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These kinds of seduction are so much the more dangerous, as those whom they deceive are, in innumerable, cases, insensible of their delusion, and of the false representations of things to which it leads them. It is not necessary to observe the solemn obligations that bind an historian to guard against these three sources of error with the most delicate circumspection, and the most scrupulous


XIX. It is well known nevertheless how far ecclesiastical historians, in all ages, have departed from these rules, and from others of equal evidence and importance. For not to mention those who lay claim to a high rank among the writers of history in consequence of a happy memory, loaded with an ample heap of materials, nor those whose pens are rather guided by sordid views of interest than by a generous love of truth, it is but too evident, how few in number the unprejudiced and impartial historians are, whom neither the influence of the sect to which they belong, nor the venerable and imposing names of antiquity, nor the spirit of the times and the torrent of prevailing opinion, can turn aside from the obstinate pursuit of truth alone. In the present age, more especially, the spirit of the times and the influence of predominant opinions, have gained with many an incredible ascendant. Hence we find frequently in the writings even of learned men such wretched arguments as these ; Such an opinion is true; therefore it must of necessity have been adopted by the primitive christians. Christ has commanded us to live in such a manner; therefore it is undoubtedly certain, that the christ

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The advantages that result

of Ecclesiasti

cal History.


ians of ancient times lived so.

A certain custom

does not take place now; therefore it did not prevail in former times.

xx. If those who apply themselves to the comfrom the study position of Ecclesiastical History be careful to avoid the sources of error mentioned above, their labours will be eminently useful to mankind, and more especially to those who are called to the important office of instructing others in the sacred truths and duties of Christianity. The history of the church presents to our view a variety of objects that are every way adapted to confirm our faith. When we contemplate here the discouraging obstacles, the united efforts of kingdoms and empires, and the dreadful calamities which Christianity, in its very infancy, was obliged to encounter, and over which it gained an immortal victory, this will be sufficient to fortify its true and zealous professors against all the threats, cavils, and stratagems of profane and impious men. The great and shining examples also, which, display their lustre, more or less, in every period of the christian history, must have an admirable tendency to inflame our piety, and to excite, even in the coldest and most insensible hearts, the love of God and virtue. Those amazing revolutions and events that distinguished every age of the church, and often seemed to arise from small beginnings, and causes of little consequence, proclaim, with a solemn and respectable voice, the empire of Providence, and also the inconstancy and vanity of human things. And, among the many advantages that arise from the study of Ecclesiastical History, it is none of the

least, that we shall see therein the origin and occa sions of those ridiculous rites, absurd opinions, foolish superstitions, and pernicious errors, with which Christianity is yet disfigured in too many parts of the world. This knowledge will naturally lead us to a view of the truth in its beautiful simplicity, will engage us to love it, and render us zealous in its defence; not to mention the pleasure and satisfaction that we must feel in researches and discoveries of such an interesting kind.


XXL. They, more especially, who are appointed and particuto instruct the youth in the public universities, as also such as are set apart for the service of the church, will derive from this study the most useful lessons of wisdom and prudence, to direct them in the discharge of their respective offices. On the one hand, the inconsiderate zeal and temerity of others, and the pernicious consequences with which they have been attended, will teach circumspection; and in the mistakes into which even men of eminent merit and abilities have fallen, they will often see the things they are obliged to avoid, and the sacrifices it will be prudent to make, in order to maintain peace and concord in the church; on the other, illustrious examples and salutary measures will hold forth to them a rule of conduct, a lamp to show them the paths they must pursue. It may be further observed, that, if we except the arms which scripture and reason furnish against superstition and error, there is nothing that will enable us to combat them with more efficacy than the view of their deplorable effects, as they are represented to us in the history of the church. It would be endless to enu

The method of treating

History, in its

external and

internal branches,

merate all the advantages that result from the study of Ecclesiastical History; experience alone can display these in all their extent; nor shall we mention the benefits that may be derived from it by those who have turned their views to other sciences than that of theology, and its more peculiar utility to such as are engaged in the study of the civil law. All this would lead us too far from our present design.

XXII. As the history of the church is external or Ecclesiastical internal, so the manner of treating it must be suited to that division. As to the first, when the narration is long, and the thread of the history runs through a great number of ages, it is proper to divide it into certain periods, which will give the reader time to breathe, assist memory, and also introduce a certain method and order into the work. In the following history the usual division into centuries is adopted preferably to all others, because most generally liked; though it be attended with difficulties and inconveniences.

XXIII. A considerable part of these inconveniences will be however removed, if, beside this smaller division into centuries, we adopt a larger one, and divide the space of time that elapsed between the birth of Christ and our days into certain grand periods, that are distinguished by signal revolutions or remarkable events. It is on this account that we have judged it expedient to comprehend the following history in Four Books, that will take in four remarkable periods; the First will be employed in exhibiting the state and vicissitudes of the christian church, from its commencement to the time of Constantine the Great. The Second

will comprehend the period that extends from the reign of Constantine to that of Charlemagne, which produced such a remarkable change in the face of Europe. The Third will contain the History of the Church, from the time of Charlemagne to the memorable period when Luther arose in Germany to oppose the tyranny of Rome, and to deliver divine truth from the darkness that covered it. And the Fourth will carry down the same history, from the rise of Luther to the present times.

XXIV. We have seen above, that the sphere of Ecclesiastical History is extensive, that it comprehends a great variety of objects, and embraces political as well as religious matters, so far as the former are related to the latter, either as causes or effects. But however great the diversity of these objects may be, they are closely connected; and it is the particular business of an ecclesiastical historian to observe a method that will show this connection in the most conspicuous point of view, and form into one regular whole a variety of parts that seem heterogeneous and discordant. Different writers have followed here different methods, according to the diversity of their views and their peculiar manner of thinking. The order I have observed will be seen above in that part of this introduction, which treats of the subject matter of Ecclesiastical History; the mention of it is therefore omitted here, to avoid unnecessary repetitions.

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