culture, and in the men which it will train for the service of their kind.