图书图片
PDF
ePub

of which are found by reflection in the heart of man, has been named the religion of reason; but it is reason instructed with the truths with which the knowledge of man has been enriched by Jesus Christ: and he who, in doing homage to the religion of reason, should hold Christianity superfluous, would neglect the living tree which stands rich in blossom and fruit, to satisfy himself with what has been plucked from it, and lies separated and withered ; he would turn his back upon the clear and deep fountain, to draw out of a derived, troubled, and thirsty stream. Mankind were first made fit to receive the heavenly influence in higher measure through Jesus Christ; by him they were first assured of the great end of human existence; and through the Jight and love issuing from him, they must advance to their perfection in the kingdom of God, when the earthly shall be dignified, the sensual purified, even the visible invested with increased beauty; and the whole life of man shall rise into full harmony with what is divine.

" When the faith of reason and the faith of revelation are opposed to one another, arguments of weight are produced on both sides. It may be shewn, according to these views, that they meet and coalesce into one, and thus a way is laid to put an end to the controversy. Since God makes himself known in our hearts, all religion is revealed, and since we receive his inspirations only in our reason, (in that extended use of the word which includes the heart, and comprehends the powers of feeling and thought,) all religion is derived from our reason. True religious belief is then at once the faith of revelation and the faith of reason; the former when we consider its source, the latter when we look at the instrument of its construction. Hence the believers in reason are wrong when they regard the soul as the creatrix of religious knowledge, and disown a divine revelation out of which the knowledge has grown; and the believers in revelation are not less wrong when they impugn our reason as a teacher of errors, since what it teaches has been imparted to the heart of man by God, and in the dictates of reason we must recognize an interior revelation. But if it be said, that since we have these already in ourselves, the revelation through Christ is superseded, it appears, on the contrary, that our reason has been matured to its present stature only through the aid of revelation, and that it is only by continuing in community with Christ that we attain to a divine life. The more intimately the rational advocates of religion maintain their connexion with this divine teacher, the more they will resolve all differences of opinion into harmony, and collect on the truly Christian ground of love. It is the object of this treatise to assist the reconciliation and union, and it is the earnest wish of the writer, that his essay may receive the suffrage of the Christian reader only in proportion as it corresponds with the doctrine and spirit of Christianity.”

After perusing the preceding tract, it is difficult to deny that there are men who revere the authority of Christ as a divine instructor, without receiving that part of the gospel history which establishes its claim to be considered a divine revelation; who, in the absence of a historical faith, retain much of practical and vital Christianity; who acknowledge the proof of a divine light solely in the light itself; and who even believe as they profess, that they serve the cause of religion in general, and of Christianity in particular, by endeavouring to place its authority on ground independent of the supernatural facts which constitute a history of a revealed religion.

J. M.

THE HISTORY AND MYSTERY OP CHURCH PROPERTY. The history of Church property is the history of fraud : of fraud made successful by imbecility on one side, and by the most cunning artifice on the other. The chief, because the constant, supply of the riches of the Church are tithes. By Blackstone, tithes are defined to be the tenth part of the increase yearly arising and renewing from the profits of lands, the stock upon lands, and the personal industry of the inhabitants. Here then we have a tenth part of all the annual produce of industry arising from lands, devoted to the maintenance of the clergy. Let it be observed, that this source of revenue is no fixed and determinate sum, but a sum yearly increasing in proportion to the augmentation of the productiveness of the land. The richer the country becomes, the greater is the affluence of the clergy; the more industrious, the more enterprising and successful an individual proves, the larger is the portion of which he is deprived by his spiritual guides. There was a time when the claim of the clergy to the possession of tithes was founded on what was deemed a divine right, derived from the hierarchy of Judaism to the hierarchy of Christianity. But the best friends of the clergy have long since relinquished a mode of justification which could not endure even the approach of reason. The possession of tithes is now justified by the assertion that the labourer is worthy of his hire. This axiom no one will impeach, but unfortunately for the clergy it is an axiom which meets not the case. That the labourer is worthy of his hire, proves, indeed, that a competent provision should be made for the ministers of Christ, but it proves no more ; it leaves untouched the questions which are at issue, whether or not the state or the hearers should make that provision-whether it should be voluntary or compulsory—whether it should consist in the forcible abstraction of a tenth part of the land's annual increase. Whatever mode of remuneration sound reason might dictate, nothing can be clearer than that it must condemn the system of tithe-taking. It is obvious that the usefulness of a minister of Christ mainly depends on the respect and affection which his flock bear towards himand it is equally obvious that the measure of respect and affection cannot be very ample in those cases where the parson claims and takes as of right-often by force of arms and process of law-the tenth part of the annual reward of industry. Instead of the mild and winning aspect of a Christian minister, the clergyman assumes in the eyes of his parishioners the unwelcome and vexatious countenance of a taxgatherer. The bonds of attachment are supplanted by those of lordliness on the one hand, and servitude on the other. The parishioner resorts to artifice to elude the tithing grasp, or to diminish the amount of its abstractions ; the clergyman to jealousy and watchfulness, in order to defeat the artifice and secure to the full the measure of his legal claim. Is this a state of things which ought to subsist between minister and people? Can any good arise from the heart-burnings, the jealousy, the intrigue, the violence, to which the present relation of clergyman and parishioner often leads : We undertake to say that if a plan had been purposely devised which should in the present state of society most effectually preclude the influence which a minister of Christ may, under favourable circumstances, exert, the system of tithing would possess claims to notice which it would be difficult to find elsewhere. As yet we have said nothing of the fact that the tithes are enjoyed and taken by those to whom, in general, the people are little or not at all indebted for spiritual aid. In the Church of England, it is the

drones that eat the honey. But into this fact we shall presently enter more at large ; at present we shall only say, the people might to a certain extent console themselves for the loss, did they see the fruit of their labours enjoyed by men who were prompt to labour for their welfare as faithful ministers of Christ, warning them of evil, leading them to good, teaching their offspring the way of righteousness, themselves by holiness of life leading onward to the mansions of peace. But such is not the fact. In general the tithetaker is not the labourer of Christ, and he that receives most of the people's wealth is, in the Church of England, the very person who does the least. In worldly matters it is not unusual to see remuneration allotted in proportion to labour done; the reverse of this obtains in spiritual affairs: throughout the scale of clerical emoluments, as the labour decreases so the remuneration is augmented.

We have already said that the history of Church property is the history of fraud, and this we said on no light grounds. The precise time when tithes were first introduced into this country it is not easy to ascertain. Manifest traces of them, however, are observable in a very early period of our bistory; and from these traces we learn some facts which do not greatly redound to the credit of the hierarchy. Tithes were at first voluntary offerings, the free gift of the donor to his spiritual guide, compelled by no law but that of gratitude. Soon, however, by the management of the priesthood, tithes changed their character. The gift of gratitude, however undiscerning and void of forethought, was and must be an object of respect, and the more blamable were those who converted a free-will offering into a compulsory tax. Such was their proceeding. The benefaction became, under the influence of the priest, the innocent occasion of a permanent tax on the benefactor. The legislature was appealed to; at first it contented itself with advising and enjoining the payment of tithes; but at last, substituting commands for recommendations, it ordered the people to make their free-will offerings a permanent contribution. From this there was no appeal; might gave right, and the law of the strongest prevailed.

Notwithstanding this compulsory exaction, each individual' was at liberty to pay his tithes to what priests he pleased. Pay them to some one he must, but the law left the choice of the receiver to himself. Each then supported his own spiritual adviser, and gave his contributions to those whom he might judge most sound in doctrine or exemplary in practice. Thus, though by the change of a voluntary into a conpulsory allotment, an important check on the lives and conduct of the clergy bad been removed, still there remained in the portion of freedom yet retained by the people, a salutary and efficient controul over the priesthood. But this controul in the hands of the people was incompatible with that entire dominion over the mind which the priesthood bave in all ages sought : and on this account they promptly took their measures for its removal. Again the arm of power was invoked; and by the influence of the local barons, or the general enactments of the legislature, the tithes of each parish were allotted to its own particular and legally appointed minister. Thus were the rights of the people completely destroyed, the act of kindness was converted into an act of compulsion, the amount of payment was defined, and the right taken away of making that payment to the most deserving.

But it must not be imagined that all this time the clergy had for their own share the whole of the titheable increase of the land. There were other objects contemplated in the payment of lithes besides the support of the clergy. Historians variously relate that tithes were originally divided into three or four separate portions, of which one only was for the maintenance of the priesthood. How this diversity arises it is not easy to say with certainty.. For ourselves we are disposed to think that the accounts they give relate to different periods, and that at first tithes were divided into four portions, but that in process of time the clergy, seeking to appropriate the whole to themselves, reduced the portions into three. The earliest account wbich we have met with of their division, is of that made by Charlemagne into four parts-one to maintain the edifice of the church, the second to support the poor, the third the bishop, and the fourth the parochial clergy. It soon happened, however, that the poor were forgotten, the Church neglected, and the whole of the tenth of the land went to the unholy purpose of maintaining the clergy ; unholy we call it because unrighteous, and unrighteous it was to rob the poor in order to feed the priest. But had the clergy rested content with the appropriation of one tenth of the earth's produce, we should have protested indeed, but not denounced their rapacity. The tenth of the produce of the land, however, satisfied them not. The sins of the living, and the fears of the dying, they made alike occasions for the augmentations of their wealth. They told the poor and ignorant people of a purgatory, into which all but the best and the worst, that is, nine-tenths of the Christian world, were sure to go, there to endure punishment in proportion to their sins. But over this purgatory, they persuaded their credulous hearers, they had almost unlimited power, and out of it they could and would, by their prayers, redeem them, provided a portion of their wealth was left to the Church. Scarcely, therefore, did an individual of any property leave this world, but he made a bequest to the priesthood. And should such an unusual occurrence take place, or should the amount of the legacy be too small to prompt the piety of the clergy to a requisite order and perseverance, then the surviving relatives deemed it their bounden duty to supply of themselves the deficiency.

The majority of human delinquencies were, they taught the people, of a venial nature. These the clergy had the power to pardon, but this power could not be exerted unless the machine were set in motion by the allmoving power of gold. Pardon and immunity were therefore bought and sold; the greatest crimes could be expiated, provided riches were abundant, and the needy sinner alone received the merited punishment. And, in fact, riches without end flowed, on this account, into the treasury of the priesthood. Religious houses were all over the kingdom founded and enriched as the penalty due to sin, and the price paid for pardon.

Another chief means by which the clergy enriched themselves consisted in the doctrine which they taught of the intercession of the saints. The saints happily arrived in heaven interceded for sinners upon earth. But saints in heaven, the people thought, resembled their servants the priests upon earth, and would lend their good offices only in consequence of liberal donations. Hence the shrines and chapels erected to their honour, their images and representations set up in their temples. Hence splendid and costly gifts to those who served and kept their shrines. New saints were thought to possess the greatest influence in the court of heaven, as new favourites do in earthly courts ; hence a constant increase of canonized individuals, of chapels to their honour and for their service, and abundant tributes, in order to secure their favour and intercession.

By these and a variety of other means the priesthood daily augmented their affluence. The mystic terrors of the invisible world they cunningly and wickedly wielded to draw from an ignorant and superstitious people the means of their own aggrandizement. Their treasures became enormous ; it is computed that at one period they possessed seven-tenths of all the property of the kingdom; for, unlike others, they kept and transmitted from age to age their various acquisitions, and a treasure once gained never left the Church. There was no alienation; the property, when it had fallen into the possession of the priesthood, fell, to use the allusion of several statutes passed to check these shameful accumulations, into the hands of one who, in respect of the exchange and transfer of property, was a dead man.

This allusion leads us to remark, that the evils of which we have spoken became so enormous and crying, that the magistrate, in order to prevent the complete absorption of property in the hands of the priests, found himself obliged to interfere. In reference to this interposition, Sir W. Blackstone thus speaks : “ In deducing the history of which statutes, it will be matter of curiosity to observe the great address and subtle contrivance of the ecclesiastics in eluding from time to time the laws in being, and the zeal with which successive Parliaments have pursued them through all their finesses; how new remedies were still the parents of new evasions, till the legislature at last, though with difficulty, hath obtained a decisive victory.”

Of the property thus amassed by the Church, some at the time of Henry VIII. went to the nobility, some to the king, the major part to the clergy of the Church of England. The priesthood of the day, in imitation of the king, changed their faith, and thus kept their benefices; they abjured the Pope, and retained what, by Papal influence, they and their predecessors had acquired. True, a portion of the property underwent many mutations. On a part the king and nobles rioted. With another part new bishoprics were founded out of the sums of proscribed monasteries. There was one thing in which all agreed - each to keep all he could get, and to take care that the poor man came in for no share. As far as the people were concerned, the change was merely a change of masters; the king being placed in the chair of Christ's vicar; or rather it was a change for the worse; since the rich absorbed what had previously ministered in part to the needs of the indigent. It would have been an act of justice to restore to the people gain so ill-gotten, especially in those who soon after denounced the Roman clergy as greedy wolves and devourers of God's heritage. Alas! how can men be so inconsistent ; how can he who lives on the ill-gotten gain of another, have the effrontery to miscall him by whose turpitude he enjoys his riches ? But so it is; the history of the property of the Church of Rome is the history of the property of the Church of England, and yet the Church of England term the Roman clergy wolves in sheeps' clothing ; little thinking that when a daughter miscalls her mother, she uses foul language of herself. But it may be said the Church of England no longer practises these arts for the enrichment of her coffers. No! independently of the fact that the day will not endure such deeds of darkness, Blackstone has given us the reason—" the magistrate at last, though not without difficulty, hath obtained a decisive victory.” But there are facts connected with the present condition of the Church that are enough to make one fear that it is rather the way than the will that is wanting ; certainly they prove beyond a question that the day of pious frauds is not yet entirely past.

This leads us to speak of the inequality which prevails in the emoluments enjoyed by the members of the Church. The higher clergy live in princely affluence, while they do little or nothing; the lower clergy live in poverty, and have all the labour to perform. This evil the magistrate has seen remedy, after remedy he has devised, but all nearly in vain. The higher

« 上一页继续 »