Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

With a simple faith, however ex. superior talents, splendid virtues, cellent and praise worthy, the mind or without much personal merit, by will not always rest contented. It the concurrence of circumstances, begins to look at the grounds of its have risen to respectability and belief; it compares its own con gained the confidence of the inany. ceptions with those of others; and Sometimes an individual gains asso far as its views are indistinct or cendency over the age in which he unsettled, it endeavours to give to lives; he gives a new direction to them precision and correctness. In the current of opinion, and his conthese attempts, the human mind is ceptions are adopted by that and apt to overleap the bounds, which the succeeding generations. Ifany by the nature of its powers are pre- voices are raised to question or scribed to its inquiries : it soars contest his assertions, they are uninto bold speculations, and is lost heeded or coercively silenced, bein the mazes of its own movements. cause his influence is paramount. After many unsuccessful efforts, it After a while however, the enthubegins to be more modest, to con- siasm with which the great man sider how far it can go, and to look was regarded cools down ; he sinks at the field of its inquiries before it to the level of a common man, and ventures upon them. From this his once admired doctrines are propensity to speculation, the hu- viewed with indifference, or even man mind, according as it proceeds discarded. Such, almost invariably, more slowly or more hastily, forms has been the course of religious for itself a greater or less number opinions. Certain teachers acof new doctrines, which are annex- quired a high reputation ; and they ed to its creed and incorporated in advanced new opinions and decisit. Thus from a simple faith, grew ions, to which other Christians up a scientific theory, which after- yielded assent, until they were wards was variously supported, de- eclipsed by new teachers, and sunk corated and modified, and which at away forgotten. one time sunk into a mere collec- It is a noticeable fact that, as tion of creeds, and at another ap- with individual persons, so also proximated to the ideal perfection with the human race at large, periof a science.

ods of activity and of repose alterThis aspiring disposition of the nately succeed each other. Seasons mind must have produced the great- of advancing, of standing still, and of er varieties of opinion, in conse- going back, seem as if they revolvquence of the vast difference in the ed in a circle. Now a period of abilities, education, and conditions inquiry arrives; investigations comof men, on which their views and mence; a few great men take the judgment in regard to doctrines solead, and a multitude follow after, much depend. Disparity of talents, emulous of their fame. From these education and aims, naturally pro- exertions, the system of theology duces diversity of opinions. Here, assumes a new character ; many one man finds out new statements, imperfections are removed from it, and another new proofs, of what is and many important truths are excurrently received ; there, those hibited with new evidence and statements are called in question, clearness. What attainments might and those proofs invalidated. The be made, if progress in such a greater part of mankind, and even course were to continue ! But now of teachers, are unqualified for deep an unexpected pause ensues. It investigations ; and of course, they would seem as if the human mind, receive with blind acquiescence, the having been overstrained, became declarations of those who by their exhausted and needed repose. In

[ocr errors]

stead of advancing onward, men Man has, as we have seen, a prin•

are content thoughtlessly to ciple of action within, and is not repose over such doctrines as have necessarily moved only by external been examined and setiled ; and things; yet history every where from their fear of going too far, shows the vast influence these have they actually take some steps back- on the mind, and their power to wards. Thus things remain, till change men's views and judgments a new excitement awakens again on religious subjects. the slumbering spirit of inquiry. Seinler has made the just reThe history of theology in the 16th mark, that dogmatic history has its and 17th centuries, when the pro- own geography, and that the Christtestants came so far short of the pat ian doctrines have received various tern set them by the first reformers, modifications according to the diis the best exemplification of these versities of countries. The cliremarks.

mate in which men live, undoubt. The passions of men also have edly, affects their religious opinever had great influence on chang- ions. The modes of thinking and es in doctrine. The love of dis- of elucidating and confirming doctinction leads some to hazard the trines, are very different in the publication of new opinions, which East, from what they are in the they advance with confidence and West. The Asiatic demands emdesend with pertinacity. Some, ployment for his imagination, on from their lust of empire, cannot the wings of which he readily soars endure, that the views they have to a great height; he finds little formed of certain doctrines should difficulty in regarding as true, not universally prevail ; and there. whatever appears to him awfully fore attempt, suecessfully or in vain, sublime, or awakens pleasing antito enforce them on others. Some- cipations; and his conceptions are times personal enmity leads men to generally expressed in ingenious declare certain opinions erroneous apophthegms and parables. The and dangerous, and to denounce colder European seeks for a logical them, and procure their public con- connexion in his ideas and concludemnation. Sometimes the ardour sions, is more inclined to calm inof controversy leads an eager po- vestigation, and is less disposed to lemic to make assertions, which he depend on mere authority. Dry would not bave made in cooler mo- scholasticism would never flourish ments ; but which he will after well on oriental ground. The wards defend with unyielding ob- Egyptians showed a propensity to stinacy, and raise, if he can, to the refined speculations; and in the rank of important articles of faith, stillness of solitude, opened their in order to escape the mortification souls to mysterious influxes. Hence of acknowledging his error. Dis. Eygpt gave birth to the Gnostic satisfaction with the world and sects, to monkery, and to mystic gloomy melancholy have often en- theology. After reading the turgendered new opinions, which took bid conceptions and the tempestucolouring from the hue of the minds ous rage of the imagination in the in which they originated. Thus works of Tertullian, who can doubt have the pasions too often played that the burning climate of Cara game with the understandings thage gave him birth !—But geoand judgments of men, even in mat- graphic difference among Christters of religion, and so become the ians had another influence on the cause of changes in opinion. state of doctrines. The Greeks in

SECOND CAUSE, the external cir- the east were able to read the cumstances in which men lived. New Testament in its original lan

in their age.

guage,

and the Old Testament in Sometimes it imposed restraints on the Alexandrine version. Hence the spirit of inquiry, and at other they were, for the most part, much times encouraged it. In these better expositors than the western ways civil government has had too Christians, who adhere commonly much connexion with the state of to the Latin translation, and out of theological opinion. it drew many forced interpretations. Still more has the ecclesiastical

Not only did country and climate government affected the state of serve to modify Christian doctrines, theology. The teachers were the but also the external condition of guides of the people, and controlChristians. In the change of their ed the mode of thinking on religion condition, often lay the cause of

If the education of their being more inclined to cer- teachers was good, and ignorant tain opinions, at one time than at and unworthy men were excluded another; and of their sometimes from the sacred office, religious cultivating theology with much vig- knowledge was extensive, correct, our, and at other times neglecting it. and efficient, in the churches. But In western Asia, where the church- whenever admission to the ministry es once flourished under eminent and behaviour in it were not guarteachers, Christianity is now redu- ded, when the ignorant were admitced to a ceremonial of worship, in ted and the vicious tolerated, then which its primitive doctrines are un- the theology of the times gathered known or misunderstood. Is not this rust from the sordid hands to which change to be ascribed chiefly, to the it was entrusted.

The teachers, pressure of a despotic government addicted to idleness, or absorbed which has impaired the mental ener- in other business than that of their gy, and to a sense of bondage which calling, were unconcerned about depresses the spirits of those Christ- the state of religious knowledge ians ? Thus has oppression at around them ; or they attended to times obstructed all improvement it only with a view to their own inamong Christians. But in differ- fluence and aggrandizement, or to ent circumstances, it has served cloak their ambitious and selfish only to awaken their enthusiasm, purposes.—The relations subsistwhich led them into all the notions ing between teachers and their conof which the enthusiastic mind is gregations, and those between difsusceptible. For example, the ferent teachers or churches, must doctrine of Christ's thousand years have had influence in shaping the reign on the earth and of the pre- faith of Christians. The greater vious destruction of the Roman dominion the teachers had over the empire, was a favourite doctrine consciences of their fellow men, with the early Christians, so long the greater the intellectual bonas the oppression they suffered dage, and the less the effects of from the Romans gave it peculiar free discussion. The uniting the interest, but not so, when the em- clergy in regular bodies, formed perors of Rome themselves em- after the model of the civil estabbraced Christianity. When the gov- lishment, which was confirmed by ernment became Christian, its situ- synods, was a most efficient means ation and mode of proceeding had of promoting uniformity in doctrine, considerable influence on the state but also of damping the spirit of of doctrines. At times it interfer- inquiry. When the government ed in religious matters, employed of the church, and what has generits authority to give currency to ally been connected with it-the certain doctrines, and its power to establishment of articles of faith, suppress the contrary opinions. were the prerogative of a few leading bishops, or of a single spiritual serve both for illustration and consovereign, the progress of dogmat- firmation of this remark. ics would take quite a different But the circumstance that most course from what it would if no advanced or retarded theological human authority was admitted in knowledge, was the degree of freematters of faith. Hence a thor- dom, with which men were allowed ough knowledge of the ecclesias- to investigate and express opinions tical regimen of an age, of the on religious subjects. Whenever subordination and the rights of the a man would shudder to have a new clergy, as well as of the relation in thought occur to him, lest the utwhich the churches of one country terance of it should destroy his stood to those of other countries, peace for life, and cause him to be must necessarily throw much light branded with the odious name of on the theology of that age, and heretic ; then, the field of dogmataccount for many of the changes ics would remain a barren waste, then produced.

for no one would dare to cultivate Ecclesiastical usages have like it. Those able to improve the sciwise had not a little influence on ence of theology, would shrink from the course of opinions. Christian- the attempt, because the results of ity in a short time after its establish their investigations must be kept as ment, was invested with a multi- a profound secret, locked up in their tude of ceremonies, which were own breasts. They would carefulsupposed to render it more venera- ly avoid making any new remarks, ble, and to increase its respectabil. or would study to conceal them unity and influence. These rites and der ambiguous and artful language, customs multiplied immensely, and where for the most part they would in the attempts to enforce or de- lie unseen and useless. In such fend some of them, new doctrines an age, if some daring spirit ventur. were proposed, which, coinciding ed farther, in defiance of custom with established usages, were gen- and the laws, and openly expressed erally received and held valid. his views; those views were at Thus for example, Thomas Aqui- once hunted down by the outcry of nas, in order to justify the prevail- the multitude, or crushed beneath ing practice in his day, respecting the weight of power. They could indulgences and penance, invented rarely spread far, or meet a fair exthe hypothesis of a treasury of good amination. In general, the narrowworks, committed to the care of St. er the circle of subjects allowed to Peter's successors.

free enquiry, the greater the uniThe mere phraseology used in formity of doctrine, and of apodicreligious discourse, has had influ- tical assurance, but the more also, ence on the revolutions of opinion. of blind submission, and of adIf a man, in order to give dignity herence to mere formulas. On the to certain ideas, uttered them with contrary, when the careful investisublime obscurity, or clothed them gator is encouraged to bring forin bold allegories and pompous im- ward the results of his enquiries, agery ; a subsequent age would be and when the reflecting querist is misled to put an erroneous con- not refused liberty to express his struction upon his flights of oratory, difficulties and doubts ; some ferand to receive his allegorical cover- ment may indeed arise, and more ing for the simple truth ; and thus diversity of opinion prevail, but would found on his authority, doc- theology will then be stripped of its trines, of which he himself, had no excrescences and false appendages, conception. The rise of the doc- and its deficiencies being discovertrine of transubstantiation, may ed, will afford opportunity for at

tempts to supply them. And though them to a more thorough examinasuch an age may at first, seem tion of the principles they professed, more eager to pull down than to and to the invention of more convinbuild up, yet in the end it produces cing arguments with which to meet this solid advantage, that the doc- gainsayers. A Jew was not to be trines of Christianity are set in a confuted in the same way as a paclearer light, and defended by more gan; and new attacks called for solid

arguments. From free inqui- new replies, and new objections for ry, if it is conducted with impartial- new proofs. To meet the exigenity and modesty, the truth must in ces of controversy, Christians had the end, always derive advantage. to exhibit more clearly the connex

Finally, among the outward cir- ion and dependance of many doccumstances, producing a change in trines, to explain apparent contraChristian doctrines, the character dictions, and to set up new definiof the religions supplanted by tions and distinctions. Sometimes Christianity must not be overlook- also they have chosen to abandon a ed. The first Christian churches long received opinion, because it were gathered among Jews and appeared to them untenable, and Pagans. But how could such per- they feared that a perseverance in sons, on embracing a new faith, dis- defending it would bring other doccard at once, the whole train of trines under suspicion. How great. their former conceptions and opin- ly, for instance, have the writings of ions ! Rather, while they cordially deists contributed to change the asembraced Christianity as their new pect of modern dogmatics! religious directory, their former But a more fruitful source of ideas became intermixed with its change was the zeal, sometimes instructions. Thus both Jewish honest and sometimes selfish, for and Pagan opinions were transplant- preserving the Christian faith pure ed into Christian ground, and there- and uncorrupt. This zeal has givby contributed to shape or modify en rise to continual controversy in several doctrines of the church. the church, from the days of the

THIRD CAUSE of changes in doc- apostles to the present times. And trine, namely, the varying necessi- in one point of view, these controties of the times.

versies have been advantageous to Jesus and his apostles stated theology ; for they have been a most their doctrines in the manner best powerful excitement to new and suited to the exigences of the age profound investigation. The arin which they lived; and they dwelt dour of conflict and the desire of most on those doctrines which were victory fire the mind, and lead it to comprehensible by their immediate examine every source of proof for hearers and readers, and most im- the opinion maintained, to discover portant to their sanctification and every weak side of the opinion at. comfort. But every age has its pe- tacked, and to anticipate and guard culiar character and wants; and against every possible objection. while the teachers who succeeded Not unfrequently the mind is pushthe apostles, endeavoured to adapted on, by this cause, to make intheir precepts and language to the quiries and discoveries, of which it necessities of their own times, they would not otherwise have formed a introduced great varieties of senti- con

conception. Theology indeed has ment.

seldom derived much benefit from Christians have found themselves a controversy, so long as the heat obliged to defend their faith against of the contest continued ; because those who impagned both its credi- the disputants almost invariably bility and its importance. This led judged and reasoned from passion,

« AnteriorContinuar »