The History And Definition Of Higher Criticism -- By: Howard Osgood
BSac 49:196 (Oct 1892) p. 529
The History And Definition Of Higher Criticism
In his “History of the Old Testament in the Christian Church,”1 Diestel says that the special novelty in Eichhorn’s treatment of the Old Testament is found in his application of “higher criticism, that is, careful separation of the original and later parts of a book.” What the meaning of this higher criticism is, we can learn only by its history, for no two of its disciples define it alike.
Criticism in its simplest, widest meaning is nothing more than decision, judgment. By necessity we are all critics; we are compelled to balance the “for and against” of all matters brought before us every day that we may reach intelligent decisions. To oppose criticism as an operation of the mind is bald self-stultification, for the very opposition is criticism. No intelligent man would hinder the freest exercise of the mind, for only by that can intelligence be continued and increased among men. Criticism is also used in a special sense, of the art of judging works of literature or art. Here, too, no one has any right to impose
BSac 49:196 (Oct 1892) p. 530
restrictions. Liberty is the first requisite for truth, discovery, progress, as well as for the right preservation of what has previously been gained. The truth has nothing to fear from liberty. It has fought for liberty through the centuries, and flourishes where liberty is best understood and practised.
There seems to be one apparent, but not real, exception to this liberty. Men agreeing in certain fundamental views of the Bible or of society, unite in a society to maintain and defend these views. If one of these men in the use of his liberty reaches views which, in the minds of those with whom he formerly agreed, are subversive of any of their fundamental views, what is his duty? To deny his liberty and retract his views? Certainly not. To maintain his views in that society and deny the liberty of other men who will not receive them? Certainly not. But, if he is one who understands and maintains the liberty of other men as well as his own, he will preserve his liberty and theirs by maintaining his views among others who willingly receive them. This is both the gospel and the law.
It is with criticism and the critic in their technical signification, meaning judgment and a judge of literature or art, that we are now concerned. Wide knowledge and judgment educated by theory and practice are supposed to be essential to the critic. The centuries show us that birth is as indispensable to a critic as to a poet. Cobet, than whom this century has known no finer exemplar of the classical critic, repeats the story, “nee ...
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