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Continuation of the Account of Mr. Maclaine's Translation of Dr.
Mofneim's Ecclefiaftical History.
ral account of the plan of this valuable work, together with some extracts from the learned Author's history of the first century of the Chriftian church; we now proceed, without pretending to perform the laborious talk of giving a regular abAtract of fo elaborate a compilation, to lay before our Readers fome farther extracts from such parts of the work as we think are both entertaining and instructive, in order to enable them to form a juft idea of the abilities and judgment of the Author.
In treating of the state of letters and philosophy during the fecond century, our Author observes that, under the reign of Trajan, they came forth from the retreat where they had languished during the favage tyranny of his predecessors, and, by the auspicious protection of this excellent prince, were, in some measure, restored to their former lustre. This happy revolution in the republic of letters, was, indeed, but of a short duration, as it was not supported by the succeeding emperors, who were, for the most part, averse to literary pursuits. Even Marcus Anconinus, who surpafled them all in learning, gave protection and encouragement to the stoics alone, and, after the example of that supercilious sect, treated the arts and sciences with contempt. And here we see the true reason, the Historian says, why the writers of this century are, in general, so much inferior to those of the former, in point of elegance and purity, eloquence and taste.
This degeneracy of erudition and taste, however, did not amount, we are farther told, to an utter extinction of them; for, even in this century, flourished men of genius and abilities, who set off, in the most advantageous manner, the learning of the times in which they lived. Among the learned Grecians VOL. XXXIII,
the first place is due to PLUTARCH, a man of vast erudition, whose knowlege was various but indigefted, and whose philosophical taste was corrupted by the sceptical tenets of the academics. There were, likewise, in all the more confiderable cities of the Roman empire, rhetoricians, sophists, and grammarians, who, by a variety of learned exercises, seemed zealous in forming the youth to the arts of eloquence and declamation, and in rendering them fit, by their talents and their acquisitions, to be useful to their country. But the instruction acquired in these schools was more specious than solid; and the youth who received their education in them, distinguished themselves at their entrance upon the active stage of life, rather by empty declamation, than by true eloquence; more by pompous erudition, than by wisdom and dexterity in the management of public affairs.
The Noical fect, the Author observes, was not in the highest esteem, during this century, the rigour and austerity of its doctrines being by no means suited to the diffolute manners of the times. The Platonic schools were more frequented for several reasons; and particularly for these two, that their moral precepts were less rigorous and severe, than those of the Stoics, and their doctrines more conformable to, or, rather, less incom: patible with, the common opinions concerning the gods. But of all the philosophers, the Epicureans enjoyed the highest reputation, and had the greatest number of followers; because their opinions tended to encourage the indolent security of a voluptrous and effeminate life, and to banith the remorfe and terrors that haunt vice, and naturally incommode the wicked in their sensual pursuits.
• Towards the conclusion of this century, says our Author, a new feet of philosophers arose of a sudden, spread with amaz. ing rapidity through the greatest part of the Roman empire, swallowed up almost all the other fects, and was extremely detrimental to the cause of Christianity. Alexandria in Egypt, which had been, for a long time, the seat of learning, and, as it were, the center of all the liberal arts and sciences, gave birth to this new philosophy. Its votaries chose to be called Platonics, though, far from adlering to all the tenets of Plato, they collected, from the different sects, such do&rines as they thought conformable to truth, and formed thereof one general system. The reason then, why they distinguished themselves by the title of Platonics, was, that they thought the sentiments of Plato, concerning that most noble part of philosophy, which has the deity and things invisible for its objects, much more rational and sublime, than those of the other philosophers.
What gave to this new philosophy a superior air of reason 2n! dignity, was, the unprejudiced spirit of candour and impar5
tiality on which it seemed to be founded. This recommended it particularly to those real fages, whose inquiries were accompanied with wisdom and moderation, and who were fick of those arrogant and contentious fects, which required an invariable attachment to their particular systems. And, indeed, nothing could have a more engaging aspect than a set of men, who, abandoning all cavil, and all prejudices in favour of any party, professed searching after the truth alone, and were ready to adopt, from all the different systems and feets, such tenets as they thought agreeable to it. From hence also they were called Eclectics. It is, however, to be observed, as we hinted in the former section, that though these philosophers were attached to no particular sect, yet they preferred, as appears from a variety of testimonies, the sublime Plato to all other fages, and approved of the most of his opinions concerning the deity, the universe, and the human soul. · This new species of Platonism
was embraced by such of the Alexandrian Christians as were defirous to retain, with the profession of the gospel, the title, the dignity, and the habit of philosophers. It is also said to have had the particular approbation of Athenagoras, Pantanus, Clemens the Alexandrian, and all those who, in this century, were charged with the care of the public school which the Christians had at Alexandria. These fages were of opinion, that true philosophy, the greatest and most falutary gift of God to mortals, was scattered in various portions through all the different sects, and that it was, consequently, the duty of every wise man, and more especially of every Christian doctor, to gather it from the several corners, where it lay dispersed, and to employ it, thus reunited, in the defence of religion, and in destroying the dominion of impiety and vice. The Christian Eclectics had this also in common with the others, that they preferred Plato to the other philofophers, and looked upon his opinions concerning God, the hu. man foul, and things invisible, as conformable to the spirit and genius of the Christian doctrine.
· This philosophical system underwent some changes, when Ammonius Saccas, who taught with the highest applause in the Alexandrian school, about the conclusion of this century, laid the foundations of that feet which was distinguished by the name of the New Platonics. This learned man was born of Christian parents, and never, perhaps, gave up entirely the outward profeffion of that divine religion, in which he had been educated. As his genius was vast and comprehensive, so were his projects bold and fingular. For he attempted a general reconciliation or coalition of all fects, whether philosophical or religious, and taught a doctrine, which he looked upon as proper to unite them all, the Christians not excepted, in the most perfect harmony. And Z 2
herein lies the difference between this new feet and the Eclec tics, who had, before this time, flourished in Egypt. The Eclectics held, that in every feet there was a mixture of good and bad, of truth and falfhood, and accordingly they chose and adopted out of each of them, such tenets as seemed to them conformable to reason and truth, and rejected such as they thought repugnant to both. Ammonius, on the contrary, maintained, that the great principles of all philosophical and religious truth were to be found, equally, in all sects; that they differed from each other, only in their method of expressing them, and in some opinions of little or no importance; and that, by a proper interpretation of their respective sentiments, they might easily be united into one body. It is further to be observed, that the propensity of Ammonius to fingularity and paradox, led him to maintain, that all the gentile religions, and even the Christian, were to be illustrated and explained by the principles of this universal philosophy; but that, in order to this, the fables of the priests were to be removed from paganism, and the comments and interpretations of the disciples of Jesus from Christianity.
“This arduous design, which Ammonius had formed of bringing about a coalition of all the various philosophical fects, and all the different systems of religion, that prevailed in the world, required many difficult and disagreeable things in order to its execution. Every particular feet and religion must have several of its doctrines curtailed or distorted, before it could enter into the general mass. The tenets of the philosophers, the superstitions of the heathen priests, the folemn doctrines of Chriftianity, were all to suffer in this cause, and forced allegories were to be subtilly employed in removing the difficulties with which it was attended. How this vast project was effected by Ammonius, the writings of his disciples and followers, that yet remain, abundantly testify. In order to the accomplishing his purpose, he supposed, that true philosophy derived its origin and its consistence from the eastern nations ; that it was taught to the Egyptians by Hermes; that it was brought from them to the Greeks, by whose vain subtilties and litigious disputes it was rendered somewhat obscure and deformed; but was, however, preserved in its original purity by Plato, who was the beft interpreter of Hermes, and of the other oriental sages. He maintained, that all the different religions that prevailed in the world, were, in their original integrity, conformable to the genius of this ancient philosophy; but that it unfortunately happened that the symbols and fictions, under which, according to the eastern manner, the ancients delivered their precepts and their doctrines were, in process of time, erroneously understood both by priests and people in a literal sense ; that, in consequence
of this, the invisible beings and demons, whom the supreme deity had placed in the different parts of the universe as the ministers of his providence, were, by the suggestions of superstition, converted into gods, and worshipped with a multiplicity of vain ceremonies. He therefore insisted, that all the religions of all nations should be restored to their original purity, and reduced to their primitive standard, viz. “ The ancient philosophy of the east ;” and he affirmed, that this his project was agreeable to the intentions of Jesus Christ, whose fole view, in descending upon earth, was to set bounds to the reigning superSition, to remove the errors that had crept into the religions of all nations, but not to abolish the ancient theology from whence they were derived.
Taking these principles for granted, Ammonius adopted the doctrines which were received in Egypt, the place of his birth and education, concerning the universe and the deity considered as conftituting one great whole; as also concerning the eternity of the world, the nature of souls, the empire of providence, and the gowernment of this world by demons. For it is most evident, that the Egyptian philosophy, which was said to be derived from Hermes, was the bafis of that of Ammonius; or, as it is otherwise called, of the more modern Platonism; and the book of Jamblichus, concerning the mysteries of the Egyptians, puts the matter beyond dispute. Ammonius, therefore, associated the sentiments of the Egyptians with the doctrines of Plato, which was easily done by adulterating some of the opinions of the latter, and forcing his expreffions from their obvious and natural sense, And, to finish this conciliatory scheme, he so interpreted the doctrines of the other philosophical and religious sects, by the violent fuccours of art, invention, and allegory, that they feemed, at length, to bear some resemblance of the Egyptian and Platonic systems.
• To this monstrous coalition of heterogeneous doctrines, its fanatical author added a rule of life and manners, which carried an aspect of high fanctity and uncommon austerity. He, indeed, permitted the people to live according to the laws of their country and the di&tates of nature ; but a more sublime rule was laid down for the wise. They were to raise above all terrestrial things, by the towering efforts of holy contemplation, those bouls whose origin was celestial and divine. They were ordered to extenuate, by hunger, thirst, and other mortifications, the Auggith 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 ascend after death, active and unencumbred, to the universal parent, to live in his presence for ever. As Ammonius was born and educated among the Christians, he set off, and even gave an air of au