The Christian religion has held this practice to abolish the pagan religion, first to deface the memory of all order and ceremonies thereof, and of all old theology. After that, it sought to abolish the poets and historiographers, and to extinguish all knowledge of the deeds of excellent persons, and of all antiquity, destroying all old images, and all that might represent any sign or trace of the world passed. Yet it could not altogether abolish good letters, because it was constrained to use the Latin language to write her new law, by the means of which language some part of the ancient works yet remained. But if the Christian religion could have formed a new language in a small time, you would have seen all antiquity quite banished and gone. But Saint Gregory and other doctors of that religion, who so obstinately persecuted the letters and writings of the gentiles, were themselves constrained to write them in the Latin tongue. The pagan religion at its beginning did the same to the religion which was before it; for sects and religions change and vary two or three times in five or six thousand years, and the last always makes perish the remembrance of all that had been before it. And if any kept relics of the memory thereof, men held them for fables and gave no credit unto them, more than unto the history of Diodorus the Sicilian, who begins a narration of things done forty or fifty thousand years before.
Machiavelli, desirous to show himself a very atheist without religion, and a man full of ignorance and beastliness, now advances this maxim, the very contrary whereof is plainly seen in the writings of those of our religion, which this impostor and deceiver blames as altogether false and against truth. For so much there wants that the writers of our religion would abolish good letters, the liberal arts, the knowledge of tongues, histories, poetry, and other elder sciences; to the contrary, they have used them to refute the errors of the pagan religion. For they were forced to use them against the pagans to vanquish them, either with natural reason or with citations and authorities out of their own books, because they did not receive the authority of the Bible. And whoever reads the ancient doctors will witness the truth that they have filled their books with citations of profane and pagan authors. And he who will see this more at large, let him read Saint Augustine on the City of God, and the Christian institutions of Lactantius Firmian. For he shall see that the purpose of those two authors in the said books, is nothing but to refute and overthrow the pagan religion, with the falseness thereof, by their own books, and to approve and set out ours. True it is that often they mark the faults and ignorance of pagan authors, and admonish Christians to read them with a spirit of sobriety, and not give themselves so much unto them as to leave the holy scriptures. Which admonitions are good and holy, and are also necessary even in our time. For there are at this day infinite persons who so much please themselves in profane authors, some in poets, some in historiographers, some in philosophy, some in physic, or in law, that they care nothing to read or else to know anything for the salvation and comfort of their souls. Some care not at all for it, others reserve that study until they have ended the studies of other sciences, and in the meanwhile the time runs away, and often it comes to pass that when they leave this world, their profane studies are not ended, nor the study of holy letters commenced, and so they die like beasts. Therefore the old doctors are not to be reprehended because they admonish men to read in great sobriety the writings of the pagans, and that men not give themselves so much thereunto, to know human sciences and abandon the divine knowledge, which is as much more excellent, as God is than man. Yet there are some pagan authors who ought never to be read by Christians, or at least ought not to come into the hands of youths, who are but too much inclined to vices and lubricities. For a young scholar, can he better learn in a stew among whores and ruffians, the terms of all villainy and lubricity, than in that filthy Martial, or in Catullus, or Tibullus, or in certain books of Ovid? And therefore, although we never read any of these poets, if our youths gave themselves only to Virgil to learn all Latin poetry, it is enough; and that author alone, compared to whom all others are but small rivers, might teach them all the poetry that need be known. Yet I will not say but there are many other good poets worthy to be read, as Horace, Lucan, Claudian, and others; but he who well understands Virgil has no need of others for the understanding of poetry. And in every science it seems to be the best, that men may well employ their time, which is dear and short, to read few books, to make good choice of them, and to understand them well. But for proof of what I say, that Machiavelli is a shameless liar, in that he dares affirm that the doctors of the Christian religion sought to abolish good letters, I will here set down the advice they have given touching the study of letters of the gentiles. Doctor Bede, as Gratian recites in his decree, says that those who forbid the reading of the gentiles’ books hinder men from having apt spirits to comprehend and understand the holy writings, because human sciences fashion our minds and understandings to a better understanding of holy letters; and that Moses and Daniel, who were learned in all the books of the Egyptians and Chaldeans, serve for an example not to utterly reject the books of the pagans. But here I will translate the very words of doctor Bede.
“He who forbids the reading of secular books, wherein we ought to take what is good for our own, troubles and causes to fail the vivacity of readers’ spirits. Otherwise Moses and Daniel would not have learned the wisdom and letters of the Egyptians and Chaldeans, whose superstition they abhorred. Saint Paul would not have cited certain verses out of the gentiles’ books in his writings. Why then should we forbid men to read what by good reason ought to be read? But some read secular books for pleasure only, being tickled and delighted with poetical figments and fictions, or else for the ornament of their language. Others read them for erudition, and to detest and refute the errors of the gentiles, and to apply the good things they find there to the use of the erudition of sacred letters; and these merit only praise in studying secular letters. And for this cause Saint Gregory reprehended a certain bishop, not because he had learned humane letters, but because he expounded them unto the people against the duty of a bishop, whereas he should have expounded the Gospel.”
Behold the opinion of this theologian doctor, concerning the study and reading of the writings and sciences of the pagans. Speaking upon Luke, Saint Ambrose says that we read the books of the pagans for divers ends; namely, not to be ignorant of what they handle, and to follow the good things in them, and to reject the evil. Saint Jerome, upon the letter to Titus, says that grammar and logic are profitable sciences to know how to speak well and to distinguish true from false, and that secular sciences may serve Christians, to apply them to good uses. And therefore, he said, it is necessary to know them, to the end that we might show that the things said by prophets many hundreds of years before are since come to pass, and described by the books of both the Greeks and Latins. Saint Augustine says against the Manicheans, that if the Sibyls, or Orpheus, or other poets or philosophers of the gentiles, have written any true thing of God, men must and may serve themselves therewith, to vanquish the vanity of the pagans, but yet we ought not therefore give authority to such authors. By which words he well shows that he approves the reading and study of the gentiles’ books, poets and philosophers as well as others. Saint Basil also in the treatise he wrote on the manner of reading the gentiles’ books, not only does not reprehend the reading of them, but on the contrary exhorts Christians to read them and to apply the reading of those books to our true end and purpose, which is the piety and edification in the faith and Christian religion. And to conclude, we read that by a council it was ordained that everywhere schools should be established to teach the youth secular letters and liberal arts. The article of the said council, recited by Gratian, is this: “Report is made to us of certain places where they have no care to have schoolmasters for the study of letters. Therefore let all bishops, subjects, and people, in places where there is need, perform their duties in placing masters and doctors, who may daily teach letters and liberal arts, for by their means the writings and commandments of God are declared and manifested.” What now then will this slanderer Machiavelli say? Can he yet say that the doctors of Christianity have or would have abolished good letters and the writings of the pagans? Will he not hold himself vanquished by so many authorities, as we have cited out of Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory, Bede, and Basil, who are the principal doctors of Christianity; and the authority of the council, which is an approbation of the Universal Church? Shall not all this be sufficient to show the impudence of this Florentine?
But now I am desirous to know of this atheist Machiavelli, what was the cause that so many good books of the pagan authors were lost since the time of the ancient doctors of our Christian religion? Was it not by the Goths, who were pagans? For at their so many interruptions and breaking out of their countries, upon Gaul, Italy, and Spain, they wasted and burned as many books as they could find, being enemies of all learning and letters. And who within this hundred years has restored good letters contained in the books of the ancient pagans, Greeks, and Latins? Has it been the Turk, who is a pagan? It is well enough known that he is an enemy of letters, and desires none. Nay contrary, it has been the Christians who have restored them, and established them in the brightness and light wherein we see them today. The knowledge of the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew languages has been brought in by others; but in our country of France we may thank King Francis I of happy memory. And since the restoration of languages and secular sciences, men have well experienced that they are requisite and profitable to understand the scriptures of our Christian religion, so far are we off from rejecting them.
And as for what Machiavelli says, that Christianity has fought to abolish all memory of antiquity; how dare he openly impugn the manifest truth? For none is ignorant that the true and primitive antiquity is of the Hebrews, whose books have been conserved, translated, and expounded by the Christians. And as for the antiquity of the pagans, does any man find that the Christians have discarded Homer, Hesiod, Berosus, or any other authors of antiquity? Nay, they are who have conserved them, who have aided themselves with them, and who have interpreted them. Eustachius, the great commentator of Homer, was he not a Christian, even a bishop? But I shame to stay in the refutation of the falsehoods of this atheist; for young and mean scholars may easily impugn his impudent lies.
Machiavelli says that Christianity did not succeed as well as it could have when it went about to abolish good letters, because it was constrained to use the Latin tongue, wherein all secular sciences were written. Herein does he manifestly show his beastliness and ignorance; for who constrained our Christian doctors to write in Latin? The Old and New Testament were first written in Hebrew and Greek; therefore the Latin doctors, if they had wanted to, might have written in these languages, as did Chrysostom, Athanasius, Basil, Cyril, Eusebius, and many others. Yet if writers had used these languages, men would not have ceased to preach in Latin to the Latins, in French to the French, in the German to the Germans, and to other nations, each in its own language. For it has been seen not past threescore years ago, that in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, and other places, the Christian religion was not written in the native tongue, yet men held the religion in the said countries. But since then it has been brought into every one of those languages, for the commodity of the people, as it was brought into Latin by Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory, and other Latin doctors of the primitive church of their time. Yet if they had written in Hebrew or Greek, Christianity would not have ceased to subsist and stand for that. And even if the Latin profane books had perished, the language, which was then vulgar, would not have therefore perished. Therefore does Machiavelli show his beastliness, to say that the Christian religion has been constrained to use the Latin language, and that by that means the profane Latin authors have been conserved. But what means he when he says that if Christianity could have formed a new language, it would have abolished all memory of antiquity? Has there been at any time, in any country, any religion which has formed a new language? And how comes it that a religion can be received by the means of a new unknown tongue? If the Christian religion had invented a new tongue, it could never have been understood, nor received, and in consequence could not have abolished the books written in Latin. Likewise using the Latin that was then in common use, it could no more abolish the books written in that tongue, according to the saying of Machiavelli. Therefore take it which way you will; if Christianity had invented a new tongue, or if it used the Latin tongue (as it did and does), it could not extinguish and abolish the books written in Latin; therefore Machiavelli knows not what he says.
As little knows he what he says when he holds that sects and religions have varied twice or thrice in five or six thousand years, and that the last always causes the remembrance of the first to perish. For who has revealed to him this secret? Who has told him news of things done before Moses’ time, if it was not Moses himself? Briefly, there is neither reason nor history whereupon he may found this impudent lie. But hereby he would show that if any doubt whether he is a very atheist, he has no more cause to doubt. For a proof hereof, he makes a declaration that he believes nothing of what is written in scripture of the creation of the world, nor of the religion of God which we hold since Moses. For by the holy scripture is seen that there are not yet six thousand years since the creation of the world. It is also seen that the Christian religion of Messiah and Christ has not changed since the creation, but has always endured, and shall endure until the consummation of the world. And as for pagan religions, they have changed from one to another in little time, and in the same country, as histories show. At Rome, in the time of Romulus, there was a religion such as it was, which Numa changed; and strange religions of the Greeks and others were received at Rome. Insomuch that about five hundred years after Numa, when his books were found in his sepulcher and men read them, they found no part of their religion in them, as shall be more fully said in its place. Briefly, these pagan religions often changed in regard to their form and ceremonies, but in substance they changed nothing since the children of Cain who began to follow the false religion. For whatever outward change there was, within it was always devilish religion, having for its author the father of lies and falseness. And therefore Machiavelli knows not what he says, but that he is an atheist, and so would manifest himself to be one, by disclosing that he did not believe the holy scriptures. He thought to have immortalized his name by making himself known to posterity, that he was a perfect atheist replenished with all impiety; as Nero did, who sought means to have men speak of him after his death, in slaying his mother, brother, master, and many good men of his time, and in burning Rome, and such other wicked and detestable cases. As also Caligula wished, so that there might be a memory of his kingdom in time to come, that there might happen some great pestilence and notable mortality, or some exceedingly great famine, ruin, earthquakes, and burning of towns. Because, he said, if my reign passes in peace and tranquility without some great and notable evil luck, none will speak of me in time to come. There are men of such wicked and devilish natures, who are of this humor, who desire to make their renown immortal by vices and wickedness. So has Machiavelli done, who has so well played his part that he has obtained the chief rank of all atheists and impious persons, near Aretine his companion, who lived in his time, and has written the praise of sodomy to immortalize his name.