Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

CENT. I.

No wars nor diffenfions occafion

of religions.

to thofe of other countries [b]. This pretenfion, whether fupported by ignorance, or other means, introduced inexpreffible darkness and perplexity into the history of the antient fuperftitions, and has been alfo the occafion of innumerable errors in the writings of the learned.

VIII. One thing, indeed, which, at firft fight, appears very remarkable, ed by this variety is, that this variety of religions and of gods neither produced wars nor diffenfions among the different nations, the Egyptians excepted [i]. Nor is it, perhaps, neceffary to except even them, fince their wars undertaken for their gods cannot be looked upon, with propriety, as wholly of a religious nature [k]. Each nation fuffered its neighbours to follow their own method of worship, to adore their own gods, to enjoy their own rites and ceremonies, and discovered no fort of displeasure at their diverfity of fentiments in religious matters. There is, however, little wonderful in this fpirit of mutual toleration, when we confider, that they all looked upon the world as one great empire, divided into various provinces, over every one of which a certain order of divinities prefided, and that, therefore, none could behold with contempt the gods of other nations, or force ftrangers to pay homage to theirs. The Romans exercifed this toleration in the ampleft manner. For, though they would not allow any changes to be made in the religions that were publicly profeffed in the empire, nor any new form of worship to be openly introduced, yet they granted to their citizens a full liberty of obferving, in pri vate, the facred rites of other nations, and of honouring foreign deities (whofe worship contained nothing inconfiftent with the interefts and laws of the re

[(b) This fact renders a fatisfactory account of the vaft number of gods who bore the name of Jupiter, and the multitudes that paffed under thofe of Mercury, Venus, Hercules, Juno, &c. The Greeks, when they found, in other countries, deities that resembled their own, perfuaded the worshipers of thefe foreign gods, that their deities were the fame that were honoured in Greece, and were, indeed, convinced themselves that this was the cafe. In confequence of this, the Greeks gave the names of their gods to thofe of other nations, and the Romans, in this, followed their example. Hence we find the names of Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Venus, &c. fre quently mentioned in the more recent monuments and infcriptions which have been found among the Gauls and Germans, though the antient inhabitants of thofe countries worshiped no gods under fuch denominations. I cannot think that this method of the Greeks and Romans has introduced so much confufion into mythology as Dr. MOSHEIM here imagines. If indeed there was no resemblance between the Greek and Roman deities, and those of other nations, and if the names of the deities of the former had been given to thofe of the latter in an arbitrary and undiftinguishing manner, the reflexion of our hiftorian would be undeniably true. But it has been alleged by many learned men, and that with a high degree of probability, that the principal deities of all nations resembled each other extremely in their effential characters; and, if so, their receiving the fame names could not introduce much confufion into mythology, fince they were probably derived from one common fource. If the Thor of the antient Celts, was the fame in dignity, character, and attributes with the Jupiter of the Greeks and Romans, where was the impropriety of giving the fame name?]

[i] There are ingenious things to be found upon this head in the Expofitio Menfa Ifiaca of PIGNORIUS, P. 41.

[(4) The religious wars of the Egyptians were not undertaken to compel others to adopt their worship, but to avenge the flaughter that was made of their gods, viz. Crocodiles, &c. by the neighbouring nations. They were not offended at their neighbours for ferving other divinities, but could not bear, that they should put theirs to death.]

public)

public) with feafts, temples, confecrated groves, and fuch like teftimonies of CENT. I. homage and refpect [7].

IX. The deities of almoft all nations were either antient heros, renowned for their noble exploits and worthy deeds, or kings and generals who had founded empires, or women, become illuftrious by remarkable actions or useful inventions. The merit of these distinguished and eminent perfons, contemplated by their pofterity with an enthufiaftic gratitude, was the reafon of their being exalted to celeftial honours. The natural world furnished another kind of deities, that were added to these by fome nations. And as the fun, moon, and stars fhine forth with a luftre fuperior to that of all other material beings; fo it is certain, that they particularly attracted the attention of mankind, and received religious homage from almost all the nations of the world [m]. From thefe beings of a nobler kind idolatry defcended into an enormous multiplication of inferior powers; fo that in many countries, the mountains, trees, and rivers, the earth, the fea, and the winds, nay, even virtues, vices, and diseases had their fhrines attended by devout and zealous worshipers [2].

Most of their goda were depart

ed heros.

ties.

X. These deities were honoured with rites and facrifices of various kinds, The worship according to their respective nature and offices [o]. The rites used in their paid to these deiworship were abfurd and ridiculous, and frequently cruel and obfcene. Most nations offered animals, and some proceeded to the enormity of human facrifices. As to their prayers, they were void of piety and fenfe both with respect to their matter and their form [p]. Pontifs, priefts, and ministers, distributed into feveral claffes, prefided in this ftrange worship, and were appointed to prevent diforder in the performance of the facred rites. This order, which was fuppofed to be diftinguished by an immediate intercourfe and friendship with the gods, abufed their authority in the bafeft manner to deceive an ignorant and wretched people.

[See concerning this interesting fubject very curious and learned treatife of the famous BYNCKERSHOECK, entitled, Differtatio de cultu peregrina religionis apud Romanos. This differtation is to be found in the Opufcula of that excellent author, which were published at Leyden in Quarto, in the year 1719.

((m) The ingenious editor of the RUINS OF BALBEC has given us, in the preface to that noble work, a very curious account of the origin of the religious worship, that was offered to the heavenly bodies by the Syrians and Arabians. In thofe uncomfortable defarts, where the day prefents nothing to the view, but the uniform, tedious, and melancholy prospect of barren fands, the night difclofes a moft delightful and magnificent fpectacle, and appears arrayed with charms of the most attractive kind. For the most part unclouded and ferene, it exhibits to the wondering eye the Hoft of beaven in all their amazing variety and glory. In the view of this ftupendous scene, the tranfition from admiration to idolatry was too eafy to uninftructed minds; and a people, whofe climate offered no beauties to contemplate, but thofe of the firmament, would naturally look thither for the objects of their worship. The form of idolatry, in Greece, was different from that of the Syrians; and Mr. WooD ingeniously attributes this to that fmiling and variegated scene of mountains, valleys, rivers, groves, woods, and fountains, which the transported imagination, in the midft of its pleafing aftonishment, fuppofed to be the feats of invifible deities. See a further account of this matter in the elegant work abovementioned.]

[x] See the learned work of J. G. Vossius, De idololatria.

[] See J. SAUBERTUS, De facrificiis veterum. Lug. Bat. 1699.

P] See M. BROUERIUS a NIEDECK, De adorationibus veterum populorum, printed at Utrecht In 8vo. in the year 1711.

[ocr errors]

XI. The

CENT. I.

Confined to

places.

fible manner.

XI. The religious worship we have now been confidering, was confined to ftated times and places. The ftatues and other reprefentations of the gods were flated times and placed in the temples [q], and fuppofed to be animated in an incomprehenFor the votaries of thefe fictitious deities, however deftitute they might be of reafon in other refpects, avoided carefully the imputation of worshiping inanimate beings, fuch as brafs, wood, and stone, and therefore pretended that the divinity, reprefented by the statue, was really present in it, if the dedication was duly and properly made [r].

Mysteries.

No tendency in

mote virtue.

XII. But, beside the public worship of the gods to which all without exception were admitted, there were certain religious inftitutions and rites celebrated in fecret by the Greeks and feveral eastern nations, to which a very fmall number were allowed accefs. These were commonly called mysteries; and the perfons, who defired to be initiated therein, were obliged previously to exhibit fatisfactory proofs of their fidelity and patience, by paffing through va rious trials and ceremonies of the most disagreeable kind. The fecret of these inftitutions was kept in the strictest manner, as the initiated could not reveal any thing that paffed in them without expofing their lives to the most imminent danger [s]; and that is the reason why, at this time, we are fo little acquainted with the true nature, and the real defign of these hidden rites. It is, however, well known, that, in fome of thofe myfteries, many things were transacted, that were contrary both to real modefty, and outward decency. And, indeed, from the whole of the Pagan rites the intelligent few might eafily learn, that the divinities generally worshiped, were rather men famous for their vices, than diftinguished by virtuous and worthy deeds [#].

XIII. It is, at least, certain, that this religion had not the least influence Paganism to pro- towards the exciting or nourishing solid and true virtue in the minds of men. For the gods and goddeffes, to whom public homage was, paid, exhibited to their worshipers rather examples of egregious crimes, than of useful and illuftrious virtues [u]. The gods, moreover, were esteemed fuperior to men in power and immortality; but, in every thing elfe, they were confidered as their

[(9) Some nations were without temples, fuch as the Perfians, Gauls, Germans, and Bretons, who performed their religious worship in the open air, or in the fhady retreats of confecrated groves.]

[r] See ARNOBIUS adv. Gentes, lib. vi. p. 254. according to the edition of Heraldus. See alfo AUGUSTIN. De civitate Dei, lib. vii. cap. xxxiii; and the Miopogon of the emperor JULIAN, p. 361, according to the edition of Spanheim.

[] See CLARKSON on the Liturgies, §iv. p. 36 as alfo MEURSIUS, De myfteriis Eleufiniis. [] See CICERO Difput. Tufculan lib. ii. cap. xiii.

[u] There is a very remarkable paffage to this purpofe in the Triflia of OVID, book the fecond, beginning at the 287 line.

Quis locus eft templis auguftior? hæc quoque vitet,
"In culpam fi quæ eft ingeniofa fuam.

"Cum fteterit Jovis æde: Jovis fuccurret in æde,

[ocr errors]

Quam multas matres fecerit ille Deus.

"Proxima adoranti Junonia templa fubibit,
"Pellicibus multis hanc doluiffe Deam.

"Pallade confpecta, natum de crimine virgo

[ocr errors]

Suftulerit quare, quæret Erichonium.

equals.

equals. The priests were little folicitous to animate the people to a virtuous conduct either by their precepts or their example; nay, they plainly enough declared, that all that was effential to the true worship of the gods was contained only in the rites and inftitutions which the people had received by tradition from their ancestors [w]. And as to what regarded the rewards of virtue and the punishment of vice after this prefent life, the general notions were partly uncertain, partly licentious, and often more proper to adminifter indulgence to vice, than encouragement to virtue. Hence, the wifer part of mankind, about the time of CHRIST's birth, looked upon this whole fyftem of religion as a juft object of ridicule and contempt.

XIV. The confequences of this wretched theology were a universal corruption of manners, which discovered itself in the impunity of the moft flagitious crimes [x]. JUVENAL and PERSIUS among the Latins, and LUCIAN among the Greeks, bear teftimony to the juftice of this heavy accufation. It is alfo well known, that no public law prohibited the fports of the gladiators, the exercise of unnatural lufts, the licentioufnefs of divorce, the cuftom of expofing infants, and of procuring abortions, nor the frontless atrocity of confecrating publicly ftews and brothels to certain divinities.

[blocks in formation]

defence of Paga

nifm.

XV. Such, as were not funk in an unaccountable, and brutish ftupidity, The arguments perceived the deformity of thefe religious fyftems. To thefe the crafty priefts of the priests in addreffed two confiderations to prevent their incredulity, and to difpel their doubts. The firft was drawn from the miracles and prodigies which they pretended were daily wrought in the temples, before the ftatues of the gods and heros, that were placed there; and the fecond was deduced from oracles and divination, by which they maintained that the fecrets of futurity were unfolded through the interpofition of the gods. In both these points the cunning of the priests impofed miferably upon the ignorance of the people; and, if the difcerning few faw the cheat, they were obliged, from a regard to their own fafety, to laugh with caution, fince the priests were even ready to accufe, before a raging and fuperftitious multitude, thofe, who difcovered their religious frauds, as rebels against the majesty of the immortal gods.

XVI. At the time of CHRIST'S appearance upon earth, the religion of the Romans, as well as their arms, had extended itself through a great part of the world. This religion must be known to those who are acquainted with the Grecian fuperftitions [y]. In fome things, indeed, it differs from them; for the Romans, befides the inftitutions invented by NUMA and others, contrived with political views, added feveral Italic and Hetrurian fictions to the Grecian fables, and gave alfo to the Egyptian deities a place among their own [z].

[w] See BARBEYRAC's Preface to his French tranflation of PUFEN DORFF's Syftem of the Larv of Nature and Nations, § vi. p. 21. of the laft edition.

[x] The corrupt manners of thofe who lay in the darkness of idolatry are defcribed, in an ample and affecting manner, in the first of CYPRIAN's epiftles. See alfo on this fubject CORNEI. ADAMI Exercitatio de malis Romanorum ante prædicationem Evangelii moribus. This is the fifth difcourfe of a collection published by that learned writer at Groningen, 1712, in Quarto.

[ See DIONYSIUS HALICARN. Antiquit. Rom. lib. vii. cap. lxxii. p. 460. tom. i. Edit. Hudfon.

[x] See PETIT ad leges Atticas, lib. i. tit. i. p. 71.

XVII. In

The religion of

the Greeks and

Romans.

CENT. I.

The Romans introduced their

thofe of the con. quered nations.

XVII. In the provinces fubjected to the Roman government, there arose a new kind of religion, formed by a mixture of the antient rites of the conquered nation with thofe of the Romans. These nations, who, before their own rites among fubjection, had their own gods, and their own particular religious institutions, were perfuaded, by degrees, to admit into their worship a great number of the facred rites and customs of their conquerors. The view of the Romans, in this change, was not only to confirm their authority by the powerful aid of religion, but also to abolish the inhuman rites which were performed by many of the barbarous nations who had received their yoke; and this change was effected partly by the prudence of the victors, partly by levity of the vanquished, and by their ambition to please their new masters.

Systems of religion different from that of the

Romans.

The wi fer among the heathens

thefe evils.

XVIII. When, from the facred rites of the antient Romans, we pass to a review of the other religions that prevailed in the world, we shall find that the most remarkable may be properly divided into two claffes, of which the one will comprehend thofe religious fyftems which owe their existence to political views; and the other, those which feem to have been formed for military purposes. In the former class may be ranked the religions of most of the eastern nations, especially of the Perfians, Egyptians, and Indians, which appear to have been folely calculated for the prefervation of the state; the fupporting of the royal authority and grandeur; the maintenance of public peace; and the advancement of civil virtues. Under the military clafs may be comprehended the religious fyftem of the northern nations; fince all the traditions that we find among the Germans, the Bretons, the Celts, and the Goths, concerning their divinities, have a manifeft tendency to excite and nourish fortitude and ferocity, an infenfibility of danger, and a contempt of life. An attentive inquiry into the religions of these respective nations will abundantly verify what is here afferted.

XIX. None of these nations, indeed, ever arrived to fuch an excess of could not remedy univerfal barbarity and ignorance, as not to have fome difcerning men among them, who were fenfible of the extravagance of all these religions. But of these fagacious obfervers, fome were deftitute of the weight and authority, that were neceffary to remedy these over-grown evils; and others wanted the will to exert themselves in fuch a glorious caufe. And, the truth is, none of them had wisdom equal to fuch a folemn and arduous enterprize. This appears manifeftly from the laborious, but ufelefs efforts of fome of the Greek and Roman philofophers against the vulgar fuperftitions. Thefe venerable .fages delivered, in their writings, many fublime things concerning the nature of God, and the duties incumbent upon men; they difputed with fagacity against the popular religion; but to all this they added fuch chimerical notions, and fuch abfurd fubtilties of their own, as may ferve to convince us, that it belongs to God alone, and not to man, to reveal the truth without any -mixture of impurity or error.

Two kinds of philofophy prevailed at the time

of CHRIST'S birth.

XX. About the time of CHRIST's appearance upon earth, there were two kinds of philofophy which prevailed among the civilized nations. One was the philofophy of the Greeks, adopted alfo by the Romans; and the other, that of the Orientals, which had a great number of votaries in Perfia, Syria,

Cbaldea,

« AnteriorContinuar »