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the defences of the ancient Philosophers; who allegorized the fables of the popular Religion, to screen it from the contempt of the more knowing Vulgar ; as Learning, at one time, and Christianity, at another, had severally shaken the Seat of Superstition.* In those Allegories, all the national Gods were reduced to mere SYMBOLS, expressive of the Attributes of the first Cause : and, consequently, the Scripture-charge against the Gentiles, of worshipping the Creature for the Creator, rendered groundless, or at least, uncandid. These modern Mythologists, a late French Writer hath well described in the following words,—"Au commencement du Seizième Siécle quelquesuns des Savans, qui contribuérent au retablissement des lettres, etoient, dit-on, Païens dans le cæur, plus encore par PEDANTERIE, que par libertinage : ensorte qu'il n'eût pas tenu à eux de ramener le culte des Dieux d’HOMERE et de Virgile—ils emploïoient ce qu'ils avoient de litérature et d'esprit, pour donner an Paganisme un tour plausible, et en former un système moins insensé. Ils avoüoient que la MythoLOGIE étoit insoutenable prise à la lettre : mais, en même tems, elle contenoit, selon eux, sous l’EMBLEME des fictions les profondeurs de la PHYSIQUE, de la MORALE, et de la THEOLOGIE.”+-In this state and representation of things, some Ecclesiastics have thought it of their office to MORTALIZE these pretended emblems of Antiquity; and to shew, that the greater national Gods were dead men deified : and, consequently, that their worshippers were REAL IDOLATERS ; and of the worst sort too, as they frequently had for their objects the worst kind of men.
But so little of this matter entered into the Letter-Writer's views, that he says, “ This, which was formerly a grand religious controversy, is now turned to a point of pure speculation. What, in the days of Polytheism, raised the indignation of the Priests, and inflamed the riral zeal of the Fathers of the Church, now raises a little squabble amongst the Antiquaries, as a question of mere curiosity: to wit, whether all the Gods of Antiquity were not mortal men.” I
Now, if the Letter-Writer will needs suppose, that where the CLERGY have no oblique and interested designs, they have no reasonable ones, he will be often out in his reckoning : And (what to be sure is greatly to be lamented) unequal to the office of a Censor on their Manners.
After all, perhaps I may understand Him as little, as he appears to have understood Me, if I think him in earnest. The whole of his Letters, if one may judge by hints dropt here and there, seems to be only the wanton exercise of a Sophist ; and just such an encomium on the WISDOM OF THE ANCIENTS, as Erasmus's was on the folLY OF THE MODERNS. It is certain, at least, that in the prosecution of his
• See pp. 38–40. † l'ie de l'Emp. Julien, pp. 48, 49. 1 P. 208.
argument, his chief concern is for Fiction AND ITS INTERESTS, Thus, in one page, he tells us, “That this eager zeal to moRTALIZE these emblems of Antiquity is POETRY And in another, “That this prevailing PROSAIC TASTE has neither dignity of manners, nor strength of genius, nor extent of fancy.”+ But he explains himself more fully, where speaking of SYMBOLS and ALLEGORIES, and the inseparable as well as accidental marks by which they may be unravelled, he illustrates his subject by Abbé Pluche’s Hypothesis : Which, however, in several places, he treats for what it is, an idle and a groundless fancy. “Symbols” (says he) “carry natural marks that strike a sagacious mind, and lead it, by degrees, to their real meaning. A hint in one author brightens the obscurities in many others; as one single observation of Macrobius proved the clue to Abbé Pluche's (how justly I say not) to unravel the whole mystery of Egyptian, Assyrian, and Grecian Gods." He had no occasion to consider how justly, if he were in jest. Otherwise, a man might have seen, that the justness of unravelling depended on the reality of the Clue : Which, too, though dignified by the name of Clue, is indeed no other than a number of odd ends, that wanted to be made consistent, rather than to be unravelled, For the rest, as our learned Critic would immortalize the Pagan Deities in reverence to the Classics, so this Abbé Pluche (of whom he speaks with so much honour) has attempted to draw them out of their mortal state, in order to cover the disgraces of POPERY ; to which that superstition is obnoxious, from the protestant parallels between Saint and Heroworship.
But as if all this had not been enough to shew us that his concern was not for Truth but Fiction, he gravely professes to credit all Bacon's visions, as the genuine Wisdom of the Ancients, which every body else admires as the sportive effort of modern wit. As he is in so pleasant an humour, he may not be displeased to hear the Determination of Doctor Rabelais upon this question, who thus addresses the Allegorizers of his time, “Croyez-vous, en vostre foy, qu'oncques HOMERE, escripvant l’Iliade et l'Odyssée, pensast és ALLEGORIES lesquelles de luy ont calefreté Plutarche, Heraclide de Ponticq, Eustatie, Phornute, et ce que d'iceulx Politian ha descrobé? Si le croyez, vous n'approchez ne de piedz, ne de mains à mon opinion : qui DECRETE icelles aussi peu avoir esté songées de Homere, que d'Ovide en ses Metamorphoses, les Sacremens de l'Evangile, lesquelz ung Frere Lubin, vray croquelardon, s'est efforcé demonstrer si d'adventure il reucontroit gens aussi folz que luy.” This facetious Satirist had bere in his eye those very Mythologists of the sixteenth
Century, whom the learned Author of the Life of Julian, quoted above, so very justly censures.
And thus much for this GRAND KEY OF MYTHOLOGY, as this Letter-Writer is pleased to call his Fancies.*
To return to the Patrons of the other extreme, that the heavenly bodies were only SYMBOLS of the Hero-Gods.—Having thus shewn, the worship of the elements to be prior to that of dead men, I have not only overthrown this argument, for the proof of the atheistic notion of the origin of Religion, but likewise the notion itself. For if (as our adversaries own) the worship of dead men were the first religious institution after entering into civil society; and if (as I have proved) the worship of the heavenly bodies preceded that of dead men; the consequence is, that Religion was in use before the Civil Magistrate was in Being. But I need not our Adversaries' concession for this consequence; having proved from ancient testimony, that planetary worship was the only Idolatry long before Civil Society was known ; and continued to be so, by all unpolicied nations, long after.
II. I come, in the next place, to direct Fact : from whence it appears, that the Lawgiver, or Civil Magistrate, did not invent Religion.
Here the Atheist's gross prevarication ought not to pass uncensured. - From the notoriety of the Magistrate's care of Religion, he would conclude it to be his INVENTION : And yet, that very Antiquity, which tells him this, as plainly and fully tells him this other ; namely, that Religion was not invented by him : For, look through all Greek, Roman, and Barbarick Antiquity; or look back on what we have extracted from thence in the second section of the foregoing book, and it will appear, that not one single Lawgiver ever found a People, how wild or unimproved soever, without à Religion, when he undertook to civilize them. On the contrary, we see them all, even to the Lawgivers of the Thracians and Americans, addressing themselves to the savage Tribes, with the credentials of that God who was there professedly acknowledged and adored. But this truth will be arther seen from hence : It appears by the history of the Lawgivers ; by the sayings recorded of them; and by the fragments of their writings yet remaining, that they perceived the error and mischief of the gross idolatries practised by those People, whom they reduced into Society; and yet, that they never set upon reforming them. From whence we reasonably conclude, that they found the People in possession of a Religion which they could not unsettle ; and so were forced to comply with inveterate prejudices. For, that they were willing and desirous to have reformed what they found, appears not only from the ProEMS to their Laws, mentioned above, but from the testimony of one of the most knowing Writers of Antiquity, I mean Plutarch ; who, in his
• P. 409.
NATIONAL RITES AND CEREMONIES.
Tract of Superstition, speaking of the unruly temper of the People, says they ran headlong into all the follies which the makers of Graven images propagated; and in the mean time, turned a deaf ear to their Lawgivers, who endeavoured to inform them better.* This forced even Solon himself to establish the Temple-worship of Venus the Prostitute.t But the reform was seen to be so impossible, that Plato lays it down as an axiom in his Republic, That nothing ought to be changed in the received Religion which the Lawgiver finds already established; and that a man must have lost his understanding to think of such a project. All they could do, therefore, when they could not purify the Soul of Religion, was more firmly to constitute the Body.of it, for the service of the state. And this they did by
Nay; when the visible folly of a superstitious Rite, would have enabled them to abolish it, they sometimes for the sake of rning it to the civil service chose to give it the public sanction. This, Cicero confesses where he says“Equidem adsentior C. Marcello-existimoque jus augurum, etsi Divinationis opinione principio constitutum sit, tamen postea REIPUBLICÆ CAUSA conservatum ac retentum.” I
Indeed, in course of time, though insensibly, the genius of the Religion, as we observed before, $ followed that of the civil Policy; and so grew better and purer, as it did in ROME; or more corrupt and abominable, as it did in Syria. But had the Legislators given an entire New Religion, in the manner they gave Laws, we should have found some of those, at least, nearly approaching to the purity of natural Religion. But as we see no such, we must conclude they FOUND Religion, and did not MAKE it.
On the whole then, I have proved, what the most judicious HOOKER was not ashamed to profess before me, That “a POLITIQUE USE of Religion there is. Men fearing God are thereby a great deal more effectually than by positive Laws restrayned, from doing evil : inasmuch as those Laws have no further power than over our outward actions only; whereas unto men's inward cogitations, unto the privie intents and motions of their hearts, Religion serveth for a bridle. What more savage, wilde, and cruell than man, if he see himselfe able, either by fraude to overreach, or by power to overbeare, the Laws wherennto he should be subject ? Wherefore in so great boldness to offend, it behoveth that the World should be held in awe, not by a vaiNE SURMISE, but a TRUE APPREHENSION of somewhat, which no man may think himself able to withstand. THIS IS THE POLITIQUE USE OF RELIGION.” |--Thus far this great man; where
• Φιλοσόφων δε και πΟΛΙΤΙΚΩΝ ανδρών καταφρονούσιν, αποδεικνύντων την του θεού σεμνότητα μετά χρηστότητος και μεγαλοφροσύνης, μετά βίας και κηδεμονίας. * Πανδήμου Αφροδίτης.-ATH EN EI Peip. lib. xiii. 1 De Divin. lib. ii. cap. 35.
See vol. i. p, 174, et seq. 11 “Ecclesiastical Polity,” book v. sect. ii.
OF SUCH USE
he takes notice how certain Atheists of his time, by observing this use of Religion to Society, were fortified in their folly of believing that Religion was invented by Politicians to keep the World in awe. An absurdity, I persuade myself, now so thoroughly exposed, as to be henceforth deemed fit only to go in rank with the tales of Nurses, and the dreams of Free-thinkers.
I have now at length gone through the two first Propositions :
1. THAT THE STATE OF REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS, IS NECESSARY WELL-BEING OF Civil SOCIETY.
2. THAT ALL MANKIND, LEARNED NATIONS OF ANTIQUITY, HAVE CONCURRED IN BELIEVING, AND TEACHING, THAT THIS to Civil Society.
The next Book begins with the proof of the third ; namely, 3. THAT THE DOCTRINE
OF REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS, IS
BE FOUND IN, NOR PART OF, THE MOSAIC DISPENSATION.
Hitherto we have been forced to move slowly, to feel for our way in the dark, through the thick confusion of many irrational ReligiONS, and mad schemes of Philosophy, independent of, and inconsistent with, one another : Where the labour of the search, perhaps, has been much greater to the Author, than the pleasure will be to the Reader, in finding this Chaos reduced to some kind of order ; the PRINCIPLES developed, from whence the endless diversity and contradiction have arisen ; and the various USE that may be made of these Discoveries for our demonstration of the truth of revealed Religion. We now emerge into open day :
“ Major rerum mihi nascitur ordo,
Majus opus moveo.” And having gotten the PROMISED LAND in view, the labour will be much easier, as the Discoveries will be more important, and the subject infinitely more interesting : For having now only one single System and Dispensation to explain, consistent in all its parts, and absolute and perfect in the Whole, which though, by reason of the profound and sublime views of its Author, these perfections may not be very obvious, yet, if we have but the happiness to enter rightly, we shall go on with ease, and the prospect will gradually open and enlarge itself, till we see it lost again in that IMMENSITY from whence it first arose.
Full of these hopes, and under the auspices of these encouragements, let us now shift the Scene from GENTILE to JEWISH Antiquity; and prepare ourselves for the opening of a more august and solemn Theatre.