« ZurückWeiter »
of thought, that dignified courage, which render the soul superior to all events, because they render her superior to herself; that constant adherence to what is good and true, which nothing can stagger, because that truth and good are not the result of opinion, but rest on the demonstration of the spirit and of power ; that just estimation of things—But how infinitely are such men above my feeble praise ! they have drawn their own characters in their writings; it is there they must be considered: and how is it possible to draw any parallel between the disciples of divine wis. dom, and those of human philosophy ?
CH A P. IV.
PRIMITIVE CHURCH. ITS PRINCIPLES, MAN
NERS, &c.-EXPRESS OR TACIT CONCESSIONS OF THE ADVERSARIES OF CHRISTIANITY.
N what respect have the admirable say
ings of the sages of Paganism been be. neficial to mankind ? Did they eradicate one single prejudice from the people, or throw down a single idol? Socrates, whom I call the institutor of natural morality, and who was in Paganism the first martyr of reason; the astonishing Socrates, did he destroy the idolatry of Athens, or produce the slightest revolution in the manners of his country?
Within a very short time after the death of the Messiah, in a dark corner of the earth, there sprang up a society, of which the sages of Paganism had not even foreseen the possibility. The characters of a Socrates and an Epictetus, are to be met with almost evcry where in that society. * All its members were closely united by the bonds of fraternal love, and the most pure and most active benevolence. They are all actuated by the same spirit, that is, the spirit of their founder; they all adore the Great Being in spirit and in truth; and the religion of every one of them consists in visiting the fa. therless and widows in their affliction, and keeping themselves unspotted from the world. They eat their meat with gladness and singleness of beart. Nor was there any among them that lacked; for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the tbing's that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles feet, and distribution was made unto every man according as be bad need. In a word, I seem to contemplate a new terrestrial paradise, but of which every tree, is a tree of life.
* Epictetus, a Grecian philosopher, and one of those who did most credit to the sect of Stcics, lived in the first century, was slave to an officer of Nero, who used him cruelly, and died in an extreme old age. It is said of him, that of all the ancient philosophers, his doctrine was that which came the nearest to Christ
ianity. His manners were milder and more sociable than those of the greater part of the Stoics. He said, that all philosophy was summed up in these words-bear and forbear. He was a line ving example of this admirable practical philosophy,
Where then is the latent cause of this great moral phænomenon ? By what pro. digy, unknown to all preceding ages, do I behold, in the midst of corruption and fanaticism, a society spring up, whose governing principle is the love of mankind, whose end their happiness, whose motive the approbation of the sovereign judge, whose hope life eternal ?-But am I not mistaken? The first historian* of this society has perhaps exaggerated their virtues, manners, and actions. But the men of whom he is speaking soon made themselves sufficiently known in the world. They were surrounded, observed, persecuted by multitudes of enemies, and envious persons; and, if the human character be made manifest by ad. versity, never surely coul! men be better known than these. If their historian, therefore, had cither exaggerated or misrepresented the facts, is it not natural to imagine that he would have been contradided by those suspicious and vigilant contemporaries, so strongly prejudiced against them, and not actuated by the same interest? I cannot, at least, with any appearance of justice, suspect the testimony which I find in that famous letter* of a magistrate, equally enlightened and virtuous, and to whose nice inspection and vigilant observation a great princet had committed the conduet of these men. This
* St. Luke-See the Alis.
remarkable testimony was given to this new-formed society, by those very persons who forsook and betrayed it; and it is this very testimony (which the governor himself does not contradi&t), that he lays before the prince.
These witnesses affirmed, that “ all the
error or the fault of this society consisted “in these points; that on a certain day,
they assembled before sun-rise, and alternately sung verses in praise of Christ,
* Pliny the Younger, Lett 97, B. X.-It is well known, that Pliny was of consular dignity, and governor of Bithynia and Pontus.
+ Trajan.--This great prince, who did not approve of the new society, because he feared its progress, was, however, só struck with the account given by Pliny, that he forbid the odi. ous method of secret and anonymous accusations against the presumed members of this society, and would not even admit of an inquisition of police.-Tbey must not be enquired after, he answers to Pliny; but punished, if they be accused and convictehom