« AnteriorContinuar »
wise man after the flesh; not that it is confined to the ‘nighty' or the ‘noble;' but
that ‘the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” “3. From the manner in which Varro treats his subject, it is evident that he regarded the gods with no vulgar eye. He did not worship them as others did, for the *ke of the temporal benefits which they were popularly supposed to conter. Yet it is obser"able, that neither does he look forward to future blessings from their hands. In his whole discussion, mention is no where made of eternal life. What may we inter from this? that those Romans who professed the hope of future happiness from their gods, spoke from no settled conviction, but fron the obvious disappointment of present expectations. Varro, the great master of Roman theology, had held out no promise to the soul, had made no discovery of eternity; nor can he be supposed to have entertained a hope of which he gives “no sign.” Here then is the great triumph of the Gospel. Its characteristic is the promise of the life ‘which is to come,' of eternal happiness through faith in Christ, and obedience to his commander. ‘ I go to prepare a place for you; that where I am, ye may be also.” And He who gave this promise to the world, shall appear once again for the consummation of it. ‘The Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the boly angels with him. He shall sit upon the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all nations, and he shall separate the one from the other. The wicked shall go away into everlasting Punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.” pp. 206–209.
The sixth chapter of this very learned and interesting work, contains an elaborate view of the doctrine of Plato concerning the Deity; which, though one of the most able, was probably not the most intelligible or useful to the young persons for whose benefit it was originally designed. In the age of St.Augustin, it was found necessary to make considerable efforts against the extraordinary influence which the opinions of the Grecian sage had obtained throughout the Christian world. Plato was supposed to have arrived at the knowledge of the supreme Being, and to have made the great discoveries of creation and the unity; and on account of the credit which he had acquired on these im
portant questions, some flattered themselves, that no other instruction than that of Plato was essential to their duty and welfare. Others, for the sake of winning the pagans, were tempted to accommodate the Scriptures to the doctrines of this heathen philosopher. While a third class, taking advantage of these concessions, exalted the religion of nature at the expense of revelation. It was of particular importance, therefore, for the zealous bishop of Hippo to prove, that, though superior to the system of Varro, that of Plato was yet far removed from the sublimity of the Gospel; that in no mode of classical theology, however celebrated, was contained the true happiness of man; and that revelation alone could teach the proper knowledge of God, and effectually promise the rewards of “the life to come.” Before he proceeds to an examination of the Platonic doctrines, Dr. Ireland gives a sketch of some of the previous systems of philosophy; particularly those of Thaies and Pythagoras, the founders of the Ionic and the Italian schoois; pointing out, as he reviews them, the absurdity, inconsistency, or insufficiency by which they were severally marked; and closing these preliminaries with a view of the doubt and perplexity in which Socrates was involved by the coutending and unsatisfactory opinions of former philosophers, and his own consequent determination to confine the profession of human wisdom as much as possible to the purposes of prudence and morality. The genius of Plato was of a most comprehensive and excursive nature. Though the scholar of Socrates, he was not contented with the doctrines of one school, but sought wisdom wherever it might by found. Megaro, therefore, Cyrene, Italy, and Egypt, were made to contribute their stores of dialectic, mathematical, intellectual, and mystical learning; and formed this eminent philosopher to the copiousness, variety, loftiness, yet obscurity, and not unfrequent self-contradiction, which are to be observed in his writings. It would far exceed even the most extended limits of a review, were we to accompany Dr. Ireland in his Analysis of the Platonic philosophy, however pleasant such a progress would be to ourselves, or entertaining and instructive to many of our readers. We must refer them to the work itself, except for a succinct account of the various topics which are discussed in this part of it: suffice it, therefore, to say, that the learned author, in the first place, from a short history of the celebrated school of Alexandria, of the formation of the eclectic sect by Ammonius, and of the catechetical school by the Christians in the same city, points out the source of that undue admiration of the Platonic philosophy, and of the interpretation of it, with reference to the higher doctrines of the Gospel, which may be observed in the writings of the earlier fathers. And here he introduces some just and pointed animadversions on the evil and danger of thus uniting philosophy and Christianity; a disposition which was most disgracefully and injuriously displayed at the revival of literature, and even in later times, by Dacier, in France, and by Taylor, in our own country. From this view of the false credit assumed for him by the Alexandrian school, Dr. Ireland turns to Plato himself, and briefly inquires, what is the probable amount of the knowledge which he possessed of the Deity. #. shews that the celebrated doctrine of this philosopher, concerning “one,” while it appears to do honour to the primary principle of all things, is, in fact, effectually injurious to it; and that his deity, which, in the reverential but mistaken interpretation of St. Augustin, was placed o all the oxjects of sense, is ultimately reduced to a participation in the grossness of matter. Either the incorporeal being is linked in a degrading union with his own eternal world; and on this ac
count, the same qualities may be nearly predicated of both, notwithstanding the existence allowed to the one, and denied to the other; or, this visible world is nothing but an efflux from the Deity; and, in this sense, all things being one, the whole is material together. It is remarkable that some of these notions are to be found at this day in the Brahminical system”. A view of the Platonic doctrine concerning the creation, by the Demiurge, the nature and office of the secondary gods and of the demons, closes: this chapter; from which the learned author justly infers, that the deity of Plato, when found, was not more effective than Varro's soul of the world; and that neither from him, nor from any of the fabled beings, whom he is absurdly supposed to have produced, for the purpose of directing human affairs, could the gift of immortal life and happiness be reasonably expected. From this discussion concerning the Platonic deities, Dr. Ireland proceeds, in his 7th chapter, to inquire, whether, notwithstanding the incapacity of bestowing immortality thus proved against the gods, the soul of man were secure of happiness through any qualities, either derived from without, or resulting from its own nature. After enumerating some of the leading opinions of the more ancient philosophers, concerning the soul, Dr. Ireland observes, that Plato was the first who taught the world the reasons, such as the philosophy of nature could teach, from which the soul of man was concluded to be immortal. He then divides Plato's view of this important point into two parts. 1. The principle on which the doctrine of immortality is founded. 2. The history of the soul in its three stages of existence, before its entrance into the body, during the possession of it, and after the separation from it. The celebrated argu
• See a masterly and beautiful display of them in Mr. Grant's Poem on the Restoration of Learning in the East.
ment of Plato for the immortality of the soul, as it is formally stated by Cicero, in the first book of his Tusculan Questions, is this : that since the soul has the power of perpetual and spontaneous motion, it is necessarily both underived and imperishable. Cicero himself seems to place the principal strength of this farfamed argument in the consciousness of the soul that it possesses these qualities. The Platonic history of the soul in its several conditions, is so full of extreme folly and absurdily, that, except for the purpose of curiosity, or rather of impressing more deeply the conviction of the witer inabiliy of man, unassisted by the light of divine revelation, to form any completely just conceptions on the subject, it is wholly unworthy of attention. The bare statement of the Platonic fancies, intricate and even unintelligible as in some parts it must almost have proved, could scarcely, however, fail of thoroughly preparing the minds of his youthful auditors for the important inferences which the learned lecturer draws from his minute review of this celebrated system. He points out to them, in the first place, that the notion of a creation attributed to the Platonic deity, was altogether a false one, and that this is an imperfection chargeable to paganism in general. In proof of this, Dr. Ireland gives a short notice of the profound Treatise of Mosheim on the “Creation of the World from Nothing;” in which he discusses the question, whether this doctrine be really taught in any of the books which have descended to us from the pagan ages. This important inquiry is determined by that learned writer in the negative. From the Scriptures, then, alone is the doctrine of a proper creation to be learned—the cardinal point, as Dr. Ireland justly observes, of all religion; for, from a strict and absolute creation by an Almighty Being, properly flow the divine dominion over the world, the present dispensations of Providence, and the future judgment of man. And from the
necessary reference of all these powers to the same Being, our Creator, Preserver, and Judge, results the necessity of the sole worship of the Godhead. Subjoined to this weighty observation, is a pointed reproof of the attempt, by Wollaston, to prove the claims of natural religion to the discovery of these great truths of revelation. From this view of the subject of creation, Dr. Ireland derives another important conclusion, viz. that man is not abandoned by the Deity, but that his redemption is the work of the same God, through the grace which he has vouchsafed to us by Jesus Christ. And this leads the author to a reflection on the second part of the Platonic doctrine, viz. that the immortality he attributed to the soul (for the body was not deemed worthy of any consideration), was, after all, no more than a physical round of eternity; and that, if the soul is immortal, it is so on the same principle with the elements, or the material substances of nature, which are gradually decomposed, and formed again.
“How different,” exclaims Dr. Ireland, “ the language of revelation! The body and the soul of man are equally the creation of God. They are together governed by his providence, and together subject to his suture judgment. The soul is iminortal, not through any independent or self-subsisting properties, but thröugh the nature conferred upon it by its Maker, and confirmed by his preserving power. It is placed in the body, which it guides in righteousness, according to the suggestions of the Holy Spirit. When the body dies, the soul does not sleep with it in the dust of the earth, but returns to God who gave it. At the last day it shall be fimally joined again with its body. This was mortal, but is now glorified for eternity by that Power, witich is able to subdue ali things to itself;’ and both together, shall receive the reward of immortal happiness, promiscd to the faith and obedience of man, through Jesus Christ.” pp. 323, 324.
To render his refutation of the pretensions of paganism to the rewards of the “ life to come,” more complete and satisfactory, Dr. Ire
land, in the 8th and last chapter of his work, induires into the principal opinions which were entertained by the Heathen world, concerning human happiness; justly concluding, that, if the doctrine of immortality was discovered by the light of nature, it could not fail to be observed in those systems which professed to teach the summum bonum; but that, if it made no part of those systems, and if the summum bonum was nothing more than the advantage afising from the best mode of conducting common life, the former inference, that the best philosophy of nature rose no higher than to an uncertainty on the great subject of God and the soul, is fully established. The view which Dr. Ireland has given, of the philosophical debates concerning the summum bonum, is drawn principally from Cicero and from Varro. A summary accordingly follows, of the leading parts of the former celebrated writer's Treatise “On the Ends of Good and Evil.” The Epicurean, Stoic, and Academical doctrines, are made to pass in successive and luminous review before us; and we are satisfied that we should gratify many of our readers by presenting them with copious extracts from the correct and vivid pictures which are drawn of these ingenious, but discordant, erroneous, and unsatisfactory systems. We have room, however, only for the following lively portrait of the Epicurean philosophy.
“ It was not to be copected, that the enemies of Epicurus would fail to take their advantage of so degrading a principle,” namely, that of pleasure; “and Cicero has mentioned the picture which Cleanthes used to draw, for the benefit of his scholars, of Pleasure, attended by the Virtues, as her waitingmaids. But Augustin has stated it at greater length, and proved, in this instance, an useful commentator on Cicero. Pleasure is seated on a throne, delicate in her person, and regal in her state. Beneath, in the habit of servants, stand the Virtues, obserwant of her gestures, and ready to execute ber will. She issues her commands. To Prudence it is enjoined, that she ascertain
the methods in which the kingdom of Pleasure may be best administered, and that she provide for its safety. Justice is ordered to make so skilful a distribution of her good offices, that they may produce the profitable returns of friendship, and the supply of those conventiencies which are necessary for the body. She is also required to abstain from injury to any, lest, through the disturbance of the laws, Pleasure be interrupted in the enjoyment of that security which she loves." It is the task of Fortitude to counteract the ill effects of pain, by thinking intensely of lier great mistress, Pleasure; and to diminish a present anguish by the remembrance of past delights. Finally, Temperance is commanded to provide for a due moderation in the use of food, especially of such as causes a more than usual delight : for noxious humours are bred by too much indulgence and repletion; and soundness of body is ever necessary to the pleasures of Epicurus."
We shall not be surprized, after this notice of the moral system of Epicurus, that the whole of his philosophy was accommodated to the senses. To this primary standard he referred the laws of reasoning and of nature. This is the great remedy against the fear of death: and by the same superior doctrine are also removed all slavish apprehensions of a Deity to And thus the great desideratum of human happiness is at length discovered 1 – Sed haeg hactenus.
To the view which Dr. Ireland gives of the existing sects, he adds Varro's curious account of all the possible ones, amounting in number, by an ingenious process of multiplication, to no less than two hundred and eighty-eight, but finally reducible, by an equally skilful method, to twelve ; and completes the subject by the following just and striking observations, arising from the doctrines which had been reviewed.
“1. Concerning the sect which was first noticed, it may be of importance to remark, the involuntary testimony which it bears to a great and standing truth, viz. that, in the nature of things, right principles have a genuine ascendancy of character, and that vice itself is coupelled to borrow the aid of virtue for its own support. The votaries of pleasure dared not to propose their philosophy in its own licentious nakedness. They courted the sanction of something more dignified; and it is well observed by Cicero, that when Torquatus talked of the virtues, and their connection with the summum bonum of Epicurus, his voice was raised, and all his gestures shewed his internal feeling of their superior value. The connection, however, was equally degrading to virtue, and unawailing to Epicurus. While Cato felt, that to join pleasure with virtue, was to thrust a harlot into the society of matrons, he strongly exposed the real and only purpose of such a philosophy, and the insignificance of its end, when compared with the labour employed in the pursuit of it. Epicurus claimed the possession of wisdom; and in the pride of physical inquiry, ranged through the heavens and the earth, the air and the sea, and formed a comprehensive system of nature. But what was the purpose of all this philosophical labour?—the attainment of pleasure! Xerxes astonished the world with his warlike preparations. He joined the shores of the Hellespont, and dug through Athos. He walked the seas and navigated the land. If it had been asked of Xerxes, Why he burst open Greece with so mighty a force? with equal reason might he have answered, To fetch honey from Hymettus! 2. “On the second of these sects we may remark, what errors await virtue itself, when the exercise of it is left to the mere direction of nature! It is the distinguishing excellence of Christianity, that it brings us to God through the acknowledgment of our natural frailty, and teaches a reliance on Heaven, through a distrust of ourselves. While it elevates the soul, it lowers the pastions; while it dignifies the character, it extinguishes self-opinion, and makes huutility the basis of duty. The maxims of the Stoic were, indeed, superior to those of the Epicurean; but he grew in arrogance as he improved in doctrine. He looked to no superior Being, but drew his virtue from the powers of his independent nature. He was completely wise in himself; and, in his own “stimation, became his own god. . 3. “From the principles of the old Acadeny results a conclusion equally revolting or equally unsatisfactory. The Peripatetick was ready to proclaim with the Stoic, that intelligence and action are the two distinguishing features of man, and that he may be termed a mortal Deity. Varro too, like Epicurus, has ranged through all nature in quest of human happiness, and is equally proud of his discovery. The man possessed of the virtue of his sect, is happy in himself, and secure from the stroke of fortune and the
Christ. Observ. No. 111.
mutability of the world. He has also the high privilege of being free from all doubt concerning his principles, and from all error. Whence arises this confidence? It is the boast of the Academic philosophy, that it is not restricted to single points of doctrine, but has a larger and more secure soundation, and embraces both the component parts of our nature. But what is obtained by this junction of the concerns of the soul with the condition of the body? Through the examination which has been made of the opinions of Plato, we have already detected the fallacy of the object to which he directed the hopes of the soul. And as to Varro, he is in this, as in his former disquisition, utterly silent cancerning an existence in a future state. Man, mortal man, is the beginning and the end of his plilosophy. To discover the art by which common life may be best conducted, is all his concern—the object of 'all his virtue. He never turned his views towards another world for the happiness which he sought. Probably, his sagacity had taught him the emptiness of the fancies of Plato. He formed none for himself; and we must conclude concerning a genius distinguished at Rome by his capacity of research, his depth of penetration, his strong judgment, and extensive learning, that he indulged no hope of immortality, and that, to his eyes, futurity was one universal blank.'"
Such is the conclusion of a work, upon which some of our readers may perhaps think that we have bestowed an attention disproportionate to its size, if not to its importance. The subject is certainly not altogether new, since many parts of it must be familiar to those who are acquainted with Leland's valuable Treatise on the Necessity and Importance of a Divine Revelation, with Brucker's elaborate History of Philosophy, or with Dr. Enfield’s able abridgment of that voluminous work. Still, the plan of Dr. Ireland's lectures is so ingenious, his arrangement so perspicuous, his knowledge of the subject so complete and masterly, his reasoning so acute and convincing, his principles so scriptural and elevated, and his style so correct, animated, and frequently eloquent, that we cannot but think he has rendered an imroy service to the public, and