« ElőzőTovább »
measures with himself; and no sooner entered into the consulship, than he sent him word, by their common friend, Balbus, that he would be governed in every step by him and Pompey, with whom he would endeavour to join Crassus too. But Cicero would not enter into any engagements, jointly with the three, whose union he abhorred; nor into private measures with Cæsar, whose intentions he always suspected. He thought Pompey the better citizen of the two; took his views to be less dangerous and his temper more tractable ; and imagined that a separate alliance with him would be sufficient to screen him from the malice of his enemies. Yet this put him under no small difficulty ; for, if he opposed the triumvirate, he could not expect to continue well with Pompey; or if he served it, with the senate ; in the first, he saw his ruin, in the second, the loss of his credit. He chose, therefore, what the wise will always choose in such circumstances, a middle way; to temper his behaviour so, that, with the constancy of his duty to the Republic, he might have a regard also to his safety, by remitting somewhat of his old vigour and contention, without submitting to the meanness of consent or approbation ; and when his authority could be of no use to his country, to manage their new masters so as not to irritate their power to his own destruction; which was all that he desired. This was the scheme of politics, which, as he often laments, the weakness of the honest, the perverseness of the envious, and the hatred of the wicked, obliged him to pursue.
(From the Life of Cicero.)
LETTER TO VENN
Sir, I have been well informed, that some time ago you took the liberty to call me by name an apostate priest. I find the same calumny more publicly repeated in the Miscellany of 15th February, on a certain person, not named, whose writings have had the misfortune to displease you; and as you are said to be concerned in the furnishing out this weekly paper, in partnership with another worthy divine, so I cannot avoid considering myself as the object of your abuse in both cases.
The only thing that puzzles me, is to discover by what principle of Christianity you think yourself justified in such a licence of calumniating ; or how you can imagine a behaviour so shocking to good nature, good sense, and good manners, to be the effect of any good religion.
There must needs be some strange mistake between us on one side or the other. The word religion, perhaps, may have something in it equivocal, and denote quite a different thing with you and with me. If your religion prescribes, permits, or does not condemn, all such defamation as impious and detestable, you clear me at once of apostasy; for that religion was never mine ; and I cannot be charged with deserting what I had never professed.
Be so good, sir, as to favour me with some account of this matter. I have a right, I think, to require at least this satisfaction. You are the only man who has ventured to call me an apostate ; and if you are an honest man, you would not be particular in your accusation without a particular assurance of the truth of it ; nor so forward with your charge, without being as ready with your proof. Tell me, then, in God's name, nay, tell the public all that you know of me: speak out freely ; charge everything, that either your own malice suggests, or that of others has supplied you with. If you can convict me of anything immoral or irreligious, of any apostacy from what is laudable or virtuous, I will take shame to myself and own it; if not, shall seek no other revenge than that of leaving you to the reproach of your conscience, and the scorn of all good men.
I could wish likewise to be informed, of what use it can be to the interest of Christianity, of what advantage to religion, to proclaim to the world that I am an apostate. Should your Miscellany fall into the hands of men wavering in the faith, staggering at every scruple, shaken by every breath of scandal, and there must be many such in this sceptical age, might it not be of weight enough in the equilibrium of their doubts, to turn the scale on the infidel side, to be assured by you, that a clergyman, trained in the bosom of the church, of some reputation and many friends, after a life spent in temperance, study, and the search of truth, had by choice and judgment deserted it ? It is the constant policy of all sects, to challenge to their party any man of merit, supposed even on the slightest grounds to have discovered some inclination to them ; but your absurd zeal would forcibly drive from the service of religion men of virtue and learning, against their will, against their profession, against truth. These were the men, who first began the clamour, and raised the first envy upon me; and I am now but paying the arrears of that old grudge, as you seem to intimate in this very Miscellany ; for you say, that it was natural for me to hate, what I had before betrayed ; as if there was a guilt upon me, previous to that I have been lately charged with, and the era of my apostacy was to bear the same date with my Letter from Rome. The more I reflect on your rashness, the more I am inclined to impute it to some selfish motive of interest, some hopes of glory or of gain to accrue from it. It is common with the writers of your class to run the risk of a pillory to raise the fame and value of their weekly productions; and we read of a hero in antiquity, who set the temple of his country on fire, to perpetuate his name to posterity. In this view you act consistently, though in all views wickedly. But to talk of reforming morals, and recommending religion, by a method destructive of all morality, and contrary to all religion, is a mere banter and affront to common sense. But whilst you dispense so freely the titles of profane and apostate, let me recommend to you to consider the history of that first and chief apostate, the pattern, as well as author, of every apostacy in the world. You will find his abominable qualities summed up in this short character, “The accuser of the brethren” (Rev. xii. 10). You will find him described as defaming day and night; continually going about roaring and seeking to devour. This, says St. John, “is the old dragon, which is the Devil, and Satan (Rev. xx. 2). And what, sir, is the Devil, that is Satan, but names drawn from his very essence, signifying the adversary, the hater, the accuser of mankind ? His followers, like their master, are described by David, under the person of Doeg, the malicious accuser of the priests, “ with tongues that devise mischief, that love devouring words” (Psal. lii. 2, 4); and as “men set on fire, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword” (Psal. lvii. 4). This is the grand, the sovereign apostasy, the defection from all religion ; a delight in defaming, an alacrity in accusing ; and I leave it to you to determine, where the reproach of it is the most likely to fall, on yourself or on me. You have called me an apostate ; all people, I daresay, or at least all who know me, will be shocked at it ; but should I chance to describe a certain priest by the title of the accuser, there is scarce a man in England who would not immediately think on Mr. Venn. A reflection sufficient, methinks, to admonish you, that instead of being so busy with other men's characters, it behoves you much more to turn your thoughts and attention to your own.
But if it be possible, after all, that I should ever have it in my power to say of you, what you declare of me, that through a conviction of your wickedness, you had changed your conduct, and desisted from calumniating ; I should still act on this, as I shall do on every occasion, just contrary to the example you set me; I should rejoice in the change, begin to entertain hopes and a better opinion of you, and forget the accuser to applaud the convert.
A DEFENCE OF FREE ENQUIRY IN RELIGION
If the religion of a country was to be considered only as an imposture; an engine of government to keep the people in order ; even then an endeavour to unhinge it, unless with a design to substitute a better in its stead, would in my opinion be highly unreasonable. But should the priests of such a religion, for the sake of their authority and power, labour to impose their own failures for divine truths ; to possess the people with an enthusiastic zeal for them; manageable only by themselves and to be played even against the government, as oft as it served their separate interests ; in such a case, 'tis the duty of every man who loves his country and his fellow creatures, to oppose all such attempts ; to confine religion to its proper bounds ; to the use for which it was instituted; of inspiring benevolence, modesty, submission into the people ; nor suffer the credit of it to grow too strong for that of the State ; the authority of the priest, for that of the magistrate.
Was religion, I say, to be considered as an imposture, all men would think this conduct reasonable ; and where it is really a revelation from heaven, the case is not altered, as far as the end of that revelation is perverted and abused by the arts or the folly of men ; as the Jewish was by the Pharisees ; the Christian by some of its modern advocates. In such circumstances, in proportion as a man values his religion, and believes it to be of God, he will exert himself to clear it from all human impositions ; which render it either of no effect, or of a mischievous one to society ; propagating rage and strife and every evil work, instead of the peace and happiness 'twas designed to introduce. And if the end of all revelation be to enforce with greater vigour, and by means more affecting to sense, the obligations of the natural law; those priests are the truest friends to God and man, who labour to adapt it the most effectually to that end; to expound it by the known principles of reason and morality; and to make it amiable, by making it plain, rational, intelligible to common understandings.
As for those, who take the contrary way; who either deny all natural law, or make it bend as they please, to their own comments on Scripture ; who build religion on a principle of faith, distinct from reason ; look on the latter with a jealous eye, as an instrument and engine of Satan; who measure all truth by authority ; all credibility by testimony ; by which authority still and testimony they mean little more than their own, and to draw the greater dependence on themselves; for these writers, I say, 'tis the duty of every rational Christian to expose their principles as slavish and superstitious; destructive of that good, for which all religion was given ; turning the best thing in the world into the worst; a revelation from heaven, into a doctrine hurtful and pernicious to mankind.
And where religion, as with us, is received as of divine authority, and on the best grounds and reasons embraced as such, though I greatly condemn the perverseness of contesting truths so strongly established, yet I cannot think it agreeable either to reason or religion to punish even such as are hardy enough to call in question the reality of revelation itself, for 'tis the greatest weakness and absurdity to think that truth can ever be hurt by any examination whatsoever ; it may be oppressed awhile by faction, stifled by power; but in a free debate, as in free air and exercise, it always regains its strength and vigour ; controversy to truth is like a gentle wind to trees; it shakes the head but fastens the root. Truth is naturally so amiable, that wherever 'tis exposed to view it necessarily draws all to admire it, and the more 'tis exposed, the more strongly it attracts. Where artifice indeed and fraud prevail in the stead of it, there all inquiry must industriously be discouraged as a dangerous and fatal enemy, sure to detect and expose the cheat ; and wherever 'tis discouraged, there is always some reason to suspect some latent imposture ; now as sure as truth and falsehood are contrary to each other, so sure it is that the same method of treating them cannot possibly be of service in both.