« ZurückWeiter »
from which unballowed union motley and corrupted systems of religion were produced. The latter, having derived much important assistance from his researches, and being struck with a partial coincidence between revelation and philosophy, sometimes allowing his gratitude and admiration to exceed the due limits, incorporated the imperfect, and, in many respects, erroneous opinions of the heathen sages with the pure doctrines of the Gospel. It is our happiness, that we are not at the present period exposed to these dangerous consequences from the philosophical writings of antiquity. These monuments of ancient virtue and of ancient wisdom, are now estimated as they should be: the warmth of passion is mellowed by the progress of time into the calmness of regard ; and we view philosophy with the same feelings, with which we remember those who have been long since dead: we know and admire its excellencies, but we are not blind to its defects. The relation indeed which it formerly bore to religion, and the evils which their connexion occasioned, render it very serviceable in the study of theology. The ablest champions of the truth in the first ages of the church employed in its defence the same weapons with which it had been attacked; and have made that judicious use of ancient philosophy, which requires that we should have gained no inconsiderable proficiency in it, if we wish duly to appreciate the value, and feel the full force of their writings.
The doctrines of Plato particularly deserve attention : in the infancy of the church they claimed a decided superiority in the public opinion over every other system; and as they approached more nearly than any other to the purity of revelation, they were the favorite study of the learned Christian. Many of the earlier writers on sacred subjects, who were, in some instances, misled by an unbounded attachment to Platonism, give very important theological information : and in examining the heresies which arose in the primitive ages from an injudicious mixture of the Platonic tenets, we must be fully acquainted with the cause, before we attempt to consider the effect.
We learn from the annals of the world, that before the dawn of revelation the bulk of mankind were addicted to the grossest errors of idolatrous worship: but it is to philosophy that we must recur, to be fully impressed with the necessity of revelation, by observing the insufficiency of human reason to introduce a purer system of theology. The day-spring from on high only could dispel the gloom of intellectual darkness, in which religion was involved; a darkness which the wisest of the Greek and Roman philosophers endeavoured in vain to penetrate. With regard to the unity of the Godhead, and his superintending providence, not only were their opinions confused and contradictory; but it appears also to have been a funda
mental principle with them not to attempt the reformation of pop'llar prejudices, nor to encourage the visionary hope of accommodating their speculations to the understanding of the multitude.
On the future state of the soul they spoke boldly, who spoke of eternal death : the virtuous and enlightened few, who indulged the cheering prospect of immortality, yet trembled lest their hopes should prove unfounded; and, while they endeavoured to satisfy their reason by the subtilties of metaphysical refinement, they bewildered themselves, and weakened the common sense of nature in the minds of others. Could genius and virtue have established this important truth, no fears would have mingled with the last hopes of Socrates, no doubts have disturbed the lofty meditations which dignified the retirement of Cicero.
Before we turn to the ancient systems of moral philosophy, and consider their utility as subservient to theological studies, it may not be unnecessary to observe, that the precepts of the Gospel are sufficiently explicit to regulate the conduct of mankind. In the energetic language of a great moralist, “ they tend immediately to the rectification of the moral principle, and the direction of daily conduct, without ostentation, without art, at once irrefragable and plain, such as well-meaning simplicity can readily conceive, and of which we cannot mistake the meaning, but wlien we are afraid to find it.” But they, whose duty it is to study religion as a profession, should not reject the aids of human learning, nor despise the useful information which may be gathered from the ethical writings of antiquity. It does not appear to have been the intention of the Divine Author of our religion to give mankind a system of morality. He does not accurately unfold the nature of vice and virtue, or subdivide them minutely into their different species. Revelation was intended to assist, not to supersede the use of reason; to correct its errors, and supply its deficiencies. The pure lessons of morality, which the Scriptures teach, cannot be thoroughly understood, nor can their useful tendency be so evident, unless we are acquainted with the minute and comprehensive systems for which we are indebted to the ancients. Their errors and defects are such, as we naturally expect would attend the speculations of unenlightened reason, and of virtue unassisted by Divine Wisdom : these Revelation has fully corrected and supplied. The greater, the more awful, and the more brilliant virtues were chiefly recommended by philosophy. It remained for a better philosophy to encourage those milder and more amiable feelings, which, although before considered as weaknesses, are, in reality, the most convincing proofs of a manly, an enlightened, and benevolent mind. The ancient sages saw, that a moral plan of conduct could not be steadily pursued, if it did not aim at some ultimate object, to the attainment of which
every action should be directed. Thus far they were right: but when they endeavoured to supply the deficièncy by the introduction of their chief good, their opinions were almost infinitely varied : each sect gave a bias to some different end, and all was error and uncertainty. Revelation only could discover to erring man that powerful inducement to a virtuous life, which has an equal influence on the minds of all. Revelation only could discover to us, that on our temporal conduct our eternal happiness must depend. Thus giving to its precepts a sanction above the reach of human wisdom, it has confirmed those hopes on which the wise and virtuous delight to dwell—those better hopes, which in our happier hours give a tone to our finest and most rational enjoyments, and in the season of melancholy console us amidst the afflictions of this transitory scene, by opening to our view the brighter regions of eternity.
Philosophy, with some few honorable exceptions, appears contemptuously to have rejected the idea of future punishment, of which the vulgar retained some corrupted notions. How great is our astonishment and regret, when we find that Cicero reasons against the fear of death, on the supposition that the soul either ceases to exist after the dissolution of the body, or is not liable to: misery or punishment in a future state !
Having thus considered some of the useful lights which classical learning furnishes in the study of divinity, in order to be satisfied, that the general tenor of these observations is well founded, and to silence the clamors which ignorance and fanaticism have raised against the application of ancient literature to religion, it may not be altogether useless to trace them in their connexion, and observe the consequences which this connexion has produced.
Christianity, when first revealed by infinite wisdom to mankind, had to struggle not only against civil authority, but also against habitual prepossessions : there were no worldly motives, which could induce men to adopt it; on the contrary, ignominy and persecution awaited its followers. But the rays of revelation beamed conviction on minds which learning had prepared for the reception of truth : and Christianity soon ranked orators and philosophers among its adherents. Thus was the propagation of religion advanced by the happy influence of learning; and to this source the defenders of the truth applied for the means of maintaining it with
nor did the assistance, which they derived from the Greek and Roman writers, escape the malignant vigilance of Julian, who endeavoured, by an imperial edict, to wrest these authors from their
The ages of darkness, which followed the downfal of the Roman empire, present a degrading picture of the human mind. When polished and lettered Nations are overwhelmed by the barbarous and
unlearned, they usually have their turn of victory, and subdue the ferocity of their conquerors, by introducing among them civility and learning. But, in order to produce this desirable effect, it is necessary that the former should have so far emerged from the savage state, as to feel their comparative inferiority, and to perceive, that mere animal courage will not fit them for that rank in the creation, to which they were destined by their Maker. Unhappily for Europe, this was not the case with the barbarous hordes who crushed the Roman power : inured to the toils of war, in these they placed their glory and delight, despising the learning and civility of those whom they had so easily subdued. In a short space of time almost every vestige of learning disappeared in Europe. Christianity severely felt the blow. Although its doctrines and its precepts are delivered with a simplicity and precision, which should have prevented corruption, it degenerated, during these ages of darkness, into the grossest superstition, and was disgraced by the monstrous errors of the Romish Church. To the barbarous custom, which at this time prevailed among the monks, of erasing the works of the Greek and Roman writers from the manuscript, in order to substitute the legends of their saints, we may ascribe the loss of many valuable compositions of antiquity. Thus did superstition rise on the ruins of classical learning.
On the revival of learning, the absurdities of the scholastic theology were successfully ridiculed and exposed by Erasmus, and other writers distinguished for the cultivation of ancient literature; and in the sixteenth century, the authors of ancient Greece and Rome were made public, with all the ardor of literary zeal, by men of erudition and piety, who considered themselves as promoting the cause of religion by the diffusion of classical knowledge. The writings of the New Testainent, which had before been wholly neglected or absurdly explained, were now consulted with due respect, and their meaning illustrated by men eminent for their critical abilities. Christianity progressively recovered its original purity under the auspices of ancient learning; to the revival of which we must consider ourselves in a great measure indebted for the Reformation. From that period to the present, it has been successfully employed in confirming the truth of Scripture, in confuting the impiety of the atheist, and in exposing the sophistry of the infidel : and in our own country, amongst other distinguished scholars, Stillingfleet, Bentley, and Cudworth, have consecrated classical learning to the service of religion.
From the view which has been taken of ancient learning in its subserviency to theological studies, it has appeared, that the general effects, thereby produced on the mind, are peculiarly adapted to prepare it for these serious inquiries. We have seen, that the sacred volume, which contains the truths of Revelation, is studied more effectually, and with greater interest, by those who are most accurately acquainted with the Greek language, and most profoundly skilled in ancient literature. We have seen also, that the mythology, the history, the philosophical and ethical opinions of the ancients, illustrate and confirm the true religion : and, in order to obviate the cavils with which classical learning has been attacked, we have called upon experience to show, that its influence on theology has ever produced the happiest effects.
Inquiries of this nature are peculiarly calculated to promote the great ends of a classical education, when intended as preparatory to the study of theology. By exhibiting steadily and precisely to the mind the relation which ihe different departments of classical learning bear to this common object, they must prevent any intemperate attachment to these secondary pursuits; and while the literature of antiquity still bestows the gratifications and advantages which are more immediately its own, it derives new dignity and importance from its essential utility in those sublimer studies, which raise the mind of man to the Author of his being.
A. D. HENDY. Oxford, 1804.
OF THE IGNORANCE OF THE
· MOST CELEBRATED MODERNS
relative to the philosophy of Aristotle.
The author of Vindiciæ Antique in the Classical Journal having laudably undertaken to defend Plato and Aristotle against their modern calumniators, but not appearing to be at all acquainted with the writings of Mr. Thomas TAYLOR the Platonist; it appeared to me, that the very strong evidence which he has brought forward in his Dissertation on the Philosophy of Aristotle, to prove that the works and doctrines of the Stagirite have been defamed by the most celebrated of the moderns without having been understood by them, well deserved to be more generally known. I bave therefóre made the following extracts from the above-mentioned work ;