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Art. V. - The History of the Christian Religion and
Church during the Three First Centuries. By Dr. Au-
NEANDER is regarded by many, as of the highest authority among ecclesiastical historians. We wish that he had fallen into the hands of a better translator. Mr. Rose professes to translate literally: and word for word, when he can; the worst possible mode he could have adopted in regard to the original work, the dark and involved passages of which often appearing, when translated in this way, as little better than confusion worse confounded. In any form, however, this history, though learned and valuable, could hardly become popular as a book for general reading, even with scholars and divines in this country. On the appearance of the second volume we may perhaps go more at length into a discussion of Neander's merits as a historian, the fairness and thoroughness of his investigations, his appreciation of his principal authorities, and the soundness of some of his inferences and reasonings. At present we shall content ourselves with giving a brief analysis of the volume before us, with a few extracts on interesting topics, some of them containing admissions and concessions entitled to more regard on account of the author's known Orthodox predilections.
The Introduction gives a general view of the religious state of the Roman, Grecian, and Jewish world, at the time of the first appearance and early diffusion of Christianity.
It is here that the author starts the idea, of which his whole history is little more than the expansion and illustration, that Christianity is 'a leaven,' destined to penetrate, refine, and
' enoble the whole mass of human nature. He speaks also,
. and often with great discrimination and power, of a deep want in the human soul of a religion that will accommodate itself to its progressive developements; a want not likely to be long satisfied either with the gross superstitions of the people in Pagan countries, or with the spiritualization of Polytheism attempted by some of the philosophers. Hence, as he ob
VOL. XII. -N. S. VOL. VII. NO. I.
There were at that time roving about the Roman empire many pretenders to supernatural powers, for whom the existence of such a feeling and desire procured acceptance, men in whom, as is usually the case during such a season of religious excitement, a degree of self-delusion or enthusiasm was mingled with more or less of intentional deceit. Such was that Alexander of Abonoteichos, in Pontus, whose life Lucian has written after his usual satirical manner, a man whose pretended enchantments and predictions found credit all over the world, from Pontus to Rome, one who was honored and consulted as a prophet, even by men who held the highest and most distinguished offices in the Roman state. Among the better men of this sort we must class the Apollonius of Tyana, so celebrated in the apostolic age, who was probably possessed of more extraordinary gifts, and was probably under the influence of the Divine Spirit, although by spiritual pride and vanity he had at least in
part destroyed the talent intrusted to him, instead of keeping it pure, and increasing it by faithful and careful use. But it is difficult to judge of this man accurately, from the exceeding paucity of authentic accounts. Those who, like Philostratus, in the third century, have endeavoured to represent him as one of the heroes of the ancient popular religion, have injured him most deeply in the eyes of posterity. He went about to stir up and animate a spirit of religious faith, and furthered fanaticism, while he gave food to that curiosity which inquires after the things of the invisible world. He spoke against superstition, because it served to promote immorality, when men believed that they could buy impunity for crime by sacrifices; and he declared, that without a moral state of the heart and feelings no sacrifice could be well pleasing to the gods. He exclaimed against the cruel custom of shows, of gladiators, for when the Athenians, who were in the habit of exhibiting these shows, invited him to their assembly, he answered that he could not enter a place stained with so much human blood, and that he wondered the goddess did not leave their city. When the president of the Eleusinian mysteries refused to initiate Apollonius of Tyana, it is difficult to determine whether the Hierophant was really in earnest, and thought Apollonius an enchanter, who used forbidden arts, or whether he was not rather jealous of the great influence opposed to priestcraft, which Apollonius exercised on the people, and to such a degree, that many considered intercourse with him of far more consequence than initiation into the mysteries. The concluding formula of all the prayers of Apollonius, which he recommended also to others, who would pray, although opposed to the notions of those who think
- pp. 27-29.
the heart of the supplicant of no consequence in prayer, yet shows wherein was his greatest deficiency, a deficiency which might well prove to him the source of most of his self-delusions, I mean the prayer: “Give me, ye gods, that which I deserve,
Δοίητε μοι τα οφειλόμενα: the direct contrary to the prayer, “Forgive us our debts?”
A desire universally displayed itself for a revelation from heaven, which might ensure to the inquiring mind that tranquillity which was neither to be found in the contending systems of ancient philosophy, nor in the antiquated religions, now called back to the world in an age of artificial refinement. Porphyry, that zealous defender of the old religion, himself alludes to this desire, so deeply felt; a desire which, while he supports himself on the authority of the promises of the gods, he endeavoured to satisfy in his collection of old oracular responses, as the groundwork of a system of theology. On this subject he says,
“The utility of this work those will best be able to estimate, who, feeling an anxious desire after the truth, have wished that some open vision of the gods might be granted to them, and set them free from their doubts."
He then begins the history of the Christian Religion with an able and full account of its early propagation, of the obstacles which opposed it in its first stages, and of the means, causes, and spirit, with which this opposition was met and overcome. The following is the construction which Neander puts on the testimony of the early Fathers to the continuance of miraculous powers in the church during the first three centuries, especially in regard to exorcisms.
'There were besides, in these times of ferment, when the bonds of spiritual and moral life were torn in sunder, a multitude of persons, sick in body and in mind, who found their inward spirits utterly convulsed — persons who felt themselves seized by a strange power, to which their wills were subjected, and, blindly impelled hither and thither, they were agitated by an anxiety of which they could give no just account. All the powers, therefore, of darkness and destruction, would bestir themselves, where the power of healing godliness ought to enter, and distraction in man's nature, with all its terrible consequences, would naturally there ensue, and rise to the highest pitch, where, in man's nature, the peace of heaven, which brings all things into harmony, ought to be revealed. The unhappy man believed himself possessed by evil spirits, and it was then the usually received opinion, that they were the cause of such convulsions. There were many among the heathen and Jews, who
pretended, through the means of incense, anointings, simples, amulets, and invocations of the evil spirits, in enigmatical and high-sounding forms of words, to be able to exorcise them. Sometimes such means as had a natural efficacy in healing, sometimes such as, through power over the imagination, which has such influence in these cases, cured the patient of his fancy for the moment, or repressed it by promises for the future. In every case these people only did injury, while they strengthened men in their superstition, and in their whole course of ungodly existence; while they fought against the kingdom of lies only by the power of lies, and drove out one evil spirit by another. Their imposture was unable to touch the inward source of evil, which lay deeper, and by which alone any real cure could be effected. Our Saviour said of such cases : -“How shall one go into a strong man's house and rob him of his goods, unless he first bind the strong man, and then rob his house.” How much credit such exorcists then obtained, we may judge from the thanks which Marcus Aurelius offers up to the gods, because he had been taught by a philosopher not to trust those tales of miracles and incantations which were related of exorcists. An unhappy man of this kind, after seeking help in vain at the hands of these impostors, comes to a Christian, the Christian considers him possessed, and feels no desire to inquire more precisely into the actual cause of the malady. He knows that his Redeemer had overcome the power of the prince of this world, and that to him all the powers of evil must yield, in what way soever they show themselves. He calls upon him, and on the power of the Holy Spirit which is in him ; his prayer which calls down the power of heaven works deeply on the distracted heart of the patient. Inward peace follows the turbulent tide which agitated him before, and conducted by this experience of the influence of Christianity on himself to a belief in it, he becomes now, in every sense, for the first time freed from evil spirits, and healed through the enlightening and healing power of truth so thoroughly and for ever, that the evil spirit returned not to his house, to find it swept and garnished for him.' — pp. 65, 66.
Neander manifests more solicitude, than most ecclesiastical historians, to do justice to the virtues of the heathen Emperors, and even of those who were forward and rigorous in persecuting the Christians; and endeavours to trace these persecutions to their true origin in what was probably accounted at the time, in some instance at least, a wise and just policy. He also shows that these persecutions were often met and
endured, not only by men, but by women and young children, with a heroism and magnanimity to which history presents few parallels ; but to this conduct, he acknowledges, there were frequent and melancholy exceptions.
He goes on in the Second Section to give the history of the formation of the Church, and of church discipline, and church divisions, meaning by church divisions, schisms and not heresies. Under this head he not only denies the Apostolic institution of episcopacy, but even of priests as a distinct cast or profession, having peculiar rights or prerogatives. His words are,
The formation of the Christian Church, being derived from the peculiarities of Christianity, must essentially differ from that of all other religious unions. A class of priests, who were to guide all other men under an assumption of their incompetence in religious matters, whose business it was exclusively to provide for the satisfaction of the religious wants of the rest of mankind, and to form a link between them and God, and godly things; such a class of priests could find no place in Christianity. While the Gospel put away that which separated man from God, by bringing all men into the same communion with God through Christ; it also removed that partition-wall which separated one man from his fel in regard to his more elevated interests. The same High Priest and Mediator for all, by whom all being reconciled and united with God, become themselves a priestly and spiritual race! One heavenly King, Guide, and Teacher, through whom all are taught from God! one faith! one hope ! one Spirit, which must animate all ! one oracle in the hearts of all! the voice of the Spirit which proceeds from God! and all citizens of one heavenly kingdom, with whose heavenly powers they have already been sent forth, as strangers in the world! When the Apostles introduced the notion of a priest which is found in the Old Testament into Christianity, it was always only with the intention of showing, that no such visible distinct priesthood, as existed in the economy of the Old Testament, could find admittance into that of the New; that, inasmuch as free access to God and to heaven was once for all opened to the faithful by the one high priest, Christ, they had become, by union with him himself, a holy and spiritual people, and their calling was only this, namely, to consecrate their whole life, as a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the mercy of God's redemption, and to preach the power and grace of Him, who had called them from the kingdom of darkness into his wonderful light, and their whole life was to be a continued priesthood,