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Next came the struggle of Christianity with the Gnostic Philosophy; at that time the mistress of the oriental world. Opposing her own universal truths to the popular speculations of this Asiatic rival, Christianity triumphed; but it was then, as we shall see it has been since, that in triumphing it was itself wounded and weakened; and while vigorously repelling the distinct forms of Gnostic delusion, at a very early period it yielded itself to the more insidious seduction of Gnostic principles. It will not, of course, be possible, within our present limits, to verify this remark by copious citations from patristic authorities. Yet we distinctly affirm that the first three or four centuries of the Christian period comprise a sample of every form and variety of intellectual and religious error of which human nature is susceptible. We need not pause to qualify this statement by an attempt to do justice to the more distinguished men of that remarkable era. No sympathy have we with those who denounce the Fathers, with indiscriminate contempt, as puerile and ignorant.
The 'accomplished Eusebius, the great and good Athanasius, a man, who, in the judgment of Gibbon, was in every quality of mind and person fitted for a throne, the excellent Basil, his eloquent friend Gregory Nazianzen, the erudite Jerome, the illustrious Augustin, he of the flaming heart," and his renowned contemporary Chrysostom; men like these unsurpassed in brilliancy of genius, in power of eloquence, extent of erudition ; men, who, in the deepening shades of barbarism, trimmed and watched the lights of knowledge; these surely need not our feeble defence against the contemptuous imputations of imbecility and ignorance. For all this, so thoroughly imbued was the theology of these great and good men with the influence of Gnosticism, that in their writings are found the seeds of those disastrous errors which brought eclipse and midnight upon the Church for a thousand years. It is not enough to say that the truth was with them; and that we may appeal to their testimony in proof that the voice of the Church has been one concerning Christianity; for the truth itself is often found in wrong positions and relations. Their theology was of a mixed quality, and became the parent of a heterogenous progeny. It was like the centaurs and satyrs, which, according to the narrative of Jerome, the famous St. Antony met on his way to the wilderness cave of Paul the Eremite; human faces gibbering and staring on the bodies of goats and horses. In their writings it is easy to find the substance of Christianity; and in the same connexion, fancies and follies, and falsities, which sealed the fate of Christianity for many centuries. Jansenism claimed to be identical with Augustinism, as we believe it was; and yet the Papal decree in denouncing Jansenism, refers to the writings of Augustin for its own justification. Both were consistent; for the simple fact is, that in the writings of the bishop of Hippo, and his illustrious contemporaries, there is to be found all of truth, and all of error. The same fountain sent forth both sweet water and bitter. The same writer is authority with Pascal, and Calvin, and Turretin, on the one hand, and Hildebrand and Bellarmin, popes, asectics, and formalists on the other. We wonder not that the 'Tractarians of Oxford appeal so frequently to the sentiments and practices of the Fathers; since errors, which have overshadowed the Church for ages, are to be traced directly to those superstitions which oriental philosophy entailed upon a victorious Christianity.
Precisely the same was the issue of the struggle between Christianity and Pagan Mythology. It conquered, but alas! it fell in its victory. - Gibbon has most accurately expressed it : “ The religion of Constantine achieved the final conquest of the Roman Empire, but the victors themselves were insensibly subdued by the arts of their vanquished rivals.” The Empire was brought over to the faith, but the Church was also infected with the pomp of the Empire. The Pagans were converted to Christianity, but the wor. ship of Christians also depraved to the fashion of Paganism.' Tertullian, in the second century, wrote in condemnation of the distinguishing rites and Mythologies of Paganism. Had Tertullian been raised from the dead three centuries later, to assist at the festival of some popular saint or martyr, he would have been filled with astonishment and indignation, to find that the simple worship of Christianity had taken into its alliance the pomp and glitter and faith of the old Pagan temple. The testimony of every man who visits the Eternal City accords exactly with that of the classical biographer of Cicero, Dr. Middleton, whose celebrated letter has so ably demonstrated the identity between Papacy and Paganism. You go to the seven-hilled city promising yourself the pleasure of inspecting the authentic monuments of antiquity ; of demonstrating the certainty of those histories which have been the entertainment as well as instruction of our younger years; and so resolve to lose but little time in observing the fopperies of the prevalent religion ; but you are surprised to find that the very reason which you thought would have hindered you from noticing it at all, is the chief reason which engages you to pay it great attention; for nothing so much aids your imagination to fancy yourself wandering about in old Rome, as to observe the religious worship of modern Rome;-all whose ceremonies appear to have been copied from the rituals of primitive mythology. Idolatry has not been uprooted from its ancient site. It has changed its name, its objects of worship; but its forms, its spirit, are the same. Saints and martyrs have taken the place of divinities ; but it matters not by what name the sculptured marble is designated, whether Jove or Jesus, Apollo or Apostle, Minerva or Madonna, the worship of it is one and the same act.
9 Letter from Rome showing an exact conformity between Popery and Paganism, by Conyers Middleton, D.D., London. 1812, pp., 171-2. i
We can advert to only one other of the more remarkable perversions of Christianity, the hereditary effects of which, still visible, are yet to be rectified by a simpler theology.
When the lost writings of Aristotle were discovered, and the science of dialectics appeared in the West, the Church, alarmed at its progress, vigorously opposed the system and subtleties of the old Philosopher. But discovering ere long that it was a power good to be employed against heresy, Christianity compounded with the adversary and took her into alliance. Scholastic theology, to employ the illustration of Baumgarten, might be likened to some of those ludicrous oddities prohibited in the Levitical code, such as the ploughing with an ox and an ass together—the union of honest industry and preposterous folly. In the writings of Thomas Aquinas, the eagle of the schools, we find the doctrines of grace, as held by Augustin, in opposition to the speculations of his renowned rival, Duns Scotus; but the best account that can be given of most matters discussed with such profound skill by the schoolmen, is this: one-half were above, and the other half below the human faculties—abstractions which no' eagle's eye could discover; follies which no dunce could tolerate. For all this, scholastic theology had its use, as the security of truth in times of barbarism and cruelty. Had Christianity then been abroad as a púre and living form, it would certainly have been murdered by the Pharaohs and Herods of Rome: so the dialecticians, these ingenious artisans of thought, wove their ark of bulrushes and hid it out of sight; and there beneath the subtleties of the schools, the life of Christianity was securely preserved, as the chrysalis in its temporary grave, till the appointed time should come, when its cerements should be broken, and Christianity should once more appear on a freer wing, with brighter colors, and a stronger life. '
This brief allusion to some of the more palpable corruptions of Christianity will suffice to show the need which existed of a vast rectification of opinion concerning the Christian faith, and the room which there was for great improvements in Christian theology, by reason of those falsities in which Christianity was encrusted.
We come down to the Protestant Reformation, and signs of resuscitation, and life, and progress are everywhere visible. There was a man whom God had prepared for the emergency, whose opportune labors in the sixteenth century have exerted a wider influence upon the intellect and liberties and advancement of the Church, than any uninspired man that ever lived. Visiting the city of Geneva the Christian traveller early inquires for the grave of John Calvin. With surprise he learns that the spot cannot be designated. Not a monument of any description marks the place in the cemetery where repose the ashes of the great theologian of
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the Reformation. Though no sculptured stone bears his eulogy, such has been and such is the influence of his life, that we may take our stand in the centre of the civilized world, and say of him, as it is written of Sir Christopher Wren, in the cathedral of St. Paul, in London: “ Si monumentum requiris circumspice."
The name of Calvin has been eulogized and defamed by many who have no just conception of his mission. He was the theologian of the Protestant Reformation. That appellation belongs to no other. The wonderful life of Martin Luther, the Reformer, was like an epic poem-a magnificent drama in which kings and armies, cabinets and councils, marches and revolutions make up the shifting scenes of the splendid pageant. Too much cannot be said in praise of some of his theological theses; but it is no derogation from his just and lofty fame to affirm that his theology was not distinguished by completeness, by system. Finding in the Word of God the great doctrine of justification by faith, it was to him like the discovery of a new continent, or the mariner's compass. Enamored with the life and glory of this one truth, he believes in nothing else. He did not learn how to frame all of Scripture into one compact and symmetrical system. The epistle of James upon good works he never could speak of with any patience.
When the basis of the old Jewish economy was to be broken up by the introduction of a better hope, the bold and impetuous Peter, and the other fishermen and tax-gatherers in his company, were sufficient to arouse attention to the new opinions; but when the storm was raised, and inquiry was active, and the new faith was to be carried into schools and councils; vihen it was to be vindicated before the Areopagites of Athens, and the philosophy of Rome, then did God appoint that young man who had been educated at the feet of Gamaliel, an adept in canon-law, a proficient in tongues, and skilled in logic and rhetorie.. Analagous to this, in many respects, was the mission of the French Reformer. Luther and Zwingle had gone before, and the whole mass of European mind was in a state of perilous agitation. Possessed of a strong and healthy intellect, acute in discrimination, patient of research, addicted to study as the great pleasure of his life; his attenuated frame and pallid face betraying a life purely intellectual and spiritual; pronounced by cautious men as the greatest scholar of his age; John Calvin exhibited, in admirable combination, those mental and moral qualities which marked him as one destined to guide the opinions of inquiring and agitated empires. In that perilous crisis when the intellect of the world was roused, without instruction, and without a guide, save the Spirit and the Word of God, did this great Reformer arise to separate the chaff from the wheat, disengiging the truth from the follies, superstitions and impieties of the
1 Le Lutheranisme et la Réforme ou leur Diversite essentiell ea leur unité. Par M. Merle D’Aubigné.
dark ages, to demonstrate its harmonies and relations ; giving form, stability, unity and consistency to opinions then floating about in atomic confusion ; forming a Christian theology worthy of the name, which, as a system, was destined to stand and develope its power in all future time, on the intellect and heart of the world.
The influence of Calvin in the reformation and progress of Christian theology, it is impossible to estimate. What a vast interval between the speculations of Jerome-the“Summa Theologia” of Aquinas, and the “ Christian institutes” and Biblical expositions of the Genevan professor! Great progress is visible here in the comprehension and statement of Christianity. Did that progress find a limit when the pen of Calvin had done its work? Was there no room for subsequent improvements in Christian theology? Were the truths of the Christian system ever after to be confined to that form of expression which were given to them by this distinguished theologian? Is it heresy to affirm that there are many things in the system of Calvin which we do not believe, and cannot believe at all?
The Reformers of the sixteenth century brought to light the essential and vital doctrines of Christianity. Earnestly will we contend for their faith, holding fast to their religious system as embodying the substantial teachings of the gospel of Christ. At the same time, we believe that many theories, and speculations, and philosophies were then attached to the Christian system, which are altogether distinct from it. Some of them have already been discarded. Others yet remain, which are destined to pass away, leaving the system itself more simple, more powerful, because unmixed with foreign or contrary qualities. We claim that there has been, within a century past, a great improvement in the mode of stating, and explaining the doctrines of Christianity, and we are sure that this improvement is to proceed yet farther, with no other effect than to develope the life and increase the efficacy of these eternal verities. The doctrine of justification by faith through the atonement of Jesus Christ, affords an illustration of our meaning. · Can any one deny that there has been a palpable improvement in the mode of explaining and stating this fundamental doctrine; noc such a change however as endangers the doctrine itself, as though we could modify it into something else which denies a real atonement through the blood of an expiatory sacrifice. Among those who believe in such an atonement there have been various opinions as to the mode in which we are made to participate in its benefits. We need only to allude to the extreme opinions of some writers on the subject of imputation ; the transfer of our sins to Christ. Many there are who believe, as really as did the Reformers, in justification through faith in the atonement of Christ, who would neither use nor tolerate the language which they employed in explanation of the mode. Is there a man now living—we doubt if there is—who