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Dias' Letters.

(Continued from issue #6).

Letter 4.

And first—the Book of Acts, which is said to be the work of St. Luke, was rejected by many, particularly the Marconites and Manicheans; many others described the acts of the Apostles, yet were they rejected,* for the same important reason that this was received, that is, because it agreed better with the doctrines in vogue than the others. St. Chrysostom complains that this book was little known, and that the reading of it was much neglected, which shows that even in his time it was not held in any degree of authority. In this book St. Paul cites a saying of Jesus,† which is not to be found in any of the gospels; so that either he had this passage out of some spurious gospel, or it has been left out of the present copies since his time. Concerning the authority and genuineness of the epistles, there have been many debates, and I think all have been doubted and rejected by some party or other, and this for the same important reason above mentioned, according as they either agreed or disagreed with the doctrines and opinions embraced by the different sects; particularly St. Paul's epistles to the Hebrews, the epistle of James, the second epistle of St. Peter, the second and third epistles of St. John, and the epistle of Jude. But as the inspiration of all or either of them can never be proved, I shall say nothing concerning them, but refer you for a more particular account of them to Calmet.‡

* Calmet's Dic. on the word Acts. † Acts, 20. 35.
‡ On the different articles, and word Apocryphal.

As to the authority of the Apocalypse, or Book of Revelations, as its author cannot be ascertained, how is it possible that its inspiration should? For "Caius, priest of the Church of Rome, who lived at the end of the second age, seems to assure us that the Apocalypse, or Book of Revelations, was written by the arch-heretic Cerinthus; and Deonylas, Bishop of Alexandria, says, that some indeed thought Cerinthus to be the author of it, that, for his own part, he believed it to be written by a holy man named John, but he would not take upon him­self to affirm that it was really the work of the apostle and evangelist of that name. The Apocalypse has not at all times been owned to be canonical. St. Jerome, Amphilocus, and Sulpitius Severus remark, that in their time there were many churches in Greece that did not receive this book."*

* Calmet on the word Apocalypse.

On the whole, the writings of the New Testament appear to me so far from being infallible, or written under the immediate guidance and influence of God, that I am surprised how it is possible that any persons should make them the foundation or basis of their religion: for the contrary most evidently appears; and they are even destitute of proof that they were written by the persons whose names they bear; nor, indeed, does it appear that those persons ever wrote any thing themselves. This uncertainty, together with the continual alterations they have undergone, makes it impossible to credit them even as historians. Moreover, it. appears highly improbable that any of the writings we now have should be the genuine works of the apostles; because, had this been the case, they would have published them as such, and no­body could have refused them; for they would then have been received by all without contradiction, as every person had it in his power to have satisfaction concerning their genuineness from the apostle who published them. The contrary of all. this is very evident. Besides, common and usual facts, such as may happen in the common course of things, may, and do generally receive credit on the evidence of the historian; but it would not be the same, were he to relate things out of the common course of probability, or what appeared improbable; for the more extraordinary the facts are which he relates, the more extraordinary ought the evidence to be. But this evidence is nowhere to be had but in these writings themselves, which is no evidence at all, they being destitute of proof: and therefore cannot be admitted or allowed.

The only thing which seems probable to me from the account transmitted to us is, that there were many who wrote, and in order to give a greater repute to their writings, they published them under the names of such persons as would give them a greater degree of authority, and, as these writings contained different facts and doctrines, very opposite and contradictory to each other, so every one chose, and made use of such or as many gospels as he pleased or liked best. As these gospels were in private hands, the possessors did not want for opportunities of changing, interpolating, adding, and curtailing whatever they thought convenient, or was agreeable to the opinions which they had embraced. Under these circumstances, it was impossible to have known the true gospel of either of the apostles, (had there been any,) because it could have no mark of authority, and the true one must have suffered equally with the false; for had there been any mark or criterion by which the true might have been distinguished from the false, every one would have received it. So that it is plain, either that the apostles did not publish any gospels, or that they fared no better than those which were published by others, and were confounded with them.

It likewise appears to me, that the authors and transcribers thought of nothing else but inserting and relating surprising and marvellous events, such as would astonish and catch the credulity of the vulgar, and also such things as best suited with their prejudices and purposes; for it seems improbable that the apostles, whose labours and sufferings are always represented as proceeding from their love of mankind, and care of their salvation, should be the authors of the writings we now have under their names, which have caused such disputes, discords, hatred, disorders, troubles, grievous persecutions, and even wars and desolations; and all this occasioned by these very writings; for every party authorizes its doctrines and its proceedings by them. Surely, if they were such persons as they are represented to be, they never would have published or authorized any thing like it, unless they were determined literally to fulfil the saying recorded of Jesus— "Think not that I am come to send peace upon earth; I come not to send peace, but a sword;"* which sword has been drawn from the beginning, and which Christians have taken care not to sheath. It is well for the doctrine of the infallibility of these writings that the Christian laity or bulk of mankind, take it on trust; and that few, very few, take any pains, or make inquiry concerning the evidence of their inspiration and infallibility; and that those who actually make such inquiry are disposed or concerned, either through interest or policy, not to publish their thoughts concerning this matter, contenting themselves with keeping their discoveries secret; for, were the infallibility or inspiration of any writings contrary to these to have no better foundation, how would they publish. their arguments against them, and expose their insufficiency!

* Matth. 10. 34.

(To be continued.)