Imágenes de páginas

in luxury, and often in drunkenness, legions of monks, priests, and pontiffs, from whom they derived no real benefits. Under pretence of bestowing stipends on the intercessors with God, they richly endowed a multitude of droues, whose prayers and reveries pocured only misery and dissensions. Education, entrusted throughout Christendom to base or ignorant priests, was calculated to form superstitious persons only, destitute of the qualities necessary to make useful citizens. The instruction they gave Christians, was confined to inculcating dogmas and mysteries which the latter never could comprehend. They incessantly preached up evangelical, morality; but that sublime morality which all the world esteems, and which so few practise, because it is incompatible with the nature and wants of man, did not restrain the passions, or ever check their irregularity of manners. When that Stoical morality was practised, it was only by soine imbecile fanatics or fery enthusiasts, whom the ardour of their zeal rendered dangerous to society. The saints of Christianity were either the most useless or inost flagitious of men.

Princes, the great, the rich, and even the heads of the church, thought themselves excused from the rigorous and literal practice of precepts and counsels, which a God himself had come on purpose to commu. nicate. They left Christian perfection to some misera able monks, for whom alone it seemed originally destined. Complaisant guides smoothed for others the roads to Paradise, and, without bridling the passions, persuaded their votaries that it was sufficient to come at stated times to confess their faults to them, humble themselves at their feet, undergo the penances and ceremonies which they should impose, and especially make donations to the church, in order to obtain from God remission of the outrages they committed on his creatures. By these means, in most Christian countries, people and princes openly united devotion with the most hideous depravity of manners, and often with the blackest crimes. There were devout tyrants and adulterers, oppressors and iniquitous ministers, courtiers without morals, and public depredators, all very devout. There were knaves of every kind displaying the greatest zeal for a religion, the ministers of which imposed easy expiations even on those who violated its most express precepts *.

Thus, by the cares of the spiritual guides of Christianity, concord was banished from states; princes sunk into bondage; the people were blinded ; science was stied; nations were impoverished; true morality was unknown; and the most devout Christians were commonly devoid of those talents and virtues which are indispensibly necessary for the support of society.

*'It is asserted, and repeated every day, that religion is necessary, and that it is a check.

It is necessary only to open our eyes to be convinced, that religion among high and low, restrains nobody, not even the priests who preach and live by it. The most devout nations of Europe, such as the Italians, Portuguese, and Spaniards, are alike distinguished by their bigotry and corruption of manners; the clergy themselves shew them the example of perfidy, cruelty, and the most unbridled licentiousness. To restrain men, there is need neither of falsehoods nor fables ; but of good laws, good education, cultivated reason, talents, science, good examples, rewards, and equitable punishments. As chimeras only are opposed to the irregularitics of mankind, they are not capable of vanquishing their inclinations.

[ocr errors]

Such are the immense advantages which the religion of Christ has procured to the world"! Such are the effects we see resulting from the gospel, or the glad tiding's, which the Son of God came in person to announce! To judge of it by its fruits, that is, accord. ing to the rule which the Messiah himself has given, the incredulous find, that Christianity was allegorically represented by the fig tree accursed. But those who have faith, assure us, that in the other world this tree will some day produce delicious fruits. We must therefore wait for them in patience, for every thing evinces that the great benefits promised by this religion are very little perceptible in the present world. .

There are, however, people who carry incredulity so far as to think, that, if there exists a God really jealous of his rights, he will confer little recompence on mortals so impious as to associate with him a man, a Jew, and a charlatan ; and to pay him honours which are due only to the Divinity. Indeed, in supposing that God is offended by the actions of his creatures, and concerns himself with their behaviour, he must be irritated at the odious conduct of many Christians, who, under pretence of devotion and zeal, believe themselves permitted to violate the most sacred duties of nature, of which they make the Deity the author,

It is, add our unbelievers, very difficult to calculate the duration of human extravagancies; but they flatter themselves, that the reign of falsehood and error will terminate at some period, and give place to reason and truth*. They hope, that nations and their chiefs

* A Scotchman published at London, 1699, a book under the title of Joh. Craigi Scoti, theologiæ Christianæ princi pia mathematica, wherein he endeavours to prove that every thing founded on the testimony of men, whether inspired or

willsome day perceive the danger resulting from their prejudices; that they will blush at having prostituted their praises on objects deserving sovereign contempt ; that they will regret' the blood and treasures which baneful fables and reveries have cost thein ; and that they will be at last ashamed of having been the dupes and victims of a mass of romances, destitute of probability, and never possessing a more solid foundation than the astonishing credulity of men, and the astonishing impudence of those who preach them. These unbelievers. venture at least to glimpse at a time, when men, become more sensible of their own interest, will acknowledge the truly barbarous fully of hating and tormenting themselves, and cutting one another's throats for obscure dogmas, puerile opinions and ceremonies unworthy of rational beings, and on which it is impossible to be ever unanimous. These infidels push

not inspired, is only probable, and that its probability diminishes in proportion as mankind recede from the time the witnesses lived, on whose testimony they believe. On this principle he makes an algebraical calculation, according to which he aflirms, that it is probable the Christian religion will endure still 1454 years, at the end of which its probability of endurance will be reduced to nothing. But he supposes, that the last judgment must arrive in time to prevent this total eclipse of the faith. Whether these calculations and conjectures be true or false, we may apply to the religion of Jesus what Lactantius said of the heathen mythology, according to which Jupiter had dethroned his father Saturn : l'inco alium Deum fuisse regem primis temporibus, alium consequentibus. Potest ergo fieri, ut alius fit postea futurus. Si enim regnum prius mutatum est; cur desperemus etiam posterius posse mutari? Lactant. Institut. divin. lib. i. c. ll. If God was weary of the Jewish religion, why may he not become weary of the Christian also ?


their temerity so far as to maintain, that it is very possible sovereigns and subjects may one day loathe a religion burdensome to the people, and producing real advantages only to the priests of a beggarly and crucified God. They think, that the profane laity, if undeceived, could easily bring their priests back to the frugal life of the apostles or of Christ, whom they ought to regard as a model; at least, these infidels imagine, that the minister of the God of peace would be obliged to live more peaceably, and follow some occu. pation more honest than that of deceiving, or tearing to pieces, the society which fosters them.

If it is demanded of us what can be substituted for a religion which at all times produced only effects pernicious to the happiness of the human race, te will bid men cultivate their reason, which, much better than absurd and deceptive systems, will advance their welfare, and make them sensible of the value of vir. tue. Finally, we will tell them with Tertullian WHY PAIN YOURSELVES IN SEEKING FOR A DIVINE LAW, WHILST YOU HAVE THAT WHICH IS COMMON TO MANKIND AND ENGRAVEN ON THE TABLETS OF NATURE,

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
« AnteriorContinuar »