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this nature under some of its worst and most degrading aspects, actuated by the basest and most detestable passions, and exhibiting proofs of the melancholy perversion of all its finer sensibilities and instincts. It shows us the weakness and littleness of man under such vivid portraiture, and with such convincing evidence, as almost to make us forget, for the time, his greatness and his strength. It makes us acquainted with some of his saddest aberrations of intellect. As we turn over its pages, the eye is arrested by the superstition, which has paralyzed his faculties and narrowed and dwarfed his best virtues; by his exclusiveness, his bigotry, his persecutions; the prostration of his understanding manisested in his mistaken piety, his adoration of objects more worthless than the divinities of Egypt, his veneration for relics, and faith in lying miracles, pilgrimages, indulgences, legends of pretended saints; his suppression of freedom of thought and inquiry ; bis pious forgeries ; with the whole catalogue of usurpations, infallibilities, inquisitions, tyrannies, follies, contradictions, and absurdities, which, in past ages, have been incorporated with the religion of the cross, and have so disfigured and obscured it, that scarcely a trace of its heavenly origin and beauty has remained visible.
It is not surprising that from such a picture men should have turned away in disgust, and believing the whole subject barren alike of rational use and interest, regarding the study of it as fitted neither to gratify a liberal curiosity, to purify the feelings, or add to the stores of intellectual affluence, they should have abandoned it for fields of inquiry and thought, which have opened more pleasing views and promised a richer harvest.
The nature and intrinsic difficulty of the subject has not been all. Another cause of the indifference and disgust alluded to has been the tasteless manner in which Ecclesiastical History has usually been written, and the false principles which have governed the narrative. One of these is, that whatever makes for the advantage of believers is to be told, and if with a little rhetorical exaggeration, so much the better, and whatever tells against them is to be passed over in silence; that 'suppression of truth in such a case, far from being a blemish in a historian, is a virtue. It is needless to say that history, written on this principle, necessarily loses the greater part of its value, by ceasing to be just. The principle came in with Eusebius, the father of Ecclesiastical History, and he has had
ciple, nearly allieunder the name has been justly
abundance of imitators, among whom one of the most conspicuous is the old English worthy, Cave, who has been justly censured for writing panegyrics under the name of history.
Another principle, nearly allied to the former, has been, that nothing is too good to say of the orthodox, and nothing too bad to say of heretics. This principle and its applications are well illustrated by Le Clerc, in a lively, but somewhat sarcastic description of the manner in which a person, if he values his reputation for orthodoxy, or looks for promotion, must proceed in writing an Ecclesiastical History. He must, says he, “adhere inviolably to this maxim, that whatever can be favorable to heretics is false, and whatever can be said against them is true; while, on the other hand, all that does honor to the orthodox is unquestionable, and everything that can do them discredit is surely a lie. He inust suppress too with care, or at least extenuate as far as possible, the errors and vices of those whom the orthodox are accustomed to respect, whether they know anything about them or no, and must exaggerate, on the contrary, the mistakes and faults of the heterodox to the utmost of his power. He must remember that any orthodox man is a competent witness against a heretic, and is to be trusted implicitly on bis word, while a heretic is never to be believed against the orthodox, and has honor enough done him, in allowing him to speak against his own side.”*
On these principles the greater part of Ecclesiastical History has been written. The old fathers so wrote perpetually, and the moderns have not been slow to profit by so worthy an example.
But independently of the falsehood which has pervaded nearly all ecclesiastical writings, and to a greater extent, I believe, than any other, the needed helps have been wanting. We have 'no Christian histories which are good in other respects. The story of Christianity has not been written with the philosophical power, critical research, and discrimination, which mark other productions of the historic muse. Gibbon's chapters, exceptionable as they are, in addition to his usual faults of style, reflecting everywhere the hues of his own mind, and tending to mislead by the false coloring and drapery, which •
* Parrhasiana, T. I. p. 168, ed. 20. I have given the version of Hallam (Hist. Lit. II. 83), with only a slight change, which fidelity to the · original required.
he has artfully thrown over his pictures, which constitutes the great charge against him, rather than falsification of facts or insufficient research, - are still read with more interest than the work of any professedly Christian historian relating to the same period.
We possess no history of religion which is entitled to rank as a standard work. Nor is there any prospect of a speedy remedy. The task of writing a faithful Christian history, which shall prove ordinarily attractive, is a gigantic one, and requires a rare combination of qualities, and the study of a life for its successful execution. And out of Germany there are now no students of Ecclesiastical History. England is doing nothing in this department, in which she has never distinguished herself; and we, on this side the water, have scarcely yet begun to think of the subject. Little importance is attached to it in a preparation for the ministry; we have no teachers of it properly qualified, and few books, even had we the leisure and disposition to read them. Nor in fact does the state of society and general tone of thinking and feeling among us, at the present time, tend greatly to the encouragement of theological learning of any kind; and our scholars are driven to seek laurels in other fields.
Mere learning, indeed, I am not disposed to rate very high. To encumber one's mind with other men's notions, which are often mere lumber and rubbish, — not to separate, to combine, to originate, to put forth no intellectual power, is little better than solemn trifling.
But to be a well informed theologian, it is not necessary that a person should be nothing beside. He may read to stimulate thought, and furnish it with materials to work upon, to add to his stores of illustration and intellectual wealth, just as he becomes an observer of nature or of man for the same purpose. It is not necessary that his mind should be crushed under the weight of other men's ideas, or that its power of forming new combinations, of creating, diversifying, and adorning, of rising to the highest heaven of invention, of pouring forth thoughts that breathe in words that burn, should be lost. The poet and the orator cull from all regions of nature and art, and make all history and science tributary to their purpose ; still their thoughts are fresh and original; they are true makers, and enlarged culture adds compass, force, and beauty to their work, and enables them occasionally to gather flowers from the most unpromising soil.
Intellectual accomplishments of the Minister.
The Christian minister deals with the highest truths, with the deepest feelings, and most enduring interests of man. It is bis province to lay his hand on that many-stringed instrument, the human heart, to control its various moods, and awaken all its sweeter melodies. He is brought into contact with all sorts of minds, and he must have in his armory weapons which will reach all; and it is difficult, therefore, to conceive how any species of knowledge, or any variety of intellectual culture, can be wholly useless to him.
But what is the special use to him of Ecclesiastical History? The reply to this question must depend very much on what he proposes to himself, and what it is desirable that he should be; — what should be his aim, and with what he should be satisfied.
What does he look forward to ? What should be his ambition ? The mere preaching, from Sunday to Sunday, of discourses which shall prove acceptable to his hearers, which they shall be pleased even to commend, which they shall talk of as brilliant performances, or what is more, which shall really move their hearts for the time, and touch their consciences, which shall send them away thinking of themselves rather than of the preacher? Is this, together with a tolerably careful discharge of pastoral duty, his sole aim ? Is he to look only at immediate and visible effects, or to measure his usefulness by the plaudits of an admiring audience?
If so, a knowledge of Ecclesiastical History will be of little direct use to him, though to the faithful minister its indirect uses will be very considerable. It will not, however, help him much in the writing of sermons. A brilliant, glowing, and varied style, dealing somewhat largely in picturesque imagery, abounding in familiar comparisons, and powerfully appealing to the religious sentiment and to the feelings, and demanding no very profound thought on the part of the hearer, will always ensure a preacher popularity, for the time at least. Historical learning will add nothing to the effect of such a style. In this country, and among ourselves, the appeal to authority and prescription is not allowed, nor are historical subjects often treated in sermons. And as for illustration and ornament of discourse, modern researches and discoveries, and the observation of nature and life, furnish resources to which the preacher will resort with more advantage than to Christian antiquity, the study of which, after all, will afford himn less aid in becom
ing a popular and effective pulpit orator, than an acquaintance with the current literature of the day. This reflects, in some measure, the tastes and feelings of the age, and of these he cannot safely be ignorant. He must know what men are thinking and doing, if he would be heard by them with patience. Without this knowledge he may come loaded with the richest spoils of the past, but he will speak in vain. Persons now care little for the past, except a few classical enthusiasts, who are fast dying out. We are too utilitarian and practical for that. A disquisition on the Tariff, or the latest political pamphlet, is more valued than the poems of Homer; and a spinning jenny would not be given for the recovery of the best ode of Pindar, or of Sappho, with all the lost books of the historians thrown in ; and as to the musty tomes of the Fathers, it would be thought charity to give them a place among the dust and rubbish of a garret.
In truth the most celebrated preachers have owed little to treasures of historical lore. It is true, some of them have been learned men, and their sermons have borne ample testimony to their erudition. But they were not indebted for their chief celebrity to this circumstance. Origen and Chrysostom, among the ancients, were both of them popular and admired preachers, and both learned men ; but it was their ardor and rapidity of style, their originality, freshness, and vigor, united with great copiousness of thought and illustration, and not their erudition, which gave them the mastery over the spirits of their age.
Of the giants of the English pulpit in the seventeenth century, whose writings are still occasionally read, Barrow, Taylor, and South, the two first were learned; but Barrow, with all his wonderful affluence and comprehensiveness, was regarded as a somewhat tedious preacher, and Taylor's learning, varied and beautiful as it is, must have appeared, I think, to his hearers, as it certainly appears to the reader of the present day, often misplaced, and must have impeded, rather than heightened, the effect of his naturally surpassing eloquence.
The witty South, often found on the very verge of buffoonery, had little learning; but as a preacher, afforded, I believe, more delight in his day than either of the others.
The French preachers, who at, or near the same period, in their sermons and funeral orations, carried the eloquence of the pulpit to a height it had never before attained, and which, al