VAUGHAN'S CORRUPTION OF CHRISTIANITY.
THIS volume is a goodly product of the Voluntary principle. A " religious connexion "of Nonconformists, we presume, but of what sect we know not, have established a library in the vicinity of Finsbury. Besides the direct advantages to bederived from books, the object of the founders was to create a point of union for believers of their own denomination, and to promote "Ecclesiasti- cal, Theological, and Biblical Literature." As one of the means of accomplishing this last point, an annual course of lectures is de- livered to the members. The first series (which we have never seen) was undertaken by Dr. RALPH WARDLAW, and embraced the subject of "Christian Ethics ;" the second course of Congrega- tional Lectures has given rise to Mr. VAUGHAN'S Causes of the
Corruption of Christianity. To the mind at once religious and intelligent, the history of the
Church from the close of the Apostolic ministrations down even to our own age, creates doubt and sadness rather than triumphant confidence, if it be scanned by reason alone. No sooner was the authority of immediate inspiration withdrawn, than the smo- thered feuds and factions of the Church burst forth, exciting a temper the very reverse of "peace on earth and good-will to men," and in the course of time producing heresies, whose audacious doctrines are a source of wonder to those who calmly examine them even after the lapse of nearly two thousand years. In a single case and in a remote province, an illustrious witness has borne testimony to the moral character of the Christians, and they hare not been backward in praising themselves ; but the calm examiner will be led to conclude, from the popular prejudices upon the subject, as well as from the assertions of classical writers, that many "false brethren" intruded into the churches, and by their laxities brought a scandal on Christianity. The theology of the early Fathers, as Mr.VA tIGHAN candidly admits, was not of a kind to improve practice by teaching a pure faith. Instead of deliver- ing the Word as it was written, they disfigured it by fanciful in- terpretations, or corrupted its doctrines by notions drawn from the superstitions of their time, or by that "vain wisdom and false philosophy" which many of them had studied in their youth. When the Church was no longer a church militant, twral and per- sonal corruption was superadded to doctrinal. The leading mem- bers of the priesthood hungered after a kingdom of this world, and spared neither art nor craft nor delusion to obtain it. The body of the ministers were infected with the lust of getting, as with a plague. They gaped after possessions ; they turned farmers; they lay in wait for gold; they bought, they sold, and they strove after lucre by all means.* Even those who appeared better, were in reality worse: they might not be men of large possessions, nor dealers and chapmen, but as sinecurists they fleeced their flocks. The controversies that had hitherto been carried on by writings only, from a dread of the secular arm, were now conducted in authorized assemblies. The quarrels of the churchmen divided the people, and distracted the empire; they were often ma- naged by controversial deceit ; they generally terminated in per- secution, sometimes in blood. It were a long and a sickening, even were it a possible task, to trace the subsequent corruptions of the Christian world, during the space of a thousand years. The schism into the Eastern and the Western Churches—the venal, tyrannical, and persecuting spirit of Rome —the similar quail- ties, with childishness supemdtled, that characterized the Greek Church—and the religious darkness and moral degradation which ensued, till Mahometanism looked bright by the side of this pseudo Christianity—are pretty well known to the religious reader. The Reformation, within a certain limited range, removed the grosser of these evils, and reacted upon some individuals of the more instructed classes, in a few of the Catholic countries. But down even to the present time, it is to be feared that pure religion —a Scriptural faith, a Christian charity, peace, love, and morality— Las been, nationally, rare. The spirit of persecution lurked under the "lawn sleeves" of the bishop, or the skull-cap of the more straight-laced teacher, as well as under the tiara of the scarlet lady. Each sect, in the violence of controversy, was more bent upon con- verting its enemies than instructing its followers : fierce bigotry, fanatic zeal, or supine and well-paid indifference, during the seven- • "Tanta hoc tempore animos coma habendi cupid°, Teton tabes, incessit. mutant possessiouibus, prtedia exeulunt, auro incubant, emunt, venduntque, questui per omuia student. At si qui mehoris propositi videutur, ueque possideutes, neque negociautes, quod eat multo lurpius, sideutes namera expectant, algae muse vitae decus merccde eorriptum habent,dum qausi venatem prreferunt sauctitatem."—Stszerews Swizzes, list. Sac. lib. L cap. 43.
teenth and eighteenth centuries, rather prepared the way for vital Christianity than established it. The superficial observer, looking at these things—comparing the means with the end—the stupen- dous revelation and its object, with the conduct of those who had embraced it—would at first be tempted to a conclusion perplexing his reason and tasking his faith. To " vindicate the ways of God to man "—to show not only the causes which corrupted Christ:- anity. but to prove that its corruption might have been predicted
from a knowledge of the circumstances, and could not reasonably have been avoided without a standing miracle—is the object of Mr. VAUGHAN. He has brought to his undertaking the know ledge of the historian, the learning of the divine, and the spirit of the philosopher.
The leading view taken by the lecturer may be briefly stated. He traces the corruptions of Christianity to the sinfulness of human nature, and to the social circumstsnees which modified it during the first centuries of the Christian xra, rendering a fallen race still more prone to fall. Looking first at the general charac- ter of man, he concludes that his indolence, and its consequences- -credulity, prejudice, and presumption—would have a tendency to corrupt, that is, to deteriorate by the mixture of other matters, any study which did not by its practical nature incite to continual inquiry and require dispassionate examination. In his next divi- sion, he maintains that revelation has no power completely to alter peculiarities of the individual character, or totally to overcome the effects of our passions or our diseases. The complexion of inspi- ration itself is coloured by the mind of the inspired instrument, —producing, as it may be, "sons of consolation" or " sons of thunder :" an exuberant imagination, an undue sensibility, or their opposites, the appetites and passions in their various forms, and the infliction of sickness, would all—especially in such a state of society as existed when Christianity was first preached—have their effect in inducing changes contrary to the pure spirit of the Gospel,
and in substituting the forms for the spirit of religion. But the great cause of the corruption is to be found in the peculiar circum- stances of the world. The degenerate state of the Jews, leading not only to a misapprehension of the real character of the Messiah,. but to a gross corruption of Judaism, had a consideraffie effect; especially when we consider that the earliest converts were all Jews, and that they carried the misconceptions of their debased creed and the notions of its numerous sects into their new pro- fession. The influence of the Gentile philosophy was more ex- tensive and more mischievous : popular prejudices might disturb the stream—the speculations which the teachers borrowed from the Oriental, Grecian, or Roman "schools," corrupted the source. And to this cause Mn. VAUGHAN is inclined to attribute the doc- trinal errors and absurdities of the early Fathers. The last, and perhaps the most enduring cause of all, was the influence et' an- cient Paganism. Its superstitions affected the minds of both the preacher and his flock ; the latter blindly relying on the "wisdom. of their ancestors," the former confounding the Pagan deities with the " daemons " of Sr.cred Writ, and encouraging instead of checking the vagaries of religious weakness. The pumps and ceremonies of the old religion, induced a form as gratify lag to the eyes and habits of the people, as it was contrary to reason and Scripture. The connexion of the Pagan priesthood with the government, and the long train of subordinate priests, offered an example too tempting to priestly ambition to resist, and gave rise to the numerous grades of the Catholic hierachy, and to the union of " Church and State;" whilst the Polytheism of the old my- thology, coupled with the yielding expediency of the clergy, laid the foundation of saints and image worship, the reverence for relics, and all the other abominations of the Church of Rome.
Such are the leading topics Mr. VAUGHAN handles. To describe the mode in which he expands and enriches them, the learning lie brings to bear upon each subject, the philosoplacal spirit with which he illustrates it, the logical power by which lie collects the scat- tered facts and reasons to support his main argument, and the his- torical light he throws upon the early state and doctrines of the Church, upon the principles of profane philosophy and of Pagan and Jewish superstitions, is impossible : to appreciate these, the book must be read from beginning to end. Of' his manner, how- ever, an extract will give a specimen. In making selections there will be no difficulty : we take the following, not for its literary merit, but for its present application. Change Diana of the Epliesians into the Protestant Establishment, and it might have been written on an Orange meeting. It will be guessed it is from the section where he treats of the tendencies in human nature to corrupt religion. The text word is FORMALITY.
But before we make any observation on this fact, we must notice a source of error more nearly connected with the habit of the class of minds now adverted to, and which we may describe by the word FORMALITY. The people of every age and country have shown a readiness to view religion as consisting rather in certain outward usages, than in the state of the mind— in its habit of reflection and feeling. This inclination may be said to have de- veloped itself in two ways ; first, by substituting a show of zeal in behalf of religious institutions in the place of all real concern about the object of worship; and secondly, by allowing the observance of certain religious forms not only to take the precedence of moral obedience, but to operate as an imaginary atone- ment for moral delinquencies. No modern zealot has more loudly proclaimed his vows of attachment to the religion, or, in the oratorical phrase, to the altars of his country, than was the custom both of the populace and the powerful in the nations of antiquity. The men of Ephesus who cried for the space of two hours, Great is Diana of the Ephesians ! did no more than the men of any other city would have done in the same circumstances. To erect temples, to support a priesthood, and to furnish the means of sacrifices and pageantry, were all regarded as acts of piety. But the aids necessary to perpetuate these sacred usages being once supplied, tilers
was presumed to be a sanctity in the priestly character, and a gratefulness to the objects of worship in priestly services, which went fir toward discharging the worshipper himself horn all further obligation. Hence, if any questioniug arose about the established religion, nothing was more common than an appeal to the number and costliness of religious edifices and religious processions, and to the honours attached to the consecrated persons on whom it devolved to see that all proper homage to the superior powers was duly rendered. At the same time, nothing was further from being common than an appeal to the character of the people professing this religion, as affording any real evidence in its favour. Remote ancestuns, indeed, were sometimes described as having been a very pious people; but any reference of this kind made to contemporaries was felt to be worse than useless. In short, the religion of each individual was felt to be identified with the religion of his country, and the religion of his country was a sort of visible machine, which, once put into motion, was presumed to achieve whatever was most important to be done,—a kind of national oblation, con- tinually offering, and continually operating as an expiation for the sins of the people.
Nor is it doubtful that this transfer of the whole conduct of religion to its ministers—just as we concede the skill of medicine or of law to their respective practitioners—was quite as much the work of the people as of the ptiest. It was their will to have it so, or so it would not have been. Priests may have availed themselves of the inclination, but they did not create it, and without it they would have laboured in vain. Men were not so fallen as to have lost all sense of religious duty : but, from various causes, it was deemed well that the duty to be performed should consist mainly in outward services, and that these services should be undetstood to be hest rendered by a class of persons piously consecrated, and as piously maintained for the purpose. Bence, each males re- ligion consisted, almost exclusively, in his being a friend to the religion of his country ; and the religion of his country, excepting in the instance of the games and pageants to which the people were admitted, was a matter confided to the priests.
The religion of such persons is obviously a religion by proxy; and, absurd as any such notion of religion may be, it is nevertheless true, that as long as it shall be a tendency hardly separable from human nature, to substitute a zeal for certain things connected with religion, in the place of religion itself, the reli- gion of the majority will probably consist of little more than a poor subterfuge of this sort. The things which the Apostle counted nothing, that lie might win Christ. were precisely the things which his formalist countrymen judged to be every thing. 'leis tendency, manifested so long and so widely in the earth, could not fail to uoperate to the corruption of Christianity. That it has so operated, is but too notorious. What ancient heathenism was in these respects, that established Christianity very soon became. And not only through the ages of darkness long since passed away, but to the present hour, the multitude of nominal Christians will be found to have been more or less ensnared by this treachelOUS propensity of our fallen nature. As the heathen man generally satisfied himself with supporting the religious institutions of his country, and in exacting a pro- fessional self denial from its priesthood, so it has happened that many of the most vicious beings, assuming the Christian name, have been distinguished by an appearance of zeal on the side of the established forms of Clnistianity, and even iu favour of ascetic pretensions on the part of its votaries. Such meu all pear to have concluded, that the encouragement of an apparent sanctity, and even of ultra-religious pretension in others, would be admitted as a kind of pro- pitiation for their own flagrant deficiencies and misdeeds. To be numbered with the Mee& of monastic fraternities and of churchmen, has been much less diffi- cult thau to become a Christian in the sense of a pure Christianity ; but it dots not seem to have been at all difficult for men to persuade themselves that the one thing was much the same with the other.
Of the merits of this work we have already spoken. Its chief defect is perhaps inseparable from its nature. The writer is some- what too abstract ; and we consequently miss the interest which arises from a display of the habits and manners of the time. It may be said, that the duty of the lecturer was only to present a generalization of the mind of the age: this is perhaps true, but we think he possessed the Per of calling up its person, and we cannot help wishing he had exercised that power—we are sure it would have imparted more of living interest to his book.