The Collected Works of Theodore Parker/Volume 01/Book 1/Chapter 5
THE THREE GREAT HISTORICAL FORMS OF RELIGION.
Looking at the religious history of mankind, and especially at that portion of the human race which has risen highest in the scale of progress, we see that the various phenomena of Religion may, for the present purpose, be summed up in three distinct classes or types, corresponding to three distinct degrees of civilization, and almost inseparable from them.. These are Fetishism, Polytheism, and Monotheism. But this classification is imperfect, and wholly external, though of use for the present purpose. It must be borne in mind that we never find a nation in which either mode prevails alone.. Nothing is truer than this, that minds of the same, spiritual growth see the same spiritual truth. Thus, a savage Saint, living in a nation of Idolaters or Polytheists, worships the one true God, as Jesus of Nazareth has done. In a Christian land superstitious men may be found, who are as much Idolaters as Nebuchadnezzar or Jeroboam.
I. Fetichism denotes the worship of visible objects, such as beasts, birds, fish, insects, trees, mountains, the stars, the sun, the moon, the earth, the sea, and air, as types of the infinite Spirit. It is the worship of Nature. It includes many forms of religious observances that prevailed widely in ancient days, and still continue among savage tribes. It belongs to a period in the progress of the individual, or society, when civilization is low, the manners wild and barbarous, and the intellect acts in ignorance of the causes at work around it; when Man neither understands nature nor himself. Some writers suppose the human race started at first with a pure Theism; for the knowledge of truth, say they, must be older than the perception of error in this respect. It seems the sentiment of Man would lead him to the one God. Doubtless it would if the conditions of its highest action were perfectly fulfilled. But as this is not done in a state of ignorance and barbarism, therefore the religious sentiment mistakes its object, and sometimes worships the symbol more than the thing it stands for.
In this stage of growth, not only the common objects above enumerated, but gems, metals, stones that fell from heaven, images, carved bits of wood, stuffed skins of beasts, like the medicine-bags of the North-American Indians, are reckoned as divinities, and so become objects of adoration. But in this case the visible object is idealized; not worshipped as the brute thing it really is, but as the type and symbol of God. Nature is an Apparition of the Deity, God in a mask. Brute matter was never an object of adoration. Thus the Egyptians who worshipped the Crocodile, did not worship it as a Crocodile, but as a symbol of God, “an appropriate one,” says Plutarch, “for it alone, of all animals, has no tongue, and God needs none to speak his power and glory.” Similar causes, it may be, led to the worship of other animals. Thus the Hawk was a type of divine foresight; the Bull of strength; the Serpent of mystery. The Savage did not worship the Buffalo, but the Manitou of all Buffaloes, the universal cause of each particular effect. Still more, there is something mysterious about the animals. Their instinctive knowledge of coming storms, and other events; the wondrous foresight of the Beaver, the Bee; the sagacity of the Dog; the obscurity attending all their emotions, helped, no doubt, to procure them a place among powers greater than human. It is the Unknown which men worship in common things; at this stage, man, whose emotions are understood, is never an object of adoration.
Fetichism is the infancy of Religion. Here the religious consciousness is still in the arms of rude, savage life, where sensation prevails over reflection. It is a deification of Nature, “All is God, but God himself.” It loses the Infinite in the finite; worships the creature more than the Creator. Its lowest form—for in this lowest deep there is a lower deep—is the worship of beasts; the highest the sublime, but deceitful, reverence which the old Sabæan paid the host of Heaven, or which some Grecian or Indian philosopher offered to the Universe personified, and called Pan, or Brahma. Then all the mass of created things was a Fetiche. God was worshipped in a sublime and devout, but bewildering, Pantheism. He was not considered as distinct from the Universe. Pantheism and Fetichism are nearly allied.
In the lowest form of this worship, so far as we can gather from the savage tribes, each individual has his own peculiar Fetiche, a beast, an image, a stone, a mountain, or a star, a concrete and visible type of God. For it seems in this state that all, or most, external things, are supposed to have a life analogous in kind to ours, but more or less intense in degree. The concrete form is but the veil of God, like that before Isis in Egypt. There are no priests, for each man has access to his own Deity at will. Worship and prayer are personal, and without mediators. The age of the priesthood, as a distinct class, has not come. Worship is entirely free; there is no rite, established and fixed. Public theological doctrines are not yet formed. There are no mysteries in which each may not share.
This state of Fetichism continues as long as Man is in the gross state of ignorance which renders it possible. Next, as the power of abstraction and generalization becomes enlarged, and the qualities of external nature are understood, there are concrete and visible Gods for the Family; next for the Tribe; then for the Nation. But their power is supposed to be limited within certain bounds. A subsequent generalization gives an invisible but still concrete Deity for each department of Nature—the earth, the sea, the sky.
Now as soon as there is a Fetiche for the family, or the tribe, a mediator becomes needed to interpret the will and insure the favour of that Fetiche, to bring rain, or plenty, or success, and to avert impending evils. Such are the angekoks of the Esquimaux, the medicine-men of the Mandans, the jugglers of the Negroes. Then a priesthood gradually springs up, at first possessing none but spiritual powers; at length it surrounds its God with mysteries; excludes him from the public eye; establishes forms, sacrifices, and doctrines; limits access to the Gods; becomes tyrannical; aspires after political power; and founds a theocracy, the worst of despotisms, the earliest, and the most lasting. Still it has occupied a high and indispensable position in the development of the human race.
The highest form of Fetichism is the worship of the stars, or of the universe. Here it easily branches off into Polytheism. Indeed, it is impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends, for traces of each of the three forms are found in all the others; the two must be distinguished by their centre, not their circumference. The Great Spirit is worshipped, perhaps, in all stages of Fetichism. The Fetiche and the Manitou, visible types, are not the Great Spirit. But even in the worship of many Gods, or of one alone, traces of the ruder form still linger. The Fetiche of the individual is preserved in the Amulet, worn as a charm; in the figure of an animal painted on the dress, the armour, or the flesh of the worshipper. The Family Fetiche survives in the household Gods; the Penates of the Romans; the Teraphim of Laban; the Idol of Micah. The Fetiche of the Tribe still lives in the Lares of the Roman; in the patron God of each Grecian people; in some animal treated with great respect, or idealized in art, as the Bull Apis, the brazen Serpent, Horses consecrated to the Sun in Solomon's Temple; in an image of Deity, like the old wooden statues of Minerva, always religiously kept, or the magnificent figures of the Gods in marble, ivory, or gold, the productions of maturest art; in some chosen symbol, the Palladium, the Ancilia, the Ark of the Covenant. The Fetiche of the Nation, almost inseparably connected with the former, is still remembered in the mystical Cherubim and Most Holy Place among the Jews; in the Olympian Jove of Greece, and the Capitoline Jupiter of Rome; in the image of “the Great Goddess Diana, which fell down from Jupiter.” It appears also in reverence for particular places formerly deemed the local and exclusive residence of the Fetiche,—such as the Caaba at Mecca; Hebron, Moriah, and Bethel in Judea; Delphi in Greece, and the great gathering places of the North-men in Europe, spots deemed holy by the superstitious even now, and therefore made the site of Christian Churches.
Other and more general vestiges of Fetichism remain in the popular superstitions; in the belief of signs, omens, auguries, divination by the flight of birds, and other accidental occurrences; in the notion that unusual events, thunder, and earthquakes, and pestilence, are peculiar manifestations of God; that he is more specially present in a certain place, as a church, or time, as the sabbath, or the hour of death; is pleased with actions not natural, sacrifices, fasts, penance, and the like. Perhaps no form of religion has yet been adopted which has not the stain of Fetichism upon it. The popular Christian theology is full of it. The names of the constellations are records of Fetichism that will long endure.
Under this form Religion has the smallest sound influence upon life; the religious does not aid the moral element. The supposed demands of Religion seem capricious to the last degree, unnatural and absurd. The imperfect priesthood of necromancers and jugglers,—which belongs to this period,—enhances the evil by multiplying rites; encouraging asceticism; laying heavy burdens upon the people; demanding odious mutilations and horrible sacrifices, often of human victims, in the name of God, and in helping to keep Religion in its infant state, by forbidding the secular eye to look upon its mysterious jugglery, and prohibiting the banns between Faith and Knowledge. Still this class, devoted to speculation and study, does great immediate service to the race, by promoting science and art, and indirectly and against its will contributes to overturn the form it designs to support. The priesthood comes unavoidably.
In a low form of Fetichism, a Law of Nature seems scarce ever recognized. All things are thought to have a life of their own; all phenomena, growth, decay, and reproduction. The seasons of the year, the changes in the sky, and similar things, depend on the caprice of the Deities. The jugglers can make it rain; a witch can split the moon; a magician heal the sick. Law is resolved into miracle. The most cunning men, who understand the Laws of Nature better than others, are miracle-workers, magicians, priests, necromancers, astrologers, soothsayers, physicians, general mediators and interpreters of the Gods; as the Mandans called them “great medicine-men.”
Then as men experience both joy and grief, pain and pleasure, and as they are too rude in thought to see that both are but different phases of the same thing, and affliction is but success in a mask, it is supposed they cannot be the work of the same Divinity. Hence comes the wide division into good and evil Gods, a distinction found in all religions, and carefully preserved in the theological doctrines of the Christian Church. Worship is paid both to the good and evil Deity. A sacrifice is offered to avert the wrath of the one, and secure the favour of the other. The sacrifice corresponds to the character ascribed to the Deity, and this depends again on the national and personal character of the devotee.
Now in that stage of civilization where every man has his own personal Deity, and no two perhaps the same, the bond that unites man to man is exceedingly slight. Each man's hand is, in some measure, against his brother's. Opposition, or unlikeness, among the Gods, leads to hostility among men. Thus family is arrayed against family, tribe against tribe, nation against nation, because the peculiar God of the one family, tribe, or nation, is deemed hostile to all others. Therefore among cruel nations, whose Gods of course are conceived of as cruel, the most acceptable sacrifice to the Fetiche is the blood of his enemies. A stranger whom accident or design brings to the devotee is a choice offering. The Saint is a murderer. War is a constant and normal state of men, not an exception as it afterwards becomes; the captives are sacrificed as a matter of course. The energies of the race are devoted to destruction; not to creative industry. It is the business of a man to war; of a slave and a woman, to till the soil. The fancied God guides the deepening battle; presides over the butchery, and canonizes the bloody hand. He is the God of Battles, teaches men to war, inspires them to fight.
It is, unfortunately, but too easy to find historical verifications of this phase of human nature. The Jews, in their early and remarkable passage from Fetichism to Polytheism and Monotheism—if we may trust the tale—resolve to exterminate all the Canaanites, millions of men, unoffending and peaceful, because the two nations worshipped different Gods, and Jehovah, the peculiar Deity of the Jews, a jealous God, demanded the destruction of the other nation, who did not worship him. Men, women, and children must be slain. The Spaniards found cannibalism in the name of God, prevailing at Mexico, and elsewhere. In our day it still continues in the South Sea Islands, under forms horrible almost as of old in the Holy Land.
But the intense demands which war makes on all the energies of men help to unfold the thinking faculty, to elevate the race and thus indirectly to promote truer notions of Religion. Thus War, cruel and hideous monster as he is, has yet rocked Art and Science in his bloody arms. God makes the wrath of man to praise him;
“From seeming evil still educing good,
And better thence again, and better still
In infinite progression.”
As civilization goes forward in this rough way, the voice of humanity begins to speak more loudly, Morality is wedded to Religion, and a new progeny is born to bless the world. It begins to be felt that if the captive consents to serve his conqueror's God, the service will be more acceptable than his death. Hence he is spared; still worships his own Deity perhaps, but confesses the superiority of the victorious God. The God of the conquered party becomes a Devil, or a strange God, or a servant of the controlling Deity. Thus the Gibeonites and the Helots who once would have been sacrificed to the conquering God, became hewers of wood and drawers of water to the Hebrews and the Spartans, and served to develope the directly useful and creative faculties of man. The Gods demand the service, not the life-blood, of the stranger and captive. No doubt the anointed priesthood opposed this refinement with a “Thus saith the Lord,” and condemned such as received the blessing of men ready to perish. But it would not do. Samuel hews Agag in pieces, though Saul would have saved him; but the days of Samuel also are numbered, and the theocratic power pales its ineffectual ray before a rising light.
II. Polytheism is the next stage in the religious development of mankind. Here reflection begins to predominate over sensation. As the laws of Nature, the habits and organization of animals, begin to be understood, they cease to represent the true object of worship. No man ever deified Weight and Solidity. But as men change slowly from form to form, and more slowly still from the form to the substance, coarse and material Fetichism must be idealized before it could pass away. No doubt men, for the sake of example, bowed to the old stock and stone when they knew an idol was nothing. It might offend the weak to give up the lie all at once.
Polytheism is the worship of many Gods without the worship of animals. It may be referred to two sources, worship of the Powers of material nature and of the Powers of spiritual nature. Its history is that of a conflict between the two. In the earliest epoch of Greek Polytheism, the former prevails; the latter at a subsequent period. The early deities are children of the Earth, the Sky, the Ocean. These objects themselves are Gods. In a word, the Saturnian Gods of the older mythology are deified powers of Nature: but in the mythology of the later philosophers, it is absolute spiritual power that rules the world from the top of Olympus, and the subordinate deities are the spiritual faculties of Man personified and embellished. Matter, no longer worshipped, is passive, powerless, and dishonoured. The animals are driven off from Olympus. Man is idealized and worshipped. The Supreme wears the personality of men. Anthropomorphism takes the place of a deification of Nature. The popular Gods are of the same origin as their worshippers, born, nursed, bred, but immortal and not growing old. They are married like men and women, and become parents. They preside over each department of Nature and each province of art. Pluto rules over the abodes of the departed; Neptune over the ocean; Jove over the land and sky. One divinity wakes the olive and the corn, another has charge of the vine. One guides the day from his chariot with golden wheels. A sister Deity walks in brightness through the nocturnal sky. A fountain in the shade, a brook leaping down the hills, or curling through the plains; a mountain walled with savage rocks; a sequestered vale fringed with romantic trees,—each was the residence of a God. Demons dwelt in dark caves, and shook the woods at night with hideous rout, breaking even the cedars. They sat on the rocks—fair virgins above the water, but hideous shapes below—to decoy sailors to their destruction. The mysterious sounds of Nature, the religious music of the wind playing among the pines at eventide, or stirring the hot palm tree at noonday, was the melody of the God of sounds. A beautiful form of man or woman was a shrine of God. The storms had a deity. Witches rode the rack of night. A God offended roused nations to war, or drove Ulysses over many lands. A pestilence, drought, famine, inundation, an army of locusts was the special work of a God. No ship is called by the name of Glaucus because he offended a deity.
Arts also have their patron divinity. Phœbus-Apollo inspires the Poet and Artist; the Muses—Daughters of Memory and Jove—fire the bosom from their golden urn of truth; Thor, Ares, Mars, have power in war; a sober virgin-goddess directs the useful arts of life; a deity presides over agriculture, the labours of the smith, the shepherd, the weaver, and each art of Man. He defends men engaged in these concerns. Every nation, city, or family has its favourite God—a Zeus, Athena, Juno, Odin, Baal, Jehovah, Osiris, or Melkartha, who is supposed to be partial to the nation which is his “chosen people.” Now perhaps no nation ever believed in many separate, independent, absolute deities. All the Gods are not of equal might. One is King of all, the God of Gods, who holds the others with an iron sway. Sometimes he is the All-Father; sometimes the All-Fate, which, in some ages, seems to be made a substitute for the one true God. Each naţion thinks its own chief God greater than the Gods of all other nations; or, in time of war, seeks to seduce the hostile Gods by sacrifice, promise of temples and ceremonies, a pilgrimage, or a vow. Thus the Romans invoked the Gods of their enemy to come out of the beleaguered city, and join with them, the conquerors of the world. The Gods were to be had at a bargain. Jacob drives a trade with Elohim; the God receives a human service as adequate return for his own divine service. The promise of each is only “for value received.”
In this stage of religious development each Deity does not answer to the Idea of God, as mentioned above; it is not the Being of infinite power, wisdom, and love. Neither the Zeus of the Iliad, nor the Elohim of Genesis, nor the Jupiter of the Pharsalia, nor even the Jehovah of the Jewish Prophets, is always this. A transient and complex conception takes the place of the eternal Idea of God. Hence his limitations; those of a man. Jehovah is narrow; Zeus is licentious; Hermes will lie and steal; Juno is a shrew.
The Gods of polytheistic nations are in part deified men. The actions of many men, of different ages and countries, are united into one man's achievement, and we have a Hercules, or an Apollo, a thrice-great Hermes, a Jupiter, or an Odin. The inventors of useful arts, as agriculture, navigation; of the plough, the loom, laws, fire, and letters, subsequently became Gods. Great men, wise men, good men, were honoured while living; they are deified when they decease. As they judged or governed the living once, so now the dead. Their actions are idealized; the good lives after them; their faults are buried. Statues, altars, temples are erected to them. He who was first honoured as a man is now worshipped as a God. To these personal deities are added the attributes of the old Fetiches, and still more the powers of Nature. The attributes of the moon, the sun, the lightning, the ocean, or the stars are transferred to a personal being, conceived as a man. To be made strong he is made monstrous, with many hands, or heads. In a polytheistic nation, if we trace the history of the popular conception of any God, that of Zeus among the Grecians, for example, we see a gradual advance, till their highest God becomes their conception of the Absolute. Then the others are insignificant; merely his servants; like colonels and corporals in an army, they are parts of his state machinery. The passage to Monotheism is then easy. The spiritual leaders of every nation,—obedient souls into whom the spirit enters and makes them Sons of God and prophets,—see the meaning which the popular notion hides; they expose what is false, proclaim the eternal truth, and as their recompense are stoned, exiled, or slain. But the march of mankind is over the tombs of the prophets. The world is saved only by crucified redeemers. The truth is not silenced with Aristotle; nor exiled with Anaxagoras; nor slain with Socrates. It enters the soul of its veriest foes, and their children build up the monuments of the murdered Seer.
We cannot enter into the feelings of a polytheist; nor see how Morality was fostered by his religion. Ours would be a similar puzzle to him. But Polytheism has played a great part in the development of mankind—yes, in the devepment of Morality and Religion. Its aim was to “raise a mortal to the skies;” to infinitize the finite; to bridge over the great gulf between Man and God. Let us look briefly at some of its features.
I. In Polytheism we find a regular priesthood. This is sometimes exclusive and hereditary, as in Egypt and India, where it establishes castes, and founds a theocracy; sometimes not hereditary, but open, free, as in Greece. When “every clove of garlic is a God,” as in Fetichism, each man is his own priest; but when a troop of Fetiches are condensed into a single God, and he is invisible, all cannot have equal access to him, for he is not infinite, but partial; chooses his own place and time. Some mediator, therefore, must stand between the God and common men. This was the function of the priest. Perhaps his office became hereditary at a very early period, for as we trace backward the progress of mankind the law of inheritance has a wider range. The priesthood, separated from the actual cares of war, and of providing for material wants—the two sole departments of human activity in a barbarous age—have leisure to study the will of the Gods. Hence arises a learned class, who gradually foster the higher concerns of mankind. The effort to learn the will of the Gods, leads to the study of Nature, and therefore to Science. The attempt to please them by images, ceremonies, and the like, leads to architecture, statues, music, poetry, and hymns—to the elegant arts. The priesthood fostered all these. It took different forms to suit the genius of different nations; established castes and founded the most odious despotism in Egypt and the East, and perhaps the North, but in Greece left public opinion comparatively free. In the one, change of opinion was violent and caused commotion, as the fabled Giant buried under Ætna shakes the island when he turns; in the other it was natural, easy as for Endymion to turn the other cheek to the Moon. Taken in the whole, it has been a heavy rider on the neck of the nations. Its virtue has been, in a rude age to promote Science, Art, Patriotism, Piety to the Gods, and, in a certain fashion, Love to men. But its vice has been to grasp at the throat of mankind, control their thoughts and govern their life, aspiring to be the Will of the World. When it has been free, as in the philosophic age in Greece, its influence has been deep, silent, and unseen; blessed and beautiful. But when it is hereditary and exclusive, it preserves the form, ritual, and creed of barbarous times in the midst of civilization; separates Morality from Religion, life from belief, good sense from theology; demands horrible sacrifices of the body, or the soul; and, like the angry God in the old Pelasgic fable, chains for eternal damnation the bold free spirit which, learning the riddle of the world, brings down the fire of Heaven to bless poor mortal men. It were useless to quote examples of the influence of the priesthood. It has been the burthen of Fate upon the human race. Each age has its Levites; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. In many nations their story is a tale of blood; the tragedy of Sin and Woe.
II. In the polytheistic period, war is a normal state and almost constant. Religion then unites men of the same tribe and nation; but severs one people from another. The Gods are hostile; Jehovah and Baal cannot agree. Their worshippers must bite and devour one another. It is high treason for a citizen to communicate the form of the national Religion to a foreigner; Jehovah is a jealous God. Strangers are sacrificed in Tauris and Egypt, and the captives in war put to death at the command of the Priest. But war at that period had also a civilizing influence. It was to the ancient world what Trade is to modern times: another form of the same selfishness. It was the chief method of extending a nation's influence. The remnant of the conquered nation was added to the victorious empire; became its slaves or tributaries, and at last shared its civilization, adding the sum of its own excellence to the moral treasury of its master. Conquered Greece gave Arts and Philosophy to Rome; the exiled Jews brought back from Babylon the great doctrine of eternal life. The Goths conquered Rome, but Roman Christianity subdued the Goths. Religion, allied with the fiercest animal passions, demanded war; this led to science. It was soon seen that one head which thinks is worth a hundred hands. Science elevates the mass of men, they perceive the folly of bloodshed, and its sin. Thus War, by a fatal necessity, digs its own grave. The art of production surpasses the art to destroy.
All the wars of polytheistic nations have more or less a religious character. Their worship, however, favoured less the extermination of enemies than their subjugation, while Monotheism, denying the existence of all deities but one, when it is superinduced upon a nation, in a rude state, like Fetichism itself, butchers its captives, as the Jews, the Mahometans, and the Christians have often done—a sacrifice to the blood-thirsty phantom they call a God. In the ruder stages of Polytheism, war is the principal occupation of men. The Military and the Priestly powers, strength of Body and strength of Thought, are the two Scales of Society; Science and Art are chiefly devoted to kill men and honour the Gods. The same weapons which conquer the spoil, sacrifice it to the Deity.
III. But as Polytheism leads men to spare the life of the captive, so it leads to a demand for his service. Slavery, therefore, like war, comes unavoidably from this form of Religion, and the social system which grows out of it. At this day, under the influence of Monotheism, we are filled with deep horror at the thought of one man invading the personality of another, to make him a thing—a slave. The flesh of a religious man creeps at the thought of it. But yet slavery was an indispensable adjunct of this rough form of society. Between that Fetichism which bade a man slay his captive, eating his body and drinking his blood as indispensable elements of his communion with God, and that Polytheism which only makes him a slave, there is a great gulf which it required long centuries to fill up and pass over. Anger slowly gave place to interest; perhaps to Mercy. Without this change, with the advance of the art to destroy, the human race must have perished. By means of slavery the art of production was advanced. The Gibeonite and the Helot must work and not fight. Thus by forced labour, the repugnance against work which is so powerful among the barbarous and half-civilized, is overcome; systematic industry is developed; the human race is helped forward in this mysterious way. Both the theocratic and the military caste demanded a servile class, inseparable from the spirit of barbarism, and the worship of many Gods, which falls as that spirit dies out, and the recognition of one God, Father of all, drives selfishness out of the heart. In an age of Polytheism, Slavery and War were in harmony with the institutions of society and the spirit of the age. Murder and Cannibalism, two other shoots from the same stock, had enjoyed their day. All are revolting to the spirit of Monotheism; at variance with its idea of life; uncertain and dangerous; monstrous anomalies full of deadly peril. The Priesthood of Polytheism—like all castes based on a lie—upheld the system of slavery, which rested on the same foundation with itself. The slavery of sacerdotal governments is more oppressive and degrading than that of a military despotism. It binds the Soul—makes distinctions in the nature of men. The Prophet would free men; but the priest enslaves. As Polytheism does its work, and Man developes his nature higher than the selfish, the condition of the slave is made better. It becomes a religious duty to free the bondsmen at their master's death, as formerly the priests had burned them on his funeral pile, or buried them alive in his tomb to attend him in the realm of shades. Just as civilization advanced and the form of Religion therewith, it was found difficult to preserve the institution of ancient crime, which sensuality and sin clung to and embraced.
IV. Another striking feature of polytheistic influence, was the union of power over the Body with power over the Soul; the divine right to prescribe actions and prohibit thoughts. This is the fundamental principle of all theocracies. The Priests were the speculative class; their superior knowledge was natural power; superstition in the people and selfishness in the Priest, converted that power into despotic tyranny. The military were the active caste; superior strength and skill gave them also a natural power. But he who alone in an age of barbarism can foretell an eclipse, or poison a flock of sheep, can subdue an army by these means. At an early stage of polytheism, we find the political subject to the priestly power. The latter holds communion with the Gods, whom none dare disobey. Romulus, Æacus, Minos, Moses, profess to receive their laws from God. To disobey them, therefore, is to incur the wrath of the powers that hold the thunder and lightning. Thus manners and laws, opinions and actions, are subject to the same external authority. The theocratic governor controls the conscience and the passions of the people. Thus the radical evil arising from the confusion between the Priests of different Gods was partially removed, for the spiritual and temporal power was lodged in the same hand.
In some nations the Priesthood was inferior to the political power, as in Greece. Here the sacerdotal class held an inferior rank, from Homer's time to that of Laertius. The Genius of the nation demanded it; accordingly there sprang up a body of men, neither political, sacerdotal, nor military—the philosophers. They could have found no place in any theocratic government, but have done the world great religious service, building “wiser than they knew.” It was comparatively easy for Art, Science, and all the great works of men, to go forward under such circumstances. Hence comes that wonderful development of mind in the country of Homer, Socrates, and Phidias. But in countries where the temporal was subject to the spiritual power, the reverse followed; there was no change without a violent revolution. The character of the nation becomes monotonous; science, literature, morals, cease to improve. When the nation goes down, it “falls like Lucifer, never to hope again.” The story of Samuel affords us an instance, among the Jews, of the sacerdotal class resisting, and successfully, the attempt to take away its power. Here the Priest, finding there must be a King, succeeded at length in placing on the throne a “man after God's own heart,” that is, one who would sacrifice as the Priest allowed. The effort to separate the temporal from the spiritual power, to disenthral mankind from the tyranny of sacerdotal corporations, is one of the great battles for the souls of the world. It begins early, and continues long. The contest shakes the earth in its time.
V. Another trait of the polytheistic period is the deification of men. Fetichism makes gods of cattle; Polytheism of men. This exaltation of men exerted great influence in the early stage of polytheism, when it was a real belief of the people and the priest, and not a verbal form, as in the decline of the old worship. Stout hearts could look forward to a wider sphere in the untrod world of spirit, where they should wield the sceptre of command and sit down with the immortal Gods, renewed in never-ending youth. The examples of Æacus, Minos, Rhadamanthus, of Bacchus and Hercules—mortals promoted to the Godhead by merit, and not birth—crowned the ambition of the aspiring. The kindred belief that the soul, dislodged from its “fleshly nook,” still had an influence on the affairs of men, and came, a guardian spirit, to bless mankind, was a powerful auxiliary in a rude state of religious growth—a notion which has not yet faded out of the civilized world. This worship seems unaccountable in our times; but when such men were supposed to be descendants of the Gods, or born miraculously, and sustained by superhuman beings; or mediators between them and the human race; when it was believed they in life had possessed celestial powers, or were incarnations of some deity or heavenly spirit, the transition to their Apotheosis is less violent and absurd; it follows as a natural result. The divine being is more glorious when he has shaken off the robe of flesh. Certain it is, this belief was clung to with astonishing tenacity, and, under several forms, still retains its place in the Christian church.
The moral effect of Polytheism, on the whole, is difficult to understand. However, it is safe to say it is greater than that of Fetichism. The constant evil of war in public, and slavery in private; the arbitrary character assigned to the Gods; the influence of the priesthood, laying more stress on the ritual and the creed than on the life; the exceeding outwardness of many popular forms of worship; the constant separation made between Religion and Morality; the indifference of the priesthood in Greece, their despotism in India,—do not offer a very favourable picture of the influence of Polytheism in producing a beautiful life. Yet, on the other hand, the high tone of Morality which pervades much of the literature of Greece, the reverential piety displayed by poets and philosophers, and still more the undeniable fact of characters in her story rarely surpassed in nobleness of aim and loftiness of attainment,—these things lead to the opinion that the moral influence of this worship, when free from the shackles of a sacerdotal caste, has been vastly underrated by Christian scholars.
To trace the connection between the public virtue and the popular theology, is a great and difficult matter, not to be attempted here. But this fact is plain, that in a rude state of life this connection is slight, scarce perceptible; the popular worship represents Fear, Reverence it may be; perhaps a Hope; or even Trust. But the services it demands are rites and offerings, not a divine life. As civilization is advanced, Religion claims a more reasonable service, and we find enlightened men, whom the spirit of God made wise, demanding only a divine life as an offering to Him. Spiritual men, of the same elevation, see always the same spiritual truth. We notice a gradual ascent in the scale of moral ideas, from the time of Homer, through Solon, Theognis, the seven wise men, Pindar, Æschylus, Sophocles, and the philosophers of their day. The philosophers and sages of Greece and Rome recommend Absolute Goodness as the only perfect service of God. With them Sin is the disease of the soul; Virtue is health; a divine Life the true good of mankind; Perfection the aim. None have set forth this more ably.
In the higher stages of Polytheism, Man is regarded as fallen. He felt his alienation from his Father. Religion looks back longingly to the Golden Age, when Gods dwelt familiar with men. It seeks to restore the links broken out of the divine chain. Hence its sacrifices, and above all its mysteries, both of which were often abused, and made substitutes for holiness, and not symbols thereof.
When War is a normal state, and Slavery is common, the condition of one half the human race is soon told. Woman is a tool or a toy. Her story is hitherto the dark side of the world. If a distinction be made between public morality, private morality, and domestic morality, it may safely be said that Polytheism did much for the outward regulation of the two first, but little for the last. However, since there were Gods that watched over the affairs of the household, a limit was theoretically set to domestic immorality, spite of the temptations which both slavery and public opinion spread in the way. When there were Gods, whose special vocation was to guard the craftsmen of a certain trade, protect travellers and defenceless men; when there were general, never-dying avengers of wrong, who stopped at no goal but justice,—a bound was fixed, in some measure, to private oppression. Man, however, was not honoured as Man. Even in Plato's ideal State, the strong tyrannized over the weak; human selfishness wore a bloody robe; Patriotism was greater than Philanthropy. The popular view of sin and holiness was low. It was absurd for Mercury to conduct men to hell for adultery and lies. Heal thyself, the Shade might say. All Pagan antiquity offers nothing akin to our lives of pious men. It is true, as St Augustine has well said, “that matter which is now called the Christian religion, was in existence among the ancients; it has never been wanting, from the beginning of the human race.” There is but one Religion, and it can never die out. Unquestionably there were souls beautifully pious, and devoutly moral, who felt the Kingdom of Heaven in their bosom, and lived it out in their lowly life. Still, it must be confessed the beneficial influence of the public Worship of Polytheists on public and private virtue, was sadly weak. The popular life is determined, in some measure, by the popular Conception of God, and that was low, and did not correspond to the pure Idea of Him; still the Sentiment was at its work.
But worship was more obviously woven up with public life under this form than under that which subsequently took its place. A wedding or a funeral, peace and war, seed-time and harvest, had each its religious rite. It was the mother of philosophy, of art, and science, though, like Saturn in the fable, she sought to devour her own children, and met a similar and well-merited fate. Classic Polytheism led to contentedness with the world as it was, and a sound cheerful enjoyment of its goodness and delight. Religion itself was glad and beautiful. But its idea of life was little higher than its fact. However, that weakish cant and snivelling sentimentality of worship, which disgrace our day, were unknown at that stage. The popular faith oscillated between Unbelief and Superstition. Plato wisely excluded the mythological poets from his ideal commonwealth. The character of the Gods as it was painted by the popular mythology of Egypt, Greece, and India, like some of the legends of the Old Testament, served to confound moral distinctions, and encourage crime. Polytheists themselves confess it. Yet a distinction seems often to have been made between the private and the official character of the deities. There was no devil, no pandemonium, in ancient classic Polytheism as in the modern Church. Antiquity has no such disgrace to bear. Perhaps the poetic fictions about the Gods were regarded always as fictions, and no more. Still this influence must have been pernicious. It would seem, at first glance, that only strong intellectual insight, or great moral purity, or a happy combination of external circumstances, could free men from the evil. However, in forming the morals of a people, it is not so much the doctrine that penetrates and moves the nation's soul as it is the feeling of that sublimity which resides only in God, and of that enchanting loveliness which alone belongs to what is filled with God. Isocrates well called the mythological tales blasphemies against the Gods. Aristophanes exposes in public the absurdities which were honoured in the recesses of the temples. The priesthood in Greece has no armour of offence against ridicule. But goodness never dies out of man's heart.
Mankind pass slowly from stage to stage:—
“Slowly as spreads the green of Earth
O'er the receding Ocean's bed,
Dim as the distant Stars come forth,
Uncertain as a vision fled,”
seems the gradual progress of the race. But in the midst of the absurd doctrines of the priests, and the immoral tales wherewith mistaken poets sought to adorn their conception of God, pure hearts beat, and lofty minds rose above the grovelling ideas of the temple and the marketplace. The people who know not the law, are often better off than the sage or the soothsayer, for they know only what it is needed to know. “He is oft the wisest man that is not wise at all.” Religion lies so close to men, that a pure heart and mind, free from prejudice, see its truths, its duties, and hopes. But before mankind passes from Fetichism to pure Monotheism, at a certain stage of religious progress, there are two subordinate forms of religious speculation which claim the attention of the race, namely, Dualism and Pantheism. The one is the highest form of Polytheism; the other a degenerate expression of Monotheism, and both together form the logical tie between the two.
Dualism is the deification of two principles, the Absolute Good and the Greatest Evil. The origin of this form of religious speculation has been already hinted at. Philosophically stated, it is the recognition of two absolute beings, the one Supreme Good, the other Supreme Evil. But this involves a contradiction; for if the Good be absolute, Evil is not, and the reverse. Another form, therefore, was invented. The Good Being was absolute and infinite; the Evil Principle was originally good, but did not keep his first estate. Here also was another difficulty: an independent and divine being cannot be mutable and frail, therefore the evil principle must of necessity be a dependent creature, and not divine in the proper sense. So a third form takes place, in which it is supposed that both the Good and the Evil are emanations from one Absolute Being, that Evil is only negative, and will at last end; that all wicked, as all good, principles are subject to the Infinite God. At this point Dualism coalesces with the doctrine of one God, and dies its death. This system of Dualism, in its various forms, has extended widely. It seems to have been most fully developed in Persia. It came early into the Christian Church, and still retains its hold throughout the greater part of Christendom, though it is fast dying away before the advance of Reason and Faith.
Pantheism has, perhaps, never been altogether a stranger to the world. It makes all things God, and God all things. This view seems at first congenial to a poetic and religious mind. If the world be regarded as a collection of powers,—the awful force of the storm, of the thunder, the earthquake; the huge magnificence of the ocean, in its slumber or its wrath; the sublimity of the ever-during hills; the rocks, which resist all but the unseen hand of Time; these might lead to the thought that matter is God. If men looked at the order, fitness, beauty, love, everywhere apparent in Nature, the impression is confirmed. The All of things appears so beautiful to the comprehensive eye, that we almost think it is its own Cause and Creator. The animals find their support and their pleasure; the painted leopard and the snowy swan, each living by its own law; the bird of passage that pursues, from zone to zone, its unmarked path; the summer warbler which sings out its melodious existence in the woodbine; the flowers that come unasked, charming the youthful year; the golden fruit maturing in its wilderness of green; the dew and the rainbow; the frost flake and the mountain snow; the glories that wait upon the morning, or sing the sun to his ambrosial rest; the pomp of the sun at noon, amid the clouds of a June day; the awful majesty of night, when all the stars with a serene step come out, and tread their round, and seem to watch in blest tranquillity about the slumbering world; the moon waning and waxing, walking in beauty through the night:—daily the water is rough with the winds; they come or abide at no man's bidding, and roll the yellow corn, or wake religious music at nightfall in the pines—these things are all so fair, so wondrous, so wrapt in mystery, it is no marvel that men say, This is divine; yes, the All is God; he is the light of the morning, the beauty of the noon, and the strength of the sun. The little grass grows by his presence. He preserveth the cedars. The stars are serene because he is in them. The lilies are redolent of God. He is the One; the All. God is the mind of man. The soul of all; more moving than motion; more stable than rest; fairer than beauty, and stronger than strength. The power of Nature is God; the universe, broad and deep and high, a handful of dust, which God enchants. He is the mysterious magic that possesses the world. Yes, he is the All; the Reality of all phenomena.
But an old writer thus pleasantly rebukes this conclusion: “Surely, vain are all men by nature, who are ignorant of God, and could not out of the good things that are seen, know him that is … but deemed either Fire, or Wind, or the swift Air, or the Circle of the Stars, or the violent Water, or the Lights of Heaven, to be the Gods which govern the world. With whose beauty if they being delighted took them to be Gods; let them know how much better the Lord of them is, for the first Author of beauty had created them.”
To view the subject in a philosophical and abstract way, Pantheism is the worship of All as God. He is the One and All; not conceived as distinct from the Universe, nor independent of it. It is said to have prevailed widely in ancient times, and, if we may believe what is reported, it has not ended with Spinoza. It may be divided into two forms, Material Pantheism, sometimes called Hylozoism, and Spiritual Pantheism, or Psycho-zoism. Material Pantheism affirms the existence of Matter, but denies the existence of Spirit, or anything besides matter. Creation is not possible; the Phenomena of Nature and Life are not the result of a “fortuitous concourse of atoms,” as in Atheism, but of Laws in Nature itself. Matter is in a constant flux; but it changes only by laws which are themselves immutable. Of course this does not admit God as the Absolute or Infinite, but the sum-total of material things; He is limited both to the extension and the qualities of matter; He is merely immanent therein, but does not transcend material forms. This seems to have been the Pantheism of Strato of Lampsacus, of Democritus, perhaps of Hippocrates, and, as some think, though erroneously, of Xenophanes, Parmenides, and, in general, of the Eleatic Philosophers in Greece, and of many others whose tendency is more spiritual. Its philosophic form is the last result of an attempt to form an adequate Conception of God. It has sometimes been called Kosmo-theism, (World-Divinity,) but it gives us a world without a God.
Spiritual Pantheism affirms the existence of Spirit, and sometimes, either expressly or by implication, denies the existence of Matter. This makes all Spirit God; always the same, but ever unfolding into new forms, and therefore a perpetual Becoming; God is the absolute substance, with these two attributes—Thought and Extension. He is self-conscious in men; without self-consciousness in animals. Before the creation of men he was not self-conscious. All beside God is devoid of Substantiality. It is not but only APPEARS; its being is its being seen. This is Psycho-theism (Soul-Divinity). It gives us a God without a World, and He is the only cause that exists, the Sum-total of Spirit; immanent in Spirit but not transcending spiritual manifestations. This was the Pantheism of Spinoza and some others. It lies at the bottom of many mystical discourses, and appears, more or less, in most of the pious and spiritual writers of the middle ages, who confound the Divine Being with their own personality, and yet find some support for their doctrines in the language, more or less figurative, of the New Testament.
This system appears more or less in the writings of John the Evangelist, in Dionysius the Areopagite, and the many authors who have drawn from him. It tinges in some measure the spiritual philosophy of the present day. But the charge of Pantheism is very vague, and is usually urged most by such as know little of its meaning. He who conceives of God, as transcending creation indeed, but yet at the same time as the Immanent Cause of all things, as infinitely present, and infinitely active, with no limitations, is sure to be called a Pantheist in these days, as he would have passed for an Atheist two centuries ago. Some who have been called by this easy but obnoxious name, both in ancient and modern times, have been philosophical defenders of the doctrine of one God, but have given him the historical form neither of Brahma nor Jehovah.
III. Monotheism is the worship of one Supreme God. It may admit numerous divine beings superior to men, yet beneath the Supreme Divinity, as the Jews, the Mahometans, and the Christians have done; or it may deny these subsidiary beings, as some philosophers have taught. The Idea of God to which Monotheism ultimately attains, is that of a Being infinitely powerful, wise, and good. He may, however, be supposed to manifest himself in one form only, as the Jehovah of the Hebrews, and the Allah of the Mahometans; in three forms, as the Triune God of most Christians; or in all forms, as the Pan and Brahma of the Greek and Indian—for it is indifferent whether we ascribe no form or all forms to the Infinite.
Since the form of Monotheism prevails at this day, little need be said to portray its most important features. It annihilates all distinction of nations, tribes, and men. There is one God for all mankind. He has no favourites, but is the equal Father of them all. War and slavery are repugnant to its spirit, for men are brothers. There is no envy, strife, or confusion in the divine consciousness, to justify hostility among men; He hears equally the prayer of all, and gives them infinite good at last. No priesthood is needed to serve Him. Under Fetichism every man could have access to his God, for divine symbols were more numerous than men; miracles were performed every day; inspiration was common, but of little value; the favour of the Gods was supposed to give a wonderful and miraculous command over Nature. Under Polytheism, only a chosen few had direct access to God; an appointed Priesthood; a sacerdotal caste. They stood between men and the Gods. Divine symbols became more rare. Inspiration was not usual; a miracle was a most uncommon thing; the favourites of heaven were children born of the Gods; admitted to intercourse with them, or enabled by them to do wonderful works. Now Monotheism would restore inspiration to all. By representing God as spiritual and omnipresent, it brings him within every man's reach; by making Him infinitely perfect, it shows his Wisdom, Love, and Will always the same. Therefore, it annihilates favouritism and all capricious miracles. Inspiration, like the sunlight, awaits all who will accept its conditions. All are Sons of God; they only are his favoured ones who serve him best. No day, nor spot, nor deed, is exclusively sacred; but all time, and each place, and every noble act. The created All is a Symbol of God.
But here also human perversity and ignorance have done their work; have attempted to lessen the symbols of the Deity; to make him of difficult access; to bar up the fountain of Truth and source of Light still more than under Polytheism, by the establishment of places and times, of rituals and creeds; by the appointment of exclusive priests to mediate, where no mediator is needed or possible; by the notion that God is capricious, revengeful, uncertain, partial to individuals or nations; by taking a few doctrines and insisting on exclusive belief; by selecting a few from the many alleged miracles, insisting that these, and these alone, shall be accepted, and thus making the religious duty of men arbitrary and almost contemptible. Still, however, no human ignorance, no perversity, no pride of priest or king, can long prevent this doctrine from doing its vast and beautiful work. It struggles mightily with the Sin and Superstition of the world, and at last will overcome them.
The history of this doctrine is instructive. It was said above there were three elements to be considered in this matter, namely, the Sentiment of God; the Idea of God; and the Conception of God. The Sentiment is vague and mysterious, but always the same thing in kind, only felt more or less strongly, and with more or less admixture of foreign elements. The Idea is always the same in itself, as it is implied and writ in man's constitution; but is seen with more or less of a distinct consciousness. Both of these lead to Unity, to Monotheism, and accordingly, in the prayers and hymns, the festivals and fasts, of Fetichists and Polytheists we find often as clear and definite intimations of Monotheism, as in the devotional writings of professed Monotheists. In this sense the doctrine is old as human civilization, and has never been lost sight of. This is so plain it requires no proof. But the Conception of God, which men superadd to the Sentiment and Idea of Him, is continually changing with the advance of the world, of the nation, or the man. We can trace its historical development in the writings of Priests, and Philosophers, and Poets, though it is impossible to say when and where it was first taught with distinct philosophical consciousness, that there is one God; one only. The history of this subject demands a treatise by itself. This, however, is certain, that we find signs and proofs of its existence among the earliest poets and philosophers of Greece; in the dim remnants of Egyptian splendour; in the uncertain records of the East; in the spontaneous effusions of savage hearts, and in the most ancient writings of the Jews. The latter have produced such an influence on the world, that their doctrine requires a few words on this point.
The Deity was conceived of by the Hebrews as entirely separate from Nature; this distinguishes Judaism from all forms which had a pantheistic tendency, and which deified matter or men. He was the primitive ground and cause of all. But the Jewish Religion did not, with logical consistency, deny the existence of other Gods, inferior to the highest. Here we must consider the doctrine of the Jewish books, and that of the Jewish people. In the first the reality of other deities is generally assumed. The first commandment of the decalogue implies the existence of other Gods. The mention of Sons of God who visited the daughters of men; of the divine council or Host of Heaven; the contract Jacob makes with Jehovah; the frequent reference to strange Gods; the preëminence claimed for Jehovah above all the deities of the other nations—these things show that the mind of the writers was not decided in favour of the exclusive existence of Jehovah. The people and their kings before the exile were strongly inclined to a mingled worship of Fetichism and Polytheism, a medium between the ideal religion of Moses and the actual worship of the Canaanites. It is difficult in the present state of critical investigation, to determine nicely the date of all the different books of the Jews, but this may be safely said, that the early books have more of a polytheistic tendency than the writings of the later prophets, for at length, both the learned and the unlearned became pure Monotheists. At first Jehovah and the Elohim seem to be recognized as joint Gods; but at the end Jehovah is the only God.
But the character assigned him is fluctuating. He is always the Creator and Lord of Heaven and Earth, yet is not always represented as the Father of all nations, but of the Jews only, who will punish the Heathens with the most awful severity. In some parts of the Old Testament he is almighty, omnipresent, and omniscient; eternal and unalterable. But in others he is represented with limitations in respect to all these attributes. Not only are the sensual perceptions of a man ascribed to him, for this is unavoidable in popular speech, but he walks on the earth, eats with Abraham, wrestles with Jacob, appears in a visible form to Moses, tempts men, speaks in human speech, is pleased with the fragrant sacrifice, sleeps and awakes, rises early in the morning; is jealous, passionate, revengeful. However, in other passages the loftiest attributes are assigned him. He is the God of infinite Love; Father of all, who possesses the Earth and Heavens.
The conception which a man forms of God, depends on the character and attainment of the man himself; this differed with individual Jews as with the Greeks, the Christians, and the Mahometans. However, this must be confessed, that under the guidance of Divine Providence, the great and beautiful doctrine of one God for the Hebrews seems very early embraced by the great Jewish Lawgiver; incorporated in his national legislation; and defended with rigorous enactions. At our day it is difficult to understand the service rendered to the human race by the mighty soul of Moses, and that a thousand years before Anaxagoras. His name is ploughed into the history of the world. His influence can never die. It must have been a vast soul, endowed with moral and religious genius to a degree extraordinary among men, which at that early age could attempt to found a State on the doctrine and worship of one national God.
Was he the first of the come-outers? Or had others, too far before the age for its acceptance, perished before him in the greatness of their endeavour? History is silent. But the bodies of many Prophets must be rolled into the gulf that yawns wide and deep between the Ideal and the Actual, before the successful man comes in the fulness of time, at God's command, to lead men into the promised land, reaping what they did not sow. These men have risen up in all countries and every time. In the rudest ages as in the most refined, they look through the glass of Nature, seeing clearly the invisible things of God, and by the things that are made and the feelings felt, understanding his eternal power and Godhead. They adored Him as the Spirit who dwells in the sun, looks through the stars, speaks in the wind, controls the world, is chief of all powers, animal, material, spiritual, and Father of all men—their dear and blessed God. In his light they loved to live, nor feared to die.
There is a great advance from the Fetichism of the Canaanite to the Theism of Moses; from the rude conceptions of the New Zealander to the refined notions of an enlightened Christian. Ages of progress and revolution seem to separate them, so different is their theology. Yet the Religion of each is the same, distinguished only by the more and less. The change from one of these three religious types to the other is slow; but attended with tumult, war, and suffering. In the ancient civilized nations, little is known of their passage from Fetichism to Polytheism. It took place at an early age of the world, before written documents were common. We have, therefore, no records to verify this passage in the history of the Greeks, Egyptians, or Hebrews. Yet in the earliest periods of each of these nations we find monuments which show that Fetichism was not far off, and furnish a lingering but imperfect evidence of the fierce struggle which had gone on. The wrecks of Fetichism strew the shores of Greece and Egypt. Judea furnishes us with some familiar examples.
In the patriarchal times, if we may trust the mythical stories in Genesis, we find sacred stones which seem to be Fetiches, Stone-pillars, Idolatry, worship of Ramphan and Chiun while in Egypt and the desert; the Golden Calf of Aaron and that of Jeroboam; and the Goats that were worshipped in the wilderness. Besides, we find the worship of the serpent, a relic of the superstition of Egypt or Phoenicia; the worship of Baal in its various forms; of Astarte, “Heaven's Queen and Mother;” of Thammuz, and Moloch; all of which seem to be remains of Fetichism. In the very Law itself we find traces of Fetichism. The prohibition of certain kinds of food, garments, and sacrifices; the forms of divination, the altars, feasts, sacrifices, scape-goat, the ornaments of the priest's dress, all seem to have grown out of the rude worship that formerly prevailed. The old Idolatry was spiritualized, its forms modified and made to serve for the worship of Jehovah. The frequent relapses of king and people prove, on the one hand, that the nation was slowly emerging out of a state of great darkness and superstition, and, on the other, that lofty minds and noble hearts were toiling for their civilization.
For many centuries a most bloody contention went on between the ideal Monotheism and the actual Idolatry; at times it was a war of extermination. This shows how difficult it is to introduce Monotheism before the people are ready to receive it. They must wait till they attain the requisite moral and intellectual growth. Before this is reached, they can receive it but in name, and are detained from the ruder, and to them more congenial, form, only at the expense of most rigorous laws, suffering, and bloodshed. Before the Exile the Hebrews constantly revolted; afterwards they never returned to the ruder worship, but ten tribes of the nation were gone for ever.
In the more recent conflict of Monotheism and Polytheism, the history of the Christian and Mahometan religions shows what suffering is endured first by the advocates of the new, and next by those of the old faith, before the rude doctrine could give place to the better. War and extermination do their work, and remove the unbelieving. Many a country has been Christianized or Mahometanized by the sword. These things have taken place within a few centuries; when the conquering religion was called Christianity. Are the wars of Charlemagne forgotten? Go back thousands of years, to the strife between sacerdotal Polytheism and Fetichism, when each was a more bloody faith, and imagination cannot paint the horrors of the struggle.
Now, each of these forms represented an Idea of the popular consciousness which passed for a truth, or it could not be embraced; for a great truth, or it would not prevail widely; yes, for all of truth the man could receive at the time he embraced it. We creep before walking. Mankind has likewise an infancy, though it will at length put away childish things. Each of these forms did the world service in its day. Its truth was permanent; its error, the result of the imperfect development of man's faculties. It happens in religious as in scientific matters, that a doctrine contains both truth and falsehood. It is accepted for its truth or the appearance of truth. At first the falsehood does little harm, for it comes in contact with no active faculty in man which detects it. But gradually the truth does its work; elevates those who receive it; new faculties awake; the falsehood is seen to be false. The free man would gladly reject it. But the Priesthood, whom interest chains to the old form, though false; or the People,not yet elevated enough to see the truth,—will not allow a man to separate the false from the true. They say to the Prophet and the Sage, “Thou shalt accept the old doctrine as we and our fathers. It is from God; the only Rule. Unless thou accept it on the same authority and in the same way as ourselves, we will burn thee and thy children with fire. Thou mayest live as likest thee; thou shalt believe with us.” The free man replies, “Burn then if thou wilt; but Truth thou canst not burn down. A lie thou canst not build up. God does not die with his children, nor Truth with its martyrs.”
Then, as Truth is stronger than every lie, and he that has her is mightier than all men, so the fagot of martyrdom proves the fire-pillar of the human race, guiding them from the bondage and darkness of Egypt to the land of liberty and light. Truth, armed with her arrows to smite, her olive to bless, spreads wide her wings amid the outcry of the Priest and the King. At last Error goes down to the ground, but because honoured beyond her time, takes with her temple and tower in her fall.
The Truth represented by Fetichism is this: The unknown God is present in Matter; spiritual power is the strongest of forces. Its error was to make Matter God. The truth of Polytheism is: God is present, and active, everywhere; in Space, in Spirit; breathes in the wind; speaks in the storm; inspires to acts of virtue; helps the efforts of all true men. Its falsehood was, that it divided God, and gave but a chaos of Deity. When the falsehood was seen and felt to be such, and its truth believed in for itself, on its own authority, then was the time for Fetichism and Polytheism to fall. So they fell, never to hope again, for mankind never apostatizes. One generation takes up the Ark of Religion where another let it fall, and carries forward the hope of the world. The old form never passes away, till all its truth is transferred to the new. These types of religious progress are but the frames on which the artist spreads the canvas, while he paints his piece. The frame may perish when this is done. Fetichism and Polytheism did good, not because they were Fetichism and Polytheism, but because Religion was in them and they were steps in the spiritual progress of mankind—indispensable steps.
Such, then, are the three great forms of manifestation assumed by this religious Element. We cannot understand the mental and religious state of men who saw the Divine in a serpent, a cat, or an enchanted ring; not even that of superstitious Christians, who make earth a demon-land, and the one God but a King of Devils. Yet each religious doctrine has sometimes stood for a truth. It was devised to help pious hearts, and has imperfectly accomplished its purpose. It could not have been but as it was. Looking carelessly at the past, the history of man's religious consciousness appears but a series of revolutions. What is to-day built up with prayers and tears, is to-morrow pulled down with shouting and bloodshed, giving place to a new fabric equally transient. Prophets were mistaken, and saints confounded. Religious history is the tale of confusion. But looking deeper, we see it is a series of developments, all tending towards one great and beautiful end, the harmonious perfection of Man; that in theology as in other science, in morals as in theology, the circle of his vision becomes wider continually; his opinions more true; his ideal more fair and sublime. Each form that has been, bore its justification in itself; an evil that “God winked at,” to use the bold figure of a great man. It was natural and indispensable in its time and place; a part of the scheme of agencies provided from before the foundation of the world. Each form may perish; but its truth never
s dies. Nations pass away. A handful of red
dust alone marks the spot where a metropolis opened its
hundred gates; but Religion does not perish. Cities and
nations mark the steps of her progress. A nation, at the
head of the civilized world, organizes Religion as well as it
can; perpetuates and diffuses its truth, and thus preaches
the advent of a higher faith, and prepares its way. Each
failure is a prophecy of the Perfect. But the change from
faith to faith is attended with persecution on the one side,
and martyrdom on the other. A little philosophy turns
men from Religion. Much knowledge restores them to
their faith, to the bosom of Piety. The great men of the
world, men gifted with the deepest insight, and living the
most royal life, have been Man's pioneers in these steps of
progress. Moses, Hermes, Confucius, Budha, Zoroaster,
Anaxagoras, Socrates, Plato, have lent their holy hands in
Man's greatest work. Religion filled their soul with strength
and light. It is only little men, that make wide the mouth
and draw out the tongue at pure and genuine piety and
nobleness of heart. Shall we not judge the world, as a
rose, by its best side? God, of his wisdom, raises up men
of religious genius; heaven-sent prophets; born fully
armed and fitted for their fearful work. They have an eye
to see through the reverend hulls of falsity; to detect the
truth a long way off. They send their eagle gaze far
down into the heart; far on into the future, thinking
for ages not yet born. The word comes from God with
blessed radiance upon their mind. They must speak
the tidings from on high, and shed its beamy light
on men around, till the heavy lids are opened, and the
sleepy eye beholds. But alas for him who moves in such
work. If there be not superhuman might to sustain him;
if his soul be not naked of selfishness, he will say often,
“Alas for me! Would God my mother had died or ever
I was born to bear all the burdens of the world, and right
its wrongs.” He that feareth the Lord—when was not he a prey? He must take his life in his hand, and become
as a stranger to men. But if he fail and perish it is his
gain. Is it not also the world's? It is the burning wood
that warms men.
In passing judgment on those different religious states, we are never to forget, that there is no monopoly of religious emotion by any nation or any age. He that worships truly, by whatever form, worships the Only God; He hears the prayer, whether called Brahma, Jehovah, Pan, or Lord; or called by no name at all. Each people has its Prophets and its Saints; and many a swarthy Indian, who bowed down to wood and stone; many a grim-faced Calmuck, who worshipped the great God of Storms; many a Grecian peasant, who did homage to Phœbus-Apollo when the Sun rose or went down; yes, many a savage, his hands smeared all over with human sacrifice, shall come from the East and the West, and sit down in the Kingdom of God, with Moses and Zoroaster, with Socrates and Jesus,—while men, who called daily on the only living God, who paid their tribute and bowed at the name of Christ, shall be cast out, because they did no more. Men are to be judged by what is given, not what is withheld.
- It will probably be denied by some, that these objects were worshipped as symbols of the Deity. It seems, however, that even the most savage nations regarded their Idols only as Types of God. On this subject, see Constant, Religion, &c., Paris, 1824, 5 vols. 8vo; Philip Van Limburg Brauwer, Histoire de la Civilization morale et religieuse des Grecs, &c., Groningues, 1833–42, 8 vols. 8vo, Vol. II. Ch. IX. X. et alibi; Oldendorp, Geschichte der Mission-auf-St Thomas, &c., Barby. 1777, p. 318, et seq.; Du Culte des Dieux fétiches [par De Brosses, Paris], 1770, 1 vol. 12mo; Movers, Untersuchung über die Religion und der Gottheiten der Phönizier, Bonn, 1841, 2 vols. 8vo; Comte, Cours de Philosophie positive, Vol. V.; Stuhr, Allg. Gesch. der Religionsformen, Berlin, 1838, 2 vols. 8vo; Meimers, ubi supra; and the numerous accounts of the savage nations, by missionaries, travellers, &c. Catlin, ubi supra, Vol. I. p. 35, et seq., p. 88, et seq., p. 156, et seq.
- These Stone-fetiches are called Baetylia by the learned. Cybele was worshipped in the form of a black stone, in Asia Minor. Theophrast. Charact. 16. Lucian, Pseudomant. § 30. The ancient Laplanders also worshipped large stones called Seitch. See Scheffer's Lappland. In the time of Pausanias, at Phoræ, in Achaia, there were nearly thirty square stones, called by the names of the Gods, and worshipped. Opp., ed. Lips. 1838, Vol. II. Lib. vii. ch. 22, p. 618. Rough stones, he adds, formerly received divine honours universally in Greece. The erection of such is forbidden in Levit. xxvi. 1, et al. On this form of worship, see some curious facts collected by Michelet, Hist. de France, Liv. I. Eclaircissements, Oeuvres, Ed. Bruxelles, 1840, Tom. III. p. 51, 55, 61, seq. 93 (note i.). The erection of Baetylia is forbidden by several councils of the Church, e. g. C. Arelat, II. Can. 23; C. Autoisiod. Can. 3; C. Tolet. XII. Can. 11.
- See Catlin, ubi supra. See also Legis, Fundgruben des Alten Nordens, Leip., 1829, 2 vols. 8vo, and his Alkuna, Nordische und Nord-Slawische Mythologie, Leip., 1831, Vol. I. 8vo. Mone, Geschichte der Heidenthums in Nordlichen Europa, Leip., 1822, 2 vols. 8vo. See Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, Gött. 1835, for this worship of Nature in the North.
- But see the causes of Animal worship assigned by Diod. Sic. Lib. I. p. 76, ed. Rhodoman; the remarks of Cicero, De Nat. Deorum, Tusc. V. et al.; Plutarch, De Iside et Osir., p. 72, et seq., et al.; Wilkinson, Manners, &c., of Ancient Egypt, 2nd Series, Vol. I. p. 104, seq., and Porphyry, De Abst. IV. 9, cited by him. Jean Paul says, that “in the beast men see the Isis-veil of a Deity,” a thought which Hegel has expanded in his Philos. der Religion. See Creutzer, Symbol. 3rd ed. Vol. I. p. 37, et seq.
In consequence of the opinion in fetichistic nations, that external
things have a mysterious life, M. Comte, ubi supra, Vol. V. p. 36, et seq., discovers
traces of it in animals. When a savage, a child, or a dog, first hears a watch
tick, each supposes it endowed with life, “whence results, by natural
consequence, a Fetichism, which, at bottom, is common to all three!” Here he
confounds the sign with the cause.
Pliny has a curious passage in which he ascribes to the Elephant Æquitas, Religio quoque Siderum; Solisque ac Lunæ Veneratio. Nat. Hist. Lib. VIII. ch. 1. The notion that beasts bad a moral sense appears frequently among the ancients. Ulpian says jus naturale is common to all animals. Origen says that Celsus taught that there was no difference between the Soul of a man and that of Emmets, Bees, &c., Lib. II, Cels. Cont. Clement of Alex. (Stromt. VI. 14, p. 705, 706, ed. Potter) says God gave the Heathen the sun, moon, and stars, that they might worship them, such worship being the way to that of God himself. Perhaps he was led to this opinion by following the LXX. in Deut. iv. 19.
Fetichism continued in Europe long after the introduction of Christianity. The councils of the Church forbid its various forms in numerous decrees, e. g. C. Turg. II. Can. 22; C. Autoisiod. Can. 1. 4; C. Quinisext. Can. 62, 65, 79; Narbon. Can. 15; C. Rothomag. Can. 4, 14. See in Stäudlin, Gesch. Theol. Vol. III. 371, et seq.
- See at the end of Hodges's “Elihu,” &c., London, 1750, 1 vol. 4to, a striking account of the manner in which religious forms are established, taken from a French publication which was burned by the common hangman at Paris. See also on the establishment and influence of the priesthood upon religion, Constant, ubi sup., Vol. II. Liv. iii. iv., Vol. IV. passim. His judgment of the priesthood, though often just, is sometimes too severe. Comte, ubi sup., Vol. V. p. 57, et seq. On the priesthood among savage nations, see Pritchard, ubi sup., Vol. I. p. 206, et seq.; Meiners, ubi sup., Vol. II. p. 481-602.
- See Strabo's remarkable account of the worship of the Ancient Persians, Opp. ed. Siebenkees, Vol. VI. Lib. xv. § 13, p. 221. See too the remarks of Herbert, De Religione Gentilitium, Amst. 1663, 1 vol. 4to, Ch. II., XIV., et al.
- Vatke, Biblische Theologie, Berlin, 1835, Vol. I., attempts to trace out the connection of Fetichism with the Jewish ritual.
- See Mone, ubi supra, Vol. I. p. 23, et seq., p. 43, et seq., p. 113, et seq., p. 249, et seq., and elsewhere. Wilkinson, ubi sup. Vol. I., Ch. xii.; Vol. II. Ch. ii. and xiv. His theory, however, differs widely from the above. Whatever was extraordinary was deemed eminently divine. Thus with the Hebrews a great cedar was the cedar of God. Other nations had their Dê-wa-dâ-ru, God Timber, &c. See Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, p. 41, et seq. Lucan, Pharsal., Lib. III. 399, et seq. Mithridates, at the siege of Patara, dared not cut down the sacred trees. Appian, De Bello Mith. Ch. XXVII. Opp. ed. Schweighauser, I. p. 679, 680.
- The great religious festivals of the Christians, Yule and Easter, are easily traced back to such an occasion, at least to analogous festivals of fetichistic or polytheistic people. The festival of John the Baptist must be put in this class. See some details on this subject in a very poor book of Nork’s, Der Mystagog, &c.
- See Creutzer, Symbolik und Mythologie, 3rd ed. Vol. I. p. 30, et seq.
- The Guaycarus Indians of South America put to death all children born before the 30th year of their mother. Bartlett's Progress of Ethnology, N. Y. 1847, p. 28.
- See the remarks of Lafitau, Mœurs des sauvages Ameriquains, &c., 2 vols. 4to, Paris, 1734, Vol. I. p. 108–456. His work is amazingly superficial, but contains now and then a good thing.
- Mr. Catlin, ubi sup., relates anecdotes that illustrate the state of thought and feeling in the state of Fetichism. Much also may be found in Marco Polo's Travels in the Eastern parts of the World, London, 1818, and in Marsden's Notes to that edition. The early Voyagers, likewise, are full of facts that belong here.
- The worship of evil beings is a curious phenomenon in human history. The literature of the subject is copious and instructive. Some famous men think the existence of the Devil cannot be found out by the light of Nature and unaided Reason; others make it a doctrine of natural religion. Some think him incapable of Atheism, though only a speculative theist. The doctrine is a disgrace to the Christian Church, and well fitted to excite the disgust of thinking and pious men. But see what may be said for the doctrine by Mayer, Historia Diaboli, 2nd edition, 1780. See the literature in Wegscheider, Institutiones, § 104, 105.
- See a dreadful example of human sacrifice in 2 Kings iii. 27. This prevailed in many parts of America when first discovered by the Christians, who continued it in a different form, not offering to God but Mammon. See Bancroft, History of the United States, Vol. III. p. 296, 297, for some forms of this. The whole of Chap. XXII. is replete with philosophical and historical instruction, and one of the most valuable and brilliant even in that series of shining pages.
On this passage in human history, see Comte, Vol. V. p. 90, et seq., p. 132,
et seq., and p. 186, et seq.
See F. W. Chillani, Die Menschen-Opf. der alten Hebräer, Nürmberg, 1842, 1 vol. 8vo. He strongly maintains that human sacrifice was not forbidden by Moses, but continued a legal and essential part of the national worship till the separation of the two kingdoms. Vestiges of this he thinks appear in the consecration of the first-born, in circumcision, in the Paschal Lamb, &c. &c. He cites many curious facts. See p. 376. Daumer Geheimnitze des Christlichen Altarthums, Hamb. 1847, ch. 3, 5, 9—16, 74, 75, et al.
- In what relates to this subject, I shall consider Polytheism as it appeared to the great mass of its votaries. Its most obvious phenomena are the most valuable. Some, as Bryant, take the speculations of naturalists and make it only a system of Physics: others, as Cudworth, following the refinements of later philosophers, would prove it to be a system of Monotheism in disguise. But to the mass Apollo was not the Sun nor the beautiful influence of God, whatsoever he might appear to the mystic sage.
- Julius Firmicus maintains that the heathen deities were simply deified natural objects. De Errore prof. Religionum, Ch. I.–V. But Clement of Alexandria more wisely refers them to seven distinct sources. Cohortatio ad Gentes, Opp. I., ed. Potter, p. 21, 22. Earth and Heaven are the oldest Gods of Greece.
- See for example the contest of Eros and Anacreon, Carm. XIV. p. 18, 19, ed. Möbius.
- See Heyne, Excursus VIII., in Iliad, I. 494, p. 189; Hegel, Philosophie der Rel., Vol. II. p. 96—141; Werke, Vol. XII.; Pindar, Nem. VI. 1, et seq., Olymp. XII. et seq., &c.
- See Aristotle, Metaphysica, Opp., ed. Baker, Oxford, 1837, VIII. Lib. XI. § 8, p. 233, et seq. In the old Pelasgic Polytheism, it seems there were no proper names for the individual Gods. The general term Gods was all. Herodotus, Lib. II. ch. 52, Opp., ed. Baehr., I. p. 606, et seq. Plato mentions the two classes of Gods, one derived from the worship of Nature, the other from that of man. Legg. Lib. XI., Opp. ed. Ast. VII. p. 344. See Plutarch cited in Eusebius, P. E. III. 1, p. 57, Vers. Lat., ed. 1579.
- See the beautiful lines of Wordsworth, Excursion, Boston, 1824, Book IV. p. 159, et seq. See also Creutzer, ubi sup., Vol. I. p. 8—29.
- See Herodotus, V. 47. The Greeks erected an altar on the grave of Philippos, the most beautiful of the Greeks, and offered sacrifice. See Wachsmuth, Antiquities of Greece, Vol. II. 2, p. 315, on the general adoration of Beauty amongst the Greeks. Hegel calls this worship the Religion of Beauty. Phil. der Religion, Vol. II. p. 96, et seq. National character marks the religious form.
- A disease was sometimes personified and worshipped, as Fever at Rome. See Ælian, Var. Hist. XII. 11, p. 734, et seq., ed. Gronovius; Valerius Maximus, Lib. II. Ch. V. 6, Vol. I. p. 126, et seq., ed. Hase. Some say a certain ruin at Tivoli is the remnant of a Temple to Tussis, a cough. Cicero speaks of a temple to Fever on the Palatine. Nat. Deorum, III. 15, Opp. ed. Lemaire, XII. p. 333, where see the note. Nero erected a monument to the Manes of a crystal vase that got broken. Temples were erected to Shame and Impudence, Fear, Death, Laughter, and Gluttony, among the Heathen, as shrines to the Saints among Christians. Pausanias, Lib. IV. Ch. XVII., says, the Athenians alone of all the Greeks had a Temple for Modesty and Mercy. See, however, the ingenious remark of Cousin, Journal des Savans, March, 1835, p. 136, et seq., and Creutzer's animadversions thereon, ubi sup. Vol. I. p. 135, 136. Brouwer, Vol. I. p. 357. In India, each natural object is the seat of a God. But in Greece the worship of nature passed into the higher form. See some fanciful remarks of Hermann on the most ancient mythology of the Greeks in his Opuscula, Vol. II. p. 167. It is a noticeable fact that some of the old Polytheistic theogonies spoke of a gradual and progressive development of the Gods; the creator keeps even pace with the creation. The explanation of a fact so singular as the self-contradictory opinion that the Infinite is not always the same may be found in the history of human conceptions of God, for these are necessarily progressive. See Aristotle, Metaphysica, XIV. p. 1000, et seq., Opp. II., ed. Duval, Par. 1629. See Hesiod's Theogony everywhere, and note the progress of the divine species from Chaos and Earth to the moral divinities, Eunomia, Dike, Eirene, &c. In some of the Oriental theogonies, the rule was inverted, the first emanation was the best. See Warton, History of English Poetry, Lond. 1824, Vol. I., Pref. by the Editor.
- Herodotus, Lib. VI. 86, relates the beautiful story of Glaucus, so full of moral truth. Compare with it, Zechariah v. 3, 4, Job xv. 20, et seq., xviii. et seq., where the same beautiful and natural sentiment appears.
- See the strange pantheistic account of the origin and history of Gods and all things in the Orphic poems and Mythology. These have been collected and treated of with great discrimination by Lobeck, Aglaophamus, Vol. I. p. 473, et seq. See the more summary account in Brandis, Geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. I. p. 60, et seq. There are some valuable thoughts in Creutzer's Review of the new edition of Cornutus, De Nat. Deorum, in Theol. Stud. und Kritiken für 1846, p. 208, et seq.
- Men must believe in somewhat that to them is Absolute; if their conception of the Deity be imperfect, they unavoidably retreat to a somewhat Superior to the Deity. Thus for every detect in the popular conception of Zeus, some new power is added to Fate. “It is impossible even for God to escape Fate,” said Herodotus. See also Cudworth, Ch. I. 9.1—3, Zenophanes makes a sharp distinction between God and the Gods. See in Clem. Alex. Strom. V. p. 601, and the remarks of Brandis, ubi sup., Vol. I. p. 361, et seq. note; see also Vol. II. p. 340, et seq. See too Cornutus (or Phurnutus) De Nat. Deorum in Gale, Opusc. Mythologica, &c., Amst. 1688.
- Genesis xxviii. 10–22.
- Sermons of Theism, &c. Sermon III, and IV.
- Tertullian, De Anima, Ch. 33. See Meiners, ubi sup., Vol. I. p. 290, et seq.; Pindar, Olymp. II. 68, et seq., ed Dissen., and his remarks, Vol. II. p. 36, et seq. This Anthropomorphism took various forms in Greece, Egypt, and India. In the former it was the elevation of a man to the Gods; in the latter the descent of a God to man. This feature of Oriental worship furnishes a fruitful hint as to the origin of the doctrine of the Incarnation and its value. The doctrine of some Christians unites the two in the God-man.
- See the origin of Idolatry laid down in Wisdom of Solomon, Ch. xiv. 17-19. Warburton, Divine Legation, Book V. § ii. [iii.]
- There are two strongly marked tendencies in all polytheistic religions—one towards pure Monotheism, the other to Pantheism. See an expression of the latter in Orpheus, ed. Hermann, p. 457, “Zeus is the first, Zeus the last,” &c. &c., cited also in Cudworth, ubi sup., Vol. I. p. 404. See Zeno, in Diogenes Laertius, ed. Hübner, Lib. VII. Ch. 73, Vol. II. p. 186, et seq.; Clemens Alexand. Stromat. VII. 12. See also Cudworth, Ch. IV. § 17, et seq., and Mosheim's Annotations.
- M. Comte thinks this the period of the greatest religious activity! The facts look the other way.
- Even in Greece some sacerdotal functions vested by descent in certain families, for example, in the Iambides, Branchides, Eumolpides, Asclepiades, Cerycides, Clitiades. See them in Wachsmuth, Vol. I. P. i. p. 152. See Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, Ch. V.; Meiners, Vol. II. Book xii.; Brouwer, Vol. I.
- See Montesquieu, Esprit des Lois, Liv. XXV. Ch. iv. See Priestley's Comparison of the Institutions of Moses with those of the Hindoos, &c., Northumberland, 1799, § X. for the esteem in which the sacerdotal class was held in India. Brouwer, Vol. III. Ch. xviii., xix. Also Von Bohlen, Das alte Indien, Vol. I. p. 45, et seq.; Vol. II. p. 12, et seq.
- See the one-sided view of Constant, which pervades his entire work on Religion. See his Essay on the “Progressive Development of Religious Ideas,” in Ripley's Philosophical Miscellanies, Vol. II. p. 292, et seq. Virgil, in his description of the Elysian flelds, assigns the first place to Legislators, the magnanimous Heroes who civilized mankind; the next to Patriots, and the third to Priests. Æn. VI. 661, et seq.
- M. Montgéry, a French captain, touchingly complains “that the art to destroy, though the easiest of all from its very nature, is now much less advanced than the art of production, in spite of the superior difficulty of the latter.” Quoted in Comte, ubi sup., Vol. V. p. 167.
- Here is the explanation of the given facts collected by Daumer and others.
- M. Comte, Vol. V. p. 165, et seq., has some valuable remarks on this stage of human civilization. See also Vico, Scienza nuova, Bib. II. Cap. I.-IV.
- See, who will, the mingling of profound and superficial remarks on this subject in Montesquieu, ubi sup., Liv. XV. Grotius, De jure Belli ac Pacis, Lib. III. Ch. vii. viii. Selden, De jure naturali, &c., ed. 1680, Lib. I. Ch. v. p. 174, and Lib. VII. VIII. XII. et al. See the valuable treatise of Charles Comte, Traité de la Législation, ou Exposition des Lois générales suivant lesquelles les Peuples prospérent, dépérissent ou restent stationaire, &c. &c., 3rd ed., Bruxelles, 1837, Liv. V., the whole of which is devoted to the subject of slavery and its influence in ancient and modern times. We need only compare the popular opinion respecting slavery among the Jews, with that of the Greeks or Romans, in their best days, to see the influences of Monotheism and Polytheism in regard to this subject. See some remarks on the Jewish slavery in Michaelis's Laws of Moses. Slavery in the East has in general been of a much milder character than in any other portion of the world. Wolf somewhere says the Greeks received this relic of barbarism from the Asiatics. If so, they made the evil institution worse than they found it. According to Burckhardt, it exists in a very mild form among the Mahometans, everywhere. Of course his remarks do not apply to the Turks, the most cruel of Mussulmen. Perhaps no code of ancient laws (to say nothing of modern legislation) was more humane than the Jewish in this respect.
- See Comte, Phil. positive, Vol. V. p. 186, et seq. On this subject of slavery in Polytheistic nations, see Gibbon,, ed. Paris, 1840, Vol. I. Ch. ii. p. 37, et seq., and the valuable notes of Milman and Guizot. For the influence of Monotheism on this frightful evil, compare Schlosser, Geschichte der Alten Welt, Vol. III. Part II). Ch. ix. § 2, et al.; in particular the story of Paulinus, and Deogratias, p. 284, et seq., and p. 334, et seq., p. 427, et seq.; and compare it with the conduct of Cato (as given by Plutarch, Life of Cato the Censor, and Schlosser, ubi sup., Vol. II. Part II. p. 189, st seq.. Charles Comte, ubi sup., Liv. V.), and alas, with the conduct of the American Government and the commercial churches of our large towns in 1850-1855.
- See Demosthenes, Cont. Near. Ch. XX. in Oratores Attici, Lond. 1828 Vol. VIII. p. 391, et seq.; Aristot. Rep. III. 14, Opp. ed. Bekker, X. p. 87. See also César Cantu, Histoire Universelle, Paris, 1841-1844, Vol. I. Ch. xxviii. xxix.; Constant, Liv. V. Ch. v., and Brouwer's remarks thereon, p. 363, note.
- Perhaps none of the polytheistic nations offers an instance of the spiritual and temporal power existing in separate hands, when one party was entirely independent of the other. The separation of the two was reserved for a different age, and will be treated of in its place.
- See Farmer on the Worship of Human Spirits, London, 1783. Plutarch (Isis and Osiris) denies that human spirits were ever worshipped, but he is opposed by notorious facts. See Creutzer, ubi sup., p. 137, et seq. The deification of human beings of course implied a belief in the immortality of the human soul, and is one of the many standing proofs of that belief. See Heyne’s remarks on Iliad, XXIII. 64 and 104, Vol. VIII. p. 368, 378, et seq.
- Pausanias touchingly complains that in his day mortals no longer became gods. See Lib. VII. Ch. ii. Opp. ed. Schubert and Walz. III. p. 9.
- The Christians began at an early age to imitate this, as well as other parts of the old polytheistic system. Eusebius, P. E. XIII. 11; Augustine, De Civ. Dei, VIII. 27.
- On this subject, see Meiners, ubi sup., Vol. I. B. III. Ch. i. and ii.
- See in Gibbon, Decline and Fall, Ch. XLVII. § iii., the lament of Serapion at the loss of his concrete Gods. But it was only the Arian notions that deprived him of his finite God. Jerome condemns the Anthropomorphism of the Polytheists as stultissimam hæresin, but believed the divine incarnation in Jesus. See also Prudentius Apotheosis, Opp. I. p. 430, et seq., London, 1824.
The special influence of Polytheism upon morals, differed with the different
forms it assumed. In India it sometimes led to rigid asceticism and lofty
contemplative quietism; in Rome, to great public activity and manly vigour; in
Greece, to a gay abandonment to the natural emotions; in Persia, to ascetic
purity and formal devotion. On this subject see the curious and able, but
one-sided and partial, treatise of Tholuck on the Moral Influence of Heathenism, in
the American Biblical Repository, Vol. II. He has shown up the dark side
of Heathenism, but seems to have no true conception of ancient manners and
life. See Ackermann, das Christliche in Plato, &c., Ch. I. (See
below, note 2 and 3)
- See the proof of this in Brandis, Geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. I. § 24, 25.
- See, on the moral culture of the Greeks in special, Jacobs, Vermisolite Schriften, Vol. III. p. 374. He has perhaps done justice to both sides of this difficult subject.
- Cicero, De Legg. II. See on this subject of the Mysteries in general, Lobeck, Aglaophamus, sive de Theologiæ mysticæ Causis, &c., Pars III., Ch. iii. iv. The mysteries seem sometimes to have offered beautiful symbols to aid man in returning to union with the Gods. Warburton, in spite of his erroneous views, has collected much useful information on this subject: Divine Legation, Book II. § iv. But he sometimes sees out of him what existed only in himself.
- But see in Plutarch the singular story of Thespesius, his miraculous conversion, &c. De sera Numinis Vindicta, Opp. II. Ch. xxvii. p. 563, et seq., ed. Xylander.
- Retract. I. 13. See also Civ. Dei, VIII. and Cont. Acad. III. 20.
- On the influence of the national cultus, see Athenaeus, Deipnosoph. VII. 65, 66, XIV. 24, et al.; Homeric Hymns I. vs. 147, et seq.
- Plato is seldom surpassed, in our day, in his conception of some of the qualities of the Divine Being. He was mainly free from that anthropomorphitic tendency which Christians have derived from the ruder portions of the Old Testament. See Rep. Lib. IV. passim. But neither he nor Aristotle—a yet greater man—ever attained the idea of a God who is the Author, or even the Master, of the material world. God and Matter were antagonistic forces, mutually hostile.
- See the pleasant remarks of Plutarch on the cheerful character of public worship, Opp. Vol. II. p. 1101, et seq., ed. Xylander; Strabo, Lib. X. Ch. iii. iv. Opp. iv. p. 167, et seq., ed. Siebenkees and Tschucke.
- Many beautiful traits of Polytheism may be seen in Plutarch's Moral Works, especially the treatises on Superstition; That it is not possible to live well according to Epicurus; of Isis and Osiris; of the tardy Vengeance of God. See the English Version, Lond. 1691, 4 vols. 8vo.
- Xenophanes, a contemporary of Pythagoras, censures Homer and Hesiod for their narratives of the Gods, imputing to them what it was shameful for a man to think of. See Karsten, Phil. vett. Reliquia, Vol. I. p. 43, et seq. See Plato, Repub. II. p. 377; Pindar, Olymp. I. 28. But no religion was ever designed to favour impurity, even when it allows it in the Gods. See the fine remarks of Seneca, De Vita beata, Ch. XXVI. § 5, 6. Even the Gods were subject to the eternal laws. Fate punished Zeus for each offence. He smarted at home for his infidelity abroad.
- See the classic passages in Aristophanes, Clouds, 1065, et seq.
- It still remains unexplained how the Athenians, on a religious festival, could applaud the exhibitions of the comic drama, which exposed the popular mythology to ridicule, as it is done in the Birds of Aristophanes—to mention a single example—and still continue the popular worship.
- See above, Ch. IV.
- The doctrine of two principles is older than the time of Zoroaster. Hyde, Hist. Religion, vet. Persarum, Ch. IX. and XX. XXII. Bayle's Dictionary, article Zoroaster, Vol. V. p. 636. See also Cudworth, Ch. IV. § 13, p. 289, et. seq., and Mosheim's Notes, Vol. I. p. 320, et seq.; Rhode, Heilige Sage der Zendvolks, B. II. Ch. ix. x. xii.; Brucker, Historia Philosophiæ, Vol. I. p. 176, et seq. Plutarch was a Dualist, though in a modified sense. See his Isis and Osiris, and Psychogonia. Marcion, among the early Christians, was accused of this belief, and indeed the existence of a Devil is still believed by most Christian divines to be second only in importance to the belief of a God; at the very least, a scriptural doctrine, and of great value. See a curious book of Mayer, (Historia Diaboli,) who thinks it a matter of divine revelation. See also the ingenious remarks of Professor Woods, in his translation of Knapp's Theology, New York, 1831, Vol. I. § 62–66, et seq. See the early form of Dualism among the Christians in Beausobre, Histoire de Manichée et du Manichéisme, 2 vols. 4to.
- Wisdom of Solomon, Ch. xiii. 1, et seq. At the present day Pantheism seems to be the bugbear of some excellent persons. They see it everywhere except on the dark walls of their own churches. The disciples of Locke find it in all schools of philosophy but the Sensual; the followers of Calvin see it in the liberal churches. It has become dangerous to say “God is Spirit;” a definite God, whose personality we understand, is the orthodox article. M. Maret, in his Essai sur le Panthéisme dans les Sociétés modernes, Paris, 1840, 1 vol. 8vo, finds it the natural result of Protestantism, and places before us the pleasant alternatives, either the Catholic Church or Pantheism! Preface, p. xv. et al. The rationalism of the nineteenth century must end in scepticism, or leap over to Pantheism! According to him all the philosophers of the Spiritual School in our day are Pantheists.—Formerly divines condemned Philosophy because it had too little of God; now because it has too much. It would seem difficult to get the orthodox medium; too much and too little are found equally dangerous. See the pleasant remarks of Hegel on this charge of Pantheism, Encyclopädie der philosoph. Wissenchaften, &c., third edition, § 573.
- See Karsten, ubi sup., Vol. I. and II. See the opinions of these men ably summed up by Ritter, Geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. I. B. v., and Brandis, ubi sup., Vol. I. § 66—72. Cudworth has many fine observations on this sort of pantheism, Vol. I. Ch. iv. § 15—26, and elsewhere. He denies that this school make the deity corporeal, and charges this upon others. See Ch. III.
- See Jäsche, Der Pantheismus, &c., Vols. II. and III. passim, and the histories of Philosophy. If a man is curious to detect a pantheistic tendency he will find it in the Soul of-the-world, among the ancients, in the Plastic Nature of Cudworth, or the Hylarchic Principle of Henry More.
- See the curious forms this assumes in Theologia Mystica … speculativa … et affectiva, per Henric. Harph. &c., Colon. 1538. Jäsche and Maret find it in all the modern spiritual philosophy. Indeed, the two rocks that threaten theology seem to be a Theosophy which resolves all into God, and Anthropomorphism, which in fact denies the Infinite. This mystical tendency, popularly denominated Pantheism, appears in the ancient religions of the East; it enters largely into the doctrine of the Sufis, a Mahometan sect. See Tholuck, Blüthensamlung aus der morgenlandischen Mystik, p. 33, et seq., and passim. Von Hammer also, in his Geschichte der schönen Redekunste Persens, &c., p. 340, et seq., 347, et seq., et al., gives extracts from these Oriental speculators who are more or less justly charged with Pantheism.
- The writings of Spinoza have hitherto been supposed to contain the most pernicious form of Pantheism; but of late, the poison has been detected also in the works of Schleiermacher, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Cousin, not to mention others of less note. Pantheism is a word of convenient ambiguity, and serves as well to express the theological odium as the more ancient word Atheism, which has been deemed by some synonymous with Philosophy. See the recent controversial writings of Mr Norton and Mr Ripley, respecting the Pantheism of Spinoza and Schleiermacher. It has been well said, the question between the alleged Pantheist and the pure Theist is simply this: Is God the immanent cause of the World, or is he not? See Sengler, Die Idee Gottes, B. I. p. 10, 107, 899.
- Sermons of Theism, &c., Sermon V. and VI.
- Meiners, in his work, Historia Doctrinæ de vero Deo, &c., 1 vol. 12mo, 1780, (which, though celebrated, is a passionate and one-sided book, altogether unworthy of the subject, and “behind the times” of its composition,) maintains that the Heathens knew nothing of the one God till about 3554 years after the creation of the world, when Anaxagoras helped them to this doctrine. See, on the other hand, the broad and philosophical views of Cudworth, Ch. IV. passim, who, however, seems sometimes to push his hypothesis too far. A history of Monotheism is still to be desired, though Tenneman, Ritter, Brandis, and even Brucker, have collected many facts, and formed valuable contributions to such a work. Münscher has collected valuable passages from the Fathers, relating to the history of the doctrine among the Christians, and their controversies with the Heathen, in his Lehrbuch der Christlichen Dogmengeschichte, 3rd ed., by Von Cöln, Vol. I. Ch. vi. § 52, et seq. But Warburton, who wrote like an attorney, gives the most erroneous judgments upon the ancient heathen doctrine respecting the unity of God. See the temperate remarks of Mosheim, De Recusante Constant, &c., p. 17, et seq.
- See note, p. 60.
- Gen. vi. 2.
- Gen. iii. 22; 1 Kings xxii. 19; Job ii. 1.
- Gen. xxviii. 20, 22: comp. Herodotus, IV. 179.
- See the numerous passages where Jehovah is spoken of as the chief of the Gods: 2 Chr. ii. 5; Ps. xcv. xcvii. 7, et seq.; Ex. xii. 12, xv. 11, xviii. 11, &c. &c. Strabo, ubi sup., Lib. XVI. Ch. ii. § 35, gives a strange account of the Jewish theology.
- Compare with the former passages, Jer. ii. 26–28; Isa. xliv. 6—20; Deut. iv. 28, et seq., xxxii. 16, 17, 39; Ps. cxv. cxxxv., and Ecclesiasticus xxxiii. 5, xliii. 28; Wisdom of Sol. xii. 13; Baruch iii. 35. See de Wette, Bib. Dogmatik, § 97, et seq., and 149, et seq., who has collected some of the most important passages. See too his Wesen des Glaubens, &c., § 14, p. 72, et seq.
- See Bauer, Dicta, Classica, V. T. &c., 1798, Vol. I. § 41, et seq. See also the treatise of Stahl on the Appearances of God, &c., in Eichhorn, Bibliothek der Bib. Lit. Vol. VII. p. 156, et seq.
- See an able article on “the Relation of Jehovah to the Heathen,” in Eichhorn, ubi sup., Vol. VIII. p. 222, et seq. See Ammon, Fortbildung des Christenthums, Leip. 1836, et seq., Vol. I. Book i. Ch. i.
Lessing well says, the Hebrews proceeded from the conception of the most
powerful God to that of the only God, but remained for a long time far below
the true transcendent notion of the one true God. “Education of the human
race,” Werke, ed. 1824, Vol. XXIV. p. 43, 44. See also on this subject of
Hebrew Theism, the valuable but somewhat one-sided views of Vatke, Bib.
Theologie, Vol. I. § 44, et seq. But see also Salvador, Hist. des Institutions
de Möise, &c., Brussels, 1830, Vol. III. p. 175, et seq.
At first Christian Artists found it in bad taste and even heathenish to paint the Almighty in any form. Then, in decorating churches and MSS. with pictures drawn from O. S. stories, they often put only a hand for God, or omitting that, put Christ for the Father. See Didron, Iconographie Chrétienne, Paris, 1843, p. 174, et seq. See the nice distinction made by John of Damascus in regard to images of God, Orat. I. in Imaginibus, Opp. ed. Basil, 1574, p. 701, et seq. et al. Before the twelfth century it seems there were no pictures of God from Christian Artists. Afterwards the Italians painted him as a Pope, the Germans as an Emperor, the French and English as a King. Didron, ubi sup., p. 230 et seq.
- Constant, Liv. IV. Ch. xi., has some just remarks on the excellence of the Hebrew Theology.
- It is difficult to determine accurately the date of events in Chinese history, such are the pretensions of Chinese scholars on the one hand, and such the bigoted scepticism of dogmatists on the other; but see the Chinese Classical Work, commonly called the Four Books, translated by David Pollie; Malacca, 1829, 1 vol. 8vo. See Cantu, ubi sup., Vol. III. Ch. xxi. et seq.
- The legendary character of the Pentateuch renders it unsafe to depend entirely on its historical statements. Many passages seem to have been originally designed, or at least retouched, by some one who sought to enhance the difference between Moses and the people. Still, the “general drift” of the tradition is not to be mistaken, and can scarcely be wrong. The testimony of the prophets respecting the early state of the nation is more valuable than that of the Pentateuch itself. See De Wette, Introduction to the O. T., tr. by Theo. Parker, Boston, 1843, Vol. II. passim. See too, Ewald, Geschichte des Volks Israel, Vol I., Gött., 1843.
- Gen. xxviii. 18, xxxv. 14.
- Gen. xxxi. 19, xxxv. 1-4.
- See Josh. xxiv. 14; Ezek. xx. 7, et seq., xxiii. 3; Amos v. 25, 26; Exod. xxxii. 1; Lev. xvii.
- Exod. xxxii. 1-6; 1 Kings xii. 28 ; Ezek. i. 10, and x. 14.
- Levit. xvii. 7. Devils, in our version.
- Numb. xxi. 4–9; 2 Kings xvii. 4.
- 1 Kings xviii. 23, 26, 28, xix. 18; Jerem. xix. 5; 2 Kings i. 2; Judges viii. 32, ix. 4, 46; Numb. xxv. 1, et seq.
- 1 Kings xi. 33; Jerem. vii. 18; Judges ii. 13, x. 6; 2 Kings xxiii. 7; Levit. xix. 29; Deut. xxiii. 18; Ezek. viii. 14; 2 Kings xxiii. 5, xvii. 16, xxi. 3, 5; Deut. iv. 19, xvii. 3; 2 Kings xxiii. 10; Levit. xviii. 21, xx. 2, et seq.; Deut. xviii. 10; Jerem. vii. 31, xix. 5, xxxii. 35. See the testimony of the ancients and remarks of the learned on this subject in De Wette, Archäologie, &c., § 191, et seq., and § 231, et seq. Vatke goes too far in his explanations, § 21—27; but his book is full of valuable thoughts.
- There is a remarkable passage, though of but four words, in Hosea xiii. 2, which shows that one of the worst vices of Fetichism still prevailed in his time, saying, “They that sacrifice a man shall kiss the calves,” i. e. the Idols of the People. This is not the common translation—but it seems to me the true one.
- See Newman's Hebrew Monarchy, Lond. 1847, Ch. IX. Ewald, ubi sup. B. II. p. 92, et seq. Anhang zum 2ten Band. III. (1) p. 197, et seq.
We often see the most strange inconsistency between a man's conduct and
his creed. Roman Lucretia sacrificed to Venus. The worshipper of Jupiter did
not imitate his vices; nor does the modern devotee of some unholy creed, with a
Christian name, become what the creed logically demands. A man may hold
doctrines which render virtue nugatory, which make the flesh creep with
horror, and yet live a divine life, or be gay even to frivolity. The late Dr
Hopkins was a striking illustration of this statement. So long as the religious
sentiment preponderates, the false doctrine fails of its legitimate effect. See
some judicious observations on this theme in Constant, Liv. I. Ch. iii. iv., and
Polythéisme Rom, Vol. I. p. 59–81.
M. Comte, Vol. V. p. 280, thinks the doctrine of pure Monotheism is perfectly sterile and incapable of becoming the basis of a true religious system! Judging only from experience, his conclusion is utterly false. But such as might be expected from one who is, as he boasts, “equally free from Fetichistic, Polytheistic, and Monotheistic prejudices.” He looks longingly to a time when all theism shall have passed away, and the “hypothesis of a God” become exploded! But the true man of science is of all men most modest and reverent. He who has followed Newton through the wondrous soaring of his genius comes grateful to that swan-song, beautiful as it is sublime, with which he finishes his fight, and sings of the ONE CAUSE ETERNAL and INFINITE, who rules the all. It cannot be read without a tear of joy. Principia, ed. 1833, Vol. IV. p. 199, 201. “Et hi omnes,” &c. &c. See too the beautiful and pious conclusion of Mr. Whewell to his Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Vol. II. p. 582, 583. And the remarks of Descartes, Meditations, Med. 3, ad finem. It was worthy of Linnæus to say, as he looked at a little flower, Deum Sempiternum, omniscium, omnipotentem, à tergo transeuntem vidi et obstupui.