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Heu quantum fati parva tabella vehit !* All this would follow the establishment of truth by law, but a great deal worse would follow the establishment of error. For imperial edicts not only cannot produce faith, but they, by prohibiting the means, destroy the end, and generate infidelity. An error established by law, and protected by the sword, gains authority, antiquity, universality, and many more marks, which pass with numbers of honest, but interested, or superficial reasoners, for the characteristics of truth. In all probability therefore, father Thomassin's tables must be turned; and instead of saying, the whole earth would have been overrun with heresy, had not the emperors maintained the faith, it might rather be said, the whole earth would have been overspread with orthodoxy, had not their majesties affected to establish the faith.
The orthodoxy of the world depends on examination; but establishments destroy examination the mean, and thereby orthodoxy the end. The hope of reward and the fear of punishment influence the bulk of mankind, and when a man risks all by reasoning justly, when the conclusion of his arguments is a fine, an imprisonment, or death, how strong is the temptation not to reason at all or to reason superficially! Should a test of this man's orthodoxy be required as soon as he arrives at manhood, when his abilities are green,
* Alas! What great events on little triftes hang!
pects confined, his passions vigorous, his reason immature, his examples numerous, ten thousand to one but he gives the test; and then the die is cast. He must know little of human nature who does not perceive that all future studies will rather be apologies than examinations; the man will not study to describe but to defend his post. What young gentleman of birth and learning, who that piques himself on politesse, and scavoir vivre,* having declared upon oath his faith in thirty or forty points, but with Pamphilus would say ?
Adeon’ me ignavum putas? Adeon ? porro ingratum, aut inhumanum, aut ferum ? Ut neque me consuetudo, neque amor, neque pudor? Commoveat, neque commoneat, ut sERVEM FIDEM ? Accepi. Acceptam servabo. +
An emperor embracing the faith is a glorious sight. An emperor, determining his own creed, choosing his chaplains, following his conscience, and honouring the deity as he thinks most agreeable to the word of God, deserves the highest encomiums, merits immortal praise: but should his majesty deny the same privilege to the meanest of his subjects; should he affect to derive a splendor to his piety from injoining an impossibility on his subjects; should an Eusebius flatter, Sozomen disguise; should all his cotemporaries subscribe to his creed, and make oath that he was right, impartial
* Politeness and good breeding. + Do you think me such a stupid, ungrateful, ill bred brute, that neither custom, nor love, nor shame, can induce me to fulfil my promise ? I have given my word, and I'll stand to it.
posterity would think he was wrong. Impartial posterity would say, as was said of a Roman emperor, had he never reigned, every body would have thought him worthy of reigning !
If these reflections have any weight in the case of vague general orthodoxy, that is, in the belief of any truth, they have infinitely more in the belief of gospel truth: the truths delivered to men in the bible are above all others subject to such a train of reasoning
One, who well understood, declared that in St. Paul's epistles there were some things hard to be understood, which however he thought no blemish to his writings, but, on the contrary a proof of his exalted wisdom: they are written, says he, according to the WISDOM given unto him. Agreeable to this, St. Paul considered himself as a debtor both to the wise greeks, and to the unwise barbarians. He was intrusted with the dispensation of a gospel, whose truths were some of them so plain that an unlettered barbarian might understand them, and which also revealed other truths sublime enough to fill the capacities of the wisest of mankind. Glorious analogy of scripture and nature; Both present objects evident to all, but fully comprehensible by none.
Allow this notion of revelation, and scripturetruths must be classed in different degress of evidence, and importance. Some truths are so plain that they need but be read to be understood, and as soon as understood are believed. Others are şo sublime, that through their grandeur, or their distance, they are indeterminable to the greatest natural and acquired abilities; yea "an inspired apostle himself cried, O the depth!
Now which of these truths would you establish the orthodoxy, or right belief of? The first ? The plain, simple, easy truths of religion? What ! Would you call a council of three or four hundred bishops, would you also place an emperor with all his attendants in canonical form ? For what? To make all men swear that water is liquid, that gold is malleable, that a collier is black, and a drunkard mad! Will you take the second class, the indeterminable sublimities of the faith? Truly friend, if the first be needless, the last is dangerous. The church is the land of conscience, and conscience will complain, as a judge would, if you made him pass sentence on what he knew nothing, or next to nothing, about. Go lay hold of yon sly tatter-tailed astronomer, who neither attends the levees of the great, nor places of public show and diversion; who'seldom reads the gazette, nor scarcely knows the right end of a pack of cards i go take from him that mischievous instrument the telescope; or still better, let him look, but swear him to his discoveries: let him make oath that the inhabitants of Saturn are eighteen feet, two inches, and 'three quarters high. That the ladies are pregnant with one child for thirty years, four months, six days, two hours and nine minutes. Alas ! The good man had some such conjectures in his head, and began to calculate, and thought the Creator's glory expanding to his view; but, as none of his
speculations were practicable in this world, the honest man would have disturbed nobody: it is pity any body should disturb him. Most excellent Constantine! When your imperial majesty summoned 318 bishops to the council of Nice, when you condescended to grace that council with your august presence, it was from the noblest principle in the world, a desire of establishing peace in the church: but was not your majesty imposed upon by the absurdity of of your bishops, when you excommunicated and persecuted all that would not sign a creed, some articles of which were as plain as that water is liquid, and others as indeterminable as any thing that passes in the planetary worlds ?
If the plainness of some truths renders subscription unnecessary, if the sublimity of others renders it dangerous, is there not another class to be established by law for peace sake? To be sure there are endless classes of truths and truths, and errors and errors, and you may establish according to your fancy. You may, with the Nicene council, after the creed is safe, proceed to discipline, and enact, that whereas it is the custom of some churches to pray kneeling on Sundays, hereafter it shall be lawful to pray standing only on that day: and whereas, some of the good old women who served as deaconesses had usually been reckoned clergywomen, hereafter they should be esteemed as of the laity. You may decree, with one council, to depose every clergyman convicted of acting contrary to the interest of the church: or, with