Page images

Julian Pe- country where he might happen to travel. When Christianity Asia Miar
riod, 4799. began to be more extensively dispersed, the Church at Rome
Valgar Æra, was distinguished above all others by the number and wealth of

its converts. Tho Bishop of Rome was soon enabled, by the
munificent donations which were made to the Church, to as-
sume greater pomp, and exercise more extensive power, than
other Bishops. Many circumstances occurred to increase and
establish his influence. The provinces had been accustomed to
bring their civil appeals to Rome; this became the precedent
for the members of the provincial Churches to appeal from their
own bishops to the Bishop of Rome. A general deference was
paid among the western Churches in the first centuries to the
see of Rome, though its more open usurpations were repelled
with contempt. When Victor, who was Bisbop of Rome in the
year 195, excommunicated the Churches of Asia, who refused to
observe Easter in the manner which he judged to be right, Iren-
æus, the Metropolitan of France, reproved bis presumption.
In the year 250, the African Bishops peremptorily refused to
submit to the mandate of the Bishop of Rome, and received again
their heretical bishops. The Church of Spain also, a few years
afterwards, refused submission to the Roman Pontiff, when he
insisted on their restoration, after they had been deposed for
offering sacrifice to idols. These facts prove the early assump-
tion of power, and the coutinued ambition of the Popes in the
primitive ages; and the refusal of the independant episcopal
Churches to submit to their dominion.

The political divisions of Italy in the fourth century copsi.
derably increased the influence and power of the sec of Rome,
the ecclesiastical divisions of the Church being made conform-
able with those of the empire. Every province had its Metro-
politan (Hallam, vol. ii. p. 21), and every vicariate its ecclesias-
tical primate. _The Bishop of Rome presided in the latter capa-
city over the Roman vicariate, which comprehended southern
Italy, and the three chief Mediterranean islands. But none of
tbe ten provinces which formed this division, had any Metropo-
litan, so that the Popes exercised all metropolitical functions
within them, such as ihe consecration of bishops, the convoca-
tion of synods, the ultimate decision of appeals, and many other
acts of authority. These provinces were called the Roman Pa-
triarchate, and by gradually enlarging its boundaries, and by
applying the maxims of jurisdiction by which it was governed
to all the western Churches, the asserted primacy was extended
and strengthened over the fairest portion of the empire. Illy-
ricum, for instance, was added to the Patriarchate of Rome, by
an act of primacy, and no consecration of bishops was permitted
without the sanction of the Bishop of Rome. This took place
before the end of the fourth century.

Another principal circumstance which contributed to tbe establishment of the power of the Church of Rome, was the removal of the seat of empire from that city, to Constantinople. The political influence always attendant on the immediate presence of the Sovereign, consequently ceased; and the principal magistrate at Rome was the head of its Church. The sudden power which was thus unavoidably, though unintentionally, conferred on the Pontiff, was increased by the abandonment of Rome and of Italy, by its principal senators. To this cause of iufluence we must add the progress of the conversion of the northern nations, and the grant of patriarchal power to Pope Damasus, by Gratian and Valentinian, over the whole western Church, sanctioning the custom of appeals to Rome. The renewal of this edict by Valentinian the Third, still further in. creased the power of the Pontifl. The custom of pilgrimages to

Jian Pe- the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul-the introduction of the

Asia Minor. od, 4799. Gregorian Litany-and, more tban all these, the granting the ulgar Æra, title of Universal Bishop by Phocas, completed the worldly is

structure of ecclesiastical ambition, which had pow usurped tho
name of the Church of Christ, and appeared to be the rolling
stone which should become the predicted mountain, and fill the
whole earth.

III. Progress and triumph of the Church of Rome.

The universal good wbich Christianity will eventually produce to the world, will be accomplished in that one only manner wbich results from our state of trial, the gradual overruling of evil. The freedom of man's actions counteracts for a time the designs of his Creator. The increasing divisions among nations, the general ignorance, the continued ambition of Rome, and the speculative pbilosophy which founded on words and imaginations, obscured the simplicity of the primitive Christianity. Every corruption was made permanent by the establishment of the power of Rome, by the authority of Pbocas. From this period, to the time of the council of Trent, the history of Christianity in Europe presents us with little else than a detail of increasii errors in its doctrines, gradual addition to the temporal dominion of the Roman pontiffs, and continued opposition to the falsehood which abounded on the one side, and to the encroachments which prevailed on the other.

Though many superstitious practices and unscriptural opinions had debased the purity of the early faith, there can be no comparison between the state of religious error when the grant of Phocas conferred political power on the Roman Pontif, and the extent to which the system of imposturc, deceit, and falsehood, subsequently attained, by the time when the council of Trent impressed its seal on the great charter of papal slavery. The published works of Pope Leo, who sent Augustine to Eng. land, prove that the religious faith of that day was essentially different in the most important doctrines, from the Creed which was sanctioned by the council of Trent. The parallel between the faith of the two periods has been drawn at some length by an eminent divine of the last century. I have elsewbere extracted from Bishop Stillingfleet the passage to wbich I reser (e). It will be seen that the doctrines of solitary masses, masses for the dead, transubstantiation, the supremacy of the pope, the equal authority of Scripture and tradition, the equal authority of the apocryphal with the canonical books of Scripture, the power of good works to deserve salvation, the confession of sins in private to the priest, communion in one kind, and the worship of images, were all condemned by Pope Leo: and were all decreed to be articles of faith, and as such to be implicitly received on pain of damnation, by the council of Trent. This remarkable fact destroys at once the truth of the assertion so generally made, that the Church of Rome has retained an unchangeable Creed. The faith of that Church is an embodied collection of true and false opinions; partly derived from misinterpreted Scripture, but principally invented in the course of the controversies and discussions which have ever prevailed in the world, and which would have escaped from the memory of mankind, with other absurdities of the age of ignorance; if they had not been preserved, and sanctioued, and enforced, by the asserted infallibility of the most fallible Church on earth. Like the ghosts, and sorcerors, and witches, and magicians, of the midnight darkness, which the morning beams of our knowledge has dispersed, all would have fled for ever, if the usurper of the throne of God had not said, let there be night, and it was, and is night. The council of Trent, with the Gorgon look of

Julian Pe- an intellectual death, has gazed on the chaos which extends Agia Miss
riod, 4799. over the ages of ignorance. Spurious decretals, useless
Valgarðra, vows, abominable doctrines, unreasonable, and idolatrous, and

superstitious practices, are frozen into one solid bridge; and
error aud falsehood pass freely from hell to earth, to enslare,
and to curse mapkind.

If the absurdities to which I allude had been harmless and
innocent; if falsehood could be publicly taught, and the peace
and bappiness of nations continue; he wbo opposed error, and
maintained the cause of truth, might be justly condemned for
disturbing the peace of society, whatever were the falsehoods
which were received by the community. If the volumes of
theologians only recorded the weakness of human intellect, the
tale might excite contempt or pity; and the Protestant objec.
tor, to falsehood be regarded with the same lofty contempt as we
now entertain for its proposer and defender. But the history
of Christian nations is nothing else but a detail of the conse
quences of the prevalence of certain religious opinions. Vice
itself is only forbidden by the Deity, because it is injurious to
the happiness of man. The voice of prophecy would not have
stigmatized the corruptions of Rome by its stern and bitter re-
proach, if the falsehood which it teaches had been consistent
either with the temporal or future happiness of nations. From
considering the gradual success of erroneous priociples, let us
look to their consequences, as they are recorded by history.
From the grant of Phocas, to the age of Luther, the annals of
Europe are filled with one long catalogue of crime, produced by
the influence of the corruptions of the Church of Rome. The
depositions of princes, the fomenting of rebellions, the flagitious
lives of the Popes, the scandalous decrees againt the freedom
of opinion, the persecutions of the objectors to the power of
Rome, which disgrace this sad portion of the history of the
world, have been so amply, and so frequently related, that it is.
ouly now necessary to allude to them. The principles which
produced these deplorable effects on religion, and liberty, and
happiness, are still maintained. They are triumphant on the
Continent; they are reviving in England. Their defenders are
heard with applause ; their opponents are treated with insult.

IV. The Reformation.; its good and bad effects,
The friends of the Church of Rome had long endeavoured to
effect. its reformation, before the age of Luther. Indignant
remonstrances, the most energetic appeals, the most affecting
entreaties, the most bitter and galling satire; were alike in
vain exerted to induce the removal of abuses. The natural
reason of thinking men was shocked at the consequences of the
papal doctrines. I could select, from the writings of the Ro-
manist divines themselves, a collection of recorded immora-
lities, the unavoidable result of the religious principles incui.
cated by the Church of Rome, which would not be credible if
they had been related by a Protestant. In this state of things,
the injudicious enforcement of one of the more objectionable
doctrives of its absurd creed, elicited the spark whicb fired tbe
long prepared train of public indignation. Permissions to com-
mit sin were publicly sold, under the pretence of remitting the
peoalties of the guilt which their commission would have con-
tracted; the quarrel between the rival societies of monks, who
were desirous of participating in the profits of this scandalous
traffic, occasioned that gradual, open, and indignant opposio
tion to the Church of Rome, which ended io the alienation of
its fairest provinces, and the restoration of tbat pure religion,
and unfettered liberty of mind, wbicb it bad been among the
original objects of Christianity to secure to its adherents.


Julian Pe We shall never be able to appreciate, to their full extent, the Asia Minor,
riod, 4799. blessings which the Reformation has recovered to the world,
Vulgar Æra, unless we remember the evils which the preceding superstition

bad proposed, and confirmed. The Scriptures were opened.
The oracles of God had long been silenced, and the approba-
tion or condemnation of human actions, as well as the articles
of faith itself, had long been pronounced by an usurping priest-
bood. It is needless to enlarge upon the praises of the volume
of inspiration as a preferable guide of conduct, to the mandates
of the maintainers and teachers of unauthorized tradition.
The Almighty was restored to his dominion over conscience.
The saint, the relic, and the image, were deposed together.
Prayer again became the homage of the heart to God, instead
of the unmeaning routine of unintelligible words, into which
it had been slowly but effectually degraded. Marriage was
restored to the priesthood; ,who became again the leaven of
society, the salt of the world, mingling with the mass, and pre-
serving it from the putrefaction of vice and error. The sacra.
ments of baptism and the Lord's Supper again became the two
pillars of the visible Church: and the human mind was per.
mitted and encouraged to think and reason for itself, within
those limits only which God and his Revelation had fixed, at
once the barrier, and yet the unlimited theatre of its exertion.

The evil which has resulted from the Reformation is tho
abuse of the privileges which that event conferred upon man.
kind. Christianity had been so long identified with Romanism,
that much of its proper restraint upon both speculation and
action were thrown off, with the rejection of its corruptions,
The result of contempt on one side, and adherence to these cor-
ruptions on the other, has at length appeared, in that terrible
convulsion which assumed the form of presumptuous and avowed
infidelity, and tore asunder the remaining chains of Romanism.
That effort bas past away, and the chains are again rivetting.
The next violent re-action will probably introduce the only re-
medy for the diseases of the world, the principles of the great

I will not weary the reader with a detail of the battles which were fought, the treaties which were made, or the crimes which were committed, by both parties, before the Reformation became permanent in Europe, or in England. With each there was much to be condemned. Both parties may be proud, or ashamed, of its saints, its hypocrites, or its martyrs. The consequences will deserve our gratitude, while the Scriptures of truth, the freedom of intellect, the establishment of pure religion, and the principles of civil liberty, can be appreciated by the natives of Europe. Public happiness had been destroyed, because the morality on which it rests bad been corrupted by the religion of Rome. The Reformation was the effect of the desire of the people of Christendom to throw off the yoke of an immoral and enslaving despotism; and the providential overruling of apparent accident, caused that Luther should become the successful organ of expressing the general opinion, and accomplishing the overthrow of the usurpations and errors of the ages of ignorance,

V. History of Christianity since the Reformation, with the prospect of its future dominion over all mankind.

The enactment of the decrees of the council of Trent, and the general adoption of Protestant Principles in Germany, Sweden, France, and England, occasioned long and fierce wars, and many opposite religious theories, systems, and confessions of faith. The federated republic of Europe was divided by a religious civil war, of which Spain and the Pope were the

Julián Pe. leaders on the one part;

and England and Holland the heads of Asia Vitez riod, 4799. the Reformation. It is not necessary to enumerate the various Vulgar Æra, collisions which took place between these parties on the Con96.

tinent, the efforts of the Jesuits, the wars of the league in
France, the persecutions under Charles V. and Philip II. in
the Netherlands, or the changes of fortune, and the fluctua-
tions of opinion, which were the unavoidable result of religious
contentions, and which, with all their evils, were infinitely
preferable to the preceding darkness, and persecution, and
ignorance. Sufficient of the history of any party, sect, or coun-
try, may be learned from the history of its chiefs. The review
of the conduct of Elizabeth and of Spain, immediately after
the principal question had been discussed by the opposite the-
ologians, will be sufficient to enable us to form a right estimate
of the state of religion, at the completion of the Reformation.

On her accession to the throne, Elizabeth found three dis-
tinct religious parties, eagerly imploring the sanction of the
state, the adherents of the old religion, the partizans of the esta-
blishment of her brother Edward, and the admirers of a system of
ecclesiastical polity which had been lately invented by a learned
theologian of Geneva. To all these the modern opinion of
toleration had not yet become generally koown. It was a sen-
timeat wbicb some few men of enlarged minds bad endeavoured
to recommend, but to which no attention bad been paid.
Neither did either party desire toleration. They aimed at union
in religious opinions, by promoting truth; and they so entirely
considered truth to be with themselves respectively, that their
efforts were wholly directed to the recommendation of their
own doctrines. The Queen, as I have elsewhere attempted to
shew, was not zealously attached to either creed. The tem-
poral rights of princes were involved in the controversy, and
Elizabeth decided on adopting the principles of the Reforma.
tion, and restoring, with but few alterations, the establishment
which had already received the general approbation of her
people, under her brother Edward.

The testimony of any modern theologian, who may profess himself to be attached to the Church of England, will be received with jealousy and suspicion, on account of his supposed biassed preference. It may be only necessary therefore to refer to facts, and to avoid any onlargement on those reasons, which appear to compel an impartial enquirer to conclude that the form of Church government established in England is preferable to that of any other religious society, now claiming the approbation of an English Christian. It may be sufficient to remark, that the reformers, in the reign of Edward, wisely endeavoured to retain as much of the religion of their ancestors as possible; and to receive nothing as good, either because it was novel, or because it differed more widely from the Church of Rome. The consequence of this great moderation was, that the people were generally united in the reign of Edward in support of the Protestant Church ; and the union would have continued, if two unfortunate circumstances had not prevented ; the obedience of the Romanists to the bull of the Pope, in the reign of Elizabeth, which commanded the people not to continue to frequent their parish Churches—and the desire of the exiles who returned to England from the continent, after the death of Mary, to introduce the new, and, as they believed, the purer form of ecclesiastical regimen, which they had imbibed in the lecture room of Geneva.

I may be permitted to observe her that the long controversy, wbich has been so frequently agitated between various

« PreviousContinue »