The Apostolic Fathers, Part 3: The First Epistle of Clement

Possibly the most detailed insight into the first century successors of the Apostles is to be found in 1st Clement, a pastoral letter written by the eponymous Clement the fourth bishop of Rome around 96 AD to second-generation believers in Corinth where the church was in turmoil with the bishops ejected by the laity (Staniforth & Louth, 1986, pp.19-20). The Clement in question has been forwarded as being the man of Philippians 4:3 but his identity is not known for certain; all that is known is from the text itself which shows a bishop who did not hold a lofty view of his own authority considering his incessant emphasis on the humility of bishop’s, whom he often calls presbyters, and never is there a mention of an archbishop, cardinal, or bishop over bishops as the later Latin and Greek Churches would claim. Aside from that he exhibits an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures and never makes a slight against them, a fact pertinent to our argument that the original believers in Yahshuah did not abrogate the Torah and were betrayed by the mainline Christian Church which sought to get away from Judaism in favour of Greco-Roman philosophy and mysticism, ensuing the numerous splits and confusions which have characterised Christian history.

The Letter is too long for a thorough commentary so we will content ourselves with the portions which concern our investigation of the origins of Christianity. Beginning in ch.5 (p.25) Peter and Paul are lauded equally, contrary to Ebonites who would insist that Paul was a schismatic who hijacked the early congregation, here he and Peter are presented as being on the same side. Clement also states that Paul travelled all the way to Spain as he promised to do in Romans 15:24.

Ch.7 Clements endorses the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, saying “Let us fix our thoughts on the blood of Christ; and reflect how precious that Blood is in God’s eyes, inasmuch as its outpouring for our salvation has opened the grace of repentance to all mankind.”

Ch.20 (p.31) Clement certainly drew on the Stoics for some of his language and emphasis on harmony in a community, yet he rebukes the speculations and hypotheses of the pagan philosophers by affirming the Biblical teaching that the Earth is flat. “The heavens, as they revolve beneath His [God’s] government”. “[The heavenly bodies] none swerving from its appointed orbit”. “Laws of the same kind sustain the fathomless deeps of the abyss and the untold regions of the underworld. Nor does the illimitable basin of the sea… overflow at any time the barriers encircling it”. “The impassable Ocean and all the worlds that lie beyond it are themselves ruled by the like ordinances of the Lord”. Later in ch.27 (p.34) he cites Psalm 19:1 “The heavens are a proclamation of God’s glory, and the firmament a declaration of his handiwork” in reference to the dome which arches over the Earth’s surface. It may be that this lengthy reference to the shape of the Earth was an attempt to resist the Hellenic globe theory, but it could be as easily argued contrary because Clement is obviously in the habit of digressing on many topics, including his apparent belief in the Phoenix (pp.33-34) and tangling Tanak quotations together to stretch out a point. I am undecided on the matter.

Ch.22 (p.32) He endorses the doctrine of Irresistible Grace: “All these promises find their confirmation when we believe in Christ, for it is He Himself who summons us, through His Holy Spirit”.

Ch.24 (p.33) He supports the doctrine of the resurrection which he holds to be supported by Elohim with “proof after proof”, not a Platonic heaven where souls escape to after death.

Ch.40-41 (pp.39-40) Unlike the Letter to Diognetus of second century vintage Clement in no way criticises the Jewish customs and culture expounded in the Torah, on the contrary he shows a deep and detailed understanding of these things. He does not adhere to the system of sacrifices himself but speaks of Messianic rituals and services being “In the same way” as the Jews ceremonies “when we offer our own Eucharist to God”. He explains further that unlike the Jews “we ourselves have been given so much fuller knowledge”. The message to take away is that the sacrificial offerings of the Jews were for Clement and the early believers abrogated but not to be derided, insulted, or ignored. This clear interest in the Jewish priesthood is expressed again in ch.43 (pp.40-41)

Ch.42 (p.40) In his introduction to the letter Andrew Louth as a professor of theology seeks to find any proof of the Trinity in the early church and calls the following “remarkable Trinitarian utterances ‘Have not all the same God, and the same Christ? Is not the same Spirit of grace shed upon us all?’; ‘As surely as God lives, as Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Spirit live also’” (p.21). This is an unfounded leap without evidence, Clement nowhere affirms God to be three in one or anything of the sort, he is naming the most important figures in all creation, God, His Son, and His Spirit (and appears to believe the Holy Ghost to be a person in his own right). It is all opposed by ch.42 where Clement supposes Yahshuah to be subordinate to God “Jesus Christ was sent from God. That is to say, Christ received His commission from God and the Apostles theirs from Christ.” He also makes a point about bishops and deacons which he declares to be “in no way an innovation… there is a text that says, I will confirm their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith” [he is citing the Septuagint Isaiah 60:17]. The whole letter however meandering is dedicated to combating anarchist and libertine tendencies in Corinth, imploring the laity to restore their lawful leadership and to submit to proper authority.

Ch.51 (p.44) Clement does not mention anywhere that the damned will be tortured forever, the most he says of death is in relation to the opponents of Moses “for they went down to the grave alive, and death shall be their shepherd”; he has little else to say of their fate other than that they will die.

Ch.64 (p.49) He both affirms the subordination of Yahshuah to Yahovah, and indicates a belief in Predestination “Lord of all flesh, who has chosen the Lord Jesus Christ, and through Him ourselves to be a people for His possession”.

If one is interested in devotional reading then I recommend Matthew Henry’s commentary or the letters of Samuel Rutherford, 1st Clement’s style is self-indulgent, meandering, and often tedious but it is probably the earliest messianic text written after the New Testament and by a bishop of authority and humility, and tremendous knowledge of Scripture and Jewish tradition. Aside from the curious passage where he talks about the Phoenix he confirms Biblical doctrines on Predestination, the ‘Godhead’ or lack thereof, the shape of the world, and Irresistible Grace, and says little of offence to a Nazarene believer.

The Ulsterman

References
Staniforth. Maxwell & Louth. Andrew (ed.) The Apostolic Fathers: Early Christian Writings (2nd ed.) (Penguin Books: London, 1986)

The Apostolic Fathers, Part 2: The Apocalypse of Peter

Following from our discussion of Letter to Diognetus the Apocalypse of Peter is a natural sequel. It is widely thought among scholars that this apocryphal document was written in the early 2nd century (James, 1924, p. 504) and is connected to the fraudulent letters of Second Peter and Jude. In the Bible there are many references to the fate of the unsaved which state that they will be obliterated from all of history, however in passages about the Lake of Fire, fires and bodies in Hell, and especially the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), should one so desire, they can read into the text a narrative of a torture chamber awaiting the damned. This error is pervasive even among the most committed believers because of a shallow reading of relevant passages and having a prejudice in favour of the eternal torture theory which has its first detailed presentation not in the New Testament (or New Covenant) writings, but with this ‘Apocalypse’ attributed to Peter. The author shows a knowledge of the Book of Revelation and the Transfiguration, supposing then that he read at least one of the Synoptic Gospels (James, 1924, p.512), and the work presents itself as a vision of when the dead will be raised and cast into Hell (ibid.) implying that early Christian heretics did not believe that the soul leaves its body at the point of death and goes straight to Heaven or Hell. At this time already the Pharisees held a view of Hell as “an ever-lasting prison” (Josephus, quoted in Stern, 2016, p.1403), but the Apocalypse of Peter shows strong Hellenic leanings in referring to Heaven as “Elysium” (James, 1924, p.518), a Greek name and concept which Jews would have refrained from using.

Aside from these thoughts the text is to be found only in pieces with differences between the Greek and Ethiopian versions (possibly embellished?) Its content is actually not at all interesting except in illustrating what the doctrine of eternal torture can do to a man’s mind; most it is a dreary succession of imaginative scenes of torture and violence which would unsettle even modern readers. Peter the Apostle is certainly not its author, aside from the clear discrepancy in time – Revelation was written about 70 AD when Peter would have been very old if not already martyred around 65 AD (Staniforth & Louth, 1987, p.20), so the Apocalypse must have been written after his death. Stylistic differences prove our case also, the Biblical Peter is shown in the Gospels and his work, 1st Peter, to be a warm, gentle, though volatile man who could not have possibly relished describing violence and torment as this author clearly did. What it does parallel is the violent and polemical tone of 2nd Peter and Jude and many scholars believe all three to be of the same hand or from associated authors.

References

James. M R, The New Testament Apocrypha (Apocryphile Press: California, 1924)

Staniforth. Maxwell & Louth. Andrew (ed.) The Apostolic Fathers: Early Christian Writings (2nd ed.) (Penguin Books: London, 1986)

Stern. David, The Complete Jewish Study Bible (Hendrikson Publishers Marketing, LL.C: Massachusetts, 2016)

The Apostolic Fathers, Part 1: The Epistle to Diognetus

I shall now begin a series reviewing the writings of the ‘Apostolic Fathers’, men claimed to be the second generation of preachers and teachers of the faith after the Apostles of Yahshuah, indeed some claimed to have been tutored by the Apostles themselves. Some of these works were even forwarded as candidates for the New Testament canon which was being debated at Nicaea in 325. The intention here is to study from Judaising Nazarene perspective these purported heirs of the original disciples, where they went right and wrong; hopefully we shall explode the claims of the Christian Churches that their orthodoxy – the Sunday Sabbath, the Trinity, and so on – has been the original creed of believers in Yahshuah. It will help in developing our understanding of what the first century congregation believed and practised. These Fathers have been little known for much of history given the rarity of their works and how the later ‘Church Fathers’ upstaged them with their more profuse works, but I cannot help but suspect that it is also because the Apostolic Fathers did not reflect later Christian thinking and were omitted from Church discourse in later centuries just as were the Nazarenes. The work in question is a letter written to a wealthy pagan, Diognetus, by an anonymous Christian arguing for his faith, written between 120 and 200 AD. All quotations are from Staniforth & Louth, 1987 unless stated otherwise.

Ch.1-2 (pp. 142-143) After opening salutations the author shows a familiarity with at least some of the Tanakh, specifically Isaiah 44:9-20 which he paraphrases in his ridicule of idols.

Ch.3-4 (pp. 143-144) He shifts from the pagans to “the Jews” whom he assails for supposing that they have a faith set apart from the Gospel. I believe that he is lumping the Nazarenes in with unsaved Jews, their church in Jerusalem kept the Torah entirely for many years and was the “standard of orthodoxy” and was treated as a “venerable parent” (Gibbon, 2005, pp.128-129). My reasoning is that were the author attacking only the unsaved Jews he would criticise them only for not believing in Yahshuah as their king and Messiah, yet not once in this chapter does he mention salvation, he even admits that “they may fairly claim to be devotees of the one true God”. All he attacks them for is their customs and Torah, “their sacrificial duty to [God] by means of blood and fat”, a sentiment which alone we would commend, but it is in the context of him attacking “their scrupulousness about meats”, “their superstitions about the Sabbath”, and he calls circumcision a “bodily mutilation” regardless of Acts 15 where Paul circumcises a man. He tops his ridicule of the Torah by describing them as “all too nonsensical to be worth discussing”, which to impartial eyes is a crass way of dismissing the Torah and Judaiser arguments, such as the fact that Yashuah and the Apostles celebrated traditional Jewish festivals (John 2:13, 13:19, Matt 26:17-19, Mark 14:13) which Christian apologists have since craftily avoided discussing as the author does here.

Ch. 5-6 (pp. 144-145) He proceeds to sketch the ideal Christian community, laudable features include a communal attitude, each is “free to share his neighbour’s table, but never his marriage bed”, not exposing their infants, and acting fully as citizens wherever they live, but also reveals the deep-laid internationalism in Christian thinking: “For them, any foreign country is a motherland, and nay motherland is a foreign country”, and it Gnosticism with his claims that the soul is immortal, indivisible, and “inhabits the body” even though the “flesh hates the soul”. Such a doctrine of the soul contradicts the beating heart of Biblical truth, the promise of resurrection and the restoration of eternal life which our common father Adam squandered.

Ch. 7 (p. 146) Speaking of the nature of revelation and knowledge derived therefrom he describes as “[God’s] own holy and incomprehensible Word”, it strikes me that here is a foreshadowing of the Roman, Orthodox, and later Anabaptist Churches opinion that revelation is clouded window through which only an enlightened few can see. This is contrary to the essence of revealed religion, that mortal and divine can communicate clearly with one another.

But elsewhere in this chapter he affirms the Bible’s teaching on the shape of the Earth – “[Jesus] set the seas in their bounds” – proving that at least some truth was held at this time before the Christian Church became more fully apostate. This is evidenced equally by his exalting of Yahshuah as he by whom God made all things and as God’s messenger, but not once does the author declare him God or God’s equal. To the Trinitarians we must ask, where is the Trinity in the early Church?

Ch.8-9 (pp. 146-148) He elaborates on the Incarnation of Yahshuah and again mentions no Trinity or Godhead. He also makes clear his belief in Penal Substitutionary Atonement and in Total Depravity, better called the Total Inability of man to save himself and gain life. “[God] bore with us, and in pity He took our sins upon Himself and gave His own Son as a ransom for us”.

Ch.10-12 (pp. 148-150) He strongly endorses Genesis’s teaching that man has a special place in and dominion over nature, and that we are blessed with reason and understanding, true though inconsistent with his irrationalist view of revelation in chapter seven. But this is followed by his assertion that the wicked will face “the real death” of eternal torture in fire, a position we know to be theologically wrong. (The next article in this series will be the Apocalypse of Peter.) He concludes with a long-winded mediation on salvation in which he claims to be “an instructor of the Greeks now, I was a pupil of the Apostles once” yet attacks the Jews in broad terms for having “despised” the Messiah who the gentiles followed, a curious claim since all of his early followers were Jews, including the writer’s mentors. But he affirms the Virgin Birth and interestingly if vaguely says that “the Lord’s Passover goes forward”, if Christianity as currently constituted was the faith of the Apostles then Easter would have been the term to use, but at this early stage in Christian history they still used a Jewish holiday.

The Ulsterman

References

Gibbon. Edward, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Abridged Edition), David Womersley (ed.) (Penguin Books: London, 2005) pp. 128-129

Staniforth. Maxwell & Louth. Andrew (ed.) The Apostolic Fathers: Early Christian Writings (2nd ed.) (Penguin Books: London, 1986)

The Holy Trinity, the Origin of Spinoza’s Pantheism

A few weeks past the Southern Israelite gave much attention to the influence of Baruch Spinoza and his influence on modern atheism and Heliocentrism, to which I will add the following.

Spinoza held that there is one substance underlying all things, which he called God, this is not Abraham’s Elohim but all of reality as one thing, another way of saying Nature, a God without will, intellect, or distinction from nature. There is no creation, only emanation without beginning or end and therefore no limitation in space or time. Spinoza has been accurately described as a more rigorous and consistent Cartesian than Rene Descartes himself, surnamed by historians as the father of modern philosophy and of tremendous importance in fully detaching philosophy from religion, but whence did Spinoza’s ingenious theory of reality stem from? The answer is that he was influenced by none other than the Christian Trinity as received from Descartes.

Descartes made it sharply clear that he was a Roman Catholic and had the project in mind only of establishing philosophy on a firm rational footing, not on the turgid and restrictive Scholastic education where a premium was placed on the authority of ancient masters especially Aristotle. But amidst all this talk of reason and consistency one glaring nonsense stands out, and here Spinoza becomes the more consistent Cartesian. In his Discourse on Method is a most startling statement of Descartes’ view of what God is:

“Besides, I had ideas of many sensible and corporeal things; for although I might suppose that I was dreaming, and that all which I saw or imagined was false, I could not, nevertheless, deny that the ideas were in reality in my thoughts. But, because I had already very clearly recognised in myself that the intelligent nature is distinct from the corporeal, and as I observed that all composition is an evidence of dependency, and that a state of dependency is manifestly a state of imperfection, I therefore determined that it could not be a perfection in God to be compounded of these two natures, and that consequently he was not so compounded; but if there were any bodies in the world, or even any intelligences, or other natures that were not wholly perfect, their existence depended on his power in such a way that they could not subsist without him for a single moment.” (1974, p. 65)

This is the common Christian belief of God for those that take the Trinity seriously: that He is an ineffable entity, hardly a personable being, without parts or composition, contra Exodus 33:11-23 where Yahovah is depicted as having some sort of physical form, though what composes Him is not for us to know. Likewise Descartes contradicts Genesis 1 where the created world is described by Elohim as ‘good’ six times and then observed to be ‘very good’, just to reinforce the point to anyone who would dare condemn His creation, whereas Descartes holds composition to be by definition imperfect with or without sin. Descartes for all his critical reasoning had not liberated himself from the Neo-Platonism of the Church. The proposition that God is an uncomposed point, or something else without any spatial and temporal place is that taught by the Trinity, because none of the three person therein can be the sovereign creator of the world. To create requires a will and consciousness, hence component parts. I can testify from discussing the Trinity with two particularly dense Pentecostal women and later with a very intelligent Catholic man that their primary defence was that God is not “in space or time”, therefore He is “incomprehensible” a claim the Southern Israelite has drawn from churchmen when debating the Flat Earth.

The lesson to be drawn is that Spinoza took this ‘God’ of Descartes and the Church, this formless whatever which the Christians call God is so removed from the Bible that it takes only a small conceptual leap to go from Descartes uncomposed God to Spinoza’s universal Monad. This is a strong argument also against the Trinity, for a God without parts can have no distinct faculties of will, intellect, or emotion. It is pointless to argue in defence of such a God considering that there is no reason for positing entities “beyond space and time”, all such talk is meaningless rot; from the Christian position, with one foot in Monotheism and the other in Mysticism, to Spinoza’s atheist pantheism, there is not much of a distance to go.

The Ulsterman

References

Descartes. Rene, Discourse on Method, trans. John Veitch in The Rationalists (Anchor Books: New York, 1974) pp. 39-99

Review of the ‘The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World’

OSB

The Orthodox Study Bible (OSB) is more interesting than the ordinary hack editions one finds in Christian shops, both for its unique features and for what it reveals about Eastern Orthodox Christianity, historic and present. Contained therein is the Septuagint translation of the Tanakh and Apocryphal books arranged in the distinctive Orthodox order, some of them having different or added material compared to the Protestant/ Jewish canon. Though I have little notion as to the accuracy of translation – or which of the Masoretic or Septuagint texts is the proper version of the Tanakh (though my limited knowledge leans me towards the LXX) – it is certainly easy to read, the language is modern yet not base, and the New Testament is the New King James Version.

The book has lovely full page Orthodox icons, maps and is well-formatted to the reader’s needs, one could probably find cheaper editions of the Septuagint but the value OSB is in its commentary and articles, not for their insight and depth, it is beginners teaching, nor theological correctness (would we expect anything better!) but for what they show of the Church itself. For example the article on Ancestral Sin (p. 7) maintains standard teaching that “Human nature remains inherently good after the Fall; mankind is not totally depraved” classic Pelagianism. The muddled and clouded view of the Mosaic Law which usually hold Christians is laid bare in the commentary on Exodus 21:5,6 “The Law honoured free will, for the permanent relationship of servant to master was based on it. Similarly, our service to the Lord Jesus Christ is based on free will.” (p. 93) This would not be too egregious were it not for the following four verses “If a man sells his daughter to be a domestic, she shall not go out as the maidservants do etc. etc.” which pass without comment; for the free-will advocate to try and explain such verses it would be more of an insult to our intelligence than if he kept quiet.

Absent also is any mention of Anti-Semitism, the comments do argue that the Church has replaced Israel and the Torah is abolished, but the rabid, mad, pathological hatred of Jewry which characterises the Church in Eastern Europe and Russia even to this day finds no mention. The OSB is issued from the American branch of the Church, which appears to have moved to be more ecumenical and politically correct than its mother in Russia, no doubt to avoid controversy and draw in American Christians who are among the most well-neutered and weak-kneed people in that country. The dishonesty is twofold: It is impossible to sweep away or turn a blind eye to the atrocities and violence which characterised relations between the Jews and the Roman and Orthodox Catholic Churches; and it ignores a potential implication of Christian replacement theology, that the Jews are the Christ-killers who refuse to go away though God has abandoned them (another implication is that the Jews remain a supreme chosen race parallel to the Christian Church, the view of Christian Zionists, both of which are built on false suppositions).

In other respects the OSB is rather conservative, strong statements are made against abortion and homosexuality, but it somewhat pussyfoots on feminism, Genesis 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 pass with hardly any comment, and for 1 Peter 3:1-5 and Ephesians 3:22-33 the notes avoid those reviled words like “authority” and “patriarchy”. The article on marriage (p. 1607) is similarly evasive, the word “order” is used to substitute for what ought to be “the man is in charge”. The topic of slavery is handled like a hot brick, Deuteronomy 11:10-14 goes without comment, the notes Philemon reveal a dislike for Elohim’s law on this topic, the note to Phil. 11-13 reads “Paul sees to it that Onesimus fulfils his legal responsibilities by returning him to his master, concerns about the justice of slavery notwithstanding.” Strange methinks, I see not how the Eastern Orthodox alternatives to Biblical law – Imperialism, Tsarist autocracy, Feudal Serfdom, compromise with political masters, even the Muslim Tatars and Ottomans, and during the Second World War with Stalin! – are more effective policies than Yahovah’s, but to these issues the OSB speaks not.

I shall desist from further examples, the reader understands now that the OSB is a good study in the dual nature of Christianity West or East, its uncompromising pragmatism, its well thought-out irrationalism, its unflinching evasiveness. Aside from that, if one wants a pretty looking Septuagint and Apocrypha or merely to learn more of Orthodox thought, then I recommend it, but only if; if you do not have the money and time to spend then there is no need to buy it.

Source: The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to the Modern World (2nd ed.) (St Athanasius Academy of Theology, 2009)

The Ulsterman

Samuel Johnson on Ecumenism By The Ulsterman

samuel_johnson_by_joshua_reynolds

One of the finest authors in English, poet, pamphleteer, playwright, writer, conversationalist and all round wit, Samuel Johnson dominated English culture in the late 18th century and lived on his works, his famous biography, and created the first English dictionary. As a writer of early-modern prose he equals Shakespeare, Gibbon, Milton, and the unfairly neglected Samuel Rutherford. As a High Church Anglican he was bordering on Catholic; and in the biography of him by his friend the Presbyterian Boswell he makes some interesting observations on the deep flaw of Protestant Christianity, (perhaps saying more than he realized) that it is fundamentally alike with Roman Catholicism (all bold is added):

On the tendency among Protestants to ecclesiastical anarchy and confusion:

“I [James Boswell] had hired a Bohemian as my servant while I remained in London, and being much pleased with him, I asked Dr. Johnson whether his being a Roman Catholick should prevent my taking him with me to Scotland.
JOHNSON. ‘Why no, Sir, if he has no objection, you can have none.’

BOSWELL. ‘So, Sir, you are no great enemy to the Roman Catholick religion.’

JOHNSON. ‘No more, Sir, than to the Presbyterian religion.’

BOSWELL. ‘You are joking.’ JOHNSON. ‘No, Sir, I really think so. Nay, Sir, of the two, I prefer the Popish.’ BOSWELL. ‘How so, Sir?’

JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, the Presbyterians have no church, no apostolical ordination.’

BOSWELL. ‘And do you think that absolutely essential, Sir?’

JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, as it was an apostolical institution, I think it is dangerous to be without it. And, Sir, the Presbyterians have no public worship: they have no form of prayer in which they know they are to join. They go to hear a man pray, and are to judge whether they will join with him.’” (vol.1, p.409)

After a digression on Predestination Johnson comments on Christianity’s cruel and inhumane doctrine of Hell being a place of endless torture:

“I proceeded: ‘What do you think, Sir, of Purgatory, as believed by the Roman Catholicks?’

JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, it is a very harmless doctrine. They are of opinion that the generality of mankind are neither so obstinately wicked as to deserve everlasting punishment, nor so good as to merit being admitted into the society of blessed spirits; and therefore that God is graciously pleased to allow of a middle state, where they may be purified by certain degrees of suffering. You see, Sir, there is nothing unreasonable in this.’

BOSWELL. ‘But then, Sir, their masses for the dead?’

JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, if it be once established that there are souls in purgatory, it is as proper to pray for them, as for our brethren of mankind who are yet in this life.’” (Ibid. 410)

“I thus ventured to mention all the common objections against the Roman Catholick Church, that I might hear so great a man upon them. What he said is here accurately recorded. But it is not improbable that if one had taken the other side, he might have reasoned differently.

I must however mention, that he had a respect for ‘the old religion,’ as the mild Melancthon called that of the Roman Catholick Church, even while he was exerting himself for its reformation in some particulars. Sir William Scott informs me, that he heard Johnson say, ‘A man who is converted from Protestantism to Popery may be sincere: he parts with nothing: he is only superadding to what he already had. But a convert from Popery to Protestantism gives up so much of what he has held as sacred as any thing that he retains; there is so much laceration of mind in such a conversion, that it can hardly be sincere and lasting.’ The truth of this reflection may be confirmed by many and eminent instances, some of which will occur to most of my readers.”

(Ibid. 410-411)

On the fundamental mysticism and irrationalism of Christianity, its lack of precise definition, of bones and muscle and sinew, (contra Nazarene Judaism), and strangely, the fact that Islam is in many ways a Christian heresy:

“We talked of the Roman Catholick religion, and how little difference there was in essential matters between ours and it.

JOHNSON. ‘True, Sir; all denominations of Christians have really little difference in point of doctrine, though they may differ widely in external forms. There is a prodigious difference between the external form of one of your Presbyterian churches in Scotland, and a church in Italy; yet the doctrine taught is essentially the same.’

I mentioned the petition to Parliament for removing the subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles.

JOHNSON. ‘It was soon thrown out. Sir, they talk of not making boys at the University subscribe to what they do not understand; but they ought to consider, that our Universities were founded to bring up members for the Church of England, and we must not supply our enemies with arms from our arsenal. No, Sir, the meaning of subscribing is, not that they fully understand all the articles, but that they will adhere to the Church of England. Now take it in this way, and suppose that they should only subscribe their adherence to the Church of England, there would be still the same difficulty; for still the young men would be subscribing to what they do not understand. For if you should ask them, what do you mean by the Church of England? Do you know in what it differs from the Presbyterian Church? from the Romish Church? from the Greek Church? from the Coptick Church? they could not tell you. So, Sir, it comes to the same thing.’

BOSWELL. ‘But, would it not be sufficient to subscribe the Bible?’

JOHNSON. ‘Why no, Sir; for all sects will subscribe the Bible; nay, the Mahometans will subscribe the Bible; for the Mahometans acknowledge JESUS CHRIST, as well as Moses, but maintain that GOD sent Mahomet as a still greater prophet than either.’”

(Ibid. 443-444)

He perhaps foreshadows the character of most Roman Catholics in the current West, who are even sometimes upstanding citizens, not because they are Catholic but despite it.

“On the Roman Catholick religion he said, ‘If you join the Papists externally, they will not interrogate you strictly as to your belief in their tenets. No reasoning Papist believes every article of their faith. There is one side on which a good man might be persuaded to embrace it. A good man of a timorous disposition, in great doubt of his acceptance with GOD, and pretty credulous, might be glad to be of a church where there, are so many helps to get to Heaven. I would be a Papist if I could. I have fear enough; but an obstinate rationality prevents me. I shall never be a Papist, unless on the near approach of death, of which I have a very great terror. I wonder that women are not all Papists.’

BOSWELL. ‘They are not more afraid of death than men are.’

JOHNSON. ‘Because they are less wicked.’

DR. ADAMS. ‘They are more pious.’

JOHNSON. ‘No, hang ’em, they are not more pious. A wicked fellow is the most pious when he takes to it. He’ll beat you all at piety.’”

(vol.2, p.549)

Boswell. James, The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D, 6th ed. (United Kingdom) 1811