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was tolerated and connived at by the politicians, in way of necessary compliance with the vulgar; it being so extremely difficult for them to conceive of any being, whose existence never began.
So far as the lower classes of society are concerned, this concession is a complete abandonment of the opinion, which, with so much learning and ability, he endeavours to establish. For surely, if they considered the supreme Jupiter, as having been once a mortal, there could have been no God, whom they considered, as unoriginated and eternal. The probability seems to be, that they had no distinct or fixed notions on the subject. Certain it is, that the language of the poets is not only various, but absolutely inconsistent. At one time it is such, as can be applied only to a being, that is eternal. At other times it is such, as can be true only in relation to mortals.
Let us now inquire into the origin of a fact so remarkable. How did it occur, that the poets attributed to their Supreme Deity discordant and opposite qualities?
It can hardly be doubted, that man, at his creation, received some knowledge of that being, from whom he originated. The doctrine of one eternal, independent God, when once made known, as it approves itself so clearly to the unbiassed reason of man, would not soon be forgotten. Many ages would elapse, and many errors would be attached to it, before it could be entirely abandoned. Accordingly it is remarked by those, who have most investigated the subject, that the further into antiquity our researches extend, traces of belief of the divine unity and eternity be
come more numerous.
It is probable, that the most ancient kind of idolatry consisted in the worship of the heavenly bodies.* Of all natural objects, these are the most striking. In addition to their majesty and lustre, their apparent motions, and the influence, which they have on vegetation, or the state of the atmosphere, is peculiarly calculated to make an impression. Eus. Præp. Evang. chap. vi.
From regarding them, as striking displays of divine power, and instruments under the direction of God, men began gradually, and perhaps insensibly, to attribute to them a portion of divinity, and supposed them to perform their exact revolutions by their own inherent intelligence.
This representation is supported by Cicero's treatise on the Nature of the Gods; in which Balbus, the stoic, is introduced, as disputing with an Epicurian, and endeavoring to show, that the planets must be intelligent beings, as they could not otherwise pursue their respective courses with so much order and constancy. His words are these, “Hanc igitur in stellis constantiam, hanc tantam, tam variis cursibus in omni eternitate convenientiam temporum, non possum intelligere, sine mente, ratione, consilio. Quæ quum in sideribus inesse videamus, non possumus ea ipsa non in deorum numero reponere."
That the worship of the celestial luminaries is very ancient, is apparent from the book of Job. "If, saith he, I beheld the sun, when it shineth, or the moon walking in brightness, and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand, this also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge: for I should have denied the God that is above. The worship of the hosts of heaven is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, as prevalent among the heathen. It seems indeed to have been, in the countries and periods to which that history relates, the most general kind of idolatry. The sun, moon, and stars, there is little doubt, were first worshipped, not as independent Deities, but as subordinate to the eternal Sovereign of the Universe.
This kind of worship appears to have prevailed very extensively through the heathen world. Nor was it relinquished at so late a period, as the time of Julian the apostate. There is an oration of his, now extant, and recently translated, addressed to the sovereign sun; of which luminary the author professes himself a devout worshipper.
The worship of human spirits was probably subsequent
to that of the celestial bodies. How this kind of worship originated, it is impossible for us to determine. Like the other, it was, we have reason to believe, introduced by insensible degrees. After the death of any one, who had been a benefactor to society, or had acquired a powerful influence, either over the affections or fears of his contemporaries, it was natural, that high respect should be paid to his memory. It would be natural to visit the place, where his remains were deposited, and to erect some monument to perpetuate his name. That which, at first was nothing more than respect, or affection, might, by distance of time, become adoration. Those vigorous or beneficent spirits, which once actuated mortal bodies, were supposed not only to retain their existence after death, but to occupy a sort of intermediate state between man and superior intelligences. As the celestial bodies, so, no doubt, did human souls receive, at first, a subordinate worship. They were worshipped, as deities, inferior to the first Cause, and dependent on him. This subordinate worship seems now to have been gradually transferred from what are called the natural gods, i.e. the heavenly bodies, to the spirits of departed men.
When there were thus two kinds of worship; the one rendered to the Supreme Being, and the other to the spirits of human origin, it is no difficult matter to see, that the latter would gain on the former. It must have been apparent, that no worship would be rendered acceptable to the true God, unless it were pure and rational; unless it proceeded from upright dispositions, and tended to increase them. The worship, and even the contemplation of such a being, would necessarily, to sensual and profligate men, be attended with self reproach. They would, therefore, dislike to retain God in their knowledge. But human spirits had neither the purity nor the majesty of God. Previously to their separation from the body, they had all the passions, and all the imperfections and vices, which are common to mortals. In con
templating such deities, little or no self reproach was experienced by their votaries. In not a few instances, a comparison of moral character would, by no means, be disadvantageous to the latter. The rites and ceremonies, with which dæmons, or departed spirits were worshipped, could not have the same moral expression, as those, used in the service of the Almighty. Hence would result both a ritual and system of morality, in no degree, offensive to the passions and vices of men. In the service of such gods, men would be much more frequent and more engaged, than in the worship of the underived and independent Deity. His worship would not, however, be suddenly or entirely neglected. In favor of it, the voice of reason would be loud and distinct.
In this way are we to account for the discordant and inconsistent language of ancient poets. The notion of one Supreme independent God, was not entirely lost. Yet was he not distinctly discernible amidst that varied and impure crowl of deities, who had been profanely ushered into his temple. They recognized his attributes of supremacy, eternity, and independence; but they assigned them to a creature of human origin. They endeavoured to invest a mortal with divine habiliments, without concealing his wants, his dependence, or his vices.
Necessity of Revelation,
as it appears from the gods and worship of the ancient heathen.
In the last lecture it was observed, that though there appears to have been from the beginning, a traditionary belief of one uncreated, independent Deity, this belief was gradually enfeebled, until the object of it ceased to be distinguishable amidst a numerous and confused group of gods, who were either parts of the Universe, or had been human beings. But these two classes, do, by no means, comprehend all the objects, to which religious worship was rendered.
Not only the souls of the dead, but the persons of the living, were treated as divine. This was so common among the Romans, that to swear by the genius of Cæsar, and to worship him by burning incense on his altar, were used as criteria, by which to try those, who were accused of defection from the established belief. In this way Pliny, as he informed Trojan, ascertained whether those, who had been prosecuted as Christians, were really such, when the accused were before him, under trial, he commanded, that the emperor's image should be brought, and that they should pay him divine honor, by sacrificing frankincense and wine. They, who did this, were acquitted, as having thereby prov ed their adherence to the ancient religion.