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Christian Adversaries could with no grace object to a way of interpretation which they themselves had just borrowed from Paganism, to SPIRITUALIZE, forsooth, their sacred Scriptures, which the Philosophers had long used with more sense and better judgment, to make theirs, REASONABLE.
But here we are to take notice of this difference between these Allegorizers BEFORE, and the Allegorizers after the time of Christ. The first were principally employed in giving a physical* or moral interpretation of the Fables ; the latter, a THEOLOGICAL. may see in the case of Plutarch ; who was both Priest and Philosopher in one. His famous tract, or Isis and Osiris, is directly written to support the national Religion, which had just taken the alarm ; and not without reason.
His purpose, in it, is to shew, That all its MULTIFORM worship was only an address to the SUPREME BEING, under various names and covers. But then ancient history, which acquaints us with the origin of their Gods, stood in his way. He denies therefore, what these histories invariably attest.
He calls Euhemerus, who inforced their evidence, an Impostor :† And hath many other evasions to elude such circumstances as are most decisive. Thus, when he cannot deny, that, what is recorded of their Gods shews them to be subject to human passions, he will not yet allow the inference for their humanity ; because the Genii and Demons are agitated by the like passions. Thus again, the bewailing and lamenting gestures, in many of their established Rites, which looked so like mourning for the dead, signified, he assures us, no more than an allegorical representation of corn sown and buried. In this manner, the postulate having supported the allegories ; the allegories come, in good time, to the assistance of the postulate.
Thus stood the matter in the ancient World. Let us see now what use the Moderns have made of what they found recorded there. Our Freethinkers, such as Toland and his school, have revived the old rank doctrine of Euhemerus. That PANTHEISTIC Philosopher's understanding had so strong a bias to impiety, that it seemed rather a
• So ARNOBIUS. “Vulnerari, vexari, bella inter se gerere furialium memorantur ardore discriminum: Vobis illa est descriptio voluptati, atque ut scriptorum tantam defendatis audaciam, ALLEGORIAS res illas, et NATURALIS SCIENTIÆ mentimini esse doctrinas."'-- Adversus Gentes, lib. iv. p. 150, ed. quarto.
+ "Ος αυτός (Ειήμερος] αντίγραφα συνθείς απίστου και ανυπάρκτου μυθολογίας, σασαν αθεότητα κατασκεδάννυσι της οικουμένης, τους νομιζομένους θεούς πάντας ομαλώς διαγράφων, είς όνομα Στρατηγών και Ναυάρχων και Βασιλέων, ως δή σάλαι γεγονότων.- Ρ. 641. 1 Βέλτιον ούν, οι τα περί τον Τυφώνα και 'Οσιριν και Ισιν ιστορούμενα, μήτε θεών σαθήματα, μήτε ανθρώπων, αλλά Δαιμόνων μεγάλων είναι νομίζοντες, ώς και Πλάτων και Πυθαγόρας και Ξενοκράτης και Χρύσιππος, επόμενοι τους πάλαι Θεολόγοις, ερωμενεστέρους μέν ανθρώπων γεγονέναι λέγουσι, και πολλή τη δυνάμει τήν φύσιν υπερφέροντας ημών, το δε θείον ουκ αμιγές, ουδέ άκρατον έχοντας, αλλά και ψυχής φύσει και σώματος αισθήσει εν συνειληχος, ηδονήν δεχομένην και πόνον και όσα ταύταις εγγενόμενα ταις μεταβολαις πάθη, τους μεν μάλλον, τους δε ήττον επιταράττει· γίνονται γάρ ώς εν ανθρώπους, και Δαίμοσιν, αρετής διαφοραι και κακίας. - Ρ. 642. $ See note 00, a: the end of this book.
natural sympathy than any thing acquired, which drew him to it at all distances. Hear how aukwardly he represents Euhemerus's system to us : and yet he labours hard to set it off. The First Idolatry (says he) did not proceed, as is commonly supposed, from the beauty, or order, or influence of the STARS. But men observing Books to perish [before there were any] by fire, worms, or rottenness ; and Iron, Brass, and Marble, not less subject to violent hands or the injuries of the weather, they IMPOSED ON THE STARs, as the only everlasting monuments, the proper names of their HEROES, or of something memorable in their History.* All this, his Predecessors, the Freethinkers of Antiquity, (who knew how to express themselves) informed us of when they said, That Star-worship was only symbolical of Hero-worship ; and, consequently, of later date : the thing they aimed at, to induce their conclusion, that therefore Religion was a political intention. Toland treads in their footsteps, though he treads awry. But our Religionists in general, have not been so happy in the choice of their arms, nor in their sagacity of knowing their friends from their enemies. The excellent G. J. Vossius (to mention him amongst a multitude) hath, in his very learned collection of Gentile Theology, gone, bona fide, into the old pagan method of allegorizing their Theology; as if it were doing service to true Religion to shew, that the Pagan Idolatry was, at bottom, tolerably reasonable.
It is true, a late ingenious Person seems to have understood his subject better, and to know to what it all tends; I mean the learned Writer of the Letters concerning Mythology. We have observed, that the ancient defenders of Paganism had by their Symbols and Allegories resolved the Hero-gods into the Elementary; and these again, into the various attributes of the first Cause. In which they were so successful, that they not only changed their Idolatry, but their Idols likewise. For the Signa PANTHEIA expressive of this new Theology have all the marks of the later times of pagan Antiquity. The ancient FATHERS of the Church are very copious in exposing this subterfuge. In which service they employed all that was found in the system of Euhemerus ; that is to say, That the Greater Gods of Greece and Rome, the Dii majorum Gentium, were Dead men deified. And I have endeavoured throughout this work to support their Cause. There are hardly now, I believe, two opinions on this matter, amongst knowing men. But the Author of the Inquiry into the Life and Writings of Homer attempts, in these Letters, to bring us back again to the old MUMPSIMUS. He saw,
the necessary connexion between Allegories and Ideal Gods : a principle which could produce nothing more than a shadowy Idolatry at worst. And therefore, in honour of Pagan Antiquity, hath laid it down as an
• “Of the Origin of Idolatry and Reasons of Heathenism," r. 74.
axiom, That the powers producing, and parts composing the Universe, were their GREATER Gods ; or the Diï majorum Gentium. This He calls, the grand Key of Mythology. And here it is worth while to observe, (but by the way only) that these admirers of the wisdom of prophane Antiquity, are not so favourable to that of sacred: but are generally amongst the first to laugh at what Divines call the DOUBLE SENSE in Scripture prophecies. And yet they make the greatest part of pagan wisdom to consist in the use and invention of DOUBLE
“ Witness (says this writer to his friend) “the DOUBLE view you have already had of the rise of things, and government of the world from Orpheus, in the description of Pan: and from Hesiod in his borrowed Theogony: and still plainer in the double moral of Prometheus, as signifying either the divine Providence in the formation of the world, and particularly of man, or human foresight perpetually on the rack, for the necessaries and conveniences of life.” + The difference is, the pagan double sense connects together two things that are foreign to one another in the constitution of Nature: The scripture double sense connects together two things that are as nearly related, as the various parts of one moral Dispensation. But to return :
As these LETTERS seem to be written as much in opposition to what is here, and elsewhere throughout this work, advanced, concerning the rise, progress, and various fortunes, of ancient Idolatry, as in favour of the now exploded MYTHOLOGY; which was, as we say, invented, and, from time to time, improved by the early, middle, and later Philosophers, to hide the deformities of vulgar Polytheism ; I think proper to consider what he hath to say in support of such an undertaking
Now against my various reasoning in confutation of this pagan System, I find not so much as one argument opposed ; and in support of the System itself, but one; and this one, borrowed from Cudworth. I It is put thus : “ Euhemerus and bis FOLLOWERS, ere we join with them in mortalizing the first Divinities, must satisfy us, Why the Poetical Sages, the Instructors of mankind, termed their grand Work, the basis of their doctrine, not only a THEOGONY, or an account of the birth and pedigree of the Gods, but a CosmogONY, or an account of the birth and creation of the World ? Or, plainer still, a COSMOPOEIA, a making or framing of the Universe ? The PLATONIC Philosophy had no hand in the Cosmogonies, or histories of the Creation written by Taaut or Thoth, by Linus, by Orpheus, &c. It was plain, therefore, the Allegory did not come too late,” Ş &c. - These last are my words.
Page 409, of the “ Letters concerning Mythology." + Pp. 120, 121. I See “Intellectual System.” Contents annexed to first edition, p. 234. § Pr. 211, 212.
If Euhemerus supposed, as it appears he did, that the First pagan Divinities were mortal Men, he would have found it difficult to answer this objection of Cudworth. But the FOLLOWER of Euhemerus (for with this title he honours the Author of the Divine Legation) who supposes no such thing, but hath evinced the contrary, will find no difficulty at all. For be holds,* that the first Gods of Greece were the heavenly Bodies. And if the Makers of these Cosmogonies, such as Thoth, Linus, and Orpheus, held the same, then their THEOGONIES, or accounts of the birth and pedigrees of these Gods, could be no other than CosMOGONIES, or accounts of the birth and creation of the world; these Gods being parts of it.
But things seem here to be confounded by our Letter-Writer. These Cosmogonies have just as much, and no more, to do with Platonic allegories, than the elements of Speech with the ornaments of Rhetoric.
There are two errors likewise, in this matter, which our LetterWriter seems to have laboured under. The one is, that Euhemerus was the Inventor of the mortalizing system : Whereas, I had shewn, it was taught in all the Mysteries long before Euhemerus had any being. He, indeed, maliciously carried it much farther than the Mysteries intended : He made planetary worship symbolical of the Heroic : and, from thence, inferred the political origin of Religion : for which, he passed with Antiquity, and perhaps justly, for an Atheist. Whereas the Mysteries, as we see from the fragment of Sanchoniatho,t kept these two species of Idolatry distinct ; and assigned the proper order of time to each of them.
The other error this lively Writer falls into, is in supposing, that this Follower of Euhemerus, against whom he writes, holds all the first, as well as last, Gods of Greece to have been mortal men : Whereas he distinguishes between the Gods of civilized and uncivilized Greece: The first, he supposes to have been heavenly bodies ; and the latter only, dead men deified.
From censuring the Learning of Euhemerus's Followers, the LetterWriter proceeds to censure their Morals. “It is not easy” (he says) “ to ascertain what should make some warm Ecclesiastics, for the wiser are far above such weakness, so angry at the Allegories of ancient Poets, now, when all danger from their Deities is over. Of old, indeed, when Temples and Revenues belonged to them ; when wealth, and Dignities of the Church, were annexed to the allegorical Devotion, and vested in its Teachers, no wonder the good FATHERS should fulminate against the wild and impious Worship. But now, when the struggle is long since over, when the Father of Gods and men has not so much as a lamb offered, nor his Daughter [i. e.
• See above.
† See above, and likewise p. 212 of the first volume.
Minerva or WISDOM) a single grain of incense burnt upon her altar for near a thousand years, it is hard to tell what should awake this preposterous zeal, or make them so eager to mortalize the EMBLEMS of Antiquity. Is there not, as I was hinting, some infection in the case ?
Has not the reading the FLAMING INVECTIVES of the primitive Fathers, who were actually in the struggle, a little infected their Followers with the same fiery spirit and INDECENT GUAGE?” *
As to these flaming Invectires, the Letter-Writer seems to lie under a small mistake. For though such invectives may perhaps be thought characteristic of the Fathers' zeal, the terms are not here in their place. They reserved their invectives for a better occasion, to fulminate the malice of their Enemies, and the follies of their Friends.On this point, viz. the mortalizing the emblems of antiquity, I can assure him, they appeared much at their ease ; and more disposed to quibble than to rail ; as he might have seen by one of the most serious of them, and who least understood raillery when he was pressed, I mean St. Austin ; who, in his confutation of Varro and his emblems, could afford to be thus jocular : “Sed, hæc omnia inquit (Varro] referuntur ad mundum ; videatne potius ad immundum.”+
As to the indecent language ; it is to be found in the third I volume of the Divine Legation ; where it is said, that the Ancients adopted into the number of their greater Gods, Ravishers, Adulterers, Pathics, Vagabonds, Thieves, and Murderers. But it is pleasant to hear this Letter-Writer talk of decency to a set of Phantoms, EMBLEMS, and SYMBOLS; for such he esteems these Greater Gods to be; and yet observe it so little to the MINISTERS of the Christian Religion. For he is at a loss, the Reader sees, to account for their warmth, where their private interest is not concerned. And in seeking for the cause of it, when he cannot fix it on their avarice and ambition, rather than allow them a motive becoming their character and office, lie will throw it upon their passions and prejudices. He supposes, they catched the infection from the Fathers, whose worldly interests, he imagines, were much concerned in the quarrel. But if he deserves the opinion I have of his candour, he will be pleased to find his suspicions ill grounded : And that the ECCLESIASTICS, who engage so warmly in this question, do it on important reasons, becoming their character of Ministers of the Truth.
The Bible represents ancient Idolatry, in the most odious colours ; and the whole Gentile World as given up to its delusions. A species of modern Mythologists, hinted at above, had, on the revival of learning in the West, endeavoured to evade this charge, by borrowing
1 In the second volume
• Pp. 226, 227. of the present edition.
+ Civitas Dei, lib. vii. cap. 27.
Book iv. sect. 4.