Far be it from me, or from any faithful Historian, to impute to respectable societies the faults of some individual members. Our two Universities most undoubtedly contain the same mixture, and most probably the same proportions, of zeal and moderation, of reason and superstition. Yet there is much less difference between the smoothness of the Ionic, and the roughness of the Doric dialect, than may be found between the polished style of Dr. Watson, and the coarse language of Mr. Davis, Dr. Chelsum, or Dr. Randolph. The second of these Critics, Dr. Chelsum of Christ Church, is unwilling that the world should forget that he was the first who sounded to arms, that he was the first who furnished the antidote to the poison, and who, as early as the month of October of the year 1776, published his Strictures on the Two last Chapters of Mr. Gibbon's History. The success of a pamphlet, which he modestly styles imperfect and ill-digested, encouraged him to resume the controversy. In the beginning of the present year, his Remarks made their second appearance, with some alteration of form, and a large increase of bulk; and the author who seems to fight under the protection of two episcopal banners, has prefixed, in the front of his volume, his name and titles, which in the former edition he had less honourably suppressed. His confidence is fortified by the alliance and communications of a distinguished Writer, Dr. Randolph, etc. who, on a proper occasion, would, no doubt, be ready to bear as honourable testimony to the merit and reputation of Dr. Chelsum. The two friends are indeed so happily united by art and nature, that if the author of the Remarks had not pointed out the valuable communications of the Margaret Professor, it would have been impossible to separate their respective property. Writers who possess any freedom of mind, may be known from each other by the peculiar character of their style and sentiments; but the champions who are inlisted in the service of Authority, commonly wear the uniform of the regiment. Oppressed with the same yoke, covered with the same trappings, they heavily move along, perhaps not with an equal pace, in the same beaten track of prejudice and preferment. Yet I should expose my own injustice, were I absolutely to confound with Mr. Davis the two Doctors in Divinity, who are joined in one volume. The three Critics appear to be animated by the same implacable resentment against the Historian of the Roman Empire; they are alike disposed to support the same opinions by the same arts; and in the language of the two latter, the disregard of politeness is somewhat less gross and indecent, the difference is not of such a magnitude as to excite in my breast any lively sensations of gratitude. It was the misfortune of Mr. Davis that he undertook to write before he had read. He set out with the stock of authorities which he found in my quotations, and boldly ventured to play his reputation against mine. Perhaps he may now repent of a loss which is not easily recovered; but if I had not surmounted my almost insuperable reluctance to a public dispute, many a reader might still be dazzled by the vehemence of his assertions, and might still believe that Mr. Davis had detected several wilful and important misrepresentations in my Two last Chapters. But the confederate Doctors appear to be scholars of a higher form and longer experience; they enjoy a certain rank in their academical world; and as their zeal is enlightened by some rays of knowledge, so their desire to ruin the credit of their adversary is occasionally checked by the apprehension of injuring their own. These restraints, to which Mr. Davis was a stranger, have confined them to a very narrow and humble path of historical criticism; and if I were to correct, according to their wishes, all the particular facts against which they have advanced any objections, these corrections, admitted in their fullest extent, would hardly furnish materials for a decent list of errata.
The dogmatical part of their work, which in every sense of the word deserves that appellation, is ill adapted to engage my attention. I had declined the consideration of theological arguments, when they were managed by a candid and liberal adversary; and it would be inconsistent enough, if I should have refused to draw my sword in honourable combat against the keen and well-tempered weapon of Dr. Watson, for the sole purpose of encountering the rustic cudgel of two staunch and sturdy Polemics.
I shall not enter any farther into the character and conduct of Cyprian, as I am sensible that, if the opinion of Le Clere, Mosheim, and myself, is reprobated by Dr. Chelsum and his ally, the difference must subsist, till we shall entertain the same notions of moral virtue and Ecclesiastical power. (84) If Dr. Randolph will allow that the primitive Clergy received, managed, and distributed the tythes, and other charitable donations of the faithful, the dispute between us, will be a dispute of words. (85) I shall not amuse myself with proving that the learned Origen must have derived from the inspired authority of the Church his knowledge, not indeed of the authenticity, but of the inspiration of the four Evangelists, two of whom are not in the rank of the Apostles. (86) I shall submit to the judgment of the Public, whether the Athanasian Creed is not read and received in the Church of England, and whether the wisest and most virtuous of the Pagans(87) believed the Catholic faith, which is declared in the Athanasian Creed to be absolutely necessary for salvation. As little shall I think myself interested in the elaborate disquisitions with which the Author of the Remarks has filled a great number of pages, concerning the famous testimony of Josephus, the passages of Irenaeus and Theophilus, which relate to the gift of miracles, and the origin of circumcision in Palestine or in Egypt. (88) If I have rejected, and rejected with some contempt, the interpolation which pious fraud has very awkwardly inserted in the text of Josephus, I may deem myself secure behind the shield of learned and pious critics (See in particular Le Clere, in his Ars Critica, part iii. sect. i. c. 15. and Lardner's Testimonies, Vol. i. p. 150, etc.), who have condemned this passage: and I think it very natural that Dr. Chelsum should embrace the contrary opinion, which is not destitute of able advocates. The passages of Irenaeus and Theophilus were thoroughly sifted in the controversy about the duration of Miracles; and as the Works of Dr. Middleton may be found in every library, so it is not impossible that a diligent search may still discover some remains of the writings of his adversaries. In mentioning the confession of the Syrians of Palestine, that they had received from Egypt the rite of circumcision, I had simply alleged the testimony of Herodotus, without expressly adopting the sentiment of Marsham. But I had always imagined, that in these doubtful and indifferent questions, which have been solemnly argued before the tribunal of the Public, every scholar was at liberty to chuse his side, without assigning his reasons; nor can I yet persuade myself, that either Dr. Chelsum, or myself, are likely to enforce, by any new arguments, the opinions which we have respectively followed. The only novelty for which I can perceive myself indebted to Dr. Chelsum, is the very extraordinary Scepticism which he insinuates concerning the time of Herodotus, who, according to the chronology of some, flourished during the time of the Jewish captivity. (89) Can it be necessary to inform a Divine, that the captivity which lasted seventy years, according to the prophecy of Jeremiah, was terminated in the year 536 before Christ, by the edict which Cyrus published in the first year of his reign (Jeremiah, xxv. II, 12. xxix. 10. Ezra, i. I. etc. Usher and Prideaux, under the years 606 and 536.)? Can it be necessary to inform a man of letters, that Herodotus was fifty-three years old at the commencement of the Peloponnesian war (Aulus Gellius, Noct. Attic. xv. 23. from the commentaries of Pamphila), and consequently that he was born in the year before Christ 484, fifty-two years after the end of the Jewish captivity? As this well attested fact is not exposed to the slightest doubt or difficulty, I am somewhat curious to learn the names of those unknown authors, whose chronology Dr. Chelsum has allowed as the specious foundation of a probable hypothesis. The Author of the Remarks does not seem indeed to have cultivated, with much care or success, the province of literary history; as a very moderate acquaintance with that useful branch of knowledge would have saved him from a positive mistake, much less excusable than the doubt which he entertains about the time of Herodotus. He styles Suidas
"a Heathen writer, who lived about the end of the tenth century." (90)
I admit the period which he assigns to Suidas; and which is well ascertained by Dr. Bentley (See his Reply to Boyle, p. 22, 23.). We are led to fix this epoch, by the chronology which this Heathen writer has deduced from Adam, to the death of the emperor John Zimisces, A.D. 975: and a crowd of passages might be produced, as the unanswerable evidence of his Christianity. But the most unanswerable of all is the very date, which is not disputed between us. The philosophers who flourished under Justinian (See Agathias, 1. ii. p. 65, 66.), appear to have been the last of the Heathen writers: and the ancient religion of the Greeks was annihilated almost four hundred years before the birth of Suidas.
After this animadversion, which is not intended either to insult the failings of my Adversary or to provide a convenient excuse for my own errors, I shall proceed to select two important parts of Dr. Chelsum's Remarks, from which the candid reader may form some opinion of the whole. They relate to the military service of the first Christians, and to the historical character of Eusebius; and I shall review them with the less reluctance, as it may not be impossible to pick up something curious and useful even in the barren waste of controversy.
In representing the errors of the primitive Christians, which flowed from an excess of virtue, I had observed, that they exposed themselves to the reproaches of the Pagans, by their obstinate refusal to take an active part in the civil administration, or military defence of the empire; that the objections of Celsus appear to have been mutilated by his adversary Origen, and that the Apologists, to whom the public dangers were urged, returned obscure and ambiguous answers, as they were unwilling to disclose the true ground of their security, their opinion of the approaching end of the world. (91) In another place I had related, from the Acts of Ruinart, the action and punishment of the Centurion Marcellus, who was put to death for renouncing the service in a public and seditious manner. (92)
On this occasion Dr. Chelsum is extremely alert. He denies my facts, controverts my opinions, and, with a politeness worthy of Mr. Davis himself, insinuates that I borrowed the story of Marcellus, not from Ruinart, but from Voltaire. My learned Adversary thinks it highly improbable that Origen should dare to mutilate the objections of Celsus,
"whose work was, in all probability, extant at the time he made this reply In such case, had he even been inclined to treat his adversary unfairly, he must yet surely have been with-held from the attempt, through the fear of detection." (93)
The experience both of ancient and modern controversy, had indeed convinced me that this reasoning, just and natural as it may seem, is totally inconclusive, and that the generality of disputants, especially in religious contests, are of a much more daring and intrepid spirit. For the truth of this remark, I shall content myself with producing a recent and very singular example, in which Dr. Chelsum himself is personally interested. He charges (94) me with passing over in
"silence the important and unsuspected testimony of a Heathen historian (Dion Cassius) to the persecution of Domitian; and he affirms, that I have produced that testimony so far only as it relates to Clemens and Domitilla; yet in the very same passage follows immediately, that on a like accusation MANY OTHERS were also condemned. Some of them were put to death, others suffered the confiscation of their goods." (95)
Although I should not be ashamed to undertake the apology of Nero or Domitian, if I thought them innocent of any particular crime with which zeal or malice had unjustly branded their memory; yet I should indeed blush, if, in favour of tyranny, or even in favour of virtue, I had suppressed the truth and evidence of historical facts. But the Reader will feel some surprise, when he has convinced himself that, in the three editions of my First Volume, after relating the death of Clemens, and the exile of Domitilla, I continue to allege the ENTIRE TESTIMONY of Dion, in the following words:
"and sentences either of death, or of confiscation, were pronounced against a GREAT NUMBER OF PERSONS who were involved in the SAME accusation. The guilt imputed to their charge, was that of Atheism and Jewish manners; a singular association of ideas which cannot with any propriety be applied except to the Christians, as they were obscurely and imperfectly viewed by the magistrates and writers of that period."
Dr. Chelsum has not been deterred, by the fear of detection, from this scandalous mutilation of the popular work of a living adversary. But Celsus had been dead above fifty years before Origen published his Apology; and the copies of an ancient work, instead of being instantaneously multiplied by the operation of the press, were separately and slowly transcribed by the labour of the hand.
If any modern Divine should still maintain that the fidelity of Origen was secured by motives more honourable than the fear of detection, he may learn from Jerom the difference of the gymnastic and dogmatic styles. Truth is the object of the one, Victory of the other; and the same arts which would disgrace the sincerity of the teacher, serve only to display the skill of the disputant. After justifying his own practice by that of the orators and philosophers, Jerom defends himself by the more respectable authority of Christian Apologists.
"How many thousand lines, says he, have been composed against Celsus and Porphyry, by Origen, Methodius, Eusebius, Apollinaris? Consider with what arguments, with what slippery problems, they elude the inventions of the Devil; and how in their controversy with the Gentiles, they are sometimes obliged to speak, not what they really think, but what is most advantageous for the cause they defend."
"Origenes, etc. multis versuum millibus scribunt adversus Celsum et Porphyrium. Considerate quibus argumentis et quam lubricis problematibus diaboli spiritu contexts subvertunt: et quia interdum coguntur loqin, non quod sentiunt, sed quod necesse est dicunt adversus ea quae dicunt Gentiles." (Pro Libris advers. Jovin an. Apolog. Tom. ii. p. i 35.)
Yet Dr. Chelsum may still ask, and he has a right to ask, why in this particular instance I suspect the pious Origen of mutilating the objections of his adversary. From a very obvious, and, in my opinion, a very decisive, circumstance. Celsus was a Greek philosopher, the friend of Lucian; and I thought that, although he might support error by sophistry, he would not write nonsense in his own language. I renounce my suspicion, if the most attentive reader is able to understand the design and purport of a passage which is given as a formal quotation from Celsus, and which begins with the following words: etc. (Origen contr. Celsum, 1. viii. p. 425. edit. Spencer, Cantab. 1677.)
I have carefully inspected the original, I have availed myself of the learning of Spencer, and even Bouhereau (for I shall always disclaim the absurd and affected pedantry of using without scruple a Latin version, but of despising the aid of a French translation), and the ill success of my efforts has countenanced the suspicion to which I still adhere, with a just mixture of doubt and hesitation. Origen very boldly denies, that any of the Christians have affirmed what is imputed to them by Celsus, in this unintelligible quotation; and it may easily be credited, that none had maintained what none can comprehend. Dr. Chelsum has produced the words of Origen; but on this occasion there is a strange ambiguity in the language of the modern Divine, (96) as if he wished to insinuate what he dared not affirm; and every reader must conclude, from his state of the question, that Origen expressly denied the truth of the accusation of Celsus, who had accused the Christians of declining to assist their fellow-subjects in the military defence of the empire, assailed on every side by the arms of the Barbarians.
Will Dr. Chelsum justify to the world, can he justify to his own feelings, the abuse which he has made even of the privileges of the Gymnastic style? Careless and hasty indeed must have been his perusal of Origen, if he did not perceive that the ancient Apologist, who makes a stand on some incidental question, admits the accusation of his adversary, that the Christians refused to bear arms even at the command of their Sovereign.
" (Origen, 1. viii. p. 427.) He endeavours to palliate this undutiful refusal, by representing that the Christians had their peculiar camps, in which they incessantly combated for the safety of the emperor and the empire, by lifting up their right hands — in prayer. The Apologist seems to hope that his country will be satisfied with this spiritual aid, and dexterously confounding the colleges of Roman priests with the multitudes which swelled the Catholic Church, he claims for his brethren, in all the provinces, the exemption from military service, which was enjoyed by the sacerdotal order. But as this excuse might not readily be allowed, Origen looks forwards with a lively faith to that auspicious Revolution, which Celsus had rejected as impossible, when all the nations of the habitable earth, renouncing their passions and their arms, should embrace the pure doctrines of the Gospel, and lead a life of peace and innocence under the immediate protection of Heaven. The faith of Origen seems to be principally founded on the predictions of the Prophet Zephaniah (See iii. 9, 10.); and he prudently observes, that the Prophets often speak secret things
( p. 426.), which may be understood by those who can understand them; and that if this stupendous change cannot be effected while we retain our bodies, it may be accomplished as soon as we shall be released from them. Such is the reasoning of Origen: though I have not followed the order, I have faithfully preserved the substance, of it; which fully justifies the truth and propriety of my observations.
The execution of Marcellus, the Centurion, is naturally connected with the Apology of Origen, as the former declared by his actions, what the latter affirmed in his writings, that the conscience of a devout Christian would not allow him to bear arms, even at the command of his Sovereign. I had represented this religious scruple as one of the motives which provoked Marcellus; on the day of a public festival, to throw away the ensigns of his office; and I presumed to observe, that such an act of desertion would have been punished in any government according to martial or even civil law Dr. Chelsum (97) very bluntly accuses me of misrepresenting the story, and of suppressing those circumstances which would have defended the Centurion from the unjust imputation thrown by me upon his conduct. The dispute between the Advocate for Marcellus and myself, lies in a very narrow compass; as the whole evidence is comprised in a short, simple, and, I believe, authentic narrative.
1 In another place I observed, and even pressed the observation,
"that the innumerable Deities and rites of Polytheism were closely interwoven with every circumstance of business or pleasure, of public or of private life;"
and I had particularly specified how much the Roman discipline was connected with the national superstition. A solemn oath of fidelity was repeated every year in the name of the Gods and of the genius of the Emperor, public and daily sacrifices were performed at the head of the camp, the legionary was continually tempted, or rather compelled, to join in the idolatrous worship of his fellow-soldiers, and had not any scruples been entertained of the lawfulness of war, it is not easy to understand how any serious Christian could inlist under a banner which has been justly termed the rival of the Cross. "Vexilla aemula Christi." (Tertullian de Corona Militis, c. xi.) With regard to the soldiers, who before their conversion were already engaged in the military life, fear, habit, ignorance, necessity might bend them to some acts of occasional conformity; and as long as they abstained from absolute and intentional idolatry, their behaviour was excused by the indulgent, and censured by the more rigid casuists. (See the whole Treatise De Corona Militis.) We are ignorant of the adventures and character of the Centurion Marcellus, how long he had conciliated the profession of arms and of the Gospel, whether he was only a Catechumen, or whether he was mitiated by the Sacrament of Baptism. We are likewise at a loss to ascertain the particular act of idolatry which so suddenly and so forcibly provoked his pious indignation. As he declared his faith in the midst of a public entertainment given on the birth-day of Galerius, he must have been startled by some of the sacred and convivial rites (Convivia ista profana reputans) of prayers, or vows, or libations, or, perhaps, by the offensive circumstance of eating the meats which had been offered to the idols. But the scruples of Marcellus were not confined to these accidental impurities; they evidently reached the essential duties of his profession; and when before the tribunal of the magistrates, he avowed his faith at the hazard of his life, the Centurion declared, as his cool and determined persuasion, that it does not become a Christian man, who is the soldier of the Lord Christ, to bear arms for any object of earthly concern.
"Non enim decebat Christianum hominem molestiis secularibus militare, qui Christo Domino militat."
A formal declaration, which clearly disengages from each other the different questions of war and idolatry. With regard to both these questions, as they were understood by the primitive Christians, I wish to refer the Reader to the sentiments and authorities of Mr. Moyle, a bold and ingenious critic, who read the Fathers as their judge, and not as their slave, and who has refuted, with the most patient candour, all that learned prejudice could suggest in favour of the silly story of the Thundering Legion. (See Moyle's Works, Vol. ii. p. 84-88. 111-116. 163-212. 298-302. 327-341.) And here let me add, that the passage of Origen, who in the name of his brethren disclaims the duty of military service, is understood by Mr. Moyle in its true and obvious signification.
2.I know not where Dr. Chelsum has imbibed the principles of logic or morality which teach him to approve the conduct of Marcellus, who threw down his rod, his belt, and his arms, at the head of the legion, and publicly renounced the military service, at the very time when he found himself obliged to offer sacrifice. Yet surely this is a very false notion of the condition and duties of a Roman Centurion. Marcellus was bound, by a solemn oath, to serve with fidelity till he should be regularly discharged; and according to the sentiments which Dr. Chelsum ascribes to him, he was not released from this oath by any mistaken opinion of the unlawfulness of war. I would propose it as a case of conscience to any philosopher, or even to any casuist in Europe, whether a particular order, which cannot be reconciled with virtue or piety, dissolves the ties of a general and lawful obligation? And whether, if they had been consulted by the Christian Centurion, they would not have directed him to increase his diligence in the execution of his military functions, to refuse to yield to any act of idolatry, and patiently to expect the consequences of such a refusal? But, instead of obeying the mild and moderate dictates of religion, instead of distinguishing between the duties of the soldier and of the Christian, Marcellus, with imprudent zeal, rushed forwards to seize the crown of martyrdom. He might have privately confessed himself guilty to the tribune or praefect under whom he served: he chose on the day of a public festival to disturb the order of the camp. He insulted without necessity the religion of his Sovereign and of his country, by the epithets of contempt which he bestowed on the Roman Gods.
"Deos vestros ligneos et lapideos, adorare contemno, quae sunt idola surda et muta."
Nay more: at the head of the legion, and in the face of the standards, the Centurion Marcellus openly renounced his allegiance to the Emperors.
"Ex hoc militare IMPERATORIBUS VESTRIS desisto."
From this moment I no longer serve YOUR EMPERORS, are the important words of Marcellus, which his advocate has not thought proper to translate. I again make my appeal to any lawyer, to any military man, Whether, under such circumstances, the pronoun your has not a seditious and even treasonable import? And whether the officer who should make this declaration, and at the same time throw away his sword at the head of the regiment, would not be condemned for mutiny and desertion by any court-martial in Europe? I am the rather disposed to judge favourably of the conduct of the Roman government, as I cannot discover any desire to take advantage of the indiscretion of Marcellus. The Commander of the Legion seemed to lament that it was not in his power to dissemble this rash action. After a delay of more than three months, the Centurion was examined before the Vice-praefect, his superior Judge, who offered him the fairest opportunities of explaining or qualifying his seditious expressions, and at last condemned him to lose his head; not simply because he was a Christian, but because he had violated his military oath, thrown away his belt, and publicly blasphemed the Gods and the Emperors. Perhaps the impartial reader will confirm the sentence of the Vice-Praefect Agricolanus,
"Ita se habent facta Marcelli, ut haec disciplinâ debeant vindicari."
Notwithstanding the plainest evidence, Dr. Chelsum will not believe that either Origen in Theory, or Marcellus in Practice, could seriously object to the use of arms;
"because it is well known, that far from declining the business of war altogether, whole legions of Christians served in the Imperial armies." (98)
I have not yet discovered, in the Author or Authors of the Remarks, many traces of a clear and enlightened understanding, yet I cannot suppose them so destitute of every reasoning principle, as to imagine that they here allude to the conduct of the Christians who embraced the profession of arms after their religion had obtained a public establishment. Whole legions of Christians served under the banners of Constantine and Justinian, as whole regiments of Christians are now inlisted in the service of France or England. The representation which I had given, was confined to the principles and practice of the Church of which Origen and Marcellus were members, before the sense of public and private interest had reduced the lofty standard of Evangelical perfection to the ordinary level of human nature. In those primitive times, where are the Christian legions that served in the Imperial armies? Our Ecclesiastical Pompeys may stamp with their foot, but no armed men will arise out of the earth, except the ghosts of the Thundering and the Thebaean legions, the former renowned for a Miracle, and the latter for a Martyrdom. Either the two Protestant Doctors must acquiesce under some imputations which are better understood than expressed, or they must prepare, in the full light and freedom of the eighteenth century, to undertake the defence of two obsolete legends, the least absurd of which staggered the well-disciplined credulity of a Franciscan Friar. (See Pagi Critic, ad Annal. Baronii, A.D. 174. tom. i. p. 168.) Very different was the spirit and taste of the learned and ingenuous Dr. Jortin, who after treating the silly story of the Thundering Legion with the contempt it deserved, continues in the following words:
"Moyle wishes no greater penance to the believers of the Thundering Legion, than that they may also believe the Martyrdom of the Thebaean Legion. (Moyle's Works, vol. ii. p. 103): to which good wish, I say with Le Clerc (Bibliotheque A. et M. tom. xxvii. p. 193) AMEN.
Qui Bavium non odit, amet tua carmina, Maevi."
(Jortin's Remarks on Ecclesiastical History, vol. i. p. 367. 2d edition. London, 1767.)
Yet I shall not attempt to conceal a formidable army of Christians and even of Martyrs, which is ready to inlist under the banners of the confederate Doctors, if they will accept their service. As a specimen of the extravagant legends of the middle age, I had produced the instance of ten thousand Christian soldiers supposed to have been crucified on Mount Ararat, by the order either of Trajan or Hadrian. (99) For the mention and for the confutation of this story, I had appealed to a Papist and a Protestant, to the learned Tillemont (Mem. Ecciesiast. torn. ii. part ii. p. 438), and to the diligent Geddes (Miscellanies, vol. ii. p. 203), and when Tillemont was not afraid to say that there are few histories which appear more fabulous, I was not ashamed of dismissing the Fable with silent contempt. We may trace the degrees of fiction as well as those of credibility; and the impartial Critic will not place on the same level the baptism of Philip and the donation of Constantine. But in considering the crucifixion of the ten thousand Christian soldiers, we are not reduced to the necessity of weighing any internal probabilities, or of disproving any external testimonies. This legend, the absurdity of which must strike every rational mind, stands naked and unsupported by the authority of any writer who lived within a thousand years of the age of Trajan, and has not been able to obtain the poor sanction of the uncorrupted Martyrologies which were framed in the most credulous period of Ecclesiastical History. The two Protestant Doctors will probably reject the unsubstantial present which has been offered them: yet there is one of my adversaries, the anonymous Gentleman, who boldly declares himself the votary of the ten thousand Martyrs, and challenges me
"to discredit a FACT which hitherto by many has been looked upon as well established." (100)
It is pity that a prudent confessor did not whisper in his ear, that, although the martyrdom of these military Saints, like that of the eleven thousand Virgins, may contribute to the edification of the faithful, these wonderful tales should not be rashly exposed to the jealous and inquisitive eye of those profane Critics, whose examination always precedes, and sometimes checks, their Religious Assent.
A grave and pathetic complaint is introduced by Dr. Chelsum, into his preface, (101) that Mr. Gibbon, who has often referred to the Fathers of the Church, seems to have entertained a general distrust of those respectable witnesses. The Critic is scandalized at the epithets of scanty and suspicious, which are applied to the materials of Ecclesiastical History; and if he cannot impeach the truth of the former, he censures in the most angry terms the injustice of the latter. He assumes, with peculiar zeal, the defence of Eusebius, the venerable parent of Ecclesiastical History, and labours to rescue his character from the gross misrepresentation on which Mr. Gibbon has openly insisted.' (102) He observes, as if he sagaciously foresaw the objection,
"That it will not be sufficient here to allege a few instances of apparent credulity in some of the Fathers, in order to fix a general charge of suspicion on all."
But it may be sufficient to allege a clear and fundamental principle of historical as well as legal Criticism, that whenever we are destitute of the means of comparing the testimonies of the opposite parties, the evidence of any witness, however illustrious by his rank and titles, is justly to be suspected in his own cause. It is unfortunate enough, that I should be engaged with adversaries, whom their habits of study and conversation appear to have left in total ignorance of the principles which universally regulate the opinions and practice of mankind.
As the ancient world was not distracted by the fierce conflicts of hostile sects, the free and eloquent writers of Greece and Rome had few opportunities of indulging their passions, or of exercising their impartiality in the relation of religious events. Since the origin of Theological Factions, some Historians, Ammianus Marcellinus, Fra-Paolo, Thuanus, Hume, and perhaps a few others, have deserved the singular praise of holding the balance with a steady and equal hand. Independent and unconnected, they contemplated with the same indifference, the opinions and interests of the contending parties; or, if they were seriously attached to a particular system, they were armed with a firm and moderate temper, which enabled them to suppress their affections, and to sacrifice their resentments. In this small, but venerable Synod of Historians, Eusebius cannot claim a seat. I had acknowledged, and I still think, that his character was less tinctured with credulity than that of most of his contemporaries; but as his enemies must admit, that he was sincere and earnest in the profession of Christianity, so the warmest of his admirers, or at least of his readers, must discern, and will probably applaud, the religious zeal which disgraces or adorns every page of his Ecclesiastical History. This laborious and useful work was published at a time, between the defeat of Licinius and the Council of Nice, when the resentment of the Christians was still warm, and when the Pagans were astonished and dismayed by the recent victory and conversion of the great Constantine. The materials, I shall dare to repeat the invidious epithets of scanty and suspicious, were extracted from the accounts which the Christians themselves had given of their own sufferings, and of the cruelty of their enemies. The Pagans had so long and so contemptuously neglected the rising greatness of the Church, that the Bishop of Caesarea had little either to hope or to fear from the writers of the opposite party; almost all of that little which did exist, has been accidentally lost, or purposely destroyed; and the candid enquirer may vainly wish to compare with the History of Eusebius, some Heathen narrative of the persecutions of Decius and Diocletian. Under these circumstances, it is the duty of an impartial judge to be counsel for the prisoner, who is incapable of making any defence for himself; and it is the first office of a counsel to examine with distrust and suspicion, the interested evidence of the accuser. Reason justifies the suspicion, and it is confirmed by the constant experience of modern History, in almost every instance where we have an opportunity of comparing the mutual complaints and apologies of the religious factions, who have disturbed each other's happiness in this world, for the sake of securing it in the next.
As we are deprived of the means of contrasting the adverse relations of the Christians and Pagans; it is the more incumbent on us to improve the opportunities of trying the narratives of Eusebius, by the original, and sometimes occasional, testimonies of the more ancient writers of his own party. Dr Chelsum (103) has observed, that the celebrated passage of Origen, which has so much thinned the ranks of the army of Martyrs, must be confined to the persecutions that had already happened. I cannot dispute this sagacious remark, but r shall venture to add, that this passage more immediately relates to the religious tempests which had been excited in the time and country of Origen; and still more particularly to the city of Alexandria, and to the persecution of Severus, in which young Origen successfully exhorted his father, to sacrifice his life and fortune for the cause of Christ From such unquestionable evidence, I am authorised to conclude, that the number of holy victims who sealed their faith with their blood, was not, on this occasion, very considerable: but I cannot reconcile this fair conclusion with the positive declaration of Eusebius (l. vi. c. a. p. 258), that at Alexandria, in the persecution of Severus, an innumerable, at least an indefinite multitude of Christians were honoured with the Crown of Martyrdom. The advocates for Eusebius may exert their critical skill in proving that and many and few are synonymous and convertible terms, but they will hardly succeed in diminishing so palpable a contradiction, or in removing the suspicion which deeply fixes itself on the historical character of the Bishop of Caesarea. This unfortunate experiment taught me to read, with becoming caution, the loose and declamatory style which seems to magnify the multitude of Martyrs and Confessors, and to aggravate the nature of their sufferings. From the same motives I selected, with careful observation, the more certain account of the number of persons who actually suffered death in the province of Palestine, during tile whole eight years of she last and most rigorous persecution.
Besides the reasonable grounds of suspicion, which suggest themselves to every liberal mind, against the credibility of the Ecclesiastical Historians, and of Eusebius, their venerable leader, I had taken notice of two very remarkable passages of the Bishop of Caesarea. He frankly, or at least indirectly, declares, that in treating of the last persecution,
"he has related whatever might redound to the glory and suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace, of Religion." (104)
Dr. Chelsum, who, on this occasion, most lamentably exclaims that we should hear Eusebius, before we utterly condemn him has provided, with the assistance of his worthy colleague, an elaborate defence for their common patron; and as if he were secretly conscious of the weakness of the cause, he has contrived the resource of entrenching himself in a very muddy soil, behind three several fortifications, which do not exactly support each other The advocate for the sincerity of Eusebius maintains: 1st, That he never made such a declaration: 2dly, That he had a right to make it: and, 3dly, That he did not observe it. These separate and almost inconsistent apologies, I shall separately consider
1. Dr. Chelsum is at a loss how to reconcile, — I beg pardon for weakening the force of his dogmatic style; he declares that,
"It is plainly impossible to reconcile the express words of the charge exhibited, with any part of either of the passages appealed to in support of it." (105)
If he means, as I think he must, that the express words of my text cannot be found in that of Eusebius, I congratulate the importance of the discovery. But was it possible? Could it be my design to quote the words of Eusebius, when I reduced into one sentence the spirit and substance of two diffuse and distinct passages? If I have given the true sense and meaning of the Ecclesiastical Historian, I have discharged the duties of a fair Interpreter; nor shall I refuse to rest the proof of my fidelity on the translation of those two passages of Eusebius, which Dr. Chelsum produces in his favour. (106)
"But it is not our part to describe the sad calamities which at last befell them (the Christians), since it does not agree with our plan to relate their dissentions and wickedness before the persecution; on which account we have determined to relate nothing more concerning them than may serve to justify the Divine Judgment. We therefore have not been induced to make mention either of those who were tempted in the persecution, or of those who made utter shipwreck of their salvation, and who were sunk of their own accord in the depths of the storm; but shall only add those things to our General History, which may in the first place be profitable to ourselves, and afterwards to posterity"
In the other passage, Eusebius, after mentioning the dissentions of the Confessors among themselves, again declares that it is his intention to pass over all these things.
"Whatsoever things, (continues the Historian, in the words of the Apostle, who was recommending the practice of virtue) whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise; these things Eusebius thinks most suitable to a History of Martyrs;"
of wonderful Martyrs, as the splendid epithet which Dr. Chelsum had not thought proper to translate. I should betray a very mean opinion of the judgment and candour of my readers, if I added a single reflection on the clear and obvious tendency of the two passages of the Ecclesiastical Historian. I shall only observe, that the Bishop of Caesarea seems to have claimed a privilege of a still more dangerous and extensive nature. In one of the most learned and elaborate works that antiquity has left us, the Thirty-second Chapter of the Twelfth Book of his Evangelical Preparation bears for its title this scandalous Proposition,
"How it may be lawful and fitting to use falsehood as a medicine, and for the benefit of those who want to be deceived."
(P 356, Edit. Graec. Rob. Stephani, Paris 1544.)
In this chapter he alleges a passage of Plato, which approves the occasional practice of pious and salutary frauds; nor is Eusebius ashamed to justify the sentiments of the Athenian philosopher by the example of the sacred writers of the Old Testament.
2. I had consented myself with observing, that Eusebius had violated one of the fundamental laws of history, Ne quid veri dicere non audeat; nor could I imagine, if the fact was allowed, that any question could possibly arise upon the matter of right. I was indeed mistaken; and I now begin to understand why I have given so little satisfaction to Dr. Chelsum, and to other critics of the same complexion, as our ideas of the duties and the privileges of an historian appear to be so widely different. It is alleged, that
"every writer has a right to choose his subject, for the particular benefit of his reader; that he has explained his own plan consistently; that he considers himself, according to it, not as a complete historian of the times, but rather as a didactic writer, whose main object is to make his work, like the Scriptures themselves, PROFITABLE FOR DOCTRINE; that, as he treats only of the affairs of the Church, the plan is at least excusable, perhaps peculiarly proper; and that he has conformed himself to the principal duty of an historian, while, according to his immediate design, he has not particularly related any of the transactions which could tend to the disgrace of religion." (107)
The historian must indeed be generous, who will conceal, by his own disgrace, that of his country, or of his religion. Whatever subject he has chosen, whatever persons he introduces, he owes to himself, to the present age, and to posterity, a just and perfect delineation of all that may be praised, of all that may be excused, and of all that must be censured. If he fails in the discharge of his important office, he partially violates the sacred obligations of truth, and disappoints his readers of the instruction which they might have derived from a fair parallel of the vices and virtues of the most illustrious characters. Herodotus might range without control in the spacious walks of the Greek and Barbaric domain, and Thucydides might confine his steps to the narrow path of the Peloponnesian war; but those historians would never have deserved the esteem of posterity, if they had designedly suppressed or transiently mentioned those facts which could tend to the disgrace of Greece or of Athens. These unalterable dictates of conscience and reason have been seldom questioned, though they have been seldom observed; and we must sincerely join in the honest complaint of Melchior Canus,
"that the lives of the philosophers have been composed by Laertius, and those of the Caesars by Suetonius, with a much stricter and more severe regard for historic truth, than can be found in the lives of saints and martyrs, as they are described by Catholic writers." (See Loci Communes, l. xi. p. 650, apud Clericum, Epistol. Critic. v. p. 136.)
And yet the partial representation of truth is of far more pernicious consequence in ecclesiastical, than in civil, history. If Laertius had conceded the defects of Plato, or if Suetonius had disguised the vices of Augustus, we should have been deprived of the knowledge of some curious, and perhaps instructive, facts, and our idea of those celebrated men might have been more favourable than they deserved; but I cannot discover any practical inconveniencies which could have been the result of our ignorance. But if Eusebius had fairly and circumstantially related the scandalous dissentions of the Confessors; if he had shewn that their virtues were tinctured with pride and obstinacy, and that their lively faith was not exempt from some mixture of enthusiasm; he would have armed his readers against the excessive veneration for those holy men, which imperceptibly degenerated into religious worship. The success of these didactic histories, by concealing or palliating every circumstance of human infirmity, was one of the most efficacious means of consecrating the memory, the bones, and the writings of the saints of the prevailing party; and a great part of the errors and corruptions of the Church of Rome may fairly be ascribed to this criminal dissimulation of the ecclesiastical historians. As a Protestant Divine, Dr. Chelsum must abhor these corruptions; but as a Christian, he should be careful lest his apology for the prudent choice of Eusebius should fix an indirect censure on the unreserved sinceritv of the four Evangelists. Instead of confirming their narrative to those things which are virtuous and of good report, instead of following the plan which is here recommended as peculiarly proper for the affairs of the Church, the inspired writers have thought it their duty to relate the most minute circumstances of the fall of St. Peter, without considering whether the behaviour of an Apostle, who thrice denied his Divine Master, might redound to the honour, or to the disgrace, of Christianity. If Dr Chelsum should be frightened by this unexpected consequence, if he should be desirous of saving his faith from utter shipwreck, by throwing over-board the useless lumber of memory and reflection, I am not enough his enemy to impede the success of his honest endeavours.
The didactic method of writing history was still more profitably exercised by Eusebius in another work, which he has entitled, The Life of Constantine, his gracious patron and benefactor. Priests and poets have enjoyed in every age a privilege of flattery; but if the actions of Constantine are compared with the perfect idea of a royal saint, which, under his name, has been delineated by the zeal and gratitude of Eusebius, the most indulgent reader will confess, that when I styled him a courtly Bishop,(108) I could only be restrained by my respect for the episcopal character from the use of a much harsher epithet. The other appellation of a passionate declaimer, which seems to have sounded still more offensive in the tender ears of Dr. Chelsum, (109) was not applied by me to Eusebius, but to Lactantius, or rather to the author of the historical declamation, De mortibus persecutorum; and indeed it is much more properly adapted to the Rhetorician, than to the Bishop. Each of those authors was alike studious of the glory of Constantine: but each of them directed the torrent of his invectives against the tyrant, whether Maxentius or Licinius, whose recent defeat was the actual theme of popular and Christian applause. This simple observation may serve to extinguish a very trifling objection of my critic, That Eusebius has not represented the tyrant Maxentius under the character of a Persecutor.
Without scrutinizing the considerations of interest which might support the integrity of Baronius and Tillemont, I may fairly observe, that both those learned Catholics have acknowledged and condemned the dissimulation of Eusebius, which is partly denied, and partly justified, by my adversary. The honourable reflection of Baronius well deserves to be transcribed.
"Haec (the passages already quoted) de suo in conscribendâ persecutionis historia Eusebius; parum explens numeros sui muneris; dum perinde ac si panegyrim scriberet non historiam, triumphos dumtaxat martyrum atque victorias, non autem lapsus jacturamque fidelium posteris scripturae monumentis curaret." (Baron. Annal. Ecciesiast. AD. 302, No. 11. See likewise Tillemont, Mem. Eccles. tom. v. p. 62. 156; tom. vii. p. 130.)
In a former instance, Dr. Chelsum appeared to be more credulous than a Monk: on the present occasion, he has shown himself less sincere than a Cardinal, and more obstinate than a Jansenist.
3. Yet the advocate for Eusebius has still another expedient in reserve. Perhaps he made the unfortunate declaration of his partial design, perhaps he had a right to make it; but at least his accuser must admit, that he has saved his honour by not keeping his word; since I myself have taken notice of THE CORRUPTION OF MANNERS AND PRINCIPLES among the Christians, so FORCIBLY LAMENTED by Eusebius. (110) He has indeed indulged himself in a strain of loose and indefinite censure, which may generally be just, and which cannot be personally offensive, which is alike incapable of wounding or of correcting, as it seems to have no fixed object or certain aim. Juvenal might have read his satire against women in a circle of Roman ladies, and each of them might have listened with pleasure to the amusing description of the various vices and follies, from which she herself was so perfectly free. The moralist, the preacher, the ecclesiastical historian, enjoy a still more ample latitude of invective; and as long as they abstain from any particular censure, they may securely expose, and even exaggerate, the sins of the multitude. The precepts of Christianity seem to inculcate a style of mortification, of abasement, of self-contempt; and the hypocrite who aspires to the reputation of a saint, often finds it convenient to affect the language of a penitent. I should doubt whether Dr. Chelsum is much acquainted with the comedies of Moliere. If he has ever read that inimitable master of human life, he may recollect whether Tartuffe was very much inclined to confess his real guilt, when he exclaimed,
Oui, mon Frere, je suis un mechant, un coupable;
Un malheureux pécheur, tout plein d'iniquité
Le plus grand scelerat qui ait jamais été.
Chaque instant de ma vie est chargé de souillures,
Elle n'est qu'un amas de crimes et d'ordures.
Oui, mon cher fils, parlex, traitez moi de perfide,
D'infame, de perdu, de voleur, d'homicide;
Accablez moi de noms encore plus detestés:
Je n'y contredis point, je les ai merités,
Et j'en veux à genoux souffrir l'ignominie,
Comme une hunte due aux crimes de ma vie.
It is not my intention to compare the character of Tartuffe with that of Eusebius; the former pointed his invectives against himself, the latter directed them against the times in which he had lived: but as the prudent Bishop of Caesarea did not specify any place or person for the object of his censure, he cannot justly be accused, even by his friends, of violating the profitable plan of his didactic history.
The extreme caution of Eusebius, who declines any mention of those who were tempted and who fell during the persecution, has countenanced a suspicion that he himself was one of those unhappy victims, and that his tenderness for the wounded fame of his brethren arose from a just apprehension of his own disgrace. In one of my notes, (111) I had observed, that he was charged with the guilt of some criminal compliances, in his own presence, and in the Council of Tyre. I am therefore accountable for the reality only, and not for the truth, of the accusation: but as the two Doctors, who on this occasion unite their forces, are angry and clamorous in asserting the innocence of the Ecclesiastical Historian, (112) I shall advance one step farther, and shall maintain, that the charge against Eusebius, though not legally proved, is supported by a reasonable share of presumptive evidence.
I have often wondered why our orthodox Divines should be so earnest and zealous in the defence of Eusebius: whose moral character cannot be preserved, unless by the sacrifice of a more illustrious, and, as I really believe, of a more innocent victim. Either the Bishop of Caesarea, on a very important occasion, violated the laws of Christian charity and civil justice, or we must fix a charge of calumny, almost of forgery, on the head of the great Athanasius, the standard-bearer of the Homoousian cause, and the firmest pillar of the Catholic faith. In the Council of Tyre, he was accused of murdering, or at least of mutilating, a Bishop, whom he produced at Tyre alive and unhurt (Athanas. tom. i. p. 783. 786.); and of sacrilegiously breaking a consecrated chalice, in a village where neither church, nor altar, nor chalice, could possibly have existed. (Athanas. tom. i. p.731, 732, 802.) Notwithstanding the clearest proofs of his innocence, Athanasius was oppressed by the Arian faction; and Eusebius of Caesarea, the venerable father of ecclesiastical history conducted this iniquitous prosecution from a motive of personal enmity (Athanas. tom. i. p. 728. 795. 797.) Four years afterwards, a national council of the Bishops of Egypt, forty-nine of whom had been present at the Synod of Tyre, addressed an epistle or manifesto in favour of Athanasius to all the Bishops of the Christian world. In this epistle they assert, that some of the Confessors, who accompanied them to Tyre, had accused Eusebius of Caesarea of an act relative to idolatrous sacrifice.
(Athanas. tom. i. p. 728.)
Besides this short and authentic memorial, which escaped the knowledge or the candour of our confederate Doctors, a consonant but more circumstantial narrative of the accusation of Eusebius may be found in the writings of Fpiphanius (Haeres. lxviii. p.723,724.), the learned Bishop of Salamis, who was born about the time of the Synod of Lyre. He relates that, in one of the Sessions of the Council, Potamon, Bishop of Heraclea in Egypt, addressed Eusebius in the following words:
"How now, Eusebius, can this be borne, that you should be seated as a judge, while the innocent Athanasius is left standing as a criminal? Tell me, continued Potamon, were we not in prison together during the persecution? For my own part. lost an eye for the sake of the truth: but I cannot discern that you have lost any one of your members. You bear not any marks of your sufferings for Jesus Christ; but here you are, full of life, and with all the parts of your body sound and entire. How could you contrive to escape from prison, unless you stained your conscience, either by actual guilt or by a criminal promise to our persecutors."
Eusebius immediately broke up the meeting, and discovered by his anger, that he was confounded or provoked by the reproaches of the Confessor Potamon.
I should despise myself, if I were capable of magnifying, for a present occasion, the authority of the witness whom I have produced. Potamon was most assuredly actuated by a strong prejudice against the personal enemy of his Primate; and if the transaction to which he alluded had been of a private and doubtful kind, I would not take any ungenerous advantage of the respect which my Reverend Adversaries must entertain for the character of a Confessor. But I cannot distrust the veracity of Potamon, when he confined himself to the assertion of a fact, which lay within the compass of his personal knowledge: and collateral testimony (See Photius, p. 296. 297.) attests, that Eusebius was long enough in prison to assist his friend, the Martyr Pamphilus. in composing the first five books of his Apology for Origen. If we admit that Eusebius was imprisoned, he must have been discharged, and his discharge must have been either honourable, or criminal, or innocent. If his patience vanquished the cruelty of the Tyrant's Ministers, a short relation of his own confession and sufferings would have formed an useful and edifying Chapter in his Didactic History of the Persecution of Palestine; and the Reader would have been satisfied of the veracity of an Historian who valued truth above his life. If it had been in his power to justify, or even to excuse, the manner of his discharge from prison, it was his interest, it was his duty, to prevent the doubts and suspicions which must arise from his silence under these delicate circumstances. Notwithstanding these urgent reasons, Eusebius has observed a profound, and perhaps a prudent, silence: though he frequently celebrates the merit and martyrdom of his friend Pamphilus (p. 371. 394. 419. 427. Edit. Cantab.), he never insinuates that he was his companion in prison; and while he copiously describes the eight years persecution in Palestine, he never represents himself in any other light than that of a spectator. Such a conduct in a Writer, who relates with a visible satisfaction the honourable events of his own life, if it be not absolutely considered as an evidence of conscious guilt, must excite, and may justify, the suspicions of the most candid Critic.
Yet the firmness of Dr. Randolph is not shaken by these rational suspicions; and he condescends, in a magisterial tone, to inform me,
"That it is highly improbable, from the general well-known decision of the Church in such cases, that had his apostacy been known, he would have risen to those high honours which he attained, or been admitted at all indeed to any other than lay-communion."
This weighty objection did not surprise me, as I had already seen the substance of it in the Prolegomena of Valesius; but I safely disregarded a difficulty which had not appeared of any moment to the national council of Egypt; and I still think that an hundred Bishops, with Athanasius at their head, were as competent judges of the discipline of the fourth Century, as even the Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford. As a work of supererogation, I have consulted, however, the Antiquites of Bingham (see 1. iv. c.3. f. 6, 7. vol. i. p. 144, etc. fol. edit.), and found, as I expected, that much real learning had made him cautious and modest. After a careful examination of the facts and authorities already known to me, and of those with which I was supplied by the diligent Antiquarian, I am persuaded that the theory and the practice of discipline were not invariably the same, that particular examples cannot always be reconciled with general rules, and that the stern laws of justice often yielded to motives of policy and convenience. The temper of Jerom towards those whom he considered as Heretics, was fierce and unforgiving; yet the Dialogue of Jerom against the Luciferians, which I have read with infinite pleasure (tom. ii. p. 135-147. Edit. Basil. 1536.), is the seasonable and dextrous performance of a Statesman, who felt the expediency of soothing and reconciling a numerous party of offenders. The most rigid discipline, with regard to the Ecclesiastics who had fallen in time of persecution, is expressed in the 10th Canon of the Council of Nice; the most remarkable indulgence was shewn by the Fathers of the same Council to the lapsed, the degraded, the schismatic Bishop of Lycopolis. Of the penitent sinners, some might escape the shame of a public conviction or confession, and others might be exempted from the rigour of clerical punishment. If Eusebius incurred the guilt of a sacrilegious promise (for we are free to accept the milder alternative of Potamon), the proofs of this criminal transaction might be suppressed by the influence of money or favour; a seasonable journey into Egypt might allow time for the popular rumours to subside. The crime of Eusebius might be protected by the impunity of many Episcopal Apostates (see Philostorg. l. ii. c. 15. p. 21, Edit. Gothofred.); and the Governors of the Church very reasonably desired to retain in their service the most learned Christian of the Age.
Before I return these sheets to the press, I must nor forget an anonymous pamphlet, which, under the title of A Few Remarks, etc. was published against my History in the course of the last summer. The unknown writer has thought proper to distinguish himself by the emphatic, yet vague, appellation of A GENTLEMAN: but I must lament that he has not considered, with becoming attention, the duties of that respectable character. I am ignorant of the motives which can urge a man of a liberal mind, and liberal manners, to attack without provocation, and without tenderness, any work which may have contributed to the information, or even to the amusement, of the Public. But I am well convinced, that the author of such a work, who boldly gives his name and his labours to the world, imposes on his adversaries the fair and honourable obligation of encountering him in open day-light, and of supporting the weight of their assertions by the credit of their names. The effusions of wit, or the productions of reason, may be accepted from a secret and unknown hand. The critic who attempts to injure the reputation of another, by strong imputations which may possibly be false, should renounce the ungenerous hope of concealing behind a mask the vexation of disappointment, and the guilty blush of detection.
After this remark, which I cannot make without some degree of concern. I shall frankly declare, that it is not my wish or my intention to prosecute with this Gentleman a literary altercation. There lies between us a broad and unfathomable gulph; and the heavy mist of prejudice and superstition, which has in a great measure been dispelled by the free inquiries of the present age, still continues to involve the mind of my Adversary. He fondly embraces those phantoms (for instance, an imaginary Pilate (113)), which can scarcely find a shelter in the gloom of an Italian convent; and the resentment which he points against me, might frequently be extended to the most enlightened of the PROTESTANT, or, in his opinion, of the HERETICAL critics. His observations are divided into a number of unconnected paragraphs, each of which contains some quotation from my History, and the angry, yet commonly trifling, expression of his disapprobation and displeasure. Those sentiments I cannot hope to remove; and as the religious opinions of this Gentleman are principally founded on the infallibility of the Church, (114) they are not calculated to make a very deep impression on the mind of an English reader. The view of facts will be materially affected by the contagious influence of doctrines. The man who refuses to judge of the conduct of Lewis XIV. and Charles V towards their Protestant subjects (115) declares himself incapable of distinguishing the limits of persecution and toleration. The devout Papist, who has implored on his knees the intercession of St. Cyprian, will seldom presume to examine the actions of the Saint by the rules of historical evidence and of moral propriety. Instead of the homely likeness which I had exhibited of the Bishop of Carthage, my Adversary has substituted a life of Cyprian, (116) full of what the French call onction, and the English, canting (See Jortin's Remarks, Vol. ii. p. 239.): to which I can only reply, that those who are dissatisfied with the principles of Mosheim and Le Clerc, must view with eyes very different from mine, the Ecclesiastical History of the third century.
It would be an endless discussion (endless in every sense of the word), were I to examine the cavils which start up and expire in every page of this criticism, on the inexhaustible topic of opinions, characters, and intentions. Most of the instances which are here produced, are of so brittle a substance that they fall in pieces as soon as they are touched: and I searched for some time before I was able to discover an example of some moment where the Gentleman had fairly staked his veracity against some positive fact asserted in the Two last Chapters of my History. At last I perceived that he has absolutely denied (117) that any thing can be gathered from the Epistles of St. Cyprian, or from his treatise De Unitate Ecclesiae, to which I had referred, to justify my account of the spiritual pride and licentious manners of some of the Confessors. (118) As the numbers of the Epistles are not the same in the edition of Pamelius and in that of Fell, the Critic may be excused for mistaking my quotations, if he will acknowledge that he was ignorant of ecclesiastical history, and that he never heard of the troubles excited by the spiritual pride of the Confessors, who usurped the privilege of giving letters of communion to penitent sinners. But my reference to the treatise De Unitate Ecclesiae was clear and direct; the treatise itself contains only ten pages, and the following words might be distinctly read by any person who understood the Latin language.
"Nec quisquans miretur, dilectissimi fratres, etiam de confessoribus quosdam ad ista procedere, inde quoque aliquos tam nefanda tam gravia peccare. Neque enim confessio immunem facit ab insidiis diaboli; aut contra tentationes, er pericula, et incursus atque impetus seculares adhuc in seculo positum perpetuâ securitate defendit: ceterum nunquam in confessoribus, fraudes, et stupra, et adulteria post modum videremus, quae nunc in qnibusdam videntes ingemiscimus et dolemus."
This formal declaration of Cyprian, which is followed by several long periods of admonition and censure, is alone sufficient to expose the scandalous vices of some of the Confessors, and the disingenuous behaviour of my concealed adversary.
After this example, which I have fairly chosen as one of the most specious and important of his objections, the candid Reader would excuse me if from this moment I declined the Gentleman's acquaintance. But as two topics have occurred, which are intimately connected with the subject of the preceding sheets, I have inserted each of them in its proper place, as the conclusion of the fourth article of my answers to Mr. Davis, and of the first article of my reply to the confederate Doctors, Chelsum and Randolph.
It is not without some mixture of mortification and regret, that I now look back on the number of hours which I have consumed, and the number of pages which I have filled, in vindicating my literary and moral character from the charge of wilful Misrepresentations, gross Errors, and servile Plagiarisms. I cannot derive any triumph or consolation from the occasional advantages which I may have gained over three adversaries, whom it is impossible for me to consider as objects either of terror or of esteem. The spirit of resentment, and every other lively sensation, have long since been extinguished; and the pen would long since have dropped from my weary hand, had I not been supported in the execution of this ungrateful task, by the consciousness, or at least by the opinion, that I was discharging a debt of honour to the Public and to myself. I am impatient to dismiss, and to dismiss FOR EVER, this odious controversy, with the success of which I cannot surely be elated; and I have only to request, that, as soon as my Readers are convinced of my innocence, they would forget my Vindication.
February 3, 1779.
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