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TESTIMONY OF THE FATHERS.
were not unknown or unusual at the time of the coming of Christ, that they may be detected in the earliest ages of Christianity, and that as soon as the Church obtained public power and influence, the lawfulness of such dishonest practices was openly advocated and defended by the most eminent saints and doctors.
When such were their opinions of Truth, it may seem super. fluous to quote the words of a very learned Christian, Barbeyrac, Professor of Law at Groningen, who says that “ the most celebrated doctors of the Church of the first six centuries are bad masters and poor guides in moral matters."
Irenæus, saint and martyr of the second century, says, pagans are our debtors ; all that the pagans have acquired with labour we ought to enjoy without labour. When pagans are converted who have acquired wealth unjustly, their actions shall be accounted as just if they apply their wealth to the use of the Church.” These opinions were expanded by St. Augustine, when the Church was becoming powerful, into the comprebensive dogma“ that all the wealth of the heathen world belonged to the faithful."
The testimony of all these ancient Christian Fathers appears, in fact, to be in the present day entirely in favour of the opponents of Christianity ; for their writings bear witness to the ignorance, falsehood, superstition, and immorality of the age in which a religion founded on miracles, arose from obscurity. The few arguments based on prophecy, miracles, and martyrdom, which they contain, have been stated in a much more forcible and extended manner by the various modern writers of Christian Evidences, who have appealed to reason and controversy since the Protestant Reformation first claimed for man the right of forming independent opinions on religious subjects.
Barbeyrac: Traité de Morale des Péres, chap. iii., page 25. (Amsterdam : 1728.)
CHAPTER THE SECOND.
THERE is one argument, though it hardly deserves the name, of which the early Christian Apologists could not avail themselves — the authority of great names. “ If," says the modern defender of Christianity, “this religion has been believed and eulogised by 80 many eminent philosophers, scholars, statesmen, and heroes; if such men as Milton, Sir Thomas More, Calvin, Locke, Sir Matthew Hale, Pascal, Addison, Newton, and Sir William Jones, were satisfied of the truth of the Bible and the Christian religion, how can you presume to set up your opinions against theirs, and in fact declare them to have been the dupes of a shallow system of superstition?” The Christian advocate argues as if every opponent of religion must necessarily arrogate to himself an intellectual superiority over all sincerely religious persons of past and present times. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
This appeal to great names, or argumentum ad verecundiam, as it has been called, is used with equal reason and cogency to subdue all scepticism among the Catholics as to the truth of the numerous legends or pious beliefs recommended by the authorities of the Church. It has been used in proof of the existence of witchcraft, an absurdity in which good Sir Matthew Hale, often cited as a model Christian, 80 firmly believed that he hanged an old woman for it. On this occasion was not the learned judge the dupe of a shallow superstition? Was not Calvin the dupe of superstition when he instigated the burning alive of bis virtuous opponent Servetus ? Was not Sir Thomas More the dupe of superstition (noble as was his conduct) when he preferred a dreadful and ignominious death rather than deny the infallibility of a remarkably stupid old Italian? Will any good Protestant deny that the vast majority of our ancestors previous to the Reformation, including many illustrious names, were dupes of superstition? Yet we do not despise them.
TC EACH HIS APPROPRIATE TASK.
Tuanks to the wisdom and labour of our great ancestors, the educated European of the nineteenth century, when compared even with the illustrious names of two or three centuries back, appears a marvel of intelligence and a perfect encyclopædia of science; such a mass of rubbish bas he shaken off and such valuable intellectual stores has he acquired. It is no idle boasting to speak thus ; there is no denying it. But we have not done this work ourselves, we who are reaping the profit of the accumu. lated discoveries and deductions of innumerable human minds, and we do not despise those who formerly laboured at the stiil and ever progressing work, because while bringing many things to light they sometimes searched fruitlessly in dark and barren places, Freedom of opinion as to religion is of modern growth, and has pot yet been perfectly accorded, and the world has not yet loyally and unequivocally acknowledged the impossibility of any falsehood being beneficial. The deep-rooted impressions of childhood are not easily shaken off. “If a man does not earnestly seek truth, as such, and strenuously and steadily strive to follow it, he will seldom fail to satisfy himself of the truth of what he is already predisposed or predetermined to believe.”
Some men have no time, some have no wish, and some fear to inquire into the truth of religion. We have inquired, we believe religion to be false and mischievous, but we do not despise those have also inquired and have arrived at a different conclusion.t Intellectual tastes and capabilities vary infinitely-some men excel in particular branches of study or art, and their very excel. lence appears to preclude their success in other departments.
Archbishop Whately’s “ Kingdom of Christ,” p. 74. + Hear a Protestant clergyman's experience with regard to Roman Catholic priests :-“I have learned, and must bear about me for ever the memory of the lesson, never again to regard the extremities of credulity as inconsistent with the most scientific attainments; or to suppose that what seems the most absurd and marvellous superstition is incompatible with the highest education; or to think that the utmost prostration of mind is inconsistent with the loftiest range of intellectual power.”-Rev. Hobart Seymour :
Mornings among the Jesuits at Rome,” p.5.
BOOKS OF EVIDENCES,
Let each man do his part. Reason must be our guide in the search after truth, and no earnest seeker will ever be turned from his path by a theatrical display of dressed-up ghosts of either monster Atheists or model Christians.
The Christian advocate frequently argues as if every opponent of religion must necessarily look upon it, or pretend to do so, as an artful and deliberate imposture, the result of cold-blooded and selfish hypocrisy. We make no such accusations against the founders of Christianity, nor against the Christian Fathers, nor against mediæval' saints, nor even against the performers of Catholic miracles in the present day. We have seen that in the cause of God all deceptions and frauds were formerly regarded as pious and justifiable. We must not judge the morality and honesty of the first century by the standard of Protestant coun. tries of the nineteenth. When we are inclined to condemn the great workers of those days, we must look to their objects and motives, and then to their means, their materials, and their own original prejudices and superstitions. The Jews and Heathens could not have been moved without supernatural authority, and reformers could not have laboured earnestly if unsupported by a faith in divine assistance.
The limits within which private judgment is permitted among Protestants have always been undefined, vague, confused, and contradictory; but it is certain that since the epoch of the Refore mation a necessity has arisen in every country of Europe, where Protestantism is tolerated, for books of Evidences—and the most talented and learned of Christians, both priests and laymen, have constantly responded to the call. The zeal for religion has given rise both to able and ingenious works, such as those of Butler and Paley, and to the ponderous paradoxes of a Warburton and the self-complacent inanity of a Soame Jenyns. The notoriety of many flagrant failures of this description, and the growing love and estimation of truth, have in these latter days caused in many earnest minds a hard and bitter struggle between habits of reli. gious faith, and habits of close and accurate reasoning. From utter despair of reconciling reason with faith have arisen a not unfrequent depreciation of the former as a mere human faculty,
REASON AND FAITH.
and an exaltation of faith as a divine intelligence, as an intuitive certainty of the truth of religion obtained by the grace of God. The use of argument has been repudiated, and faith regarded as a sort of inferior inspiration; and it has been plainly stated that moral and religious truth is to be judged not by reason but by conscience, not the head but by the heart. This impracticable and irrational standard of truth has been proposed by preachers and writers of various sects.* And yet these believers of incongruous creeds will allow that the consciences of men of any dilferent denomination have often led them astray, and that the belief in the inspiration of the Holy Ghost has driven others into the most blasphemous follies and the most horrid excesses : they coolly maintain that the consciences of these men were perverted, make dark allusions to the wiles of Satan, and end by reiterating that they have a certainty of their belief. If enthusiasm is to take the place of proof, and a man is to be sure of his opinions only because he is sure, there is an end of reason and common sense for ever. But happily there are but few influential men now of this fanatical faith, and to them should be suggested the consideration of this fact, that among the Quakers, Shakers, Jumpers, Jerkers, dancing dervishes, and self-tortured devotees of India, this confident intuition, this strong and vivid faith, exists with as great power as among them, whether they be Catholics, Methodists, Tractarians, or Evangelicals; and as it is impossible that all religious creeds can be right, as one cannot have an implicit, humble, trustful, faith in all their conflicting doctrines at once; as they all, Unitarians, Catholics, and orthodox Protestants, do constantly appeal to argument and reasoning for the truth of their sectarian and of their common opinions, to reason ultimately the question must be brought, or Christianity must fall to the ground undefended. Even the arrogant Catholic Church, by the adoption of numerous books of Evidences, and by the general practice of her priests, has admitted the necessity of producing hiştorical and internal evidences of the authenticity and divine origin of the Bible and of the Christian Revelation. It
* Even by some Unitarians !