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Judaism and Christianity

(Concluded from page 399.)

From what has been said, we may conclude that Christianity not the basis of morality. It is undoubtedly a great system, a great code, and so is Mohammedanism and Brahminism. There is, however, a radical difference  between the Christian and Mussulman school, which only proves one nation more civilized than the other. The Turk has his own conception of morality, the American has another. As nations emerge from barbarism, they form new laws and new governments; when they become better acquainted with the arts and sciences, they learn to abhor their past state, and to proceed gradually with the work of their own perfection. This is the sign whereby we recognise the decay of one system and the rise of another.

It is the way all nations have risen, it is the way all nations have fallen. Morality is then dependent on no particular faith; it is a principle ingrafted in man. Hence there is no necessity for acknowledging the miraculous doctrine of the trinity either to be good or to form a conception of order. Every being has his standard of morality; therefore it is that in our government freedom of worship is guarantied to all. The wisdom of this policy needs no comment. It is the sure guarantee of legitimate liberty. But wherever morality is or has been expounded by a sect, there madness and fury usurp the place of reason, and despotism reigns triumphantly. There fanaticism is authorized by the state; there you find inquisitors, auto da fés, and refined cruelty.

History abundantly proves all we have asserted. During the middle ages, the clergy, with pretended and perpetual miracles, kept the people in continual excitement. The worship of saints was actual and general. A present to the Virgin, a gift to some particular saint, or attention to the wants of the clergy, procured absolution and safety for the most atrocious criminals. In the twelfth century, this extravagant practice was clothed in all its sublimity.

An example given by Le Grand d’Aussy can be found in Hallam’s Middle Ages. He says, “There was a man whose occupation was highway robbery; but whenever he set out on any such expedition, he was careful <<448>>to address a prayer to the Virgin. Taken at last, he was sentenced to be hanged. While the cord was round his neck, he made his usual prayer, nor was it ineffectual.  The Virgin supported his feet ‘with her white hands,’ and thus kept him alive two days, to the no small surprise of the executioner, who attempted to complete his work with strokes of a sword. But the same invisible hand turned aside the weapon, and the executioner was compelled to release his victim, acknowledging the miracle. The thief retired into a monastery, which is always the termination of these deliverances.” We need not wonder that monasteries were rich in those days.

We mean to assert nothing against the Roman church. It is no less true, however, that while Christian sovereigns persecuted the Jews, the Popes cried out, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” and at the same time protected them from their cruelty. In 1010, Alexander II. protected the Jews in Spain against Ferdinand I. In 1492, Alexander VI. received 15,000 Jews at Rome whom Ferdinand V. had driven out of Spain. In 1348 and 1349, Pope Clement VI. saved the Jews from persecution. Innocent XII loaned the Jews 100,000 scudi at three per cent to help them to pay their debts. Alexander III. and John XX. both tolerated the Jews. But at the epoch which forms the subject of our present comment, the vices of the monks and clergy greatly transcended their virtues. He was termed the best Christian who gave the church the most candles, and the monks the most money. We will not advert to the licentiousness of this period. The Jews became the victims of the clergy, who fortified their strength by the murder of a countless multitude. This was the end of their fanaticism, this the result of their morality.

As early as the sixth century we have evidence that the Israelites were a commercial people. Having become opulent by means of their industry and the exceeding high value of money, which commanded an interest of twelve and even twenty per cent., their opulence excited jealousy. St. Louis, for the good of his fellow-creatures, and we suppose somewhat for his own good, released all Christians of a third part of what was due by them to Jews. Charles VI., with a nicer conception of morality than his illustrious predecessors, banished them from his kingdom and seized their property. It is remarkable that out of this <<449>>persecution and expulsion grew the necessity of bills of exchange. Thus the Jews, while they suffered exile, benefited the commercial world. We cannot avoid the conclusion that civil order is most safely regulated wherever men are in possession of freedom, and left to develop their own system of morality.

The various Christian denominations, though they pretend to be directed by one guide, compose many distinct factions. These differ in opinions, habits, and thoughts. And they are as much devoted to fanaticism as in days of yore; for wherever we find different sects, we also find them engaged in a violent struggle with each other. True, their mode of warfare bears the impress of civilization. Yet the fact is evident that little good-will exists between the Protestant and Catholic, &c. Nor do their differences decrease; but on the contrary, as new sects grow up, more fuel is supplied to the flame, and intestine war blazes forth with increased vigour. The Christians will never abandon mutual hostilities; and though it is not their policy to destroy one another, yet they sustain a loss daily in consequence of their own division. Their final destiny is concealed in the recesses of time.

But we have no hesitancy in stating that Christianity has lost the secret of its strength. In its heart there lives a vital principle, gathering new force as time grows older, daily gaining moral ascendency, and eventually destined to loosen from around itself those ancient mysteries which now impose upon mankind. The Jews are identical wherever you find them. Helpless or powerful, they have a common faith and a common hope; neither love of riches nor lust of power has changed that creed which they have so long defended. It is true we find now and then a respectable body of Jews with more philosophy than religion, who with much method accomplish nothing. But eventually, when their fit of ecstacy subsides, they return with regret in their hearts to the old faith and the old forms.

The Jewish people compose one sect. All the outrages they have endured, many more bitter than death, have not been able to turn them from their God and their Scriptures. Unity characterizes them. The result of that unity is their distinctiveness. Situated between savages or civilized nations, they are precisely the same. Of their morality we can speak with confidence. How few Israelites, how very few, are arraigned at public tribunals for misde<<450>>meanour or crime! This fact proves them good citizens; this fact proves the morality of the nation; it proves them just, humane, and wise. Now, if it be contended that morality is enjoined by the New Testament, we heartily assent to the proposition; but we propose the question, whether the Old or New Testament is entitled to the credit of having given birth to those rules of virtue and justice that influence the human family? On the score of priority, we might frame an incontrovertible argument in favour of the Jewish Scriptures; but we prefer that our Christian friends, who with singular selfishness recognise Christianity as the foundation of morality, should point out a single moral precept taught in their Testament which is not borrowed from ours. We charge the Christians with having taken our morality to frame their system of religion. If then this is true, does not Judaism command the advance of civilization? On some other occasion we may perhaps do more justice to this question; for the present we are satisfied with having indicated it.

J. V.

Charleston, S. C.

Note by the Editor.—We have had on hand the above communication for some time past, but we hesitated to give it publicity, deeming that the name appended to it a fictitious one, a procedure of which we by no means approve, although the article itself contains nothing of a private or personal character. We would again impress on correspondents the necessity of frankness towards us, by giving us ample knowledge of themselves, before they can gain admission into the Occident; our name is on the title page, and for everything which we print we are personally responsible, consequently we at least ought to know those for whom we incur the responsibility. But as the present article is merely on a general subject, we give it insertion, with the understanding that the author before he writes again must disclose his full name, or else this is his last appearance. We rather think that he is a your and unpractised writer, who with some care will be able to render good service. He will excuse us for saying that he has crowded too many things together in his essay, although he is, in the main, right in his views. In treating, however, of the origin of Christianity, he has assumed for it, in the person of its founder, too high a standard of merit.

We have no evidence of the character of this teacher, except the partial biographies furnished by his own followers, and all the <<451>>miracles recorded rest only upon the mere assertion of these same historians. It is, however, very necessary to weigh with great caution the evidence thus given, especially as there are evident contradictions among the various writers; and then we have a display of a great want of courtesy, to style it nothing worse, towards the Jewish teachers, which should inspire us, their followers, with something more than distrust towards their calumniators. For one, we never professed any great admiration for the founders of Christianity; we never can believe that it had but one author; and though it may not be considered liberal, we will always believe that in propagating it, there was a matter of calculation at work among its first preachers. Whatever it may have been which they intended to accomplish, they certainly did succeed in establishing Christianity in its various phases; and as believers in Providence, we must suppose that the step it presents between the darkness of the heathen and the light of Israel is one in the progress of mankind towards a high perfection. One thing we can freely assert, that nothing in its history and development proves in the least the falsehood or erroneousness of Judaism; for if it were true that our system had been superseded, it would have had to vanish long since before the new and truer light. But its existence amidst all the shocks which it had to sustain by the very agency of Christianity, proves that nothing is to uproot it, at least not Christianity in its hundred forms. With these general remarks we dismiss the subject for the present, inviting our correspondent to look into it with greater care, and to prepare himself with more circumspection than he has done in his present effort.