« PoprzedniaDalej »
ing analogies between their former and present opinions, and a willingness to retain as much as possible of the system, which had once operated so powerfully upon their imagination, and gained the assent of their understanding
Long before the time of our Saviour, there had been two systems in vogue, dignified with the venerable name of Philosophy, and essentially different from each other, namely, the Oriental and the Grecian. In all those countries to which the christian religion found its way during the first century, one or other of these systems, or some of the peculiar tenets of both combined, had assumed an entire ascendency over the minds, not only of the learned, but of the people generally.
The birth place of the Oriental Philosophy was Persia, or Arabia; but at the commencement of the christian era, it had spread itself over Palestine and made
way even to Alexandria, which city, since the Ptolomies, had become the central point of learning and refinement in the East. This philosophy dealt profoundly in the doctrine of spirits; it traced out their genealogies, assigned to them various ranks, and apportioned the parts, which they respectively sustained in the work and management of the creation. It went farther, and invented rules by which these spirits might be called froin their invisible abodes and busy occupations, to aid the designs of men. Hence the witchcraft of the Old Testament, the doctrine of demons, the genii of the Arabian Tales, and the common spiritual agents of eas
Another peculiarity of this philosophy was the manner in which it accounted for good and evil in the world. It taught that there were two beings existing from eternity, and equally powerful, the one essentially good in its nature, and the other bad. This last was the author of all evil, and also of all imperfection. He alone
gave existence to matter, which is always at war with the etherial part, clogging the soul, causing it to sin, and subjecting it to suffering. This notion had a most pernicious tendency. It destroyed every just principle of morals, by making virtue consist in practiees either absurd, or such as had no efficacy in refining the feelings, improving the intellect, or exalting the haracter.
As the body was the seat of every thing wicked, of every pain, and every spiritual malady, the only mode of being freed from its evil influences, and the tyranny of the wicked being by whom it was controlled, was thought to be unceasing tortures, mortifications, and an obstinate resistance of every inclination, which led even to innocent pleasures and enjoyments. He only was the truly virtuous man, who shunned society, despised the comforts of life, looked with a morose contempt on the bustling pursuits of the world, and wrapt himself in the sombre mantle of his own gloomy contemplations. This was morality; this was the ambition of those, who coveted the fame of sanctity, and the homage of the less resolute and less self-denying multitude. It was this crude notion, which filled the caves and caverns with moping hermits; and it was a relic of the same, which, in later times, peopled the cells of monastic seclusion with useless ascetics. To the same phrensied dream may be attributed the hair shirt, the cord belt, the self inflicted scourges, and other ridiculous subterfuges, by which men have fancied they could atone for their crimes, appease an offended Deity, and soothe the achings of conscience. These abuses of religion, which sprung from the wild reveries of a benighted imagination, were many of them detected by the purifying test of the Reformation, and have since been done away. Others mingled in the same stream, and came down farther, and are not yet removed.
The Western, or Grecian, Philosophy had been brought to its highest perfection by Plato. This system was greatly superior to the Eastern. It had been the gradual work of some of the wisest men the world has ever seen
Its machinery and its theogony were imaginary and fantastic, but its morals were founded on the basis of reason and human nature. As a theory of morals it was in many respects beautiful; but it was destitute of some essential parts by which its symmetry was disfigured, and it was indeed a theory which could Dever be made practical, without higher sanctions than the wit of man could discover. It was too abstract and aerial; and although it was seldom the patron of vice, it was in many cases an ineffectual guide to virtue. After many subtle inquiries and fruitless speculations, it had at length been agreed, that virtue was the chief good; and this was a fundamental principle with Plato. To this end he would consider his philosophy directed. But the virtue of the heathen world was not the virtue of christianity. When the chief good was attained, it was but a single step towards the high acquisitions to which the rules of the Gospel are designed to conduct the mind. The nature of God is the foundation of all morais and of all religion. Of this nature Plato was ignorant. He knew nothing of the unity of God, of his perfections, bis providence. He could not solve the problem of the existence of good and evil in such unequal distribution; and although he accounted virtue the chief good, he could not tell why evil was so osten its inseparable companion. This was beyond the reach of human wisdom. It was a light hidden in darkness, which could be made manifest only by a revelation from the true God of a future state of just retribution. Plato's moral system was also encumbered by his theogony. He believed in a Supreme Cause, but he had no accurate conceptions of the attributes of this Cause. He peopled the universe with inferior deities, and dreamt about their agency and offices. There was little in their characters or example to attract the respect, or imitation, of the virtuous on earth.
In the primitive age of christianity, Plato's system, imperfect as it originally was, had become corrupted by the innovations of his followers. A new philosophy at length sprung up in Alexandria, which had Platonism for its foundation, but was deformed by an unnatural mixture of the Eastern scheme. This was called the New Platonic, or Eclectic philosophy. In this system, thus combined of the other two, almost all the early errors of christianity took their rise. It retained the moral part of the Eastern, and the theogony of the Westtern, each with certain modifications. Several circumstances concurred to give the errors of this Alexandrian school a currency, and to introduce them into christianity. The men, who embraced them, were among the most learned of the age. Some of them were early converted to ihe christian faith. But in this conversion they did not lose their attachment to their former studies and opinions. They eagerly caught at every point of resemblance between these and their newly adopted religion. The consequence was, that in a short time many pagan tenets were mixed with the pure doctrines of the Gospel, and under such circumstances as would be most likely to ensure their permanency. "Until the second century," says Less, an orthodox writer, "the Christians always persisted in the sound exposition of the New Testament. To this period they continued free, if we except the joyless morality of the Essenes, from the dis, tractions of pseudo-philosophy; and maintained among themselves genuine apostolical christianity. But scarcely had some of the scholars of the heathen world, for instance Clement of Alexandria, acknowledged christianity, when the pseudo-philosophy of the Easterns and New Platonists broke in like a rapid torrent, and left behind universal desolation. Until this time the doctrines of the christian religion had been preached without exception, and with the greatest publicity to all who would hear them, and, as the founder of chris. tianity expressed himself in his charge to the Apostles, 'from the house tops. But now, in resemblance of the heathen mysteries, certain ceremonies and doctrines began to be concealed, and thus christianity assumed its mysteries, as well as heathenism. Besides, a variety of heathen ceremonies were adopted in the divine service, and hence christianity became gradually a ceremonial religion." These perversions of the true faith increased for centuries.
The allegorical mode of interpretation, which commenced with the incomparable Origen, opened a door for additional deviations. It virtually took away all rules, and left the religion of the Bible to float at random on the imagination. But we have not time to pursue this branch of the subject. What we have said is enough to show, that nothing could be more natural, than for the early converts to incorporate with the christian faith many of their former heathen notions, and thus to corrupt its purity. The subject has been thoroughly investigated by able hands, and what has been shown to be so extremely probable in itself, has