« VorigeDoorgaan »
cvidence of grave courts of law in proof of Christianity, as we can in proof of Salem witchcraft ?
No. If historical evidence, clear, distinct, officially recorded, and therefore of unquestionable, and even unquestioned, authenticity, can prove miracles, it has proved those of New England, and demonstrated the existence of witches, prodigies in the air, spectre ships, and fifty other romantic tales. If it cannot, what becomes of your corner-stone argument ? and whereupon rests the superstructure of the believer's faith ?
In the face of this mass of evidence we do not believe Cotton Mather's stories. Why ? For one simple reason: they are miraculous.
It is true, we know of no motive the New England divine could have to deceive; on the contrary, he was placing his character for veracity in imminent danger, by such confident appeals. Nor do we see how he and thousands of his country. men (eye-witnesses, he says, of these miracles,) could have been deceived. Either a spectre ship did come in, in the view of Mr. Stebbin and the assembled inhabitants of Salemn, or it did not.
If it did not, it does seem passing strange, that the assertion that it did, should have been published, a few years thereafter, in the very country of the miracle, by an eminent divine, who appeals for its truth to the eye-witnesses themselves; and that after all this, it should remain uncontradicted to this day.
And yet, though we are unable satisfactorily to account for all this, though we cannot readily explain how the reverend gentleman could be either a deceiver or deceived, though the events happened, not two thousand, not even two hundred years ago, and not in some distant land but in our own country-still, stili we sturdily disbelieve. Why? For the same reason that we reject the fable of the cross which Constantine and his army beheld in the air, or of the apocalypse vouchsafed to the Crusader, Godfrey ;-because these stories are all miraculous, and therefore incredible.
If the authenticity of the Bible is to be established, you must look up some more effective vouchers than dreamst or legends, to establish it.
* I cannot consent to waste my own and our readers' time by disproving witchcraft. If any one still believes in the stories of Cotton Mather and Jack the Giant Killer, I leave the assailing of his faith to others who have more leisure and patience than I have.
+ You seem to think that, in consequence of my assertion regarding the great doctrine of Christianity (the miraculous conception,) resting on a dream, my theological reputation is in danger. I do not think it is. Neither Mark nor John, as you are probably aware, attribute Mary's pregnancy to the Holy Ghost. Matthew gives, as his authority for so doing, a dream dreamed by Joseph; Luke, a vision seen by Mary, (Luke, chap. i., ver. 35.) I selected the former in preference, because Luke does not pretend to have been an eye-witness of any thing that he relates, whereas Matthew says that he himself was a follower of Jesus; (Matthew, chap. ix., ver. 9.)
All this, I pray you observe, does not (however you may have chosen to twist it) impeach the utility of history in its proper place. I have never denied, that historical evidence may often furnish admissable proof of what is not in itself improbable. It may authorize our reasonable belief in the existence of Alexander the Great, but certainly not in the tale of his miraculous conception by a dragon.
You think it safer to believe than to doubt. Upon the same principle it were safest to believe in all the religions in the world at once, Christian, Mahomedan, Jewish, Confucian, Hindoo, and all the rest; because it is but ensuring the matter by halves to trust to one only. If we believe in them all, and if one fail us, another, perhaps, may save.
The argument that sceptics may lose and cannot gain is a common one, and might be urged as a plausible reason why it were well to believe, for example, in Mahometanism : seeing that the Paradise of lovely gardens and cooling streams, with its fascinating houris and blissful pleasures, may be gained, if Allah be the only God and Mahomet be his prophet; and if Allah be not the only God and Mahomet be an impostor, there is no harm done, nothing lost. If there be not a Paradise in another world, there has, at least, been a happy dream of anticipated joys in this.
But if you prefer the vision, so be it; I do not think the difference is very material. These are the only two texts (so far as my memory serves me,) that substantiate the miraculous conception, The men of the East only " saw the star of him who is born king of the Jews;' (Matthew, chap. ii., ver. 2.). The shepherds merely learned, that" a saviour, which was Christ the Lord,” was born to them; (Luke, chap. ii., ver. 11.). At the baptism, John simply “bare record that this is the son of God;" (John, chap. i., ver. 34.) At the transfiguration, crucifixion, and ascension, there is noa thing more than a similar record. Not a word about the Holy Ghost, or Mary's pregnancy in all this. And as to the expression “Son of God,” it is used (Genesis, chap. vi., ver. 2,) to designate those who were not thus miraculously conceived : while the synonymous expression “Children of God," is continually employed to signify merely good men; (Matthew, chap. V., ver. 9; Luke, chap. xx., ver.36; Romans, chap.viii.,
ver. 16; chap. ix., ver. 26, &c.) The record of a dream, then, or if you please, of a vision, is, after all, the only authority which countenances the introduction of the clause ceived of the Holy Ghost” into the Christian creed; and my theological reputation escapes unharmed.
Nor do I think my astronomical reputation in greater peril. You have, it is true, detected a verbal inaccuracy, which I might readily have avoided by a little show of learning, reminding our readers of what every schoolboy knows, that the sun revolves on its axis, and likewise has (or is supposed to have,) a trifling motion, less than one half its own diameter, similar to the earth's in her orbit. I did not think it material to introduce all this, in proof that Joshua, or the spirit that inspired him, was no astronomer, when (in imitation of Jupiter, who bade Phoebus delay harnessing his steeds, in order to lengthen into three long nights that which he spent with Alcmena,) he commanded the sun, instead of the earth, to delay his journey
You ask me where Moses recorded his own death. In the "Fifth book of Moses, called Deuteronomy," (so in my copy of the Bible it reads,) chap. xxxiv., ver. 7.
You also request my authority for speaking of the Bible as a book that was lost and found. 2 Kings, chap. xxii., ver. 8; 2 Chronicles, chap. xxxiv., Ver. 14.
But is the balance of profit and loss fairly struck? Are the chances all in favour of the religionist and all against the sceptic? Is there nothing to be thrown into the opposite scale ?
Surely much. If doctrinal religion be a fallacy, it is a fallacy pregnant with mischief. It excites fears that are without foundation; it consumes valuable time that can never be recalled, and valuable talents that ought to be better employed; it draws. money from the layman to support a deception; it teaches the elect to look upon their less favoured fellow-creatures as heathen men and publicans, living in sin here and doomed to perdition hereafter; it awakens harrassing doubts, gloomy despondency, and fitful melancholy : it turns our thoughts from the things of this world, where alone true knowledge is to be found : worse than all, it chains us down to antiquated orthodoxy, and forbids the free discussion of those very subjects which it most concerns us to discuss. If such a religion be a deception, its votaries are slaves.
What becomes, then, of the assertion that if the believer do not gain, he cannot lose ? Is it nothing to lose time and talents, to waste our labour upon that which is not bread, and our money on that which profiteth not ?
Is it nothing to feel, that the human beings who surround us are the children of the devil, heirs of hell, and sons of perdition? Is it nothing to think, that we may perhaps look across the great gulf, and see some one we have loved on earth tormented in the fiery lake, and hear him ask us to dip a finger in water that it may cool his parched tongue? Is it no evil to live in disquiet by day, and in fear by night? Is it no loss to hold back when truth oversteps the line of orthodoxy; and, when there ought to be free discussion, to shrink before we know not what, afraid to go forward, lest we should go wrong ? Is all this no loss? or is it not rather the loss of all that a rational being values most upon earth ?
He is a bold man who endorses the doctrines of the apostolic fathers; especially if he happen to know what it is he is endorsing. What do you think of your namesake, Origen, and his opponent, Celsus' discussion, regarding power over demons ? Origen, in his reply to Celsus, (chap. 6,) says;
“ Then Celsus says, that all the power which the Christians had was owing to the names of certain demons and their incantations of them But this is a most monstrous calumny. For the power which Christians had was not in the least owing to enchantments, but to their pronouncing the name JESUS.” Was there much, do you think, to choose between the two idle fables ?
EUSEBIUS, one of the most zealous of the Christian fathers, and the writer on whom Christian divines (Jones and Lardner, for instance,) chiefly and most implicitly rely, heads chapter 31, of book 12, of his “Evangelical Preparation,” thus: “HOW FAR IT MAY BE PROPER TO USE FALSE HOOD AS A MEDICINE, AND FOR THE
BENEFIT OF THOSE WHO REQUIRE TO BE DECEIVED. He defends this, to be sure, by the example of the writers of the Old Testament. Your namesake avows the same principle;+ (see Mosheim's Dissertations, p. 203.) So does Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, (ibid, p. 205.)
The same doctrine is openly sanctioned by others. Bishops SYNESIUS, JEROM, GREGORY, AMBROSE, ST. AUGUSTIN, HILARY, are, as you doubtless know, also among the most illustrious fathers and most accredited historians of the church. Hear how they speak to one another.
“A little jargon,” says Gregory of Nazianzen, (Bishop of Constantinople, and surnamed “The Divine,”).“ is all that is necessary to impose on the people. The less they comprehend, the more they admire. Our forefathers and doctors of the church have often said, not what they thought, but what circumstances and necessity dictated to them.” I
“ The people,” says Synesius, Bishop of Ptolemais, early in the fifth century,
are desirous of being deceived. We cannot act otherwise respecting them."ş And, a little farther on, he says, very honestly: "For my own part, to myself I shall always be a philosopher ; but in dealing with the mass of mankind, I shall be a priest.”||
St. Jerom, in mentioning a foolish story circulated by the Christians at Jerusalem, about the blood of Zacharias staining certain stones amid the ruins of the temple, says: “I do not find fault with an error which proceeds from a hatred toward the Jews and a pious zeal for the Christian faith.”'q
The impartial Mosheim specially includes in the same charge, Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, Hilary, Bishop of Poictiers, and Augustin, Bishop of Hippo, in Africa, “whose fame” (says the ecclesiastical historian,)“ filled, not without reason, the whole Christian world.” See his “ Ecclesiastical History," i., 310.
'We would willingly" (these are Mosheim's quaint and honest words) except them from this charge ; but truth, which is
* I refer you to the edition of the “Evangelical Preparation" of Eusebius by Francis Viger, Paris, 1628, at p. 607.
+ The celebrated Bishop Horsley, Archdeacon of St. Alban's, alludes to this in his controversy with Dr. Joseph Priestly. At page 160, he says: “Time was when the practice of using unjustifiable means to serve a good cause was openly avowed, and Origen hiniself was among its defenders.”
| Hieronym. ad. Nep. St. Jerom, or Hieronymous, as he is sometimes called, acknowledged Gregory as his master.
s Moore puts into the mouth of his “ Veiled Prophet of Khorassan," when disclosing his true character to his deluded followers, a somewhat similar sentiment, though more nakedly expressed :
" There, ye wise saints, behold your light, your star;
Ye would be dupes and victims, and ye are!”
more respectable than these venerable fathers, obliges uz to involve them in the general accusation.”
Indeed, (as Dr. Chapman, in his “Miscellaneous Tracts," p. 191, tells us,) “The learned Mosheim, a foreign divine and zealous advocate for Christianity, who, by his writings, has deserved the esteem of all good and learned men, intimates his fears, that those who search with any degree of attention into the writings of the fathers and most holy doctors of the fourth century, will find them all, without exception, disposed to lie and deceive, whenever the interests of religion require it."'*
What do you think of the source through which your infallible historical evidences have come down to us?
It needs not that I reply to your unsustained assertions touch. ing the French Revolution. The wisdom, moderation and disinterestedness of the National Assembly of 1789-90,7 the vacillating weakness of Louis, the intriguing spirit of his unfortunate wife, the base interference of foreign courts, to ruin the fair hopes of liberty-all these are facts as universally admitted by the well informed among Europeans at the present day as any which modern history records. Every one of these was confirmed to me, in personal conversation by General Lafayette himself, I who
* Lest you may imagine that Dr. Chapman unfairly quotes Mosheim, I refer you to his “De rebus Christianis ante Constantinum Magnum.'? In Vidal's translation of that work, vol. i., p. 285, note o, Mosheim's words
“At a time when he (Kermas) wrote, it was an established maxim with many of the Christians, that it was pardonuble in an alvocate for religion to avail himself of fraud and deception, if it was likely they would conduce towurd the attainment of any considerable good.” And again, speaking of the forged writings attributed to Kermes Trismegistus, he says: “It appears, from evidence beyond all exception, that a pernicious maxim, current in the schools of the Egyptians, Platonists, Pythagoreans, and Jews, became early recognized by the Christians, and soon found among them numerous patrons, namely, that they who made it their business to deceive with a vieu of promoting the cause of truth, were deserving rather of commendation than censure."
He has collected proof on proof of this, in his “De turbata per recentiores Platonieos Ecclesia."
Nothing but a consciousness that these things could not be denied or evaded with any regard to his historical reputation for veracity, would have wrung such confessions from so sincere a Christian and erudite a historian as Mosheim, a historian whose accuracy and impartiality are as firmly established as those of any writer in the whole range of literature.
The learned Dodwell, in his “Dissert. de Paucit. Martyr.," abstains from producing more proofs of ancient Christian forgeries, "through his great veneration for the goodness and piety of the fatheis.”
+ Walter Scott himsrif attributes to their very ultra-scrupulousness, in decreeing that they should not be re-eligible to office, much of the excesses of 93 and '94.
t In speaking of the Girondists, and of her who was their soul and leader, the amiable a: d gifted Madame Roland, the general remarked to me: “We understood not each other Had I been acquainted with Madame Roland in the early days of our French Revolution, or had I then duly appreciated the noble character which I learned to value when she was no more, I have sometimes thought that our struggle for independence mi have had a happier termination."