When I published, two years ago, the first series of these Meditations, the series which had for its object the essence of Christianity, "that is to say, the natural problems to which Christianity is the answer, the fundamental dogmas by which it solves those problems, and the supernatural facts upon which those dogmas repose," I indicated the general plan of the work which I so commenced, and the order into which its different parts would be distributed. "Next to the essence of the Christian Religion," I said in my Preface, "comes its history; and this will be the subject of a second series of Meditations, in which I shall examine the authenticity of the Scriptures; the primary causes of the foundation of Christianity; Christian faith, as it has always existed throughout its different ages and in spite of all its vicissitudes; the great religious crisis in the sixteenth century, which divided the Church and Europe between Romanism and Protestantism; finally, those antichristian crises which, at different epochs and in different countries, have set in question and imperiled Christianity itself, but which dangers it has ever surmounted. The third series of Meditations will be consecrated to the study of the actual state of the Christian religion, its internal and external condition. I shall retrace the regeneration of Christianity which occurred among us at the commencement of the nineteenth century, both in the Church of Rome and in the Protestant Churches; the impulse imparted to it at the same epoch by the Spiritualistic Philosophy that then began again to flourish, and the movement in the contrary direction which showed itself very remarkably soon afterward in the resurrection of Materialism, of Pantheism, of Skepticism, and in works of historical criticism. I shall attempt to determine the idea, and consequently, in my opinion, the fundamental error of these different systems, the avowed and active enemies of Christianity. Finally, in the fourth series of these Meditations, I shall endeavor to discriminate and to characterize the future destiny of the Christian religion, and to indicate by what course it is called upon to conquer completely, and to sway morally, this little corner of the universe, termed by us our earth, in which unfold themselves the designs and power of God, just as, doubtless, they do in an infinity of worlds unknown to us." Still adhering in its entirety to the plan which I thus proposed, I nevertheless now invert the order. I publish theMeditations concerning the actual state of Christianity before those which propose for their object its history. I am struck by two circumstances in the actual state of opinions upon religious questions. On the one side, the sentiments contrary to or favorable to Christianity are defining themselves each day with greater precision. Beliefs become firmer beliefs; opinions hostile to them receive fuller developments. On the other side, vacillating minds are occupying themselves more and more with the struggle to which they are witnesses: minds, earnest at once and sincere, feel the disturbing influence of the doctrines hostile to Christianity; many again are uneasy at these doctrines, many demand a refuge from them, without finding it or daring to seek it in the essential facts and principles of the Christian faith. Between the adversaries of Christianity and its defenders the discussion grows each day in importance and gravity; and with it also grows the perplexity in the minds of the spectators. By setting in full light this actual state of the Christian religion, by comparing the forces at its disposal with those of the systems that it combats, I proceed thither where the emergency is the greatest; I betake myself at once to the very field of battle.
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