Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

any contempt was high treason. This ridiculous opinion was carried so far out of common sense, that a man was held guilty of high treason, if a stone thrown by him happened accidentally to touch one of these statues. And the law continued in force till abrogated by a refcript of Severus Antoninus (a).

In England, so little was intention regarded, that casual homicide, and even homicide in self-defence, were capitally punished. It requires strong evidence to vouch so absurd a law; and I have the strongest, viz. the act 52° Henry III. cap. 26. converting the capital punishment into a forfeiture of moveables. The same absurdity continued much longer to be law in Scotland. By act 19. parl. 1649, renewed act 22. parl. 1661, the capital punishment is converted to imprisonment, or a fine to the wife and children. In a period so late as the Restoration, strange blindness it was not to be sensible, that homicide in self-defence, being a lawful act justified by the strictest rules of morality, subjects not a man to punishment;

(a) 1. 5. ad leg. Jul. Majest. VOL. IV.

Аа

more

more than the defending his property 2gainst a robber; and that casual homicide, meaning homicide committed innocently without ill intention, may subject him to reparation, but never to any punishment, mild or fevere.

The Jesuits in their doctrines seem to rest on the external act, disregarding intention. It is with them a matter of perfect indifference, from what motive men obey the laws of God; consequently that the service of those who obey from fear of punishment, is no less acceptable to the Deity, than of those who obey from a principle of love.

The other error mentioned above, is, That the end justifies the means. In defence of that proposition, it is urged, that the character of the means is derived from the end; that every action must be right which contributes to a good end; and that every action must be wrong which contributes to an ill end. According to this reasoning, it is righe to assassinate a man who is a declared or concealed enemy to his country. It is right to rob a rich man in order to relieve a person in want. What becomes then of

property,

[ocr errors]

property, which by all is held inviolable ? It is totally unhinged. The proposition then is untenible as far as light can be drawn from reason. At the same time, the tribunal of reason may be justly declined in this case. Reason is the only touchstone of truth and falsehood: but the moral sense is the only touchstone of right and wrong. And to maintain, that the qualities of right and wrong are discoverable by reason, is no less absurd than that truth and falsehood are discoverable by the moral sense. The moral sense dictates, that on no pretext whatever is it lawful to do an act of injustice, or any wrong (a): and men, conscious that the moral sense governs in matters of right and wrong, submit implicitly to its dictates. Influenced however by the reasoning mentioned, men, during the nonage of the moral sense, did wrong currently in order to bring about a good end; witness pretended miracles and forged writings, urged without reserve by every fect of Christians against their antagonists. And I am sorry to observe, that the error is not entirely

(a) See the first part of this sketch, Sect. 3. at the end.

[blocks in formation]

eradicated : miffionaries employ'd in converting infidels to the true faith, are little scrupulous about the means: they make no difficulty to feign prodigies in order to convert those who are not moved by argument. Such pious frauds tend to fap the very foundations of morality.

SKETCH

S K E TCH

III.

Principles and Progress of Theology,

[ocr errors]

S no other science can vie with

theology, either in dignity or importance, it justly claims to be a favourite study with every person endued with true taste and folid judgement. From the time that writing was invented, natural religion has employ'd pens without number; and yet in no language is there found a connected history of it. The present work will only admit a slight sketch : which I shall glory in, however imperfect, if it excite any one of fuperior talents to undertake a complete history,

СНАР.

« AnteriorContinuar »