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in the humble hope, and in the firm conviction, that it will please God, in the course of that Providence which ordereth all things, to make it the undoubted interest, as it is the bounden duty, of Christian Princes to command their Senates, their Priests, their Legislatures, and their People, to act with them in making some great efforts to restore union to Christians ; I appeal to their united authorities, as to the successors of the first Christian Emperor. I call upon them in the name of His Saviour, and Their Saviour, to inquire in what manner, and to what extent, as they wear his mantle, and wield his sceptre, they may imitate the example of Constantine, and promote the reunion of Christians.
Parallel between the condition of the Christian world, in the age of Constantine,
and in the present day.
In what manner, and to what extent then, it will be asked, may the Christian Sovereigns of the world be expected to attempt this great object, the reunion of Christians ? How are they to act ? Where are they to begin? Who shall be the originators, who shall be the conductors, who shall be the completers, of this imaginary scheme of the reunion of Christians ? Even if they be willing, and if they be anxious to accomplish this great purpose, as a part of their religious duty to God, their moral duty to themselves, and their imperial or regal duty to their subjects, in what mode can they hope to begin, conduct, and perfect any plan, by which they may reconcile their people, diminish the mutual contempt and the common hatred of their Christian subjects, and increase the happiness of their Christian nations ? What mode can be devised to effect these noble objects?
If History, I answer, be rightly defined to be philosophy teaching by examples—if it be, like the Scripture itself, the record of the government of the world, by the mysterious Providence of God--if it be not merely an old almanack, uselessly registering the foul winds and the fair weather, the stormy nights and the sunny days of the irrevocable past—we are certainly justified in the belief and hope, that we may always deduce from its eventful pages some useful instruction for Subjects, Priests, and Princes : and the inferences we may thus draw from history, can only be rendered useful, by showing that the circumstances from which the reader is to derive instruction, are parallel to those in which the reader may be placed.—If the student desires to submit to the Princes or subjects of a state, any conclusions which shall be of general utility ; he must be able to prove the applicability of such conclusions to the persons whom he addresses, by the general parallel between the state of the past, and the state of the present. My first object therefore shall be to draw the parallel between the state of the Roman world, in the reign of Constantine, and the state of the Christian world at the present day. And because the reign of Constantine continued many years, and the edicts respecting religion, at one period, were contradictory to those of another, we will select the year of the Council of Nice, and the year preceding it (A.D. 324, 325), as the precise time between which and the present age, the proposed parallel may be drawn.
When we have considered this parallel between the circumstances of the age of Constantine and the present, we will consider the REMEDIES adopted by Constantine for the evils of religious dissensions and hatreds; the extent to which his example may be followed; and the manner in which the painful experience of fifteen centuries, warns the Churches of Christ that his errors must be avoided.
We will, then, consider the Results of the interference of Constantine, and the probable results of some effort on the part of the Sovereigns of Europe, to be guided by the wisdom, or to be warned by the errors, of his example. Mankind is the same in all ages, and the same causes, under the same circumstances, may be expected to produce the same effects. If then a parallel can be rightly drawn between the Universal Church in the days of Constantine and our own—if it can be no less rightly shown that the very remedies which Constantine adopted, may be wisely adopted, though to a certain extent only, in the present day, then the conclusion may be drawn, that as the measures of Constantine were attended, till he altered his policy, with the most beneficial results to the discipline, faith, and peace of the Churches, so the same consequences may follow at present; and that if we reject the unwiser part of his remedies, we shall be saved from the more injurious results which were blended with the good he effected. The application of similar remedies to similar evils, by the Christian Sovereigns of the day, may be attended with similar effects. "If all this can be shown, then the hope that the efforts of Christian Princes to promote union among Christians, to speak peace on earth, may not be utterly, and altogether theoretical, vain, and useless.
A parallel, then, may be drawn between the circumstances of the Universal Church in the days of Constantine, and in the present day, in these three respects.
First. In the very general cessation of the legal infliction of unnecessarily severe, or cruel, or sanguinary punishments, on individuals or communities, for holding or teaching opinions which are not detrimental to morality nor society, though they are neither sanctioned by the secular nor ecclesiastical government; while the power to consider the effect or tendency of all opinions, whether civil or religious, is still claimed by those governments.
Secondly. In the abuses of toleration among Christians after this cessation of persecution.
Thirdly. In the anticipation of a great and overwhelming religious calamity, which unavoidably compels the attention, and demands the vigilance of the most tolerant sovereigns.
In each of these respects, a most remarkable similarity may be shown to exist between the
of Constantine and our own. First. Let us consider the discontinuance of persecution, and the continuance of the claim of the power to control opinion.
The experience of eighteen centuries has been required to solve the problem implied in the questions : What is persecution ? What is toleration? What are the rights of conscience ? What is the authority of Governments ? What are the privileges of the people in matters of religion? Experience alone is beginning to instruct nations in the manner in which that one duty may be discharged by all, which is common alike to Princes, Priests, and People, that they should first save their own souls by the right use of the truth which God has revealed to them, and then extend the knowledge of that truth to others. Experience alone has proved to them, that nations are then only wisely governed, when they each regard themselves as one large religious family, where the ruler is but as the religious and kind father in the midst of an adult family; and where the subjects are but the religious and dutiful children of that parent.The authority of the ruler, as a parent, therefore, in matters of religion, extends only to the power of declaring to his children the conclusions he believes to be beneficial. The privilege of the people, as his children, in matters of religion, extends only to the liberty of proposing objections, or submitting their opinions, without disobedience and without rebellion. The priest explains to both the extent of the authority and the value of the objection; and the common happiness of both depends on the perpetually upholding the love of truth in the magistrate, and the love of truth in the people; and in the ceaseless and intense dedication of the intellectual influence of the whole community to the holy subjects which are not of the earth, earthy. And this view of the subject alone, explains the meaning of the words persecution, toleration, and the rights of conscience. And this alone explains also the essential difference between the pagan, the papal, and the English laws, which now discontinue persecution, while they uphold the power to control opinions.
Persecution, then, is the infliction of punishment for the expression of opinion, neither detrimental to morality nor society, but unsanctioned by the magistrate through needless fear of its tendency or novelty ; while Toleration is the exemption from all such punishment. The rights of Conscience, therefore, denote the privilege both of the magistrate and of the people, to form, and express all such opinions, as are neither detrimental to morality nor society. These opinions can only be rightly formed by the exercise of the reason or judgment, according to our opportunities of instruction ; and because the peace of society, as well as the present and future happiness of every individual, are always identified with the opinions and conclusions which men form of their duties; therefore it is, that the Sovereign, the Priest, and the People, are alike interested in the power and permission to reason, think, and form the opinions which thus constitute their happiness. This common, universal privilege of reasoning and enquiring, is the property and birthright of all; and when it is possessed by all, it prevents persecution, by limiting the power of the magistrate in questions of Religion ; while it grants to that same magistrate the rights of conscience in framing laws, and proposing his own opinions to the people; and it no less enforces and establishes toleration, as the result of the same privilege on the part of the people.-- The possession, that is, of the abstract right on the part of Sovereigns, Priests, and People, to reason, to conclude, and to submit those conclusions to each other, constitutes the only solid foundation for the cessation of persecution, the continuance of toleration, and the mutual power to allow or control opinion; and when the Magistrate, the Priest, and the People, may combine to grant, and to possess among each other, the privilege of reasoning, enquiring, and concluding, then only the foundation is laid for the vigilant prevention of the abuses both of authority and liberty. It is evident that this must be. The most strenuous or the most liberal opponent of persecution, who grants to the magistrate the power to think, reason, and commend his conclusions to the state; must receive with respect and obedience the reasonings and the arguments, and submit with patience to the laws by which the magistrate would prevent civil wars at home, and foreign wars abroad, by controlling the expression of opinions which undeniably led to both. The most zealous advocate of toleration, even in America itself, would prevent, if possible, the very existence of the sect of the Thugs, the worship of the Goddess Bhawanee, the incense of the sacred pickaxe, and all other rites of Thuggism, which make murder an act of homage to the Deity. The sincere opinionist, whether pagan, papal, or sectarian, who sincerely believes that he must render service to God, by actions which injure man, cannot be permitted to plead either his sincerity, or the rights of conscience, as apologies for his wrong. Unlimited toleration, therefore, is an absurdity, an impossibility, or a crime on the part of the magistrate. It never has existed in fact; and it exists in America itself only in theory. If there be a difference between right and wrong, between one religion and another, between those who serve God, and those who serve Him not, every Sovereign, Priest, or People, who possess the power to form their own happiness, by reasoning and enquiring ; is interested in demanding that, whatever may have been the abuses of authority, the abuses of liberty shall not be dangerous to human happiness.
Unlimited, indiscriminate toleration, declaring one faith to be as worthy of our approbation as another, is only another word for that total indifference to Christianity itself, which is the greatest of all national crimes. It cannot be established in any country without the greatest danger to the moral improvement of the people. It is the pronouncing the sentence of spiritual death by the united voice of the Magistrate, the Priest, and the People. It is the utter degradation of a nation. It is the preference of Scylla to Charybdis.
The regarding nations as large religious families only, not merely explains to us the meaning of the familiar and much abused words—Persecution, Toleration, and the rights of conscience. It explains to us the essential difference between Pagan and Papal laws, which both before, during, and after the reign of Constantine, upheld the severest and most cruel persecutions—and the English laws, which now discountenance persecution, while they uphold the power for the sake of the public good, thus to control opinion.
The difference between the Pagan and Papal laws and the English law, consists in the difference between the theory on which they are each founded, and therefore on the severity of punishments which they inflict for the same crime, the forming and expressing opinions which are not sanctioned by the magistrate.
The difference between the basis on which they are founded may be thus stated. The English law is established on the very supposition I have now mentioned, that the magistrate is the parent; and the people are the adult children: both of whom are alike invested with the same holy birthright, the privilege of forming and expressing opinions. The people, as the adult children of the family, after vainly endeavouring to persuade their Sovereign to change his opinion respecting the Church of Rome, limited the toleration of the Sovereign himself; and made that compact which is the sole title of the ruler to the throne; that the Chief Magistrate of England should not hold, and not enforce the opinion, that the Church of Rome should be the ruler, of the rulers and people of England.
The laws of Pagan Rome respecting religion, which resulted in the sanguinary persecution terminated by Constantine, were founded on the principle we now condemn; that individuals in private life, unpermitted by the magistrate, committed a crime against the state when they proposed novel opinions to the people. The Pagan legislators never distinguished the man from the citizen ; or recognized the right of a man to say, under any influence or any pretence whatever, “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel!”—"the Deity will destroy “ the higher happiness of which my soul is capable, if I do not endeavour by “ moral persuasion alone to overthrow the gods, the altars, the religion you “ honour and love. True it is that the rulers do not desire me to preach this “ novelty; they will punish me; they will eventually slay me; the priests do not “ ask my aid, they will banish me from their society. The philosophers do not " solicit my interference. They are absorbed in their metaphysical speculations, " and will endure and love those intellectual discussions only which call forth the " mental powers, and excite the admiration of the hearer ; while they neither im“ prove the heart, affect the conscience, nor influence the life. The scholars, the “ literary men of the age, do not require my zeal; they are absorbed in the beauties “ and elegancies of their poets and their orators. They are contented with the “ cultivation of the mind, the refinements of taste, and the last efforts of the wit; " and the Gospel, which their common Deity commands me to preach to them, “ is foolishness, and the preacher of that Gospel is a fool. The common people “ do not ask my interference. They are absorbed in their daily labours, their local " pursuits, their occasional recreations, and, in common with their patrician “superiors, their gross revellings or their abominable idolatries; and from them “ I expect only scoffs and insults, and deep and bitter scorn. All, all, ruler, philo“sopher, priest, scholar, the people of the middle rank, and the people of the lower " rank, will alike deride and persecute me; yet woe is me if I preach not the “ Gospel!” This was that abstract Christianity which the Pagan legislatures could not comprehend, which they could not tolerate, and which the whole spirit and tendency of their laws laboured to suppress. True it is that Cicero' reasons
Hanc igitur video sapientissimorum fuisse sententiam, Legem neque hominum ingeniis excogitatam, nec scitum aliquod esse populorum, sed æternum quiddam, quod universum mundum regeret, imperandi prohibendique sapientiâ. Ita principem legem illam et ultimam,