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SOME OBSERVATIONS, RELATIVE TO THE PRESENT STATE OF THE REPORMED RELIGION, AND TYE INFLUENCE OF IMPROVEMENTS IN PHILOSOPHY AND SCIENCE ON ITS PROPAGATION AND ADVANCEMENT ;
OCCASIONED BY SOME PASSAGES IN THE PREFACE TO A BOOK ENTITLED,
In one of the notes," which I added to those of Dr. Mosheim, in my translation of his Ecclesiastical History, I observed that“ the relorined churches were never at such a distance from the spirit and doctrine of the church of Rome as they are at this day; that the improvements in science, that characterize the last and the present age, seem to render a relapse into Rosish superstition morally impossible in those who have been once delivered from its baneful,influence; and that, if the dawn of science and philosophy toward the end of the sixteenth and the commencement of the seventeenth centuries, was favourable to the cause of the Reformation, their progress,which has a kind of influence even upon he multitude, must confirm us in the principles that occasioned our separation from the church of Rome."
This reasoning did not appear conclusive to the ingenious author of the confessional, who has accordingly made some critical reflections upon it in the preface to that work. However, upon an impartial view of these reflections, I find that this author's excessive apprehensions of the progress of popery have had an undue influence on his method of reasoning on this subject. He supposes, preface, p. 59 and 60, that the iinprovements in science and philosophy, in some popish countries, have been as considerable as in any reformed country; and afterward asks," what intelligence we have from these popish countries of a proportionable progress of religious reformation ? Have we no reason to suspect, adds he, that, if an accurate account were to be taken, the balance, in point of conversions, in the most improved of these countries, would be greatly against the reformed religion ?"
a See volume ii. p. 573, of the quarto edition. This note was occasioned by my mistaking, in a moment of inadvertency, the true sense of the passage to which it relates. This mistake I have corrected in the octavo edition, and in the supplement to the quarto edition,
I cannot see how these observations, or rather conjectures, even were they founded in truth and fact, tend to prove my reasoning inconclusive." I observed, that the progress of science was adapted to confirm us protestants in the belief and profession of the reformed religion; and I had here in view, as every one may see, those countries in which the protestant religion is established; and this author answers me by observing, that the progress of the reformation in some popish countries is not proportionable to the progress of science and philosophy in these countries. This, surely, is no answer at all; since there are in popish countries accidental circumstances that counteract, in favour of popery, the influence of those improvements in science, which are in direct opposition to its propagation and advancement; circumstances that I shall consider presently, and which do not exist in protestant states. i This subject is interesting ; and I therefore presume that some farther thoughts upon it, will not be disagreeable to the candid reader.
The sagacious author of the Confessional cannot, I think, seriously call in question the natural tendency of improvements in learning and science to strengthen and confirm the cause of the Reformation. For as the foundations of popery are a blind submission to an usurped authority over the understandings and consciences of men, and an implicit credulity that adopts, without examination, the miracles and visions that derive their existence from the crazy brains of fanatics, or the lucrative artifice of impostors, so it is unquestionably evident, that the progress of sound philosophy, and the spirit of free inquiry it produces, strikes directly at these foundations. I say the progress of sound philosophy, that the most unattentive reader may not be tempted to imagine, as the author of the Confessional has been informed, preface, page 60, that "improvements in philosophy have made many skeptics in all churches, reformed and unreformed.” For I am persuaded, that as true Christianity can never lead to superstition, so true philosophy will never be a guide to infidelity and skepticism. We must not be deceived with the name of philosophers, which some poets and wits have assumed in our days, particularly upon the Continent, and which many lavish upon certain subtile refiners in dialectics, who bear a much greater resemblance of overweening sophists, than of real sages. We must not be so far lost to all power of distinguishing, as to confound, in one common mass, the philosophy of a Bacon, a Newton, a Boyle, and a Niewentyt, with the incoherent views and rhetorical rants of a Bolingbroke, or the flinisy sophistry of a Voltaire. And though candour must acknowledge, that some men of true learning have been so unhappy as to fall into infidelity, and charity must weep to see a Hume and D'Alembert joining a set of men that are unworthy of their society, and covering a dark and uncomfortable system with the lustre of their superior talents, yet equity itself may safely affirm, that neither their science nor their genius are the causes of their skepticism. · But if the progress of science and free inquiry have a natural tendency to destroy the foundations of popery, how comes it to pass that in popish countries the progress of the reformation bears no proportion to the progress of science ? and how can we account for the ground which popery, if the apprehensions of the author of the Confessional are well founded, gains even in England ?
Before I answer the first of these questions, it may be proper to consider the matter of fact, and to examine, for a moment, the state of science and philosophy in popish countries; this examination, if I am not mistaken, will confirm the theory I have laid down with respect to the influence of philosophical improvement upon true religion. Let us then turn our view first to one of the most considerable countries in Europe, I mean Germany; and here we shall be struck with this undoubted fact, that it is in the protestant part of this vast region only, that the improvements of science and philosophy appear, while the barbarism of the fifteenth century reigns, as yet, in those districts of the empire that profess the Romish religion. The celebrated M. D'Alembert, in his treatise, entitled, De l'abus de la Critique en matiere de Religion, makes the following remarkable observation on this head; “ We must acknowledge, though with sorrow, the present superiority of the protestant universities in Germany over those of the Romish persuasion. This superiority is so striking, that foreigners who travel through the empire, and pass from a Romish academy to a protestant university, even in the same neighbourhood, are induced to think that they have rode, in an hour, four hundred leagues, or lived, in that
short space of time, four hundred years; that they have passed from Salamanca to Cambridge, or from the times of Scotus to those of Newton. Will it be believed, says the same author, in succeeding ages, that, in the year 1750, a book was published in one of the principal cities of Europe, Vienna, with the following title : “Systema Aristotelicum de formis substantialibus et accidentibus absolutis, . e. The Aristotelian System concerning substantial forms and absolute accidents ?" Will it not rather be supposed, that this date is an error of the press, and that 1550 is the true reading ? See D'Alembert's Melanges de Literature, d'Histoire & de Philosophie, vol. iv. p. 376. This fact seems evidently to show the connexion that there is between improvements in science and the free spirit of the reformed religion. The state of letters and philosophy in Italy and Spain, where canon law, monkish literature, and scholastic metaphysics, have reigned during such a long course of ages, exhibits the same gloomy spectacle. Some rays of philosophical light are now breaking through the cloud in Italy; Boscovich, and some geniuses of the same stamp, have dared to hold up the lamp of science, without feeling the rigour of the Inquisition, or meeting with the fate of Galilei. If this dawning revolution be brought to any degree of perfection, it may, in due time, produce effects that at present we have little hopes of a : France, indeed seems to be the country which the author of the confessional has principally in view, when he speaks of a considerable progress in philosophy in popish states that has not been attended with a proportionable influence on the reformation of religion. He even imagines, that "if an account were to be taken, the balance, in point of conversions, in this most improved of the popish countries, would be greatly against the reformed religion.” The reader will perceive, that I might grant this, without giying up any thing that I maintained in the note which this judicious author censures. I shall, bowever, examine this notion, that we may see whether it is to be adopted without restriction; and perhaps it may appear, that the improvements in philosophy have had more influence on the spirit of religion in France than this author is willing to allow.
And here I observe, in the first place, that it is no easy matter either for him or for me to calculate the number of VOL. IV.
conversions that are made, on both sides, by priests armed with the secular power, and protestant ministers discouraged by the frowns of government and the terrors of persecution. If we judge of this matter by the external face of things, the calculation may, indeed, he favourable to his hypothesis, since the apostate protestant comes forth to view, and is publicly enrolled in the registers of the church, while the converted papist is obliged to conceal his profession, and to approach the truth, like Nicodemus, secretly and by night. This evident diversity of circumstances, in the respective proselytes, shows that we are not to form our judgment by external appearances, and renders it but equitable to presume, that the progress of knowledge may have produced many examples of the progress of reformation, which do not strike the eye of the public. It is not, in effect, to be presumed, that if either a toleration, or even an indulgent connivance, were granted to French protestants, many would appear friends of the reformation, who, at present, have not sufficient strength of mind to become martyrs, or confessors, in its cause. History inforns us of the rapid progress the reformation made in France in former times, when a legal toleration was granted to its friends. When this toleration was withdrawn, an immense number of protestants abandoned their country, their relations, and their fortunes, for the sake of their religion. But when that abominable system of tyranny was set up, which would neither permit the protestants to profess their religion at home, nor to seek for the enjoyment of religious liberty abroad; and when they were thus reduced to the sad alternative of dissimulation or martyrdom, the courage of many failed, though their persuasion remained the same. In the south of France many continued, and still continue, their profession, even in the face of those booted apostles, who are sent, from time to time, to dragoon them into popery. In other places, particularly in the metropolis, where the empire of the mode, the allurements of court favour, the dread of persecution, unite their influence in favour of popery, the public profession of protestantism lies under heavy discouragements, and would require a real that rises to heroism; a thing too rare in modern times ! in a word, a religion, like popery, which forms the main spring in the political machine, which is doubly armed with allurements and terrors, must damp the fortitude of