« AnteriorContinua »
In the midst of these contentions, and from a remote and disregarded corner of the East, a new and tremendous scourge of Christianity had arisen. Mahomet had established his imposture in Arabia. Born of the noblest family of the most honourable tribe among his countrymen, yet beset with indigence and obscurity, he passed his early years in the humble occupations of a camel-driver and of a commercial agent to a wealthy widow ; until he was raised to distinction by becoming the husband of his employer. In the political and religious situation of the inhabitants of Arabia he perceived an opening, by which a daring, and sagacious, and unprincipled adventurer might arrive at unlimited dominion. Divided into a number of unconnected and hostile tribes, the Arabians were not likely to unite into a general confederacy against any person, who might appear to aim at superiority over one or two tribes. enmity of some was likely to conciliate to him the friendship and assistance of others. Those whom private and national antipathies had thus separated were kept asunder still more widely by differences in religion. Arabia, the land of freedom, was peopled with discordant sects of every persuasion. With Jews it abounded as early as at the day of Pentecost; and had received numbers of fugitives from the arms
of the Romans. In
many parts of the country, Christianity had made powerful advances. Among some tribes the religious tenets of the Magi had been introduced from Persia. The rest of the people, though generally holding the unity of God, were absorbed in idolatry. But Jews, Christians, and idolaters, were enveloped in universal ignorance. What, then, might not be hoped by a deceiver, who should cautiously lay before the Arabians, as coming from
God, a form of religion dexterously accommodated to the leading tenets of the different parties, on whose ignorance he wished to impose ? On this foundation, and according to this plan, Mahomet erected his superstructure. Having attracted during some years the public attention by frequent retirements to a cave in a mountain in the neighbourhood of Mecca, the city where he resided; he at length announced himself, A.D. 609, privately in the outset and to his own family, as a prophet invested with a Divine commission to establish true religion upon earth.
His sacred doctrines and institutions he professed to receive from Heaven by the communication of the angel Gabriel. He imparted them to the world in the Koran ; the chapters of which he produced in slow succession during three-and-twenty years ; and usually for the evident purpose of meeting some emergency in his affairs, or of authorising the gratification of his licentious passions. Discarding all mysteries as adverse to his prospect of success, he unremittingly inculcated the tenet in which all descriptions of his hearers were disposed to agree, the unity of God. The Jews he conciliated by upholding the Divine authority of the Old Testament: the Christians he allured by paying similar respect to the New. Moses and Christ he averred to have been sent as forerunners of himself, and to have predicted his approach and his superiority, in passages which had been blindly misunderstood, or maliciously corrupted or expunged. Pretensions to miraculous powers he warily disclaimed. Miracles, he said, had been proved, by the examples of Moses and of Christ, ineffectual to secure the reception of truth. Unbelievers he menaced with unspeakable and eternal anguish in a future life. To believers he promised the everlasting pleasures of a sensual paradise.
But he reserved the highest enjoyments and glories of the world to come for those who should expend their possessions or their blood in support of his religion. The tardiness of his progress might have driven a less resolute impostor to despair. Fourteen proselytes were the fruit of three years. Some years afterwards the number scarcely exceeded one hundred. The rage of his enemies constrained him to save his life by flight from Mecca, A.D. 622: an event from which the Mahometans date their era, denominated the Hegira, or the Flight. His fortunes now changed. He was received at Medina as a prince and a prophet. Converts and adventurers flocked to his standard. Laying aside the tolerating language which his feebleness had inserted into the earlier parts of the Koran, he declared himself sent forth to establish true religion, the belief in the unity of God and in himself as the apostle of God, by the sword. Against all infidels, he declared war.
To idolaters, he offered conversion or death. To the followers of Moses and of Christ a more liberal choice was granted. “ Ye Christian dogs ?, ye know your option : the Koran, the tribute, or the sword.” Such was the address usual among his successors to their enemies of the Eastern empire. Victory and defeat were alike converted by Mahomet into engines for consolidating his power. The one event was a special
1 Gibbon's History, 4to. vol. v. p. 220, &c.
2 Dog was, and still remains, the common term of infamy appropriated to unbelievers by the Mahometans. « The Grecian dog” was the usual title of the Emperor of Constantinople. See Ockley's History of the Saracens. The letter of the Caliph Harun al Rashid to the Emperor Nicephorus is addressed, “ To the Roman Dog."- Gibbon, vol. v. p. 433.
proof of his Divine mission; the other a punishment on the incredulity of his followers. At length his arms were every where triumphant.
He was throned in Mecca, and acknowledged and obeyed throughout all Arabia, as a divinely appointed lawgiver and sovereign. Tranquil at home, he looked around for conquest. Palestine he invaded; and fixed his eye on the fertility of Syria. But his career was arrested, A.D. 632, by death. The tide of victory, however, flowed on without interruption. Succeeding caliphs pursued his footsteps. Frantic with religious zeal and the thirst of plunder, and steeled against fear and danger by a belief in the most rigid predestination, innumerable hosts of Saracens, so termed from a principal tribe of the Arabians, rushed forth on all sides. Within six years from the death of Mahomet, Syria, after the destruction of immense armies dispatched for its protection, was completely wrested from the Emperor Heraclius; who publicly acknowledged that the flagrant wickedness of the Christians had justly withdrawn from them the protection of their God. Egypt and Persia and Armenia speedily bowed to the same yoke. The whole extent of Africa as far as the Atlantic was subdued by the commencement of the following century. Crossing the straights of Gibraltar, A.D. 710, the victorious Saracens invaded Spain ; and having in the course of some few years reduced that kingdom, passed forwards, A.D. 721, over the Pyrenean mountains into France, and occupied the southern provinces. But these instruments of Divine vengeance began now to exceed in this direction the limits of their commission. Pressing on to the very centre of France, they were defeated near Tours, with dreadful and decisive slaughter, by Charles Martel, A.D. 732; and the remains of their
forces were driven back into Spain. In the mean time their armies from Asia had twice besieged Constanti
The first siege commenced A. D. 668, and lasted during seven successive summers. During the winter months the assailants regularly retired to the Isle of Cyzicus, where they had established their magazines. The city proved impregnable; but was obliged to purchase peace by a tribute. The attempt was ineffectually renewed by the Mahometans, from A.D. 716 to A.D. 718.
During the course of the eighth century the calamities of the East were continued. The Turks, a savage nation of Tartarian descent, rushing from the solitudes of Mount Caucasus, over-ran Colchis, Iberia, Albania, and Armenia ; and having vanquished the Saracens in those quarters, turned their fury against the Greeks. During the last twenty years of this century, and in the beginning of the next, Asia Minor was cruelly ravaged by the caliphs; and tribute was again exacted from the Emperor of Constantinople. But no calamities appear to have retarded the progress of superstition and vice. A new controversy concerning the procession of the Holy Ghost embroiled the Greek with the Latin Christians. The Orientals maintained that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father only; the Western Churches, from the Father and the Son. A dissension still more vehement broke forth respecting images. Bardanes the Greek Emperor, A.D. 712, having removed from the church of St. Sophia a picture of the meeting of the sixth general council, because that assembly had condemned his favourites the Monothelites, sent orders to Rome for the adoption of similar proceedings. The Roman pontiff, not satisfied with manifesting his indignant contempt by a formal rejection of the Imperial edict, com