תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

the feeble friend to truth, and attract the external respect even of libertines, freethinkers, and skeptics."

But, in the second place, if it should be alleged, that men eminent for learning and genius have adhered seriously to the profession of popery, the fact cannot be denied. But what does it prove ? Ii proves only that, in such persons, there are circumstances that counteract the natural influence of learning and science. It cannot be expected that the influence of learning and philosophy will always obtain a complete victory over the attachment to a superstitious church, that is riveted by the early prejudiccs of education, by impressions formed by the examples of respectable personages who have professed and defended the doctrine of that church, by a habit of veneration for authority, and by numberless associations of ideas, whose combined influence gives a wonderful bias to the mind, and renders the impartial pursuit of truth extremely difficult. Thus knowledge is acquired with an express design to strengthen previous impressions and prejudices. Thus many make considerable improvements in science, who have never once ventured to review their religious principles, or to examine the authority on which they have been taken up.

Others observe egregious abuses in the Romish church, and are satisfied with rejecting them in secret, without thinking them sufficient to justify a separation. This class is extremely numerous; and it cannot be said that the improvements in science have had no effect upon their religious sentiments. They are neither thorough papists nor entire protestants; but they are manifestly verging toward the reformation.

Nearly allied to this class is another set of men, whose case is singular, and worthy of attention. Even in the bosom of the Romish church they have tolerably just notions of the sublime simplicity and genuine beauty of the Christian religion; but either from false reasonings upon human nature, or an observation of the powerful impressions that authority makes upon the credulity, and a pompous ritual upon the senses of the multitude, imagine that Christianity, in its native form, is too pure and elevated for vulgar souls, and therefore countenance and maintain the absurdities of popery, from a notion of their utility. Those who conversed intimately with the sublime Fene

[ocr errors]

lon, archbishop of Cambray, have declared, that such was the nature of his sentiments with respect to the public religion of his country.

To all this I may add, that a notion of the necessity of a visible universal church, and of a visible centre or bond of union, has led many to adhere to the papacy, considered in this light, who look upon some of the principal and fundamental doctrines of the Romish church to be erroneous and extravagant. Such is the case of the learned and worthy Dr. Courrayer, whose upright fortitude in declaring his sentiments obliged him to seek an asylum in England; and who, notwithstanding his persuasion of the absurdities which abound in the church of Rome, has never totally separated himself from its communion. And such is known to be the case with many men of learning and piety in that church.

Thus it happens, that particular and accidental circuinstances counteract, in favour of popery, the natural effects of improvements in learning and philosophy, which have their full and proper influence in Protestant countries, where any thing that resembles these circumstances is directly in favour of the reformed religion.

But I beg that it may be attentively observed, in the third place, that notwithstanding all these particular and accidental obstacles to the progress of the reformation among men of knowledge and letters, the spirit of the reformation has, in fact, gained more ground than the ingenious author of the confessional seems to imagine. I think it must be allowed, that every branch of superstition that is retrenched from popery, and every portion of authority that is taken from its pontiff, is a real gain to the cause of the reformation; and though it does not render that cause absolutely triumphant, yet prepares the way for its progress and advancement. Now, in this point of view, I am persuaded it will appear that, for twenty or thirty years past, the reformation, or at least its spirit, has rather gained than lost ground in Roman Catholic states. In several countries, and more particularly in France, many of the gross abuses of popery have been corrected. We have seen the saintly legend, in many places, deprived of its fairest honours. We have seen a mortal blow given in France to the absolute power of the pope. What is still more surprising, we have seen, even in Spain and Portugal, strong lines of a spirit of opposition to the pretended infallible ruler of the church. We have seen the very order, that has been always considered as the chief support of the papacy, the order of the Jesuits. the fundamental characteristic of whose institute is an inviolable obligation to extend beyond all limits, the despotic authority of the Roman pontiffs ; we have seen, I say, that order suppressed, banished, covered with deserved infamy, in three powerful kingdoms; and we see, at this moment, their credit declining in other Roman Catholic states. We see, in several popish countries, and more especially in France, the holy Scriptures more generally in the hands of the people than in former times. We have seen the senate of Venice, not many months ago, suppressing, by an express edict, the officers of the inquisition in all the small towns, reducing their power to a shadow in the larger cities, extending the liberty of the press; and all this in a steady opposition to the repeated remonstrances of the court of Rome. These, and many other facts that might be collected here, facts of a recent date, show that the essential spirit of popery, which is a spirit of unlimited despotism in the pretended head of the church, and a spirit of blind submission and superstition in its members, is rather losing.than gaining ground, even in those countries that still profess the religion of Rome.

If this be the case, it would seem, indeed, very strange, that popery, which is losing ground at home, should be gaining it abroad, and acquiring new strength, as some imagine, even in Protestant countries. This, at first sight, inust appear a paradox of the most enormous size; and it is to be hoped that it will continue to appear such, upon the closest examination. While the spirit and vigour of popery are actually declining on the continent, I would fondly hope, that the apprehensions of some worthy persons, with respect to its progress in England, are without foundation. To account for the growth of popery, in an age of light, would be incumbent upon me, if the fact were true, Until this fact be proved, I may be excused from undertaking such a task. The famous story of the golden tooth, that employed the laborious researches of physicians, chymists, and philosophers, stands upon record, as a warn

'b France, Spain, and Portugal.
c This edict was issued out in the month of February, 1767.

ing to those who are over hasty to account for a thing which has no existence. My distance from England, during many years past, renders me, indeed, less capable of judging concerning the state of popery, than those who are upon the spot. I shall, therefore, confine myself to a few reflections upon this interesting subject.

When it is said that popery gains ground in England, one of the two following things must be meant by this expression; either that the spirit of the established and other reformed churches is leaning that way; or that a number of individuals are made proselytes, by the seduction of po. pish emissaries, to the Romish communion. With respect to the established church, I think that a candid and accurate observer must vindicate it from the charge of a spirit of approximation to Rome. We do not live in the days of a Laud; nor do his successors seem to have imbibed his spirit. I do not hear that the claims of church power are carried high in the present times, or that a spirit of intolerance characterizes the episcopal hierarchy. And though it were to be wished, that the case of subscription were to be made easier to good and learned men, whose scruples deserve indulgence, and were better accommodated to what is known to be the reigning theology among the epis, copal clergy, yet it is straining matters too far to allege the demand of subscription as a proof that the established church is verging toward popery. As to the protestant dissenting churches in England and Ireland, they stand so ayowedly clear of all imputations of this nature, that it is utterly unnecessary to vindicate them on this head. If any thing of this kind is to be apprehended from any quarter within the pale of the reformation, it is from the quarter of fanaticism, which, by discrediting free inquiry, crying down human learning, and encouraging those prete: ded illuminations and impulses which give imagination an undue ascendant in religion, lays weak minds open to the seductions of a church, which has always made its conquests by wild visions and false miracles, addressed to the passions and fancies of men. Cry down reason, preach up implicit faith, extinguish the lamp of free inquiry, make inward experience the test of truth; and then the main barriers against popery will be removed. Persons who follow this method possibly may continue protestants; but there is no security against their

becoming papists, if the occasion is presented. Were they placed in a scene where artful priests and enthusiastic monks could play their' engines of conversion, their protestant faith would be very likely to fail.

If by the supposed growth of popery be meant, the success of the Romish enissaries in inaking proselytes to their communion, bere again the question turns upon a matter of fact, upon which I cannot venture to pronounce. There is no doubt but the Romish hierarchy carries on its operations under the shade of an indulgent connivance; and it is to be feared that its members are wiser, i. e. more artful and zealous, in their generation, than the children of light. The establishment of the protestant religion inspires, it is to be feared, an indolent security into the hearts of its friends. Ease and negligence are the fruits of prosperity; and this maxim extends even to religion. It is not unusual to see a victorious general sleep upon his laurels, and thus give advantage to an enemy, whom adversity renders vigilant. All good and true protestants will heartily wish that this were otherwise. They will be sincerely afflicted at any decline that may happen in the zeal and vigilance that ought ever to be employed against popery and popish cmissaries, since they can never cease to consider popery as a system of wretched superstition and political despotism, and must particularly look upon popery in the British isles as pregnant with the principles of disaffection and rebellion, and as at invariable enmily with our religious liberty and our happy civil constitution. But still there is reason to hope, that popery makes very little progress, not, withstanding the appreheusions that have been entertained on this subject. The insidious publications of a Taafe and a Philips, who abuse the terms of charity, philanthropy, and humanity, in their flimsy apologies for a church whose tender mercies are known to be cruel, have alarmed many well meaning persons. But it is much more wise, as well as noble, to be vigilant and steady against the enemy, than to take the alarmy at the smallest of his motions, and to fall into a panic, as if we were conscious of our weakness. Be that as it will, I return to my first principle, and am still persuaded, that the protestant church, and its prevailing spirit, are at this present time, as averse to popery, as they were at any periud since the reformation, and that the thriving state of learning and philosophy is adapted to

The insidious that have h

a Philips, wha.

« הקודםהמשך »