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God's favour, they are altogether indifferent about the duty they owe to a neighbour. So much are they above common decency, as to go about naked, not even concealing what modesty hides. The penances enjoined in the Romish church, such as fasting and flagellation, have evidently the same bad tendency*. With respect to fasting in particular, to what good purpose it can serve, except to gluttons, is not readily conceived. Temperance in eating and drinking is essential to health too much or too little are equally noxious, though their effects are different t. Fasting, therefore, ought never to be enjoined to the temperate as a religious duty, because it cannot be acceptable to a benevolent Deity. Listen to a great prophet on that subject: "Behold, ye fast for strife and "debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness; ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your " voice
A sect of Christians, styled Flagellantes, held, that flagellation is of equal virtue with baptism and the other sacraments; that it will procure forgiveness of sin; that the old law of Christ is to be abolished; and a new law substituted, enjoining the baptism of blood to be administered by whipping.
The Baron de Manstein observes, that the frequent lents enjoined by the Greek church, contribute greatly to promote dis eases in the Russian armies. They are forbidden to touch flesh three-fourths of the year. The synod, it is true, grants a dispensation to soldiers during war; but such is the superstition of the people, that few take the benefit of the dispensation.
Is it such a fast that
"voice to be heard on high. "I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his "soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, "and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? "Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day
to the Lord?Is not this the fast that I have "chosen, to loose the bands of wickedness, to un"do the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not "to deal thy bread to the hungry; and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? "When thou seest the naked, that thou cover "him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine "own flesh*???
The most extraordinary penance of all is celibacy considered as a religious duty. Many fathers of the church declare against matrimony. St Jerome in particular says, That the end of matrimony is eternal death; that the earth, indeed, is filled by it, but heaven by virginity. The intemperate zeal of many primitive Christians led them to abstain from matrimony, and even from conjugal caresses, if they had the misfortune to be married; believing that the carnal appetite is inconsistent with pure religion. Edward the Confessor was sainted, for no better reason than the abstaining from matrimo nial duties. Jovian, in the fourth century, taught that all who observe the laws of piety and virtue laid down in the gospel, have an equal title to
* Isaiah, lviii. 4. &c.
happiness in another life: consequently, that those who pass their days in celibacy and mortification, are in no respect more acceptable to God than those who live virtuously in marriage without mortification. He published his opinions in a book, against which Jerome wrote a bitter and abusive treatise, still extant. These opinions were condemned by the church, and by St Ambrose, in a council at Milan; and Jovian was banished by the Emperor Honorius. Such ridiculous self-denial was not confined to Christians. Strabo mentions a sect among the Thracians who made a vow of perpetual virginity; and were much respected on that account. Garcillasso mentions virgins in Peru consecrated to the sun: a vestal guilty of frailty was buried alive, her lover hanged, and the inhabitants of the town where she lived put to the sword. Among all the absurd acts of mortification, celibacy is the strongest instance of superstition triumphing over common sense; for what can be more inconsistent with common sense, nor to talk of religion, than an endeavour to put an end to the human species? Barbeyrac, De la Morlee des Pères, gives examples of fathers of the church who wished to extinguish by celibacy the human species, and to hasten the day of judgment. Some glimpses of reason have abated the zeal of enthusiasts for celibacy; but have not totally extirpated it; for celibacy of the clergy remains to this day a law in the Romish church. It cannot, however,
ever, seriously be thought the will of our benevolent God, that his priests should be denied the exercise of natural powers, bestowed on all for a most valuable purpose. This impious restraint, which contradicts the great law of Increase and multiply, has opened the door to gross debauchery in the pastors of the Romish church, though ecclesiastics ought, of all men, to be the most circumspect in their conduct. Men restrained from what is necessary and proper, are more prone than others to break out into gross irregularities* Marriage is warmly recommended in the laws of Zoroaster. -Children are said to be a bridge that conducts men to heaven; and a man who has no children, is held to be under the power of Ahriman. The prayer of a priest who has no children, is held disagreeable to Ormusd.
The celibacy of the clergy was countenanced by the Pope; and enforced from a political conDd2 sideration,
* An ingenious writer, mentioned above, makes the following observation: The celibacy of ecclesiastics was originally "introduced by some superstitious refinements on the law of "God and nature. Could men have been kept alive without " eating or drinking as well as without marriage, the same re*finements would have prohibited ecclesiastics from eating and "drinking, and thereby have elevated them so much nearer
to the state of angels. In process of time, this fanatical "interdiction became an instrument of worldly wisdom and } thus, as frequently happens, what weak men began, politicians "completed." Sir David Dalrymple.
sideration, That it united the whole clergy into one compact body, under his spiritual Majesty. How short-sighted is man! It was justly esteemed at the time to be the corner-stone of Papal power; and yet became the chief cause of its downfal. Celibacy precipitated the Romish clergy into adultery, fornication, cunning, dissimulation, and every secret vice. Will men of such manners be listened to, when they preach purity to others? There was no medium, but either to reform their own manners, or to give every indulgence to the laity. But ignorance and superstition in the latter, made the former think themselves secure. The restoration of learning broke the charm. Men beginning to think for themselves, were provoked at the dissolute lives of their pastors; and raised a loud cry against them. Reformers were burnt as heretics; and clergymen were held to be emissaries from Satan, to establish his throne upon earth. Knox, that violent reformer, believed seriously that Cardinal Beaton was a conjured enemy to Christ Jesus. Providence brings good out of ill. Had not the clergy been dissolute, poor Christians might have laboured under ignorance and ecclesiastic thraldom to this hour. Our reformers, beginning with their pastors, extended insensibly their hatred to the doctrines taught by their pastors. Every article of faith was sifted: the chaff was separated from the corn: and a reformation