Page images

was established upon the Scriptures, rejecting every innovation of the Romish church.

There is not mentioned in history a more impudent disregard of moral principles, than a privilege assumed by the Bishop of Rome to disengage men from their oaths and promises: it is not a greater stretch to disengage them from every duty, whether of morality or of religion. The barons of Valentia, dreading a persecution against the industrious Moors, their tenants, obtained the following clause to be inserted in their king's coronation-oath: "That he should not expel the Mo"riscos, nor force them to be baptized; that he "should never desire to be relieved from the oath "by a dispensation from the Pope, nor accept a dis"pensation if offered." The Emperor Charles V. took this oath solemnly in presence of his nobles? and yet accepted a dispensation from the Pope, absolving him from the oath, and from the guilt of perjury in breaking it. Augustus King of Poland, in the treaty of Altramstadt renounced the kingdom of Poland to his competitor Stanislaus. The defeat of the King of Sweden at Poltowa was an inviting opportunity to renew his pretensions. A solemn treaty stood in his way; but the Pope removed that obstacle, by annulling the treaty, and setting him at liberty. The Pope has been known to bestow that wonderful privilege upon others. Pope Pascal II. having with a solemn oath, renounced the right of investitures, empowerDd 3


ed the cardinals to declare his oath hull. Bishops also imitating their superior, have assumed the privilege of dispensing with moral duties. Instances are not rare, of curates being authorised by their bishop to entertain concubines, paying for each a regular tax of a crown yearly. Nay, in some provincial synods, they are enjoined to keep concubines, in order to prevent scandal. Common prostitutes, licensed in the city of Leghorn, have a church peculiar to themselves, and must not enter into any other. They follow their trade with the utmost freedom; except in Passion- week, during which they must forbear sinning, under pain of banishment *.

[ocr errors]


* Sir David Dalrymple, in his Annals of Scotland, vol. ii. page 16., has the following paragraph: "Thus did Edward chas"tise the Scots for their breach of faith. It is remarkable, "that in the preceding year he himself procured a papal bull, absolving him from the oath which he had taken for maintain"ing the privileges of his people. But the Scots, without papal "authority, violated their oaths, and were punished as perjured « men. It is a truth not to be disguised, that in those times "the common notions of right and wrong were, in some sort, obli"terated. Conscience, intoxictated with indulgencis, or stupi"fied by frequent absolution, was no longer a faithful monitor amidst the temptations of interest, ambition, and national animosities." This author, a few pages after, very ingeniously observes, that, in those days, an oath or promise on the honour


The power of bestowing kingdoms, assumed by the Bishop of Rome, was an encroachment on the rules of justice, no less bold. Christian princes, not many ages ago, esteemed the Pope's gift to be their best title of property. In the 1846, the Venetians requested the Pope's permission to carry on commerce in Asia, and to purchase there pepper and cinnamon. The Pope not only granted their request, but pronounced anathemas upon any who should dare to interfere in that commerce. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain applied to Pope Alexander VI. to vest in them the property of America, discovered under their auspices by Columbus. The Pope having formerly granted to the kings of Portugal their discoveries in the East Indies, both grants were held sacred; and it came to be strenuously disputed, under which of the grants the Molucca islands were comprehended. Both grants proceed upon a narrative, of the power bestowed by Almighty God on the Pope, as successor to St Peter and vicar of Christ. To imagine that the Almighty would bestow such powers on the Bishop of Rome, or on any human being, shews gross ignorance of the common rights of mankind, and of the government of Providence.

The grossest of all deviations, not only from sound morality, but from pure religion, and the

D d 4


[merged small][ocr errors]

of knighthood was the only thing relied on; because the Pope did not pretend to interpose in a point of honour.

most extensive in its baneful effects, is a doctrine embraced by established churches, not many excepted, That, because heretics are odious in the sight of God, it is the duty of the orthodox to extirpate them, root and branch. Observe the con sequence: people who differ from the established church are held to be obstinate sinners, deserving punishment here as well as hereafter. The religion of every country is changeable; and the religion at present dominant may soon be under depression; which of course subjects all mankind to the rigour of persecution. An invention more effectual for extirpating the human race, is not within the reach of imagination: the horror of human sacrifices is as nothing in comparison.

Persecution for differences in religion can never take place but where the ministers of religion are formed into a class, totally distinct from the rest of the people. They made not a distinct class among the old Romans; who, far from having any notion of persecution, adopted the gods of every nation they conquered. A learned writer observes, that, as the number of their gods increased with their conquests, it is possible that they might have worshipped all the gods in the world. Their belief in tutelar deities produced that effect. Titus Livius mentions a sect of Bacchanals spread through Italy. They performed their ceremonies during night men and women mixing in the dark, after intemperate

[ocr errors]


intemperate eating and drinking. Never did wicked wretches deserve more exemplary punishment; yet listen to the following decree of the Roman senate, breathing the true spirit of toleration. "Ne qua Bacchanalia Romæ, neve in Italia "essent. Si quis tale sacrum, solenne, et neces "sarium duceret, nec sine religione et piaculo se "id omittere posse; apud Prætorem urbanum 66 profiteretur; Prætor senatum consuleret. Si "ei permissum esset, quum in senatu centum non "minus essent; ita id sacrum faceret, dum ne "plus quinque sacrificio interessent; neu quo pe"cunia communis, neu quis magister sacrorum, "aut sacerdos esset *." The Jews were prone to persecution, because their priests formed a distinct body. It is true, they believed in tutelar deities: their hatred, however, of neighbouring nations prevailed to make them hold in abhorrence the worship of every other god. Even among themselves


* "Let there be no Bacchanalian ceremonies performed "in the city, nor within Italy. If there be any person who "reckons it a matter of conscience to perform these rites, and that he ought not to omit them, let him state his opinion to "the city Prætor, who shall thereupon consult the senate. liberty be granted him by the senate when no fewer than a "hundred senators are present, let him perform the sacrifice, "but privately, in presence of no greater number than five persons. Let there be no public fund for them, nor any who "shall preside as priest or master of the rites."


« PreviousContinue »