Front Page Titles (by Subject) APPENDIX: Upon Chance and Contingency. - Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 3
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APPENDIX: Upon Chance and Contingency. - Henry Home, Lord Kames, Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 3 
Sketches of the History of Man Considerably enlarged by the last additions and corrections of the author, edited and with an Introduction by James A. Harris (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007). 3 Vols. Vol. 3.
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Upon Chance and Contingency.
I hold it to be an intuitive proposition, That the Deity is the primary cause of all things; that with consummate wisdom he formed the great plan of government, which he carries on by laws suited to the different natures of animate and in-animate beings; and that these laws, produce a regular chain of causes and effects in the moral as well as the material world, admitting no events but what are comprehended in the original plan (a) . Hence it clearly follows, that chance is excluded out of this world, that nothing can happen by accident, and that no event is arbitrary or contingent. This is the doctrine of the essay quoted; and, in my apprehension, well founded. But I cannot subscribe to what follows, “That we have an impression of chance and contingency, which consequently must be delusive.” I would not willingly admit any delusion in the nature of man, unless it were made evident beyond contradiction; and I now see clearly, that the impression we have of chance and contingency, is not delusive, but perfectly consistent with the established plan.
The explanation of chance and contingency in the said essay, shall be given in the author’s own words, as a proper text to reason upon.
In our ordinary train of thinking, it is certain that all events appear not to us as necessary. A multitude of events seem to be under our power to cause or to prevent; and we readily make a distinction betwixt events that are necessary, i.e. that must be; and events that are contingent, i.e. that may be, or may not be. This distinction is void of truth: for all things that fall out either in the material or moral world, are, as we have seen, alike necessary, and alike the result of fixed laws. Yet, whatever conviction a philosopher may have of this, the distinction betwixt things necessary and things contingent, possesses his ordinary train of thought, as much as it possesses the most illiterate. We act universally upon that distinction: nay it is in truth the cause of all the labour, care, and industry, of mankind. I illustrate this doctrine by an example. Constant experience hath taught us, that death is a necessary event. The human frame is not made to last for ever in its present condition; and no man thinks of more than a temporary existence upon this globe. But the particular time of our death appears a contingent event. However certain it be, that the time and manner of the death of each individual is determined by a train of preceding causes, and is no less fixed than the hour of the sun’s rising or setting; yet no person is affected by this doctrine. In the care of prolonging life, we are directed by the supposed contingency of the time of death, which, to a certain term of years, we consider as depending in a great measure on ourselves, by caution against accidents, due use of food, exercise, &c. These means are prosecuted with the same diligence as if there were in fact no necessary train of causes to fix the period of life. In short, whoever attends to his own practical ideas, whoever reflects upon the meaning of the following words which occur in all languages, of things possible, contingent, that are in our power to cause or prevent; whoever, I say, reflects upon these words, will clearly see, that they suggest certain perceptions or notions repugnant to the doctrine above established of universal necessity.11
In order to show that there is no repugnance, I begin with defining chance and contingency. The former is applied to events that have happened; the latter to future events. When we say a thing has happened by chance, we surely do not mean that chance was the cause; for no person ever imagined that chance is a thing that can act, and by acting produce events: we only mean, that we are ignorant of the cause, and that, for ought we see, it might have happened or not happened, or have happened differently. Aiming at a bird, I shoot by chance a favourite spaniel: the meaning is not, that chance killed the dog, but that as to me the dog’s death was accidental. With respect to contingency, future events that are variable and the cause unknown, are said to be contingent; changes of the weather, for example, whether it will be frost or thaw tomorrow, whether fair or foul. In a word, chance and contingency applied to events, mean not that such events happen without any cause, but only that we are ignorant of the cause.
It appears to me, that there is no such thing in human nature as a sense that any thing happens without a cause: such a sense would be grossly delusive. It is indeed true, that our sense of a cause is not always equally distinct: with respect to an event that happens regularly, such as summer, winter, rising or setting of the sun, we have a distinct sense of a cause: our sense is less distinct with respect to events less regular, such as alterations of the weather; and extremely indistinct with respect to events that seldom happen, and that happen without any known cause. But with respect to no event whatever does our sense of a cause vanish altogether, and give place to a sense of things happening without a cause.
Chance and contingency thus explained, suggest not any perception or notion repugnant to the doctrine of universal necessity; for my ignorance of a cause, does not, even in my own apprehension, exclude a cause. Descending to particulars, I take the example mentioned in the text, namely, the uncertainty of the time of my death. Knowing that my life depends in some measure on myself, I use all means to preserve it, by proper food, exercise, and care to prevent accidents. Nor is there any delusion here. I am moved to use these means by the desire I have to live: these means accordingly prove effectual to carry on my present existence to the appointed period; and in that view are so many links in the great chain of causes and effects. A burning coal falling from the grate upon the floor, wakes me from a sound sleep. I start up to extinguish the fire. The motive is irresistible: nor have I reason to resist, were it in my power; for I consider the extinction of the fire by my hand, to be one of the means chosen by Providence for prolonging my life to its destined period.
Were there a chain of causes and effects established entirely independent on me, and were my life in no measure under my own power, it would indeed be fruitless for me to act; and the absurdity of knowingly acting in vain, would be a prevailing motive for remaining at rest. Upon that supposition, the ignava ratio of Chrysippus might take place; cui si pareamus, nihil omnino agamus in vita.* But I act necessarily when influenced by motives; and I have no reason to forbear, consider-ing that my actions, by producing their intended effects, contribute to carry on the great chain.
Progress of Morality
Having unfolded the principles of morality, the next step is, to trace out its gradual progress, from its infancy among savages to its maturity among polished nations. The history of opinions concerning the foundation of morality, falls not within my plan; and I am glad to be relieved from an article that is executed in perfection by more able hands (a) .
An animal is brought forth with every one of its external members; and completes its growth, not by production of any new member, but by addition of matter to those originally formed. The same holds with respect to internal members; the senses, for example, instincts, powers and faculties, principles and propensities: these are coeval with the individual, and are gradually unfolded, some early, some late. The external senses, being necessary for self-preservation, soon arrive at maturity. Some internal senses, of order for example, of propriety, of dignity, of grace, being of no use during infancy, are not only slow in their progress toward maturity, but require much culture. Among savages they are scarce perceptible.
The moral sense, in its progress, differs from those last mentioned; being frequently discovered, even in childhood. It is however slow of growth, and seldom arrives at perfection without culture and experience.
The moral sense not only ripens gradually with the other internal senses mentioned, but from them acquires force and additional authority: a savage makes no difficulty to kill an enemy in cold blood: bloody scenes are familiar to him, and his moral sense is not sufficiently vigorous to give him compunction. The action appears in a different light to a person of delicate feelings; and accordingly, the moral sense has much more authority over those who have received a refined education, than over savages.
It is pleasant to trace the progress of morality in members of a polished nation. Objects of external sense make the first impressions; and from them are derived a stock of simple ideas. Affection, accompanying ideas, is first directed to particular objects, such as my father, my brother, my companion. The mind, opening by degrees, takes in complex objects, such as my country, my religion, the government under which I live; and these also become objects of affection. Our connections multiply; and the moral sense, acquiring strength as the mind opens, regulates our duty to every connected object. Objects of hatred multiply as well as objects of affection, and give full scope to dissocial passions, the most formidable antagonists that morality has to encounter. But nature hath provided a remedy: the person who indulges malice or revenge, is commonly the greatest sufferer by the indulgence: men become wise by experience, and have more peace and satisfaction in fostering kindly affection: stormy pas-sions are subdued, or brought under rigid discipline; and benevolence triumphs over selfishness. We refine upon the pleasures of society: we learn to submit our opinions: we affect to give preference to others; and readily fall in with whatever sweetens social intercourse: we carefully avoid causes of discord; and overlooking trivial offences, we are satisfied with moderate reparation, even for gross injuries.
A nation from its original savage state, grows to maturity like the individuals above described, and the progress of morality is the same in both. The savage state is the infancy of a nation, during which the moral sense is feeble, yielding to custom, to imitation, to passion. But a nation, like a member of a polished society, ripens gradually, and acquires a taste in the fine arts, with acuteness of sense in matters of right and wrong. Hatred and revenge, the great obstacles to moral duty, raged without control, while the privilege of avenging wrongs was permitted to individuals (a) . But hatred and revenge yielded gradually to the pleasures of society, and to the growing authority of the moral sense; and benevolent affections prevailed over dissocial passions. In that comfortable period, we hear no more of cruelty as a national character: on the contrary, the aversion we have to an enemy, is even in war exercised with moderation. Nor do the stormy passions ever again revive; for after a nation begins to decline from its meridian height, the passions that prevail are not of the violent kind, but selfish, timorous, and deceitful.
Morality however has not to this day arrived to such maturity, as to operate between nations with equal steadiness and vigour, as between individuals. Ought this to be regretted as an imperfection in our nature? I think not: had we the same compunction of heart for injuring a nation as for injuring an individual, and were injustice equally blameable as to both; war would cease, and a golden age ensue, than which a greater misfortune could not befal the human race (b) .
In the progress from maturity to a declining state, a nation differs widely from an individual. Old age puts an end to the latter: there are many causes that weaken the former; but old age is none of them, if it be not in a metaphorical sense. Riches, selfishness, and luxury, are the diseases that weaken prosperous nations: these diseases, following each other in a train, corrupt the heart, dethrone the moral sense, and make an anarchy in the soul: men stick at no expence to purchase pleasure; and they stick at no vice to supply that expence.
Such are the outlines of morality in its progress from birth to burial; and these outlines I purpose to fill up with an induction of particulars. Looking back to the commencement of civil society, when no wants were known but those of nature, and when such wants were amply provided for; we find individuals of the same tribe living innocently and cordially together: they had no irregular appetites, nor any ground for strife. In that state, moral principles joined their influence with that of national affection, to secure individuals from harm. Savages accordingly, who have plenty of food and are simple in habitation and cloathing, seldom transgress the rules of morality within their own tribe. Diodorus Siculus, who composed his history recently after Caesar’s expedition into Britain, says, that the inhabitants dwelt in mean cottages covered with reeds or sticks; that they were of much sincerity and integrity, contented with plain and homely fare; and were strangers to the excess and luxury of rich men. In Friezeland, in Holland, and in other maritime provinces of the Netherlands, locks and keys were unknown, till the inhabitants became rich by commerce: they contented themselves with bare necessaries, which every one had in plenty. The Laplanders have no notion of theft. When they make an excursion into Norway, which is performed in the summer months, they leave their huts open, without fear that any thing will be purloined. Formerly they were entirely upright in their only commerce, that of bartering the skins of wild beasts for tobacco, brandy, and coarse cloth. But being often cheated by strangers, they begin to be more cunning. Theft was unknown among the Caribbees till Europeans came among them. When they lost any thing, they said innocently, “the Christians have been here.” Crantz, describing the inhabitants of Iceland before they were corrupted by commerce with strangers, says, that they lived under the same roof with their cattle; that every thing was common among them except their wives and children; and that they were simple in their manners, having no appetite but for what nature requires. In the reign of Edwin King of Northumberland, a child, as historians report, might have travelled with a purse of gold, without hazard of robbery: in our days of luxury, want is so intolerable, that even fear of death is not sufficient to deter us. All travellers agree, that the native Canadians are perfectly disinterested, abhorring deceit and lying. The Californians are fond of iron and sharp instruments; and yet are so strictly honest, that carpenter-tools left open during night, were safe. The savages of North America had no locks for their goods: they probably have learned from Europeans to be more circumspect. Procopius bears testimony (a) , that the Sclavi, like the Huns, were innocent people, free of malice. Plan Carpin, the Pope’s am-bassador to the Cham of Tartary, anno 1246, says, that the Tartars are not addicted to thieving; and that they leave their goods open without a lock. Nicholas Damascenus reports the same of the Celtae. The original inhabitants of the island Borneo, expelled by the Mahometans from the sea-coast to the center of the country, are honest, industrious, and kindly to each other: they have some notion of property, but not such as to render them covetous. Pagans in Siberia are numerous; and, tho’ grossly ignorant especially in matters of religion, they are a good moral people. It is rare to hear among them of perjury, thieving, fraud, or drunkenness; if we except those who live among the Russian Christians, with whose vices they are tainted. Strahlenberg (a) bears testimony to their honesty. Having employ’d a number of them in a long navigation, he slept in the same boat with men whose names he knew not, whose language he understood not, and yet lost not a particle of his baggage. Being obliged to remain a fortnight among the Ostiacs, upon the river Oby, his baggage lay open in a hut inhabited by a large family, and yet nothing was purloined. The following incident, which he also mentions, is remarkable. A Russian of Tobolski, in the course of a long journey, lodged one night in an Ostiac’s hut, and the next day on the road missed his purse with a hundred rubles. His landlord’s son, hunting at some distance from the hut, found the purse, but left it there. By his father’s order, he covered it with branches, to secure it in case an owner should be found. After three months, the Russian returning, lodged with the same Ostiac; and mentioning occasionally the loss of his purse, the Ostiac, who at first did not recollect his face, cry’d out with joy, “Art thou the man who lost that purse? my son shall go and show thee where it lies, that thou may’st take it up with thine own hand.” The Hottentots (b) have not the least notion of theft: tho’ immoderately fond of tobacco and brandy, they are employ’d by the Dutch for tending warehouses full of these commodities. Here is an instance of probity above temptation, even among savages in the first stage of social life. Some individuals are more liberally endued than others with virtuous principles: may it not be thought, that in that respect nature has been more kind to the Hottentots than to many other tribes? Spaniards, settled on the sea-coast of Chili, carry on a commerce with neighbouring savages, for bridles, spurs, knives, and other manufactures of iron; and in return receive oxen, horses, and even children for slaves. A Spaniard carries his goods there; and after obtaining liberty to dispose of them, he moves about, and delivers his goods, without the least reserve, to every one who bargains with him. When all is sold, he intimates his departure; and every purchaser hurries with his goods to him; and it is not known that any one Indian ever broke his engagement. They give him a guard to carry him safe out of their territory, with all the slaves, horses, and cattle he has purchased. The savages of Brazil are faithful to their promises, and to the treaties they make with the Portuguese. Upon some occasions, they may be accused of error and wrong judge-ment, but never of injustice nor of duplicity.
While the earth was thinly peopled, plenty of food, procured by hunting and fishing, promoted population; but as population lessens the stock of animal food, a savage nation, encreasing in numbers, must spread wider and wider for more game. Thus tribes, at first widely separated from each other, approach gradually till they become neighbours. Hence a new scene with respect to morality. Differences about their hunting-fields, about their game, about personal injuries, multiply between neighbours; and every quarrel is blown into a flame, by the aversion men naturally have to strangers. Anger, hatred, and revenge, now find vent, which formerly lay latent without an object: dissocial passions prevail without control, because among savages morality is no match for them; and cruelty becomes predominant in the human race. Ancient history accordingly is full of enormous cruelties; witness the incursions of the northern barbarians into the Roman empire; and the incursions of Genhizcan and Tamerlane into the fer-tile countries of Asia, spreading destruction with fire and sword, and sparing neither man, woman, nor infant.
Malevolent passions, acquiring strength by daily exercise against persons of a different tribe, came to be vented against persons even of the same tribe; and the privilege long enjoy’d by individuals of avenging the wrongs done to them, bestow’d irresistible force upon such passions (a) . The history of ancient Greece presents nothing to the reader but usurpations, assassinations, and other horrid crimes. The names of many famous for wickedness, are still preserved; Atreus, for example, Eteocles, Alcmeon, Phedra, Clytemnestra. The story of Pelops and his descendents, is a chain of criminal horrors: during that period, parricide and incest were ordinary incidents. Euripides represents Medea vowing revenge against her husband Jason, and laying a plot to poison him. Of that infamous plot the chorus express their approbation, justifying every woman who, in like circumstances, acts the same part.
The frequent incursions of northern barbarians into the Roman empire, spred desolation and ruin through the whole. The Romans, from the highest polish degenerating into savages, assumed by degrees the cruel and bloody manners of their conquerors; and the conquerors and conquered, blended into one mass, equalled the grossest barbarians of ancient times in ignorance and brutality. Clovis, King of the Franks, even after his conversion to Christianity, assassinated without remorse his nearest kinsman. The children of Clodomir, ann. 530, were assassinated by their two uncles. In the thirteenth century, Ezzelino de Aromano obtained the sovereignty of Padua, by massacring 12,000 of his fellow-citizens. Galeas Sforza, Duke of Milan, was assassinated ann. 1476 in the cathedral church of Milan, after the assassins had put up their prayers for courage to perpetrate the deed. It is a still stronger proof how low morality was in those days, that the Pope himself, Sextus IV. attempted to assassinate the two brothers, Laurent and Julien de Medicis; chusing the elevation of the host as a proper time, when the people would be busy about their devotions. Nay more, that very Pope, with unparallelled impudence, excommunicated the Florentines for doing justice upon the intended assassins. The most sacred oaths were in vain employed as a security against that horrid crime. Childebert II. King of the Franks, enticed Magnovald to his court, by a solemn oath that he should receive no harm; and yet made no difficulty to assassinate him during the gaiety of a banquet. But these instances, however horrid, make no figure compared with the massacre of St. Bartholomew, where many thousands were inhumanly and treacherously butchered. Even so late as the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, assassination was not held in every case to be criminal. Many solicitous applications were made to general councils of Christian clergy, to declare it criminal in every case; but without success. Ferdinand King of Aragon and Navarre, after repeated assassinations and acts of perfidy, obtained the appellation of Great: so little authority had the moral sense, during these dark and sanguinary ages.
But it is scarce necessary to mention particular instances of the overbearing power of malevolent passions during these ages. An opinion, once universal, that the innocent may be justly involved in the same punishment with the guilty, is of itself irrefragable evidence, that morality formerly had very little influence when opposed by revenge. There is no moral principle more evident, than that punishment cannot be inflicted with justice but upon the guilty; and yet in Greece, the involving of the innocent with the guilty in the same punishment, was authorised even by positive law. By an Athenian law, a man committing sacrilege, or betraying his country, was banished with all his children (a) . And when a tyrant was put to death, his children suffered the same fate (b) . The punishment of treason in Macedon, was extended against the criminal’s relations (c) . Hanno, a citizen of Carthage, formed a plot to enslave his country, by poisoning the whole senate at a banquet. He was tortured to death; and his children, with all his relations, were cut off without mercy, tho’ they had no accession to his guilt. Among the Japanese, a people remarkably ferocious, it is the practice to involve children and relations in the punishment of capital crimes. Even Cicero, the chief man for learning in the most enlightened period of the Roman republic, and a celebrated moralist, approves that practice: “Nec vero me fugit, quam sit acerbum parentum scelera filiorum poenis lui: sed hoc praeclare legibus comparatum est, ut caritas liberorum amiciores parentes reipublicae redderet” (d) .* In Britain, every one knows, that murder was retaliated, not only upon the criminal and his relations, but upon his whole clan; a practice so common as to be distinguished by a peculiar name, that of deadly feud. As late as the days of King Edmund, a law was made in England, prohibiting deadly feud, except between the relations of the person murdered and the murderer himself.
I embrace the present opportunity to honour the Jews, by observing, that they were the first people we read of, who had correct notions of morality with respect to the present point. The following law is express: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin (a) .” Amaziah, King of Judah, gave strict obedience to that law, in avenging his father’s death: “And it came to pass as soon as the kingdom was confirmed in his hand, that the slew his servants which had slain the king his father. But the children of the murderers he slew not; according to that which is written in the book of the law of Moses (b) .” There is an elegant passage in Ezekiel to the same purpose (c) : “What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, say-ing, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” Among the Jews however, as among other nations, there are instances without number, of involving innocent children and relations in the same punishment with the guilty. Such power has revenge, as to trample upon conscience, and upon the most express laws. Instigated with rage for Nabal’s ingratitude, King David made a vow to God, not to leave alive of all who pertained to Nabal any that pisseth against the wall. And it was not any compunction of conscience that diverted him from his cruel purpose, but Nabal’s beautiful wife, who pacified him (d) . But such contradiction between principle and practice, is not peculiar to the Jews. We find examples of it in the laws of the Roman empire. The true principle of punishment is laid down in an edict of the Emperors Arcadius and Honorius (a) . “Sancimus, ibi esse poenam, ubi et noxia est. Propinquos, notos, familiares, procul a calumnia submovemus, quos reos sceleris societas non facit. Nec enim adfinitas vel amicitia nefarium crimen admittunt. Peccata igitur suos teneant auctores: nec ulterius progrediatur metus quam reperiatur delictum. Hoc singulis quibusque judicibus intimetur.”* These very Emperors, with respect to treason, which touched them nearer than other crimes, talk a very different language. After observing, that will and purpose alone without an ouvert act, is treason, subjecting the criminal to capital punishment and to forfeiture of all that belongs to him, they proceed in the following words (b) . “Filii vero ejus, quibus vitam Imperatoria specialiter lenitate concedimus, (paterno enim deberent perire supplicio, in quibus paterni, hoc est, hereditarii criminis exempla metuuntur), a materna, vel avita, omnium etiam proximorum hereditate ac successione, habeantur alieni: testamentis extraneorum nihil capeant: sint perpetuo egentes et pauperes, infamia eos paterna semper comitetur, ad nullos prorsus honores, ad nulla sacramenta perveniant: sint postremo tales, ut his, perpetua egestate sordentibus, sit et mors solatium et vita supplicium.”†
Human nature is not so perverse, as without veil or disguise to punish a person acknowledged to be innocent. An irregular bias of imagination, which extends the qualities of the principal to its accessories, paves the way to that unjust practice (a) . That bias, strengthened by indignation against an atrocious criminal, leads the mind hastily to conclude, that all his connections are partakers of his guilt. In an enlightened age, the clearness of moral principles fetters the imagination from confounding the innocent with the guilty. There remain traces however of that bias, tho’ not carried so far as murder. The sentence pronounced against Ravilliac for assassinating Henry IV. of France, ordains, “That his house be erazed to the ground, and that no other building be ever erected upon that spot.” Was not this in imagination punishing a house for the proprietor’s crime?
Murder and assassination are not only destructive in themselves, but, if possible, still more destructive in their consequences. The practice of shedding blood unjustly and often wantonly, blunts conscience, and paves the way to every crime. This observation is verified in the ancient Greeks: their cruel and sanguinary character, rendered them little regardful of the strict rules of justice. Right was held to depend on power, among men as among wild beasts: it was conceived to be the will of the gods, that superior force should be a lawful title to dominion; “for what right can the weak have to what they cannot defend?” Were that maxim to obtain, a weak man would have no right to liberty nor to life. That impious doctrine was avowed by the Athenians, and publicly asserted by their ambassadors in a conference with the Melians, reported by Thucydides (b) . Many persons act as if force and right were the same; but a barefac’d profession of such a doctrine is uncommon. In the Eumenides, a tragedy of Eschylus, Orestes is arraigned in the Areopagus for killing his mother. Minerva, president of the court, decrees in favour of Orestes: and for what reason? “Having no mother myself, the murder of a mother toucheth not me.”* In the tragedy of Electra, Orestes, consulting the Delphic oracle about means to avenge his father’s murder, was enjoined by Apollo to forbear force, but to employ fraud and guile. Obedient to that injunction, Orestes commands his tutor to spread in Argos the news of his death, and to confirm the same with a solemn oath. In Homer, even the great Jupiter makes no difficulty to send a lying dream to Agamemnon, chief of the Greeks. Dissimulation is recommended by the goddess Minerva (a) . Ulysses de-clares his detestation at using freedom with truth (b) : and yet no man deals more in feigned stories (c) . In the 22d book of the Iliad, Minerva is guilty of gross deceit and treachery to Hector. When he flees from Achilles, she appears to him in the shape of his brother Deiphobus, exhorts him to turn upon Achilles, and promises to assist him. Hector accordingly, returning to the fight, darts his lance; which rebounds from the shield of Achilles, for by Vulcan it was made impenetrable. Hector calls upon his brother for another lance; but in vain, for Deiphobus was not there. The Greeks in Homer’s time must have been strangely deformed in their morals, when such a story could be relished.* A nation begins not to polish nor to advance in morality, till writing be common; and writing was not known among the Greeks at the siege of Troy. Nor were the morals of that people, as we see, much purified for a long time after writing became common. When Plautus wrote, the Roman system of morals must have been extremely impure. In his play termed Menaechmi, a gentleman of fashion having accidentally got into his hands a lady’s robe with a gold clasp; instead of returning them to the owner, endeavours to sell them without shame or remorse. Such a scene would not be endured at present, except among pickpockets. Both the Greeks and Carthaginians were held by the Romans to be artful and cunning. The Romans continued a plain people, with much simplicity of manners, when the nations mentioned had made great progress in the arts of life; and it is a sad truth, that morality declines in proportion as a nation polishes. But if the Romans were later than the Greeks and Carthaginians in the arts of life, they soon surpassed them in every sort of immorality. For this change of manners, they were indebted to their rapid con-quests. The sanguinary disposition both of the Greeks and Romans, appears from another practice, that of exposing their infant children, which continued till humanity came in some measure to prevail. The practice continues in China to this day, the populousness of the country throwing a veil over the cruelty; but from the humanity of the Chinese, I conjecture, that the practice is rare. The Jews, a cloudy and peevish tribe much addicted to bloodshed, were miserably defective in moral principles. Take the following examples out of an endless number recorded in the books of the Old Testament. Jael, wife of Heber, took under her protection Sisera, general of the Canaanites, and engaged her faith for his security. She put him treacherously to death when asleep; and was applauded by Deborah the prophetess for the meritorious action (a) . That horrid deed would probably have appeared to her in a different light, had it been committed against Barac, general of the Israelites. David, flying from Saul, took refuge with Achish, King of Gath; and, tho’ protected by that King, made war against the King’s allies, saying, that it was against his own countrymen of Judah. “And David saved neither man nor woman alive to bring tidings to Gath. And Achish believed David, saying, He hath made his people Israel utterly to abhor him: therefore he shall be my servant for ever” (b) . This was a complication of ingratitude, lying, and treachery. Ziba, by presents to King David and by defaming his master Mephibosheth, procured from the King a gift of his master’s inheritance; tho’ Mephibosheth had neither trimmed his beard, nor washed his cloaths, from the day the King departed till he returned in peace. “And it came to pass, when Mephibosheth was come to Jerusalem to meet the king, that the king said unto him, Wherefore wentest thou not with me, Mephibosheth? And he answered, My lord, O king, my servant deceived me; for thy servant said, I will saddle me an ass, that I may ride thereon, and go to the king; because thy servant is lame, and he hath slandered thy servant unto my lord the king. But my lord the king is as an angel of God: do therefore what is good in thine eyes. For all my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king: yet didst thou set thy servant among them that did eat at thine own table: what right therefore have I to cry any more unto the king?” David could not possibly atone for his rashness, but by restoring to Mephibosheth his inheritance, and punishing Ziba in an exemplary manner. But hear the sentence: “And the king said unto him, Why speakest thou any more of thy matters? I have said, Thou and Ziba divide the land” (a) . The same king, after pardoning Shimei for cursing him, and swearing that he should not die; yet upon deathbed enjoined his son Solomon to put Shimei to death: “Now therefore hold him not guiltless; but his hoary head bring thou down to the grave with blood” (b) . I wish not to be misapprehended, as intending to censure David in particular. If the best king the Jews ever had, was so miserably deficient in morality, what must be thought of the na-tion in general? When David was lurking to avoid the wrath of Saul, he became acquainted with Nabal, who had a great stock of cattle. “He discharged his followers,” says Josephus (c) , “either for avarice, or hunger, or any pretext whatever, to touch a single hair of them; preaching still on the text of doing justice to all men, in conformity to the will of God, who is not pleased with any man that covets or lays violent hands on the goods of his neighbour.” Our author proceeds to acquaint us, that Nabal having refused to supply David with provisions, and having sent back the messengers with a scoffing answer, David in rage made a vow, that he would destroy Nabal with his house and family. Our author observes, that David’s indignation against Nabal, was not so much for his ingratitude, as for the virulence of an insolent outrage against one who had never injured him. And what was the outrage? It was, says our author, that Nabal enquiring who the said David was, and being told that he was one of the sons of Jesse, “Yes, yes,” says Nabal, “your run-away servants look upon themselves to be brave fellows, I warrant you.” Strange looseness of morals! I mean not David, who was in wrath, but Josephus writing sedately in his closet. He every where celebrates David for his justice and piety, composes for him the very warm exhortation mentioned above: and yet thinks him not guilty of any wrong, in vowing to break every rule of justice and humanity, upon so slight a provocation as a scoffing expression, such as no man of temper will regard.
European nations, who originally were fierce and sanguinary like the Greeks and Jews, had the same cloudy and uncorrect notions of right and wrong. It is scarce necessary to give instances, the low state of morality during the dark ages of Christianity being known to all. In the time of Louis XI. of France, promises and engagements were utterly disregarded, till they were sanctified by a solemn oath: nor were such oaths long regarded; they lost their force, and were not relied on more than simple promises. All faith among men seemed to be at an end. Even those who appeared the most scrupulous about character, were however ready to grasp at any subterfuge to excuse their breach of engagement. And it is a still clearer proof of self-deceit, that such subterfuges were frequently prepared beforehand, in order to furnish an excuse. It was a common practice some ages ago, to make private protestations, which were thought sufficient to relieve men in conscience from being bound by a solemn treaty. The Scotch nation, as an ally of France, being comprehended in a treaty of peace between the French King and Edward I. of England, the latter ratified publicly the treaty, after having secretly protested before notaries against the article that comprehended Scotland.12 Charles, afterward Emperor of Germany, during his minority, gave authority to declare publicly his accession to a treaty of peace, between his grandfather Maximilian and the King of France: but at the same time protested privately, before a notary and witnesses, “That, notwithstanding his public accession to the said treaty, it was not his intention to be bound by every article of it; and particularly, that the clause reserving to the King of France the sovereignty of certain territories in the Netherlands, should not be binding.” Is it possible Charles could be so blind as not to see, that such a protestation, if sufficient to relieve from an engagement, must destroy all faith among men? Francis I. of France, while prisoner in Spain, engaged Henry VIII. of England in a treaty against the Emperor, submitting to very hard terms in order to gain Henry’s friendship. The King’s ministers protested privately against some of the articles; and the protest was recorded in the secret register of the parliament of Paris, to serve as an excuse in proper time, for breaking the treaty. At the marriage of Mary Queen of Scotland to the Dauphin of France, the King of France ratified every article insisted on by the Scotch parliament, for preserving the independence of the nation, and for securing the succession of the crown to the house of Hamilton; confirming them by deeds in form and with the most solemn oaths. But Mary previously had been persuaded to subscribe privately three deeds, in which, failing heirs of her body, she gifted the king-dom of Scotland to the King of France declaring all promises to the contrary that had been extorted from her by her subjects, to be void.13 What better was this than what was practised by Robert King of France in the tenth century, to free his subjects from the guilt of perjury? They swore upon a box of relics, out of which the relics had been privately taken. Correa, a Portuguese general, made a treaty with the King of Pegu; and it was agreed, that each party should swear to observe the treaty, laying his hand upon the sacred book of his religion. Correa swore upon a collection of songs; and thought that by that vile stratagem he was free from his engagement. The inhabitants of Britain were so loose formerly, that a man was not reckoned safe in his own house, without a mastiff to protect him from violence. Mastiffs were permitted even to those who dwelt within the king’s forests; and to prevent danger to the deer, there was in England a court for lawing or expeditation of mastives, i.e. for cutting off the claws of their fore-feet to prevent them from run-ning (a) . The trial and condemnation of Charles I. in a pretended court of justice, however audacious and unconstitutional, was an effort toward regularity and order. In the preceding age, the king would have been taken off by assassination or poison. Every prince in Europe had an officer, whose province it was to secure his master against poison. A lady was appointed to that office by Queen Elisabeth of England; and the form was to give to each of the servants a mouthful to eat of the dish he brought in. Poison must have been frequent in those days, to make such a regulation necessary. To vouch still more clearly the low ebb of morality during that period, seldom it happened that a man of figure died suddenly, or of an unusual disease, but poison was suspected. Men conscious of their own vitious disposition, are prone to suspect others. The Dauphin, son to Francis I. of France, a youth of about eighteen, having overheated himself at play, took a great draught of iced water, and died of a pleurisy in five days. The death was sudden, but none is more natural. The suspicion however of poison was universal; and Montecuculi, who attended the young prince, was formally condemned to death for it, and executed; for no better reason, than that he had at all times ready access to the prince.
Considering the low state of morality where dissocial passions bear rule, as in the scenes now display’d, one would require a miracle to recover mankind out of so miserable a state. But, as observed above (a) , Providence brings order out of confusion. The intolerable distress of a state of things where a promise, or even an oath, is a rope of sand, and where all are set against all (b) , made people at last sensible, that they must either renounce society altogether, or qualify themselves for it by checking their dissocial passions. Finding from experience, that the gratification of social affections exceeds greatly that of cruelty and revenge; men endeavoured to acquire a habit of self-command, and of restraining their stormy passions. The necessity of fulfilling every moral duty was recognised: men listened to conscience, the voice of God in their hearts: and the moral sense was cordially submitted to, as the ultimate judge in all matters of right and wrong. Salutary laws and steady government contributed to perfect that glorious revolution: private conviction alone would not have been effectual, not at least in many ages.
From that revolution is derived what is termed the law of nations, meaning certain regulations dictated by the moral sense in its maturity. The laws of our nature refine gradually as our nature refines. From the putting an enemy to death in cold blood, improved nature is averse, tho’ such practice was common while barbarity prevailed. It is held infamous to use poisoned weapons, tho’ the moral sense made little opposition while rancour and revenge were ruling passions. Aversion to strangers is taught to vary its object, from individuals, to the nation that is our enemy: I bear enmity against France; but dislike not any one Frenchman, being conscious that it is the duty of subjects to serve their king and country.* In distributing justice, we make no distinction be-tween natives and foreigners: if any partiality be indulged, it is in favour of the helpless stranger.
But cruelty is not the only antagonist to morality. There is another, less violent indeed, but more cunning and undermining; and that is the hoarding-appetite. Before money was introduced, that appetite was extremely faint: in the first stage of civil society, men are satisfied with plain necessaries; and having these in plenty, they think not of providing against want. But money is a species of property, so universal in operation, and so permanent in value, as to rouse the appetite for hoarding: love of money excites industry; and the many beautiful productions of industry, magnificent houses, splendid gardens, rich garments, inflame the appetite to an extreme. The people of Whidah, in Guinea, are much addicted to pilfering. Bozman was told by the king, “That his subjects were not like those of Ardrah, who on the slightest umbrage will poison an European. This, says he, you have no reason to apprehend here: but take care of your goods; for so expert are my people at thieving, that they will steal from you while you are looking on.”14 In the thirteenth century, so obscured was the moral sense by rapacity and avarice, that robbery on the highway, and the coining false money, were in Germany held to be privileges of great lords. Cicero some where talks of banditti who infested the roads near Rome, and made travelling extremely dangerous. In the days of Henry III. of England, the chronicle of Dunstable reports, that the country was in great disorder by theft and robbery, that men were not secure in their own houses, and that whole villages were often plundered by bands of robbers, tho’ the kingdom was otherwise at peace. Many of the King’s own household were found to be robbers; and excused themselves, that having received no wages from the King, they were obliged to rob for subsistence.15 That perjury was common in the city of London, especially among jury-men, makes a preamble in more than one statute of Henry VII. In the Dance of Death, translated from the French in the said king’s reign with additions adapted to English manners, a juryman is introduced, who, influenced by bribes, had frequently given a false verdict. And the sheriff was often suspected as accessory to the crime, by returning for jurymen persons of a bad character. Carew, in his account of Cornwall, says, that it was an ordinary article in an attorney’s bill, to charge pro amicitia vicecomitis.* Perjury in jurors of the city of London is greatly complained of. Stow informs us, that, in the year 1468, many jurors of that city were punished; and papers fixed on their heads declaring their offence of being corrupted by the parties to the suit. He complains of that corruption as flagrant in the reign of Elisabeth, when he wrote his account of London. Fuller, in his English Worthies, mentions it as a proverbial saying, “That London juries hang half, and save half.” Grafton, in his Chronicle, mentions, that the chancellor of the Bishop of London being indicted for murder, the Bishop wrote a letter to Cardinal Wolsey, begging his interposition for having the prosecution stopt, “because London juries were so corrupted, that they would find Abel guilty of the murder of Cain.” Mr. Hume, in the first volume of his history of England (page 417. edition 1762.) cites many instances from Madox of bribes given for perverting justice. In that period, the morals of the low people were in other particulars equally loose. We learn from Strype’s annals (a) , that in the county of Somerset alone, forty persons were executed in one year for robbery, theft, and other felonies, thirty-five burnt in the hand, thirty-seven whipped, one hundred and eighty-three discharged tho’ most wicked and desperate persons; and yet that the fifth part of the felonies committed in that county were not brought to trial, either from cunning in the felons, indolence in the magistrate, or foolish lenity in the people; that other counties were in no better condition, and many in a worse; and that commonly there were three or four hundred able-bodied vagabonds in every county, who lived by theft and rapine. Harrison computes, that in the reign of Henry VIII. seventy-two thousand thieves and rogues were hanged; and that in Elisabeth’s time there were only hanged yearly between three and four hundred for theft and robbery. At present, there are not forty hanged in a year for these crimes. The same author reports, that in the reign of Elisabeth, there were computed to be in England ten thousand gypsies. In the year 1601, complaints were made in parliament, of the rapine of the justices of peace; and a member said, that this magistrate was an animal, who, for half a dozen of chickens, would dispense with a dozen of penal statutes. The low people in England are greatly improved in their morals since the days of Elisabeth. Laying aside London, there are few places in the world where the common people are more orderly and honest. But we must not conclude, that England has gained much in point of morality. It has lost more by the luxury and loose manners of its nobles, than it has gained by good discipline among their inferiors. The undisciplined manners of our forefathers in Scotland, made a law necessary, that whoever intermeddled irregularly with the goods of a deceased person, should be subjected to pay all his debts, however extensive. A due submission to legal authority, has in effect abrogated that severe law; and it is now scarce ever heard of.16
To control the hoarding-appetite, which when inflamed is the bane of civil society, the God of nature has provided two efficacious principles; the moral sense, and the sense of property. The hoarding-appetite, it is true, is more and more inflamed by beautiful productions in the progress of art: but, on the other hand, the senses mentioned, arrived at maturity, have a commanding influence over the actions of men; and, when cherished in a good government, are a sufficient counterbalance to the hoarding-appetite. The ancient Egyptians enjoy’d for ages the blessings of good government; and moral principles were among them carried to a greater degree of refinement than at present even in our courts of equity. It was made the duty of every one, to succour those who were unjustly attacked: even passengers were not exempted. A regula-tion among them, that a man could not be imprisoned for debt, was well suited to the tenor of their laws and manners: it could not have taken place but among an honest and industrious people. In old Rome, tho’ remarkable for temperance and austerity of manners, a debtor could be imprisoned, and even sold as a slave, for payment of the debt; but the Patricians were the creditors, and the poor Plebeians were held in woful subjection.* The moderation of the inhabitants of Hamburgh, and their public spirit kept in vigour by a free government, preserve morality among them entire from taint or corruption. I give an illustrious instance. Instead of a tax upon trade or riches, every merchant puts privately into the public chest, what he thinks ought to be his contribution: the total sum seldom falls short of expectation; and among that numerous body of men, not one is suspected of contributing less than his proportion. But luxury has not yet got footing in that city. A climate not kindly and a soil not fertile, enured the Swiss to temperance and to virtue. Patriotism continues their ruling passion: they are fond of serving their country; and are honest and faithful to each other: a law-suit among them is a wonder; and a door is seldom shut unless to keep out cold.
The hurtful effects of the hoarding-appetite upon individuals, make no figure compared with what it has upon the public, in every state enriched by conquest or by commerce; which I have had more than one opportunity to mention. Overflowing riches unequally distributed, multiply artificial wants beyond all bounds: they eradicate patriotism: they foster luxury, sensuality, and selfishness, which are commonly gratified at the expence even of justice and honour. The Athenians were early corrupted by opulence; to which every thing was made subservient. “It is an oracle,” says the chorus in the Agamemnon of Eschylus, “that is not purchased with money.” During the infancy of a nation, vice prevails from imbecillity in the moral sense: in the decline of a nation, it prevails from the corruption of affluence.
In a small state, there is commonly much virtue at home, and much violence abroad. The Romans were to their neighbours more baneful than famine or pestilence; but their patriotism produced great integrity at home. An oath, when given to fortify an engagement with a fellow-citizen, was more sacred at Rome than in any other part of the world (a) . The censorian office cannot succeed but among a virtuous people; because its rewards and punishments have no influence but upon those who are ashamed of vice.* As soon as Asiatic opulence and luxury prevailed in Rome, selfishness, sensuality, and avarice, formed the character of the Romans; and the censorian power was at an end. Such relaxation of morals ensued, as to make a law necessary, prohibiting the custody of an infant to be given to the heir, for fear of murder. And for the same reason, it was held unlawful to make a covenant de hereditate viventis. These regulations prove the Romans to have been grossly corrupt. Our law is different in both articles; because it entertains not the same bad opinion of the people whom it governs.† Domitius Enobarbus and Appius Pulcher were consuls of Rome in the 699th year; and Memmius and Calvinus were candidates for succeeding them in that office. It was agreed among these four worthy gentlemen, that they should mutually assist each other. The consuls engaged to promote the election of Memmius and Calvinus: and they, on the other hand, subscribed a bond, obliging themselves, under a penalty of about L. 3000 Sterling, to procure three augurs, who should attest, that they were present in the comitia when a law passed investing the consuls with military command in their provinces; and also obliging themselves to produce three persons of consular rank, to depose, that they were in the number of those who signed a decree, conferring on the consuls the usual proconsular appointments. And yet the law made in the comitia, and the decree in the senate, were pure fictions. Infamous as this transaction was, Memmius, to answer some political purpose, was not ashamed to divulge it to the senate. This same Memmius, however, continued to be Cicero’s correspondent, and his professed friend. Proh tempora! proh mores! But the passion for power and riches was at that time prevalent; and the principles of morality were very little regarded.
It cannot be dissembled, that selfishness, sensuality, and avarice, must in England be the fruits of great opulence, as in every other country; and that morality cannot maintain its authority against such undermining antagonists. Customhouse-oaths have become so familiar among us, as to be swallowed without a wry face; and is it certain, that bribery and perjury in electing parliament-members, are not approaching to the same cool state? In the infancy of morality, a promise makes but a slight impression: to give it force, it is commonly accompanied with many ceremonies (a) ; and in treaties between sovereigns, even these ceremonies are not relied on without a solemn oath. When morality arrives at maturity, the oath is thought unnecessary; and at present, morality is so much on the decline, that a solemn oath is no more relied on, than a simple promise was originally. Laws have been made to prevent such immorality, but in vain: because none but patriots have an interest to support them; and when patriotism is banished by corruption, there is no remaining spring in government to make them effectual. The statutes made against gaming, and against bribery and corruption in elections, have no authority over a degenerate people. Nothing is studied, but how to evade the penalties; and supposing statutes to be made without end for preventing known evasions, new evasions will spring up in their stead. The misery is, that such laws, if they prove abortive, are never innocent with regard to consequences; for nothing is more subversive of morality as well as of patriotism, than a habit of disregarding the laws of our country.*
But pride sometimes happily interposes to stem the tide of corruption. The poor are not ashamed to take a bribe from the rich; nor weak states from those that are powerful, disguised only under the name of subsidy or pension. Both France and England have been in the practice of securing the alliance of neighbouring princes by pensions; and it is natural in the ministers of a pensioned prince, to receive a gratification for keeping their master to his engagement. England never was at any time so inferior to France, as to suffer her king openly to accept a pension from the French king, whatever private transactions might be between the kings themselves. But the ministers of England thought it no disparagement, to receive pensions from France. Every minister of Edward IV. of England received a pension from Louis XI.; and they made no difficulty of granting a receipt for the sum. The old Earl of Warwick, says Commines, was the only exception: he took the money, but refused a receipt. Cardinal Wolsey had a pension both from the Emperor and from the King of France: and his master Henry was vain to find his minister so much regarded by the first powers in Europe. During the reigns of Charles II. and of his brother James, England made so despicable a figure, that the ministers accepted pensions from Louis XIV. A king deficient in virtue, is never well served. King Charles, most disgracefully, accepted a pension from France: what scruple could his ministers have? Britain, governed by a king eminently virtuous and patriotic, makes at present so great a figure, that even the lowest minister would disdain a pension from any foreign prince. Men formerly were so blind, as not to see that a pension creates a bias in a minister, against his master and his country. At present, men clearly see, that a foreign pension to a minister is no better than a bribe; and it would be held so by all the world.
In a nation enriched by conquest or commerce, where selfish passions always prevail, it is difficult to stem the tide of immorality: the decline of virtue may be retarded by wholesome regulations; but no regulations will ever restore it to its meridian vigour. Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome, caused statues to be made of all the brave men who figured in the Germanic war. It has long been a practice in China, to honour persons eminent for virtue, by feasting them annually at the Emperor’s expence. A late Emperor made an improvement: he ordered reports to be sent him annually, of men and women who when alive had been remarkable for public spirit or private virtue, in order that monuments might be erected to their memory. The following report is one of many that were sent to the Emperor. “According to the order of your Majesty, for erecting monuments to the honour of women, who have been celebrated for continence, for filial piety, or for purity of manners, the viceroy of Canton reports, that in the town of Sinhoei, a beautiful young woman, named Leang, sacrificed her life to save her chastity. In the fifteenth year of our Emperor Canghi, she was dragg’d by pirates into their ship; and having no other way to escape their brutal lust, she threw herself headlong into the sea. Being of opinion, that to prefer honour before life is an example worthy of imitation, we purpose, according to your Majesty’s order, to erect a triumphal arch for that young woman, and to engrave her story upon a large stone, that it may be preserved in perpetual remembrance.” At the foot of the report is written, The Emperor approves. Pity it is, that such regulations should ever prove abortive, for their purpose is excellent. But they would need angels to carry them on. Every deviation from a just selection enervates them; and frequent deviations render them a subject of ridicule. But how are deviations to be prevented, when men are the judges? Those who distribute the rewards have friends or flatterers; and those of greater merit will be neglected. Like the censorian power in Rome, such regulations, after many abuses, will sink into contempt.
Two errors, which infested morality in dark times, have occasioned much injustice; and I am not certain, that they are yet entirely eradicated. The first is an opinion, That an action derives its quality of right and wrong from the event, without regard to intention. The other is, That the end justifies the means; or, in other words, That means otherwise unlawful, may be lawfully employ’d to bring about a good end. With an account of these two errors, I shall close the present historical sketch.
That intention is the circumstance which qualifies an action and its author, to be criminal or innocent, is made evident in the first part of the present sketch; and is now admitted to be so by every moral writer. But rude and barbarous nations seldom carry their thoughts beyond what falls under their external senses: they conclude an action to be right that happens to do good, and an action to be wrong that happens to do harm; without ever thinking of motives, of Will, of intention, or of any circumstance that is not obvious to eye-sight. From many passages in the Old Testament it appears, that the external act only, with its consequences, was regarded. Isaac, imitating his father Abraham, made his wife Rebecca pass for his sister. Abimelech, King of the Philistines, having discovered the imposture, said to Isaac, “What is this thou hast done unto us? One of the people might lightly have lien with thy wife, and thou shouldst have brought guiltiness upon us” (a) . Jonathan was condemned to die for transgressing a prohibition he had never heard of (b) . A sin of ignorance, i.e. an action done without ill intention, required a sacrifice of expiation (c) . Saul, defeated by the Philistines, fell on his own sword: the wound not being mortal, he prevailed on a young Amalekite, to pull out the sword, and to dispatch him with it. Josephus (d) says, that David ordered the criminal to be delivered up to justice as a regicide.
The Greeks appear to have wavered greatly about intention, sometimes holding it essential to a crime, and sometimes disregarding it as a circumstance of no moment. Of these contradictory opinions, we have pregnant evidence in the two tragedies of Oedipus; the first taking it for granted, that a crime consists entirely in the external act and its consequences; the other holding intention to be indispensable. Oedipus had killed his father Laius, and married his mother Jocasta; but without any criminal intention, being ignorant of his relation to them. And yet history informs us, that the gods punished the Thebans with pestilence, for suffering a wretch so grossly criminal to live. Sophocles, author of both tragedies, puts the following words in the mouth of Tiresias the prophet.
And that doctrine is espoused by Aristotle in a later period; who holding Oedipus to have been deeply criminal, tho’ without intention, is of opinion, that a more proper subject for tragedy never was brought upon the stage. Nay as a philo-sopher he talks currently of any involuntary crime. Orestes, in Euripides, acknowledges himself to be guilty in killing his mother; yet asserts with the same breath, that his crime was inevitable, a necessary crime, a crime commanded by religion.
In Oedipus Coloneus, the other tragedy mentioned, a very different opinion is maintained. A defence is made for that unlucky man, agreeable to sound moral principles; that, having had no bad intention, he was entirely innocent; and that his misfortunes ought to be ascribed to the wrath of the gods.
Again, in the fourth act, the following prayer is put up for Oedipus by the chorus.
The audience was the same in both plays. Did they think Oedipus to be guilty in the one play, and innocent in the other? If they did not, how could both plays be relished? if they did, they must have been grossly stupid.
The statues of a Roman Emperor were held so sacred, that to treat them with any contempt was high treason. This ridiculous opinion was carried so far out of common sense, that a man was held guilty of high treason, if a stone thrown by him happened accidentally to touch one of these statues. And the law continued in force till abrogated by a rescript of Severus Antoninus (a) .
In England, so little was intention regarded, that casual homicide, and even homicide in self-defence, were capitally punished. It requires strong evidence to vouch so absurd a law; and I have the strongest, viz. the act 52° Henry III. cap. 26. converting the capital punishment into a forfeiture of moveables. The same absurdity continued much longer to be law in Scotland. By act 19. parl. 1649, renewed act 22. parl. 1661, the capital punishment is converted to imprisonment, or a fine to the wife and children. In a period so late as the Restoration, strange blindness it was not to be sensible, that homicide in self-defence, being a lawful act justified by the strictest rules of morality, subjects not a man to punishment, more than the defending his property against a robber; and that casual homicide, meaning homicide committed innocently without ill intention, may subject him to reparation, but never to any punishment, mild or severe.
The Jesuits in their doctrines seem to rest on the external act, disregarding intention. It is with them a matter of perfect indifference, from what motive men obey the laws of God; consequently that the service of those who obey from fear of punishment, is no less acceptable to the Deity, than of those who obey from a principle of love.17
The other error mentioned above, is, That the end justifies the means. In defence of that proposition, it is urged, that the character of the means is derived from the end; that every action must be right which contributes to a good end; and that every action must be wrong which contributes to an ill end. According to this reasoning, it is right to assassinate a man who is a declared or concealed enemy to his country. It is right to rob a rich man in order to relieve a person in want. What becomes then of property, which by all is held inviolable? It is totally unhinged. The proposition then is untenible as far as light can be drawn from reason. At the same time, the tribunal of reason may be justly declined in this case.18 Reason is the only touchstone of truth and falsehood: but the moral sense is the only touchstone of right and wrong. And to maintain, that the qualities of right and wrong are discoverable by reason, is no less absurd than that truth and falsehood are discoverable by the moral sense. The moral sense dictates, that on no pretext whatever it is lawful to do an act of injustice, or any wrong (a) : and men, conscious that the moral sense governs in matters of right and wrong, submit implicitly to its dictates. Influenced however by the reasoning mentioned, men, during the nonage of the moral sense, did wrong currently in order to bring about a good end; witness pretended miracles and forged writings, urged without reserve by every sect of Christians against their antagonists. And I am sorry to observe, that the error is not entirely eradi-cated: missionaries employed in converting infidels to the true faith, are little scrupulous about the means: they make no difficulty to feign prodigies in order to convert those who are not moved by argument. Such pious frauds tend to sap the very foundations of morality.
Principles and Progress of Theology
As no other science can vie with theology, either in dignity or importance, it justly claims to be a favourite study with every person endued with true taste and solid judgement. From the time that writing was invented, natural religion has employ’d pens without number; and yet in no language is there found a connected history of it. The present work will only permit a slight sketch: which I shall glory in, however imperfect, if it excite any one of superior talents to undertake a complete history.
Existence of a Deity.
That there exist beings, one or many, powerful above the human race, is a proposition universally admitted as true, in all ages, and among all nations. I boldly call it universal, notwithstanding what is reported of some gross savages; for reports that contradict what is acknowledged to be general among men, require more able vouchers than a few illiterate voyagers. Among many savage tribes, there are no words but for objects of external sense: is it surprising, that such people are incapable to express their religious perceptions, or any perception of internal sense? and from their silence can it be fairly presumed, that they have no such perception?* The conviction that men have of superior powers in every country where there are words to express it, is so well vouched, that in fair reasoning it ought to be taken for granted among the few tribes where language is deficient. Even the grossest idolatry affords evidence of that conviction. No nation can be so brutish as to worship a stock or a stone, merely as such: the visible object is always imagined to be connected with some invisible power; and the worship paid to the former, is as representing the latter, or as in some manner connected with it. Every family among the ancient Lithuanians, entertained a real serpent as a household god; and the same practice is at present universal among the negroes in the kingdom of Whidah: it is not the serpent that is worshipped, but some deity imagined to reside in it. The ancient Egyptians were not idiots, to pay divine honours to a bull or a cat, as such: the divine honours were paid to a deity, as residing in these animals. The sun is to man a familiar object; being frequently obscured by clouds, and totally eclipsed during night, a savage naturally conceives it to be a great fire, sometimes flaming bright, sometimes obscured, and sometimes extinguished. Whence then sun-worship, once universal among savages? Plainly from the same cause: it is not properly the sun that is worshipped, but a deity who is supposed to dwell in that luminary.
Taking it then for granted, that our conviction of superior powers has been long universal, the important question is, From what cause it proceeds. A conviction so universal and so permanent, cannot proceed from chance; but must have a cause operating constantly and invariably upon all men in all ages. Philosophers, who believe the world to be eternal and self-existent, and imagine it to be the only deity tho’ without intelligence, endeavour to account for our conviction of superior powers, from the terror that thunder and other elementary convulsions raise in savages; and thence conclude that such belief is no evidence of a deity. Thus Lucretius,
And Petronius Arbiter,
It will readily be yielded to these gentlemen, that savages, grossly ignorant of causes and effects, are apt to take fright at every unusual appearance, and to think that some malignant being is the cause. And if they mean only, that the first perception of deity among savages is occasioned by fear, I heartily subscribe to their opinion. But if they mean, that such perceptions proceed from fear solely, without having any other cause, I wish to be informed from what source is derived the belief we have of benevolent deities. Fear cannot be the source: and it will be seen anon, that tho’ malevolent deities were first recognised among savages, yet that in the progress of society, the existence of benevolent deities was universally believed. The fact is certain; and therefore fear is not the sole cause of our believing the existence of superior beings.
It is beside to me evident, that the belief even of malevolent deities, once universal among all the tribes of men, cannot be accounted for from fear solely. I observe, first, That there are many men, to whom an eclipse, an earthquake, and even thunder, are unknown: Egypt, in particular, tho’ the country of superstition, is little or not at all acquainted with the two latter; and in Peru, tho’ its government was a theocracy, thunder is not known.1 Nor do such appearances strike terror into every one who is acquainted with them. The universality of the belief, must then have some cause more universal than fear. I observe next, That if the belief were founded solely on fear, it would die away gradually as men improve in the knowledge of causes and effects: instruct a savage, that thunder, an eclipse, an earthquake, proceed from natural causes, and are not threatenings of an incensed deity; his fear of malevolent beings will vanish; and with it his belief in them, if founded solely on fear. Yet the direct contrary is true: in proportion as the human understanding ripens, our conviction of superior powers, or of a Deity, turns more and more firm and authoritative; which will be made evident in the chapter immediately following.
Philosophers of more enlarged views and of deeper penetration, may be inclined to think, that the operations of nature and the government of this world, which loudly proclaim a Deity, may be sufficient to account for the universal belief of superior powers. And to give due weight to the argument, I shall relate a conversation between a Greenlander and a Danish mis-sionary, mentioned by Crantz in his history of Greenland. “It is true,” says the Greenlander, “we were ignorant Heathens, and knew little of a God, till you came. But you must not imagine, that no Greenlander thinks about these things. A kajak (a) , with all its tackle and implements, cannot exist but by the labour of man; and one who does not understand it, would spoil it. But the meanest bird requires more skill than the best kajak; and no man can make a bird. There is still more skill required to make a man: by whom then was he made? He proceeded from his parents, and they from their parents. But some must have been the first parents: whence did they proceed? Common report says, that they grew out of the earth: if so, why do not men still grow out of the earth? And from whence came the earth itself, the sun, the moon, the stars? Certainly there must be some being who made all these things, a being more wise than the wisest man.” The reasoning here from effects to their causes is stated with great precision; and were all men equally penetrating with the Greenlander, such reasoning might perhaps be sufficient to account for the conviction of a Deity, universally spred among savages. But such penetration is a rare quality among savages; and yet the conviction of superior powers is universal, not excepting even the grossest savages, who are altogether incapable of reasoning like our Greenland philosopher. Natural history has made so rapid a progress of late years, and the finger of God is so visible to us in the various operations of nature, that we do not readily conceive how even savages can be ignorant: but it is a common fallacy in reasoning, to judge of others by what we feel in ourselves. And to give juster notions of the condition of savages, I take liberty to introduce the Wogultzoi, a people in Siberia, exhibiting a striking picture of savages in their natural state. That people were baptized at the command of Prince Gagarin, governor of the province; and Laurent Lange, in his relation of a journey from Petersburg to Pekin ann. 1715, gives the following account of their conversion. “I had curiosity,” says he, “to question them about their worship before they embraced Christianity. They said, that they had an idol hung upon a tree, before which they prostrated themselves, raising their eyes to heaven, and howling with a loud voice. They could not explain what they meant by howling; but only, that every man howled in his own fashion. Being interrogated, Whether, in raising their eyes to heaven, they knew that a god is there, who sees all the actions, and even the thoughts of men; they answered simply, That heaven is too far above them to know whether a god be there or not; and that they had no care but to provide meat and drink. Another question being put, Whether they had not more satisfaction in worshipping the living God, than they formerly had in the darkness of idolatry; they answered, We see no great difference, and we do not break our heads about such matters.” Judge how little capable such ignorant savages are, to reason from effects to their causes, and to trace a Deity from the operations of nature. It may be added with great certainty, that could they be made in any degree to conceive such reasoning, yet so weak and obscure would their conviction be, as to rest there without moving them to any sort of worship; which however among savages goes hand in hand with the conviction of superior powers.
If fear be a cause altogether insufficient for our conviction of a Deity, universal among all tribes; and if reasoning from effects to their causes can have no influence upon ignorant savages; what other cause is there to be laid hold of? One still remains, and imagination cannot figure another: to make this conviction universal, the image of the Deity must be stamp’d upon the mind of every human being, the ignorant equally with the knowing: nothing less is sufficient. And the original perception we have of Deity, must proceed from an internal sense, which may be termed the sense of Deity.
Included in the sense of Deity, is the duty we are under to worship him. And to enforce that duty, the principle of devotion is made a part of our nature. All men accordingly agree in worshipping superior beings, however they may differ in the mode of worship. And the universality of such worship, proves devotion to be an innate principle.*
The perception we have of being accountable agents, arises from another branch of the sense of Deity. We expect approbation from the Deity when we do right; and dread punishment from him when guilty of any wrong; not excepting the most occult crimes, hid from every mortal eye. From what cause can dread proceed in that case, but from conviction of a superior being, avenger of wrongs? The dread, when immoderate, disorders the mind, and makes every unusual misfortune pass for a punishment inflicted by an invisible hand. “And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear: therefore is this distress come upon us. And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore behold also his blood is required” (a) . Alphonsus King of Naples, was a cruel and tyrannical prince. He drove his people to despair with oppressive taxes, treacherously assassinated several of his barons, and loaded others with chains. During prosperity, his conscience gave him little disquiet; but in adversity, his crimes star’d him in the face, and made him believe that his distresses proceeded from the hand of God, as a just punishment. He was terrified to distraction, when Charles VIII. of France approached with a numerous army: he deserted his kingdom; and fled to hide himself from the face of God and of man.
But admitting a sense of Deity, is it evidence to us that a Deity actually exists? It is complete evidence. So framed is man as to rely on the evidence of his senses (a) ; which evidence he may reject in words; but he cannot reject in thought, whatever bias he may have to scepticism. And experience confirms our belief; for our senses, when in order, never deceive us.
The foregoing sense of Deity is not the only evidence we have of his existence: there is additional evidence from other branches of our nature. Inherent in the nature of man are two passions, devotion to an invisible Being, and dread of punishment from him, when one is guilty of any crime. These passions would be idle and absurd, were there no Deity to be worshipped or to be dreaded. Man makes a capital figure; and is the most perfect being that inhabits this earth: and yet were he endued with passions or principles that have no end nor purpose, he would be the most irregular and absurd of all Beings. These passions both of them, direct us to a Deity, and afford us irresistible evidence of his existence.
Thus our Maker has revealed himself to us, in a way perfectly analogous to our nature: in the mind of every human creature, he has lighted up a lamp, which renders him visible even to the weakest sight. Nor ought it to escape observation, that here, as in every other case, the conduct of Providence to man, is uniform. It leaves him to be directed by reason, where liberty of choice is permitted; but in matters of duty, he is provided with guides less fallible than reason: in performing his duty to man, he is guided by the moral sense; in performing his duty to God, he is guided by the sense of Deity. In these mirrors, he perceives his duty intuitively.
It is no slight support to this doctrine, that if there really be a Deity, it is highly presumable, that he will reveal himself to man, fitted by nature to adore and worship him. To other animals, the knowledge of a Deity is of no importance: to man, it is of high importance. Were we totally ignorant of a Deity, this world would appear to us a mere chaos: under the government of a wise and benevolent Deity, chance is excluded; and every event appears to be the result of established laws: good men submit to whatever happens, without repining; knowing that every event is ordered by divine Providence: they submit with entire resignation; and such resignation is a sovereign balsam for every misfortune.
The sense of Deity resembles our other senses, which are quiescent till a proper object be presented. When all is silent about us, the sense of hearing lies dormant; and if from infancy a man were confined to a dark room, he would be as ignorant of his sense of seeing, as one born blind. Among savages, the objects that rouse the sense of Deity, are uncommon events above the power of man. A savage, if acquainted with no events but what are familiar, has no perception of superior powers; but a sudden eclipse of the sun, thunder rattling in his ears, or the convulsion of an earthquake, rouses his sense of Deity, and directs him to some superior being as the cause of these dreadful effects. The savage, it is true, errs in ascribing to the immediate operation of a Deity, things that have a natural cause: his error however is evidence that he has a sense of Deity, no less pregnant, than when he more justly attributes to the immediate operation of Deity, the formation of man, of this earth, of all the world.
The sense of Deity, like the moral sense, makes no capital figure among savages; the perceptions of both senses being in them faint and obscure. But in the progress of nations to maturity, these senses become more and more vigorous, so as among enlightened nations to acquire a commanding influence; leaving no doubt about right and wrong, and as little about the existence of a Deity.
The obscurity of the sense of Deity among savages, has encouraged some sceptical philosophers to deny its existence. It has been urged, That God does nothing by halves; and that if he had intended to make himself known to men, he would have afforded them conviction equal to that from seeing or hearing. When we argue thus about the purposes of the Almighty, we tread on slippery ground, where we seldom fail to stumble. What if it be the purpose of the Deity, to afford us but an obscure glimpse of his being and attributes? We have reason from analogy to conjecture, that this may be the case. From some particulars mentioned above (a) , it appears at least probable, that entire submission to the moral sense, would be ill-suited to man in his present state; and would prove more hurtful than beneficial. And to me it appears evident, that to be conscious of the presence of the Great God, as I am of a friend whom I hold by the hand, would be inconsistent with the part that Providence has destined me to act in this life. Reflect only on the restraint one is under, in presence of a superior, suppose the King himself: how much greater our restraint, with the same lively impression of God’s awful presence! Humility and veneration would leave no room for other passions: man would be no longer man; and the system of our present state would be totally subverted. Add another reason: Such a conviction of future rewards and punishments as to overcome every inordinate desire, would reduce us to the condition of a traveller in a paltry inn, having no wish but for day-light to prosecute his journey. For that very reason, it appears evidently the plan of Providence, that we should have but an obscure glimpse of futurity. As the same plan of Providence is visible in all, I conclude with assurance, that a certain degree of obscurity, weighs nothing against the sense of Deity, more than against the moral sense, or against a future state of rewards and punishments. Whether all men might not have been made angels, and whether more happiness might not have resulted from a different system, lie far beyond the reach of human knowledge. From what is known of the conduct of Providence, we have reason to presume, that our present state is the result of wisdom and benevolence. So much we know with certainty, that the sense we have of Deity and of moral duty, correspond accurately to the nature of man as an imperfect being; and that these senses, were they absolutely perfect, would convert him into a very different being.
A doctrine espoused by several writers ancient and modern, pretends to compose the world without a Deity; that the world, composed of animals, vegetables, and brute matter, is self-existent and eternal; and that all events happen by a necessary chain of causes and effects. It will occur even at first view, that this theory is at least improbable: can any supposition be more improbable than that the great work of planning and executing this universe, beautiful in all its parts, and bound together by the most perfect laws, should be a blind work, performed without intelligence or contrivance? It would therefore be a sufficient answer to observe, that this doctrine, though highly improbable, is however given to the public, like a foundling, without cover or support. But affirmatively I urge, that it is fundamentally overturned by the knowledge we derive of Deity from our own nature: if a Deity exist, self-existence must be his peculiar attribute; and we cannot hesitate in rejecting the supposition of a self-existent world, when it is so natural to suppose that the whole is the operation of a self-existent Being, whose power and wisdom are adequate to that great work. I add, that this rational doctrine is eminently supported from contemplating the endless number of wise and benevolent effects, display’d every where on the face of this globe; which afford complete evidence of a wise and benevolent cause. As these effects are far above the power of man, we necessarily ascribe them to a superior Being, or in other words to the Deity (a) .2
Some philosophers there are, not indeed so hardened in scepticism as to deny the existence of a Deity: They acknowledge a self-existent Being; and seem willing to bestow on that Being power, wisdom, and every other perfection. But then they maintain, that the world, or matter at least, must also be self-existent. Their argument is, that ex nihilo nihil fit, that it is inconsistent for any thing to be made out of nothing, out of a nonens. To consider nothing or a nonens as a material or substance out of which things can be formed, like a statue out of stone or a sword out of iron, is I acknowledge a gross absurdity. But I perceive no absurdity nor inconsistence in supposing that matter was brought into existence by Almighty power; and the popular expression, that God made the world out of nothing, has no other meaning. It is true, that in the operations of men nothing can be produced but from antecedent materials; and so accustomed are we to such operations, as not readily to conceive how a thing can be brought into existence without antecedent materials, or made out of nothing, as commonly expressed. But will any man in sober sense venture to set bounds to Almighty power, where he cannot point out a clear incon-sistence? It is indeed difficult to conceive a thing so remote from common apprehension; but is there less difficulty in conceiving matter to exist without a cause, and to be intitled to the awful appellation of self-existent, like the Lord of the Universe, to whom a more exalted appellation cannot be given? Now, if it be within the utmost verge of possibility for matter to have been created, I conclude with the highest probability, that it owes its existence to Almighty power. The necessity of one self-existent being is intuitively certain; but I perceive no necessity, nor indeed probability, that there should be more than one. Difficulties about the creation of matter, testify our ignorance; but to argue from our ignorance that a thing cannot be, has always been held very weak reasoning. Our faculties are adapted to our present state, and perform their office in perfection. But to complain that they do not reach the origin of things, is no less absurd than to complain that we cannot ascend to the moon in order to be acquainted with its inhabitants. At the same time, it is a comfortable reflection, that the question, whether matter was created or no, is a pure speculation, and that either side may be adopted without impiety. To me it appears more simple and more natural to hold it to be a work of creation, than to be self-existent, and consequently independent of the Almighty either to create or to annihilate. I chearfully make the former an article of my Creed; but without anathemising those who adopt the latter. I would however have it understood, that I limit my concession to matter in its original rude state. I cannot possibly carry my complaisance so far as to comprehend the world in its present perfection. That immense machine composed of parts without number so artfully combined as to fulfil the intention of the maker, must be the production of a great being, omniscient as well as omnipotent. To assign blind fatality as the cause, is an insufferable absurdity.3
Many gross and absurd conceptions of Deity that have prevailed among rude nations, are urged by some writers as an objection against a sense of Deity. That objection shall not be overlooked; but it will be answered to better purpose, after these gross and absurd conceptions are ex-amined in the chapter immediately following.
The proof of a Deity from the innate sense here explained, differs materially from what is contained in essays on morality and natural religion (a) . The proof there given is founded on a chain of reasoning, altogether independent on the innate sense of Deity. Both equally produce conviction; but as sense operates intuitively without reasoning, the sense of Deity is made a branch of human nature, in order to enlighten those who are incapable of a long chain of reasoning; and to such, who make the bulk of mankind, it is more convincing, than the most perspicuous reasoning to a philosopher.
Progress of Opinions with respect to Deity.
The sense of Deity, like many other delicate senses, is in savages so faint and obscure as easily to be biassed from truth. Among them, the belief of many superior beings, is universal. And two causes join to produce that belief. The first is, that being accustomed to a plurality of visible objects, men, mountains, trees, cattle, and such like, they are naturally led to imagine a like plurality in things not visible; and from that slight bias, slight indeed but natural, is partly derived the system of Polytheism, universal among savages. The other is, that savages know little of the connection between causes and effects, and still less of the order and government of the world: every event that is not familiar, appears to them singular and extraordinary; and if such event exceed human power, it is without hesitation ascribed to a superior being. But as it occurs not to a savage, nor to any person who is not a philosopher, that the many various events exceeding human power and seemingly unconnected, may all proceed from the same cause; they are readily ascribed to different beings. Pliny ascribes Polytheism to the consciousness men have of their imbecillity: “Our powers are confined within narrow bounds: we do not readily conceive powers in the Deity much more extensive: and we supply by number what is wanting in power.”* Polytheism, thus founded, is the first stage in the progress of theology; for it is embraced by the rudest savages, who have neither capacity nor inclination to pierce deeper into the nature of things.
This stage is distinguishable from others, by a belief that all superior beings are malevolent. Man, by nature weak and helpless, is prone to fear, dreading every new object and every unusual event. Savages, having no protection against storms, tempests, nor other external accidents, and having no pleasures but in gratifying hunger, thirst, and animal love; have much to fear, and little to hope. In that disconsolate condition, they attribute the bulk of their distresses to invisible beings, who in their opinion must be malevolent. This seems to have been the opinion of the Greeks in the days of Solon; as appears in a conversation between him and Croesus King of Lydia, mentioned by Herodotus in the first book of his history. “Croesus,” said Solon, “you ask me about human affairs; and I answer as one who thinks, that all the gods are envious and disturbers of mankind.” The negroes on the coast of Guinea, dread their deities as tyrants and oppressors: having no conception of a good deity, they attribute the few blessings they receive, to the soil, to the rivers, to the trees, and to the plants. The Lithuanians continued Pagans down to the fourteenth century; and worshipped in gloomy woods, where their deities were held to reside. Their worship probably was prompted by fear, which is allied to gloominess. The people of Kamskatka acknowledge to this day many malevolent deities, having little or no notion of a good deity. They believe the air, the water, the mountains, and the woods to be inhabited by malevolent spirits, whom they fear and worship. The savages of Guiana ascribe to the devil even their most common diseases; nor do they ever think of another remedy, but to apply to a sorcerer to drive him away. Such negroes as believe in the devil, paint his images white. Beside the Esquimaux, there are many tribes in the extensive country of Labrador, who believe the Deity to be malevolent, and worship him out of fear. When they eat, they throw a piece of flesh into the fire as an offering to him; and when they go to sea in a canoe, they throw something on the shore to render him propitious. Sometimes, in a capricious fit, they go out with guns and hatchets to kill him; and on their return boast that they have done so.4
Conviction of superior beings, who, like men, are of a mixed nature, sometimes doing good, sometimes mischief, constitutes the second stage.5 This came to be the system of theology in Greece. The introduction of writing among the Greeks while they were little better than savages, produced a compound of character and manners, that has not a parallel in any other nation. They were acute in science, skilful in fine arts, extremely deficient in morals, gross beyond conception in theology, and superstitious to a degree of folly; a strange jumble of exquisite sense and absurd nonsense. They held their gods to resemble men in their external figure, and to be corporeal. In the 21st book of the Iliad, Minerva with a huge stone beats Mars to the ground, whose monstrous body covered seven broad acres. As corporeal beings, they were supposed to require the nourishment of meat, drink, and sleep. Homer mentions more than once the inviting of gods to a feast: and Pausanias reports, that in the temple of Bacchus at Athens, there were figures of clay, representing a feast given by Amphyction to Bacchus and other deities. The inhabitants of the island Java are not so gross in their conceptions, as to think that the gods eat the offerings presented to them: but it is their opinion, that a deity brings his mouth near the offering, sucks out all its savour, and leaves it tasteless like water.* The Grecian gods, as described by Homer, dress, bathe, and anoint, like mortals. Venus, after being detected by her husband in the embraces of Mars, retires to Paphos,
Juno’s dress is most poetically described, Iliad, book 14. It was also universally believed, that the gods were fond of women, and had many children by them. The ancient Germans thought more sensibly, that the gods were too high to resemble men in any degree, or to be confined within the walls of a temple. The Greeks seem to have thought, that the gods did not much exceed themselves in knowledge. When Agesilaus journeyed with his private retinue, he usually lodged in a temple; making the gods witnesses, says Plutarch, of his most secret actions. The Greeks thought, that a god, like a man, might know what passed within his own house; without knowing any thing passing at a distance. “If it be true,” says Aristotle, (Rhetoric, book 2.) “that even the gods do not know every thing, there is little reason to expect great knowledge among men.” Agamemnon in Eschylus, putting off his travelling habit and dressing himself in splendid purple, is afraid of being seen and envied by some jealous god. We learn from Seneca, that people strove for the seat next to the image of the deity, that their prayers might be the better heard. But what we have chiefly to remark upon this head, is, that the Grecian gods were, like men, held capable of doing both good and ill. Jupiter, their highest deity, was a ravisher of women, and a notorious adulterer. In the second book of the Iliad, he sends a lying dream to deceive Agamemnon. Mars seduces Venus by bribes to commit adultery (a) . In the Rhesus of Euripides, Minerva, disguised like Venus, deceives Paris by a gross lie. The ground-work of the tragedy of Xuthus is a lying oracle, declaring Ion, son of Apollo and Creusa, to be the son of Xuthus. Orestes in Euripides, having slain his mother Clytemnestra, excuses himself as having been misled by Apollo to commit the crime. “Ah!” says he, “had I consulted the ghost of my father, he would have dissuaded me from a crime that has proved my ruin, without doing him any good.” He concludes with observing, that having acted by Apollo’s command, Apollo is the only criminal. In a tragedy of Sophocles, Minerva makes no difficulty to cheat Ajax, promising to be his friend, while underhand she is serving Ulysses, his bitter enemy. Mercury, in revenge for the murder of his son Myrtilus, entails curses on Pelops the murderer, and on all his race.* In ge-neral, the gods, every where in Greek tragedies, are partial, unjust, tyrannical, and revengeful. The Greeks accordingly have no reserve in abusing their gods. In the tragedy of Prometheus, Jupiter, without the least ceremony, is accused of being an usurper. Eschylus proclaims publicly on the stage, that Jupiter, a jealous, cruel, and implacable tyrant, had overturned every thing in heaven; and that the other gods were reduced to be his slaves. In the Iliad, book 13. Menelaus addresses Jupiter in the following words: “O Father Jove! in wisdom, they say, thou excellest both men and gods. Yet all these ills proceed from thee; for the wicked thou dost aid in war. Thou art a friend to the Trojans, whose souls delight in force, who are never glutted with blood.” The gods were often treated with a sort of contemptuous familiarity, and employed in very low offices. Nothing is more common, than to introduce them as actors in Greek tragedies; frequently for trivial purposes: Apollo comes upon the stage most courteously to acquaint the audience with the subject of the play. Why is this not urged by our critics, as classical authority against the rule of Horace, Nec deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus.† Homer makes very useful servants of his gods. Minerva, in particular, is a faithful attendant upon Ulysses. She acts the herald, and calls the chiefs to council (a) . She marks the place where a great stone fell that was thrown by Ulysses (b) . She assists Ulysses to hide his treasure in a cave (c) , and helps him to wrestle with the beggar (d) . Ulysses being tost with cares in bed, she descends from heaven to make him fall asleep (e) . This last might possibly be squeez’d into an allegory, if Minerva were not frequently introduced where there is no place for an allegory. Jupiter, book 17. of the Iliad, is introduced comforting the steeds of Achilles for the death of Patroclus. Creusa keeps it a profound secret from her husband, that she had a child by Apollo. It was held as little honourable in Greece to commit fornication with a god as with a man. It appears from Cicero (f) , that when Greek philosophers began to reason about the deity, their notions were wonderfully crude. One of the hardest morsels to digest in Plato’s philosophy, was a doctrine, That God is incorporeal; which by many was thought absurd, for that, without a body, he could not have senses, nor prudence, nor pleasure. The religious creed of the Romans seems to have been little less impure than that of the Greeks. It was a ceremony of theirs, in besieging a town, to evocate the tutelar deity, and to tempt him by a reward to betray his friends and votaries. In that ceremony, the name of the tutelar deity was thought of importance; and for that reason, the tutelar deity of Rome was a profound secret.* Appian of Alexandria, in his book of the Parthian war, reports, that Anthony, reduced to extremity by the Parthians, lifted up his eyes to heaven, and besought the gods, that if any of them were jealous of his former happiness, they would pour their vengeance upon his head alone, and suffer his army to escape. The story of Paris and the three goddesses gives no favourable impression, either of the morals or religion of the Romans. Juno and her two sister-deities submit their dispute about beauty to the shepherd Paris, who conscientiously pronounces in favour of Venus. But
Juno, not satisfied with wreaking her malice against the honest shepherd, declares war against his whole nation. Not even Eneas, tho’ a fugitive in foreign lands, escapes her fury. Their great god Jupi-ter is introduced on the stage by Plautus, to deceive Alcmena, and to lie with her in the shape of her husband. Nay, it was the opinion of the Romans, that this play made much for the honour of Jupiter; for in times of national troubles and calamities, it was commonly acted to appease his anger;—a pregnant instance of the gross conceptions of that warlike people in morality, as well as in religion.
A division of invisible beings into benevolent and malevolent, without any mixture of these qualities, makes the third stage.7 The talents and feelings of men, refine gradually under good government: social amusements begin to make a figure: benevolence is highly regarded; and some men are found without gall. Having thus acquired a notion of pure benevolence, and finding it exemplified in some eminent persons, it was an easy step in the progress of theological opinions, to bestow the same character upon some superior beings. This led men to distinguish their gods into two kinds, essentially different, one entirely benevolent, another entirely malevolent; and the difference between good and ill, which are diametrical-ly opposite, favoured that distinction. Fortunate events out of the common course of nature, were accordingly ascribed to benevolent deities; and unfortunate events of that kind to malevolent. In the time of Pliny the elder, malevolent deities were worshipped at Rome. He mentions a temple dedicated to Bad Fortune, another to the disease termed a Fever. The Lacedemonians worshipped Death and Fear; and the people of Cadiz Poverty and Old Age; in order to deprecate their wrath. Such gods were by the Romans termed Averrunci, as putting away evil.
Conviction of one supreme benevolent Deity, and of inferior deities, some benevolent, some malevolent, is the fourth stage.8 Such conviction, which gains ground in proportion as morality ripens, arises from a remarkable difference between gratitude and fear. Willing to show my gratitude for some kindness proceeding from an unknown hand, several persons occur to my conjectures; but I always fix at last upon one person as the most likely. Fear is of an opposite nature: it expands itself upon every suspicious person, and blackens them all. Thus, upon providential good fortune above the power of man, we naturally rest upon one benevolent Deity as the cause; and to him we confine our gratitude and veneration. When, on the other hand, we are struck with an uncommon calamity, every thing that possibly may be the cause raises terror. Hence the propensity in savages to multiply objects of fear; but to confine their gratitude and veneration to a single object. Gratitude and veneration, at the same time, are of such a nature, as to raise a high opinion of the person who is their object; and when a single invisible being is understood to pour out blessings with a liberal hand, good men, inflamed with gratitude, put no bounds to the power and benevolence of that being. And thus one supreme benevolent Deity comes to be recognised among the more enlightened savages. With respect to malevolent deities, as they are supposed to be numerous, and as there is no natural impulse for elevating one above another; they are all of them held to be of an inferior rank, subordinate to the supreme Deity.
Unity in the supreme being hath, a-mong philosophers, a more solid foundation, namely, unity of design and of order in the creation and government of this world.* At the same time, the passion of gratitude, which leads even savages to the attribute of unity in the supreme being, prepares the mind for relishing the proof of that unity, founded on the unity of his works.
The belief of one supreme benevolent Deity, and of subordinate deities benevolent and malevolent, is and has been more universal than any other religious creed. I confine myself to a few instances; for a complete enumeration would be endless. The different savage tribes in Dutch Guiana, agree pretty much in their articles of faith. They hold the existence of one supreme Deity, whose chief attribute is be-nevolence; and to him they ascribe every good that happens. But as it is against his nature to do ill, they believe in subordinate malevolent beings, like our devil, who occasion thunder, hurricanes, earthquakes, and who are the authors of death, diseases, and of every misfortune. To these devils, termed in their language Yowahoos, they direct every supplication, in order to avert their malevolence; while the supreme Deity is entirely neglected: so much more powerful among savages, is fear than gratitude. The North-American savages have all of them a notion of a supreme Deity, creator and governor of the world; and of inferior deities, some good, some ill. These are supposed to have bodies, and to live much as men do, but without being subjected to any distress. The same creed prevails among the negroes of Benin and Congo, among the people of New Zeland, among the inhabitants of Java, of Madagascar, of the Molucca islands, and of the Caribbee islands. The Chingulese, a tribe in the island of Ceylon, acknowledge one God creator of the universe, with subordinate deities who act as his deputies: agricul-ture is the peculiar province of one, navigation of another. The creed of the Tonquinese is nearly the same. The inhabitants of Otaheite, termed King George’s island, believe in one supreme Deity; and in inferior deities without end, who preside over particular parts of the creation. They pay no adoration to the supreme Deity, thinking him too far elevated above his creatures to concern himself with what they do. They believe the stars to be children of the sun and moon, and an eclipse to be the time of copulation. The Naudowessies are the farthest remote from our Colonies of any of the North Americans whom we are in any degree acquainted with. They acknowledge one supreme being or giver of life, to whom they look up as the source of good, and from whom no evil can proceed. They acknowledge also a bad spirit of great power, by whom all the evils that befal mankind are inflicted. To him they pray in their distresses; begging that he will either avert their troubles or mitigate them. They acknowledge beside good spirits of an inferior degree, who in their particular departments contribute to the happiness of mor-tals. But they seem to have no notion of a spirit divested of matter. They believe their gods to be of the human form, but of a nature more excellent than man. They believe in a future state; and that their employments will be similar to what they are engaged in here, but without labour or fatigue; in short, that they shall live for ever in regions of plenty, and enjoy in a higher degree every gratification they delight in here.9 According to Arnobius, certain Roman deities presided over the various operations of men. Venus presided over carnal copulation; Puta assisted at pruning trees; and Peta in requesting benefits: Nemestrinus was god of the woods, Nodutus ripened corn, and Terensis helped to thresh it; Vibilia assisted travellers; orphans were under the care of Orbona, and dying persons, of Naenia; Ossilago hardened the bones of infants; and Mellonia protected bees, and bestow’d sweetness on their honey. The inhabitants of the island of Formosa recognise two supreme deities in company; the one a male, god of the men, the other a female, goddess of the women. The bulk of their inferior deities are the souls of upright men, who are constantly doing good, and the souls of wicked men, who are constantly doing ill. The inland negroes acknowledge one supreme being, creator of all things; attributing to him infinite power, infinite knowledge, and ubiquity. They believe that the dead are converted into spirits, termed by them Imanini, or protectors, being appointed to guard their parents and relations. The ancient Goths and several other northern nations, acknowledged one supreme being; and at the same time worshipped three subordinate deities; Thor, reputed the same with Jupiter; Oden, or Woden, the same with Mars; and Friga, the same with Venus.* Socrates taking the cup of poison from the executioner, held it up toward heaven, and pouring out some of it as an oblation to the supreme Deity, pronounced the following prayer: “I implore the immortal God that my translation hence may be happy.” Then turning to Crito, said, “O Crito! I owe a cock to Esculapius, pay it.” From this incident we find that Socrates, soaring above his countrymen, had attained to the belief of a supreme benevolent Deity. But in that dark age of religion, such purity is not to be expected from Socrates himself, as to have rejected subordinate deities, even of the mercenary kind.
Different offices being assigned to the gods, as above mentioned, proper names followed of course. And when a god was ascertained by a name, the busy mind would naturally proceed to trace his genealogy.
As unity in the Deity was not an established doctrine in the countries where the Christian religion was first promulgated, Christianity could not fail to prevail over Paganism; for improvements in the mental faculties lead by sure steps, tho’ slow, to one God.
The fifth stage is,10 the belief of one supreme benevolent Deity, as in that immediately foregoing, with many inferior benevolent deities, and one only who is malevolent. As men improve in natural knowledge and become skilful in tracing causes from effects, they find much less malice and ill-design than was imagined: humanity at last prevails, which with improved knowledge banish the suspicion of ill-design, in every case where an event can be explained without it. In a word, a settled opinion of good prevailing in the world, produced conviction among some nations, less ignorant than their neighbours and less brutal, that there is but one malevolent subordinate deity, and good subordinate deities without number. The ancient Persians acknowledged two principles; one all good and all powerful, named Hormuz, and by the Greeks corruptly Oromazes; the other evil, named Ahariman, and by the Greeks Arimanes. Some authors assert, that the Persians held these two principles to be co-eternal: others that Oromazes first subsisted alone, that he created both light and darkness, and that he created Arimanes out of darkness. That the latter was the opinion of the ancient Persians, appears from their Bible, termed the Sadder; which teaches, That there is one God supreme over all, many good angels, and but one evil spirit. Plutarch acquaints us, that Hormus and Ahariman, ever at variance, formed each of them creatures of their own stamp; that the former created good genii, such as goodness, truth, wisdom, justice; and that the latter created evil genii, such as infidelity, falsehood, oppression, theft. This system of theology, commonly termed the Manichean system, is said to be also the religious creed of Pegu, with the following addition, that the evil principle only is to be worshipped; which is abundantly probable, as fear is a predominant passion in barbarians. The people of Florida believe a supreme benevolent Deity, and a subordinate deity that is malevolent: neglecting the former, who, they say, does no harm, they bend their whole attention to soften the latter, who, they say, torments them day and night. The inhabitants of Darien acknowledge but one evil spirit, of whom they are desperately afraid. The Hottentots, mentioned by some writers as altogether destitute of religion, are on the contrary farther advanced toward its purity, than some of their neighbours. Their creed is, That there is a supreme being, who is goodness itself; of whom they have no occasion to stand in awe, as he is incapable by his nature to hurt them; that there is also a malevolent spirit, subordinate to the former, who must be served and worshipped in order to avert his malice. The Epicurean doctrine with respect to the gods in general, That being happy in themselves they extend not their providential care to men, differs not widely from what the Hottentot believes with respect to the supreme being.
Having traced the sense of deity, from its dawn in the grossest savages to its approaching maturity among enlightened nations, we proceed to the last stage of the progress, which makes the true system of theology; and that is, conviction of a supreme being, boundless in every perfection, without subordinate deities, benevolent or malevolent. Savages learn early to trace the chain of causes and effects, with respect to ordinary events: they know that fasting produces hunger, that labour occasions weariness, that fire burns, that the sun and rain contribute to vegetation. But when they go beyond such familiar events, they lose sight of cause and effect: the changes of weather, of winds, of heat and cold, impress them with a notion of chance: earthquakes, hurricanes, storms of thunder and lightning, which fill them with terror, are ascribed to malignant beings of greater power than man. In the progress of knowledge light begins to break in upon them: they discover, that such phenomena, however tremendous, come under the general law of cause and effect; and that there is no ground for ascribing them to malignant spirits. At the same time, our more refined senses ripen by degrees: social affections come to prevail, and morality makes a deep impression. In maturity of sense and understanding, benevolence appears more and more; and beautiful final causes are discovered in many of nature’s productions, that formerly were thought useless, or perhaps hurtful: and the time may come, we have solid ground to hope that it will come, when doubts and difficulties about the government of Providence, will all of them be cleared up; and every event be found conducive to the general good. Such views of Providence banish malevolent deities; and we settle at last in a most comfortable opinion; either that there are no such beings; or that, if they exist and are permitted to perpetrate any mischief, it is in order to produce greater good.* Thus, through a long maze of errors, man arrives at true religion, acknowledging but one Being, supreme in power, intelligence, and benevolence, who created all other beings, to whom all other beings are subjected, and who directs every event to answer the best purposes. This system is true theology.*
Having gone through the different stages of religious belief, in its gradual progress toward truth and purity, I proceed to a very important article, The history of tutelar deities. The belief of tutelar deities preceded indeed several of the stages mentioned, witness the tutelar deities of Greece and Rome; but as it is not connected with any one of them exclusive of the rest, the clearness of method required it to be postponed to all of them. This belief, founded on selfishness, made a rapid progress after property in the goods of fortune was established. The Greeks, the Romans, and indeed most nations that were not mere savages, appropriated to themselves tutelar deities, who were understood to befriend them upon all occasions; and, in particular, to fight for them against their enemies. The Iliad of Homer is full of miraculous battles between the Greeks and Trojans, the tutelar deities mixing with the contending parties, and partaking of every disaster, death only excepted, which immortals could not suffer. The lares, penates, or household-gods, of Indostan, of Greece, and of Rome, bear witness, that every family, perhaps every person, was thought to be under the protection of a tutelar deity. Alexander ab Alexandro gives a list of tutelar deities. Apollo and Minerva were the tutelar deities of Athens; Bacchus and Hercules of the Boeotian Thebes; Juno of Carthage, Samos, Sparta, Argos, and Mycené; Venus of Cyprus; Apollo of Rhodes and of Delphos; Vulcan of Lemnos; Bacchus of Naxus; Neptune of Tenedos, &c. The poets testify, that even individuals had tutelar deities:
Though the North-American savages recognise a supreme Being, wise and benevolent, and also subordinate benevolent beings who are intrusted with the government of the world; yet as the great distance of these subordinate beings and the full occupation they have in general go-vernment, are supposed to make them overlook individuals, every man has a tutelar deity of his own, termed Manitou, who is constantly invoked during war to give him victory over his enemies. The Natches, bordering on the Missisippi, offer up the skulls of their enemies to their god, and deposite them in his temple. They consider that being as their tutelar deity, who assists them against their enemies, and to whom therefore the skull of an enemy must be an acceptable offering. Tho’ they worship the sun, who impartially shines on all mankind; yet such is their partiality, that they consider themselves as his chosen people, and that their enemies are his enemies.
A belief so absurd shews woful imbecillity in human nature. Is it not obvious, that the great God of heaven and earth governs the world by inflexible laws, from which he never can swerve in any case, because they are the best possible in every case? To suppose any family or nation to be an object of his peculiar love, is no less impious, than to suppose any family or nation to be an object of his peculiar hatred: they equally arraign Providence of partiality. Even the Goths had more just notions of the Deity. Totila, recommending to his people justice and humanity, says, “Quare sic habete, ea quae amari ab hominibus solent ita vobis salva fore, si justiciae reverentiam servaveritis. Si transitis in mores alios, etiam Deumad hostes transiturum. Neque enim ille, aut omnibus omnino hominibus, aut uni alicui genti, addicit se socium.”*
That God was once the tutelar deity of the Jews, is true; but not in the vulgar acceptation of that term, importing a deity chosen by a people to be their patron and protector. The orthodox faith is, “That God chose the Jews as his peculiar people, not from any partiality to them, but that there might be one nation to keep alive the knowledge of one supreme Deity; which should be prosperous while they adhered to him, and unprosperous when they declined to idolatry; not only in order to make them persevere in the true faith, but also in order to exemplify to all nations the conduct of his Providence.” It is certain, however, that the perverse Jews claimed God Almighty as their tutelar deity in the vulgar acceptation of the term. And this error throws light upon an incident related in the Acts of the Apostles. There was a prophecy firmly believed by the Jews, that the Messiah would come among them in person to restore their kingdom. The Christians gave a different sense to the prophecy, namely, that the kingdom promised was not of this world. And they said, that Christ was sent to pave the way to their heavenly kingdom, by obtaining forgiveness of their sins. At the same time, as the Jews held all other nations in abhorrence, it was natural for them to conclude, that the Messiah would be sent to them only, God’s chosen people: for which reason, even the apostles were at first doubtful about preaching the gospel to any but to the Jews (a) . But the apostles reflecting, that it was one great purpose of the mission, to banish from the Jews their grovelling and impure notion of a tutelar deity, and to proclaim a state of future happiness to all who believe in Christ, they proceeded to preach the gospel to all men: “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive, that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation, he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (a) . The foregoing reasoning, however, did not satisfy the Jews: they could not digest the opinion, that God sent his Messiah to save all nations, and that he was the God of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews. They stormed against Paul in particular, for inculcating that doctrine (b) .
Considering that religion in its purity was established by the gospel, is it not amazing, that even Christians fell back to the worship of tutelar deities? They did not indeed adopt the absurd opinion, that the supreme Being was their tutelar deity; but they held, that there are divine persons subordinate to the Almighty, who take under their care nations, families, and even individuals; an opinion that differs not essentially from that of tutelar deities among the Heathens. That opinion, which flatters self-love, took root in the fifth century, when the deification of saints was introduced, similar to the deification of heroes among the ancients. People are fond of friends to be their intercessors; and with regard to the Deity, deified saints were thought the properest intercessors. Temples were built and dedicated to them; and solemn rites of worship instituted to render them propitious. It was imagined, that the souls of deified saints are at liberty to roam where they list, and that they love the places where their bodies are interred; which accordingly made the sepulchres of the saints a common rendezvous of supplicants. What paved the way to notions so absurd, was the gross ignorance that clouded the Christian world, after the northern barbarians became ma-sters of Europe. In the seventh century, the bishops were so illiterate, as to be indebted to others for the shallow sermons they preached; and the very few of that order who had any learning, satisfied themselves with composing insipid homilies, collected from the writings of Augustin and Gregory. In the ninth century, matters grew worse and worse; for these saints, held at first to be mediators for Christians in general, were now converted into tutelar deities in the strictest sense. An opinion prevailed, that such saints as are occupied about the souls of Christians in general, have little time for individuals; which led every church, and every private Christian, to elect for themselves a particular saint, to be their patron or tutelar deity. That practice made it necessary to deify saints without end, in order to furnish a tutelar deity to every individual. The dubbing of saints, became a new source of abuses and frauds in the Christian world: lying wonders were invented, and fabulous histories composed, to celebrate exploits that never were performed, and to glorify persons who never had a being. And thus religion among Christians, sunk down to as low a state as it had been among Pagans.
There still remains upon hand, a capital branch of our history; and that is idolatry, which properly signifies the worshipping visible objects as deities. But as idolatry evidently sprung from religious worship, corrupted by the ignorant and brutish; it will make its appearance with more advantage in the next chapter, of which religious worship is the subject.
We have thus traced with wary steps, the gradual progress of theology through many stages, corresponding to the gradual openings and improvements of the human mind. But tho’ that progress, in almost all countries, appears uniform with respect to the order of succession, it is far otherwise with respect to the quickness of succession: nations, like individuals, make a progress from infancy to maturity; but they advance not with an equal pace, some making a rapid progress toward perfection in knowledge and in religion, while others remain ignorant barbarians. The religion of Hindostan, if we credit history or tradition, had advanced to a considerable degree of purity and refinement, at a very early period. The Hindostan Bible, termed Chatahbhade or Shastah, gives an account of the creation, lapse of the angels, and creation of man; instructs us in the unity of the Deity, but denies his prescience, as being inconsistent with free-will in man; all of them profound doctrines of an illuminated people, to establish which a long course of time must have been requisite, after wandering through errors without number. Compared with the Hindows in theology, even the Greeks were mere savages. The Grecian gods were held to be little better than men, and their history, as above mentioned, corresponds to the notion entertain’d of them.
In explaining the opinions of men with respect to Deity, I have confined my view to such opinions as are suggested by principles or biasses that make a part of common nature; omitting many whimsical notions, no better than dreams of a roving imagination. The plan delineated, shows wonderful uniformity in the progress of religion through all nations. That irregular and whimsical notions are far otherwise, is not wonderful. Take the fol-lowing specimen. The Kamskatkans are not so stupidly ignorant, as to be altogether void of curiosity. They sometimes think of natural appearances.—Rain, say they, is some deity pissing upon them; and they imagine the rainbow to be a party-coloured garment, put on by him in preparing for that operation. They believe wind to be produced by a god shaking with violence his long hair about his head. Such tales will scarce amuse children in the nursery. The inhabitants of the island Celebes formerly acknowledged no gods but the sun and the moon, which were held to be eternal. Ambition for superiority made them fall out. The moon being wounded in flying from the sun, was delivered of the earth.
Hitherto of the gradual openings of the human mind with respect to Deity. I close this section with an account of some unsound notions concerning the conduct of Providence, and concerning some speculative matters. I begin with the former.
In days of ignorance, the conduct of Providence is very little understood. Far from having any notion, that the govern-ment of this world is carried on by general laws, which are inflexible because they are the best possible, 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-sighted plans of operation, and varying them from time to time, according to exigencies. Even the wise 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-tains, that from that time downward, there was not a battle lost but by an immediate judgement of God, for the sins 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 siege, 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 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 them 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 save 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 single combat. And it is not a little remarkable, that such trials were common among many nations that had no intercourse one with another: even the enlightened people of Indostan try crimes by dipping the hand of a suspected person in boiling oil. In cases of doubtful proof, they recur in the kingdom of Siam, as in many other countries, to artificial proofs. One is to walk barefoot through fire. As the Siamites are accustomed to walk barefooted, their soles become hard; and those who have skill have a good chance to escape without burning. The art is to set down their feet on the fire with all their weight, which excludes the air, and prevents the fire from burning. Another proof is by water. The accuser and accused are thrown into a pond; and he who keeps the longest under water is declared to be in the right.11 —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 law-doctors to differ about the right of representation 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 interpose in behalf of a favourite opinion, or of a favourite people. Appian gravely reports, that when the city of Rhodes was besieged by Mithridates, a statue of the goddess Isis 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 same kind with that above mentioned. About two centuries ago, some Christian and some Mahometan missionaries 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 nothing but justice, and to me thou owest 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 sea which surrounds my empire, and upon thee thyself, to bear witness for me, that in the sincerity of my heart I wish to know thy will; and this day I declare, that I will acknowledge as the depositaries of thy oracles, the first ministers of either religion that shall land on this island.”
It is equally erroneous to believe, that certain ceremonies will protect one from mischief. In the dark ages of Christianity, the signing with the figure of a cross, was held not only to be an antidote against the snares of malignant spirits, but to inspire resolution for supporting trials and calamities: for which reason no Christian in those days undertook any thing of moment, till he had used that ceremony. It was firmly believed in France, that a gold or silver coin of St. Louis, hung from the neck, was a protection against all diseases: and we find accordingly a hole in every remaining coin of that king, for fixing it to a ribband. In the minority of Charles VIII. of France, the three estates, ann. 1484, supplicated his Majesty, that he would no longer defer the being anointed with the holy oil, as the favour of Heaven was visibly connected with that ceremony. They affirmed, that his grandfather Charles VII. never prospered till he was anointed; and that Heaven afterward fought on his side, till the English were expelled out of his kingdom.* The high altar of St. Margaret’s church in the island of Icolmkill, was covered with a plate of blue marble finely veined; which has suffered from a superstitious conceit, that the smallest bit of it will preserve a ship from sinking. It has accordingly been carried off piece-meal; and at present there is scarce enough left to make an experiment. In the Sadder, certain prayers are enjoined when one sneezes or pisses, in order to chase away the devil. Cart-wheels in Lisbon, are composed of two clumsy boards nailed together in a circular form. Tho’ the noise is intolerable, the axles are never greased; the noise, say they, frightens the devil from hurting their oxen.
Nay, so far has superstition been carried, as to found a belief, that the devil by magic can control the course of Providence. A Greek bishop having dreamed that a certain miracle had failed by magic, the supposed magician and his son were condemned to die, without the least evidence but the dream. Montesquieu collects a number of circumstances, each of which, tho’ all extremely improbable, ought to have been clearly made out, in order to prove the crime (a) . The Emperor Theodore Lascaris, imagining magic to be the cause of his distemper, put the persons suspected to the trial of holding a red-hot iron without being burnt. In the capitularies of Charlemagne, in the canons of several councils, and in the ancient laws of Norway, punishments are enacted against those who are supposed able to raise tempests, termed Tempestarii. During the time of Catharine de Medicis, there was in the court of France a jumble of politics, gallantry, luxury, debauchery, superstition, and Atheism. It was common to take the resemblance of enemies in wax, in order to torment them by roasting the figure at a slow fire, and pricking it with needles. If an enemy happened in one instance of a thousand to pine and die, the charm was established for ever. Sorcery and witchcraft were so universally believed in England, that in a preamble to a statute of Henry VIII. ann. 1511, it is set forth, “That smiths, weavers, and women, boldly take upon them great cures, in which they partly use sorcery and witchcraft.” The first printers, who were Germans, having carried their books to Paris for sale, were condemned by the parliament to be burnt alive as sorcerers; and did not escape punishment but by a precipitate flight. It had indeed much the appearance of sorcery, that a man could write so many copies of a book, without the slightest variation.
Superstition flourishes in times of danger and dismay. During the civil wars of France and of England, superstition was carried to extravagance. Every one believed in magic, charms, spells, sorcery, witchcraft, &c. The most absurd tales past current as gospel truths. Every one is acquainted with the history of the Duchess of Beaufort, who was said to have made a compact with the devil, to procure Henry IV. of France for her lover. This ridiculous story was believed through all France; and is reported as a truth by the Duke de Sully. Must not superstition have been at a high pitch, when that great man was infected with it? James Howel, eminent for knowledge and for the figure he made during the civil wars of England, relates as an undoubted truth an absurd fiction concerning the town of Hamelen, that the devil with a bagpipe enticed all the rats out of the town, and drowned them in a lake; and because his promised reward was denied, that he made the children suffer the same fate. Upon a manuscript doubting of the existence of witches, he observes, “that there are some men of a mere negative genius, who cross and puzzle the clearest truths with their but, yet, if: they will flap the lie in truth’s teeth, tho’ she visibly stands before their face without any vizard. Such perverse cross-grain’d spirits are not to be dealt with by arguments, but palpable proofs: as if one deny that the fire burns, or that he hath a nose on his face. There is no way to deal with him, but to pull him by the tip of the one and put his finger into the other.”
In an age of superstition, men of the greatest judgement are infected: in an enlightened age, superstition is confined among the vulgar. Would one imagine that the great Louis of France is an exception. It is hard to say, whether his vanity or his superstition was the most eminent. The Duke of Luxembourg was his favourite and his most successful general. In order to throw the Duke out of favour, his rivals accused him of having a compact with the devil. The King permitted him to be treated with great brutality, on evidence no less foolish and absurd, than that on which old women were some time ago condemned as witches.12
There are many examples of the attributing extraordinary virtue to certain things, in themselves of no significancy. The Hungarians were possessed of a golden crown, sent from heaven with the peculiar virtue, as they believed, of bestowing upon the person who wore it, an undoubted title to be their king.
But the most extraordinary effort of absurd superstition, is a persuasion, that one may control the course of Providence, by making a downright bargain with God Almighty to receive from him quid pro quo. A herd of Tartars in Siberia, named by the Russians Baravinskoi, have in every hut a wooden idol about eighteen inches high; to which they address their prayers for plenty of game in hunting, promising it, if successful, a new coat or a new bonnet: a sort of bargain abundantly brutish; and yet more excusable in mere savages, than what is made with the Virgin Mary by enlightened Roman Catholics; who, upon condition of her relieving them from distress, promise her a waxen taper to burn on her altar. Philip II. of Spain made a vow, that, upon condition of gaining the battle of St. Quintin, he would build the monastery of Escurial; as if an establishment for some idle monks, could be a motive with the great God to vary the course of his Providence.* Beside the absurdity of thinking that such vows can have the effect to alter the established laws of Providence; they betray a most contemptible notion of the Deity, as if his favours, like a horse or a cow, could be purchased with money.
But however loose and disjointed events appear to the ignorant, when viewed as past or as passing; future events take on a very different appearance. The doctrine of prognostics, is evidently founded upon a supposition that future events are unalterably fixed; for otherwise that doctrine would appear absurd, even to the ignorant. No bias in human nature has greater influence, than curiosity about futurity; which in dark ages governs without control: men with no less folly than industry have ransacked the earth, the sea, the air, and even the stars, for prognostics of future events. The Greeks had their oracles, the Romans their augurs, and all the world their omens. The Grecian oracles and the Roman auguries, are evidently built upon their belief of tutelar deities; and the numberless omens that influence weak people in every country, seem to rest upon the same foundation.† Ancient histories are stuffed with omens, prodigies, and prognostics: Livy overflows with fooleries of that kind. Endless are the adverse omens reported by Appian of Alexandria, that are said to have given warning of the defeat of Crassus by the Parthians; and no fewer in number are those which happened at the death of the Emperor Hadrian, if we believe Spartianus. Lampridius, with great gravity, recites the omens which prognosticated that Alexander Severus would be Emperor: he was born the same day on which Alexander the Great died: he was brought forth in a temple dedicated to Alexander the Great: he was named Alexander; and an old woman gave to his mother, a pigeon’s egg of a purple colour produced on his birthday. A comet is an infallible prognostic of the death of a king. But of what king? Why, of the king who dies next. Suetonius, with the solemnity of a pulpit-instructor, informs us, that the death of the Emperor Claudius was predicted by a comet; and of Tiberius, by the fall of a tower during an earthquake.* Such opinions, having a foundation in our nature, take fast hold of the mind, when envigorated by education and example. Even philosophy is not sufficient to eradicate them but by slow degrees: witness Tacitus, the most profound of all historians, who cannot forbear to usher in the death of the Emperor Otho, with a foolish account of a strange unknown bird appearing at that time. He indeed, with decent reserve, mentions it only as a fact reported by others; but from the glow of his narrative it is evident, that the story had made an impression upon him. When Onosander wrote his military institutions, which was in the fourth century, the intrails of an animal sacrificed were still depended on as a prognostic of good or bad fortune. And in chap. 15. he endeavours to account for the misfortunes that sometimes happened after the most favourable prognostics; laying the blame, not upon the prognostic, but upon some cross accident that was not foreseen by the tutelar deity. The ancient Germans drew many of their omens from horses: “Proprium gentis, equorum presagia ac monitus experiri. Publice aluntur iisdem nemoribus ac lucis, candide, et nullo mortali opere contacti, quos pressos sacro curru, sacerdos, ac rex, vel princeps civitatis, comitantur, hinnitusque ac fremitus observant. Nec ulli auspicio major fides, non solum apud plebem, sed apud proceres, apud sacerdotes” (a) .* There is scarce a thing seen or imagined, but what the inhabitants of Madagascar consider as a prognostic of some future event. The Hindows rely on the augury of birds, precisely as the old Romans did. Tho’ there is not the slightest probability, that an impending misfortune was ever prevented by such prognostics; yet the desire of knowing future events is so deeply rooted in our nature, that omens will always prevail among the vulgar, in spite of the clearest light of philosophy.†
With respect to prophecies in particular, one apology may be made for them, that no other prognostic of futurity is less apt to do mischief. What Procopius (b) observes of the Sybilline oracles, is equally applicable to all prophecies, “That it is above the sagacity of man to explain any of them before the event happen. Matters are there handled, not in any order, nor in a continued discourse: but after mentioning the distresses of Africa, for example, they give a slight touch at the Persians, the Romans, the Assyrians; then returning to the Romans, they fall slap-dash upon the calamities of Britain.” A curious example of this observation, is a book of prophecies composed in Scotland by Thomas Learmont, commonly called Thomas the Rhymer, because the book is in rhyme. Plutarch in the life of Cicero reports, that a spectre appeared to Cicero’s nurse, and foretold, that the child would become a great support to the Roman state; and most innocently he makes the following reflection, “This might have passed for an idle tale, had not Cicero demonstrated the truth of the prediction.” At that rate, if a prediction happen to prove true, it is a real prophecy; if otherwise, it is an idle tale. There have been prophecies not altogether so well guarded as the Sybilline oracles. Napier, inventor of the logarithms, found the day of judgement to be predicted in the Revelation; and named the very day, which unfortunately he survived. He made another predic-tion, but prudently named a day so distant as to be in no hazard of blushing a second time. Michel Stifels, a German clergyman, spent most of his life in attempting to discover the day of judgement; and at last announced to his parishioners, that it would happen within a year. The parishioners, resolving to make the best of a bad bargain, spent their time merrily, taking no care to lay up provisions for another year; and so nice was their computation, as at the end of the year to have not a morsel remaining, either of food or of industry. The famous Jurieu has shewn great ingenuity in explaining prophecies; of which take the following instance. In his book, intitled Accomplishment of the prophecies, he demonstrates, that the beast in the Apocalypse, which held the poculum aureum plenum abominationum,* is the Pope; and his reason is, that the initial letters of these four Latin words compose the word papa; a very singular prophecy indeed, that is a prophecy in Latin, but in no other language. The candid reader will advert, that such prophecies as relate to our Saviour and tend to ascertain the truth of his mission, fall not under the foregoing reasoning; for they do not anticipate futurity, by producing foreknowledge of future events. They were not understood till our Saviour appeared among men; and then they were clearly understood as relative to him.
There is no end of superstition in its various modes. In dark times, it was believed universally, that by certain forms and invocations, the spirits of the dead could be called upon to reveal future events. A lottery in Florence, gainful to the government and ruinous to the people, gives great scope to superstition. A man who purposes to purchase tickets, must fast six and thirty hours, must repeat a certain number of Ave Maries and Pater Nosters, must not speak to a living creature, must not go to bed, must continue in prayer to the Virgin and to saints, till some propitious saint appear and declare the numbers that are to be successful. The man, fatigued with fasting, praying, and expectation, falls asleep. Occupied with the thoughts he had when awake, he dreams that a saint appears, and mentions the lucky numbers. If he be disappointed, he is vexed at his want of memory; but trusts in the saint as an infallible oracle. Again he falls asleep, again sees a vision, and again is disappointed.
Lucky and unlucky days, which were so much rely’d on as even to be marked in the Greek and Roman calendars, make an appendix to prophecies. The Tartars never undertake any thing of moment on a Wednesday, being held by them unlucky. The Nogayan Tartars hold every thirteenth year to be unlucky: they will not even wear a sword that year, believing that it would be their death; and they maintain, that none of their warriors ever returned who went upon an expedition in one of these years. They pass that time in fasting and prayer, and during it never marry. The inhabitants of Madagascar have days fortunate and unfortunate with respect to the birth of children: they destroy without mercy every child that is born on an unfortunate day.
There are unlucky names as well as unlucky days. Julien Cardinal de Medicis, chosen Pope, was inclined to keep his own name. But it being observed to him by the cardinals, says Guichardin, that the popes who retained their own name had all of them died within the year, he took the name of Clement, and was Clement VII. As John was held an unlucky name for a king, John heir to the Crown of Scotland was persuaded to change his name into Robert; and he was Robert III.13
I close this important article with a reflection that will make an impression upon every rational person. The knowledge of future events, as far as it tends to influence our conduct, is inconsistent with a state of activity, such as Providence has allotted to man in this life. It would deprive him of hopes and fears, and leave him nothing to deliberate upon, nor any end to prosecute. In a word, it would put an end to his activity, and reduce him to be merely a passive being. Providence therefore has wisely drawn a veil over future events, affording us no light for prying into them but sagacity and experience.
These are a few of the numberless absurd opinions about the conduct of Providence, that have prevailed among Christians, and still prevail among some of them. Many opinions no less absurd have prevailed about speculative points. I confine myself to one or two instances; for to make a complete list would require a volume. The first I shall mention, and the most noted, is transubstantiation; a doctrine in which it is asserted, first, that the bread and wine in the sacrament are converted into the body and blood of our Saviour; next, that his body and blood exists wholly and entirely in every particular sacrament administered in the Christian world even at the same instant of time. This article of faith, tho’ it has not the least influence on practice, is reckoned so essential to salvation, as to be placed above every moral duty. The following text is appealed to as its sole foundation. “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it: for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (a) . That this is a metaphor, must strike every one: the passage cannot even bear a literal meaning, considering the final clause; for surely the most zealous Roman Catholic believes not, that Christians are to drink new wine with their Saviour in the kingdom of heaven. At the same time, it is not so much as insinuated, that there was here any miraculous transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of our Saviour; nor is it insinuated, that the apostles believed they were eating the flesh of their master, and drinking his blood. St. John, the favourite apostle, mentions not a word of this ceremony, which he certainly would not have omitted, had he imagined it an essential article of faith.
But supposing transubstantiation were clearly expressed in this text, yet men of understanding will be loth to admit a meaning that contradicts their five senses. They will reflect, that no man now living ever saw the original books of the New Testament; nor are they certain, that the editions we have, are copied directly from the originals. Every remove from them is liable to errors, which may justly create a suspicion of texts that contradict reason and common sense. Add, that the bulk of Christians have not even a copy from the original to build their faith upon; but only a translation into another language. But the second branch of this article is obvious to a still stronger objection than of its contradicting our senses: it is a direct inconsistence, as we cannot even conceive it possible that the same body or thing can be in two different places at the same time.14
And this leads to what chiefly determined me to select that instance. God and nature have bestowed upon us the faculty of reason, for distinguishing truth from falsehood. If by reasoning with candor and impartiality, we discover a proposition to be true or false, it is not in our power to remain indifferent: we must judge, and our belief must be regulated by our judgement. I say more, to judge is a duty we owe our Maker; for to what purpose has he bestow’d reason upon us, but in order to direct our judge-ment? At the same time, we may depend on it as an intuitive truth, that God will never impose any belief on us, contradictory, not only to our reason, but to our senses.
The following objection however will perhaps relish more with people of plain understanding. Transubstantiation is a very extraordinary miracle, reiterated every day and in every corner of the earth, by priests not always remarkable either for piety or for morality. Now I demand an answer to the following plain question: To what good end or purpose is such a profusion of miracles subservient? I see none. But I discover a very bad one, if they have any influence; which is, that they accustom the Roman Catholics to more cruelty and barbarity, than even the grossest savages are ever guilty of: some of these indeed devour the flesh of their enemies; but none of them the flesh of their friends, especially of their greatest friend. But to do justice to people of that religion, I am confident, that this supposed miracle has no influence whatever upon their manners: to me it appears impossible for any man seriously to believe, that the bread and wine used at the Lord’s supper, is actually converted into the body and blood of our Saviour. The Romish church requires the belief of transubstantiation; and a zealous Catholic, out of pure obedience, thinks he believes it. Convince once a man that salvation depends on belief, and he will believe any thing; that is, he will imagine that he believes: Credo quia impossible est.* That our first reformers, who were prone to differ from the Romish faith, should adopt this doctrine, shows the supreme influence of superstition. The Lutherans had not even the excuse of inattention: after serious examination, they added one absurdity more; teaching, that the bread and wine are converted into the body and blood of our Saviour, and yet remain bread and wine as at first; which is termed by them consubstantiation. I am persuaded, that at this time not a single man of them harbours such a thought.
Many persons, impenetrable by a serious argument, can discover falsehood when put in a ridiculous light. It requires, I am sensible, a very delicate hand to attack a grave subject with ridicule as a test of truth; and for that reason, I forbear to offer any thing of my own. But I will set before my readers some excerpts from a book of absolute authority with Roman Catholics. Tho’ transubstantiation be there handled in the most serious manner, with all the ceremonies and punctilios that naturally flow from it, yet in my judgement it is happily contrived to give it a most ridiculous appearance. The book is the Roman Missal, from which the following is a literal translation.
Mass may be deficient in the matter, in the form, in the minister, or in the action. First, in the matter. If the bread be not of wheat, or if there be so great a mixture of other grain that it cannot be called wheat-bread, or if any way corrupted, it does not make a sacrament. If it be made with rose-water, or any other distilled water, it is doubtful whether it make a sacrament or not. Tho’ corruption have begun, or tho’ it be leavened, it makes a sacrament, but the celebrator sins grievously.
If the celebrator, before consecration, observe that the host is corrupted, or is not of wheat, he must take another host: if after consecration, he must still take another and swallow it, after which he must also swallow the first, or give it to another, or preserve it in some place with reverence. But if he have swallowed the first before observing its defects, he must nevertheless swallow also the perfect host; because the precept about the perfection of the sacrament, is of greater weight than that of taking it fasting. If the consecrated host disappear by an accident, as by wind, by a miracle, or by some animal, another must be consecrated.
If the wine be quite sour or putrid, or made of unripe grapes, or be mixed with so much water as to spoil the wine, it is no sacrament. If the wine have begun to sour or to be corrupted, or be quite new, or not mixed with water, or mixed with rose-water or other distilled water, it makes a sacrament, but the celebrator sins grievously.
If the priest, before consecration, observe that the materials are not proper, he must stop, if proper materials cannot be got; but after consecration, he must proceed, to avoid giving scandal. If proper materials can be pro-cured by waiting, he must wait for them, that the sacrifice may not remain imperfect.
Second, in form. If any of the words of consecration be omitted, or any of them be changed into words of a different meaning, it is no sacrament: if they be changed into words of the same meaning, it makes a sacrament; but the celebrator sins grievously.
Third, in the minister. If he does not intend to make a sacrament, but to cheat; if there be any part of the wine, or any wafer that he has not in his eye, and does not intend to consecrate; if he have before him eleven wafers, and intends to consecrate only ten, not determining what ten he intends: in these cases the consecration does not hold, because intention is requisite. If he think there are ten only, and intends to consecrate all before him, they are all consecrated; therefore priests ought always to have such intention. If the priest, thinking he has but one wafer, shall, after the consecration, find two sticking together, he must take them both. And he must take off all the re-mains of the consecrated matter; for they all belong to the same sacrifice. If in consecrating, the intention be not actual by wandering of mind, but virtual in approaching the altar, it makes a sacrament: tho’ priests should be careful to have intention both virtual and actual.
Beside intention, the priest may be deficient in disposition of mind. If he be suspended, or degraded, or excommunicated, or under mortal sin, he makes a sacrament, but sins grievously. He may be deficient also in disposition of body. If he have not fasted from midnight, if he have tasted water, or any other drink or meat, even in the way of medicine, he cannot celebrate nor communicate. If he have taken meat or drink before midnight, even tho’ he have not slept nor digested it, he does not sin. But on account of the perturbation of mind, which bars devotion, it is prudent to refrain.
If any remains of meat, sticking in the mouth, be swallowed with the host, they do not prevent communicating, provided they be swallowed, not as meat, but as spittle. The same is to be said, if in washing the mouth a drop of water be swallowed, provided it be against our will.
Fourth, in the action. If any requisite be wanting, it is no sacrament; for example, if it be celebrated out of holy ground, or upon an altar not consecrated, or not covered with three napkins: if there be no wax candles; if it be not celebrated between day-break and noon; if the celebrator have not said mattins with lauds; if he omit any of the sacerdotal robes; if these robes and the napkins be not blessed by a bishop; if there be no clerk present to serve, or one who ought not to serve, a woman, for example; if there be no chalice, the cup of which is gold, or silver, or pewter; if the vestment be not of clean linen adorned with silk in the middle, and blessed by a bishop; if the priest celebrate with his head covered; if there be no missal present, tho’ he have it by heart.
If a gnat or spider fall into the cup after consecration, the priest must swallow it with the blood, if he can: other-wise, let him take it out, wash it with wine, burn it, and throw it with the washings into holy ground. If poison fall into the cup, the blood must be poured on tow or on a linen cloth, remain till it be dry, then be burnt, and the ashes be thrown upon holy ground. If the host be poisoned, it must be kept in a tabernacle till it be corrupted.
If the blood freeze in winter, put warm cloths about the cup: if that be not sufficient, put the cup in boiling water.
If any of Christ’s blood fall on the ground by negligence, it must be licked up with the tongue, and the place scraped: the scrapings must be burnt, and the ashes buried in holy ground.
If the priest vomit the eucharist, and the species appear entire, it must be licked up most reverently. If a nausea prevent that to be done, it must be kept till it be corrupted. If the species do not appear, let the vomit be burnt, and the ashes thrown upon holy ground.
As the foregoing article has beyond intention swelled to an enormous size, I shall add but one other article, which shall be extremely short; and that is the creed of Athanasius. It is a heap of unintelligible jargon; and yet we are appointed to believe every article of it, under the pain of eternal damnation. As it enjoins belief of rank contradictions, it seems purposely calculated to be a test of slavish submission to the tyrannical authority of a proud and arrogant priest.*
In the foregoing chapter are traced the gradual advances of the sense of Deity, from its imperfect state among savages to its maturity among enlightened nations; displaying to us one great being, to whom all other beings owe their existence, who made the world, and who governs it by perfect laws. And our perception of Deity, arising from that sense, is fortified by an intuitive proposition, that there necessarily must exist some being who had no beginning. Considering the Deity as the author of our existence, we owe him gratitude; considering him as governor of the world, we owe him obedience: and upon these duties is founded the obligation we are under to worship him. Further, God made man for society, and implanted in his nature the moral sense to direct his conduct in that state. From these premises, may it not with certainty be inferred to be the will of God, that men should obey the dictates of the moral sense in fulfilling every duty of justice and benevolence? These moral duties, it would appear, are our chief business in this life; being enforced not only by a moral but by a religious principle.
Morality, as laid down in a former sketch, consists of two great branches, the moral sense which unfolds the duty we owe to our fellow-creatures, and an active moral principle which prompts us to perform that duty. Natural religion consists also of two great branches, the sense of Deity which unfolds our duty to our Maker, and the active principle of devotion which prompts us to perform our duty to him. The universality of the sense of Deity proves it to be innate; the same reason proves the principle of devotion to be innate; for all men agree in worshipping superior beings, whatever difference there may be in the mode of worship.
Both branches of the duty we owe to God, that of worshipping him, and that of obeying his will with respect to our fellow-creatures, are summed up by the Prophet Micah in the following emphatic words. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” The two articles first mentioned, are moral duties regarding our fellow-creatures: and as to such, what is required of us is to do our duty to others; not only as directed by the moral sense, but as being the will of our Maker, to whom we owe absolute obedience. That branch of our duty is reserved for a second section: at present we are to treat of religious worship, included in the third article, the walking humbly with our God.
[(a) ]See Essays on Morality and Natural Religion, part 1. essay 3.
[11. ]Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, 2nd ed., pp. 149–51.
[* ]“The indolent principle; which if we were to follow, we should do nothing in life.”
[(a) ]Dr. Cudworth and Dr. Smith.
[(a) ]See Historical Law tracts, tract 1.
[(b) ]Book 2. sketch 1.
[(a) ]Historia Gothica, lib. 3.
[(a) ]Description of Russia, Siberia, &c.
[(a) ]See Historical Law-tracts, tract 1.
[(a) ]Meursius de legibus Atticis, lib. 2. cap. 2.
[(b) ]Eod. lib. 2. cap. 15.
[(c) ]Quintus Curtius, lib. 6. cap. 11.
[(d) ]Ep. 12. ad Brutum.
[* ]“I am sensible of the hardship of punishing the child for the crime of the parent: this, however, is a wise enactment of our laws; for hereby the parent is bound to the interest of the state by the strongest of all ties, the affection to his offspring.”
[(a) ]Deuteronomy, xxiv. 16.
[(b) ]2 Kings, chap. 14.
[(c) ]Chap. 18.
[(d) ]1 Samuel, chap. 25.
[(a) ]l. 22. Cod. De poenis.
[* ]“We ordain, that the punishment of the crime shall extend to the criminal alone. We hold his relations, his friends, and his acquaintances, unsuspected; for intimacy, friendship, or connection, are no proof or argument of guilt. The consequences of the crime shall pursue only its perpetrator. Let this statute be intimated to all our judges.”
[(b) ]l. 5. Cod. ad leg. Jul. majest.
[† ]“By a special extension of our imperial clemency, we allow the sons of the criminal to live; altho’ in strict justice, being tainted with hereditary guilt, they ought to suffer the punishment of their father. But it is our will, that they shall be incapable of all inheritance, either from the mother, the grandfather, or any of their kindred; that they shall be deprived of the power of inheriting by the testament of a stranger; that they shall be abandoned to the extreme of poverty and perpetual indigence; that the infamy of their father shall ever attend them, incapable of honours, and excluded from the participation of religious rites; that such, in fine, shall be the misery of their condition, that life shall be a punishment, and death a comfort.”
[(a) ]Elements of Criticism, chap. 2. sect. 5.
[(b) ]Lib. 5.
[* ]Athens, from the nature of its government, as established by Solon, was rendered uncapable of any regular or consistent body of laws. In every case, civil and criminal, the whole people were judges in the last resort. And what sort of judges will an ignorant multitude make, who have no guide but passion and prejudice? It is vain to make good laws, when such judges are the interpreters. Anacharsis, the Scythian, being present at an assembly of the people, said, “It was singular, that in Athens, wise men pleaded causes, and fools determined them.”
[(a) ]Odyssey, book 13.
[(b) ]Book 14.
[(c) ]Book 14. book 15.
[* ]Upon the story of Jupiter being deceived by Juno in the 14th book of the Iliad, Pope says, “That he knows not a bolder fiction in all antiquity, nor one that has a greater air of impiety.” Pope it would seem was little acquainted with antiquity: for such acts of impiety were common among the Greeks; and in particular the incident mentioned in the text, is not only more impious, but also a more gross violation of the laws of morality.
[(a) ]Judges, iv. 5.
[(b) ]1 Samuel, xxvii. 11.
[(a) ]2 Samuel, xix. 24.
[(b) ]1 Kings, ii. 9.
[(c) ]Antiquities, book 6.
[12. ]“The Scotch nation . . . that comprehended Scotland”: added in 2nd edition.
[13. ]“Francis I. of . . . to be void”: added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Carta de Foresta, cap. 6. [[The Carta de Foresta, or charter concerning the forest, was granted by King John of England in 1215, at the same time as the Magna Carta. It was later ratified and expanded upon by Henry III.]]
[(a) ]Book 2. sketch 1.
[* ]In one of our ill-concerted descents upon France during the late war, signal humanity appeared, in forbearing to burn a manufactory of sails and ropes, belonging to the King; because it would have destroy’d an adjoining building of the same kind belonging to a private manufacturer.
[14. ]“The people of . . . are looking on”: added in 2nd edition.
[15. ]“Cicero some where . . . rob for subsistence”: added in 2nd edition.
[* ]“For the friendship of the sheriff.”
[(a) ]Vol. 4.
[16. ]“The low people . . . ever heard of”: added in 2nd edition. In the 1st edition, Kames places the anecdote from Bosman about Whiddah here and adds: “The Caribbeans, who know no wants but what nature inspires, are amaz’d at the industry of the Europeans in amassing wealth. Listen to one of them expostulating with a Frenchman in the following terms: ‘How miserable are thou, to expose thy person to tedious and dangerous voyages, and to suffer thyself to be oppressed with anxiety about futurity! An inordinate appetite for wealth is thy bane; and yet thou art no less tormented in preserving the goods thou hast acquired, than in acquiring more: fear of robbery or shipwreck suffers thee not to enjoy a quiet moment. Thus thou growest old in thy youth, thy hair turns gray, thy forehead is wrinkled, a thousand ailments afflict thy body, a thousand distresses surround thy heart, and thou movest with a painful hurry to the grave. Why art thou not content with what thy own country produceth? Why not contemn superfluities, as we do?’” [2:335].
[* ]A bankrupt in England who pays three fourths of his debt, and obtains a certificate of his good behaviour, is discharged of all the debts contracted by him before his bankruptcy. Such regulation was perhaps not unsuitable to the moderation and frugality of the period when it was made. But luxury and external show, have now become our ruling passions; and to supply our extravagance, money must be procured at any rate. Trade in particular has degenerated into a species of gaming; men venturing their all, in hopes of a lucky hit to elevate them above their neighbours. And did they only venture their own, the case would not be deplorable: they venture all they can procure upon credit; and by that means, reduce to beggary many an innocent family: with respect to themselves, they know the worst, which is to be clear’d from their debts by a certificate. The morals of our people are indeed at so low an ebb, as to require the most severe laws against bankruptcy. When a man borrows a sum, it is implied in the covenant, that all his effects present and future shall lie open to the creditor; for which reason, it is contradictory to justice, that the creditor should be forc’d to discharge the debt without obtaining complete payment. Many debtors, it is true, deserve favour; but it ought to be left to the humanity of creditors, and not be forc’d from them by law. A debtor, at the same time, may be safely left to the humanity of his creditors: for if he have conducted his affairs with strict integrity and with any degree of prudence, there will scarce be found one man so hard-hearted, as to stand out against the laudable and benevolent intentions of his fellow-creditors. Nay, if he have any regard to character, he dare not stand out: he would be held as a monster, and be abhorred by all the world. To leave a bankrupt thus to the mercy of his creditors, would produce the most salutary effects. It would excite men to be strictly just in their dealings, and put an end to gaming, so destructive to credit; because misbehaviour in any of these particulars would set the whole creditors against their debtor, and leave him no hope of favour. In the late bankrupt-statute for Scotland, accordingly, the clause concerning the certificate was wisely left out, as unsuitable to the depraved manners of the present time.
[(a) ][[Montesquieu, L’Esprit des loix, liv. 8. ch. 13.]]
[* ]In the fifteenth century, the French clergy from the pulpit censured public transactions, and even the conduct of their king, as our British clergy did in the days of Charles I. and II. They assumed the privilege of a Roman censor; but they were not men of such authority as to do any good in a corrupted nation.
[† ]In the beginning of the present century, attorneys and agents were so little rely’d on for honesty and integrity, as to be disqualified by the court of session from being factors on the estates of bankrupts. (Act of sederunt 23d November 1710.) At present, the factors chosen are commonly of that profession, writers or agents; and it appears from experience, that they make the best factors. Such improvement in morals in so short a time, has not many parallels. [[Note added in 2nd edition.]]
[(a) ]See Historical Law tracts, tract 2.
[* ]Lying and perjury are not in every case equally criminal; at least are not commonly reckoned so. Lying or perjury, in order to injure a man, is held highly criminal; and the greater the hurt, the greater the crime. To relieve from punishment, few boggle at a lie or at perjury; sincerity is not even expected; and hence the practice of torture. Many men are not scrupulous about oaths, when they have no view but to obtain justice to themselves: the Jacobites, that they might not be deprived of their privileges as British subjects, made no great difficulty to swallow oaths to the present government, tho’ in them it was perjury. It is dangerous to withdraw the smallest peg in the moral edifice; for the whole will totter and tumble. Men creep on to vice by degrees. Perjury in order to support a friend, has become customary of late years; witness fictitious qualifications in the electors of parliament-men, which are made effectual by perjury: yet such is the degeneracy of the present times, that no man is the worse thought of upon that account. We must not flatter ourselves that the poison will reach no farther: a man who boggles not at perjury to serve a friend, will in time become such an adept, as to commit perjury in order to ruin a friend when he becomes an enemy.
[(a) ]Genesis, chap. 26.
[(b) ]1 Samuel, xiv. 44.
[(c) ]Leviticus, chap. 4.
[(d) ]Book 3. of Antiquities.
[(a) ]l. 5. ad leg. Jul. Majest.
[17. ]In the 1st edition the following note is added here: “External show made a great figure, when nothing was regarded but what is visible. By acuteness of judgement, and refinement of taste, the pleasures of society prevail, and forms and ceremonies are disregarded. External show, however, continues to stand its ground in several instances. It occasions, in particular, many an ill-sorted match: a young man is apt to be captivated with beauty or dress; a young woman with equipage or a title” [2:347].
[18. ]“According to this reasoning . . . in this case”: added in 2nd edition. In the 1st edition: “But those who reason thus, ought first to consider, whether reasoning be at all applicable to the present subject” [2:397].
[(a) ]See the first part of this Sketch, Sect. 3. at the end.
[* ]In the language even of Peru, there is not a word for expressing an abstract idea, such as time, endurance, space, existence, substance, matter, body. It is no less defective in expressing moral ideas, such as virtue, justice, gratitude, liberty. The Yameos, a tribe on the river Oroonoko described by Condamine, use the word poettarraroincouroac to express the number three, and have no word for a greater number. The Brasilian language is nearly as barren.
[(a) ]Lib. 5.
[1. ]“and in Peru . . . is not known”: added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]A Greenland boat.
[* ]See this principle beautifully explained and illustrated in a sermon upon the love of God, by Doctor Butler Bishop of Durham, a writer of the first rank. [[Note added in 2nd edition.]]
[(a) ]Genesis, xlii. 21. 22.
[(a) ]See Essays on Morality and Natural Religion, part 2. sect. 3.
[(a) ]Book 2. sketch 1.
[(a) ]First sketch of this third book, sect. 1.
[2. ]In the 1st edition this paragraph is as follows: “A theory espoused by several writers ancient and modern, must not be overlooked; because it pretends to compose the world without a Deity; which would reduce the sense of a Deity to be delusive, if it have any existence. The theory is, That the world, composed of animals, vegetables, and brute matter, is self-existent and eternal; and that all events happen by a necessary chain of causes and effects. In this theory, tho’ wisdom and benevolence are conspicuous in every part, yet the great work of planning and executing the whole, is understood to have been done blindly without intelligence or contrivance. It is scarce necessary to remark, that this theory, assumed at pleasure, is highly improbable, if not absurd; and yet that it is left naked to the world without the least cover or support. But what I chiefly insist on is, that the endless number of wise and benevolent effects, display’d every where on the face of this globe, afford to us complete evidence of a wise and benevolent cause; and as these effects are far above the power of man, we necessarily ascribe them to some superior being, or in other words to the Deity. And this is sufficient to remove the present objection against the existence of a sense of a Deity. But I am not satisfied with this partial victory. I proceed to observe, that nothing more is required but the proof a Deity, to overturn the supposition of self-existence in a world composed of many heterogeneous parts, and of a chain of causes and effects framed without intelligence or foresight, tho’ full of wisdom and contrivance in every part. For if a Deity exist, wise and powerful above all other beings, self-existence ought to be his peculiar attribute; and no person of rationality will have any hesitation in rejecting the self-existence of such a world, when so natural a supposition lies in view, as that the whole is the operation of the truly self-existing being, whose power and wisdom are fully adequate to that arduous task” [2:360–61].
[3. ]Paragraph added in 3rd edition.
[(a) ]Part 2. sect. 7.
[* ]Plurality of heads or of hands in one idol, is sometimes made to supply plurality of different idols. Hence among savages the grotesque figure of some of their idols.
[4. ]“Beside the Esquimaux . . . have done so”: added in 2nd edition.
[5. ]In the 1st edition this is referred to as the third stage. It would appear that in the 1st edition the belief that all superior beings are malevolent, described in the previous paragraph, constitutes a second stage.
[* ]All Greek writers, and those in their neighbourhood, form the world out of a chaos. They had no such exalted notion of a deity as to believe, that he could make the world out of nothing.
[(a) ]Odyssey, book 8.
[* ]The English translator of that tragedy, observes it to be remarkable in the Grecian creed, that the gods punish not only the persons guilty, but their innocent posterity.
[(a) ]Odyssey, book 8.
[(b) ]Book 8.
[(c) ]Book 13.
[(d) ]Book 18.
[(e) ]Book 20.
[(f) ]Lib. 1. De natura deorum.
[* ]The form of the evocatio follows. “Tuo ductu, inquit, Pythie Apollo, tuoque numine instinctus, pergo ad delendam urbem Veios: tibique hinc decimam partem praedae voveo. Te simul, Juno Regina, quae nunc Veios colis, precor, ut nos victores in nostram tuamque mox feturam urbem sequare: ubi te, dignum amplitudine tua, templum accipiat.” Titus Livius, lib. 5. cap. 21.—[In English thus: “Under thy guidance and divine inspiration, O Pythian Apollo, I march to the destruction of Veii; and to thy shrine I devote a tenth of the plunder. Imperial Juno, guardian of Veii, deign to prosper our victorious arms, and a temple shall be erected to thy honour, suitable to the greatness and majesty of thy name.”]—But it appears from Macrobius, that they used a form of evocation even when the name of the tutelar deity was unknown to them. “Si deus, sidea est, cui populus civitasque Carthaginiensis est in tutela, teque maxime ille qui urbis hujus populique tutelam recipisti, precor, venerorque, veniamque a vobis peto, ut vos populum civitatemque Carthaginiensem deseratis, loca, templa, sacra, urbemque eorum relinquiatis, absque his abeatis, eique populo, civitatique metum, formidinem, oblivionem injiciatis, proditique Romam ad me meosque veniatis, nostraque vobis loca, templa, sacra, urbs, acceptior probatiorque sit, mihique populoque Romano militibusque meis praepositi sitis, ut sciamus intelligamusque. Si ita feceritis, voveo vobis templa ludosque facturum.” Saturnal. lib. 3. cap. 9.—[In English thus: “That divinity, whether god or goddess, who is the guardian of the state of Carthage, that divinity I invoke, I pray and supplicate, that he will desert that perfidious people. Honour not with thy presence their temples, their ceremonies, nor their city; abandon them to all their fears, leave them to infamy and oblivion. Fly hence to Rome, where, in my country, and among my fellow citizens, thou shalt have nobler temples, and more acceptable sacrifices; thou shalt be the tutelar deity of this army, and of the Roman state. On this condition, I here vow to erect temples and institute games to thine honour.”]
[6. ]“Deep in her heart remain the beauty of Paris and the outrage to her slighted beauty”: Virgil, Aeneid, bk. I, ll. 26–27.
[7. ]In 1st edition, the fourth stage.
[8. ]In 1st edition, the fifth stage.
[* ]All things in the universe are evidently of a piece. Every thing is adjusted to every thing; one design prevails through the whole: and this uniformity leads the mind to acknowledge one author; because the conception of different authors without distinction of attributes or operations, serves only to perplex the imagination, without bestowing any satisfaction on the understanding. Natural history of Religion, by David Hume, Esquire.
[9. ]“The Naudowessies are . . . delight in here”: added in 3rd edition.
[* ]Regnator omnium Deus, caetera subjecta atque parentia; Tacitus de moribus Germanorum, cap. 39. [In English thus: “One God the ruler of all; the rest inferior and subordinate.”]
[10. ]In 1st edition, the sixth stage.
[* ]The Abyssinians think that the ascribing to the devil the wicked acts of which the Portugueze declare him to be guilty, is falling into the error of the Manichees, who admit two principles, one good, one evil. [[Note added in 2nd edition.]]
[* ]Pliny seems to relish the doctrine of unity in the Deity; but is at a loss about forming any just conception of him, sometimes considering the world to be our only deity, sometimes the sun.
[(a) ]Ovid. Trist. lib. 1. eleg. 2.
[* ]“Be assured of this, that while ye preserve your reverence for justice, ye will enjoy all the blessings which are estimable among mankind. If ye refuse to obey her dictates, and your morals become corrupted, God himself will abandon you, and take the part of your enemies. For although the benevolence of that power is not partially confined to tribe or people, yet in the eye of his justice all men are not equally the objects of his approbation.”
[(a) ]See the 10th and 11th chapters of the Acts of the Apostles.
[(a) ]Acts of the Apostles, x. 34.
[(b) ]Acts of the Apostles, chap. 13.
[(a) ]Historia Gothica, lib. 1.
[11. ]“In cases of . . . in the right”: added in 3rd edition.
[* ]That ridiculous ceremony is kept up to this day: such power has custom. Take the following sample of it; “The Grand Prior of St. Remi opens the holy phial, and gives it to the Archbishop, who with a golden needle takes some of the precious oil, about the size of a grain of wheat, which he mixes with consecrated ointment. The King then prostrates himself before the altar on a violet-coloured carpet, embroidered with fleurs de lys, while they pray. Then the King rises, and the Archbishop anoints him on the crown of the head, on the stomach, on the two elbows, and on the joints of the arms. After the several anointings, the Archbishop of Rheims, the Bishops of Laon and Beauvais close the openings of the shirt; the High Chamberlain puts on the tunic and the royal mantle; the King then kneels again, and is anointed in the palms of his hands.” Is this farce less ludicrous than that of an English King curing the King’s evil with a touch? [[Note added in 2nd edition.]]
[(a) ]L’Esprit des loix, lib. 12. ch. 5.
[12. ]This and the previous paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[* ]Having gained the battle of St. Quintin on the festival of St. Laurence, Philip reckoned himself obliged to the saint for this victory, as much as to God Almighty; and accordingly, he not only built the monastery he had vowed, but also a church for the saint and a palace for himself, all under one roof: and what is not a little ludicrous, the edifice is built in resemblance of a gridiron, which, according to the legend, was the instrument of Laurence’s martyrdom.
[† ]It is no wonder that the Romans were superstitiously addicted to omens and auguries: like mere savages, they put no value upon any science but that of war; and, for that reason, they banished all philosophers, as useless members of society. Thus, that nation, so fierce and so great in war, surrendered themselves blindly to superstition, and became slaves to imaginary evils. Even their gravest historians were deeply tainted with that disease.
[* ]Charlemagne, tho’ an eminent astronomer for his time, was afraid of comets and eclipses. [[Note added in 2nd edition.]]
[(a) ]Tacitus De moribus Germanorum, cap. 10.
[* ]“It is peculiar to that people, to deduce omens and presages from horses. These animals are maintained at the public expence, in groves and forests, and are not allowed to be polluted with any work for the use of man; but being yoked in the sacred chariot, the priest, and the king, or chief of the state, attend them, and carefully observe their neighings. The greatest faith is given to this method of augury, both among the vulgar and the nobles.”
[† ]Is it not mortifying to human pride, that a great philosopher [Bacon] should think like the vulgar upon this subject? With respect to rejoicings in London upon the marriage of the daughter of Henry VII. of England to James IV. of Scotland, he says, “not from any affection to the Scots, but from a secret instinct and inspiration of the advantages that would accrue from the match.”
[(b) ]Gothica Historia, lib. 1.
[* ]“The golden cup full of abominations.”
[13. ]Paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]St. Matthew, xxvi. 26. &c.
[14. ]“But the second . . . the same time”: added in 3rd edition.
[* ]A traveller describing the Virgin Mary’s house at Loretto, has the following reflection. “When there are so many saints endued with such miraculous powers, so many relics, and so many impregnated wells, each of them able to cure the most dangerous diseases; one would wonder, that physicians could live there, or others die. But people die here as elsewhere; and even churchmen, who preach upon the miracles wrought by relics, grow sick and die like other men.” It is one thing to believe: it is another thing to fancy that we believe. In the year 1666 a Jew named Sabatai Levi appeared at Smyrna, pretending to be the true Messiah, and was acknowledged to be so by many. The Grand Signior, for proof of his mission, insisted for a miracle; proposing that he should present himself as a mark to be shot at, and promising to believe that he was the Messiah, if he remained unwounded. Sabatai, declining the trial, turned Mahometan to save his life. But observe the blindness of superstition: tho’ Sabatai was seen every day walking the streets of Constantinople in the Turkish habit, many Jews insisted that the true Sabatai was taken up into heaven, leaving only behind him his shadow; and probably they most piously fancied that they believed so.
[* ]Bishop Burnet seems doubtful whether this creed was composed by Athanasius. His doubts, in my apprehension, are scarce sufficient to weigh against the unanimous opinion of the Christian church.