Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. XIII.: Christianity, or the allegorical worship of the Sun, under the cabalistical names of Chris-en or Christ, and Y - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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Sect. XIII.: Christianity, or the allegorical worship of the Sun, under the cabalistical names of Chris-en or Christ, and Y - Constantin-François Chasseboeuf, marquis de Volney, The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires 
The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires, 3rd ed. (London: J. Johnson, 1796).
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Christianity, or the allegorical worship of the Sun, under the cabalistical names ofChris-enorChrist,and Yês-usorJesus.
“In constituting a separate people, Moses had vainly imagined that he should guard them from the influence of every foreign idea: but an invincible inclination, founded on affinity of origin, continually called back the Hebrews to the worship of the neighbouring nations; and the relations of commerce that necessarily subsisted between them, tended every day to strengthen the propensity. While the Mosaic institution maintained its ground, the coercion of government and the laws, was a considerable obstacle to the inlet of innovations; yet even then the principal places were full of idols, and God the sun had his chariot and horses painted in the palaces of kings, and in the very temple of Yahouh: but when the conquests of the kings of Nineveh and Babylon had dissolved the bands of public power, the people left to themselves, and solicited by their conquerors, no longer kept a restraint on their inclinations, and profane opinions were openly professed in Judea. At first the Assyrian colonies, placed in the situation of the old tribes, filled the kingdom of Samaria with the dogmas of the Magi, which soon penetrated into Judea. Afterwards Jerusalem having been subjugated, the Egyptians, Syrians and Arabs, entering this open country, introduced their tenets, and the religion of Moses thus underwent a second alteration. In like manner the priests and great men, removing to Babylon, and educated in the science of the Chaldeans, imbibed, during a residence of seventy years, every principle of their theology, and from that moment the dogmas of the evil Genius (Satan), of the archangel Michael(87) , of the Ancient of Days (Ormuzd), of the rebellious angels, the celestial combats, the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection, dogmas unknown to Moses, or rejected by him, since he observes a perfect silence respecting them, became naturalized among the Jews.
“On their return to their country, the emigrants brought back with them these ideas; and at first the innovations occasioned disputes between their partisans, the Pharisees, and the adherents to the ancient national worship, the Sadducees: but the former, seconded by the inclination of the people, and the habits they had already contracted, and supported by the authority of the Persians, their deliverers, finally gained the ascendancy, and the theology of Zoroaster was consecrated by the children of Moses(88) .
“A fortuitous analogy between two leading ideas, proved particularly favourable to this coalition, and formed the basis of a last system, not less surprising in its fortune than in the causes of its formation.
“From the time that the Assyrians had destroyed the kingdom of Samaria, some sagacious spirits foresaw, announced, and predicted the same fate to Jerusalem: and all their predictions were stamped by this particularity, that they always concluded with prayers for a happy re-establishment and regeneration, which were in like manner spoken of in the way of prophesies. The enthusiasm of the Hierophants had figured a royal deliverer, who was to re-establish the nation in its ancient glory: the Hebrews were again to become a powerful and conquering people, and Jerusalem the capital of an empire that was to extend over the whole world.
“Events having realized the first part of those predictions, the ruin of Jerusalem, the people clung to the second with a firmness of belief proportioned to their misfortunes; and the afflicted Jews waited with the impatience of want and of desire for that victorious king and deliverer that was to come, in order to save the nation of Moses, and restore the throne of David.
“The sacred and mythological traditions of precedent times had spread over all Asia a tenet perfectly analogous. A great mediator, a final judge, a future saviour, was spoken of, who, as king, God, and victorious legislator, was to restore the golden age upon earth(89) , to deliver the world from evil, and regain for mankind the reign of good, the kingdom of peace and happiness. These ideas and expressions were in every mouth, and they consoled the people under that deplorable state of real suffering into which they had been plunged by successive conquests and conquerors, and the barbarous despotism of their governments. This resemblance between the oracles of different nations and the predictions of the prophets, excited the attention of the Jews; and the prophets had doubtless been careful to infuse into their pictures, the spirit and style of the sacred books employed in the Pagan mysteries. The arrival of a great ambassador, of a final saviour, was therefore the general expectation in Judea, when at length a singular circumstance was made to determine the precise period of his coming.
“It was recorded in the sacred books of the Persians and the Chaldeans, that the world, composed of a total revolution of twelve thousand periods, was divided into two partial revolutions, of which one, the age and reign of good, was to terminate at the expiration of six thousand, and the other, the age and reign of evil, at the expiration of another six thousand.
“Their first authors had meant by these recitals, the annual revolution of the great celestial orb (a revolution composed of twelve months or signs each divided into a thousand parts), and the two systematic periods of winter and summer, each consisting equally of six thousand. But these equivocal expressions having been erroneously explained, and having received an absolute and moral, instead of their astrological and physical sense, the result was, that the annual was taken for a secular world, the thousand periods for a thousand years; and judging, from the appearance of things, that the present was the age of misfortune, they inferred that it would terminate at the expiration of the six thousand pretended years(90) .
“Now, according to the Jewish computation, six thousand years had already nearly elapsed since the supposed creation of the world(91) . This coincidence produced considerable fermentation in the minds of the people. Nothing was thought of but the approaching termination. The Hierophants were interrogated, and their sacred books examined. The great Mediator and final Judge was expected, and his advent desired, that an end may be put to so many calamities. This was so much the subject of conversation, that some one was said to have seen him, and a rumour of this kind was all that was wanting to establish a general certainty. The popular report became a demonstrated fact; the imaginary being was realized; and all the circumstances of mythological tradition being in some manner connected with this phantom, the result was an authentic and regular history, which from henceforth it was blasphemy to doubt.
“In this mythological history the following traditions were recorded: “That, in the beginning, a man and a woman had, by their fall, brought sin and evil into the world.” (Examine plate II.)
“By this was denoted the astronomical fact of the celestial Virgin, and the herdsman (Bootes) who, setting heliacally at the autumnal equinox, resigned the heavens to the wintry constellations, and seemed, in sinking below the horizon, to introduce into the world the genius of evil, Ahrimanes, represented by the constellation of the Serpent(92.)
“That the woman had decoyed and seduced the man(93) .”
“And in reality, the Virgin setting first, appears to draw the Herdsman (Bootes) after her.
“That the woman had tempted him, by offering him fruit pleasant to the sight and good for food, which gave the knowledge of good and evil.”
“Manifestly alluding to the Virgin, who is depicted holding a bunch of fruit in her hand, which she appears to extend towards the Herdsman: in like manner the branch, emblem of autumn, placed in the picture of Mithra(94) on the front of winter and summer, seems to open the door, and to give the knowledge, the key, of good and evil.
“That this couple had been driven from the celestial garden, and that a cherub with aflaming sword had been placed at the door to guard it.”
“And when the Virgin and the Herdsman sink below the Western horizon, Perseus rises on the opposite side(95) , and sword in hand, this Genius may be said to drive them from the summer heaven, the garden and reign of fruits and flowers.
“That from this virgin would be born, would spring up a shoot, a child, that should crush the serpent’s head, and deliver the world from sin.”
“By this was denoted the Sun, which, at the period of the summer solstice, at the precise moment that the Persian Magi drew the horoscope of the new year, found itself in the bosom of the Virgin, and which, on this account, was represented in their astrological pictures in the form of an infant suckled by a chaste virgin(96) , and afterwards became, at the vernal equinox the Ram or Lamb, conqueror of the constellation of the Serpent, which disappeared from the heavens.
“That in his infancy, this restorer of thedivine or celestial nature, would lead a mean, humble, obscure and indigent life.”
“By which was meant, that the winter sun was humbled, depressed below the horizon, and that this first period of his four ages, or the seasons, was a period of obscurity and indigence, of fasting and privation.
“That being put to death by the wicked, he would gloriously rise again, ascend from hell into heaven, where he would reign for ever.”
“By these expressions was described the life of the same Sun, who, terminating his career at the winter solstice, when Typhon and the rebellious angels exercised their sway, seemed to be put to death by them; but shortly after revived and rose again(97) in the firmament, where he still remains.
“These traditions went still farther, specifying his astrological and mysterious names, maintaining that he was called sometimes Chris or Conservator(98) ; and hence the Hindoo God, Chris-en, or Christna; and the Christian Chris-tos, the son of Mary. That at other times he was called Yês, by the union of three letters, which, according to their numerical value, form the number 608, one of the solar periods(99) . And behold, O Europeans, the name which, with a Latin termination has become your Yês-us or Jesus; the ancient and cabalistical name given to young Bacchus, the clandestine son of the virgin Minerva, who in the whole history of his life, and even in his death, calls to mind the history of the God of the Christians; that is, the star of day, of which they are both of them emblems.”
At these words a violent murmur arose on the part of the Christian groupes; but the Mahometans, the Lamas and the Hindoos having called them to order, the orator thus concluded his discourse.
“You are not to be told,” said he, “in what manner the rest of this system was formed in the chaos and anarchy of the three first centuries; how a multiplicity of opinions divided the people, all of which were embraced with equal zeal and retained with equal obstinacy, because alike founded on ancient tradition, they were alike sacred. You know how, at the end of three centuries, government having espoused one of these sects, made it the orthodox religion; that is to say, the predominant religion, to the exclusion of the rest, which, on account of their inferiority, were denominated heresies; how, and by what means of violence and seduction this religion was propagated and gained strength, and afterwards became divided and weakened; how, six centuries after the innovation of Christianity, another system was formed out of its materials and those of the Jews, and a political and theological empire was created by Mahomet at the expence of that of Moses and the vicars of Jesus.
“Now, if you take a retrospect of the whole history of the spirit of religion, you will find, that in its origin it had no other author than the sensations and wants of man: that the idea of God had no other type, no other model, than that of physical powers, material existences, operating good or evil, by impressions of pleasure or pain on sensible beings. You will find that in the formation of every system, this spirit of religion pursued the same track, and was uniform in its proceedings; that in all, the dogma never failed to represent, under the name God, the operations of nature, and the passions and prejudices of men; that in all, morality had for its sole end, desire of happiness and aversion to pain; but that the people and the majority of legislators, ignorant of the true road that led thereto, invented false, and therefore contrary ideas of virtue and vice, of good and evil; that is, of what renders man happy or miserable. You will find, that in all, the means and causes of propagation and establishment exhibited the same scenes, the same passions, and the same events, continual disputes about words, false pretexts for inordinate zeal, for revolutions, for wars, lighted up by the ambition of chiefs, by the chicanery of promulgators, by the credulity of proselytes, by the ignorance of the vulgar, and by the grasping cupidity and the intolerant pride of all. In short, you will find that the whole history of the spirit of religion, is merely that of the fallibility and uncertainty of the human mind, which, placed in a world that it does not comprehend, is yet desirous of solving the enigma; and which, the astonished spectator of this mysterious and visible prodigy, invents causes, supposes ends, builds systems; then, finding one defective, abandons it for another not less vicious; hates the error that it has renounced, is ignorant of the new one that it adopts; rejects the truth of which it is in pursuit, invents chimeras of heterogeneous and contradictory beings, and, ever dreaming of wisdom and happiness, loses itself in a labyrinth of torments and illusions.”
END OF ALL RELIGIONS THE SAME.
Thus spoke the orator, in the name of those who had made the origin and genealogy of religious ideas their peculiar study.
The theologians of the different systems now expressed their opinions of this discourse. “It is an impious representation,” said some, “which aims at nothing less than the subversion of all belief, the introducing insubordination into the minds of men, and annihilating our power and ministry.”—It is a romance,” said others, “a tissue of conjectures, fabricated with art, but destitute of foundation.”—The moderate and prudent said, “Supposing all this to be true, where is the use of revealing these mysteries? Our opinions are doubtless pervaded with errors, but those errors are a necessary curb on the multitude. The world has gone on thus for two thousand years; why should we now alter its course?”
The murmur of disapprobation, which never fails to arise against every kind of innovation, already began to increase, when a numerous groupe of plebeians and untaught men of every country and nation, without prophets, without doctors, without religious worship, advancing in the sand, attracted the attention of the whole assembly; and one of them, addressing himself to the legislators, spoke as follows:
“Mediators and umpires of nations! The strange recitals that have been made during the whole of the present debate, we never till this day heard of; and our understanding, astonished and bewildered at such a multitude of doctrines, some of them learned, others absurd, and all unintelligible, remains in doubt and uncertainty. One reflection however has struck us: in reviewing so many prodigious facts, so many contradictory assertions, we could not avoid asking ourselves, Of what importance to us are all these discussions? Where is the necessity of our knowing what happened five or six thousand years ago, in countries of which we are ignorant, among men who will ever be unknown to us? True or false, of what importance is it to us to know whether the world has existed six thousand years or twenty thousand; whether it was made of something or of nothing; of itself, or by an artificer, equally in his turn requiring an author? What! uncertain as we are of what is passing around us, shall we pretend to ascertain what is transacting in the sun, the moon, and imaginary spaces? Having forgotten our own infancy, shall we pretend to know the infancy of the world? Who can attest what he has never seen? Who can certify the truth of what no one comprehends?
“Beside, what will it avail as to our existence, whether we believe or reject these chimeras? Hitherto neither our fathers nor ourselves have had any idea of them, and yet we do not perceive that on that account we have experienced more or less sun, more or less subsistence, more or less good or evil.
“If the knowledge of these things be necessary, how is it that we have lived as happily without it as those whom it has so much disquieted? If it be superfluous, why should we now take upon ourselves the burthen?” — Then addressing himself to the doctors and theologians: “How can it be required of us, poor and ignorant as we are, whose every moment is scarcely adequate to the cares of our subsistence and the labours of which you reap the profit; how can it be required of us to be versed in the numerous histories you have related, to read the variety of books which you have quoted, and to learn the different languages in which they are written? If our lives were protracted to a thousand years, scarcely would it be sufficient for this purpose.”
“It is not necessary,” said the doctors, “that you should acquire all this science: we possess it in your stead.”
“Meanwhile,” replied these children of simplicity, “with all your science, do you agree among yourselves? What then is its utility? Besides, how can you answer for us? If the faith of one man may be the substitute of the faith of many, what need was there that you should believe? Your fathers might believe for you; and that would have been the more reasonable, since they were the eye-witnesses upon whose credit you depend. Lastly, what is this circumstance which you call belief if it has no practical tendency? And what practical tendency can you discover in this question, whether the world be eternal or no?”
“To believe wrong respecting it would be offensive to God,” said the doctors.
“How do you know that?” cried the children of simplicity?
“From our scriptures,” replied the doctors.
“We do not understand them,” rejoined the simple men.
“We understand them for you,” said the doctors.
“There lies the difficulty,” resumed the simple men. “By what right have you appointed yourselves mediators between God and us?”
“By the command of God,” said the doctors.
“Give us the proof of that command,” said the simple men.
“It is in our scriptures,” said the doctors.
“We do not understand them,” answered the simple men; nor can we understand how a just God can place you over our heads. Why does our common Father require us to believe the same propositions with a less degree of evidence? He has spoken to you; be it so; he is infallible, he cannot deceive you. But we are spoken to by you; and who will assure us that you are not deceived, or that you are incapable of deceiving? If we are mistaken, how can it consist with the justice of God, to condemn us for the neglect of a rule with which we were never acquainted?”
“He has given you the law of nature,” said the doctors.
“What is the law of nature?” said the simple men. “If this law be sufficient, why does he give us another? If it be insufficient, why did he give us that?”
“The judgments of God,” replied the doctors, “are mysterious; his justice is not restrained by the rules of human justice.”
“If justice with him and with us,” said the simple men, “mean a different thing, what criterion can we have to judge of his justice? And once more, to what purpose all these laws? What end does he propose by them?”
“To render you more happy,” replied a doctor, “by rendering you better and more virtuous. God has manifested himself by so many oracles and prodigies to teach mankind the proper use of his benefits, and to dissuade them from injuring each other.”
“If that be the case,” said the simple men, “the studies and reasonings you told us of are unnecessary: we want nothing but to have it clearly made out to us, which is the religion that best fulfils the end that all propose to themselves.”
Instantly, every groupe boasting of the superior excellence of its morality, there arose among the partisans of the different systems of worship, a new dispute more violent than any preceding one. “Ours,” said the Mahometans, “is the purest morality, which teaches every virtue useful to men and acceptable to God. We profess justice, disinterestedness, resignation, charity, almsgiving, and devotion. We torment not the soul with superstitious fears; we live free from alarm, and we die without remorse.”
“And have you the presumption,” replied the Christian priests, “to talk of morality; you whose chief has practised licentiousness, and preached doctrines that are a scandal to all purity, and the leading principle of whose religion is homicide and war. For the truth of this we appeal to experience. For twelve centuries past your fanaticism has never ceased to spread desolation and carnage through the nations of the earth; and that Asia, once so flourishing, now languishes in insignificance and barbarism, is ascribable to your doctrine; to that doctrine, the friend of ignorance, the enemy of all instruction, which, on the one hand, consecrating the most absolute despotism in him who commands, and on the other, imposing the most blind and passive obedience on those who are governed, has benumbed all the faculties of man, and plunged nations in a state of brutality.
“How different is the case with our sublime and celestial morality! It is she that drew the earth from its primitive barbarity, from the absurd and cruel superstitions of idolatry, from human sacrifices(100) , and the orgies of Pagan mystery: it is she that has purified the manners of men, proscribed incest and adultery, polished savage nations, abolished slavery, introduced new and unknown virtues to the world, universal charity, the equality of mankind in the eyes of God, forgiveness and forgetfulness of injuries, extinction of the passions, contempt of worldly greatness, and, in short, taught the necessity of a life perfectly holy and spiritual.”
“We admire,” said the Mahometans, “the ease with which you can reconcile that evangelical charity and meekness of which you so much boast, with the injuries and outrages that you are continually exercising towards your neighbour. When you criminate with so little ceremony the morals of the great character revered by us, we have a fair opportunity of retorting upon you in the conduct of him whom you adore: but we disdain such advantages, and, confining ourselves to the real object of the question, we maintain, that your gospel morality is by no means characterised by the perfection which you ascribe to it. It is not true, that it has introduced into the world new and unknown virtues: for example, the equality of mankind in the eyes of God, and the fraternity and benevolence which are the consequence of this equality, were tenets formerly professed by the sect of Hermetics and Samaneans(101) , from whom you have your descent. As to forgiveness of injuries, it had been taught by the Pagans themselves; but in the latitude you give to it, it ceases to be a virtue, and becomes an immorality and a crime. Your boasted precept, to him that strikes thee on thy right cheek turn the other also, is not only contrary to the feelings of man, but a flagrant violation of every principle of justice; it emboldens the wicked by impunity, degrades the virtuous by the servility to which it subjects them; delivers up the world to disorder and tyranny, and dissolves the bands of society: such is the true spirit of your doctrine. The precepts and parables of your gospel also never represent God other than as a despot, acting by no rule of equity; than as a partial father, treating a debauched and prodigal son with greater favour than his obedient and virtuous children; than as a capricious master, giving the same wages to him who has wrought but one hour, as to those who have borne the burthen and heat of the day, and preferring the last comers to the first. In short, your morality throughout is unfriendly to human intercourse, a code of misanthropy, calculated to give men a disgust for life and society, and attach them to solitude and celibacy.
“With respect to the manner in which you have practised your boasted doctrine, we in our turn appeal to the testimony of fact, and ask: Was it your evangelical meekness and forbearance which excited those endless wars among your sectaries, those atrocious persecutions of what you called heretics, those crusades against the Arians, the Manicheans and the Protestants; not to mention those which you have committed against us, nor the sacrilegious associations still subsisting among you, formed of men who have sworn to perpetuate them* ? Was it the charity of your gospel that led you to exterminate whole nations in America, and to destroy the empires of Mexico and Peru; that makes you still desolate Africa, the inhabitants of which you sell like cattle, notwithstanding the abolition of slavery that you pretend your religion has effected; that makes you ravage India whose domains you usurp; in short, is it charity that has prompted you for three centuries past to disturb the peaceable inhabitants of three continents, the most prudent of whom, those of Japan and China, have been constrained to banish you from their country, that they might escape your chains and recover their domestic tranquillity?”
Here the Bramins, the Rabbins, the Bonzes, the Chamans, the priests of the Molucca Islands and of the coast of Guinea, overwhelming the Christian doctors with reproaches, cried: “Yes, these men are robbers and hypocrites, preaching simplicity to enveigle confidence; humility, the more easy to enslave; poverty, in order to appropriate all riches to themselves; they promise another world the better to invade this; and, while they preach toleration and charity, they commit to the flames, in the name of God, those who do not worship him exactly as they do.”
“Lying priests,” retorted the missionaries, “it is you who abuse the credulity of ignorant nations, that you may bend them to your yoke: your ministry is the art of imposture and deception: you have made religion a system of avarice and cupidity: you feign to have correspondence with spirits, and the oracles they issue are your own wills; you pretend to read the stars, and your desires only are what destiny decrees: you make idols speak, and the Gods are the mere instruments of your passions: you have invented sacrifices and libations for the sake of the profit you would thus derive from the milk of the flocks, and the flesh and fat of victims; and under the cloak of piety you devour the offerings made to Gods who cannot eat, and the substance of the people, obtained by industry and toil.”
“And you,” replied the Bramins, the Bonzes, and the Chamans, “sell to the credulous survivor vain prayers for the souls of his dead relatives. With your indulgences and absolutions you have arrogated to yourselves the power and functions of God himself: and making a traffic of his grace, you have put heaven up to auction, and have sounded, by your system of expiation, a tariff of crimes that has perverted the consciences of men(102) .”
“Add to this,” said the Imans, “that with these men has originated the most insidious of all wickedness, the absurd and impious obligation of recounting to them the most impenetrable secrets of actions, of thoughts, of velleités, (confession); by means of which their insolent curiosity has carried its inquisition even to the sacred sanctuary of the nuptial bed(103) , and the inviolable asylum of the heart.”
By thus reproaching each other, the chiefs of the different worships revealed all the crimes of their ministry, all the hidden vices of their profession, and it appeared that the spirit, the system of conduct, the actions and manners of priests were, among all nations, uniformly the same: that, every where they had formed secret associations, corporations of individuals, enemies to the rest of the society(104) :—that they had attributed to themselves certain prerogatives and immunities, in order to be exempt from the barthens which fell upon the other classes:—that they shared neither the toil of the labourer, nor the perils of the soldier, nor the vicissitudes of the merchant:—that they led a life of celibacy, to avoid domestic inconveniences and cares:—that, under the garb of poverty, they found the secret of becoming rich, and of procuring every enjoyment:—that under the name of mendicants, they collected imposts more considerable than those paid to princes:—that under the appellation of gifts and offerings, they obtained a certain revenue unaccompanied with trouble or expence:—that upon the pretext of seclusion and devotion, they lived in indolence and licentiousness: — that they had made alms a virtue, that they might subsist in comfort upon the labour of other men:—that they had invented the ceremonies of worship to attract the reverence of the people, calling themselves the mediators and interpreters of the Gods, with the sole view of assuming all his power; and that for this purpose, according to the knowledge or ignorance of those upon whom they had to work, they made themselves, by turns, astrologers, casters of planets, augurers, magicians(106) , necromancers, quacks, courtiers, confessors of princes, always aiming at influence for their own exclusive advantage:—that sometimes they had exalted the prerogative of kings, and held their persons to be sacred, to obtain their favour or participate in their power:—that at others they had decried this doctrine and preached the murder of tyrants (reserving it to themselves to specify the tyranny), in order to be revenged of the slights and disobedience they had experienced from them:—that at all times they had called by the name of impiety what proved injurious to their interest; had opposed public instruction, that they might monopolize science; and, in short, had universally found the secret of living in tranquillity amidst the anarchy they occasioned; secure, under the despotism they sanctioned; in indolence, amidst the industry they recommended; and in abundance, in the very bosom of scarcity; and all this, by carrying on the singular commerce of selling words and gestures to the credulous, who paid for them as for commodities of the greatest value(107) .
Then the people, seized with fury, were upon the point of tearing to pieces the men who had deceived them; but the legislators, arresting this sally of violence, and addressing the chiefs and doctors, said: “And is it thus, O institutors of the people, that you have misled and abused them?”
And the terrified priests replied: “O legislators, we are men, and the people are so superstitious! their weakness excited us to take advantage of it* .”
And the kings said: “O legislators, the people are so servile and so ignorant! they have prostrated themselves before the yoke which we scarcely had the boldness to show to them† .”
Then the legislators, turning towards the people, said to them: “Remember what you have just heard; it contains two important truths. Yes, it is yourselves that cause the evils of which you complain; it is you that encourage tyrants by a base flattery of their power, by an absurd admiration of their pretended beneficence, by converting obedience into servility, and liberty into licentiousness, and receiving every imposition with credulity. Can you think of punishing upon them the errors of your own ignorance and selfishness?”
And the people, smitten with confusion, remained in a melancholy silence.
SOLUTION OF THE PROBLEM OF CONTRADICTIONS.
The legislators then resumed their address. “O nations!” said they; “we have heard the discussion of your opinions; and the discord that divides you has suggested to us various reflections, which we beg leave to propose to you as questions which it is necessary you should solve.
“Considering, in the first place, the numerous and contradictory creeds you have adopted, we would ask on what motives your persuasion is founded? Is it from deliberate choice that you have enlisted under the banners of one prophet rather than under those of another? Before you adopted this doctrine in preference to that, did you first compare, did you maturely examine them? Or has not your belief been rather the chance result of birth, and of the empire of education and habit? Are you not born Christians on the banks of the Tiber, Mahometans on those of the Euphrates, Idolaters on the shores of India, in the same manner as you are born fair in cold and temperate regions, and of a sable complexion under the African sun! And if your opinions are the effect of your position on the globe, of parentage, of imitation, are such fortuitous circumstances to be regarded as grounds of conviction and arguments of truth?
“In the second place, when we reflect on the proscriptive spirit and the arbitrary intolerance of your mutual claims, we are terrified at the consequences that flow from your principles. Nations! who reciprocally doom each other to the thunder-bolts of celestial wrath, suppose the universal Being, whom you revere, were at this moment to descend from heaven among this crowd of people, and, clothed in all his power, were to sit upon this throne to judge you: suppose him to say—“Mortals! I consent to adopt your own principles of justice into my administration. Of all the different religions you profess, a single religion shall now be preferred to the rest; all the others, this vast multitude of standards, of nations, of prophets, shall be condemned to everlasting destruction. Nor is this enough: among the different sects of the chosen religion one only shall experience my favour, and the rest be condemned. I will go farther than this: of this single sect of this one religion, I will reject all the individuals whose conduct has not corresponded to their speculative precepts. O man! few indeed will then be the number of the elect you assign me! Penurious hereafter will be the stream of beneficence which will succeed to my unbounded mercy? Rare and solitary will be the catalogue of admirers that you henceforth destine to my greatness and my glory.”
And the legislators arising said: “It is enough; you have pronounced your will. Ye nations, behold the urn in which your names shall be placed; one single name shall be drawn from the multitude; approach and conclude this terrible lottery.”—But the people, seized with terror, cried: “No, no; we are brethren and equals, we cannot consent to condemn each other.”—Then the legislators having resumed their seats, continued: “O men! who dispute upon so many subjects, lend an attentive ear to a problem we submit to you, and decide it in the exercise of your own judgments.”—The people accordingly lent the strictest attention; and the legislators lifting one hand towards heaven, and pointing to the sun, said: “O nations, is the form of this sun which enlightens you triangular or square?”—And they replied with one voice, “It is neither, it is round.”
Then taking the golden balance that was upon the altar, “This metal,” asked the legislators, “which you handle every day, is a mass of it heavier than another mass of equal dimensions of brass?”—“Yes,” the people again unanimously replied; “gold is heavier than brass.”
The legislators then took the sword. “Is this iron less hard than lead?”—“No,” said the nations.
“Is sugar sweet and gall bitter?—“Yes.”
“Do you love pleasure, and hate pain?”—“Yes.”
“Respecting these objects and a multiplicity of others of a similar nature, you have then but one opinion. Now tell us, is there an abyss in the centre of the earth, and are there inhabitants in the moon?”
At this question a general noise was heard, and every nation gave a different answer. Some replied in the affirmative, others in the negative; some said it was probable, others that it was an idle and ridiculous question, and others that it was a subject worthy of enquiry; in short there prevailed among them a total disagreement.
After a short interval, the legislators having restored silence: “Nations,” said they, “how is this to be accounted for? We proposed to you certain questions, and you were all of one opinion without distinction of race or sect: fair or black, disciples of Mahomet or of Moses, worshippers of Bedou or of Jesus, you all gave the same answer. We now propose another question, and you all differ! whence this unanimity in one case, and this discordance in the other.”
And the groupe of simple and untaught men replied: “The reason is obvious. Respecting the first questions, we see and feel the objects; we speak of them from sensation: respecting the second, they are above the reach of our senses, and we have no guide but conjecture.”
“You have solved the problem,” said the legislators; “and the following truth is thus by your own confession established: Whenever objects are present and can be judged of by your senses, you invariably agree in opinion; and your differ in sentiment only when they are absent and out of your reach.
“From this truth flows another equally clear and deserving of notice. Since you agree respecting what you with certainty know, it follows, that when you disagree, it is because you do not know, do not understand, are not sure of the object in question: or in other words, that you dispute, quarrel and fight among yourselves, for what is uncertain, for that of which you doubt. But is this wife; is this the part of rational and intelligent beings?
“And is it not evident, that it is not truth for which you contend; that it is not her cause you are jealous of maintaining, but the cause of your own passions and prejudices; that it is not the object as it really exists that you wish to verify, but the object as it appears to you; that it is not the evidence of the thing that you are anxious should prevail, but your personal opinion, your mode of seeing and judging? There is a power that you want to exercise, an interest that you want to maintain, a prerogative that you want to assume; in short, the whole is a struggle of vanity. And as every individual, when he compares himself with every other, finds himself to be his equal and fellow, he resists by a similar feeling of right; and from this right, which you all deny to each other, and from the inherent consciousness of your equality, spring your disputes, your combats and your intolerance.
“Now, the only way of restoring unanimity is by returning to nature, and taking the order of things which she has established for your director and guide; and this farther truth will then appear from your uniformity of sentiment:
“That real objects have in themselves an identical, constant, and invariable mode of existence, and that in your organs exists a similar mode of being affected and impressed by them.
“But at the same time, inasmuch as these organs are liable to the direction of your will, you may receive different impressions, and find yourselves under different relations towards the same objects; so that you are with respect to them, as it were a sort of mirror, capable of reflecting them such as they are, and capable of disfiguring and misrepresenting them.
“As often as you perceive the objects, such as they are, your feelings are in accord with the objects, and you agree in opinion; and it is this accord that constitutes truth.
“On the contrary, as often as you differ in opinion, your dissentions prove that you do not see the objects such as they are, but vary them.
“Whence it appears, that the cause of your dissentions is not in the objects themselves, but in your minds, in the manner in which you perceive and judge.
“If therefore we would arrive at uniformity of opinion, we must previously establish certainty, and verify the resemblance which our ideas have to their models. Now this cannot be obtained, except so far as the objects of our enquiry can be referred to the testimony and subjected to the examination of our senses. Whatever cannot be brought to this trial is beyond the limits of our understanding; we have neither rule to try it by, nor measure by which to institute a comparison, nor source of demonstration and knowledge concerning it.
“Whence it is obvious, that, in order to live in peace and harmony, we must consent not to pronounce upon such objects, nor annex to them importance; we must draw a line of demarcation between such as can be verified and such as cannot, and separate by an inviolable barrier, the world of fantastic beings from the world of realities: that is to say, all civil effect must be taken away from theological and religious opinions.
“This, O nations, is the end that a great people, freed from their fetters and prejudices, have proposed to themselves; this is the work in which, by their command, and under their immediate auspices, we were engaged, when your kings and your priests came to interrupt our labours. . . . Kings and priests, you may yet for a while suspend the solemn publication of the laws of nature; but it is no longer in your power to annihilate or to subvert them.”
A loud cry was then heard from every quarter of the general assembly of nations; and the whole of the people, unanimously testifying their adherence to the sentiments of the legislators, encouraged them to resume their sacred and sublime undertaking. “Investigate,” said they, “the laws which nature, for our direction, has implanted in our breasts, and form from thence an authentic and immutable code. Nor let this code be calculated for one family, or one nation only, but for the whole without exception. Be the legislators of the human race, as ye are the interpreters of their common nature. Shew us the line that separates the world of chimeras, from that of realities; and teach us, after so many religions of error and delusion, the religion of evidence and truth.”
Upon this, the legislators resuming their enquiry into the physical and constituent attributes of man, and the motives and affections which govern him in his individual and social capacity, unfolded in the following terms the laws on which Nature herself has founded his felicity.
END OF THE FIRST PART.
[* ]The Oath taken by the Knights of the Order of Malta, is to kill, or make the Mahometans prisoners, for the glory of God.
[* ]Consider in this view the Brabanters.
[† ]The inhabitants of Vienna, for example, who harnessed themselves like cattle, and drew the chariot of Leopold.
[Page 284. (87).]Of the Archangel Michael. “The names of the angels and of the months, such as Gabriel, Michael, Yar, Nisan, &c. came from Babylon with the Jews;” says expressly the Talmud of Jerusalem. See Beausob. Hist. du Manich. Vol. II. p. 624, where he proves that the saints of the Almanac are an imitation of the 365 angels of the Persians; and Jamblicus in his Egyptian Mysteries, sect. 2. c. 3. speaks of angels, archangels, seraphim, &c. like a true Christian.
[Page 285. (88).]Theology of Zoroaster. “The whole philosophy of the gymnosophists,” says Diogenes Laertius on the authority of an ancient writer, “is derived from that of the Magi, and many assert that of the Jews to have the same origin.” Lib. 1. c. 9. Magasthenes, an historian of repute in the days of Seleucus Nicanor, and who wrote particularly upon India, speaking of the philosopy of the ancients respecting natural things, puts the Brachmans and the Jews precisely on the same footing.
[Page 287. (89).]To restore the golden age upon earth. This is the reason of the application of the many Pagan oracles to Jesus, and particularly the fourth eclogue of Virgil, and the Sybilline verses so celebrated among the ancients.
[Page 288. (90).]At the expiration of the six thousand pretended years. We have already seen, note 29, this tradition current among the Tuscans; it was disseminated through most nations, and shows us what we ought to think of all the pretended creations and terminations of the world, which are merely the beginnings and endings of astronomical periods invented by astrologers. That of the year or solar revolution, being the most simple and perceptible, served as a model to the rest, and its comparison gave rise to the most whimsical ideas. Of this description is the idea of the four ages of the world among the Indians. Originally these four ages were merely the four seasons; and as each season was under the supposed influence of a planet, it bore the name of the metal appropriated to that planet: thus spring was the age of the sun, or of gold; summer the age of the moon, or of silver; autumn the age of Venus, or of brass; and winter the age of Mars, or of iron. Afterwards when astronomers invented the great year of 25 and 36 thousand common years, which had for its object the bringing back all the stars to one point of departure and a general conjunction, the ambiguity of the terms introduced a similar ambiguity of ideas; and the myriads of celestial signs and periods of duration which were thus measured, were easily converted into so many revolutions of the sun. Thus the different periods of creation which have been so great a source of difficulty and misapprehension to curious enquirers, were in reality nothing more than hypothetical calculations of astronomical periods. In the same manner the creation of the world has been attributed to different seasons of the year, just as these different seasons have served for the fictitious period of these conjunctions; and of consequence has been adopted by different nations for the commencement of an ordinary year. Among the Egyptians this period fell upon the summer solstice, which was the commencement of their year; and the departure of the spheres, according to their conjectures, fell, in like manner, upon the period when the sun enters Cancer. Among the Persians the year commenced at first in the spring, or when the sun enters Aries; and from thence the first Christians were led to suppose that God created the world in the spring: this opinion is also favoured by the book of Genesis; and it is farther remarkable, that the world is not there said to be created by the God of Moses (Yahouh), but by the Elohim or gods in the plural, that is, by the angels or genii, for so the word constantly means in the Hebrew books. If we farther observe that the root of the word Elohim signifies strong or powerful, and that the Egyptians called their decans strong and powerful leaders, attributing to them the creation of the world, we shall presently perceive that the book of Genesis affirms neither more nor less than that the world was created by the decans, by those very genii whom, according to Sanchoniathon, Mercury excited against Saturn, and who were called Elohim. It may be farther asked, why the plural substantive Elohim is made to agree with the singular verb bara (the Elohim creates). The reason is, that after the Babylonish captivity the unity of the Supreme Being was the prevailing opinion of the Jews; it was therefore thought proper to introduce a pious solecism in language, which it is evident had no existence before Moses: thus in the names of the children of Jacob many of them are compounded of a plural verb, to which Elohim is the nominative case understood, as Raouben (Reuben), they have looked upon me, and Samaonni (Simeon), they have granted me my prayer, to wit, the Elohim. The reason of this etymology is to be found in the religious creeds of the wives of Jacob, whose gods were the taraphim of Laban, that is, the angels of the Persians, and the Egyptian decans.
[Page id. (91).]Six thousand years had already nearly elapsed since the supposed creation of the world. According to the computation of the Seventy, the period elapsed consisted of about 5,600 years, and this computation was principally followed. It is well known how much, in the first ages of the church, this opinion of the end of the world agitated the minds of men. In the sequel, the general councils, encouraged by finding that the general conflagration did not come, pronounced the expectation that prevailed heretical, and its believers were called Millenarians; a circumstance curious enough, since it is evident from the history of the Gospels that Jesus Christ was a Millenarian, and of consequence a heretic.
[Page 290. (92).]Constellation of the serpent. “The Persians,” says Chardin, “call the constellation of the serpent Ophiucus, serpent of Eve: and this serpent Ophiucus or Ophioneus plays a similar part in the theology of the Phenicians,” for Pherecydes, their disciple, and the master of Pythagoras, said “that Ophioneus serpentinus had been chief of the rebels against Jupiter.” See Mars. Ficin. Apol. Socrat. p. m. 797. col. 2. I shall add that æphah (with aïn) signifies in Hebrew serpent.
[Page id. (93).]Seduced the man. In a physical sense to seduce, seducere, means only to attract, to draw after us.
[Page id. (94).]Picture of Mithra. See this picture in Hyde, page 111, edition of 1760.
[Page 291. (95).]Perseus rises on the opposite side. Rather the head of Medusa; that head of a woman once so beautiful, which Perseus cut off, and which he holds in his hand, is only that of the virgin, whose head sinks below the horizon at the very moment that Perseus rises; and the serpents which surround it are Ophiucus and the Polar Dragon, who then occupy the zenith. This shews us in what manner the ancients composed all their figures and fables. They took such constellations as they found at the same time on the circle of the horizon, and collecting the different parts, they formed groupes which served them as an almanac in hieroglyphic characters. Such is the secret of all their pictures, and the solution of all their mythological monsters. The Virgin is also Andromeda, delivered by Perseus from the whale that pursues her (pro-sequitur.)
[Page id. (96).]By a chaste virgin. Such was the picture of the Persian sphere, cited by Aben Ezra in the Cœlum Poeticum of Blaeu, p. 71. “The picture of the first decan of the Virgin,” says that writer, “represents a beautiful virgin with flowing hair, sitting in a chair, with two ears of corn in her hand, and suckling an infant, called Jesus by some nations, and Christ in Greek.”
[Page 292. (97).]Rose again in the firmament. Resurgere, to rise a second time, cannot signify to return to life, but in a metaphorical sense; but we see continually mistakes of this kind result from the ambiguous meaning of the words made use of in ancient tradition.
[Page id. (98).]Chris, or conservator. The Greeks used to express by X, or Spanish iota, the aspirated hâ of the Orientals, who said hâris. In Hebrew heres signifies the sun, but in Arabic the meaning of the radical word is, to guard, to preserve, and of hâris, guardian, preserver. It is the proper epithet of Vichenou, which demonstrates at once the identity of the Indian and Christian Trinities, and their common origin. It is manifestly but one system, which, divided into two branches, one extending to the east, and the other to the west, assumed two different forms: its principal trunk is the Pythagorean system of the soul of the world, or Iou-piter. The epithet piter, or father, having been applied to the demi-ourgos of Plato, gave rise to an ambiguity which caused an enquiry to be made respecting the son of this father. In the opinion of the philosophers the son was understanding, Nons and Logos, from which the Latins made their Verbum. And thus we clearly perceive the origin of the eternal father and of the Verbum his son, proceeding from him (Mens ex Deo nata, says Macrobius): the anima or spiritus mundi was the Holy Ghost; and it is for this reason that Manes, Basilides, Valentinius, and other pretended heretics of the first ages, who traced things to their source, said, that God the Father was the supreme inaccessible light (that of the heaven, the primum mobile, or the aplanes); the Son the secondary light resident in the sun, and the Holy Ghost the atmosphere of the earth (See Beausob. Vol. II. p. 586): hence, among the Syrians, the representation of the Holy Ghost by a dove, the bird of Venus Urania, that is, of the air. The Syrians (says Nigidius de Germanico) assert that a dove sat for a certain number of days on the egg of a fish, and that from this incubation Venus was born: Sextus Empiricus also observes (Inst. Pyrrh. lib. 3. c. 23.) that the Syrians abstain from eating doves; which intimates to us a period commencing in the sign Pisces, in the winter solstice. We may farther observe, that if Chris comes from Harisch by a chin, it will signify artificer, an epithet belonging to the sun. These variations, which must have embarrassed the ancients, prove it to be the real type of Jesus, as had been already remarked in the time of Tertullian. “Many,” says this writer, “suppose with greater probability that the sun is our God, and they refer us to the religion of the Persians.” Apologet. c. 16.
[Page 293. (99).]One of the solar periods. See a curious ode to the Sun, by Martianus Capella, translated by Gebelin.
[Page 304. (100).]Human sacrifices. Read the cold declaration of Eusebius (Præp. Evang. lib. 1. p. 11.) who pretends that, since the coming of Christ, there have neither been wars, nor tyrants, nor cannibals, nor sodomites, nor persons committing incest, nor savages devouring their parents, &c. When we read these fathers of the church, we are astonished at their insincerity or insatuation.
[Page 306. (101).]Sect of Samaneans. The equality of mankind in a state of nature, and in the eyes of God, was one of the principal tenets of the Samaneans, and they appear to be the only ancients that entertained this opinion.
[Page 309. (102.)]Perverted the consciences of men. As long as it shall be possible to obtain purification from crimes, and exemption from punishment by means of money or other frivolous practices; as long as kings and great men shall suppose that building temples or instituting foundations, will absolve them from the guilt of oppression and homicide; as long as individuals shall imagine that they may rob and cheat, provided they observe fast during Lent, go to confession, and receive extreme unction, it is impossible there should exist in society any morality or virtue; and it is from a deep conviction of truth, that a modern philosopher has called the doctrine of expiations la vérole des sociétés.
[Page 310. (103).]Has carried its inquisition even to the sacred sanctuary of the nuptial bed. The Mussulmans, who suppose women to have no souls, are shocked at the idea of confession, and say; How can an honest man think of listening to the recital of the actions or the secret thoughts of a woman? May we not also ask, on the other hand, how can an honest woman consent to reveal them?
[Page id. (104).]That every where they had formed secret associations, enemies to the rest of the society. That we may understand the general feelings of priests respecting the rest of mankind, whom they always call by the name of the people, let us hear one of the doctors of the church. “The people,” says Bishop Synnesius, in Calvit. page 315, “are desirous of being deceived, we cannot act otherwise respecting them. The case was similar with the ancient priests of Egypt, and for this reason they shut themselves up in their temples, and there composed their mysteries out of the reach of the eye of the people.” And forgetting what he has just before said, he adds—“For had the people been in the secret, they might have been offended at the deception played upon them. In the mean time how is it possible to conduct oneself otherwise with the people so long as they are the people? For my own part, to myself I shall always be a philosopher, but in dealing with the mass of mankind I shall be a priest.”
[Page 311. (106).]They made themselves in turns astrologers,casters of planets, magicians, &c. What is a magician, in the sense in which the people understand the word? a man who by words and gestures pretends to act on supernatural beings, and compel them to descend at his call and obey his orders. Such was the conduct of the ancient priests, and such is still that of all priests in idolatrous nations, for which reason we have given them the denomination of magicians.
[Page 312. (107).]Who paid for them as for commodities of the greatest value. A curious work would be the comparative history of the agnuses of the pope and the pastils of the grand Lama. It would be worth while to extend this idea to religious ceremonies in general, and to confront, column by column, the analogous or contrasting points of faith and superstitious practices in all nations. There is one more species of superstition which it would be equally salutary to cure, blind veneration for the great: and for this purpose it would be alone sufficient to write a minute detail of the private life of kings and princes. No work could be so philosophical as this; and accordingly we have seen what a general outcry was excited among kings and the panders of kings, when the Anecdotes of the Court of Berlin first appeared. What would be the alarm were the public put in possession of the sequel of this work? Were the people fairly acquainted with all the crimes and all the absurdities of this species of idol, they would no longer be exposed to covet their specious pleasures, of which the plausible and hollow appearance disturbs their peace, and hinders them from enjoying the much more solid happiness of their own condition.