Imágenes de páginas


But not only did the government thus constitute itself a thorough auxiliary of the new religion; it also tried to secure it from its own dissensions. Apostates were deprived of the right of bequeathing their own property. Inquisitors of faith were established; they were at once spies and judges, the prototypes of the most fearful tribunal of modern times. Theodosius, to whom the carrying into effect of these measures was due, found it, however, more expedient for himself to institute living emblems of his personal faith than to rely on any ambiguous creed. He therefore sentenced all those to be deprived of civil rights, and to be driven into exile, who did not accord with the belief of Damasus, the Bishop of Rome, and Peter, the Bishop of Alexandria. Those who presumed to celebrate Easter on the same day as the Jews he condemned to death. will,” says he, in his edict, "that all who embrace this. creed be called catholic Christians”—the rest are heretics.

Impartial history is obliged to impute the origin of these tyrannical and scandalous acts of the civil power to the influence of the clergy, and to hold them responsible for the crimes. The guilt of impure,

un- bility of the

Responsiscrupulous women, eunuchs, parasites, violent clergy in soldiers in possession of absolute power, lies at their door. Yet human nature can never, in any condition of affairs, be altogether debased. Though the system under which men were living pushed them forward to these iniquities, the individual sense of right and wrong sometimes vindicated itself. In these pages we shall again and again meet this personal revolt against the indefensible consequences of system. It was thus that there were bishops who openly intervened between the victim and his oppressor, who took the treasures of the Church to redeem slaves from captivity. For this a future age will perhaps excuse Ambrose, the Archbishop of Milan, the impostures he practised, remembering that, face to face, he held Theodosius the Great to accountability for the massacre of seven thousand persons, whom, in a fit of vengeance, he had murdered in the circus of Massacre at Thessalonica, A.D. 390, and inexorably compelled Thessalonica. the imperial culprit, to whom he and all his party were under such obligations, to atone for his crime by such

these events.


penance as may be exacted in this world, teaching his sovereign “that though he was of the Church and in the Church, he was not above the Church ;" that brute force must give way to intellect, and that even the meanest human being has rights in the sight of God.

Political events had thus taken a course disastrous to human knowledge. A necessity had arisen that they to whom circumstances had given the control of public faith should also have the control of public knowledge. The moral condition of the world had thus come into antagonism with scientific progress. As had been the case many

ages before in India, the sacred writings were of Patristicism. asserted to contain whatever was necessary or useful for man to know. Questions in astronomy, geography, chronology, history, or any other branch which had hitherto occupied or amused the human mind, were now to be referred to a new tribunal for solution, and there remained nothing to be done by the philosopher. A revelation of science is incompatible with any farther advance; it admits no employment save that of the humble commentator.

The early ecclesiastical writers, or Fathers, as they are often called, came thus to be considered not only as surpassing all other men in piety, but also as excelling them in wisdom. Their dictum was looked upon as final. This eminent position they held for many centuries; indeed, it was not until near the period of the Reformation that they were deposed. The great critics who appeared at that time, by submitting the Patristic works to a higher analysis, comparing them with one another and showing their mutual contradictions, brought them all to their proper level. The habit of even so much as quoting them went out of use, when it was perceived that not one of

these writers could present the necessary credenApology of the fathers for tials to entitle him to speak with authority on

any scientific fact. Many of them had not scrupled to express their contempt of the things they thus presumed to judge. Thus Eusebius says: “It is not through ignorance of the things admired by philosophers, .but through contempt of such useless labour, that we think so little of these matters, turning our souls to the exercise


of better things.” In such a spirit Lactantius holds the whole of philosophy to be “empty and false.”. Speaking in reference to the heretical doctrine of the globular form of the earth, he says: “ Is it possible that men can be so absurd as to believe that the crops and the trees on the other side of the earth hang downward, and that men have their feet higher than their heads? If you ask them how they defend these monstrosities? how things do not fall away from the earth on that side ? they reply that the nature of things is such, that heavy bodies tend toward the centre like the spokes of a wheel, while light bodies, as clouds, smoke, fire, tend from the centre to the heavens on all sides. Now I am really at a loss what to


of those who, when they have once gone wrong, steadily persevere in their folly, and defend one absurd opinion by another.” On the question of the antipodes, St. Augustine asserts that “it is impossible there should be inhabitants on the opposite side of the earth, since no such race is recorded by Scripture among the descendants of Adam.”

Patristicism, or the science of the Fathers, was thus essentially founded on the principle that the Scriptures contain all knowledge permitted to man. It followed, therefore, that natural phenomena may be interpreted by the aid of texts, and that all philosophical The doctrines doctrines must be moulded to the pattern of of Patristiorthodoxy. It asserted that God made the world out of nothing, since to admit the eternity of matter leads to Manichæism. It taught that the earth is a plane, and the sky a vault above it, in which the stars are fixed, and the sun, moon, and planets perform their motions, rising and setting; that these bodies are altogether of a subordinate nature, their use being to give light to man; that still higher and beyond the vault of the sky is heaven, the abode of God and the angelic hosts; that in six days the earth, and all that it contains, were made ; that it was overwhelmed by a universal deluge, which destroyed all living things save those preserved in the ark, the waters being subsequently dried up by the wind; that man is the moral centre of the world; for him all things were created and are sustained ; that, so far as his ever having shown any tendency to improvement, he has fallen both in


wisdom and worth, the first man, before his sin, having been perfect in body and soul: hence Patristicism ever looked backward, never forward; that through that sin death came into the world; not even any animal had died previously, but all had been imniortal. It utterly rejected the idea of the government of the world by law, asserting the perpetual interference of an instant Providence on all occasions, not excepting the most trifling. It resorted to spiritual influences in the production of natural effects, assigning to angels the duty of moving the stars, carrying up water from the sea to form rain, and managing eclipses. It affirmed that man had existed but a few centuries upon earth, and that he could continue only a little longer, for that the world itself might every moment be expected to be burned up by fire. It deduced all the families of the earth from one primitive pair, and made them all morally responsible for the sin committed by that pair. It rejected the doctrine that man can modify his own organism as absolutely irreligious, the physician being little better than an atheist, but it affirmed that cures may be effected by the intercession of saints, at the shrines of holy men, and by relics. It altogether repudiated the improvement of man's physical state; to increase his power or comfort was to attempt to attain what Providence denied; philosophical investigation was an unlawful prying into things that God had designed to conceal. It declined the logic of the Greeks, substituting miracle-proof for it, the demonstration of an assertion being supposed to be given by a surprising illustration of something else.

A wild astronomy had thus supplanted the astronomy of Hipparchus; the miserable fictions of Eusebius had subverted the chronology of Manetho and Eratosthenes ; the geometry of Euclid and Apollonius was held to be of no use; the geography of Ptolemy a blunder; the great mechanical inventions of Archimedes incomparably surpassed by the min es worked at the shrines of a hundred saints.

Of such a mixture of truth and of folly was Patristicism composed. Ignorance in power had found it necessary to have a false and unprogressive science, forgetting that

sooner or later the time must arrive when it would be impossible to maintain stationary ideas in a world of which the affairs are ever advancing. weakness of A failure to include in the system thus imposed the Patristic upon men any provision for intellectual progress was the great and fatal mistake of those times. Each passing century brought its incompatibilities. A strain upon the working of the system soon occurred, and perpetually increased in force. It became apparent that, in the end, the imposition would be altogether unable to hold together. On a futnre page we shall see what were the circumstances under which it at last broke down.

The wonder-worker who prepares to exhibit his phantasmagoria upon the wall, knows well how much it adds to the delusion to have all lights extinguished save that which is in his own dark lantern. I have now it commences to relate how the last flickering rays of Greek by extinguishlearning were put out; how Patristicism, aided ence. by her companion Bigotry, attempted to lay the foundations of her influence in security.

In the reign of Theodosius the Great, the pagan religion and pagan knowledge were together destroyed. This emperor was restrained by no doubts, for he was very ignorant and, it must be admitted, was equally sincere and severe. Among his early measures we find an order that if any of the governors of Egypt so much as entered a temple he should be fined fifteen Emperor pounds of gold. He followed this by the de struction of the temples of Syria. At this period the Archbishopric of Alexandria was held by one Theophilus, a bold, bad man, who had once been a monk of Nitria. It was about A.1). 390. The Trinitarian conflict was at the time composed, one party having got the better of the other. To the monks and rabble of Alexandria the temple of Serapis and its library were doubly hateful, partly because of the Pantheistic opposition it shadowed forth against the prevailing doctrine, and partly because within its walls sorcery, magic, and other dealings with the devil had for ages been going on. We have related how Alcxandrian Ptolemy Philadelphus commenced the great library in the aristocratic quarter of the city named

Acts of the



« AnteriorContinuar »