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tiality on which it seemed to be founded. This recommended it particularly to those real sages, 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, 10thing 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 fects, 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 teftimonies, the sublime Plato to all other sages, 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 Chriftians as were desirous to retain, with the profeffion of the gospel, the title, the dignity, and the habit of philosophers. It is also said to have had the particular approbation of Athenagoras, Pantænus, 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 sages were of opinion, that true philosophy, the greatest and moft salutarv 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 Chriftian 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 human soul, 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 profefsion 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 sects, whether philofophical or religious, and taught a do&rine, which he looked upon as proper to unite them all, the Christians not excepted, in the most perfect harmony. And Z 2
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herein lies the difference between this new sect and the Eclectics, who had, before this time, flourished in Egypt. The Eclectics held, that in every sect there was a mixture of good and bad, of truth and fallhood, and accordingly they chose and adopted out of each of them, such tenets as seemed to themu 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 chey 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 defign, which Ammonius had formed of bringing about a coalition of all the various philosophical sects, 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 sect and religion must have several of its doctrines curtailed or distorted, before it could enter into the general mass. The tenets of the philofophers, the sur perftitions of the heathen priests, the folemn doctrines of Christianity, were all to suffer in this cause, and forced allegories were to be fubtilly employed in removing the difficulties with which it was attended. How this vaft 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 suppoled, that true pbilosophy 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 fubtilties 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 fages. He maintained, that all the different religions that prevailed in the world, were, in their original integrity, conformable to the genius of this ancient philofophy; but that it unfortunately happened that the symbols and fictions, under which, according to the eastern manner, the ancients delivered their precepts and their doétrines were, in process of time, erroneoully understood hoth by prieits and people in a literal fenfe; that, in confequence
of this, the invisible beings and demons, whom the supreme deity had placed in the different parts of the universe as the minifters of his providence, were, by the suggestions of superstition, converted into gods, and worshipped with a multiplicity of vain ceremonies. He therefore infifted, 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 superftition, 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 confidered as constituting one great whole; as also concerning the eternity of the world, the nature of fouls, the empire of providence, and the government of this world by demons. For it is most evident, that the Egyptian philosophy, which was said to be derived from Here mes, was the basis of that of Ammonius; or, as it is otherwise called, of the more modern Platenism; 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 cafily done by adulterating some of the opinions of the latter, and forcing his expressions from their obvious and natural sense. And, to finish this conciliatory scheme, he fo interpreted the doctrines of the other philosophical and religious sects, by the violent fuccours of art, invention, and allegory, that they seemed, 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 sanctity and uncommon austerity. He, indeed, permitted the people to live according to the laws of their co:ntry and the dictates 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 souls whofe origin was celestial and divine. They were ordered to extenuare, by hunger, thirst, and other mortifications, the sluggish body, which confines the activity, and restrains the liberty of the immortal spirit; that thus, in this live, 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 alt
thority to these injunctions, by expressing them partly in terms borrowed from the sacred scriptures, of which we find a valt number of citations, also, in the writings of his disciples. To this austere discipline, he added the pretended art of to purging and refining that faculty of the mind, which receives the images of things, as to render it capable of perceiving the demons, and of performing many marvelous things by their assistance. This art, which the disciples of Ammonius called theurgy, was not, however, communicated to all the schools of this fanatical phi. losopher, but only to those of the first rank.
"The extravagant attempts of Ammonius did not cease here. To reconcile the popular religions of different countries, and particularly the Christian, with this new system, he fell upon the following inventions: ift, He turned into a mere allegory the who e history of the gods, and maintained that those beings, whom the priests and people dignified with this title, were no more than celestial ministers, to whom a certain kind of worship was due ; but a worship inferior to that which was to be reserved for the supreme deity. 2dly, He acknowledged Christ to be a moit excellent man, the friend of God, the admirable theurge; he denied, however, that Jesus designed to abolish entirely the worship of demons, and of the other ministers of di-, vine providence, and affirmed, on the contrary, that his only intention was to purify the ancient religion, and that his fola lowers had manifestly corrupted the doctrine of their divine master.
• This new species of philosophy, imprudently adopted by Origen and many other Christians, was extremely prejudicial to the cause of the gospel, and to the beautiful fimplicity of its celestial doctrines. For hence it was, that the Christian doctors began to introduce their subtile and obscure erudition into the religion of Jesus, to involve in the darkness of a vain philo-; fophy, some of the principal truths of Christianity that had been revealed with the utmost plainness, and were indeed obvious to; the meanest capacity, and to add, to the divine precepts of our Lord, many of their own, which had no sort of foundation in any part of the sacred writings. From the same fource arqse that melancholy set of men, who have been distinguished by the name of Mystics, whose system, when separated from the Platonic doctrine concerning the nature and origin of the soul, is but a lifeless mass, without any vigour, form, or consistence, Nor did the evils, which sprung from this Ammonian philosophy, and here, For under the specious pretext of the necessity of contemplation, it gave occasion to that othful and indolent course of life, which continues to be led by myriads of monks retired in cells, and fequeftred from society, to which they are neither ufeful by ihcis instructions, nor by their examples. TQ.
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this philosophy. we may trace as to their source, a multitude of vain and foolish ceremonies, proper only to cast a veil over truth, and to nourish superstition, and which ar?, for the most part, religiously observed by many, even in the times in which we live. It would be endless to enumerate all the pernicious consequences that may be justly attributed to this new philosophy, or rather to this monstrous attempt to reconcile faldhood with truth, and light with darkness. Some of its most fatal effects were its alienating the minds of many, in the following ages, from the Christian religion, and its substituting in the place of the pure and sublime fimplicity of the gospel an unteemly mixture of Platonism and Christianity.
"The number of learned men among the Christians, which was very small in the preceding century, grew considerably in this. Among these there were few rhetoricians, fophifts, or orators. The most part were philosophers attached to the Eclectic system, though they were not all of the same sentiments concerning the utility of letters and philosophy. Those, who were themselves initiated into the depths of philosophy, were desirous that others, particularly such as aspired to the offices of bishops or doctors, should apply themselves to the study of human wisdom, in order to their being the better qualified for defending the truth with vigour, and instructing the ignorant with success. Others were of a quite different way of thinking upon this subject, and were for banishing all argumentation and philosophy from the limits of the church, from a notion that eru' dition might prove detrimental to the true spirit of religion. Hence the early beginnings of that unhappy contest between faith and reason, religion and philof phy, piety and genius, which increased in the succeeding ages, and is prolonged even to our times with a violence, that renders it extremely difficult to be brought to a conclufion. Those, who maintained that learning and philosophy were rather advantageous, chan detrimental to the cause of religion, gained, by degrees, the ascendant, and, in consequence thereof, laws were enacted, which excluded the ignorant and illiterate from the office of public teachers. The opposite side of the question was not, however, without defenders ; and the defects and vices of learned men and philosophers contributed much to increase their number, as will appear in the progress of this history.'
In treating of the Ascetics, our learned Auihor observes, there is a particular consideration, which will enable us to render a natural account of the origin of that austere discipline they imposed upon themselves, and which is drawn from the genius and temper of the people by whom it was first practised. It was in Egypt, he says, that this morose discipline had its rise; and it is observable, that Egypt has in all times, as it were by an im- ·