Page images

right is once admitted, to shew, on what principle the church of Rome can be condemned for going to an extreme in this matter; since, in that case, it is no divine rule that is to regulate our conduct, but the different fancies of men, as these respect human infirmities.

It is happy for simple Christians that their rule of duty is plain, though, unfortunately, not sanctioned by either the catholic or the reformed church. It is not to admit into the worship of God, any thing which is either not expressly commanded, or plainly exemplified in the New Testament.” This was evidently the principle upon which Ærius proceeded in opposing the superstitions of his time, and for which he deserves to be held in perpetual remembrance-it is the only principle which evinces a becoming deference to the wisdom and authority of God in the institution of his worship—and, it may be added, which secures the uniform regard of his people to the institutions of his kingdom, to the end of time.

The distinction between bishop and presbyter or elder, which Erius so strongly opposed, seems to have prerailed early in the Christian church; yet it is demonstrably without any solid foundation in the New Testament. “ That the terms, bishop and eller are sometimes used promiscuously in the New Testament,” says Dr. Campbell, “there is no critic of any name who now pretends to dispute. The passage, Acts xx. 17, &c. is well known. Paul, from Miletus sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church, saying, “ Take heed to yourselves, and to all the church orer which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers (literally ETICXS785 bishops.) Similar to this is a passage in Titus, chap. i. 5. “ For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders (spes Qulipes) in every city." Ver. 7 “ For a bishop


(ETIOLOTOV) must be blameless." In like manner the apostle Peter, 1 Epist. v. 1. “ The elders (opeo Buleges) which are among you, I exhort, &c.” Ver. 2. “ Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, (EXIT HOT&vles) discharging the office of bishops. So much for the heresy of Ærius as it respected the denial of any distinction between the office of bishop and presbyter. On the other three particulars of his heresy, it is, at this time of day, quite unnecessary for us to bestow a word in the way of apology.

Amongst the innumerable corruptions of Christianity which have prevailed in the Catholic church, there is none that makes a more conspicuous figure than the institution of monachism or monkery; and, if traced to its origin, it will be found strikingly to exemplify the truth of the maxim that, as some of the largest and loftiest trees spring from very small seeds, so the most extensive and wonderful effects sometimes arise from very inconsiderable causes. In times of persecution, during the first ages of the church, whilst “ the heathen raged, and the rulers took counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed,” many pious Christians, male and female, married and unmarried, justly accounting that no human felicity ought to come in competition with their fidelity to Christ, and diffident of their own ability to persevere in resisting the temptations wherewith they were incessantly harassed by their persecutors, took the resolution to abandon their possessions and worldly prospects, and, whilst the storm lasted, to retire to unfrequented places, far from the haunts of men, the married with, or without their wives, as agreed between them, that they might enjoy in quietness their faith and hope, and, exempt from temptations to apos

• Campbell's Lectures on Ecclesiastical History, vol.i. p. 125, 126.

[ocr errors]

tacy, employ themselves principally in the worship and service of their Maker. The cause was reasonable, and the motive praise-worthy; but the reasonableness arose solely from the circumstances. When the latter were changed, the former vanished, and the motive could no longer be the same. When there was not the same danger in society, there was not the same occasion to seek security in solitude. Accordingly, when persecution ceased, and the profession of Christianity rendered perfectly safe, many returned without blame from their retirement, and resumed their stations in society. Some, indeed, familiarized by time to a solitary life, at length preferred through habit, what they had originally adopted through necessity. They did not, however, waste their time in idleness; they supported themselves by their labour, and gave the surplus in alms. But they never thought of fettering themselves by vows and engagements, because, by so doing, they must have exposed their souls to new temptations, and perhaps greater dangers. It was, therefore, a very different thing from that system of monkery which afterwards became so prevalent, though, in all probability it suggested the idea of it, and may be considered as the first step towards it. *

Such signal sacrifices, not only of property, but of all secular pursuits, have a lustre in them, which dazzles the eyes of the weak, and powerfully engages imitation. Blind imitators, regardless of the circumstances which alone can render the conduct laudable, are often, by a strong perversion of intellect, led to consider it as the more meritorious the less it is rational, and the more eligible the less it is useful. The spirit of the measure comes in time to be reversed. What at first, through humble diffidence, appeared necessary for avoiding the

• Essay on Christian Temperance and self-denial, by Dr. George Campbell VOL. 1.

3 A


most imminent danger, is, through presumption, voluntarily adopted, though in itself a source of perpetual peril. Such was the operation of the principle in the case referred to. Multitudes came in process of time to impose upon themselves vows of abstinence, poverty, celibacy, and virginity, solemnly engaging in an uninterrupted observance of those virtues, as they accounted them, 10 the end of their lives.

Every attentive reader of the scriptures must see that they are far from countenancing this piece of superstition. Both Christ and his apostles kept up a free and open intercourse, with the world, and their writings abound with instructions to Christians, not to withdraw themselves from society, and shut themselves“ up in cloistered cells in a state of seclusion, but to fill up their respective stations usefully in civil society, performing all the social and relative duties of life in the most exemplary manner. Man was made for action; powers were given him for exertion, and various talents have been conferred upon him by Providence, as instruments not of doing nothing, but of doing good, by promoting the happiness both of the individual and of society.

Egypt, the fruitful parent of superstition, afforded the first example, strictly speaking, of the monastic life. Anthony, an illiterate youth of that country, in the times of Athanasius, distributed his patrimony, deserted his family and house, took up his residence among the tombs and in a ruined tower, and after a long and painful noviciate, at length advanced three days journey into the desert, to the eastward of the Nile, where discovering a lonely spot which possessed the advantages of shade and water, he fixed his last abode. His example and his lessons infected others, whose curiosity pursued him to the desert; and before he quitted life, which was prolonged to the term of a hundred and five years, he beheld a numerous progeny imitating his original. The prolific colonies of monks multiplied with rapid increase on the sands of Lybia, upon the rocks of Thebais, and the cities of the Nile. Even to the present day, the traveller may explore the ruins of fifty monasteries, which were planted to the south of Alexandria, by the disciples of Anthony

Inflamed by the example of Anthony, a Syrian youth, whose name was Hilarion, fixed his dreary abode on a sandy beach, between the sea and a morass, about seven miles from Gaza. The austere penance in which he persisted forty-eight years, diffused a similar enthusiasm, and innumerable monasteries were soon distributed over all Palestine. In the west, Martin of Tours," a soldier, a hermit, a bishop, and a saint,” founded a monastery near Poictiers, and thus introduced monastic institutions into France. His monks were mostly of noble families, and submitted to the greatest austerities both in food and raiment; and, such was the rapidity of their increase, that two thousand of them attended his funeral ! In other countries, they appear to have increased in a similar proportion, and the progress of monkery is said not to have been less rapid or less universal than that of Christianity itself. Every province, and, at last, every city of the empire, was filled with their increasing multitudes. The disciples of Anthony spread themselves beyond the tropic, over the christian empire of Ethiopia. The monastery of Bangor, in Flintshire, a few miles south of Wrexham, contained above two thousand monks, and from thence a numerous colony was dispersed among the Barbarians of Ireland; and Iona, one of the western isles of Scotland, which was planted by the Irish Monks, diffused over the northern regions a ray of science and superstition.

The monastic institution was not confined to the male

« PreviousContinue »