« ForrigeFortsett »
coming of the Son of man in the clouds, before that generation was totally extinguished, which had beheld his humble condition upon earth, and which might still be witness to the calamities of the Jews under Vespasian or Hadrian. The revolution of seventeen centuries has instructed us not to press too closely the mysterious language of prophecy and revelation; but as long as, for wise purposes, this error was permitted to subsist in the church, it was productive of the most salutary effects on the faith and practice of Christians, who lived in the awful expectation of that moment when the globe itself, and all the various race of mankind, should tremble at the appearance of their divine Judge." Doctrine The ancient and popular doctrine of the mil0j.|fie lenium was intimately connected with the second mum. coming of Christ. As the works of the creation had been finished in six days, their duration in their present state, according to a tradition which was attributed to the prophet Elijah, was fixed to six thousand years.p By the same analogy it was inferred, that this long period of labour and contention, which was now almost elapsed, would be succeeded by a joyful sabbath of a thousand years; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon earth till the time appointed for the last and general resurrection. So pleasing was this hope to the minds of believers, that the New Jerusalem, the seat of this blissful kingdom, was quickly adorned with all the gayest colours of the imagination. A felicity consisting only of pure and spiritual pleasure would have appeared too refined for its inhabitants, who were still supposed to possess their human nature and senses. A garden of Eden, with the amusements of the pastoral life, was not suited to the advanced state of society which prevailed under the Roman empire. A city was therefore erected of gold and precious stones, and a supernatural plenty of corn and wine was bestowed on the adjacent territory; in the free enjoyment of whose spontaneous productions, the happy and benevolent people was never to be restrained by any jealous laws of exclusive property/ The assurance of such a millenium was carefully inculcated by a succession of fathers from Justin Martyr' and Irenaeus, who conversed with the immediate disciples of the apostles, down to Lactantius, who was preceptor to the son of Constantine.' Though it might not be universally received, it appears to have been the reigning sentiment of the orthodox believers; and it seems so well adapted to the desires and apprehensions of mankind, that it must have contributed in a very considerable degree to the progress of the Christian faith. But when the edifice of the church was almost completed, the temporary support was laid aside. The doctrine of Christ's reign upon earth was at first treated as a profound allegory, was considered by degrees as a doubtful and useless opinion, and was at length rejected as the absurd invention of heresy and fanaticism." A mysterious prophecy, which still forms a part of the sacred canon, but which was thought to favour the exploded sentiment, has very narrowly escaped the proscription of the church.1
« This expectation was countenanced by the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew, and by the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians. Erasmus removes the difficulty by the help of allegory and metaphor; and the learned Grotius ventures to insinuate, that for wise purposes the pious deception was permitted to take place.
r See Burma's Sacred Theory, part 3. c. 5. This tradition may be traced s s high as the author of the Epistle of Barnabas, who wrote in the first century, and who seems to have been half a Jew.
4 The primitive church of Antioch computed almost six thousand years from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ. Africanns, Lactantius, and the Greek church, have reduced that number to five thousand five hundred, and EuseMus has contented himself with five thousand two hundred years. These calculations were formed on the Septuagint, which was universally received daring the six first centuries. The authority of the Vulgate and of the Hebrew text has determined the modems, Protestants as well as Catholics, to prefer a period of about four thousand years; though, in the study of profane antiquity, they often find themselves straitened by those narrow limits.
1 Most of these pictures were borrowed from a misinterpretation of Isaiah, Daniel, and the Apocalypse. One of the grossest images may be found in Ireuaeus, (lib. V. p. 455) the disciple of Papias, who had seen the apostle St. John.
B See the second dialogue of Justin with Tiyphon, and the seventh book of Lactantius. It is unnecessary to allege all the intermediate fathers, as the fact is not disputed. Yet the curious reader may consult Daille de usu Fatrum, lib. 3. c. h
1 The testimony of Justin, of his own faith and that of his orthodox brethren, in the l ic. trine of a millenium, is delivered in the clearest and most solemn manner (Dialog, cum Tryphonte Jud. p. 177,178. Edit. Benedictin.) If in the beginning of this important passage there is any thing like an inconsistencv, we may impute it, as we think proper, either to the author or to his transcribers.
Confla- Whilst the happiness and glory of a temporal gration of reigm were promised to the disciples of Christ,
Rome and & r . . r ,
of the the most dreadful calamities were denounced wori' against an unbelieving world. The edification of the New Jerusalem was to advance by equal steps with the destruction of the mystic Babylon; and as long as the emperors who reigned before Constantine persisted in the profession of idolatry, the epithet of Babylon was applied to the city and to the empire of Rome. A regular series was prepared of all the moral and physical evils which can inflict a flourishing nation; intestine discord, and the invasion of the fiercest barbarians from the unknown regions of the north; pestilence and famine, comets and eclipses, earthquakes and inundations.y All these were only so many preparatory and alarming signs of the great catastrophe of Rome, when the country of the Scipios and Caesars should be consumed by a flame from heaven, and the city of the seven hills with her palaces, her temples and her triumphal arches, should be buried in a vast lake of fire and brimstone. It might, however, afford some consolation to Roman vanity, that the period of their empire would be that of the world itself; which as it had once perished by the element of water, was destined to experience a second and speedy destruction from the element of fire. In the opinion of a general conflagration, the faith of the Christian very happily coincided with the tradition of the east, and the philosophy of the Stoics, and the analogy of nature; and even the country, which from religious motives, had been chosen for the origin and principal scene of the conflagration, was the best adapted for that purpose by natural and physical causes; by its deep caverns, beds of sulphur, and numerous volcanoes, of which those of ,2Etna, of Vesuvius, and of Lipari, exhibit a very imperfect representation. The calmest and most intrepid sceptic could not refuse to acknowledge, that the destruction of the present system of the world by fire was in itself extremely probable. The Christian who founded his belief much less on the fallacious arguments of reason than on the authority of tradition and the interpretation of Scripture, expected it with terror and confidence as a certain and approaching event; and as his mind was perpetually filled with the solemn idea, he considered every disaster that happened to the empire as an infallible symptom of an expiring world.2
"Dupin Bibliotheque Ecclesiastique, tom. i. p. 2t3. torn. 2. p. 366, and Mosheim, p. 720; though the latter of these learned divines is not altogether candid on this occasion.
1 In the council of Laodicea (about the year 360), the Apocalypse was tacitly excluded from the sacred canon by the same churches of Asia to which it is sue- dressed; and we may learn from the complaint of Sulpitius Severus, that their sentence had been ratified by the greater number of Christians of his time. From what causes, then, is the Apocalypse at present so generally received by the Greek, the Roman, and the Protestant churches 1 The following ones may be assigned: 1. The Greeks were subdued by the authority of an impostor, who, in the sixth century, assumed the character of Dionysius the Areopagite. Z. A just apprehension, that the grammarians might become more important than the theologians, engaged the council of Trent to fix the seal of their infallibility on all the books of Scripture contained in the Latin Vulgate, in the number of which the Apocalypse wail fortunately included. (Fr. Paolo, Istoria del Concilio Tridentino, lib. 2.) 3. The advantage of turning those mysterious prophecies against the see of Rome inspired the Protestants with uncommon veneration for so useful an ally. See the ingenious and elegant discourses of the bishop of Litchfield on that unpromising subject.
i Lactantius (Institut . THvin. 7.15, &c.) relates the dismal tale of futurity with great spirit and eloquence.
The Pa- The condemnation of the wisest and most virtuous of the Pagans on account of their ignorance or disbelief of the divine truth, seems to offend the reason and the humanity of the present age.m
'On this subject every reader of taste will be entertained with the third part of Bumct's Sacred Theory. He blends philosophy, Scripture, and tradition, into one magnificent system; in the description of which he displays a strength of fancy not inferior to that of Milton himself.
* And yet, whatever may be the language of individuals, it is still the public doctrine of all the Christian churches: nor can even our own refuse to admit the i -inclusions which must be drawn from the eighth and the eighteenth of her articles. The Jansenists, who have so diligently studied the works of the fathers, maintain this sentiment with distinguished zeal; and the learned M. de Tillemont never dismisses a virtuous emperor without pronouncing his damnation. Zuinglius is perhaps the only leader of a party who has ever adopted the milder sentiment; and he gave no less offence to the Lutherans than to the Catholics. See Bossuet, Histoire des Variations des Eglises Protestantes, lib. -,'. c. 19—22.
But the primitive church, whose faith was of a much firmer consistence, delivered over, without hesitation, to eternal torture, the far greater part of the human species. A charitable hope might perhaps be indulged in favour of Socrates, or some other sages of antiquity, who had consulted the light of reason before that of the gospel had arisen.b But it was unanimously affirmed, that those, who, since the birth or death of Christ, had obstinately persisted in the worship of the demons, neither deserved nor could expect a pardon from the irritated justice of the Deity. These rigid sentiments which had been unknown to the ancient world, appear to have infused a spirit of bitterness into a system of love and harmony. The ties of blood and friendship were frequently torn asunder by the difference of religious faith ; and the Christians, who in this world found themselves oppressed by the power of the Pagans, were sometimes seduced by resentment and spiritual pride to delight in the prospect of their future triumph. You are fond of spectacles (exclaims the stern Tertullian), expect the greatest of all spectacles, the last and eternal judgment of the universe. How shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs, and fancied gods, groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer fires than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sage philosophers blushing in red-hotjlames with their deluded scholars; so many celebrated poets trembling before the tribunal, not of Minos? but of Christ; so many tragedians, more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings; so many dancers—.' But the humanity of the reader will permit me
b Justin and Clemens of Alexandria allow that some of the philosophers were instructed by the Logos; confounding its double signification, of the human reason, and of the divine word.