Literature And Dogma "The Best That Has Been Known And Said In The World"

Matthew Arnold

"The Best That Has Been Known And Said In The World"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Arnold says that his purpose in writing Literature and Dogma is to restore the Bible to those who have been repelled by contemporary theology. Proclaiming that the popular theology has become a hindrance to the use of the Bible, he argues that a new basis, "a real experimental basis," is needed for its usefulness. The unenlightened mind, he says, requires the broadening qualities of "culture" before it can properly understand the Holy Word. He declares:

And this aim we cannot seek without coming in sight of another aim, too, which we have often and often pointed out, and tried to recommend: culture, the acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world, and thus with the history of the human spirit. One cannot go far in the attempt to bring in, for the Bible, a right construction, without seeing how necessary is something of culture to its being admitted and used. . . . the lack of culture disposes people to conclude at once, from any imperfection or fallibility in the Bible, that it is a priestly imposture. To a certain extent, this is the fault not of people's want of culture, but of the priests and theologians themselves, who for centuries have kept assuring men that perfect and infallible the Bible is. . . . the man of no range in his reading, must almost inevitably misunderstand the Bible. . . .