Imágenes de páginas

motive. The wantonness, the folly, and the proAligacy of its gods; the more than human vices by which they were degraded; their jealousies, discords, and caprices, so base and worthless, might inspire irreverence or contempt, but could awaken no emotion of holiness, and improve no motive of virtue. Every crime, and every appetite and passion, might find its vindication in celestial example; and the faith which was not to be averted by so wild and monstrous a creed, may afford a melancholy instance of the aptitude of men to yield themselves to the frauds or fanaticism of priests, and to embrace dogmas without inquiry, which common reason and common sense would have instructed them to despise.

Yet this religion, however puerile or gross, was the work of no vulgar minds. It was framed by men who demonstrated, in other respects, superior attainments. The great masters of verse, on whom Greece and the world lavished their applause, whọ united in themselves the character of legislators, moralists, and bards, and who have continued, for so many centuries, to delight and instruct mankind, sent it forth to the world, dignified by their sanction, and adopted by their faith. He whose songs are said to have humanized the savage, and united the wandering herds in peaceful and orderly communities *; he who was instructed by the Muses in the genealogies of the gods, and who revealed the secrets of celestial parentage and descent t; he who conferred by his applause new glory on heroes and on kings, and immortalized in his strains the triumphs of conquerors ; he, above all, who is said to have stolen the cæstus of Venus, and to have infused its happiest

• Orpheus.

+ Hesiod.


and most potent charms into his verse *, contributed, with other distinguished men, to its formation and establishment; and, if it have issued with such imperfecti ons from such hands, we ae not so much to consider it as a monument disgraceful to the architects by whom it was raised, as an evidence, perhaps, of the incompetence of human reason itself to frame a religion suitable to the condition and frail. ties of man.

If it be here asserted that, in the schools of Grecian and Roman philosophy, a better and nobler system may be found, the reply will neither be doubtful nor difficult. Among the whole tribe of the antient philosophers, there is not one whose notions of the divine nature were not vitiated by the grossest and most extravagant errors. Absurdity and contradiction mingled with the theology, and betrayed the ignorance, of every sect. The wild fancies of the poet were equalled or surpassed by the systems in which was embodied the visionary creed of the sophist; and the doctrines neither of Socrates, of Plutarch, of Marcus Aurelius, of Aristotle, or of Plato, can be said to merit, in any degree, the honourable appellation of genuine theism t.

• On diroit que pour plaire, insti it par la nature,

Homere ait à Venus derobé sa ceinture ;
Son livre est d'agrémens un fertil trésor;
Tout ce qu'il a touché, se convertit en or;
Tout reçoit dans ses mains une nouvelle grace,

Toujours il divertit, et jamais il ne laisse. The panegyric is not in the best manner of Boileau. Perhaps, it should have been added, to complete the character of the first of poets, that he wbo had possessed himself of the cæstus of Venus, had also borrowed the thunders of Jupiter.

+ Hume, in his Natural History of Religion, says he can scarcely allow these philosophers the appellation of genuine theists. On three points the theological discords of the antient schools were softened into a unusual harmony.

I. All the philosophers, except those of the atheistical sects, agreed in admitting a plurality of gods. If some of them occasionally speak of Deity in the singular number, they speedily lapse into the error of the popular faith, and avow persuasions which sufficiently proves they had no conception of the unity of the Divine Being. Socrates and Plato, the best and purest of the philosphical theologists, were scarcely less devoted than the plebeian disciples of the popular creed, to the dogmas of polytheism. The sublime language in which they occasionally assert their belief in one supreme and omniscient Being, is not the result of permanent and satisfied conviction; and the page and appear to be illuminated with the most noble and essential of all doctrines, are frequently darkened, before they close, by the virtual or direct admission of a rabble plurality of discordant deities *

II. The ancient philosophers also agreed in limiting the attributes of their gods. The Deity was said neither to exercise nor possess creative energy. Matter, uncreated, eternal and self-existent, might be shaped into diversity of form by divine skill, but it existed independently of the divine power. It was thus invested with the fundamental qualities of Deity; and the inert divinity was often to resist the will and art of the plastic nature by which it might

passage which

The cold caution of the assertion, but ill agrees with that paradoxical temerity which so perpetually involves him, on other subjects, in metaphysical adventures.

Appendix, note C.

Þe occasionally moulded into grace and beauty, From this doctrine of the contumacy and perversity of matter was deduced the cause of physical evil. The Deity was subdued by the supposed inaptitude of the materials to be shaped and arranged; and the defects and deformities by which the universe was supposed to be disgraced, were to be ascribed not to bis want of will, but to his deficiency of power *

III. The popular creed of Greece and Rome was an extravagant Manichæism, in which demoniacal powers were mingled with divine. The philosophers adopted, but modified the doctrine. An eternal and disorderly principle was supposed to interfere perpetually in the government of the world. The existence of moral evil, not to be accounted for, as was thought, under the sole dominion of a benevolent deity, was thus explained; and the wisdom and goodness of the ruling god were subjected to a counteracting and malignant power, in order that the schools might theorize more plausibly on the disorders and derangements which seem occasionally to occur in the economy of the worldt.

These were the defects which were common to the theology of all the most illustrious of the Greek and Roman philosophers. Let us now advert to the peculiar creeds of the different schools of Zeno, of Plato, and of Epicurus.

Of the ancient sects, the Stoics were the most manly and correct in their moral precepts, and the

Appendix, note D. + Plutarch affirms that this doctrine was widely diffused, and he himself strenuously maintains it in his Platonic Questions, and his Timæan Psychogonie. See also De Isid. et Osir, tom ii. p. 369, 570. Ed. Francof.

most credulous and superstitious in their theological dogmas. At one moment, the universe is their god, at another moment, an ethereal flame * Of this fancied divinity the unity and universality are occasionally affirmed ; yet, occasionally, all nature is crowded with deities; and the seas, and the earth, and the stars, and the souls of men, are lavishly invested with the attributes of Godhead t. Thus the universe is god, and an aggregate of gods; and thus the Stoic holds out to the worship of his disciples, not a pure, infinite, and eternal spirit, the omnipotent Creator and Governor of the world, but a diversity of material forms deified by his ignorance, or of physical causes adored by his credulity. Zeno reasons on his system.

on his system. In attributing divinity to the world, it was incumbent on him to prove that the world possessed the powers of divinity, and was a sentient, animated, reasoning, happy, and eternal being. In accomplishing this purpose he proceeds with all the skill which sophistry could supply. His school applauds; the world listens; and, after all, his demonstration consists of a series of syllogisms which can on!y excite a smile for their absurdity, or only deserve to be noticed as

• Cogimur dissentione sapientum dominum nostrum ignorare ; quippe qui neciamus soli an ætheri serviainus. Cicero. Academ. Quest. lib. ii. c. 41.

+ Hac mundi divinitate prospecta, tribuenda est sideritus eadem divinitas, ut ea quoque rectissime et animantia esse, et sentire atque intelligere dicantur, ex quo efficitur in deorum numero astra esse ducenda. Cic. de Nat. Deor. lib. ii. c. 15. With the same facility the other portions of the world were endowed with godhead; and such were the arguments which, in antient times, were to lay the foundations of human worship,

« AnteriorContinuar »