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to draw a veil over the rest of this infernal description, which the zealous African pursues in a long variety of affected and unfeeling witticisms.0 Were Doubtless there were many among the primi
often con- tive Christians of a temper more suitable to the
verted by r
their meekness and charity of their profession. There were many who felt a sincere compassion for the danger of their friends and countrymen, and who exerted the most benevolent zeal to save them from the impending destruction. The careless Polytheist, assailed by new and unexpected terrors, against which neither his priests nor his philosophers could afford him any certain protection, was very frequently terrified and subdued by the menace of eternal tortures. His fears might assist the progress of his faith and reason; and if he could once persuade himself to suspect that the Christian religion might possibly be true, it became an easy task to convince him that it was the safest and most prudent party that he could possibly embrace.
III. The supernatural gifts, which even in this
Thethird ,.,. .f, i J?i . . , ,
cause. lite were ascribed to the Christians above the rest mankind, must have conduced to their own comfort, and very frequently to the conviction of
primitive infidels. Besides the occasional prodigies, which might sometimes be effected by the immediate interposition of the deity, when he suspended the laws of nature for the service of religion, the Christian church, from the time of the apostles and their first disciples/ has claimed an uninterrupted succession of miraculous powers, the gift of tongues, of vision, and of prophecy; the power of expelling demons, of healing the sick, and
'Tertullian, de Spcctaculis, c. 3O. In order to ascertain the degree of authority which the zealous African had acquired, it may be sufficient to allege the testimony of Cyprian, the doctor and guide of all the western churches. (See Prudent. Hym. 13. 100.) As often as he applied himself to his daily study of the writings of Tertullian, he was accustomed to say, " Da mihi mugistratum ;— Give me my master." (Hieronym. de Viris Illusthbus, tom. \. p. 884.)
* Notwithstanding the evasions of Dr. Middleton, it is impossible to overlook the clear traces of visions and inspiration, which may be found in the apostolic fathers.
of raising the dead. The knowledge of foreign languages was frequently communicated to the contemporaries of Irenaeus, though Irenaeus himself was left to struggle with the difficulties of a barbarous dialect whilst he preached the gospel to the natives of Gaul.' The divine inspiration, whether it was conveyed in the form of a waking or of a sleeping vision, is described as a favour very liberally bestowed on all ranks of the faithful, on women as on elders, on boys as well as upon bishops. When their devout minds were sufficiently prepared by a course of prayer, of fasting, and of vigils, to receive the extraordinary impulse, they were transported out of their senses, and delivered in ecstacy what was inspired, being mere organs of the holy spirit, just as a pipe or flute is of him who blows into it.f We may add, that the design of these visions was, for the most part, either to disclose the future history, or to guide the present administration of the church. The expulsion of the demons from the body of those unhappy persons, whom they had been permitted to torment, was considered as a signal though ordinary triumph of religion, and is repeatedly alleged by the ancient apologists as the most convincing evidence of the truth of Christianity. The awful ceremony was usually performed in a public manner, and in the presence of a great number of spectators; the patient was relieved by the power or skill of the exorcist; and the vanquished demon was heard to confess, that he was one of the fabled gods of antiquity, who had impiously usurped the adoration of mankind,' But the miraculous cure of diseases of the most inveterate or even preternatural kind can no longer occasion
i Irenaeus adv. Hseres. Proem, p. 3. Dr. Middleton (Free Inquiry, p. 96, &c.) observes, that as this pretension of all others was the most difficult to support by art, it was the soonest given up. The observation suits his hypothesis.
'Atbenagoras in Legatione, Justin Martyr, Cohort ad Gentes. TertullUn nihots. Marcionit. lib. 4. These descriptions are not very unlike the prophetic fury, for which Cicero (de Divinat. t. 54.) expresses so little reverence.
i Tertullian (Apolog. c. 23.) throws out a bold defiance to the Pagan magistrates. Of the primitive miracles, the power of exercising is the only one which has been assumed by the Protestants.
any surprise, when we recollect that in the days of Irenaeus, about the end of the second century, the resurrection of the dead was very far from being esteemed an uncommon event; that the miracle was frequently performed on necessary occasions, by great fasting and the joint supplication of the church of the place; and that the persons thus restored to their prayers had lived afterward among them many years."1 At such a period, when faith could boast of so many wonderful victories over death, it seems difficult to account for the scepticism of those philosophers who still rejected and derided the doctrine of the resurrection. A noble Grecian had rested on this important ground the whole controversy, and promised Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, that if he could be gratified with the sight of a single person who had been actually raised from the dead, he would immediately embrace the Christian religion. It is somewhat remarkable, that the prelate of the first eastern church, however anxious for the conversion of his friend, thought proper to decline this fair and reasonable challenge.1 Their The miracles of the primitive church, after ob
truth con- taining the sanction of ages, have been lately attested. , i 7 • **. . .
tacked in a very free and ingenious inquiry;11
which, though it has met with the most favourable reception from the public, appears to have excited a general scandal among the divines of our own as well as of the other Protestant churches of Europe.1 Our different sentiments on this subject will be much less influenced by any particular arguments, than by our habits of study and reflection; and, above all, by the degree oftheevi
b Irenams adv. Haereses, lib. 2. 56, 57. lib. 5. c. 6. Mr. Dodwell (Dissertat. ad Irenaeum, t. 42.) concludes, that the second century was still more fertile in miracles than the first.
1 Thfophilus ad Autolycum, lib. 1. p. 343. edit. Benedictin. Paris, 1742.
k Dr. Middleton sent out his Introduction in the year 1747, published his Free Inquiry in 1749, and before his death, which happened in 1750, he had prepared a vindication of it against his numerous adversaries.
1 The university of Oxford conferred degrees on his opponents. From the indignation of Mosbeim, (p. 221.) we may discover the sentiments of the Lutheran divines.
dence which we have accustomed ourselves to require for the proof of a miraculous event. The duty of an historian does not call upon him to interpose ». I"3 private judgment in this nice and important controversy; but he ought not to dissemble the difficulty of adopting such a theory as may reconcile the interest of religion with that of reason, of making a proper application of that theory, and of defining with precision the limits of that happy period exempt from error and from deceit, to which we might be disposed to extend the gift of supernatural powers. From the first of the fathers to the last of the popes, a succession of bishops, of saints, of martyrs, and of miracles, is continued without interruption; and the progress of superstition was so gradual and almost imperceptible, that we know not in what particular link we should break the chain of tradition. Every age bears testimony to the wonderful events by which it was distinguished; and its testimony \appears no less weighty and respectable than that of the preceding generation, till we are insensibly led on to accuse our own inconsistency, if in the eighth or in the twelfth century we deny to the venerable Bede, or to the holy Bernard, the same degree of confidence which, in the second century, we had so liberally granted to Justin or to Irenaeus.TM If the truth of any of those miracles is appreciated by their apparent use and propriety, every age had unbelievers to convince, heretics to confute, and idolatrous nations to convert; and sufficient motives might always be produced to justify the interposition of Heaven. And yet since every friend to revelation is persuaded of the reality, and every reasonable man is convinced of the cessation, of miraculous powers, it is evident that there must have been tome period in which they were either suddenly or gradually withdrawn from the Christian church. Whatever era is chosen for that purpose, the death of the apostles, the conversion of the Roman empire, or the extinction of the Arian heresy," the insensibility of the Christians who lived at that time will equally afford a just matter of surprise. They still supported their pretensions after they had lost their power. Credulity performed the office of faith; fanaticism was permitted to assume the language of inspiration; and the effects of accident or contrivance were ascribed to supernatural causes. The recent experience of genuine miracles should have instructed the Christian world in the ways of Providence, and habituated their eye ( if we may use a very inadequate expression) to the style of the divine Artist. Should the most skilful painter of modern Italy presume to decorate his feeble imitations with the name of Raphael or of Correggio, the insolent fraud would be soon discovered and indignantly rejected. Use of Whatever opinion may be entertained of the miracles of the primitive church since the time s. of the apostles, this unresisting softness of temper, so conspicuous among the believers of the second and third centuries, proved of some accidental benefit to the cause of truth and religion. In modern times, a latent and even involuntary scepticism adheres to the most pious dispositions. Their admission of supernatural truths is much less an active consent, than a cold and passive acquiescence. Accustomed long since to observe and to respect the invariable order of nature, our reason, or at least our imagination, is not sufficiently prepared to sustain the visible action of the Deity. But, in the first ages of Christianity, the situation of mankind was extremely different. The most curious, or the most credulous, among the Pagans were often persuaded to
m It may seem somewhat remarkable, that Bernard of Clairvaux, who records so many miracles of his friend St. Malachi, never takes any notice of his own, which, in their turn, however, are carefully related by his companions and disciples. In the long series of ecclesiastical history, does there exist a single instance of a saint asserting that he himself possessed the gift of miracles?