Century VIII, Chapter V


Authors of this Century.

The most learned writer of this century, if we may except our countryman Bede, seems to have been John of Damascus. He was one of the first, who mingled the aristotelian or peripatetic philosophy with the christian religion.* This philosophy was gradually supplanting the authority of the platonic. It makes no part of my subject, to explain the difference of the systems of Plato and Aristotle. Suffice it to say, that they were both very foreign to christianity, and each, in their turn, corrupted it extremely. John was a voluminous writer, and became, among the Greeks, what Thomas Aquinas afterwards was among the Latins. He seems to have defended the system, commonly called the arminian notion of freewill, in opposition to the doctrine of effectual grace. Thisf was a natural consequence of his philosophizing spirit. For, all the philosophers of antiquity, amidst their endless discordancies, agreed in teaching man to rely on himself. This is the dangerous philosophy, which St. Paul warns us to beware of. It hitherto wore, chiefly, the garb of Plato: it was now assuming that of Aristotle. In both these dresses, it was still " the wisdom of this world, which is foolishness with God;" and even at this day, among all who lean to their own understanding, to the disparagement of revelation, its nature is the same, however varnished with the polish of christian phraseology.

In the doctrine of the Trinity, John appears to have been orthodox: in other respects, he was one of the most powerful supporters of error. He was an advocate for the practice of praying for the dead, which he regarded as effectual for the remission of sins. This

* Fleur. xlii. 44. i Du Pin 8th cent. John of Damascus.

was a deplorable article of superstition, which had been growing in the church, and wanted the sanction of a genius like that of John, to give it lasting celebrity. I can find no evidences of his real knowledge or practice of godliness. And the reader will think he has been detained sufficiently by this Grecian author, after he has learned, that the eloquent and learned pen of John of Damascus, defended the detestable doctrine of image worship, and contributed more than that of any other author, to establish the practice of it in the east. In the mean time there arose no evangelical luminary, who might combat his arguments with sufficient ability. The scripture itself, indeed, was more than half buried under the load of superstitions. The learning of this eastern father was probably more accurate and refined than that of Bcde. In the latter, however, we have seen the fullest evidence of christian light and humility: in the former, as far as respects true wisdom, all is dark and dreary; and the baleful influence of his unscriptural opinions, however respectable he might be in a literary view, has seldom been exceeded by that of an^ other writer in the history of the church.

I have already taken notice of the opposition made in the west, to the progress of image worship, by the authority of Charlemagne. The Carolin books, published in his name, were powerful checks against the growing evil; and it is more probable, that such a prince as Charlemagne was carried along by the current of the times, than that he directed the sentiments of the western churches by his own theological studies. Political and secular reasons unhappily retained these churches in the Roman communion, and, in process of time, the abominations of idolatry overspread them all. It is, however, a pleasing circumstance, that the labours of missionaries in the north of Europe, which form the most shining part of christian history in this century, were all conducted by christians of the west, and particularly by those, who were the most -remote from idolatrv, those of our own countrv espe

Vol. III. 25

eially. There is, therefore, good reason to believe, that the new churches in the north were taught to worship the living God, through the one Mediator Christ For the British churches expressed the most marked detestation of the second council of Nice.* And Alcuin, the preceptor of Charlemagne, disproved its decrees in a letter, by express authorities of scripture. It is too true, that our ancestors, like the rest of Europe, learned at length to worship idols. For religious movements among churches are generally retrograde. Intirely distinct from human institutions of science, christian views are most perfect at first, as being derived from the divine word, and impressed on the hearts of men by divine grace: the wisdom of this world, aided by the natural propensities of mankind, corrupts them afterwards by degrees, and too often leaves them, at length, neither root nor branch of evangelical light and purity.

Alcuin, who has been just mentioned, was born in England;f a°d was a deacon of the church of York. He was sent ambassador into France by Offa, king of the Mercians, in the year 790. On this occasion, he gained the esteem of Charlemagne, and persuaded that monarch to found the universities of Paris and Pavia. He was looked upon as one of the wisest and most learned men of his time. He read public lectures in the emperor's palace, and in other places. He wrote, in an orthodox manner, on the Trinity, and, in particular, confuted the notions of Felix, bishop of Urgel, of whom it is sufficient to say, that he revived something like the nestorian heresy, by separating the humanity from the divinity of the Son of God. Alcuin showed himself a master of his subject, and wrote in a candid and moderate spirit. He died in 804.

Even Italy itself was not disposed altogether to obey the pope, in regard to image worship. Some Italian bishops assisted at the council of Frankfort, before mentioned; and Paulinus, of Aquileia, bore a distin

guished part In it. This prelate wrote, also, against the error of Felix, and seems to have been one of the best bishops of his time. Let us try, from the scanty materials before us, if we can collect his views and spirit on subjects peculiarly christian.

This bishop successfully opposed the error of Felix, concerning the person of Jesus Christ, and wrote a book of wholesome instructions, which, for a long time was supposed to be the work of Augustine.* It is remarkable, that he and some other Italian bishops, in the year 787,t agreed to condemn the decrees of the second council of Nice, as idolatrous, though pope Adrian had assisted at that council by his legates, and used his utmost endeavours to maintain its authority. In the council of Frankfort also, the presence of two papal legates hindered not the firm agreement of Paulinus and other Italian bishops, with the decrees of the said council. These are clear proofs, that the despotism of antichrist was, as yet, so far from being universal, that it was not owned throughout Italy itself; and, that in some parts of that country, as well as in England and France, the purity of christian worship was still maintained. The city of Rome, indeed, and its environs, seem to have been, at this period, the most corrupt part of christendom in Europe, nor do I remember a single missionary in these times to have been an Italian.

Paulinus, in his book against Felix, affirms, that the eucharist is a morsel and bit of bread. J He maintains, that it is spiritual life or death in the eater, as he either has faith or has not; which seems to be a just and evangelical view of that divine ordinance, not only free from the absurdity of transubstantiation, but also expressive of the christian article of justification, of which the reader hears very little in these cloudy times. Still more express testimonies to the essentials of salvation are not wanting in this author. He pro

* Du Pin.

t See Dr. Allix, on the ancient churches of Piedmont.

{ Buccella et partieula pania. In bis dedication to Charlemagne.

tests, that the blood of those, who have themselves been redeemed, cannot blot out the least sin; that the expiation of iniquity is the exclusive privilege of the blood of Christ alone. He* defines the properties of the divine and human nature, as united in the person of Jesus Christ, with great precision; and so careful is he to describe the latter, as circumscribed and limited by the bounds of body, as to form, at least, a strong consequential argument against the notion of transubstantiation. Hear how he comments on our Lord's well known description of eating his flesh and drinking his blood in the 6th chapter of St. John's gospel. " The flesh and blood may be referred to his human, not to his divine nature. Yet if he were not the true God, his flesh and blood could by no means give eternal life to those, who feed upon him. Whence also John says, the blood of his Son cleanseth us from all sin." Hear also how he speaks of the intercession of Christ. " Paul is not a mediator; he is an ambassador for Christ. An advocate is he, who being also the redeemer, exhibits to God the Father rlu human nature in the unity of the person of God and man. John intercedes not, but declares that this mediator is the propitiation for our sins." Once more: " The Son of God Almighty, our almighty Lord, because he redeemed us with the price of his blood, is justly called the true redeemer, by the confession of all, who are redeemed. He himself was not redeemed; he had never been captive: we have been redeemed, because we were captives, sold under sin,f bound by the handwriting which was against us, which he took away, nailing it to his cross, blotting it out by his blood, triumphing openly over it in himself, having finished a work which the blood of no other redeemer could do."J Such is the language of this evangelical bishop, while he is opposing the nestorian heresy revived by Felix. And here, at least, we see a due respect paid to holy scripture. Paulinos,

quotes, understands, and builds his faith upon it; awl is equally remote from dependence on mere human reasonings, on the authority of the church of Rome, or on any traditions.

This bishop was born about the year 726, near Friuli, was promoted to Aquileia in 776, was highly favoured by Charlemagne, and preached the gospel to the pagans of Carinthia and Stiria, and to the Avares, a nation of Huns. One of his maxims was, " Pride is that, without which no sin is or will be committed: it is the beginning, the end, and the cause of all sin." I wonder not, that he, who could see the nature of sin with so penetrating an eye, in an age of dulness, was confounded with the bishop of Hippo. He died in 804.* In a letter to Charlemagne, he complained of the want of residence in bishops, and of their attending the court. He cites a canon of the council of Sardica, in the fourth century, which forbade the absence of bishops from their dioceses, for a longer space than three weeks.

• I have been obliged to Alban Butler for some of the foregoing particulars. But, it is remarkable that he omits his testimony against image Vkorship. The reacler should know that Butler is a <;ealuu£ Koin.ni cathode