It is upon these grand facts, and the questions which they suggest, that Historical Criticism has in our days exercised itself with ardour, as it is continuing to do; science, severe and daring, no invention of our epoch, but beyond all doubt one of its glories! If, after concluding this final series of my Meditations, I shall have succeeded in appreciating at their real value the exigencies made and the results obtained by Historical Criticism, where it has applied itself to the History of Christianity, I shall have realised the object which I proposed to myself on voluntarily entering upon this solemn and laborious study, where I meet with so much that is obscure, and so many quicksands. But as I draw near the close, a scruple seizes me. What have I been thinking of to persist obstinately in casting such a work into the midst of the events and the practical problems which are agitating the whole civilized world, and which are demanding their instant solution? What good result can I expect from studying the past history of the Christian Religion in my country, or even speculating upon its future prospects, when the actual condition of the present generation and the lot of that which is to succeed it on the stage, are subject to so many troubles and plunged in such darkness? The more narrowly I scrutinize generationsthe honour and the destiny of which I have so much at heart, for my children form part of themthe more am I struck and disquieted by two facts: on the one side the general sentiment of fatigue and incertitude manifesting itself in society and in individuals: on the other side not merely the grandeur but the unusual complexity of the questions agitated. I fear that, in her lassitude and in her sceptical vacillations, France may not render an exact account to herself of the problems and perils scattered over her path, of their number, their gravity, and their intimate connexion. I fear that, from not having an accurate conception of what her burthen is, and from not having the courage at once to weigh it well, the moment when she will have to bear it will come upon her with the necessary forces unmustered, and the necessary resolutions unformed. Almost every great epoch in history has been devoted to some question, if not an exclusive one, at least one dominant both in events and opinions, and around which the varying opinions and the efforts of men were concentrated. Not to go farther back than the era of modern historyin the sixteenth century the question of the unity of Religion and of its Reform; in the seventeenth century the question of pure monarchy, with its conquests abroad and administration at home; in the eighteenth century that of the operation of civil and religious liberty: such have been in France the different points on which ideas have culminated, the different objects which each social movement had specially in view. The systems of the day, although opposed, were clear; the struggles ardent but well defined. Men walked in those days on high roads; they did not wander about in the infinite complications of a labyrinth. And it is in a very labyrinth of questions and of ideas, of essays and events, diverse in character, confused, incoherent, contradictory, in which in these days the civilized world is plunged. I do not pretend to seize the clue to the labyrinth; I propose but to throw some light upon the chaos. First I turn my eyes to the external situation and relations of the States of Christendom, and consider the questions which concern the boundaries of territories and the distribution of populations between distinct and independent nations. Formerly these questions were all reducible to onethe aggrandizement or the weakening of these different States, and the maintenance or the disturbance of that balance of forces which was called the balance of power in Europe.
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