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a very succinct outline, I. Of the history of religious tolerance and intolerance: II. Of the act of toleration passed in the reign of William in favour of the protestant dissenters : III. Of the schism of the non-jurors: IV. And of the laws enacted against the roman-catholics.
Historical Minute of religious Tolerance and
1. The advocates of religious intolerance justify it by several passages in the history of the Old Testament, in which the Mosaic code punishes the inobservance of religious precepts by severe penal inflictions, and sometimes by death.
But they forget the theocracy of the Israelites.By their own free consent, God was their king.“God was king in Israel *:"--and when, in the time of Samuel, the Jews asked for a mortal sovereign, God announced to them, that “they rejected “ him,- that he should not reign over them t.” The whole territory of the Jews was his property : they were his vassals; they were only usufructuaries of their lands, they could not dispose of them in perpetuity I: the escheat or ultimate reversion, as an English lawyer would term it, of all the land in Judæa, belonged to God, as their legal sovereign.
Thus the injunction of some practices, and the prohibition of others, were, by the law of Moses, not merely precepts of the Divine law :—such they certainly were,—but they were also laws of the state ; and disobedience to them was both a sin against God, the supreme Lord of all, and a crime against God, their accepted king.–Thus the idolater was not merely a spiritual delinquent; he was also a national traitor * God is temporal king in no other state :-no argument, therefore, in favour of religious persecution in any other kingdom, is offered by the penal inflictions on idolatry by the Mosaic law.
* Deut. xxxiii. 5.
+ 1 Sam. viii. 7; X. 18, 19. Gen. xlvii. 19, 20; Lev. xxv. 23.
2. Religious liberty was not allowed by the pagan legislation of antiquity, in so extensive a degree as has been often represented f. By the law of Athens, the act of introducing foreign deities was punished with death : the law of Rome was not so severe; Mosheim and Bynkershoek seem to prove, that, though the Romans would not allow any change to be made in the religious worship, publicly professed in the empire, nor any new form to be openly introduced, yet that, except when it threatened danger to the state, they granted a free toleration of foreign worship, not only to individuals, but to bodies of men.
* See “ Commentaries on the Laws of Moses, by the late « sir John David Machaëlis, K. P. S. F. R. 8. professor of philo
sophy in the university of Gottingen; translated from the “ German, by Alexander Smith, D. D. minister of the chapel “ of Garcock, Aberdeenshire, 1814," vol. i. art. xxxiii. xxxiv.
+ See the late sir George Colebrook's excellent Letters on Toleration.
The christians, whose mild, unassuming, and benevolent morality entitled them to universal goodwill, were alone denied the benefit of this general toleration. From the reign of Nero, till the triumph of Constantine the great over his rival Licinius, they were always treated with harshness, and repeatedly suffered the severest persecutions.
3. The favour of Constantine to the christians, was shown immediately after his first successes, by his repeal of the laws enacted against them. He restored them, by the edict of Milan, to all their civil and religious rights; and he allowed them, in common with the rest of his subjects, the free choice and exercise of their religion. In the general dispensation of his favours, he held, with an impartial hand, the balance between his christian and heathen subjects. His successors, except during the short interval of the reign of Julian, strongly encouraged christianity, and discountenanced heathenism. Finally, by the edicts of Theodosius, the ancient worship of Rome was proscribed, and christianity became the established religion of the empire. Till those edicts, the spirit of polytheism had lingered among the principal nobility of Rome; after them, it lingered among the Grecian philosophers : but by his edict in 529, Justinian silenced the schools of Athens; and to that æra, the final extinction of paganism is always assigned.
4. It is distressing to reflect how large a portion of the annals of the christian æra must be dedicated to the history of persecution : particularly as nothing is more contrary to the language or the spirit of the Gospel. These prescribed, first, that the offender should be privately admonished; if this should prove ineffectual, one or two of the brethren were to give their sanction to the justice of the admonition; if this failed, the matter was to be brought under the cognizance of the church; if the offender then proved refractory, he was to be excommunicated;—that is, -expelled from the communion of the faithful. It was thought, that the sentence was generally ratified in heaven. The primitive churches might judge erroneously, but while they retained their original sanctity and purity, the probability was in favour of the justice of their proceedings.In proportion as they degenerated, error became more probable; still, a sentence of excommunication was always, among serious christians, a just cause of alarm. No rank exempted a person from it: even the emperor Theodosius was excommunicated by St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, and submitted to a penance of eight months, before the prelate restored him to the communion of the faithful.
Generally speaking, a person excommunicated in a particular church was not admitted into communion in any other: where a subordination was adopted, the excommunicated person sometimes appealed to the next higher tribunal : it was always lawful for him to appeal to the see of Rome, as the highest
Still, all was regulated by the power of the keys, -or the spiritual power. The first interference
of the temporal power in spiritual concerns seems to have been against Paul, bishop of Samosata, when the emperor Aurelian, on the application of a christian synod, expelled him from the episcopal mansion - The emperor Constantius proceeded against the Arians by imprisonment, and ordered their books to be burned: his son Constantius proceeded in the same manner against the orthodox. Honorius, the emperor of the east, was the first sovereign who made heresy a capital crime; but it does not appear that this law was ever carried into execution. In 376, all the heathen temples in cities were ordered to be shut up; in 382, sacrifices were prohibited to be offered in temples or villages. At first, St. Augustine declared against compulsion in matters of religion : “When the
emperor Honorius,” says Mr. Alban Butler, in his Life of St. Augustinet, “published new severe de“crees against the Donatists, condemning them to “heavy fines and other penalties, St. Augustine “ at first disapproved such a persecution; though “ he afterwards changed his opinion, when he saw “the sincere conversion of many, who, being moved
by the terror of these laws, had, by examining, “ opened their eyes to discover the truth, and heartily embraced it.”
By degrees, it became a frequent practice to annex civil penalties to the censures of the church.
• Fleury's Seventh Discourse. + Lives of Saints, Augustine, p. 482 ; Murphy's edition.