Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

PART II.

Barnabas.

and it is no easy matter to determine this question. CENT.L The Epistle of Barnabas was the production of some Jew, who, most probably, lived in this century, and whose mean abilities and superstitious attachment to Jewish fables show, notwithstanding the uprightness of his intentions, that he must have been a very different person from the true Barnabas, who was St. Paul's companion. The work, which is entitled The Shepherd of Hermas, because the angel, who bears the principal part in it, is represented in the form and habit of a shepherd, was composed in the second century by Hermas, who was brother to Pius bishop of Rome. This whimsical and visionary writer has taken the lib. erty to invent several dialogues or conversations between God and the angels, in order to insinuate, in a more easy and agreeable manner, the precepts which he thought useful and salutary, into the minds of his readers. But indeed the discourse, which he puts into the mouths of those celestial beings, is more insipid and senseless than what we commonly hear among the meanest of the multitude.&

For an account of this martyr, and of the epistle attributed to him, sce Tillemont's Memoires, &c. vol. ii. part ii. p. 287; as also Fabricii Biblioth. Græca, lib. v. cap. i. p. 47.

• See Tillemont's Memoires, &c. vol. i. part iii. p. 1043. Ittigius's Select. Hist. Eccles. Capita, § 1, cap. i. § 14, p. 173, and lib. v. cap. i. § 4, p. 4.

This now appears with the utmost evidence from a very ancient fragment of a small book, concerning the canon of the holy scriptures, which the learned Lud. Anton. Muratori published some years ago from an ancient manuscript in the library at Milan, and which is to be found in the Antiq. Italicar. medii ævi, tom. iii. diss. xliii. p. 853.

We are indebted for the best edition of the Shepherd of Hermas, to Fabricius, who has added it to the third volume of his Codex Apocry phus N. Testamenti. We find also some account of this writer in the Biblioth. Græca, of the same learned author, book v. chap. ix. § 9, p. 7, and also in Ittigius's dissertation, De Patribus Apostolicis, § 55, p. 184, &c.

[blocks in formation]

CENT. I.

XXI. We may here remark in general, that these PART II. apostolic fathers, and the other writers, who, in the The general infancy of the church, employed their pens in the thepostolic cause of Christianity, were neither remarkable for

character of

fathers.

their learning nor their eloquence. On the con-
trary, they express the most pious and admirable
sentiments in the plainest and most illiterate style.
This, indeed, is rather a matter of honour than of
reproach to the christian cause; since we see,
from the conversion of a great part of mankind to
the gospel by the ministry of weak and illiterate
men, that the progress of Christianity is not to be
attributed to human means, but to a divine power.

CHAPTER III.

CONCERNING THE DOCTRINE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH IN THIS

CENTURY.

1

The nature of the christian

I. THE whole of the christian religion is comreligion. prehended in two great points, of which the first regards what we are to believe, and the other relates to our conduct and actions; or, to express the matter more briefly, the gospel presents to us objects of faith and rules of practice. The form. er are expressed by the apostles by the term mystery or the truth; and the latter by that of godli ness or piety. The rule and standard of both are those books which contain the Revelation, that God made of his will to persons chosen for that purpose,

hAll the writers mentioned in this chapter are usually called apostolic fathers. Of these writers, Jo. Bapt. Cotelerius, and after him Le Clerc, have published a collection in two volumes, accompanied both with their own annotations and the remarks of other learned men.

1 Tim. iii. 9. vi. 3. Tit. i. 1.

whether before or after the birth of Christ. And CENT. L these divine books are usually called The Old and PART II. New Testament.

terpreting the

II. The apostles and their disciples took all pos- Method of insible care, and that in the earliest times of the scriptures. church, that these sacred books might be in the hands of all christians, that they might be read and explained in the assemblies of the faithful, and thus contribute, both in private and in public, to excite and nourish in the minds of christians a fervent zeal for the truth, and a firm attachment to the ways of piety and virtue. Those who performed the office of interpreters, studied above all things plainness and perspicuity. At the same time it must be acknowledged, that, even in this century, several christians adopted that absurd and corrupt custom, used among the Jews, of darkening the plain words of the holy scriptures by insipid and forced allegories, and of drawing them violently from their proper and natural signification, in order to extort from them certain mysterious and hidden significations. For a proof of this, we need go no further than the epistle of Barnabas, which is yet

extant.

Of teaching

III. The method of teaching the sacred doctrines of religion, was, at this time, most simple, far re- religion. moved from all the subtile rules of philosophy, and all the precepts of human art. This appears abundantly, not only in the writings of the apostles, but also in all those of the second century, which have survived the ruins of time. Neither did the apostles, or their disciples, ever think of collecting into a regular system the principal doctrines of the christian religion, or of demonstrating them in a scientific and geometrical order. The beautiful and candid simplicity of these early ages rendered such philosophical niceties unnecessary; and the great study of those who embraced the gospel was rather to express its divine influence in

PART II.

CENT. 1. their dispositions and actions, than to examine its doctrines with an excessive curiosity, or to explain them by the rules of human wisdom.

The Apostles'
Creed.

IV. There is indeed extant, a brief summary of the principal doctrines of Christianity in that form, which bears the name of the Apostles' Creed, and which, from the fourth century downward, was almost generally considered as a production of the apostles. All however, who have the least knowledge of antiquity, look upon this opinion as entirely false and destitute of all foundation. There is much more reason and judgment in the opinion of those, who think that this creed was not all composed at once, but from small beginnings was imperceptibly augmented in proportion to the growth of heresy, and according to the exigencies and circumstances of the church, from whence it was designed to banish the errors that daily arose.' The distine- v. In the earliest times of the church, all who catechumens professed firmly to believe that Jesus was the only Redeemer of the world, and who, in consequence of this profession, promised to live in a manner conformable to the purity of his holy religion, were immediately received among the disciples of Christ. This was all the preparation for baptism then required; and a more accurate instruction in the doctrines of Christianity was to be administered to them after their receiving that sacrament. But when Christianity had acquired more consistence, and churches rose to the true God and his eternal

tion between

and believers.

* See Budæus's Isagoge ad Theologiam, lib. i. cap. ii. § 2, p. 441 ; as also Walchii Introductio in Libros Symbolicos, lib. i. eap. ii. p. 87.

This opinion is eonfirmed in the most learned and ingenious manner by sir Peter King, in his History of the Apostles' Creed. Such, however, as read this valuable work with pleasure, and with a certain degree of prepossession, would do well to consider, that its learned author, upon several occasions, has given us conjectures instead of proofs, and also that his conjectures are not always so happy, as justly to command our assent.

Son, almost in every nation, this custom was changed for the wisest and most solid reasons. Then none were admitted to baptism, but such as had been previously instructed in the principal points of Christianity, and had also given satisfactory proofs of pious dispositions and upright in. tentions. Hence arose the distinction between catechumens who were in a state of probation, and under the instruction of persons appointed for that purpose; and believers, who were consecrated by baptism, and thus initiated into all the mysteries of the christian faith.

CENT. I. PART II.

mens differ

ed.

VI. The methods of instructing the catechumens The catechudiffered according to their various capacities. ently instruct. Those, in whom the natural force of reason was small, were taught no more than the fundamental principles and truths, which are, as it were, the basis of Christianity. Those on the contrary, whom their instructors judged capable of comprehending, in some measure, the whole system of divine truth, were furnished with superior degrees of knowledge; and nothing was concealed from them, which could have any tendency to render them firm in their profession, and to assist them in arriving at christian perfection. The care of instructing such was committed to persons who were distinguished by their gravity and wisdom, and also by their learning and judgment. And from hence it comes, that the ancient doctors generally divide their flock into two classes; the one comprehending such as were solidly and thoroughly instructed; the other, those who were acquainted with little more than the first principles of religion; nor do they deny that the methods of instruction applied to these two sorts of persons were extremely different.

The care of the first chris

VII. The christians took all possible care to accustom their children to the study of the scriptures, as the and to instruct them in the doctrines of their holy to religion; and schools were every where erected for

education of

« AnteriorContinuar »