Page images

Bruyère, a Bossuet, a Fénélon, a Voltaire, a Buffon, a Montesquieu ? Who may not be alarmed, gentlemen, at the idea that he is about to form a link in this

august chain? Oppressed with the weight of these immortal names, not having the powers necessary to make myself recognized as a lawful heir, I will endeavour at least to prove my descent by my sentiments. When

my túrn shall arrive to yield my place to the orator who is to deliver his oration over my tomb, he may treat my works with severity, but he shall be obliged to say, that I loved my country passionately, that I would have suffered a thousand ills rather than have cost her a single tear, that I would, without hesitation, have sacrificed my life in support of these noble sentiments, the only ones which cart give value to life and dignity to death.



The only noble answer, perhaps, that can be given by an author when attacked, is silence. It is at least the surest way of gaining credit in the public opinion.

If a work be really good, it cannot be affected by cenşure; if it be bad, it cannot be justified by apologies.

Convinced of these truths, the author of the Spirit of Christianity determined not to take any notice of the animadversions of critics, and till the present moment he has adhered to this resolution. He has borne praises without pride, and insults without discouragement: the former are often lavished upon mediocrity, and the latter upon merit. He has with perfect indifference beheld certain critics proceed from abuse to calumny, either because they ascribed the author's silence to contempt, or because they could not forgive him after their affronts had been offered to him in vain.

Methinks I hear the reader ask : why then does the author now break silence? Why has he deviated from the rule which he laid down for himself ? To these questions I reply: Because it is obvious, that under the pretext of attacking the author, there now lurks a design to annihilate that little benefit which the work may be calculated to produce. Because it is neither his own person nor his own talent, real or reputed, that the author is about to defend, but the book itself; and this book he will defend not as literary, but as a religious work.

The Beauties of Christianity have been received by the public with some indulgence. At this symptom of a change in opinion, the spirit of sophistry took the alarm; she considered it as prophetic of the approaching termination of her too long reign. She had recourse to all her weapons, she took every disguise, and even assumed the cloak of religion), to blast a work written in behalf of religion herself.

Under these circumstances, the author deems it his duty to keep silence no longer. The same spirit which prompted him to write his book, now impels him to step forth in its defence. It is pretty evident that the critics, to whom he alludes in this defence, were not honest in their animadversions; they pretended to misconceive the object of the work; they loudly accused it of being pro. fane; they took good care not to perceive that the author treated of the grandeur, the beauty, the poetry of the Christian religion, merely because it had been the fashion for half a century to insist on its meanness, absurdity, and barbarism. When he has explained the reasons which induced him to undertake the work, when he has specified the class of readers to whom it is particularly addressed, he hopes that his intentions and the object of his labours will cease to be mistaken. The author, in his own opinion, cannot give a stronger proof of his devotion to the cause which he has espoused, than in addressing this reply to the critics, in spite of the repugnance which he. has always felt for controversies of the kind.

It has in the first place been asked, whether the author had a right to compose such a work. This is either a serious question or a sneer. If it be serious, the critic proves

that he is not much conversant with his subject. Needs any one be told that in difficult times every Christian is a priest and confessor of Jesus Christ ?*

* S. Nieron, Dial. c. Lucif.

Most of the apologies for the Christian religion have been written by laymen. Were Aristides, St. Justin, Minu: cius Felix, Arnobius, and Lactantius, priests? It is pro: bable that St. Prosper never embraced the ecclesiastical profession, and yet he defended the faith againt the errors of the semi-pelagians; the church daily quotes his works in support of her doctrines. When Nestorius circulated his heresy, he was combated by Eusebius, afterwards bishop of Dorylæum, but who was at the time an advocate. Origen had not yet taken orders when he expounded the Scriptures in Palestine, at the solicitation of the prelates of that province themselves. Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, who was jealous of Origen, complained of these discourses as an innovation. Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, and Theocritus of Cesaræa, replied,“ that it was an ancient and general custom in the church, for bishops to make use indiscriminately of persons possessing piety and some talent for speaking.” All

All ages have afforded similar examples.

When Pascal undertook his sublime apology for Christianity ; when La Bruyère wrote with such eloquence against Free-thinkers; when Leibnitz defended the principal tenets of the faith; when Newton wrote the explanation of one of the sacred books; when Montesquieu composed those exquisite chapters of his Spirit of the Laws, defending the religion of the Gospel, did any one ever think of asking whether they were priests ? Even poets have raised their voices in conjunction with these powerful apologists, and the son of Racine has, in harmonious verses, defended that religion which inspired the author of Athaliah.

But if it ever behoved laymen to take in hand this sacred cause, it must be by that species of apology which the author of the Beauties of Christianity has adopted-a kind of defence, which the mode of attack imperiously required, and which, considering the spirit of the age, was perhaps the only one that could be expected to be attend. ed with any success.

Such an apology could not in fact be undertaken by any but a layman. An ecclesiastic could not, without a manifest violation of propriety, have considered religion in its merely human relations, and have read so many calumnious satires, impious libels and obscure novels, for the purpose of refuting them.

In truth, the critics who have advanced this objection, are fully aware how frivolous it is, but they hoped in their circuitous way to prevent the good effects that might result from the book. They wished to raise doubts respecting the competency of the author, in order to divide the public opinion, and to alarm those simple minds which suffer themselves to be imposed upon by the apparent honesty of criticism. Let these timid consciences take courage; or rather, let them fairly examine before they yield to alarm, whether the scrupulous critics, who accuse the author of laying violent hands on the censor, who evince such extraordidary tenderness, such anxious solicitude for religion, be not men notorious for their contempt or their neglect of it.

The second objection alleged against the Spirit of Christianity, has the same purpose as the preceding, but it is more dangerous, inasmuch as it tends to bewilder the ideas, to involve what is perfectly clear in obscurity, and in particular to mislead the reader with regard to the real object of the book.

The same critics, with their wonted zeal for the interests of religion, observe--.“ It is highly improper to treat of religion under merely human relations, or to consider its literary and poetic beauties. This is inflicting a wound on religion herself; it is a debasement of her dignity, a removal of the veil of the sanctuary, a profanation of the sacred ark, &c. Why did not the author confine himself to theological arguments? why has he not em

« PreviousContinue »