صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

cility, have been reduced to obedience. But the faming and exceffive zeal of some inconsiderate bigots renewed, happily for the truth, the divisions, which were so near being healed, and by animating both Luther and his followers to look deeper into the enormities that prevailed in the papal hierarchy, promoted the principles and augmented the spirit, which produced, at length, the blessed [a] reformation.' · In the account which Dr. Mosheim gives of the disputes at Leipsic, in the year 1519, between Eckius and Carlostadt, we have the following character of the amiable Melancthon:

Among the spectators of this ecclesiastical combat was Philip Melancthon, at that time, professor of Greek at Wittemberg, who had not, as yet, been involved in these divisions (as indeed the mildness of his temper and his elegant taste for polite literature rendered him averse from disputes of this nature) though he was the intimate friend of Luther, and approved his design of delivering the pure and primitive science of theology from the darkness and subrilty of scholastic jargon[f]. As this eminent man was of those, whom this dispute with Eckius convinced of the excellence of Luther's cause; as he was, moreover, one of the illustrious and respectable inftruments of the reformation; it may not be improper to give some account here of the talents and virtues that have rendered his name immortal. His greatest enemies have born teftimony to his merit. They have been forced to acknowledge, that the annals of antiquity exhibit very few worthies, that may be compared with him ; whether we consider the extent of his knowledge in things human and divine, the fertility and elegance of his genius, the facility and quickness of his comprehension, or the uninterrupted industry that attended his learned and theological labours. He rendered to philosophy

· [(a) See, for an ample account of Luther's conferences with Mil. titz, the incomparable work of Seckendorf, intituled, Commentar. Hiftor, Apologer. de Lutheranismo, five de Reformatione Religionis, &c. in which the facts relating to Luther and the reformation are deduced from the most precious and authentic manuscripts and records, contained in the library of Saxe Gotha, and in other learned and princely colle&tions, and in which, the frauds and falsehoods of Maimbourg's History of Luthera. nism are fully detected and refuted. -As to Miltitz, his fate was unhappy. His moderation (which nothing but the blind zeal of some furious monks could have hindered from being eminently serviceable to the cause of Rome) was reprelented by Eckius, as something worse than indifference about the success of his commiflion; and after several marks of neglect re. ceived from the pontif, he had the misfortune to lose his life in paffing the Rhine at Mentz.] ..( See Melanēthon's Letter concerning the conference at Leipsic, in Loscher's Acta et Documenta Reformationis, tom. ii. cap. viii. p. 215. .

and

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

and the liberal arts the same eminent fervice that Luther bad done to religion, by purging them from the dross with which they had been corrupted, and by recommending them, in a powerful and persuasive manner, to the study of the Germans. He had the rare talent of discerning truth in all its moft intricate connexions and combinations, of comprehending, at once, the moft abstract notions, and expressing them with the utmost perspicuity and ease. And he applied this happy talent in religious disquifitions with such unparalleled success, that it may safely be af. firmed, that the cause of true Christianity derived from the learn. ing and genius of Melanchon more signal advantages and a more effectual support, than it received from any of the other doctors of the age. His love of peace and concord, which was partly owing to the sweetness of his natural temper, made him defore, with ardor, that a reformation might be effected without producing a schism in the church, and that the external communion of the contending parties might be preserved uninterrupted and entire. This spirit of mildness and charity, carried perhaps too far, led him, sometimes, to make conceffions that were neither consistent with prudence, nor advantageous to the cause in which he was engaged. It is, however, certain, that he gave no quartet to those more dangerous and momentous errors that reigned in the church of Rome, but maintained, on the contrary, that their extirpation was essentially necefsary in order to the restoration of true religion. In the natural complexion of this great man there was something soft, timorous, and yielding. Hence arose a certain diffidence of himself, that not only made him examine

things with the greatest attention and care before he resolved · upon any measure, but also filled him with uneasy apprehensions

where there was no danger, and made him fear even things that, in reality, could never happen. And yet, on the other hand, when the hour of real danger approached, when things bore a formidable aspect, and the cause of religion was in imminent peril, then this timorous man was converted, all at once, into an intrepid hero, looked danger in the face with unlhaken conftancy, and opposed bis adversaries with invincible fortitude. All this shews, that the force of truth and the power of principle had diminished the weaknesies and defects of Melancthon's natural character without entirely removing them. Had his fortitude been more uniform and steddy, his desire of reconciling all interests and pleasing all parties less vehement and excessive, his triumph over the superstitions imbibed in his infancy more compleat (g),

•[lgBy this no doubt Dr. Mosheim means the credulity this great man diicovered with respect to prodigies and dreams, and his having been somewhat addicted to the pretended science of astrology.] ...

[ocr errors]

he

he must deservedly have been considered, as one of the greatest, among men \"bij of the church. during the fixteenth

In his general history of the church, during the sixteenth century, Dr. Mosheim gives us the following view of the public advantages arising from the restoration of letters.

In this century, the arts and sciences were carried to a degree of perfection unknown to preceeding ages; and from this happy renovation of learning the European churches derived the most signal and inestimable advantages, which they also transmitted to the most remote and distant nations. The benign influence of true science, and its tendency to improve both the form of religion and the institutions of civil policy, were perceived by many of the states and princes of Europe. Hence large fums were expended, and great zeal and industry employed in promoting the progress of knowledge, by founding and encouraging literary societies, by protecting and exciting a spirit of emulation among men of genius, and by annexing distinguished honours and advantages to the culture of the sciences. And it is particularly worthy of observation, that this was the period, when the wise and falutary law, which excludes ignorant and illiterate persons from the sacred functions of the Christian ministry, acquired, at length, that force which it still retains in the greatest part of the Christian world. There still remained, however, some secds of that ancient discord between religion and philosophy, that had been sown and fomented by ignorance. and fanaticism; and there were found, both among the friends and enemies of the reformation, leveral well-meaning, but inconsiderate men, who, in spite of common sense, maintained with more vehemence and animosity than ever, that vital religion and piety could never flourish until it was totally separated from learning and science, and nourished by the holy simplicity that reigned in the primitive ages of the church.

The first rank in the literary world was now held by those, who consecrated their studious hours and their critical sagacity to the publication, correction, and illustration of the most famous Greek and Latin authors of ancient times, to the study of antiquity and the languages, and to the culture of eloquence and poetry. We see by the productions of this age (that yet remain, and continue to excite the admiration of the learned that in all the provinces of Europe these branches of literature were cultivated, with a kind of enthusiasm, by such as were most distin

[h] We have a Life of Melancthon, written by Joachim Camerarius, which has already gone through several editions. But a more ac. curate account of this illustrious reformer, composed by a prudent, impartial, and well informed biographer, as also a coinpleie collection of his Works, would be an inestimable present to the republic of letters.'

guished

led to the

in a greavement of

ude of Fligion from

guished by their taste and genius; nay, what is still more extraordinary (and perhaps not a little extravagant) the welfare of the church and the prosperity of the state was supposed to depend upon the improveinent of thefe branches of erudition, which were considered as the very essence of true and folid knowledge. If such encomiums were swelled beyond the bounds of truth and wisdom by enthusiastical philologists, it is, nevertheless, certain, that the species of learning, here under confideration, was of the highest importance, as it opened the way that led to the treasures of solid wisdom, to the improvement of genius, and thus undoubtedly contributed, in a great measure, to deliver both reason and religion from the prepossession of ignorance and the servitude of superstition. And, therefore, we ought not to be surprized, when we meet with persons who exaggerate the merit, and dwell beyond measure on the praises of those, who were our first guides from the regions of darkness and error into the fmiling sphere of evidence and truth. .. Though the lovers of philology and Belles Lettres 'were much superior in number to those who turned their principal views to the study of philosophy; yet the latter were far from being contemptible either in point of number or capacity. The philosophers were divided into two classes, of which the one was wholly absorbed in contemplation, while the other was employed in the investigation of truth, and endeavoured by experience, as well as hy reasoning, to trace out the laws and operations of nature. The former were subdivided into two feets, of which the one followed certain leaders, while the other, unrestrained by the dictates of authority, struck out a new way for themselves, following freely their own inventions. Those, who submitted to the direction of certain philosophical guides, enlisted chemfelves under the standards of Aristotle, or those of Plato, who continued fill to have many admirers, especially in Italy. Nor were the followers of Aristotle agreed among themselves; they all acknowledged the Stagirite as their chief, bứt they followed him through very different paths. Some were for retaining the ancient method of proceeding in philosophical pursuits, which their doctors, falsely, called the Peripatetic systein. Others pleaded for the pure and unmixed philosophy of Aristotle, and recommended the writings of that Grecian sage, as the source of wisdom, and as the system, which was molt adapted, when properly illustrated and explained, to the instruction of youth. A third sort of Aristotelicians, who differed equally from those now mentioned, and of whom the celebrated Melancthon was the chief, pursued another method. They extracted the marrow out of the lucubrations of Aristotle, illustrated it by the aids of genuine literature and the rules of good criticism, and corrected

it by the di&tates of right reason and the doctrines and principles of true religion.

Of those, who struck out a path to themselves in the regions of philosophy, without any regard to that which had been opened by ancient sages, and pursued by their followers, Cardan, Telesius, and Campanella hold, deservedly, the first rank, as they were, undoubtedly, men of fuperior genius, though too much, addicted to the suggestions and visions of an irregular fancy. To there may be added Peter Ramus, that subtile and ingenious French philosopher, who, by attempting to substitute in the place of Aristotle's logic, a method of reasoning more adapted to the use of rhetoric and the improvement of eloquence, excited Tuch a terrible uproar in the Gallic schools. Nor must we omit here the mention of Theophrastus Paracelsus, who, by an alliduous observation of nature, by a great number of experiments indefatigably repeated, and by applying the penetrating force of fire to discover the first principles or elements of bodies, endeavoured to cast new light and evidence on the important science of natural philosophy. As the researches of this industrious inquirer into nature excited the admiration of all, his example was consequently followed by many; and hence arose a new feet of philosophers, who assumed the denomination of Theosophists, and who, placing little confidence in the decisions of human reafon, or the efforts of speculation, attributed all to divine illumination, and repeated experience.

o This revolution in philosophy and literature, together with the fpirit of emulation that animated the different sects or classes into which the learned men of this age were divided, produced * many happy effects of various kinds. It, in a more particular , manner, brought into disrepute, though it could not at once utterly eradicate, that intricate, bàrbarous, and insipid method of teaching theology, that had universally prevailed hitherto in all the schools and pulpits of Christendom. The sacred writings, which, in the preceding ages, had been either entirely neglected, or very absurdly explained, were now much more consulted and respected in the debates and writings of the Christian doctors than they had formerly been ; the sense and language of the inspired writers were more carefully ftudied, and more accurately unfolded; the doctrines and precepts of religion taught with more method, connexion, and perspicuity; and that dry, barren and unaffecting language, which the ancient schoolinen affected so much in their theological compositions, was wholly exploded by the wiser part of the divines of this century. It must not, however, be imagined, that this reformation of the schools was fo perfect, 'as to leave no new improvements to be made by íucceeding ages; this, indeed, was far from being the case. Much jinperfeétion yet remained in the method of treating theology, - Kev. Dec. 1764. augue

« السابقةمتابعة »