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primitive ages, pay to the relics of saints, their prayers for the dead, belief in a purgatory, invocation of the saints, and the like, which he calls the corruptions of Popery, are really such in themselves; that such doctrines are impious, blasphemous, and superstitious; and upon this supposition alone he condemns all the miracles related by the fathers of the fourth age, “not only in general and for the greatest part, but entirely and universally as the effects of fraud and imposture,” Introd., p. lxv.
"In this age,” says he, "all its most illustrious fathers, now saints, of the Catholic Church, St Athanasius, St Epiphamius, St Basil, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Ambrose, St Jerom, St Austin, and St Chrysostom, have severally recorded and solemnly attested a number of miracles, said to be wrought in confirmation of some favourite institutions of those days, which, in the judgment of all the learned and candid Protestants, are manifestly fictitious and utterly incredible,” Introd. p. lxv. Now, who does not see that this is merely begging the question, supposing and taking for granted what he ought to prove ?
However incredible these institutions may seem to the Doctor and his Protestant brethren, they are far from appearing so to the great body of Catholics, who are endowed with as much common sense and sound judgment as the Doctor and his brethren. These receive them as divine, believe them to be truths revealed by God, and among many other proofs to show that they are so, they appeal to numberless miracles attested by the most credible eyewitnesses in every age, and recorded in the most authentic manner as performed by means of these very institutions, and consequently in approbation of them. How childish is it, then, in the Doctor, when, instead of attempting to prove that these institutions are fictitious or incredible, he takes it for granted that they are so, and upon this silly pretence alone would have the world adopt a system injurious in the highest degree to the characters of the most venerable personages that ever have appeared in the Christian world, and involving all the monstrous consequences, which, as his Protestant brethren have demonstrated, necessarily flow from it!
How glorious a triumph must it be to every thinking Catholic, to see one of the most learned and determined adversaries of his holy religion reduced to such despicable expedients in attacking it! Yet it is upon the above pitiful supposition that the Doctor's whole fabric is built; for assuming that the miracles related by the holy fathers of the fourth age are mere fiction and imposture, he takes up his position, and by a pretence of argument as weak as its foundation, he includes all the miracles, related by those of preceding and subsequent ages, in the same condemnation.
XIX. To show this line of conduct in its proper light, let us apply it to a similar case. It is certain that the mysteries of the Trinity, incarnation, original sin, and the other fundamental articles of Christianity, appear as incredible to deists and atheists as those which the Doctor calls the corruptions of Popery can possibly appear to him, or to any other learned and candid Protestant; put, then, his argument into the mouth of a deist against these great Christian truths ; hear him haranguing against the books of the Gospel, against Christ and His apostles, and rejecting with disdain all the miracles recorded of them, because they were said to have been wrought in confirmation of some favourite opinions of theirs, the Trinity, the incarnation, and other such, which, in the judgment of all the learned and candid deists, are manifestly and utterly incredible.
What answer could the Doctor make to this argument ? It is, in fact, the very one used by deists against the miracles of Christ and his apostles ; and it is evidently the same as that which the Doctor uses against the miracles of their successors, and has exactly the same weight in the one case as in the other. If, then, he allows this argument, he must renounce his Christianity. If he condemns it, by the same breath he condemns his own system, and all the arguments on which he pretends to build it. What a comfort must not this be to every reflecting Catholic, to see that even a Doctor Middleton cannot attack his holy religion but by such means as would at the same time sap the very foundations of Christianity itself, so that Popery and Christianity must stand or fall together!
XX. I cannot leave this subject without further observing that the Doctor himself seems to have been aware of all the consequences which his opponents deduce from his system ; for he calls it in his Preface, page 1., “an experiment big with consequences ;” but whatever these be, they give him no concern: “To speak my mind freely,” says he, “on the subject of consequences : I am not so scrupulous, perhaps, in my regard to them as many of my profession are apt to be,” Pref., p. viii. And when answering the objection made against his system, as rendering the Bible itself precarious and uncertain, he answers with the greatest coolness: “Though we allow the objection to be true, it cannot hurt my argument; for if it be natural and necessary that the craft and credulity of witnesses should always detract from the credit of their testimony, who can help it ? Or, on what is the consequence to be charged but on the
nature and constitution of the things from which it flows ? Or, if the authority of any books be really weakened by the character I have given of the fathers, will it follow from thence that the character must necessarily be false, or that the fathers were neither crafty nor credulous ? That surely can never be pretended.” .
This is plain speaking indeed, but strange language from one who calls himself a Christian. But what can he do ? There is no other possible expedient for effectually securing the Protestant religion against the efforts of the Church of Rome: and therefore, right or wrong, be the consequences what they may, this plan must be pursued, and this system upheld.
XXI. Upon the whole, then, we may observe of the Doctor, 1. That in the outset he proceeds upon a mere “begging of the question,"assuming the chief thing which he ought to prove. 2. That his system is founded upon a most unjust and uncharitable defamation, not of one or two particular persons, but of all the greatest lights of the Christian world ; men revered in their day for their eminent sanctity and learning, and whose memories have been held in veneration in all succeeding ages; and these he defames not in one century or two, but in every age, from the days of the apostles to the present time. 3. That the arguments which he uses in support of his system are just the same that a deist or atheist employs against the miracles of Christ and His apostles, or that a heathen would have used against those of Moses and the prophets; and their strength is exactly the same in either case. 4. That the necessary consequences of his system manifestly tend to destroy the credit of all history, and to undermine the authority of the Bible itself. All this has been proved beyond reply even by the Doctor's Protestant antagonists.
Having thus examined Dr Middleton's system, and his manner of conducting his case, from which we have obtained important light, I now proceed to consider his Protestant antagonists, and see what discoveries can be made from them.
XXII. Those learned gentlemen of the Protestant religion who have appeared in the field against Doctor Middleton in this discussion, were all under the same necessity of proving these two points: “That the power of working miracles continued in the Church for a certain time after the apostolic age; and that this power was entirely withdrawn after that period.”
As Christians, they were obliged to defend the first proposition; and, as Protestants, they were under the necessity of supporting the second. They saw the deadly blow which the Doctor's system aims at the Christian revelation, with the shocking consequences that follow from it, and therefore they deemed it incumbent on them, in defence of revelation, to prove that miracles did most certainly continue in the Church for some time after the apostles. But, at the same time, they saw that if this power be admitted to have continued in the Church without limitation to the present day, it would afford an unanswerable argument in favour of Popery, to the utter condemnation of the Reformation. They were under the necessity, therefore, of stopping in their career, and of confining the continuation of this power within such bounds as they thought most proper and convenient. In these two points these writers all agree, notwithstanding their great difference of opinion as to the duration of the power of working miracles. In this, indeed, they differ exceedingly; some, as we have seen above, assigning the end of the third century as the period of the cessation of miracles, some