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ment, and ingenious perversion of terms, the orthodox all the while were dogmatizing about the divine nature, with a profusion of words, which either had no meaning, or were gross mistakes, or inapplicable metaphors when applied to the infinite and spiritual existence of God. And, not content with using such arguments against the heretics as generally produced a new heresy without refuting the former one, as soon as they obtained the power, they expelled them from the Roman empire, and sent them with all the zeal which persecution confers, and which the orthodox, from their prosperity, had lost, to spread every variety of error amongst the nations of the barbarians.
// Orthodoxy was become a very nice affair, from the rigour of its terms, and the perplexity of its creed, and very unlike the high way for the simple,) which the Gospel presents. A slip in a single 1 expression was enough to make a man a heretic. The use or omission of a single word occasioned a new rent in Christianity. Every heresy produced a a new creed, and every creed a new heresy. The expressions of Nestorius divided Christ into two a persons, in opposition to the words of Appollinaris, a which seemed to blend his two natures. And these o impious and unintelligible subtilties, more worthy • of bedlam than of the consideration of a sane mind, A have lost empires, and ruined nations. Works of genius have perished, and their very names have a been forgotten; but the Nestorians and the J aco-f bites still perpetuate the reputation and the feuds, of the quibbling sophists, to whom they owe their, divisions. Never does human folly and learned f ignorance appear in a more disgusting point of view Z than in these disputes of Christians amongst themselves, nor does any study appear so well calculated/ to foster infidelity as the history of Christian sects, f unless the reader be guided by light from above,’ and carefully distinguish the doctrines of the Bible /. from the miserable disputes of pretended Christians.’ VII. Independent of any direct heresies, erroneous methods of considering Christianity became prevalent from the indiscriminate study and admiration of Gentile philosophy. Each of the Christian Fathers, who affected a reputation for literature, naturally adopted the favourite opinions of some philosophic school; and thus, every speculative sect came to mingle their own peculiar errors in that incoherent and discordant mass of opinions which formed the Christian literature of antiquity/* Few / attempts have had less foundation to proceed upon’ than the endeavour to make the Christian Fathers • pass for the supreme judges of controversy, and the ' oracles of religion. Nothing can be more vague' than their conclusions, nor more weak than their f arguments, nor more variable than the tendency of g their writings. They might, notwithstanding the weakness of their judgment, have been valuable, E
as furnishing facts—but in these they are lament-r ably deficient, and hence the meagreness of church / history. When appealed to as authorities, theyr lend themselves by turns to every side; wheni resorted to for information, they furnish little but r conjectures. It is well, however, that Christianity f should have small obligation to its early advocates, f and that religion should rest upon the power of f God, and not upon the authority of men. It is well, also, that a great gulf should be placed between the J inspired and the uninspired Christian writers, } Many of the Fathers, as they are called, were but recent converts from Paganism, who were better acquainted with the superstition they had left than the revelation they had embraced. Many were more attentive to the study of philosophy than to the search of Scriptural truth. The caution of St. Paul was lost upon them to beware of philosophy, falsely so called. The emanative system, with all its errors, spread far and wide, under the authority of Origen, and with the aid of his allegorical interpretations. In the hands of the master of Origen, Ammonius, and his fellow disciple Plotinus, the absurdities of Paganism, by the supposition of an inner sense contained in them, had been made to coincide with the dreams of philosophy. The truths of Christianity were now to be explained away by the same subtile process. Evil was considered less a transgression of the holy law of God
than as distance from the supreme fountain of existence. A Christian purgatory was introduced similar to the Platonic purgation by fire, and all souls, after certain cycles of aberration and remedial punishment, were supposed to be destined to return to the one great Being from whom they had departed. From another quarter false notions of Gnostic purity flowed in to augment the superstitions of the declining Church, and the division was revived in the distinction between the monks and the laity among the orthodox, (which had previously prevailed amongst the early heretics and the Manicheans) of the perfect, who abstained from flesh and lacerated their body, and of the imperfect, who merely performed the duties of life. The doctrines of Plato, from the degree of resemblance which they occasionally bear to revelation, insinuated themselves with ease among the truths of Christianity. The old Pantheistic error of God including all Being within himself, had likewise numerous advocates, and so confused were the notions of its adherents, that it might be doubted of many, as in the case of Bishop Synesius and the false Dionysius, whether they were more properly heathen Pantheists or Christian Mystics. To sum up all, Aristotle, after stoutly defending Paganism, at last lent the Christians his vexatious logic to exasperate the multitude of their disputes, and to split and subdivide every error to infinity.
VII. While the higher classes were bewildered with Gentile philosophy, the lower classes were darkened with Gentile superstition. As a vague belief in Christianity, without exactly understanding its nature, grew and prevailed amongst multitudes, the door of the church was held more widely open to receive the heathen, not forsaking their errors, but bringing their superstition along with them. They were said to be converted, who were never rightly instructed; and every expedient was adopted which might render the change from Paganism to Christianity, falsely so called, easy and scarcely perceptible. Christian martyrs took the place of Pagan heroes; the same altar, in succession, served for both ; the incense which was burnt before the Pagan idol was afterwards offered up to honour the Christian image. Even the holy water used by the Pagans was plentifully sprinkled upon the too credulous believers. Wherever any peculiar superstition locally prevailed among the heathen, that very custom in the same place was found to be revived by the Christians, with no other change save that of names. It is true that many of these practices were at first deemed heretical, but they were afterwards adopted, in substance at least, among the superstitions of the Romish church. For example, the Arabians had always offered a peculiar adoration to the moon. When a part of Arabia became Christianized, there the sect of the Collyridians