CHAP. I. Of the Importance of Prophecies for confirmation of the Christian Religion; how the Sibyline Verses were preserved, and the Primitive Chri∣stians justified in their Appeals to them. Their Authority confirm'd, by a Passage cited as St. Paul's, by Clement of Alexandria.
OF all the Arguments excellently urg'd by Grotius, and but enervated by my Rythms, there is none which seems more undeniably to enforce the belief of a Deity, and the Religion which Christ Jesus taught Page 144 Mankind, than the Evidence that there have been, at least in some Ages of the World, such Predictions as have manifested a fore-knowledg of those future Events, of which it was impossi∣ble to have the least intimation from any Cause, or Sign, appearing only by natural Light; and that such an one as the blessed Jesus, had been fore-shewn, and was accordingly expected, about that time when he first convers'd among Men.
Numbers not injudicious, may be impos'd upon with appearances seemly miraculous, either by a Confederacy, flight of hand, or natural Ma∣gick, in applying the occult Qualities of things new and strange.
But it must evidently be beyond all humane Power, to know future things in their remote Causes, the Causes themselves not existing till many Ages after; nay, where the Causes act ar∣bitrarily, and consequently the Effects are wholly contingent.
Whether the Instruments of conveying to Mankind the notices of such things, were actu∣ated by good or bad Spirits, is not of any Conse∣quence here; since if they were bad, it shews the influence of a superiour Being, which makes the very Devils subservient to that Power, which was to destroy their Kingdom.
And it cannot but be look'd upon as a great Mercy and Providence of God, that he not only left witness of himself among the Jews,* in those Prophecies, which sufficiently pointed out the Time, Place, Person, and Character of the Messi∣ah. But that the Gentiles might have no pre∣tence that these were Juggles, and a meer Con∣spiracy against their ancient and establish'd Rites, Page 145 he so ordered it, That the Roman Capitol should become a Sanctuary, and Depository of these Di∣vine Truths; That there the Sibylline Writings, which describe that pacific Prince, who was to be born of a Virgin, so clearly, that thence is now taken the main Objection against their Authori∣ty; should be preserved with that care, which might prevent all manner of scruples with un∣bias'd minds, against those mighty Testimonies to Christianity.
To those therefore the Primitive Fathers, (a)Justin Martyr,(b)Clement of Alexandria,(c)Tertullian, and Origen, even the last of which was born within the second Certury, appeal'd in their Disputes with the Heathens, or Apologies for themselves. (d)Celsus his Objection, That the Christians had inserted many, and blasphe∣mous things into the Sibyls Books, is so far from an Objection that ought to weigh with us; that it is a Confirmation of our Faith, and that those Writings contained such things of one to be born into the World, as the Heathens accounted it Blas∣phemy to ascribe to any but their Gods, or the great Jove, or Jehova.
Origen's Challenge, for Celsus to shew what the Christians had inserted, not being answered, were of it self a sufficient disproof of this Ca∣lumny: but 'tis strange it should be taken up by Christians now, especially by the Learned (e)I∣saac Vossius, who in the main defends the Sibyl∣line Writings; for what ever may have been ad∣ded through the officious, or mistaken Zeal of any Christians since, 'tis highly improbable that it should have been so in Celsus his time, or as long as the Capitol stood, to which the Heathens Page 146 would certainly have resorted; to falsifie the Quotations made by the Christians, if they had not been exactly true. Not can it be imagin'd how the Christians should at any time, after the birth of our Saviour, till the (b) burning of the Capitol, which was about the Year of Christ 395, be able to thrust in any spurious Copies a∣mong those which were received by the Hea∣thens.
For before our Saviour's birth, (c)Augustus had made a Collection of those Books of the Sibyls, which upon examination were found au∣thentick; these were laid up in two gilded Hut∣ches, under the foot of a Pillar in the Temple of Palatine Apollo, where they were preserved as the most (d) sacred Possession which they had. And whereas at first two, and after that ten, were appointed the Keepers and Priests of those scat∣ter'd Oracles, which they had formerly gathered together, fifteen had the Charge of this new Collection; and in all Emergencies of State, or portentous Accidents, these Quindecemvirs con∣sulted the fatal Books, as they call'd them, by the Decree of the Senate, and without such De∣cree these Officers were not to acquaint the Peo∣ple with any Verse there.
Nay, there was great care taken that they might not be cheated with new, or false Copies; when in Tiberius his time,*Caninius Gallus, one of the Quindecemvirs, press'd for a Decree of the Senate, for having a Book then found, treasured among the other Writings of the Sibyls (whether Page 147 there was but one, or more, Tacitus, who relates it, would not determine.) Tiberius tells him by Letter, that he was ignorant what was the an∣cient Custom upon such a discovery, which was, to have every Verse read and weighed in full Se∣nate before it was received, and then the matter was to be left to the Priests, that they might use all possible humane means for discerning the true from false.
That the Christians therefore could not cheat them in this matter, and would have been dis∣proved by authority of the Senate, if they made any false Quotations, cannot be doubted.
The only Question remaining is, How the Christians could come by any of these Writings, which were kept with so much caution, that none were admitted to them but the immediate Offi∣cers intrusted with them, nor could they publish them without a Decree from the Senate: And further yet, as it is in Tiberius his Letter menti∣oned by Tacitus, Augustus made a Law,* That whenever any Copy of such Writings should occur, it should within a day be carried to the Pretor, or Mayor of the City, and that no pri∣vate Person should retain any by him.
Notwithstanding all which, it is easily suppo∣sable that the Christians, and others, might have made large Collections of those Predictions which were there treasured up: And Augustus his De∣cree seems to concern only what look'd like Ori∣ginals, or were Copies from other parts, of which they had nothing in the Capitol.
*And Tully takes notice of a Decree of the Se∣nate against the reading of those Books, as obso∣lete, and antiquated; But thinks it reasonable that this Decree should be revived to prevent Su∣perstition; but then there was no restraint to keep Tully, and the other Enquirers of that Age, from satisfying their Curiosity about these;* And several of their Verses are mentioned in the Au∣thors of those Times, agreeably to which Lactan∣tius, who was born within the third Century, says, that the Sibylline Verses which the Christi∣ans then urg'd against the Heathens, were taken out of Tully, Varro, and other Ancients, who died before Christ was born.
And that these Verses were in many hands before the middle of the second Century after our Saviour, is evident in Justin Martyr, who im∣putes it to the prevalence of Devils, or Daemons, that the Sibylline Books, among others, were then prohibited;* yet, says he,
Which shews that the Prohibition extended only to Men of their own Rites; and the Decree against the reading of them, seems to have been revived to prevent the spreading of Christianity, not that it was always inforc'd. Justin says, Page 149 the reading of these was made capital;*
Upon three accounts it is easily to be conceiv'd, how the Sybils Verses should have been publick.
1. It might have been through the Treachery of Officers entrusted with them,* who might have privately transcribed them, as Attilius did, who was one of the two entrusted with the Collection then made, and for the breach of that Trust suffered as Parricide.
2. The occasions of consulting these Verses were very frequent and numerous; and the Ver∣ses which were then made publick were, no doubt, carefully preserv'd, and communicated from one to another.
3. Those Writings which were kept in the Capitol before Augustus his time, were for the most part Transcripts from what were recorded in several parts of Greece; from amongst these and others, Augustus made his Collection; and as it was no difficult thing to have recourse to those places, from whence any of them had been transcribed; no more was it to have sufficient Evidence, which, among the Verses so recorded, were transcribed and carried into the Capitol.
Upon which Considerations, I should think it no more strange, that many Sibylline Writings should be in the hands of Christians while the Capitol stood, agreeing with Verses there recor∣ded, than that several Copies of any Book, should agree with the same Original: and as the Chri∣stians, by quoting the Sibyls to the Heathens, shewed their assurance that the Quotations were Page 150 right, and of such Writings as the Heathens themselves received for Authorities; so their not being disproved in particular instances, shews, that that assurance was well grounded.
And this will be further evident, if any one of the Apostles at any time used these Authorities, either to Heathens, or Christians; for tho this Argument was not so necessary, that we ought to suppose the Apostles inspired to know the Con∣tents of these Verses, before they came to their hands: Yet we cannot think, that the holy Spi∣rit, which was to lead them into all Truth, would suffer them to quote any thing adulterate; nor is it to be imagined that any Christian then, could have counterfeited these Verses, and not be dis∣covered.
*Clement of Alexandria, speaking of God's Mercy, not only to the then Christians, and Jews, but to the Gentiles also, and of his having raised up Prophets among them, says,
That this passage is not to be found among the Writings of St. Paul now extant, is not of it self of greater weight, than if any of the Primitive Christians should have mentioned some expressi∣on, or action of our Saviour's, of which a clear Tradition then ran; tho it were not recorded by any of the Evangelists: whereas St. John con∣cluding his Gospel, says;
'Tis evident, by the manner of the Quotation, that what Clement cites as St. Paul's words, were among them to whom he wrote, as much ac∣counted St. Paul's, as any passage which he cites from St. Peter, was thought to be his.
So that there is no more in this Objection, than that this has not been transmitted down to us, in the same manner with the rest of S. Paul's Writings.
But, circumstances considered, we are not here so much as to examine whether Clement, who mentions this, was one of integrity; but the on∣ly Question will be, Whether he, and others of that time, might have sufficient evidence, whe∣ther any Writings, which went under the name of any Apostle, were in truth his whose name they then bore? Nor can there be any great Question of this here, if we consider, that Cle∣ment finish'd his Book in the time of the Em∣perour Severus, who died Anno Christi 212, St. Paul died about the Year 67 or 69;* so that here were but 145 Years at the most, to preserve the Tradition, and not 100 to Clement's being of years of understanding; and Polycarp, a Disciple of one of the Apostle, lived till the year of Christ 168. so that, with him at least, Clement,* and others then alive, might have conversed, and possibly with some of St. Paul's own Followers.