Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

family; which connects it with the great family of celestial intelligences; and which proclaims him the father of those families, whose goodness extends from the sparrow to the cherubim. I shall readily acknowledge, that so sublime a philosophy did not take its rise in the turbid waters of the Jordan ; and that so bright a light did not break out from the thick darkness of the synagogue,

I shall be confirmed still more in this opinion, if I have sufficient patience or courage to peruse the writings of the most famous teachers* of that lofty and fanatical society; and if I compare their writings with those of the men whom they persecuted with such fury, because their virtues irritated and offended them. What a monstrous farrago of dreams and visions ! what absurdities heaped upon absurdities ! what licence of interpretation ! what a total forgetfulness of reason! what insults to common sense !

* The Rabbins and Thalmudists, the ancient doctors of the netion. Thalmud signifies doctrine ; The Thalmud is the collection of all the traditions on the doctrine, the laws, and ceremonies of that people. Two of these collections have the title of Thalmud ; one of them is that of Jerusalem, the most an. cient; the other, thạt of Babylon, a compilation, supposed to have been maile in the fifth century of our era.

Amongst the modern teachers of that nation, the most learned are far from adopting the dreams of the ancient Thalmudists. They attempt to purify the doctrine more and more, by sepa. rating from it the base alloy introduced into it by the barbarity and ignorance of the ages of darkness. Several traits of the doctrine of the ancient Thalmudists may be seen in some apologists of Christianity, and chiefly in Houtteville, vol, i. p. 188, edit. 1765.

I afterwards direct my views towards the sages of Paganism. I open the immortal works of Plato, Xenophon, and Cicero, and I observe with joy these first glimmerings of the light of reason. But how weak, unsteady, and confused they appear! what clouds overshadow them! Night is scarce past. Day has not yet begun. The day.

I shall, however, observe, that the efforts of the learned of that nation, to purify and perfect their doctrine, will be vain ; they will never completely succeed, if they do not add to it that supplement, so necessary, and so natural, which Christianity furnishes, and which their own law so evidently supposes. I cannot farter myself, that this feeble essay of mine on Christianity, will engage any of the learned of that nation to examine with close attention, and with the utmost impartiality, a doctrine which holls out to them the promises of the present life, and the most express promises of that which is to come : but my heart is. full of hopes for them, which I shall ever entertain, and of the niost ardent desire that those hopes may be fulfilled by the Father of light, and author of every perfect gift.

[ocr errors]

star from on high has not yet appeared. But these sages hope for and expect its rising. *

I cannot withhold my admiration from these great geniuses. They have a just claim to it; they consoled human nature groaning under superstition and barbarity ; they were in some degree the precursors of that reason. which was to bring to light life and immortality. I could willingly, if I dared, apply to them, what a writer, who was still more than a great genius, said of the prophets, They were lights shining in a dark place.

* See the second Alcibiades of Plato, where he makes Socrates speaks thus :-We must wait for the coming of some personage, who will teach us our duty towards God and mankind. When will that time be, replies Alcibiadės; and who will be be that will instruct me? It will be be who taketh care of you, answers Socrates.

And in Phedon.—To come to the knowledge of these things in this life is impossible, or at least extremely difficult, unless we can arrive at this knowledge by more certain means, such as a divine revelation.And again, in another part of the Epinomides, the wise pagan, in speaking of the worship of the Deity, thus expresseth himself :--Who is be that will be able to instruct us in it, if God is not his guide ?

But, the more I study these sages of Paganism, the clearer does it appear to me that they had not attained to that perfection of doctrine which I discover in the writings of the fishermen and the tent-maker. In the sages of Paganism, the whole is not homogeneous, nor of the same value : they sometimes say admirable things, and seem almost to be inspired; but these things do not go so near my heart as those which I read in the works of these men, whom human philosophy had not enlightened. In these I find a pathos, a gravity, a force of sentiment and thought; I had almost said, a strength of nerves and of muscles, which I do not meet with in the others. The first penetrate the very recesses of my soul; the latter affect only my understanding. Then, how greatly do the former exceed the others in the powers of persuasion! the reason is, because they had themselves received fuller conviction They had seen, beard, and touched.

I meet with many other characteristics, which create an immense difference between the disciples of the Messiah and those of

Socrates,* and still more those of Zeno.t I stop to consider these discriminating cir. cumstances; and those which strike me the most in the former, are, that entire inattention to self, which leaves no other sentiment to the soul than that of the importance and grandeur of its object, and to the heart no other desire than that of faithfully fulfilling its duty, and doing good to mankind; that patience, the result of reflection, which enables us to support the trials of this life, not only because it is great and philosophical to do so, but because they are the dispensations of a wise Providence, in whose eyes resignation is the most acceptable homage; that elevation

* The wisest of the Grecian philosophers. He lived about four centuries before Christ. It is of him that Cicero said, That be bad brought philosophy down from heaven, to introduce it into cities and houses, &c. He gave himself up entirely to moral philosophy, &c. Plato and Xenophon were his disciples.

+ Another Grecian philosopher, who established the sect of Stoics. This sect received its name from a portico where Zeno taught. He made the sovereign good to consist in living in a manner conformable to what he called nature, and in following the dictates of reason. He lived two centuries before Christ Of all the sects of antiquity, that of the Stoics has produced the greatest men.--Could I for one instant

forget that I am a Christian, says the author of the Spirit of Laws, I should wish to be a Stoica

« ZurückWeiter »