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inferior ranks of mankind to claim a merit from the contempt of that pomp and pleasure, which fortune has placed beyond their reach. The virtue of the primitive Christians, like that of the first Romans, was very frequently guarded by poverty and ignorance. The chaste severity of the fathers, in whatever related to the commerce of the two sexes, flowed from the same principle; their abhorrence of every enjoyment which might gratify the sensual, and degrade the spiritual, nature of man. It was their favourite opinion, that if Adam had preserved his obedience to the Creator, he would have lived for ever in a state of virgin purity, and that some harmless mode of vegetation might have peopled paradise with a race of innocent and immortal beings." The use of marriage was permitted only to his fallen posterity, as a necessary expedient to continue the human species, and as a restraint, however imperfect, on the natural licentiousness of desire. The hesitation of the orthodox casuists on this interesting subject betrays the perplexity of men, unwilling to approve an institution, which they were compelled to tolerate." The enumeration of the very whimsical laws, which they most circumstantially imposed on the marriagebed, would force a smile from the young, and a blush from the fair. It was their unanimous sentiment, that a first marriage was adequate to all the purposes of nature and of society. The sensual connexion was refined into a resemblance of the mystic union of Christ with his church, and was pronounced to be indissoluble, either by divorce or by death. The practice of second nuptials was branded with the name of a legal adultery; and the persons who were
Their sentiments concerning marriage and chastity.
m Beausobre, Hist. Critique du Manicheisme, l. vii. c. 3. Justin Gregory of Nyssa, Augustin, &c. strongly inclined to this opinion.
* Some of the Gnostic heretics were more consistent; they rejected the use of marriage.
guilty of so scandalous an offence against Christian CHAP.
purity were soon excluded from the honours, and even from the alms, of the church." Since desire was imputed as a crime, and marriage was tolerated as a defect, it was consistent with the same principles to consider a state of celibacy as the nearest approach to the divine perfection. It was with the utmost difficulty that ancient Rome could support the institution of six vestals;” but the primitive church was filled with a great number of persons of either sex, who had devoted themselves to the profession of perpetual chastity." A few of these, among whom we may reckon the learned Origen, judged it the most prudent to disarm the tempter. Some were insensible and some were invincible against the assaults of the flesh. Disdaining an ignominious flight, the virgins of the warm climate of Africa encountered the enemy in the closest engagement; they permitted priests and deacons to share their bed, and gloried amidst the flames in their unsullied purity. But insulted Nature sometimes vindicated her rights, and this new species of martyrdom served only to introduce a new scandal into the church." Among the Christian ascetics, however (a name which they soon
• See a chain of tradition, from Justin Martyr to Jerome, in the Morales des Peres; c. iv. 6—26.
P See a very curious Dissertation on the Vestals, in the Memoires de l'Academie des Inscriptions, tom. iv. p. 161–227. Notwithstanding the honours and rewards which were bestowed on those virgins, it was difficult to procure a sufficient number; nor could the dread of the most horrible death always restrain their incontinence.
a Cupiditatem procreandi aut unam scimus aut nullam. Minucius Faelix, c. 31. Justin. Apolog. Major. Athenagoras in Legat. c. 28. Tertullian de Cultu Foemin. l. ii.
* Eusebius, l. vi. 8. Before the ame of Origen had excited envy and persecution, this extraordinary action was rather admired than censured. As it was his general practice to allegorize scripture, it seems unfortunate that, in this instance only, he should have adopted the literal sense.
• Cyprian. Epist. 4, and Dodwell Dissertat. Cyprianic. iii. Something like this rash attempt was long afterwards imputed to the founder of the order of Fontevrault. Bayle has amused himself and his readers on that very delicate subject.
co. acquired from their painful exercise), many, as they were less presumptuous, were probably more successful. The loss of sensual pleasure was supplied and compensated by spiritual pride. Even the multitude of Pagans were inclined to estimate the merit of the sacrifice by its apparent difficulty: and it was in the praise of these chaste spouses of Christ that the fathers have poured forth the troubled stream of their eloquence." Such are the early traces of monastic principles and institutions, which, in a subsequent age, have counterbalanced all the temporal advan
- tages of Christianity." *.*.* The Christians were not less averse to the business
sion to the on of than to the pleasures of this world. The defence of
so our persons and property they knew not how to re" concile with the patient doctrine which enjoined an unlimited forgiveness of past injuries, and commanded them to invite the repetition of fresh insults. Their simplicity was offended by the use of oaths, by the pomp of magistracy, and by the active contention of public life, nor could their humane ignorance be convinced, that it was lawful on any occasion to shed the blood of our fellow-creatures, either by the sword of justice, or by that of war; even though their criminal or hostile attempts should threaten the peace and safety of the whole community. It was acknowledged, that, under a less perfect law, the powers of the Jewish constitution had been exercised, with the approbation of Heaven, by inspired prophets and by anointed kings. The Christians felt and confessed, that such cop.
* Dupin (Bibliothèque Ecclesiastique, tom. i. p. 195) gives a particular account of the dialogue of the ten virgins, as it was composed by Methodius, bishop of Tyre. The praises of virginity are excessive.
" The Ascetics (as early as the second century) made a public profession of mortifying their bodies, and of abstaining from the use of flesh and wine. Mosheim, p. 310.
* See the Morale des Peres. The same patient principles have been revived since thereformation by the Socinians, the modern Anabaptists, and the Quakers. Barclay, the apologist of the Quakers, has protected his brethren, by the authority of the primitive Christians, p. 542–549.
institutions might be necessary for the present system of the world, and they cheerfully submitted to the authority of their Pagan governors. But while they inculcated the maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defence of the empire. Some indulgence might perhaps be allowed to those persons who, before their conversion, were already engaged in such violent and sanguinary occupations; " but it was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a
more sacred duty, could assume the character of
soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes.” This indolent, or even criminal disregard to the public welfare, exposed them to the contempt and reproaches of the Pagans, who very frequently asked, what must be the fate of the empire, attacked on every side by the barbarians, if all mankind should adopt the pusillanimous sentiments of the new sect?" To this insulting question the Christian apologists returned obscure and ambiguous answers, as they were unwilling to reveal the secret cause of their security; the expectation that, before the conversion of mankind was accomplished, war, government, the Roman empire, and the world itself, would be no more. It may be
observed, that, in this instance likewise, the situation
of the first Christians coincided very happily with their religious scruples, and that their aversion to an active life contributed rather to excuse them from the
w Tertullian, Apolog. c. 21. De Idololatria, c. 17, 18. Origen contra Celsum, l. v. p. 253. l. vii. p. 348. l. viii. p. 423–428.
* Tertullian (de Corona Militis, c. 11) suggested to them the expedient of deserting; a counsel, which, if it had been generally known, was not very proper to conciliate the favour of the emperors towards the Christian sect.
y As well as we can judge from the mutilated representation of Origen (l. viii. p. 423), his adversary, Celsus, had urged his objection with great force and candour.
VOL. II. - I
service, than to exclude them from the honours, of the state and army. W. But the human character, however it may be exalted or depressed by a temporary enthusiasm, will return by degrees to its proper and natural level, and will resume those passions that seem the most adapted to its present condition. The primitive Christians were dead to the business and pleasures of the world; but their love of action, which could never be entirely extinguished, soon revived, and found a new occupation in the government of the church. A separate society, which attacked the established religion of the empire, was obliged to adopt some form of internal policy, and to appoint a sufficient number of ministers, intrusted not only with the spiritual functions, but even with the temporal direction of the Christian commonwealth. The safety of that society, its honour, its aggrandisement, were productive, even in the most pious minds, of a spirit of patriotism, such as the first of the Romans had felt for the republic, and sometimes, of a similar indifference, in the use of whatever means might probably conduce to so desirable an end. The ambition of raising themselves or their friends to the honours and offices of the church, was disguised by the laudable intention of devoting to the public benefit the power and consideration, which, for that purpose only, it became their duty to solicit. In the exercise of their functions, they were frequently called upon to detect the errors of heresy, or the arts of faction, to oppose the designs of perfidious brethren, to stigmatise their characters with deserved infamy, and to expel them from the bosom of a society, whose peace and happiness they had attempted to disturb. The ecclesiastical governors of the Christians were taught to unite the wisdom of the serpent with the innocence of the dove;
vernment of the church.