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As he approached the reformation, particularly in the fifteenth century, he became much more prolix, in order to represent correctly what led immediately to the reformation itself, and to shew its direct consequences. By means of the extracts he produces from writers of the fifteenth century, it must appear plain to every one, that even then the ground of the reformation was laid; that it was neither marvellous in its origin, nor the effect of any political design; but that after such preparatory causes, and under such circumstances, it could not without a miracle have been prevented. Luther himself, particularly in the first periods of his great undertaking, did not advance a single proposition, which was not before advanced by one and another of the learned in the fifteenth century. The sudden and general approbation therefore, in and out of Germany, may easily be accounted for.

The history of the reformation was so laid out by Semler, that by means of a series of excerpta from the writings of the reformers and their illustrious contemporaries, it plainly appeared how their great work proceeded from small beginnings, and advanced gradually, step by step. Not every thing that proceeds from Luther is, as indolence and pride are so ready to believe, incapable of improvement; but this illustrious reformer has left much for posterity to pursue in completing the work. Semler shewed in what way the progress of the reformation was interrupted after the death of Luther, and how false opinions struck deep root in the church. Every new attempt at improvement of teaching was accounted the breaking out of a punishable attempt at innovation, by which utter destruction was threatened to the church, to the purity of its doctrines, and to religion itself.

So many things important, novel, and bold, did this great man accomplish in the history of the church. But it is to be lamented that none of his works are brought down to our time, and completed. As often as he began at the commencement of the seventeenth century, he returned and pursued. again the long way through all periods to his accustomed limits. His new travels however were always remarkable for discoveries that had before escaped his notice, and were thus subservient to the increase of knowledge. Still it was irksome to accompany him again in reviewing the same ground, which was thought to have been already sufficiently explored. The whole value of his peculiar investigations and discoveries cannot be estimated from any individual work, and it was therefore a wish, often expressed to him in his life time, that he would collect together in one publication the whole history of the revolutions in the church, which he had discovered and verified from his own examination.

By studying the gradual origin of our present prevailing systems in the church, and the history of particular doctrines, Semler prepared himself for the reformation of dogmatic theology, and for his personal defence against the dangers which threatened him in the undertaking. The first piece which proceeded from him upon this subject, the history of the present system of doctrines, was of no inconsiderable value. It shewed under what conjunctures, and under the influence of what constellations, whether literary or ecclesiastical, it had arisen, in what various ways its fabrick had been changed, how it had been constructed in parts at different times, and how variously it had been furnished, till it became what it now is, a gothic palace, with its gothic furniture. He furnished an apology for those independent scholars, who are disposed to undertake the revision of dogmatic theology at the present time, to remove from it what is not consonant to their belief, and what is not adapted to present necessities. He gave to young theologians a just and perfect conception of the extent of dogmatie theology, of the right method of studying it, and of the necessity of a theological system, which should secure them from many prejudices, and from the pernicious declamations in which mystical and fanatical scorners and calumniators indulged themselves. Still his work was not complete, either in its compass or in its execution. He pursued the history of the system only to the end of the seventeenth century, "and was full only upon the subjeet of internal changes, a subject kowever of great critical and literary importance. In some portions indeed he is more prolix than in others. His account of the works of the scholastics is so particular and ample, that it plainly appears he had read and examined them himself, and that he has portrayed them with a knowledge resulting from his own investigations. But Cramer,* who came after him, has excelled him. Had the bent of Semler's genius allowed him, after the examination of particular parts of his subject, to embrace the whole, and to write a complete work with the same laborious exactness that he has displayed in certain portions, his work would have been worthy of a crown.

Of still more consequence than these first investigations were his subsequent researches into the history of doctrines, and his inquiries concerning them, which tended to shew how they were gradually presented under distinct propositions, founded in arbitrary authority, rather than proved from the sacred writings.t The study of ecclesiastical history will convince any one, that every father in the church modified the difficult and obscure doctrines which prevailed, aceording to the measure of his abilities, and the extent of his philosophical powers; that ecclesiastical decisions seldom had for their foundation a critical attention to the use of language and to the connexion of things, but rather a cumbrous kind of dialectics, the offspring in earlier times of Platonic philosophy, and afterwards of scholastic learning; that to the great disadvantage of any thing perspicuous, not only the books for scholars,

* (John Andrew Cramer, who was born in Germany in 1723. In 1754 he was invited to be chaplain to the court of Copenhagen, and afterward appointed professor of theology in the university in that place. He was disgraced however at the time of the ruin of the minister Struensee, and retired to Lubec. He was afterward received again into favour, and appointed professor of theology in the university of Kiel. He died in 1788. He was a poet as well as a theologian. In Denmark be is said to have been distinguished by the title of “ the thoroughly good." We do not know what work or works of his are particularly referred to above. Perhaps his edition of Bossuet's Universal History with dissertations. Ed.]

† Semlers Einleitung zu Baumgartens Polemic. (Introduction to Baumgarten's Polemic.)

but also the popular writings for the instruction of the great mass, are filled with expressions from the fathers, whose philosophical representations, no less than the language in which they were conveyed, were as opposite to ours, as the east to the west; that for the most part dissensions, and therefore accident rather than still, peaceful, and cool reflection, gave rise to doctrines considered universally binding, although in fact, proceeding as they did from such impure sources, they are no more obligatory than the theological speculations of a Des Cartes or a Leibnitz. A perfect historia dogmatum, collected from the original authorities, themselves, would shed a clear light upon the obscurity of dogmatic theology, and become the safe pole-star, through the labyrinth of systems, to every theologian. Yet even to our times no such work has been written, nor probably will be for a long time to come; for it must be a work resulting from patient and deliberate examination, and from the most extensive reading, the most unwearied industry, and undivided exertion-requisites which we can scarcely expect to find united in the same man.

It is wonderful that such a work was not thought of earlier, in the flourishing times of polemic theology, and commenced and prosecuted with earnestness and zeal. In all disputes every thing was carried by the assertion, that the doctrine defended had ever been the immutable doctrine of the church. Thus it became incumbent upon the other party, not to prove the doctrine false, but that it had not been the prevailing doctrine of the church; for if one contended for his opinions upon philosophical or scriptural grounds only, he contended in vain. The oldest systems, those of John of Damascus, Peter of Lombardy, and of the rest of the scholastics, with their fine demonstrations, were built perpetually upon authority, consequently upon history. Yet the unravelling of the history of doctrines still remained neglected; for no other reason probably, than the apprehension that it would lead to different results from those that were desired.

The reformation at length had such an influence upon the church, as to afford a favourable opportunity for the history of doctrines; and the Magdeburg Centuriators* enriched their work by devoting a chapter to this history for each century. Their illiterate and słothful sons rested for a long time contented with the laurels which their fathers had obtained. They used, as occasion required, what they found collected in this circumscribed history. A few men however of superior minds selected from the great mass particular doctrines, and presented their history more amply and more definitely, till at length Petaviust embraced the whole in a work of his own, and carried it through the time of the true fathers of the church; but his work is inadequate to the necessities of protestant theologians.

In the mean time the extent of every species of learning became enlarged; the knowledge of language was cultivated to more perfection and exactness; and criticism and philosophy attained to a height, which they had never reached before. With the superior culture of all subsidiary knowledge, the claims which had before been made upon the inquirers into the history of doctrines were naturally increased, and former labours in this province were accounted defective and unsatisfying. Under these circumstances Semler commenced his survey of this wide field, beset with various obstacles, in order to make it smooth and easy of access. He abridged the difficult task as much as he could without prejudice to perspicuity and profoundness of research. Over the first three centuries he went thoroughly. The teachers of this time were more careless than has commonly been supposed concerning theological opinions, and are of inconsiderable value for a true history of doctrines. In the fourth century every thing

* [An appellation given to certain learned Germans of the city of Magdeburg, who, in the early days of the reformation, composed a body of church history divided into centuries of years. They have been before mentioned, vol. ii. p. 49. Tr.]

+ [In his Dogmata Theologica, a work of incredible labour and compass.” It was first published Paris in 1644-1650 in 5 vols. fol, afterward at Florence in 1722, and at Amsterdam in 1763 in 3 vols. fol. Ed.]

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