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THE FOUR CRITERIA.
may therefore be taken for granted that the great majority of Christians believe their faith to be reasonable, that they are prepared, as St. Paul advises them, prove all things,” and “to render an account to him that asks of the hope that is in them.”
CHAPTER THE THIRD.
SPORT AND BASY METHOD-LESLIE'S CRITERIA.
CATHOLICS and Protestants both claim for their respective champions, the Abbé St. Réal and the Rev. Charles Leslie, the honour of baving discovered the four criteria which are said to demonstrate positively the truth of all the miracles related both in the Old Testament and in the Gospels. The argument may be shortly stated thus :-The truth of a matter of fact may be positively inferred and known if it be accompanied by certain oriteria, such as no pretended fact can possibly have. There may be facts in favour of which these four marks cannot be produced, and which are yet undoubtedly true, but the argument of Leslie and St. Réal is, that whatever has all these four criteria cannot be false. It is required, first, that the fact be a sensible fact, such as men's outward senses cap judge of; secondly, that it be notorious, or performed in the presence of witnesses ; thirdly, that there be memorials, monuments, actions, or customs kept up in commemoration of it; and fourthly, that such monuments or actions commence with the fact.*
In Leslie's “ Short and Easy Method with the Deists," he attempts to apply these four criteria to various miracles related
* There are two more criteria mentioned by Leslie, viz., that the fact be independent of second causes, and that the miracle be worked for an obviously important purpose : but they are not essential, and in general are not insisted on by later writers. They are, in fact, irrelevant to the argument.
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE ARGUMENT.
in the Bible, such as the dividing of the waters of Jordan by Joshua, commemorated by the erection of twelve stones at Gilgal, and to the miracles of Christ, commemorated by the Christian ceremonies of Baptism and the Eucharist.
To illustrate the use of these criteria, let us take the case of the execution of Charles the First. It is impossible that the account of that event can be a fable, because the fact of his decapitation was a sensible fact, such as could be seen by the eyes of men: it was openly and notoriously done in the presence of numerous spectators; and a few years after, in the lifetime of thousands who would have contradicted a false story, a solemn religious service was instituted, to be annually performed on the anniversary of the king's execution, which custom has been continued until the present day. No proof could be more complete or convincing.
But let us suppose that some of the ardent royalists had asserted (and it is a most probable supposition), that during his execution a miraculous halo had appeared round Charles's head, or that he had spoken after his decapitation, would the annual ceremony be any proof of these pretended facts ? I think not.
There was a popular belief formerly prevalent in England, which had not disappeared even so late as Queen Anne's reign that the sovereign possessed the miraculous power of curing scrofula, hence called the king's evil, by the touch. Now supposing that the enthusiastic cavaliers had proclaimed that one, or two, or twenty years before his death, King Charles had performed some of these miraculous cures, would the annual service tend in any measure to make us believe these incredible occurrences ? I think not again; and yet on no firmer foundation than this do Leslie and St. Réal build the certainty of the Bible miracles.
* “ There is still a relique or remainder of the primitive miraculous gift of healing, for some hundreds of years past visible in this our nation, and annexed to the succession of our Christian kings: I mean the cure of that otherwise generally incurable disease called the king's evil. Divers persons desperately labouring under it have been cured by the mere touch of the royal hand," --Sermons by George Bull, D.D., Bishop of St. David's, 1713, p. 218.
NO MEMORIALS OF CHRIST'S MIRACLES,
Even if Joshua really did erect a stone monument to commemorate the passage of Jordan by the tribes whom he led to the invasion of Cangan, still the exaggeration of this event into a miraculous passage might most naturally and easily have arisen in the traditions of their ignorant and superstitious descendants.
We have not the slightest reason to doubt the fact of Christ's crucifixion, or the general outline of bis life, that he was a good and wise man who preached a new religion in Judea, and was crucified by the machinations of the bigoted Jews.
And if we wanted any further proof that such a man as Jesus did live, was crucified, and that he or his disciples did succeed in founding a new religion, we can have none more clear and convincing than the institutions of Baptism and the Eucharist, the universal adoption of the cross as a Christian emblem, and the commemoration of Good Friday. But these memorials cannot, in any measure, confirm the accounts we have of wonderful actions performed by Jesus, and miraculous events said to have occurred some one, or two, or twenty years before his death. No memorial, action, or custom was instituted to commemorate any one of Christ's miracles; and as to their having been sensible facts, and having been openly done, that entirely depends upon the degree of credi. bility which attaches to the written narratives of his life, and which we shall discuss in the next chapter, But even if such memorials or ceremonies did exist they would be worthless. The Hindooe have numerous solemn festivals to commemorate miracu. lous events of bygone ages, but we do not believe their wonderful legends any more for these religious mummeries.
It is triumphantly stated, by writers on the Evidences, that Dr Conyers Middleton searched for twenty years for an event possessing the four criteria, and which could yet be proved to be false, and searched in vain. He might have found in the East, omong nations quite as civilised as the Syrians were in the first century, numerous pretended events commemorated by annual ceremonies, purporting to have commenced with the fact, and implicitly believed by the religious of those countries, and yet so insanely ridiculous as not to merit a moment's consideration from an educated European. As there is no existing monument,
memorial, or custom, intended to commemorate any one of the miracles mentioned in the Bible, we will examine a modern instance, and try to estimate what such a monument would be worth, as a criterion of truth, if it did exist,
Every one has read or heard of the gallant defence of the French ship Vengeur, in Lord Howe's action of the 1st June, 1794; how she fought till not a mast would stand, and till more than half her crew were killed or wounded ; and how, when riddled with shot, she gradually submerged plank by plank, the crew deliberately launched forth the broadside from every gun the water left uncovered ; and how, at last, they left the sunken lower decks to serve the guns above, and determined to die rather than yield to the British; they kept the Republican ensign flying on the stump of a mast, fired a salvo with the muzzles of the guns level with the water, and sank repeating their patriotic cries of “ Vive la Nation,” and “Vive la République !” Immediately on the receipt, in Paris, of the dispatches giving the account of the battle, this glorious devotion excited so mucb admiration in the minds of the Convention, that they ordered a naval statue of a sunken vessel, the model of the Vengeur, to be placed in the Pantheon, to hand down to posterity the remembrance of the superhuman courage and constancy of the crew of the unfortunate ship.*
Now here we have all the four criteria, to prove the truth of this wondrous instance of contempt of death: first-it was a sensible fact, the situation of the ship, the actions of the crew, and the shouts of the sinking heroes could be seen and heard by the crews of both the hostile fleets ; secondly-it was notoriously and openly done, if one man in the fleet saw and heard these things hundreds must have done so; thirdly—a memorial was instituted to commemorate it; fourthly—the memorial commenced with the fact; but it must be added that, fifthly--the whole story was a downright imposture from the beginning. The Vengeur, after a most gallant defence, being in a sinking state, struck her
* Lamartine's History of the Girondists. Bohn's Edition, vol. iii., p. 406.
VALUE OF ANNUAL COMMEMORATIONS.
flag; a great number of the crew were saved by the English boats while she was filling, and those that sank with the ship, as any other mortal men would have done under such circumstances, uttered the most piteous shrieks and cries for assistance. *
The story was and is so implicitly and fervently believed in France that we may well imagine a Vengeur banquet, at which the first goblet should annually be quaffed to the immortal memories of the heroes of June 1st. Would such an annual celebration induce us any the more to believe in the reported event? What does the annual Waterloo banquet prove now? It proves beyond a doubt that the battle occurred, but it in no way tends to prove the numerous interesting and wonderful events reported to have taken place in that battle, many of which, however, we have not the slightest reason to doubt. The Waterloo banquet does not prove that the Duke of Wellington really made use of the words, “ Up, guards, and at them!” Nor does it prove that Shaw, the life-guardsman, killed a dozen French cuirassiers with his own sword. And the annual celebration of Good Friday, though it may be admitted to prove the crucifixion of Christ (in the absence of any reason for doubting that such a probable event occurred), can in no measure increase the credibility of the miraculous darkness, of the rending of the veil of the temple, or the appearance of ghosts in the streets of Jerusalem.
The Criterion writers omitted all consideration of this fact, that men, when excited by national pride or religious enthusiasm, will believe without inquiry, or after inquiry, and in spite of doubts, will force themselves, "by a short and easy method,” into an unreasoning acquiescence in pretensions which increase the certainty of their faith and confirm their peace of mind.
* The testimony of enemies might also be adduced, in future ages, to bolster up this fiction: all the contemporary English newspapers repeated the French account without its being contradicted ; and it has been inserted in many English histories, including the “ History of the French Revolution," by Thomas Carlyle, who did not obtain the evidence of the falsity of the story until some years after the publication of the first edition of that great work. He then exposed the origin and history of the imposture, in a letter to the editor of Frazer's Magazine, now included in his “ Miscellaneous Works,”