Abbildungen der Seite

One great incitement to the pious Alexander in his warlike expeditions was his rivalship of Hercules and Bacchus, whom he justly pretended to have excelled *. Brasidas, that generous and noble Spartan, after falling in battle, had heroic honour paid him by the inhabitants of Am-phipolis, whose defence he had embraced f. And in general, all founders of states and colonies among the Greeks were raised to this inferior rank of divinity, by those who reaped the benefit of their labours.

· This gave rise to the observation of Machiavel I, that the doctrines of the Christian religion (meaning the catholic; for he knew no other) which recommend only passive courage and suffering, had subdued the spirit of mankind, and had fitted them for slavery and subjection. An observation, which would certainly be just, were there not many other circumstances in human fociety which controul the genuis and character of a religion.

Brasidas seized a mouse, and being bit by it, let it go. There is nothing to contemptible, said he, but what may be safe, if it has but courage to defend itself ll. Bellarmine patiently and humbly allowed the Aeas and other odious vermin to prey upon him. We hall have beaven, said he, to reward us for our sufferings: But these poor creatures have nothing but the enjoyment of the present life S. Such difference is there between the maxims of a Greek hero and a Catholic faint.

Sect. XI. With regard to reason or absurdity.

Here is another observation to the same purpose, and a new proof that the corruption of the best

.. things

* Arrian paflim.

Plut. Apopth.

+ Thucyd. lib. v.. Discorsi, lib, vi. Bayle, Article Bellarmine.

things begets the worst. If we examine, without prejudice, the ancient heathen mythology, as contained in the poets, we shall not discover in it any such monstrous absurdity, as we may at first be ape to apprehend. Where is the difficulty in concejying, that the same powers or principles, whatever they were, which formed this visible world, men and animals, produced also a species of intelligent creatures, of more refined substance and greater authority than the rest? That these creatures may be capriçious, revengeful, passionate, voluptuous, is easily conceived ; nor is any circumstance more apt, among ourselves, to engender such vices, than the licence of absolute authority. And in short, the whole mythological system is so natural, that, in the variety of planets and worlds, contained in this universe, it seems more than probable, that, somewhere or other, it is really carried into execution.

The chief objection to it with regard to this planet, is, that it is not ascertained by any just reason or authority. The ancient tradition, infisted on by heathen priests and theologers, is byt a weak foundation ; and transmitted also such a number of contradictory reports, supported, all of them, by equal authority, that it became absolutely impoflible to fix a preference ainongst them, A few yolumes, therefore, must contain all the polemical writings of pagan prietts: And their whole theology must consist more of tradicional stories and superstitious practices than of philofophical argument and controversy. a

But where theism forms the fundamental principle of any popular religion, that tenet is fo conforınable to found reason, that philosophy is apt to incorporate itself with such a system of theology. And if the other doginas of that system be, contained in a sacred book, such as the Alcoran, or


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

be determined by any visible authority, like that of the Roman pontifi, speculative reasoners naturally carry on their assent, and embrace a theory, which has been inftilled into them by their earliest education, and which also pofseffes some degree of consistence and uniformity. But as these appearances are sure, all of them, to prove deceitful, philofophy will soon find herfelf very unequally yoked with her new associate; and instead of regulating each principle, as they advance together, she is at every turn perverted to serve the purposes of superstition. For besides the unavoidable incoherences, which must be reconciled and adjusted; one may safely affirm, that all popular theology, especially the scholastic, has a kind of appetite for absurdity and contradiction. If that theology went not beyond reason and coinmon sense, her doctrines would appear too easy and familiar. Amazement must of neceffity be raised: Mystery affected : Darkness and obscurity sought after : And a foundation of merit afforded to the devout yotaries, who desire an opportunity of subduing their rebellious reason, by the belief of the most unintelligible sophisms.

Ecclesiastical history sufficiently confirms these reflections. When a controversy is started, some people always pretend with certainty to foretell the issue. Whichever opinion, say they, is most contrary to plain senfe is sure to prevail ; even where the general interest of the system requires not that decision. Though the reproach of heresy may, for some time, be bandied about among the disputants, it always rests at last on the side of reason. Any one, it is pretended, that has but learning enough of this kind to know the definition of Arian, Pelagian, Erastian, Socinian, Sao . bellian, Eutychian, Neftorian, Monothelite, &c. not to mention Protestant, whose fate is yet un


History of Religion. certain, will be convinced of this observation. It is thus a system becomes more absurd in the end, merely from its being reasonable and philosophical in the beginning.

To oppose the torrent of scholastic religion by such feeble maxims as these, that it is impossible for the same thing, to be and not to be, that the whole is greater than a part, that two and three make five; is pretending to stop the ocean with a bull-rush. Will you set up profane reason against sacred myftery? No punishinent is great enough for your jinpiety. And the same fires, which were kindled for heretics, will serve also for the destruction of philosophers.

Sect. XII. With regard to Doubt or Conviction.

We meet every day with people fo fceptical with regard to history, that they assert it impossible for any nation ever to believe such absurd principles as those of Greek and Egyptian paganism; and at the same time so dogmatical with regard to religion, that they think the same absurdities are to be found in no other communion. Cainbyses entertained like prejudices ; and very impiously ridiculed, and even wounded, Apis, the great god of the Egyptians, who appeared to his profane senses nothing but a large sported bull. But Herodotus judiciously ascribes this fally of passion to a real madness or disorder of the brain : Otherwise, says the historian, he never would have openly affronted any established worship. For on that head, continues he, every nation are best satisfied with their own, and think they have the advantage over every other nation.

It must be allowed, that the Roman Catholics are a very learned sect; and that no one communion, but that of the church of England, can


dispute their being the most learned of all the

Christian churches : Yet Averroes, the famous , Arabian, who, no doubt, had heard of the Egyp

tian superstition, declares, that,' of all religions, the most absurd and nonsensical is that, whose votaries eat, after having created, their deity. . I believe, indeed, that there is no tenet in. all paganism, which would give so fair à scope to ridicule as this of the real presence : For it is so ab, surd, that it eludes the force of all argument. There are even some pleasant stories of that kind, which, though somewhat profane, are commonly told by the Catholics themselves. One day, a priest, it is said, gave inadvertently, instead of the sacrament, a counter, which had by accident fallen among the holy wafers. The communicant waited patiently for some time, expecting it would dissolve on his tongue: But finding that it still

remained entire, he took it off. I wish, cried .' he to the priest, you have not committed some mis

take : I wish you have not given me God the Fa

ther : He is so hard and tough there is no swallowing , bin.

A famous general, at that time in the Mufcovite service, having come to Paris for the recovery of his wound, brought along with him a young Turk, whom he had taken prisoner. Some of the doctors of the Sorbonne (who are altogether as positive as the dervises of Constantinople) thinking it a pity, that the poor Turk should be damned for want of instruction, solicited Mustapha very hard to turn Christian, and promised hin, for his encouragement, plenty of good wine in this world; and paradise in the next. These allurements were too powerful to be resisted ; and therefore, having been well instructed and catechized, he at last agreed to receive the facraments of baptison and the Lord's supper. The;

overy of his whom he had tane (who are al tople)


« ZurückWeiter »