« Prev Proposition VI. Next »

Proposition VI.

VI. Proposition VI. Though in almost every age there have indeed been in the heathen world some wise and brave and good men, who have made it their business to study and practise the duties of natural religion themselves, and to teach and exhort others to do the like, who seem therefore to have been raised up by Providence, as instruments to reprove in some measure, 257and put some kind of check to the extreme superstition and wickedness of the nations wherein they lived; yet none of these have ever been able to reform the world with any considerable great and universal success, because they have been but very few that have in earnest set themselves about this excellent work; and they that have indeed sincerely done it have themselves been entirely ignorant of some doctrines, and very doubtful and uncertain of others, absolutely necessary for the bringing about that great end; and those things which they have been certain of, and in good measure understood, they have not been able to prove and explain clearly enough; and those that they have been able both to prove and explain by sufficiently clear reasoning, they have not yet had authority enough to enforce and inculcate upon men’s minds with so strong an impression as to influence and govern the general practice of the world.

1. There have, indeed, in almost every age been, in the heathen world, some wise, and brave, and good men, who have made it their business to study and practise the duties of natural religion themselves, and to teach and exhort others to do the like: An eminent instance whereof, in the eastern nations, the Scripture itself affords us in the history of Job; concerning whom it does not certainly appear that he knew any positive revealed institution of religion, or that, before his sufferings, any immediate revelation was made to him, as there was to Abraham and the rest of the patriarchs. Among the Greeks Socrates seems to be an extraordinary example of this kind, concerning whom Plato tells us, in his apology,264264   Ὀυδὲν γὰρ ἄλλο πράττων ἐγὼ περιέρχομαι, ἢ πείθων ὑμῶν καὶ νεωτέρους καὶ π9ρεσβυτέρους, μήτε σωμάτων ἐπιμελεῖσθαι, μήτε χρηματων πρότερον, μήτε ἄλλου τινὸς, οὕτω σφόδρα, ὡς τῆς ψυχῆς, ὅπως ὡς ἀρίστη ἔσται· λέγων. ὅτι οὐκ ἐκ χρημάτων ἡ ἀρετὴ γίνεται, ἀλλ᾽ ἐξ ἀρετὴς χρήματα καὶ τἄλλα ταγαθὰ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἅπαν9τα, καὶ ἐδίᾳ καὶ δημοσίᾳ.Plato in Apol. Socrat. that he did nothing else but go continually about, persuading both old and young, not to be so 258much solicitous to gratify the appetites of the body, or to heap up wealth, or to raise themselves to honour, or gain any outward advantage whatsoever: as to improve the mind, by the continual exercise of all virtue and goodness: Teaching them, that a man’s true value did not arise from his riches, or from any outward circumstances of life; but that true riches, and every real good, whether public or private, proceeded wholly from virtue. After him, Plato and Aristotle and others followed his example, in teaching morality. And among the Romans, Cicero, and in later times, Epictetus and Antoninus, and several others, gave the world admirable systems of ethics, and noble moral instructions and exhortations, of excellent use and benefit to the generations wherein they live, and deservedly of great value and esteem even unto this day.

2. Who seem to have been designed by Providence to bear witness against the wickedness of the nations wherein they lived. So that I think, it may very justly be supposed, that these men were raised up and designed by Providence, (the abundant goodness of God having never left itself wholly without witness, notwithstanding the greatest corruptions and provocations of mankind,) as instruments to reprove in some measure, and put some kind of check to the extreme superstition and wickedness of the nations wherein they lived; or at least to bear witness against, and condemn it. Concerning Job, the case is evident and confessed. And for the same reason, some of the ancientest writers of the church have not scrupled to call even Socrates also,265265   Καὶ ὁι μετὰ λόγου βιώσαντες, Χριστιανόι εἰσι, κἂν ἀθεοι ἐνομίσθησαν· οἷον ἐν Ἕλλησι μεν Σωκράτης καὶ Ἡράκλειτος, καὶ ὁι ὅμοιοι αὐτοῖς ἐν βαρβάροις δὲ Ἀβραὰμ,&c.—Justin, Apolog. 2. and some others of the best of the heathen moralists, by the name of Christians; and to affirm, that,266266   Τάχα δὲ καὶ προηγουμένως τοῖς Ἕλληνσιν ἐδνθη ἡ φιλοσοφία τότε. πρὶν ἢ τὸν κύριον καλέσαι καὶ τοὺς Ἕλληνασ· ἐπαιδαγώγει γὰρ καὶ αὐτή τὸ Ἑλληνκὸν. ὡς ὁ νόμος τοῦς Ἑβραίους εἰς Χριστὸν· προπαρασκευάζει τόινυν ἡ φιλοσοφία. προοδοποιοῦσα τὸν ὑπὸ Χριστοῦ τελειούμενον.Clem. Alexand. Strom.1. as the law was as it were 259a schoolmaster to bring the Jews unto Christ, so true moral philosophy was to the gentiles a preparative to receive the gospel. This perhaps was carrying the matter somewhat to far: But, to be sure, thus much we may safely assert, that267267   Ὁ θεὸς γὰρ αὐτοῖς ταῦτα, καὶ ὅσα καλῶς λέλέκται, ἐφανέρωσε.Orig. advers. Cels. lib. 6. whatever any of these men were at any time enabled to deliver wisely and profitably, and agreeably to divine truth, was as a light shining in a dark place, derived to them by a ray of that infinite overflowing goodness, which does good to all even both just and unjust; from God the sole fountain of all truth and wisdom: And this, for some advantage and benefit to the rest of the world, even in its blindest and most corrupt estate.

3. But yet none of these men were ever able to reform the world with any considerable success. But then, notwithstanding the most that can be made of this supposition, it is certain the effect of all the teaching and instruction even of the best of the philosophers in the heathen world, was in comparison very small and inconsiderable. They never were able to reform the world with any great and universal success, nor to keep together any considerable number of men in the knowledge and practice of true virtue. With respect to the worship of God, idolatry prevailed universally in all nations; and, notwithstanding men did indeed know God, so as to be without excuse, yet “they did not like to retain him in their knowledge, but became vain in theirRom. i, 21-28. imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened, and they changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into images” of the vilest creatures; and no philosophers ever turned any great number of men from this absurd idolatry, to the acknowledgment and worship of the only true God. In respect of men’s dealings one with another, honour and interest, and friendship, and laws, and the necessity of society, did indeed cause justice to be practised in many heathen nations to a great degree; but very few men 260among them were just and equitable upon right and true principles, a due sense of virtue, and a constant fear and love of God. With respect to themselves, intemperance and luxury, and unnatural uncleanness, was commonly practised, even in the most civilized countries; and this not so much in opposition to the doctrine of the philosophers, as by the consent indeed and encouragement of too great a part of them. I shall not enlarge upon this ungrateful and melancholy subject: There are accounts enough extant of the universal corruption and debauchery of the heathen world. St. Paul’s description of it, in the whole first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, is alone sufficient; and the complaints of their own writers abundantly confirm it.268268   Egregium sanctumque virum si cerno, bimembri
Hoc monstrum puero, vel miranti sub aratro
Piscibus inventis, et fœtæ comparo mulæ.

   Juvenal, Sat. 13.

   See also the places cited a little below.
The disciples of the best moralists, at least the practisers of their doctrine were, in their own lifetime,269269   Sint licet perhonesti;—sed audire deposcimus quot sint aut fuerint numero.——Unus, duo, tres.——At genus humanum non ex bonis pauculis, sed ex cæteris omnibus æstimari convenit.Arnob. advers. Gentes, lib. 2.
   Da mihi virum qui sit iracundus, maledicus, efficinatus, paucissimis Dei verbis tam placidum, quam ovem, reddam. Da libidinosum, &c.——Numquis hæc philosophorum aut unquam præstitit, aut præstare, si velit, potest?Lactant. lib. 3.

   Παρὰ μὲν τοῖς Ἕλλητιν εἷς τις Φάιδων καὶ οὐκ οἶδα εἰ δεὐτερος, &c.—Origen advers. Cels. lib. 1.
very few, as too plainly appears from the evil treatment which that great man Socrates met withal at Athens: And at their deaths their doctrine in great measure died with them, not having any sufficient evidence or authority to support it; and their followers quickly fell back into the common idolatry, superstition, uncleanness, and debauchery, of which the character the Roman writers give of those that called themselves the disciples of Socrates is a particular and remarkable instance. These considerations (so very early 261did they appear to be true,) affected in such a manner that great admirer of Socrates, Plato, that he sometimes seems to give over all hopes of working any reformation in men by philosophy; and says that a good man,270270   Ταῦτα λογισμῷ λαβὼν, ἡσυχίαν ἔχων. καὶ τὰ ἀυτοῦ πράττων, οἷον ἐν χειμῶνι κονιορτοῦ καὶ ζάλης ὑπὸ πνεύματος φερομένου, ὑπὸ τοιχίον ὑποστὰς ὁρῶν τοὺς ἄλλους καταπιμπλαμένους, ἀνομίας, ἀγαπᾶ εἴ πη αὐτὸς καθαρὸς ἀδικίας τε καὶ ἀνοσίοιν ἔργων. τόντε ἐνθάδε βίον βιώσεται, καὶ τὴν ἀπαλλαγὴν, αὐτοῦ μετὰ καλῆς ἐλπίδος ἴδεώς καὶ ἑυμενὴς ἀπαλλάξεται.Plato de Republ. lib. 6. when he considers these things, would even choose to sit quiet, and shift for himself, like a man that in a violent hurricane creeps under a wall for his defence; and seeing the whole world round about him filled with all manner of wickedness, be content if, preserving his single self from iniquity and every evil work, he can pass away the present life in peace, and at last die with tranquillity and good hope. And, indeed, for many reasons, it was altogether impossible that the teaching of the philosophers should ever be able to reform mankind, and recover them out of their very degenerate and corrupt estate, with any considerably great and universal success.

1. Because they have been but very few that have in earnest set themselves about that excellent work. In the first place, because the number of those who have in earnest set themselves about this excellent work have been exceeding few: Philosophers, indeed, that called themselves so, there were enough in every place, and in every age: But those who truly made it their business to improve their reason to the height, to free themselves from the superstition which overwhelmed the whole world, to search out the obligations of morality, and the will of God their creator, to obey it sincerely themselves, as far as they could discover it by the light of nature, and to encourage and exhort others to do the like; were but a very few names. The doctrine of far the greatest part of the philosophers consisted plainly in nothing but words, and subtilty, and strife, and empty contention; as did not at all amend even 262their own manners, much less was fitted to reform the world. Their scholars,271271   Ἀλλ᾽ ὁι πολλοὶ ταῦτα μεν οὺ πράττουσιν· ἐπὶ δε τὸν λόγον καταφεύγοντες οἴονται ἀιλοσοφεῖν, καὶ οὕτως ἔσεσθαι στουδαῖοι· ὁμοιον τε πιιοῦντες τοῖς κάμνουσιν, οἱ τῶν ἰατρῶν ἀκούουσι μὲν ἐπιμελῶς; πιοοῦσι δ᾽ οὐθεν τῶν προστασσομένων, ὥσπερ οὖν οὐδ᾽ ἐκεῖνοι εὖ ἕξουσι τὸ σῶμα, οὕτω θεραπευόμενοι· οὐδ᾽ οὗτοι τῆν ψυχὴν, οὕτων φιλοσοφοῦντες.Arisyot. Ethic. lib. 2. cap. 3. as Aristotle excellently describes them, thought themselves greatly improved in philosophy, and that they were become gallant men if they did but hear and understand and learn to dispute about morality, though it had no effect at all nor influence upon their manners; just as if a sick man should expect to be healed by hearing a physician discourse, though he never followed any of his directions. Undoubtedly, saith he, the mind of the one was exactly as much improved by such philosophy, as the health of the other’s body by such physic: And no wonder the generality of the common hearers judged of their own improvement in philosophy by such false measures, when the enormous viciousness of the lives of the philosophers themselves272272   Inclusos [philosophos] in angulis, facienda præcipere, quæ ne ipsi quidem faciunt qui loquuntur, linguæ et quoniam se a veris actibus removerunt, apparet eos exercendæ causa, vel advocandi gratia, artem ipsam philosophiæ reperisse.Lactant. lib. 3. made it plainly appear that their art was not so much intended and fitted for the reformation of men’s manners, as to be an exercise of wit and subtilty, and an instrument of vainglory: Excepting, perhaps, Socrates and Plato, and some others of that rank, this account is too plainly true of the greatest part of the philosophers. The argument is too unpleasant to instance in particulars. Whoever pleases, may, in Diogenes Laertius, and other writers, find accounts enough of the lewdness and unnatural vices of most of the philosophers. It is a shame for us, so much as to speak of those things, which were done of them, not only in secret, but even in the most public manner. I shall here only add the judgment of Cicero, a man as able to pass a right judgment in this 263matter as ever lived. Do you think,273273   Sed hæc eadem num censes apud eos ipsos valere, nisi admodum paucos, a quibus inventa, disputata, conscripta sunt? Quotus enim quisque philosophorum invenitur, qui sit ita moratus, ita animo ac vita constitutus, ut ratio postulat; qui disciplinam suam non ostentationem scientiæ, sed legem vitæ putet, qui obtemperet ipse sibi, et decretis suis pareat? videre licet multos, libidinum servos, &c.Cic. Tusculan. Quœst. lib. 2. says he, that these things (meaning the precepts of morality,) had any influence upon those men, (excepting only a very few of them,) who taught, and wrote, and disputed about them? No; who is there of all the philosophers, whose mind, and life, and manners were conformable to right reason? Whoever made his philosophy to be the law and rule of his life, and not a mere boast and show of his wit and parts? who observed his own instructions, and lived in obedience to his own precepts? On the contrary; many of them were slaves to filthy lusts, many to pride, many to covetousness, &c.

2. And those few of the philosophers, who did indeed sincerely endeavour to reform mankind, were yet themselves entirely ignorant of some doctrines absolutely necessary to the bringing about that great end. Those few extraordinary men of the philosophers, who did indeed in good measure sincerely obey the laws of natural religion themselves, and make it their chief business to instruct and exhort others to do the same, were yet themselves entirely ignorant of some doctrines absolutely necessary to the bringing about this great end, of the reformation and recovery of mankind.

In general: Having no knowledge of the whole scheme, order, and state of things, the method of God’s governing the world, his design in creating mankind, the original dignity of human nature, the ground and circumstances of men’s present corrupt condition, the manner of the divine interposition necessary to their recovery, and the glorious end to which God intended finally to conduct them: Having no knowledge (I say) of all this, their whole attempt to discover the truth of things, and to instruct others therein, was like wandering in the wide sea,274274   Errant ergo velut in mari magno, nec quo ferantur intelligunt; quia nec viam cernunt nec ducem sequuntur.Lactant. lib. 6. 264without knowing whither they were to go, or which way they were to take, or having any guide to conduct them: And accordingly the wisest of them were never backward to confess their own ignorance and great blindness;275275   Ex cæteris philosophis, nonne optimus et gravissimus quisque confitetur, multa se ignorare; et multa sibi etiam atque etiam esse discenda?Cic. Tusc. Quest. 3. that truth was hid from them276276   Ἐν βύθῳ ἀλήθεια. as it were in an unfathomable depth; that they were much in the dark,277277   Tui ergo te, Cicero, libri arguunt, quam nihil a philosophia disci possit ad vitam. Hæc tua verba sunt, mihi autem non modo ad sapientiam cæci videmur, sed ad ea ipsa, quæ aliqua ex parte cerni videantur, hebetes et obtusi.Lactant. lib. 3. and very dull and stupid, not only as to the profounder things of wisdom, but as to such things also which seemed very capable of being in great part discovered: Nay, that even those things which in themselves were of all others the most manifest,278278   Ὥσπερ γὰρ καὶ τὰ τῶν νυκτερίδων ὄμματα πρὸς το φέγγος ἔχει τὀ μεθ᾽ ἡμέραν, οὕτω καὶ τῆς ἡμετέρας ψυχῆς ὁ νοῦς πρὸς τὰ τῇ φύσει φανερώτατα πάντων.Aristot. Metaphys. lib. 2. c. 1. (that is, which, whenever made known, would appear most obvious and evident,) their natural understanding was of itself as unqualified to find out and apprehend as the eyes of bats to behold the light of the sun; that the very first and most necessary thing of all,279279   Τὸν μὲν οὖ ποιητὴν καὶ πατέρα τοῦδε τοῦ παντὸς εὐρεῖν τε ἔργον, κα8ὶ εὐρόντα λέγειν εἰς πάντας ἀδύνατον.Plato in Timæo.
   Profecto eos ipsos, qui se aliquid certi habere arbitrantur, addubitare coget doctissimorum hominum de maxima re tanta dissensio.Cic. de Natura Deor. lib. 1.
the nature and attributes of God himself, were, notwithstanding all the general helps of reason, very difficult to them to find out in particular, and still more difficult to explain; it being much more easy to say what God was not than what he was:280280   Utinam tam facilè vera invenire possem, quam falsa convincere.Id. ibid. And finally, that the method of instructing men effectually, and making them truly wise and good, was a thing very obscure and dark, and difficult 265to be found out:281281   Ἕπου ἐυξάμενος μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ——Καὶ μοι δύσβατός γέ τις τόπος φαίνεται καὶ ἐπίσκιος· ἔστιν οὖν σκοτεινὸς καὶ δυσδιερεύνητος.Plato de Republ. lib. 4. In a word, Socrates himself always openly professed, that he pretended to be wiser than other men only in this one thing, that he was duly sensible of his own ignorance, and believed that it was merely for that very reason that the oracle pronounced him the wisest of men.282282   See Plato in Apologia Socratis.

Particularly they were very ignorant in what manner God might be acceptably worshipped. More particularly; the manner in which God might be acceptably worshipped these men were entirely and unavoidably ignorant of. That God ought to be worshipped is, in the general, as evident and plain from the light of nature as any thing can be; but in what particular manner, and with what kind of service he will be worshipped, cannot be certainly discovered by bare reason. Obedience to the obligations of nature, and imitation of the moral attributes of God, the wisest philosophers easily knew was undoubtedly the most acceptable service to God: But some external adoration seemed also to be necessary, and how this was to be performed they could not with any certainty discover. Accordingly even the very best of them complied therefore generally with the outward religion of their country, and advised others to do the same; and so, notwithstanding all their wise discourses, they fell lamentably into the practice of the most foolish idolatry. Plato,283283   Lactantius observes that Socrates himself, at the conclusion of one of the bravest discourses that ever was made by any philosopher, superstitiously ordered a sacrifice to be offered for him to Æ sculapius. But herein Lactantius was certainly mistaken; for Socrates undoubtedly spake this in mockery of Æ sculapius, looking upon death as his truest deliverance.
   Εἶπεν, ὃ δὴ τελευταῖον ἐφθέγξατο· Ὦ Κρίτων, τῷ Ασκληπιῷ ὀφείλομcν ἀλεκτρυόνα· ἀλλὰ ἀπόδοτε, καὶ μὴ ἀμελήσηςε.Plato in Phœdone.

   Illud vero nonne summæ vanitatis, quod ante mortem familiares suos rogavit, ut Æ sculapio gallum, quem voverat, pro se sacrarent?Lactant. lib. 3.
after having delivered very noble, and almost divine truths concerning the nature and attributes of the Supreme God, weakly 266advises men to worship likewise inferior gods,284284   Πρῶτον μεν, φαμὲν, τιμὰς τὰς μετ᾽ ὀλυμπίους τε καὶ τοὺς τυν πόλιν ἔχοντας θεοὺς, τοῖς χθονίοις ἄν τις θεοῖς ἄρτια καὶ δεύτερα καὶ ἀριστερὰ νέμων, ὁρθότατα τοῦ τῆς ἐυσέβειας σκοποῦ τυγχ8άνοι.——Μετὰ θεοὺ δε τούσδε, καὶ τοῖς δαίμοσιν ὅγ᾽ ἔμφρῳν ὀργιάζοιτ᾽ ἄν.——Ἐπακολουθεῖ δ᾽ ἀυτοῖς ἱδρύματα ἴδια πατρώων θεῶν κατὰ νόμον ὀργιαζόμενα..—Plato de Legib. lib. 4. demons, and spirits, and dared not to condemn the worshipping even of statues also and images, dedicated according to the laws of their country; as if the honour they paid to lifeless idols could procure the favour and good-will of superior intelligences;285285   Τοὺς μὲν γὰρ τῶν θεῶν ὀρῶντες σαφῶς, τιμῶμεν· τῶν δε εἰκόνας ἁγάλματα ἱδρυσάμενοι, οὓς ἡμῖν ἀγάλλουσι, καίπερ ἀψύχους ὅντας, ἐκείνους ἡγούμεθα, τύὺς ἐμψύχους θεοὺς πολλὴν διὰ ταυτ᾽ ἔυνοιαν καὶ χάριν ἔχειν..—Plato de Legib. lib. 11. And so he corrupted and spoiled the best philosophy in the world by adding idolatry to that worship which he had wisely and bravely before proved to be due to the creator of all things.286286   Τὰ Πλάτωνι οὗκ ἀπιθάνως μὲν εἰρημένα, οὐ μὴν καὶ διέθεντο τὸν φιλόσοφον ἀξῖως κἂν ἀυτῷ ἀναστραφῆναι ἐν τῇ πρὸς τὸν ποιητην τῶν ὅλων ἐυσεβέια, ἧν ἐχρῆν μὴ νοθεύειν, μηδὲ μιάινειν τῆ εἰδωλολατρεία.—Orig. advers. Cels. lib. 6. After him, Cicero, the greatest and best philosopher that Rome or perhaps any other nation ever produced, allowed men to continue the idolatry of their ancestors;287287   A patribus acceptos Deos placet coli.Cic. de Legib. lib. 2. advised them to conform themselves to the superstitious religion of their country,288288   Item illud ex institutis pontificum et aruspicum non mutandum est, quibus hostiis immolandum cuique Deo.Id. ibid. in offering such sacrifices to different gods as were by law established; and disapproves and finds fault with the Persian Magi,289289   Nec sequor Magos Persarum, quibus auctoribus Xerxes inflammâ sse templa Græciæ dicitur, quod parietibus includerent Deos, quorum hic mundus omnis templum esset et domus. Melius Græci atque nostri, qui, ut augerent pietatem in Deos, easdem illos, quas nos urbes incolere voluerunt.Id ibid. for burning the temples of the Grecian gods, and asserting that the whole universe was God's temple: In290290   Video te, Cicero, terrena et manufacta venerari. Vana esse intelligis, et tamen eadem facis quæ faciunt ipsi quos ipse stultisssimos confiteris.——Si libenter errant etiam ii, qui errare se sentiunt quanto magis vulgus indoctum?—Lactant. lib. 2. 267all which he fondly contradicts himself, by inexcusably complying with the practices of those men, whom in many of his writings he largely and excellently proves to be extremely foolish upon account of those very practices: And to mention no more, (for indeed those of a lower rank, the minuter philosophers, as Tully calls them, are not worth mentioning,) that admirable moralist Epictetus, who, for a true sense of virtue, seems to have had no superior in the heathen world; even he also advises men to offer libations and sacrifices to the gods,291291   Σπέιδειν δε καὶ θύειν, καὶ ἀπάρχεσθαι κατὰ τὰ πάτρια ἑκάστῳ προσήκει.Epict. cap. 38. every one according to the religion and custom of his country:

And in what method God would be reconciled to returning sinners. But still more particularly: That which of all other things, these best and wisest of the philosophers were most absolutely and unavoidably ignorant of, and yet which, of all other things, was of the greatest importance for sinful men to know, was the method by which such as have erred from the right way, and have offended God, may yet again restore themselves to the favour of God, and to the hopes of happiness. From the consideration of the goodness and mercifulness of God, the philosophers did indeed very reasonably hope, that God would show himself placable to sinners, and might be some way reconciled; but when we come to inquire more particularly what propitiation he will accept, and in what manner this reconciliation must be made, here nature stops, and expects with impatience the aid of some particular revelation. That God will receive returning sinners, and accept of repentance instead of perfect obedience, they cannot certainly know to whom he has not declared that he will do so; for though this be the most probable and only means of reconciliation that nature suggests, yet whether this will be alone sufficient, or whether God will not require something further for the vindication of his justice, and of the honour and dignity of his laws and government, and for the 268expressing more effectually his indignation against sin, before he will restore men to the privileges they have forfeited, they cannot be satisfactorily assured; for it cannot positively be proved, from any of God’s attributes, that he is absolutely obliged to pardon all creatures all their sins, at all times, barely and immediately upon their repenting. There arises, therefore, from nature, no sufficient comfort to sinners, but anxious and endless solicitude about the means of appeasing the Deity. Hence those divers ways of sacrificing, and numberless superstitions, which overspread the face of the heathen world, but were so little satisfactory to the wiser part of mankind, even in those times of darkness, that the more considering philosophers could not forbear frequently declaring that292292   See Plato’s Alcibiades 2. throughout. they thought those rites could avail little or nothing towards appeasing the wrath of a provoked God, or making their prayers acceptable in his sight; but that something still seemed to them to be wanting, though they knew not what.

3. And other doctrines absolutely necessary in order to reform mankind, the best philosophers were very doubtful and uncertain about. Some other doctrines absolutely necessary, likewise, to the bringing about this great end of the reformation of mankind, though there was indeed so much proof and evidence of the truth of them to be drawn from reason, as that the best philosophers could not by any means be entirely ignorant of them; yet so much doubtfulness, uncertainty, and unsteadiness, was there in the thoughts and assertions of these philosophers concerning them, as could not but293293   Præterea nihil apud eos certi est, nihil quod à scientia veniat;——et nemo paret, quia nemo vult ad incertum laborare.Lactant. lib. 3. very much diminish their proper effect and influence upon the hearts and lives of men. I instance, in the immortality of the soul, the certainty of a future state, and the rewards and punishments to be distributed in a life to come. The arguments, which may be drawn from reason and from the nature of things, for the proof of these great truths, seem 269really (as I have before shown) to come very little short of strict demonstration: And accordingly the wisest philosophers (as has likewise been shown before) did indeed sometimes seem to have reasoned themselves into a firm belief of them, and to have been fully convinced of their certainty and reality; even so far as to apply them to excellent purposes and uses of life. But then, on the other hand, a man cannot without some pity and concern of mind observe, how strangely, at other times, the weight of the same arguments seems to have slipped (as it were) out of their minds; and with what wonderful diffidence, wavering, and unsteadiness, they discourse about the same things. I do not here think it of any very great moment, that there were indeed some whole sects of philosophers, who absolutely denied the immortality of the soul, and peremptorily rejected all kind of expectation of a life to come; (though, to be sure, this could not but in some measure shock the common people, and make them entertain some suspicion about the strength of the arguments used on the other side of the question by wiser men:) Yet, I say,) it cannot be thought of any very great moment, that some whole sects of philosophers did indeed absolutely deny the immortality of the soul; because these men were weak reasoners in other matters also, and plainly low and contemptible philosophers, in comparison of those greater geniuses we are now speaking of. But that which I now observe, and which I say cannot be observed without some pity and concern of mind, is this; that even those great philosophers themselves, the very best and wisest and most considerate of them that ever lived, notwithstanding the undeniable strength of the arguments which sometimes convinced them of the certainty of a future state, did yet at other times express themselves with so much hesitancy and unsteadiness concerning it, as, without doubt, could not but extremely hinder the proper effect and influence which that most important consideration 270ought to have upon the hearts and lives of men. I am now, said Socrates294294   Ἑμοὶ μὲν ἀπογανουμίνῷ, ὑμῖν βιωσομένοις· ὁπότεροι δε ἡμῶν ἔρχονται ἐπὶ ἄμεινον πρᾶγμα, ἄδηλον παντὶ πλην ἢ τῷ θε.Plato in Apolog, Socr. a little before his death, about to leave this world; and ye are still to continue in it: Which of us have the better part allotted to us, God only knows:295295   Quod præter Deos negat scire quenquam, scit ipse, utrum melius sit, nam dixit antè . Sed suum illud, nihil ut affirmet, tenet ad extremum.Cic. Tusc. Qu. lib. 1. Seeming to express some doubtfulness, whether he should have any existence after death, or not. And again, at the end of his most admirable discourse concerning the immortality of the soul; I would have you to know,296296   Νῦν δε εὠ ἴστε ὅτι παρ᾽ ἄνδρας τε ἐλπίζω ἀφὶξεσθαι ἀγαθοὺς, καὶ τοῦτο οὖκ μὲν ἂν πάνυ διϊσχυρισαὶμην.—Plato in Phæd. said he to his friends who came to pay him their last visit, that I have great hopes I am now going into the company of good men: Yet I would not be too peremptory and confident concerning it. But297297   Ἐι δεὐ αὖ οἶον ἀποδημῆσαὶ ἐστιν ὁ θάνατος ἐνθένδε εἰς ἄλλον τόπον, καὶ ἀληθῆ ἐστι τὰ λεγόμενα, ὡς ἄρα ἐκεῖ εἰσι πάντες οἱ τεθνεῶτες, &c.—Plato in Apolog. Socrat. if death be only as it were a transmigration from hence unto another place; and those things, which are told us, be indeed true; that those who are dead to us, do all live there: Then, &c. So likewise Cicero, speaking of the same subject: I will endeavour, saith he,298298   Ea, quæ vis, ut potero, explicabo; nec tamen quasi Pythius Apollo, certa ut sint et fixa quæ dixero, sed ut homunculus unus è multis, probabilia conjectura sequens. Ultra enim quò progrediar, quam ut verisimilia videam, non habeo.Cic. Tusc. Qust. lib. 1. to explain what you desire; yet I would not have you depend upon what I shall say, as certain and infallible; but I may guess, as other men do, at what shall seem most probable: And further than this, I cannot pretend to go. Again: Which of those two opinions,299299   Harum sententiarum quæ vera sit, Deus aliquis viderit; quæ verisimillima, magna quæstio est.Id. ibid. saith he, [that the soul is mortal, or that it is immortal,] be true, God only knows; which 271of them is most probable, is a very great question. And again in the same discourse, having brought all those excellent arguments before mentioned in proof of the immortality of the soul; yet we ought not, saith he,300300   Etsi nihil nimis oportet confidere. Movemur enim sæpe aliquo acutè concluso, labamus mutamusque sententiam clarioribus etiam in rebus; in his est enim aliqua obscuritas.Id ibid. to be overconfident of it: For it often happens that we are strongly affected at first with an acute argument; and yet, a little while after, stagger in our judgment, and alter our opinion, even in clearer matters than these: For these things must be confessed to have some obscurity in them. And again: I know not how, saith he,301301   Nescio quomodo, dum lego, assentior, cum posui librum, et mecum ipse de immortalitate animorum cæpi cogitare, assensio omnis illa elabitur.Id ibid. when I read the arguments in proof of the soul’s immortality, methinks I am fully convinced; and yet after I have laid aside the book, and come to think and consider of the matter alone by myself, presently I find myself slipt again insensibly into my old doubts. From all which it appears, that notwithstanding all the bright arguments and acute conclusions, and brave sayings of the best philosophers, yet life and immortality were not fully and satisfactorily brought to light by bare natural reason;302302   Credebam facilè opinionibus magnorum virorum, tam gratissimam [animæ immortalitatem] promittentium magis quam probantimm.Senec. Epist. 102.
   Adeo omnis illa tunc sapientia Socratis, de industria venerat consultæ æquanimitatis, non de fiducia compertæ veritatis.Tertullian de Anima.
but men still plainly stood in need of some farther and more complete discovery.

4. And those things which they were indeed certain of, yet they were not able to prove and explain clearly and distinctly enough. Those things which the philosophers were indeed the most fully certain of, and did in good measure understand; such as the obligations of virtue, and the will of God in matters of morality; yet they were never able to prove and explain clearly and distinctly enough, to persons of capacities, in order to their complete conviction and reformation. First, because 272most of their discourses upon these subjects have been rather speculative and learned, nice and subtile disputes, than practical and universally useful instructions. They proved, by strict and nice argumentation, that the practice of virtue is wise and reasonable, and fit to be chosen, rather than that it is of plain, necessary, and indispensable obligation; and were able to deduce the will of God only by such abstract and subtile reasonings as the generality of men had by no means either abilities or opportunities to understand or to be duly affected by. Their very profession and manner of life led them to make their philosophy rather an entertainment of leisure time,303303   Profecto omnis istorum disputatio, quanquam uberrimos fontes virtutis et scientiæ contineat, tamen collata cum horum [qui rempublicam gubernant] actis perfectisque rebus, vereor ne non tantum videatur attulisse negotiis hominum utilitatis, quantum oblectationem quandam otii.Cic. de Repub. Fragm. a trial of wit and parts, an exercise of eloquence, and of the art and skill of good speaking, than an endeavour to reform the manners of men, by showing them their plain and necessary duty: And accordingly the study of it, was, as Cicero304304   Est, inquit Cicero, philosophia paucis contenta judicibus, multitudinem consulto ipsa, fugiens.——Maximum itaque argumentum est, philosophiam quod neque ad sapientiam tendere, neque ipsam esse sapientiam, quod mysterium ejus, barba tantum celebratur et pallio.Lactant. lib. 3. himself observes, unavoidably confined to a few, and by no means fitted for the bulk and common sort of mankind, who, as they cannot judge of the true strength of nice and abstract arguments, so they will always be suspicious of some fallacy in them. None but men of parts and learning, of study and liberal education, have been able to profit by the sublime doctrine of Plato, or by the subtile disputations of other philosophers; whereas the doctrine of morality, which is the rule of life and manners, ought to be plain, easy, and familiar, and suited fully to the capacities of all men.305305   Ὀλίγους μεν ὤνησεν ἡ περὶκαλλὴς καὶ ὐπιτετηδευμένη Πλάτωνος λέξις, πλ ονας δὲ ἡ τῶν ἐυτελέστερον ἅμα καὶ πραγματικῶς καὶ ἐστοχασμενως τῶν πολλῶν διδαξάντων καὶ γραψάντω9ν· ἔστι γοῦν ἰδειν, τὸν μεν Πλάτωνα εν χερσι τῶν δοκούντων εἷναι φιλολόγων μόνον.Orig. Advers. Cels. lib. 6.
   Ἀγροικότερον ἐσπὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Τῷ θέλοντι τὸν χιτῶνά σου λαβεῖν ἄφες καὶ τὸ ἱμάτιον, βιωφελέστερον κεκίνηκε τὸν λόγον καὶ παρέστησεν οὕτως ἐνπὼν, ἤ ὡς ἐν τῷ Κρίτωνε Πλάτων, οὗ μηδ᾽ ἀκούειν ἱδιῶται δὐνανται, ἀλλά μόγις οἱ τὰ ἐγκύκλια πρὸς της σεμνῆς Ἑλλήνων φιλοσοφἱας μεμαθηκότεςId. lib. 7.
Secondly, another 273reason why the philosophers were never able to prove and explain clearly and distinctly enough, even those things of which they were the most certain, to persons of all capacities, in order to their complete conviction and reformation, was because they never were able to frame to themselves any complete, regular, and consistent system or scheme of things; but the truths which they taught306306   Ὀὐκ ὅτι ἀλλότριά ἐστι τὰ Πλάτωνος διδαγμάτα τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι οὐκ ἔστι πάντη ὅμοια, ὥσπερ οὐδὲ τὰ τῶν ἄλλων.——ἕκαστος γὰρ τὶς, ἀπο μέρους τοῦ σπερματικοῦ θείου λογου τὸ συγγενὲς ὀρῶν, καλῶς ἐφθέγξατο. Οἱ δε τἀναντία αὐτοῖς ἐν κυριωτέροις ἐιρηκότες, οὐκ ἐπιστήμην τὴν ἄποπτον καὶ γνῶσιν τὴν ἀνέλεττον φαίνονται ἐσχηκέναι.Justin. Apolog. 1. were single and scattered, accidental as it were, and hit upon by chance, rather than by any knowledge of the whole true state of things; and consequently less universally convictive. Nothing could be more certain, (as they all well knew,) than that virtue was unquestionably to be chosen, and the practice of it to be recommended necessarily above all things; and yet they could never clearly and satisfactorily make out upon what principles originally, and for what end ultimately, this choice was to be made; and upon what grounds it was universally to be supported. Hence they perpetually disagreed,307307   Nec quid defendere debeant, scientes; nec quid refutare. Incursantque passim sine delectu omnia quæ asserunt, quicunque dissentiunt.Lactant. lib. 7. opposed, and contradicted one another in all their disputations, to such a degree that St. Austin, somewhere out of Varro, reckons up no less than 280 opinions concerning that one question, What was the chief good or final happiness of man? The effect of all which differences could not, without doubt, but be a mighty hindrance to that conviction and general influence which that great truth, in the certainty whereof they all clearly agreed, 274(namely, that the practice of virtue was necessary and indispensable,) ought to have had upon the minds and lives of men. This whole matter is excellently set forth by Lactantius: The philosophers, saith he,308308   Totam igitur veritatem, et omne divinæ religionis arcanum philosophi attigerunt. Sed aliis refellentibus, defendere id, quod invenerant, nequiverunt; quia singulis ratio non quadravit; nec ea quæ vera senserant, in summam redigere potuerunt.Lactant. lib. 7. take them altogether, did indeed discover all the particular doctrines of true religion; but because each one endeavoured to confute what the others asserted, and no one’s single scheme was in all its parts consistent, and agreeable to reason and truth, and none of them were able to collect into one whole and entire scheme the several truths dispersed among them all, therefore they were not able to maintain and defend what they had discovered. And again, having set down a brief summary of the whole doctrine and design of true religion, from the original to the consummation of all things; this entire scheme, says he,309309    Quam summam, quia philosophi non comprehenderunt, nec veritatem comprehendere potuerunt, quamvis ea ferè , quibus summa ipsa constat, et viderint et explicaverint. Sed diversi ac diversè illa omnia protulerunt, non annectentes nec causas rerum, nec consequentias, nec rationes; ut summam illam, quæ continet universa, et compingerent et complerent.Lactant. lib. 7.
   Quod si extitisset aliquis qui veritatem sparsam per singulos, per sectasque diffusam, colligeret in unum, ac redigeret in corpus, is profecto non dissentiret à nobis. Sed hoc nemo facere, nisi veri peritus ac sciens, potest. Verù m autem non nisi ejus scire est, qui sit doctus a Deo.Id. ibid.
because the philosophers were ignorant of, therefore they were not able to comprehend the truth, notwithstanding that they saw and discovered singly almost all the particulars of which the whole scheme consists: But this was done by different men, and at different times, and in different manners, (with various mixtures of different errors, in what every one discovered of truth singly;) and without finding the connexion of the causes, and consequences, and reasons of things, from the mutual dependencies of which the completeness and perfection of the whole 275scheme arises; whereas, had there been any man who could have collected and put together in order all the several truths which were taught singly and scatteredly by philosophers of all the different sects, and have made up out of them one entire consistent scheme, truly he would not have differed much from us Christians: But this it was not possible for any man to do, without having the true system of things first revealed to him.

5. And those things which they were able to prove and explain clearly and distinctly enough, yet they had not sufficient authority to enforce in practice. Lastly: Even those things which the philosophers were not only themselves certain of, but which they have also been able to prove and explain to others, with sufficient clearness and plainness,—such as are the most obvious and necessary duties of life,—they have not yet had authority enough to enforce and inculcate upon men’s minds with so strong an impression as to influence and govern the general practice of the world. The truths which they proved by speculative reason wanted still some more sensible authority to back them,310310   Platonis documenta quamvis ad rem multum conferant, tamen parum habent firmitatis ad probandam et implendam veritatem.Lactant. lib. 7. and make them of more force and efficacy in practice; and the precepts which they laid down, however evidently reasonable and fit to be obeyed,311311   Quid ergo? nihilne illi [philosophi] simile præcipiunt? Imo permulta, et ad verum frequenter accedunt. Sed nihil ponderis habent illa præcepta, quia sunt humana, et auctoritate majori, id est, divina illa carent. Nemo igitur credit, quia tam se hominem putat esse qui audit, quam est ille qui præcipit.Lactant. lib. 3. seemed still to want weight, and to be but the precepts of men. Hence none of the philosophers, even of those who taught the clearest and certainest truths, and offered the best and wisest instructions, and enforced them with the strongest motives that could be,312312   Ἔιποιμι δ᾽ ἂν ἀληθεύειν, τους δυνηθέντας διαθεῖναι τοὺς ἀκροατὰς τῶν λεγομένων οὕτω βιοῦντας, ὡς τούτων οὕτως ἐχοντων. Διατίθενται Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ Χριστιανοὶ περὶ τοῦ ἀπ᾽ ^ὐτ8ῶν καλουμένου μέλλοντος αἰῶνος. ——δεικνύτω οὗν καὶ κέλσος ἢ ὁ βουλόμενος, τὶνες διετέθησαν περὶ αἰωνὶων κολ8άσεων, ὑπὸ τῶν τελ9ετῶν καὶ μυσταγωγῶν.Origen. advers. Cels. lib. 8.
   Παρὰ μέν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν εἷς τις Φαίδων, καὶ οὖκ οἶδα ἐι δεύτερος, καὶ εἷς Πολέμοιν, μεταβαλόντες ἀπὸ ἀσώτου καὶ μοχθηροτάτου βίου ἐφιλοσόφησαν· παρὰ δε τῶ Ἰησοῦ, οὐ μόνον τότε οἰ δώδεκα, ἀλλ᾽ αἰεὶ καὶ πολλαπλασὶους οἵτινες γενόμενοι σωφρόνων χορός.Idem, lib. 3.

   Da mihi virum qui sit iracundus, &c. Numquis hæc philosophorum, &c.Lactant, lib. 3. See this passage cited above.
were yet ever able 276to work any remarkable change in the minds and lives of any considerable part of mankind, as the preaching of Christ and his apostles undeniably did. Nor does it appear in history313313   Σωκρ̤τει μὲν γὰρ οὐδεὶς ἐπιστεύθη ὑπερ τούτου τοῦ δόγματος ἀποθνήσκειν. Χ9ριστῷ δὲ τῷ καὶ ἀπὸ Σωκράτους ἀπὸ μέρους γνωσθεντι οὐ φιλόσοφοι οὐδε φιλολόγοι μόνον ἐπείσθησαν, ἀλλὰ καὶ παντελῶς ἰδιῶται καὶ δόξης καὶ φόβου καὶ θανάτου καταφρονήσαντες.Justin. Apolog. I. that any number of Socrates’s or Plato’s followers were convinced of the excellency of true virtue, or the certainty of its final reward, in such a manner as to be willing to lay down their lives for its sake, as innumerable of the disciples of Christ are known to have done. In speculation, indeed, it may, perhaps, seem possible, that notwithstanding it must be confessed philosophy cannot discover any complete and satisfactory remedy for past miscarriages, yet the precepts and motives offered by the best philosophers might at least be sufficient to amend and reform men’s manners for the future: But in experience and practice it hath, on the contrary, appeared to be altogether impossible for philosophy and bare reason to reform mankind effectually, without the assistance of some higher principle: For though the bare natural possibility of the thing cannot indeed easily be denied, yet in this case (as Cicero excellently expresses it314314   Nam si, consensu omnium philosophorum, sapientiam nemo assequitur; in summis malis omnes sumus, quibus vos optimè consultum à Diis immortalibus dicitis. Nam ut nihil interest utrum nemo valeat, an nemo possit valere; sic non intelligo quid intersit, utrum nemo sit sapiens, an nemo esse possit.Cic. de Natura Deor. lib. 3. ,) in like manner as in physic it matters nothing whether a disease be 277such as that no man does, or no man can recover from it; so neither does it make any difference whether by philosophy no man is, or no man can be made wise and good: So that, without some greater help and assistance, mankind is plainly left in a very bad state. Indeed, in the original uncorrupted state of human nature, before the mind of man was depraved with prejudicate opinions, corrupt affections, and vicious inclinations, customs, and habits, right reason may justly be supposed to have been a sufficient guide, and a principle powerful enough to preserve men in the constant practice of their duty. But, in the present circumstances and condition of mankind, the wisest and most sensible of the philosophers themselves have not been backward to complain, that they found the understandings of men so dark and cloudy, their wills so biassed and inclined to evil, their passions so outrageous and rebelling against reason, that they looked upon the rules and laws of right reason as very hardly practicable, and which they had very little hopes of ever being able to persuade the world to submit to. In a word they confessed that human nature was strangely corrupted; and they acknowledged this corruption to be a disease whereof they knew not the true cause, and could not find out a sufficient remedy. So that the great duties of religion were laid down by them as matters of speculation and dispute, rather than as the rules of action; and not so much urged upon the hearts and lives of men, as proposed to the admiration of those who thought them hardly possible to be effectually practised by the generality of men. To remedy all these disorders, and conquer all these corruptions, there was plainly wanting some extraordinary and supernatural assistance, which was above the reach of bare reason and philosophy to procure, and yet without which the philosophers themselves were sensible there could never be any truly great men.315315   Nemo unquam vir magnus sine divino afflatu fuit.Cicero.

« Prev Proposition VI. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection