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every thing else, was very precarious, many persons chose to make over the property of their estates to churches and monasteries, obtaining from them a lease for several lives.

The possession of benefices was attended, however, with one incumbrance, from which the church did not very soon free itself. According to the ancient feudal laws, when a tenant died, the lord enjoyed the revenues till his successor was invested, and had sworn fealty; and it was natural that this law should affect churchmen as well as laymen. This was called regale.

By degrees, however, the estates which had been long in the possession of the clergy began to be considered as so much theirs, and the temper of the times was so favorable to the claims of the church, that it was thought wrong for laymen to meddle with any part of it; and many princes were induced to relinquish the right of regale.

The holy wars in the eleventh century were the cause of great accessions of wealth to the church. Most of the Knights made their wills before their departure, and never failed to leave a considerable share of their possessions to the church; and they built churches and monasteries with ample endowments at their return, by way of thanksgiving for their preservation: so that whether they returned or not, the church generally received some permanent advantage from the expedition.

One of the most valuable acquisitions to the revenues of the church, but from the nature of it the most impolitic in various respects, and the most burthensome to the state, is that of tithes. It is a great discouragement to the improvement of land, that a tenth part of the clear produce, without any deduction for the advanced expense of raising that produce, should go from the cultivator of the land to any other person whatever. It would be far better to lay an equivalent tax upon all estates, cultivated or not cultivated. For then it would operate as a motive to industry; whereas the present mode of taxation is a discouragement to it. Besides, this method of paying the minister is a continual source of dispute between the clergy and the parishioners, which is of a most pernicious nature; making the people consider as enemies those whom they ought to respect as their best friends, and in whom they ought to repose the greatest confidence.

The original reason for the payment of tithes was the most groundless imaginable, as it rose from considering christian ministers as an order of men who succeeded to the rights of the priests under the Jewish law.

For some centuries, however, it was usual to give tithes to the

poor, and for other charitable purposes. At the reformation, though those who took the lead in it were sincerely disposed to abolish tithes, they found themselves obliged to continue, and to secure them by act of parliament, in order to conciliate the minds of the popish clergy. Thus this most intolerable evil continues to this day, whereas in other protestant countries, and especially in Holland, the civil magistrates have adopted a wiser plan, by allowing their ministers a fixed stipend, paid out of the public funds.

The progress of superstition in the dark ages supplied many resources for the augmentation of the wealth of the clergy. In those times the world was made to believe that by virtue of a number of masses, the recitation of which might be purchased with money, and especially with permanent endowments to churches and monasteries, souls might be redeemed out of purgatory; and scenes of visions and apparitions, sometimes of souls in torment, and sometimes of souls delivered from torment, were published in all places.

It was the fate of this country to suffer more from papal usurpation than almost any other part of Christendom. One tax to the church of Rome was peculiar to this country, which was Peter pence, or a tax of a penny a year for every house in which there were twenty penny-worth of goods.

So far did the popish exactions in this country, on one account or other, go, that, in the reign of Henry III. the popes received from England more than the king's revenue, or one hundred and twenty thousand pounds.

Notwithstanding the ample revenues of many churches, numbers of the clergy contrived to make large additions to them, by appropriating to themselves the emoluments of several church livings; though they could not reside, and do duty at them all, and nothing could be more contrary to the natural reason of things, or the original constitution of the christian church.

About the year 500, when what we now call benefices.

came into use, it became customary to ordain without any title, or designation to a particular cure; and many persons got themselves ordained priests for secular purposes. This corruption had arisen to a most enormous height before the council of Trent.

The consequence of titular ordination was non-residence, and where curates were employed the principal could follow his other business. Accordingly the bishops in France, and even the parish priests, substituting some poor priests in their room, passed much of their time at court. And if a bishop could hold one living without residing upon it, it was plain that he might hold two or more, and get them. supplied in the same manner.

Titular ordinations, however, which first introduced nonresidence, were not the only cause of pluralities, which are said to have had their origin about the sixth century. Among benefices bestowed upon the churches, some, as prebends, &c. had no cure of souls annexed to them. These were judged capable of being held by priests who had other livings with cure of souls. The cardinal of Lorraine, who held some of the best benefices in France, and some in Scotland, too, was particularly vehement in his declaration against pluralities in general, at the council of Trent, without imagining that his own were liable to any objection.

The first account of any lagrant abuse of pluralities occurs in the year 936, when Manesseh, bishop of Arles, obtained of his relation, Hugh, king of Italy, several other bishoprics, so that in all he had four or five at the same time. Baronius says, that this was a new and great evil, which began to stain the church of God, and by which it has been wonderfully afflicted.

A person is said to hold a church in commendam, when he is empowered to have the care and the profits of it till the appointment of another incumbent. In England, in which every abuse and imposition in ecclesiastical matters were carried to the greatest extent, the richest and best benefices were engrossed by the pope, and given in commendam to Italians, who never visited the country, but employed questors to collect their revenues.

Other methods of making pluralities, and disposing of church revenues, were contrived by the court of Rome, such as provisions and exemptions, which are hardly worth de

scribing, and selling the reversion of livings, called expectatives, as well as livings actually vacant.

It is to be lamented that these abuses were not corrected at the reformation of the church of England. On the contrary it is apprehended that many of them are increased since that period, so as to exceed what is generally to be found of that nature in some Roman Catholic countries. In consequence of this, though the funds for the maintenance of the clergy are sufficiently ample, the inequality in the distribution of them is shameful, and they bear no proportion to the services or merit of those who receive them. This is an evil that calls loudly for redress, and strikes many persons who give no attention to articles of faith, or of discipline in other respects. Probably, however, this evil will be tolerated, till the whole system be reformed, or destroyed. But without the serious reformation of this and other crying abuses, the utter destruction of the present hierarchy must, in the natural course of things be expected.

THE GENERAL CONCLUSION.

CONTAINING CONSIDERATIONS ADDRESSED TO UNBELIEVERS,

AND ESPECIALLY TO MR GIBBON.

To consider the system (if it may be called a system) of christianity a priori, one would think it very little liable to corruption or abuse. The great outline of it is, that the universal parent of mankind commissioned Jesus Christ, to invite men to the practice of virtue, by the assurance of his mercy to the penitent, and of his purpose to raise to immortal life and happiness all the virtuous and the good, but to inflict an adequate punishment on the wicked. In proof of this he wrought many miracles, and after a public execution he rose again from the dead. He also directed that proselytes to his religion should be adrnitted by baptism, and that his disciples should eat bread and drink wine in com memoration of his death.

Here is nothing that any person could imagine would lead to much subtle speculation, at least such as could excite much animosity. The doctrine itself is so plain, that one would think the learned and the unlearned were upon a level with respect to it. And a person unacquainted with the state of things at the time of its promulgation, would look in vain for any probable source of the monstrous corruptions and abuses which crept into the system afterwards. Our Lord, however, and his apostles, foretold that there would be a great departure from the truth, and that something would arise in the church altogether onlike the doctrine which they taught, and even subversive of it.

In reality, however, the causes of the succeeding corruptions did then exist; and accordingly, without any thing more than their natural operation, all the abuses arose to their full height; and what is more wonderful still, by the operation of natural causes also, without any miraculous interposition of providence, we see the abuses gradually corrected, and christianity recovering its primitive beauty and glory.

The causes of the corruptions were almost wholly contained in the established opinions of the heathen world, and especially the philosophical part of it; so that when those heathens embraced christianity they mixed their former tenets and prejudices with it. Also, both Jews and heathens were so much scandalized at the idea of being the disciples of a man who had been crucified as a common malefactor, that christians in general were sufficiently disposed to adopt any opinion that would most effectually wipe away this reproach.

The abuses of the positive institutions of Christianity, monstrous as they were, naturally arose from the opinion of the purifying and sanctifying virtue of rites and ceremonies, which was the very basis of all the worship of the heathens; and they were also similar to the abuses of the Jewish religion. We likewise see the rudiments of all the monkish austerities in the opinions and practices of the heathens, who thought to purify and exalt ihe soul by macerating and mortifying the body.

As to the abuses in the government of the church, they are as easily accounted for as abuses in civil government; worldly minded men being always ready to lay hold of er

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