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Good and bad

ancient dif


purpose. CLEMENS [2], TERTULLIAN [w], and JUSTIN martyr, wrote also against all the fectaries; but the work of the laft, upon that fubject, is not extant. It would be endless to mention those who combated particular errors, of whose writings alfo many have difappeared amidst the decays of time, and the revolutions that have happened in the republic of letters.

VIII. If the primitive defenders of Chriftianity were not always happy in qualities of the the choice of their arguments, yet they difcovered more candour and probity than those of the following ages. The artifice of fophiftry, and the habit of practising pious frauds in fupport of the truth, had not, as yet, infected the Chriftians. And this, indeed, is all that can be said in their behalf; for they are worthy of little admiration on account of the accuracy or depth of their reafonings. The most of them appear to have been deftitute of penetration, learning, order, application, and force. They frequently make ufe of arguments void of all folidity, and much more proper to dazzle the fancy, than to enlighten and convince the mind. One, laying afide the facred writings, from whence all the weapons of religious controverfy fhould be drawn, refers to the decifions of those bishops who ruled the apoftolic churches. Another thinks, th t the antiquity of a doctrine is a mark of its truth, and pleads prescription against his adverfaries, as if he was maintaining his property before a civil magiftrate, than which method of difputing nothing can be more pernicious to the purfuit of truth. A third imitates thofe wrongheaded difputants among the Jews, who, infatuated with their cabbalistic jargon, offered, as arguments, the imaginary powers of certain myftic words and chofen numbers [*]. Nor do they seem to err, who are of opinion, that in this century, that vitious method of difputing, which afterwards obtained the name of a'conomical [y], was first introduced [z].

Moral writers.

IX. The principal points of morality were treated by JUSTIN martyr, or, at least, by the writer of the epistle to ZENA and SERENUS, which is to be found among the works of that celebrated author. Many other writers confined themselves to particular branches of the moral fyftem, which they handled with much attention and zeal. Thus CLEMENS, of Alexandria, wrote feveral treatifes concerning calumny, patience, continence, and other virtues, which difcourfes have not reached our times. Thofe of TERTULLIAN upon chastity, upon flight in the time of perfecution, as alfo upon fafting, shows, female ornaments, and prayer, have furvived the waste of time, and might be red with much fruit, were the ftyle, in which they are written, lefs laboured and difficult, and the spirit they breath less melancholy and morofe.

[u] In his work, intitled, Stromata.

[w] In his Præfcriptiones adverfus hæreticos.

[x] Several examples, of this fenfelefs method of reafoning, are to be found in different writers. See particularly BASNAGE, Hiftoire des Juifs, tom. iii. p. 660. 694.

[(y) The economical method of difputing was that in which the difputants accommodated themselves, as far as was poffible, to the taste and prejudices of thofe, whom they were endeavouring to gain over to the truth. Some of the firft Chriftians carried this condefcenfion too far, and abufed St. PAUL'S example (1 Cor. ix. 20, 21, 22.) to a degree inconfiftent with the purity and fimplicity of the Chriftian doctrine.]

[x] RICH, SIMON, Hiftoire Critique des principaux Commentateurs du N. T. cap.ii. p. 21.


X. Learned

Of the merit of

X. Learned men are not unanimous concerning the degree of efteem that CENT. II. is due to the authors now mentioned, and the other ancient moralifts. Some represent them as the most excellent guides in the paths of piety and virtue, the fathers, as while others place them in the very lowest rank of moral writers, confider moral writers. them as the very worst of all inftructors, and treat their precepts and decisions as perfectly infipid, and, in many refpects, pernicious. We leave the determination of this point to fuch as are more capable of pronouncing decifively upon it, than we pretend to be [a]. It, however, appears to us incontestable, that, in the writings of the primitive fathers, there are feveral fublime fentiments, judicious thoughts, and many things that are naturally adapted to form a religious temper, and to excite pious and virtuous affections; while it must be confeffed, on the other hand, that they abound ftill more with precepts of an exceffive and unreasonable aufterity, with ftoical and academical dictates, vague and indeterminate notions, and, what is yet worse, with decisions that are abfolutely falfe, and in evident oppofition to the precepts of CHRIST. Before the queftion mentioned above, concerning the merit of the ancient fathers, as moralifts, be decided, a previous queftion must be determined, viz. What is meant by a bad director in point of morals? and, if by fuch a person be meant, one who has no determinate notion of the nature and limits of the duties incumbent upon Chriftians, no clear and diftinct ideas of virtue and vice; who has not penetrated the spirit and genius of thofe facred books, to which alone we must appeal in every difpute about Chriftian virtue, and who, in confequence thereof, fluctuates often in uncertainty, or falls into error in explaining the divine laws, though he may frequently adminifter fublime and pathetic inftructions; if, by a bad guide in morals, fuch a perfon, as we have now delineated, be meant, then it must be confeffed, that this title belongs indifputably to many of the fathers.

XI. The cause of morality, and, indeed, of Christianity in general, fuffered deeply by a capital error which was received in this century; an error admitted without any evil defign, but yet with the utmost imprudence, and which, through every period of the church, even until the present time, has produced other errors without number, and multiplied the evils under which the gospel has so often groaned. JESUS CHRIST prefcribed to all his difciples one and the fame rule of life and manners. But certain Chriftian doctors, either through a defire of imitating the nations among whom they lived, or in confequence of a natural propenfity to a life of aufterity (which is a disease not uncommon in Syria, Egypt, and other eastern provinces) were induced to maintain, that CHRIST had established a double rule of fanctity and virtue, for two different orders of Chriftians. Of these rules the one was ordinary, the

[a] This question was warmly and learnedly debated between the defervedly celebrated BARBEYRAC and CELLIER a Benedictine monk. BUDDEUS has given us an history of this controverfy, with his own judgment of it, in his fagoge ad Theologiam, lib. ii. cap. iv. p. 620, &c. BARBEYRAC, however, published after this a particular treatife in defence of the fevere fentence he had pronounced against the fathers. This ingenious performance was printed at Amfterdam in 1720, under the title of Traité fur la Morale des Peres, and is highly worthy of the perufal of those who have a taste for this most interesting branch of literature, though they will find in it fome imputations caft upon the fathers, against which they may be easily defended.


The double

doctrine of cer

tain moralifts

CENT. II. other extraordinary; the one of a lower dignity, the other more fublime; the one for perfons in the active fcenes of life, the other for thofe, who, in a facred retreat, afpired after the glory of a celeftial state. In confequence of this wild fyftem, they divided into two parts, all those moral doctrines and inftructions which they had received either by writing or tradition. One of thefe divifions they called precepts, and the other counfels. They gave the name of precepts to thofe laws, that were univerfally obligatory upon all orders of men; and that of counfels to those that related to Christians of a more fublime rank, who proposed to themselves great and glorious ends, and breathed after an intimate communion with the fupreme being.

Gives rife to the Afcetics.

Why certain


XII. This double doctrine produced, all of a fudden, a new fet of men, who made profeffion of uncommon degrees of fanctity and virtue, and declared. their refolution of obeying all the counfels of CHRIST, in order to their enjoying communion with God here; and alfo, that, after the diffolution of their mortal bodies, they might afcend to him with the greater facility, and find nothing to retard their approach to the fupreme center of their happiness and perfection. They looked upon themselves as prohibited the use of things, which it was lawful for other Chriftians to enjoy, fuch as wine, flesh, matrimony, and commerce [b]. They thought it their indifpenfable duty to extenuate the body by watchings, abftinence, labour, and hunger. They looked for felicity in folitary retreats, in defart places, where, by fevere and affiduous efforts of fublime meditation, they raised the foul above all external objects, and all fenfual pleasures. Both men and women impofed upon themselves the most fevere task, the most auftere discipline; all which, however, the fruit of pious intention, was, in the iffue, extremely detrimental to Chriftianity. These perfons were called Afcetics, Edaio, "Exhelos, and Philofophers, nor were they only distinguished by their title from other Chriftians, but also by their garb [c]. In this century, indeed, such as embraced this auftere kind of life, fubmitted themselves to all thefe mortifications in private, without breaking afunder their focial bonds, or withdrawing themfelves from the concourse of men. But, in process of time, they retired into defarts, and, after the example of the Effenes and Therapeutæ, they formed themselves into certain companies.

XIII. Nothing is more obvious than the reafons that gave rife to this Chriftians became auftere fect. One of the principal was, the ill-judged ambition of the Christians to resemble the Greeks and Romans, many of whofe fages and philofophers diftinguished themselves from the generality by their maxims, by their habit, and, indeed, by the whole plan of life and manners, which they had formed to themselves, and by which they acquired a high degree of esteem and authority. It is alfo well known, that, of all these philofophers, there were none, whofe fentiments and difcipline were fo well received by the ancient Chriftians as thofe of the Platonics and Pythagoreans, who prescribed in their leffons two rules of conduct; one for the fage, who afpired to the fublimest heights of virtue; and another for the people, involved in the cares

[b] ATHENAGORAS, Apologia pro Chriftian. cap. xxviii. p. 129. edit. Oxon.
[c] See SALMAS. Comm, in Tertullianum de Pallio, p. 7, 8, &c.


and hurry of an active life [d]. The law of moral conduct, which the Platonics prescribed to the philofophers, was as follows: "The foul of the wise "man ought to be removed to the greatest poffible distance from the contagi"ous influence of the body. And as the depreffing weight of the body, the "force of its appetites, and connexions with a corrupt world, are in direct "oppofition to this facred obligation; therefore all fenfual pleasures are to "be carefully avoided; the body is to be fupported, or rather extenuated, by a flender diet; folitude is to be fought as the true manfion of virtue; "and contemplation to be employed as the means of raising the foul, as far as "is poffible, to a fublime freedom from all corporeal ties, and to a noble "elevation above all terreftrial things [e]. The perfon, who lives in this 66 manner, fhall enjoy, even in a prefent ftate, a certain degree of communion. "with the deity; and when the corporeal mafs is diffolved, fhall immediately "afcend to the fublime regions of felicity and perfection, without paffing through that ftate of purification and trial, that awaits the generality of "mankind." It is eafy to perceive, that this rigorous difcipline was a natural confequence of the peculiar opinions which thefe philofophers, and fome others that refembled them, entertained, concerning the nature of the foul, the influence of matter, the operations of invifible beings or demons, and the formation of the world. And as thefe opinions were adopted by the more learned among the Christians, it was but natural that they fhould embrace alfo the moral discipline which flowed from them.

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XIV. There is a particular confideration that will enable us to render a The progress of natural account of the origin of thofe religious feverities of which we have this difcipline. been now fpeaking, and that is drawn from the genius and temper of the people by whom they were first practifed. It was in Egypt that this morofe discipline had its rife; and it is obfervable, that that country has, in all times, as it were by an immutable law, or difpofition of nature, abounded with perfons of a melancholy complexion, and produced, in proportion to its extent, more gloomy fpirits than any other part of the world [f]. It was here that the Effenes and the Therapeutæ, those dismal and gloomy fects, dwelt principally long before the coming of CHRIST; as alfo many others of the Afcetic tribe, who, led by a certain melancholy turn of mind, and a delufive notion of rendering themselves more acceptable to the deity by their aufterities, withdrew themselves from human fociety, and from all the innocent pleasures and comforts of life [g]. From Egypt this four and unsociable difcipline paffed into Syria, and the neighbouring countries, which also abounded with perfons

[d, Thefe famous fects made an important diftinction between living according to nature, Zãy xαTα Quaw, and living above nature, Zav vie quo. The former was the rule prefcribed to the vulgar; the latter that which was to direct the conduct of the philofophers, who aimed at fuperior degrees of virtue. See ENEAS GAZEUS in Theophraft. p. 29. edit. Barthii.

[] The reader will find the principles of this fanatical difcipline, in PORPHYRY'S book Tigi amox, i. e. concerning abftinence. That celebrated Platonift has explained at large the refpective duties that belong to active and contemplative life, book i. § 27. and 41.

f] See MAILLET Defcription de l'Egypte, tom. i. p. 57. edit. in 4to de Paris.

[g] HERODOT. Hiftor. lib. ii. p. 104. ed. Gronov. EPIPHANIUS, Expofit. fidei, § 11. tom. ii. Opp. p. 1092. TERTULLIAN. De exhortatione caftitat. cap. xiii. p.524. edit. Priorii. ATHANASIUS in vita Antonii, tom. ii. Opp. p. 453.




The rife of pious frauds among Christians,

Of the lives of Chritians.


of the fame difmal conftitution with that of the Egyptians [b]; and from thence, in procefs of time, its infection reached to the European nations. Hence that train of auftere and fuperftitious vows and rites, that yet, in many places, cast a veil over the beauty and fimplicity of the Chriftian religion. Hence the celibacy of the priestly order, the rigour of unprofitable pennances, and mortifications, the innumerable fwarms of monks that refused their talents and labours to fociety, and this in the fenfelefs pursuit of a visionary fort of perfection. Hence alfo that diftinction between the theoretical and myftical life, and many other fancies of like nature, which we fhall have occafion to mention in the course of this hiftory.

XV. It is generally true, that delufions travel in a train, and that one mistake produces many. The Chriftians, who adopted the auftere fyftem, which has been already mentioned, had certainly made a very false step, and done much injury to their excellent and most reasonable religion. But they. did not stop here; another erroneous practice was adopted by them, which, though it was not fo univerfal as the other, was yet extremely pernicious, and proved a fource of numberlefs evils to the Chriftian church. The Platonists and Pythagoreans held it as a maxim, that it was not only lawful, but even praise-worthy, to deceive, and even to use the expedient of a lie in order to advance the cause of truth and piety. The Jews, who lived in Egypt, had learned and received this maxim from them, before the coming of CHRIST, as appears inconteftably from a multitude of ancient records; and the Christians were infected from both these fources with the fame pernicious error, as appears from the number of books attributed falfely to great and venerable names, from the Sibylline verfes, and feveral fuppofititious productions, which were fpred abroad in this and the following century. It does not, indeed, feem probable, that all these pious frauds were cheargeable upon the profeffion of real Christianity, upon those who entertained juft and rational fentiments of the religion of JESUS. The greatest part of these fictitious writings, undoubtedly, flowed from the fertile invention of the Gnoftic fects, though it cannot be affirmed that even true Christians were entirely innocent and irreproachable in this matter.

XVI. As the boundaries of the church were enlarged, the number of vitious and irregular perfons, who entered into it, were proportionably increafed, as appears from the many complaints and cenfures that we find in the writers of this century. Several methods were made use of to stem the torrent Excommunica of iniquity. Excommunication was peculiarly employed to prevent or punish the most heinous and enormous crimes; and the crimes, efteemed fuch, were murder, idolatry, and adultery, which terms, however, we must here understand in their more full and extensive sense. In fome places, the commiffion of any of these fins cut off irrevocably the criminal from all hopes of restoration to the privileges of church-communion: in others, after a long, laborious, and painful courfe of probation and discipline, they were re-admitted into the bofom of the church [i].

[b] Jo. CHARDIN voyages en Perfe, tom. iv. p. 197. edit. Amfterd. 1735, 4.

By this diftinction, we may eafily reconcile the different opinions of the learned concern-

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