Maryland Farmer Essay VII

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Thus it is that barbarity, cruelty and blood which stain the history of religion, spring from the corruption of civil government, and from that never—dying hope and fondness for a state of equality, which constitutes an essential part of the soul of man:—A chaos of darkness obscures the downfal of empire, intermixed with gleams of light, which serve only to disclose scenes of desolation and horror—From the last confusion springs order:—The bold spirits who pull down the ancient fabric—erect a new one, founded on the natural liberties of mankind, and where civil government is preserved free, there can be no religious tyranny—the sparks of bigotry and enthusiasm may and will crackle, but can never light into a blaze.—

The truth of these remarks appear from the histories of those two great revolutions of European government, which seem to have convulsed this earth to the centre of its orb, and of which we have compleat record—The Roman and the Gothic, or as it is more commonly called the feudal constitution:—In the infancy of the Roman republic, when enterprizing and free, their conquests were rapid, because beneficial to the conquered (who were admitted to a participation of their liberty) their religion, although devoid, was not only unstained by persecution, but censurably liberal—they received without discrimination the Gods of the countries they subdued, into the list of their deities, until Olympus was covered with an army of demigods as numerous as the legions of Popish Saints; and we find the Grecian divinities adored with more sincere piety at Rome, than at Athens.—Rome was then in the zenith of her glory—in the days of her wretched decline—in the miserable reigns of Caracalla, Eliagabalus and Commodus.—Ammianus and others, inform us that the Christians were butchered like sheep, for reviving the old exploded doctrine of a future state, in which Emperors and Senators were to be placed on a level with the poorest and most abject of mankind:—And in the succeeding despotisms when christianity became the established religion, it grew immediately as corrupt in its infancy, as ever it has proved at any period since—the most subtle disquisitions of a metaphysical nature became the universal rage—the more incomprehensible—the more obstinately were they maintained, and in fine, the canonized Austin or Ambrose, (I forget which) closed his laborious enquiries, with this holy position—that he believed, because it was impossible. At length the great question, whether the three persons of the divinity, were three or one, became publickly agitated, and threw all mankind into a flame—Councils after councils, composed of all the wisdom of the divines, were assembled, and at length the doctrine that three were one prevailed, and such would have been the determination had it been proposed that three were sixteen—because misery is the foundation, upon which error erects her tyranny over the vulgar mind.—After this determination the arm of the Magistrate was called in, and those poor misled Arians who were still so wicked as to imagine that three must be three, were not only declared guilty of a most abominable and damnable heresy, but were thenceforth exterminated by fire and sword.

In the first age of the Gothic government, those free and hardy adventurers, deserted their Idols and embraced the doctrines of Christianity with ardent sincerity:—The King and a large majority of a nation, would be converted and baptized with as much celerity as the ceremony could be performed—but still liberty in the temporal, secured freedom in the spiritual administration: Christians and Pagan citizens lived together in the utmost harmony—Those bold and hardy conquerors would never listen to Bishops who advised persecution, and held in sovereign contempt all those metaphysical distinctions with which a pure religion has been disgraced, in order to cloak villainous designs and support artful usurpations of civil powers in feeble and turbulent governments. The Gothic institutions were however much sooner corrupted from internal vices than the Roman, and the undeniable reason was, that in the former, government by representation was admitted almost coeval with their first inundations;—whereas with the Romans, the democratic branch of power, exercised by the people personally, rendered them invinsible both in war and peace—the virtue of this internal institution could only be subdued by the greatness of its external acquisition—extensive empire ruined this mighty fabric—a superstructure, which overshadowed the then known world, was too mighty for the foundation confined within the walls of a city—the wealth imported by the Scipios from Spain and Afric, and by Flaminius, Lucullus, Sylla and Pompey, from the East, enabled the few to corrupt the many—a case that can never exist but where the legislative power resides exclusively in the citizens of the town—The Roman republic then became diseased at the heart, but as it was ages in forming, so it required ages of corruption to destroy a robust constitution where every atom was a nerve: It was not so with the Gothic constitution, mortal disease soon made its appearance there—Civil liberty was early destroyed by the insolence and oppressions of the great—The temporal power availed itself of that spiritual influence which nature has given religion over the hearts of men—A religion, the divinity of which is demonstrable by reason alone, unassisted by revelation became the corrupt instrument of usurpation.—Those who were the authors of the disorders which disgraced civil government, cut the reins of ecclesiastical persecution: And an universal and tyrannic confusion was mingled with absurdities that excite both ridicule and horror. We see a Duke of Gandia (who was betrayed and assassinated by that monster of perfidy Caesar Borgia, the bastard of the infamous Pope Alexander the VIth) in the last moments of his existence, begging the cut throat son, that he would intercede with his father, the Pope, in favour of his poor soul, that it might not be kept long in purgatory, but dispatched as soon as possible to Heaven, to dispute the infallibility of those vice—gerents of God, who generally patterned after the devil, was considered as an heresy more damnable than blaspheming the most high. Religious tyranny continued in this state, during those convulsions which broke the aristocracies of Europe, and settled their governments into mixed monarchies: A ray of light then beamed—but only for a moment—the turbulent state and quick corruption of mixed monarchy, opened a new scene of religious horror—Pardons for all crimes committed and to be committed, were regulated by ecclesiastical law, with a mercantile exactitude, and a Christian knew what he must pay for murdering another better than he now does the price of a pair of boots: At length some bold spirits began to doubt whether wheat flour, made into paste, could be actually human flesh, or whether the wine made in the last vintage could be the real blood of Christ, who had been crucified upwards of 1400 years—Such was the origin of the Protestant reformation—at the bare mention of such heretical and dangerous doctrine, striking (as they said) at the root of all religion, the sword of power leaped from its scabbard, the smoke that arose from the flames, to which the most virtuous of mankind, were without mercy committed, darkened all Europe for ages; tribunals, armed with frightful tortures, were every where erected, to make men confess opinions, and then they were solemnly burned for confessing, whilst priest and people sang hymns around them; and the fires of persecution are scarcely yet extinguished. Civil and religious liberty are inseparably interwoven—whilst government is pure and equal—religion will be uncontaminated:—The moment government becomes disordered, bigotry and fanaticism take root and grow—they are soon converted to serve the purpose of usurpation, and finally, religious persecution reciprocally supports and is supported by the tyranny of the temporal powers.

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