Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK IV. - The Triumph of the Cross
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BOOK IV. - Girolamo Savonarola, The Triumph of the Cross 
The Triumph of the Cross, trans. from the Italian, edited, with an Introduction by the Very Rev. Father John Procter, S.T.L. With a frontispiece portrait of the author (London: Sands & Co., 1901).
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Would that all men were sincerely zealous in the pursuit of truth. It would then be far easier to open their eyes to perceive it, for their intellect tending towards it, as to its perfection, would readily incline to embrace it. Indeed some men are so strongly attracted to truth, that they utter it even against their will.
The knowledge of a thing leads to the knowledge of its opposite; for instance, if we know the right side we shall know the left; and if we know what is true, we shall easily know what is false. And, although truth is at constant war with falsehood, nevertheless, he that draws nigh to truth, will ever be victorious. Therefore, when different and contrary opinions prevail among men, that opinion may be held to be most probably true which is supported by the soundest reasoning. Now, as there exists much discord amongst men on matters of religion, and the arguments in favour of Christianity are much stronger than those that can be advanced in support of any other form of belief, Christianity must indubitably be the true religion. This is the point which we shall undertake in this Book to prove, first in general, and then in particular.
NO RELIGION EXCEPT CHRISTIANITY CAN BE TRUE.
From what has just been said, it is evident, that Christianity is the only true religion. And if this be the case, and if there be no salvation except through the faith of Christ, all, save Christians, must be living in error.
Again, if a virtuous life be the end proposed by all religions, and if there be no better life than the Christian life, there can be no religion superior to Christianity. Any other religion must be either equal or inferior to it. If other religions be inferior to Christianity, Christianity must be the best; and we are bound to embrace it, and to reject all others as idle and superstitious. But if there be a religion equal to Christianity, it must be the same as Christianity. For, unless it propose to us the same end to be attained, and the same means for the attainment of that end, as Christianity professes, it cannot be called equal; it must be inferior to the Christian creed.
Furthermore, if we know a cause by its effects, and if Christian holiness be the perfection of human life; and, if we see no such effects produced by any other religion, Christianity must be true; the more so, as its effects are so quickly and so easily produced, and as its power appears so marvellously in the conversion of men. Therefore, there can be no danger of erring in rejecting all other creeds, and cleaving to the faith of Christ.
In order, however, to make what we say more clear, we will descend to particulars, and will discuss divers forms of religion. But, as it would be useless to attempt to discuss all the superstitions which have ever existed, we will reduce them to six, viz., heathen philosophy, astrology, idolatry, Judaism, heresy, and Mahometanism. In our analysis of these false religions, we will ignore the different opinions and divisions which have existed amongst philosophers, astrologers, idolaters, and heretics. We will examine their tenets from a general point of view.
THE DEFECTIVE AND ERRONEOUS RELIGIONS TAUGHT BY HEATHEN PHILOSOPHERS.
We must preface our remarks by observing that the teaching of heathen philosophy, even where its leaders have not taught erroneous doctrine, is, in all that regards salvation, exceedingly poor and insufficient. Nor can we wonder at this, seeing that their only guide was the light of human reason. For, as the end to which we aspire must be the rule of all our operations, those who undertake to lead men to a virtuous way of living ought, at least, to know what is the true end of human life. Now, the heathen sages could have no such knowledge, because it exceeds the bounds of human reason, by which alone they were enlightened. But if they could not know the last end of man, still less could they know by what means he could attain his end. Therefore, all that they could teach about religion was necessarily imperfect, uncertain, or erroneous. What sane person, then, would abandon Christianity, for the tenets of heathen philosophy?
And, although, the best among the philosophers held that the end of human life is the contemplation of Divine things, their teaching on this point is very confused, because they cannot speak, with any certainty, about their end. If they were asked, whether, by this contemplation, they meant contemplation of this present life, or of the future life, they could not answer with any certainty. For, considering the perils and troubles of this life, it would be wholly unreasonable to expect beatitude in it; and as the philosophers could not, by means of mere natural reason, discover anything about the future life, whatever they might say about it would be unproven, and therefore not accepted by men. They would, furthermore, involve themselves in the still more intricate question of the immortality of the soul, the difficulty of which is shown by the many different opinions entertained concerning it. The greatest difficulty on this point arises from the fact, that, as the soul can perform the operation of understanding without any corporeal organ, it would appear, that, with regard to the activity of understanding, the soul cannot be the form of the body; for it seems as if that which can act without a body, can exist without a body. This is why Plato insisted that our soul is not the form, but the mover of the human body.
Aristotle, on the contrary, maintains that the soul is the form of the body. He, however, uses such ambiguous expressions about the understanding, as distinct from the soul, that his commentator, Averröes, fell into the unreasonable error of supposing that there is in all men an intellect, existing independently of other powers. But, I believe that Aristotle, being a very sagacious man and knowing that the natural light of reason cannot arrive at any perfect knowledge of the matter, purposely spoke very cautiously about it, for fear of being worsted in argument. Thus the philosophers who followed him, remained in a dilemma. For, if they called the soul the form of the body, it seemed that the soul must reasonably be supposed to be mortal. If they said that the soul was not the form of the body, it was impossible to see how man could be said to be man, on account of his possessing an intellectual soul. And, if, with no clearer light than the light of natural reason, they had maintained what Faith teaches, viz., that although the intellectual power of the soul operates independently of any corporeal organ, yet, nevertheless, the substance of the soul is the form of the body, they would have found themselves in quite as great a difficulty as they were before. For they would have been asked, whence came this form—a question to which they could have given no certain answer. For, as this form is elevated above all corporeal things, it cannot have been produced by any natural power; nor, as they did not believe in creation, would these philosophers have said that it came from nothing. And, even if they had made such an assertion, they could not have produced any reasonable proof of what they said. Their opinion, consequently, would have been treated with contempt.
Certain ones amongst them, therefore, endeavoured to evade the difficulty, by maintaining that souls existed from eternity, before bodies. This opinion, however, involved them in still greater confusion. For, while they held that souls were made from eternity before bodies, they could adduce no reason to hinder the soul from being the form of the body. They, also, at the same time, fell into many other inconsistencies, adduced by the Peripatetics against the Platonists. And, although Aristotle said that the intellectual soul comes from without, i.e., not from natural power,—his expression is very ambiguous; for it explains neither whence, nor how, the soul comes into the world. And if, as he maintains, the intellectual soul be immortal, and the form of the body, it cannot, at the same time, exist before the body, nor pass from one body to another. Therefore, if the soul be not produced by natural power, I do not see how Aristotle can deny Creation.
The philosophers who, unenlightened by faith, assert that the soul is immortal, and is the form of the body, expose themselves to further difficulties. They may, with good reason, be asked whether the world has likewise existed from eternity, and whether it will last for ever. If they reply, without being able to prove their words, that the world had a beginning and will have an end, their views will be held in derision. If, on the other hand, with Aristotle, they maintain that the world never had a beginning and will never have an end, they must likewise hold that there has existed an infinite series of years and days. But, if man is the most important part of the world, no one can, with any show of reason, say that the world has existed without man; and therefore infinite men must have died. If, further, as they say, the soul is immortal, and is the form of the body; and if it does not pass from one body to another, there must have been infinite souls. This is, clearly, an irrational hypothesis. Those who uphold this view will, of course, maintain that it is not irrational; but by so doing, they have to face fresh difficulties. For, as the soul is the form of the body, it is against its nature to be outside the body; and we know, in fact, that the soul only leaves the body by compulsion. Now, compulsion, or violence, cannot continue perpetually, especially in the case of so noble a thing as the soul.
Those, however, who hold that souls will never return to their bodies, must admit that souls, in spite of their dignity, are perpetually banished, by violence, from their bodies. If they believe in the resurrection of the body, on the other hand, they must believe in the resurrection of infinite bodies, which is impossible. They may, indeed, hold, that, after a certain prolonged space of time, souls will return to their former bodies, and will become what they formerly were; and that they will repeat this separation from, and return to, their bodies an infinite number of times. But they have no reason, or proof, on which to ground this hypothesis; and we are right in treating it with contempt. And, certainly, such a supposition is unreasonable and absurd, implying, as it does, that we, and all that exist at present, must have already existed an infinite number of times.
In these, and in such like difficulties, do they entangle themselves who try, by natural reason, to discover the end of human life. Nor, as they ignore the most important element of life, can they be expected to speak surely or definitely, either about religion or about virtuous living. We need not, therefore, be surprised, that the religious systems of the philosophers are imperfect, and filled with error.
We shall understand this fact still more clearly, if we consider the different erroneous conclusions at which they have arrived; and we shall see how poor and feeble a thing is the unassisted light of reason. The highest power of an agent is shown when it exerts itself to its fullest capacity. Now, human reason has been most strenuously exerted by the greatest philosophers, who have exercised it to the utmost of their ability. We see this by the fact, that the other philosophers who have succeeded them, have never found anything new to say; or if they have originated some fresh theory, it has been a very insignificant one. Since, then, the very greatest philosophers have been so grossly mistaken in matters concerning salvation, it is evident that the natural light of reason is but a treacherous guide.
Of course, the earliest philosophers, who asserted that the last end of man is to be found in riches, glory, pleasure, or some other material good, were far more completely deceived than those who taught that it was to be sought in the contemplation of Divine things. But, the teaching of these latter was vague, and left men in the greatest uncertainty about the affairs of their salvation.
Again, there are as many opinions and errors about the nature of the intellectual soul, as there are philosophers. Setting aside the fallacies enumerated by Aristotle in his first book, De Anima, even the Aristotelian philosophers themselves entertain endless different views. Some teach that the human understanding is one thing, and others proclaim it to be another; so that, even to this day, their disciples remain in utter uncertainty. This confusion would be even more inextricable, had not the Faith of Christ enlightened the world.
Again, if any one will read the philosophical books treating of the universe, of the end for which it was made, and of its supposed beginning and end, he will find almost as many errors as there are words. And, although Aristotle, and some of his followers, have tried to establish the eternity of the world, the Aristotelian arguments are so weak, that any learned man could easily overthrow them.
But what are we to say of the number of the angels, or, as the philosophers call them, the separate substances? Aristotle, following the motion of the heavens, represents the angels as being equal in number to the celestial spheres, as though they were created solely to move the heavens. This is, of course, an absurdity. It is probable, however, that Aristotle spoke, not as affirming a certainty, but as giving an opinion.
Again, the heathen schools of philosophy, besides their many grave errors, laid down nothing definite or certain about the externals of Divine worship. They entertained also many most frivolous ideas about Divine Providence. And thus, their teaching, far from being profitable to man’s salvation, or honourable to religion, was merely a source of confusion to mankind. Nevertheless, we must not despise the valuable portion of the old philosophy, but rather make use of it ourselves. For, although it is not sufficient for salvation, it is often of great assistance to us in confuting the adversaries of the Faith.
THE FUTILITY AND SUPERSTITION OF THE TRADITIONS OF ASTROLOGY.
Astrologers, who claim to be reputed philosophers, maintain that human affairs are governed by the heavens and the stars, making out the sky to be our god, thus imitating some of the ancients, who worshipped the sun and the stars. We will, therefore, with the plainest arguments, demonstrate their error, and show that the heavenly bodies are not the cause of the things which man performs by means of his understanding and his will. Superior things cannot be governed by their inferiors; hence, as the intellect is more perfect than any mere body, it cannot be governed by either heavenly or any other bodies.
Again, it has been proved by philosophers, that no body operates without movement. Consequently, immovable things, such as incorporeal substances, amongst which is the intellect, are not subject to bodies. Hence we see that the understanding, in proportion to its abstraction from the restlessness and activity of things corporeal, works with greater rapidity and greater perfection.
We know, likewise, that everything that is ruled or moved, whether by heavenly or earthly bodies, is physical, and subject to time. Now, our understanding transcends, in its operations, all bodies, and extends to immaterial things, and even to God. This it could not do by means of any physical force; for, no agent, in its operations, exceeds its nature. Hence, the power of the heavenly bodies cannot, strictly speaking, act upon our understanding, since the power of the understanding far surpasses that of the firmament.
Many believers in astrology, being hard pressed by this argument, try to evade the difficulty by saying, that the heavenly bodies are not the direct, but the indirect cause of the operations of our understanding. The intellect (they argue) makes use of sensitive powers, especially of imagination, memory, and thought, which are dependent on physical temperament; and, as our body, like all other composite bodies, is subject to the heavenly bodies, these heavenly bodies do, in a certain sense, influence our understanding. We all know, of course, that difference of mental endowment is the result of difference of temperament. But no one who reflects on the nature of the understanding or of free-will, can possibly believe, that the heavens can in any way influence our choice, or rule the course of human events. Everything that happens from the impression of the celestial bodies, happens naturally; being naturally subject to these bodies. Hence, if the operations of free-will were the result of the impression of these bodies, these operations would be natural and not voluntary, originating not from free-will, but from natural animal instinct. The absurdity of this opinion can be easily demonstrated.
First, we know that all things which act by natural instinct, proceed, if they be of the same nature, to the same end, by the same means, and in the same manner; just as all heavy things tend to their centre. But men, both in natural and artificial things, tend to different ends, using different means. Therefore, their operations are not natural, but voluntary. Secondly, natural operations are always, or almost always, well ordered; for nature very seldom errs; whereas human operations are not always free from error. Thirdly, natural operations, in so far as they are natural, do not vary;—thus, all swallows build their nests and feed their young in the same way; and sparrows, and every species of bird, follow their own specific method of carrying on these operations. But, human operations are so diverse, that we see scarcely two men who act alike; the reason being that man is guided, not by instinct, but by free-will. Again, did human choice depend on nature, virtue and vice must be imputed not to individuals but to nature; which view would destroy all idea of injustice, or of rational plan, or of a providence over human affairs. Since nature is governed by God and is immutable, man would necessarily be left to act according to his instinct. We can imagine what would then be the condition of human affairs.
But, to return to our first proposition. Since the understanding exceeds, in its operations, all bodies, the will exceeds them likewise; because its love and desire aspire even to God. Therefore, the will cannot be subject to any physical power. Further, as means are proportioned to their end; and as the last end of man exceeds any corporeal thing; the operations of the understanding and of the will, by means of which man attains his end, transcend all bodies; nor are they subject to the influence of the heavenly bodies. And, although our bodies are subject to celestial bodies, and are, by the impressions made on us by them, inclined to do what is contrary to right reason; we have, nevertheless, so much power to resist this inclination, that our operations may be said to be subject, not to the heavens, but to our free-will. Thus, as the firmament is not, strictly speaking, the cause of our actions, it cannot be called our God. For God is the First Cause, who does all things, and acts in all things.
Some, however, maintain that the heavenly bodies are animate. They, therefore, hold that, although of themselves they do not move our understanding and free-will, these faculties are, nevertheless, influenced by the soul which vivifies the heavens. The following arguments will easily demonstrate the fallacy of this opinion:—
First, it is futile to use an instrument which is not adapted to produce a desired effect. It has already been proved that the power of the heavens is not able to influence the understanding and free-will. It is futile, therefore, to say that the heavenly bodies, as instruments of the soul which animates the firmament, act upon our understanding. Secondly, the soul of the heavens cannot by means of its instruments, the celestial bodies, affect immediately or directly, the intellect or will, because corporeal influences cannot immediately act upon what is spiritual. But the power of the heavenly bodies may, certainly, affect our physical temperament, and by means of it may influence our imagination and interior sense. These activities, in their turn, may represent to our understanding some advantage to be sought, or peril to be avoided. But no one is obliged to heed these phantasies. We are always free to think, or not to think of what we choose; and experience proves that man is master of his actions. Therefore, it is unreasonable to say that the stars and the firmament, or the soul which animates them, is God. For God is He who immediately gives being and operation to all things; it is He who moves our understanding and free-will; although in moving it He always respects our liberty, because He moves all things in a way that is adapted to their nature. Therefore, all worship given to the heavens, or to the stars, or to the soul of the firmament, is empty and dangerous. These bodies are created for the service of man; and no one ought to worship that which is meant to be his servant. Hence, we see the folly of astrologers who assign to the heavens the government of human affairs, and pretend to direct men by observation of the stars.
But, even in these modern times, there are some nominal Christians, who, under certain disguises, try to uphold the fallacies of astrology. They say, for instance, that although free-will is, by its nature, subject, not to the heavens, but to God; nevertheless, since the sensitive part of our nature—by which almost all men are ruled—is subject to astral influences, they are able by means of the stars to foretell many future events; the more so, that God governs human affairs by means of the stars, as secondary causes. So far, indeed, does the father of lies lead them astray, that they delude men into trusting more to the stars than to God, and they are able to persuade them to undertake nothing without first consulting the heavens.
This system of astrological divination so little deserves the name of science, or of art, that the best philosophers have judged it unworthy of notice, and have passed it over in silence. Both Plato and Aristotle ignore it. The latter proves, in many places, that we can have no knowledge of the things to which astrology professes to furnish a clue. For, future events, which may or may not take place, cannot be known in themselves, as they as yet possess no being; nor can they be foreseen in their cause, since they have no definite or determinate cause, but only such as is uncertain and wholly undetermined.
But, granted that man could arrive at some knowledge of the future, he certainly could not attain to it by looking at the heavens, as the universal cause of inferior things. Certainly no knowledge of particular effects can be attained by the contemplation of a general cause, but only by the investigation of proximate and particular causes. Physicians do not try to discover the causes of sickness by means of the stars, nor do they endeavour to cure by an astrolabe; they study, rather, to find out the special predisposing causes of illness, and the physical temperament of their patient. Nothing, therefore, can be more foolish than to attempt to investigate, by the mere contemplation of the stars and planets, future events, which will arise from the free-will of individuals and from particular causes.
Astrologers say that different virtues and properties reside in different parts of the heavens. The absurdity of this pretension shows the folly of their other superstitions. The very greatest philosophers, who, certainly, were far wiser and better informed than astrologers, have never discovered in the firmament, the virtue claimed for it by astrologers. The astrologers further affirm that this virtue or property acts upon the earth by means of the moon and of the motion of the firmament, and that the variety of things caused upon earth proceeds, primarily, from the diversity of light and from the motions of the spheres and of the stars; and, secondarily, from the variety of the dispositions of matter and of particular agents. Hence, according to their opinion, if we wish to foretell future events, it does not suffice to know the varieties of light and of motion in the heavens; we must also understand the disposition of matter, and the nature of particular agents, without which the celestial bodies cannot act. But, since, for reasons before stated, we could not, even if we had this knowledge, arrive at any certainty as to the future—especially as to events which depend on free-will—how can we be likely to gain such certainty, merely by gazing at the stars?
But, even if we assume with astrologers, that Divine properties reside in the heavens, this does not prove that their astrology is not foolish. For such properties can be nothing but the universal causes of the things which take place on earth. For, as the stars and planets are more remote from earth than are the elements, and as the elements are universal causes of terrestrial things, the celestial bodies must be causes even more universal. Now, we cannot, merely by understanding the generative force of animated beings in general, know the mode of reproduction peculiar to particular species of animated life—such as animals or plants. Still less can we arrive at such knowledge merely by contemplating the heavens.
But although it is an absurdity, let us concede to astrologers, that the virtue of the astral bodies is more particular than that of the elements. Their divination would still remain an idle folly; for our senses, (which are the fount of our knowledge), can never investigate anything so far remote from them as the forces of the heavens. The greatest philosophers have never discovered these forces. We cannot understand the properties even of many things which we handle every day; and how can astrologers, who cannot compare either in mental capacity or in learning with philosophers, pretend to analyse the powers of the stars? But, even if they did understand these powers, they would have no reason to boast of their idle superstitions. For the particular causes, existing under heaven, cannot have been created in vain, since nothing has been made without a purpose. If, then, there reside in the firmament certain particular forces, e.g., one destined to reproduce mankind, another to reproduce oxen, etc., we should have to say, that sublunary particular causes exist, only for the purpose of disposing matter for the reception of the form impressed on them by astral forces. Therefore, for the purposes of divination, an astrologer could not be satisfied by the mere contemplation of the heavens. The heavenly bodies impress different forms upon matter, according to its varying disposition; and if matter be not duly prepared, it is incapable of receiving a form. And, as there may be many obstacles to the fitting preparation of matter, an astrologer could not gain any sure knowledge of particular things by merely gazing at the skies. For instance, let us suppose that the force contained in one particular star is adapted to produce grapes from a vine. We cannot, by merely gazing at the star, calculate the crop which that vine will bear; for, many things may hinder its fertility. It may be, for example, planted in unsuitable soil; it may be cut down; cattle may browse on it; or some other star may injure it, by causing either drought or too heavy rains. By merely looking at the sky we cannot know which of these, and many similar accidents, may occur. And if we can arrive at no more certain conclusion than this, about purely natural things, how much less can we trust our judgment upon those points which depend on the endless variations of free-will?
Therefore, when we consider the false principles on which astrology is based, and the mutable nature of man’s desires and will, we shall see very clearly that the conduct of human affairs does not depend on the stars, and that it is an absurdity to try to direct man’s lives by studying the heavens.
But, it is not our intention to argue at any greater length against such folly. We will rest content with having proved that any religion, that ever has been, or ever shall be invented, for the worship of the stars and other heavenly bodies, is meaningless and superstitious. Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, whose sublimity of intelligence and wealth of learning must be numbered among the great works of God and of nature, has, in his book of disputations, so subtly confuted and completely demolished the pretensions of astrologers to powers of divination, that any one who reads his treatise intelligently, and does not then despise astrology, deserves to be considered an unreasonable man. In order, furthermore, to convince every one of the folly of astrologers, I also have composed and published, in the vulgar tongue,1 a work in confutation of their doctrine. Therefore, let whosoever desires it read these books, and he will see how great a folly it is to devote time to such a superstition, or to trust in it.
IDOLATRY IS OF ALL THINGS THE MOST VAIN.
We have already shown that the religion of philosophers, who worshipped the First Cause, was insufficient for salvation; and that the teaching of astrologers was most useless and dangerous. How much more contemptible, then, is worship given to images of wood and stone, made in the likeness of men or beasts? Surely, such a religion needs no confutation; since every one can see that it is foolish to honour senseless things.
Some men, however, to excuse their folly, say that they do not honour images themselves, but the gods dwelling in them, just as Christians honour the representations of the Saints. We shall show, therefore, that the worship which they pay to these gods, was, and if it still anywhere exist, is, both impious and superstitious. This is a fitting place to discuss this subject; for, as we have been treating of extremes we ought now to speak of the mean; and midway between God and the heavens, are the separate substances1 which were the gods of the pagans.
But we must remember that God moves the will of man in two ways: either by showing him good, in order to excite him to the love of it; or, by applying His power to the will of man, in order to make that will elicit an act of love or of desire—just as a shepherd may either attract a sheep by showing it pasturage; or he may, with his hand, draw it along. Now, creatures can influence each other in the former of these two ways; but no man can act on the will of another in the second way specified. Because, as the will proceeds immediately from God, it is immediately subject to Him, and He alone can move it to will, or not to will. But, although the will be completely in God’s power, He never acts upon it in such a way as to deprive man of his liberty. He always leaves him his free-will; because God moves all things according to their form and natural propensity. Man, as man, is immediately subject to God; and to Him alone, as to the Prime Mover and Ruler of all things, does he owe the worship of latria.1 He is bound to pay to other immaterial substances, only such honour as is proportioned to their participation in the Divine likeness. Therefore, the Christian gives all his worship to God. He honours the Saints and Angels, not as gods but as the friends of God. He desires that they should pray for him, and impetrate from God the things that he, of himself, cannot obtain from Him. He praises God in His Saints, and thanks Him that He has deigned to bestow such glory upon His creatures. This is a lawful and holy way of honouring God and immaterial substances. But idolaters adored their idols, and burnt incense to them, and implored favours of them, believing them to be true gods.
But, as some may argue that, although the heathens adored many gods, their worship was really referred to Almighty God, whom they adored in all their other gods; we shall show that, even were this the case, it would not justify the folly and evil of idolatry. Firstly, because the masses of the heathen nations could not appreciate such distinctions, and were, therefore, misled; and, secondly, because the heathen ceremonies were largely composed of absurd and unseemly rites. It cannot be maintained that these ceremonies were practised only by impious men who wanted to degrade the worship of their idols, since they were observed throughout the whole world, even amongst great men.
But we will not now argue this point any further. We will confine ourselves to proving, that the idols, worshipped by the heathen, were not gods, but evil spirits, in whose person God could not be honoured. It is proper to every created and well-ordered intellect, not only to submit itself, and to pay homage to its First Cause, which is God; but also to dispose all other intelligences inferior to itself, to do likewise, so that God, the Worker of all good, may be glorified in all things. But the spirits adored by idolaters, whilst frequently giving answers to those who questioned them, never inclined men to true religion, nor to a well-ordered life. In fact, we read that they acted quite contrariwise, subverting all order, deceiving men, and usurping the honour due to God; thus filling the world with so much sin and ignorance, that mankind had no knowledge of Him.
Again, good spirits do not work evil, nor encourage hatred, nor inculcate vice. But we read of the pagan deities, that amongst them, war, dissensions, sacrilege, incest, and many other crimes, which we cannot contemplate without horror, were common; and these fabulous stories of their lives set a bad example to all mankind.
Furthermore, God being perfect and standing in need of nothing, does not, for His own sake, desire our worship. He enjoins it on us for our profit, as a means whereby we may become perfect and blessed. Therefore, every well-ordered intelligence ought to endeavour, as far as possible, to obey this Divine command, and to teach others to worship God, in order thus to gain beatitude. Consequently, had the heathen deities been good spirits, they would have endeavoured to render men virtuous and perfect in the spiritual life, which consists in the knowledge, love, and desire of God. Now, on the contrary, they deceived mankind by so much vanity and falsehood, that, truth and virtue were far better taught in the schools of such philosophers as Pythagoras and Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, than in the temples of the gods. And the philosophers, who despised or ignored the pagan religions, were men of better life than the heathen priests.
Further, if the heathen deities had been good spirits, they would have given to mankind some assurance of obtaining what it desired, to wit, beatitude and true virtue; thereby showing that they watched over the interests of man as guardians, whose duty it was to direct all things to their proper end; and remembering that, even philosophers could not, by reason of this weakness of human intellect, arrive at knowledge of this truth. But, far from acting thus, the pagan gods confused the minds of mortals, and prevented them from attaining to this knowledge.
Good spirits are not liars, and do not deceive men; for falsehood is always evil. But we read of the gods of the ancients, that they frequently misled their questioners by giving them false and ambiguous answers. Again, as we have shown before, the knowledge of things to come is a Divine prerogative, which, had the heathen gods been good spirits, they would not have claimed. For they did not, like our prophets, say, “Thus saith God”. They spoke as of themselves, pretending to prescience of the future, and seducing men into superstition. They also feigned to disclose to them events to come by means of the entrails of animals, or the song and flight of birds, and such like follies. From all this, good spirits would not only have abstained; they would even have forbidden them to their followers. Neither would good spirits have encouraged magical arts, by means of which, gross immorality was often perpetrated, innocent persons were deprived of life, and wicked men were rendered prosperous. On the contrary, they would have loathed such practices, and would have strenuously forbidden them.
Again, no good spirit would take pleasure in cruelty. Now, we read that, for the sacrifices offered to the heathen deities, not only were beasts slaughtered, but even children and young maidens were slain by their own fathers; and this, because the gods desired these massacres, and delighted in them. And, at the destruction of the pagan temples, which ensued on the preaching of the Apostles, there were found innumerable bones of men and women, but mostly of children, of both sexes.
We could recount endless evils which have sprung from idolatry. What we have said will, however, suffice, seeing that, through the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, this false teaching has been swept from the face of the earth. The heathen religions have likewise been abundantly confuted and expounded by our forefathers, who were men of learning. Surely if the pagan idols had been gods, their worship could never have been so completely exterminated as it has been.
A REFUTATION OF THE JEWISH PERFIDY AND SUPERSTITION.
From what we have been saying it is clear, that, before the coming of Christ, the light of natural reason was obscured to such a degree, that, without His succour, mankind would have been so blinded by sin as to sink below the level of irrational animals. Therefore, man required supernatural light. But, as many, (among whom the Jews are the chief), have made a bad use of the knowledge which is the origin of this light, we intend to dispute with them, and to show them their errors; although they glory in the Old Testament, which they pervert by strained and erroneous interpretations. Now, all their hope is centred on the Messiah, for whose coming they still look. If, then, we are able to prove to them that the Messiah has already come, and is Jesus Christ our Saviour, they cannot deny that our religion is of God, and that they are in error. And, although the proofs given in our Second Book ought to be sufficient to convince them, (for if Jesus be not the Messiah, who, greater or worthier than He, can come?), we will, nevertheless, adduce some further special arguments founded on those very Scriptures in which the Jews believe. We shall, however, discuss these points very briefly, as they have already been very fully treated by learned men. We have promised in this Book to make use, not of the testimony of authority, but of reasoning. Our reasoning, as it is based on the authority in which our adversaries believe, is most convincing against them, and most profitable to other unbelievers. Therefore, on the authority of the Prophets, we shall prove that Jesus Christ of Nazareth, crucified by the Jews, is the Messiah of the Patriarchs and Prophets, and that He was, in many ways, foretold and foreshadowed in Holy Writ.
First, however, we must establish some self-evident principles. It was known to all the Jews, that God had promised to send them a Saviour and a great Prophet, who should be called the Messiah, and whom all men were to hear and obey as God Himself. Thus Moses says to the people: “The Lord thy God will raise up to thee a Prophet of thy nation and of thy brethren like unto me: Him thou shalt hear, as thou desirest of the Lord thy God” (Deut. xviii. 15, 16). And, again, the Lord speaks in these terms to Moses: “I will raise them up a Prophet out of the midst of their brethren, like to thee: and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him. And he that will not hear his words, which he shall speak in My name, I will be the revenger” (Ibid. xviii. 18, 19).
It is certain, then, and acknowledged by all the Jews, that the circumstances of the Messiah were foretold in the Mosaic law, in the Psalms, and in the Prophets. That is to say, there are many predictions concerning His race, birthplace, and the time of His coming, and also regarding His life and teaching, His works, and many other things peculiar to the Messiah. It is known, moreover, throughout the entire world, that the Old Testament, interpreted by Christian doctors, shows that all that is written of the Messiah is true of Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, so aptly do the prophecies of the Old Testament apply to Christ and to His Church, that if the Jews were not loud in proclaiming the antiquity of Moses and the Prophets, their predictions might be taken for forgeries of Christianity.
Let us, then, inquire of the Jews, whether Jesus of Nazareth be, in truth, the Messiah. If He be, they ought to become Christians; for they have been commanded to hear and to obey Him. If He be not the Messiah, how is it that God has allowed all the conditions peculiar to the Messiah to be manifested to the Jews, since He enjoined of them to follow Him who should display these qualifications? If Christ be not the Messiah, we must say, either that God did not know that Jesus was to come into the world, or that he could not prevent His coming; or that, having the power, He had not the will, to oppose His advent. Any of these answers would be unworthy of a sane man. If, then, God foreknew the coming of Christ, and could have prevented it, why did He not do so, since he had imposed such strict commandments upon the Jews? It would look as if God had deceived the Jews; and as if Christians would not be condemned by Him for following Jesus of Nazareth, in describing whose career all the Prophets agree, and who was wonderful above all other men. Certainly, if He be not the Messiah, we need not expect any greater wonder-worker than He. If He be not the Messiah, God, through Him, has deceived the whole human race. Let the Jews, then, search the Scripture, and see what distinguishing mark they expect to see in their Messiah, which is not clearly manifested by Jesus of Nazareth.
Again, Holy Writ foretells the period in which the Messiah is to come. This period, as we perceive by the Scripture, is long since passed. If, then, no man has ever been seen on earth, possessing greater power, wisdom, or goodness than Jesus of Nazareth, how can we doubt, that, if the Messiah be already come, Jesus was He? Many passages in Holy Scripture indicate the time fixed for the advent of the Messiah. Thus we read in Genesis: “The sceptre shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a ruler from his thigh, till He come that is to be sent, and He shall be the expectation of nations” (Gen. xlix. 10). Again in Daniel we read: “Seventy weeks are shortened upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, that transgression may be finished, and sin may have an end, and iniquity may be abolished; and everlasting justice may be brought; and vision and prophecy may be fulfilled; and the Saint of saints may be anointed. Know thou, therefore, and take notice: that from the going forth of the word, to build up Jerusalem again, unto Christ the prince, there shall be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks: and the street shall be built again, and the walls in straitness of times. And after sixty-two weeks Christ shall be slain: and the people that deny Him shall not be His. And a people, with their leader that shall come, shall destroy the city and the sanctuary: and the end thereof shall be waste, and after the end of the war the appointed desolation. And he shall confirm the covenant with many, in one week: and in the half of the week the victim and the sacrifice shall fail: and there shall be in the temple the abomination of desolation: and the desolation shall continue even to the consummation, and to the end” (Dan. ix. 24-27).
We can easily see from these words, that Jesus Christ is the true Messiah. For the seventy weeks mentioned have passed long ago; and there is no one except Christ with whom we can connect them. In the Holy Scriptures, as we learn from Leviticus xxiii. and xxv., a week may signify either seven days or seven years. Now, seventy weeks of years amount to 490 years. And this period has elapsed, four times, between the days of Daniel and our own. And, if any one should object, that Daniel meant by a week neither seven days nor seven years, but some longer period, we would ask him what the longer period may be? And as he will not be able to answer, except in our terms, it is clear that any period assigned by him, and unspecified by Holy Writ, will be his own invention. Surely, if by a week God intended to signify a number of days and years not mentioned in Scripture, He would, by not apprising Daniel of the fact, have rendered his prophecy useless, and a cause of confusion and error. It must, therefore, be conceded that the time appointed for the advent of the Messiah is past; and, that He has already come. It were vain to answer, that, although the weeks predicted by Daniel have elapsed, the Messiah has not arrived; and to argue that neither Daniel nor the other Prophets indicate how soon after the close of the seventy weeks Christ is to come. For, if this argument held good, it would follow that the Prophets never foretold, with any certainty, anything concerning the Messiah. However, Daniel expressly says, “Know thou, therefore, and take notice: that from the going forth of the word, to build up Jerusalem again, unto Christ the Prince, there shall be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks”; and again: “He shall confirm the covenant with many, in one week: and in the half of the week the victim and the sacrifice shall fail”. The meaning of which words cannot certainly be applied to any one except to Christ. Thus we see that He is indicated by this text; otherwise God would have led us into error, letting us believe that what was spoken concerning another, referred to Christ.
But let us now proceed to an exposition of the words. It is manifest, from what has already been said, that Jesus came into the world, in order to dispel error, and to lead men to holiness of life. Hence, the time of His coming is plainly shown by the words, “seventy weeks are shortened upon thy people, and upon thy holy city”; for they indicate that He was to preach first to the Jews. And the next words, “that transgression may be finished, and sin may have an end, and everlasting justice be brought,” have been verified throughout the world. And, because all Prophets speak of Christ in the same strain, Daniel continues, “and vision and prophecy may be fulfilled, and the Saint of saints may be anointed,” by which we understand the anointing of Jesus Christ, at His Incarnation, with the unction of the Holy Spirit. But, as, at the same time, many different things were accomplished, Daniel describes them all without distinction. He makes mention, first, of “seven weeks,” because, in that time, as we read in Esdras and Nehemias, the temple and city, destroyed by Nabuchadonosor, were, with the greatest difficulty, restored. He next speaks of “sixty-two weeks,” because during that period, as we learn from the book of Maccabees, the Jews were grievously harassed by their enemies. Thirdly, Daniel refers to “one week,” because at the beginning of one week Christ began to preach, and in the middle of a week He was crucified, for He preached for three years and a half.1
He was followed by His Apostles, who taught the Jews, that the legal sacrifices and ceremonies need no longer be observed, since, as the Reality had come, it was meet that its type should have an end. The doctors of the Church show that Christ began to preach, and was slain, at the predicted time; and, as men may read their books for themselves, I will pass over the subject briefly. And as the Jews denied Christ before Pilate saying, “we have no king but Cæsar,” they were justly condemned by God, and the Gentiles chosen by Him in their stead. Their rejection is signified by the words, “the people that shall deny Him shall not be His”: i.e., in punishment of their sin they were dispersed. Therefore, the Prophet continues, “and a people”—i.e., the Romans—“with their leader that shall come”—i.e., Vespasian and Titus—“shall destroy the city and the sanctuary,” i.e., the Temple. And, as the Jews were completely routed and dispersed, the prophecy concludes with the words, “and the end thereof shall be waste, and after the end of the war the appointed desolation”.
God had promised to the Patriarchs and Prophets to send the Messiah, who should open Heaven to them and give them a new law. Thus we read in Jeremias: “Behold the days shall come, saith the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Juda. Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt: the covenant which they made void, and I had dominion over them, saith the Lord. But this shall be the covenant, that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord: I will give My law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart: and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer. xxxi. 31-33). Therefore Daniel says, “He shall confirm the covenant with many in one week”. This means, that Christ should, by His Blood and His Preaching, with that of His Apostles, confirm the covenant of the New Testament, not to all, (for all would not believe), but to many in one week, the last week, “and in the half of the week the victim and the sacrifice shall fail,” because in the middle of this week Jesus Christ was crucified. And, as He was prefigured by the victims and sacrifices of the Old Law, it was meet that when He, the true Light, came, these shadows should flee away. The Temple was thus rendered useless; and by the will of God it was profaned and utterly destroyed. Therefore Daniel continues, “and there shall be in the temple the abomination of desolation”. This abomination signifies, that the statue of the Emperor Hadrian should be set up where the Ark of Moses had stood; for in the eyes of the Jews every idol was abominable. The expression “abomination” may also refer to the Jewish sacrifices, which were to become abominable before the Lord. Finally, as the Jews will not be converted to the faith, save at the end of the world,1 Daniel concludes by saying, “the desolation shall continue even to the consummation and to the end”.
This is confirmed by the Prophet Osee in the words: “Thou shalt wait for me many days: thou shalt not play the harlot,” i.e., thou shalt not worship idols. This prophecy foretells the fact, that, after their return from Babylon, even to this day, the Jews have not fallen into idolatry, save for a little while at the time of the Maccabees. “And thou shalt be no man’s,” continues the Prophet, meaning that the Jews should not belong to Christ;” and I also will wait for thee. For the children of Israel shall sit many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without altar, and without ephod, and without teraphim. And after this the children of Israel shall return, and shall seek the Lord their God, and David their King,” i.e., Christ, the Son of David, “and they shall fear the Lord, and His goodness in the last days” (Osee iii. 3, 5).
This prophecy most distinctly points to Jesus of Nazareth. And if we study the other Prophets carefully, we shall see His coming foretold by all. But, returning to our original point, we observe that the time for the advent of the Messiah has already passed,—not only the time determined by the Holy Scriptures, but also the time indicated by many Jewish doctors,—and, as no other man save Jesus of Nazareth, has appeared, bearing the characteristics which were to distinguish the Messiah, every one must conclude that Christ is the Messiah promised in the Law and the Prophets.
This truth is further borne out by the last Jewish captivity; as we shall see, if we compare it with the Babylonian captivity, by which it is typified. The captivity of Babylon was a punishment to the Jews for their many sins, especially for their idolatry, which of all crimes is the most heinous. Nevertheless, even during their captivity, they were always consoled by the presence of their leaders and prophets and holy men; and their exile did not last for more than seventy years. But their last captivity has lasted for more than 1400 years, which they have passed, deprived of all consolation; without leader, prophet, or holy man. Neither has God assigned any limit to the time of their captivity. Yet, they have not incurred this punishment by idolatry, since, as we have said, they have not, since the Babylonian captivity, fallen into this crime.
Why, then, have the Jews been scattered over the face of the earth? And why has their name been made a byword to all men? Surely, if idolatry be the greatest of all crimes, and if they have not committed it for hundreds of years, their punishment ought to be a lighter one than that which they once incurred for idolatry. They must, then, be suffering for an offence even more heinous. This offence is, that, with malicious perfidy and hatred, they have crucified the true Son of God, whom they knew by His life, His miracles, and the prophecies concerning Him, to be the Messiah. They have, with a few exceptions, persevered in this malice until now. And it is for this crime, and in order to render testimony to our faith, that they have been dispersed over the earth.
Again. For a very long time, no sign of sanctity or of true religion has appeared among the Hebrew people. They have been distinguished for avarice and other sins. The gift of prophecy has failed among them. And God does not now, as in times past, show, by any sign, that they are His people. On the other hand, the Church of the Gentiles manifests all holiness of life, true religion, and the wonderful works of Christ and of His saints. Thus is verified the prophecy of Malachy, who, speaking in the person of God, to the Jews, says, “I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of hosts: and I will not receive a gift of your hand. For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, My name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean oblation: for My name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal. i. 10, 11). If God, who is no longer with the Hebrew people, be not with the Gentiles, He must have utterly forsaken the human race.
Again. If it be true that God does not despise small things, neither does He contemn such as are greater. He has foretold by His Prophets many events, such as matters concerning the small kingdoms of the Idumeans, Moabites, Ammonites, far less important than the deeds of Christ and of His Church. Surely, then, it would be an extraordinary thing, were He to pass over in silence these wonderful works; the more so as he made known, before the coming of our Lord, all the evils which have since befallen the Jews. Now, as the Kingdom of Christ was to be to the Jews a far greater and more enduring calamity than any other, is it reasonable to suppose that God, who warned them of the minor evils which would come upon them from Nabuchodonosor, and other kings and nations, would have made no reference in the Scripture to the advent of Christ? But, as the Scriptures do contain abundant mention of Him; and as, by comparing His works with the words of the Prophets, we see that no prophecies can apply to Him, save those that refer to the Messiah, we are driven to conclude, either that God has deceived us, or that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
If, again, we study history, we shall see, that, before the coming of our Lord, God continually showed forth His wonders among the Jewish people; but since the advent of Christ, no marvellous sign has ever been wrought amongst them. This proves that they are forsaken of God. That the Almighty has abandoned them, is further shown, by the blindness of their understanding. For their doctrines are full of fables so foolish, that no one, with any sense, would propagate them. And their expositions of Holy Scripture are so palpably erroneous, that one wonders that shame has not prevented their publishing, or even conceiving, the fallacies in which they abound.
We might adduce many other proofs in refutation of the Jews. But the doctors of the Church have written very fully on this matter; so, that which we have said about it must suffice. However, if any one will study the arguments just brought forward against the Jews, together with those adduced in our Second Book, he will most certainly conclude, that Jesus of Nazareth is the true God, and the Messiah foretold by the Prophets.
THE MALICIOUS UNTRUTHFULNESS OF HERETICS.
We must next consider the case of heretics, who, while acknowledging Christ and the Gospel, are involved in many errors. It would take too long to refute every heresy. Therefore, as learned authors have devoted themselves to this task, we will simply, by means of reasoning, confute the principles common to them all.
First, then, we will prove that it is necessary that the Church should be governed by one only head. For, if heretics believe that Divine Providence rules the world, and especially the Church, by which such great deeds have been wrought, they must, to be consistent, admit that the form of government ordained by the Lord of all things must be the best. Now, the best government is a monarchy; because, by it a nation is brought into closer unity, than by a government administered by many; and union and peace are the end aimed at by government. Therefore, as the government of the Church is the best kind of government, its government must be a monarchy.
Again, the government of lower things naturally follows the government of such as are higher; and the more closely it resembles it, the more perfect it will be. Hence, the government of the Church militant, being fashioned on the pattern of that of the Church triumphant, which is ruled by God alone, must be administered by one ruler only.
Further, supernatural things are more perfectly ordered than are things natural. Now in nature we see that wheresoever government exists there is only one ruler; for instance, bees have only one queen, and the limbs of the body are regulated by the heart. Therefore, as the government of the Church, being supernatural, is superior to all other governments, it must be administered by one governor alone.
Now, all heretics agree with us either about the New Testament alone, or about the New Testament and the Old together; although they dissent from us in the interpretation of the Scriptures. But both in the Old and in the New Testament, it is distinctly said that the Church is to have one head. “The children of Juda, and the children of Israel shall be gathered together: and they shall appoint themselves under one head,” says Osee (i. 11). “There shall be one fold and one Shepherd,” says our Lord (St. John x. 16). No one can reasonably understand such words as meaning, that after His ascension, Christ would be the Head of His Church in such sense that no earthly head would be required. For He would thus have created endless confusion and discord; and there would have been no means of adjudicating between the many opinions concerning faith and morals, which would have arisen amongst Christians. Therefore, our Lord, speaking to St. Peter alone, said, “Feed My sheep” (St. Matt. xxi. 18). And again, “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not: and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (St. Luke xxii. 32). Hereby is shown that He left St. Peter as His vicar. He proved his intention still more clearly when he said, “Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in Heaven” (St. Matt. xvi. 18, 19).
It cannot, however, be supposed that Christ gave this dignity to St. Peter only, to the exclusion of his successors; since He Himself declared, that the Church should endure for ever in the order established by Him. Speaking to His disciples, and addressing, in their person, all the faithful, He said, “Behold I am with you, even unto the consummation of the world” (St. Matt. xxviii. 20). And again, by the mouth of Isaias, He says, “He shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his Kingdom: to establish it, and strengthen it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and for ever” (Is. ix. 7). These passages clearly indicate, that the office confided by Christ to St. Peter, being highly expedient and necessary to the Church, should, by a perpetual succession, be guaranteed to her for ever. Hence it follows that, as St. Peter was chosen by Christ to be His vicar and the shepherd of the whole Church, all his successors must inherit his power. And, as the Bishops of Rome hold the place of Peter, the Roman Church must consequently be the mistress and ruler of all churches; and the whole body of the faithful must be in unity with the Roman Pontiff. Whosoever therefore disagrees in his teaching with the doctrine of the Roman Church, withdraws from Christ, following crooked ways. And, as all heretics dissent from the teaching of the Church, they have all declined from the right way, and are unworthy of the name of Christians. For by heretics we mean such as, falsifying the Holy Scripture, and choosing a religion for themselves, do obstinately persevere in their error.
Again, it is often said: “Truth mates with truth, and all truths confirm each other”. But heretics disagree so completely between themselves, that they have scarcely a point in common; nay, rather, they are perpetually flinging abuse at one another; and no solid argument can be found in their teaching. This, of itself, proves how far they have strayed from the truth. But the doctrine of the Roman Church, so far as regards faith and morals, is one; and her doctors, though almost innumerable, never dissent, nor desire to dissent, from it.
Again, the Kingdom of Christ and of the Church militant will endure until the consummation of the world. Nay, more, even after the earth shall have been made new, this kingdom will last for ever, in the Church triumphant. Now, as many heretics have risen against the Roman Church, and have been absolutely crushed, it is clear that they cannot have formed part of the Church, and that their teaching was not of God.
Again, the sinful lives of many heretics prove, further, that they come not from God. Not one, even among the most eminent of the heresiarchs, has been held in the veneration accorded to the Saints of our Church, whose very bones and ashes are solemnly honoured, while the day of their death is commemorated by praises of their holy lives.
Heretics also fall into numerous errors not only concerning Holy Scripture, but regarding natural reason and true philosophy. This is another proof that their teaching is not inspired by God. But we need not further discuss their errors, since they have been abundantly refuted by holy doctors. And their heretical doctrines (I speak of those that have more publicly attacked the Church), have been almost entirely extirpated. This, of itself, is a proof that they came not forth from God.
THE UTTER IRRATIONALITY OF THE MAHOMETAN RELIGION.
Mahometans, who observe the Jewish rite of circumcision and maintain almost every heretical doctrine, stand midway between Jews and heretics. It shall be our last, and not very difficult, task to refute them. I say that the task should not be a difficult one, for any one who knows the religion and reads the Koran of Mahomet, must be at once convinced of the folly of his system. All religion, to be true, must be either supernatural, or must proceed from the light of natural religion. Now, the Mahometan superstition can be inspired by no wisdom, either human or Divine, seeing that any one, however moderately versed in philosophy, can easily confute it.
The book of the Koran, or collection of precepts, bears ample testimony to the ignorance of its author, Mahomet. Its contents are so confusedly brought together, that no one in the world could, I believe, arrange them. This want of method is a clear sign of ignorance, or of falseness of judgment. But the Koran is also so full of fables and immorality, that it deserves ridicule rather than serious analysis. It is evident that such a law could not proceed from natural reason, and still less from supernatural inspiration, since, as we have before shown, what is opposed to natural light, is necessarily opposed also to supernatural wisdom.
Again, a bad beginning rarely, if ever, brings a good ending. Now, Mahometanism began with Mahomet, who, as history tells us, was a most unreasonable and unprincipled man, an adulterer, and a robber. He was subject to epileptic fits, which often caused him to fall prostrate, and these falls he attributed to colloquies with an angel. Gradually, and by means, not of argument, but of violence and bribery, he gathered around him a number of uneducated and depraved men; and with their assistance conquered vast multitudes of people. A sect, begun in this fashion, was not likely to have a good end.
Mahomet, in his Koran, approves both the New and the Old Testament. He commends Christ as a true Prophet, born of the Virgin Mary. But, in spite of this, he accuses Christians of having falsified both the Old and the New Testament. Such an accusation will, easily, be rejected by any one who considers the uniformity existing between the versions of the Old and New Testament, whether written in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, or any other language, either ancient or modern. Had Christians tampered with the Scriptures, how could the versions of the Bible be uniform? This would be wonderful, existing, as they do, in so many languages, and written in such numbers of books, both Jewish and Christian, ancient and modern. This very uniformity of all the versions of the Scriptures is a clear proof that the fables of Mahomet, and the Koran itself, are but a tissue of lies.
Again, every true religion is established for the purpose of teaching a virtuous mode of life. Its end is the practice of purity of heart. It is intended to facilitate the contemplation of the Divine mysteries. Now, the religion of Mahomet is absolutely material. Completely ignoring true beatitude, it promises to its followers, after this life, nothing but the enjoyment of sensual gratification. There is no ground for saying that Mahomet spoke allegorically. The Koran contains no explanation of any parable, such as are to be found in our Scriptures.
Among the Mahometans, again, we do not, as in the Christian religion, meet with any miracles, or manifestation of Divine phenomena. Mahomet, while acknowledging Christ as the messenger of God, commissioned to convert the world by miracles, said that he himself had been sent by Heaven to convert it by the sword. This pretension was obviously ridiculous; since God takes no pleasure in tyranny, nor in compulsory service. There is nothing striking in the doctrine contained in the Koran; yet the Mahometans think that they are uttering a wonderful saying, when they pronounce the words, “There is but one God, and Mahomet is His prophet”; “God is great and powerful”. This, and similar phrases, are often repeated, and to them are added fables, which our very children would ridicule.
Again, the Mahometans, unlike Christians, own no prophets, no holy men, no workers of heavenly wonders. They venerate as saints, certain madmen, who mutilate their bodies, perform strange antics, and know nothing of Divine things. Mahomet, also, constantly contradicts himself in his Koran. He says that he knows not, whether he and his followers are in the way of salvation; and that he believes, that none can understand his law. It is a matter of surprise to me, that he was not stoned by his own people for giving them an unintelligible code, and leaving them in doubt about their salvation. His law indeed, being supported neither by natural reason, by miracles, nor by sanctity of life, is, fittingly, an object of derision. If Mahomet had attempted to establish his religion by preaching, his errors would have been very easily demonstrated. But, knowing that his doctrine was indefensible on any logical grounds, he had the astuteness to command, that it should be propagated by the sword. It may surprise some persons that Mahomet should have been successful in perverting so many nations, and in seducing them from Christ. For, it may be thought that Mahomet had greater influence than our Lord, the more so as his kingdom has constantly been on the increase. Our answer is, that there is nothing in this fact, which ought to impair our belief in the Christian religion. It does not, in the least, diminish the strength of the arguments which we have already adduced to prove the Divinity of its Founder. For neither in the law of Mahomet, nor in any other religious system, can anything be discovered, more holy, or more wonderful, than the Christian dogmas.
As for the fact of Mahomet’s having withdrawn many from Christianity, as much may be asserted of the devil. So, this is no proof of Mahomet’s superiority to Christ. For Satan has conquered a far greater multitude of souls than either our Lord or Mahomet have gained. If numbers are to be considered as a testimony to truth, we ought to follow in the wake of impious men, rather than to imitate the piety of the just. Bad men will always outnumber the good. It is indeed a surprising mode of arguing in favour of Mahomet, to say, that he must be superior to Christ, because, by means of the sword, he has subjected many to his irrational and degrading law. Such are not our arguments; nor was the Mahometan system that on which Christianity was founded. Small wonder is it, that Jesus has so few followers, since He commands us to live virtuously, to suffer until death, and yet, promises us none but invisible rewards. If the reasoning of those who uphold Mahometanism were correct, it would gainsay, not only supernatural doctrine, but also philosophy. For the conclusion, logically arising from it, is, that good is evil; truth, falsehood; and light, darkness. For, if the fact that a system is followed by a multitude renders it true and good and luminous; and if, as is the case, the number of men living virtuously and reasonably is extremely small, all our notions of religion and morality must be reversed.
Again, we must remember that, as God allows those who will not walk in the truth to be blinded, He suffered certain nations, as a punishment for their sins, to be seduced by Mahomet. Surely, had such not been His will, and had these races not deserved such a chastisement, Mahomet would have been powerless. For, if Christ was able, whilst His Name was still unknown, and the world was full of idolatry, to convert, by peaceful means, so many nations to Himself, how much more glorious would be His triumph, now that His Name is magnified throughout the whole earth? But, as we have just said, God allowed certain nations to be infected by Mahometanism, to punish them for their sins. Such a judgment is consistent with the words of our Lord, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (St. Matt. xx. 16).
We must, likewise, remember that the Church has frequently increased numerically, and frequently diminished, because man possesses free-will, and because God does not force him to virtue, but draws him by love. He either promises him eternal happiness, or threatens him, if he persist in sin, with divers penalties, of which one of the chief is the darkening of his understanding. Thus, David, speaking in the person of Christ, and of the just against the wicked, says, “Let their eyes be darkened that they see not; and their back bend thou down always” (Ps. lxviii. 24). Again, we find in Isaias, “Blind the heart of this people, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes: lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them” (Isa. vi. 10). This blindness of heart and stubbornness of mind, foretold by the Prophets, was the first punishment that overtook the Jews.
We know, also, that it has been predicted, that many are to fall away from the faith. Our Lord, speaking of the end of the world, says, “Because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many hath grown cold” (St. Matt. xxiv. 12). He says again, “The Son of Man, when He cometh, shall He find, think you, faith on earth”? (St. Luke xviii. 8). St. Paul, likewise, writes thus to Timothy, “Now the Spirit manifestly saith, that in the last times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to spirits of error, and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. iv. 1). And, if we study the teaching of the Gospel, we shall find that this blindness of heart, the severest of all punishments, because it leads to hell, has been foretold by Christ, and by Him has been permitted to overtake men for their ingratitude and malice.
Some one may, however, reply, that it does not seem just that children should be punished for the sins of their fathers; and that if the Jews and Mahometans offended God, them indeed He ought to have punished with blindness, but not to have involved in the same fate their descendants. To this argument we would reply, that, as the faith of Christ is known to the entire world, no one can be excused for disbelieving it. Of course, children would not be punished with their fathers, if they did not commit their fathers’ sins. Men are all the less excusable, since, if they lived according to natural reason, and prayed to God for their eternal salvation, they would most undoubtedly be enlightened by faith. For, although we know that the judgments of God are unsearchable, we know likewise that He will never be wanting to any creature in its necessity. The Apostle says, “For God hath concluded all in unbelief, that He may have mercy on all”. Then, contemplating the unfathomable abyss of the Divine Majesty, he immediately continues, “O the depth of the riches, of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counsellor? Or who hath first given to Him, and recompense shall be made him? For of Him, and by Him, and in Him, are all things: to Him be glory for ever, Amen” (Rom. xi. 32-36).
We must, nevertheless, bear in mind that Christ our Lord, who foretold these evils to come, has likewise assured us that His Church shall never fail. For “behold,” He says, “I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world”. Now, as the calamities which He prophesied have come to pass, we have every reason to trust that the blessing which He has promised will also be vouchsafed to us. We may say this with confidence, as the Church is so solidly established, that it is folly to think that She can fail. We trust, therefore, that, as Christ has punished unfaithful Christians, He will likewise make new His Church, opening to her the whole world, that, so, there may be “one fold and one Shepherd”. This, we know, will quickly come to pass. And, thus, the ship of Peter will plough her way forward, sometimes borne on by favouring winds, and sometimes buffeted by storms. But the law of Mahomet, based not on reason, Divine or human, but on physical force, cannot endure; for nothing established by violence can continue.
THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION WILL REMAIN TRUE AND UNWAVERING UNTO THE END.
As all religion must proceed either from natural reason, from supernatural light, or from the union of the two, we should be bound, if there existed any religions or superstitions besides these that we have enumerated, to refute them with the same arguments that we have already used. For all religions founded by men, enlightened merely by natural light, are based, as is the religion of the ancient philosophers, on the true principles of human reason. We have already shown that such a religion will not suffice for salvation. Such religions may be founded on false principles of reason. This may occur in one of two ways. They may be, as is the superstition of astrology, grounded on false principles concerning natural things; or, like idolatry, on false principles emanating from Satan. Further, no religion can exist proceeding from supernatural light which is not established on the Old and the New Testament together. A false religion may, like the Jewish, be based on the Old Testament alone; or, like heretical sects, on misinterpretation of the New Testament; or, like Mahometanism, it may rest on a medley of the Old and the New Testaments. But Christianity is founded on both the Testaments, and is illuminated both by natural reason and by supernatural light. Since then the religions which we have enumerated,—to wit, philosophy, astrology, idolatry, Judaism, heresy, and Mahometanism,—are the chief religions in the world; and since Christianity surpasses them, both in reasonableness, in miracles, and in all other ways, as immeasurably as Heaven dominates earth, or light darkness; it is plain, that Christianity must be the true religion, and the sure harbour of slavation.
But to forestall cavilling, we will add that, even should some one proclaim the advent into the world of a religion superior to the Christian Faith, this would in no wise dim the glory of Christianity. Firstly, because, as, at present, no better religion than that of Christ exists, we ought to follow it until a better appear. Secondly, because it is unreasonable to think, that a religion, superior to Christianity, can exist. For, as the Faith of Christ sets before us the best possible end, the surest possible means of attaining thereto, the most perfect life, and the greatest and most wonderful deeds, it can never be superseded by any other system.
But, supposing, for the sake of argument, that a religion, superior to Christianity, should arise, it would not condemn our Faith. For, since Christianity, as we have shown, proceeds from supernatural light; and since it is, in no wise, opposed to that which is natural, it can have come from none but God. Thus, it can be condemned by no other religion. Any better religion than Christianity must approve and commend the Christian Faith; because any such religion would, necessarily, arise either from natural or supernatural light. From whichsoever of these sources it might spring, such a religion would, necessarily, approve and commend Christianity. For truth must be ever in harmony with truth; and whatsoever arises from natural or supernatural light, must proceed from God the Creator of this dual light, which, by its beams, enlightens the world with His truth. Were natural and supernatural light opposed to each other, one would necessarily be false; and God would teach men at one time falsehood, and at another time truth. This hypothesis is manifestly absurd. For, were God thus to confuse our understanding, we should be incapable of knowing the truth. To produce such a condition in His creatures is foreign to the Divine Nature. Therefore, if any other true religion were to arise in the world, it would be, of necessity, bound to approve Christianity, and to commend it as the truth which leads to eternal life.
Arguments carry greatest weight when accumulated. Therefore, the conclusion of our work shall consist of a brief summary of the line of argument pursued throughout it. We will begin, therefore, by asserting that the faith of Christians in the teaching of Christ, and their observance of His commandments, is not founded on frivolous motives, but on the most prudent grounds. Every intelligent man who considers the greatness and the wondrous harmony of the universe, will be convinced, that there must be a God, the Supreme Cause and Primary Mover of all things. For, as everything that moves is moved by some other thing, there must be some First Mover. Further, spirit being more noble than body, and God being noble above all things, He must be a spirit and simple substance, or Pure Act. Hence it follows, that He is perfect, Supreme Good, Supreme Power, Immutable, Eternal, One. All that is noble is, in proportion to its elevation above matter, more fully endowed with knowledge. God, therefore, must be Highest Intelligence, and possessed of free-will. He must act, not out of necessity, but by means of His Will. As, by means of His Intelligence and Will, He acts in all things, even in the very least, we must acknowledge that His providence cares for all things, and especially for man, for whom He has created every natural thing. Hence, it pertains to God, to guide man to his last end, to wit, the contemplation of Divine things. But, as such beatitude cannot be attained in this present life, wherein we are encompassed by misery, and enjoy but scant knowledge of God, we are forced, under pain of being very inconsistent, to believe in another life, and to maintain that the soul is immortal, and that it is the form of the body. Thus the Catholic Church, with respect to the natural order of things, teaches about God and the final blessedness of man, nought save what is most reasonable and intelligible.
If we next call to mind the picture which I drew of the Triumph of the Cross, we shall see that Christians, in confessing the faith of Christ, show the truest wisdom. For, the necessity of the existence of some religion in the world cannot be denied, when man’s natural tendency to religion—the means whereby blessedness is attained—is taken into account. And, if the end of religion be a good life, and a good life be that true religion whereby God is perfectly honoured, then as no better life than the Christian life exists, we must confess Christianity to be the true religion, whereby man is surely led to blessedness.
If it be a hard matter to believe that Jesus Christ, who was crucified, is both God and Man, we must bear in mind, that, were this article of Faith an error, it could not produce, foster, and develop the Christian life. Yet, as a matter of fact, this truth produces, more than does any other article of our belief, consummate perfection among Christians. Again, we know that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, on which our whole creed is founded, must be from God. Otherwise, the innumerable events which they predict would not have been verified; nor would the Scriptures have borne such abundant fruit throughout the world. If our Faith were false, men of purified intellect could not fail, especially when they are engaged in contemplation and prayer, to discern its errors; but, contrariwise, we see that such men are the boldest champions of the Faith. Again, were our religion false, its exterior rites could not, as they do, sanctify those who practise them reverently, nor deprave those who desecrate them. Neither, were the Faith untrue, could it give to the hearts of Christians such peace, and joy, and freedom, as to make them account affliction as a blessing and consolation; nor would it beautify their very countenance with such an expression of sincerity and calm, as to render them venerable in the sight of all men, and a powerful attraction to the practice of Christian virtue.
Furthermore, when we consider the power of Christ, whereby He has overcome all—gods, emperors, tyrants, philosophers, heretics, and barbarous nations; when we remember how His work has been accomplished—not by the sword, nor by wealth, nor by human wisdom, but by the daily torture and death of His martyrs; when we think of His Divine Wisdom which has so speedily enlightened the world and purged it of its errors; and when we reflect upon His mercy, whereby He has attracted multitudes to His love so powerfully, that not only have they renounced all earthly possessions, but have gladly suffered martyrdom rather than deny one jot or tittle of the faith—can we hesitate as to the truth of Christianity? What god, or what man, has wrought like wonders? If these marvellous works have been performed without a miracle; this, of itself, would be the greatest of miracles. But if they have been wrought miraculously, these miracles prove that Christianity is blessed by God.
If we next study the teaching of Christ, we shall see that it contains nothing unreasonable. The very mystery of the Blessed Trinity is imaged forth in creatures. It is reasonable, again, to believe that God is the Creator of all things, since everything needs an efficient cause. Likewise, since man is created for supernatural happiness, it is logical to maintain the sanctification and glory of the soul, and the resurrection of the body; for without the body, the soul would be imperfect. Furthermore, in order that the senses, more especially the eyes, of glorified bodies, may have more perfect and more fitting objects on which to exercise themselves, it is rational to believe that this earth will likewise be glorified. As God is able to do more than we can conceive, He was able by His power to become man. And it was most fitting that He should become incarnate, in order to instruct mankind as to its final beatitude, as to the true means for its attainment, and also, that He might make satisfaction to the Eternal Father for the sins of men. It beseemed Him, likewise, to be born of a Spotless Virgin, and to die upon the Cross, to teach us to face even death for justice’ sake. It was meet, too, that in order to give us hopes of our resurrection, He should rise again, and that, having been unjustly judged by the wicked, He should become the Judge of the living and the dead.
Again, nothing can be more in accordance with reason, than is the judicial and ethical code of Christianity; since no life is so perfect as is the Christian life. This results from the government of the Church, whose doctrines contain all that is best in the teaching of philosophers and sages. There is, again, nothing unreasonable, or absurd, in ecclesiastical ceremonies. This is evidenced by the sanctity of life, resulting from devout observance of them.
Where, then, shall we find a religion, established on such solid grounds of reason, as is Christianity? Philosophers ignored the true end of human life. Astrology is a web of superstition. Idolatry contains neither morality nor truth. Judaism is refuted by its prophets of old, and by the present captivity of its followers. The discord among heretics, and the extermination of their sects, is a strong proof that they are in error. Mahometanism outrages every principle of philosophy. Christianity alone is resplendent with natural and supernatural light; and is adorned by sanctity, wisdom, miracles, and wondrous deeds.
Can any intelligent man, then, refrain from devoutly embracing the Faith of Christ? Can any one fail to perceive the rashness and folly of those who revile a religion, blessed by God, and preserved by Him through centuries of persecution, and consecrated by the blood of innumerable martyrs? Surely, every man of sound judgment acknowledges Christianity to be true. Every man must believe that there exists another life, into which all must pass; that each one of us must stand before the awful Judge who will place on His left hand the wicked condemned to eternal punishment, and, on His right, the good who will enter into everlasting bliss. In this glory unutterable they shall gaze for ever on God in Trinity unspeakable, infinite. They shall rejoice in the grace of our all-conquering and triumphant Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, to whom be power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, for ever and ever. AMEN.
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[1 ]i.e., in Italian. It was published in Florence in the year 1495. Afterwards a Latin edition, Contra Astrologiam Divinatricem lib. iii., was printed.—Editor.
[1 ]i.e., angels, or else disembodied spirits, or souls which have left this world; to some of which pagans gave Divine worship.—Editor.
[1 ]i.e., Divine worship.—Editor.
[1 ] The author, quoting the Book of Leviticus, has already said (p. 183), that the “week” of Daniel’s prophecy is to be interpreted as being a week of years. He here reminds his readers that in the middle of the week our Lord was crucified, i.e., after three years and a half (or half of seven years) preaching. “He shall confirm His covenant with many, in one week: and in the half of the week the victim and sacrifice shall fail” (Dan. ix. 27).—Editor.
[1 ] Probably a reference to St. Paul’s words: “For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery (lest you should be wise in your own conceits), that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in. And so all Israel should be saved, as it is written: there shall come out of Sion, He that shall deliver, and shall turn away impiety from Jacob. . . . According to the Gospel, indeed, they are enemies for your sake: but according to election they are most dear for the sake of the fathers” (Rom. xi. 25, 26, 28).—Editor.