Imágenes de páginas

braced or rejected; and, secondly, to their reli- ̈ gious state, i. e. the opinions they have entertained concerning the divine nature, and the worship that is to be addressed to him. For we shall then perceive, with more certainty and less difficulty, the reasons of the different reception Christianity has met with in different nations, when we are acquainted with the respective forms of civil government, the political maxims, and the public forms of religion that prevailed in those countries and in those periods of time in which the gospel received encouragement, or met with opposition.


XV. With respect to the internal history of and in its the church, nothing is more adapted to lay open internal to view the hidden springs of its various changes, than an acquaintance with the history of learning and philosophy in the times of old. For it is certain, that human learning and philosophy have, in all times, pretended to modify the doctrines of Christianity; and that these pretensions have extended further than belongs to the province of philosophy on the one hand, or is consistent with the purity and simplicity of the gospel on the other. It may also be observed, that a knowledge of the forms of civil government, and of the superstitious rites and institutions of ancient times, is not only useful, as we remarked above, to illustrate several things in the external history of the church, but also to render a satisfactory account of its internal variations, both in point of doctrine and worship. For the genius of human laws, and the maxims of civil rulers, have undoubtedly had a great influence in forming the constitution of the church; and even its spiritual leaders have, in too many instances, from an ill-judged prudence, modelled its discipline and worship after the ancient superstitions.

The sources

whence ec

must be derived.

XVI. We cannot be at any loss to know the from sources from whence this important knowledge is clesiastical to be derived. The best writers of every age history who make mention of ecclesiastical affairs, and particularly those who were contemporary with the events they relate, are to be carefully consulted; since it is from credible testimonies and respectable authorities that history derives a solid and permanent foundation. Our esteem for those writers who may be considered as the sources of historical knowledge, ought not however to lead us to treat, with neglect the historians and annal, ists who have already made use of these original records since it betrays a foolish sort of vanity to reject the advantages that may be derived from the succours and labours of those who have preceded us in their endeavours to cast light upon matters that have been for many ages covered with obscurity [c].

The essen

ties of an ec


XVII. From all this we shall easily discern the ti quale qualifications that are essential to a good writer of clesiastical ecclesiastical history. His knowledge of human affairs must be considerable, and his learning extensive. He must be endowed with a spirit of observation and sagacity; a habit of reasoning with evidence and facility; a faithful memory; and a judgment matured by experience, and strengthened by exercise. Such are the intellectual endowments that are required in the character of a good historian; and the moral qualities that are necessary to complete it, are, a persevering and inflexible attachment to truth and vir tue, a freedom from the servitude of prejudice and passion, and a laborious and patient turn of mind.

[c] The various writers of ecclesiastical history are enumerated by Sever. Walt. Sluterus, in his Propylæum Historiæ Christianæ, published at Lunenberg in 4to. in the year 1696; and by Casp. Sagittarius, in his Introductio ad Historiam Ecclesiasticam, singulasque ejus partes.

free from a

times, men,

XVIII. Those who undertake to write the A historihistory of the Christian church are exposed to re-an must be ceive a bias from three different sources; from servile attimes, persons, and opinions. The times in which tachment to we live have often so great an influence on our and opimanner of judging, as to make us consider the nions. events which happen in our days, as a rule by which we are to estimate the probability or evidence of those that are recorded in the history of past ages. The persons on whose testimonies we think we have reason to depend, acquire an imperceptible authority over our sentiments, that too frequently seduces us to adopt their errors, especially if these persons have been distinguished by eminent degrees of sanctity and virtue. And an attachment to favourite opinions leads authors sometimes to pervert, or, at least, to modify facts in favour of those who have embraced these opinions, or to the disadvantage of such as have opposed them. 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 a historian to guard against these three sources of error with the most delicate circumspection, and the most scrupulous attention.

that are vi


XIX. It is well known, nevertheless, how far The defects ecclesiastical historians, in all ages, have departed sible in the from these rules, and from others of equal evidence writers of and importance. For not to mention those who church his 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 in

The advan

tages that

fluence 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 Christians of ancient times lived so. A certain custom does not take place now; therefore it did not prevail in former



XX. If those who apply themselves to the comresult from position of ecclesiastical history be careful to the study of avoid the sources of error mentioned above, their ecclesiasti- labours will be eminently useful to mankind, and

cal history.


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, 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 occasions 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.

XXI. They, more especially, who are appoint- and parti ed to instruct the youth in the public univer.cular, sities, 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 con cord in the church: on the other, illustrious examples and salutary measures will hold forth to them a rule of conduct, a lamp to shew 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

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