Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Translated Extract from Isaak Iselin, Uber die Geschichte der Menschheit, [ca. 9 June 1817]


Translated Extract from Isaak Iselin, Über die Geschichte der Menschheit

[ca. 9 June 1817]

Isaak Iselin geschichte der menschheit vol. ii Lib. 7—HauptSt. 23 pag 217.1

the Christian Religion.

During the period that the monstrous Edifice of Roman grandeur tottered under its own weight; when its Political body wasted itself, by its own internal corruption, arose in the most abandonned province, the Christian Religion.

This Divine doctrine distinguished itself at its first promulgation from all other Religions by a Sublime Simplicity, and the purest clearness. with these excellent attributes it became Suitable for every Condition, for every calling or vocation, for every Situation.

It encompassed all what was lofty, great, and elevated, which in every other Religion was destroyed, not being polluted with absurdities which disgraced it. It comprehended that excellent observance of morality, and was also the Surest guide to happiness, tempering and mollifying the human mind.

The Philosophers have observed that a Nation of true Christians, never could be warlike. They judged rightly. A Philosophizing People would find themselves in a defenceless Situation. Sound Sense reproves War as much as Christianity reprobates it. To its barbarous origin it owes all, and with its annihilation it must disappear. It is no blame on, but the greatest Commendation of the Christian Religion, when it is Said that it disapproves war.

The Christian Religion disgusted, and displeased barbarous and vain Men, even on account of its purity, its meekness, and its venerable pre-eminence.

The Priest discovered early that it did not engage the Senses Sufficiently, and that the imagination was not enough captivated, therefore he borrowed of a false Philosophy fanatical dreams, and from the dominant Religion delusive Ceremonies.(*) He thereby increased his Consequence with the ignorant, who had already embraced his doctrine, and gained many more to whom Christianity in its true Sincerity would never have been pleasing. The more he stifled the true Spirit of Religion; The more he added thereunto fascinating outworks: The more he oppressed the genius of the People. By these means he extended his powers, of which he cunningly availed himself, Sometimes to Strengthen Princely despotism, at other times mitigating it, but in the end to devour and annihilate all by his own Despotism.

The Christian Religion must also be viewed and considered in two points.

The true, the inward Christianity is an immediate operation of the Deity. No Man, no Philosophy, no reason can give true faith and Sanctification. These are powerful gifts, which are the property of the Elect, and those Elect, constitute alone the true Church, which is dispersed throughout all visible Congregations. These no human resistance can Scan, or meddle with. They are not Subjected to any human Law. Upon them no Pope, no King, or Prince has power. It is no Exteriour Form, and no outward constitution is her own.

On the contrary, the External2 Christianity is no immediate operation of the Divinity. It consists in usages, Ceremonies, Forms, which, under the name of the Christian Religion, from the first Century unto our days, have been prescribed to the Nations with numerous alterations. It is the Shape, it is the dress which Men gave to3 the Sublimest doctrine. It is the opinion of the Pope, of Luther, of Zwinglius.(†) It may, and can Philosophically be examined. Its influence in Morals, in Laws, in the Sciences itself, has made it for ever a powerful engine4 in Politics. Under the Roman Emperors, the adulterated Christianity had already corrupted the taste, stifled the light of knowledge, and with its ignorance and darkness introduced the Ecclesiastical Slavery, which caused more Ruin to the Empire, than the Barbarian incursions. Through5 the true knowledge, even these Should6 have been reformed into reasonable Men, whereas bigotry and Superstition made them yet more inhuman.

By this unnatural christianity has the Spirit, and the Minds of all the European Nations, received and adopted a very particular Strain, giving to this part of the world throughout, a altered7 Situation.8

T. ii. pag. 206

† In this manner lived the Essener (Jos. B. J. vi. 2) among the corrupted Jews—a Society—which in many respects Seemed to have been the model of the first Christians.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 210:37462); extract probably translated by Adam Gerard Mappa; in an unidentified hand, with notes and revisions by Francis Adrian Van der Kemp as indicated; undated; extract based on Isaak Iselin, über die Geschichte der Menschheit (Basel, 1786; repr. 1976), 2:217–22; authorial footnotes retained; with final excerpt added by Van der Kemp from 2:206.

christianam religionem absolutamnervos (“The plain and simple religion of the Christians he obscured by a dotard’s superstition, and by subtle and involved discussions about dogma, rather than by seriously trying to make them agree, he aroused many controversies; and as these spread more and more, he fed them with contentious words. And since throngs of bishops hastened hither and thither on the public post-horses to the various synods, as they call them, while he sought to make the whole ritual conform to his own will, he cut the sinews of the courier-service”). This description of the faith of the Roman emperor Constantius II is in a history by Ammianus Marcellinus, 21.16.18 (Ammianus Marcellinus, trans. John C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library [1935–39; repr. 1972], 2:182–5).

Iselin referred on page 206 of his work to the second main section of book six of the ancient historian Josephus’s work, The Jewish War.

1Text to this point in Van der Kemp’s hand.

2Here is canceled “or Superficial.”

3Reworked by Van der Kemp from “which gave Men.”

4Word interlined by Van der Kemp in place of an illegible deletion.

5Word interlined by Van der Kemp in place of “With.”

6Reordered by Van der Kemp from “should even these.”

7Word interlined by Van der Kemp in place of “variable.”

8Remainder of text in Van der Kemp’s hand, at foot of page and rotated 180° from preceding text.

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

(*) (*) Christianam religionem absolutam & Simplicem anili Superstitione Confundens; in qua Scrutanda perplexius, quam componenda gravius, excitavit discidia plurima; quæ progressa fusius alit convertatione verborum, ut catervis antistitum jumentis publicis ultro citroque discurrentibus per Sinodos, quos appellant, dum ritum omnem ad fuum trahere conantur arbitrium, rei vehiculariæ Succideret nervos, Says of the Emperour Constantin, Ammianus Marcellinus, 21. 16. From this we can form an Idea of the Spirit of this Emperour, and of the Spirit of his Priesthood.

(†) (†) Now I say this, that among you one saith: I am of Paul; the other: I am of Apollos; the third: I am of Peter; the fourth: I am of Christ. 1 Cor. 1. v. 12. &c. See also v. 4. 5. & 6. of the 3d chapter of the Same Epistle.

Index Entries

  • Ammianus Marcellinus; quoted search
  • Bible; 1 Corinthians referenced search
  • Christianity; works on search
  • Constantius II, Roman emperor; religious beliefs of search
  • Iselin, Isaak; Über die Geschichte der Menschheit search
  • Josephus; cited by I. Iselin search
  • Judaism; works on search
  • Luther, Martin; mentioned search
  • Mappa, Adam Gerard; as translator search
  • Über die Geschichte der Menschheit (I. Iselin) search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; sends works to TJ search
  • Zwingli, Huldrych; mentioned search