Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

ment of this world is carried on by general laws, which are inflexible because they are the best poflible, every important event is attributed to an immediate interposition of the Deity. As the Grecian gods were thought to have bodies like men, and like men to require nourishment; they were imagined to act like men, forming short-fighted plans of operation, and varying them from time to time, according to exigencies. Even the wife Athenians had an utter aversion at philosophers who attempted to account for effects by general laws : such doctrine they thought tended to fetter the gods, and to prevent them from governing events at their pleasure. An eclipse being held a prognostic given by the gods of some grievous calamity, Anaxagoras was accused of Atheism for attempting to explain the eclipse of the moon by natural causes : he was thrown into prison, and with difficulty was relieved by the influence of Pericles. Protagoras was banished Athens for maintaining the same doctrine. Procopius overflows with signal interpositions of Providence; and Agathias, beginning at the battle of Marathon, sagely main

tajns,

tains, that from that time downward, there was not a battle lost but by an immediate judgement of God, for the fins of the commander, or of his army, or of one person or other. Our Saviour's doctrine with respect to those who suffered by the fall of the tower of Siloam, ought to have opened their eyes; but superstitious eyes are never opened by instruction. At the same time, it is deplorable that such belief has no good influence on manners: on the contrary, never doth wickedness so much abound as in dark times. A curious fact is related by Procopius (a) with respect to that sort of superstition.

When Rome was besieged by the Goths and in danger of destruction, a part of the town-wall was in a tottering condition. Belisarius, proposing to fortify it, was opposed by the citizens, affirming, that it was guarded by St Peter. Procopius observes, that the event answered expectation ; for that the Goths, during a tedious fiege, never once attempted that weak part. He adds, that the wall remained in the same ruinous state at the time of his writing. Here is a curious conceit— Peter created a tutelar (a) Hiftoria Gothica, lib. I.

deity,

2

[ocr errors]

deity, able and willing to counteract the laws by which God governs the material world. And for what mighty benefit to his votaries ? Only to save thein five or fifty pounds in rebuilding the crazy part of the wall.

It is no less inconsistent with the regular course of Providence, to believe, as many formerly did, that in all doubtful cases the Almighty, when appealed to, never fails to interpose in favour of the right side. The inhabitants of Constantinople, ann. 1284, being split into parties about two contending patriarchs, the Emperor ordered a fire to be made in the church of St Sophia, and a paper for each party to be thrown into it; never doubting, but that God would fave from the flames the paper given in for the party whose cause he espoused. But, to the utter astonishment of all beholders, the flames paid not the least regard to either. The same absurd opinion gave birth to the trial by fire, by water, and by fingle combat. And it is not a little remarkable, that such trials were common 2mong many nations that had no intercourse one with another : even the VoL, IV.

I i

en

enlightened people of Indoftan try crimes by dipping the hand of a suspected person in boiling oil. --Such uniformity is there with respect even to superstitious opinions. Pope Gregory VII, insisting that the Kings of Castile and Aragon should lay aside their Gothic liturgy for the Romish, the matter was put to trial by single combat ; and two champions were chosen to declare by victory the opinion of God Almighty. The Emperor Otho I. observing the lawdoctors to differ about the right of reprefentation in land-estates, appointed a duel ; and the right of representation gain'd the victory. If any thing can render such a doctrine palatable, it is the believing in a tutelar deity, who with less absurdity may interpofe in bęhalf of a favourite opinion, or of a favourite people. Appian gravely reports, that when the city of Rhodes was befieged by Mithridates, a statue of the goddefs Ifis was seen to dart flames of fire upon a bulky engine, raised by the besiegers to overtop the wall.

Historians mention an incident that happened in the island Celebes, founded on a belief of the famę kind with

that

that above mentioned. About two cena turies ago,

some Chriftian and some Mahometan miffionaries made their way to that island. The chief king, struck with the fear of hell taught by both, assembled a general council ; and stretching his hands towards heaven, addressed the following prayer to the supreme being. . “ Great God, from thee I demand no" thing but justice, and to me thou owest u it, Men of different religions have

come to this island, threatening eternal punishment to me and my people if we disobey thy laws. What are thy laws ?

Speak, O my God, who art the author “ of nature : thou knowest the bottom of

our hearts, and that we can never intentionally disobey thee. But if it be unworthy of thy essence to employ the language of men, I call upon my whole people, the sun which gives me light, the earth which bears me, the fea which surrounds my empire,

and upon the thyself, to bear witness * for me, that in the fincerity of my “ heart I wish to know thy will ; and « this day I declare, that I will acknowledge as the depositaries of thy oracles, 1 i 2

the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »