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Some Observations, relative to the present State of
the Reformed Religion, and the influence of improvements in Philosophy and Science on its propagation and advancement ;
Occasioned by some passages in the preface to a
book, entitled, I be CONFESSIONAL.
this day :ize the last mish super nice
TN one of the notes (a) which I added to those APPEND.
I of Dr MOSHEIM, in my translation of his Ec- 11. clesiastical History, I observed that the Reformed churches were never at such a distance froin the spirit and doctrine of the church of Rome as they are at this day ;--that the improvements in science, that characterize the last and the present age, seem to render a relapse into Romish superstition morally imposa sible in these who have been once delivered from its baneful influence : and that, if the dawn of science and philosophy towards the end of the sixteenth, and the commencement of the seventeenth centuries, was favourable to the cause of the Reformation, their progress, which has a kind of influence even upon the multitude, must confirm us in the principles that occa. sioned our separation from the church of Rome.
[a] See volume ii. p. 573. of the quarto edition. This note was occasioned by my mistaking, in a moment of inadvertency, the true sense of the passage to which it relates. This mistake I have corrected in the octavo edition, and in the supplement to the quarto edition,
APPEND. This reasoning did not appear conclusive to
the ingenious author of the Confessional, who has accordingly made some critical reflections upon it in the preface to that work. However, upon an impartial view of these reflections, I find that this author's excessive apprehensions of the progress of Popery have had an undue influence on his method of reasoning on this subject. He supposes (preface, p. 59. and 60.), that the improve. ments in science and philosophy, in some Popish countries, have been as considerable as in any reformed country; and afterwards asks, what intelligence we have from these Popish countries of a proportionable progress of religious reformation? Have we no reason to suspect (adds he) that, if an accurate account were to be taken, the balance in point of conversions, in the most improved of these countries, would be greatly against the Re. formed Religion?
I cannot see how these observations, or rather conjectures, even were they founded in truth and fact, tend to prove my reasoning inconclusive. I observed, that the progress of science was adapted to confirm us Protestants in the belief and profession of the Reformed religion ; and I had here in view, as every one may see, those countries in which the Protestant religion is established ; and this author answers me by observing, that the progress of the Reformation in some Popish countries is not proportionable to the progress of science and philosophy in these countries. This, surely, is no answer at all; since there are in Popish countries accidental circumstances that counteract, in favour of Popery, the influence of those improvements in science, which are in direct opposition to its propagation and advance. ment; circumstances that I shall consider presently, and which do not exist in Protestant states, This subject is interesting; and I therefore pre
sume, that some farther thoughts upon it will not APPEND. be disagreeable to the candid reader.
The sagacious author of the Confessional cannot, I think, seriously call in question the natural tendency of improvements in learning and science to strengthen and confirm the cause of the Reformation. For as the foundations of Popery are a blind submission to an usurped authority over the understandings and consciences of men, and an implicit credulity that adopts, without examination, the miracles and visions that derive their existence from the crazy brains of fanatics, or the lucrative artifice of impostors, so it is unquestionably eyident, that the progress of sound philosophy, and the spirit of free inquiry it produces, strikes direcily at these foundations. I say the progress of sound philosophy, that the most inactentive reader may not be tempted to imagine (as the author of the Confessional has been informed (preface, p. 60.), that improvements in philosophy have made many sceptics in all churches, reformed and unrea formed. For I am persuaded, that as true Christianity can never lead to superstition, so true philosophy will never be a guide to infidelity and scepticism. We must not be deceived with the name of philosophers, which some poets and wits have assumed in our days, particularly upon the continent, and which many lavish upon certain subtle refiners in dialectics, who bear a much greater resemblance of over-weening sophists, than of real sages. We must not be so far lost to all power of distinguishing, as to confound, in one common mass, the philosophy of a Bacon, a Newton, a Boyle, and a Niė. wentyt, with the incoherent views and rhetorical rants of a Bolingbroke, or the flimsy sophistry of a Voltaire. And though candour must acknowledge, that some men of true learning have been so unhappy as to fall into infidelity, and charity must weep to see a Home and a D'ALEMBERT
APPEND. joining a set of men that are unworthy of their :
society, and covering a dark and uncomfortable system with the lustre of their superior talents, yet equity itself may safely affirm, that neither their science nor their genius are the causes of their scepticism.
But if the progress of science and free inquiry have a natural tendency to destroy the foundations of Popery, how comes it to pass that, in Popish countries, the progress of the Reformation bears no proportion to the progress of science? and how can we account for the ground which Popery (if the apprehensions of the author of the Confessional are well founded) gains even in England ?
Before I answer the first of these questions, it may be proper to consider the matter of fact, and to examine, for a moment, the state of science and philosophy in Popish countries; this examination, if I am not mistaken, will confirm the theory I have laid down with respect to the influence of philosophical improvement upon true religion. Let us then turn our view first to one of the most considerable countries in Europe, I mean Germany; and here we shall be struck with this undoubted fact, that it is in the Protestant part of this vast region only, that the improvements of science and philosophy appear, while the barharism of the fifteenth century reigns, as yet, in those districts of the empire that profess the Romish religion. The celebrated M. D'ALEMBERT, in his treatise, entitled, De l'abus de la Critique en matiere de Religion,' makes the following remarkable observation on this head : “ We must ac"knowledge, though with sorrow, the present su“periority of the Protestant universities in Ger“ many over those of the Romish persuasion. “ This superiority is so striking, that foreigners “ who travel through the empire, and pass from "a Romish academy to a Protestant university,
leven in the same neighbourhood, are induced APPEND. " to think that they have rode, in an hour, four
jour, lour m “ hundred leagues, or lived, in that short space “ of time, four hundred years; that they have “ passed from Salamanca to Cambridge, or from " the times of Scotus to those of Newton." " Will it be believed (says the same author), in "succeeding ages, thai, in the year 1750, a book “ was published in one of the principal cities of “ Europe (Vienna) with the following title: Syste“ ma Aristotelicum de formis substantialibus et acci. “ dentibus absolutis, i. e. The Aristotelian System “ concerning substantial forms and absolute acci“ dents? Will it not rather be supposed, that this " date is an error of the press, and that 1550 i the “ true reading ?” See D'ALEMBERT's Melanges de Literature, d'Histoire & de Philosophie, vol. iv. p. 376.- This fact seems evidently to shew the connexion that there'is between improvements in science, and the free spirit of the reformed religion. The state of letters and philosophy in Italy and Spain, where canon-law, monkish literature, and scholastic metaphysics, have reigned during such a long course of ages, exhibits the same gloomy spectacle. Some rays of philosophi. cal light are now breaking through the cloud in Italy ; Boscovich, and some geniuses of the same stamp, have dared to hold up the lamp of science, without feeling the rigour of the Inquisition, or meeting with the fate of GALILEI. If this dawning revolution be brought to any degree of perfection, it may, in due time, produce effects that at present we have little hopes of.
France, indeed, seems to be the country which theauthor of the Confessional has principallyin view, when he speaks of a considerable progress in philosophy in Popish states that has not been attended with a proportionable influence on the reformation of religion. He even imagines, that if an account Vol. IV.