« PoprzedniaDalej »
after Grotius. Both he and Grotius might have quoted this rhetor, though they were far from doing so, against Eusebius, who was unwilling to allow that the Supreme Being was acknowledged by the heathens before Christianity had enlightened the world; but the quotation of him, on this occasion, proves nothing, and serves only to show that our divines declaim as loosely as the heathen philosopher. Maximus of Tyre alleges the universal consent of mankind in one law or tradition, so I believe those words Nouov xai Aoyov, should be translated « legem famamque,” and not, as Tillotson translates them, “law and principle." Now this law and tradition, according to Maximus of Tyre, declares, that there is one God, the king and father of all things, and several other Gods, the sons of the Supreme, who take their parts with him in the government of the world. Maximus was a Platonician, and he meant, no doubt, to give reputation to the dogmas of his sect, by assuming them all to be received in one general tradition by the Greek and the Barbarian; by those who inhabit the continent, and by those who live on the coasts of the sea; by those who have wisdom, and by those who have none. Tillotson was a Christian, and he meant to make the dogmas of his sect, as well concerning the beginning of the world, as concerning the creator of it, to pass for those of universal tradition. If we suppose that the first men were led, instantly, by the phenomena, and without any other demonstration, to acknowledge a supreme intelligent cause, the opinion rose from the fact of which they were witnesses; but it was opinion still in them, though it became afterwards demonstrated knowledge. Now divines transpose this order, and make the creation of the world, which tradition vouches primarily, to be, as it were, a secondary tradition; that is, they make the tradition of fact to follow the opinion, instead of making the opinion to be founded on the fact. They give great advantage to the atheist, by blending all these things together, for the atheist will not, though the theist will, distinguish what they have confounded. He will look on all these different propositions alike, and as traditions only of different opinions.
After having said, what has been here said, concerning the advantage which, I apprehend, that divines give to atheists by the absurd manner in which they employ tradition, I will observe another advantage, which the atheist may take, from some abstract reasonings that they employ to support this tradition.The theist is modest. He is content to know what God has done, and he acknowledges it, for that very reason, wise and good, right and fit to be done. But the divine is not so modest. It is not enough for him to know, that God made the world, and to fix the time when it was made; he presumes, with much theolo
gical ostentation, to explain the motives that determined the Supreme Being to create the world and the inhabitants of it, men at least. The atheist objects that these motives must have been eternal, since the divine attributes, from which they are deduced, are certainly eternal, in the system of the divine; and that it is impossible, therefore, to conceive that the Supreme Being should neglect doing, during an eternity, what it was conformable to his wisdom and goodness, and suitable to his power from all eternity to do. The divine may say, and he will say, no doubt, that whenever God, who is himself eternal, had created the world, an eternity must have preceded this creation, and that the objection, the atheist makes, would be just as strong, if he assumed that the world began six millions of years sooner, as it is when he places the era of it according to the Jewish and Christian chronology. He will employ the same sort of reasoning, in this case, against the atheist, which the atheist employed against him in another; that is, in the case of the commencement of arts and sciences; he will put the atheist on proving that it implies contradiction to believe God eternal, and not to believe the eternity of the world. To this, it may be, the atheist would reply, that the contradiction in believing one and not believing the other arises, like a self-evident truth, from what the divine himself affirms, and that the evidence is too great to need any demonstration and therefore incapable of any, like many other truths of which we have an immediate intuitive perception. From hence the atheist would insist that all the motives, which the divine asserts a Supreme Being had to create the world in time, are unanswerable reasons to prove it eternal; arguments for his system, in part at least, and, as far as the eternity of the world is concerned, in the whole.
A theist, who stood by, might, perhaps, suggest to the divine an expedient whereby to get out of the difficulty wherein he has involved himself by presuming to specify the motives which the Supreme Being had to create the world in time. The theist would advise him, like a good ally, (for such he is sometimes to the divine, though he is never such to the atheist, as the divine is on some occasions, he would advise, I say, the divine to keep a little more precision in the use of words. Sometimes the world stands for the whole universe, and sometimes for our planet only. The divine must understand it, as Moses does, and believe by consequence that the whole universe began to exist, when Moses tells him, that the sun, our earth, the other planets, in short our solar system, began to exist: for the legislator of the Jews included no other in his idea of the universe. He would advise the divine, therefore, to distinguish better between the universe and the world; to affirm that our planet, or, at most, our solar system, began in time, which is the utmost that Moses can be understood to have meant, and to affirm nothing of the universe, of which Moses knew nothing, and he only knows that it is.Thus the reasons he gives, why God created the world, we inhabit, no sooner, may be a little better supported than they can be on the supposition that he created nothing before it, and was the eternal cause of no such effects, as his physical attributes enabled, and his moral attributes required him to produce. The theist might add, that, though we should suppose the universe to be eternal, like its Author, the eternal effect of an eternal cause, nothing will hinder us from assuming at the same time, on the faith of tradition, as he does, or, on this and other foundations, as the divine does, that our world, and even our solar system began in time. A constant rotation from existence to non-existence, or from generation to dissolution, and so back again, maintains our world and the inhabitants of it in being. Why should not such a rotation of worlds and systems of worlds maintain the universe in being?
But it is time to consider the historical, as we have considered the traditional proofs, which the archbishop brings to the beginning of the world. I will quote his own words, as they stand in Barbeyrac's translation; for if I did not quote them, you would hardly believe that I make him say no more than he did say.He says then, “ We have likewise a history of the commencement of the world, the most ancient and the most credible that could be desired. This history is that of Moses, an author so ancient that no other can stand in competition with him, in this respect. I might add, that this writer has all the characters of a divine authority, and prove it by such good reasons, as would give a great weight to his testimony in the minds of all those who believe a God. But such arguments are not proper to be employed against the atheist with whom we dispute at present. I ask no more, than that the same credit may be given to Moses, as we give to every other historian. Now this cannot be refused him reasonably, since he is quoted by the most ancient heathen historians, and since the antiquity of his writings has never been contested by any of them, as Josephus maintains.”
This is my text. I shall make some few remarks upon it, and this general remark in the first place. It has been said, truly enough, that the court of Rome has established many maxims and claims of right, by affirming them constantly and boldly against evident existing proofs of the contrary. The Jewish and the Christian church have proceeded by the same rule of policy, and the authority of the Pentateuch, to say nothing here of the other books of the Old Testament, has been established entirely and solely on the affirmation of the Jews, or, at best, on
seeming and equivocal proofs, such as Josephus brings against such evident marks of falsehood as can be objected to no other writings, except to professed romances, nor even always to them.
It was the pride of the Jews to believe themselves, and to make others believe if they could, not only that their nation was the elect people of God, but that it was of an immense antiquity, and that they possessed the most ancient of all authentic records. Josephus (who had as much of this pride about him as any Jew or Pharisee of them all, and who stuck, as little, at any absurdity, as any ancient or modern rabbin) endeavored to promote these opinions among the Greeks and the Romans by his writings, though with very little success. Tillotson, like other Christian doctors, had a better motive than that of mere ambition, though it was not quite foreign from ambition neither, to support the authority of the Pentateuch. Whether Jesus Christ, or St. Paul, abolished the ceremonial law of Moses, or whether the former grafted on this law, as the latter thought fit to graft on his gospel, let us leave it to divines to decide. In all cases Christianity was founded on Judaism, and the New Testament supposes the truth of the Old. Our divines, therefore, are obliged to support the Old, as well as they can, in order to support the New. The authority of these books is maintained, in some countries, by inquisitors and hangmen. In a country like ours where arguments alone can be employed, divines may be indulged in the use of all the good and the bad indifferently, that they may give up nothing; for where every part may be alike attacked, every part may be alike defended. Two cautions, however, these reverend persons would do well to observe. One to insist chiefly on the external proofs of the divine authenticity of the Scriptures, and to pour forth, on that head, all their stock of Hebrew, Syriac, Greek, and Latin, but to dwell very little on the internal marks of a divine character. They might silence those perhaps, on the first kind of proof, by their translations and commentaries, whom they will never convince, on the second, by fair reasoning; and might avoid a great deal of that blasphemy, which they talk on both; a circumstance, surely, that deserves some regard from them. Another caution is this, that they should make war rather defensively than offensively, that they should take the only true advantage of the discretion of their adversaries, which would be to return it with discretion; for their adversaries seldom speak out, nor push the instances and arguments they bring, as far as they might be carried. Instead of which these orthodox bullies affect to triumph over men, who employ but a part of their strength; tire them with impertinent paradoxes; and provoke them by unjust reflections, and, often, by the foulest language.
After this long, and, I hope, charitable remark, it is time to consider how Tillotson proves that we have historical, as well as traditional, evidence of the beginning of the world. This evidence is that of Moses: and to give it the more weight, he insists on the great antiquity of the historian. This antiquity will not be disputed, perhaps, and it will be allowed that no other history of the same assumed antiquity has come down to us. But then it will be asked, what materials Moses could have before him when he wrote the book of Genesis, which is in some sort a preface to the Pentateuch, or, at least, the first chapters of it, wherein he relates most circumstantially the creation of the world, and the whole progress of that great event? Divines have their answer ready. Moses was not a cotemporary author, but he might write upon cotemporary authority. Twenty-five centuries passed indeed between the creation and him, but his materials were, notwithstanding that, extremely fresh and authentic, since they must have gone through very few hands, in ages when men lived so long, to come into his, whether we suppose them written or unwritten. This may be said, it has been often said, and always very weakly, to the purpose that is mentioned here; for if Moses had taken his materials from the mouth of Adam, himself, they would not have been sufficient vouchers of all that he relates. Adam might have related to him the passages of the sixth day, something even of his own creation, at least from the moment that God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: but Adam could have told him nothing that preceded this, even on the sixth day, nor, by consequence, on the other five, wherein the whole material world was created. Moses, therefore, notwithstanding his antiquity, may afford an instance in proof of the universality of the tradition, but no more. His writings afford no historical evidence.
Our archbishop assures us, that he could have added to the antiquity of this historian certain characters of a divine authority, and have supported them by reasons which would give great weight to his testimony in the minds of all those who acknowledge the existence of God. It is pity he did not think fit to give these characters and reasons; since however improper it might have been to urge them against an atheist, who denies the existence of God, as well as the commencement of the world, they would certainly have been urged very properly against a theist, who, acknowledging both, believes nothing of the divine character of Moses. But he was too much attached to a rigorous precision, and used too much candor, in his reasoning, to mingle the atheist and the theist together in this dispute. All he desires is, what, he thinks, cannot be reasonably refused him, that we give the same credit to Moses, as we should give to any other historian. We will consider, then, in the last place, what characters