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We see then that there is no foundation for the doctrine of purgatory either in reason or the word of God. It is a doctrine which has been made alike ridiculous and revolting in the annals of spiritual despotism. Yet it sometimes appears in the garb of eloquence and poetry, and appeals to our finer sensibilities for that credence which is denied to it by reason. We shall close our discussion of the subject by exhibiting this feature of it from the pen of Dr. Wiseman. Speaking of prayers for the dead, he says, “As a practical doctrine in the Catholic church it has an influence highly consoling to humanity, and eminently worthy of a religion that came down from heaven to second all the purest feelings of the heart. Nature herself seems to revolt at the idea that the chain of attachment which binds us together in life, can be rudely snapped in sunder by the hand of death, conquered and deprived of its sting since the victory of the cross. But it is not to the spoil of mortality, cold and disfigured, that she clings with affection. It is but an earthly and almost unchristian grief, which sobs when the grave closes over the bier of a departed loved one ; but the soul flies upward to a more spiritual af. fection, and refuses to surrender
the hold which it had upon the love
and interest of the spirit that hath fled. Cold and dark as the sepulchral vault, is the belief that sympathy is at an end, when the body is shrouded in decay; and that no further interchange of friendly offices may take place between those who have laid them down to sleep in peace, and us, who for a while strew fading flowers upon their tomb. But sweet is the consolation to the dying man, who conscious of imperfection, believes that even after his own time of merit is expired, there are others to make intercession on his behalf; soothing to the afflicted survivors the thought,
that, instead of unavailing tears, they possess more powerful means of actively relieving their friend, and testifying their affectionate regret, by prayer and supplication. In the first moments of grief, this sentiment will often overpower religious prejudice, cast down the unbeliever on his knees beside the remains of his friend, and snatch from him an unconscious prayer for rest; it is an impulse of nature, which for a moment, aided by the analogies of revealed truth, seizes at once upon this consoling belief. But it is only like the flitting and melancholy light which sometimes plays as a meteor over the corpses of the dead; while the Catholic feeling, cheering, though with solemn dimness, resembles the unfailing lamp which the piety of the ancients is said to have hung before the sepulchres of their dead. It prolongs the tenderest af. sections beyond the gloom of the grave, and it infuses the inspiring hope, that the assistance which we on earth can afford to our suffering brethren, will be amply repaid when they have reached their place of rest, and make of them friends, who, when we in our turns fail, shall receive us into everlasting mansions.” This is as fanciful as it is beautiful. Yet after all how meagre is the consolation which it offers in comparison with that of the simple Gospel. How truly “sweet the consolation to the dying man,” who has committed his soul to Christ, that when released from the body, he will be at once and forever free from suffering, and that his spirit washed, sanctified and justified through the blood of atonement, will be presented spotless before God, and wear the perfect likeness of him who created it ! And how much more “soothing to afflicted survivors” is the thought, that their departed friend is reposing in Abraham's bosom, than that he is tormented in the flames of purgatory, more than ever in need of their prayers and tears Let us have the hopes and consolations of the simple Gospel when we lie upon the bed of death, or bid farewell to those we love.
We have now finished our survey of the Roman Catholic faith. Imperfect as is the outline we have presented, we feel persuaded that those who have gone with us patiently over the whole ground, must concur with us in the opinion, that Romanism is a formidable system of error. One of its most striking features is its unity. It is consistent with itself throughout. All its doctrines tally with each other. All tend to the great idea of the oNE church on earth, organized, visible, compact, supreme ;-the arbiter of human faith and destiny. It is an imposing system. It impresses the senses and the imagination, and through these captivates the soul. Though to a reflecting mind there is a grandeur in the simple truth unrivalled by any outward show, to the mass of men, a pompous ritual, a gorgeous ceremony, the altar, the candles, the perfume, the pictures, the ornaments of a religion of sense, are irresistibly attractive. The idea of merit too, is always welcome to the depraved heart of man; and a religon which gives prominence to that idea, which offers salvation for such and such external services, must always be popular.
We are apt to think that this system can affect only weak, ignorant, and credulous minds. But it has captivated some of the most cultivated minds of our own enlightened age. The love of the marvelous, the lust of power, the disposition to rely upon authority in matters of salvation, or to confide in a name, or privilege, or rite, these are but a few of those promptings of our nature which find their element in this system. That it has strength, that it can rule vast masses of mankind with a power which no sultan
or autocrat ever knew, long ages of spiritual despotism have determined. We may see much in the system which is ridiculous or revolting; yet after all, it is a strong system. Error is interwoven so artfully with truth, that it seems often only to adorn and illustrate it. Theory is made so captivating as to divert the mind from what is gross in practice; or the practice is so well relished by the depraved heart as to ensure the adoption of the theory. Such a system can not be demolished by a sneer. We may stigmatize it as the “beast” of the Apocalypse, but it is more formidable than any thing geology has yet exhumed. We may identify it with the “image” of some prophetic vision, but it is the most colossal image that ever reared its head to man in sleeping or in waking hours. Though decked with fantastic trappings, or disfigured by hideous sculpture, it excites the wonder of nations, and receives the tribute of their argosies. Its torch has been extinguished, and its arrow broken, but no commotion of the elements has yet thrown it down. This is the system against which the friends of pure religion are called to contend. A great struggle has begun between the Gospel and the self-styled “church;” between the doctrine of salvation by Christ, and that of salvation by the fathers and the sacraments. In our country these things are brought into the arena of public discussion. We rejoice at it. Let us prepare to discuss them thoroughly and finally. One of the ablest Roman Catholic divines in the United States, has recently delivered a course of popular lectures on the tenets of his church, in the city of New York. Is there no Protestant clergyman in that vast metropolis, who will give those tenets a candid and thorough examination before the public Is there no Luther to measure swords with Eck upon the theses of the Reformation ? We must contend
The religious systems of heathenism are worthy of being studied, not only in a scientific view, but also in order that the contact of Christianity with them, which is now taking place more and more in all parts of the world, may result in its thorough triumph. The adaptation of Christian truth to the heathen mind, requires something more than a knowledge of the names and attributes of the deities of the popular mythology. It is not in the mythic embodying of religious ideas that the strength and infatuation of heathenism lies; this is but the outward expression. The essential, even in the rudest forms of religion, is some deep seated principle, more or less fully developed in the mind, according to the varieties of civilization. Faith in a mythology may be entirely cast away, while the mind entrenches itself the more securely in its secret and perhaps unconscious philosophy. We learn also from ecclesiastical history, that when Christianity was first promulgated, it became tainted in the very process of its propagation, with the habit of thought belonging to those who speculated on religious subjects, unaided by revelation. The reason of this is to be found partly in the want of a discriminating familiarity with the religious speculations of the heathen, their sources and their mutual bearings. Appearances de
ceived; affinity of doctrine was seized upon as an argument in favor of Christianity, and in many cases, the truth itself became corrupted by this sort of treaty with error. Another reason is the perverse ingenuity of the mind in inventing doctrines respecting the nature of the soul, and the being of God, which accord with a depraved moral state. " It was not so easy for Christians to grapple with these doctrines, without injury to personal faith, and the intermingling of foreign elements with Christianity. How shall similar results be avoided in the renewed invasion of the realms of pagan superstition and philosophy, in this age, unless a more thorough acquaintance with the antagonist forces of heathenism is obtained by those who bear the Christian standard on heathen ground 2 With a view to excite some interest in the acquisition of this important knowledge, we offer the following sketch of the Buddhistic system. No heathen system of religion, perhaps, is more deserving of attention than this. “There is some reason to believe that the oriental subtleties of the later Greek philosophy came from this source; and if so, Christian dogmatics have been already seriously affected by the speculations of the Buddhists; Buddhism has also contributed, more than any other religious system, to create the civiliza
tion of a large part of Eastern Asia, comprehending the islands of the Indian and Chinese Seas; and it is that which still holds captive the minds of fully half of all the heathen, the inhabitants of China, Farther India, Ceylon, and as is probable of Upper Asia, being mostly Buddhists. In speaking of Buddhism, we shall not have to make any reference to a mythology, for it owns no mythology in particular, but takes to itself whatever mythological notions may happen to have been handed down any where, from former time, only putting them upon a new ground; and to this, in part, is undoubtedly to be ascribed its extensive prevalence. What we shall attempt is, to give an insight into the speculative peculiarities of Buddhism, though here the want of sufficient materials restricts us to a narrow compass, and afterwards, in connection with an outline of its history, to exhibit the ecclesiastical organization connected with it, which is an interesting and important feature of the system. The doctrine of the Buddhists concerning God is a radical deism. The Brahman looks upon every object of creation as an emanation of the substance of the Supreme Divinity; a divine essence pervades all things; the vedas are divine in this respect, that they had their origin in the substance of Brahma, upon which is grounded the Brahmanic idea of revelation. Subordinate beings are indeed supposed, through whom “that which the mind alone can apprehend, which is incognizable by the senses, which is without visible parts, eternal, the soul of all creatures, incomprehensible,” gave form and arrangement to existing things; yet to this incomprehensible Divinity is ascribed a free purpose, as the primary cause of creation, and a continued activity by which all things in the physical, intellectual and moral world are kept in their appointed courses. The Deity of the Bud
dhists, on the other hand, is a perfect abstraction of Being. Not only is it not conceived as having had any part in the creation of the world, but it is even devoid of all attributes. Deism may result either from a negation of hereditary faith, through the overmastering of sentiment by the logical faculty, or from the displacing of ancient reverence by disgust, without any intervention of reason. It is too dreary a doctrine to be embraced by a mind not under some constraint. That notion of the Supreme Being which the Buddhists have, apparently owes its origin to a revulsion from the practical pantheism of the Brahmanic religion. The traditions respecting Buddha's conversion lead us to believe, that the moral impotence of the pantheism of the Brahmans had much to do with the formation of the new doctrine. A young Hindu prince, who had lived a life of pleasure, becomes suddenly alarmed by the sense of a moral void within, and this awakening of the conscience may be no unusual occurrence among the heathen –he resorts, as is natural, to those austerities which the established religion of his country makes the means of moral renovation; he finds, however, from observation of the manner of life of the hermits of the woods, devoted to penance, that these austerities are a mere formality ; but he is in earnest, and can not be satisfied with what is merely external. In this state of mind he would be quick to recognize a reason for the inefficacy of those austerities; while the truth, that God is a distinct being, would command the assent of his awakened conscience. But this truth impressed upon his mind, and contrasting itself with the teaching of the Brahmans, that every thing is Deity, would serve to explain that immorality which had scandalized him, and would become to him the foundation of a new system. This new conception of the Deity, however, being thus attained, might develop itself freely, unbiased by bearings upon old established doctrine, or it might shape itself somewhat correspondently to that, though essentially different from it. The latter we should presume would occur, rather than the former. Accordingly, the negation of pantheism did not retain that moral quality, which had well nigh brought the Hindu mind to the apprehension of the truth in respect to the Divine nature, but it was brought down to the sphere of mere speculation. The idea of a Deity sui generis, became matured in the form of a denial of those attributes by which, according to the received theology, the Divinity was communicable; in other words, Buddha made God to be mere abstract Being, or in Buddhistic language, self-immanent SubStance. w Some have thought that the Buddhists are atheists, and certainly their speculation tends to atheism; yet much of the language which seems to imply that they are really without the belief in a Deity, may have been borrowed from the Brahmans, who call the unmanifested Supreme Being asat, i. e. ineacistent. The view of the Deity which we have endeavored to explain, connects itself, naturally, with fatalism; for a being having no attributes could not be supposed to have made the world. The Buddhists assume Nature as the ultimate principle of all things, which they conceive to have been originally in a state of absolute quiescence,—its only perfect condition. Happening to get into motion, it lost this perfection, and has since developed the various forms of spiritual and material existence. The world exists therefore by an accidental imperfection in Nature; so that it is throughout imperfect by the very fact of existence. This is the theory most generally received among the Bud
dhists. Yet it is interesting to ob. serve, that they seem, to some extent, to have restored attributes to the idea of God. The theory just stated gives no account of the marks of design in creation; that things exist as they are, could not be accounted for by a divine purpose, consistently with the notion, that Deity is the abstraction of Being; and perhaps this notion may have commended itself as serving to remove the difficulty of evil in the world, which has ever embarrassed the mind in connection with the idea of a personal God. The experience of man, however, is not limited to evil. There is a rich profusion of good in the world, the reference of which to a designing First Cause, is far more grateful to the sensibilitigs than to be shut up to a blind fatality; and this readiness of the mind to believe, that the good comes through some sort of adaptation of means, may have given rise to the doctrine, held by a sect of the Buddhists called Aisvarikas, i. e. to whom there is a lord, that the ultimate principle of existence is Intelligence, which, under the name of Adhibuddha, is also the Supreme Divinity of this sect; the subtle notion of the self-immanent Substance having been dissipated, together with its associated fatalism. Another sect is distinguished by a more concrete mode of conceiving of an intelligent first principle. These are the Karmikas, i. e. who recognize active property, who hold, that the first principle is a conscious moral and intellectual agent, whose activity does not merely consist in the original spontaneous expansion of his being, but who has planned all things, and made them to be as they are, agreeably to his own will ; while the doctrine of the Aisvarikas, notwithstanding its departure from fatalism, appears to be a system of emanation. But these are speculations which diverge from the range of doctrine properly Buddhistic.