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"And sure much harmful influence is wrought
As to the practical religion of the poems of this volume, there is much in it that pleases us, and much that offends. It is evidently Arminian in its theology, and gives great honor to good works. Prayer and almsgiving are constantly numbered among the helps to Heaven, although of course the faithful use of the sacraments is deemed the main essential. Several beautiful passages on prayer might be quoted, but a brief one must suffice. It is from the "Preparations of Prayer: "
"Prayer, key of wisdom, sorrow's antidote,
Air breathed on earth by children of the skies,-
An atmosphere of Heaven the soul to lave;
O magic breath to still the stormy wave
A Protestant taste is troubled by the ecclesiastical pomp that the illustrations connect with every spiritual grace, as if there could be no goodness or truth out of church or away from mitre and cassock. A page of the simple and blessed gospel of Christ is as refreshing after looking over the book, as a walk in green fields under bright stars after a pompous pageant. Yet there is no want of humility in the writer. He shows no personal arrogance; for he appears to speak as a man looking to an authority above him, and whose sanctity he must assert. Self-denial is a frequent theme, and there is some treason in the commendation of the ascetic life. In the picture before the "Choice of Life," three ways to Heaven are marked out, one of which is very crooked, the other less so, and the last quite. straight; and these correspond respectively to the secular, the ecclesiastical, and the retired life. Sentiments like these would hardly pass the ordeal of Drs. Anthon and Smith; Monasticism speaks almost thus : :
"Thrice happy they, who earthly stores have sold,
It seems a great mistake that the author of "The Baptistery" did not live in the twelfth instead of the nineteenth century. Yet after all, he is a man of our age, and his love of the past is rather that of the poet, who sees other ages in the enchantment of distance, than of the staunch ecclesiastic, who is born to hurl the anathema or wear the cowl. There is a great deal of dilettantism about the whole Oxford school- much of the same spirit that leads the fashionable Parisienne to add an Oratory to her parlor, that her guests may look from the gay throng upon hallowed crucifix and illuminated missal. Yet there is something more than this among the best of them, much true piety and Christian wisdom.
We have been more than once reminded of our New England Transcendentalism by these volumes of poems. It is transcendentalism carried beyond nature and connected with glorious buildings and ancient rites, instead of blue skies and holy instincts. Strange as it may seem, there is much in these volumes to remind us of our friends of the Dial.
Thus it appears that the Oxford Movement is by no means onesided; that sweet poets hold up its ideal beauty, whilst historians, moralists and preachers, like Palmer, Sewell, Newman, and Pusey, undertake to show its foundation in the word of God, the traditions of antiquity, and the nature of things. To us the poet is the most satisfactory expositor, and we thank Mr. Williams, as we would thank one who should be our guide through some stately Minster or picturesque ruin, although we should by no means pray to pass our lives in such romantic haunts. We prefer broad daylight and this working-day world. So does our age.
THE EARLY LITERARY HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY.
G. E. Ellir
THE WRITINGS OF CHRISTIANS
CONTEMPORARY WITH AND
IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE APOSTLES.
HAVING pursued our general subject of Early Christian Literature under the two divisions of the Indistinct and Superficial Notices of Christianity, which we might expect from its chance observers and the Authorship, Use, and Preservation of the New-Testament, we have come to the third division of our subject, which embraces the writings ascribed to "Apostolical Fathers."
Some interest attaches to the History of Christian Literature between the age of the Apostles and that of those early writers who are called the Fathers of the Church. Papias, who heads the list of Fathers, flourished about A. D. 116. By the natural course of things there was one generation between him and the Apostles, and we naturally inquire if there be any connecting link, in Christian documents, between the Scriptures of the New Testament and the commentaries, apologies, and homilies of those distinguished men, who, either from their prominence before their conversion or their high offices in the church, deserve the distinction of being called the Fathers. No important consequences could be attached to the absence of any such documents. For, while the Christian Scriptures were ready for use could write more valuable records there was no reason why any should be written. Where documents would be valued at all, those by the Apostles would be preferred; and even these would be estimated by some rules of preference, each community valuing most those which had been addressed to itself. The communication of religious instruction would most naturally be by word of mouth, by the voice of the missionary preacher. Some time would pass in the trial of this method, till habits of retired study, the necessities of individual converts, the rise of heresies, and questions of interpretation and doctrine, would gradually lead to the production
as no one
of that various Christian literature, which, if as produced in the early ages it were now preserved, would overwhelm us in the mass. If, therefore, a generation had passed between the last of the Apostles and the first of the Fathers, without leaving any written record, there would be nothing strange in the omission. To account for and fill up the vacant space would be perfectly within the capacity of ordinary good sense. We should leap from one age to another, from Inspired Scripture to fallible history, from the record of sound doctrine to the mingled wisdom and folly of human mind. But we are not left to account for such an omission. The chasm between the Apostles and the Fathers is in some degree filled by documents of different kinds which have been preserved to our times.
Before entering upon their examination, it may be well to reflect for a moment upon what kind of literary relics we should naturally expect to find under the circumstances. The period lay between the Apostles and the Fathers, midway. There was of course room for intended deception, for ignorant enthusiasm, and for the taking advantage of credulity, as well as for the lawful exercise of Christian zeal and devotion. We might say at once, and before knowing anything concerning the matter, that if there were real, honest writings from uninspired men, the contemporaries and immediate successors of the Apostles, there would likewise be other writings in that or in subsequent times falsely laying claim to that character. Besides it is possible and natural, that a character and an author better than a work deserved, might have been attributed to it by mistake as well as by intentional fraud. Thus common sense would authorize us to look for three classes of writings in this age. First, fabricated documents with a fictitious character; second, documents ignorantly or by mistake attributed to the friends or disciples of Christianity; third, genuine and well attested writings, whose authorship admitted of being proved to be of this high antiquity and value. The transition from Apostolic to Ecclesiastical literature would be gradual; the line would be blurred; distinctions would be confounded; fact and fable would mingle together. A bold deceiver might prepare a document to suit his belief or heresies, and give it forth to the world as written by a companion of an Apostle. Some traditionary saying of an early convert or preacher, after passing from mouth to
mouth, might be committed to writing, and be honored by its transcriber with the name of one whose advice or instruction it copied. Here would be error without fraud. It is altogether probable that in the early age there was a large mass of this literature. Specimens of each of these three classes have come down to us; much more we know only by name. The haze of antiquity, which makes our backward view so indistinct, does not in the least impair the authority of Christianity, for that lives in its own attested records. We may well imagine that the minds of Christian converts, excited as they were, would not admit of being guided by the calm and considerate influences which we prefer. False miracles would then be alleged and credited through mere excitement. Here and there a more earnest preacher, confessor, or martyr would feel impelled to follow the example of Apostles in writing letters to one or another Christian community, and he would often perform his work with more zeal than wisdom. His own name might be that of an Apostle, and the ignorant might confound his work with theirs. The literature of the first century of uninspired Christian writers exhibits a devoted spirit, which, without talents to give it a fit expression, satisfied itself in writing with a mere repetition, with an alteration for the worse, of Scripture sentiment. The documents may afford us additional evidence, they can scarcely give us additional light. Their authors seem to be hardly conscious whether they existed as spirits or as men. The language and mode of thought which they used were new to them, the imagery which they employed was not familiar. A different standard of reasoning prevailed from that which we follow. Very many circumstances, which it is difficult to single out and present in their true light, contributed to influence the minds and hearts of those who, when the last of the Apostles had died, found themselves left with the care of the Christian faith. In the midst of their interest in it, there was an inability to survey it in its grand and comprehensive relations as we now do. They often trifled with that they could not comprehend, and thus enfeebled their own faith. The deceptions, which those who were called Christians allowed themselves to practice in those early times immediately following the age of the Apostles, are called by the name, invented for the purpose, of pious frauds." While we may deny altogether the propriety of this expression, we must nevertheless allow something VOL. XXXV. - 3D s. VOL. XVII. NO. I.