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which the ministers of the Gospel exhorted and edified the people. Such was the tempered fervour with which, not merely the Apostle of the Gentiles, but all the apostles of whom we have any account, appear to have corrected the errors of men, and to have conducted the yet unsteady proselyte in the path of truth. The consequences are known; and the example testifies the spirit which should at all times actuate and govern the Christian ministry.
To the excellence and utility of the priesthood thus established in the primitive church, Julian, the philosopher and the fanatic, the persecutor and the sage, the sturdy and squalid assertor of the declining glories of the pantheon of the Greek, has borne a striking but reluctant testimony. While he contemplated the falling images, the deserted shrines, and the forsaken temples of his gods, he attributed the calamity to the ignorance and vices of his pagan priests, and hastened, with a zeal worthy of a better cause, to reform and purify the corruption of the order. But it was by the model of the Christian ministry, and, if possible, by the infusion of Christian virtues, that he was to renovate the service of his unholy altars; and, in his admonitory letter to the high priest of Galatia, he describes the charity, the chastity, the unbought toil, the self-denying abstinence, the zeal, the wisdom, the regularity, of the ministers of Christ, as affording at once an example and a reproach to the cold or dissolute servants of the "immortal gods t."
I must refer to Gibbon, in his eloquent history of Julian, for the living honours of the Apostate's beard, and the decent cleanliness of his dress. In his admiration of the doctrines of Plato, he forgot the elegance of the philosopher.
+ Julian. Fragment. Epist. p. 452, 453, 551, 553, &c. See also, Sozom. lib. v. c. 16. Gregor. Nazianz. Invect. In Jul.
If we, now, summarily advert to the institutions of the Gospel, which have been surveyed in the preceding pages, we shall be ready, perhaps, to admit, that, in their origin, their design, and their tendency, they transcend, beyond all comparison, the best and most interesting of those ordinances which human reason, in its highest state of improvement, and under the most favourable circumstances, has been able to interweave in the religions of the world. We do not here contemplate the Bacchanalian revelry, the meretricious dance, the wanton service, or the sanguinary rite; nor are we offended by the positive injunction which neglects utility for forms, nor the holy ceremonies which, while they exercise and inflame a fanatical faith, diminish the influence of social virtue. Institutions only are before us which at once elevate the spirit of devotion, and operate with salutary effect on the conduct of life; or which, as the Christain ministry, are designed to provide for the necessities of the orphan and the widow, and to conduct the wandering flock to the folds of heaven. For the orgies of riot, the desolating pilgrimages, the sacrifices of the car, and the flames of the pile, are substituted ordinances peaceful, simple, innocent, and useful, and sanctified to the most sublime and holy purposes. That which had become necessary, has been conferred; which had been burdensome or cruel, has been done away; which had ministered to the ignorance and depravity of man, has been removed; which human capacity had hitherto been unable to discover for the improvement of the human condition, has been amply and effectually supplied.Here, then, we possess another evidence of the peculiar excellence of the Gospel of Christ.
MORALS AND MOTIVES.
Ambiguous support to virtue of the religion of Greece and ItalyThe example of the gods worshipped, and the worship required, injurious to morals-Rites and profligacy-Privileged vices of the Greeks and Romans -- General exemplification-Opinion of Hume -Morality of the schools-Beautiful and excellent preceptsNot diffused-The philosophers instructors only of their own sects -Disputatious, contradictory and corrupt-Frequently false in motive and principle-Instances-Soft and voluptuous doctrines of Epicurus-Rigid, overstrained, and inconsistent doctrines of Zeno-The Academy-Moral and metaphysical hesitation and doubt-Virtue uncertain-The commonwealth of Plato-A splendid system-Fragile in the superstructure, imperfect though magnificent in the plan-The Platonic disciple instructed to trust in omens, oracles, and divinations-Scepticism united with superstition, a facile faith with a hardy incredulity-Striking und offensive errors of academic morality—General character of the moral science of Greece and Italy.
HOWEVER defective and corrupt the religion of Greece and Italy may have hitherto appeared, in all those doctrines from which precept and motive may be deduced, it must not be denied that a moral influence may have been sometimes exercised, and a moral purpose sometimes fulfilled, by that fanciful and extravagant system. It was deeply and indelibly impressed with the great outlines of practical truth; and it enforced, with occasional beauty of language, those obvious duties of
life by which society is to be regulated, and which every religious code in the world has, in a certain degree, proclaimed and sanctioned.
But, like every other code of human origin, the religion of the Greek is liable to great objections as a rule of life. The doctrines of superstition which it announced are numerous and authoritative, the precepts of conduct are rare. It called on men for worship, but did not address them for edification; and observances and forms, the progeny of holy ignorance or craft, were to occupy the reverence which are due only to the piety which elevates, and the virtues which dignify, mankind.
The poets by whom this religion was so beautifully unfolded and so richly adorned, seem to have framed their work with little regard to moral consistency. The charm of verse, which they so eminently possessed, was employed to attract the multitude round the altars of the gods; but they disclosed such details of the gods themselves as could not but have contributed to impair the influence of practical wisdom, and to confound the distinctions of vice and virtue.
The system, indeed, which affords this ambiguous support to practical truth, would be less safely described as a code of sound morals and rational piety, than as a confused institution of truth and falsehood, of folly and fable, which, pretending to promote holiness and virtue among men, breathed and diffused, more frequently, licentiousness and pleasure. Being wholly traditional, it afforded full scope to curruption and fraud; and, while it was to admit and embrace among its gods every monster of imposture and superstition, it was to reject reform, not merely as unnecessary, but as impious, and to become
"complex, contradictory; and doubtful, without any "determinate articles of faith, or any fixed and "decided dogmas of religion "†.
Even at their very altars, the Greek and Roman might learn the lessons of immorality. If the gods who were adored, taught and authorized vice by celestial example, the same vice would be naturally thought permissible in man. The errors of inferior beings were easily to deduce their apology, or their vindication, from the corrupt wanderings of superior natures; and heaven itself was to afford, by the crimes with which it was tainted, a ready and infallible sanction to the weaknesses and the guilt of human infirmity †.
The gods of this religion did not merely teach crime by example, but produce it by their influence. They perpetually interfered to kindle the evil passions, and prompt the evil designs of men. The imperial Juno might find it necessary to the accomplishment of her purposes, to madden or corrupt her
* All Polytheism, says Hume, was liable to this inconvenience. But who but a professed panegyrist of polytheism would soften into an inconvenience, effects so mischievous, both in a moral and religious view? Nat. Hist. Relig. Sect. ix. xii.
Enquire of the wisdom of the antients, says the Confidant of the Drama, and you will learn that Jupiter burned for Semele, and that Aurora did not disdain the charms of the mortal Cephalus. Wilt thou, then, unhappy Phædra, refuse to yield to thy fate, and art thou greater than the gods, that thou darest to resist the laws by which they are governed! Hypolit. Act ii. sc. 2. What! said the Eumenides, shall Jupiter, who threw his father into chains, condemn a queen for giving her husband the stroke of death! Eschyl. Eumen. Act v. The argument was common, and was natural. The young man, in the comedy of Terence, vindicates his crime in the same manner. Eunuch. Act iii. And several of the characters in the tragedies of Euripides employ the same plea of justification.