Front Page Titles (by Subject) VOLTAIRE A PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY Vol. IV — Part I - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. IV (Philosophical Dictionary Part 2)
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VOLTAIRE A PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY Vol. IV — Part I - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. IV (Philosophical Dictionary Part 2) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. IV.
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The WORKS of VOLTAIRE
“Between two servants of Humanity, who appeared eighteen hundred years apart, there is a mysterious relation. * * * * Let us say it with a sentiment of profound respect: JESUS WEPT: VOLTAIRE SMILED. Of that divine tear and of that human smile is composed the sweetness of the present civilization.”
A PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY.
We have spoken of love. It is hard to pass from people kissing to people eating one another. It is, however, but too true that there have been cannibals. We have found them in America; they are, perhaps, still to be found; and the Cyclops were not the only individuals in antiquity who sometimes fed on human flesh. Juvenal relates that among the Egyptians—that wise people, so renowned for their laws—those pious worshippers of crocodiles and onions—the Tentyrites ate one of their enemies who had fallen into their hands. He does not tell this tale on hearsay; the crime was committed almost before his eyes; he was then in Egypt, and not far from Tentyra. On this occasion he quotes the Gascons and the Saguntines, who formerly fed on the flesh of their countrymen.
In 1725 four savages were brought from the Mississippi to Fontainebleau, with whom I had the honor of conversing. There was among them a lady of the country, whom I asked if she had eaten men; she answered, with great simplicity that she had. I appeared somewhat scandalized; on which she excused herself by saying that it was better to eat one’s dead enemy than to leave him to be devoured by wild beasts, and that the conquerors deserved to have the preference. We kill our neighbors in battles, or skirmishes; and, for the meanest consideration, provide meals for the crows and the worms. There is the horror; there is the crime. What matters it, when a man is dead, whether he is eaten by a soldier, or by a dog and a crow?
We have more respect for the dead than for the living. It would be better to respect both the one and the other. The nations called polished have done right in not putting their vanquished enemies on the spit; for if we were allowed to eat our neighbors, we should soon eat our countrymen, which would be rather unfortunate for the social virtues. But polished nations have not always been so; they were all for a long time savage; and, in the infinite number of revolutions which this globe has undergone, mankind have been sometimes numerous and sometimes scarce. It has been with human beings as it now is with elephants, lions, or tigers, the race of which has very much decreased. In times when a country was but thinly inhabited by men, they had few arts; they were hunters. The custom of eating what they had killed easily led them to treat their enemies like their stags and their boars. It was superstition that caused human victims to be immolated; it was necessity that caused them to be eaten.
Which is the greater crime—to assemble piously together to plunge a knife into the heart of a girl adorned with fillets, or to eat a worthless man who has been killed in our own defence?
Yet we have many more instances of girls and boys sacrificed than of girls and boys eaten. Almost every nation of which we know anything has sacrificed boys and girls. The Jews immolated them. This was called the Anathema; it was a real sacrifice; and in Leviticus it is ordained that the living souls which shall be devoted shall not be spared; but it is not in any manner prescribed that they shall be eaten; this is only threatened. Moses tells the Jews that unless they observe his ceremonies they shall not only have the itch, but the mothers shall eat their children. It is true that in the time of Ezekiel the Jews must have been accustomed to eat human flesh; for, in his thirty-ninth chapter, he foretells to them that God will cause them to eat, not only the horses of their enemies, but moreover the horsemen and the rest of the warriors. And, indeed, why should not the Jews have been cannibals? It was the only thing wanting to make the people of God the most abominable people upon earth.
In the essay on the “Manners and Spirit of Nations” we read the following singular passage: “Herrera assures us that the Mexicans ate the human victims whom they immolated. Most of the first travellers and missionaries say that the Brazilians, the Caribbees, the Iroquois, the Hurons, and some other tribes, ate their captives taken in war; and they do not consider this as the practice of some individuals alone, but as a national usage. So many writers, ancient and modern, have spoken of cannibals, that it is difficult to deny their existence. A hunting people, like the Brazilians or the Canadians, not always having a certain subsistence, may sometimes become cannibals. Famine and revenge accustomed them to this kind of food; and while in the most civilized ages we see the people of Paris devouring the bleeding remains of Marshal d’Ancre, and the people of The Hague eating the heart of the grand pensionary, De Witt, we ought not to be surprised that a momentary outrage among us has been continual among savages.
“The most ancient books we have leave no room to doubt that hunger has driven men to this excess. The prophet Ezekiel, according to some commentators, promises to the Hebrews from God that if they defend themselves well against the king of Persia, they shall eat of ‘the flesh of horses and of mighty men.’
“Marco Polo says that in his time in a part of Tartary the magicians or priests—it was the same thing—had the privilege of eating the flesh of criminals condemned to death. All this is shocking to the feelings; but the picture of humanity must often have the same effect.
“How can it have been that nations constantly separated from one another have united in so horrible a custom? Must we believe that it is not so absolutely opposed to human nature as it appears to be? It is certain that it has been rare, but it is equally certain that it has existed. It is not known that the Tartars and the Jews often ate their fellow creatures. During the sieges of Sancerre and Paris, in our religious wars, hunger and despair compelled mothers to feed on the flesh of their children. The charitable Las Casas, bishop of Chiapa, says that this horror was committed in America, only by some nations among whom he had not travelled. Dampierre assures us that he never met with cannibals; and at this day there are not, perhaps, any tribes which retain this horrible custom.”
Americus Vespucius says in one of his letters that the Brazilians were much astonished when he made them understand that for a long time the Europeans had not eaten their prisoners of war.
According to Juvenal’s fifteenth satire, the Gascons and the Spaniards had been guilty of this barbarity. He himself witnessed a similar abomination in Egypt during the consulate of Junius. A quarrel happening between the inhabitants of Tentyra and those of Ombi, they fought; and an Ombian having fallen into the hands of the Tentyrians, they had him cooked, and ate him, all but the bare bones. But he does not say that this was the usual custom; on the contrary, he speaks of it as an act of more than ordinary fury.
The Jesuit Charlevoix, whom I knew very well, and who was a man of great veracity, gives us clearly to understand in his “History of Canada,” in which country he resided thirty years, that all the nations of northern America were cannibals; since he remarks, as a thing very extraordinary, that in 1711 the Acadians did not eat men.
The Jesuit Brebeuf relates that in 1640 the first Iroquois that was converted, having unfortunately got drunk with brandy, was taken by the Hurons, then at war with the Iroquois. The prisoner, baptized by Father Brebeuf by the name of Joseph, was condemned to death. He was put to a thousand tortures, which he endured, singing all the while, according to the custom of his country. They finished by cutting off a foot, a hand, and lastly his head; after which the Hurons put all the members into a cauldron, each one partook of them, and a piece was offered to Father Brebeuf.
Charlevoix speaks in another place of twenty-two Hurons eaten by the Iroquois. It cannot, then, be doubted, that in more countries than one, human nature has reached this last pitch of horror; and this execrable custom must be of the highest antiquity; for we see in the Holy Scriptures that the Jews were threatened with eating their children if they did not obey their laws. The Jews are told not only that they shall have the itch, and that their wives shall give themselves up to others, but also that they shall eat their sons and daughters in anguish and devastation; that they shall contend with one another for the eating of their children; and that the husband will not give to his wife a morsel of her son, because, he will say, he has hardly enough for himself.
Some very bold critics do indeed assert that the Book of Deuteronomy was not composed until after the siege of Samaria by Benhadad, during which, it is said in the Second Book of Kings, that mothers ate their children. But these critics, in considering Deuteronomy as a book written after the siege of Samaria, do but verify this terrible occurrence. Others assert that it could not happen as it is related in the Second Book of Kings. It is there said: “And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall [of Samaria], there cried a woman unto him, saying, ‘Help, my lord, O king.’ And he said, ‘If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barn floor? or out of the wine-press?’ And the king said unto her, ‘What aileth thee?’ And she answered, ‘This woman said unto me, give thy son, that we may eat him to-day, and we shall eat my son to-morrow. So we boiled my son, and did eat him; and I said unto her on the next day, ‘Give thy son, that we may eat him,’ and she hath hid her son.’ ”
These censors assert that it is not likely that while King Benhadad was besieging Samaria, King Joram passed quietly by the wall, or upon the wall, to settle differences between Samaritan women. It is still less likely that one child should not have satisfied two women for two days. There must have been enough to feed them for four days at least. But let these critics reason as they may, we must believe that fathers and mothers ate their children during the siege of Samaria, since it is expressly foretold in Deuteronomy. The same thing happened at the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar; and this, too, was foretold by Ezekiel.
Jeremiah exclaims, in his “Lamentations”: “Shall the women eat their fruit, and children of a span long?” And in another place: “The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children.” Here may be added the words of Baruch: “Man has eaten the flesh of his son and of his daughter.”
This horror is repeated so often that it cannot but be true. Lastly, we know the story related in Josephus, of the woman who fed on the flesh of her son when Titus was besieging Jerusalem. The book attributed to Enoch, cited by St. Jude, says that the giants born from the commerce of the angels with the daughters of men were the first cannibals.
In the eighth homily attributed to St. Clement, St. Peter, who is made to speak in it, says that these same giants quenched their thirst with human blood and ate the flesh of their fellow creatures. Hence resulted, adds the author, maladies until then unknown; monsters of all kinds sprung up on the earth; and then it was that God resolved to drown all human kind. All this shows us how universal was the reigning opinion of the existence of cannibals.
What St. Peter is made to say in St. Clement’s homily has a palpable affinity with the story of Lycaon, one of the oldest of Greek fables, and which we find in the first book of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.”
The “Relations of the Indies and China,” written in the eighth century by two Arabs, and translated by the Abbé Renaudot, is not a book to which implicit credit should be attached; far from it; but we must not reject all these two travellers say, especially when their testimony is corroborated by that of other authors who have merited some belief. They tell us that there are in the Indian Sea islands peopled with blacks who ate men; they call these islands Ramni.
Marco Polo, who had not read the works of these two Arabs, says the same thing four hundred years after them. Archbishop Navarette, who was afterwards a voyager in the same seas, confirms this account: “Los Europeos que cogen, es constante que vivos se los van comiendo.”
Texeira asserts that the people of Java ate human flesh, which abominable custom they had not left off more than two hundred years before his time. He adds that they did not learn milder manners until they embraced Mahometanism.
The same thing has been said of the people of Pegu, of the Kaffirs, and of several other African nations. Marco Polo, whom we have just now cited, says that in some Tartar hordes, when a criminal had been condemned to death they made a meal of him: “Hanno costoro un bestiale e orribile costume, che quando alcuno e guidicato a morte, lo tolgono, e cuocono, e mangian’ selo.”
What is more extraordinary and incredible is that the two Arabs attributed to the Chinese what Marco Polo says of some of the Tartars: that, “in general, the Chinese eat all who have been killed.” This abomination is so repugnant to Chinese manners, that it cannot be believed. Father Parennin has refuted it by saying that it is unworthy of refutation.
It must, however, be observed that the eighth century, the time when these Arabs wrote their travels, was one of those most disastrous to the Chinese. Two hundred thousand Tartars passed the great wall, plundered Pekin, and everywhere spread the most horrible desolation. It is very likely that there was then a great famine, for China was as populous as it is now; and some poor creatures among the lowest of the people might eat dead bodies. What interest could these Arabians have in inventing so disgusting a fable? Perhaps they, like most other travellers, took a particular instance for a national custom.
Not to go so far for examples, we have one in our own country, in the very province in which I write; it is attested by our conqueror, our master, Julius Cæsar. He was besieging Alexia, in the Auxois. The besieged being resolved to defend themselves to the last extremity, and wanting provisions, a great council was assembled, in which one of the chiefs, named Critognatus, proposed that the children should be eaten one after another to sustain the strength of the combatants. His proposal was carried by a majority of voices. Nor is this all; Critognatus in his harangue tells them that their ancestors had had recourse to the same kind of sustenance in the war with the Cimbri and Teutones.
We will conclude with the testimony of Montaigne. Speaking of what was told him by the companions of Villegagnon, returned from Brazil, and of what he had seen in France, he certifies that the Brazilians ate their enemies killed in war, but mark what follows: “Is it more barbarous to eat a man when dead than to have him roasted by a slow fire, or torn to pieces by dogs and swine, as is yet fresh in our memories—and that not between ancient enemies, but among neighbors and fellow-citizens—and, which is worse, on pretence of piety and religion?” What a question for a philosopher like Montaigne! Then, if Anacreon and Tibullus had been Iroquois, they would have eaten men! Alas! alas!
Well; two Englishmen have sailed round the world. They have discovered that New Holland is an island larger than Europe, and that men still eat one another there, as in New Zealand. Whence come this race? supposing that they exist. Are they descended from the ancient Egyptians, from the ancient people of Ethiopia, from the Africans, from the Indians—or from the vultures, or the wolves? What a contrast between Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus, and the cannibals of New Zealand! Yet they have the same organs, they are alike human beings. We have already treated on this property of the human race; it may not be amiss to add another paragraph.
The following are St. Jerome’s own words in one of his letters: “Quid loquar de cæteris nationibus, quum ipse adolescentulus in Gallia viderim Scotos, gentem Britannicam, humanis vesci carnibus, et quum per silvas porcorum greges pecudumque reperiant, tamen pastorum nates et fæminarum papillas solere abscindere et has solas ciborum delicias arbitrari?”—“What shall I say of other nations; when I myself, when young, have seen Scotchmen in Gaul, who, though they might have fed on swine and other animals of the forest, chose rather to cut off the posteriors of the youths and the breasts of the young women, and considered them as the most delicious food.”
Pelloutier, who sought for everything that might do honor to the Celts, took the pains to contradict Jerome, and to maintain that his credulity had been imposed on. But Jerome speaks very gravely, and of what he saw. We may, with deference, dispute with a father of the church about what he has heard; but to doubt of what he has seen is going very far. After all, the safest way is to doubt of everything, even of what we have seen ourselves.
One word more on cannibalism. In a book which has had considerable success among the well-disposed we find the following, or words to the same effect: “In Cromwell’s time a woman who kept a tallow chandler’s shop in Dublin sold excellent candles, made of the fat of Englishmen. After some time one of her customers complained that the candles were not so good. ‘Sir,’ said the woman, ‘it is because we are short of Englishmen.’ ”
I ask which were the most guilty—those who assassinated the English, or the poor woman who made candles of their fat? And further, I ask which was the greatest crime—to have Englishmen cooked for dinner, or to use their tallow to give light at supper? It appears to me that the great evil is the being killed; it matters little to us whether, after death, we are roasted on the spit or are made into candles. Indeed, no well-disposed man can be unwilling to be useful when he is dead.
CASTING (IN METAL).
There is not an ancient fable, not an old absurdity which some simpleton will not revive, and that in a magisterial tone, if it be but authorized by some classical or theological writer.
Lycophron (if I remember rightly) relates that a horde of robbers who had been justly condemned in Ethiopia by King Actisanes to lose their ears and noses, fled to the cataracts of the Nile and from thence penetrated into the Sandy Desert, where they at length built the temple of Jupiter Ammon.
Lycophron, and after him Theopompus, tells us that these banditti, reduced to extreme want, having neither shoes, nor clothes, nor utensils, nor bread, bethought themselves of raising a statue of gold to an Egyptian god. This statue was ordered one evening and made in the course of the night. A member of the university much attached to Lycophron and the Ethiopian robbers asserts that nothing was more common in the venerable ages of antiquity than to cast a statue of gold in one night, and afterwards throw it into a fire to reduce it to an impalpable powder, in order to be swallowed by a whole people.
But where did these poor devils, without breeches, find so much gold? “What, sir!” says the man of learning, “do you forget that they had stolen enough to buy all Africa and that their daughters’ ear-rings alone were worth nine millions five hundred thousand livres of our currency?”
Be it so. But for casting a statue a little preparation is necessary. M. Le Moine employed nearly two years in casting that of Louis XV. “Oh! but this Jupiter Ammon was at most but three feet high. Go to any pewterer; will he not make you half a dozen plates in a day?”
Sir, a statue of Jupiter is harder to make than pewter plates, and I even doubt whether your thieves had wherewith to make plates so quickly, clever as they might be at pilfering. It is not very likely that they had the necessary apparatus; they had more need to provide themselves with meal. I respect Lycophron much, but this profound Greek and his yet more profound commentators know so little of the arts—they are so learned in all that is useless, and so ignorant in all that concerns the necessaries and conveniences of life, professions, trades, and daily occupations that we will take this opportunity of informing them how a metal figure is cast. This is an operation which they will find neither in Lycophron, nor in Manetho, nor even in St. Thomas’s dream.
I omit many other preparations which the encyclopædists, especially M. Diderot, have explained much better than I could do, in the work which must immortalize their glory as well as all the arts. But to form a clear idea of the process of this art the artist must be seen at work. No one can ever learn in a book to weave stockings, nor to polish diamonds, nor to work tapestry. Arts and trades are learned only by example and practice.
The ingenious La Motte says of Cato, in one of his philosophical rather than poetical odes:
It was, I believe, because Cato’s soul was always equal, and retained to the last its love for his country and her laws that he chose rather to perish with her than to crouch to the tyrant. He died as he had lived. Incapable of surrendering! And to whom? To the enemy of Rome—to the man who had forcibly robbed the public treasury in order to make war upon his fellow-citizens and enslave them by means of their own money. A pardoned foe! It seems as if La Motte-Houdart were speaking of some revolted subject who might have obtained his majesty’s pardon by letters in chancery.
It seems rather absurd to say that Cato slew himself through weakness. None but a strong mind can thus surmount the most powerful instinct of nature. This strength is sometimes that of frenzy, but a frantic man is not weak.
Suicide is forbidden amongst us by the canon law. But the decretals, which form the jurisprudence of a part of Europe, were unknown to Cato, to Brutus, to Cassius, to the sublime Arria, to the Emperor Otho, to Mark Antony, and the rest of the heroes of true Rome, who preferred a voluntary death to a life which they believed to be ignominious.
We, too, kill ourselves, but it is when we have lost our money, or in the very rare excess of foolish passion for an unworthy object. I have known women kill themselves for the most stupid men imaginable. And sometimes we kill ourselves when we are in bad health, which action is a real weakness.
Disgust with our own existence, weariness of ourselves is a malady which is likewise a cause of suicide. The remedy is a little exercise, music, hunting, the play, or an agreeable woman. The man who, in a fit of melancholy, kills himself to-day, would have wished to live had he waited a week.
I was almost an eye-witness of a suicide which deserves the attention of all cultivators of physical science. A man of a serious profession, of mature age, of regular conduct, without passions, and above indigence, killed himself on Oct. 17, 1769, and left to the town council of the place where he was born, a written apology for his voluntary death, which it was thought proper not to publish lest it should encourage men to quit a life of which so much ill is said. Thus far there is nothing extraordinary; such instances are almost every day to be met with. The astonishing part of the story is this:
His brother and his father had each killed himself at the same age. What secret disposition of organs, what sympathy, what concurrence of physical laws, occasions a father and his two sons to perish by their own hands, and by the same kind of death, precisely when they have attained such a year? Is it a disease which unfolds itself successively in the different members of a family—as we often see fathers and children die of smallpox, consumption, or any other complaint? Three or four generations have become deaf or blind, gouty or scorbutic, at a predetermined period.
Physical organization, of which moral is the offspring, transmits the same character from father to son through a succession of ages. The Appii were always haughty and inflexible, the Catos always severe. The whole line of the Guises were bold, rash, factious; compounded of the most insolent pride, and the most seductive politeness. From Francis de Guise to him who alone and in silence went and put himself at the head of the people of Naples, they were all, in figure, in courage, and in turn of mind, above ordinary men. I have seen whole length portraits of Francis de Guise, of the Balafré, and of his son: they are all six feet high, with the same features, the same courage and boldness in the forehead, the eye, and the attitude.
This continuity, this series of beings alike is still more observable in animals, and if as much care were taken to perpetuate fine races of men as some nations still take to prevent the mixing of the breeds of their horses and hounds the genealogy would be written in the countenance and displayed in the manners. There have been races of crooked and of six-fingered people, as we see red-haired, thick-lipped, long-nosed, and flat-nosed races.
But that nature should so dispose the organs of a whole race that at a certain age each individual of that family will have a passion for self-destruction—this is a problem which all the sagacity of the most attentive anatomists cannot resolve. The effect is certainly all physical, but it belongs to occult physics. Indeed, what principle is not occult?
We are not informed, nor is it likely that in the time of Cæsar and the emperors the inhabitants of Great Britain killed themselves as deliberately as they now do, when they have the vapors which they denominate the spleen.
On the other hand, the Romans, who never had the spleen, did not hesitate to put themselves to death. They reasoned, they were philosophers, and the people of the island of Britain were not so. Now, English citizens are philosophers and Roman citizens are nothing. The Englishman quits this life proudly and disdainfully when the whim takes him, but the Roman must have an indulgentia in articulo mortis; he can neither live nor die.
Sir William Temple says that a man should depart when he has no longer any pleasure in remaining. So died Atticus. Young women who hang and drown themselves for love should then listen to the voice of hope, for changes are as frequent in love as in other affairs.
An almost infallible means of saving yourself from the desire of self-destruction is always to have something to do. Creech, the commentator on Lucretius, marked upon his manuscripts: “N. B. Must hang myself when I have finished.” He kept his word with himself that he might have the pleasure of ending like his author. If he had undertaken a commentary upon Ovid he would have lived longer.
Why have we fewer suicides in the country than in the towns? Because in the fields only the body suffers; in the town it is the mind. The laborer has not time to be melancholy; none kill themselves but the idle—they who, in the eyes of the multitude, are so happy.
I shall here relate some suicides that have happened in my own time, several of which have already been published in other works. The dead may be made useful to the living:
A Brief Account of Some Singular Suicides.
Philip Mordaunt, cousin-german to the celebrated earl of Peterborough—so well known in all the European courts, and who boasted of having seen more postillions and kings than any other man—was a young man of twenty-seven, handsome, well made, rich, of noble blood, with the highest pretensions, and, which was more than all, adored by his mistress, yet Mordaunt was seized with a disgust for life. He paid his debts, wrote to his friends, and even made some verses on the occasion. He dispatched himself with a pistol without having given any other reason than that his soul was tired of his body and that when we are dissatisfied with our abode we ought to quit it. It seemed that he wished to die because he was disgusted with his good fortune.
In 1726 Richard Smith exhibited a strange spectacle to the world from a very different cause. Richard Smith was disgusted with real misfortune. He had been rich, and he was poor; he had been in health, and he was infirm; he had a wife with whom he had naught but his misery to share; their only remaining property was a child in the cradle. Richard Smith and Bridget Smith, with common consent, having embraced each other tenderly and given their infant the last kiss began with killing the poor child, after which they hanged themselves to the posts of their bed.
I do not know any other act of cold-blooded horror so striking as this. But the letter which these unfortunate persons wrote to their cousin, Mr. Brindley, before their death, is as singular as their death itself. “We believe,” say they, “that God will forgive us. . . . . We quit this life because we are miserable—without resource, and we have done our only son the service of killing him, lest he should become as unfortunate as ourselves. . . . .” It must be observed that these people, after killing their son through parental tenderness, wrote to recommend their dog and cat to the care of a friend. It seems they thought it easier to make a cat and dog happy in this life than a child, and they would not be a burden to their friends.
Lord Scarborough quitted this life in 1727, with the same coolness as he had quitted his office of Master of the Horse. He was reproached, in the House of Peers, with taking the king’s part because he had a good place at court. “My lords,” said he, “to prove to you that my opinion is independent of my place, I resign it this moment.” He afterwards found himself in a perplexing dilemma between a mistress whom he loved, but to whom he had promised nothing, and a woman whom he esteemed, and to whom he had promised marriage. He killed himself to escape from his embarrassment.
These tragical stories which swarm in the English newspapers, have made the rest of Europe think that, in England, men kill themselves more willingly than elsewhere. However, I know not but there are as many madmen or heroes to be found in Paris as in London. Perhaps, if our newspapers kept an exact list of all who had been so infatuated as to seek their own destruction, and so lamentably courageous as to effect it, we should, in this particular, have the misfortune to rival the English. But our journals are more discreet. In such of them as are acknowledged by the government private occurrences are never exposed to public slander.
All I can venture to say with assurance is that there is no reason to apprehend that this rage for self-murder will ever become an epidemical disorder. Against this, nature has too well provided. Hope and fear are the powerful agents which she often employs to stay the hand of the unhappy individual about to strike at his own breast. Cardinal Dubois was once heard to say to himself: “Kill thyself! Coward, thou darest not!”
It is said that there have been countries in which a council was established to grant the citizens permission to kill themselves when they had good and sufficient reasons. I answer either that it was not so or that those magistrates had not much to do.
It might, indeed, astonish us, and does, I think, merit a serious examination, that almost all the ancient Roman heroes killed themselves when they had lost a battle in the civil wars. But I do not find, neither in the time of the League, nor in that of the Fronde, nor in the troubles of Italy, nor in those of England, that any chief thought proper to die by his own hand. These chiefs, it is true, were Christians, and there is a great difference between the principles of a Christian warrior and those of a Pagan hero. But why were these men whom Christianity restrained when they would have put themselves to death, restrained by nothing when they chose to poison, assassinate, and bring their conquered enemies to the scaffold? Does not the Christian religion forbid these murders much more than self-murder, of which the New Testament makes no mention?
The apostles of suicide tell us that it is quite allowable to quit one’s house when one is tired of it. Agreed, but most men would prefer sleeping in a mean house to lying in the open air.
I once received a circular letter from an Englishman, in which he offered a prize to any one who should most satisfactorily prove that there are occasions on which a man might kill himself. I made no answer: I had nothing to prove to him. He had only to examine whether he liked better to die than to live.
Another Englishman came to me at Paris in 1724; he was ill, and promised me that he would kill himself if he was not cured by July 20. He accordingly gave me his epitaph in these words: “Valete cura!” “Farewell care!” and gave me twenty-five louis to get a small monument erected to him at the end of the Faubourg St. Martin. I returned him his money on July 20, and kept his epitaph.
In my own time the last prince of the house of Courtenai, when very old, and the last branch of Lorraine-Harcourt, when very young, destroyed themselves almost without its being heard of. These occurrences cause a terrible uproar the first day, but when the property of the deceased has been divided they are no longer talked of.
The following most remarkable of all suicides has just occurred at Lyons, in June, 1770: A young man well known, who was handsome, well made, clever, and amiable, fell in love with a young woman whom her parents would not give to him. So far we have nothing more than the opening scene of a comedy, the astonishing tragedy is to follow.
The lover broke a blood-vessel and the surgeons informed him there was no remedy. His mistress engaged to meet him, with two pistols and two daggers in order that, if the pistols missed the daggers might the next moment pierce their hearts. They embraced each other for the last time: rose-colored ribbons were tied to the triggers of the pistols; the lover holding the ribbon of his mistress’s pistol, while she held the ribbon of his. Both fired at a signal given, and both fell at the same instant.
Of this fact the whole city of Lyons is witness. Pætus and Arria, you set the example, but you were condemned by a tyrant, while love alone immolated these two victims.
Laws Against Suicide.
Has any law, civil or religious, ever forbidden a man to kill himself, on pain of being hanged after death, or on pain of being damned? It is true that Virgil has said:
Such was the religion of some of the pagans, yet, notwithstanding the weariness which awaited them in the next world it was an honor to quit this by killing themselves—so contradictory are the ways of men. And among us is not duelling unfortunately still honorable, though forbidden by reason, by religion, and by every law? If Cato and Cæsar, Antony and Augustus, were not duellists it was not that they were less brave than our Frenchmen. If the duke of Montmorency, Marshal de Marillac, de Thou, Cinq-Mars, and so many others, chose rather to be dragged to execution in a wagon, like highwaymen, than to kill themselves like Cato and Brutus, it was not that they had less courage than those Romans, nor less of what is called honor. The true reason is that at Paris self-murder in such cases was not then the fashion; but it was the fashion at Rome.
The women of the Malabar coast throw themselves, living, on the funeral piles of their husbands. Have they, then, more courage than Cornelia? No; but in that country it is the custom for the wives to burn themselves.
In Japan it is the custom for a man of honor, when he has been insulted by another man of honor, to rip open his belly in the presence of his enemy and say to him: “Do you likewise if thou hast the heart.” The aggressor is dishonored for ever if he does not immediately plunge a great knife into his belly.
The only religion in which suicide is forbidden by a clear and positive law is Mahometanism. In the fourth sura it is said: “Do not kill yourself, for God is merciful unto you, and whosoever killeth himself through malice and wickedness shall assuredly be burned in hell fire.”
This is a literal translation. The text, like many other texts, appears to want common sense. What is meant by “Do not kill yourself for God is merciful”? Perhaps we are to understand—Do not sink under your misfortunes, which God may alleviate: do not be so foolish as to kill yourself to-day since you may be happy to-morrow.
“And whosoever killeth himself through malice and wickedness.” This is yet more difficult to explain. Perhaps, in all antiquity, this never happened to any one but the Phrædra of Euripides, who hanged herself on purpose to make Theseus believe that she had been forcibly violated by Hippolytus. In our own times a man shot himself in the head, after arranging all things to make another man suspected of the act.
In the play of George Dandin, his jade of a wife threatens him with killing herself to have him hanged. Such cases are rare. If Mahomet foresaw them he may be said to have seen a great way. The famous Duverger de Haurane, abbot of St. Cyran, regarded as the founder of Port Royal, wrote, about the year 1608, a treatise on “Suicide,” which has become one of the scarcest books in Europe.
“The Decalogue,” says he, “forbids us to kill. In this precept self-murder seems no less to be comprised than murder of our neighbor. But if there are cases in which it is allowable to kill our neighbor there likewise are cases in which it is allowable to kill ourselves.
“We must not make an attempt upon our lives until we have consulted reason. The public authority, which holds the place of God, may dispose of our lives. The reason of man may likewise hold the place of the reason of God: it is a ray of the eternal light.”
St. Cyran extends this argument, which may be considered as a mere sophism, to great length, but when he comes to the explanation and the details it is more difficult to answer him. He says: “A man may kill himself for the good of his prince, for that of his country, or for that of his relations.”
We do not, indeed, see how Codrus or Curtius could be condemned. No sovereign would dare to punish the family of a man who had devoted himself to death for him; nay, there is not one who would dare neglect to recompense it. St. Thomas, before St. Cyran, had said the same thing. But we need neither St. Thomas, nor Cardinal Bonaventura, nor Duverger de Haurane to tell us that a man who dies for his country is deserving of praise.
The abbot of St. Cyran concludes that it is allowable to do for ourselves what it is noble to do for others. All that is advanced by Plutarch, by Seneca, by Montaigne, and by fifty other philosophers, in favor of suicide is sufficiently known; it is a hackneyed topic—a wornout commonplace. I seek not to apologize for an act which the laws condemn, but neither the Old Testament, nor the New has ever forbidden man to depart this life when it has become insupportable to him. No Roman law condemned self-murder; on the contrary, the following was the law of the Emperor Antoine, which was never revoked:
“If your father or your brother not being accused of any crime kill himself, either to escape from grief, or through weariness of life, or through despair, or through mental derangement, his will shall be valid, or, if he die intestate his heirs shall succeed.”
Notwithstanding this humane law of our masters we still drag on a sledge and drive a stake through the body of a man who has died a voluntary death; we do all we can to make his memory infamous; we dishonor his family as far as we are able; we punish the son for having lost his father, and the widow for being deprived of her husband.
We even confiscate the property of the deceased, which is robbing the living of the patrimony which of right belongs to them. This custom is derived from our canon law, which deprives of Christian burial such as die a voluntary death. Hence it is concluded that we cannot inherit from a man who is judged to have no inheritance in heaven. The canon law, under the head “De Pœnitentia,” assures us that Judas committed a greater crime in strangling himself than in selling our Lord Jesus Christ.
Among those who have had the leisure, the means, and the courage to seek for the origin of nations, there have been some who have found that of our Celts, or at least would make us believe that they had met with it. This illusion being the only recompense of their immense travail, we should not envy them its possession.
If we wish to know anything about the Huns—who, indeed, are scarcely worth knowing anything about, for they have rendered no service to mankind—we find some slight notices of those barbarians among the Chinese—that most ancient of all nations, after the Indians. From them we learn that, in certain ages, the Huns went like famishing wolves and ravaged countries which, even at this day are regarded as places of exile and of horror. This is a very melancholy, a very miserable sort of knowledge. It is, doubtless, much better to cultivate a useful art at Paris, Lyons, or Bordeaux, than seriously to study the history of the Huns and the bears. Nevertheless we are aided in these researches by some of the Chinese archives.
But for the Celts there are no archives. We know no more of their antiquities than we do of those of the Samoyeds or the Australasians.
We have learned nothing about our ancestors except from the few words which their conqueror, Julius Cæsar, condescended to say of them. He begins his “Commentaries” by dividing the Gauls into the Belgians, Aquitanians, and Celts.
Whence some of the daring among the erudite have concluded that the Celts were the Scythians, and they have made these Scythio-Celts include all Europe. But why not include the whole earth? Why stop short in so fine a career?
We have also been duly told that Noah’s son, Japhet, came out of the Ark, and went with all speed to people all those vast regions with Celts, whom he governed marvellously well. But authors of greater modesty refer the origin of our Celts to the tower of Babel—to the confusion of tongues—to Gomer, of whom no one ever heard until the very recent period when some wise men of the West read the name of Gomer in a bad translation of the Septuagint.
Bochart, in his “Sacred Chronology”—what a chronology!—takes quite a different turn. Of these innumerable hordes of Celts he makes an Egyptian colony, skilfully and easily led by Hercules from the fertile banks of the Nile into the forests and morasses of Germany, whither, no doubt, these colonists carried the arts and the language of Egypt and the mysteries of Isis, no trace of which has ever been found among them.
I think they are still more to be congratulated on their discoveries, who say that the Celts of the mountains of Dauphiny were called Cottians, from their King Cottius; that the Bérichons were named from their King Betrich; the Welsh, or Gaulish, from their King Wallus, and the Belgians from Balgem, which means quarrelsome.
A still finer origin is that of the Celto-Pannonians, from the Latin word pannus, cloth, for, we are told they dressed themselves in old pieces of cloth badly sewn together, much resembling a harlequin’s jacket. But the best origin of all is, undeniably, the tower of Babel.
All these things, which would be useless and impertinent in a state of pure nature, are, in our corrupt and ridiculous state, of great service. Of all nations, the Chinese are those who have carried the use of ceremonies to the greatest length; they certainly serve to calm as well as to weary the mind. The Chinese porters and carters are obliged, whenever they occasion the least hindrance in the streets, to fall on their knees and ask one another’s pardon according to the prescribed formula. This prevents ill language, blows and murders. They have time to grow cool and are then willing to assist one another.
The more free a people are, the fewer ceremonies, the fewer ostentatious titles, the fewer demonstrations of annihilation in the presence of a superior, they possess. To Scipio men said “Scipio”; to Cæsar, “Cæsar”; but in after times they said to the emperors, “your majesty,” “your divinity.”
The titles of St. Peter and St. Paul were “Peter” and “Paul.” Their successors gave one another the title of “your holiness,” which is not to be found in the Acts of the Apostles, nor in the writings of the disciples.
We read in the history of Germany that the dauphin of France, afterwards Charles V., went to the Emperor Charles IV. at Metz and was presented after Cardinal de Périgord.
There has since been a time when chancellors went before cardinals; after which cardinals again took precedence of chancellors.
In France the peers preceded the princes of the blood, going in the order of their creation, until the consecration of Henry III.
The dignity of peer was, until that time, so exalted that at the ceremony of the consecration of Elizabeth, wife to Charles IX., in 1572, described by Simon Bouquet, échevin of Paris, it is said that the queen’s dames and demoiselles having handed to the dame d’honneur the bread, wine and wax, with the silver, for the offering to be presented to the queen by the said dame d’honneur, the said dame d’honneur, being a duchess, commanded the dames to go and carry the offering to the princesses themselves, etc. This dame d’honneur was the wife of the constable Montmorency.
The armchair, the chair with a back, the stool, the right hand and the left were for several ages important political matters. I believe that we owe the ancient etiquette concerning armchairs to the circumstance that our barbarians of ancestors had at most but one in a house, and even this was used only by the sick. In some provinces of Germany and England an armchair is still called a sick-chair.
Long after the times of Attila and Dagobert, when luxury found its way into our courts and the great men of the earth had two or three armchairs in their donjons, it was a noble distinction to sit upon one of these thrones; and a castellain would place among his titles how he had gone half a league from home to pay his court to a count, and how he had been received in an easy-chair.
We see in the Memoirs of Mademoiselle that that august princess passed one-fourth of her life amid the mortal agonies of disputes for the back-chair. Were you to sit in a certain apartment, in a chair, or on a stool, or not to sit at all? Here was enough to involve a whole court in intrigue. Manners are now more easy; ladies may use couches and sofas without occasioning any disturbance in society.
When Cardinal de Richelieu was treating with the English ambassadors for the marriage of Henriette of France with Charles I., the affair was on the point of being broken off on account of a demand made by the ambassadors of two or three steps more towards a door; but the cardinal removed the difficulty by taking to his bed. History has carefully handed down this precious circumstance. I believe that, if it had been proposed to Scipio to get between the sheets to receive the visit of Hannibal, he would have thought the ceremony something like a joke.
For a whole century the order of carriages and taking the wall were testimonials of greatness and the source of pretensions, disputes, and conflicts. To procure the passing of one carriage before another was looked upon as a signal victory. The ambassadors went along the streets as if they were contending for the prize in the circus; and when a Spanish minister had succeeded in making a Portuguese coachman pull up, he sent a courier to Madrid to apprise the king, his master, of this great advantage.
Our histories regale us with fifty pugilistic combats for precedence—as that of the parliament with the bishops’ clerks at the funeral of Henry IV., the chambre des comptes with the parliament in the cathedral when Louis XIII. gave France to the Virgin, the duke of Epernon with the keeper of the seals, Du Vair, in the church of St. Germain. The presidents of the enquêtes buffeted Savare, the doyen of the conseillers de grand’ chambre, to make him quit his place of honor (so much is honor the soul of monarchical governments!), and four archers were obliged to lay hold of the President Barillon, who was beating the poor doyen without mercy. We find no contests like these in the Areopagus, nor in the Roman senate.
In proportion to the barbarism of countries or the weakness of courts, we find ceremony in vogue. True power and true politeness are above vanity. We may venture to believe that the custom will at last be given up which some ambassadors still retain, of ruining themselves in order to go along the streets in procession with a few hired carriages, fresh painted and gilded, and preceded by a few footmen. This is called “making their entry”; and it is a fine joke to make your entry into a town seven or eight months before you arrive.
This important affair of punctilio, which constitutes the greatness of the modern Romans—this science of the number of steps that should be made in showing in a monsignor, in drawing or half drawing a curtain, in walking in a room to the right or to the left—this great art, which neither Fabius nor Cato could ever imagine, is beginning to sink; and the train-bearers to the cardinals complain that everything indicates a decline.
A French colonel, being at Brussels a year after the taking of that place by Marshal de Saxe, and having nothing to do, resolved to go to the town assembly. “It is held at a princess’,” said one to him. “Be it so,” answered the other, “what matters it to me?” “But only princes go there; are you a prince?” “Pshaw!” said the colonel, “they are a very good sort of princes; I had a dozen of them in my anteroom last year, when we had taken the town, and they were very polite.”
In turning over the leaves of “Horace” I observe this line in an epistle to Mæcenas, “Te, dulcis amice revisam.”—“I will come and see you, my good friend.” This Mæcenas was the second person in the Roman Empire; that is, a man of greater power and influence than the greatest monarch of modern Europe.
Looking into the works of Corneille, I observed that in a letter to the great Scuderi, governor of Notre Dame de la Garde, etc., he uses this expression in reference to Cardinal Richelieu: “Monsieur the cardinal, your master and mine.” It is, perhaps, the first time that such language has been applied to a minister, since there have been ministers, kings and flatterers in the world. The same Peter Corneille, the author of “Cinna,” humbly dedicates that work to the Sieur de Montauron, the king’s treasurer, whom in direct terms he compares to Augustus. I regret that he did not give Montauron the title of monseigneur or my lord.
An anecdote is related of an old officer, but little conversant with the precedents and formulas of vanity, who wrote to the Marquis Louvois as plain monsieur, but receiving no answer, next addressed him under the title of monseigneur, still, however, without effect, the unlucky monsieur continuing to rankle in the minister’s heart. He finally directed his letter “to my God, my God Louvois”; commencing it by the words, “my God, my Creator.” Does not all this sufficiently prove that the Romans were magnanimous and modest, and that we are frivolous and vain?
“How d’ye do, my dear friend?” said a duke and peer to a gentleman. “At your service, my dear friend,” replied he; and from that instant his “dear friend” became his implacable enemy. A grandee of Portugal was once conversing with a Spanish hidalgo and addressing him every moment in the terms, “your excellency.” The Castilian as frequently replied, “your courtesy” (vuestra merced), a title bestowed on those who have none by right. The irritated Portuguese in return retorted “your courtesy” on the Spaniard, who then called the Portuguese “your excellency.” The Portuguese, at length wearied out, demanded, “How is it that you always call me your courtesy, when I call you your excellency, and your excellency when I call you your courtesy?” “The reason is,” says the Castilian with a bow, “that all titles are equal to me, provided that there is nothing equal between you and me.”
The vanity of titles was not introduced into our northern climes of Europe till the Romans had become acquainted with Asiatic magnificence. The greater part of the sovereigns of Asia were, and still are, cousins german of the sun and the moon; their subjects dare not make any pretension to such high affinity; and many a provincial governor, who styles himself “nutmeg of consolation” and “rose of delight” would be empaled alive if he were to claim the slightest relationship to the sun and moon.
Constantine was, I think, the first Roman emperor who overwhelmed Christian humility in a page of pompous titles. It is true that before his time the emperors bore the title of god, but the term implied nothing similar to what we understand by it. Divus Augustus, Divus Trajanus, meant St. Augustus, St. Trajan. It was thought only conformable to the dignity of the Roman Empire that the soul of its chief should, after his death, ascend to heaven; and it frequently even happened that the title of saint, of god, was granted to the emperor by a sort of anticipated inheritance. Nearly for the same reason the first patriarchs of the Christian church were all called “your holiness.” They were thus named to remind them of what in fact they ought to be.
Men sometimes take upon themselves very humble titles, provided they can obtain from others very honorable ones. Many an abbé who calls himself brother exacts from his monks the title of monseigneur. The pope styles himself “servant of the servants of God.” An honest priest of Holstein once addressed a letter “to Pius IV., servant of the servants of God.” He afterwards went to Rome to urge his suit, and the inquisition put him in prison to teach him how to address letters.
Formerly the emperor alone had the title of majesty. Other sovereigns were called your highness, your serenity, your grace. Louis XI. was the first in France who was generally called majesty, a title certainly not less suitable to the dignity of a powerful hereditary kingdom than to an elective principality. But long after him the term highness was applied to kings of France; and some letters to Henry III. are still extant in which he is addressed by that title. The states of Orleans objected to Queen Catherine de Medici being called majesty. But this last denomination gradually prevailed. The name is indifferent; it is the power alone that is not so.
The German chancery, ever unchangeable in its stately formalities, has pretended down to our own times that no kings have a right to a higher title than serenity. At the celebrated treaty of Westphalia, in which France and Sweden dictated the law to the holy Roman Empire, the emperor’s plenipotentiaries continually presented Latin memorials, in which “his most sacred imperial majesty” negotiated with the “most serene kings of France and Sweden”; while, on the other hand, the French and Swedes fail not to declare that their “sacred majesties of France and Sweden” had many subjects of complaint against the “most serene emperor.” Since that period, however, the great sovereigns have, in regard to rank, been considered as equals, and he alone who beats his neighbor is adjudged to have the pre-eminence.
Philip II. was the first majesty in Spain, for the serenity of Charles V. was converted into majesty only on account of the empire. The children of Philip II. were the first highnesses; and afterwards they were royal highnesses. The duke of Orleans, brother of Louis XIII., did not take up the title of royal highness till 1631; then the prince of Condé claimed that the most serene highness, which the Dukes de Vendôme did not venture to assume. The duke of Savoy, at that time royal highness, afterwards substituted majesty. The grand duke of Florence did the same, excepting as to majesty; and finally the czar, who was known in Europe only as the grand duke, declared himself emperor, and was recognized as such.
Formerly there were only two marquises in Germany, two in France and two in Italy. The marquis of Brandenburg has become a king, and a great king. But at present our Italian and French marquises are of a somewhat different species.
If an Italian citizen has the honor of giving a dinner to the legate of his province, and the legate, when drinking, says to him, “Monsieur le marquis, to your good health,” he suddenly becomes a marquis, he and his heirs after him, forever. If the inhabitant of any province of France, whose whole estate consists of a quarter part of a little decayed castle-ward, goes to Paris, makes something of a fortune, or carries the air of having made one, he is styled in the deeds and legal instruments in which he is concerned “high and mighty seigneur, marquis and count,” and his son will be denominated by his notary “very high and very mighty seigneur,” and as this frivolous ambition is in no way injurious to government or civil society, it is permitted to take its course. Some French lords boast of employing German barons in their stables; some German lords say they have French marquises in their kitchens; it is not a long time since a foreigner at Naples made his coachman a duke. Custom in these cases has more power than royal authority. If you are but little known at Paris, you may there be a count or a marquis as long as you please; if you are connected with the law of finance, though the king should confer on you a real marquisate, you will not, therefore, be monsieur le marquis. The celebrated Samuel Bernard was, in truth, more a count than five hundred such as we often see not possessing four acres of land. The king had converted his estate of Coubert into a fine county; yet if on any occasion he had ordered himself to be announced as Count Bernard, etc., he would have excited bursts of laughter. In England it is different; if the king confers the title of earl or baron on a merchant, all classes address him with the designation suitable to it without the slightest hesitation. By persons of the highest birth, by the king himself, he is called my lord. It is the same in Italy; there is a register kept there of monsignori. The pope himself addresses them under that title; his physician is monsignor, and no one objects.
In France the title of monseigneur or my lord is a very serious business. Before the time of Cardinal Richelieu a bishop was only “a most reverend father in God.”
Before the year 1635 bishops did not only not assume the title of monseigneur themselves, but they did not even give it to cardinals. These two customs were introduced by a bishop of Chartres, who, in full canonicals of lawn and purple, went to call Cardinal Richelieu monseigneur, on which occasion Louis XIII. observed that “Chartrain would not mind saluting the cardinal au derrière.”
It is only since that period that bishops have mutually applied to each other the title of monseigneur.
The public made no objection to this application of it; but, as it was a new title, not conferred on bishops by kings, they continued to be called sieurs in edicts, declarations, ordinances and all official documents; and when the council wrote to a bishop they gave him no higher title than monsieur.
The dukes and peers have encountered more difficulty in acquiring possession of the title of monseigneur. The grande noblesse, and what is called the grand robe, decidedly refuse them that distinction. The highest gratification of human pride consists in a man’s receiving titles of honor from those who conceive themselves his equals; but to attain this is exceedingly difficult; pride always finds pride to contend with.
When the dukes insisted on receiving the title of monseigneur from the class of gentlemen, the presidents of the parliaments required the same from advocates and proctors. A certain president actually refused to be bled because his surgeon asked: “In which arm will you be bled, monsieur?” An old counsellor treated this matter somewhat more gayly. A pleader was saying to him, “Monseigneur, monsieur, your secretary” . . . . He stopped him short: “You have uttered three blunders,” says he, “in as many words. I am not monseigneur; my secretary is not monsieur; he is my clerk.”
To put an end to this grand conflict of vanity it will eventually be found necessary to give the title of monseigneur to every individual in the nation; as women, who were formerly content with mademoiselle, are now to be called madame. In Spain, when a mendicant meets a brother beggar, he thus accosts him: “Has your courtesy taken chocolate?” This politeness of language elevates the mind and keeps up the dignity of the species. Cæsar and Pompey were called in the senate Cæsar and Pompey. But these men knew nothing of life. They ended their letters with vale—adieu. We, who possess more exalted notions, were sixty years ago “affectionate servants”; then “very humble and very obedient”; and now we “have the honor to be” so. I really grieve for posterity, which will find it extremely difficult to add to these very beautiful formulas. The Duke d’Épernon, the first of Gascons in pride, though far from being the first of statesmen, wrote on his deathbed to Cardinal Richelieu and ended his letter with: “Your very humble and very obedient.” Recollecting, however, that the cardinal had used only the phrase “very affectionate,” he despatched an express to bring back the letter (for it had been actually sent off), began it anew, signed “very affectionate,” and died in the bed of honor.
We have made many of these observations elsewhere. It is well, however, to repeat them, were it only to correct some pompous peacocks, who would strut away their lives in contemptibly displaying their plumes and their pride.
I am certain; I have friends; my fortune is secure; my relations will never abandon me; I shall have justice done me; my work is good, it will be well received; what is owing to me will be paid; my friend will be faithful, he has sworn it; the minister will advance me—he has, by the way, promised it—all these are words which a man who has lived a short time in the world erases from his dictionary.
When the judges condemned L’Anglade, Le Brun, Calas, Sirven, Martin, Montbailli, and so many others, since acknowledged to have been innocent, they were certain, or they ought to have been certain, that all these unhappy men were guilty; yet they were deceived. There are two ways of being deceived; by false judgment and self-blindness—that of erring like a man of genius, and that of deciding like a fool.
The judges deceived themselves like men of genius in the affair of L’Anglade; they were blinded by dazzling appearances and did not sufficiently examine the probabilities on the other side. Their wisdom made them believe it certain that L’Anglade had committed a theft, which he certainly had not committed; and on this miserable uncertain certainty of the human mind, a gentleman was put to the ordinary and extraordinary question; subsequent thrown, without succor, into a dungeon and condemned to the galleys, where he died. His wife was shut up in another dungeon, with her daughter, aged seven years, who afterwards married a counsellor of the same parliament which had condemned her father to the galleys and her mother to banishment.
It is clear that the judges would not have pronounced this sentence had they been really certain. However, even at the time this sentence was passed several persons knew that the theft had been committed by a priest named Gagnat, associated with a highwayman, and the innocence of L’Anglade was not recognized till after his death.
They were in the same manner certain when, by a sentence in the first instance, they condemned to the wheel the innocent Le Brun, who, by an arrêt pronounced on his appeal, was broken on the rack, and died under the torture.
The examples of Calas and Sirven are well known, that of Martin is less so. He was an honest agriculturist near Bar in Lorraine. A villain stole his dress and in this dress murdered a traveller whom he knew to have money and whose route he had watched. Martin was accused, his dress was a witness against him; the judges regarded this evidence as a certainty. Not the past conduct of the prisoner, a numerous family whom he had brought up virtuously, neither the little money found on him, nor the extreme probability of his innocence—nothing could save him. The subaltern judge made a merit of his rigor. He condemned the innocent victim to be broken on the wheel, and, by an unhappy fatality the sentence was executed to the full extent. The senior Martin is broken alive, calling God to witness his innocence to his last breath; his family is dispersed, his little property is confiscated, and scarcely are his broken members exposed on the great road when the assassin who had committed the murder and theft is put in prison for another crime, and confesses on the rack, to which he is condemned in his turn, that he only was guilty of the crime for which Martin had suffered torture and death.
Montbailli, who slept with his wife, was accused with having, in concert with her, killed his mother, who had evidently died of apoplexy. The council of Arras condemned Montbailli to expire on the rack, and his wife to be burnt. Their innocence was discovered, but not until Montbailli had been tortured. Let us cease advertence to these melancholy adventures, which make us groan at the human condition; but let us continue to lament the pretended certainty of judges, when they pass such sentences.
There is no certainty, except when it is physically or morally impossible that the thing can be otherwise. What! is a strict demonstration necessary to enable us to assert that the surface of a sphere is equal to four times the area of its great circle; and is not one required to warrant taking away the life of a citizen by a disgraceful punishment?
If such is the misfortune of humanity that judges must be contented with extreme probabilities, they should at least consult the age, the rank, the conduct of the accused—the interest which he could have in committing the crime, and the interest of his enemies to destroy him. Every judge should say to himself: Will not posterity, will not entire Europe condemn my sentence? Shall I sleep tranquilly with my hands tainted with innocent blood? Let us pass from this horrible picture to other examples of a certainty which leads directly to error.
Why art thou loaded with chains, fanatical and unhappy Santon? Why hast thou added a large iron ring on thy miserable scourge? It is because I am certain of being one day placed in the first heaven, by the side of our great prophet. Alas, my friend, come with me to the neighborhood of Mount Athos and thou wilt see three thousand mendicants who are as certain that thou wilt go to the gulf which is under the narrow bridge, as that they will all go to the first heaven!
Stop, miserable Malabar widow, believe not the fool who persuades you that you shall be reunited to your husband in all the delights of another world, if you burn yourself on his funeral pile! No, I persist in burning myself because I am certain of living in felicity with my husband; my brahmin told me so.
Let us attend to less frightful certainties, and which have a little more appearance of truth. What is the age of your friend Christopher? Twenty-eight years. I have seen his marriage contract, and his baptismal register; I knew him in his infancy; he is twenty-eight—I am certain of it.
Scarcely have I heard the answer of this man, so sure of what he said, and of twenty others who confirmed the same thing, when I learn that for secret reasons, and by a singular circumstance the baptismal register of Christopher has been antedated. Those to whom I had spoken as yet know nothing of it, yet they have still the same certainty of that which is not.
If you had asked the whole earth before the time of Copernicus: has the sun risen? has it set to-day? all men would have answered: We are quite certain of it. They were certain and they were in error.
Witchcraft, divinations, and possessions were for a long time the most certain things in the world in the eyes of society. What an innumerable crowd of people who have seen all these fine things and who have been certain of them! At present this certainty is a little shaken.
A young man who is beginning to study geometry comes to me; he is only at the definition of triangles. Are you not certain, said I to him, that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles? He answered that not only was he not certain of it, but that he had not the slightest idea of the proposition. I demonstrated it to him. He then became very certain of it, and will remain so all his life. This is a certainty very different from the others; they were only probabilities and these probabilities, when examined, have turned out errors, but mathematical certainty is immutable and eternal.
I exist, I think, I feel grief—is all that as certain as a geometrical truth? Yes, skeptical as I am, I avow it. Why? It is that these truths are proved by the same principle that it is impossible for a thing to exist and not exist at the same time. I cannot at the same time feel and not feel. A triangle cannot at the same time contain a hundred and eighty degrees, which are the sum of two right angles, and not contain them. The physical certainty of my existence, of my identity, is of the same value as mathematical certainty, although it is of a different kind.
It is not the same with the certainty founded on appearances, or on the unanimous testimony of mankind.
But how, you will say to me, are you not certain that Pekin exists? Have you not merchandise from Pekin? People of different countries and different opinions have vehemently written against one another while preaching the truth at Pekin; then are you not assured of the existence of this town? I answer that it is extremely probable that there may be a city of Pekin but I would not wager my life that such a town exists, and I would at any time wager my life that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles.
In the “Dictionnaire Encyclopédique” a very pleasant thing appears. It is there maintained that a man ought to be as certain that Marshal Saxe rose from the dead, if all Paris tells him so, as he is sure that Marshal Saxe gained the battle of Fontenoy, upon the same testimony. Pray observe the beauty of this reasoning: as I believe all Paris when it tells me a thing morally possible, I ought to believe all Paris when it tells me a thing morally and physically impossible. Apparently the author of this article has a disposition to be risible; as to ourselves who have only undertaken this little dictionary to ask a few questions, we are very far from possessing this very extensive certainty.
CHAIN OF CREATED BEINGS.
The gradation of beings rising from the lowest to the Great Supreme—the scale of infinity—is an idea that fills us with admiration, but when steadily regarded this phantom disappears, as apparitions were wont to vanish at the crowing of the cock.
The imagination is pleased with the imperceptible transition from brute matter to organized matter, from plants to zoophytes, from zoophytes to animals, from animals to men, from men to genii, from these genii, clad in a light aërial body, to immaterial substances of a thousand different orders, rising from beauty to perfection, up to God Himself. This hierarchy is very pleasing to young men who look upon it as upon the pope and cardinals, followed by the archbishops and bishops, after whom are the vicars, curates and priests, the deacons and subdeacons, then come the monks, and the capuchins bring up the rear.
But there is, perhaps, a somewhat greater distance between God and His most perfect creatures than between the holy father and the dean of the sacred college. The dean may become pope, but can the most perfect genii created by the Supreme Being become God? Is there not infinity between them?
Nor does this chain, this pretended gradation, any more exist in vegetables and animals; the proof is that some species of plants and animals have been entirely destroyed. We have no murex. The Jews were forbidden to eat griffin and ixion, these two species, whatever Bochart may say, have probably disappeared from the earth. Where, then, is the chain?
Supposing that we had not lost some species, it is evident that they may be destroyed. Lions and rhinoceroses are becoming very scarce, and if the rest of the nations had imitated the English, there would not now have been a wolf left. It is probable that there have been races of men who are no longer to be found. Why should they not have existed as well as the whites, the blacks, the Kaffirs, to whom nature has given an apron of their own skin, hanging from the belly to the middle of the thigh; the Samoyeds, whose women have nipples of a beautiful jet.
Is there not a manifest void between the ape and man? Is it not easy to imagine a two-legged animal without feathers having intelligence without our shape or the use of speech—one which we could tame, which would answer our signs, and serve us? And again, between this species and man, cannot we imagine others?
Beyond man, divine Plato, you place in heaven a string of celestial substances, in some of which we believe because the faith so teaches us. But what reason had you to believe in them? It does not appear that you had spoken with the genius of Socrates, and though Heres, good man, rose again on purpose to tell you the secrets of the other world, he told you nothing of these substances. In the sensible universe the pretended chain is no less interrupted.
What gradation, I pray you, is there among the planets? The moon is forty times smaller than our globe. Travelling from the moon through space, you find Venus, about as large as the earth. From thence you go to Mercury, which revolves in an ellipsis very different from the circular orbit of Venus; it is twenty-seven times smaller than the earth, the sun is a million times larger, and Mars is five times smaller. The latter goes his round in two years, his neighbor Jupiter in twelve, and Saturn in thirty; yet Saturn, the most distant of all, is not so large as Jupiter. Where is the pretended gradation?
And then, how, in so many empty spaces, do you extend a chain connecting the whole? There can certainly be no other than that which Newton discovered—that which makes all the globes of the planetary world gravitate one towards another in the immense void.
Oh, much admired Plato! I fear that you have told us nothing but fables, that you have spoken to us only as a sophist! Oh, Plato! you have done more mischief than you are aware of. How so? you will ask. I will not tell you.
CHAIN OR GENERATION OF EVENTS.
The present, we say, is pregnant with the future; events are linked one with another by an invincible fatality. This is the fate which, in Homer, is superior to Jupiter himself. The master of gods and men expressly declares that he cannot prevent his son Sarpedon from dying at the time appointed. Sarpedon was born at the moment when it was necessary that he should be born, and could not be born at any other; he could not die elsewhere than before Troy; he could not be buried elsewhere than in Lycia; his body must, in the appointed time, produce vegetables, which must change into the substance of some of the Lycians; his heirs must establish a new order of things in his states; that new order must influence neighboring kingdoms; thence must result a new arrangement in war and in peace with the neighbors of Lycia. So that, from link to link, the destiny of the whole earth depended on the elopement of Helen, which had a necessary connection with the marriage of Hecuba, which, ascending to higher events, was connected with the origin of things.
Had any one of these occurrences been ordered otherwise, the result would have been a different universe. Now, it was not possible for the actual universe not to exist; therefore it was not possible for Jupiter, Jove as he was, to save the life of his son. We are told that this doctrine of necessity and fatality has been invented in our own times by Leibnitz, under the name of sufficing reason. It is, however, of great antiquity. It is no recent discovery that there is no effect without a cause and that often the smallest cause produces the greatest effects.
Lord Bolingbroke acknowledges that he was indebted to the petty quarrels between the duchess of Marlborough and Mrs. Masham for an opportunity of concluding the private treaty between Queen Anne and Louis XIV. This treaty led to the peace of Utrecht; the peace of Utrecht secured the throne of Spain to Philip V.; Philip took Naples and Sicily from the house of Austria. Thus the Spanish prince, who is now king of Naples, evidently owes his kingdom to Mrs. Masham; he would not have had it, nor even have been born, if the duchess of Marlborough had been more complaisant towards the queen of England; his existence at Naples depended on one folly more or less at the court of London.
Examine the situations of every people upon earth; they are in like manner founded on a train of occurrences seemingly without connection, but all connected. In this immense machine all is wheel, pulley, cord, or spring. It is the same in physical order. A wind blowing from the southern seas and the remotest parts of Africa brings with it a portion of the African atmosphere, which, falling in showers in the valleys of the Alps, fertilizes our lands; on the other hand our north wind carries our vapors among the negroes; we do good to Guinea, and Guinea to us. The chain extends from one end of the universe to the other.
But the truth of this principle seems to me to be strangely abused; for it is thence concluded that there is no atom, however small, the movement of which has not influenced the actual arrangement of the whole world; that the most trivial accident, whether among men or animals, is an essential link in the great chain of destiny.
Let us understand one another. Every effect evidently has its cause, ascending from cause to cause, into the abyss of eternity; but every cause has not its effect, going down to the end of ages. I grant that all events are produced one by another; if the past was pregnant with the present, the present is pregnant with the future; everything is begotten, but everything does not beget. It is a genealogical tree; every house, we know, ascends to Adam, but many of the family have died without issue.
The events of this world form a genealogical tree. It is indisputable that the inhabitants of Spain and Gaul are descended from Gomer, and the Russians from his younger brother Magog, for in how many great books is this genealogy to be found! It cannot then be denied that the grand Turk, who is also descended from Magog, is obliged to him for the good beating given him in 1769 by the Empress Catherine II. This occurrence is evidently linked with other great events; but whether Magog spat to the right or to the left near Mount Caucasus—made two or three circles in a well—or whether he lay on his right side or his left, I do not see that it could have much influence on present affairs.
It must be remembered, because it is proved by Newton, that nature is not a plenum, and that motion is not communicated by collision until it has made the tour of the universe. Throw a body of a certain density into water, you easily calculate that at the end of such a time the movement of this body, and that which it has given to the water, will cease; the motion will be lost and rest will be restored. So the motion produced by Magog in spitting into a well cannot have influenced what is now passing in Moldavia and Wallachia. Present events, then, are not the offspring of all past events, they have their direct lines, but with a thousand small collateral lines they have nothing to do. Once more be it observed that every being has a parent but every one has not an offspring.
CHANGES THAT HAVE OCCURRED IN THE GLOBE.
When we have seen with our own eyes a mountain advancing into a plain—that is, an immense rock detached from that mountain, and covering the fields, an entire castle buried in the earth, or a swallowed-up river bursting from below, indubitable marks of an immense mass of water having once inundated a country now inhabited, and so many traces of other revolutions, we are even more disposed to believe in the great changes that have altered the face of the world than a Parisian lady who knows that the square in which her house stands was formerly a cultivated field, but a lady of Naples who has seen the ruins of Herculaneum underground is still less enthralled by the prejudice which leads us to believe that everything has always been as it now is.
Was there a great burning of the world in the time of Phaethon? Nothing is more likely, but this catastrophe was no more caused by the ambition of Phaethon or the anger of Jupiter the Thunderer than at Lisbon, in 1755, the Divine vengeance was drawn down, the subterraneous fires kindled, and half the city destroyed by the fires so often lighted there by the inquisition—besides, we know that Mequinez, Teutan and considerable hordes of Arabs have been treated even worse than Lisbon, though they had no inquisition. The island of St. Domingo, entirely devastated not long ago, had no more displeased the Great Being than the island of Corsica; all is subject to eternal physical laws.
Sulphur, bitumen, nitre, and iron, enclosed within the bowels of the earth have overturned many a city, opened many a gulf, and we are constantly liable to these accidents attached to the way in which this globe is put together, just as, in many countries during winter, we are exposed to the attacks of famishing wolves and tigers. If fire, which Heraclitus believed to be the principle of all, has altered the face of a part of the earth, Thales’s first principle, water, has operated as great changes.
One-half of America is still inundated by the ancient overflowings of the Maranon, Rio de la Plata, the St. Lawrence, the Mississippi, and all the rivers perpetually swelled by the eternal snows of the highest mountains in the world, stretching from one end of that continent to the other. These accumulated floods have almost everywhere produced vast marshes. The neighboring lands have become uninhabitable, and the earth, which the hands of man should have made fruitful, has produced only pestilence.
The same thing happened in China and in Egypt: a multitude of ages were necessary to dig canals and dry the lands. Add to these lengthened disasters the irruptions of the sea, the lands it has invaded and deserted, the islands it has detached from the continent and you will find that from east to west, from Japan to Mount Atlas, it has devastated more than eighty thousand square leagues.
The swallowing up of the island Atlantis from the ocean may, with as much reason, be considered historical, as fabulous. The shallowness of the Atlantic as far as the Canaries might be taken as a proof of this great event and the Canaries themselves for fragments of the island Atlantis.
Plato tells us in his “Timæus,” that the Egyptian priests, among whom he had travelled, had in their possession ancient registers which certified that island’s going under water. Plato says that this catastrophe happened nine thousand years before his time. No one will believe this chronology on Plato’s word only, but neither can any one adduce against it any physical proof, nor even a historical testimony from any profane writer.
Pliny, in his third book, says that from time immemorial the people of the southern coasts of Spain believed that the sea had forced a passage between Calpe and Abila: “Indigenæ columnas Herculis vocant, creduntque per fossas exclusa antea admisisse maria, et rerum naturæ mutasse faciem.”
An attentive traveller may convince himself by his own eyes that the Cyclades and the Sporades were once part of the continent of Greece, and especially that Sicily was once joined to Apulia. The two volcanos of Etna and Vesuvius having the same basis in the sea, the little gulf of Charybdis, the only deep part of that sea, the perfect resemblance of the two soils are incontrovertible testimonies. The floods of Deucalion and Ogyges are well known, and the fables founded upon this truth are still more the talk of all the West.
The ancients have mentioned several deluges in Asia. The one spoken of by Berosus happened (as he tells us) in Chaldæa, about four thousand three, or four hundred years before the Christian era, and Asia was as much inundated with fables about this deluge as it was by the overflowings of the Tigris and Euphrates, and all the rivers that fall into the Euxine.
It is true that such overflowings cannot cover the country with more than a few feet of water, but the consequent sterility, the washing away of houses, and the destruction of cattle are losses which it requires nearly a century to repair. We know how much they have cost Holland, more than the half of which has been lost since the year 1050. She is still obliged to maintain a daily conflict with the ever-threatening ocean. She has never employed so many soldiers in resisting her enemies as she employs laborers in continually defending her against the assaults of a sea always ready to swallow her.
The road from Egypt to Phœnicia, along the borders of Lake Serbo, was once quite practicable, but it has long ceased to be so; it is now nothing but a quicksand, moistened by stagnant water. In short, a great portion of the earth would be no other than a vast poisonous marsh inhabited by monsters, but for the assiduous labor of the human race.
We shall not here speak of the universal deluge of Noah. Let it suffice to read the Holy Scriptures with submission. Noah’s flood was an incomprehensible miracle supernaturally worked by the justice and goodness of an ineffable Providence whose will it was to destroy the whole guilty human race and form a new and innocent race. If the new race was more wicked than the former, and became more criminal from age to age, from reformation to reformation, this is but another effect of the same Providence, of which it is impossible for us to fathom the depths, the inconceivable mysteries transmitted to the nations of the West for many ages, in the Latin translation of the Septuagint. We shall never enter these awful sanctuaries; our questions will be limited to simple nature.
Can we change our character? Yes, if we change our body. A man born turbulent, violent, and inflexible, may, through falling in his old age into an apoplexy, become like a silly, weak, timid, puling child. His body is no longer the same, but so long as his nerves, his blood, and his marrow remain in the same state his disposition will not change any more than the instinct of a wolf or a polecat. The English author of “The Dispensary,” a poem much superior to the Italian “Capitoli,” and perhaps even to Boileau’s “Lutrin,” has, as it seems to me, well observed.
The character is formed of our ideas and our feelings. Now it is quite clear that we neither give ourselves feelings nor ideas, therefore our character cannot depend on ourselves. If it did so depend, every one would be perfect. We cannot give ourselves tastes, nor talents, why, then, should we give ourselves qualities? When we do not reflect we think we are masters of all: when we reflect we find that we are masters of nothing.
If you would absolutely change a man’s character purge him with diluents till he is dead. Charles XII., in his illness on the way to Bender, was no longer the same man; he was as tractable as a child. If I have a wry nose and cat’s eyes I can hide them behind a mask, and can I do more with the character that nature has given me?
A man born violent and passionate presents himself before Francis I., king of France, to complain of a trespass. The countenance of the prince, the respectful behavior of the courtiers, the very place he is in make a powerful impression upon this man. He mechanically casts down his eyes, his rude voice is softened, he presents his petition with humility, you would think him as mild as (at that moment at least) the courtiers appear to be, among whom he is often disconcerted, but if Francis I. knows anything of physiognomy, he will easily discover in his eye, though downcast, glistening with a sullen fire, in the extended muscles of his face, in his fast-closed lips, that this man is not so mild as he is forced to appear. The same man follows him to Pavia, is taken prisoner along with him and thrown into the same dungeon at Madrid. The majesty of Francis I. no longer awes him as before, he becomes familiar with the object of his reverence. One day, pulling on the king’s boots, and happening to pull them on ill, the king, soured by misfortune, grows angry, on which our man of courtesy wishes his majesty at the devil and throws his boots out the window.
Sixtus V. was by nature petulant, obstinate, haughty, impetuous, vindictive, arrogant. This character, however, seems to have been softened by the trials of his novitiate. But see him beginning to acquire some influence in his order; he flies into a passion against a guardian and knocks him down. Behold him an inquisitor at Venice, he exercises his office with insolence. Behold him cardinal; he is possessed della rabbia papale; this rage triumphs over his natural propensities; he buries his person and his character in obscurity and counterfeits humility and infirmity. He is elected pope, and the spring which policy had held back now acts with all the force of its long-restrained elasticity; he is the proudest and most despotic of sovereigns.
Religion and morality curb the strength of the disposition, but they cannot destroy it. The drunkard in a cloister, reduced to a quarter of a pint of cider each meal will never more get drunk, but he will always be fond of wine.
Age weakens the character; it is as an old tree producing only a few degenerate fruits, but always of the same nature, which is covered with knots and moss and becomes worm-eaten, but is ever the same, whether oak or pear tree. If we could change our character we could give ourselves one and become the master of nature. Can we give ourselves anything? do not we receive everything? To strive to animate the indolent man with persevering activity, to freeze with apathy the boiling blood of the impetuous, to inspire a taste for poetry into him who has neither taste nor ear were as futile as to attempt to give sight to one born blind. We perfect, we ameliorate, we conceal what nature has placed in us, but we place nothing there ourselves.
An agriculturist is told: “You have too many fish in this pond; they will not thrive, here are too many cattle in your meadows; they will want grass and grow lean.” After this exhortation the pikes come and eat one-half this man’s carps, the wolves one-half of his sheep, and the rest fatten. And will you applaud his economy? This countryman is yourself; one of your passions devours the rest and you think you have gained a triumph. Do we not almost all resemble the old general of ninety, who, having found some young officers behaving in a rather disorderly manner with some young women, said to them in anger: “Gentlemen, is this the example that I set you?”
Cicero frequently speaks of universal charity, charitas humani generis; but it does not appear that the policy or the beneficence of the Romans ever induced them to establish charitable institutions, in which the indigent and the sick might be relieved at the expense of the public. There was a receptacle for strangers at the port of Ostia, called Xenodokium, St. Jerome renders this justice to the Romans. Almshouses seem to have been unknown in ancient Rome. A more noble usage prevailed—that of supplying the people with corn. There were in Rome three hundred and twenty-seven public granaries. This constant liberality precluded any need of almshouses. They were strangers to necessity.
Neither was there any occasion among the Romans for founding charities. None exposed their own children. Those of slaves were taken care of by their masters. Childbirth was not deemed disgraceful to the daughters of citizens. The poorest families, maintained by the republic and afterwards by the emperors, saw the subsistence of their children secured.
The expression, “charitable establishment,” maison de charité, implies a state of indigence among modern nations which the form of our governments has not been able to preclude.
The word “hospital,” which recalls that of hospitality, reminds us of a virtue in high estimation among the Greeks, now no longer existing; but it also expresses a virtue far superior. There is a mighty difference between lodging, maintaining, and providing in sickness for all afflicted applicants whatever, and entertaining in your own house two or three travellers by whom you might claim a right to be entertained in return. Hospitality, after all, was but an exchange. Hospitals are monuments of beneficence.
It is true that the Greeks were acquainted with charitable institutions under the name of Xenodokia, for strangers, Nosocomeia, for the sick, and Ptokia, for the indigent. In Diogenes Laertius, concerning Bion, we find this passage: “He suffered much from the indigence of those who were charged with the care of the sick.”
Hospitality among friends was called Idioxenia, and among strangers Proxenia. Hence, the person who received and entertained strangers in his house, in the name of the whole city, was called Proxenos. But this institution appears to have been exceedingly rare. At the present day there is scarcely a city in Europe without its hospitals. The Turks have them even for beasts, which seems to be carrying charity rather too far, it would be better to forget the beasts and think more about men.
This prodigious multitude of charitable establishments clearly proves a truth deserving of all our attention—that man is not so depraved as he is stated to be, and that, notwithstanding all his absurd opinions, notwithstanding all the horrors of war which transform him into a ferocious beast, we have reason to consider him as a creature naturally well disposed and kind, and who, like other animals, becomes vicious only in proportion as he is stung by provocation.
The misfortune is that he is provoked too often.
Modern Rome has almost as many charitable institutions as ancient Rome had triumphal arches and other monuments of conquest. The most considerable of them all is a bank which lends money at two per cent. upon pledge, and sells the property if the borrower does not redeem it by an appointed time. This establishment is called the Archiospedale, or chief hospital. It is said always to contain within its walls nearly two thousand sick, which would be about the fiftieth part of the population of Rome for this one house alone, without including the children brought up, and the pilgrims lodged there. Where are the computations which do not require abatement?
Has it not been actually published at Rome that the hospital of the Trinity had lodged and maintained for three days four hundred and forty thousand five hundred male and twenty-five thousand female pilgrims at the jubilee in 1600? Has not Misson himself told us that the hospital of the Annunciation at Naples possesses a rental of two millions in our money? (About four hundred thousand dollars.)
However, to return, perhaps a charitable establishment for pilgrims who are generally mere vagabonds, is rather an encouragement to idleness than an act of humanity. It is, however, a decisive evidence of humanity that Rome contains fifty charitable establishments including all descriptions. These beneficent institutions are quite as useful and respectable as the riches of some monasteries and chapels are useless and ridiculous.
To dispense food, clothing, medicine, and aid of every kind, to our brethren, is truly meritorious, but what need can a saint have of gold and diamonds? What benefit results to mankind from “our Lady of Loretto” possessing more gorgeous treasures than the Turkish sultan? Loretto is a house of vanity, and not of charity. London, reckoning its charity schools, has as many beneficent establishments as Rome.
The most beautiful monument of beneficence ever erected is the Hôtel des Invalides, founded by Louis XIV.
Of all hospitals, that in which the greatest number of indigent sick are daily received is the Hôtel Dieu of Paris. It frequently contains four or five thousand inmates at a time. It is at once the receptacle of all the dreadful ills to which mankind are subject and the temple of true virtue, which consists in relieving them.
It is impossible to avoid frequently drawing a contrast between a fête at Versailles or an opera at Paris, in which all the pleasures and all the splendors of life are combined with the most exquisite art, and a Hôtel Dieu, where all that is painful, all that is loathsome, and even death itself are accumulated in one mass of horror. Such is the composition of great cities! By an admirable policy pleasures and luxury are rendered subservient to misery and pain. The theatres of Paris pay on an average the yearly sum of a hundred thousand crowns to the hospital. It often happens in these charitable institutions that the inconveniences counterbalance the advantages. One proof of the abuses attached to them is that patients dread the very idea of being removed to them.
The Hôtel Dieu, for example, was formerly well situated, in the middle of the city, near the bishop’s palace. The situation now is very bad, for the city has become overgrown; four or five patients are crowded into every bed, the victim of scurvy communicates it to his neighbor and in return receives from him smallpox, and a pestilential atmosphere spreads incurable disease and death, not only through the building destined to restore men to healthful life but through a great part of the city which surrounds it.
M. de Chamousset, one of the most valuable and active of citizens, has computed, from accurate authorities, that in the Hôtel Dieu, a fourth part of the patients die, an eighth in the hospital of Charity, a ninth in the London hospitals, and a thirtieth in those of Versailles. In the great and celebrated hospital of Lyons, which has long been one of the best conducted in Europe, the average mortality has been found to be only one-fifteenth. It has been often proposed to divide the Hôtel Dieu of Paris into smaller establishments better situated, more airy, and salubrious, but money has been wanting to carry the plan into execution.
Curtae nescio quid semper abest rei.
Money is always to be found when men are to be sent to the frontiers to be destroyed, but when the object is to preserve them it is no longer so. Yet the Hôtel Dieu of Paris has a revenue amounting to more than a million (forty thousand pounds), and every day increasing, and the Parisians have rivalled each other in their endowments of it.
We cannot help remarking in this place that Germain Brice, in his “Description of Paris,” speaking of some legacies bequeathed by the first president, Bellievre, to the hall of the Hôtel Dieu, named St. Charles, says: “Every one ought to read the beautiful inscription, engraved in letters of gold on a grand marble tablet, and composed by Oliver Patru, one of the choicest spirits of his time, some of whose pleadings are extant and in very high esteem.
“Whoever thou art that enterest this sacred place thou wilt almost everywhere behold traces of the charity of the great Pomponne. The gold and silver tapestry and the exquisite furniture which formerly adorned his apartments are now, by a happy metamorphosis, made to minister to the necessities of the sick. That divine man, who was the ornament and delight of his age, even in his conflict with death, considered how he might relieve the afflicted. The blood of Bellievre was manifested in every action of his life. The glory of his embassies is full well known,” etc.
The useful Chamousset did better than Germain Brice, or than Oliver Patru, “one of the choicest spirits of his time.” He offered to undertake at his own expense, backed by a responsible company, the following contract:
The administrators of the Hôtel Dieu estimated the cost of every patient, whether killed or cured, at fifty livres. M. Chamousset and the company offered to undertake the business, on receiving fifty livres on recovery only. The deaths were to be thrown out of the account, of which the expenses were to be borne by himself.
The proposal was so very advantageous that it was not accepted. It was feared that he would not be able to accomplish it. Every abuse attempted to be reformed is the patrimony of those who have more influence than the reformers.
A circumstance no less singular is that the Hôtel Dieu alone has the privilege of selling meat in Lent, for its own advantage and it loses money thereby. M. Chamousset proposed to enter into a contract by which the establishment would gain; his offer was rejected and the butcher, who was thought to have suggested it to him, was dismissed.
Charles IX., king of France, was, we are told, a good poet. It is quite certain that while he lived his verses were admired. Brantôme does not, indeed, tell us that this king was the best poet in Europe, but he assures us that “he made very genteel quatrains impromptu, without thinking (for he had seen several of them), and when it was wet or gloomy weather, or very hot, he would send for the poets into his cabinet and pass his time there with them.”
Had he always passed his time thus, and, above all, had he made good verses, we should not have had a St. Bartholomew, he would not have fired with a carbine through his window upon his own subjects, as if they had been a covey of partridges. Is it not impossible for a good poet to be a barbarian? I am persuaded it is.
These lines, addressed in his name to Ronsard, have been attributed to him:
These lines are good. But are they his? Are they not his preceptor’s? Here are some of his royal imaginings, which are somewhat different:
These are worthy the author of the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Cæsar’s lines on Terence are written with rather more spirit and taste; they breathe Roman urbanity. In those of Francis I. and Charles IX. we find the barbarism of the Celts. Would to God that Charles IX. had written more verses, even though bad ones! For constant application to the fine arts softens the manners and dispels ferocity:
Emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros.
Besides, the French languages scarcely began to take any form until long after Charles IX. See such of Francis I.’s letters as have been preserved: “Tout est perdu hors l’honneur”—“All is lost save honor”—was worthy of a chevalier. But the following is neither in the style of Cicero nor in that of Cæsar:
“Tout a fleure ynsi que je me volois mettre o lit est arrivé Laval qui m’a aporté la serteneté du lévement du siege.”
“All was going so well that, when I was going to bed Laval arrived, and brought me the certainty of the siege being raised.”
We have letters from the hand of Louis XIII., which are no better written. It is not required of a king to write letters like Pliny, or verses like Virgil; but no one can be excused from expressing himself with propriety in his own tongue. Every prince that writes like a lady’s maid has been ill educated.
We have frequently observed elsewhere, how rash and injudicious it is to controvert with any nation, such as the Chinese, its authentic pretensions. There is no house in Europe, the antiquity of which is so well proved as that of the Empire of China. Let us figure to ourselves a learned Maronite of Mount Athos questioning the nobility of the Morozini, the Tiepolo, and other ancient houses of Venice; of the princes of Germany, of the Montmorencys, the Chatillons, or the Talleyrands, of France, under the pretence that they are not mentioned in St. Thomas, or St. Bonaventure. We must impeach either his sense or his sincerity.
Many of the learned of our northern climes have felt confounded at the antiquity claimed by the Chinese. The question, however, is not one of learning. Leaving all the Chinese literati, all the mandarins, all the emperors, to acknowledge Fo-hi as one of the first who gave laws to China, about two thousand five hundred years before our vulgar era; admit that there must be people before there are kings. Allow that a long period of time is necessary before a numerous people, having discovered the necessary arts of life, unite in the choice of a common governor. But if you do not make these admissions, it is not of the slightest consequence. Whether you agree with us or not, we shall always believe that two and two make four.
In a western province, formerly called Celtica, the love of singularity and paradox has been carried so far as to induce some to assert that the Chinese were only an Egyptian, or rather perhaps a Phœnician colony. It was attempted to prove, in the same way as a thousand other things have been proved, that a king of Egypt, called Menes by the Greeks, was the Chinese King Yu; and that Atoes was Ki, by the change of certain letters. In addition to which, the following is a specimen of the reasoning applied to the subject:
The Egyptians sometimes lighted torches at night. The Chinese light lanterns: the Chinese are, therefore, evidently a colony from Egypt. The Jesuit Parennin who had, at the time, resided five and twenty years in China, and was master both of its language and its sciences, has rejected all these fancies with a happy mixture of elegance and sarcasm. All the missionaries, and all the Chinese, on receiving the intelligence that a country in the extremity of the west was developing a new formation of the Chinese Empire, treated it with a contemptuous ridicule. Father Parennin replied with somewhat more seriousness: “Your Egyptians,” said he, “when going to people China, must evidently have passed through India.” Was India at that time peopled or not? If it was, would it permit a foreign army to pass through it? If it was not, would not the Egyptians have stopped in India? Would they have continued their journey through barren deserts, and over almost impracticable mountains, till they reached China, in order to form colonies there, when they might so easily have established them on the fertile banks of the Indus or the Ganges?
The compilers of a universal history, printed in England, have also shown a disposition to divest the Chinese of their antiquity, because the Jesuits were the first who made the world acquainted with China. This is unquestionably a very satisfactory reason for saying to a whole nation—“You are liars.”
It appears to me a very important reflection, which may be made on the testimony given by Confucius, to the antiquity of his nation; and which is, that Confucius had no interest in falsehood: he did not pretend to be a prophet; he claimed no inspiration; he taught no new religion; he used no delusions; flattered not the emperor under whom he lived: he did not even mention him. In short, he is the only founder of institutions among mankind who was not followed by a train of women.
I knew a philosopher who had no other portrait than that of Confucius in his study. At the bottom of it were written the following lines:
I have read his books with attention; I have made extracts from them; I have found in them nothing but the purest morality, without the slightest tinge of charlatanism. He lived six hundred years before our vulgar era. His works were commented on by the most learned men of the nation. If he had falsified, if he had introduced a false chronology, if he had written of emperors who never existed, would not some one have been found, in a learned nation, who would have reformed his chronology? One Chinese only has chosen to contradict him, and he met with universal execration.
Were it worth our while, we might here compare the great wall of China with the monuments of other nations, which have never even approached it; and remark, that, in comparison with this extensive work, the pyramids of Egypt are only puerile and useless masses. We might dwell on the thirty-two eclipses calculated in the ancient chronology of China, twenty-eight of which have been verified by the mathematicians of Europe. We might show, that the respect entertained by the Chinese for their ancestors is an evidence that such ancestors have existed; and repeat the observation, so often made, that this reverential respect has in so small degree impeded, among this people, the progress of natural philosophy, geometry, and astronomy.
It is sufficiently known, that they are, at the present day, what we all were three hundred years ago, very ignorant reasoners. The most learned Chinese is like one of the learned of Europe in the fifteenth century, in possession of his Aristotle. But it is possible to be a very bad natural philosopher, and at the same time an excellent moralist. It is, in fact, in morality, in political economy, in agriculture, in the necessary arts of life, that the Chinese have made such advances towards perfection. All the rest they have been taught by us: in these we might well submit to become their disciples.
Of the Expulsion of the Missionaries from China.
Humanly speaking, independently of the service which the Jesuits might confer on the Christian religion, are they not to be regarded as an ill-fated class of men, in having travelled from so remote a distance to introduce trouble and discord into one of the most extended and best-governed kingdoms of the world? And does not their conduct involve a dreadful abuse of the liberality and indulgence shown by the Orientals, more particularly after the torrents of blood shed, through their means, in the empire of Japan? A scene of horror, to prevent the consequence of which the government believed it absolutely indispensable to shut their ports against all foreigners.
The Jesuits had obtained permission of the emperor of China, Cam-hi, to teach the Catholic religion. They made use of it, to instil into the small portion of the people under their direction, that it was incumbent on them to serve no other master than him who was the vicegerent of God on earth, and who dwelt in Italy on the banks of a small river called the Tiber; that every other religious opinion, every other worship, was an abomination in the sight of God, and whoever did not believe the Jesuits would be punished by Him to all eternity; that their emperor and benefactor, Cam-hi, who could not even pronounce the name of Christ, as the Chinese language possesses not the letter “r,” would suffer eternal damnation; that the Emperor Youtchin would experience, without mercy, the same fate; that all the ancestors, both of Chinese and Tartars, would incur a similar penalty; that their descendants would undergo it also, as well as the rest of the world; and that the reverend fathers, the Jesuits, felt a sincere and paternal commiseration for the damnation of so many souls.
They, at length, succeeded in making converts of three princes of the Tartar race. In the meantime, the Emperor Cam-hi died, towards the close of the year 1722. He bequeathed the empire to his fourth son, who has been so celebrated through the whole world for the justice and the wisdom of his government, for the affection entertained for him by his subjects, and for the expulsion of the Jesuits.
They began by baptizing the three princes, and many persons of their household. These neophytes had the misfortune to displease the emperor on some points which merely respected military duty. About this very period the indignation of the whole empire against the missionaries broke out into a flame. All the governors of provinces, all the Colaos, presented memorials against them. The accusations against them were urged so far that the three princes, who had become disciples of the Jesuits, were put into irons.
It is clear that they were not treated with this severity simply for having been baptized, since the Jesuits themselves acknowledge in their letters, that they experienced no violence, and that they were even admitted to an audience of the emperor, who honored them with some presents. It is evident, therefore, that the Emperor Youtchin was no persecutor; and, if the princes were confined in a prison on the borders of Tartary, while those who had converted them were treated so liberally, it is a decided proof that they were state prisoners, and not martyrs.
The emperor, soon after this, yielded to the supplications of all his people. They petitioned that the Jesuits might be sent away, as their abolition has been since prayed for in France and other countries. All the tribunals of China urged their being immediately sent to Macao, which is considered as a place without the limits of the empire, and the possession of which has always been left to the Portuguese, with a Chinese garrison.
Youtchin had the humanity to consult the tribunals and governors, whether any danger could result from conveying all the Jesuits to the province of Canton. While awaiting the reply, he ordered three of them to be introduced to his presence, and addressed them in the following words, which Father Parennin, with great ingenuousness, records: “Your Europeans, in the province of Fo-Kien, intended to abolish our laws, and disturbed our people. The tribunals have denounced them before me. It is my positive duty to provide against such disorders: the good of the empire requires it. . . . . What would you say were I to send over to your country a company of bonzes and lamas to preach their law? How would you receive them? . . . . If you deceived my father, hope not also to deceive me. . . . . You wish to make the Chinese Christians: your law, I well know, requires this of you. But in case you should succeed, what should we become? the subjects of your kings. Christians believe none but you: in a time of confusion they would listen to no voice but yours. I know that, at present, there is nothing to fear; but on the arrival of a thousand, or perhaps ten thousand vessels, great disturbances might ensue.
“China, on the north, joins the kingdom of Russia, which is by no means contemptible; to the south it has the Europeans, and their kingdoms, which are still more considerable; and to the west, the princes of Tartary, with whom we have been at war eight years. . . . . Laurence Lange, companion of Prince Ismailoff, ambassador from the czar, requested that the Russians might have permission to establish factories in each of the provinces. The permission was confined to Pekin, and within the limits of Calcas. In like manner I permit you to remain here and at Canton as long as you avoid giving any cause of complaint. Should you give any, I will not suffer you to remain either here or at Canton.”
In the other provinces their houses and churches were levelled to the ground. At length the clamor against them redoubled. The charges most strenuously insisted upon against them were, that they weakened the respect of children for their parents, by not paying the honors due to ancestors; that they indecently brought together young men and women in retired places, which they called churches; that they made girls kneel before them, and enclosed them with their legs, and conversed with them, while in this posture, in undertones. To Chinese delicacy, nothing appeared more revolting than this. Their emperor, Youtchin, even condescended to inform the Jesuits of this fact; after which he sent away the greater part of the missionaries to Macao, but with all that polite attention which perhaps the Chinese alone are capable of displaying.
Some Jesuits, possessed of mathematical science, were retained at Pekin; and among others, that same Parennin whom we have mentioned; and who, being a perfect master both of the Chinese and of the Tartar language, had been frequently employed as an interpreter. Many of the Jesuits concealed themselves in the distant provinces; others even in Canton itself; and the affair was connived at.
At length, after the death of the Emperor Youtchin, his son and successor, Kien-Lung, completed the satisfaction of the nation by compelling all the missionaries who were in concealment throughout his empire to remove to Macao: a solemn edict prevented them from ever returning. If any appear, they are civilly requested to carry their talents somewhere else. There is nothing of severity, nothing of persecution. I have been told that, in 1760, a Jesuit having gone from Rome to Canton, and been informed against by a Dutch factor, the Colao governor of Canton had him sent away, presenting him at the same time with a piece of silk, some provisions, and money.
Of the pretended Atheism of China.
The charge of Atheism, alleged by our theologians of the west, against the Chinese government at the other end of the world, has been frequently examined, and is, it must be admitted, the meanest excess of our follies and pedantic inconsistencies. It was sometimes pretended, in one of our learned faculties, that the Chinese tribunals or parliaments were idolatrous; sometimes that they acknowledged no divinity whatever: and these reasoners occasionally pushed their logic so far as to maintain that the Chinese were, at the same time, atheists and idolaters.
In the month of October, 1700, the Sorbonne declared every proposition which maintained that the emperor and the Colaos believed in God to be heretical. Bulky volumes were composed in order to demonstrate, conformably to the system of theological demonstration, that the Chinese adored nothing but the material heaven.
But if they did adore the material heaven, that was their God. They resembled the Persians, who are said to have adored the sun: they resembled the ancient Arabians, who adored the stars: they were neither worshippers of idols nor atheists. But a learned doctor, when it is an object to denounce from his tripod any proposition as heretical or obnoxious, does not distinguish with much clearness.
Those contemptible creatures who, in 1700, created such a disturbance about the material heaven of the Chinese, did not know that, in 1689, the Chinese, having made peace with the Russians at Nicptchou, which divides the two empires, erected, in September of the same year, a marble monument, on which the following memorable words were engraved in the Chinese and Latin languages:
“Should any ever determine to rekindle the flames of war, we pray the sovereign reign of all things, who knows the heart, to punish their perfidy,” etc.
A very small portion of modern history is sufficient to put an end to these ridiculous disputes: but those who believe that the duty of man consists in writing commentaries on St. Thomas, or Scotus, cannot condescend to inform themselves of what is going on among the great empires of the world.
We travel to China to obtain clay for porcelain, as if we had none ourselves; stuffs, as if we were destitute of stuffs; and a small herb to be infused in water, as if we had no simples in our own countries. In return for these benefits, we are desirous of converting the Chinese. It is a very commendable zeal; but we must avoid controverting their antiquity, and also calling them idolaters. Should we think it well of a capuchin, if, after having been hospitably entertained at the château of the Montmorencys, he endeavored to persuade them that they were new nobility, like the king’s secretaries; or accused them of idolatry, because he found two or three statues of constables, for whom they cherished the most profound respect?
The celebrated Wolf, professor of mathematics in the university of Halle, once delivered an excellent discourse in praise of the Chinese philosophy. He praised that ancient species of the human race, differing, as it does, in respect to the beard, the eyes, the nose, the ears, and even the reasoning powers themselves; he praised the Chinese, I say, for their adoration of a supreme God, and their love of virtue. He did that justice to the emperors of China, to the tribunals, and to the literati. The justice done to the bonzes was of a different kind.
It is necessary to observe, that this Professor Wolf had attracted around him a thousand pupils of all nations. In the same university there was also a professor of theology, who attracted no one. This man, maddened at the thought of freezing to death in his own deserted hall, formed the design, which undoubtedly was only right and reasonable, of destroying the mathematical professor. He scrupled not, according to the practice of persons like himself, to accuse him of not believing in God.
Some European writers, who had never been in China, had pretended that the government of Pekin was atheistical. Wolf had praised the philosophers of Pekin; therefore Wolf was an atheist. Envy and hatred seldom construct the best syllogisms. This argument of Lange, supported by a party and by a protector, was considered conclusive by the sovereign of the country, who despatched a formal dilemma to the mathematician. This dilemma gave him the option of quitting Halle in twenty-four hours, or of being hanged; and as Wolf was a very accurate reasoner, he did not fail to quit. His withdrawing deprived the king of two or three hundred thousand crowns a year, which were brought into the kingdom in consequence of the wealth of this philosopher’s disciples.
This case should convince sovereigns that they should not be over ready to listen to calumny, and sacrifice a great man to the madness of a fool. But let us return to China.
Why should we concern ourselves, we who live at the extremity of the west—why should we dispute with abuse and fury, whether there were fourteen princes or not before Fo-hi, emperor of China, and whether the said Fo-hi lived three thousand, or two thousand nine hundred years before our vulgar era? I should like to see two Irishmen quarrelling at Dublin, about who was the owner, in the twelfth century, of the estate I am now in possession of. Is it not clear, that they should refer to me, who possess the documents and titles relating to it? To my mind, the case is the same with respect to the first emperors of China, and the tribunals of that country are the proper resort upon the subject.
Dispute as long as you please about the fourteen princes who reigned before Fo-hi, your very interesting dispute cannot possibly fail to prove that China was at that period populous, and that laws were in force there. I now ask you, whether a people’s being collected together, under laws and kings, involves not the idea of very considerable antiquity? Reflect how long a time is requisite, before by a singular concurrence of circumstances, the iron is discovered in the mine, before it is applied to purposes of agriculture, before the invention of the shuttle, and all the arts of life.
Some who multiply mankind by a dash of the pen, have produced very curious calculations. The Jesuit Petau, by a very singular computation, gives the world, two hundred and twenty-five years after the deluge, one hundred times as many inhabitants as can be easily conceived to exist on it at present. The Cumberlands and Whistons have formed calculations equally ridiculous; had these worthies only consulted the registers of our colonies in America, they would have been perfectly astonished, and would have perceived not only how slowly mankind increase in number, but that frequently instead of increasing they actually diminish.
Let us then, who are merely of yesterday, descendants of the Celts, who have only just finished clearing the forests of our savage territories, suffer the Chinese and Indians to enjoy in peace their fine climate and their antiquity. Let us, especially, cease calling the emperor of China, and the souba of the Deccan, idolaters. There is no necessity for being a zealot in estimating Chinese merit. The constitution of their empire is the only one entirely established upon paternal authority; the only one in which the governor of a province is punished, if, on quitting his station, he does not receive the acclamations of the people; the only one which has instituted rewards for virtue, while, everywhere else, the sole object of the laws is the punishment of crime; the only one which has caused its laws to be adopted by its conquerors, while we are still subject to the customs of the Burgundians, the Franks, and the Goths, by whom we were conquered. Yet, we must confess, that the common people, guided by the bonzes, are equally knavish with our own; that everything is sold enormously dear to foreigners, as among ourselves; that, with respect to the sciences, the Chinese are just where we were two hundred years ago; that, like us, they labor under a thousand ridiculous prejudices; and that they believe in talismans and judicial astrology, as we long did ourselves.
We must admit also, that they were astonished at our thermometer, at our method of freezing fluids by means of saltpetre, and at all the experiments of Torricelli and Otto von Guericke; as we were also, on seeing for the first time those curious processes. We add, that their physicians do not cure mortal diseases any more than our own; and that minor diseases, both here and in China, are cured by nature alone. All this, however, does not interfere with the fact, that the Chinese, for four thousand years, when we were unable even to read, knew everything essentially useful of which we boast at the present day.
I must again repeat, the religion of their learned is admirable, and free from superstitions, from absurd legends, from dogmas insulting both to reason and nature, to which the bonzes give a thousand different meanings, because they really often have none. The most simple worship has appeared to them the best, for a series of forty centuries. They are, what we conceive Seth, Enoch, and Noah to have been; they are contented to adore one God in communion with the sages of the world, while Europe is divided between Thomas and Bonaventure, between Calvin and Luther, between Jansenius and Molina.
Establishment of Christianity, in its Civil and Political State.—Section I.
God forbid that we should dare to mix the sacred with the profane! We seek not to fathom the depths of the ways of Providence. We are men, and we address men only.
When Antony, and after him Augustus, had given Judæa to the Arabian, Herod—their creature and their tributary—that prince, a stranger among the Jews, became the most powerful of all kings. He had ports on the Mediterranean—Ptolemais and Ascalon; he built towns; he erected a temple to Apollo at Rhodes, and one to Augustus in Cæsarea; he rebuilt that of Jerusalem from the foundation, and converted it into a strong citadel. Under his rule, Palestine enjoyed profound peace. In short, barbarous as he was to his family, and tyrannical towards his people, whose substance he consumed in the execution of his projects, he was looked upon as a Messiah. He worshipped only Cæsar, and he was also worshipped by the Herodians.
The sect of the Jews had long been spread in Europe and Asia; but its tenets were entirely unknown. No one knew anything of the Jewish books, although we are told that some of them had already been translated into Greek, in Alexandria. The Jews were known only as the Armenians are now known to the Turks and Persians, as brokers and traders. Further, a Turk never takes the trouble to inquire, whether an Armenian is a Eutychian, a Jacobite, one of St. John’s Christians, or an Arian. The theism of China, and the much to be respected books of Confucius, were still less known to the nations of the west, than the Jewish rites.
The Arabians, who furnished the Romans with the precious commodities of India, had no more idea of the theology of the Brahmins than our sailors who go to Pondicherry or Madras. The Indian women had from time immemorial enjoyed the privilege of burning themselves on the bodies of their husbands; yet these astonishing sacrifices, which are still practised, were as unknown to the Jews as the customs of America. Their books, which speak of Gog and Magog, never mention India.
The ancient religion of Zoroaster was celebrated; but not therefore the more understood in the Roman Empire. It was only known, in general, that the magi admitted a resurrection, a hell, and a paradise; which doctrine must at that time have made its way to the Jews bordering on Chaldæa; since, in Herod’s time, Palestine was divided between the Pharisees, who began to believe the dogma of the resurrection, and the Sadducees, who regarded it only with contempt.
Alexandria, the most commercial city in the whole world, was peopled with Egyptians, who worshipped Serapis, and consecrated cats; with Greeks, who philosophized; with Romans, who ruled; and with Jews, who amassed wealth. All these people were eagerly engaged in money-getting, immersed in pleasure, infuriate with fanaticism, making and unmaking religious sects, especially during the external tranquillity which they enjoyed when Augustus had shut the temple of Janus.
The Jews were divided into three principal factions. Of these, the Samaritans called themselves the most ancient, because Samaria (then Sebaste) had subsisted, while Jerusalem, with its temple, was destroyed under the Babylonian kings. But these Samaritans were a mixture of the people of Persia with those of Palestine.
The second, and most powerful faction, was that of the Hierosolymites. These Jews, properly so called, detested the Samaritans, and were detested by them. Their interests were all opposite. They wished that no sacrifices should be offered but in the temple of Jerusalem. Such a restriction would have brought a deal of money into their city; and, for this very reason, the Samaritans would sacrifice nowhere but at home. A small people, in a small town, may have but one temple; but when a people have extended themselves over a country seventy leagues long, by twenty-three wide, as the Jews had done—when their territory is almost as large and populous as Languedoc or Normandy, it would be absurd to have but one church. What would the good people of Montpellier say, if they could attend mass nowhere but at Toulouse?
The third faction were the Hellenic Jews, consisting chiefly of such as were engaged in trade or handicraft in Egypt and Greece. These had the same interests with the Samaritans. Onias, the son of a high priest, wishing to be a high priest like his father, obtained permission from Ptolemy Philometor, king of Egypt, and in particular from the king’s wife, Cleopatra, to build a Jewish temple near Bubastis. He assured Queen Cleopatra that Isaiah had foretold that the Lord should one day have a temple on that spot; and Cleopatra, to whom he made a handsome present, sent him word that, since Isaiah had said it, it must be. This temple was called the Onion; and if Onias was not a great sacrificer, he commanded a troop of militia. It was built one hundred and sixty years before the Christian era. The Jews of Jerusalem always held this Onion in abhorrence, as they did the translation called the Septuagint. They even instituted an expiatory feast for these two pretended sacrileges. The rabbis of the Onion, mingling with the Greeks, became more learned (in their way) than the rabbis of Jerusalem and Samaria; and the three factions began to dispute on controversial questions, which necessarily make men subtle, false, and unsocial.
The Egyptian Jews, in order to equal the austerity of the Essenes, and the Judates of Palestine, established, some time before the birth of Christianity, the sect of the Therapeutæ, who, like them, devoted themselves to a sort of monastic life, and to mortifications. These different societies were imitations of the old Egyptian, Persian, Thracian, and Greek mysteries, which had filled the earth, from the Euphrates and the Nile to the Tiber. At first, such as were initiated into these fraternities were few in number, and were looked upon as privileged men; but in the time of Augustus, their number was very considerable; so that nothing but religion was talked of, from Syria to Mount Atlas and the German Ocean.
Amidst all these sects and worships, the school of Plato had established itself, not in Greece alone, but also in Rome, and especially in Egypt. Plato had been considered as having drawn his doctrine from the Egyptians, who thought that, in turning Plato’s ideas to account, his word, and the sort of trinity discoverable in some of his works, they were but claiming their own.
This philosophic spirit, spread at that time over all the known countries of the west, seems to have emitted, in the neighborhood of Palestine, at least a few sparks of the spirit of reasoning. It is certain that, in Herod’s time, there were disputes on the attributes of the divinity, on the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection of the body. The Jews relate, that Queen Cleopatra asked them whether we were to rise again dressed or naked?
The Jews, then, were reasoners in their way. The exaggerating Josephus was, for a soldier, very learned. Such being the case with a military man, there must have been many a learned man in civil life. His contemporary, Philo, would have had reputation, even among the Greeks. St. Paul’s master, Gamaliel, was a great controversialist. The authors of the “Mishna” were polymathists.
The Jewish populace discoursed on religion. As, at the present day, in Switzerland, at Geneva, in Germany, in England, and especially in the Cévennes, we find even the meanest of the inhabitants dealing in controversy. Nay, more; men from the dregs of the people have founded sects: as Fox, in England; Münzer, in Germany; and the first reformers in France. Indeed, Mahomet himself, setting apart his great courage, was nothing more than a camel-driver.
Add to these preliminaries that, in Herod’s time, it was imagined, as is elsewhere remarked, that the world was soon to be at an end. In those days, prepared by divine providence, it pleased the eternal Father to send His Son upon earth—an adorable and incomprehensible mystery, which we presume not to approach.
We only say, that if Jesus preached a pure morality; if He announced the kingdom of heaven as the reward of the just; if He had disciples attached to His person and His virtues; if those very virtues drew upon Him the persecutions of the priests; if, through calumny, He was put to a shameful death; His doctrine, constantly preached by His disciples, would necessarily have a great effect in the world. Once more let me repeat it—I speak only after the manner of this world, setting the multitude of miracles and prophecies entirely aside. I maintain it, that Christianity was more likely to proceed by His death, than if He had not been persecuted. You are astonished that His disciples made other disciples. I should have been much more astonished, if they had not brought over a great many to their party. Seventy individuals, convinced of the innocence of their leader, the purity of His manners, and the barbarity of His judges, must influence many a feeling heart.
St. Paul, alone, became (for whatever reason) the enemy of his master Gamaliel, must have had it in his power to bring Jesus a thousand adherents, even supposing Jesus to have been only a worthy and oppressed man. Paul was learned, eloquent, vehement, indefatigable, skilled in the Greek tongue, and seconded by zealots much more interested than himself in defending their Master’s reputation. St. Luke was an Alexandrian Greek, and a man of letters, for he was a physician.
The first chapter of John displays a Platonic sublimity, which must have been gratifying to the Platonists of Alexandria. And indeed there was even formed in that city a school founded by Luke, or by Mark (either the evangelist or some other), and perpetuated by Athenagoras, Pantænus, Origen, and Clement—all learned and eloquent. This school once established, it was impossible for Christianity not to make rapid progress.
Greece, Syria, and Egypt, were the scenes of those celebrated ancient mysteries, which enchanted the minds of the people. The Christians, too, had their mysteries, in which men would eagerly seek to be initiated; and if at first only through curiosity, this curiosity soon became persuasion. The idea of the approaching end of all things was especially calculated to induce the new disciples to despise the transitory goods of this life, which were so soon to perish with them. The example of the Therapeutæ was an incitement to a solitary and mortified life. All these things, then, powerfully concurred in the establishment of the Christian religion.
The different flocks of this great rising society could not, it is true, agree among themselves. Fifty-four societies had fifty-four different gospels; all secret, like their mysteries; all unknown to the Gentiles, who never saw our four canonical gospels until the end of two hundred and fifty years. These various flocks, though divided, acknowledged the same pastor. Ebionites, opposed to St. Paul; Nazarenes, disciples of Hymeneos, Alexandros, and Hermogenes; Carpocratians, Basilidians, Valentinians, Marcionites, Sabellians, Gnostics, Montanists—a hundred sects, rising one against another, and casting mutual reproaches, were nevertheless all united in Jesus; all called upon Jesus; all made Jesus the great object of their thoughts, and reward of their travails.
The Roman Empire, in which all these societies were formed, at first paid no attention to them. They were known at Rome only by the general name of Jews, about whom the government gave itself no concern. The Jews had, by their money, acquired the right of trading. In the reign of Tiberius four thousand of them were driven out of Rome; in that of Nero the people charged them and the new demi-Christian Jews with the burning of Rome.
They were again expelled in the reign of Claudius, but their money always procured them readmission; they were quiet and despised. The Christians of Rome were not so numerous as those of Greece, Alexandria and Syria. The Romans in the earlier ages had neither fathers of the church nor heresiarchs. The farther they were from the birthplace of Christianity, the fewer doctors and writers were to be found among them. The church was Greek; so much so, that every mystery, every rite, every tenet, was expressed in the Greek tongue.
All Christians, whether Greek, Syrian, Roman, or Egyptian, were considered as half Jewish. This was another reason for concealing their books from the Gentiles, that they might remain united and impenetrable. Their secret was more inviolably kept than that of the mysteries of Isis or of Ceres; they were a republic apart—a state within the state. They had no temples, no altars, no sacrifice, no public ceremony. They elected their secret superiors by a majority of voices. These superiors, under the title of ancients, priests, bishops, or deacons, managed the common purse, took care of the sick and pacified quarrels. Among them it was a shame and a crime to plead before the tribunals or to enlist in the armed force; and for a hundred years there was not a single Christian in the armies of the empire.
Thus, retired in the midst of the world and unknown even when they appeared, they escaped the tyranny of the proconsuls and prætors and were free amid the public slavery. It is not known who wrote the famous book entitled “Τῶν Ἀποστόλων Δίδαχαί” (the Apostolical Constitutions), as it is unknown who were the authors of the fifty rejected gospels, of the Acts of St. Peter, of the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, and of so many other writings of the first Christians; but it is likely that the “Constitutions” are of the second century. Though falsely attributed to the apostles, they are very valuable. They show us what were the duties of a bishop chosen by the Christians, how they were to reverence him, and what tribute they were to pay him. The bishop could have but one wife, who was to take good care of his household: “Μιᾶς ἄνδρα γεγενόμενον γυναιϰὸς μονογάμου ϰάλὸν τοῦ ἰδίου οἴϰου προεστότα.”
Rich Christians were exhorted to adopt the children of poor ones. Collections were made for the widows and orphans; but the money of sinners was rejected; and, nominally, an innkeeper was not permitted to give his mite. It is said that they were regarded as cheats; for which reason very few tavern-keepers were Christians. This also prevented the Christians from frequenting the taverns; thus completing their separation from the society of the Gentiles.
The dignity of deaconess being attainable by the women, they were the more attached to the Christian fraternity. They were consecrated; the bishop anointing them on the forehead, as of old the Jewish kings were anointed. By how many indissoluble ties were the Christians bound together!
The persecutions, which were never more than transitory, did but serve to redouble their zeal and inflame their fervor; so that, under Diocletian, one-third of the empire was Christian. Such were a few of the human causes that contributed to the progress of Christianity. If to these we add the divine causes, which are to the former as infinity to unity, there is only one thing which can surprise us; that a religion so true did not at once extend itself over the two hemispheres, not excepting the most savage islet.
God Himself came down from heaven and died to redeem mankind and extirpate sin forever from the face of the earth; and yet he left the greater part of mankind a prey to error, to crime, and to the devil. This, to our weak intellects, appears a fatal contradiction. But it is not for us to question Providence; our duty is to humble ourselves in the dust before it.
Several learned men have testified their surprise at not finding in the historian, Flavius Josephus, any mention of Jesus Christ; for all men of true learning are now agreed that the short passage relative to him in that history has been interpolated. The father of Flavius Josephus must, however, have been witness to all the miracles of Jesus. Josephus was of the sacerdotal race and akin to Herod’s wife, Mariamne. He gives us long details of all that prince’s actions, yet says not a word of the life or death of Jesus; nor does this historian, who disguises none of Herod’s cruelties, say one word of the general massacre of the infants ordered by him on hearing that there was born a king of the Jews. The Greek calendar estimates the number of children murdered on this occasion at fourteen thousand. This is, of all actions of all tyrants, the most horrible. There is no example of it in the history of the whole world.
Yet the best writer the Jews have ever had, the only one esteemed by the Greeks and Romans, makes no mention of an event so singular and so frightful. He says nothing of the appearance of a new star in the east after the birth of our Saviour—a brilliant phenomenon, which could not escape the knowledge of a historian so enlightened as Josephus. He is also silent respecting the darkness which, on our Saviour’s death, covered the whole earth for three hours at midday—the great number of graves that opened at that moment, and the multitude of the just that rose again.
The learned are constantly evincing their surprise that no Roman historian speaks of these prodigies, happening in the empire of Tiberius, under the eyes of a Roman governor and a Roman garrison, who must have sent to the emperor and the senate a detailed account of the most miraculous event that mankind had ever heard of. Rome itself must have been plunged for three hours in impenetrable darkness; such a prodigy would have had a place in the annals of Rome, and in those of every nation. But it was not God’s will that these divine things should be written down by their profane hands.
The same persons also find some difficulties in the gospel history. They remark that, in Matthew, Jesus Christ tells the scribes and pharisees that all the innocent blood that has been shed upon earth, from that of Abel the Just down to that of Zachary, son of Barac, whom they slew between the temple and the altar, shall be upon their heads.
There is not (say they) in the Hebrew history and Zachary slain in the temple before the coming of the Messiah, nor in His time, but in the history of the siege of Jerusalem, by Josephus, there is a Zachary, son of Barac, slain by the faction of the Zelotes. This is in the nineteenth chapter of the fourth book. Hence they suspect that the gospel according to St. Matthew was written after the taking of Jerusalem by Titus. But every doubt, every objection of this kind, vanishes when it is considered how great a difference there must be between books divinely inspired and the books of men. It was God’s pleasure to envelop alike in awful obscurity His birth, His life, and His death. His ways are in all things different from ours.
The learned have also been much tormented by the difference between the two genealogies of Jesus Christ. St. Matthew makes Joseph the son of Jacob, Jacob of Matthan, Matthan of Eleazar. St. Luke, on the contrary, says that Joseph was the son of Heli, Heli of Matthat, Matthat of Levi, Levi of Melchi, etc. They will not reconcile the fifty-six progenitors up to Abraham, given to Jesus by Luke, with the forty-two other forefathers up to the same Abraham, given him by Matthew; and they are quite staggered by Matthew’s giving only forty-one generations, while he speaks of forty-two. They start other difficulties about Jesus being the son, not of Joseph, but of Mary. They moreover raise some doubts respecting our Saviour’s miracles, quoting St. Augustine, St. Hilary, and others, who have given to the accounts of these miracles a mystic or allegorical sense; as, for example, to the fig tree cursed and blasted for not having borne figs when it was not the fig season; the devils sent into the bodies of swine in a country where no swine were kept; the water changed into wine at the end of a feast, when the guests were already too much heated. But all these learned critics are confounded by the faith, which is but the purer for their cavils. The sole design of this article is to follow the historical thread and give a precise idea of the facts about which there is no dispute.
First, then, Jesus was born under the Mosaic law; He was circumcised according to that law; He fulfilled all its precepts; He kept all its feasts; He did not reveal the mystery of His incarnation; He never told the Jews He was born of a virgin; He received John’s blessing in the waters of the Jordan, a ceremony to which various of the Jews submitted; but He never baptized any one; He never spoke of the seven sacraments; He instituted no ecclesiastical hierarchy during His life. He concealed from His contemporaries that He was the Son of God, begotten from all eternity, consubstantial with His Father; and that the Holy Ghost proceeded from the Father and the Son. He did not say that His person was composed of two natures and two wills. He left these mysteries to be announced to men in the course of time by those who were to be enlightened by the Holy Ghost. So long as He lived, He departed in nothing from the law of His fathers. In the eyes of men He was no more than a just man, pleasing to God, persecuted by the envious and condemned to death by prejudiced magistrates. He left His holy church, established by Him, to do all the rest.
Let us consider the state of religion in the Roman Empire at that period. Mysteries and expiations were in credit almost throughout the earth. The emperors, the great, and the philosophers, had, it is true, no faith in these mysteries; but the people, who, in religious matters, give the law to the great, imposed on them the necessity of conforming in appearance to their worship. To succeed in chaining the multitude you must seem to wear the same fetters. Cicero himself was initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries. The knowledge of only one God was the principal tenet inculcated in these mysteries and magnificent festivals. It is undeniable that the prayers and hymns handed down to us as belonging to these mysteries are the most pious and most admirable of the relics of paganism. The Christians, who likewise adored only one God, had thereby greater facility in converting some of the Gentiles. Some of the philosophers of Plato’s sect became Christians; hence in the three first centuries the fathers of the church were all Platonists.
The inconsiderate zeal of some of them in no way detracts from the fundamental truths. St. Justin, one of the primitive fathers, has been reproached with having said, in his commentary on Isaiah, that the saints should enjoy, during a reign of a thousand years on earth, every sensual pleasure. He has been charged with criminality in saying, in his “Apology for Christianity,” that God, having made the earth, left it in the care of the angels, who, having fallen in love with the women, begot children, which are the devils.
Lactantius, with other fathers, has been condemned for having supposed oracles of the sibyls. He asserted that the sibyl Erythrea made four Greek lines, which rendered literally are:
The primitive Christians have been reproached with inventing some acrostic verses on the name Jesus Christ and attributing them to an ancient sibyl. They have also been reproached with forging letters from Jesus Christ to the king of Edessa, dated at a time when there was no king in Edessa; with having forged letters of Mary, letters of Seneca to Paul, false gospels, false miracles, and a thousand other impostures.
We have, moreover, the history or gospel of the nativity and marriage of the Virgin Mary; wherein we are told that she was brought to the temple at three years old and walked up the stairs by herself. It is related that a dove came down from heaven to give notice that it was Joseph who was to espouse Mary. We have the protogospel of James, brother of Jesus by Joseph’s first wife. It is there said that when Joseph complained of Mary’s having become pregnant in his absence, the priests made each of them drink the water of jealousy, and both were declared innocent.
We have the gospel of the Infancy, attributed to St. Thomas. According to this gospel, Jesus, at five years of age, amused himself, like other children of the same age, with moulding clay, and making it, among other things, into the form of little birds. He was reproved for this, on which he gave life to the birds, and they flew away. Another time, a little boy having beaten him, was struck dead on the spot. We have also another gospel of the Infancy in Arabic, which is much more serious.
We have a gospel of Nicodemus. This one seems more worthy of attention, for we find in it the names of those who accused Jesus before Pilate. They were the principal men of the synagogue—Ananias, Caiaphas, Sommas, Damat, Gamaliel, Judah, Nephthalim. In this history there are some things that are easy to reconcile with the received gospels, and others which are not elsewhere to be found. We here find that the woman cured of a flux was called Veronica. We also find all that Jesus did in hell when He descended thither. Then we have the two letters supposed to have been written by Pilate to Tiberius concerning the execution of Jesus; but their bad Latin plainly shows that they are spurious. To such a length was this false zeal carried that various letters were circulated attributed to Jesus Christ. The letter is still preserved which he is said to have written to Abgarus, king of Edessa; but, as already remarked, there had at that time ceased to be a king of Edessa.
Fifty gospels were fabricated and were afterwards declared apocryphal. St. Luke himself tells us that many persons had composed gospels. It has been believed that there was one called the Eternal Gospel, concerning which it is said in the Apocalypse, chap. xiv., “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel.” . . . . In the thirteenth century the Cordeliers, abusing these words, composed an “eternal gospel,” by which the reign of the Holy Ghost was to be substituted for that of Jesus Christ. But never in the early ages of the church did any book appear with this title. Letters of the Virgin were likewise invented, written to Ignatius the martyr, to the people of Messina, and others.
Abdias, who immediately succeeded the apostles, wrote their history, with which he mixed up such absurd fables that in time these histories became wholly discredited, although they had at first a great reputation. To Abdias we are indebted for the account of the contest between St. Peter and Simon the magician. There was at Rome, in reality, a very skilful mechanic named Simon, who not only made things fly across the stage, as we still see done, but moreover revived in his own person the prodigy attributed to Dædalus. He made himself wings; he flew; and, like Icarus, he fell. So say Pliny and Suetonius.
Abdias, who was in Asia and wrote in Hebrew, tells us that Peter and Simon met at Rome in the reign of Nero. A young man, nearly related to the emperor, died, and the whole court begged that Simon would raise him to life. St. Peter presented himself to perform the same operation. Simon employed all the powers of his art, and he seemed to have succeeded, for the dead man moved his head. “This is not enough,” cries Peter; “the dead man must speak; let Simon leave the bedside and we shall see whether the young man is alive.” Simon went aside and the deceased no longer stirred, but Peter brought him to life with a single word.
Simon went and complained to the emperor that a miserable Galilean had taken upon himself to work greater wonders than he. Simon was confronted with Peter and they made a trial of skill. “Tell me,” said Simon to Peter, “what I am thinking of?” “If,” returned Peter, “the emperor will give me a barley loaf, thou shalt find whether or not I know what thou hast in thy heart.” A loaf was given him; Simon immediately caused two large dogs to appear and they wanted to devour it. Peter threw them the loaf, and while they were eating it he said: “Well, did I not know thy thoughts? thou wouldst have had thy dogs devour me.”
After this first sitting it was proposed that Simon and Peter should make a flying-match, and try which could raise himself highest in the air. Simon tried first; Peter made the sign of the cross and down came Simon and broke his legs. This story was imitated from that which we find in the “Sepher toldos Jeschut,” where it is said that Jesus Himself flew, and that Judas, who would have done the same, fell headlong. Nero, vexed that Peter had broken his favorite, Simon’s, legs, had him crucified with his head downwards. Hence the notion of St. Peter’s residence at Rome, the manner of his execution and his sepulchre.
The same Abdias established the belief that St. Thomas went and preached Christianity in India to King Gondafer, and that he went thither as an architect. The number of books of this sort, written in the early ages of Christianity, is prodigious.
St. Jerome, and even St. Augustine, tell us that the letters of Seneca and St. Paul are quite authentic. In the first of these letters Seneca hopes his brother Paul is well: “Bene te valere, frater, cupio.” Paul does not write quite so good Latin as Seneca: “I received your letters yesterday,” says he, “with joy.”—“Litteras tuas hilaris accepi.”—“And I would have answered them immediately had I had the presence of the young man whom I would have sent with them.”—“Si præsentiam juvenis habuissem.” Unfortunately these letters, in which one would look for instruction, are nothing more than compliments.
All these falsehoods, forged by ill-informed and mistakenly-zealous Christians, were in no degree prejudicial to the truth of Christianity; they obstructed not its progress; on the contrary, they show us that the Christian society was daily increasing and that each member was desirous of hastening its growth.
The Acts of the Apostles do not tell us that the apostles agreed on a symbol. Indeed, if they had put together the symbol (the creed, as we now call it), St. Luke could not in his history have omitted this essential basis of the Christian religion. The substance of the creed is scattered through the gospels; but the articles were not collected until long after.
In short, our creed is, indisputably, the belief of the apostles; but it was not written by them. Rufinus, a priest of Aquileia, is the first who mentions it; and a homily attributed to St. Augustine is the first record of the supposed way in which this creed was made; Peter saying, when they were assembled, “I believe in God the Father Almighty”—Andrew, “and in Jesus Christ”—James, “who was conceived by the Holy Ghost”; and so of the rest.
This formula was called in Greek symbolos; and in Latin collatio. Only it must be observed that the Greek version has it: “I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.” In the Latin, maker, former, is rendered by “creatorem.” But afterwards, in translating the symbol of the First Council of Nice, it was rendered by “factorem.”
Constantine assembled at Nice, opposite Constantinople, the first ecumenical council, over which Ozius presided. The great question touching the divinity of Jesus Christ, which so much agitated the church, was there decided. One party held the opinion of Origen, who says in his sixth chapter against Celsus, “We offer our prayers to God through Christ, who holds the middle place between natures created and uncreated; who leads us to the grace of His Father and presents our prayers to the great God in quality of our high priest.” These disputants also rest upon many passages of St. Paul, some of which they quote. They depend particularly upon these words of Jesus Christ: “My Father is greater than I”; and they regard Jesus as the first-born of the creation; as a pure emanation of the Supreme Being, but not precisely as God.
The other side, who were orthodox, produced passages more conformable to the eternal divinity of Jesus; as, for example, the following: “My Father and I are one”; words which their opponents interpret as signifying: “My Father and I have the same object, the same intention; I have no other will than that of My Father.” Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, and after him Athanasius, were at the head of the orthodox; and Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, with seventeen other bishops, the priest Arius, and many more priests, led the party opposed to them. The quarrel was at first exceedingly bitter, as St. Alexander treated his opponents as so many anti-christs.
At last, after much disputation, the Holy Ghost decided in the council, by the mouths of two hundred and ninety-nine bishops, against eighteen, as follows: “Jesus is the only Son of God; begotten of the Father; light of light; very God of very God; of one substance with the Father. We believe also in the Holy Ghost,” etc. Such was the decision of the council; and we perceive by this fact how the bishops carried it over the simple priests. Two thousand persons of the latter class were of the opinion of Arius, according to the account of two patriarchs of Alexandria, who have written the annals of Alexandria in Arabic. Arius was exiled by Constantine, as was Athanasius soon after, when Arius was recalled to Constantinople. Upon this event St. Macarius prayed so vehemently to God to terminate the life of Arius before he could enter the cathedral, that God heard his prayer—Arius dying on his way to church in 330. The Emperor Constantine ended his life in 337. He placed his will in the hands of an Arian priest and died in the arms of the Arian leader, Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, not receiving baptism until on his deathbed, and leaving a triumphant, but divided church. The partisans of Athanasius and of Eusebius carried on a cruel war; and what is called Arianism was for a long time established in all the provinces of the empire.
Julian the philosopher, surnamed the apostate, wished to stifle their divisions, but could not succeed. The second general council was held at Constantinople in 1381. It was there laid down that the Council of Nice had not decided quite correctly in regard to the Holy Ghost; and it added to the Nicene creed that “the Holy Ghost was the giver of life and proceeded from the Father, and with the Father and Son is to be worshipped and glorified.” It was not until towards the ninth century that the Latin church decreed that the Holy Ghost proceeded from the Father and the Son.
In the year 431, the third council-general, held at Ephesus, decided that Jesus had “two natures and one person.” Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, who maintained that the Virgin Mary should be entitled Mother of Christ, was called Judas by the council; and the “two natures” were again confirmed by the council of Chalcedon.
I pass lightly over the following centuries, which are sufficiently known. Unhappily, all these disputes led to wars, and the church was uniformly obliged to combat. God, in order to exercise the patience of the faithful, also allowed the Greek and Latin churches to separate in the ninth century. He likewise permitted in the east no less than twenty-nine horrible schisms with the see of Rome.
If there be about six hundred millions of men upon earth, as certain learned persons pretend, the holy Roman Catholic church possesses scarcely sixteen millions of them—about a twenty-sixth part of the inhabitants of the known world.
Every one knows that this is the feast of the nativity of Jesus. The most ancient feast kept in the church, after those of Easter and Pentecost, was that of the baptism of Jesus. There were only these three feasts, until St. Chrysostom delivered his homily on Pentecost. We here make no account of the feasts of the martyrs, which were of a very inferior order. That of the baptism of Jesus was named the Epiphany, an imitation of the Greeks, who gave that name to the feasts which they held to commemorate the appearance or manifestation of the gods upon earth—since it was not until after his baptism that Jesus began to preach the gospel.
We know not whether, about the end of the fourth century, this feast was solemnized in the Isle of Cyprus on the 6th of November; but St. Epiphanius maintained that Jesus was born on that day. St. Clement of Alexandria tells us that the Basilidians held this feast on the 15th of the month tybi, while others held it on the 11th of the same month; that is, it was kept by some on the 10th of January, and by others on the 6th; the latter opinion is the one now adopted. As for the nativity, as neither the day nor the month nor the year of it was known, it was not celebrated.
According to the remarks which we find appended to the works of the same father, they who have been the most curious in their researches concerning the day on which Jesus was born, some said that it was on the 25th of the Egyptian month pachon, answering to the 20th of May; others that it was the 24th or 25th of pharmuthi, corresponding to the 19th and 20th of April. The learned M. de Beausobre says that these latter were the days of St. Valentine. Be this as it may, Egypt and the East kept the feast of the birth of Jesus on the 6th of January, the same day as that of His baptism; without it being known (at least with certainty) when, or for what reason, this custom commenced.
The opinion and practice of the western nations were quite different from those of the east. The centuriators of Magdeburg repeat a passage in Theophilus of Cæsarea, which makes the churches of Gaul say: “Since the birth of Christ is celebrated on the 25th of December, on whatever day of the week it may fall, so also should the resurrection of Jesus be celebrated on the 25th of March, whatever day of the week it may be, the Lord having risen again on that day.”
If this be true, it must be acknowledged that the bishops of Gaul were very prudent and very reasonable. Being persuaded, as all the ancients were, that Jesus had been crucified on the 23d of March, and had risen again on the 25th, they commemorated His death on the 23d and His resurrection on the 25th, without paying any regard to the observance of the full moon, which was originally a Jewish ceremony, and without confining themselves to the Sunday. Had the church imitated them, she would have avoided the long and scandalous disputes which nearly separated the East from the West, and were not terminated until the First Council of Nice.
Some of the learned conjecture that the Romans chose the winter solstice for holding the birth of Jesus, because the sun then begins again to approach our hemisphere. In Julius Cæsar’s time the civil and political solstice was fixed for the 25th of December. This at Rome was a festival in celebration of the returning sun. Pliny tells us that it was called bruma; and, like Servius, places it on the 8th of the calends of January. This association might have some connection with the choice of the day, but it was not the origin of it. A passage in Josephus (evidently forged), three or four errors of the ancients, and a very mystical explanation of a saying of St. John the Baptist, determined this choice, as Joseph Scaliger is about to inform us.
It pleased the ancients (says that learned critic) to suppose—first, that Zacharias was sovereign sacrificer when Jesus was born. But nothing is more untrue; it is no longer believed by any one, at least among those of any information.
Secondly—the ancients supposed that Zacharias was in the holy of holies, offering incense, when the angel appeared to him and announced the birth of a son.
Thirdly—as the sovereign sacrificer entered the temple but once a year, on the day of expiation, which was the 10th of the Jewish month rifri, partly answering to the month of September, the ancients supposed that it was the 27th; and that afterwards, on the 23d or 24th, Zacharias having returned home after the feast, Elizabeth, his wife, conceived John the Baptist; when the feast of the conception of that saint was fixed for those days. As women ordinarily go with child for two hundred and seventy or two hundred and seventy-four days, it followed that the nativity of John was fixed for the 24th of June. Such was the origin of St. John’s day, and of Christmas day, which was regulated by it.
Fourthly—it was supposed that there were six entire months between the conception of John the Baptist and that of Jesus; although the angel simply tells Mary that Elizabeth was then in the sixth month of her pregnancy; consequently the conception of Jesus was fixed for the 25th of March; and from these various suppositions it was concluded that Jesus must have been born on the 25th of December, precisely nine months after his conception.
There are many wonderful things in these arrangements. It is not one of the least worthy of admiration, that the four cardinal points of the year—the equinoxes and the solstices, as they were then fixed—were marked by the conceptions and births of John the Baptist and Jesus. But it is yet more marvellous and worthy of remark, that the solstice when Jesus was born is that at which the days begin to increase; while that on which John the Baptist came into the world was the period at which they begin to shorten. The holy forerunner had intimated this in a very mystical manner, when speaking of Jesus, in these words: “He must grow, and I must become less.”
Prudentius alludes to this in a hymn on the nativity of our Lord. Yet St. Leo says that in his time there were persons in Rome who said the feast was venerable, not so much on account of the birth of Jesus as of the return, and, as they expressed it, the new birth of the sun. St. Epiphanius assures us it was fully established that Jesus was born on the 6th of January; but St. Clement of Alexandria, much more ancient and more learned than he, fixes the birth on the 18th of November, of the twenty-eighth year of Augustus. This is deduced, according to the Jesuit Petau’s remark on St. Epiphanius, from these words of St. Clement: “The whole time from the birth of Jesus Christ to the death of Commodus was a hundred and ninety-four years, one month and thirteen days.” Now Commodus died, according to Petau, on the last of December, in the year 192 of our era; therefore, according to St. Clement, Jesus was born one month and thirteen days before the last of December; consequently, on the 18th of November, in the twenty-eighth year of the reign of Augustus. Concerning which it must be observed that St. Clement dates the reign of Augustus only from the death of Antony and the capture of Alexandria, because it was not until then that Augustus was left the sole master of the empire. Thus we are no more assured of the year of this birth than we are of the month or the day. Though St. Luke declares, “that He had perfect understanding of all things from the very first,” he clearly shows that he did not know the exact age of Jesus when He says that, when baptized, He “began to be about thirty years old.” Indeed, this evangelist makes Jesus born in the year of the numbering which, according to him, was made by Cyrenus or Cyrenius, governor of Syria; while, according to Tertullian, it was made by Sentius Saturninus. But Saturninus had quitted the province in the last year of Herod, and, as Tacitus informs us, was succeeded by Quintilius Varus; and Publius Sulpicius Quirinus or Quirinius, of whom it would seem St. Luke means to speak, did not succeed Quintilius Varus until about ten years after Herod’s death, when Archelaus, king of Judæa, was banished by Augustus, as Josephus tells us in his “Jewish Antiquities.”
It is true that Tertullian, and St. Justin before him, referred the pagans and the heretics of their time to the public archives containing the registers of this pretended numbering; but Tertullian likewise referred to the public archives for the account of the darkness at noonday at the time of the passion of Jesus, as will be seen in the article on “Eclipse”; where we have remarked the want of exactness in these two fathers, and in similar authorities, in our observations on a statue which St. Justin—who assures us that he saw it at Rome—says was dedicated to Simon the magician, but which was in reality dedicated to a god of the ancient Sabines.
These uncertainties, however, will excite no astonishment when it is recollected that Jesus was unknown to His disciples until He had received baptism from John. It is expressly, “beginning with the baptism of Jesus,” that Peter will have the successor of Judas testify concerning Jesus; and, according to the same Acts, Peter thereby understands the whole time that Jesus had lived with them.
The world has long disputed about ancient chronology; but has there ever been any? Every considerable people must necessarily possess and preserve authentic, well-attested registers. But how few people were acquainted with the art of writing? and, among the small number of men who cultivated this very rare art, are any to be found who took the trouble to mark two dates with exactness?
We have, indeed, in very recent times the astronomical observations of the Chinese and the Chaldæans. They only go back about two thousand years, more or less, beyond our era. But when the early annals of a nation confine themselves simply to communicating the information that there was an eclipse in the reign of a certain prince, we learn, certainly, that such a prince existed, but not what he performed.
Moreover, the Chinese reckon the year in which an emperor dies as still constituting a part of his reign, until the end of it; even though he should die the first day of the year, his successor dates the year following his death with the name of his predecessor. It is not possible to show more respect for ancestors; nor is it possible to compute time in a manner more injudicious in comparison with modern nations.
We may add that the Chinese do not commence their sexagenary cycle, into which they have introduced arrangement, till the reign of the Emperor Iao, two thousand three hundred and fifty-seven years before our vulgar era. Profound obscurity hangs over the whole period of time which precedes that epoch.
Men are generally contented with an approximation—with the “pretty nearly” in every case. For example, before the invention of watches, people could learn the time of day or night only approximately. In building, the stones were pretty nearly hewn to a certain shape, the timber pretty nearly squared, and the limbs of the statue pretty nearly chipped to a proper finish; a man was only pretty nearly acquainted with his nearest neighbors; and, notwithstanding the perfection we have ourselves attained, such is the state of things at present throughout the greater part of the world.
Let us not then be astonished that there is nowhere to be found a correct ancient chronology. That which we have of the Chinese is of considerable value, when compared with the chronological labors of other nations. We have none of the Indians, nor of the Persians, and scarcely any of the ancient Egyptians. All our systems formed on the history of these people are as contradictory as our systems of metaphysics.
The Greek Olympiads do not commence till seven hundred and twenty-eight years before our era of reckoning. Until we arrive at them, we perceive only a few torches to lighten the darkness, such as the era of Nabonassar, the war between Lacedæmon and Messene; even those epochs themselves are subjects of dispute.
Livy took care not to state in what year Romulus began his pretended reign. The Romans, who well knew the uncertainty of that epoch, would have ridiculed him had he undertaken to decide it. It is proved that the duration of two hundred and forty years ascribed to the seven first kings of Rome is a very false calculation. The first four centuries of Rome are absolutely destitute of chronology.
If four centuries of the most memorable empire the world ever saw comprise only an undigested mass of events, mixed up with fables, and almost without a date, what must be the case with small nations, shut up in an obscure corner of the earth, that have never made any figure in the world, notwithstanding all their attempts to compensate, by prodigy and imposture, for their deficiency in real power and cultivation?
Of the Vanity of Systems, Particularly in Chronology.
The Abbé Condillac performed a most important service to the human mind when he displayed the false points of all systems. If we may ever hope that we shall one day find the road to truth, it can only be after we have detected all those which lead to error. It is at least a consolation to be at rest, to be no longer seeking, when we perceive that so many philosophers have sought in vain.
Chronology is a collection of bladders of wind. All who thought to pass over it as solid ground have been immersed. We have, at the present time, twenty-four systems, not one of which is true.
The Babylonians said, “We reckon four hundred and seventy-three thousand years of astronomical observations.” A Parisian, addressing him, says, “Your account is correct; your years consisted each of a solar day; they amount to twelve hundred and ninety-seven of ours, from the time of Atlas, the great astronomer, king of Africa, till the arrival of Alexander at Babylon.”
But, whatever our Parisian may say, no people in the world have ever confounded a day with a year; and the people of Babylon still less than any other. This Parisian stranger should have contented himself with merely observing to the Chaldæans: “You are exaggerators, and our ancestors were ignorant. Nations are exposed to too many revolutions to permit their keeping a series of four thousand seven hundred and thirty-six centuries of astronomical calculations. And, with respect to Atlas, king of the Moors, no one knows at what time he lived. Pythagoras might pretend to have been a cock, just as reasonably as you may boast of such a series of observations.”
The great point of ridicule in all fantastic chronologies is the arrangement of all the great events of a man’s life in precise order of time, without ascertaining that the man himself ever existed. Lenglet repeats after others, in his chronological compilation of universal history, that precisely in the time of Abraham, and six years after the death of Sarah, who was little known to the Greeks, Jupiter, at the age of sixty-two, began to reign in Thessaly; that his reign lasted sixty years; that he married his sister Juno; that he was obliged to cede the maritime coasts to his brother Neptune; and that the Titans made war against him. But was there ever a Jupiter? It never occurred to him that with this question he should have begun.
Summary of the History of the Christian Church.
We shall not extend our views into the depths of theology. God preserve us from such presumption. Humble faith alone is enough for us. We never assume any other part than that of mere historians.
In the years that immediately followed Jesus Christ, who was at once God and man, there existed among the Hebrews nine religious schools or societies—Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenians, Judahites, Therapeutæ, Rechabites, Herodians, the disciples of John, and the disciples of Jesus, named the “brethren,” the “Galileans,” the “believers,” who did not assume the name of Christians till about the sixteenth year of our era, at Antioch; being directed to its adoption by God himself, in ways unknown to men. The Pharisees believed in the metempsychosis. The Sadducees denied the immortality of the soul, and the existence of spirits, yet believed in the Pentateuch.
Pliny, the naturalist—relying, evidently, on the authority of Flavius Josephus—calls the Essenians “gens æterna in qua nemo nascitur”—“a perpetual family, in which no one is ever born”—because the Essenians very rarely married. The description has been since applied to our monks.
It is difficult to decide whether the Essenians or the Judahites are spoken of by Josephus in the following passage: “They despise the evils of the world; their constancy enables them to triumph over torments; in an honorable cause, they prefer death to life. They have undergone fire and sword, and submitted to having their very bones crushed, rather than utter a syllable against their legislator, or eat forbidden food.”
It would seem, from the words of Josephus, that the foregoing portrait applies to the Judahites, and not to the Essenians. “Judas was the author of a new sect, completely different from the other three;” that is, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenians. “They are,” he goes on, “Jews by nation; they live in harmony with one another, and consider pleasure to be a vice.” The natural meaning of this language would induce us to think that he is speaking of the Judahites.
However that may be, these Judahites were known before the disciples of Christ began to possess consideration and consequence in the world. Some weak people have supposed them to be heretics, who adored Judas Iscariot.
The Therapeutæ were a society different from the Essenians and the Judahites. They resembled the Gymnosophists and Brahmins of India. “They possess,” says Philo, “a principle of divine love which excites in them an enthusiasm like that of the Bacchantes and the Corybantes, and which forms them to that state of contemplation to which they aspire. This sect originated in Alexandria, which was entirely filled with Jews, and prevailed greatly throughout Egypt.” The Rechabites still continued as a sect. They vowed never to drink wine; and it is, possibly, from their example that Mahomet forbade that liquor to his followers.
The Herodians regarded Herod, the first of that name, as a Messiah, a messenger from God, who had rebuilt the temple. It is clear that the Jews at Rome celebrated a festival in honor of him, in the reign of Nero, as appears from the lines of Persius: “Herodis venere dies,” etc. (Sat. v. 180.)
The disciples of John the Baptist had spread themselves a little in Egypt, but principally in Syria, Arabia, and towards the Persian gulf. They are recognized, at the present day, under the name of the Christians of St. John. There were some also in Asia Minor. It is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (chap. xix.) that Paul met with many of them at Ephesus. “Have you received,” he asked them, “the holy spirit?” They answered him. “We have not heard even that there is a holy spirit.” “What baptism, then,” says he, “have you received?” They answered him, “The baptism of John.”
In the meantime the true Christians, as is well known, were laying the foundation of the only true religion. He who contributed most to strengthen this rising society, was Paul, who had himself persecuted it with the greatest violence. He was born at Tarsus in Cilicia, and was educated under one of the most celebrated professors among the Pharisees—Gamaliel, a disciple of Hillel. The Jews pretend that he quarrelled with Gamaliel, who refused to let him have his daughter in marriage. Some traces of this anecdote are to be found in the sequel to the “Acts of St. Thekla.” These acts relate that he had a large forehead, a bald head, united eyebrows, an aquiline nose, a short and clumsy figure, and crooked legs. Lucian, in his dialogue “Philopatres,” seems to give a very similar portrait of him. It has been doubted whether he was a Roman citizen, for at that time the title was not given to any Jew; they had been expelled from Rome by Tiberius; and Tarsus did not become a Roman colony till nearly a hundred years afterwards, under Caracalla; as Cellarius remarks in his “Geography” (book iii.), and Grotius in his “Commentary on the Acts,” to whom alone we need refer.
God, who came down upon earth to be an example in it of humanity and poverty, gave to his church the most feeble infancy, and conducted it in a state of humiliation similar to that in which he had himself chosen to be born. All the first believers were obscure persons. They labored with their hands. The apostle St. Paul himself acknowledges that he gained his livelihood by making tents. St. Peter raised from the dead Dorcas, a sempstress, who made clothes for the “brethren.” The assembly of believers met at Joppa, at the house of a tanner called Simon, as appears from the ninth chapter of the “Acts of the Apostles.”
The believers spread themselves secretly in Greece; and some of them went from Greece to Rome, among the Jews, who were permitted by the Romans to have a synagogue. They did not, at first, separate themselves from the Jews. They practised circumcision; and, as we have elsewhere remarked, the first fifteen obscure bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised, or at least were all of the Jewish nation.
When the apostle Paul took with him Timothy, who was the son of a heathen father, he circumcised him himself, in the small city of Lystra. But Titus, his other disciple, could not be induced to submit to circumcision. The brethren, or the disciples of Jesus, continued united with the Jews until the time when St. Paul experienced a persecution at Jerusalem, on account of his having introduced strangers into the temple. He was accused by the Jews of endeavoring to destroy the law of Moses by that of Jesus Christ. It was with a view to his clearing himself from this accusation that the apostle St. James proposed to the apostle Paul that he should shave his head, and go and purify himself in the temple, with four Jews, who had made a vow of being shaved. “Take them with you,” says James to him (Acts of the Apostles xxi.), “purify yourself with them, and let the whole world know that what has been reported concerning you is false, and that you continue to obey the law of Moses.” Thus, then, Paul, who had been at first the most summary persecutor of the holy society established by Jesus—Paul, who afterwards endeavored to govern that rising society—Paul the Christian, Judaizes, “that the world may know that he is calumniated when he is charged with no longer following the law of Moses.”
St. Paul was equally charged with impiety and heresy, and the persecution against him lasted a long time; but it is perfectly clear, from the nature of the charges, that he had travelled to Jerusalem in order to fulfil the rites of Judaism.
He addressed to Faustus these words: “I have never offended against the Jewish law, nor against the temple.” (Acts xxv.) The apostles announced Jesus Christ as a just man wickedly persecuted, a prophet of God, a son of God, sent to the Jews for the reformation of manners.
“Circumcision,” says the apostle Paul, “is good, if you observe the law; but if you violate the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. If any uncircumcised person keep the law, he will be as if circumcised. The true Jew is one that is so inwardly.”
When this apostle speaks of Jesus Christ in his epistles, he does not reveal the ineffable mystery of his consubstantiality with God. “We are delivered by him,” says he, “from the wrath of God. The gift of God hath been shed upon us by the grace bestowed on one man, who is Jesus Christ. . . . Death reigned through the sin of one man; the just shall reign in life by one man, who is Jesus Christ.” (Romans v.)
And, in the eighth chapter: “We are heirs of God, and joint-heirs of Christ;” and in the sixteenth chapter: “To God, who is the only wise, be honor and glory through Jesus Christ. . . . . You are Jesus Christ’s, and Jesus Christ is God’s.” (1 Cor. chap. iii.)
And, in 1 Cor. xv. 27: “Everything is made subject to him, undoubtedly, excepting God, who made all things subject to him.”
Some difficulty has been found in explaining the following part of the Epistle of the Philippians: “Do nothing through vain glory. Let each humbly think others better than himself. Be of the same mind with Jesus Christ, who, being in the likeness of God, assumed not to equal himself to God.” This passage appears exceedingly well investigated and elucidated in a letter, still extant, of the churches of Vienna and Lyons, written in the year 117, and which is a valuable monument of antiquity. In this letter the modesty of some believers is praised. “They did not wish,” says the letter, “to assume the lofty title of martyrs, in consequence of certain tribulations; after the example of Jesus Christ, who, being in the likeness of God, did not assume the quality of being equal to God.” Origen, also, in his commentary on John, says: “The greatness of Jesus shines out more splendidly in consequence of his self-humiliation than if he had assumed equality with God.” In fact, the opposite interpretation would be a solecism. What sense would there be in this exhortation: “Think others superior to yourselves; imitate Jesus, who did not think it an assumption to be equal to God?” It would be an obvious contradiction; it would be putting an example of full pretension for an example of modesty; it would be an offence against logic.
Thus did the wisdom of the apostles establish the rising church. That wisdom did not change its character in consequence of the dispute which took place between the apostles Peter, James, and John, on one side, and Paul on the other. This contest occurred at Antioch. The apostle Peter—formerly Cephas, or Simon Bar Jona—ate with the converted Gentiles, and among them did not observe the ceremonies of the law and the distinction of meats. He and Barnabas, and the other disciples, ate indifferently of pork, of animals which had been strangled, or which had cloven feet, or which did not chew the cud; but many Jewish Christians having arrived, St. Peter joined with them in abstinence from forbidden meats, and in the ceremonies of the Mosaic law.
This conduct appeared very prudent; he wished to avoid giving offence to the Jewish Christians, his companions; but St. Paul attacked him on the subject with considerable severity. “I withstood him,” says he, “to his face, because he was blamable.” (Gal. chap. ii.)
This quarrel appears most extraordinary on the part of St. Paul. Having been at first a persecutor, he might have been expected to have acted with moderation; especially as he had gone to Jerusalem to sacrifice in the temple, had circumcised his disciple Timothy, and strictly complied with the Jewish rites, for which very compliance he now reproached Cephas. St. Jerome imagines that this quarrel between Paul and Cephas was a pretended one. He says, in his first homily (vol. iii.) that they acted like two advocates, who had worked themselves up to an appearance of great zeal and exasperation against each other, to gain credit with their respective clients. He says that Peter—Cephas—being appointed to preach to the Jews, and Paul to the Gentiles, they assumed the appearance of quarrelling—Paul to gain the Gentiles, and Peter to gain the Jews. But St. Augustine is by no means of the same opinion. “I grieve,” says he, in his epistle to Jerome, “that so great a man should be the patron of a lie.”—(patronum mendacii).
This dispute between St. Jerome and St. Augustine ought not to diminish our veneration for them, and still less for St. Paul and St. Peter. As to what remains, if Peter was destined for the Jews, who were, after their conversion, likely to Judaize, and Paul for strangers, it appears probable that Peter never went to Rome. The Acts of the Apostles makes no mention of Peter’s journey to Italy.
However that may be, it was about the sixtieth year of our era that Christians began to separate from the Jewish communion; and it was this which drew upon them so many quarrels and persecutions from the various synagogues of Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Asia. They were accused of impiety and atheism by their Jewish brethren, who excommunicated them in their synagogues three times every Sabbath-day. But in the midst of their persecutions God always supported them.
By degrees many churches were formed, and the separation between Jews and Christians was complete before the close of the first century. This separation was unknown to the Roman government. Neither the senate nor the emperors of Rome interested themselves in those quarrels of a small flock of mankind, which God had hitherto guided in obscurity, and which he exalted by insensible gradations.
Christianity became established in Greece and at Alexandria. The Christians had there to contend with a new set of Jews, who, in consequence of intercourse with the Greeks, had become philosophers. This was the sect of gnosis, or gnostics. Among them were some of the new converts to Christianity. All these sects, at that time, enjoyed complete liberty to dogmatize, discourse, and write, whenever the Jewish courtiers, settled at Rome and Alexandria, did not bring any charge against them before the magistrates. But, under Domitian, Christianity began to give some umbrage to the government.
The zeal of some Christians, which was not according to knowledge, did not prevent the Church from making that progress which God destined from the beginning. The Christians, at first, celebrated their mysteries in sequestered houses, and in caves, and during the night. Hence, according to Minucius Felix, the title given them of lucifugaces. Philo calls them Gesséens. The names most frequently applied to them by the heathens, during the first four centuries, were “Galileans” and “Nazarenes”; but that of “Christians” has prevailed above all others. Neither the hierarchy, nor the services of the church, were established all at once; the apostolic times were different from those which followed.
The mass now celebrated at matins was the supper performed in the evening; these usages changed in proportion as the church strengthened. A more numerous society required more regulations, and the prudence of the pastors accommodated itself to times and places. St. Jerome and Eusebius relate that when the churches received a regular form, five different orders might be soon perceived to exist in them—superintendents, episcopoi, whence originate the bishops; elders of the society, presbyteroi, priests, diaconoi, servants or deacons; pistoi, believers, the initiated—that is, the baptized, who participated in the suppers of the agape, or love-feasts; the catechumens, who were awaiting baptism; and the energumens, who awaited their being exorcised of demons. In these five orders, no one had garments different from the others, no one was bound to celibacy; witness Tertullian’s book, dedicated to his wife; and witness also the example of the apostles. No paintings or sculptures were to be found in their assemblies during the first two centuries; no altars; and, most certainly, no tapers, incense, and lustral water. The Christians carefully concealed their books from the Gentiles; they intrusted them only to the initiated. Even the catechumens were not permitted to recite the Lord’s prayer.
Of the Power of Expelling Devils, Given to the Church.
That which most distinguished the Christians, and which has continued nearly to our own times, was the power of expelling devils with the sign of the cross. Origen, in his treaties against Celsus, declares—at No. 133—that Antinous, who had been defied by the emperor Adrian, performed miracles in Egypt by the power of charms and magic; but he says that the devils came out of the bodies of the possessed on the mere utterance of the name of Jesus.
Tertullian goes farther; and from the recesses of Africa, where he resided, he says, in his “Apology”—chap. xxiii.—“If your gods do not confess themselves to be devils in the presence of a true Christian, we give you full liberty to shed that Christian’s blood.” Can any demonstration be possibly clearer?
In fact, Jesus Christ sent out his apostles to expel demons. The Jews, likewise, in his time, had the power of expelling them; for, when Jesus had delivered some possessed persons, and sent the devils into the bodies of a very numerous herd of swine, and had performed many other similar cures, the Pharisees said: “He expels devils through the power of Beelzebub.” Jesus replied: “By whom do your sons expel them?” It is incontestable that the Jews boasted of this power. They had exorcists and exorcisms. They invoked the name of God, of Jacob, and of Abraham. They put consecrated herbs into the nostrils of the demoniacs. Josephus relates a part of these ceremonies. This power over devils, which the Jews have lost, was transferred to the Christians, who seem likewise to have lost it in their turn.
The power of expelling demons comprehended that of destroying the operations of magic; for magic has been always prevalent in every nation. All the fathers of the Church bear testimony to magic. St. Justin, in his “Apology”—book iii.—acknowledges that the souls of the dead are frequently evoked, and thence draws an argument in favor of the immortality of the soul. Lactantius, in the seventh book of his “Divine Institutions,” says that “if any one ventured to deny the existence of souls after death, the magician would convince him of it by making them appear.” Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian the bishop, all affirm the same. It is true that, at present, all is changed, and that there are now no more magicians than there are demoniacs. But God has the sovereign power of admonishing mankind by prodigies at some particular seasons, and of discontinuing those prodigies at others.
Of the Martyrs of the Church.
When Christians became somewhat numerous, and many arrayed themselves against the worship established in the Roman Empire, the magistrates began to exercise severity against them, and the people more particularly persecuted them. The Jews, who possessed particular privileges, and who confined themselves to their synagogues, were not persecuted. They were permitted the free exercise of their religion, as is the case at Rome at the present day. All the different kinds of worship scattered over the empire were tolerated, although the senate did not adopt them. But the Christians, declaring themselves enemies to every other worship than their own, and more especially so to that of the empire, were often exposed to these cruel trials.
One of the first and most distinguished martyrs was Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, who was condemned by the Emperor Trajan himself, at that time in Asia, and sent to Rome by his orders, to be exposed to wild beasts, at a time when other Christians were not persecuted at Rome. It is not known precisely what charges were alleged against him before that emperor, otherwise so renowned for his clemency. St. Ignatius must, necessarily, have had violent enemies. Whatever were the particulars of the case, the history of his martyrdom relates that the name of Jesus Christ was found engraved on his heart in letters of gold; and from this circumstance it was that Christians, in some places, assumed the name of Theophorus, which Ignatius had given himself.
A letter of his has been preserved in which he entreats the bishops and Christians to make no opposition to his martyrdom, whether at the time they might be strong enough to effect his deliverance, or whether any among them might have influence enough to obtain his pardon. Another remarkable circumstance is that when he was brought to Rome the Christians of that capital went to visit him; which would prove clearly that the individual was punished and not the sect.
The persecutions were not continued. Origen, in his third book against Celsus, says: “The Christians who have suffered death on account of their religion may easily be numbered, for there were only a few of them, and merely at intervals.”
God was so mindful of his Church that, notwithstanding its enemies, he so ordered circumstances that it held five councils in the first century, sixteen in the second, and thirty in the third; that is, including both secret and tolerated ones. Those assemblies were sometimes forbidden, when the weak prudence of the magistrates feared that they might become tumultuous. But few genuine documents of the proceedings before the proconsuls and prætors who condemned the Christians to death have been delivered down to us. Such would be the only authorities which would enable us to ascertain the charges brought against them, and the punishments they suffered.
We have a fragment of Dionysius of Alexandria, in which he gives the following extract of a register, or of records, of a proconsul of Egypt, under the Emperor Valerian: “Dionysius, Faustus Maximus, Marcellus, and Chæremon, having been admitted to the audience, the prefect Æmilianus thus addressed them: ‘You are sufficiently informed through the conferences which I have had with you, and all that I have written to you, of the good-will which our princes have entertained towards you. I wish thus to repeat it to you once again. They make the continuance of your safety to depend upon yourselves, and place your destiny in your own hands. They require of you only one thing, which reason demands of every reasonable person—namely, that you adore the gods who protect their empire, and abandon that different worship, so contrary to sense and nature.’ ”
Dionysius replied, “All have not the same gods; and all adore those whom they think to be the true ones.” The prefect Æmilianus replied: “I see clearly that you ungratefully abuse the goodness which the emperors have shown you. This being the case, you shall no longer remain in this city; and I now order you to be conveyed to Cephro, in the heart of Libya. Agreeably to the command I have received from your emperor, that shall be the place of your banishment. As to what remains, think not to hold your assemblies there, nor to offer up your prayers in what you call cemeteries. This is positively forbidden. I will permit it to none.”
Nothing bears a stronger impress of truth than this document. We see from it that there were times when assemblies were prohibited. Thus the Calvinists were forbidden to assemble in France. Sometimes ministers or preachers, who held assemblies in violation of the laws, have suffered even by the altar and the rack; and since 1745 six have been executed on the gallows. Thus, in England and Ireland, Roman Catholics are forbidden to hold assemblies; and, on certain occasions, the delinquents have suffered death.
Notwithstanding these prohibitions declared by the Roman laws, God inspired many of the emperors with indulgence towards the Christians. Even Diocletian, whom the ignorant consider as a persecutor—Diocletian, the first year of whose reign is still regarded as constituting the commencement of the era of martyrdom, was, for more than eighteen years, the declared protector of Christianity, and many Christians held offices of high consequence about his person. He even married a Christian; and, in Nicomedia, the place of his residence, he permitted a splendid church to be erected opposite his palace.
The Cæsar Galerius having unfortunately taken up a prejudice against the Christians, of whom he thought he had reason to complain, influenced Diocletian to destroy the cathedral of Nicomedia. One of the Christians, with more zeal than prudence, tore the edict of the emperor to pieces; and hence arose that famous persecution, in the course of which more than two hundred persons were executed in the Roman Empire, without reckoning those whom the rage of the common people, always fanatical and always cruel, destroyed without even the form of law.
So great has been the number of actual martyrs that we should be careful how we shake the truth of the history of those genuine confessors of our holy religion by a dangerous mixture of fables and of false martyrs.
The Benedictine Prior (Dom) Ruinart, for example, a man otherwise as well informed as he was respectable and devout, should have selected his genuine records, his “actes sinceres,” with more discretion. It is not sufficient that a manuscript, whether taken from the abbey of St. Benoit on the Loire, or from a convent of Celestines at Paris, corresponds with a manuscript of the Feuillans, to show that the record is authentic; the record should possess a suitable antiquity; should have been evidently written by contemporaries; and, moreover, should bear all the characters of truth.
He might have dispensed with relating the adventure of young Romanus, which occurred in 303. This young Romanus had obtained the pardon of Diocletian, at Antioch. However, Ruinart states that the judge Asclepiades condemned him to be burnt. The Jews who were present at the spectacle, derided the young saint and reproached the Christians, that their God, who had delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego out of the furnace, left them to be burned; that immediately, although the weather had been as calm as possible, a tremendous storm arose and extinguished the flames; that the judge then ordered young Romanus’s tongue to be cut out; that the principal surgeon of the emperor, being present, eagerly acted the part of executioner, and cut off the tongue at the root; that instantly the young man, who, before had an impediment in his speech, spoke with perfect freedom; that the emperor was astonished that any one could speak so well without a tongue; and that the surgeon, to repeat the experiment, directly cut out the tongue of some bystander, who died on the spot.
Eusebius, from whom the Benedictine Ruinart drew his narrative, should have so far respected the real miracles performed in the Old and New Testament—which no one can ever doubt—as not to have associated with them relations so suspicious, and so calculated to give offence to weak minds. This last persecution did not extend through the empire. There was at that time some Christianity in England, which soon eclipsed, to reappear afterwards under the Saxon kings. The southern districts of Gaul and Spain abounded with Christians. The Cæsar Constantius Chlorus afforded them great protection in all his provinces. He had a concubine who was a Christian, and who was the mother of Constantine, known under the name of St. Helena; for no marriage was ever proved to have taken place between them; he even divorced her in the year 292, when he married the daughter of Maximilian Hercules; but she had preserved great ascendency over his mind, and had inspired him with a great attachment to our holy religion.
Of the Establishment of the Church Under Constantine.
Thus did divine Providence prepare the triumph of its church by ways apparently conformable to human causes and events. Constantius Chlorus died in 306, at York, in England, at a time when the children he had by the daughter of a Cæsar were of tender age, and incapable of making pretensions to the empire. Constantine boldly got himself elected at York, by five or six thousand soldiers, the greater part of whom were French and English. There was no probability that this election, effected without the consent of Rome, of the senate and the armies, could stand; but God gave him the victory over Maxentius, who had been elected at Rome, and delivered him at last from all his colleagues. It is not to be dissembled that he at first rendered himself unworthy of the favors of heaven, by murdering all his relations, and at length even his own wife and son.
We may be permitted to doubt what Zosimus relates on this subject. He states that Constantine, under the tortures of remorse from the perpetration of so many crimes, inquired of the pontiffs of the empire, whether it were possible for him to obtain any expiation, and that they informed him that they knew of none. It is perfectly true that none was found for Nero, and that he did not venture to assist at the sacred mysteries in Greece. However, the Taurobolia were still observed, and it is difficult to believe that an emperor, supremely powerful, could not obtain a priest who would willingly indulge him in expiatory sacrifices. Perhaps, indeed, it is less easy to believe that Constantine, occupied as he was with war, politic enterprises, and ambition, and surrounded by flatterers, had time for remorse at all. Zosimus adds that an Egyptian priest, who had access to his gate, promised him the expiation of all his crimes in the Christian religion. It has been suspected that this priest was Ozius, bishop of Cordova.
However this might be, God reserved Constantine for the purpose of enlightening his mind, and to make him the protector of the Church. This prince built the city of Constantinople, which became the centre of the empire and of the Christian religion. The Church then assumed a form of splendor. And we may hope that, being purified by his baptism, and penitent at his death, he may have found mercy, although he died an Arian. It would be not a little severe, were all the partisans of both the bishops of the name of Eusebius to incur damnation.
In the year 314, before Constantine resided in his new city, those who had persecuted the Christians were punished by them for their cruelties. The Christians threw Maxentius’s wife into the Orontes; they cut the throats of all his relations, and they massacred, in Egypt and Palestine, those magistrates who had most strenuously declared against Christianity. The widow and daughter of Diocletian, having concealed themselves at Thessalonica, were recognized, and their bodies thrown into the sea. It would certainly have been desirable that the Christians should have followed less eagerly the cry of vengeance; but it was the will of God, who punishes according to justice, that, as soon as the Christians were able to act without restraint, their hands should be dyed in the blood of their persecutors.
Constantine summoned to meet at Nice, opposite Constantinople, the first ecumenical council, of which Ozius was president. Here was decided the grand question that agitated the Church, relating to the divinity of Jesus Christ. It is well known how the Church, having contended for three hundred years against the rights of the Roman Empire, at length contended against itself, and was always militant and triumphant.
In the course of time almost the whole of the Greek church and the whole African church became slaves under the Arabs, and afterwards under the Turks, who erected the Mahometan religion on the ruins of the Christian. The Roman church subsisted, but always reeking with blood, through more than six centuries of discord between the western empire and the priesthood. Even these quarrels rendered her very powerful. The bishops and abbots in Germany all became princes; and the popes gradually acquired absolute dominion in Rome, and throughout a considerable territory. Thus has God proved his church, by humiliations, by afflictions, by crimes, and by splendor.
This Latin church, in the sixteenth century, lost half of Germany, Denmark, Sweden, England, Scotland, Ireland, and the greater part of Switzerland and Holland. She gained more territory in America by the conquests of the Spaniards than she lost in Europe; but, with more territory, she has fewer subjects.
Divine Providence seemed to call upon Japan, Siam, India, and China to place themselves under obedience to the pope, in order to recompense him for Asia Minor, Syria, Greece, Egypt, Africa, Russia, and the other lost states which we mentioned. St. Francis Xavier, who carried the holy gospel to the East Indies and Japan, when the Portuguese went thither upon mercantile adventure, performed a great number of miracles, all attested by the R. R. P. P. Jesuits. Some state that he resuscitated nine dead persons. But R. P. Ribadeneira, in his “Flower of the Saints,” limits himself to asserting that he resuscitated only four. That is sufficient. Providence was desirous that, in less than a hundred years, there should have been thousands of Catholics in the islands of Japan. But the devil sowed his tares among the good grain. The Jesuits, according to what is generally believed, entered into a conspiracy, followed by a civil war, in which all the Christians were exterminated in 1638. The nation then closed its ports against all foreigners except the Dutch, who were considered merchants and not Christians, and were first compelled to trample on the cross in order to gain leave to sell their wares in the prison in which they are shut up, when they land at Nagasaki.
The Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion has become proscribed in China in our own time, but with circumstances of less cruelty. The R. R. P. P. Jesuits had not, indeed, resuscitated the dead at the court of Pekin; they were contented with teaching astronomy, casting cannon, and being mandarins. Their unfortunate disputes with the Dominicans and others gave such offence to the great Emperor Yonchin that that prince, who was justice and goodness personified, was blind enough to refuse permission any longer to teach our holy religion, in respect to which our missionaries so little agreed. He expelled them, but with a kindness truly paternal, supplying them with means of subsistence, and conveyance to the confines of his empire.
All Asia, all Africa, the half of Europe, all that belongs to the English and Dutch in America, all the unconquered American tribes, all the southern climes, which constitute a fifth portion of the globe, remain the prey of the demon, in order to fulfil those sacred words, “many are called, but few are chosen.”—Matt. xx., 16.
Of the Signification of the Word “Church.” Picture of the Primitive Church. Its Degeneracy. Examination into those Societies which have Attempted to Re-establish the Primitive Church, and Particularly into that of the Primitives called Quakers.
The term “church” among the Greeks signified the assembly of the people. When the Hebrew books were translated into Greek, “synagogue” was rendered by “church”, and the same term was employed to express the “Jewish society,” the “political congregation,” the “Jewish assembly,” the “Jewish people.” Thus it is said in the Book of Numbers, “Why hast thou conducted the church into the wilderness;” and in Deuteronomy, “The eunuch, the Moabite, and the Ammonite, shall not enter the church; the Idumæans and the Egyptians shall not enter the church, even to the third generation.”
Jesus Christ says, in St. Matthew, “If thy brother have sinned against thee [have offended thee] rebuke him, between yourselves. Take with you one or two witnesses, that, from the mouth of two or three witnesses, everything may be made clear; and, if he hear not them, complain to the assembly of the people, to the church; and, if he hear not the church, let him be to thee as a heathen or a publican. Verily, I say unto you, so shall it come to pass, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”—an illusion to the keys of doors which close and unclose the latch.
The case is here, that of two men, one of whom has offended the other, and persists. He could not be made to appear in the assembly, in the Christian church, as there was none; the person against whom his companion complained could not be judged by a bishop and priests who were not in existence; besides which, it is to be observed, that neither Jewish priests nor Christian priests ever became judges in quarrels between private persons. It was a matter of police. Bishops did not become judges till about the time of Valentinian III.
The commentators have therefore concluded that the sacred writer of this gospel makes our Lord speak in this passage by anticipation—that it is an allegory, a prediction of what would take place when the Christian church should be formed and established.
Selden makes an important remark on this passage, that, among the Jews, publicans or collectors of the royal moneys were not excommunicated. The populace might detest them, but as they were indispensable officers, appointed by the prince, the idea had never occurred to any one of separating them from the assembly. The Jews were at that time under the administration of the proconsul of Syria, whose jurisdiction extended to the confines of Galilee, and to the island of Cyprus, where he had deputies. It would have been highly imprudent in any to show publicly their abomination of the legal officers of the proconsul. Injustice, even, would have been added to imprudence, for the Roman knights—equestrians—who farmed the public domain and collected Cæsar’s money, were authorized by the laws.
St. Augustine, in his eighty-first sermon, may perhaps suggest reflections for comprehending this passage. He is speaking of those who retain their hatred, who are slow to pardon.
“Cepisti habere fratrem tuum tanquam publicanum. Ligas illum in terra; sed ut juste alliges vide; nam injusta vincula dirsumpit justitia. Cum autem correxeris et concordaveris cum fratre tuo solvisti eum in terra.” You began to regard your brother as a publican; that is, to bind him on the earth. But be cautious that you bind him justly, for justice breaks unjust bonds. But when you have corrected, and afterwards agreed with your brother, you have loosed him on earth.
From St. Augustine’s interpretation, it seems that the person offended shut up the offender in prison; and that it is to be understood that, if the offender is put in bonds on earth, he is also in heavenly bonds; but that if the offended person is inexorable, he becomes bound himself. In St. Augustine’s explanation there is nothing whatever relating to the Church. The whole matter relates to pardoning or not pardoning an injury. St. Augustine is not speaking here of the sacerdotal power of remitting sins in the name of God. That is a right recognized in other places; a right derived from the sacrament of confession. St. Augustine, profound as he is in types and allegories, does not consider this famous passage as alluding to the absolution given or refused by the ministers of the Roman Catholic Church, in the sacrament of penance.
Of the “Church,” in Christian Societies.
In the greater part of Christian states we perceive no more than four churches—the Greek, the Roman, the Lutheran, and the reformed or Calvinistic. It is thus in Germany. The Primitives or Quakers, the Anabaptists, the Socinians, the Memnonists, the Pietists, the Moravians, the Jews, and others, do not form a church. The Jewish religion has preserved the designation of synagogue. The Christian sects which are tolerated have only private assemblies, “conventicles.” It is the same in London. We do not find the Catholic Church in Sweden, nor in Denmark, nor in the north of Germany, nor in Holland, nor in three quarters of Switzerland, nor in the three kingdoms of Great Britain.
Of the Primitive Church, and of Those Who Have Endeavored to Re-establish It.
The Jews, as well as all the different people of Syria, were divided into many different congregations, as we have already seen. All were aimed at a mystical perfection. A ray of purer light shone upon the disciples of St. John, who still subsist near Mosul. At last, the Son of God, announced by St. John, appeared on earth, whose disciples were always on a perfect equality. Jesus had expressly enjoined them, “There shall not be any of you either first or last. . . . . I came to serve, not to be served. . . . . He who strives to be master over others shall be their servant.”
One proof of equality is that the Christians at first took no other designation than that of “brethren.” They assembled in expectation of the spirit. They prophesied when they were inspired. St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, says to them, “If, in your assembly, any one of you have the gift of a psalm, a doctrine, a revelation, a language, an interpretation, let all be done for edification. If any speak languages, as two or three may do in succession, let there be an interpreter.
“Let two or three prophets speak, and the others judge; and if anything be revealed to another while one is speaking, let the latter be silent; for you may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all exhort; the spirit of prophecy is subject to the prophets; for the Lord is a God of peace. . . . . Thus, then, my brethren, be all of you desirous of prophesying, and hinder not the speaking of languages.”
I have translated literally, both out of reverence for the text, and to avoid any disputes about words. St. Paul, in the same epistle, admits that women may prophesy; although, in the fourteenth chapter, he forbids their speaking in the assemblies. “Every woman,” says he, “praying or prophesying without having a veil over her head, dishonoreth her head, for it is the same as if she were shaven.”
It is clear, from all these passages and from many others, that the first Christians were all equal, not merely as brethren in Jesus Christ, but as having equal gifts. The spirit was communicated to them equally. They equally spoke different languages; they had equally the gift of prophesying, without distinction of rank, age, or sex.
The apostles who instructed the neophytes possessed over them, unquestionably, that natural preeminence which the preceptor has over the pupil; but of jurisdiction, of temporal authority, of what the world calls “honors,” of distinction in dress, of emblems of superiority, assuredly neither they, nor those who succeeded them, had any. They possessed another, and a very different superiority, that of persuasion.
The brethren put their money into one common stock. Seven persons were chosen by themselves out of their own body, to take charge of the tables, and to provide for the common wants. They chose, in Jerusalem itself, those whom we call Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas. It is remarkable that, among seven persons chosen by a Jewish community, six were Greeks.
After the time of the apostles we find no example of any Christian who possessed any other power over other Christians than that of instructing, exhorting, expelling demons from the bodies of “energumens,” and performing miracles. All is spiritual; nothing savors of worldly pomp. It was only in the third century that the spirit of pride, vanity, and interest, began to be manifested among the believers on every side.
The agapæ had now become splendid festivals, and attracted reproach for the luxury and profusion which attended them. Tertullian acknowledges it. “Yes,” says he, “we make splendid and plentiful entertainments, but was not the same done at the mysteries of Athens and of Egypt? Whatever learning we display, it is useful and pious, as the poor benefit by it.” Quantiscumque sumptibus constet, lucrum est pietatis, si quidem inopes refrigerio isto juvamus.
About this very period, certain societies of Christians, who pronounced themselves more perfect than the rest, the Montanists, for example, who boasted of so many prophecies and so austere a morality; who regarded second nuptials as absolute adulteries, and flight from persecution as apostasy; who had exhibited in public holy convulsions and ecstasies, and pretended to speak with God face to face, were convicted, it was said, of mixing the blood of an infant, a year old, with the bread of the eucharist. They brought upon the true Christians this dreadful reproach, which exposed them to persecutions.
Their method of proceeding, according to St. Augustine, was this: they pricked the whole body of the infant with pins and, kneading up flour with the blood, made bread of it. If any one died by eating it, they honored him as a martyr.
Manners were so corrupted that the holy fathers were incessantly complaining of it. Hear what St. Cyprian says, in his book concerning tombs: “Every priest,” says he, “seeks for wealth and honor with insatiable avidity. Bishops are without religion; women without modesty; knavery is general; profane swearing and perjury abound; animosities divide Christians asunder; bishops abandon their pupils to attend the exchange, and obtain opulence by merchandise; in short, we please ourselves alone, and excite the disgust of all the rest of the world.”
Before the occurrence of these scandals, the priest Novatian had been the cause of a very dreadful one to the people of Rome. He was the first antipope. The bishopric of Rome, although secret, and liable to persecution, was an object of ambition and avarice, on account of the liberal contributions of the Christians, and the authority attached to that high situation.
We will not here describe again what is contained in so many authentic documents, and what we every day hear from the mouths of persons correctly informed—the prodigious number of schisms and wars; the six hundred years of fierce hostility between the empire and the priesthood; the wealth of nations, flowing through a thousand channels, sometimes into Rome, sometimes into Avignon, when the popes, for two and seventy years together, fixed their residence in that place; the blood rushing in streams throughout Europe, either for the interest of a tiara utterly unknown to Jesus Christ, or on account of unintelligible questions which He never mentioned. Our religion is not less sacred or less divine for having been so defiled by guilt and steeped in carnage.
When the frenzy of domination, that dreadful passion of the human heart, had reached its greatest excess; when the monk Hildebrand, elected bishop of Rome against the laws, wrested that capital from the emperors, and forbade all the bishops of the west from bearing the name of pope, in order to appropriate it to himself alone; when the bishops of Germany, following his example, made themselves sovereigns, which all those of France and England also attempted; from those dreadful times down even to our own, certain Christian societies have arisen which, under a hundred different names, have endeavored to re-establish the primitive equality in Christendom.
But what had been practicable in a small society, concealed from the world, was no longer so in extensive kingdoms. The church militant and triumphant could no longer be the church humble and unknown. The bishops and the large, rich, and powerful monastic communities, uniting under the standards of the new pontificate of Rome, fought at that time pro aris et focis, for their hearths and altars. Crusades, armies, sieges, battles, rapine, tortures, assassinations by the hand of the executioner, assassinations by the hands of priests of both the contending parties, poisonings, devastations by fire and sword—all were employed to support and to pull down the new ecclesiastical administration; and the cradle of the primitive church was so hidden as to be scarcely discoverable under the blood and bones of the slain.
Of the Primitives called Quakers.
The religious and civil wars of Great Britain having desolated England, Scotland, and Ireland, in the unfortunate reign of Charles I., William Penn, son of a vice-admiral, resolved to go and establish what he called the primitive Church on the shores of North America, in a climate which appeared to him to be mild and congenial to his own manners. His sect went under the denomination of “Quakers,” a ludicrous designation, but which they merited, by the trembling of the body which they affected when preaching, and by a nasal pronunciation, such as peculiarly distinguished one species of monks in the Roman Church, the Capuchins. But men may both snuffle and shake, and yet be meek, frugal, modest, just, and charitable. No one denies that this society of Primitives displayed an example of all those virtues.
Penn saw that the English bishops and the Presbyterians had been the cause of a dreadful war on account of a surplice, lawn sleeves, and a liturgy. He would have neither liturgy, lawn, nor surplice. The apostles had none of them. Jesus Christ had baptized none. The associates of Penn declined baptism.
The first believers were equal; these new comers aimed at being so, as far as possible. The first disciples received the spirit, and spoke in the assembly; they had no altars, no temples, no ornaments, no tapers, incense, or ceremonies. Penn and his followers flattered themselves that they received the spirit, and they renounced all pomp and ceremony. Charity was in high esteem with the disciples of the Saviour; those of Penn formed a common purse for assisting the poor. Thus these imitators of the Essenians and first Christians, although in error with respect to doctrines and ceremonies, were an astonishing model of order and morals to every other society of Christians.
At length this singular man went, with five hundred of his followers, to form an establishment in what was at that time the most savage district of America. Queen Christina of Sweden had been desirous of founding a colony there, which, however, had not prospered. The Primitives of Penn were more successful.
It was on the banks of the Delaware, near the fortieth degree of latitude. This country belonged to the king of England only because there were no others who claimed it, and because the people whom we call savages, and who might have cultivated it, had always remained far distant in the recesses of the forests. If England had possessed this country merely by right of conquest, Penn and his Primitives would have held such an asylum in horror. They looked upon the pretended right of conquest only as a violation of the right of nature, and as absolute robbery.
King Charles II. made Penn sovereign of all this wild country by a charter granted March 4, 1681. In the following year Penn promulgated his code of laws. The first was complete civil liberty, in consequence of which every colonist possessing five acres of land became a member of the legislature. The next was an absolute prohibition against advocates and attorneys ever taking fees. The third was the admission of all religions, and even the permission to every inhabitant to worship God in his own house, without ever taking part in public worship.
This is the law last mentioned, in the terms of its enactment: “Liberty of conscience being a right which all men have received from nature with their very being, and which all peaceable persons ought to maintain, it is positively established that no person shall be compelled to join in any public exercise of religion.
“But every one is expressly allowed full power to engage freely in the public or private exercise of his religion, without incurring thereby any trouble or impediment, under any pretext; provided that he acknowledge his belief in one only eternal God Almighty, the creator, preserver, and governor of the universe, and that he fulfil all the duties of civil society which he is bound to perform to his fellow citizens.”
This law is even more indulgent, more humane, than that which was given to the people of Carolina by Locke, the Plato of England, so superior to the Plato of Greece. Locke permitted no public religions except such as should be approved by seven fathers of families. This is a different sort of wisdom from Penn’s.
But that which reflects immortal honor on both legislators, and which should operate as an eternal example to mankind, is, that this liberty of conscience has not occasioned the least disturbance. It might, on the contrary, be said that God had showered down the most distinguished blessings on the colony of Pennsylvania. It consisted, in 1682, of five hundred persons, and in less than a century its population had increased to nearly three hundred thousand. One half of the colonists are of the primitive religion; twenty different religions comprise the other half. There are twelve fine chapels in Philadelphia, and in other places every house is a chapel. This city has deserved its name: “Brotherly Love.” Seven other cities, and innumerable small towns, flourish under this law of concord. Three hundred vessels leave the port in the course of every year.
This state, which seems to deserve perpetual duration, was very nearly destroyed in the fatal war of 1755, when the French, with their savage allies on one side, and the English, with theirs, on the other, began with disputing about some frozen districts of Nova Scotia. The Primitives, faithful to their pacific system of Christianity, declined to take up arms. The savages killed some of their colonists on the frontier; the Primitives made no reprisals. They even refused, for a long time, to pay the troops. They addressed the English general in these words: “Men are like pieces of clay, which are broken to pieces one against another. Why should we aid in breaking one another to pieces?”
At last, in the general assembly of the legislature of Pennsylvania, the other religions prevailed; troops were raised; the Primitives contributed money, but declined being armed. They obtained their object, which was peace with their neighbors. These pretended savages said to them, “Send us a descendant of the great Penn, who never deceived us; with him we will treat.” A grandson of that great man was deputed, and peace was concluded. Many of the Primitives had negro slaves to cultivate their estates. But they blushed at having, in this instance, imitated other Christians. They gave liberty to their slaves in 1769.
At present all the other colonists imitate them in liberty of conscience, and although there are among them Presbyterians and persons of the high church party, no one is molested about his creed. It is this which has rendered the English power in America equal to that of Spain, with all its mines of gold and silver. If any method could be devised to enervate the English colonies it would be to establish in them the Inquisition.
The example of the Primitives, called “Quakers,” has given rise in Pennsylvania to a new society, in a district which it calls Euphrates. This is the sect of Dunkers or Dumpers, a sect much more secluded from the world than Penn’s; a sort of religious hospitallers, all clothed uniformly. Married persons are not permitted to reside in the city of Euphrates: they reside in the country, which they cultivate. The public treasury supplies all their wants in times of scarcity. This society administers baptism only to adults. It rejects the doctrine of original sin as impious, and that of the eternity of punishment as barbarous. The purity of their lives permits them not to imagine that God will torment His creatures cruelly or eternally. Gone astray in a corner of the new world, far from the great flock of the Catholic Church, they are, up to the present hour, notwithstanding this unfortunate error, the most just and most inimitable of men.
Quarrel between the Greek and Latin Churches in Asia and Europe.
It has been a matter of lamentation to all good men for nearly fourteen centuries that the Greek and Latin Churches have always been rivals, and that the robe of Jesus Christ, which was without a seam, has been continually rent asunder. This opposition is perfectly natural. Rome and Constantinople hate each other. When masters cherish a mutual aversion, their dependents entertain no mutual regard. The two communions have disputed on the superiority of language, the antiquity of sees, on learning, eloquence, and power.
It is certain that, for a long time, the Greeks possessed all the advantage. They boasted that they had been the masters of the Latins, and that they had taught them everything. The Gospels were written in Greek. There was not a doctrine, a rite, a mystery, a usage, which was not Greek; from the word “baptism” to the word “eucharist” all was Greek. No fathers of the Church were known except among the Greeks till St. Jerome, and even he was not a Roman, but a Dalmatian. St. Augustine, who flourished soon after St. Jerome, was an African. The seven great ecumenical councils were held in Greek cities: the bishops of Rome were never present at them, because they were acquainted only with their own Latin language, which was already exceedingly corrupted.
The hostility between Rome and Constantinople broke out in 452, at the Council of Chalcedon, which had been assembled to decide whether Jesus Christ had possessed two natures and one person, or two persons with one nature. It was there decided that the Church of Constantinople was in every respect equal to that of Rome, as to honors, and the patriarch of the one equal in every respect to the patriarch of the other. The pope, St. Leo, admitted the two natures, but neither he nor his successors admitted the equality. It may be observed that, in this dispute about rank and pre-eminence, both parties were in direct opposition to the injunction of Jesus Christ, recorded in the Gospel: “There shall not be among you first or last.” Saints are saints, but pride will insinuate itself everywhere. The same disposition which made a mason’s son, who had been raised to a bishopric, foam with rage because he was not addressed by the title of “my lord,” has set the whole Christian world in flames.
The Romans were always less addicted to disputation, less subtle, than the Greeks, but they were much more politic. The bishops of the east, while they argued, yet remained subjects: the bishop of Rome, without arguments, contrived eventually to establish his power on the ruins of the western empire. And what Virgil said of the Scipios and Cæsars might be said of the popes:
“Romanos rerum dominos gentemque togatam.”
—Æneid, i. 286.
This mutual hatred led, at length, to actual division, in the time of Photius, papa or overseer of the Byzantine Church, and Nicholas I., papa or overseer of the Roman Church. As, unfortunately, an ecclesiastical quarrel scarcely ever occurs without something ludicrous being attached to it, it happened, in this instance, that the contest began between two patriarchs, both of whom were eunuchs: Ignatius and Photius, who disputed the chair of Constantinople, were both emasculated. This mutilation depriving them of the power of becoming natural fathers, they could become fathers only of the Church. It is observed that persons of this unfortunate description are meddling, malignant, and plotting. Ignatius and Photius kept the whole Greek court in a state of turbulence.
The Latin, Nicholas I., having taken the part of Ignatius, Photius declared him a heretic, on account of his admitting the doctrine that the breath of God, or the Holy Spirit, proceeded from the Father and the Son, contrary to the unanimous decision of the whole Church, which had decided that it proceeded from the Father only.
Besides this heretical doctrine respecting the procession, Nicholas ate, and permitted to be eaten, eggs and cheese in Lent. In fine, as the very climax of unbelief, the Roman papa had his beard shaved, which, to the Greek papas, was nothing less than downright apostasy; as Moses, the patriarchs, and Jesus Christ were always, by the Greek and Latin painters, pictured with beards.
When, in 879, the patriarch Photius was restored to his seat by the eighth ecumenical council—consisting of four hundred bishops, three hundred of whom had condemned him in the preceding council—he was acknowledged by Pope John as his brother. Two legates, despatched by him to this council, joined the Greek Church, and declared that whoever asserted the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son was a Judas. But the practice of shaving the chin and eating eggs in Lent being persisted in, the two churches always remained divided.
The schism was completed in 1053 and 1054, when Michael Cerularius, patriarch of Constantinople, publicly condemned the bishop of Rome, Leo IX., and all the Latins, adding to all the reproaches against them by Photius that, contrary to the practice of the apostles, they dared to make use of unleavened bread in the eucharist; that they wickedly ate blood puddings, and twisted the necks, instead of cutting off the heads, of pigeons intended for the table. All the Latin churches in the Greek empire were shut up, and all intercourse with those who ate blood puddings was forbidden.
Pope Leo IX. entered into serious negotiation on this matter with the Emperor Constantine Monomachus, and obtained some mitigations. It was precisely at this period that those celebrated Norman gentlemen, the sons of Tancred de Hauteville, despising at once the pope and the Greek emperor, plundered everything they could in Apulia and Calabria, and ate blood puddings with the utmost hardihood. The Greek emperor favored the pope as much as he was able; but nothing could reconcile the Greeks with the Latins. The Greeks regarded their adversaries as barbarians, who did not know a single word of Greek. The irruption of the Crusaders, under pretence of delivering the Holy Land, but in reality to gain possession of Constantinople, completed the hatred entertained against the Romans.
But the power of the Latin Church increased every day, and the Greeks were at length gradually vanquished by the Turks. The popes, long since, became powerful and wealthy sovereigns; the whole Greek Church became slaves from the time of Mahomet II., except Russia, which was then a barbarous country, and in which the Church was of no account.
Whoever is but slightly informed of the state of affair in the Levant knows that the sultan confers the patriarchate of the Greeks by a cross and a ring, without any apprehension of being excommunicated, as some of the German emperors were by the popes, for this same ceremony.
It is certainly true that the church of Stamboul has preserved, in appearance, the liberty of choosing its archbishop; but never, in fact, chooses any other than the person pointed out by the Ottoman court. This preferment costs, at present, about eighty thousand francs, which the person chosen contrives to get refunded from the Greeks. If any canon of influence and wealth comes forward, and offers the grand vizier a large sum, the titular possessor is deprived, and the place given to the last bidder; precisely as the see of Rome was disposed of, in the tenth century, by Marozia and Theodora. If the titular patriarch resists, he receives fifty blows on the soles of his feet, and is banished. Sometimes he is beheaded, as was the case with Lucas Cyrille, in 1638.
The Grand Turk disposes of all the other bishoprics, in the same manner, for money; and the price charged for every bishopric under Mahomet II. is always stated in the patent; but the additional sum paid is not mentioned in it. It is not exactly known what a Greek priest gives for his bishopric.
These patents are rather diverting documents: “I grant to N—, a Christian priest, this order, for the perfection of his felicity. I command him to reside in the city herein named, as bishop of the infidel Christians, according to their ancient usage, and their vain and extravagant ceremonies, willing and ordaining that all Christians of that district shall acknowledge him, and that no monk or priest shall marry without his permission.” That is to say, without paying for the same.
The slavery of this Church is equal to its ignorance. But the Greeks have only what they deserve. They were wholly absorbed in disputes about the light on Mount Tabor, and the umbilical cord, at the very time of the taking of Constantinople.
While recording these melancholy truths we entertain the hope that the Empress Catherine II. will give the Greeks their liberty. Would she could restore to them that courage and that intellect which they possessed in the days of Miltiades and Themistocles; and that Mount Athos supplied good soldiers and fewer monks.
Of the Present Greek Church.
The Greek Church has scarcely deserved the toleration which the Mussulmans granted it. The following observations are from Mr. Porter, the English ambassador in Turkey:
“I am inclined to draw a veil over those scandalous disputes between the Greeks and Romans, on the subject of Bethlehem and the holy land, as they denominate it. The unjust and odious proceedings which these have occasioned between them are a disgrace to the Christian name. In the midst of these debates the ambassador appointed to protect the Romish communion becomes, with all high dignity, an object of sincere compassion.
“In every country where the Roman Catholic prevails, immense sums are levied in order to support against the Greek’s equivocal pretensions to the precarious possession of a corner of the world reputed holy; and to preserve in the hands of the monks of the Latin communion the remains of an old stable at Bethlehem, where a chapel has been erected, and where on the doubtful authority of oral tradition, it is pretended that Christ was born; as also a tomb, which may be, and most probably may not be, what is called his sepulchre; for the precise situation of these two places is as little ascertained as that which contains the ashes of Cæsar.”
What renders the Greeks yet more contemptible in the eyes of the Turks is the miracle which they perform every year at Easter. The poor bishop of Jerusalem is inclosed in a small cave, which is passed off for the tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ, with packets of small wax tapers; he strikes fire, lights one of these little tapers, and comes out of his cave exclaiming: “The fire is come down from heaven, and the holy taper is lighted.” All the Greeks immediately buy up these tapers, and the money is divided between the Turkish commander and the bishop. The deplorable state of this Church, under the dominion of the Turk, may be judged from this single trait.
The Greek Church in Russia has of late assumed a much more respectable consistency, since the Empress Catherine II. has delivered it from its secular cares; she has taken from it four hundred thousand slaves, which it possessed. It is now paid out of the imperial treasury, entirely dependent on the government, and restricted by wise laws; it can effect nothing but good, and is every day becoming more learned and useful. It possesses a preacher of the name of Plato, who has composed sermons which the Plato of antiquity would not have disdained.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
England is the country of sects; “multæ sunt mansiones in domo patris mei:” an Englishman, like a free man, goes to heaven which way he pleases. However, although every one can serve God in his own way, the national religion—that in which fortunes are made—is the Episcopal, called the Church of England, or emphatically, “The Church.” No one can have employment of any consequence, either in England or Ireland, without being members of the establishment. This reasoning, which is highly demonstrative, has converted so many nonconformists that at present there is not a twentieth part of the nation out of the bosom of the dominant church.
The English clergy have retained many Catholic ceremonies, and above all that of receiving tithes, with a very scrupulous attention. They also possess the pious ambition of ruling the people, for what village rector would not be a pope if he could?
With regard to manners, the English clergy are more decorous than those of France, chiefly because the ecclesiastics are brought up in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, far from the corruption of the metropolis. They are not called to the dignities of the Church until very late, and at an age when men, having no other passion than avarice, their ambition is less aspiring. Employments are, in England, the recompense of long service in the church, as well as in the army. You do not there see young men become bishops or colonels on leaving college; and, moreover, almost all the priests are married. The pedantry and awkwardness of manners, acquired in the universities, and the little commerce they have with women, generally oblige a bishop to be contented with the one which belongs to him. The clergy go sometimes to the tavern, because custom permits it, and if they get “Bacchi plenum” it is in the college style, gravely and with due decorum.
That indefinable character which is neither ecclesiastical nor secular, which we call abbé, is unknown in England. The ecclesiastics there are generally respected, and for the greater part pedants. When the latter learn that in France young men distinguished by their debaucheries, and raised to the prelacy by the intrigues of women, publicly make love; vie with each other in the composition of love songs; give luxurious suppers every day, from which they arise to implore the light of the Holy Spirit, and boldly call themselves the apostles’ successors—they thank God they are Protestants. But what then? They are vile heretics, and fit only for burning, as master Francis Rabelais says, “with all the devils.” Hence I drop the subject.
The Gospel forbids those who would attain perfection to amass treasures, and to preserve their temporal goods: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor.” “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”
The apostles and their first successors would not receive estates; they only accepted the value, and, after having provided what was necessary for their subsistence, they distributed the rest among the poor. Sapphira and Ananias did not give their goods to St. Peter, but they sold them and brought him the price: “Vende quæ habes et da pauperibus.”
The Church already possessed considerable property at the close of the third century, since Diocletian and Maximian had pronounced the confiscation of it, in 302.
As soon as Constantine was upon the throne he permitted the churches to be endowed like the temples of the ancient religion, and from that time the Church acquired rich estates. St. Jerome complains of it in one of his letters to Eustochium: “When you see them,” says he, “accost the rich widows whom they meet with a soft and sanctified air, you would think that their hands were only extended to give them their blessing; but it is, on the contrary, to receive the price of their hypocrisy.”
The holy priests received without claiming. Valentinian I. thought it right to forbid the ecclesiastics from receiving anything from widows and women, by will or otherwise. This law, which is found in the Theodosian code, was revoked by Marcian and Justinian.
Justinian, to favor the ecclesiastics, forbade the judges, by his new code xviii. chap. ii., to annul the wills made in favor of the Church, even when executed without the formalities prescribed by the laws.
Anastasius had enacted, in 471, that church property should be held by a prescription, or title, of forty years’ duration. Justinian inserted this law in his code; but this prince, who was continually changing his jurisprudence, subsequently extended this proscription to a century. Immediately several ecclesiastics, unworthy of their profession, forged false titles, and drew out of the dust old testaments, void by the ancient laws, but valid according to the new. Citizens were deprived of their patrimonies by fraud; and possessions, which until then were considered inviolable, were usurped by the Church. In short, the abuse was so crying that Justinian himself was obliged to re-establish the dispositions of the law of Anastasius, by his novel cxxxi. chap. vi.
The possessions of the Church during the first five centuries of our era were regulated by deacons, who distributed them to the clergy and to the poor. This community ceased at the end of the fifth century, and Church property was divided into four parts—one being given to the bishops, another to the clergy, a third to the place of worship, and the fourth to the poor. Soon after this division the bishops alone took charge of the whole four portions, and this is the reason why the inferior clergy are generally very poor.
Monks possessing Slaves.
What is still more melancholy, the Benedictines, Bernardines, and even the Chartreux are permitted to have mortmains and slaves. Under their domination in several provinces of France and Germany are still recognized: personal slavery, slavery of property, and slavery of person and property. Slavery of the person consists in the incapacity of a man’s disposing of his property in favor of his children, if they have not always lived with their father in the same house, and at the same table, in which case all belongs to the monks. The fortune of an inhabitant of Mount Jura, put into the hands of a notary, becomes, even in Paris, the prey of those who have originally embraced evangelical poverty at Mount Jura. The son asks alms at the door of the house which his father has built; and the monks, far from giving them, even arrogate to themselves the right of not paying his father’s creditors, and of regarding as void all the mortgages on the house of which they take possession. In vain the widow throws herself at their feet to obtain a part of her dowry. This dowry, these debts, this paternal property, all belong, by divine right, to the monks. The creditors, the widow, and the children are all left to die in beggary.
Real slavery is that which is effected by residence. Whoever occupies a house within the domain of these monks, and lives in it a year and a day, becomes their serf for life. It has sometimes happened that a French merchant, and father of a family, led by his business into this barbarous country, has taken a house for a year. Dying afterwards in his own country, in another province of France, his widow and children have been quite astonished to see officers, armed with writs, come and take away their furniture, sell it in the name of St. Claude, and drive away a whole family from the house of their father.
Mixed slavery is that which, being composed of the two, is, of all that rapacity has ever invented, the most execrable, and beyond the conception even of freebooters. There are, then, Christian people groaning in a triple slavery under monks who have taken the vow of humility and poverty. You will ask how governments suffer these fatal contradictions? It is because the monks are rich and the vassals are poor. It is because the monks, to preserve their Hunnish rights, make presents to their commissaries and to the mistresses of those who might interpose their authority to put down their oppression. The strong always crush the weak; but why must monks be the stronger?
It is at a time when, in France, the fine arts are in a state of decline; in an age of paradox, and amidst the degradation and persecution of literature and philosophy, that an attempt is made to tarnish the name of Cicero. And who is the man who thus endeavors to throw disgrace upon his memory? It is one who lends his services in defence of persons accused like himself; it is an advocate, who has studied eloquence under that great master; it is a citizen who appears to be, like Cicero, animated by devotion to the public good.
In a book entitled “Navigable Canals,” a book abounding in grand and patriotic rather than practical views, we feel no small astonishment at finding the following philippic against Cicero, who was never concerned in digging canals:
“The most glorious trait in the history of Cicero is the destruction of Catiline’s conspiracy, which, regarded in its true light, produced little sensation at Rome, except in consequence of his affecting to give it importance. The danger existed much more in his discourses than in the affair itself. It was an enterprise of debauchees which it was easy to disconcert. Neither the principal nor the accomplices had taken the slightest measure to insure the success of their guilty attempt. There was nothing astonishing in this singular matter but the blustering which attended all the proceedings of the consul, and the facility with which he was permitted to sacrifice to his self-love so many scions of illustrious families.
“Besides, the life of Cicero abounds in traits of meanness. His eloquence was as venal as his soul was pusillanimous. If his tongue was not guided by interest it was guided by fear or hope. The desire of obtaining partisans led him to the tribune, to defend, without a blush, men more dishonorable, and incalculably more dangerous, than Catiline. His clients were nearly all miscreants, and, by a singular exercise of divine justice, he at last met death from the hands of one of those wretches whom his skill had extricated from the fangs of human justice.”
We answer that, “regarded in its true light,” the conspiracy of Catiline excited at Rome somewhat more than a “slight sensation.” It plunged her into the greatest disturbance and danger. It was terminated only by a battle so bloody that there is no example of equal carnage, and scarcely any of equal valor. All the soldiers of Catiline, after having killed half of the army of Petrius, were killed, to the last man. Catiline perished, covered with wounds, upon a heap of the slain; and all were found with their countenances sternly glaring upon the enemy. This was not an enterprise so wonderfully easy as to be disconcerted. Cæsar encouraged it; Cæsar learned from it to conspire on a future day more successfully against his country.
“Cicero defended, without a blush, men more dishonorable, and incalculably more dangerous than Catiline!” Was this when he defended in the tribune Sicily against Verres, and the Roman republic against Antony? Was it when he exhorted the clemency of Cæsar in favor of Ligarius and King Deiotarus? or when he obtained the right of citizenship for the poet Archias? or when, in his exquisite oration for the Manilian law, he obtained every Roman suffrage on behalf of the great Pompey?
He pleaded for Milo, the murderer of Clodius; but Clodius had deserved the tragical end he met with by his outrages. Clodius had been involved in the conspiracy of Catiline; Clodius was his mortal enemy. He had irritated Rome against him, and had punished him for having saved Rome. Milo was his friend.
What! is it in our time that any one ventures to assert that God punished Cicero for having defended a military tribune called Popilius Lena, and that divine vengeance made this same Popilius Lena the instrument of his assassination? No one knows whether Popilius Lena was guilty of the crime of which he was acquitted, after Cicero’s defence of him upon his trial; but all know that the monster was guilty of the most horrible ingratitude, the most infamous avarice, and the most detestable cruelty to obtain the money of three wretches like himself. It was reserved for our times to hold up the assassination of Cicero as an act of divine justice. The triumvirs would not have dared to do it. Every age, before the present, has detested and deplored the manner of his death.
Cicero is reproached with too frequently boasting that he had saved Rome, and with being too fond of glory. But his enemies endeavored to stain his glory. A tyrannical faction condemned him to exile, and razed his house, because he had preserved every house in Rome from the flames which Catiline had prepared for them. Men are permitted and even bound to boast of their services, when they meet with forgetfulness or ingratitude, and more particularly when they are converted into crimes.
Scipio is still admired for having answered his accusers in these words: “This is the anniversary of the day on which I vanquished Hannibal; let us go and return thanks to the gods.” The whole assembly followed him to the Capitol, and our hearts follow him thither also, as we read the passage in history; though, after all, it would have been better to have delivered in his accounts than to extricate himself from the attack by a bon mot.
Cicero, in the same manner, excited the admiration of the Roman people when, on the day in which his consulship expired, being obliged to take the customary oaths, and preparing to address the people as was usual, he was hindered by the tribune Matellus, who was desirous of insulting him. Cicero had begun with these words: “I swear,”—the tribune interrupted him, and declared that he would not suffer him to make a speech. A great murmuring was heard. Cicero paused a moment, and elevating his full and melodious voice, he exclaimed, as a short substitute for his intended speech, “I swear that I have saved the country.” The assembly cried out with delight and enthusiasm, “We swear that he has spoken the truth.” That moment was the most brilliant of his life. This is the true way of loving glory. I do not know where I have read these unknown verses:
Can we despise Cicero if we consider his conduct in his government of Cilicia, which was then one of the most important provinces of the Roman Empire, in consequence of its contiguity to Syria and the Parthian Empire. Laodicea, one of the most beautiful cities of the East, was the capital of it. This province was then as flourishing as it is at the present day degraded under the government of the Turks, who never had a Cicero.
He begins by protecting Ariobarzanes, king of Cappadocia, and he refuses the presents which that king desires to make him. The Parthians come and attack Antioch in a state of perfect peace. Cicero hastily marches towards it, comes up with the Parthians by forced marches at Mount Taurus, routs them, pursues them in their retreat, and Arsaces, their general, is slain, with a part of his army.
Thence he rushes on Pendenissum, the capital of a country in alliance with the Parthians, and takes it, and the province is reduced to submission. He instantly directs his forces against the tribes of people called Tiburanians, and defeats them, and his troops confer on him the title of Imperator, which he preserved all his life. He would have obtained the honors of a triumph at Rome if he had not been opposed by Cato, who induced the senate merely to decree public rejoicings and thanks to the gods, when, in fact, they were due to Cicero.
If we picture to ourselves the equity and disinterestedness of Cicero in his government; his activity, his affability—two virtues so rarely compatible; the benefits which he accumulated upon the people over whom he was an absolute sovereign; it will be extremely difficult to withhold from such a man our esteem.
If we reflect that this is the same man who first introduced philosophy into Rome; that his “Tusculan Questions,” and his book “On the Nature of the Gods,” are the two noblest works that ever were written by mere human wisdom, and that his treatise, “De Officiis,” is the most useful one that we possess in morals; we shall find it still more difficult to despise Cicero. We pity those who do not read him; we pity still more those who refuse to do him justice.
To the French detractor we may well oppose the lines of the Spanish Martial, in his epigram against Antony (book v., epig. 69, v. 7):
See, likewise, what is said by Juvenal (sat. iv., v. 244):
When Herodotus narrates what he was told by the barbarians among whom he travelled, he narrates fooleries, after the manner of the greater part of travellers. Thus, it is not to be supposed that he expects to be believed in his recital of the adventure of Gyges and Candaules; of Arion, carried on the back of a dolphin; of the oracle which was consulted on what Crœsus was at the time doing, that he was then going to dress a tortoise in a stew-pan; of Darius’ horse, which, being the first out of a certain number to neigh, in fact proclaimed his master a king; and of a hundred other fables, fit to amuse children, and to be compiled by rhetoricians. But when he speaks of what he has seen, of the customs of people he has examined, of their antiquities which he has consulted, he then addresses himself to men.
“It appears,” says he, in his book “Euterpe,” “that the inhabitants of Colchis sprang from Egypt. I judge so from my own observations rather than from hearsay; for I found that, at Colchis, the ancient Egyptians were more frequently recalled to my mind than the ancient customs of Colchis were when I was in Egypt.
“These inhabitants of the shores of the Euxine Sea stated themselves to be a colony founded by Sesostris. As for myself, I should think this probable, not merely because they are dark and woolly-haired, but because the inhabitants of Colchis, Egypt, and Ethiopia are the only people in the world who, from time immemorial, have practised circumcision; for the Phœnicians, and the people of Palestine, confess that they adopted the practice from the Egyptians. The Syrians, who at present inhabit the banks of Thermodon, acknowledge that it is, comparatively, but recently that they have conformed to it. It is principally from this usage that they are considered of Egyptian origin.
“With respect to Ethiopia and Egypt, as this ceremony is of great antiquity in both nations, I cannot by any means ascertain which has derived it from the other. It is, however, probable that the Ethiopians received it from the Egyptians; while, on the contrary, the Phœnicians have abolished the practice of circumcising new-born children since the enlargement of their commerce with the Greeks.”
From this passage of Herodotus it is evident that many people had adopted circumcision from Egypt, but no nation ever pretended to have received it from the Jews. To whom, then, can we attribute the origin of this custom; to a nation from whom five or six others acknowledge they took it, or to another nation, much less powerful, less commercial, less warlike, hid away in a corner of Arabia Petræa, and which never communicated any one of its usages to any other people?
The Jews admit that they were, many ages since, received in Egypt out of charity. Is it not probable that the lesser people imitated a usage of the superior one, and that the Jews adopted some customs from their masters?
Clement of Alexandria relates that Pythagoras, when travelling among the Egyptians, was obliged to be circumcised in order to be admitted to their mysteries. It was, therefore, absolutely necessary to be circumcised to be a priest in Egypt. Those priests existed when Joseph arrived in Egypt. The government was of great antiquity, and the ancient ceremonies of the country were observed with the most scrupulous exactness.
The Jews acknowledge that they remained in Egypt two hundred and five years. They say that, during that period, they did not become circumcised. It is clear, then, that for two hundred and five years the Egyptians did not receive circumcision from the Jews. Would they have adopted it from them after the Jews had stolen the vessels which they had lent them, and, according to their own account, fled with their plunder into the wilderness? Will a master adopt the principal symbol of the religion of a robbing and runaway slave? It is not in human nature.
It is stated in the Book of Joshua that the Jews were circumcised in the wilderness. “I have delivered you from what constituted your reproach among the Egyptians.” But what could this reproach be, to a people living between Phœnicians, Arabians, and Egyptians, but something which rendered them contemptible to these three nations? How effectually is that reproach removed by abstracting a small portion of the prepuce? Must not this be considered the natural meaning of the passage?
The Book of Genesis relates that Abraham had been circumcised before. But Abraham travelled in Egypt, which had been long a flourishing kingdom, governed by a powerful king. There is nothing to prevent the supposition that circumcision was, in this very ancient kingdom, an established usage. Moreover, the circumcision of Abraham led to no continuation; his posterity was not circumcised till the time of Joshua.
But, before the time of Joshua, the Jews, by their own acknowledgment, adopted many of the customs of the Egyptians. They imitated them in many sacrifices, in many ceremonies; as, for example, in the fasts observed on the eves of the feasts of Isis; in ablutions; in the custom of shaving the heads of the priests; in the incense, the branched candle-stick, the sacrifice of the red-haired cow, the purification with hyssop, the abstinence from swine’s flesh, the dread of using the kitchen utensils of foreigners; everything testifies that the little people of Hebrews, notwithstanding its aversion to the great Egyptian nation, had retained a vast number of the usages of its former masters. The goat Azazel, which was despatched into the wilderness laden with the sins of the people, was a visible imitation of an Egyptian practice. The rabbis are agreed, even, that the word Azazel is not Hebrew. Nothing, therefore, could exist to have prevented the Hebrews from imitating the Egyptians in circumcision, as the Arabs, their neighbors, did.
It is by no means extraordinary that God, who sanctified baptism, a practice so ancient among the Asiatics, should also have sanctified circumcision, not less ancient among the Africans. We have already remarked that he has a sovereign right to attach his favors to any symbol that he chooses.
As to what remains since the time when, under Joshua, the Jewish people became circumcised, it has retained that usage down to the present day. The Arabs, also, have faithfully adhered to it; but the Egyptians, who, in the earlier ages, circumcised both their males and females, in the course of time abandoned the practice entirely as to the latter, and at last applied it solely to priests, astrologers, and prophets. This we learn from Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. In fact, it is not clear that the Ptolemies ever received circumcision.
The Latin authors who treat the Jews with such profound contempt as to apply to them in derision the expressions, “curtus Apella,” “credat Judæus Apella,” “curti Judæi,” never apply such epithets to the Egyptians. The whole population of Egypt is at present circumcised, but for another reason than that which operated formerly; namely, because Mahometanism adopted the ancient circumcision of Arabia. It is this Arabian circumcision which has extended to the Ethiopians, among whom males and females are both still circumcised.
We must acknowledge that this ceremony appears at first a very strange one; but we should remember that, from the earliest times, the oriental priests consecrated themselves to their deities by peculiar marks. An ivy leaf was indented with a graver on the priests of Bacchus. Lucian tells us that those devoted to the goddess Isis impressed characters upon their wrist and neck. The priests of Cybele made themselves eunuchs.
It is highly probable that the Egyptians, who revered the instrument of human production, and bore its image in pomp in their processions, conceived the idea of offering to Isis and Osiris through whom everything on earth was produced, a small portion of that organ with which these deities had connected the perpetuation of the human species. Ancient oriental manners are so prodigiously different from our own that scarcely anything will appear extraordinary to a man of even but little reading. A Parisian is excessively surprised when he is told that the Hottentots deprive their male children of one of the evidences of virility. The Hottentots are perhaps surprised that the Parisians preserve both.
There may be something perhaps still remaining for remark under this head, even after Du Cange’s “Dictionary” and the “Encyclopædia.” We may observe, for instance, that so wonderful was the respect paid to learning, about the eleventh and twelfth centuries, that a custom was introduced and followed in France, in Germany, and in England, of remitting the punishment of the halter to every condemned criminal who was able to read. So necessary to the state was every man who possessed such an extent of knowledge. William the Bastard, the conqueror of England, carried thither this custom. It was called benefit of clergy—“beneficum clericorum aut clergicorum.”
We have remarked, in more places than one, that old usages, lost in other countries, are found again in England, as in the island of Samothrace were discovered the ancient mysteries of Orpheus. To this day the benefit of clergy subsists among the English, in all its vigor, for manslaughter, and for any theft not exceeding a certain amount of value, and being the first offence. The prisoner who is able to read demands his “benefit of clergy,” which cannot be refused him. The judge refers to the chaplain of the prison, who presents a book to the prisoner, upon which the judge puts the question to the chaplain, “Legit?” “Does he read?” The chaplain replies: “Legit wt clericus.” “He reads like a clergyman.” After this the punishment of the prisoner is restricted to the application of a hot branding iron to the palm of his hand.
Of the Celibacy of the Clergy.
It is asked whether, in the first ages of the Church, marriage was permitted to the clergy, and when it was forbidden? It is unquestionable that the clergy of the Jewish religion, far from being bound to celibacy, were, on the contrary, urged to marriage, not merely by the example of their patriarchs, but by the disgrace attached to not leaving posterity.
In the times, however, that preceded the first calamities which befell the Jews, certain sects of rigorists arose—Essenians, Judaites, Therapeutæ, Herodians; in some of which—the Essenians and Therapeutæ, for examples—the most devout of the sect abstained from marriage. This continence was an imitation of the chastity of the vestals, instituted by Numa Pompilius; of the daughter of Pythagoras, who founded a convent; of the priests of Diana; of the Pythia of Delphos; and, in more remote antiquity, of the priestesses of Apollo, and even of the priestesses of Bacchus. The priests of Cybele not only bound themselves by vows of chastity, but, to preclude the violation of their vows, became eunuchs. Plutarch, in the eighth question of his “Table-talk,” informs us that, in Egypt, there are colleges of priests which renounce marriage.
The first Christians, although professing to lead a life as pure as that of the Essenians and Therapeutæ, did not consider celibacy as a virtue. We have seen that nearly all the apostles and disciples were married. St. Paul writes to Titus: “Choose for a priest him who is the husband of one wife, having believing children, and not under accusation of dissoluteness.” He says the same to Timothy: “Let the superintendent be the husband of one wife.” He seems to think so highly of marriage that, in the same epistle to Timothy, he says: “The wife, notwithstanding her prevarication, shall be saved in child-bearing.”
The proceedings of the Council of Nice, on the subject of married priests, deserve great attention. Some bishops, according to the relations of Sozomen and Socrates, proposed a law commanding bishops and priests thenceforward to abstain from their wives; but St. Paphnucius the Martyr, bishop of Thebes, in Egypt, strenuously opposed it; observing, “that marriage was chastity”; and the council adopted his opinion. Suidas, Gelasius, Cesicenus, Cassiodorus, and Nicephorus Callistus, record precisely the same thing. The council merely forbade the clergy from living with agapetæ, or female associates besides their own wives, except their mothers, sisters, aunts, and others whose age would preclude suspicion.
After that time, the celibacy of the clergy was recommended, without being commanded. St. Jerome, a devout recluse, was, of all the fathers, highest in his eulogiums of the celibacy of priests; yet he resolutely supports the cause of Carterius, a Spanish bishop, who had been married twice. “Were I,” says he, “to enumerate all the bishops who have entered into second nuptials, I should name as many as were present at the Council of Rimini”—“Tantus numerus congregabitur ut Riminensis synodus superetur.”
The examples of clergymen married, and living with their wives, are innumerable. Sydonius, bishop of Clermont, in Auvergne, in the fifth century, married Papianilla, daughter of the Emperor Avitus, and the house of Polignac claims descent from this marriage. Simplicius, bishop of Bourges, had two children by his wife Palladia. St. Gregory of Nazianzen was the son of another Gregory, bishop of Nazianzen, and of Nonna, by whom that bishop had three children—Cesarius, Gorgonia, and the saint.
In the Roman decretals, under the canon Osius, we find a very long list of bishops who were the sons of priests. Pope Osius himself was the son of a sub-deacon Stephen; and Pope Boniface I., son of the priest Jocondo. Pope Felix III. was the son of Felix, a priest, and was himself one of the grandfathers of Gregory the Great. The priest Projectus was the father of John II.; and Gordian, the father of Agapet. Pope Sylvester was the son of Pope Hormisdas. Theodore I. was born of a marriage of Theodore, patriarch of Jerusalem; a circumstance which should produce the reconciliation of the two Churches.
At length, after several councils had been held without effect on the subject of the celibacy, which ought always to accompany the priesthood, Pope Gregory excommunicated all married priests; either to add respectability to the Church, by the greater rigor of its discipline, or to attach more closely to the court of Rome the bishops and priests of other countries, who would thus have no other family than the Church. This law was not established without great opposition.
It is a very remarkable circumstance that the Council of Basel, having deposed, at least nominally, Pope Eugenius IV., and elected Amadeus of Savoy, many bishops having objected against that prince that he had been married, Æneas Sylvius, who was afterwards pope, under the name of Pius II., supported the election of Amadeus in these words: “Non solum qui uxorem habuit, sed uxorem habens, potest assumere”—“Not only may he be made a pope who has been married, but also he who is so.”
This Pius II. was consistent. Peruse his letters to his mistress, in the collection of his works. He was convinced, that to defraud nature of her rights was absolute insanity, and that it was the duty of man not to destroy, but to control her.
However this may be, since the Council of Trent there has no longer been any dispute about the celibacy of the Roman Catholic clergy; there have been only desires. All Protestant communions are, on this point, in opposition to Rome.
In the Greek Church, which at present extends from the frontiers of China to Cape Matapan, the priests may marry once. Customs everywhere vary; discipline changes conformably to time and place. We here only record facts; we enter into no controversy.
Of Clerks of the Closet, Since Denominated Secretaries of State and Ministers.
Clerks of the closet, clerks of the king, more recently denominated secretaries of state, in France and England, were originally the “king’s notaries.” They were afterwards called “secretaries of orders”—secrétaires des commandemens. This we are informed of by the learned and laborious Pasquier. His authority is unquestionable, as he had under his inspection the registers of the chamber of accounts, which, in our own times, have been destroyed by fire.
At the unfortunate peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, a clerk of Philip II., having taken the title of secretary of state, de l’Aubespine, who was secretary of orders to the king of France, and his notary, took that title likewise, that the honors of both might be equal, whatever might be the case with their emoluments.
In England, before the reign of Henry VIII., there was only one secretary of the king, who stood while he presented memorials and petitions to the council. Henry VIII. appointed two, and conferred on them the same titles and prerogatives as in Spain. The great nobles did not, at that period, accept these situations; but, in time, they have become of so much consequence that peers of the realm and commanders of armies are now invested with them. Thus everything changes. There is at present no relic in France of the government of Hugh Capet, nor in England of the administration of William the Bastard.
It is certain that the sun and atmosphere mark their empire on all the productions of nature, from man to mushrooms. In the grand age of Louis XIV., the ingenious Fontenelle remarked:
“One might imagine that the torrid and two frigid zones are not well suited to the sciences. Down to the present day they have not travelled beyond Egypt and Mauritania, on the one side, nor on the other beyond Sweden. Perhaps it is not owing to mere chance that they are retained within Mount Atlas and the Baltic Sea. We know not whether these may not be the limits appointed to them by nature, or whether we may ever hope to see great authors among Laplanders or negroes.”
Chardin, one of those travellers who reason and investigate, goes still further than Fontenelle, when speaking of Persia. “The temperature of warm climates,” says he, “enervates the mind as well as the body, and dissipates that fire which the imagination requires for invention. In such climates men are incapable of the long studies and intense application which are necessary to the production of first-rate works in the liberal and mechanic arts,” etc.
Chardin did not consider that Sadi and Lokman were Persians. He did not recollect that Archimedes belonged to Sicily, where the heat is greater than in three-fourths of Persia. He forgot that Pythagoras formerly taught geometry to the Brahmins. The Abbé Dubos supported and developed, as well as he was able, the opinion of Chardin.
One hundred and fifty years before them, Bodin made it the foundation of his system in his “Republic,” and in his “Method of History”; he asserts that the influence of climate is the principle both of the government and the religion of nations. Diodorus of Sicily was of the same opinion long before Bodin.
The author of the “Spirit of Laws,” without quoting any authority, carried this idea farther than Chardin and Bodin. A certain part of the nation believed him to have first suggested it, and imputed it to him as a crime. This was quite in character with that part of the nation alluded to. There are everywhere men who possess more zeal than understanding.
We might ask those who maintain that climate does everything, why the Emperor Julian, in his “Misopogon,” says that what pleased him in the Parisians was the gravity of their characters and the severity of their manners; and why these Parisians, without the slightest change of climate, are now like playful children, at whom the government punishes and smiles at the same moment, and who themselves, the moment after, also smile and sing lampoons upon their masters.
Why are the Egyptians, who are described as having been still more grave than the Parisians, at present the most lazy, frivolous, and cowardly of people, after having, as we are told, conquered the whole world for their pleasure, under a king called Sesostris? Why are there no longer Anacreons, Aristotles, or Zeuxises at Athens? Whence comes it that Rome, instead of its Ciceros, Catos, and Livys, has merely citizens who dare not speak their minds, and a brutalized populace, whose supreme happiness consists in having oil cheap, and in gazing at processions?
Cicero, in his letters, is occasionally very jocular on the English. He desires his brother Quintus, Cæsar’s lieutenant, to inform him whether he has found any great philosophers among them, in his expedition to Britain. He little suspected that that country would one day produce mathematicians whom he could not understand. Yet the climate has not at all changed, and the sky of London is as cloudy now as it was then.
Everything changes, both in bodies and minds, by time. Perhaps the Americans will in some future period cross the sea to instruct Europeans in the arts. Climate has some influence, government a hundred times more; religion and government combined more still.
Influence of Climate.
Climate influences religion in respect to ceremonies and usages. A legislator could have experienced no difficulty in inducing the Indians to bathe in the Ganges at certain appearances of the moon; it is a high gratification to them. Had any one proposed a like bath to the people who inhabit the banks of the Dwina, near Archangel, he would have been stoned. Forbid pork to an Arab, who after eating this species of animal food (the most miserable and disgusting in his own country) would be affected by leprosy, he will obey you with joy; prohibit it to a Westphalian, and he will be tempted to knock you down. Abstinence from wine is a good precept of religion in Arabia, where orange, citron, and lemon waters are necessary to health. Mahomet would not have forbidden wine in Switzerland, especially before going to battle.
There are usages merely fanciful. Why did the priests of Egypt devise circumcision? It was not for the sake of health. Cambyses, who treated as they deserved both them and their bull Apis, the courtiers of Cambyses, and his soldiers, enjoyed perfectly good health without such mutilation. Climate has no peculiar influence over this particular portion of the person of a priest. The offering in question was made to Isis, probably on the same principle as the firstlings of the fruits of the earth were everywhere offered. It was typical of an offering of the first fruits of life.
Religions have always turned on two pivots—forms of ceremonies, and faith. Forms and ceremonies depend much on climate; faith not at all. A doctrine will be received with equal facility under the equator or near the pole. It will be afterwards equally rejected at Batavia and the Orcades, while it will be maintained, unguibus et rostro—with tooth and nail—at Salamanca. This depends not on sun and atmosphere, but solely upon opinion, that fickle empress of the world.
Certain libations of wine will be naturally enjoined in a country abounding in vineyards; and it would never occur to the mind of any legislator to institute sacred mysteries, which could not be celebrated without wine, in such a country as Norway.
It will be expressly commanded to burn incense in the court of a temple where beasts are killed in honor of the Divinity, and for the priests’ supper. This slaughter-house, called a temple, would be a place of abominable infection, if it were not continually purified; and without the use of aromatics, the religion of the ancients would have introduced the plague. The interior of the temple was even festooned with flowers to sweeten the air.
The cow will not be sacrificed in the burning territory of the Indian peninsula, because it supplies the necessary article of milk, and is very rare in arid and barren districts, and because its flesh, being dry and tough, and yielding but little nourishment, would afford the Brahmins but miserable cheer. On the contrary, the cow will be considered sacred, in consequence of its rareness and utility.
The temple of Jupiter Ammon, where the heat is excessive, will be entered only with bare feet. To perform his devotions at Copenhagen, a man requires his feet to be warm and well covered.
It is not thus with doctrine. Polytheism has been believed in all climates; and it is equally easy for a Crim Tartar and an inhabitant of Mecca to acknowledge one only incommunicable God, neither begotten nor begetting. It is by doctrine, more than by rites, that a religion extends from one climate to another. The doctrine of the unity of God passed rapidly from Medina to Mount Caucasus. Climate, then, yields to opinion.
The Arabs said to the Turks: “We practiced the ceremony of circumcision in Arabia without very well knowing why. It was an ancient usage of the priests of Egypt to offer to Oshiret, or Osiris, a small portion of what they considered most valuable. We had adopted this custom three thousand years before we became Mahometans. You will become circumcised like us; you will bind yourself to sleep with one of your wives every Friday, and to give two and a half per cent. of your income annually to the poor. We drink nothing but water and sherbet; all intoxicating liquors are forbidden us. In Arabia they are pernicious. You will embrace the same regimen, although you should be passionately fond of wine; and even although, on the banks of the Phasis and Araxes, it should often be necessary for you. In short, if you wish to go to heaven, and to obtain good places there, you will take the road through Mecca.”
The inhabitants north of the Caucasus subject themselves to these laws, and adopt, in the fullest extent, a religion which was never framed for them.
In Egypt the emblematical worship of animals succeeded to the doctrines of Thaut. The gods of the Romans afterwards shared Egypt with the dogs, the cats, and the crocodiles. To the Roman religion succeeded Christianity; that was completely banished by Mahometanism, which will perhaps be superseded by some new religion.
In all these changes climate has effected nothing; government has done everything. We are here considering only second causes, without raising our unhallowed eyes to that Providence which directs them. The Christian religion, which received its birth in Syria, and grew up towards its fulness of stature in Alexandria, inhabits now those countries where Teutat and Irminsul, Freya and Odin, were formerly adored.
There are some nations whose religion is not the result either of climate or of government. What cause detached the north of Germany, Denmark, three parts of Switzerland, Holland, England, Scotland, and Ireland, from the Romish communion? Poverty. Indulgences, and deliverance from purgatory for the souls of those whose bodies were at that time in possession of very little money, were sold too dear. The prelates and monks absorbed the whole revenue of a province. People adopted a cheaper religion. In short, after numerous civil wars, it was concluded that the pope’s religion was a good one for nobles, and the reformed one for citizens. Time will show whether the religion of the Greeks or of the Turks will prevail on the coasts of the Euxine and Ægean seas.
The power by which the parts of bodies are kept together. It is a phenomenon the most common, but the least understood. Newton derides the hooked atoms, by means of which it has been attempted to explain coherence; for it still remained to be known why they are hooked, and why they cohere. He treats with no greater respect those who have explained cohesion by rest. “It is,” says he, “an occult quality.”
He has recourse to an attraction. But is not this attraction, which may indeed exist, but is by no means capable of demonstration, itself an occult quality? The grand attraction of the heavenly bodies is demonstrated and calculated. That of adhering bodies is incalculable. But how can we admit a force that is immeasurable to be of the same nature as one that can be measured?
Nevertheless, it is demonstrated that the force of attraction acts upon all the planets and all heavy bodies in proportion to their solidity; but it acts on all the particles of matter; it is, therefore, very probable that, while it exists in every part in reference to the whole, it exists also in every part in reference to cohesion; coherence, therefore, may be the effect of attraction.
This opinion appears admissible till a better one can be found, and that better is not easily to be met with.
Since the fall of Carthage, no people had been powerful in commerce and arms at the same time, until Venice set the example. The Portuguese having passed the Cape of Good Hope, were, for some time, great lords on the coast of India, and even formidable in Europe. The United Provinces have only been warriors in spite of themselves, and it was not as united between themselves, but as united with England that they assisted to hold the balance of Europe at the commencement of the eighteenth century.
Carthage, Venice, and Amsterdam have been powerful; but they have acted like those people among us, who, having amassed money by trade, buy lordly estates. Neither Carthage, Venice, Holland, nor any people, have commenced by being warriors, and even conquerors, to finish by being merchants. The English only answer this description; they had fought a long time before they knew how to reckon. They did not know, when they gained the battles of Agincourt, Crécy, and Poitiers, that they were able to deal largely in corn, and make broadcloth, which would be of much more value to them than such victories. The knowledge of these arts alone has augmented, enriched, and strengthened the nation. It is only because the English have become merchants that London exceeds Paris in extent and number of citizens; that they can spread two hundred ships of war over the seas, and keep royal allies in pay.
When Louis XIV. made Italy tremble, and his armies, already masters of Savoy and Piedmont, were ready to take Turin, Prince Eugene was obliged to march to the skirts of Germany, to the succor of the duke of Savoy. Having no money, without which he could neither take nor defend towns, he had recourse to the English merchants. In half an hour they advanced him the sum of five millions of livres, with which he delivered Turin, beat the French, and wrote this little billet to those who had lent it him: “Gentlemen, I have received your money, and I flatter myself that I have employed it to your satisfaction.” All this excites just pride in an English merchant, and makes him venture to compare himself, and not without reason, to a Roman citizen. Thus the younger sons of a peer of the realm disdain not to be merchants. Lord Townsend, minister of state, had a brother who was contented with being a merchant in the city. At the time that Lord Orford governed England, his younger brother was a factor at Aleppo, whence he would not return, and where he died. This custom—which, however, begins to decline—appeared monstrous to the petty German princes. They could not conceive how the son of a peer of England was only a rich and powerful trader, while in Germany they are all princes. We have seen nearly thirty highnesses of the same name, having nothing for their fortunes but old armories and aristocratical hauteur. In France, anybody may be a marquis that likes; and whoever arrives at Paris from a remote province, with money to spend, and a name ending in ac or ille, may say: “A man like me!” “A man of my quality!” and sovereignly despise a merchant; while the merchant so often hears his profession spoken of with disdain that he is weak enough to blush at it. Which is the more useful to a state—a well-powdered lord, who knows precisely at what hour the king rises and retires, and who gives himself airs of greatness, while playing the part of a slave in the antechamber of a minister; or a merchant who enriches his country, sends orders from his office to Surat and Aleppo, and contributes to the happiness of the world?
There is sometimes in vulgar expressions an image of what passes in the heart of all men. “Sensus communis” signified among the Romans not only common sense, but also humanity and sensibility. As we are not equal to the Romans, this word with us conveys not half what it did with them. It signifies only good sense—plain, straightforward reasoning—the first notion of ordinary things—a medium between dulness and intellect. To say, “that man has not common sense,” is a gross insult; while the expression, “that man has common sense,” is an affront also; it would imply that he was not quite stupid, but that he wanted intellect. But what is the meaning of common sense, if it be not sense? Men, when they invented this term, supposed that nothing entered the mind except by the senses; otherwise would they have used the word “sense” to signify the result of the common faculty of reason?
It is said, sometimes, that common sense is very rare. What does this expression mean? That, in many men, dawning reason is arrested in its progress by some prejudices; that a man who judges reasonably on one affair will deceive himself grossly in another. The Arab, who, besides being a good calculator, was a learned chemist and an exact astronomer, nevertheless believed that Mahomet put half of the moon into his sleeve.
How is it that he was so much above common sense in the three sciences above mentioned, and beneath it when he proceeded to the subject of half the moon? It is because, in the first case, he had seen with his own eyes, and perfected his own intelligence; and, in the second, he had used the eyes of others, by shutting his own, and perverting the common sense within him.
How could this strange perversion of mind operate? How could the ideas which had so regular and firm a footing in his brain, on many subjects, halt on another a thousand times more palpable and easy to comprehend? This man had always the same principles of intelligence in him; he must have therefore possessed a vitiated organ, as it sometimes happens that the most delicate epicure has a depraved taste in regard to a particular kind of nourishment.
How did the organ of this Arab, who saw half of the moon in Mahomet’s sleeve, become disordered?—By fear. It had been told him that if he did not believe in this sleeve his soul, immediately after his death, in passing over the narrow bridge, would fall forever into the abyss. He was told much worse—if ever you doubt this sleeve, one dervish will treat you with ignominy; another will prove you mad, because, having all possible motives for credibility, you will not submit your superb reason to evidence; a third will refer you to the little divan of a small province, and you will be legally impaled.
All this produces a panic in the good Arab, his wife, sister, and all his little family. They possess good sense in all the rest, but on this article their imagination is diseased like that of Pascal, who continually saw a precipice near his couch. But did our Arab really believe in the sleeve of Mahomet? No; he endeavored to believe it; he said, “It is impossible, but true—I believe that which I do not credit.” He formed a chaos of ideas in his head in regard to this sleeve, which he feared to disentangle, and he gave up his common sense.
Repentance for one’s faults is the only thing that can repair the loss of innocence; and to appear to repent of them, we must begin by acknowledging them. Confession, therefore, is almost as ancient as civil society. Confession was practised in all the mysteries of Egypt, Greece, and Samothrace. We are told, in the life of Marcus Aurelius, that when he deigned to participate in the Eleusinian mysteries, he confessed himself to the hierophant, though no man had less need of confession than himself.
This might be a very salutary ceremony; it might also become very detrimental; for such is the case with all human institutions. We know the answer of the Spartan whom a hierophant would have persuaded to confess himself: “To whom should I acknowledge my faults? to God, or to thee?” “To God,” said the priest. “Retire, then, O man.”
It is hard to determine at what time this practice was established among the Jews, who borrowed a great many of their rites from their neighbors. The Mishna, which is the collection of the Jewish laws, says that often, in confessing, they placed their hand upon a calf belonging to the priest; and this was called “the confession of calves.”
It is said, in the same Mishna, that every culprit under sentence of death, went and confessed himself before witnesses, in some retired spot, a short time before his execution. If he felt himself guilty he said, “May my death atone for all my sins!” If innocent, he said, “May my death atone for all my sins, excepting that of which I am now accused.”
On the day of the feast which was called by the Jews the solemn atonement, the devout among them confessed to one another, specifying their sins. The confessor repeated three times thirteen words of the seventy-seventh Psalm, at the same time giving the confessed thirty-nine stripes, which the latter returned, and they went away quits. It is said that this ceremony is still in use.
St. John’s reputation for sanctity brought crowds to confess to him, as they came to be baptized by him with the baptism of justice; but we are not informed that St. John gave his penitents thirty-nine stripes. Confession was not then a sacrament; for this there are several reasons. The first is, that the word “sacrament” was at that time unknown, which reason is of itself sufficient. The Christians took their confession from the Jewish rites, and not from the mysteries of Isis and Ceres. The Jews confessed to their associates, and the Christians did also. It afterwards appeared more convenient that this should be the privilege of the priests. No rite, no ceremony, can be established but in process of time. It was hardly possible that some trace should not remain of the ancient usage of the laity of confessing to one another.
In Constantine’s reign, it was at first the practice publicly to confess public offences. In the fifth century, after the schism of Novatus and Novatian, penitentiaries were instituted for the absolution of such as had fallen into idolatry. This confession to penitentiary priests was abolished under the Emperor Theodosius. A woman having accused herself aloud, to the penitentiary of Constantinople, of lying with the deacon, caused so much scandal and disturbance throughout the city that Nectarius permitted all the faithful to approach the holy table without confession, and to communicate in obedience to their consciences alone. Hence these words of St. John Chrysostom, who succeeded Nectarius: “Confess yourselves continually to God; I do not bring you forward on a stage to discover your faults to your fellow-servants; show your wounds to God, and ask of Him their cure; acknowledge your sins to Him who will not reproach you before men; it were vain to strive to hide them from Him who knows all things,” etc.
It is said that the practice of auricular confession did not begin in the west until about the seventh century, when it was instituted by the abbots, who required their monks to come and acknowledge their offences to them twice a year. These abbots it was who invented the formula: “I absolve thee to the utmost of my power and thy need.” It would surely have been more respectful towards the Supreme Being, as well as more just, to say: “May He forgive both thy faults and mine!”
The good which confession has done is that it has sometimes procured restitution from petty thieves. The ill is, that, in the internal troubles of states, it has sometimes forced the penitents to be conscientiously rebellious and blood-thirsty. The Guelph priests refused absolution to the Ghibellines, and the Ghibellines to the Guelphs.
The counsellor of state, Lénet, relates, in his “Memoirs,” that all he could do in Burgundy to make the people rise in favor of the Prince Condé, detained at Vincennes by Cardinal Mazarin, was “to let loose the priests in the confessionals”—speaking of them as bloodhounds, who were to fan the flame of civil war in the privacy of the confessional.
At the siege of Barcelona, the monks refused absolution to all who remained faithful to Philip V. In the last revolution of Genoa, it was intimated to all consciences that there was no salvation for whosoever should not take up arms against the Austrians. This salutary remedy has, in every age, been converted into a poison. Whether a Sforza, a Medici, a Prince of Orange, or a King of France was to be assassinated, the parricide always prepared himself by the sacrament of confession. Louis XI., and the Marchioness de Brinvilliers always confessed as soon as they had committed any great crime; and they confessed often, as gluttons take medicines to increase their appetite.
The Disclosure of Confessions.
Jaurigini and Balthazar Gérard, the assassins of William I., Prince of Orange, the dominican Jacques Clément, Jean Châtel, the Feuillant Ravaillac, and all the other parricides of that day, confessed themselves before committing their crimes. Fanaticism, in those deplorable ages, had arrived at such a pitch that confession was but an additional pledge for the consummation of villainy. It became sacred for this reason—that confession is a sacrament.
Strada himself says: “Jaurigni non ante facinus aggredi sustinuit, quam expiatam noxis animam apud Dominicanum sacerdotem cælesti pane firmaverit.” “Jaurigini did not venture upon this act until he had purged his soul by confession at the feet of a Dominican, and fortified it by the celestial bread.”
We find, in the interrogatory of Ravaillac, that the wretched man, quitting the Feuillans, and wishing to be received among the Jesuits, applied to the Jesuit d’Aubigny and, after speaking of several apparitions that he had seen, showed him a knife, on the blade of which was engraved a heart and a cross, and said, “This heart indicates that the king’s heart must be brought to make war on the Huguenots.”
Perhaps, if this d’Aubigny had been zealous and prudent enough to have informed the king of these words, and given him a faithful picture of the man who had uttered them, the best of kings would not have been assassinated.
On August 20, 1610, three months after the death of Henry IV., whose wounds yet bleed in the heart of every Frenchman, the Advocate-General Sirvin, still of illustrious memory, required that the Jesuits should be made to sign the four following rules:
1. That the council is above the pope. 2. That the pope cannot deprive the king of any of his rights by excommunication. 3. That ecclesiastics, like other persons, are entirely subject to the king. 4. That a priest who is made acquainted, by confession, with a conspiracy against the king and the state, must disclose it to the magistrates.
On the 22nd, the parliament passed a decree, by which it forbade the Jesuits to instruct youth before they had signed these four articles; but the court of Rome was then so powerful, and that of France so feeble, that this decree was of no effect. A fact worthy of attention is, that this same court of Rome, which did not choose that confession should be disclosed when the lives of sovereigns were endangered, obliged its confessors to denounce to the inquisitors those whom their female penitents accused in confession of having seduced and abused them. Paul IV., Pius IV., Clement VIII., and Gregory XV., ordered these disclosures to be made.
This was a very embarrassing snare for confessors and female penitents; it was making the sacrament a register of informations, and even of sacrileges. For, by the ancient canons, and especially by the Lateran Council under Innocent III., every priest that disclosed a confession, of whatever nature, was to be interdicted and condemned to perpetual imprisonment.
But this is not the worst; here are four popes, of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, ordering the disclosure of a sin of impurity, but not permitting that of a parricide. A woman, in the sacrament, declares, or pretends, before a carmelite, that a cordelier has seduced her; and the carmelite must denounce the cordelier. A fanatical assassin, thinking that he serves God by killing his prince, comes and consults a confessor on this case of conscience; and the confessor commits a sacrilege if he saves his sovereign’s life.
This absurd and horrible contradiction is one unfortunate consequence of the constant opposition existing for so many centuries between the civil and ecclesiastical laws. The citizen finds himself, on fifty occasions, placed without alternative between sacrilege and high treason; the rules of good and evil being not yet drawn from beneath the chaos under which they have so long been buried. The Jesuit Coton’s reply to Henry IV. will endure longer than his order. Would you reveal the confession of a man who had resolved to assassinate me?” “No; but I would throw myself between him and you.”
Father Coton’s maxim has not always been followed. In some countries there are state mysteries unknown to the public, of which revealed confessions form no inconsiderable part. By means of suborned confessors the secrets of prisoners are learned. Some confessors, to reconcile their conscience with their interest, make use of a singular artifice. They give an account, not precisely of what the prisoner has told them, but of what he has not told them. If, for example, they are employed to find out whether an accused person has for his accomplice a Frenchman or an Italian, they say to the man who employs them, “the prisoner has sworn to me that no Italian was informed of his designs;” whence it is concluded that the suspected Frenchman is guilty.
Bodin thus expresses himself, in his book, “De la République”: “Nor must it be concealed, if the culprit is discovered to have conspired against the life of the sovereign, or even to have willed it only; as in the case of a gentleman of Normandy, who confessed to a monk that he had a mind to kill Francis I. The monk apprised the king, who sent the gentleman to the court of parliament, where he was condemned to death, as I learned from M. Canage, an advocate in parliament.”
The writer of this article was himself almost witness to a disclosure still more important and singular. It is known how the Jesuit Daubenton betrayed Philip V., king of Spain, to whom he was confessor. He thought, from a very mistaken policy, that he should report the secrets of his penitent to the duke of Orleans, regent of the kingdom, and had the imprudence to write to him what he should not, even verbally, communicate to any one. The duke of Orleans sent his letter to the king of Spain. The Jesuit was discarded, and died a short time after. This is an authenticated fact.
It is still a grave and perplexing question, in what cases confessions should be disclosed. For, if we decide that it should be in cases of human high treason, this treason may be made to include any direct offence against majesty, even the smuggling of salt or muslins. Much more should high treasons against the Divine Majesty be disclosed; and these may be extended to the smallest faults, as having missed evening service.
It would, then, be very important to come to a perfect understanding about what confessions should be disclosed, and what should be kept secret. Yet would such a decision be very dangerous; for how many things are there which must not be investigated!
Pontas, who, in three folio volumes, decides on all the possible cases of conscience in France, and is unknown to the rest of the world, says that on no occasion should confession be disclosed. The parliaments have decided the contrary. Which are we to believe? Pontas, or the guardians of the laws of the realm, who watch over the lives of princes and the safety of the state?
Whether Laymen and Women Have Been Confessors?
As, in the old law, the laity confessed to one another; so, in the new law, they long had the same privilege by custom. In proof of this, let it suffice to cite the celebrated Joinville, who expressly says that “the constable of Cyprus confessed himself to him, and he gave him absolution, according to the right which he had so to do.” St. Thomas, in his dream, expresses himself thus: “Confessio ex defectu sacerdotis laico facta, sacramentalis est quodam modo.” “Confession made to a layman, in default of a priest, is in some sort sacramental.”
We find in the life of St. Burgundosarius, and in the rule of an unknown saint, that the nuns confessed their very grossest sins to their abbess. The rule of St. Donatus ordains that the nuns shall discover their faults to their superior three times a day. The capitulars of our kings say that abbesses must be forbidden the exercise of the right which they have arrogated against the custom of the holy church, of giving benediction and imposing hands, which seems to signify the pronouncing of absolution, and supposes the confession of sins. Marcus, patriarch of Alexandria, asks Balzamon, a celebrated canonist of his time, whether permission should be granted to abbesses to hear confessions, to which Balzamon answers in the negative. We have, in the canon law, a decree of Pope Innocent III., enjoining the bishops of Valencia and Burgos, in Spain, to prevent certain abbesses from blessing their nuns, from confessing, and from public preaching: “Although,” says he, “the blessed Virgin Mary was superior to all the apostles in dignity and in merit, yet it is not to her, but to the apostles, that the Lord has confided the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
So ancient was this right, that we find it established in the rules of St. Basil. He permits abbesses to confess their nuns, conjointly with a priest. Father Martène, in his “Rights of the Church,” says that, for a long time, abbesses confessed their nuns; but, adds he, they were so curious, that it was found necessary to deprive them of this privilege.
The ex-Jesuit Nonnotte should confess himself and do penance; not for having been one of the most ignorant of daubers on paper, for that is no crime; not for having given the name of errors to truths which he did not understand; but for having, with the most insolent stupidity, calumniated the author of this article, and called his brother raca (a fool), while he denied these facts and many others, about which he knew not one word. He has put himself in danger of hell fire; let us hope that he will ask pardon of God for his enormous folly. We desire not the death of a sinner, but that he turn from his wickedness and live.
It has long been debated why men, very famous in this part of the world where confession is in use, have died without this sacrament. Such are Leo X., Pélisson, and Cardinal Dubois. The cardinal had his perineum opened by La Peyronie’s bistoury; but he might have confessed and communicated before the operation. Pélisson, who was a Protestant until he was forty years old, became a convert that he might be made master of requests and have benefices. As for Pope Leo X., when surprised by death, he was so much occupied with temporal concerns, that he had no time to think of spiritual ones.
In Protestant countries confession is made to God; in Catholic ones, to man. The Protestants say you can hide nothing from God, whereas man knows only what you choose to tell him. As we shall never meddle with controversy, we shall not enter here into this old dispute. Our literary society is composed of Catholics and Protestants, united by the love of letters; we must not suffer ecclesiastical quarrels to sow dissension among us. We will content ourselves with once more repeating the fine answer of the Greek already mentioned, to the priest who would have had him confess in the mysteries of Ceres: “Is it to God, or to thee, that I am to address myself?” “To God.” “Depart then, O man.”
In Italy, and in all the countries of obedience, every one, without distinction, must confess and communicate. If you have a stock of enormous sins on hand, you have also grand penitentiaries to absolve you. If your confession is worth nothing, so much the worse for you. At a very reasonable rate, you get a printed receipt, which admits you to communion; and all the receipts are thrown into a pix; such is the rule.
These bearers’ tickets were unknown at Paris until about the year 1750, when an archbishop of Paris bethought himself of introducing a sort of spiritual bank, to extirpate Jansenism and insure the triumph of the bull Unigenitus. It was his pleasure that extreme unction and the viaticum should be refused to every sick person who did not produce a ticket of confession, signed by a constitutionary priest.
This was refusing the sacrament to nine-tenths of Paris. In vain was he told: “Think what you are doing; either these sacraments are necessary, to escape damnation, or salvation may be obtained without them by faith, hope, charity, good works, and the merits of our Saviour. If salvation be attainable without this viaticum, your tickets are useless; if the sacraments be absolutely necessary, you damn all whom you deprive of them; you consign to eternal fire seven hundred thousand souls, supposing you live long enough to bury them; this is violent; calm yourself, and let each one die as well as he can.”
In this dilemma he gave no answer, but persisted. It is horrible to convert religion, which should be man’s consolation, into his torment. The parliament, in whose hands is the high police, finding that society was disturbed, opposed—according to custom—decrees to mandaments. But ecclesiastical discipline would not yield to legal authority. The magistracy was under the necessity of using force, and to send archers to obtain for the Parisians confession, communion, and interment.
By this excess of absurdity, men’s minds were soured and cabals were formed at court, as if there had been a farmer-general to be appointed, or a minister to be disgraced. In the discussion of a question there are always incidents mixed up that have no radical connection with it; and in this case so much so, that all the members of the parliament were exiled, as was also the archbishop in his turn.
These confession tickets would, in the times preceding, have caused a civil war, but happily, in our days, they produced only civil cavils. The spirit of philosophy, which is no other than reason, has become, with all honest men, the only antidote against these epidemic disorders.
It is well observed, in the “Dictionnaire Encyclopédique,” in the article “Confiscation,” that the fisc, whether public, or royal, or seignorial, or imperial, or disloyal, was a small basket of reeds or osiers, in which was put the little money that was received or could be extorted. We now use bags; the royal fisc is the royal bag.
In several countries of Europe it is a received maxim, that whosoever confiscates the body, confiscates the goods also. This usage is established in those countries in particular where custom holds the place of law; and in all cases, an entire family is punished for the fault of one man only.
To confiscate the body, is not to put a man’s body into his sovereign lord’s basket. This phrase, in the barbarous language of the bar, means to get possession of the body of a citizen, in order either to take away his life, or to condemn him to banishment for life. If he is put to death, or escapes death by flight, his goods are seized. Thus it is not enough to put a man to death for his offences; his children, too, must be deprived of the means of living.
In more countries than one, the rigor of custom confiscates the property of a man who has voluntarily released himself from the miseries of this life, and his children are reduced to beggary because their father is dead. In some Roman Catholic provinces, the head of a family is condemned to the galleys for life, by an arbitrary sentence, for having harbored a preacher in his house, or for having heard one of his sermons in some cavern or desert place, and his wife and family are forced to beg their bread.
This jurisprudence, which consists in depriving orphans of their food, was unknown to the Roman commonwealth. Sulla introduced it in his proscriptions, and it must be acknowledged that a rapine invented by Sulla was not an example to be followed. Nor was this law, which seems to have been dictated by inhumanity and avarice alone, followed either by Cæsar, or by the good Emperor Trajan, or by the Antonines, whose names are still pronounced in every nation with love and reverence. Even under Justinian, confiscations took place only in cases of high treason. Those who were accused having been, for the most part, men of great possessions, it seems that Justinian made this ordinance through avarice alone. It also appears that, in the times of feudal anarchy, the princes and lords of lands, being not very rich, sought to increase their treasure by the condemnation of their subjects. They were allowed to draw a revenue from crime. Their laws being arbitrary, and the Roman jurisprudence unknown among them, their customs, whether whimsical or cruel, prevailed. But now that the power of sovereigns is founded on immense and assured wealth, their treasure needs no longer to be swollen by the slender wreck of the fortunes of some unhappy family. It is true that the goods so appropriated are abandoned to the first who asks for them. But is it for one citizen to fatten on the remains of the blood of another citizen?
Confiscation is not admitted in countries where the Roman law is established, except within the jurisdiction of the parliament of Toulouse. It was formerly established at Calais, where it was abolished by the English when they were masters of that place. It appears very strange that the inhabitants of the capital live under a more rigorous law than those of the smaller towns; so true is it, that jurisprudence has often been established by chance, without regularity, without uniformity, as the huts are built in a village.
The following was spoken by Advocate-General Omer Talon, in full parliament, at the most glorious period in the annals of France, in 1673, concerning the property of one Mademoiselle de Canillac, which had been confiscated. Reader, attend to this speech; it is not in the style of Cicero’s oratory, but it is curious:
“In the thirteenth chapter of Deuteronomy, God says, ‘If thou shalt find a city where idolatry prevails, thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein. And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city and all the spoil thereof, every whit, for the Lord thy God.’
“So, in the crime of high treason, the king seized the property, and the children were deprived of it. Naboth having been proceeded against, ‘quia maledixerat regi,’ King Ahab took possession of his inheritance. David, being apprised that Mephibosheth had taken part in the rebellion, gave all his goods to Sheba, who brought him the news—‘Tibi sunt omnia quæ fuerunt Mephibosheth.’”
The question here was, who should inherit the property of Mademoiselle de Canillac—property formerly confiscated from her father, abandoned by the king to a keeper of the royal treasure, and afterwards given by this keeper of the royal treasure to the testatrix. And in this case of a woman of Auvergne a lawyer refers us to that of Ahab, one of the petty kings of a part of Palestine, who confiscated Naboth’s vineyard, after assassinating its proprietor with the poniard of Jewish justice—an abominable act, which has become a proverb to inspire men with a horror for usurpation. Assuredly, Naboth’s vineyard has no connection with Mademoiselle de Canillac’s inheritance. Nor do the murder and confiscation of the goods of Mephibosheth, grandson of King Saul, and son of David’s friend Jonathan, bear a much greater affinity to this lady’s will.
With this pedantry, this rage for citations foreign to the subject; with this ignorance of the first principles of human nature; with these ill-conceived and ill-adapted prejudices, has jurisprudence been treated on by men who, in their sphere, have had some reputation.
Of the Conscience of Good and of Evil.
Locke has demonstrated—if we may use that term in morals and metaphysics—that we have no innate ideas or principles. He was obliged to demonstrate this position at great length, as the contrary was at that time universally believed. It hence clearly follows that it is necessary to instil just ideas and good principles into the mind as soon as it acquires the use of its faculties.
Locke adduces the example of savages, who kill and devour their neighbors without any remorse of conscience; and of Christian soldiers, decently educated, who, on the taking of a city by assault, plunder, slay, and violate, not merely without remorse, but with rapture, honor, and glory, and with the applause of all their comrades.
It is perfectly certain that, in the massacres of St. Bartholomew, and in the “autos-da-fé,” the holy acts of faith of the Inquisition, no murderer’s conscience ever upbraided him with having massacred men, women, and children, or with the shrieks, faintings, and dying tortures of his miserable victims, whose only crime consisted in keeping Easter in a manner different from that of the inquisitors. It results, therefore, from what has been stated, that we have no other conscience than what is created in us by the spirit of the age, by example, and by our own dispositions and reflections.
Man is born without principles, but with the faculty of receiving them. His natural disposition will incline him either to cruelty or kindness; his understanding will in time inform him that the square of twelve is a hundred and forty-four, and that he ought not to do to others what he would not that others should do to him; but he will not, of himself, acquire these truths in early childhood. He will not understand the first, and he will not feel the second.
A young savage who, when hungry, has received from his father a piece of another savage to eat, will, on the morrow, ask for the like meal, without thinking about any obligation not to treat a neighbor otherwise than he would be treated himself. He acts, mechanically and irresistibly, directly contrary to the eternal principle.
Nature has made a provision against such horrors. She has given to man a disposition to pity, and the power of comprehending truth. These two gifts of God constitute the foundation of civil society. This is the reason there have ever been but few cannibals; and which renders life, among civilized nations, a little tolerable. Fathers and mothers bestow on their children an education which soon renders them social, and this education confers on them a conscience.
Pure religion and morality, early inculcated, so strongly impress the human heart that, from the age of sixteen or seventeen, a single bad action will not be performed without the upbraidings of conscience. Then rush on those headlong passions which war against conscience, and sometimes destroy it. During the conflict, men, hurried on by the tempest of their feelings, on various occasions consult the advice of others; as, in physical diseases, they ask it of those who appear to enjoy good health.
This it is which has produced casuists; that is, persons who decide on cases of conscience. One of the wisest casuists was Cicero. In his book of “Offices,” or “Duties” of man, he investigates points of the greatest nicety; but long before him Zoroaster had appeared in the world to guide the conscience by the most beautiful precept, “If you doubt whether an action be good or bad, abstain from doing it.” We treat of this elsewhere.
Whether a Judge Should Decide according to his Conscience, or according to the Evidence.
Thomas Aquinas, you are a great saint, and a great divine, and no Dominican has a greater veneration for you than I have; but you have decided, in your “Summary,” that a judge ought to give sentence according to the evidence produced against the person accused, although he knows that person to be perfectly innocent. You maintain that the deposition of witnesses, which must inevitably be false, and the pretended proofs resulting from the process, which are impertinent, ought to weigh down the testimony of his own senses. He saw the crime committed by another; and yet, according to you, he ought in conscience to condemn the accused, although his conscience tells him the accused is innocent. According to your doctrine, therefore, if the judge had himself committed the crime in question, his conscience ought to oblige him to condemn the man falsely accused of it.
In my conscience, great saint, I conceive that you are most absurdly and most dreadfully deceived. It is a pity that, while possessing such a knowledge of canon law, you should be so little acquainted with natural law. The duty of a magistrate to be just, precedes that of being a formalist. If, in virtue of evidence which can never exceed probability, I were to condemn a man whose innocence I was otherwise convinced of, I should consider myself a fool and an assassin.
Fortunately all the tribunals of the world think differently from you. I know not whether Farinaceus and Grillandus may be of your opinion. However that may be, if ever you meet with Cicero, Ulpian, Trebonian, Demoulin, the Chancellor de l’Hôpital, or the Chancellor d’Aguesseau, in the shades, be sure to ask pardon of them for falling into such an error.
Of a Deceitful Conscience.
The best thing perhaps that was ever said upon this important subject is in the witty work of “Tristram Shandy,” written by a clergyman of the name of Sterne, the second Rabelais of England. It resembles those small satires of antiquity, the essential spirit of which is so piquant and precious.
An old half-pay captain and his corporal, assisted by Doctor Slop, put a number of very ridiculous questions. In these questions the French divines are not spared. Mention is particularly made of a memoir presented to the Sorbonne by a surgeon, requesting permission to baptize unborn children by means of a clyster-pipe, which might be introduced into the womb without injuring either the mother or the child. At length the corporal is directed to read to them a sermon, composed by the same clergyman, Sterne.
Among many particulars, superior even to those of Rembrandt and Calot, it describes a gentleman, a man of the world, spending his time in the pleasures of the table, in gaming, and debauchery, yet doing nothing to expose himself to the reproaches of what is called good company, and consequently never incurring his own. His conscience and his honor accompany him to the theatres, to the gaming houses, and are more particularly present when he liberally pays his lady under protection. He punishes severely, when in office, the petty larcenies of the vulgar, lives a life of gayety, and dies without the slightest feeling of remorse.
Doctor Slop interrupts the reading to observe that such a case was impossible with respect to a follower of the Church of England, and could happen only among papists. At last the sermon adduces the example of David, who sometimes possessed a conscience tender and enlightened, at others hardened and dark.
When he has it in his power to assassinate his king in a cavern, he scruples going beyond cutting off a corner of his robe—here is the tender conscience. He passes an entire year without feeling the slightest compunction for his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah—here is the same conscience in a state of obduracy and darkness.
Such, says the preacher, are the greater number of mankind. We concede to this clergyman that the great ones of the world are very often in this state; the torrent of pleasures and affairs urges them almost irresistibly on; they have no time to keep a conscience. Conscience is proper enough for the people; but even the people dispense with it, when the question is how to gain money. It is judicious, however, at times, to endeavor to awaken conscience both in mantua-makers and in monarchs, by the inculcation of a morality calculated to make an impression upon both; but, in order to make this impression, it is necessary to preach better than modern preachers usually do, who seldom talk effectively to either.
Liberty of Conscience.
[We do not adopt the whole of the following article; but, as it contains some truths, we did not consider ourselves obliged to omit it; and we do not feel ourselves called upon to justify what may be advanced in it with too great rashness or severity.—Author.]
“The almoner of Prince —, who is a Roman Catholic, threatened an anabaptist that he would get him banished from the small estates which the prince governed. He told him that there were only three authorized sects in the empire—that which eats Jesus Christ, by faith alone, in a morsel of bread, while drinking out of a cup; that which eats Jesus Christ with bread alone; and that which eats Jesus Christ in body and in soul, without either bread or wine; and that as for the anabaptist who does not in any way eat God, he was not fit to live in monseigneur’s territory. At last, the conversation kindling into greater violence, the almoner fiercely threatened the anabaptist that he would get him hanged. ‘So much the worse for his highness,’ replied the anabaptist; ‘I am a large manufacturer; I employ two hundred workmen; I occasion the influx of two hundred thousand crowns a year into his territories; my family will go and settle somewhere else; monseigneur will in consequence be a loser.’
“ ‘But suppose monseigneur hangs up your two hundred workmen and your family,’ rejoined the almoner, ‘and gives your manufactory to good Catholics?’
“ ‘I defy him to do it,’ says the old gentleman. ‘A manufactory is not to be given like a farm; because industry cannot be given. It would be more silly for him to act so than to order all his horses to be killed, because, being a bad horseman, one may have thrown him off his back. The interest of monseigneur does not consist in my swallowing the godhead in a wafer, but in my procuring something to eat for his subjects, and increasing the revenues by my industry. I am a gentleman; and although I had the misfortune not to be born such, my occupation would compel me to become one; for mercantile transactions are of a very different nature from those of a court, and from your own. There can be no success in them without probity. Of what consequence is it to you that I was baptized at what is called the age of discretion, and you while you were an infant? Of what consequence is it to you that I worship God after the manner of my fathers? Were you able to follow up your wise maxims, from one end of the world to the other, you will hang up the Greek, who does not believe that the spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son; all the English, all the Hollanders, Danes, Swedes, Icelanders, Prussians, Hanoverians, Saxons, Holsteiners, Hessians, Würtembergers, Bernese, Hamburgers, Cossacks, Wallachians, and Russians, none of whom believe the pope to be infallible; all the Mussulmans, who believe in one God, and who give him neither father nor mother; the Indians, whose religion is more ancient than the Jewish; and the lettered Chinese, who, for the space of four thousand years, have served one only God without superstition and without fanaticism. This, then, is what you would perform had you but the power!’ ‘Most assuredly,’ says the monk, ‘for the zeal of the house of the Lord devours me.’ ‘Zelus domus suæ comedit me.’
“ ‘Just tell me now, my good almoner,’ resumed the anabaptist, ‘are you a Dominican, or a Jesuit, or a devil?’ ‘I am a Jesuit,’ says the other. ‘Alas, my friend, if you are not a devil, why do you advance things so utterly diabolical?’ ‘Because the reverend father, the rector, has commanded me to do so.’ ‘And who commanded the reverend father, the rector, to commit such an abomination?’ ‘The provincial.’ ‘From whom did the provincial receive the command?’ ‘From our general, and all to please the pope.’
“The poor anabaptist exclaimed: ‘Ye holy popes, who are at Rome in possession of the throne of the Cæsars—archbishops, bishops, and abbés, become sovereigns, I respect and fly you; but if, in the recesses of your heart, you confess that your opulence and power are founded only on the ignorance and stupidity of our fathers, at least enjoy them with moderation. We do not wish to dethrone you; but do not crush us. Enjoy yourselves, and let us be quiet. If otherwise, tremble, lest at last people should lose their patience, and reduce you, for the good of your souls, to the condition of the apostles, of whom you pretend to be the successors.’
“ ‘Wretch! you would wish the pope and the bishop of Würtemberg to gain heaven by evangelical poverty!’ ‘You, reverend father, would wish to have me hanged!’ ”
What is our real nature, and what sort of a curious and contemptible understanding do we possess? A man may, it appears, draw the most correct and luminous conclusions, and yet be destitute of common sense. This is, in fact, too true. The Athenian fool, who believed that all the vessels which came into the port belonged to him, could calculate to a nicety what the cargoes of those vessels were worth, and within how many days they would arrive from Smyrna at the Piræus.
We have seen idiots who could calculate and reason in a still more extraordinary manner. They were not idiots, then, you tell me. I ask your pardon—they certainly were. They rested their whole superstructure on an absurd principle; they regularly strung together chimeras. A man may walk well, and go astray at the same time; and, then, the better he walks the farther astray he goes.
The Fo of the Indians was son of an elephant, who condescended to produce offspring by an Indian princess, who, in consequence of this species of left-handed union, was brought to bed of the god Fo. This princess was sister to an emperor of the Indies. Fo, then, was the nephew of that emperor, and the grandson of the elephant and the monarch were cousins-german; therefore, according to the laws of the state, the race of the emperor being extinct, the descendants of the elephant become the rightful successors. Admit the principle, and the conclusion is perfectly correct.
It is said that the divine elephant was nine standard feet in height. You reasonably suppose that the gate of his stable should be above nine feet in height, in order to admit his entering with ease. He consumed twenty pounds of rice every day, and twenty pounds of sugar, and drank twenty-five pounds of water. You find, by using your arithmetic, that he swallows thirty-six thousand five hundred pounds weight in the course of a year; it is impossible to reckon more correctly. But did your elephant ever, in fact, exist? Was he the emperor’s brother-in-law? Had his wife a child by this left-handed union? This is the matter to be investigated. Twenty different authors, who lived in Cochin China, have successively written about it; it is incumbent on you to collate these twenty authors, to weigh their testimonies, to consult ancient records, to see if there is any mention of this elephant in the public registers; to examine whether the whole account is not a fable, which certain impostors have an interest in sanctioning. You proceed upon an extravagant principle, but draw from it correct conclusions.
Logic is not so much wanting to men as the source of logic. It is not sufficient for a madman to say six vessels which belong to me carry two hundred tons each; the ton is two thousand pounds weight; I have therefore twelve hundred thousand pounds weight of merchandise in the port of the Piræus. The great point is, are those vessels yours? That is the principle upon which your fortune depends; when that is settled, you may estimate and reckon up afterwards.
An ignorant man, who is a fanatic, and who at the same time strictly draws his conclusions from his premises, ought sometimes to be smothered to death as a madman. He has read that Phineas, transported by a holy zeal, having found a Jew in bed with a Midianitish woman, slew them both, and was imitated by the Levites, who massacred every household that consisted one-half of Midianites and the other of Jews. He learns that Mr. —, his Catholic neighbor, intrigued with Mrs. —, another neighbor, but a Huguenot, and he will kill both of them without scruple. It is impossible to act in greater consistency with principle; but what is the remedy for this dreadful disease of the soul? It is to accustom children betimes to admit nothing which shocks reason, to avoid relating to them histories of ghosts, apparitions, witches, demoniacal possessions, and ridiculous prodigies. A girl of an active and susceptible imagination hears a story of demoniacal possessions; her nerves become shaken, she falls into convulsions, and believes herself possessed by a demon or devil. I actually saw one young woman die in consequence of the shock her frame received from these abominable histories.
Among the ages which followed the Augustan, that of Constantine merits particular distinction. It is immortalized by the great changes which it ushered into the world. It commenced, it is true, with bringing back barbarism. Not merely were there no Ciceros, Horaces, and Virgils, any longer to be found, but there was not even a Lucan or a Seneca; there was not even a philosophic and accurate historian. Nothing was to be seen but equivocal satires or mere random panegyrics.
It was at that time that the Christians began to write history, but they took not Titus Livy, or Thucydides as their models. The followers of the ancient religion wrote with no greater eloquence or truth. The two parties, in a state of mutual exasperation, did not very scrupulously investigate the charges which they heaped upon their adversaries; and hence it arises that the same man is sometimes represented as a god and sometimes as a monster.
The decline of everything, in the commonest mechanical arts, as well as in eloquence and virtue, took place after the reign of Marcus Aurelius. He was the last emperor of the sect of stoics, who elevated man above himself by rendering him severe to himself only, and compassionate to others. After the death of this emperor, who was a genuine philosopher, there was nothing but tyranny and confusion. The soldiers frequently disposed of the empire. The senate had fallen into such complete contempt that, in the time of Gallienus, an express law was enacted to prevent senators from engaging in war. Thirty heads of parties were seen, at one time, assuming the title of emperor in thirty provinces of the empire. The barbarians already poured in, on every side, in the middle of the third century, on this rent and lacerated empire. Yet it was held together by the mere military discipline on which it had been founded.
During all these calamities, Christianity gradually established itself, particularly in Egypt, Syria, and on the coasts of Asia Minor. The Roman Empire admitted all sorts of religions, as well as all sects of philosophy. The worship of Osiris was permitted, and even the Jews were left in the enjoyment of considerable privileges, notwithstanding their revolts. But the people in the provinces frequently rose up against the Christians. The magistrates persecuted them, and edicts were frequently obtained against them from the emperors. There is no ground for astonishment at the general hatred in which Christians were at first held, while so many other religions were tolerated. The reason was that neither Egyptians nor Jews, nor the worshippers of the goddess of Syria and so many other foreign deities, ever declared open hostility to the gods of the empire. They did not array themselves against the established religion; but one of the most imperious duties of the Christians was to exterminate the prevailing worship. The priests of the gods raised a clamor on perceiving the diminution of sacrifices and offerings; and the people, ever fanatical and impetuous, were stirred up against the Christians, while in the meantime many emperors protected them. Adrian expressly forbade the persecution of them. Marcus Aurelius commanded that they should not be prosecuted on account of religion. Caracalla, Heliogabalus, Alexander, Philip, and Gallienus left them entire liberty. They had, in the third century, public churches numerously attended and very opulent; and so great was the liberty they enjoyed that, in the course of that century, they held sixteen councils. The road to dignities was shut up against the first Christians, who were nearly all of obscure condition, and they turned their attention to commerce, and some of them amassed great affluence. This is the resource of all societies that cannot have access to offices in the state. Such has been the case with the Calvinists in France, all the Nonconformists in England, the Catholics in Holland, the Armenians in Persia, the Banians in India, and the Jews all over the world. However, at last the toleration was so great, and the administration of the government so mild, that the Christians gained access to all the honors and dignities of the state. They did not sacrifice to the gods of the empire; they were not molested, whether they attended or avoided the temples; there was at Rome the most perfect liberty with respect to the exercises of their religion; none were compelled to engage in them. The Christians, therefore, enjoyed the same liberty as others. It is so true that they attained to honors, that Diocletian and Galerius deprived no fewer than three hundred and three of them of those honors, in the persecution of which we shall have to speak.
It is our duty to adore Providence in all its dispensations; but I confine myself to political history. Manes, under the reign of Probus, about the year 278, formed a new religion in Alexandria. The principles of this sect were made up of some ancient doctrines of the Persians and certain tenets of Christianity. Probus, and his successor, Carus, left Manes and the Christians in the enjoyment of peace. Numerien permitted them entire liberty. Diocletian protected the Christians, and tolerated the Manichæans, during twelve years; but in 296 he issued an edict against the Manichæans, and proscribed them as enemies to the empire and adherents of the Persians. The Christians were not comprehended in the edict; they continued in tranquillity under Diocletian, and made open profession of their religion throughout the whole empire until the latter years of that prince’s reign.
To complete the sketch, it is necessary to describe of what at that period the Roman Empire consisted. Notwithstanding internal and foreign shocks, notwithstanding the incursions of barbarians, it comprised all the possessions of the grand seignor at the present day, except Arabia; all that the house of Austria possesses in Germany, and all the German provinces as far as the Elbe; Italy, France, Spain, England, and half of Scotland; and Africa as far as the desert of Sahara, and even the Canary Isles. All these nations were retained under the yoke by bodies of military less considerable than would be raised by Germany and France at the present day, when in actual war.
This immense power became more confirmed and enlarged, from Cæsar down to Theodosius, as well by laws, police, and real services conferred on the people, as by arms and terror. It is even yet a matter of astonishment that none of these conquered nations have been able, since they became their own rulers, to form such highways, and to erect such amphitheatres and public baths, as their conquerors bestowed upon them. Countries which are at present nearly barbarous and deserted, were then populous and well governed. Such were Epirus, Macedonia, Thessaly, Illyria, Pannonia, with Asia Minor, and the coasts of Africa; but it must also be admitted that Germany, France, and Britain were then very different from what they are now. These three states are those which have most benefited by governing themselves; yet it required nearly twelve centuries to place those kingdoms in the flourishing situation in which we now behold them; but it must be acknowledged that all the rest have lost much by passing under different laws. The ruins of Asia Minor and Greece, the depopulation of Egypt and the barbarism of Africa, are still existing testimonials of Roman greatness. The great number of flourishing cities which covered those countries had now become miserable villages, and the soil had become barren under the hands of a brutalized population.
I will not here speak of the confusion which agitated the empire after the abdication of Diocletian. There were after his death six emperors at once. Constantine triumphed over them all, changed the religion of the empire, and was not merely the author of that great revolution, but of all those which have since occurred in the west. What was his character? Ask it of Julian, of Zosimus, of Sozomen, and of Victor; they will tell you that he acted at first like a great prince, afterwards as a public robber, and that the last stage of his life was that of a sensualist, a trifler, and a prodigal. They will describe him as ever ambitious, cruel, and sanguinary. Ask his character of Eusebius, of Gregory Nazianzen, and Lactantius; they will inform you that he was a perfect man. Between these two extremes authentic facts alone can enable us to obtain the truth. He had a father-in-law, whom he impelled to hang himself; he had a brother-in-law, whom he ordered to be strangled; he had a nephew twelve or thirteen years old, whose throat he ordered to be cut; he had an eldest son, whom he beheaded; he had a wife, whom he ordered to be suffocated in a bath. An old Gallic author said that “he loved to make a clear house.”
If you add to all these domestic acts that, being on the banks of the Rhine in pursuit of some hordes of Franks who resided in those parts, and having taken their kings, who probably were of the family of our Pharamond or Clodion le Chevelu, he exposed them to beasts for his diversion; you may infer from all this, without any apprehension of being deceived, that he was not the most courteous and accommodating personage in the world.
Let us examine, in this place, the principal events of his reign. His father, Constantius Chlorus, was in the heart of Britain, where he had for some months assumed the title of emperor. Constantine was at Nicomedia, with the emperor Galerius. He asked permission of the emperor to go to see his father, who was ill. Galerius granted it, without difficulty. Constantine set off with government relays, called veredarii. It might be said to be as dangerous to be a post-horse as to be a member of the family of Constantine, for he ordered all the horses to be hamstrung after he had done with them, fearful lest Galerius should revoke his permission and order him to return to Nicomedia. He found his father at the point of death, and caused himself to be recognized emperor by the small number of Roman troops at that time in Britain.
An election of a Roman emperor at York, by five or six thousand men, was not likely to be considered legitimate at Rome. It wanted at least the formula of “Senatus populusque Romanus.” The senate, the people, and the prætorian bands unanimously elected Maxentius, son of the Cæsar Maximilian Hercules, who had been already Cæsar, and brother of that Fausta whom Constantine had married, and whom he afterwards caused to be suffocated. This Maxentius is called a tyrant and usurper by our historians, who are uniformly the partisans of the successful. He was the protector of the pagan religion against Constantine, who already began to declare himself for the Christians. Being both pagan and vanquished, he could not but be an abominable man.
Eusebius tells us that Constantine, when going to Rome to fight Maxentius, saw in the clouds, as well as his whole army, the grand imperial standard called the labarum, surmounted with a Latin P. or a large Greek R. with a cross in “saltier,” and certain Greek words which signified, “By this sign thou shalt conquer.” Some authors pretend that this sign appeared to him at Besancon, others at Cologne, some at Trier and others at Troyes. It is strange that in all these places heaven should have expressed its meaning in Greek. It would have appeared more natural to the weak understandings of men that this sign should have appeared in Italy on the day of the battle; but then it would have been necessary that the inscription should have been in Latin. A learned antiquary, of the name of Loisel, has refuted this narrative; but he was treated as a reprobate.
It might, however, be worth while to reflect that this war was not a war of religion, that Constantine was not a saint, that he died suspected of being an Arian, after having persecuted the orthodox; and, therefore, that there is no very obvious motive to support this prodigy.
After this victory, the senate hastened to pay its devotion to the conqueror, and to express its detestation of the memory of the conquered. The triumphal arch of Marcus Aurelius was speedily dismantled to adorn that of Constantine. A statue of gold was prepared for him, an honor which had never been shown except to the gods. He received it, notwithstanding the labarum, and received further the title of Pontifex Maximus, which he retained all his life. His first care, according to Zosimus, was to exterminate the whole race of the tyrant, and his principal friends; after which he assisted very graciously at the public spectacles and games.
The aged Diocletian was at that time dying in his retreat at Salonica. Constantine should not have been in such haste to pull down his statues at Rome; he should have recollected that the forgotten emperor had been the benefactor of his father, and that he was indebted to him for the empire. Although he had conquered Maxentius, Licinius, his brother-in-law, an Augustus like himself, was still to be got rid of; and Licinius was equally anxious to be rid of Constantine, if he had it in his power. However, their quarrels not having yet broken out in hostility, they issued conjointly at Milan, in 313, the celebrated edict of liberty of conscience. “We grant,” they say, “to all the liberty of following whatever religion they please, in order to draw down the blessing of heaven upon us and our subjects; we declare that we have granted to the Christians the free and full power of exercising their religion; it being understood that all others shall enjoy the same liberty, in order to preserve the tranquillity of our government.” A volume might be written on such an edict, but I shall merely venture a few lines.
Constantine was not as yet a Christian; nor, indeed, was his colleague, Licinius, one. There was still an emperor or a tyrant to be exterminated; this was a determined pagan, of the name of Maximin. Licinius fought with him before he fought with Constantine. Heaven was still more favorable to him than to Constantine himself; for the latter had only the apparition of a standard, but Licinius that of an angel. This angel taught him a prayer, by means of which he would be sure to vanquish the barbarian Maximin. Licinius wrote it down, ordered it to be recited three times by his army, and obtained a complete victory. If this same Licinius, the brother-in-law of Constantine, had reigned happily, we should have heard of nothing but his angel; but Constantine having had him hanged, and his son slain, and become absolute master of everything, nothing has been talked of but Constantine’s labarum.
It is believed that he put to death his eldest son Crispus, and his own wife Fausta, the same year that he convened the Council of Nice. Zosimus and Sozomen pretend that, the heathen priests having told him that there were no expiations for such great crimes, he then made open profession of Christianity, and demolished many temples in the East. It is not very probable that the pagan pontiffs should have omitted so fine an opportunity of getting back their grand pontiff, who had abandoned them. However, it is by no means impossible that there might be among them some severe men; scrupulous and austere persons are to be found everywhere. What is more extraordinary is, that Constantine, after becoming a Christian, performed no penance for his parricide. It was at Rome that he exercised that cruelty, and from that time residence at Rome became hateful to him. He quitted it forever, and went to lay the foundations of Constantinople. How dared he say, in one of his rescripts, that he transferred the seat of empire to Constantinople, “by the command of God himself?” Is it anything but an impudent mockery of God and man? If God had given him any command, would it not have been—not to assassinate his wife and son?
Diocletian had already furnished an example of transferring the empire towards Asia. The pride, the despotism, and the general manners of the Asiatics disgusted the Romans, depraved and slavish as they had become. The emperors had not ventured to require, at Rome, that their feet should be kissed, nor to introduce a crowd of eunuchs into their palaces. Diocletian began in Nicomedia, and Constantine completed the system at Constantinople, to assimilate the Roman court to the courts of the Persians. The city of Rome from that time languished in decay, and the old Roman spirit declined with her. Constantine thus effected the greatest injury to the empire that was in his power.
Of all the emperors, he was unquestionably the most absolute. Augustus had left an image of liberty; Tiberius, and even Nero, had humored the senate and people of Rome; Constantine humored none. He had at first established his power in Rome by disbanding those haughty prætorians who considered themselves the masters of the emperors. He made an entire separation between the gown and the sword. The depositories of the laws, kept down under military power, were only jurists in chains. The provinces of the empire were governed upon a new system.
The grand object of Constantine was to be master in everything; he was so in the Church, as well as in the State. We behold him convoking and opening the Council of Nice; advancing into the midst of the assembled fathers, covered over with jewels, and with the diadem on his head, seating himself in the highest place, and banishing unconcernedly sometimes Arius and sometimes Athanasius. He put himself at the head of Christianity without being a Christian; for at that time baptism was essential to any person’s becoming one; he was only a catechumen. The usage of waiting for the approach of death before immersing in the water of regeneration, was beginning to decline with respect to private individuals. If Constantine, by delaying his baptism till near the point of death, entertained the notion that he might commit every act with impunity in the hope of a complete expiation, it was unfortunate for the human race that such an opinion should have ever suggested itself to the mind of a man in possession of uncontrolled power.
The more we see of the world, the more we see it abounding in contradictions and inconsistencies. To begin with the Grand Turk: he orders every head that he dislikes struck off, and can very rarely preserve his own. If we pass from the Grand Turk to the Holy Father, he confirms the election of emperors, and has kings among his vassals; but he is not so powerful as a duke of Savoy. He expedites orders for America and Africa, yet could not withhold the slightest of its privileges from the republic of Lucca. The emperor is the king of the Romans; but the right of their king consists in holding the pope’s stirrup, and handing the water to him at mass. The English serve their monarch upon their knees, but they depose, imprison, and behead him.
Men who make a vow of poverty, gain in consequence an income of about two hundred thousand crowns; and, in virtue of their vow of humility, they become absolute sovereigns. The plurality of benefices with care of souls is severely denounced at Rome, yet every day it despatches a bull to some German, to enable him to hold five or six bishoprics at once. The reason, we are told, is that the German bishops have no cure of souls. The chancellor of France is the first person in the State, but he cannot sit at table with the king, at least he could not till lately, although a colonel, who is scarcely perhaps a gentleman—gentil-homme—may enjoy that distinction. The wife of a provincial governor is a queen in the province, but merely a citizen’s wife at court.
Persons convicted of the crime of nonconformity are publicly roasted, and in all our colleges the second eclogue of Virgil is explained with great gravity, including Corydon’s declarations of love to the beautiful Alexis; and it is remarked to the boys that, although Alexis be fair and Amyntas brown, yet Amyntas may still deserve the preference.
If an unfortunate philosopher, without intending the least harm, takes it into his head that the earth turns round, or to imagine that light comes from the sun, or to suppose that matter may contain some other properties than those with which we are acquainted, he is cried down as a blasphemer, and a disturber of the public peace; and yet there are translations in usum Delphini of the “Tusculan Questions” of Cicero, and of Lucretius, which are two complete courses of irreligion.
Courts of justice no longer believe that persons are possessed by devils, and laugh at sorcerers; but Gauffredi and Grandier were burned for sorcery; and one-half of a parliament wanted to sentence to the stake a monk accused of having bewitched a girl of eighteen by breathing upon her.
The skeptical philosopher Bayle was persecuted, even in Holland. La Motte le Vayer, more of a skeptic, but less of a philosopher, was preceptor of the king Louis XIV., and of the king’s brother. Gourville was hanged in effigy at Paris, while French minister in Germany.
The celebrated atheist Spinoza lived and died in peace. Vanini, who had merely written against Aristotle, was burned as an atheist; he has, in consequence, obtained the honor of making one article in the histories of the learned, and in all the dictionaries, which, in fact, constitute immense repositories of lies, mixed up with a very small portion of truth. Open these books, and you will there find not merely that Vanini publicly taught atheism in his writings, but that twelve professors of his sect went with him to Naples with the intention of everywhere making proselytes. Afterwards, open the books of Vanini, and you will be astonished to find in them nothing but proofs of the existence of God. Read the following passage, taken from his “Amphitheatrum,” a work equally unknown and condemned: “God is His own original and boundary, without end and without beginning, requiring neither the one nor the other, and father of all beginning and end; He ever exists, but not in time; to Him there has been no past, and will be no future; He reigns everywhere, without being in any place; immovable without rest, rapid without motion; He is all, and out of all; He is in all, without being enclosed; out of everything, without being excluded from anything; good, but without quality; entire, but without parts; immutable, while changing the whole universe; His will is His power; absolute, there is nothing of Him of what is merely possible; all in Him is real; He is the first, the middle, and the last; finally, although constituting all, He is above all beings, out of them, within them, beyond them, before them, and after them.” It was after such a profession of faith that Vanini was declared an atheist. Upon what grounds was he condemned? Simply upon the deposition of a man named Francon. In vain did his books depose in favor of him; a single enemy deprived him of life, and stigmatized his name throughout Europe.
The little book called “Cymbalum Mundi,” which is merely a cold imitation of Lucian, and which has not the slightest or remotest reference to Christianity, was condemned to be burned. But Rabelais was printed “cum privilegio”; and a free course was allowed to the “Turkish Spy,” and even to the “Persian Letters”; that volatile, ingenious, and daring work, in which there is one whole letter in favor of suicide; another in which we find these words: “If we suppose such a thing as religion;” a third, in which it is expressly said that “the bishops have no other functions than dispensing with the observance of the laws”; and, finally, another in which the pope is said to be a magician, who makes people believe that three are one, and that the bread we eat is not bread, etc.
The Abbé St. Pierre, a man who could frequently deceive himself, but who never wrote without a view to the public good, and whose works were called by Cardinal Dubois, “The dreams of an honest citizen”; the Abbé St. Pierre, I say, was unanimously expelled from the French Academy for having, in some political work, preferred the establishment of councils under the regency to that of secretaries of state under Louis XIV.; and for saying that towards the close of that glorious reign the finances were wretchedly conducted. The author of the “Persian Letters” has not mentioned Louis XIV. in his book, except to say that he was a magician who could make his subjects believe that paper was money; that he liked no government but that of Turkey; that he preferred a man who handed him a napkin to a man who gained him battles; that he had conferred a pension on a man who had run away two leagues, and a government upon another who had run away four; that he was overwhelmed with poverty, although it is said, in the same letter, that his finances are inexhaustible. Observe, then, I repeat, all that this writer, in the only work then known to be his, has said of Louis XIV., the patron of the French Academy. We may add, too, as a climax of contradiction, that that society admitted him as a member for having turned them into ridicule; for, of all the books by which the public have been entertained at the expense of the society, there is not one in which it has been treated more disrespectfully than in the “Persian Letters.” See that letter wherein he says, “The members of this body have no other business than incessantly to chatter; panegyric comes and takes its place as it were spontaneously in their eternal gabble,” etc. After having thus treated this society, they praise him, on his introduction, for his skill in drawing likenesses.
Were I disposed to continue the research into the contraries to be found in the empire of letters, I might give the history of every man of learning or wit; just in the same manner as, if I were inclined to detail the contradictions existing in society, it would be necessary to write the history of mankind. An Asiatic, who should travel to Europe, might well consider us as pagans; our week days bear the names of Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus; and the nuptials of Cupid and Psyche are painted in the pope’s palace; but, particularly, were this Asiatic to attend at our opera, he would not hesitate in concluding it to be a festival in honor of the pagan deities. If he endeavored to gain more precise information respecting our manners, he would experience still greater astonishment; he would see, in Spain, that a severe law forbids any foreigner from having the slightest share, however indirect, in the commerce of America; and that, notwithstanding, foreigners—through the medium of Spanish factors—carry on a commerce with it to the extent of fifteen millions a year. Thus Spain can be enriched only by the violation of a law always subsisting and always evaded. He would see that in another country the government establishes and encourages a company for trading to the Indies, while the divines of that country have declared the receiving of dividends upon the shares offensive in the sight of God. He would see that the offices of a judge, a commander, a privy counsellor, are purchased; he would be unable to comprehend why it is stated in the patents appointing to such offices that they have been bestowed gratis and without purchase, while the receipt for the sum given for them is attached to the commission itself. Would not our Asiatic be surprised, also, to see comedians salaried by sovereigns, and excommunicated by priests? He would inquire why a plebeian lieutenant-general, who had won battles, should be subject to the taille, like a peasant; and a sheriff should be considered, at least in reference to this point, as noble as a Montmorency; why, while regular dramas are forbidden to be performed during a week sacred to edification, merry-andrews are permitted to offend even the least delicate ears with their ribaldry. He would almost everywhere see our usages in opposition to our laws; and were we to travel to Asia, we should discover the existence of exactly similar contradictions.
Men are everywhere inconsistent alike. They have made laws by piecemeal, as breaches are repaired in walls. Here the eldest sons take everything they are able from the younger ones; there all share equally. Sometimes the Church has ordered duels, sometimes it has anathematized them. The partisans and the opponents of Aristotle have been both excommunicated in their turn; as have also the wearers of long hair and short hair. There has been but one perfect law in the world, and that was designed to regulate a species of folly—that is to say, play. The laws of play are the only ones which admit of no exception, relaxation, change or tyranny. A man who has been a lackey, if he plays at lansquenet with kings, is paid with perfect readiness when he wins. In other cases the law is everywhere a sword, with which the strongest party cuts in pieces the weakest.
In the meantime the world goes on as if everything was wisely arranged; irregularity is part of our nature. Our social world is like the natural globe, rude and unshapely, but possessing a principle of preservation; it would be folly to wish that mountains, seas, and rivers were traced in regular and finished forms; it would be a still greater folly to expect from man the perfection of wisdom; it would be as weak as to wish to attach wings to dogs or horns to eagles.
Examples Taken from History, from Sacred Scripture, from Numerous Authors, etc.
We have just been instancing a variety of contradictions in our usages, our manners, and our laws, but we have not said enough. Everything, particularly in Europe, has been made in the same manner as Harlequin’s habit. His master, when he wanted to have a dress made for him, had not a piece of cloth, and therefore took old cuttings of all sorts of colors. Harlequin was laughed at, but then he was clothed.
The Germans are a brave nation, whom neither the Germanicuses nor the Trajans were ever able completely to subjugate. All the German nations that dwelt beyond the Elbe were invincible, although badly armed; and from these gloomy climes issued forth, in part, the avengers of the world. Germany, far from constituting the Roman Empire, has been instrumental in destroying it.
This empire had found a refuge at Constantinople, when a German—an Austrasian—went from Aix-la-Chapelle to Rome, to strip the Greek Cæsars of the remainder of their possessions in Italy. He assumed the name of Cæsar Imperator; but neither he nor his successors even ventured to reside at Rome. That capital could not either boast or regret that from the time of Augustulus, the final excrement of the genuine Roman Empire, a single Cæsar had lived and been buried within its walls.
It is difficult to suppose the empire can be “holy,” as it professes three different religions, of which two are declared impious, abominable, damnable, and damned, by the court of Rome, which the whole imperial court considers in such cases to be supreme. It is certainly not Roman, since the emperor has not any residence at Rome.
In England people wait upon the king kneeling. The constant maxim is, “The king can do no wrong”; his ministers only can deserve blame; he is as infallible in his actions as the pope in his judgments. Such is the fundamental, the “Salic” law of England. Yet the parliament sat in judgment on its king, Edward II., who had been vanquished and taken prisoner by his wife; he was declared to have done all possible wrong, and deprived of all his rights to the crown. Sir William Tressel went to him in prison, and made him the following complimentary address:
“I, William Tressel, as proxy for the parliament and the whole English nation, revoke the homage formerly paid you; I put you to defiance, and deprive you of royal power, and from this time forth we will hold no allegiance to you.”
The parliament tried and sentenced King Richard II., grandson of the great Edward III. Thirty-one articles of accusation were brought against him, among which two are not a little singular—that he had borrowed money and not repaid it; and that he had asserted before witnesses that he was master of the lives and properties of his subjects.
The parliament deposed Henry VI., who, undoubtedly, was exceedingly wrong, but in a somewhat different sense: he was imbecile.
The parliament declared Edward IV. a traitor, and confiscated his goods; and afterwards, on his being successful, restored him. As for Richard III., he undoubtedly committed more wrong than all the others; he was a Nero, but a bold one; and the parliament did not declare his wrongs till after he was slain.
The House of Commons imputed to Charles I. more wrongs than he was justly chargeable with, and brought him to the scaffold. Parliament voted that James II. had committed very gross and flagrant wrongs, and particularly that of withdrawing himself from the kingdom. It declared the throne vacant; that is, it deposed him. In the present day, Junius writes to the king of England that he is faulty in being good and wise. If these are not contradictions, I know not where to find them.
Contradictions in Certain Rites.
Next to those great political contradictions, which are subdivided into innumerable little ones, nothing more forcibly attracts our notice than the contradiction apparent in reference to some of our rites. We hate Judaism. No longer than fifteen years ago Jews were still burned at the stake. We consider them as murderers of our God, and yet we assemble every Sunday to chant Jewish psalms and canticles; it is only owing to our ignorance of the language that we do not recite them in Hebrew. But the fifteen first bishops, the priests, deacons and congregation of Jerusalem, which was the cradle of the Christian religion, always recited the Jewish psalms in the Jewish idiom of the Syriac language; and, till the time of the Caliph Omar, almost all the Christians, from Tyre to Aleppo, prayed in that Jewish idiom. At present any one reciting the psalms as they were originally composed, or chanting them in the Jewish language, would be suspected of being a circumcised Jew, and might be burned as one; at least, not more than twenty years since, that would have been his fate, although Jesus Christ was circumcised, as were also his apostles and disciples. I set aside the mysterious doctrines of our holy religion—everything that is an object of faith—everything that we ought to approach only with awe and submission. I look only at externals; I refer simply to observances; I ask if anything was ever more contradictory?
Contradictions in Things and Men.
If any literary society is inclined to undertake a history of contradictions, I will subscribe for twenty folio volumes. The world displays nothing but contradictions. What would be necessary to put an end to them? To assemble the states-general of the human race. But, according to the nature and constitution of mankind, it would be a new contradiction were they to agree. Bring together all the rabbits in the world, and there would not be two different minds among them.
I know only two descriptions of immovable beings in the world—geometricians and brute animals; they are guided by two invariable rules—demonstration and instinct. Some disputes, indeed, have occurred between geometricians, but brutes have never varied.
The contrasts, the lights and shades, in which men are represented in history, are not contradictions; they are faithful portraits of human nature. Every day both censure and admiration are applied to Alexander, the murderer of Clitus, but the avenger of Greece; the conqueror of Persia, and the founder of Alexandria; to Cæsar, the debauchee, who robbed the public treasury of Rome to enslave his country, but whose clemency was equal to his valor, and whose genius was equal to his courage; to Mahomet, the impostor and robber, but the only legislator of religion that ever displayed courage, or founded a great empire; to the enthusiast, Cromwell, at once knave and fanatic, the murderer of his king by form of law, but equally profound as a politician, and valiant as a warrior. A thousand contrasts frequently present themselves at once to the mind, and these contrasts are in nature. They are not more astonishing than a fine day followed by a tempest.
Apparent Contradictions in Books.
We must accurately distinguish in books, and particularly the sacred ones, between apparent and real contradictions. It is said in the Pentateuch that Moses was the meekest of men, and that he ordered twenty-three thousand Hebrews to be slain who had worshipped the golden calf, and twenty-four thousand more, who had, like himself, married Midianitish women. But sagacious commentators have adduced solid proofs that Moses possessed a most amiable temper, and that he only executed the vengeance of God in massacring these forty-seven thousand Israelites, as just stated.
Some daring critics have pretended to perceive a contradiction in the narrative in which it is said that Moses changed all the waters of Egypt into blood, and that the magicians of Pharaoh afterwards performed the same prodigy—the Book of Exodus leaving no interval of time between the miracle of Moses and the magical operation of the enchanters.
It appears, at first view, impossible that these magicians should change to blood that which was already made such; but the difficulty may be removed by supposing that Moses had allowed the waters to resume their original nature, in order to give Pharaoh time for reflection. This supposition is the more plausible, inasmuch as, if not expressly favored by the text, the latter is not contrary to it.
The same skeptics inquire how, after all the horses were destroyed by hail, in the sixth plague, Pharaoh was able to pursue the Jewish nation with cavalry. But this contradiction is not even an apparent one, since the hail which killed all the horses that were out in the fields, could not fall on those which were in the stables.
One of the greatest contradictions which has been supposed to be found in the history of the kings is the utter scarcity of offensive and defensive arms among the Jews at the time of the accession of Saul, compared with the army of three hundred and thirty thousand men, whom he conducted against the Ammonites who were besieging Jabesh Gilead.
It is a fact related that then, and even after that battle, there was not a lance, not even a single sword, among the whole Hebrew people; that the Philistines prevented the Hebrews from manufacturing swords and lances; that the Hebrews were obliged to have recourse to the Philistines for sharpening and repairing their plowshares, mattocks, axes, and pruning-hooks.
This acknowledgment seems to prove that the Hebrews consisted of only a very small number, and that the Philistines were a powerful and victorious nation, who kept the Israelites under the yoke, and treated them as slaves; in short, that it was impossible for Saul to collect three hundred and thirty thousand fighting men, etc.
The reverend Father Calmet says it is probable “that there is a little exaggeration in what is stated about Saul and Jonathan”; but that learned man forgets that the other commentators ascribe the first victories of Saul and Jonathan to one of those decided miracles which God so often condescended to perform in favor of his miserable people. Jonathan, with his armor-bearer only, at the very beginning, slew twenty of the enemy; and the Philistines, utterly confounded, turned their arms against each other. The author of the Book of Kings positively declares that it was a miracle of God: “Accidit quasi miraculum a Deo.” There is, therefore, no contradiction.
The enemies of the Christian religion, the Celsuses, the Porphyrys, and the Julians, have exhausted the sagacity of their understandings upon this subject. The Jewish writers have availed themselves of all the advantages they derived from their superior knowledge of the Hebrew language to explain these apparent contradictions. They have been followed even by Christians, such as Lord Herbert, Wollaston, Tindal, Toland, Collins, Shaftesbury, Woolston, Gordon, Bolingbroke, and many others of different nations. Fréret, perpetual secretary of the Academy of Belles Lettres in France, the learned Le Clerc himself, and Simon of the Oratory thought they perceived some contradictions which might be ascribed to the copyists. An immense number of other critics have endeavored to remove or correct contradictions which appeared to them inexplicable.
We read in a dangerous little book, composed with much art: “St. Matthew and St. Luke give each a genealogy of Christ different from the other; and lest it should be thought that the differences are only slight, such as might be imputed to neglect or oversight, the contrary may easily be shown by reading the first chapter of Matthew and the third of Luke. We shall then see that fifteen generations more are enumerated in the one than in the other; that, from David, they completely separate; that they join again at Salathiel; but that, after his son, they again separate, and do not reunite again but in Joseph.
“In the same genealogy, St. Matthew again falls into a manifest contradiction, for he says that Uzziah was the father of Jotham; and in the “Paralipomena,” book 1, chap. iii., v. 11, 12, we find three generations between them—Joas, Amazias, and Azarias—of whom Luke, as well as Matthew, make no mention. Further, this genealogy has nothing to do with that of Jesus, since, according to our creed, Joseph had had no intercourse with Mary.”
In order to reply to this objection, urged from the time of Origen, and renewed from age to age, we must read Julius Africanus. See the two genealogies reconciled in the following table, as we find it in the repository of ecclesiastical writers:
There is another method to reconcile the two genealogies, by St. Epiphanius. According to him, Jacob Panther, descended from Solomon, is the father of Joseph and of Cleophas. Joseph has six children by his first wife—James, Joshua, Simeon, Jude, Mary, and Salome. He then espouses the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the daughter of Joachim and Anne.
There are many other methods of explaining these two genealogies. See the “Dissertation” of Father Calmet, in which he endeavors to reconcile St. Matthew with St. Luke, on the genealogy of Jesus Christ. The same learned skeptics, who make it their business to compare dates, to explore books and medals, to collate ancient authors, and to seek for truth by human skill and study, and who lose in their knowledge the simplicity of their faith, reproach St. Luke with contradicting the other evangelists, and in being mistaken in what he advances on the subject of our Lord’s birth. The author of the “Analysis of the Christian Religion” thus rashly expresses himself on the subject (p. 23):
“St. Luke says that Cyrenius was the governor of Syria, when Augustus ordered the numbering of all the people of the empire. We will show how many decided falsehoods are contained in these few words. First, Tacitus and Suetonius, the most precise of historians, say not a single word of the pretended numbering of the whole empire, which certainly would have been a very singular event, since there never had been one under any emperor—at least, no author mentions such a case. Secondly, Cyrenius did not arrive in Syria till ten years after the time fixed by St. Luke; it was then governed by Quintilius Varus, as Tertullian relates, and as is confirmed by medals.”
We contend that in fact there never was a numbering of the whole Roman empire, but only a census of Roman citizens, according to usage; although it is possible that the copyists may have written “numbering” for “census.” With regard to Cyrenius, whom the copyists have made Cirinus, it is certain that he was not governor of Syria at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ, the governor being Quintilius Varus; but it is very probable that Quintilius might send into Judæa this same Cyrenius, who ten years after succeeded him in the government of Syria. We cannot dissemble, however, that this explanation still leaves some difficulties.
In the first place, the census made under Augustus does not correspond in time with the birth of Jesus Christ. Secondly, the Jews were not comprised in that census. Joseph and his wife were not Roman citizens. Mary, therefore, it is said, being under no necessity, was not likely to go from Nazareth, which is at the extremity of Judæa, within a few miles of Mount Tabor, in the midst of the desert, to lie in at Bethlehem, which is eighty miles from Nazareth.
But it might easily happen that Cirinus, or Cyrenius, having been sent to Jerusalem by Quintilius Varus to impose a poll-tax, Joseph and Mary were summoned by the magistrate of Bethlehem to go and pay the tax in the town of Bethlehem, the place of their birth. In this there is nothing contradictory. The critics may endeavor to weaken this solution by representing that it was Herod only who imposed taxes; that the Romans at that time levied nothing on Judæa; that Augustus left Herod completely his own master for the tribute which that Idumean paid to the empire. But, in an emergency, it is not impossible to make some arrangement with a tributary prince, and send him an intendant to establish in concert with him the new tax.
We will not here say, like so many others, that copyists have committed many errors, and that in the version we possess there are to be found more than ten thousand; we had rather say with the doctors of the Church and the most enlightened persons, that the Gospels were given us only to teach us to live holily, and not to criticise learnedly.
These pretended contradictions produced a dreadful impression on the much lamented John Meslier, rector of Etrepigni and But in Champagne. This truly virtuous and charitable, but at the same time melancholy, man, being possessed of scarcely any other books than the Bible and some of the fathers, read them with a studiousness of attention that became fatal to him. Although bound by the duties of his office to inculcate docility upon his flock, he was not sufficiently docile himself. He saw apparent contradictions, and shut his eyes to the means suggested for reconciling them. He imagined that he perceived the most frightful contradictions between Jesus being born a Jew and afterwards being recognized as God; in regard to that God known from the first as the son of Joseph the carpenter and the brother of James, yet descended from an empyrean which does not exist, to destroy sin upon earth that is still covered with crimes; in regard to that God, the son of a common artisan and a descendant of David on the side of his father, who was not in fact his father; between the creator of all worlds, and the descendant of the adulterous Bathsheba, the prurient Ruth, the incestuous Tamar, the prostitute of Jericho, the wife of Abraham, so suspiciously attractive to a king of Egypt, and again at the age of ninety years to a king of Gerar.
Meslier expatiates with an impiety absolutely monstrous on these pretended contradictions, as they struck him, for which, however, he might easily have found an explanation, had he possessed only a small portion of docility. At length his gloom so grew upon him in his solitude that he actually became horror-stricken at that holy religion which it was his duty to preach and love; and, listening only to his seduced and wandering reason, he abjured Christianity by a will written in his own hand, of which he left three copies behind him at his death, which took place in 1732. The copy of this will has been often printed, and exhibits, in truth, a most cruel stumbling-block. A clergyman, who at the point of death, asks pardon of God and his parishioners for having taught the doctrines of Christianity; a charitable clergyman, who holds Christianity in execration because many who profess it are depraved; who is shocked at the pomp and pride of Rome, and exasperated by the difficulties of the sacred volume; a clergyman who speaks of Christianity like Porphyry, Jamblichus, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Julian! And this just as he is to make his appearance before God! How fatal a case for him, and for all who may be led astray by his example!
In a similar manner the unfortunate preacher Antony, misled by the apparent contradictions which he imagined he saw between the new and the old law, between the cultivated olive and the wild olive, wretchedly abandoned the Christian religion for the Jewish; and, more courageous than John Meslier, preferred death to recantation.
It is evident from the will of John Meslier that the apparent contradictions of the gospel were the principal cause of unsettling the mind of that unfortunate pastor, who was, in other respects, a man of the strictest virtue, and whom it is impossible to think of without compassion. Meslier is deeply impressed by the two genealogies, which seem in direct opposition; he had not seen the method of reconciling them; he feels agitated and provoked to see that St. Matthew makes the father and mother of the child travel into Egypt, after having received the homage of the three eastern magi or kings, and while old King Herod, under the apprehension of being dethroned by an infant just born at Bethlehem, causes the slaughter of all the infants in the country, in order to prevent such a revolution. He is astonished that neither St. Luke, nor St. Mark, nor St. John make any mention of this massacre. He is confounded at observing that St. Luke makes Joseph, and the blessed Virgin Mary, and Jesus our Saviour, remain at Bethlehem, after which they withdraw to Nazareth. He should have seen that the Holy Father might at first go into Egypt, and some time afterwards to Nazareth, which was their country.
If St. Matthew alone makes mention of the three magi, and of the star which guided them to Bethlehem from the remote climes of the East, and of the massacre of the children; if the other evangelists take no notice of these events, they do not contradict St. Matthew; silence is not contradiction.
If the three first evangelists—St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke—make Jesus Christ to have lived but three months from his baptism in Galilee till his crucifixion at Jerusalem; and if St. John extends that time to three years and three months, it is easy to approximate St. John to the other evangelists, as he does not expressly state that Jesus Christ preached in Galilee for three years and three months, but only leaves it to be inferred from his narrative. Should a man renounce his religion upon simple inferences, upon points of controversy, upon difficulties in chronology?
It is impossible, says Meslier, to harmonize St. Mark and St. Luke; since the first says that Jesus, when he left the wilderness, went to Capernaum, and the second that he went to Nazareth. St. John says that Andrew was the first who became a follower of Jesus Christ; the three other evangelists say that it was Simon Peter.
He pretends, also, that they contradict each other with respect to the day when Jesus celebrated the Passover, the hour and place of His execution, the time of His appearance and resurrection. He is convinced that books which contradict each other cannot be inspired by the Holy Spirit; but it is not an article of faith to believe that the Holy Spirit inspired every syllable; it did not guide the hand of the copyist; it permitted the operation of secondary causes; it was sufficient that it condescended to reveal the principal mysteries, and that in the course of time it instituted a church for explaining them. All those contradictions, with which the gospels have been so often and so bitterly reproached, are explained by sagacious commentators; far from being injurious, they mutually clear up each other; they present reciprocal helps in the concordances and harmony of the four gospels.
And if there are many difficulties which we cannot solve, mysteries which we cannot comprehend, adventures which we cannot credit, prodigies which shock the weakness of the human understanding, and contradictions which it is impossible to reconcile, it is in order to exercise our faith and to humiliate our reason.
Contradictions in Judgments Upon Works of Literature or Art.
I have sometimes heard it said of a good judge on these subjects, and of exquisite taste, that man decides according to mere caprice. He yesterday described Poussin as an admirable painter; to-day he represents him as an ordinary one. The fact is, that Poussin has merited both praise and censure.
There is no contradiction in being enraptured by the delicious scenes of the Horatii and Curiatii, of the Cid, of Augustus and of Cinna, and afterwards in seeing, with disgust and indignation, fifteen tragedies in succession, containing no interest, no beauty, and not even written in French.
It is the author himself who is contradictory. It is he who has the misfortune to differ entirely from himself. The critic would contradict himself, if he equally applauded what is excellent and detestable. He will admire in Homer the description of the girdle of Venus; the parting of Hector and Andromache; the interview between Achilles and Priam. But will he equally applaud those passages which describe the gods as abusing and fighting with one another; the uniformity in battles which decide nothing; the brutal ferocity of the heroes, and the avarice by which they are almost all actuated; in short, a poem which terminates with a truce of eleven days, unquestionably exciting an expectation of the continuation of the war and the taking of Troy, which, however, are not related?
A good critic will frequently pass from approbation to censure, however excellent the work may be which he is perusing.
Contrast, opposition of figures, situations, fortune, manners, etc. A modest shepherdess forms a beautiful contrast in a painting with a haughty princess, The part of the impostor and that of Aristes constitute a very admirable contrast in “Tartuffe.”
The little may contrast with the great in painting, but cannot be said to be contrary to it. Opposition of colors contrasts; but there are also colors contrary to each other; that is, which produce an ill effect because they shock the eye when brought very near it.
“Contradictory” is a term to be used only in logic. It is contradictory for anything to be and not to be; to be in many places at once; to be of a certain number or size, and not to be so. An opinion, a discourse, or a decree, we may call contradictory. The different fortunes of Charles XII. have been contrary, but not contradictory; they form in history a beautiful contrast.
It is a striking contrast—and the two things are perfectly contrary—but it is not contradictory, that the pope should be worshipped in Rome, and burned in London on the same day; that while he was called God’s vicegerent in Italy, he should be represented in the streets of Moscow as a hog, for the amusement of Peter the Great.
Mahomet, stationed at the right hand of God over half the globe, and damned over the other half, is the greatest of contrasts. Travel far from your own country, and everything will be contrast for you. The white man who first saw a negro was much astonished; but the first who said that the negro was the offspring of a white pair astonishes me much more; I do not agree with him. A painter who represents white men, negroes, and olive-colored people, may display fine contrasts.
About the year 1724 the cemetery of St. Médard abounded in amusement, and many miracles were performed there. The following epigram by the duchess of Maine gives a tolerable account of the character of most of them:
The miracles continued, as is well known, until a guard was stationed at the cemetery.
It is also well known that the Jesuits, being no longer able to perform similar miracles, in consequence of Xavier having exhausted their stock of grace and miraculous power, by resuscitating nine dead persons at one time, resolved in order to counteract the credit of the Jansenists, to engrave a print of Jesus Christ dressed as a Jesuit. The Jansenists, on the other hand, in order to give a satisfactory proof that Jesus Christ had not assumed the habit of a Jesuit, filled Paris with convulsions, and attracted great crowds of people to witness them. The counsellor of parliament, Carré de Montgeron, went to present to the king a quarto collection of all these miracles, attested by a thousand witnesses. He was very properly shut up in a château, where attempts were made to restore his senses by regimen; but truth always prevails over persecution, and the miracles lasted for thirty years together, without interruption. Sister Rose, Sister Illuminée, and the sisters Promise and Comfitte, were scourged with great energy, without, however, exhibiting any appearance of the whipping next day. They were bastinadoed on their stomachs without injury, and placed before a large fire; but, being defended by certain pomades and preparations, were not burned. At length, as every art is constantly advancing towards perfection, their persecutors concluded with actually thrusting swords through their chairs, and with crucifying them. A famous schoolmaster had also the benefit of crucifixion; all which was done to convince the world that a certain bull was ridiculous, a fact that might have been easily proved without so much trouble. However, Jesuits and Jansenists all united against the “Spirit of Laws,” and against . . . . and against . . . . and against . . . . and. . . . . And after all this we dare to ridicule Laplanders, Samoyeds, and negroes!
They must be skeptics indeed who doubt that pain comes from panis. But to make bread we must have corn. The Gauls had corn in the time of Cæsar; but whence did they take the word blé? It is pretended that it is from bladum, a word employed in the barbarous Latin of the middle age by the Chancellor Desvignes, or De Erneis, whose eyes, it is said, were torn out by order of the Emperor Frederick II.
But the Latin words of these barbarous ages were only ancient Celtic or Teutonic words Latinized. Bladum then comes from our blead, and not our blead from bladum. The Italians call it bioda, and the countries in which the ancient Roman language is preserved, still say blia.
This knowledge is not infinitely useful; but we are curious to know where the Gauls and Teutons found corn to sow? We are told that the Tyrians brought it into Spain, the Spaniards into Gaul, and the Gauls into Germany. And where did the Tyrians get this corn? Probably from the Greeks, in exchange for their alphabet.
Who made this present to the Greeks? It was the goddess Ceres, without doubt; and having ascended to Ceres, we can scarcely go any higher. Ceres must have descended from heaven expressly to give us wheat, rye, and barley. However, as the credit of Ceres, who gave corn to the Greeks, and that of Ishet, or Isis, who gratified the Egyptians with it, are at present very much decayed, we may still be said to remain in uncertainty as to the origin of corn.
Sanchoniathon tells us that Dagon or Dagan, one of the grandsons of Thaut, had the superintendence of the corn in Phœnicia. Now his Thaut was near the time of our Jared; from which it appears that corn is very ancient, and that it is of the same antiquity as grass. Perhaps this Dagon was the first who made bread, but that is not demonstrated.
What a strange thing that we should know positively that we are obliged to Noah for wine, and that we do not know to whom we owe the invention of bread. And what is still more strange, we are still so ungrateful to Noah that, while we have more than two thousand songs in honor of Bacchus, we scarcely sing one in honor of our benefactor, Noah.
A Jew assured me that corn came without cultivation in Mesopotamia, as apples, wild pears, chestnuts, and medlars, in the west. It is as well to believe him, until we are sure of the contrary; for it is necessary that corn should grow spontaneously somewhere. It has become the ordinary and indispensable nourishment in the finest climates, and in all the north.
The great philosophers whose talents we estimate so highly, and whose systems we do not follow, have pretended, in the natural history of the dog (page 195), that men created corn; and that our ancestors, by means of sowing tares and cow-grass together, changed them into wheat. As these philosophers are not of our opinion on shells, they will permit us to differ from them on corn. We do not think that tulips could ever have been produced from jasmine. We find that the germ of corn is quite different from that of tares, and we do not believe in any transmutation. When it shall be proved to us, we will retract.
We have seen, in the article “Breadtree,” that in three-quarters of the earth bread is not eaten. It is pretended that the Ethiopians laughed at the Egyptians, who lived on bread. But since corn is our chief nourishment, it has become one of the greatest objects of commerce and politics. So much has been written on this subject, that if a laborer sowed as many pounds of wheat as we have volumes on this commodity, he might expect a more ample harvest, and become richer than those who, in their painted and gilded saloons, are ignorant of the excess of his oppression and misery.
Egypt became the best country in the world for wheat when, after several ages, which it is difficult to reckon exactly, the inhabitants found the secret of rendering a destructive river—which had always inundated the country, and was only useful to the rats, insects, reptiles, and crocodiles of Egypt—serviceable to the fecundity of the soil. Its waters, mixed with a black mud, were neither useful to quench the thirst of the inhabitants, nor for ablution. It must have required a long time and prodigious labor to subdue the river, to divide it into canals, to found towns on lands formerly movable, and to change the caverns of the rocks into vast buildings.
All this is more astonishing than the pyramids; for being accomplished, behold a people sure of the best corn in the world, without the necessity of labor! It is the inhabitant of this country who raises and fattens poultry superior to that of Caux, who is habited in the finest linen in the most temperate climate, and who has none of the real wants of other people.
Towards the year 1750, the French nation, surfeited with tragedies, comedies, operas, romances, and romantic histories—with moral reflections still more romantic, and with theological disputes on grace and on convulsionaries, began to reason upon corn. They even forgot the vine, in treating of wheat and rye. Useful things were written on agriculture, and everybody read them except the laborers. The good people imagined, as they walked out of the comic opera, that France had a prodigious quantity of corn to sell, and the cry of the nation at last obtained of the government, in 1764, the liberty of exportation.
Accordingly they exported. The result was exactly what it had been in the time of Henry IV., they sold a little too much, and a barren year succeeding, Mademoiselle Bernard was obliged, for the second time, to sell her necklace to get linen and chemises. Now the complainants passed from one extreme to the other, and complained against the exportation that they had so recently demanded, which shows how difficult it is to please all the world and his wife.
Able and well-meaning people, without interest, have written, with as much sagacity as courage, in favor of the unlimited liberty of the commerce in grain. Others, of as much mind, and with equally pure views, have written in the idea of limiting this liberty; and the Neapolitan Abbé Gagliana amused the French nation on the exportation of corn, by finding out the secret of making, even in French, dialogues as amusing as our best romances, and as instructive as our good serious books. If this work did not diminish the price of bread, it gave great pleasure to the nation, which was what it valued most. The partisans of unlimited exportation answered him smartly. The result was that the readers no longer knew where they were, and the greater part took to reading romances, expecting that the three or four following years of abundance would enable them to judge. The ladies were no longer able to distinguish wheat from rye, while honest devotees continued to believe that grain must lie and rot in the ground in order to spring up again.
The use of councils was not unknown to the followers of the ancient religion of Zerdusht, whom we call Zoroaster. About the year 200 of our era, Ardeshir Babecan, king of Persia, called together forty thousand priests, to consult them touching some of his doubts about paradise and hell, which they call the gehen—a term adopted by the Jews during their captivity at Babylon, as they did the names of the angels and of the months. Erdoviraph, the most celebrated of the magi, having drunk three glasses of a soporific wine, had an ecstasy which lasted seven days and seven nights, during which his soul was transported to God. When the paroxysm was over, he reassured the faith of the king, by relating to him the great many wonderful things he had seen in the other world, and having them written down.
We know that Jesus was called Christ, a Greek word signifying anointed; and his doctrine Christianity, or gospel, i. e., good news, because having, as was his custom, entered one Sabbath day the synagogue of Nazareth, where he was brought up, He applied to Himself this passage of Isaiah, which He had just read: “The spirit of the Lord is on me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” They of the synagogue did, to be sure, drive Him out of their town, and carry Him to a point of the hill, on which it was built, in order to throw Him headlong from it; and His relatives “went out to lay hold on Him,” for they were told, and they said, “that He was beside Himself.” Nor is it less certain that Jesus constantly declared He had come not to destroy the law or the prophecies, but to fulfil them.
But, as He left nothing written, His first disciples were divided on the famous question, whether the Gentiles were to be circumcised and ordered to keep the Mosaic law. The apostles and the priests, therefore, assembled at Jerusalem to examine this point, and, after many conferences, they wrote to the brethren among the Gentiles, at Antioch, in Syria, and in Cilicia, a letter of which we give the substance: “It has seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, not to impose upon you any obligations but those which are necessary, viz., to abstain from meats offered up to idols, from blood, from the flesh of choked animals, and from fornication.”
The decision of this council did not prevent Peter, when at Antioch, from continuing to eat with the Gentiles, before some of the circumcised, who came from James, had arrived. But Paul, seeing that he did not walk straight in the path of gospel truth, resisted him to the face, saying to him before them all, “If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” Indeed Peter had lived like the Gentiles ever since he had seen, in a trance, “heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet, knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth; wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter, kill and eat.”
Paul, who so loudly reproved Peter for using this dissimulation to make them believe that he still observed the law, had himself recourse to a similar feint at Jerusalem. Being accused of teaching the Jews who were among the Gentiles to renounce Moses, he went and purified himself in the temple for seven days, in order that all might know that what they had heard of him was false, and that he continued to observe the law; this, too, was done by the advice of all the priests, assembled at the house of James—which priests were the same who had decided with the Holy Ghost, that these observations were unnecessary.
Councils were afterwards distinguished into general and particular. Particular councils are of three kinds—national, convoked by the prince, the patriarch, or the primate; provincial, assembled by the metropolitan or archbishop; and diocesan, or synods held by each bishop. The following is a decree of one of the councils held at Macon:
“Whenever a layman meet a priest or a deacon on the road, he shall offer him his arm; if the priest and the layman are both on horseback, the layman shall stop and salute the priest reverently; and if the priest be on foot, and the layman on horseback, the layman shall dismount, and shall not mount again until the ecclesiastic be at a certain distance; all on pain of interdiction for as long a time as it shall please the metropolitan.”
The list of the councils, in Moréri’s “Dictionary,” occupies more than sixteen pages, but as authors are not agreed concerning the number of general councils, we shall here confine ourselves to the results of the first eight that were assembled by order of the emperors.
Two priests of Alexandria, seeking to know whether Jesus was God or creature, not only did the bishops and priests dispute but the whole people were divided, and the disorder arrived at such a pitch that the Pagans ridiculed Christianity on the stage. The emperor Constantine first wrote in these terms to Bishop Alexander and the priest Arius, the authors of the dissension: “These questions, which are unnecessary, and spring only from unprofitable idleness, may be discussed in order to exercise the intellect; but they should not be repeated in the hearing of the people. Being divided on so small a matter, it is not just that you should govern, according to your thoughts, so great a multitude of God’s people. Such conduct is mean and puerile, unworthy of the priestly office, and of men of sense. I do not say this to compel you entirely to agree on this frivolous question, whatever it is. You may, with a private difference, preserve unity, provided these subtleties and different opinions remain secret in your inmost thoughts.”
The emperor, having learned that his letter was without effect, resolved, by the advice of the bishops, to convoke an ecumenical council—i. e., a council of the whole habitable earth, and chose for the place of meeting the town of Nicæa, in Bithynia. There came thither two thousand and forty-eight bishops, who, as Eutychius relates, were all of different sentiments and opinions. This prince, having had the patience to hear them dispute on this point, was much surprised at finding among them so little unanimity; and the author of the Arabic preface to this council says that the records of these disputes amounted to forty volumes.
This prodigious number of bishops will not appear incredible when it is recollected that Usher, quoted by Selden, relates that St. Patrick, who lived in the fifth century, founded three hundred and sixty-five churches, and ordained the like number of bishops; which proves that then each church had its bishop, that is, its overlooker.
In the Council of Nice there was read a letter from Eusebius of Nicomedia, containing manifest heresy, and discovering the cabal of Arius’s party. In it was said, among other things, that if Jesus were acknowledged to be the Son of God uncreated, He must also be acknowledged to be consubstantial with the Father. Therefore it was that Athanasius, a deacon of Alexandria, persuaded the fathers to dwell on the word consubstantial, which had been rejected as improper by the Council of Antioch, held against Paul of Samosata; but he took it in a gross sense, marking division; as we say, that several pieces of money are of the same metal: whereas the orthodox explained the term consubstantial so well, that the emperor himself comprehended that it involved no corporeal idea—signified no division of the absolutely immaterial and spiritual substance of the Father—but was to be understood in a divine and ineffable sense. They moreover showed the injustice of the Arians in rejecting this word on pretence that it was not in the Scriptures—they who employ so many words which are not there to be found; and who say that the Son of God was brought out of nothing, and had not existed from all eternity.
Constantine then wrote two letters at the same time, to give publicity to the ordinances of the council, and make them known to such as had not attended it. The first, addressed to the churches in general, says, in so many words, that the question of the faith has been examined, and so well cleared up, that no difficulty remains. In the second, among others, the church of Alexandria is thus addressed: “What three hundred bishops have ordained is no other than the seed of the only Son of God; the Holy Ghost has declared the will of God through these great men, whom he inspired. Now, then, let none doubt—let none dispute, but each one return with all his heart into the way of truth.”
The ecclesiastical writers are not agreed as to the number of bishops who subscribed to the ordinances of this council. Eusebius reckons only two hundred and fifty; Eustathius of Antioch, cited by Theodoret, two hundred and seventy; St. Athanasius, in his epistle to the Solitaries, three hundred, like Constantine; while, in his letter to the Africans, he speaks of three hundred and eighteen. Yet these four authors were eye-witnesses, and worthy of great faith.
This number 318, which Pope St. Leo calls mysterious, has been adopted by most of the fathers of the church. St. Ambrose assures us that the number of 318 bishops was a proof of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in his Council of Nicæa, because the cross designates three hundred, and the name of Jesus eighteen. St. Hilary, in his defence of the word consubstantial, approved in the Council of Nice, though condemned fifty-five years before in the Council of Antioch, reasons thus: “Eighty bishops rejected the word consubstantial, but three hundred and eighteen have received it. Now this latter number seems to me a sacred number, for it is that of the men who accompanied Abraham, when, after his victory over the impious kings, he was blessed by him who is the type of the eternal priesthood.” And Selden relates that Dorotheus, metropolitan of Monembasis, said there were precisely three hundred and eighteen fathers at this council, because three hundred and eighteen years had elapsed since the incarnation. All chronologists place this council in the year 325 of our modern era; but Dorotheus deducts seven years, to make his comparison complete; this, however, is a mere trifle. Besides, it was not until the Council of Lestines, in 743, that the years began to be counted from the incarnation of Jesus. Dionysius the Less had imagined this epoch in his solar cycle of the year 526, and Bede had made use of it in his “Ecclesiastical History.”
It will not be a subject of astonishment that Constantine adopted the opinion of the three hundred or three hundred and eighteen bishops who held the divinity of Jesus, when it is borne in mind that Eusebius of Nicomedia, one of the principal leaders of the Arian party, had been an accomplice in the cruelty of Licinius, in the massacres of the bishops, and the persecutions of the Christians. Of this the emperor himself accuses him, in the private letter which he wrote to the church of Nicomedia:
“He sent spies about me,” says he, “in the troubles, and did everything but take up arms for the tyrant. I have proofs of this from the priests and deacons of his train, whom I took. During the Council of Nicæa, with what eagerness and what impudence he maintained, against the testimony of his conscience, the error exploded on every side! repeatedly imploring my protection, lest, being convicted of so great a crime, he should lose his dignity. He shamefully circumvented and took me by surprise, and carried everything as he chose. Again, see what has been done but lately by him and Theogenes.”
Constantine here alludes to the fraud which Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theogenes of Nicæa resorted to in subscribing. In the word “omoousios,” they inserted an iota, making it “omoiousios,” meaning of like substance; whereas the first means of the same substance. We hereby see that these bishops yielded to the fear of being displaced or banished; for the emperor had threatened with exile such as should not subscribe. The other Eusebius, too, bishop of Cæsarea, approved the word consubstantial, after condemning it the day before.
However, Theonas of Marmarica, and Secundus of Ptolemais continued obstinately attached to Arius; and, the council, having condemned them with him, Constantine banished them, and declared by an edict that whosoever should be convicted of concealing any of the writings of Arius instead of burning them, should be punished with death. Three months after, Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theogenes were likewise exiled into Gaul. It is said that, having gained over the individual who, by the emperor’s order, kept the acts of the council, they had erased their signatures, and begun to teach in public that the Son must not be believed to be consubstantial with the Father.
Happily, to replace their signatures and preserve entire the mysterious number three hundred and eighteen, the expedient was tried of laying the book, in which the acts were divided into sessions, on the tomb of Chrysanthus and Mysonius, who had died while the council was in session; the night was passed in prayer and the next morning it was found that these two bishops had signed.
It was by an expedient nearly similar, that the fathers of the same council distinguished the authentic from the apocryphal books of Scripture. Having placed them altogether upon the altar, the apocryphal books fell to the ground of themselves.
Two other councils, assembled by the emperor Constantine, in the year 359, the one, of upwards of four hundred bishops, at Rimini, the other, of more than a hundred and fifty, at Seleucia; after long debates, rejected the word consubstantial, already condemned, as we have before said, by a Council of Antioch. But these councils are recognized only by the Socinians.
The Nicene fathers had been so much occupied with the consubstantiality of the Son, that they had made no mention of the church in their symbol, but contented themselves with saying, “We also believe in the Holy Ghost.” This omission was supplied in the second general council, convoked at Constantinople, in 381, by Theodosius. The Holy Ghost was there declared to be the Lord and giver of life, proceeding from the Father, who with the Father and Son is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. Afterwards the Latin church would have the Holy Ghost proceed from the Son also; and the “filioque” was added to the symbol: first in Spain, in 447; then in France, at the Council of Lyons, in 1274; and lastly at Rome, notwithstanding the complaints made by the Greeks against this innovation.
The divinity of Jesus being once established, it was natural to give to his mother the title of Mother of God. However, Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, maintained in his sermons that this would be justifying the folly of the Pagans, who gave mothers to their gods. Theodosius the younger, to have this great question decided, assembled the third general council at Ephesus, in the year 431, and in it Mary was acknowledged to be the mother of God.
Another heresy of Nestorius, likewise condemned at Ephesus, was that of admitting two persons in Jesus. Nevertheless, the patriarch Photius subsequently acknowledged two natures in Jesus. A monk named Eutyches, who had already exclaimed loudly against Nestorius, affirmed, the better to contradict them both, that Jesus had also but one nature. But this time the monk was wrong; although, in 449, his opinion had been maintained by blows in a numerous council at Ephesus. Eutyches was nevertheless anathematized, two years afterwards, by the fourth general council, held under the emperor Marcian at Chalcedon, in which two natures were assigned to Jesus.
It was still to be determined, with one person and two natures, how many wills Jesus was to have. The fifth general council, which in the year 553 quelled, by Justinian’s order, the contentions about the doctrine of three bishops, had no leisure to settle this important point. It was not until the year 680 that the sixth general council, also convened at Constantinople by Constantine Pogonatus, informed us that Jesus had precisely two wills. This council, in condemning the Monothelites, who admitted only one, made no exception from the anathema in favor of Pope Honorius I., who, in a letter given by Baronius, had said to the patriarch of Constantinople:
“We confess in Jesus Christ one only will. We do not see that either the councils or the Scriptures authorize us to think otherwise. But whether, from the works of divinity and of humanity which are in him, we are to look for two operations, is a point of little importance, and one which I leave it to the grammarians to decide.”
Thus, in this instance, with God’s permission, the account between the Greek and Latin churches was balanced. As the patriarch Nestorius had been condemned for acknowledging two persons in Jesus, so Pope Honorius was now condemned for admitting but one will in Jesus.
The seventh general council, or the second of Nice, was assembled in 787, by Constantine, son of Leo and Irene, to re-establish the worship of images. The reader must know that two Councils of Constantinople, the first in 730, under the emperor Leo, the other twenty-four years after, under Constantine Copronymus, had thought proper to proscribe images, conformably to the Mosaic law and to the usage of the early ages of Christianity. So, also, the Nicene decree, in which it is said that “whosoever shall not render service and adoration to the images of the saints as to the Trinity, shall be deemed anathematized,” at first encountered some opposition. The bishops who introduced it, in a Council of Constantinople, held in 789, were turned out by soldiers. The same decree was also rejected with scorn by the Council of Frankfort in 794, and by the Caroline books, published by order of Charlemagne. But the second Council of Nice was at length confirmed at Constantinople under the emperor Michael and his mother Theodora, in the year 842, by a numerous council, which anathematized the enemies of holy images. Be it here observed, it was by two women, the empresses Irene and Theodora, that the images were protected.
We pass on to the eighth general council. Under the emperor Basilius, Photius, ordained patriarch of Constantinople in place of Ignatius, had the Latin church condemned for the “filioque” and other practices, by a council of the year 866: but Ignatius being recalled the following year, another council removed Photius; and in the year 869 the Latins, in their turn, condemned the Greek church in what they called the eighth general council—while those in the East gave this name to another council, which, ten years after, annulled what the preceding one had done, and restored Photius.
These four councils were held at Constantinople; the others, called general by the Latins, having been composed of the bishops of the West only, the popes, with the aid of false decretals, gradually arrogated the right of convoking them. The last of these which assembled at Trent, from 1545 to 1563, neither served to convert the enemies of papacy nor to subdue them. Its decrees, in discipline, have been scarcely admitted into any one Catholic nation: its only effect has been to verify these words of St. Gregory Nazianzen: “I have not seen one council that has acted with good faith, or that has not augmented the evils complained of rather than cured them. Ambition and the love of disputation, beyond the power of words to express, reign in every assembly of bishops.”
However, the Council of Constance, in 1415, having decided that a council-general receives its authority immediately from Jesus Christ, which authority every person, of whatever rank or dignity, is bound to obey in all that concerns the faith; and the Council of Basel having afterwards confirmed this decree, which it holds to be an article of faith which cannot be neglected without renouncing salvation, it is clear how deeply every one is interested in paying submission to councils.
Assembly, council of state, parliament, states-general, formerly signified the same thing. In the primitive ages nothing was written in Celtic, nor in German, nor in Spanish. The little that was written was conceived in the Latin tongue by a few clerks, who expressed every meeting of lendes, herren, or ricohombres, by the word concilium. Hence it is that we find in the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries so many councils which were nothing more than councils of state.
We shall here speak only of the great councils called general, whether by the Greek or by the Latin church. At Rome they were called synods, as they were in the East in the primitive ages—for the Latins borrowed names as well as things from the Greeks.
In 325 there was a great council in the city of Nicæa, convoked by Constantine. The form of its decision was this: “We believe that Jesus is of one substance with the Father, God of God, light of light, begotten, not made. We also believe in the Holy Ghost.”
Nicephorus affirms that two bishops, Chrysanthus and Mysonius, who had died during the first sittings, rose again to sign the condemnation of Arius, and incontinently died again, as I have already observed. Baronius maintains this fact, but Fleury says nothing of it.
In 359 the emperor Constantius assembled the great councils of Rimini and of Seleucia, consisting of six hundred bishops, with a prodigious number of priests. These two councils, corresponding together, undo all that the Council of Nice did, and proscribe the consubstantiality. But this was afterwards regarded as a false council.
In 381 was held, by order of the emperor Theodosius, a great council at Constantinople, of one hundred and fifty bishops, who anathematize the Council of Rimini. St. Gregory Nazianzen presides, and the bishop of Rome sends deputies to it. Now is added to the Nicene symbol: “Jesus Christ was incarnate, by the Holy Ghost, of the Virgin Mary. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. He was buried, and on the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures. He sits at the right hand of the Father. We also believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.”
In 431 a great council was convoked at Ephesus, by the emperor Theodosius II. Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, having violently persecuted all who were not of his opinion on theological points, undergoes persecution in his turn, for having maintained that the Holy Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, was not mother of God; because said he, Jesus Christ being the word, the Son of God, consubstantial with His Father, Mary could not, at the same time, be mother of God the Father and of God the Son. St. Cyril exclaims loudly against him. Nestorius demands an ecumenical council, and obtains it. Nestorius is condemned; but Cyril is also displaced by a committee of the council. The emperor reverses all that has been done in this council, then permits it to re-assemble. The deputies from Rome arrive very late. The troubles increasing, the emperor has Nestorius and Cyril arrested. At last he orders all the bishops to return, each to his church, and after all no conclusion is reached. Such was the famous Council of Ephesus.
In 449 another great council, afterward called “the banditti,” met at Ephesus. The number of bishops assembled is a hundred and thirty; and Dioscorus, bishop of Alexandria, presided. There are two deputies from the church of Rome, and several abbots. The question is, whether Jesus Christ has two natures. The bishops and all the monks of Egypt exclaim that “all who would divide Jesus Christ ought themselves to be torn in two.” The two natures are anathematized; and there is a fight in full council, as at the little Council of Cirta in 355, and at the minor Council of Carthage.
In 452, the great Council of Chalcedon was convoked by Pulcheria, who married Marcian on condition that he should be only the highest of her subjects. St. Leo, bishop of Rome, having great influence, takes advantage of the troubles which the quarrel about the two natures has occasioned in the empire, and presides at the council by his legates—of which we have no former example. But the fathers of the council, apprehending that the church of the West will, from this precedent, pretend to the superiority over that of the East, decide by their twenty-eighth canon, that the see of Constantinople, and that of Rome, shall enjoy alike the same advantages and the same privileges. This was the origin of the long enmity which prevailed, and still prevails, between the two churches. This Council of Chalcedon established the two natures in one only person.
Nicephorus relates that, at this same council, the bishops, after a long dispute on the subject of images, laid each his opinion in writing on the tomb of St. Euphemia, and passed the night in prayer. The next morning the orthodox writings were found in the saint’s hand, and the others at her feet.
In 553, a great council at Constantinople was convoked by Justinian, who was an amateur theologian, to discuss three small writings, called the three chapters, of which nothing is now known. There were also disputes on some passages of Origen.
Vigilius, bishop of Rome, would have gone thither in person; but Justinian had him put in prison, and the Patriarch of Constantinople presided. No member of the Latin church attended; for at that time Greek was no longer understood in the West, which had become entirely barbarous.
In 680, another general council at Constantinople was convoked by Constantine the bearded. This was the first council called by the Latins in trullo, because it was held in an apartment of the imperial palace. The emperor, himself, presided; on his right hand were the patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch; on his left, the deputies from Rome and Jerusalem. It was there decided that Jesus Christ had two wills; and Pope Honorius I., was condemned as a Monothelite, i. e., as wishing Jesus Christ to have but one will
In 787, the second Council of Nice was convoked by Irene, in the name of the emperor Constantine, her son, whom she had deprived of his eyes. Her husband, Leo, had abolished the worship of images, as contrary to the simplicity of the primitive ages, and leading to idolatry. Irene re-established this worship; she herself spoke in the council, which was the only one held by a woman. Two legates from Pope Adrian V., attended, but did not speak, for they did not understand Greek: the patriarch did all.
Seven years after, the Franks, having heard that a council at Constantinople had ordained the adoration of images, assemble, by order of Charles, son of Pepin, afterwards named Charlemagne, a very numerous council at Frankfort. Here the second Council of Nice is spoken of as “an impertinent and arrogant synod, held in Greece for the worshipping of pictures.”
In 842, a great council at Constantinople was convoked by the empress Theodora. The worship of images was solemnly established. The Greeks have still a feast in honor of this council, called the orthodoxia. Theodora did not preside. In 861, a great council at Constantinople, consisting of three hundred and eighteen bishops, was convoked by the emperor Michael. St. Ignatius, patriarch of Constantinople, is deposed, and Photius elected.
In 866, another great council was held at Constantinople, in which Pope Nicholas III. is deposed for contumacy, and excommunicated. In 869 was another great council at Constantinople, in which Photius, in turn, is deposed and excommunicated, and St. Ignatius restored.
In 879, another great council assembled at Constantinople, in which Photius, already restored, is acknowledged as true patriarch by the legates of Pope John VIII. Here the great ecumenical council, in which Photius was deposed, receives the appellation of “conciliabulum.” Pope John VIII. declares all those to be Judases who say that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son.
In 1122–3, a great council at Rome was held in the church of St. John of Lateran by Pope Calixtus II. This was the first general council convoked by the popes. The emperors of the West had now scarcely any authority; and the emperors of the East, pressed by the Mahometans and by the Crusaders, held none but wretched little councils.
It is not precisely known what this Lateran was. Some small councils had before been assembled in the Lateran. Some say that it was a house built by one Lateran in Nero’s time; others, that it was St. John’s church itself, built by Bishop Sylvester. In this council, the bishops complained heavily of the monks. “They possess,” said they, “the churches, the lands, the castles, the tithes, the offerings of the living and the dead; they have only to take from us the ring and the crosier.” The monks remained in possession.
In 1139 was another great Council of Lateran, by Pope Innocent II. It is said there were present a thousand bishops. A great many, certainly. Here the ecclesiastical tithes are declared to be of divine right, and all laymen possessing any of them are excommunicated. In 1179 was another great Council of Lateran, by Pope Alexander III. There were three hundred bishops and one Greek abbot. The decrees are all on discipline. The plurality of benefices is forbidden.
In 1215 was the last general Council of Lateran, by Pope Innocent III., composed of four hundred and twelve bishops, and eight hundred abbots. At this time, which is that of the Crusades, the popes have established a Latin patriarch at Jerusalem, and one at Constantinople. These patriarchs attend the council. This great council says that, “God having given the doctrine of salvation to men by Moses, at length caused His son to be born of a virgin, to show the way more clearly,” and that “no one can be saved out of the Catholic church.”
The transubstantiation was not known until after this council. It forbade the establishment of new religious orders; but, since that time, no less than eighty have been instituted. It was in this council that Raymond, count of Toulouse, was stripped of all his lands. In 1245 a great council assembled at the imperial city of Lyons. Innocent IV. brings thither the emperor of Constantinople, John Palæologus, and makes him sit beside him. He deposes the emperor Frederick as a felon, and gives the cardinals red hats, as a sign of hostility to Frederick. This was the source of thirty years of civil war.
In 1274 another general council was held at Lyons. Five hundred bishops, seventy great and a thousand lesser abbots. The Greek emperor, Michael Palæologus, that he may have the protection of the pope, sends his Greek patriarch, Theophanes, to unite, in his name, with the Latin church. But the Greek church disowns these bishops.
In 1311, Pope Clement V. assembled a general council in the small town of Vienne, in Dauphiny, in which he abolishes the Order of the Templars. It is here ordained that the Bégares, Beguins, and Béguines shall be burned. These were a species of heretics, to whom was imputed all that had formerly been imputed to the primitive Christians. In 1414, the great Council of Constance was convoked by an emperor who resumes his rights, viz.: by Sigismund. Here Pope John XXIII., convicted of numerous crimes, is deposed; and John Huss and Jerome of Prague, convicted of obstinacy, are burned. In 1431, a great council was held at Basel, where they in vain depose Pope Eugene IV., who is too clever for the council.
In 1438, a great council assembled at Ferrara, transferred to Florence, where the excommunicated pope excommunicates the council, and declares it guilty of high treason. Here a feigned union is made with the Greek church, crushed by the Turkish synods held sword in hand. Pope Julius II. would have had his Council of Lateran, in 1512, pass for an ecumenical council. In it that pope solemnly excommunicated Louis XII., king of France, laid France under an interdict, summoned the whole parliament of Provence to appear before him, and excommunicated all the philosophers, because most of them had taken part with Louis XII. Yet this council was not, like that of Ephesus, called the Council of Robbers.
In 1537, the Council of Trent was convoked, first at Mantua, by Paul III., afterwards at Trent in 1543, and terminated in December, 1561, under Pius VI. Catholic princes submitted to it on points of doctrine, and two or three of them in matters of discipline. It is thought that henceforward there will be no more general councils than there will be states-general in France or Spain. In the Vatican there is a fine picture, containing a list of the general councils, in which are inscribed such only as are approved by the court of Rome. Every one puts what he chooses in his own archives.
All councils are, doubtless, infallible, being composed of men. It is not possible that the passions, that intrigues, that the spirit of contention, that hatred or jealousy, that prejudice or ignorance, should ever influence these assemblies. But why, it will be said, have so many councils been opposed to one another? To exercise our faith. They were all right, each in its time. At this day, the Roman Catholics believe in such councils only as are approved in the Vatican; the Greek Catholics believe only in those approved at Constantinople; and the Protestants make a jest of both the one and the other: so that every one ought to be content.
We shall here examine only the great councils: the lesser ones are not worth the trouble. The first was that of Nice, assembled in the year 325 of the modern era, after Constantine had written and sent by Osius his noble letter to the rather turbulent clergy of Alexandria. It was debated whether Jesus was created or uncreated. This in no way concerned morality, which is the only thing essential. Whether Jesus was in time or before time, it is not the less our duty to be honest. After much altercation, it was at last decided that the Son was as old as the Father, and consubstantial with the Father. This decision is not very easy of comprehension, which makes it but the more sublime. Seventeen bishops protested against the decree; and an old Alexandrian chronicle, preserved at Oxford, says that two thousand priests likewise protested. But prelates make not much account of mere priests, who are in general poor. However, there was nothing said of the Trinity in this first council. The formula runs thus: “We believe Jesus to be consubstantial with the Father, God of God, light of light, begotten, not made; we also believe in the Holy Ghost.” It must be acknowledged that the Holy Ghost was treated very cavalierly.
We have already said, that in the supplement to the Council of Nice it is related that the fathers, being much perplexed to find out which were the authentic and which the apocryphal books of the Old and the New Testament, laid them all upon an altar, and the books which they were to reject fell to the ground. What a pity that so fine an ordeal has been lost!
After the first Council of Nice, composed of three hundred and seventeen infallible bishops, another council was held at Rimini; on which occasion the number of the infallible was four hundred, without reckoning a strong detachment, at Seleucia, of about two hundred. These six hundred bishops, after four months of contention, unanimously took from Jesus his consubstantiality. It has since been restored to him, except by the Socinians: so nothing is amiss.
One of the great councils was that of Ephesus, in 431. There, as already stated, Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, a great persecutor of heretics, was himself condemned as a heretic, for having maintained that, although Jesus was really God, yet His mother was not absolutely mother of God, but mother of Jesus. St. Cyril procured the condemnation of Nestorius; but the partisans of Nestorius also procured the deposition of St. Cyril, in the same council; which put the Holy Ghost in considerable perplexity.
Here, gentle reader, carefully observe, that the Gospel says not one syllable of the consubstantiality of the Word, nor of Mary’s having had the honor of being mother of God, no more than of the other disputed points which brought together so many infallible councils.
Eutyches was a monk, who had cried out sturdily against Nestorius, whose heresy was nothing less than supposing two persons in Jesus; which is quite frightful. The monk, the better to contradict his adversary, affirmed that Jesus had but one nature. One Flavian, bishop of Constantinople, maintained against him, that there must absolutely be two natures in Jesus. Thereupon, a numerous council was held at Ephesus in 449, and the argument made use of was the cudgel, as in the lesser council of Cirta, in 355, and in a certain conference held at Carthage. Flavian’s nature was well thrashed, and two natures were assigned to Jesus. At the Council of Chalcedon, in 451, Jesus was again reduced to one nature.
I pass by councils held on less weighty questions, and come to the sixth general Council of Constantinople, assembled to ascertain precisely whether Jesus—who, after having for a long period had but one nature, was then possessed of two—had also two wills. It is obvious how important this knowledge is to doing the will of God.
This council was convoked by Constantine the Bearded, as all the others had been by the preceding emperors. The legates from the bishop of Rome were on the left hand, and the patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch on the right. The trainbearers at Rome may, for aught I know, assert that the left hand is the place of honor. However, the result was that Jesus obtained two wills.
The Mosaic law forbade images. Painters and sculptors had never made their fortunes among the Jews. We do not find that Jesus ever had any pictures, excepting perhaps that of Mary, painted by Luke. It is, however, certain that Jesus Christ nowhere recommends the worship of images. Nevertheless the primitive Christians began to worship them about the end of the fourth century, when they had become familiar with the fine arts. In the eighth century this abuse had arrived at such a pitch that Constantine Copronymus assembled, at Constantinople, a council of three hundred and twenty bishops, who anathematized image-worship, and declared it to be idolatry.
The empress Irene, the same who afterwards had her son’s eyes torn out, convoked the second Council of Nice in 787, when the adoration of images was re-established. But in 794 Charlemagne had another council held at Frankfort, which declared the second of Nice idolatrous. Pope Adrian IV. sent two legates to it, but he did not convoke it.
The first great council convoked by a pope was the first of Lateran, in 1139; there were about a thousand bishops assembled; but scarcely anything was done, except that all those were anathematized who said that the Church was too rich. In 1179, another great council of Lateran was held by Alexander III., in which the cardinals, for the first time, took precedence of the bishops. The discussions were confined to matters of discipline. In another great council of Lateran, in 1215, Pope Innocent III. stripped the count of Toulouse of all his possessions, by virtue of his excommunication. It was then that the first mention was made of transubstantiation.
In 1245, was held a general council at Lyons, then an imperial city, in which Pope Innocent IV. excommunicated the emperor Frederick II., and consequently deposed him, and forbade him the use of fire and water. On this occasion, a red hat was given to the cardinals, to remind them that they must imbrue their hands in the blood of the emperor’s partisans. This council was the cause of the destruction of the house of Suabia, and of thirty years of anarchy in Italy and Germany.
In a general council held at Vienne, in Dauphiny, in 1311, the Order of the Templars was abolished: its principal members having been condemned to the most horrible deaths, on charges most imperfectly established. The great Council of Constance, in 1414, contented itself with dismissing Pope John XXIII., convicted of a thousand crimes, but had John Huss and Jerome of Prague burned for being obstinate; obstinacy being a much more grievous crime than either murder, rape, simony, or sodomy. In 1430 was held the great council of Basel, not recognized at Rome because it deposed Pope Eugenius IV., who would not be deposed. The Romans reckon among the general councils the fifth Council of Lateran, convoked against Louis XII., king of France, by Pope Julius II.; but that war-like pope dying, the council had no result.
Lastly, we have the great Council of Trent, which is not received in France in matters of discipline; but its doctrine is indisputable, since, as Fra Paolo Sarpi tells us, the Holy Ghost arrived at Trent from Rome every week in the courier’s bag. But Fra Paolo Sarpi was a little tainted with heresy.