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CHAP. III.

SKETCH OF THE HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.

In the midst of this nation, thus disposed to feed on hope and chimera, a new prophet arose, whose sectaries in process of time have changed the face of the earth. A poor Jew, who pretended to be descended from the royal at house of David, [17:1] after being long unknown in his own country, emerges from obscurity, and goes forth to make proselytes. He succeeded amongst some of the most ignorant part of the populace. To them he preached his doctrines, and taught them that he was the Son or God, the deliverer of his oppressed nation, and the Messiah announced by the prophets. His disciples, being either impostors, or themselves deceived, rendered a clamorous testimony of his power, and declared that his mission had been proved by miracles without number. The only prodigy which he was incapable of effecting, was that of convincing the Jews, who, far from being touched with his beneficent and marvellous works, caused him to suffer an ignominious death. Thus the Son of God died in the sight of all Jerusalem; but his followers declare that he was secretly resuscitated three days after his death. Visible to them alone, and invisible to the nation which he came to enlighten and convert to his doctrine, Jesus, after his resurrection, say they, conversed some time with his disciples, and then ascended into heaven, where, having again become equal to God the Father, he shares with him the adorations and homages of the sectaries of his law. These sectaries, by accumulating superstitions, inventing impostures, and fabricating dogmas and mysteries, have, by little and little, heaped up a distorted and unconnected system of religion which is called Christianity, after the name of Christ its founder.

The different nations, to which the Jews were successively subjected, had infected them with a multitude of Pagan dogmas. Thus the Jewish religion. Egyptian in its origin, adopted many of the rites and opinions of the people, with whom the Jews conversed. We need not then be surprised, if we see the Jews, and the Christians their successors, filled with notions borrowed of the Phenicians, the Magi or Persians, the Greeks and the Romans. The errors of mankind respecting religion have a general resemblance; they appear to differ only by their combinations. The commerce of the Jews and Christians with the Grecians, made them acquainted with the philosophy of Plato, so analogous to the romantic spirit of the orientals, and so conformable to the genius of a religion which boasts in being inaccessible to reason. [18:1] Paul, the most ambitious and enthusiastic of the apostles, carried his doctrines, seasoned with the sublime and marvellous, among the people of Greece and Asia, and even the inhabitants of Rome. He gained proselytes, as every man who addresses himself to the imagination of ignorant people may do; and he may be justly styled the principal founder of a religion, which, without him, could never have spread far; for the rest of its followers were ignorant men, from whom he soon separated himself to become the leader of his own sect. [18:2]

The conquests of the Christian religion were, in its infancy, generally limited to the vulgar and ignorant. It was embraced only by the most abject amongst the Jews and Pagans. It is over men of this description that the marvellous has the greatest influence. [18:3] An unfortunate God, the innocent victim of wickedness and cruelty, and an enemy to riches and the great, must have been an object of consolation to the wretched. The austerity, contempt of riches, and apparently disinterested cares of the first preachers of the gospel, whose ambition was limited to the government of souls; the equality of rank and property enjoined by their religion, and the mutual succours interchanged by its followers; these were objects well calculated to excite the desires of the poor, and multiply Christians. The union, concord, and reciprocal affection, recommended to the first Christians, must have been seductive to ingenious minds: their submissive temper, their patience in indigence, obscurity, and distress, caused their infant sect to be looked upon as little dangerous in a government accustomed to tolerate all sects. Thus, the founders of Christianity had many adherents among the people (Le peuple), and their opposers and enemies consisted chiefly of some idolatrous priests and Jews, whose interest it was to support the religion previously established. By little and little, this new system, covered with the clouds of mystery, took deep root, and became too strong and extensive to be suppressed. The Roman government saw too late the progress of an association it had despised. The Christians now become numerous, dared to brave the Pagan gods, even in their temples. The emperors and magistrates, disquieted at such proceedings, endeavoured to extinguish the sect which gave them umbrage. They persecuted such as they could not reclaim by milder means, and whom their fanaticism had rendered obstinate. The feelings of mankind are ever interested in favour of distress; and this persecution only served to increase the number of the friends of the Christians. The fortitude and constancy with which they suffered torment, appeared supernatural and divine in the eyes of those who were witnesses to it; their enthusiasm communicated itself, and produced new advocates for the sect, whew destruction was attempted.

After this explanation, let Christians no longer boast the marvelous progress of their religion. It was the religion of poverty; it announced a God who was poor. It was preached by the poor, to the poor sand ignorant. It gave them consolation in their misery. Even its gloomy ideas were analogous to the disposition of indigent and unhappy men. The union and concord so much admired in the earlier Christians, is by no means surprising. An infant and oppressed sect naturally remain united, and dread a separation of interests. It is astonishing that, in those early days, men who were themselves persecuted and treated as malcontents, should presume to preach intolerance and persecution. The tyranny exercised against them wrought no change in their sentiments. Tyranny only irritates the human mind, which is always invincible, when those opinions are attacked to which it has attached its welfare. Such is the inevitable effect of persecution. Yet Christians, who ought to be undeceived by the example of their own sect, have to this day been incapable of divesting themselves of the fury of persecution.

The Roman emperors, having themselves become Christians, that is to say, carried away by a general torrent, which obliged them to avail themselves of the support of a powerful sect, seated religion on the throne. They protected the church and its ministers, and endeavoured to inspire their courtiers with their own ideas. They beheld with a jealous eye those who retained their attachment to the ancient religion. They, at length, interdicted the exercise of it, and finished by forbidding it under the pain of death. They persecuted without measure those who held to the worship of their ancestors. The Christians now repaid the Pagans, with interest, the evils which they had before suffered from them. The Roman empire was shaken with convulsions, caused by the unbridled zeal of sovereigns and those pacific priests, who had just before preached nothing but mildness and toleration. The emperors, either from policy or superstition, loaded the priesthood with gifts and benefactions, which indeed were seldom repaid with gratitude. They established the authority of the latter; at length respected as divine what they had themselves created. Priests were relieved from all civil functions, that nothing might divert their minds from their sacred ministry. [20:1] Thus the leaders of a once insignificant and oppressed sect became independent. Being at last more powerful than kings, they soon arrogated to themselves the right of commanding them. These priests of a God of peace, almost continually at variance with each other, communicated the fury of their passions to their followers; and mankind were astonished to behold quarrels and miseries engendered, under the law of grace, which they had never experienced under the peaceful reign of the Divinities, who had formerly shared without dispute the adoration or mortals.

Such was the progress of a superstition, innocent in its origin, but which, in its course, far from producing happiness among mankind, became a bone of contention, and a fruitful source of calamities.

Peace upon earth, and good will towards men.

Thus is the gospel announced, which has cost the human race more blood than all other religious of the earth taken collectively.

Love the Lord thy God with all thy strength, and thy neighbour as thyself.

This, according to the God and Legislator of the Christians, is the sum of their duties. Yet we see it is impossible for Christians to love that severe and capricious God whom they worship. On the other hand, we see them eternally busied in tormenting, persecuting, and destroying their neighbours and brethren.

To find an explanation of these contradictions, it is sufficient to cast our eyes upon the God which the Christians inherited from the Jews. Not contented with the shocking colours in which he was painted, the Christians have still more disfigured his portrait. The Legislator of the Hebrews speaks only of the transient punishments of this life; the Christian represents his God as pouring out unbounded vengeance to all eternity. In one word, Christian fanaticism feeds itself with the idea of an hell, where its God, transformed into a ferocious executioner, as unjust as implacable, shall bathe himself in the tears of his wretched creatures, and perpetuate their existence, to render them eternally miserable. There, clothed in vengeance, he shall mock at the torments of sinners, and listen with rapture to the groans with which they shall make the brazen roofs of their prisons resound; not the smallest hope of some distant termination of their pains shall give them an interval of imaginary relief.

The Christians in adopting the terrible God of the Jews, have sublimed his cruelty. They represent him as the most capricious, wicked, and cruel tyrant which the human mind can conceive, and suppose him to treat his subjects with a barbarity and injustice truly worthy of a demon. In order to be convinced of this truth, let us contemplate, for a moment, a picture of the Jewish mythology, adopted and rendered still more extravagant by the Christians.
 
 


[17:1] The Jews say that Jesus was the son of one Pandira, or Panther, who had seduced his mother Mary, a milliner, the wife of Jochanan. According to others, Pandira, by some artifice, enjoyed her several times while she thought him her husband; after which, she becoming pregnant, her husband, suspicious of her fidelity, retired into Babylon. Some say that Jesus was taught magic in Egypt, from whence he went and exercised his art in Galilee, where he was put to death. --Vide Peiffer, Theol. Jud. and Mahom. &c. Principia. Lypsiae, 1687.

[18:1] Origen says, that Celsus reproached Christ with having borrowed many of his maxims from Plato. See Origen contra Cel. chap. i. 6. Augustine confesses, that he found the beginning of the Gospel of John, in Plato; see S. Aug. Conf. I. vii. ch. 9, 10, 11. The notion of the word is evidently taken from Plato; the church has since found means of transplanting a great part of Plato, as we shall hereafter prove.

[18:2] The Ebionites, or first Christians, looked upon Saint Paul as in apostate and an heretic, because he wholly rejected the law of Moses, which the other apostles wished only to reform.

[18:3] The first Christians were, by way of contempt, called Ebionites, which signifies beggars or mendicants. See Origen contra Celsum, lib. ii. and Euseb. Hist. Eccles. lib. iii. c. 37. Ebion, in Hebrew, signifies poor. The word Ebion has since been personified into the meaning of an heretic or the leader of a sect, who were excluded from sacred things, and scarcely considered as men. It promised them that they should one day have their turn, and that, in the other life, they should be happier than their masters.

[20:1] See Tillemont's Life of Constantine. Vol. iv. Art. 32.
 


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