Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

cinas would bave been the predominant characters of the foregoing narrative.' I. 506.

However melaucholy may have been the scenes of human wickedness, which we have reviewed, and however faint the marks of godliness in any person, still real virtue was seen the attendant of orthodox sentiments alone,' ll. 167.

• I love to lay open to the reader all along the connexion between principle and practice,' says Milner, while he is lauding the praises of Saint Austin, the father of modern orthodoxy and if I show not the indisputable superiority of the orthodox Christians, in disposition and temper, I miss one of the most important points which I have in view through the whole history.' 11. 371.

We see therefore that the teal object of this book is not to give a history of the church, properly so called, nor to promote the interests of piety and practical Christianity—but to aid the views of a party; and to this object every other consideration is made to yield. What degree of historical fairness and fidelity can be expected from an author writing for such a purpose, and under such influences, we might leave it for the public to judge. A man must be expected, under any circumstances, to feel and show some degree of partiality for those who have held and defended his own sentiments. In estimating the comparative virtue and intelligence of these men and their opponents, he will, however, if a candid writer, make allowances for this partiality, and guard against this very natural bias, as he would guard against any other temptation, that might lead him into error. When, therefore, a writer comes forward, like Milner, who, instead of a mere pardonable and guarded leaning in favour of his own party, arrogates to them all the piety, and all the humility, and all the virtue-when, too, in contempt even of the appear. ance of candour, he has the effrontery to avow this in the very outset, and in so many words to declare that he shall miss one of his most important points' in writing, if he does not confirm and propagate this prejudice--what man in his senses would put any confidence in the representations of such a writer ?

The foregoing remarks are applicable to any historian, but particularly to the ecclesiastical historian from the peculiar nature of his subject and the materials. No distinguished partizan in the church, whether orthodox or heretical, ever lived in the times to which Milner's history relates, who has not had two opposite and irreconcilable characters given him by his cotemporaries--one by his friends, the other by his enemies. The historian, therefore, who is so disposed, may adopt one of these representations throughout, and reject the other altogether, and New Series-vol. IV.

39

the man stands before him-a saint or a devil, just which he pleases. Our author, as might be expected, has followed this course in all cases ; for we doubt whether a single instance can be adduced, in which he has set aside, or even qualified, the statements of orthodox writers by the equally respectable testimonies of cotemporary heretics. To this way he finds no difficulty in giving the utmost license to his partialities, without going counter to his documents ; for his partiality discovers itself, not in wresting his documents, but in selecting them. Besides, another circumstance should be considered in this connexion, for which, however, Kilner makes no allowance--that while the orthodox authorities have been carefully preserved to us, the works of the early heretics have for the most part been suppressed and descroyed; especially those which contained their own vindication, or exposed the vices and follies of their persecutors. We see, therefore, how easy it was for our author, notwithstand. ing all his parade of documents, and his pretending to derive his statements from cotemporary authorities, to give a history to all intents and purposes as partial, and we had almost said as fabulous, as if it had been throughout of his own invention.

Not, however, that Milner thinks any sort of testimony to be necessary in many cases to establish his points. The very cir cumstance that a man was orthodox, is to him proof sufficient that he was a good man; and, on the other hand, the single fact that a man was heterodox, is proof sufficient that he was a bad man; and he sets them down accordingly. One circumstance, be observes, which convinces me that genuine godliness, the offspring of Christian principles, must have been with the primitive monks, is because they generally vindicated the Nicene faith and could not endure Arianism.' (11. 106.) And again he says, (I!. 209.)' a man ought no more to plead the pretences Ot conscience for rejecting the fundamentals of the gospel, (before enumerated] than for the commission of murder, theft, or any other criminal action'--thus making a rejection of orthodoxy to imply, not merely an error in judgment, but a destitution of moral principle. Such a man may indeed be said to write an ecclesiastical history upon a new plan.' We do not complain of a man's attachment to his principles, nor of his believing in their superior efficacy, nor of his gratitude and respect for those, who, in former tiines, have defended and illustrated them. All this is natural, and we presume universal; at least we know that such are our own feelings and convictions : but we hope never to suffer them to pervert our moral judgments. We can have no patience with a man like Milner, who deliberately sets himself to the task of glossing over the gross ignorance and palpable

6

6

superstitions of the orthodox Fathers, merely because they were orthodox ; denying or excusing or vindicating their bigotry and intolerance ;* palliating and even justifying their persecuting spirit; except indeed when it proceeded to put heretics actually to death, which he acknowledges is carrying a wholesome discipline a little too far. Mark however the guarded and tender expressions in which he rebukes them for shedding human blood. "I scarce know any thing,' he remarks more disogree. able to the spirit of a really good man, than to think of punish. ing CAPITALLY, persons whom he is constrained to believe, are walking the broad road to eternal destruction.'.(11. 189.)

As for the early heretics, we have no interest in defending them from the aspersions cast upon them by Milner and others,

is probable they shared with the orthodux, the virtues and vices prevalent in their age ; and perhaps equally, except that the

persecuted are generally better men than their persecutors ; partly because they have not the power and opportunity to do so much wrong, and partly because the very oppressions which they endure have a tendency to imbue them with better feelings, It is certain, however, that they have been greatly misrepresented, To borrow the language of the calm and judicious Lardner; * some seem to have reckoned that they have a right to say the worst things of heretics, which they could ; and others have thought themselves obliged to believe all the evil that has been reported of them. It is improbable, continues the same writer, that these men should have exceeded all others in vice. Neither can it be to the honour of Christians or their religion to multiply sects or divisions among them, or to aggravate and multiply their faults. In all bodies that are numerous, there will be some lewd and profligate persons ; but that whole sects and parties should practise and leach wickedness, is very unlikely, and ought to be well attested before it is believed.t Our

* See on this subject Chap. XVII. Ceat. IV. on Ecclesiastical Establishments ;' which contains a wretched attempt to vindicate the interposition of the civil arm to push heresy. From such a writer we might expect such a remark as the following : " But without an establishment provided by the state, the greater part will scarce liave any religion at all ; wickedness will be practised on the boldest scale; and if the form of government have a large portion of liberty in its texture, the manners will be egregiously dissolute (II. 222 ) Our own country, thank God, is

without an establishment provided by the state.' and our government also has a large portion of liberty in its texture ;' but have the consequences been as stated above? Is it possible that our citizens, that congregationalists, that the descendants of the Pilgrims, can wish to have such slavish maxims disseminated ?

† Lardner's Hist. of Heretics, Sect. vii. We cannot refrain from gising in ibis place the character which Milner is pleased to award to Dr. Lard,

6

author, however, gives no quarter to the heretics, as might be expected, for indeed he would miss one of his principal points' in writing if he did. He denominates, ard what is more, he treats them as the instruments of satan;' he even attempts to fix on them those charges which Celsus and Porphyry brought against the christians generally ; making them as it were the scape goats of the church; he denies to them indiscriminately the possession of any real goodness whatever, in accordance to the assumption on which his whole book proceeds; whatever virtue they may appear to possess be ascribes to a spurious decency and gravity of manners ;' and if they appeal to their martyrs to testify to their sincerity and constancy, he is ready to exclaim in the words of Augustine to the Donatists, • Martyrs ! martyrs to the devil! They were not martyrs ; it is the cause, not the suffering, that makes a martyr. There is no such thing as a martyr out of the

a church.'

• It is one of the main designs of this history, to show practi. cally, what true christians were both in principles and manners ;' with how much historical fidelity and impartiality, we have already seen. Throughout the whole the writer very much overrates the influence which religious belief of any kind, bas in forming the character. Men act not so much from their belief, as from their habits, and these again are not formed so much by their belief, as by education, example, public sentiment and the peculiar circumstances in which they are placed. As to what really constitutes the christian character, Milner is, as we conceive, greatly mistaken ; though of course, from the peculiar nature of his undertaking, it was more vecessary that he should be enlightened on this point, than upon any other. His conceptions of christian excellence are precisely such as might be expected from a man naturally phlegmatic, and wholly unacquainted with the world and human nature. He makes but little account of the amiable and social qualities, and as for candour and moderation, he even cautions us against them; for he speaks of a sceptical carelessness and indifference, not uplike that temper, which, under the names of candour and moderation, has now overspread the face of Europe. The hermits, and monks, and martyrs, are the christians of Milner's choice, and he takes every opportunity to eulogize their piety and self devotion, not apparently considering how little there toon of real christian feeling that led to, or attended their sacrifices. He is

6

ner,

• In an affair merely historical, I know none whose judgment and industry deserve inore regard But he is an enemy to the vital doctrines of the gospel, though as candid an one as his principles would admit. (l. 141.)

forever complaining of modern degeneracy, and of the amusements and fashions, and refinements of the present day; as if christian virtue were not, on the whole, better understood and beiter practised too by christians, at the present time, than in the dark

ages, or even in the first centuries. Next to heresy, there is nothing for which our author entertains so much horror as for talents, learning, and philosophy. The cultivation itself of the human mind,' says he, when carried on in the best manner, is apt to be abused to the perversion of the gospel.' • The church of Christ,' he observes in another place, is as abhorrent in its plan and spirit from moral philosophy, as from debauchery: It is true he makes some concessions in favour of philology. May it not be said, that gratomar, history, criticism, oratory, taught and acquired, with a proper subordination to divine grace, and regulated by common sense, are much less dangerous, and, in their way, more useful endowments for a minister of Christ, than philosophy of any kind, metaphysical or natural ?! (1. 129.) So it seems that learning, and especially those branches of it, which are to teach us how to think and discriminate, and balance evidence, are unfavourable and dangerous to religion. Why, we do not know, unless it be that the sooner a man learns how to think and discriminate, and balance evidence, the sooner he will be likely to renounce orthodoxy; an argument which probably affected Milner's mind differently from ours. It is true learning may sometimes make men proud, but so too may ignorance, and in general, we should think it were not necessary to go to Solomon to learn, that a sluggard is wiser in his own conceit, than seven men who can render a reason.'

From what appears in the preceding paragraph in proof of Milner's false conceptions of the christian character, and of the manner of its formation, we perceive that the whole argument of the book falls to the ground. The object of the argument is to recommend orthodox principles, from the fact that ey have always been accompanied by the christian character. But if Milner mistakes as to what constitutes the christian character, it follows that, even though more confidence were to be placed in his representations, and even though he should succeed in showing that orthodox principles have generally been accompanied by what he considers the christian character ; still this would be no recommendation of those principles to a well informed mind. We here perceive, too, the injurious effect which this book is likely to have on its readers, in misleading them as to the true objects and purposes of religion, and in giving them false ideas as to what they must themselves be or become, in order to be real Christians. Some of the indivi

« AnteriorContinuar »