Flatland (1884) is a hugely popular whimsical satire in novella form by Edwin Abbott Abbott (1838-1926), mathematician, educator, clergyman, and author. It is narrated by "A Square", a mathematician in the two-dimensional world of Flatland, where Squares and Pentagons are deemed professionals and "gentlemen". Social status is determined by the number of sides a figure possesses, and women are delegated to straight lines, the least significant shapes. And circles are considered perfect. Abbott, an ardent social reformer, was mocking class-based hierarchies, pervasive elitism, and the deeply-rooted misogyny that limited women in many ways in Victorian society.
Through a series of dream and strange encounters in other dimensions beyond Flatland: in Lineland (one dimension), Pointland (no dimension), and ultimately Sphereland (three dimensions). Square's visionary guide in that final dimension is a Sphere, which in Flatland is experienced first as a point, then an expanding and contracting circle, and finally back to a point. Thus, a three-dimensional: object from that higher dimension is experienced and can be experienced only in terms of the dimension in which it is encountered. In this case in two-dimensional Flatland.
But Square speculates further. If there are higher dimensions, is there a fourth—dimension beyond the third? Sphere grumpily rejects such a preposterous idea, and Square is plunged back to Flatland. In similar fashion, we can picture Virgil and Dante parting at the pinnacle of Purgatory, since the Pagan poet, his guide to other dimensions of the world, has no understanding to express the lofty dimension of Paradise beyond.
Readers often miss the deeply religious aspects of all this. After all, what does mathematics have to do with religion? For Abbott, it is intimately connected in dealing with dimensionality. Abbott's massive authorship included a great many works of theological importance, including a 50-page entry on "Gospels" in the 9th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. But hints from Abbott abound. The novella significantly describes Square's dream on New Year's Eve, 1999, the eve of the Third Millennium. Think of our own fascination with Y2K. It is a signal point, at which Sphere declares he will manifest as at the turning of previous millennia to appoint a new "apostle" to spread the teaching of the higher Third-dimension. Abbott is playing with how his own rationalistic and scientific age would be uncomprehending, if people experienced transcendence, as a Fourth-dimension. His aim throughout his authorship was to show how the vital balance of "higher reason" and creative, intuitive imagination are needed for belief and all human thought. Square "feels" (associated with the lower classes by Victorian culture) the need to "see" (associated with the educated) in his call to “evangelize... the Gospel of Three Dimensions” (Section 21). Square is willing to suffer punishment and imprisonment "for professing to have received revelations from another World." And like a modern Prometheus, bring the fire of truth from the heavens, stir up a race of rebels, who shall refuse to be confined to limited Dimensionality" (Section 22).
Abbott's self-appointed mission is to establish an anti-metaphysical sense of religion and to explore the connections of higher and lower dimensions of spiritual experience in non-supernatural terms. Just as dwellers in Flatland could only experience Sphere in their own terms, so too our three-dimensional world can only experience the higher, Fourth Dimension ("the height and depth, the length and breadth" of reality, as St. Paul phrased it) in terms of our own frame of reference. The spiritual realm is real, but can only be experienced by us in our own material terms.
His later novels, exploring the history of Early Christianity, are examined below. They constitute a further extension of Flatland, which in itself is an analogy of 19th-century British society and to our own age that dismisses or ignores the spiritual realm… To understand Flatland more completely, one should examine how Abbott's project and ideas of the real experience of transcendence are played out in fictional form. How did his ideas fit into the terrain of other theological and literary works of his society? His theological efforts overall deserve closer scrutiny, as they cast new light on the history of the development of biblical criticism, natural theology, and literary methodologies in Late-Victorian England. The journey from Flatland, through Sphereland, draws our steps finally to the Holy Land.
The Early Church novel, a subgenre in Victorian fiction, was employed by churchly writers of the period to treat contemporary religious questions under the disguise of antiquity. As did members of other church factions, Broad Churchmen, such as Frederic Farrar (1831-1903), William Boyd Carpenter 1841- -1918), and Edwin Abbott Abbott (1838-1926), used the Early Church novel as vehicles for constructing a modern apologia for their understanding of Christianity in the face of its “cultured despisers” on the one hand and those vestiges of "supernaturalism” in religion on the other.
In the 1880's and 90's an anxious, even desperate, quest for authority emerged in the public forum, ending for some in total submission to "the Bible and the Bible alone," or the hierarchical Church, or mystical experience, or the dearly-bought integrity of a personal creed. Many currents of thought were channeled to relieve the religious drought. In 1890 William Booth's Darkest England, a title playing off H. M. Stanley's contemporaneously published Darkest Africa, introduced a social-gospel message in domestic missions as the kernel of primitive Christianity, reacting against the barren intellectualism of so much theological discourse. Beginning in the 1880's a major interest in mysticism developed, at the same time that statistics for the British and European churches began their downward curve, e.g., the drop in numbers of ordinations and church attendance. What has been called the search for the 'childlike in religion,' seen in the Late-Victorian cults of St. Francis of Assisi or St. Therese of Lisieux, can be judged as a return to radical simplicity and a supposed primitive immediacy in the religious experience.
Evangelical and Broad-Church writers of Early Church novels, beginning with few exceptions in the 1870's, used this genre to address the pressing question of the day. Although George Eliot found earlier examples of Evangelical fiction “vulgar,” their emphasis on the personal and the importance of inner states of feeling, the deep conviction of human depravity and individual sin, the explicit accounts of repentance and conversion, and the tales of philanthropy, saintliness in the observance of ordinary duty, and missionary fervor, all recounted without reserve, provided possibilities for the Victorian novelist, despite Evangelical scruples over the literary enterprise, possibilities exploited by Eliot herself in Scenes of Clerical Life (1858). The debate over the 'Higher Criticism' led inexorably to questions about the original and continuous witness of the written records of Christianity; the Protestant doctrine of plenary inspiration of Scripture appeared especially vulnerable. The Coleridgean dictum, stated boldly in his Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit (published posthumously in 1840), that the Bible must be read as any other book, proved a challenge during a time when vocal antagonists to the Church sought to use biblical criticism to bring down the walls of Christianity and some Churchmen used the same scholarship to cement the tottering edifice. Churchly novels, displaying a variety of responses to critical questions, were compelled to show precisely how in individual lives the Bible was to be understood as the word of life about sin, conversion, and salvation. Although there were a number of biblical conservatives such as Е. B. Pusey, the new generation of Anglo-Catholics, especially the Lux Mundi group, appeared less shaken by the critics, since their doctrines of Tradition, the Church, and the Sacraments were essentially distinct from the various points under attack, especially the Reformation stress on inspired Scripture alone. The rival Anglican schools represented in the novels ignored that developing Anglo- Catholic stance towards Scripture and focused only on older disputes: Ritualism, asceticism, and sacerdotalism.
The earlier Tractarian appeal to the Church of the Fathers lost much of its power. W. K. Clifford, a former Anglo-Catholic who died in 1879, asserted: "The spirit of the Fathers has incontestably faded. The days of Athanasius and Augustine have passed away never to return. The whole course of thought is flowing in another direction.” He suggests in a significant turn of phrase that in order to tap Christianity's power one has only to abandon the dead letter of ecclesiastical historians to "apply the exclusively moral tests which the New Testament so invariably and so emphatically enforces." The Gospel can produce no false conclusions; Christian moral teaching is all that matters and is a saving antidote to the pure rationalism of W. Е. K. Lecky, T. H. Huxley, Herbert Spencer, and Leslie Stephen, who have made the nation "Strauss-sick." Evangelical and Broad Churchmen did not abandon the Church of the Fathers entirely. They continued to use specific Fathers in their fiction, albeit a shorter list than Anglo-Catholic authors; but they restored to its primacy and centrality the 'primitive Church,' by which they meant the Church of the Apostles, the Apostolic Fathers, and the Apologists. Implied in this displacement is the notion that corruption infected the Early Church, at least by the second century, plummeting it down through history until the restoration of all things in the Reformation.
If the Church of the Gospels was re-instated as the model and guide for Victorian Christianity, the figure of Christ assumed an effulgent headship as the result of study of the early community. Rival churchmen had pushed the Anglo-Catholic appeal to the doctrine, personalities, and ethos of the Fathers back to the Gospels and Acts. In the same decades, other voices questioned the "truth" of just that primitive Christianity, not the Athanasian Creed or the Fathers, but Christ himself. Mrs. Humphrey Ward (Mary Arnold) remembered that Walter Pater in 1873 shocked the clerical guests at a dinner party by declaring that no reasonable person could govern his life by the actions and opinions of a man dead 1800 years. The attacks had initially come in the context of biblical criticism in reference to belief in New Testament miracles, linked inextricably some thought to belief in the miraculous person of Jesus Christ.The naturalistic argument against even the possibility of miracles and Humean
skepticism about the probability of recorded instances, coalesced with wider arguments about the trustworthiness of the documents. By a kind of special pleading, Anglo-Catholics argued that the continuous oral tradition about the divine Person of Christ precluded any difficulties dependent on texts and their transmission. But for most Anglicans the questions could not be so neatly evaded. The picture of Jesus in Scripture was also linked to varying attitudes towards the scripture writers. St. Paul in particular was seen from different angles, either positively or negatively, as a proto-Protestant or a crypto-Catholic, the conduit of theories of justification and predestination or of Hellenistic mystery religion. St. John and the Johannine Christianity of the Fourth Gospel were used by rival schools as a restorative and alternative to Pauline extremes. The multiple lives of Jesus and St. Paul developed those
several perspectives. Paul makes a relatively early entrance into British novels, but it is not until the 1870's that Jesus steps, however meekly, into Victorian fiction. It is a shy Jesus who steps upon the British scene, someone who knows the script and follows the stage-notes exactly.
Biographies of Jesus were first tentatively essayed in England during the 1860's, when many Broad Churchmen introduced the figure of Jesus into fictional lives, they used these biographies or painted pictures of Jesus "as the Apostles saw him," thus including the perspective of faith. D. F. Strauss's two-volume Life of Jesus (Das Leben Jesu, 1835-36), translated by George Eliot (1846), was more theology than biography and too much a learned analysis of sources to appeal to the British public. It had, however, unsettled many. The young Frederick Engels found that it shattered his pietistic Biblicism and doomed any sort of absolute religion for him. The attempts to show the human Jesus,
invariably startling to Victorian readers, were not confined to literature. Using a realism initially shocking to delicate sensibilities, pre-Raphaelite paintings, such as J. E. Millais’ “Christ in the House of his Parents” (1850) and D. G. Rossetti's sexually-charged "Ecce Ancilla Domini" (1850), are other examples from the arts. Beginning in the 1850's tourism and exploration in the Holy Land assisted this feeling for the human Christ; the Palestine Exploration Fund (established in 1866) and the Palestine Pilgrim's Text Society (1887), providing historical guides to travelers, are later examples of the organized interest in the sacred places of Jesus' ministry. It was the biography by the Catholic ex—seminarist Ernest Renan, Vie de Jesus (1863), intended as the first volume in his massive Origins of Christianity to the death of Marcus Aurelius and completed in 1861 in Lebanon while his devoted elder sister died closeby, that had the greatest impact on the continent, although less immediate in effect in England. Renan thought that history was transformed by genius alone and saw a "charming” Jesus as the greatest historical genius to transform society. He took Christ out of the hands of the theologians and handed him over to the historians. The vestment of piety was cast aside to show the man. In 1865 Ecce Homo by J. R. Seeley, which Shaftesbury called a book "vomited from the jaws of Hell," caused as much controversy as Essays and Reviews (1860). Concentrating on the bases of Christian morality rather than true biography, Seeley's austere portrait showed Christ as the supreme moralist and Christianity as the historical structure of progressive Western civilization.
Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829–1896, Christ in the House of His Parents (‘The Carpenter’s Shop’) 1849–50. Oil on Canvas. Tate Modern (London, UK)
This picture was supplemented by Joseph Parker's subsequent response, Ecce Deus. The Puseyite H. P. Liddon's famous Bampton lectures in 1866, entitled The Divinity of Our Lord, were a conservative defense of traditional religion against the work of Renan, Strauss, and F. C. Baur (whose Paul the Apostle, poorly translated in 1873, is another demonstration of the linkage between lives of Christ and Paul). The Jesus of History (1869) by Sir Richard Hanson, Chief Justice of Australia, the Historical Lectures on the Life of our Lord (1860; sixth edition, 1876) by C. J. Ellicott, Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, and the article "Jesus Christ" (1863) in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible by William Thomson, Archbishop of York, were sober productions written for the ordinary Christian. F. W. Farrar's Life of Christ (1874) became the best-selling biography of the age and was followed in 1879 by his Life of St. Paul. Uncontroversial, even prayerful, Farrar sought to address faithful Christians, and was criticized for his expansive style, filling in the biblical silences, and the doubt he cast on aspects of the scriptural narrative. The frantic search for new manuscripts, such as a codex discovered in 1875 by Bryennios containing the Epistle to Barnabas, long regarded as part of the New Testament canon, philological and textual criticism and the insights of a developing science of comparative religion all had to be harmonized. Von Tischendorf’s discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus in 1859 fueled this mania for undiscovered manuscripts. The importance of Jewish documents for this study was recognized by Renan and his followers. Alfred Edersheim, a Jew who was an Anglican clergyman, employed the Talmud in his heavy, scholarly Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883).
There were in the late—Victorian era other literary representations of the life of Jesus, outside the scholarly investigations. There were also "fictional transfigurations" of Jesus in novels and tales, a genre used by religious writers in England only after 1878. Fictionalized biographies of Christ, like modern apocrypha, were usually conscious of recent scholarship that needed simplification for the average reader or were pious restatements of the Bible. Resistance to altering the biblical narrative in any way, including phraseology, was especially strong; it was not until George Moore's The Brook of Kerith (1916) that the biblical framework was abandoned. Some novels, such as Edwin Abbott's Onesimus (1882), were in the tradition of pseudepigrapha. They used archaic and "biblical” language to contribute to the aura of learnedness and to support the author's program of theological reform. Such works gave themselves an immediate "canonical” image. In an era, mad with recent discoveries of hitherto unknown manuscripts, other examples of apocrypha were in fact literary forgeries. Notovitch's Unknown Life (1894), supposedly a record of the hidden years of Jesus in India which was then preserved in Tibet, is a prime example. In another type of literature Dostoevsky’s The BrothersKaramazov (1880) and Alphonse L. Constant’s The Last Incarnation (1846) show the biblical Christ, redivivus, transplanted into later historical eras. This genre is closely related to examples of the modern Imitatio Christi in which Victorian heroes purposefully act in the way Christ would act in similar situations, for example, the Christ-like hero of Mrs. Humphrey Ward's novel, Robert Elsmere (1888). On the other hand, some authors used this format to separate the social teachings of Jesus from the dogmas of the church, using the insights suggested by modern, liberal exegetes. Eliza Lynn Linton's The True History of Joshua Davidson, Communist (1872) is one example which turned the Paris communards into "Christ-men." Another type of novel used archetypal figures of the redeemer, one who was innocent of sin, yet who underwent temptation and suffering, e.g., Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim (1900). Ministerial models of Jesus, pious country parsons or slum priests, are found in numerous Victorian novels and tales. Through scholarship, art, and literature the nineteenth century sought to ask anew "Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?"
Edwin Abbott Abbott (1838-1926), himself the son of a headmaster, was educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, ordained in 1863, and took up the profession of teaching at King Edward's School in Birmingham, a city also famed for John Henry Newman's Oratory. He soon rose to the headmastership of the City of London School where he was known as a great moral and religious teacher with an impressive roster of students. Herbert Asquith, Prime Minister under Edward VII and George V, was one of Abbott's pupils. His innovations in the curriculum: in chemistry, Latin, literature, comparative philology, and mathematics are part of a remarkable career. A liberal theologian with Broad-Church sensibilities, Abbott explored the textual and linguistic problems of Scripture in such works as his still useful Johannine Vocabulary (1905) and Johannine Grammar (1906), parts of his ten-part collection Diatessarica, some of which were completed in close collaboration with his daughter. This capped his earlier work on the other Gospels in The Common Tradition of the Synoptic Gospels in the Text of the Revised Version (1884).
This long, biblical study lies behind Philomythus (1891), Abbott's vehement attack on Cardinal Newman's Essay on Ecclesiastical Miracles (1843; re-edited in 1870 to be more anti-Protestant and reprinted in 1890). Abbott found this an "Abomination of intellectual Desolation." Published the year following Newman's death, the book asserted that Abbott was in "mental and moral shock" at the "Newmanianism" of R. H. Hutton's laudatory biography, Cardinal Newman (1891). He was more concerned, however, to counter-act the theological "system of safety" and the "conveniently Credulous Assent" that Newman represented, whereby probabilities replaced aspiration after God, and faith (i.e., dogma to the “papalist”) overcommes history. The two-volume biography, The Anglican Career of Cardirial Newman (1892), was meant to challenge the profuse and roseate hagiographies produced following Newman's death. Abbott was not the first to question miracles or even to criticize Newman on the issue, but he was the first to suggest that Newman’s whole life was a product of degraded love and a "Gospel of fear.” When Abbott was attacked by Wilfrid Ward for having called Newman's essay "slatternly," he likened himself to Newman being called a liar and knave in 1864. Abbott's central position was clarified in his work The Kernel and the Husk, Letters on Spiritual Christianity (1886), thirty-one brief letters composed to a youth whose faith was severely shocked after "a single term at the University" and dedicated "To the Doubters of this Generation and the Believers of the Next." The miraculous in the story of Christ casts doubt over his acts, doctrine, character, and very existence; belief in miracles is really equivalent to belief in an infallible Church, a connection similarly made in Abbott's comparative study of the miracles of St. Thomas Becket. Abbott was haunted by a theological domino theory; for many modern Christians, when their credulity in miracles evaporates, the Bible falls and they lose their belief in Christ. Miracles, suspensions of a law of nature or acts not explicable by any natural law, are quite distinct from the "mighty works,” not necessarily suspensions of the laws of nature, described in the Bible. While recognizing that there might be some element of reality in the contemporary occurrences at Lourdes or in the "Faith-healing" of the Salvation Army, Abbott asserts that Christ performed "mighty works," not miracles. Abbott lists those doctrines which require demythologizing. The essence of the resurrection of Christ was that his spirit really triumphed over death, and not that his body rose from the grave. Pauline language about resurrection of the body, in the same manner as the Apostle's statements about the Apocalypse, was meant to be understood as poetry, of the type used in Pilgrim's Progress. The miraculous birth from a virgin was a later addition to the Gospel and designed to sanction a "false and monastic" ideal of life. In fact, this doctrine cut Jesus off from a real share in our common humanity. Abbott retains prayers for the dead because they give him personal comfort in remembering a beloved brother who drowned. He retains Heaven and Hell as metaphors for the operation of the Eternal on the dead, "one thing for St. Francis [of Assisi] and quite another for Nero." But Purgatory and Limbo are merely hyperbole for purification; a concept of a "material Hell has probably contributed largely to insanity."
Abbott finds that the Athanasian Creed can conveniently be explained away on no less an authority than that of the public statements of the archbishops and bishops. In contrast, Ritualism, characteristic of Anglo-Catholics, materializes and sensualizes religion in an "ecclesiastical battalion drill." Broad Churchmen, "the more intellectual among the clergy," must direct the corporate hope for "new spiritual truth from the progress of the ages." Word-faith, book-faith and authority-faith will collapse before the natural worship of the Spirit of Jesus: "Perhaps this collapse will be precipitated by the discovery of a copy of some Gospel of the first century turned up when Constantinople is evacuated by the Turks." If Broad Churchmen do not lead this glorious revolution, "it may be reserved for the semi-Christian or non-Christian working man, for the heretics or agnostic socialist, to guide orthodox and religious England into a higher and purer and more spiritual form of Christianity." Abbott expresses the conviction that Christianity is on the eve of creating a new world order and captures the revolutionary fervor of several groups at the time, including the Christian Socialists who predicted an age of liberation and progress after the publication of their new version of the New Testament (1898-1901): The Twentieth Century New Testament.
In his Apologia (1907), still verbally boxing with Newman, Abbott explained that his novels: Philochristus (1878) with which his later Philomythus resonates, Onesimus (1882), and Silanus (1906) were imaginative expansions of his primary argument that modern believers would find it easier to worship Christ without miracles. Philochristus, dedicated to J. R. Seeley, purports to be a memoir, a reflection of Christ like the Gospels, by Joseph bar Simeon, a "sin-fearer” who recalls his early discipleship under Christ from his home in Londinium where he had accompanied the Roman legate, Julius Plautius, also a Christian. Written in "biblical” language, the novel sets about giving a rational explanation to various miracles recorded in the three Synoptic Gospels, remaining silent where only one or two witnesses speak. The descent of the spirit at his baptism was Jesus' own vision. The feeding of the 4000 or 5000 is an allegory that the Bread of the Master, the leaven of the soul, increases in the hands of the Twelve. The Transfiguration was a dream. Thomas "touches" Jesus after the Resurrection by pressing the loaf of broken bread, the body of the Lord. The Pentecostal tongues are a sign that all mankind should be one family.
Although the Gospel of John is unknown to Philochristus, Abbott's passing allusion to its late composition, the doctrine of the Gospel, with a thoroughly modern interpretation, is given by Quartus (his name means "the Fourth," i.e., the Fourth Gospel). For Abbott the Gospel of John is a work of the "fourth dimension." The essence of Christ's message is the Fatherhood of God, brought about in the New Kingdom by the Holy Spirit:
For his spirit was a spirit of sonship of God, and of brotherhood to men; and except the world should receive this spirit into itself, the world could not be quickened, and the nations of the earth could not pass into the family or kingdom of God.
Victorian critics satirized this message in the derogatory acronym "BOMFOG," i.e., Brotherhood of Man, Fatherhood of God.
The same basic message, this time relating controverted points in the writings and travels of St. Paul, is found in the pseudeplgraphic Onesimus (1882), the memoirs of Paul's slave companion and the later Christian bishop of Beroea. Christ, and then the Apostles, gave sight to those blind by sin and ignorance, made souls crippled and maimed to walk straight in the path of virtue, and raised the dead in sin. Many incidents reported in the Scriptures are shown to be additions to the Tradition as "supplements” (of which Mark has the fewest). Sanday similarly uses this term in his Outlines of the Life of Christ (1905). Alleged miracles are in reality misinterpreted figures of speech, e.g., Christ walked on the water in the same sense that one walks on the beach, and Jesus lifted Peter from a "sea of temptation." The "Great Figure" in Rome, numerous earthquakes, and the destruction of Jerusalem led Christians, as Paul himself had been led astray by his own expectations, to exaggerate the imminence of the Last Day. The novel reproduces the writings of Epictetus- and puts the words of Maximus of Tyre, Aelius Aristides, Apuleius, Celsus, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus in the mouths of fictional characters. The description of the martyrdom at Smyrna of Trophimus and Onesimus, who had gone to Asia to obtain the recent writings of John the Disciple and John the Elder to supplement the other writings is borrowed from the Passion of St. Perpetua, an account admired by countless Victorians including J. H. Newman.
Silanus (1906) is dedicated “To the Memory of Epictetus. Not a Christian but an Awakener of Aspirations that could not be satisfied except in Christ.” The story, supposedly recorded in the reign of Marcus Aurelius in 163 A.D., concerns Quintus Junius Silanus, born in 90 A.D., who leaves Rome at the urging of his older friend, Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, to hear Epictetus lecture in Nicopolis in 118 A.D. In order to defend Epictetus from criticism, Silanus obtains Paul's epistles, part of the dispute, and then the "scriptures" from which Paul quotes so as to understand the character of Christ. In the epistles, unlike in Epictetus' work or the Synoptics, Silanus finds a sense of spiritual strength and "constraining love" which promises forgiveness. Clemens the Athenian, whom readers later recognize as Clement of Rome, lends a copy of John’s Gospel, although admitting doubts about its authorship and accuracy. Even those who reject its principles admit that Jesus cannot be understood except through a disciple "whom he loved." Silanus is gradually converted and undergoes a saving experience by faith as he sails towards Italy to rejoin his friend who is, unknown to him, already dead, a situation similar to that of Abbott's relationship with his own drowned brother. Silanus knows that Clemens is praying for him at the very moment that the ship for Rome loses sight of the Asian hills and sails through the encircling deep. The conversion of Silanus is one of the few in this story by saving-faith, otherwise so frequently recurrent in novels of this kind. Pliny, Plutarch, Josephus, Clemens, Hermas, Irenaeus, and Justin are all introduced; but it is Epictetus who plays the role of "tutor" leading Silanus step by step to Christ.
Abbott, like other Broad Churchmen, employed the developing criticism of the Bible in their new program of Christian apologetics. These latter-day apologists adopted the Coleridgean view of religion as a "higher reason" through the imagination, in the face of the expanding claims of science, and agreed that the Bible must be read with other books as an equal, with due regard, of course, to its venerability and its greater concentration of revealed truth. Revelation and inspiration, they confessed, were operative everywhere in nature and in the mysteries of inner experience, but Revelation spoke with clearer accents to all in the Bible. It was there that preeminently the Eternal articulated its own identity: God is love. The discovery of new texts and fragments spurred those interested in preserving basic Christianity to seek the "kernel" of that message, apart from the husk of controversy and what they called "bookishness." Writers disagreed about the sense in which Jesus was to be understood as "son of God”; they all agreed, however, that he was a compassionate "Friend.” They worshipped the "gentle Jesus" figure, warm and human. They supposed this "winning humanity," so like their own high idealism and humanitarianism, to be the true picture supplied by the Synoptic Gospels, as well as the prime reason for the early rapid expansion of Christianity. To this was added their rendering of the Johannine message: Jesus is love. The numerous tales of martyrs and missioners, so familiar from the headlines of their own day, were seen as tokens of the victory of faith; since Christians loved Jesus so much, they were willing to die for him. This in itself was a major ethical "proof” of Christian Revelation, displacing the older "proofs" based on miracles or the fulfillment of prophecy. In his various works Abbott joined with other Broad Churchmen to create a new apologia for Christianity facing the twentieth century.