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were fully realized in the experience of all who professed an adherence to “the testimony of Jesus.” At the instigation of the heathen priests and emperors every species of contumely and cruelty was inflicted which the wicked ingenuity of our fallen nature could invent. Some were slain by the sword, some were whipped and scourged, after the cruel manner of the Romans, and others were roasted in the flames. Some were stabbed with forks of iron, some mailed to a cross, some torn by wild beasts, and others drowned in the sea, or stoned to death; some starved with hunger or killed with cold; some had their hands and tongues dissevered from their bodies, and others were wrapt in combustible garments, and fire set to them when evening came on, that they might serve like torches to dispel the darkness of the night. Hierome, in his epistle to Cromatius, observes, “There is no day in the whole year to which the number of five thousand martyrs cannot be ascribed, except only the first day of January.” So that every year no less than one million, eight hundred and twenty thousand Christians must have perished from the earth by the infliction of such demoniacal punishments, and all to glut the avarice and revenge of Pagan priests and rulers. Yet the number of those men “of whom the world was not worthy,” still continued to increase throughout every province of the Roman empire. They magnanimously looked down on all the wealth and splendor of this passing scene as unworthy to be compared with the glory which was about to be revealed. “They counted all things as dung in comparison of the excellent knowledge of Christ, for whom they had suffered the loss of all things; they knew in whom they had believed,” and “chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of earth, and having respect to the recompense of reward.” How many members of the Christian church should we have in modern times were they all exposed to such persecutions and tribulations ! Were all professing Christians animated with such heavenly principles and affections as distinguished the primitive saints and martyrs, there would be little need to write an Essay on the evils of Covetousness, or to enforce the duty of a noble and disinterested liberality on the members of the visible church. But, alas ! the gold has become dim, and the most fine gold has changed The great majority of those called Christians, in our times, can scarcely be distinguished, in their dispositions and conduct, from civilized Pagans, and the professed men of the world, “whose god is their belly,” who glory in their wealth, and “who mind earthly things.” When the Christian church began to enjoy the favor of worldly men, it was not long before many of its members began to imbibe a worldly spirit. As the wealth and honors conferred on the church increased, the heavenly zeal of its votaries diminished, and a spirit of Covetousness, and a desire for worldly honors and distinctions, began to prevail throughout all the official departments connected with Christian worship and instruction. Even so early as the third century, this melancholy change began to appear, particularly in the contests of the Bishops for power and pre-eminence, and for worldly splendor and magnificence. Though a considerable number of them continued to exhibit to the world illustrious examples of primitive piety and virtue, yet “many of them were sunk in luxury and voluptuousness, puffed up with vanity, arrogance and ambition, possessed with a spirit of contention and discord, and addieted to many other vices, that cast an undeserved reproach upon the holy religion of which they were the unworthy ministers.” The Bishops assumed in many places, a princely authority, particularly those who had the greatest number of churches under their inspection, and who presided over the most opulent assemblies. “They appropriated to their evangelical function, the splendid ensigns of temporal majesty. A throne, surrounded with ministers, exalted above his equals the servant of the meek and humble Jesus, and sumptuous garments dazzled the eyes and
the minds of the multitude into an ignorant veneration for their arrogated authority. The example of the bishops was ambitiously imitated by the presbyters, who neglecting the sacred duties of their station, abandoned themselves to the indolence and delicacy of an effeminate and luxurious life. The deacons, beholding the presbyters thus deserting their functions, boldly usurped their rights and privileges, and began to despise those lower functions and employments which the had hitherto exercised with so much humility and . and the effects of a corrupt ambition were spread through every rank of the sacred order.” Wherever luxury, ambition, and a desire for worldly splendor, gain ascendancy over the mind, Avarice follows in the train as an inseparable concomitant. In the progress of the corruptions which were afterwards introduced into the church, this degrading passion was displayed, with shameless effrontery, in all its impious and demoralizing effects. The rapaciousness of the bishops and popes, and of almost every order of ecclesiastics, became excessive and even proverbial; and they did not hesitate to employ the most insidious and sacrilegious means to gratify their covetous propensities. The possessions of the church were sold to the highest bidders, or turned into a patrimony for the bastards of the incumbents. Frauds and abuses of every description were practised; legends were forged, . ing wonders invented, and all the resources of fable and forgery exhausted, to celebrate exploits which had never been performed. Skulls and jaw bones, legs and arms, were collected underpretence of being the relics of the primitive martyrs, and deposited in churches in order to procure the rich presents of wealthy supplicants, who flocked to them for deliverance under af. fliction and dangers. Marriages, wills, contracts, the interests of families and of courts, the circumstances connected with the living and the dead, were all converted into instruments and occasions for increasing the power and riches of the church. The ignorance
* Mosheim, ibid.
and superstition which the corruptions of Christianity had introduced, were dextrously improved by the ecclesiastical rulers to fill their coffers, and to drain the purses of the deluded multitude. All the various ranks and orders of the clergy had each their peculiar method of fleecing the people, and increasing their revenues. “The bishops when they wanted money for their private pleasures, granted to their flock the power of purchasing the remission of the penalties imposed upon transgressors, by a sum of money which was to be applied to certain religious purposes, or, in other words, they published Indulgences, which became an inexhaustible source of opulence to the Episcopal orders, and enabled them to form and execute the most difficult schemes for the enlargement of their authority, and to erect a multitude of sacred edifices which augmented the external pomp and splendor of the church. The abbots and monks, equally covetous and ambitious, had resource to other methods of enriching their convents. They carried about the country the carcasses and relics of the saints, in solemn procession, and permitted the multitude to behold, touch, and embrace those sacred and lucrative remains, at certain fixed prices. By this raree show, the monastic orders often gained as much as the bishops did by their indulgences.” At length the Roman Pontiffs assumed the chief power over this profitable traffic, and “when the wants of the church or the demon of avarice prompted them to look out for new subsidies, published not only a universal, but a plenary remission of all the temporal pains and penalties which the church had annexed to certain transgressions.” “They even audaciously usurped the authority which belongs to God alone, and impiously , pretended to abolish even the punishments which are reserved in a future state for the workers of iniquity, a step which the bishops, with all their avarice and presumption, had never once ventured to take.”f. It was by the sale of such indulgences that Pope Leo X. carried forward the magnificent structure of
* Mosheim, Cent. 12. t Ibid.
St. Peter's church at Rome. He published a system of indulgences suited to all ranks and characters of men, and promised a plenary remission to all who should contribute their money to the furtherance of this and other ambitious projects. So that the foundations of this edifice, which has been so much éxtolled, were Haid, and its superstructure reared, by means the most impious and diabolical, by a display of reekless perfidy and insatiable avarice, and at the expense of undermining the whole fabric of Christianity, and usurping the prerogatives of the King of heaven. To such a pitch was this daring impiety carried, that indulgences were farmed out to the highest bidders, who, to make the best of their bargains, procured the ablest and most eloquent preachers to extol the efficacy; and enhance the value of such wares. A price, on a graduated scale, was set upon the remission of sins of every description, not even excepting the most horrid crimes, such as the murder of a father, mother or wife, so that for ninety livres, or a few ducats, or even for half a guinea of English money, a pardon might be procured from the “Apostolie Chancery,” for crimes which all civilized nations punish with death. The raging thirst of dominions which consumed the Roman Pontiffs, prior to the Reformation, and their arrogant endeavors to oppress all that came within the reach of their power,
were accompanied with the most impudent and insa
tiable extortion. “All the provinces of Europe were in a manner drained to enrich these ghostly tyrants, who were perpetually gaping after new accessions of wealth, in order to augment the number of their friends, and the stability of their dominions; and j. Stratagem was used to rob the subject without shocking the sovereign, and to levy taxes under the specious mark of religion.” Such was the shameless rapacity which then prevailed, that even in that age of superstition and servility, the eyes of all ranks began to open and to perceive the vileness and impiety of the pretensions of the ecclesiastical orders. Not only private persons
- * Mosheim. Cent. 12,