Abbildungen der Seite

laws opposed no restraint, who can forbear putting the question that, if such were the people distinguished above all others by the excellency of their laws and the superiority of their attainments in literature and arts, what must have been the state of those nations which possessed none of these advantages, but were governed solely by the impulses and dictates of rude and uncultivated nature ?

The different Systems of Grecian Philosophy. At the time of Christ's appearance upon earth, there were two species of philosophy that generally prevailed throughout the civilized world, the one that of Greece; the other what is usually termed the Oriental. The philosophy of the Greeks was not confined to that nation, for its principles were embraced by all such of the Romans as aspired to any eminence of wisdom. The Oriental philosophy prevailed chiefly in Persia, Chaldea, Syria, Egypt, and other eastern countries. Both these species of philosophy were split into various sects, but with this distinction, that those which sprang from the Oriental system all proceeded on one common principle, and of course had many similar tenets, though they might differ as to some particular inferences and opinions; whilst those to which the philosophy of Greece gave rise were divided in opinion respecting the elements or first principles of wisdom, and were consequently widely separated from each other in the whole course of their discipline. The apostle Paul is generally supposed to have adverted to each of these systems-to that of Greece in Coloss. ii. 8, and to the Oriental in 1 Tim. i. 4, iv. 7, and vi. 20,---in all which places, he strongly warns Christians to beware of blending the doctrines of either with the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ. Happy had it been for the Christian church, could they have taken the admonition which was thus given them by the apostle; but vain and presumptuous man could not rest satisfied with “ the truth as it is Jesus”—the wisdom that leads to eternal life, as it came pure from above, but : must exercise his ingenuity in fruitless attempts to reconcile it, first of all with the principles of the Oriental philosophy, and'afterwards with many of the dogmas of the Grecian sects.

The Greek philosophers, whose doctrines were also much cul



tivated by the Romans, may be divided into two classes: the first comprehended those whose tenets struck at the root of all religion -a species of Atheists, who, while they professed to support and recommend the cause of virtue, in reality nourished the interests of vice, giving colour to almost every kind of criminality: the other was composed of such as acknowledged the existence of a Deity, whom it was the duty of men to worship and obey, and who inculcated an essential and eternal distinction between good and evil, virtue and vice, but who nevertheless subverted these just principles, by connecting with them various notions absurd or trifling in their nature. Under the former of these classes may be ranked the disciples of Epicurus, and those who passed under the name of Academics.

The Epicureans maintained that the universe arose out of a fortuitous concurrence of atoms; that the gods, whose existence they hesitated absolutely to deny, were totally indifferent and unconcerned about all human affairs, or rather entirely unacquainted with them; that our souls are born and die; that all things depend on and are determined by accident; that in every thing voluptuous gratification was to be sought after as the CHIEF GOOD; and even virtue itself was to be pursued only inasmuch as it might minister at the shrine of pleasure. The votaries of a system like this, which indeed included nearly all the children of prosperitythe rich, the noble, and the powerful-naturally studied to pass their lives in one continued round of luxurious enjoyment. The only restraint they imposed on themselves arose out of a desire to avoid, at all times, such an excessive or immoderate addictedness to pleasure as might generate disease, or tend in any other shape to abridge the capacity for future indulgence.

The Academics, though they affected to be influenced by wiser principles than the former, yet entertained maxims of an equally lax and pernicious tendency with them. They were nearly allied to the Sceptics; in fact, the main distinction lay in this,—that whereas the Sceptics contended that nothing should be assented to, but every thing made the subject of dispute, the Academics, on the contrary, maintained that our judgments should acquiese in all things which bear the appearance of truth, or which may be considered in the light of probabilities. But, as

they were always undetermined respecting what constituted the sort of probability to which a wise man should assent, their doctrines contributed, no less than that of the Sceptics, to render every thing vague and unsettled. To make it, as they did, a matter of doubt and uncertainty, whether the gods existed or not; whether the soul was perishable or immortal; whether virtue was preferable to vice or vice to virtue, was certainly nothing less than to undermine the fundamental principles of religion and morality. The Academic system of philosophy fell into such disrepute as to be, at one time, quite neglected and nearly lost; but Cicero revived it at Rome, a little before the birth of Christ, and so much weight was attached to his example and authority that it was soon embraced by all who aspired to the chief honours of the state.

The Peripatetics belonged to the other class of philosophers, for they acknowledged the existence of a God, and the obligations of morality; yet their tenets were not much calculated to inspire a reverence for the one or a love for the other. The doctrine which Aristotle, their great master, 'taught, gave to the Deity an influence not much beyond that of the moving principle in a piece of machinery. He indeed considered him to be of a highly refined and exalted nature, happy in the contemplation of himself, but entirely unconscious of what was passing here below; confined from all eternity to the celestial world, and instigating the operations of nature rather from necessity than from volition or choice. In a deity of this description, differing but little from the god of the Epicureans, there surely was nothing that could reasonably excite either love, respect, or fear. It is difficult to ascertain precisely what were the sentiments of this class of philosophers respecting the immortality of the soul; but it may fairly be asked, Could the interests of religion or morality be in any shape effectually promoted by teachers like these, who denied the superintendance of divine providence, and insinuated, in no very obscure terms, a disbelief of the soul's future existence ?

The Stoics assigned to the Deity somewhat more of majesty and influence than the disciples of Aristotle. They did not limit his functions merely to the regulating of the clouds, and the numbering of the stars; but conceived him to animate every part of the universe with his presence, in the nature of a subtile, active,



[ocr errors]

penetrating fire. They regarded his connexion with matter, however, as the effect of necessity, and supposed his will to be subordinate to the immutable decrees of fate; hence it was impossible for him to be considered as the author either of rewards to the virtuous or of punishment to the wicked. The Stoics denied the immortality of the soul, and thus deprived mankind of the strongest motive to a wise and virtuous course of life. In short, the moral discipline of the Stoics may be compared to a body of a fair and imposing external appearance, but which, on closer examination, is found destitute of those essential parts which alone can give it either energy or excellence.

The Platonists seem, of all the Grecian philosophers, to have made the highest advances in knowledge and the nearest approach to true wisdom. Yet the system of Plato had its defects. He considered the Deity as supreme governor of the universe, a being of the highest wisdom and power, and totally unconnected with any material substance. The souls of men he conceived to proceed from this pre-eminent source; and, as partaking of its nature, to be incapable of death. His system gave the strongest encouragement to virtue, and equally discountenanced vice, by holding out to mortals the prospect of a future state of rewards and punishments. Yet, after all, his notions of the Deity were very contracted, since he never ascribes to him the attributes of infinity, immensity, ubiquity, omnipotence, omniscience, but supposes him to be confined within certain limits, and that the direction of human affairs was committed to a class of inferior spiritual agents, whom he termed dæmons. This notion of ministering dæmons, as well as those points of doctrine which relate to the origin and condition of the human soul, greatly disfigured the morality of Plato, inasmuch as they tended to generate superstition and to confirm men in the practice of worshipping a number of inferior deities. His doctrine, moreover, that the soul, during its continuance in the body, was in a state of imprisonment, and that we ought to endeavour, by means of contemplation, to set it free, and restore it to an alliance with the divine nature, had a pernicious tendency, in prompting persons of weak minds to withdraw a proper degree of attention from the body and the concerns of this life, and to indulge in the dreams and fancies of a disordered imagination.

• The Eclectics were a sect of philosophers that took their leading principles from the system of Plato. They considered almost every thing which he had advanced respecting the Deity, the soul, the world, and the dæmons, as indisputable axioms, on which account they were regarded by many as altogether Platonists. Indeed this title, so far from being disclaimed, was rather affected by some of them, and particularly by those who joined themselves to Ammonius Sacca, another celebrated patron of the Eclectic philosophy. Yet, with the doctrines held by Plato, they very freely intermixed the most approved maxims of the Pythagoreans, the Stoics, the Peripatetics, and the Oriental philosophers; taking due care, however, to admit none that were in opposition to the tenets of their favourite guide and instructor.

The Oriental Philosophy.

It is a subject of much regret among the learned that the Greek writers, to whom we are chiefly indebted for our knowledge of the ancient history of philosophy, have taken so little pains to inform posterity concerning the opinions which, during the time that the Greek sects flourished, were taught in other countries, particularly in Egypt and Asia. It is owing to this that the documents which have hitherto come to light relating to the Oriental philosophy are so few, and consequently our knowledge on the subject so imperfect. Some insight, however, into its nature and principles may be obtained from what has been handed down to us respecting the tenets of several of the earlier sects that sprang up in the Christian church. .

The Oriental philosophy, as a peculiar system of doctrines concerning the divine nature, is said to have originated in Chaldea, or Persia; whence it passed through Syria, Asia Minor, and Egypt; and, mixing with other systems, formed many different sects. There seems also to be sufficient ground for referring the formation of the leading doctrines of this philosophy into a regular system to Zoroaster, whose name the followers of this doctrine prefixed to some of their spurious books, and whose system is fundamentally the same with that which was subsequently adopted by the Asiatic and Egyptian philosophers.

« ZurückWeiter »