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§ 4. This philosophy gave birth to two extraordinary sects in the bosom of the church. The mode of explaining by allegory, was adopted by Clemens Alexandrinus, and by the celebrated Origen. The last was passionately devoted to this philosophy. These fathers took for the model of their expositions, the rhapsodies of the Eastern philosophers, who made godly comments on the wretched fables and absurdities of their ghostly histories. Taught by these sophists, they supposed that the inspired writers had concealed their true meaning under different forms of speech. The plainest doctrines, and even historical details were found out to be nothing more than allegories, containing in their bowels wonderful mysteries. They set themselves with much solemnity, to penetrate those figures; and they brought to view, doctrines which no mortal had before pretended to discover there; and which certainly no inspired writer ever meant to convey by these statements. To pave the way for this knighterrantry in divinity, Origen laid, down this dangerous inaxim, which he never would have adopted, had he been able, by a fair and natural course, to find his favourite Plato within the precincts of the bible: "Many evils lie in adhering to the external letter, or carnal part of the scriptures. Let us seek after the spirit of the word, which is hidden and mysterious." "The scriptures are of little use to those who understand them as they are written."* It is from this we trace the origin of that scholastic theology which caused so much distraction in the church in after ages.

The other sect was more notorious: it was that of the mystics. They perfected the works begun by their master. By the help of scripture phrases and a new nomenclature, Plato was christianized. His conducting demon was ingeniously metamorphosed; he became in their lips the spirit; from the confusion in his pages respecting the luciform body or vehicle of the soul, and the demon, arose their confounding of the word and the spirit. These in process of time, among the peculiarities of certain heresies, became one and the same. The "dry splendour" of Porphyry became, in their system, a divine illumination by the rising up of the light within; this re-union of the soul to God

*Orig. Strom. lib. 10. Mosh. i. cent. 3. p. 2. ch. 3. Taylor's Platonic Theol. ii. p. 271.

in the fund of the soul, so as to partake of the essence of God, became in their hands the union to Christ within, whence they obtain emancipation from sin, and the lofty honours of perfection.* His struggles of the soul in its descent to its original, in obedience to the whispers of the god within it, became, with these christians, the sufferings of Christ in their flesh. Sometimes his demon sunk beneath unruly passions or the force of sin; this became, with them, the crucifying of Christ in them, and a falling finally away from grace. He made the body to be only a prison of the soul. Death sets us free, never again to be enthralled by a union to it; hence they drew the inference that there is not a resurrection of the same body which is laid in the grave.

They adopted also his austere discipline. Acting on the Platonic maxim, that the soul is an emanation from God and is "of his essence;" and that it "comprehends in itself the elements of all truth, human and divine;" they rejected all the aid of learning and study, and indeed of every external means, to excite the hidden flame in the soul. Nothing, they taught, but solitude and the stillness of repose, can effect this; the body must be mortified; reason and wisdom must be checked: hence the origin of monks and hermits. In a short time the deserts and the dens of wild beasts were peopled with these fanatics. The eastern climate greatly conduced to this; their glowing atmosphere creates the inactive and melancholy habits which distinguish the languid minds of the East.

Ammonius Saccas committed nothing to writing; but in the fourth century, his mystic doctrine was reduced to a more regular system. This was effected by that fanatic who assumed the name of Dionysius the Areopagite. His writings being spread among the Greeks and Syrians, produced an incredible number of disciples: these espoused the cause of mysticism with a degree of enthusiasm bordering on madness.§ In this century, this sect passed into Italy, and the islands bordering on it, and from thence into Gaul, and the rest of Europe.

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But the oriental mystics differed widely from those of the West. In mortifying the body, and in disengaging the soul from its influence, and in exciting the internal light, the former imitated the manners of the idiot, and sometimes those of the maniac. They withdrew into solitudes, whence occasionally they would make sallies in a state of perfect nudity, and run with ferocious looks, till nature was exhausted. Some of them retired into caves, where they remained motionless, and in awful silence, or edified themselves by lacerating their miserable bodies. Some sat for hours in a bending position, with their eyes fixed on some particular object; some threw themselves down and remained in certain postures until they fell into a trance; some squinting their eyes inward, fixed an earnest look on the tops of their noses; others, (and hence the Umbilicani of famous memory,) kept their eyes eagerly and immoveably fixed on the middle region of their belly, or the navel, until the pure light beamed forth from their souls, and the still voice of their divine teacher within was distinctly heard.* The mystics of the west did not go all these lengths: they owed it not to principle, but to the effects of a rigid climate, and their national habits, that they were less frantic, and more indulgent to their health and comfort.t

There were three different classes of these fanatics. The Cenobites lived in one community, under one chief, who was in later times called Abbot. The hermits lived in cottages or caves, remote from the haunts of men or social comfort. The anchorites frequented the wildest deserts without the shelter of a cave or a cottage; and whenever night found them, they threw themselves down and slept on the ground. This last class often wandered into cities, and mingling with society they called on all to repent, and pretended to confirm their claims to a divine mission by their miracles. They had no regular means of support, but were supported by the hands of charity.‡

In the fifth century, this sect received a fresh impulse in the west by the translation of Plato into Latin. Greek was little

* Mosh. cent. 4. part 2. ch. 3. sec. 14. Mosh. cent. 14. part 2. c. 5.

Mosh. do. sec. 15 & Niceph. Eccles. Hist. Tom. i. cap. 15. 16. p. 707. Milner ch. hist. vol. ii. cent. 4. chap. v. Spanhem, Sac. et Eccl. Hist. p. 934. fol.

known in the west: even to the men of letters, Plato was a sealed book. This translation put it into every body's hands; hence it happened, said an ancient writer, that all those Latins who had any inclination to study the truth, fell into the notions of


In the sixth century, two events fell out, which procured fresh accessions to its numbers. The one was the more extensive circulation of the writings of the fictitious Dionysius, explained and enforced by the annotations of John of Scythopolis.† The other was the overthrow of the Platonic schools under the care of the pagan philosophers. From the age of Ammonius Saccas, these schools had been in a flourishing state. In the fourth century they produced some distinguished men, who, in their turn, raised still higher, the forms of these schools. Of these pupils, Plotinus was the most eminent; he taught the Platonic system in Persia, and in the west as far as Rome. His successors were Amelius, Porphyry, and Jamblicus; and in the fifth century, Syrianus and Proclus flourished. Seven philosophers of smaller name succeeded Proclus; but the glory of these once famous schools of Athens and Alexandria, was hastening to depart. The fame of the Platonic christian doctors gradually drew off their pupils, and the edict of Justinian completed their ruin in the beginning of the sixth century. From this time the Platonic philosophers began to take shelter under the christian name. They carried with them into the bosom of the church, a vast accession of strength to the mystics. These flourished chiefly in the east. But the ninth century was a new era to them in the western empire.

Michael Balbus, the emperor of the Greeks, presented a copy of the works of Dionysius to Louis the Meek, emperor of the west; by his orders it was carefully translated into Latin.§ Another and a more elegant translation was executed by John Scot Erigena, under the patronage of the emperor Charles the Bald. That learned Irishman was not content with translating the pages of the pretended Dionysius; he incorporated the mys

* Sidon. Appolinarius Epist. Lib. 9. Ep. 9. &c. Mosh. ii. cent. v. p. 2. ch. 1. sec. 3.

† Mosh.ii. cent. vi. p. 2. c. 3. sec. 6.

Mosh. ii. cent. vi. part 2. ch. 1. sec. 4.

§ Ab. Hilduini Areopagetica p. 66. Edit. of 1563.

tic doctrine into his system of philosophy. By means of his writings, which were much read, and under the extensive patronage of the emperors, the sect of the mystics carried its triumphs into Germany, and France and Italy.*

The eleventh and twelfth centuries, present a melancholy picture of the condition of the church, and of the state of learning. Gloomy superstition dozed on her throne, and shed her baleful influence on the minds of men. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the mystics produced several writers; these gave forth expositions of the scriptures: in all their sentiments they were guided by their gloomy philosophy, and they forced the pure doctrines of the gospel into an odious conformity with their visionary scheme.

§ 5. While mysticism and superstition were struggling for the superiority in the dark ages of catholic Europe, a fresh torrent of the eastern philosophy was poured in through Italy. Various causes combined to produce this. From the beginning of the eleventh century, the thirst for knowledge had been encreasing; the progress made in the succeeding centuries, little though it was, seemed to add a fresh stimulus to the human mind to throw off the yoke of darkness. In the beginning of the fifteenth century, the works of the ancients were sought after with extraordinary avidity. "The discovery of an ancient manuscript was regarded as almost equal to the conquest of a kingdom." Among the men of letters, who distinguished themselves in the collection of manuscripts, we find the names of Poggio and Arispa. The last having travelled into the East, returned in A. D. 1423, with 238 manuscripts; among these were all the works of Plato, Plotinus and Proclus. In A. D. 1438, a general council was held at Ferrara, by the order of Pope Eugenius IV, to settle the points in dispute between the Roman church and the Greek church. In the retinue of the emperor of the East, who attended the council, was Pletho, one of the most distinguished scholars of the age; and one who was passionately devoted to the Platonic philosophy. During his residence at Ferrara, and afterwards at

• Mosh. ii. cent. 9. p. 2. ch. 3. sec. 12.

† Roscoe's Lor De Med. vol. i. p. 33, &c.

Fabricii Bibl. Græc. tom. X. p. 739, 756. Gibbon's Rome, vol. viii.

ch. 66.

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