« PreviousContinue »
who invalidates some links in your chain of argument, than to declare that you will not reply to one who evidently refuses to admit your premises altogether! But if any writers are peculiarly bound to truth in their statements, and charity in their inferences, it is surely the case with writers on religion. The author of the Natural History of Enthusiasm' can have no personal ground of quarrel with us, for the flattering, although incidental, notice which we bestowed on his work. He has lately published a preface to a new edition of the well-known work of Jonathan Edwards; and we can only explain, by the blindness and bitterness with which any supposed difference in religious opinions affects certain minds, the charge he has thought fit to insert in it against an article in a former Number of this Journal.* We confidently refer any honest and reasonable reader to the scope of the general argument on that occasion, and to the nature of the reservation contained in the concluding paragraph. Divines, as pious, and to the full as intelligent, as our opinionated assailant, have seen no reason to suspect that there was an ulterior object in the background; or that the limit put upon the question there under discussion, implied any insinuation against the special miracles of Christianity; much less an exception in favour of universal infidelity. What little respect controversialists have for truth, when the least enquiry into any of their dogmas provokes the insulting declaration, that it would be a far more manly and candid course to make a direct avowal of unbelief!
One of the most distinctive signs of that class of thinkers to which this author belongs, is to be found in his constant tone of bitterness when speaking of the Church of Rome. Resembling, in this respect, a very able writer, with whom he has some qualities in common, (the author of the Book of the Church,') his imagination is haunted with a continual gloomy horror, from the assiduous perusal of the histories of Papal cruelty and extravagance. And he seems to be under constant apprehension, lest the apparent success with which Catholicism has been attended of late in its labours among the lower classes of several countries, will bring back the dark hour of its uncontrolled dominion. Above half the volume before us is nothing more than a recapitulation of the follies and enormities which have so long formed a favourite subject of Protestant invective. The discussion of Fanaticism of the Brand, or the subject of religious cruelty, furnishes, of course, abundant food for the peculiar contemplations which he loves. He has
*No, CIV., p. 398.
gone through the miserable records of the sixteenth century, and described at great length, and with no small power, those terrible scenes which take so early and strong a hold on most imaginations. All this was quite unnecessary, if intended to strike the fancy; for every reader of ordinary sympathies has those recollections far too vividly impressed on his mind, to need refreshing by such pictures as are here elaborately detailed. And if it was our author's design to show how this worst species of Fanaticism, although having its origin in the natural perversity of men's dispositions, was peculiarly encouraged by the doctrines and discipline of Romanism, the view which he has taken of the subject is far too general to be accurate. It partakes of that indiscriminating method by which Protestant writers have too frequently confused this important section of the great controversy. It is one thing to accuse the Romish polity of intolerance, as a necessary consequence of the spiritual despotism upon which it rests—another thing to affirm that the spirit of its doctrines, acting on the individual mind, is peculiarly calculated to generate that rancour which, in combination with enthusiasm, forms the character of the Fanatic. In other words, one who admits that the Romish Church has been, and must ever be, more disposed to use tyrannical measures towards external sects than any Protestant community, may nevertheless hesitate to believe, that a devout Romanist is at all more likely to prove a fanatic than a devout Protestant attached to those exclusive doctrines which have long characterised some sects of Protestantism. Bearing this distinction in mind, the reader will perceive that these two charges against Rome, which should be separately proved, are entirely confounded together in the ostentatious invectives of this writer. The Waldenses, the Lollards, the 'Reformed of Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland, England, and 'the Huguenots of France, were the victims not of a cruel age, but of a cruel doctrine; and that doctrine is as cruel now, as it 'was in the pontificate of Innocent III.' Undoubtedly, nothing can be more true than that the rancour of Protestant churches against sectaries, is not for a moment to be compared, either as to malignity of character, or as to mischievous result, with that which founded and maintained the Inquisition. Churches founded on free discussion, could never err so grossly against the principles of their constitution. The insulated instances which are so repeatedly quoted in this controversy against the persecuting zealots of England and Geneva, prove nothing at all; or rather throw additional weight into the balance against the other party; because, on a close investigation, they stand out as evident and striking exceptions from the ordinary practice of countries under
reformed dispensations. But if it is meant that theological enthusiasm, in the minds of individuals, is not as likely to ferment into the spirit of bitterness in Protestants as in Catholics, and has not led to acts of as hideous cruelty, wherever the better polity of the Reformation, or the feelings of an enlightened age, did not interfere to check it, our author will not find it so easy to maintain his position. And this is the question, of which, in a treatise on Fanaticism, we are more inclined to desire the solution. The Romanist, we are told, believes in the impossibility of salvation out of the pale of his Church. Is it not now the doctrine of many Protestants, that fundamental errors in belief render salvation impossible? The first tenet involves a greater number of victims in its condemnation, but it cannot operate upon the mind which entertains it with a more corroding action; while both Puritan and Catholic alike, are frequently able to counteract such an influence by a humble reliance on the Divine mercy. And as to the historical fact, works of equally detestable cruelty have been perpetrated in the name of religion, and under strong fanatical impulse, by the professors of either belief.
But, says our author, nothing at all comparable to the blind ferocity of the Romish executions, has elsewhere been seen in the world. The world has seen no such judges as her priests.' He has forgotten the history of Witchcraft-a chapter in the annals of Europe now almost buried in oblivion, or resorted to, like tales of ghosts and knight-errantry, for the mere purpose of exciting the imagination. But if rightly considered, it is a sad and terrible treasury of examples, calculated to moderate our pride in the milder character of the Reformed religion. Not that Protestantism had any thing to do with that dreadful aberration of the human intellect; or that the doctrines of one sect lend more direct countenance to the errors which produced it, than those of another. Epidemic seasons of terror at imaginary evils of this description,-which seized on the public mind in cities and provinces, and prompted occasionally to the destruction of much innocent life, were common enough before the time of the Reformation. But we think it will be evident to those who have studied the history of this melancholy subject, that the peculiar cast of devotional sentiments which was generated at that eventful time, added a new feature to those atrocities ;-that theological hatred and fanaticism, in the most rigorous sense, then began to communicate their acrimony to the popular prejudice. The corruptions of religion have flowed in so many instances from its best principles, that it will hardly be cause of astonishment if we find, on such investigation, that the extreme virulence of this superstition, in its latter days, may perhaps be traced to some of
those sentiments which were set afloat in men's minds, at that great epoch of intellectual regeneration.
Nothing, for example, was more strongly insisted upon by the preachers of those days, than the constant and perceptible interference of an overruling Providence in the affairs of its creatures: they perverted reason and Scriptures by contending, not only that Heaven did in fact direct every special incident to its own purpose, but that such interposition was distinctly traceable by man out of the ordinary course of cause and effect. Spirits angered by mutual invective, by fear of persecution in defeat, and by jealous suspicion in the midst of triumph, turned with singular eagerness to this dangerous subject of contemplation. Natural causes were disregarded; every one lived in a constant atmosphere of miracle, a tool in the hands of an imagined celestial or malignant power. How such doctrines, promulgated by the wise and good, must have acted upon heads in which judgment was weak, and malice powerful, may be easily imagined. No man willingly regarded the visitations which fell upon himself as proofs of divine anger, however he might be inclined to attribute such an origin to the misfortunes of others. Every accident which affected a neighbour was a judgment; every calamity occurring at home was interpreted as the malice of the Enemy. Hence the dispositions of men embraced with avidity a superstition, authorized at once by ancestral belief, and by the special countenance of their spiritual directors, and one which lent so fearful a sanction to jealousy and revenge. Other gloomy and exclusive tenets, then widely received, lent their assistance to produce a general savageness of character, and extinguish tenderness and remorse. If it be true that the belief of the Catholic, as asserted by our author, tends to make him regardless of the temporal sufferings of those whose souls his creed has consigned to condemnation, how much truer is this of the predestinarian! The belief in witchcraft thus became an article of religion-a test, by which opinion was tried. Its imaginary professors were punished, not merely as injurious to their fellow-citizens, but with a spiritual rancour as heretics and apostates; it became not only a civil crime, but species hæretica pravitatis, as has been remarked by a judicious German writer. Thus we find, that the epidemic monomania which infected the world so largely during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and produced such appalling results, principally exhibited itself either in Protestant countries, or in those Catholic districts where the long conflict between the two religions excited a habit of more serious and disquieting thought on supernatural topics, than the doctrine of Rome is apt to generate, or the policy of Rome to encourage ;
in Britain, Germány, Sweden; in France, where a sort of Catholic puritanism was extensively spread-where Calvin, and, at a later period, the disciples of Jansenius, disturbed the minds of many of their contemporaries, besides those who embraced their peculiar tenets; in the Low Countries, the common battle-field of European sects, as well as armies. In these regions, as has been often remarked, the two sects strove for preeminence in persecution. Jesuits and Lutherans vied with each other in exhibiting that hatred of the devil and his works, which was become in some sort a mark of orthodoxy, by acts of the extremest credulity and cruelty. Our author has drawn, with some talent for terrific portraiture, the often-repeated picture of the Inquisition, and introduced us again to the misery of the victim, and the different emotions which may be supposed to have swayed the minds of the men who sat in judgment on him. Let him, if he wishes to be impartial, contrast with it the scene which might be drawn of events which happened, not at insulated intervals, but every year, and in almost every city of Protestant Europe, for two centuries of miserable error. The wretched, friendless victims, half-driven by confusion and torture into admitting the imaginary crime of which they stood charged, looking round in vain for sympathy in the countenances of the mad populace, the cold lawyer, or the fanatical priest-the mob rendered clamorous and savage by fear the judges (and this is perhaps the blackest part of the transaction) probably in but too many instances disbelieving, and deriding in heart the ridiculous figments which they were set to investigate, but acting under a Pilate-like submission to the multitude and the Church-and the bigoted theologians exulting in the sufferings of their victim, less as a criminal against mankind, than an enemy of God! Clergymen descended from a Protestant pulpit, to hear confessions extorted by the Question, and attended the innocent sufferer to the stake with prayer and thanksgiving, while the noble hymns of the Lutheran Church were sung around the pile! How little attention have these horrors met with, considered with reference to their connexion with religious sentiments! There are histories of the Church which treat at most wearisome length of the polemical controversies of the seventeenth century, and which hardly vouchsafe a few passing words to the long tragedy which was acted throughout the whole of it, in the name of Christianity. The enormous number of the victims who were then sacrificed, and the peculiar aggravations of their sufferings, are passed by with little notice, because their fate excites none of the sympathy which attaches itself to the martyrs of a persuasion; and because we have been accustomed to look on fanati