Imagens das páginas

carries on the succession of its miracles, as of all other common events, through all of them indifferently, to that memorable period,” Introd. p. xxxix.

XV. After relating the sentiments of Dodwell, Whiston, Waterland, and Chapman, who defend the continuation of miracles for some ages after the apostles, according to their respective periods, and Dr Chapman brings them even down to the end of the fifth century, he adds : “ Thus these eminent divines pursuing their several systems, and ambitious of improving still upon each other's discoveries, seem unwarily to have betrayed the Protestant cause by transferring the miraculous powers of the Church, the pretended ensigns of truth and orthodoxy, into the hands of its enemies. For it was in these very primitive ages, and especially in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, those flourishing times of miraculous powers, as Dr Chapman calls them, in which the chief corruptions of Popery were either actually introduced, or the seeds of them so effectually sown, that they could not fail of producing the fruits which we now see. By these corruptions I mean the institution of monkery; the worship of relics; invocation of saints ; prayers for the dead; the superstitious use of images ; of the sacraments; of the sign of the cross; and of consecrated oil ; by the efficacy of all which rites, and as a proof of their divine origin, perpetual miracles are affirmed to have been wrought in these every centuries,” Introd. p. xlv.

He then gives examples of all these in the earliest ages, ending with a rebuke to Dr Berriman, who defends the miracles of the sixth century, as far as St Gregory the Great, for which the Doctor says of him, p. lxix: “ Thus the miraculous powers of the Church are expressly avowed by him to the end even of the sixth century, in which

Popery had gained a full establishment; yet this Protestant divine cannot conceive the least reason to dispute the miraculousness of those facts which established it; nay, he defies any man to prove that miracles had yet ceased in this Popish age. From all this he draws the just conclusion : “Since the zeal, then, of these Protestant guides has brought us within the very pale of the Romish Church, I see nothing which can stop their progress from the sixth age down to the present-for each succeeding age will furnish miracles, and witnesses too, of as good credit as those of the sixth,” page lxxi. And afterwards resuming this point he declares : “ That by granting them (the Romanists) but a single age of miracles after the times of the apostles, we shall be entangled in a series of difficulties whence we can never fairly extricate ourselves till we allow the same powers also to the present age," Introd., p. lxxxii.

XVI. It was necessary to give this extract of Dr Middleton's sentiments in his own words, because it is in this that we discover the real origin and rise of his extraordinary system, and the true motives which induced him to adopt and publish it to the world. Here we see evidently that it was not a rational and consequential result of facts and just reasoning, but a preconceived opinion which he was compelled to embrace from the impossibility of otherwise defending the Protestant religion. He was sensible of the insuperable power which the claim to miracles gives the Roman Catholics over their Protestant adversaries. He saw the weakness of everything that had been said against them by Protestants, if miracles are allowed to have been wrought among them. He saw, in fine, that what Protestants call the corruptions of Popery are to be found in the earliest ages of Christianity; and that it would be ridiculous to admit the miracles of those ages on human testimony, and deny those of after-ages, though equally attested ; and from these clear truths he concluded, That the only expedient which can effectually secure the Protestant religion from being undermined and subverted by the efforts of Rome, is at once to aim a bold stroke, and absolutely to deny all miracles whatsoever since the days of the apostles.”

The resolution being once taken, which the necessities of the Reformation forced upon him, the next thing was to find such plausible arguments as might support it with at least a colour of reason; and here, indeed, it must be owned that he has done everything in defence of his bad cause which could possibly have been expected from a penetrating genius, extensive reading, and determined resolution. But as preconceived opinions are generally only flights of fancy, or the despairing necessities of falsehood, the Doctor's favourite system, when brought to the test of sound reasoning, is discovered to be without foundation, and calculated, if adopted, to produce results the most fatal.

This has been shown by the Doctor's learned adversaries of his own communion, who have fully vindicated the characters of the holy fathers of the primitive ages from the shocking representation which Doctor Middleton gives of them ; for the Doctor grounds his whole proof upon this that these fathers, the most venerable Christian writers in every age, and all Church historians, are to be looked upon as “ credulous and superstitious fools, or a set of crafty knaves, possessed by strong prejudices, and an enthusiastic zeal for every doctrine of the Christian religion, scrupling at no art or means which might propagate the same; and, in short, were all of a character from which nothing could

be expected that was candid and impartial,” Preface, p. xxviii. In order to establish this point, which is vital to his system, the Doctor has exerted all his ingenuity and rhetoric, but to no purpose; his Protestant adversaries have examined him step by step, and have detected his false reasoning and sophistry. They have proved, beyond reply, that those venerable writers of the primitive ages were men of unspotted character, undoubted probity, unquestionable veracity, and most competent judges of the truth of the miracles which they related, having either themselves been eyewitnesses of them, or having heard them from such ; or that the miracles were public and well known to the whole people among whom they spoke.

XVII. This alone is sufficient to destroy all that the Doctor has built on so sandy a foundation. But his Protestant opponents have gone further, and have shown that the system which he proposes is fraught with the following shocking consequences : First, that it destroys all faith in history. He acknowledges himself, that, as far as the church historians illustrate or throw light upon anything, there is not a single point in history so explicitly and unanimously affirmed as the continual succession of miraculous powers throughout all ages. If, therefore, notwithstanding this concurrent attestation, we are to look upon this succession as an absolute falsehood, how will it be possible to credit any historian whatever, or to believe any single fact attested by others, and of which we have not been eyewitnesses ? Secondly, That it opens a door to universal scepticism. This is a natural consequence of the former. Thirdly, That it undermines the very foundation of the Christian religion itself. For if the immediate successors of the apostles, who had been their disciples and instructed by them,


were knaves and impostors, as he pretends, is it not natural to suspect (to use his own argument on a similar occasion) that so bold a defiance of truth could not be acquired at once ?

If this his argument be good, we must conclude that these early impostors ḥad learned their knavery from their masters, and of course that the apostles themselves were as great impostors as their disciples. Besides, according to Protestant principles, the Bible is the sole ground of that religion, and it is a notorious fact that we at present have received the Bible as divinely inspired only upon the testimony of the primitive fathers and their successors, to our own days. If then these were all, as the Doctor represents them, crafty knaves or silly fools, and of such a character that nothing candid or impartial can be expected from them; nay, such impostors that we are unable to depend upon their word, even when relating facts which they declare they saw with their own eyes ; how can we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, which comes to us through such a channel? What security have we that such a continued succession of villains, who, as he assures us, would stick at no art or means to propagate their principles, have not corrupted the Scriptures, and imposed their own forgeries on mankind instead of the Word of God? If so, there is an end at once of the Christian religion itself, upon Protestant principles !

XVIII. On this a Catholic must make another obvious reflection-namely, that the Doctor's system, with all its proofs, is founded upon the most childish supposition, a mere begging of the question ; a supposition unworthy of a man of sense, much more of one who professes to be a teacher of mankind ! He supposes that the respect which Catholics, after the example of the

« AnteriorContinuar »