« PreviousContinue »
with a good many repetitions. The latter in our condensed abstract of it we have endeavoured to avoid, but from its desultoriness it was impossible to escape without an effort which the book is hardly worth. At the same time it is not without value, as our quotations-selected, we must confess, with a favourable hand-sufficiently evince. Of the country Mr. L. professes to describe, we have reason to think his account is much more full and correct than that of any former writer; the phlegmatic evenness of his temper having preserved him alike from panegyric and invective, and his cautious good sense baving taught him to reject the fabulous stories which swelled the pages of his credulous predecessors. A better book might doubtless have been written. The rude wildness of the rocks and waters might have been sketched with a more animated pencil; the manners of the inhabitants pourtrayed with more discriinination; and we might also have i been let a little more into the secret of their political administration. But let us not be fastidious. If the work is upon the whole rather heavy and tedious, it has at least no appearance of having been hashed up from the crude memoranda of the portfolio to satisfy a momentary craving; and if the writer is not particularly nirthful himself, let us at least do him the justice to acknowledge, that he is not unfrequently the cause of mirth in others.
The translation is respectably executed, and the volume is accompanied with a good map. Art. XII. Paganism and Christianity compared, in a course of Lectures to the King's Scholars, at Westminster, in the Years 1806, 7, and 8.
| By John Ireland, D.D. Late of Oriel College, Oxford, Prebendary and Sub-dean of Westminster. 8vo. pp. xv. and 426. Price 10s. 6d.
Murray. 1809. THE preface of this elaborate performance, after stating its
occasion and design, sets forth the advantages of classical literature to the cause of Christian truth. We are fully prepared to concede, that an early initiation into the difficulties and elegances of that department of knowledge, is well adapted to the great purposes of intellectual education. Independently of the information which it conveys, on a variety of interesting and important topics, its indirect influence in strengthening and refining the mental powers, is its peculiar commendation. The mind that is inured to habits of patient inquiry, by attempting the comprehension of an ancient language, different in its construction and idiom from all vernacular usages, will acquire a hardihood of texture, an acuteness and penetration, far more valuable than that premature expansion and fungous growth of the faculties, which some
modern projectors have so highly commended. The actual amount of information, when the period of culture is closed, may be less than what is gained by the forcing scheme ; but the capacity for further attainment will be greater. The superstructure may be less elevated, but the foundation will be deeper and broader. Classical studies have also a beneficial influence on the powers of taste and imagination. It is impossible for an ingenuous mind to contemplate the models of elegance and grandeur, which are exhibited in the writings of ancient genius, and not feel the consonant emotions of delight and admiration. Sometimes, indeed, the forms of beauty are thrown around a subject unworthy of such a dignified association ; and we have to deplore the fascinating exhibition of vices, which ought to have appeared in undisguised
and repulsive deformity. Abating, however, this evil tena idency, which in a system of education should be counteracted
hy a judicious selection, we grant that classical studies are highly beneficial. But we are not, after all, prepared to say with the learned author of the Comparison' before us, that
mythology neither taints the purity of the gospel, nor endangers our salvation. We admit that intellectual improvement may be derived from the literature which is taught in our schools ;' but we cannot discern its natural tendency to promote our « faith,' and suggest new methods of defending Revelation. The superiority of Revelation has often been rightly in-ferred, from an exposure of the weakness of the religion of nature; and we are persuaded, that many speculations which had no such design, have ultimately tended to the display of that superiority. But to assert that an argument may be inferred from the defects of classical instruction in favour of Christianity, is very different from maintaining the harmlessness of the mythology, which records them. Thousands are acquainted with its disgusting exhibitions of vice and folly; and, familiarized to the splendida peccata of heroes and divinities, their imagination is 'tainted,' and its active power too often becomes the instigating principle of vice. But how few are there, either in youth or manhood, who improve their knowledge of mythology in strengthening their religious convictions. If classical studies be necessary for the purposes we have specified, they resemble in this respect the necessity of an acquaintance with the living world; in which excellences and vices are so blended, that it is impossible to derive advantage from the one, without an exposure to the contagion of the other. While, therefore, we allow, that 'to dwell awhile in classic ground' may lead a rightly constituted mind to compare the imaginations of men with diviue truth,' we cannot assert the absolute unqualified utility, much less the purely innocent tendency, of heathen mythology.
The lectures on · Paganism and Christianity compared, ' were delivered at Westminster school; and designed to illustrate the superiority of the latter system of religion from the recorded vices and defects of the former.
• The subject,' says Dr. I. • is chiefly historical, and divides itself into two parts. The event which serves as the foundation of the whole is the capture of Rome by Alaric, in the beginning of the fifth century. Out of this arises, in the first part, a defence of the character of the church, against the slanders of Paganism. The true causes of the decay of the Empire, are contrasted with the false; the impotence of the Heathen deities, to whom the prosperity of Rome had been attributed, is exposed in the arguments employed by the ancient apologists of the faith, and the beneficial tendency of the gospel is asserted in its connection with the condition of man in the present life. This part may therefore. be called a vindication of the civil character of Christianity in the Roman empire, during the first four centuries. The second part is employed in discussing the opinions of the Pagans concerning the worship of a Deity, and the pursuit of happiness, as it was prescribed by the Philosophical Sects. It may be termed a view of mythological and moral notions as they are opposed to the everlasting promises of the gospel; and it contains an examination of some of the more eminent systems of theology, and the summum bonum, which prevailed in the heathen world.". Pref. pp. vi. vii.
We have introduced this e.rpose of the design and arrange. ment of Dr. Ireland's lectures, in order to supersede the necessity of any further analysis. To follow thie author in the minute detail of uninteresting facts, and the unnecessary refutation of false opinions, is a task which we are not disposed to inflict, either upon ourselves or our readers. We object to the very idea of comparing Christianity with Paganism. The contrast, in all that is characteristic of each system, is so obvious and complete, that to institute a comparison between objects so dissimilar, is about as rational as to compare light and darkness, and descant on the superiority of the one above the other. This solecism probably might not exist; at the time when the Christian apologists appeared. Then it might be necessary to exhibit, in the way
of comparison, the greater claims of the new religion.; because inquirers must often have existed in a state of painful suspense, oscillating between ancient error and innovating truth; and such comparisons might produce an immediate and decisive preponderance, in the latter scale. But ages are elapsed, since we could first say without the possibility of a question on this subjectm'the darkness is past and the true light now shineth ;' for who would be now the advocate of Paganism*? When, therefore, a learned theologian enters upon a formal proof of the errors and deficiencies of Pagan mythology, it appears at least a needless attempt, in which the compensation is totally inadequate to the labour. For what is the result of all the citations and reasonings in the volume before us, as far as the design,announced in the title, is concerned ? Exactly this, that Christianity is better than Paganisın!
Having stated this objection to the ostensible design of the work, we confess that many of its historical relations, respecting opinions and systems, long since exploded and forgotten, are highly interesting and worthy of attentive perusal. The speculations of ancient philosophers concerning duty and happiness are accurately recorded, their fallacious principles of reasoning in many instances ably refuted, and the obscurity which beclouded their prospects of a future state well contrasted with the luminous discoveries of the Christian revelation. Occasionally are interspersed some very good delineations of character; and, on some subjects which have given rise to various conjectural inguiries, the author has evinced considerable acuteness of discernment and felicity of illustration. His acquaintance with the Fathers, and particularly with Augustine, has furnished him with numerous documents respecting the state of early opinions, and the topics of controversy with pbilosophic Pagans in the first ages of the church. The student of ecclesiastical history will find many interesting records in this work, traced to their legitimate authorities į exhibiting distinctly the sentiments of the primitive Christians and their advocates,-the convictions on which their attachment to the new religion was founded, --and their exulting comparisons of Paganism with Christianity.
It is the design of the first part of the lectures, to vindicate the Christians from the malignant accusations of their Pagan enemies. Hence the Dr.'s frequent reference to the venerable bishop of Hippo, whose early acquaintance with the popular and philosophic systems of mythology and morals, rendered him a more enlightened advocate of the faith which he once endeavoured to destroy.' Intimately conversant with the classic authors, of Greece and Rome,and almost enthusiastic in his attachment to the writings of Plato and Cicero, he,
* We may seem to have forgotten, in asking such a question, some recent attempts to discourage the propagation of Christianity in the East ; and tie numerous apologies which have been offered in favour of Modern Paganism. Perhaps the Doctor had in view the conversion of a tribe of Majors and Vindicators !
was well qualified to compare the sublime discoveries of Christianity with the purest specimens of Pagan ethics, and enforce its exclusive claims to the obedience of mankind.
• Augustin,' says Dr. I. is a writer of a high order. While he reverts to the former -history of Rome, and of the world. at large, he encounters the Pagans with an animated and interesting discussion of the radical meanness and viciousness of polytheism; the equal folly of the popular mythology, and the philosophic religion of the Romans. This he accomplishes with perfect success, in the first ten books (of his memorable treatise de Civitate Dei.) In the twelve which follow, he proceeds to raise his Christian superstructure on the ruins of Paganism. Beginning therefore, from the situation of man in paradise, he traces the progress of revelation through the succeeding ages, its continued existence, notwithstanding occasional restrictions of its extent, till the appearance of Christ in whom the world was to believe.
From the accomplishment of the purposes of God upon earth, he passes to the final judgment of mankind at the last day; describes che condemnation and punishment of the enemies of God, and ex. patiates on the everlasting happiness of the blessed ; when Christ shall have given up the kingdom of his mediatorship to the Father, and God shall be all in all.' pp. 76, 77.
There is the strongest reason to think that the light of na. ture, as it is termed, never extended its sphere of illumina. tion so widely as most of its advocates have assumed ; and that the indications of design and contrivance in the system of the universe, though sufficient to authorize a belief in the existence and government of the deity, never actually led to any satisfactory conclusions on these important subjects. The whole fabric of pagan theology was founded on the admission of wisdom and power superior to all exertions of human energy ; but the idea of proper creative power, the power of making as well as of arranging the elements of the material world, was unknown to the most enlightened pupils of nature. The well known principle, ex nihilo nihil
fit, had all the authority of an axiomatical truth ; and in every system of ancient cosmology it was admitted or im, plied. Matter, therefore, was thought by some to be eternal, and co-existent with the deity ; by others it was so identified with the deity, as to exclude the notion of any separately existing principle, and thus to reduce the arrangements of the universe into the physical unconscious energy of matter. Here, then, we recognize the purer philosophy of revelation concerning the origin of all things. Its discoveries, when accurately exhibited, maintain a perfect accordance with the dictates of reason; and, far beyond its sublimest penetration, they put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.' If the most acute researches of ancient genius never led to any just