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ceptibly laid the foundation of those sects, whose animosities and disputes produced afterwards such trouble and perplexity in the christian church.
Among these the Gnostics and Nicolaitans, in the first century, appear to be the earliest. In the second century, we find new sects starting up, each tending further to corrupt the pure religion of Jesus, the venerable simplicity of which was not of long duration.
Its beauty was gradually effaced by the laborious efforts of human learning, and the dark subtleties of imaginary science. Acute researches were employed upon religious subjects; ingenious decisions were pronounced, and the tenets of a chimerical philosophy were imprudently incorporated into the christian system.'
Nor were these corruptions confined to the doctrines, but extended also to the practice of christianity; in this century many unnecessary rites and ceremonies were added to the christian worship; changes, which were offensive to wise and good men, but pleasing to the multitude, ever more delighted with the pomp and splendour of external institutions, than with the native charms of rational and solid piety.'
The design of this injudicious change was to facilitate conversion by accommodating the form of worship to the prejudices of both Pagans and Jews, who were accustomed to temples, altars, victims, and mysteries.' But the divisions and schisms occasioned by these innovations, were productive of other evils besides that of corrupting the purity and
simplicity of christianity. They engendered a feeling of heat and animosity, inseparable from sectarian zeal, but utterly at variance with christian charity. And they further laid the foundation for those enormities with which bigotry and persecution have subsequently disgraced the annals of the nominally christian church.
SECOND CENTURY, CONTINUED.
A. D. 150 to 200.-Injurious as were these schisms among the early christians, and pernicious as were the corruptions which thus flowed from the desire of accommodating christianity to the doctrines of the heathen philosophy, innovations yet more lamentable accompanied, or soon followed these, and at length totally changed the aspect and character of the religion taught by Jesus.
Among these, the most prominent at the period we have now reached, was the introduction of fanaticism and superstition, giving rise to monasticism, and the doctrine of purgatory. These changes are by the ecclesiastical historian traced up to the second century, as follows. Towards the close of this century, a new sect of philosophers arose; spread with amazing rapidity through the greatest part of the Roman Empire, swallowed up almost all the other sects, and proved extremely detrimental to the cause of christianity.'
This sect, he informs us, chose to be called Platonists, though far from adhering to the tenets of
Plato. On the contrary, they selected from all systems whatever they thought conformable to the truth, and were hence called Eclectics also. To this sect belonged Ammonius Saccas, a celebrated teacher of Alexandria; who attempted the gigantic project of a reconciliation, or coalition of all sects, philosophical as well as religious, with christianity, To accomplish this end, the whole history of the heathen Gods was turned into an allegory, and the doctrine of every sect, including that of christianity itself, was more or less warped to suit his purpose.
This philosophy, countenanced by Clemens, and imprudently embraced by Origen, was highly detrimental to christianity, by introducing an allegorical subtlety, and a mystical obscurity into doctrines revealed with the utmost plainness. Nor did the evils of the Ammonian philosophy end here, for to this monstrous coalition of heterogeneous doctrines, its fanatical author added a rule of life and manners, which carried an aspect of high sanctity, and uncommon austerity. The people he allowed to live according to the laws of their country, and the dictates of nature; but another rule was laid down for the wise. They were to raise the soul, whose origin was celestial and divine, above terrestrial things, by high efforts of holy contemplation. They were ordered to extenuate by hunger, thirst, and other mortifications, the sluggish body, which confines the activity, and restrains the liberty of the immortal spirit; that thus in this life they might enjoy communion with the Supreme Being, and as
cend after death, active and unencumbered to the universal Parent, to live in his presence for ever.'
'He thus gave occasion to that slothful and indolent course of life which continues to be led by myriads of monks, retired into their cells, and sequestered from society, to whom they are neither useful by their instruction, nor by their examples.'- To this philosophy we may trace, as to their source, a multitude of vain and foolish ceremonies, proper only to cast a veil over truth, and to nourish superstition.'
Respecting the state of the soul after death, Jesus had simply declared, that the good would be received into heaven, and the wicked be sent to hell.
But this plain doctrine was soon disfigured, when Platonism began to affect Christianity. Plato had taught that the souls of heroes and illustrious men alone ascended after death to the mansions of light and felicity; while those of the generality, weighed down by their lusts and passions, sank into the infernal regions; whence they were not permitted to emerge, before they were purified from their turpitude and corruption.'
This doctrine was seized with avidity by the Platonic Christians, and applied as a commentary upon that of Jesus. Hence a notion prevailed, that the martyrs only entered upon a state of happiness, immediately after death; and that for the rest a certain obscure region was assigned, in which they were to be imprisoned until the second coming of Christ, or at least until they were purified from
their various pollutions. This doctrine, enlarged by the irregular fancies of injudicious men, became a source of innumerable errors, vain ceremonies, and monstruous superstitions.' Thus we see the doctrine of purgatory, and the rise of monasticism, traced up to this period; and the same century gave rise also to that extravagant species of fanaticism, which consisted in subjecting the body to various kinds of suffering and privation, in order to purify the soul, and render it acceptable to heaven.
The height to which this extravagance was afterwards carried, almost exceeds the bounds of belief; some being said to have passed their days standing erect on the summit of lofty pillars, others in the form of a cross, while some perished in the attempt to fast forty days, in imitation of our Saviour. It is however the origin only of this species of fanaticism, that belongs to the second century; it did not reach its acmè till a much later period.
In this age of spiritual darkness and superstition, a faint ray of light beams through, as appears from the following citation, (Mosheim, V. 1. P. 195), But however the doctrines of the gospel may have been abused by the commentaries of different sects, all were unanimous, in regarding with veneration the holy scriptures, as the great rule of faith and manners.' To this consolatory circumstance, prophetic allusion seems to be made, in the charge given under the third seal,- See thou hurt not the oil and the wine.'