Page images
PDF
EPUB

TO THE READER.

IT is not the least argument for the spiritual and incorporeal nature of human souls, and that they are acted by a higher principle than meer matter and motion, their boundless and inquisitive researches after knowledge. Our minds naturally grasp at a kind of omnisciency, and not content with the speculations of this or that particular science, hunt over the whole course of nature ; nor are they satisfied with the present state of things, but pursue the notices of former ages and are desirous to comprehend whatever transactions have been since time itself had a being. We endeavour to make up the shortness of our lives by the extent of our knowledge ; and because we cannot see forwards and spy what lies concealed in the womb of futurity, we look back, and eagerly trace the footsteps of those times that went before us. Indeed to be ignorant of what happened before we ourselves came into the world is, (as Cicero truly observes) to be always children, and to deprive ourselves of what would at once entertain our minds with the highest pleasure, and add the greatest authority and advantage to us. The knowledge of antiquity, besides that it gratifies one of our noblest curiosi. ties, improves our minds by the wisdom of preceding ages, acquaints us with the most remarkable occurrences of the Divine Providence, and presents us with the most apt and proper rules and instances that may form us to a life of true philosophy and virtue ; History (says Thucydides") being nothing else but Diacoomize in capedía puesta mau, philosophy drawn from examples ; the one is a more

a In Oratore, page 268.
b Ap. Dion Halis. Tlegi názvy: 507. p. 65. Tom. 2.

gross and popular philosophy the other a more subtle and refined history

These considerations, together with a desire to perpetuate the memory of brave and great actions, gave birth to history, and obliged mankind to transmit the more observable passages both of their own and foregoing times to the notice of posterity. The first in this kind was Moses, the great prince and legislator of the Jewish nation, who from the creation of the world conveyed down the records of above 2550 years; the same course being more or less continued through all the periods of the Jewish state. Among the Babylonians they had their public archives, which were transcribed by Berosus the priest of Belus, who composed the Chaldean history. The Egyptians were wont to record their mcmorable acts upon pillars in hieroglyphic notes and sacred characters, first begun 'as they pretend) by Thouth, or the first of their Mercuries; out of which Manethos, their chief priest, collected his three books of Egyptian dynasties, which he dedicated to Ptolomy Philadelphus, second of that line. The Phænician history was first attempted by Sanchoniathon, digested partly out of the annals of cities, partly out of the books kept in the temple, and communicated to him by Jerombaal, priest of the god Jao: this he dedicated to Abi. balus king of Berytus, which Philo Byblius, about the time of the emperor Adrian, translated into Greek. The Gr.eks boast of the antiquity of Cadmus, Archilochus, and many others, though the most ancient of their his. to ian, now extant are Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon. Among the Romans the foundations of history were laid in annals, the public acts of every year being made up by the Pontifex Maximus, who kept them at his own house, that the people upon any emergency might resort to them for satisfaction. These were the annales maximi and afforded excellent materials to those who afterwards wrote the history of that great and powerful commonwealth.

But that which of all others challenges the greatest re. gard both as it more immediately concerns the present

inquiry, and as it contains accounts of things relating to our biggest interests, is the history of the church. For herein, as in a glass, we have the true face of the church in its several ages represented to us. Here we find with what infinite care those divine records, which are the great instruments of our eternal happiness, have through the several periods of time been conveyed down to us; with what a mighty success religion has triumphed over the greatest oppositions, and spread its banners in the remotest corners of the world. With how incomparable a zeal good men have contended earnestly for that faith which was once delivered to the saints ; with what a bitier and implacable fury the enemies of religion have set upon it, and how signally the Divine Providence has appeared in its preservation, and returned the mischief upon

their own heads. Here we see the constant succession of bishops and the ministers of religion in their several stations, the glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the noble army of martyrs, who with the most cheerful and composed minds have gone to heaven through the acutest torments. In short, we have here the most admirable examples of a divine and religious life, of a real and unfeigned piety, a sincere and universal charity, a strict temperance and sobriety, an unconquerable patience and submission clearly represented to us. And the higher we go, the more illustrious are the instances of piety and virtue. For however later ages may have improved in knowledge, experience daily making new additions to arts and sciences, yet former times were most eminent for the practice and virtues of a holy life. The divine laws while newly published, had a stronger influence upon the minds of men, and the spirit of religion was more active and vigorous till men by degrees began to be debauched into that impiety and prophaneness, that in these last times has over-run the world.

It were altogether needless and improper for me to consider what records there are of the state of the church before our Saviour's incarnation : it is sufficient to my purpose to inquire by what hands the first affairs of the

Christian church have been transmitted to us.

As for the life and death, the actions and miracles of our Saviour, and some of the first acts of his apostles, they are fully represented by the evangelical historians. Indeed immediately after them we meet with nothing of this nature, the apostles and their immediate successors, as Eusebius observes “) not being at leisure to write many books, as being employed in ministries greater and more immediately serviceable to the world. The first that engaged in this way, was Hegesippus, an ancient and apostolic man (as he in Phocius styles him) an Hebrew by descent, and born (as is probable) in Palestine. He flourished principally in the reign of M. Aurelius, and came to Rome in the time of Anicetus, where he resided till the time of Eleutherius. He wrote five books of ecclesiastical history, which he styled Commentaries of the Acts of the Church, wherein in a plain and familiar style he described the apostles' travels and preachings, the remarkable passages of the church, the several schisms, heresies, and persecutions that infested it from our Lord's death till his own time. But these, alas, are long since lost. The next that succeeded in this province, though the first that reduced it to any exactness and perfection, was Eusebius. He was born in Palestine, about the later times of the emperor Gallienus, ordained presbyter by Agapius bishop of Cæsarea, who suffer. ing about the end of the Dioclesian persecution, Eusebius succeeded in his see. A man of incomparable parts and learning, and of no less industry and diligence in searching out the records and antiquities of the church. After several other volumes in defence of the Christian cause against the assaults both of Jews and Gentiles, he set himself to write an ecclesiastical his. tory, wherein he designed (as himself tells us €) to recount from the birth of our Lord till his time the most memorable transactions of the church, the apostolical successions, the first preachers and planters of the gospel, the bishops that presided in the most eminent sees,

cel. 1. 3. e. 24. p. 94.

d Cod. 232. col. 893.

e. Lib. 1. c. 1. p. 3.

the most noted errors and heresies, the calamities that befel the Jewish state, the attempts and persecutions made against the Christians by the powers of the world, the torments and sufferings of the martyrs, and the bles. sed and happy period that was put to them by the conversion of Constantine the Great. All this, accordingly, he digested in ten books, which he composed in the declining part of his life, and (as Valesius conjectures,') some years after the council of Nice, though when not long before he expresly affirms that history to have been written before the Nicene Synod. How he can herein be excused from a palpable contradiction I cannot imagine. It is true Eusebius takes no notice of that council, but that might be partly because he designed to end in that joyful and prosperous scene of things which Constantine restored to the church (as he himself plainly intimates in the beginning of his history) which he was not willing to discompose with the controversies and contentions of that Synod, according to the humour of all historians, who delight to shut up their histories with some happy and successful period; and partly because he intended to give some account of the affairs of that council in his book of the life of Constantine the Great.

The materials wherewith he was furnished for this great undertaking (which he complains were very small and inconsiderable) were besides Hegesippus his commentaries then extant, Africanus his chronology, the books and writings of several fathers, the records of particular cities, ecclesiastical epistles written by the bishops of those times, and kept in the archives of their several churches, especially that famous library at Jerusalem, erected by Alexander, bishop of that place, but chiefly the acts of the martyrs, which in those times were taken at large with great care and accuracy. These, at least a great many of them, Eusebius collected into one volume. under the title of 'Aexriv Meglugi on uvayo, *. A collection of the ancient martyrdoms ; which he refers

f Præfat. de Vit. & Script Euscb.

« PreviousContinue »