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position of that teacher who addresses an audience composed in various proportions of sceptical inquirers, obstinate opponents, and malignant scoffers. Less than an apostle is unequal to the suppression of all human reäctions incident to wounded sensibilities. Scorn is too naturally met by retorted scorn: malignity in the Pagan, which characterized all the known cases of signal opposition to Christianity, could not but hurry many good men into a vindictive pursuit of victory. Generally, where truth is communicated polemically (this is, not as it exists in its own inner simplicity, but as it exists in external relation to error), the temptation is excessive to use those arguments which will tell at the moment upon the crowd of bystanders, by preference to those which will approve themselves ultimately to enlightened disciples. Hence it is, that, like the professional rhetoricians of Athens, not seldom the Christian fathers, when urgently pressed by an antagonist equally mendacious and ignorant, could not resist the human instinct for employing arguments such as would baffle and confound the unprincipled opponent, rather than such as would satisfy the mature Christian. If a man denied himself all specious arguments, and all artifices of dialectic subtlety, he must renounce the hopes of a present triumph; for the light of absolute truth on moral or on spiritual themes is too dazzling to be sustained by the diseased optics of those habituated to darkness. And hence we explain not only the many gross delusions of the fathers, their sophisms, their errors of fact and chronology, their attempts to build great truths upon fantastic etymologies, or upon popular conceits in
science that have long since exploded, but also their occasional unchristian tempers. To contend with an unprincipled and malicious liar, such as Julian the Apostate, in its original sense the first deliberate miscreant, offered a dreadful snare to any man's charity. And he must be a furious bigot who will justify the rancorous lampoons of Gregory Nazianzen. Are we, then, angry on behalf of Julian? So far as he was interested, not for a moment would we have suspended the descending scourge. Cut him to the bone, we should have exclaimed at the time! Lay the knout into every "raw" that can be found! For we are of opinion that Julian's duplicity is not yet adequately understood. But what was right as regarded the claims of the criminal, was not right as regarded the duties of his opponent. Even in this mischievous renegade, trampling with his orangoutang hoofs the holiest of truths, a Christian bishop ought still to have respected his sovereign, through the brief period that he was such, and to have commiserated his benighted brother, however wilfully astray, and however hatefully seeking to quench that light for other men, which, for his own misgiving heart, we could undertake to show that he never did succeed in quenching. We do not wish to enlarge upon a theme both copious and easy. But here, and everywhere, speaking of the fathers as a body, we charge them with anti-christian practices of a two-fold order: sometimes as supporting their great cause in a spirit alien to its own, retorting in a temper not less uncharitable than that of their opponents; sometimes, again, as adopting arguments that are unchristian in their ultimate grounds; resting upon
errors the reputation of errors; upon superstitions the overthrow of superstitions; and drawing upon the armories of darkness for weapons that, to be durable, ought to have been of celestial temper. Alternately, in short, the fathers trespass against those affections which furnish to Christianity its moving powers, and against those truths which furnish to Christianity its guiding lights. Indeed, Milton's memorable attempt to characterize the fathers as a body, contemptuous as it is, can hardly be challenged as overcharged.
Never in any instance were these aberrations of the fathers more vividly exemplified than in their theories upon the Pagan Oracles. On behalf of God, they were determined to be wiser than God; and, in demonstration of scriptural power, to advance doctrines which the Scriptures had nowhere warranted. At this point, however, we shall take a short course; and, to use a vulgar phrase, shall endeavor to "kill two birds with one stone." It happens that the earliest book in our modern European literature, which has subsequently obtained a station of authority on the subject of the ancient Oracles, applied itself entirely to the erroneous theory of the fathers. This is the celebrated Antonii Van Dale, "De Ethnicorum Oraculis Dissertationes," which was published at Amsterdam at least as early as the year 1682; that is, one hundred and sixty years ago. And upon the same subject there has been no subsequent book which maintains an equal rank. Van Dale might have treated his theme simply with a view to the investigation of the truth, as some recent inquirers have preferred doing; and, in that case, the fathers 21
would have been noticed only as incidental occasions might bring forward their opinions-true or false. But to this author the errors of the fathers seemed capital; worthy, in fact, of forming his principal object; and, knowing their great authority in the Papal church, he anticipated, in the plan of attaching his own views to the false views of the fathers, an opening to a double patronage-that of the Protestants, in the first place, as interested in all doctrines seeming to be anti-papal; that of the sceptics, in the second place, as interested in the exposure of whatever had once commanded, but subsequently lost, the superstitious reverence of mankind. On this policy, he determined to treat the subject polemically. Hé fastened, therefore, upon the fathers with a deadly acharnement, that evidently meant to leave no arrears of work for any succeeding assailant; and it must be acknowledged that, simply in relation to this purpose of hostility, his work is triumphant. So much was not difficult to accomplish; for barely to enunciate the leading doctrine of the fathers is, in the ear of any chronologist, to overthrow it. But, though successful enough in its functions of destruction, on the other hand, as an affirmative or constructive work, the long treatise of Van Dale is most unsatisfactory. It leaves us with a hollow sound ringing in the ear, of malicious laughter from gnomes and imps grinning over the weaknesses of man - his paralytic facility in believing his fraudulent villany in abusing this facility—but in no point accounting for those real effects of diffusive social benefits from the Oracle machinery, which must arrest the attention of candid students, amidst some opposite monu
ments of incorrigible credulity, or of elaborate imposture.
As a book, however, belonging to that small cycle (not numbering, perhaps, on all subjects, above three score), which may be said to have moulded and controlled the public opinion of Europe through the last five generations, already for itself the work of Van Dale merits a special attention. It is confessedly the classical book-the original fundus for the arguments and facts applicable to this question; and an accident has greatly strengthened its authority. Fontenelle, the most fashionable of European authors, at the opening of the eighteenth century, writing in a language at that time even more predominant than at present, did in effect employ all his advantages to propagate and popularize the views of Van Dale. Scepticism naturally courts the patronage of France; and in effect that same remark which a learned Belgian (Van Brouwer) has found frequent occasion to make upon single sections of Fontenelle's work, may be fairly extended into a representative account of the whole "L'on trouve les mêmes arguments chez Fontenelle, mais dégagés des longueurs du savant Van Dale, et exprimés avec plus d'élégance." This rifac cimento did not injure the original work in reputation it caused Van Dale to be less read, but to be more esteemed; since a man confessedly distinguished for his powers of composition had not thought it beneath his ambition to adopt and recompose Van Dale's theory. This important position of Van Dale with regard to the effectual creed of Europe
so that, whether he were read directly or were slighted for a more fashionable expounder, equally