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faithful companion is susceptible. Very different was the reasoning of our devout predecessors; vainly aspiring to imitate the perfection of angels, they disdained, or they affected to disdain, every earthly and corporeal delight.' Some of our senses indeed are necessary for our preservation, others for our subsistence, and others again for our information, and thus far it was impossible to reject the use of them. The first sensation of pleasure was marked as the first moment of their abuse. The unfeeling candidate for heaven was instructed, not only to resist the grosser allurements of the taste or smell, but even to shut his ears against the profane harmony of sounds, and to view with indifference the most finished productions of human art. Gay apparel, magnificent houses, and elegant furniture, were supposed to unite the double gift of pride and of sensuality; a simple and mortified appearance was more suitable to the Christian who was certain of his sins, and doubtful of his salvation. In their censures of luxury, the fathers are extremely minute and circumstantial;" and among the various articles which excite their pious indignation, we may enumerate false hair, garments of any colour except white, instruments of music, vases of gold or silver, downy pillars (as Jacob reposed his head on a stone), white bread, foreign wines, public salutations, the use of warm baths, and the practice of shaving the beard, which, according to the expression of Tertullian, is a lie against our own faces, and an impious attempt to improve the works of the Creator.1 When Christianity was introduced among the rich and the polite, the observation of these singular laws was left, as it would be at present, to the few who were ambitious of superior sanctity. But it is always easy, as well as agreeable, for the 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.
1 Lactant. Institut. Divin. lib. 6. c. 20—22.
"Consult a work of Clemens of Alexandria, entitled the Paedagogue, which contains the rudiments of ethics as they were taught in the most celebrated of the Christian schools.
1 Tertullian, de Spectaculis, c. 23. Clemens Alexandria Paedagog. lib. 3. c. 8.
Their The chaste severity of the fathers, in whatever
related to the commerce of the two sexes, flowed from the same principle; their abhorrence of chastity, 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.2 The enumeration of the very whimsical laws, which they most circumstantially imposed on the marriage bed, 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 guilty of so scandalous an offence against Christian 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 ;b 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.0 A few of these, among whom we may reckon the learned Origen, judged it the most prudent to disarm the tempter.d 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 of 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 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 advantages of Christianity.1<
1 Beausobre, Hist. Critique du Manichcisme, lib. 7. i. 3. Justin, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustin, &c. strongly inclined to this opinion.
1 Some of the Gnostic heretics were more consistent; they rejected the use of marriage.
• See a chain of tradition, from Justin Martyr to Jerome, in the Morale de» Peres, c. 4. 6—26.
b See a very curious Dissertation on the Vestals, in the Memoires de 1'Academie des Inscriptions, tom. 4. 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.
• Cupiditatem procreandi at imam scimus aut nullam. Minuciua Felix, e. 31. Justin. Apolog. Major. Athenagoras in Legat. c. 28. Tertullian de Cultu Fcemi*lib. 2.
A Eusebius, lib. 6. 8. Before the fame 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 fortunate that, in this instance only, he should have adopted the literal sense.
V Cyprian, Epist. 4. and Dodwell Dissertat. Cyprianic. 3. Something like this rash attempt was long afterward imputed to the founder of the order of Fontevrault. Bayle has amused himself and his readers on that very delicate subject.
The Christians were not less averse to the buaversion siness than to the pleasures of this world. The business defence of our persons and property they knew ofwar not how to reconcile with the patient doctrine govern- 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.11 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 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
1 Dupin (Bibliotheque Ecclesiastique, tom. 1. 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.
k See the Morale des Peres. The same patient principles have been revived since the Reformation 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.
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.k 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?1 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 maybe 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 service, than to exclude them from the honours, of the state and army.
V. But the human character, however it may
The fifth iiii 11 i
came.. be exalted or depressed by a temporary enthutians"ac^" siasm, will return by degrees to its proper and tive m the natural level, and will resume those passions
ment of that seem the most adapted to its present condi"'tion. 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
I Tertullian, Apolog. c. 21. De Idololatria, c. 17, 18. Origen contra Celsum, lil.. 5. p. 253. lib. 7. p. 348. lib. 8. p. 423—428.
k Tertollian (de Corona Militis, c. 11.) suggests 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.
1 As well as we can judge from the mutilated representation of Origen, (lib. 8. p. 423.) his adversary, Celsus, had urged his objection with great force and candour.