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to encourage and recommend voluntary and foolish austerities, a solitary life, vows of celibacy and virginity, worshipping of wood, rags, and bones, invocation of saints, &c. If a man, moved by these reasons, and by reverence to the ancient Christians, should assent to the miracles attested by them, he ought not to be slighted, insulted, and ridiculed for it by those who have the same faith and hope, and acknowledge the same Lord and Master.
Such are the arguments in favour of the miracles of the second and third centuries ; to which, on the other hand, is objected the credulity of many of the Christians, the enthusiastic temper of others, the disingenuity of some of them in the matter of pious frauds; a disposition which Christians liad in common with other people to admit too easily any thing that favoured their own cause, and an unwillingness to oppose it ; the forgeries of books, epistles, edicts, and reports, contrived by some of them, and received by others; the accounts of the miracles, which seem often founded upon hearsays and tradition, and many iniracles notoriously and undeniably false, which are contidently reported by fathers and writers of the fourth and fifth centuries, who made no conscience of affirming the most childish absurdities, in the mar
To these objections may be added the force of imagination, and of a strong persuasion, which may have a strange and surprising effect in removing some bodily disorders, so that the cure shall be thought preternatural both by the person who is relieved, and by those who have contributed to his recovery, and by those who are present, and yet they may be all deceived, and all innocent of any design to impose upon
mankind. Such seems to be the case mentioned by Minucius Felix concerning evil spirits, who being acljared, vel exsiliunt statim, vel evanescunt graditim, prout fides patientis adjuvat, vel gratia curantis adspirat. 27: for it is hardly to be supposed that miracles of this kind are wrought by halves, and by slow degrees.
It may be farther observed that the niracles mentioned by the apologists and ancient fathers of the second and third centuries, are usually healing the sick, and casting out evil spirits, miracles in which there is room for some error and deception ; we hear nothing of causing the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the lepers to be cleansed.
Add to this, that notions of * morality have in some points varied in the Christian world, and been more or less strict in different times and places. The writing of books or epistles under borrowed names, and imposing them as genuine upon the public, is a thing of bad consequence and an immorality; yet hath it been done by men who perhaps in other respects were honest. Writers of the fourth and fifth centuries have attested miracles which either they knew to be false, or did not know to be true ; and yet many of them, in all probability; would have died rather than have renounced Christianity, and for no reward in the world would have borne false witness in a trial. There have been Christians who have readis 2
ly ly fought duels upon slender occasions, and for a point of honour, and who would as readily have died for their religion.
* De tout tems, je n'en excepte que les temps Apostoliques, les Evêques se sont crus autorisez à user de ces fraudes pieuses qui tendent au salut des hommes. Les Ouvrages supposez en sont une preuve, et la facilité avec laquelle les Peres ajoutoient foi à ces mauvais ouvrages, fait voir que s'ils n'étoient pas complices de la fraude, ils n'étoient pas scrupuleux à en profiter Beausohre Hist. de Manich. . 756.
Men will be inclined to determine this controverted question according to their preconceived notions, and their accustomed way of thinking; for there appears to be a sort of fatality in opinions of this kind, which when once taken up, are seldom laid down. But upon the whole, the arguments seem to preponderate a little on the side of the ancient opinion, so as to incline is to suppose that miracles were sometimes wrought amongst the Christians, though at present it may be no easy matter to point them out distinctly.
Thus much may seem probable, that in the second and third centuries some sick persons were restored to health by the prayers of their brethren ; that some virtuous Pagaris had their doubts and prejudices removed and were called to Christianity by divine impulses, dreams, or visions; and that the martyrs and confessors received an extraordinary assistance from God, enabling them to undergo horrible tortures and sufferings with amazing patience and constancy, which divine assistance, whether it may properly be called miraculous, it matters not much to inquire, for we will not dispute about words.
Whilst the church of Christ was subject to insults and persecution from the Pagan powers, and in a low and distressed condition, the Christians assembled together as often as they could, and took all possible care to instruct, and animate, and comfort, and relieve one another. When any of them were sick, the congregation prayed for them, and the presbyters visited them, and invoked the name of the Lord over them. Ma
ny of them recovered, and the recovery was accounted miraculous, and perhaps was oftentimes really, and sometimes evidently so. It is impossible to shew that it was unworthy of the divine power thus to exert itself for the consolation of the afflicted Christians, and for an evidence that God was with them of a truth. Great things are said in the Scriptures concerning the efficacy of prayer, to whose persuasive force may be applied what Pindar hath so elegantly feigned of music and poesy,
Και τον αιχμαλαν κεραυνόν σβεννύεις
'Aevor o upós. As the doctrines of divine influences upon
the mind of man, and of the efficacy of prayer, are connected with the doctrine of a particular providence, let us produce a few remarks on this subject, made by ingenious men who never passed for enthusiasts.
“Some thoughts and designs may be caused by “ the suggestion and impulse, or other silent com"munications of some spiritual being ; perhaps the
Deity himself. For that such imperceptible influ"ences and still whispers may be, none of us all can
positively deny: that is, we cannot know certainly, that there are no such things.
On the contrary, I believe there are but few of them who have "made observations upon themselves and their affairs, “but must, when they reflect on life past, and the “ various adventures and events of it, find many in“stances in which their usual judgment and sense of
things cannot but seem to themselves to have been “over-ruled they knew not by what, nor hore', nor why
(i. e, they have done things which afterwards they “wonder how they came to do;) and that these ac" tions have had consequences very remarkable in
“ their history. I speak not here of men dementated “ with wine, or inchanted with some temptation ; “ the thing holds true of men even in their sober and
more considering seasons., “ That there may be possibly such inspirations of new thoughts and counsels, may perhaps further appear from this; that we so frequently find
thoughts arising in our heads, into which we are “ led by no discourse, nothing we read, no clue of rea
soning ; but they surprise and come upon us from " we know not what quarter. If they proceeded from “ the mobility of spirits, straggling out of order, and “i fortuitous affections of the brain, or were of the na“ ture of dreams, why are they not as wild, incohe. “ rent, and extravagant as they are ? Not to add, “ that the world has generally acknowledged, and “ therefore seems to have experienced some assistance " and directions given to good men by the Deity ; " that men liaye been many times infatuated, and “ lost to themselves, fc. If any one should object, “ that if men are thus over-ruled in their actings, “then they are deprived of their liberty, fc. the an“ swer is, that though man is a free agent, he may " not be free as to every thing. His freedom may
be “ restrained, and he only accountable for those acts, “ in respect of which he is free.
- If this then be the case, as it seems to be, that “ mens minds are susceptive of such insinuations and
impressions, as frequently by ways unknown do af“ fect them, and give them an inclination towards “ this or that, how many things may be brought to ! pass by these means without firing and refixing the “ laws of nature ; any more than they are unfixt, 4 when one man alters the opinion of another by