Freethought Archives > G W Foote & J M Wheeler > Crimes of Christianity
ALTHOUGH the Bible says that "God is love," Christianity has shed more blood and perpetrated more cruelty than any other religion in the world; and despite the text that "all liars shall have their portion in the lake that burneth with brimstone and fire," it has been guilty of more deliberate frauds than any of the creeds it is accustomed to regard as the offspring of the Devil. In every age it has traded on the fear and faith of mankind; for the former it has borrowed or devised the most horrid punishments in this life and in the next; while for the latter it has practised every art of deception that could impose on ignorance and credulity.
During many centuries, indeed for more than a thousand years, the Christian Church lied for the glory of God without shame or compunction. Whatever promoted its reputation and power was deemed both necessary and honorable. Frauds were praiseworthy if they were pious; and, in the words of Mosheim, those who wished to shine forth most eminently as true Christians "deemed it a pious act to employ deception and fraud in support of piety." [64:1]
This species of falsehood might, without difficulty, be justified or countenanced by an appeal to the New Testament. Jesus is represented in the Gospels (Mark 4:10-12) as using obscure expressions in order to mislead his hearers. Paul became "all things to all men," (1 Corinthians 9:22) and he boldly asks, "If the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory, why yet am I also judged as a sinner?" (Romans 3:7). By reference to the Old Testament also, it may be seen that the Lord himself sent an angel from heaven to be a lying spirit in the mouth of the prophets to lure Ahab to Ramoth-gilead (1 Kings 22:19-22). It is, indeed, a remarkable fact that veracity, which was so praised by Pagan moralists, is a virtue seldom or never enjoined, and as rarely practised, by the writers or the heroes of the Christian revelation.
A colossal fraud lies at the very basis of Christianity. Its Gospels are palmed off as the work of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, four of Christ's disciples. Yet scholars are perfectly aware "there is no evidence that either the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, or the other writings, as we have them, existed within a hundred and twenty years after the Crucifixion." [65:6] The canonical books of the Now Testament came into existence at the same time as the host of "apocryphal" ones, an incomplete list of which comprises over seventy documents. Our four Gospels were selected by the Church, which pronounced them the true Word of God. The Church guarantees the books, but who will guarantee the Church?
To say nothing of the hundred and fifty thousand various readings of the Greek Testament, it is an undisputed fact that passages have been knowingly interpolated in the canonical Gospels. [65:7] The famous Trinitarian text in the first Epistle of St. John (5:7) has been almost universally recognised as a forgery since the days of Porson; and the public is now informed in the margin of our Revised Bible that the second half of the last chapter of Mark, from the ninth to the twentieth verses, does not exist in the oldest manuscripts, while some manuscripts give a different ending altogether. The author of the second Epistle to the Thessalonians appears to indicate that shameless forgeries were already rife, and expresses apprehension lest his own name should be attached to such frauds (2:2; 3:17). Other instances might be given, but these will suffice to elucidate the complaint of Celsus, in the second century, that the Christians were perpetually correcting and altering their Gospels.
Before proceeding to give some of the most flagrant forgeries of the early Christians, beyond the limits of the canonical Scriptures, we deem it prudent to adduce from critics and historians of the highest repute, a few direct and explicit admissions of the fraudulent character of the patristic writers.
The solid and judicious Mosheim states that
"A pernicious maxim which was current in the schools, not only of the Egyptians, the Platonists, and the Pythagoreans, but also of the Jews, was very early recognised by the Christians, and soon found among them numerous patrons - namely, that those who made it their business to deceive with a view of promoting the cause of truth, were deserving rather of commendation than of censure." [66:9]
The "greatest and most pious teachers" of the fourth century, says Mosheim, were "nearly all of them infected with this leprosy" of fraud; and, even Ambrose, Hilary, Jerome, Gregory Nazianzen, and Augustine cannot be excepted. [66:1] In his account of the fifth century he alludes to the
"Base audacity of those who did not blush to palm their own spurious productions on the great men of former times, and even on Christ himself and his apostles, so that they might be able, in the councils and in their books, to oppose names against names and authorities against authorities. The whole Christian Church was, in this century, overwhelmed with these disgraceful fictions." [66:2]
Jortin remarks that the policy of fraud was not only extensively practised in the fourth century, but "had found reception in the foregoing centuries in some measure." [67:3] Some measure is a very mild expression, as we shall see presently. It was acutely observed by Conyers Middleton that the bold defiance of truth and honesty displayed by the Fathers of the fourth century "could not have been acquired, or become general at once, but must have been carried gradually" to that height, by custom and the example of former times, and a long experience of what the credulity and superstition of the multitude would bear." [67:4] Accordingly, he finds on examination that the "earlier ages" were by no means remarkable for integrity. On the contrary, he says:
"There never was any period of time in all ecclesiastical history in which so many rank heresies were publicly professed nor in which so many spurious books were forged and published by the Christians, under the names of Christ and the Apostles, and the Apostolic writers, as in those primitive ages: several of which forged books are frequently cited and applied to the defence of Christianity by the most eminent Fathers of the same ages as true and genuine pieces, and of equal authority with the Scriptures themselves." [67:5]This view is supported by a recent writer, the author of Supernatural Religion. In stigmatising the "singularly credulous and uncritical character of the Fathers," he says that:
"No fable could be too gross, no invention too transparent, for their unsuspicious acceptance, if it assumed a pious form or tended to edification. No period in the history of the world ever produced so many spurious works as the first two or three centuries of our era. The name of every Apostle, or Christian teacher, not excepting that of the great Master himself, was freely attached to every description of religious forgery." [67:6]Dr. Giles writes in a similar strain, and it should be borne in mind that the period to which he refers was that in which the four Gospels, as well as the apocryphal scriptures, crept into the world.
"But a graver accusation than that of inaccuracy or deficient authority lies against the writings which have come down to us from the second century. There can be no doubt that great numbers of books were then written with no other view than to deceive the simple-minded multitude who at that time formed the great bulk of the Christian community." [68:7]
These works were not allowed to pass without question. The authority of some was disputed, and controversies were maintained even as to the age and authorship of the books of the New Testament. If the question was set at rest, it was done, as Dr. Giles remarks, "not by a deliberate sentence of the judge, but by burning all the evidence on which one side of the controversy was supported." [68:8]
Dr. Gieseler, the latest ecclesiastical historian in Germany, whose splendid and valuable work we have had more than one occasion to cite, refers to the spurious literature of the Jews and Christians as of "great importance" in the "advancement of Christian interests." The Jews were grave sinners in this respect, but they were eclipsed by the Christians, who:
"quieted their consciences respecting the forgery with the idea of their good intention, for the purpose of giving greater impressiveness to their doctrines and admonitions by the reputation of respectable names, of animating their suffering brethren to steadfastness, and of gaining over their opponents to Christianity." [68:9]
Orthodox witnesses are better for our purpose than heretical ones, and we have pleasure in citing the testimony of Bishop Ellicott.
"But credulity is not the only charge which those early ages have to sustain. They certainly cannot be pronounced free from the influence of pious frauds... It was an age of literary frauds. Deceit, if it had a good intention, frequently passed unchallenged... However unwilling we may be to admit it, history forces upon us the recognition of pious fraud as a principle which was by no means inoperative in the earliest ages of Christianity." [69:1]
The following grave and weighty passage from Lecky must close our brief list, which might be indefinitely prolonged, of Christian testimonies against Christianity:
"The very large part that must be assigned to deliberate forgeries in the early apologetic literature of the Church we have already seen; and no impartial reader can, I think, investigate the innumerable grotesque and lying legends that, during the whole course of the Middle Ages, were deliberately palmed upon mankind as undoubted facts, can follow the history of the false decretals, and the discussions that were connected with them, or can observe the complete and absolute incapacity most Catholic historians have displayed, of conceiving any good thing in the ranks of their opponents, or of stating with common fairness any consideration that can tell against their cause, without acknowledging how serious and how inveterate has been the evil. It is this which makes it so unspeakably repulsive to all independent and impartial thinkers, and has led a great German historian (Herder) to declare, with much bitterness, that the phrase 'Christian veracity' deserves to rank with the phrase 'Punic faith.'" [69:2]
A forgery comparatively late in point of time, though referring to an early period in the ministry of Jesus, is a pretended letter from Publius Lentulus, the supposed predecessor of Pontius Pilate, to the Roman Senate. It was the custom for the provincial authorities to transmit to the imperial city an account of all important events which occurred in their respective localities; and, according to this bastard epistle, which is prefixed to some parchment manuscripts of the Gospels, written about three hundred and seventy years ago, and still preserved in the library at Jena, the Prefect of Jerusalem informed the senate that "there had appeared a man endued with great powers, whose name is Jesus Christ." The very name betrays the fraudulent origin of the document, for the epistle is couched in Latin, and Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Jeshua. Nor would the Jews give Jesus the surname of Christ, which is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah. The rest of the epistle is devoted to a eulogy of the personal appearance of the Savior. [70:3] His hair is represented as of the color of wine, which is not very explicit, and as being parted in the middle, "after the fashion of the Nazarenes," [70:4] and dropping in graceful curls over his shoulders; his beard as thick and bifurcated; his person as tall and graceful; his countenance as beautiful, and his eyes as blue -- a singular color for a gentleman of the Hebrew persuasion.
Although Jesus, according to Jerome, was unable to write, the early Christians manufactured for him a letter to Abgarus, Prince of Edessa. Eusebius professes to have translated the epistle, or had it translated, from the archives of that city. Jortin says that, "there is no room to suspect him of forging it, but there is abundant reason to account it a forgery, and a foolish one too." [70:5] Many have received and defended it, from Ephrem Syrus down to Cave. Addison was perhaps the last eminent writer who accepted it. Since Lardner's refutation of its claims to authenticity, it has been universally and quietly abandoned.
Whether or not Eusebius forged the correspondence between Christ and Abgarus, we know on other grounds that he was not incapable of such a feat. Dean Milman is obliged to regret that the history of the Martyrs "rests so much on the loose, and, it must be admitted, by no means scrupulous, authority of Eusebius." [70:6] Criticising his tricky attempt to confuse the taxing under Herod with that several years later, in order to reconcile Josephus and Luke, Lardner says: "I must confess I ascribe that not to ignorance, but to something a great deal worse." [70:7] Gibbon says of him that "he confesses that he has related whatever might redound to the glory, and that he has suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace, of religion." [71:8] As Eusebius, according to Gibbon, is the gravest of the ecclesiastical historians, the reader will be able to form some idea of the sobriety and veracity of the rest of the tribe.
The early Christians had the audacity to forge an account of the Resurrection by Pontius Pilate himself, which may be read in the Apocryphal New Testament. Century after century, until the advent of rational criticism, the orthodox were taught to believe that Pilate informed Tiberius of the unjust sentence of death he had pronounced on an innocent, and as it appeared, a divine person; that Tiberius endeavored to place Christ among the gods of Rome; that his servile senate ventured to thwart his design; that Tiberius then protected the Christians against the fury of the laws; and that the account of this extraordinary transaction was preserved in the public records. But the disproofs of this legend are overwhelming. No historian of Greece or Rome ever saw these documents in the imperial archives, or even heard of their existence. They were only visible to the eyes of Tertullian, who composed his Apology one hundred and sixty years after the death of Tiberius. The legend itself is first mentioned by Justin Martyr, who is described by Jortin as "of a warm and credulous temper," by Mosheim as "wholly undeserving of credit in much of what he relates," and by Middleton as the author of many "silly writings." It is to this garrulous wiseacre that we owe the story of the seventy translators of the Septuagint version, who were shut up by Ptolemy in seventy separate cells, and who were found, on the completion of their labors, not only to have given the same meaning, but to have employed the very same words. In proof of this fable, he says that he actually saw the remains of the cells -- about four hundred years after the event! Justin's story of Pontius Pilate passed through the hands of Tertullian, Eusebius, Chrysostom, Orosius, Gregory of Tours, and the authors of the various editions of the Acts of Pilate, acquiring successive improvements as it went along. [72:9] But it has melted away like a legendary snowball before the sun of rationalism. How could Tiberius protect the Christians from the fury of the laws when there were no Christians and before there were any laws against them? Why did Pilate connive at the stoning of Stephen, and the persecution of the disciples by Saul, if he knew that Jesus was a divine person, and that his followers were protected by the emperor? How came Tiberius, who "avowed his contempt for all religion," [72:1] and who was "little disposed to increase the number of the gods and the burden of Atlas," [72:2] to propose the apotheosis of Christ? This question becomes still more difficult to answer when we reflect that "about the time of Christ's crucifixion," Tiberius "destroyed an illustrious family, for this among other reasons, that divine honors had been paid to one Theophanes, an ancestor of theirs." [72:3]
We have devoted what would otherwise be a very disproportionate space to this ridiculous story, in order to show how credulous and unscrupulous the Fathers were in regard to the "evidences" of their faith.
There is also an epistle of Tiberianus, governor of part of Palestine, to the Emperor Trajan, in which he speaks of the invincible obstinacy of the Galileans, or Christians, under his jurisdiction, and says that he is tired of punishing and destroying them. Pearson and Middleton treat this epistle as genuine, but Dodwell gives good reasons for thinking it spurious. It depends on the authority of Suidas and Malela, "two sorry vouchers" says Jortin, and it was unknown to Eusebius. Le Clerc rejects it as suppositious. It is also fairly given up by Basnage and Tillemont, the latter of whom informs us that Valesius accounted it the work of a blockhead and an impostor. [72:4] We may presume that it was concocted to support the extravagant records of the sufferings and fortitude of the Christian martyrs.
There was an obvious need on the part of the early apologists of Christianity to find in the Pagan historians some corroboration of the transcendent wonders which marked the death of their Redeemer. How could a celebrated province of the Roman empire, or, as the Fathers seem to assert, the whole earth, be covered with darkness for the space of three hours, without attracting universal attention? It happened in the lifetime of Seneca and the elder Pliny, each of whom, "in a laborious work, has recorded all the great phenomena of Nature, earthquakes, meteors, comets, and eclipses, which his indefatigable curiosity could collect." [73:5] Yet neither of them alludes to the miraculous eclipse at the Crucifixion, although Pliny, as well as Virgil, Tibullus, Ovid and Lucan, celebrates the pallid light which followed the death of Caesar. To meet this difficulty the Christians, after an extraordinary interval, discovered a passage in Phlegon, to the following effect:
"In the fourth year of the two hundred and second Olympiad, there was an eclipse of the sun greater than any ever known before; and it was night at the sixth hour of the day, so that even the stars appeared, and there was a great earthquake in Bythinia, that overthrew several houses in Nice." [73:6]
Dr. Samuel Clarke relied on this passage in his Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion, but when Gibbon wrote, he was able to say it "is now wisely abandoned." [73:7] Writing in the third century, Tertullian assures the Pagans that the mention of the preternatural darkness of the passion is found in Arcanis. It is worthy of a remark that neither Dean Milman nor Dr. Smith, who are both Christians as well as editors of Gibbon, ventures to defend the passage of Phlegon against his biting sarcasm. The former is wisely silent, and the latter judiciously confines himself to showing that Arcanis might more properly be written Archivis.
Another Christian forgery is the famous passage in Josephus.
About that time appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it be right to speak of him as a man, for he was a performer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew after him many of the Jews, as well as of the Gentiles. This same was the Christ. And though Pilate, by the judgment of the chief rulers among us, delivered him to be crucified, those who from the first had loved him fell not from him, for to them at least he showed himself alive on the third day: this, and ten thousand other wonderful things being what the holy prophets had foretold concerning him; so that the Christian people who derive their name from him have not yet ceased to exist." [74:8]
Gibbon says that this passage "was inserted into the text of Josephus between the time of Origen and that of Eusebius," and "may furnish an example of no vulgar forgery." [74:9] Dean Milman can only suggest that "this passage is not altogether a forgery, but interpolated with many additional clauses," [74:1] But Lardner's arguments [74:2] effectually dispose of this suggestion, and completely support the view of Gibbon. Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Origen, never cited this passage in their controversies, although they were well acquainted with the writings of Josephus, and could not have overlooked such a favorable testimony to Jesus. Origen, indeed, distinctly says that Josephus "did not believe Jesus to be the Christ." [74:3] The inventive genius of Eusebius first lighted on the passage, in the fourth century. He quotes it with an air of triumph, and says that those who doubt the Christian story of Jesus henceforth "stand convicted of downright impudence." Tanaquil Faber maintained that Eusebius forged the passage himself. A little more care in the composition might have added to its plausibility. It is so foreign to the context, that Tillemont was obliged to resort to the supposition that Josephus inserted it after he had finished his work! As a zealous and orthodox Jew, Josephus could not speak of Jesus as the Christ, nor doubt whether it was lawful to call him a man, for the Jews did not believe the Messiah to be God; and the statement that Jesus drew after him many Jews and Gentiles is inconsistent with the Gospels. The passage is now generally abandoned. Bishop Warburton called it "a rank forgery, and a very stupid one too." [75:4] Dr. Giles also condemns it as "a forgery interpolated in the text during the third century by some pious Christian, who was scandalised that so famous a writer as Josephus should have taken no notice of the Gospels or of Christ their subject." [75:5] And De Quincey, in his essay on the Essenes, emphatically says that "this passage has long been given up as a forgery by all men not lunatic." [75:6]
The Sibylline verses were another forgery of the early Christians, and they were "triumphantly quoted by the Fathers, from Justin Martyr to Lactantius," although "when they had fulfilled their appointed task, they, like the system of the millennium, were quietly laid aside." [75:7] They were pretended prophecies by Pagan oracles of the wonderful career of Jesus Christ. The collections varied much, says Jortin, and it is clear that "every librarian thrust in what he thought proper, and what he had picked up here and there from any dunghill." [75:8] They were "from first to last, and without any one exception, mere impostures." There is a collection of them in eight books "which abound with phrases, words, facts, and passages taken from the Seventy and the New Testament, and are a remarkable specimen of astonishing impudence and miserable poetry." [75:9] Gibbon observes that they foretell the darkness at the Crucifixion exactly in the words of the Gospel. "There is no man," says Cave, "who does not see that they were forged for the advancement of the Christian faith." [75:1] Some impute the fraud to Hermas, some to Papias, and others to Justin. Murdock says that "the Pagans were indignant at this forgery," [75:2] and Celsus openly accused the Christians of the crime. Lecky says:
"The prophecies forged by the Christians, and attributed by them to the heathen sibyls, were accepted as genuine by the entire Church, and were continually appealed to as among the most powerful evidences of the faith. Clement of Alexandria preserved the tradition that St. Paul had urged the brethren to study them. Celsus designated the Christians Sibyllists, on account of the pertinacity with which they insisted on them. Constantine the Great adduced them in a solemn speech before the Council of Nice... It was in 1649 that a French Protestant named Blondel ventured for the first time in the Christian Church to denounce these writings as deliberate and clumsy forgeries, and after much angry controversy his sentiment has acquired an almost undisputed ascendancy in criticism." [76:3]
There can be no better comment on the history of the Sibylline verses than that of Middleton: "Thus a most gross and palpable forgery was imposed upon the Christian world from the very midst of those best and purest ages; which, though rejected and derided from the beginning by all men of sense among the Heathens, yet obtained full credit in the Church, through all ages, without any other ground to support it but the utility of the deceit, and the authority of those venerable Fathers, who contrived and attested it." [76:4]
One of the most impudent and disgraceful forgeries of the early Christians was the Philosophy of Oracles, ascribed to Porphyry. The real works of this formidable opponent of Christianity are no longer extant, except in the fragments preserved by the Fathers who answered him. An order for their destruction was issued after the Council of Nice, but surreptitious copies appear to have survived this act of pious vandalism, as a new edict for their abolition was issued in A.D. 449 by Theodosius the younger. This was so efficacious that not a single copy was left for posterity. But injury did not suffice without insult. Porphyry's name was attached to a forgery by some zealous Christian, who overreached himself by perpetrating the most glaring anachronisms, and by attributing to the famous Heathen many opinions and sentiments which contradicted those expressed in the fragments of his authentic writings. The fraudulent work was designed to be serviceable to Christianity; it was accepted by Eusebius and appealed to by apologists like Theodoret; but it was discredited by St. Augustine, and although it was allowed to pass unchallenged by hosts of orthodox scholars in succeeding centuries, its character as a vulgar forgery was finally established by the laborious criticism of Lardner. [77:5] Never, in the annals of fraud, was there a more disgusting imposture than this, of forcibly suppressing a man's real opinions, and attributing to him opinions which he opposed, in the interest of a creed which he despised.
Forged writings have been attributed to many of the early Fathers, such as Barnabas, Clement, Polycarp, and Origen. But the most comprehensive of such frauds are the famous Epistles of Ignatius. There are fifteen in all, of which eight are universally rejected as spurious, while the other seven are still the subject of controversy, although no one disputes that even these are full of interpolations. The Syriac version, which is the oldest, contains only three epistles, and there are two distinct Greek versions of the seven. All the Epistles profess to have been written by Ignatius, called a bishop of Antioch, while on his way to martyrdom at Rome. The story of his martyrdom is in the highest degree fantastic and improbable, and it is incredible that he could have written them in rigorous confinement on his journey as a prisoner under sentence of an ignominious death. His epistles abound with exhortations to obey the bishops. No wonder, then, that they are defended by episcopalians and disputed by presbyterians. Bishop Lightfoot argues that the seven are mainly authentic, but is opposed to many high authorities, amongst whom are Dr. Killen and the author of Supernatural Religion. [77:6]
Another forgery is the "silly story of the Thundering Legion," as Jortin calls it. When Marcus Aurelius was at war with the Quadi, in A.D. 174, and in the utmost distress and danger, he was relieved by a sudden storm, which drenched his army and allayed their thirst, while it discharged fire and hail on their enemies. The Romans gained a great victory, and it was subsequently asserted by the followers of Jesus, who ordered people to turn one cheek when the other was smitten, that this seasonable tempest resulted from the prayers of the Christian contingent of the imperial army, who were thenceforth called the Thundering Legion. Eusebius quotes Tertullian's Apology to the Roman Senate in confirmation of the story that Marcus Aurelius wrote a letter to the Senate, acknowledging his indebtedness to the Christians, directing that the persecution of that body should cease, and ordering that whoever accused them should be burnt alive. This letter is in Greek, and is generally printed after Justin's first Apology; but as Long observes, it "is one of the most stupid forgeries of the many that exist." [78:7] The same writer, and there is no better judge, says that the "monstrous addition" about roasting the informer was "made by a man inconceivably ignorant." It also appears that the Thundering Legion existed in the time of Augustus, when, according to Dion, it was stationed in Cappadocia. But the final reply to this pious legend of the Roman army being victorious through the prayers of the Christian soldiers is furnished by the fact that "we are still assured by monuments of brass and marble, by the imperial medals, and by the Antonine column, that neither the prince nor the people entertained any sense of this signal obligation, since they unanimously attribute their deliverance to the providence of Jupiter and to the interposition of Mercury." [78:8]
Prominent among forgeries we must place that of the Apostles' Creed. Till the middle of the seventeenth century it was the current belief of all Christendom that this Creed was the verbatim production of the inspired Apostles, composed by them at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, or before their separation, in order to secure unity of teaching. Each was said to have contributed an article. Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, commenced: "I believe in God the Father Almighty;" Andrew (according to others, John) continued: "And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord;" and so on till the latest apostle, Matthias, uttered the final words, "life everlasting. Amen." [79:9] There are many disagreements as to the authors of the various sections, but all agree that sceptical Thomas committed himself to the declaration that "the third day he rose again from the dead." The legend is as false as the rest of the Christian mythology. The Apostles' Creed was entirely unknown during the first and second centuries. [79:1] It dates from Rome about A.D. 340. Even then it did not contain the clause "he descended into hell," which, says Dr. Schaff, was transferred into the Creed after the fifth century; that is, after the doctrine of purgatory had been established. Dr. Schaff remarks, "If we regard then, the present text of the Apostle's Creed as a complete whole, we can hardly trace it beyond the sixth, certainly not beyond the close of the fifth century." [79:2] The universal acceptance of this Creed is another illustration of the incredible credulity of the early Christians.
Another forgery in the name of the Apostles was the Apostolical Constitutions, to which Whiston devotes the third volume of his Primitive Christianity Revived, and which he declares "are the most sacred of the canonical books of the Now Testament," for "these sacred Christians laws, or constitutions, were delivered at Jerusalem and in Mount Sion, by our Savior to the eleven apostles there assembled after his resurrection." The work is, however, now acknowledged to be a compilation of several generations. It originated probably at Antioch about the middle of the fourth century, and in the words of the Rev. J. E. Riddle: "The advancement of episcopal dignity and power appears to have been the chief design of the forgery." [80:3]
To the Council of Nice has been attributed much that never occupied its attention. It has been alleged to have settled the New Testament canon, to have endorsed sacerdotal celibacy, and to have drawn up the Nicene Creed. But that Creed was only formulated at the Council of Constantinople, in A.D. 381. The words, "and the Son," in the clause as to the procession of the Holy Ghost, cannot be traced earlier than the Council of Toledo, in A.D. 589. This dogma of the Filioque gave rise to the great schism between the Greek and Latin Churches.
One of the most glaring proofs that Christianity is gangrened with imposture, is the ascription to St. Athanasius of the Creed which falsely bears his name. Luther regarded it as "the most important and glorious composition since the days of the Apostles." It is still reverenced by the Catholic and Protestant Churches, and is appointed to be read on certain feast-days. It was composed in Latin, and rejected by the Greek Church; Gennadius, the patriarch of Constantinople, being "so much amazed by this extraordinary composition, that he pronounced it to be the work of a drunken man." [80:4] There is no authorised Greek version, though Athanasius habitually composed in that language. According to Dean Stanley, "it is now known with absolute certainty, not only that Athanasius never did write it, but never could have written it." [80:5] Dr. Schaff says that "it appears first in its full form towards the close of the eighth or the beginning of the ninth century." [80:6]
The last documentary forgeries we shall refer to are the Decretal Epistles and the Donation of Constantine, which are the foundation of the spiritual supremacy and the temporal power of the Popes.
The Decretal Epistles pretended to emanate from the pontiffs of the first century. They declared it unlawful to hold a Council without the order, or at least the permission, of the Pope; and they invested him with the sole power of judging and translating bishops, and establishing new sees. According to Mosheim, "they were produced by the ingenuity of an obscure man, who falsely assumed the name of Isidore, a Spanish bishop, in the eighth century." [81:7] The same historian asserts that the forgery was procured by the pontiffs themselves; and as in that age "frauds for the benefit of the Church and of God were deemed lawful," it is not strange that the Popes should approve "the fabrication of such papers as would be a rampart and bulwark to the see of St. Peter's." [81:8]
There is a good story of the forger of these Decretals. He passes under the name of Isidorus Mercator, which was derived in the following manner. He assumed the name of Isidore, a distinguished Spanish bishop of the sixth century, in order to make the world believe that the Epistles were the work of that prelate. The bishops were accustomed, as a sign of humility, to add the word Peccator (sinner) to their names; and therefore the author of these forgeries signed himself Isidore Peccator. But some of the transcribers, who were ignorant of the ancient customs, changed Peccator into Mercator (merchant). "His merchandise," says Gibbon, "was indeed profitable, and a few sheets of paper were sold for much wealth and power."
Among the mass of forgeries palmed off by the false Isidore, or some other agent of the papacy, were the decrees of a Council held at Rome in A.D. 324, under the presidency of Sylvester. They were admirably calculated to enrich and exalt the Roman pontiff; but as no one ever heard of this Council until the ninth century, the best authorities agree in pronouncing it a fiction. Some slight opposition was offered to it even in that age, but it was quickly silenced; and "as all science and learning, in the following period, retired from the Roman world, there scarcely remained anyone capable, or even disposed, to move controversy respecting these pious frauds." [82:9]
Mosheim's account of the Donation of Constantine is accurate and succinct, [82:1] but his interesting elucidations are thrown into a discursive footnote. Gibbon's account is longer and more entertaining:
"This memorable donation was introduced to the world by an epistle of Hadrian I, who exhorts Charlemagne to imitate the liberality and revive the name of the great Constantine. According to the legend, the first of the Christian emperors was healed of the leprosy, and purified in the waters of baptism, by St. Sylvester, the Roman bishop; and never was physician more gloriously recompensed. His royal proselyte withdrew from the seat and patrimony of St. Peter; declared his resolution of founding a new capital in the east; and resigned to the popes the free and perpetual sovereignty of Rome, Italy, and the provinces of the West. This fiction was productive of the most beneficial effects. The Greek princes were convicted of the guilt of usurpation; and the revolt of Gregory was the claim of his lawful inheritance. The popes were delivered from their debt of gratitude; and the nominal gifts of the Carlovingians were no more than the just and irrevocable restitution of a scanty portion of the ecclesiastical state. The sovereignty of Rome no longer depended on the choice of a fickle people; and the successors of St. Peter and Constantine were invested with the purple and prerogatives of the Caesars. So deep was the ignorance and credulity of the times that the most absurd of fables was received with equal reverence in Greece and in France, and is still enrolled among the decrees of the canon law. The emperors and the Romans were incapable of discerning a forgery that subverted their rights and freedom; and the only opposition proceeded from a Sabine monastery which, in the beginning of the twelfth century, disputed the truth and validity of the Donation of Constantine. In the revival of letters and liberty this fictitious deed was transpierced by the pen of Laurentius Valla, the pen of an eloquent critic and a Roman patriot. His contemporaries of the fifteenth century were astonished at his sacrilegious boldness; yet such is the silent and irresistible progress of reason, that before the end of the next age the fable was rejected by the contempt of historians and poets, and the tacit or modest censure of the advocates of the Roman church. The popes themselves have indulged a smile at the credulity of the vulgar; but a false and obsolete title still sanctifies their reign; and, by the same fortune which has attended the decretals and the Sibylline oracles, the edifice has subsisted after the foundations have been undermined." [83:2]
Such were the False Decretals and the Donation of Constantine,
"the two most celebrated monuments of human imposture and
credulity." [83:3] They are a worthy crown to the
great edifice of Christian forgery. From the first century to the
ninth, or a space of nearly eight hundred years, we have seen the
Church of Christ constantly disgraced by pious frauds. The forgery
of documents appears to have been a recognized part of the
ecclesiastical profession. It was not obscure laymen who composed
these manuscripts for the amusement of their leisure, but the
recognised leaders of Christianity, who held that the end
sanctioned the means, and prostituted Truth in the temples of