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SKETCH III: Principles and Progress of Theology - 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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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.
Religious Worship respecting the Deity singly.15
The obligation we are under to worship God, or to walk humbly with him, is, as observed above, founded on the two great principles of gratitude and obedience; both of them requiring fundamentally a pure heart, and a well-disposed mind. But heart-worship is alone not sufficient: there are over and above required external signs, testifying to others the sense we have of these duties, and a firm resolution to perform them. That such is the will of God, will appear as follows. The principle of devotion, like most of our other principles, partakes of the imperfection of our nature: yet, however faint originally, it is capable of being greatly invigorated by cultivation and exercise. Private exercise is not sufficient. Nature, and consequently the God of nature, require public exercise or public worship: for devotion is communicative, like joy or grief (a) ; and by mutual communication in a numerous assembly, is greatly invigorated. A regular habit of expressing publicly our gratitude and resignation, never fails to purify the mind, tending to wean it from every unlawful pursuit. This is the true motive of public worship; not what is commonly inculcated, That it is required from us, as a testimony to our Maker of our obedience to his laws: God, who knows the heart, needs no such testimony.*
The setting apart one day in seven for public worship is not a pious institution merely, but highly moral. With regard to the latter, all men are equal in the presence of God; and when a congregation pray for mercy and protection, every one must be inflamed with good-will and brotherly love to every one.
In the next place, the serious and devout tone of mind inspired by public worship, suggests naturally self-examination. Retired from the bustle of the world in the day of rest, the errors we have been guilty of are recalled to memory: we are afflicted for these errors, and are firmly resolved to be more on our guard in time coming. In short, Sunday is only a day of rest from worldly concerns, in order to be more use-fully employed upon those that are internal. Sunday accordingly is a day of account; and a candid account every seventh day, is the best preparation for the great day of account. A person who diligently follows out this preparatory discipline, will seldom be at a loss to answer for his conduct, called upon by God or man. This consideration leads me necessarily to condemn a practice authorised among Christians with very few exceptions, that of abandoning to diversion and merriment what remains of Sunday after public worship, parties of pleasure, dancing, gaming, any thing that trifles away the time without a serious thought; as if the purpose were to cancel every virtuous impression made at public worship.
Unhappily, this salutary institution can only be preserved in vigour during the days of piety and virtue. Power and opulence are the darling objects of every nation; and yet in every nation possessed of power and opulence virtue subsides, selfishness prevails, and sensuality becomes the ruling passion. Then it is, that the most sacred institutions, first, lose their hold, next, are disregarded, and at last are made a subject for ridicule.16
I shall only add upon the general head, that lawgivers ought to avoid with caution the enforcing public worship by rewards and punishments: human laws cannot reach the heart, in which the essence of worship consists: they may indeed bring on a listless habit of worship, by separating the external act from the internal affection, than which nothing is more hurtful to true religion. The utmost that can be safely ventured, is to bring public worship under censorian powers, as a matter of police, for preserving good order, and for preventing bad example.
The religion of Confucius, professed by the literati and persons of rank in China and Tonquin, consists in a deep inward veneration for the God or King of heaven, and in the practice of every moral virtue. They have neither temples, nor priests, nor any settled form of external worship: every one adores the supreme Being in the manner he himself thinks best. This is indeed the most refined system of religion that ever took place among men; but it is not fitted for the human race: an excellent religion it would be for angels; but is far too refined even for sages and philosophers.
Proceeding to deviations from the genuine worship required by our Maker, and gross deviations there have been, I begin with that sort of worship which is influenced by fear, and which for that reason is universal among savages. The American savages believe, that there are inferior deities without end, most of them prone to mischief; they neglect the supreme Deity because he is good; and direct their worship to soothe the malevolent inferior deities from doing harm. The inhabitants of the Molucca islands, who believe the existence of malevolent beings subordinate to the supreme benevolent Being, confine their worship to the former, in order to avert their wrath; and one branch of their worship is, to set meat before them, hoping that when the belly is full, there will be less inclination to mischief. The worship of the inhabitants of Java is much the same. The negroes of Benin worship the devil, as Dapper expresses it, and sacrifice to him both men and beasts. They acknowledge indeed a supreme Being, who created the universe, and governs it by his providence: but they regard him not: “for,” say they, “it is needless, if not impertinent, to invoke a being, who, good and gracious, is incapable of injuring or molesting us.” Gratitude, it would appear, is not a ruling principle among savages.17
The austerities and penances that are practised in almost all religions, spring from the same root. One way to please invisible malignant powers, is to make ourselves as miserable as possible. Hence the horrid penances of the Faquirs in Hindostan, who outdo in mortification whatever is reported of the ancient Christian anchorites. Some of these Faquirs continue for life in one posture: some never lie down: some have always their arms raised above their head: and some mangle their bodies with knives and scourges. The town of Jagrenate in Hindostan is frequented by pilgrims, some of them from places 300 leagues distant; and they travel, not by walking or riding, but by measuring the road with the length of their bodies; in which mode of loco-motion, some of them consume years before they complete their pilgrimage. A religious sect made its way some centuries ago into Japan, termed Bubsdoists, from Bubs, the founder. This sect has prevailed over the ancient sect of the Sintos, chiefly by its austerity and mortifications. The spirit of this sect inspires nothing but excessive fear of the gods, who are painted prone to vengeance and always offended. These sectaries pass most of their time in tormenting themselves, in order to expiate imaginary faults; and they are treated by their priests with a degree of despotism and cruelty, that is not parallelled but by the inquisitors of Spain. Their manners are fierce, cruel, and unrelenting, derived from the nature of their superstition. The notion of invisible malevolent powers, formerly universal, is not to this hour eradicated, even among Christians; for which I appeal to the fastings and flagellations among Roman-Catholics, held by them to be an essential part of religion. People infected with religious horrors, are never seriously convinced that an upright heart and sound morality make the essence of religion. The doctrine of the Jansenists concerning repentance and mortification, shows evidently, however they may deceive themselves, that they have an impression of the Deity as a malevolent being. They hold the guilt contracted by Adam’s fall to be a heinous sin, which ought to be expiated by acts of mortification, such as the torturing and macerating the body with painful labour, excessive abstinence, continual prayer and contemplation. Their penances, whether for original or voluntary sin, are carried to extravagance; and those who put an end to their lives by such severities, are termed the sacred victims of repentance, consumed by the fire of divine love. Such suicides are esteemed peculiarly meritorious in the eye of Heaven; and it is thought, that their sufferings cannot fail to appease the anger of the Deity. That celibacy is a state of purity and perfection, is a prevailing notion in many countries: among the Pagans, a married man was forbidden to approach the altar, for some days after knowing his wife; and this ridiculous notion of pollution, contributed to introduce celi-bacy among the Roman-Catholic priests.* The Emperor Otho, anno 1218, became a signal penitent: but instead of atoning for his sins by repentance and restitution, he laid himself down to be trodden under foot by the boys of his kitchen; and frequently submitted to the discipline of the whip, inflicted by monks. The Emperor Charles V. toward the end of his days, was sorely depressed in spirit with fear of hell. Monks were his only companions, with whom he spent his time in chanting hymns. As an expiation for his sins, he in private disciplined himself with such severity, that his whip, found after his death, was tinged with his blood. Nor was he satisfied with these acts of mortification: timorous and illiberal solicitude still haunting him, he aimed at something extraordinary, at some new and singular act of piety, to display his zeal, and to merit the favour of Heaven. The act he fixed on, was as wild as any that supersti-tion ever suggested to a distempered brain: it was to celebrate his own obsequies. He ordered his tomb to be erected in the chapel of the monastery: his domestics marched there in funeral procession, holding black tapers: he followed in his shroud: he was laid in his coffin with much solemnity: the service of the dead was chanted; and he himself joined in the prayers offered up for his requiem, mingling his tears with those of his attendants. The ceremony closed with sprinkling holy water upon the coffin; and the assistants retiring, the doors of the chapel were shut. Then Charles rose out of the coffin, and stole privately to his apartment.
The history of ancient sacrifices is not so accurate, as in every instance to ascertain upon what principle they were founded, whether upon fear, upon gratitude for favours received, or to solicit future favour. Human sacrifices undoubtedly belong to the present head: for being calculated to deprecate the wrath of a malevolent deity, they could have no other motive but fear; and indeed they are a most direful effect of that passion.* It is needless to lose time in mentioning instances, which are well known to those who are acquainted with ancient history. A number of them are collected in Historical Law-tracts (a) : and to these I take the liberty of adding, that the Cimbrians, the Germans, the Gauls, particularly the Druids, practised human sacrifices; for which we have the authority of Julius Caesar, Strabo, and other authors. A people on the bank of the Missisippi, named Tensas, worship the sun; and, like the Natches their neighbours, have a temple for that luminary, with a sacred fire in it, continually burning. The temple having been set on fire by thunder, was all in flames when some French travellers saw them throw children into the fire, one after another, to appease the incensed deity. The Prophet Micah (a) , in a passage partly quoted above, inveighs bitterly against such sacrifices: “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God; shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 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 ancient Persians acknowledged Oromazes and Arimanes as their great deities, authors of good and ill to men. But I find not that Arimanes, the evil principle, was ever an object of any religious worship. The Gaures, who profess the ancient religion of Persia, address no worship but to one God, all-good and all-powerful.
Next, of worshipping the Deity in the character of a mercenary being. Under that head come sacrifices and oblations, whether prompted by gratitude for favours received, or by self-interest to pro-cure future favours: which, for the reason mentioned, I shall not attempt to distinguish. As the deities of early times were thought to resemble men, it was a natural endeavour in men to conciliate their favour by such offerings as were the most relished by themselves. It is probable, that the first sacrifices of that kind, were of sweet-smelling herbs, which in the fire emitted a flavour that might reach the nostrils of a deity, even at a distance. The burning incense to their gods, was practised in Mexico and Peru; and at present is practised in the peninsula of Corea. An opportunity so favourable for making religious zeal a fund of riches to the priesthood, is seldom neglected. There was no difficulty to persuade ignorant people, that the gods could eat as well as smell: what was offered to a deity for food, being carried into the temple, was understood to be devoured by him.
With respect to the Jewish sacrifices of burnt-offerings, meat-offerings, sin-offerings, peace-offerings, heave-offerings, and wave-offerings, these were appointed by God himself, in order to keep that stiff-necked people in daily remembrance of their dependence on him, and to preserve them if possible from idolatry. But that untractable race did not adhere to the purity of the institution: they insensibly degenerated into the notion that their God was a mercenary being; and in that character only, was the worship of sacrifices performed to him. The offerings mentioned were liberally bestowed on him, not singly as a token of their dependence, but chiefly in order to avert his wrath, or to gain his favour.*
The religious notions of the Greeks were equally impure: they could not think of any means for conciliating the favour of their gods, more efficacious than gifts. Homer paints his gods as excessively mercenary. In the fourth book of the Iliad, Jupiter says, “Of these cities, honoured the most by the soul of Jove, is sacred Troy. Never stands the altar empty before me, oblations poured forth in my presence, favour that ascends the skies.” Speaking in the fifth book of a warrior, known afterward to be Diomedes, “Some god he is, some power against the Trojans enraged for vows unpaid: destructive is the wrath of the gods.” Diomedes prays to Minerva, “With thine arm ward from me the foe: a year-old heifer, O Queen, shall be thine, broad-fronted, unbroken, and wild: her to thee I will offer with prayer, gilding with gold her horns.” Precisely of the same kind, are the offerings made by superstitious Roman-Catholics to the Virgin Mary, and to saints. Electra, in the tragedy of that name, supplicates Apollo in the following terms:
The people of Hindostan, as mentioned above, atone for their sins by austere pe-nances; but they have no notion of presenting gifts to the Deity, nor of deprecating his wrath by the flesh of animals. On the contrary, they reckon it a sin to slay any living creature; which reduces them to vegetable food. This is going too far; for the Deity could never mean to prohibit animal food, when originally man’s chief dependence was upon it. The abstaining however from animal food, shows greater humanity in the religion of Hindostan, than of any other known country. The inhabitants of Madagascar are in a stage of religion, common among many nations, which is, the acknowledging one supreme benevolent deity, and many malevolent inferior deities. Most of their worship is indeed addressed to the latter; but they have so far advanced before several other nations, as to offer sacrifices to the supreme Being, without employing either idols or temples.
Philosophy and sound sense in polished nations, have purified religious worship, by banishing the profession, at least, of oblations and sacrifices. The Being that made the world, governs it by laws that are inflexible, because they are the best; and to imagine that he can be moved by prayers, oblations, or sacrifices, to vary his plan of government, is an impious thought, degrading the Deity to a level with ourselves: “Hear O my people, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goat out of thy fold: for every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows to the Most High. Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (a) . “Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (b) . “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings” (c) . In dark ages, there is great shew of reli-gion, with little heart-worship: in ages of philosophy, warm heart-worship, with little shew.*
This is a proper place for the history of idolatry; which, as will anon appear, sprung from religious worship corrupted by men of shallow understanding and gross conceptions, upon whom things invisible make little impression.
Savages, even of the lowest class, have an impression of invisible powers, tho’ they cannot form any distinct notion of them. But such impression is too faint for the exercise of devotion. Whether inspired with love to a good being, or impressed with fear of an ill being, savages are not at ease without some sort of visible object to fix their attention. A great stone served that purpose originally; a very low instrument indeed of religious worship; but not altogether whimsical, if it was introduced, which is highly probable, in the following manner. It was an early and a natural custom among savages, to mark with a great stone the place where their worthies were interred; of which we have hints every where in ancient history, particularly in the poems of Ossian. “Place me,” says Calmar mortally wounded, “at the side of a stone of remembrance, that future times may hear my fame, and the mother of Calmar rejoice over the stone of my renown.” Superstition in later times having deified these worthies, their votaries, rejoicing as formerly over the stones dedicated to them, held these stones to be essential in every act of religious worship performed to their new deities.* Tradition points out many stones in different parts of the world, that were used in religious worship. The sun was worshipped at Emesa in Syria by the name of Elagabalus, and under the form of a black conical stone, which, as universally believed, had fallen from heaven on that sacred place.18 A large stone worshipped by the Pessenuntians, a people of Phrygia, under the name of Idaea mater, was, upon a solemn embassy to that people, brought to Rome: it being contained in the Sybilline books, that unless the Romans got possession of that goddess, they never would prevail over Hannibal. And Pausanias mentions many stones in Greece, dedicated to different divinities; particu-larly thirty square stones in Achaia, on which were engraved the names of as many gods. In another place, he mentions a very ancient statue of Venus in the island Delos, which, instead of feet, had only a square stone. This may appear a puzzling circumstance in the history of Greece, considering that all the Grecian gods were originally mortals, whom it was easy to represent by statues: but in that early period, the Greeks knew no more of statuary than the most barbarous nations. It is perhaps not easy to gather the meaning of savages, with respect to such stones: the most natural conjecture is, that a great stone, dedicated to the worship of a certain deity, was considered as belonging to him. This notion of property had a double effect: the worshippers, by connection of ideas, were led from the stone to the deity: and the stone tended to fix their wandering thoughts. It was probably imagined, over and above, that some latent virtue communicated to the stone, made it holy or sacred. Even among enlightened people, a sort of virtue or sanctity is conceived to reside in the place of worship: why not also in a stone dedicated to a deity? The ancient Ethiopians, in their worship, introduced the figure of a serpent as a symbol of the deity: two sticks laid cross represented Castor and Pollux, Roman divinities: a javelin represented their god Mars; and in Tartary formerly, the god of war was worshipped under the symbol of an old rusty sabre. The ancient Persians used consecrated fire, as an emblem of the great God. Tho’ the negroes of Congo and Angola have images without number, they are not however idolaters in any proper sense: their belief is, that these images are only organs by which the deities signify their will to their votaries.
If the use that was made of stones and of other symbols in religious worship, be fairly represented, it may appear strange, that the ingenious Greeks sunk down into idolatry, at the very time they were making a rapid progress in the fine arts. Their improvements in statuary, one of these arts, was the cause. They began with attempting to carve heads of men and women, representing their deified heroes; which were placed upon the stones dedicated to these heroes. In the progress of the art, statues were executed complete in every member; and at last, statues of the gods were made, expressing such dignity and majesty, as insensibly to draw from beholders a degree of devotion to the statues themselves. Hear Quintilian upon that subject. “At quae Polycleto defuerunt, Phidiae atque Alcameni dantur. Phidias tamen diis quam hominibus efficiendis melior artifex traditur: in ebore vero, longe citra aemulum, vel si nihil nisi Minervam Athenis aut Olympium in Elide Jovem fecisset, cujus pulchritudo adjecisse aliquid etiam receptae religioni videtur; adeo majestas operis deum aequavit.”* Here is laid a foundation for idolatry: let us trace its progress. Such statues as are represented by Quintilian, serve greatly to enflame devotion; and during a warm fit of the religious passion, the representation is lost, and the statue becomes a deity; precisely as where King Lear is represented by Garrick: the actor vanishes; and, behold! the King himself. This is not singular. Anger occasions a metamorphosis still more extraordinary: if I happen to strike my gouty toe against a stone, the violence of the pain converts the stone for a moment into a voluntary agent; and I wreak my resentment on it, as if it really were so. It is true, the image is only conceived to be a deity during the fervour of devotion; and when that subsides, the image falls back to its original representative state. But frequent instances of that kind, have at last the effect among illiterate people, to convert the image into a sort of permanent deity: what such people see, makes a deep impression; what they see not, very little. There is another thing that concurs with eye-sight, to promote this delusion: devotion, being a vigorous principle in the human breast, will exert itself upon the meanest object, when none more noble is in view.
The ancient Persians held the conse-crated fire to be an emblem only of the great God: but such veneration was paid to that emblem, and with so great ceremony was it treated, that the vulgar came at last to worship it as a sort of deity. The priests of the Gaures watch the consecrated fire day and night: they keep it alive with the purest wood, without bark: they touch it not with sword nor knife: they blow it not with bellows, nor with the mouth: even the priest is prohibited to approach it, till his mouth be covered with fine linen, lest it be polluted with his breath: if it happen to go out, it must be rekindled by striking fire from flint, or by a burning glass.
The progress of idolatry will more clearly appear, from attending to the religion of the Greeks and Romans. The Greeks, as mentioned above, made use of stones in divine worship, long before idolatry was introduced: and we learn from Varro, that for a hundred and seventy years after Numa, the Romans had no statues nor images in their temples. After statues of the gods became fashionable, they acquired by degrees more and more respect. The Greek and Roman writers talk of di-vine virtue being communicated to statues; and some Roman writers talk familiarly, of the numen of a deity residing in his statue. Arnobius, in his book against the Gentiles, introduces a Gentile delivering the following opinion. “We do not believe, that the metal which composes a statue, whether gold, or silver, or brass, is a god. But we believe, that a solemn dedication brings down the god to inhabit his image; and it is the god only that we worship in that image.” This explains the Roman ceremony, of inviting to their side the tutelar deities of towns besieged by them, termed evocatio tutelarium deorum. The Romans, cruel as they were, overflowed with superstition; and as they were averse from combating the tutelar deities even of their enemies, they endeavoured to gain these deities by large promises, and assurance of honourable treatment. As they could not hope that a statue would change its place, their notion must have been, that by this ceremony, the tutelar deity might be prevailed upon to withdraw its numen,19 and leave the statue a dead lump of matter. When Stilpo was banished by the Areopagus of Athens, for affirming, that the statue in the temple of Minerva, was not the goddess, but a piece of matter carved by Phidias; he surely was not condemned for saying, that the statue was made by Phidias, a fact universally known: his heresy consisted in denying that the numen of Minerva resided in the statue. Augustus, having twice lost his fleet by storm, forbade Neptune to be carried in procession along with the other gods; imagining he had avenged himself of Neptune, by neglecting the favourite statue in which his numen resided.
When saints in the Christian church were deified, even their images became objects of worship; from a fond imagination, that such worship draws down into the images the souls of the saints they represent; which is the same belief that Arnobius, in the passage above mentioned, ascribes to the Gentiles; and is not widely different from the belief of the Pagan Tartars and Ostiacs, by and by to be mentioned. In the eleventh century, there was a violent dispute about images in the Greek church; many asserting, that in the images of our Saviour and of the saints, there resides an inherent sanctity which is a proper object of worship; and that Christians ought not to confine their worship to the persons represented, but ought also to extend it to their images.
As ignorant and savage nations can form no conception of Deity but of a being like a man, only superior in power and greatness; many images have been made of the Deity conformable to that conception. It is easy to make some resemblance of a man; but how is power and greatness to be represented? To perform this with success, would require a Hogarth. Savages go more bluntly to work: they endeavour to represent a man with many heads, and with a still greater number of hands. The northern Tartars seem to have no deities but certain statues or images coarsely formed out of wood, and bearing some distant resemblance to the human figure. To palliate so gross an absurdity as that a god can be fabricated by the hands of man, they imagine this image to be endued with a soul: to say whence that soul came would puzzle the wisest of them. That soul is conceived to be too elevated for dwelling constantly in a piece of matter: they be-lieve that it resides in some more honourable place; and that it only visits the image or idol, when it is called down by prayers and supplications. They sacrifice to this idol, by rubbing its mouth with the fat of fish, and by offering it the warm blood of some beast killed in hunting. The last step of the ceremony is, to honour the soul of the idol with a joyful shout, as a sort of convoy to it when it returns home. The Ostiacs have a wooden idol, termed The Old Man of Oby, who is guardian of their fishery: it hath eyes of glass, and a head with short horns. When the ice dissolves, they crowd to this idol, requesting that he will be propitious to their fishery. If unsuccessful, he is loaded with reproaches: if successful, he is entitled to a share of the capture. They make a feast for him, rubbing his snout with choice fat; and when the entertainment is over, they accompany the soul of the idol a little way, beating the air with their cudgels. The Ostiacs have another idol, that is fed with milk so abundantly, as to come out on both sides of the spoon, and to fall down upon the vesture; which however is never washed, so little is clean-ness thought essential to religion by that people. It is indeed strangely absurd, to think, that invisible souls require food like human creatures; and yet the same absurdity prevailed in Greece.
The ancient Germans, a sober and sensible people, had no notion of representing their gods by statues, or of building temples to them. They worshipped in consecrated groves (a) . The Egyptians, from a just conception that an invisible being can have no resemblance to one that is visible, employ’d hieroglyphical figures for denoting metaphorically the attributes of their gods; and they employ’d, not only the figures of birds and beasts, but of vegetables; leeks, for example, and onions. This metaphorical adjunct to religion, innocent in itself, sunk the Egyptians into the most groveling idolatry. As hieroglyphical figures, composed frequently of heterogeneous parts, resemble not any being human or divine; the vulgar, losing sight of the emblematic signification understood by poets and philosophers only, took up with the plain figures as real divinities. How otherwise can it be accounted for, that the ox, the ape, the onion, were in Egypt worshipped as deities? Plutarch, it is true, in his chapter upon Isis and Osiris observes, that the Egyptians worshipped the bull, the cat, and other animals; not as divinities, but as representatives of them, like an image seen in a glass; or, as he expresses it in another part of the same chapter, “just as we see the resemblance of the sun in a drop of water.” But that this must be understood of Philosophers only, will be probable from what is reported by Diodorus Siculus, that in a great famine, the Egyptians ventured not to touch the sacred animals, tho’ they were forc’d to devour one another.20 A snake of a particular kind, about a yard long, and about the thickness of a man’s arm, is worshipped by the Whidans in Guinea. It has a large round head, piercing eyes, a short pointed tongue, and a smooth skin, beautifully speckled. It has a strong antipathy to all the venomous kind; in other respects, innocent and tame. To kill these snakes being a capital crime, they travel about unmolested, even into bedchambers. They occa-sioned, ann. 1697, a ridiculous persecution. A hog, teased by one of them, tore it with his tusks till it died. The priests carried their complaint to the king; and no one presuming to appear as counsel for the hogs, orders were issued for slaughtering the whole race. At once were brandished a thousand cutlasses; and the race would have been extirpated, had not the king interposed, representing to the priests, that they ought to rest satisfied with the innocent blood they had spilt. Rancour and cruelty never rage more violently, than under the mask of religion.
It is amazing how prone even the most polished nations were to idolatry. A statue of Hercules was worshipped at Tyre, not as a representative of the Deity but as the Deity himself. And accordingly, when Tyre was besieged by Alexander, the Deity was fast bound in chains, to prevent him from deserting to the enemy. The city of Ambracia being taken by the Romans, and every statue of their gods being carried to Rome; the Ambracians complained bitterly, that not a single divinity was left them to worship. How much more rational are the Hindostan bramins, who teach their disciples, that idols are emblems only of the Deity, intended merely to fix the attention of the populace!
The first statues in Greece and Tuscany were made with wings, to signify the swift motion of the gods. These statues were so clumsy, as scarce to resemble human creatures, not to talk of a divinity. But the admirable statues executed in later times, were imagined to resemble most accurately the deities represented by them: whence the vulgar notion, that gods have wings, and that angels have wings.
I proceed to what in the history of idolatry may be reckoned the second part. Statues, we have seen, were at first used as representatives only of the Deity; but came afterward to be metamorphosed into Deities. The absurdity did not stop there. People, not satisfied with the visible deities erected in temples for public worship, became fond to have private deities of their own, whom they worshipped as their tutelar deities; and this practice spread so wide, that among many nations every family had household-gods cut in wood or stone. Every family in Kam-skatka has a tutelar deity in the shape of a pillar, with the head of a man, which is supposed to guard the house against malevolent spirits. They give it food daily, and anoint the head with the fat of fish. The Prophet Isaiah (a) puts this species of deification in a most ridiculous light: “He burneth part thereof in the fire: with part thereof he roasteth flesh: of the residue he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down, worshipping, and praying to it, and saith, Deliver me, for thou art my god.” Multiplication could not fail to sink household-gods into a degree of contempt: some slight hope of good from them, might produce some cold ceremonial worship; but there could be no real devotion at heart. The Chinese manner of treating their household-gods, will vouch for me. When a Chinese does not obtain what he prays for, “Thou spiritual dog,” he will say, “I lodge thee well, thou art beautifully gilded, treated with perfumes and burnt-offerings; and yet thou withholdest from me the necessaries of life.” Sometimes they fasten a cord to the idol, and drag it through the dirt. The inhabitants of Ceylon treat their idols in the same manner. Thor, Woden, and Friga, were the great deities of the Scandinavians. They had at the same time inferior deities, who were supposed to have been men translated into heaven for their good works. These they treated with very little ceremony, refusing to worship them if they were not propitious; and even punishing them with banishment; but restoring them after a time, in hopes of amendment. Domestic idols are treated by the Ostiacs with no greater reverence than by the people mentioned. But they have public idols, some particularly of brass, which are highly reverenced: the solidity of the metal is in their imagination connected with immortality; and great regard is paid to these idols, for the knowledge and experience they must have acquired in an endless course of time.
When by philosophy and improvement of the rational faculty, the Pagan religion in Rome was sinking into contempt, little regard was had to tutelar deities, to auguries, or to prophecies. Ptolemy King of Egypt, being thrust out of his kingdom by a powerful faction, applied to the senate of Rome to be restored. Lentulus proconsul of Syria was ambitious to be employ’d; but he had enemies who made violent opposition. They brought religion into the quarrel, alledging a Sybilline oracle, prophesying that Ptolemy should be restored but not by an army. Cicero, in a letter still extant, gave Lentulus the following advice, that with his Syrian army he should invade Egypt, beat down all opposition, and when the country was quieted, that Ptolemy should be at hand to take possession. And this the great Cicero thought might be piously done without contradicting the oracle.21
Saints, or tutelar deities, are sometimes not better treated among Roman Catholics, than among Pagans. “When we were in Portugal,” says Captain Brydone, “the people of Castelbranco were so enraged at St. Antonio, for suffering the Spaniards to plunder their town, contrary, as they affirmed, to his express agreement with them, that they broke many of his statues to pieces; and one that had been more revered than the rest, they took the head off, and in its stead placed one of St. Francis. The great St. Januarius himself was in imminent danger, during the last famine at Naples. They loaded him with abuse and invective; and declared point-blank, that if he did not procure them corn by such a time, he should be no longer their saint.” The tutelar saint of Cattania, at the foot of Mount Etna, is St. Agatha. A torrent of lava burst over the walls, and laid waste great part of that beautiful city. Where was St. Agatha at that time? The people say, that they had given her just provocation; but that she has long ago been reconciled to them, and has promised never to suffer the lava to hurt them again. At the foot of Mount Etna, a statue of a saint is placed as a memorial, for having prevented the lava from running up the mountain of Taurominum, and destroying that town; the saint having conducted the lava down a low valley to the sea.
Let a traveller once deviate from the right road, and there is no end of wandering. Porphyrius reports, that in Anubis, an Egyptian city, a real man was worshipped as a god; which is also as-serted by Minutius Foelix, in his apology for the Christians. A thousand writers have said, that the Tartars believe their high-priest, termed Dalai Lama, to be immortal. But that is a mistake: his death is published through the whole country; and couriers intimate it even to the Emperor of China: his effigy is taken down from the portal of the great church, and that of his successor is put in its stead. The system of the metempsychosis, adopted in that country, has occasion’d the mistake. They believe, that the holy spirit, which animates a Dalai Lama, passes upon his death into the body of his successor. The spirit therefore is believed to be immortal, not the body. The Dalai Lama, however, is the object of profound veneration. The Tartar Princes are daily sending presents to him, and consulting him as an oracle: they even undertake a pilgrimage in order to worship him in person. In a retired part of the temple, he is shown covered with precious stones, and sitting cross-legged. They prostrate themselves before him at a distance, for they are not permitted to kiss his toe. The priests make traffic even of his excre-ments, which are greedily purchased at a high price, and are kept in a golden box hanging from the neck, as a charm against every misfortune. Like the cross of Jesus, or the Virgin’s milk, we may believe, there never will be wanting plenty of that precious stuff to answer all demands: the priests out of charity will furnish a quota, rather than suffer votaries to depart with their money for want of goods to purchase. The person of the Japan Pope, or Ecclesiastical Emperor, is held so sacred, as to make the cutting his beard, or his nails a deadly sin. But absurd laws are never steadily executed. The beard and the nails are cut in the nighttime, when the Pope is supposed to be asleep; and what is taken away by that operation, is understood to be stolen from him, which is no impeachment upon his Holiness.
That the Jews were idolaters when they sojourned in the land of Goshen, were it not presumable from their commerce with the Egyptians, would however be evident from the history of Moses. Notwithstanding their miraculous deliverance from the Egyptian king, notwithstanding the daily miracles wrought among them in the wilderness; so addicted were they to a visible deity, that, during even the momentary absence of Moses conversing with God on the mount, they fabricated a golden calf, and worshipped it as their god. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down: for thy people which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, have worshipped it, have sacrificed thereunto, and said, ‘These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt’” (a) . The history of the Jews, shows how difficult it is to reclaim from idolatry a brutish nation, addicted to superstition, and fettered by inveterate habit. What profusion of blood, to bring that obstinate and perverse people to the true religion! all in vain. The book of Judges, in particular, is full of reiterated relapses, from their own invisible God, to the visible gods of other na-tions. And in all probability, their anxious desire for a visible king, related in the first book of Samuel, arose from their being deprived of a visible god. There was a necessity for prohibiting images (a) ; which would have soon been converted into deities visible: and it was extremely prudent, to supply the want of a visible god, with endless shews and ceremonies; which accordingly became the capital branch of the Jewish worship.
It appears to me from the whole history of the Jews, that a gross people are not susceptible but of a gross religion; and without an enlightened understanding, that it is vain to think of eradicating superstition and idolatry. And after all the covenants made with the Jews, after all the chastisements and all the miracles lavish’d on them, that they were not however reclaimed from the most groveling idolatry, is evident from the two golden calves fabricated by Jeroboam, saying, “Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of E-gypt” (b) . The people also of Judah fell back to idol-worship under Rehoboam, son of Solomon (c) . Jehu, king of the ten tribes, did not tolerate the worship of other gods (d) ; but he continued to worship the two golden calves fabricated by Jeroboam (e) . Down to the days of King Hezekiah, the Jews worshipped the brazen serpent erected by Moses in the wilderness. The Jews seem indeed to have been a very perverse people: the many promises and threatenings announced by their prophets, and the many miracles wrought among them, had no permanent effect to restrain them from idolatry; and yet, during their captivity in Babylon, several of them submitted to be burnt alive, rather than to join in idol-worship (f) . Captivity cured them radically of idolatry; and from that period to this day, they have not been guilty of a single relapse. Xiphilin, in his abridgement of Dion Cassius, relating their war with Pompey many centuries after the Babylonish captivity, gives the following account of them. “Their customs are quite different from those of other nations. Beside a peculiar manner of living, they acknowledge none of the common deities: they acknowledge but one, whom they worship with great veneration. There never was an image in Jerusalem; because they believe their God to be invisible and ineffable. They have built him a temple of great size and beauty, remarkable in the following particular, that it is open above, without any roof.”
There lies no solid objection against images among an enlightened people, when used merely to rouse devotion; but as images tend to pervert the vulgar, they ought not to be admitted into churches. Pictures are less liable to be misapprehended; and the Ethiopians accordingly indulge pictures in their churches, tho’ they prohibit statues. The general council of Frankfort permitted the use of images in churches; but strictly prohibited any worship to be addressed to them. So prone however to idolatry are the low and illiterate, that the prohibition lost ground both in France and in Germany; and idol-worship became again general.
It is probable, that the sun and moon were early held to be deities, and that they were the first visible objects of worship. Of all the different kinds of idolatry, it is indeed the most excusable. Upon the sun depends health, vigour, and chearfulness: during his retirement, all is dark and dismal; when he performs his majestic round, to bless his subjects and to bestow fecundity, can a mere savage withhold gratitude and veneration! Hear an old Pagan bard upon that subject. “O thou who rollest above, round as the shield of my fathers! Whence are thy beams, O sun, thy everlasting light? Thou comest forth in thy awful beauty, and the stars hide their face: thou movest alone, for who can be a companion of thy course! The oaks of the mountain fall: the mountains decay with years: the ocean shrinks and grows again: the moon herself is lost in heaven: but thou art for ever the same, rejoicing in the brightness of thy course. When tempests darken the world, when thunder rolls, and lightning flies, thou lookest in thy beauty from the clouds, and laughest at the storm” (a) . Worship to the sun as a real deity, was in former times universal; and prevails in many countries even at present. The American savages worship the sun as sovereign of the universe, known by the name of Ariskoui among the Hurons, and of Agriskoué among the Iroquois. They offer him tobacco, which they term smoking the sun: the chief man in the assembly lights the calumet, and offers it thrice to the rising sun; imploring his protection, and recommending the tribe to his care. The chief proceeds to smoke; and every one smokes in his turn. This ceremony is performed on important occasions only: less matters are reserved for their Manitou. The Missisippi people offer to the sun the first of what they take in hunting; which their commander artfully converts to his own use. The Apalachites, bordering on Florida, worship the sun; but sacrifice nothing to him that has life: they hold him to be the parent of life, and think that he can take no pleasure in the destruction of any living creature: their devotion is exerted in perfumes and songs. The Mexicans, while a free people, presented to the sun a share of their meat and drink. The inhabitants of Darien, believe in the sun as their god, and in the moon as his wife, paying them equal adoration. The people of Borneo worship the sun and moon as real divinities. The Samoides worship both, bowing to them morning and evening in the Persian manner.
But if the sun and moon were the first objects of idolatry, knowledge and reflection reformed many from the error of holding these luminaries to be deities. “That original intelligence,” say the Magians, “who is the first principle of all things, discovers himself to the mind and understanding only: but he hath placed the sun as his image in the visible universe; and the beams of that bright luminary, are but a faint copy of the glory that shines in the higher heavens.” The Persians, as Herodotus reports, had neither temples, nor altars, nor images: for, says that author, they do not think, like the Greeks, that there is any resemblance between gods and men. The Gaures, who to this day profess the ancient religion of Persia, celebrate divine worship before the sacred fire, and turn with peculiar veneration toward the rising sun, as the representative of God; but they adore neither the sun, nor the sacred fire. They are professed enemies to every image of the Deity cut with hands: and hence the havock made by the ancient Persians, upon the statues and temples of the Grecian gods. Such sublimity of thought was above the reach of other uninspired nations, excepting only the Hindows and Chinese.
I close the history of idolatry with a brief recapitulation of the outlines. Admitting the sun and moon to have been the first objects of idolatry, yet as Polytheism was once universal, they make only two of the many gods that were every where worshipped. We have seen, that the sacred fire was employ’d in the worship of the sun, and that images were employ’d in the worship of other deities. Images were originally used for the sole purpose of animating devotion: such was their use in Persia and Hindostan; and such was their use in every country among philosophers. The Emperor Julian, in an epistle to Theodore concerning the images of the gods, says, “We believe not that these images are gods: we only use them in worshipping the gods.” In the progress toward idolatry, the next step is, to imagine, that a deity loves his image, that he makes it his residence, or at least communicates some virtue to it. The last step is, to fancy the image itself to be a deity; which gained ground imperceptibly as statuary advanced toward perfection. It would be incredible that men of sense should ever suffer themselves to be impressed with so wild a delusion, were it not the overbearing influence of religious superstition. Credo quia impossible est, is applicable to idolatry as well as to transubstantiation. The worshipping of the sun and moon as deities, is idolatry in the strictest sense. With respect to images, the first step of the progress is not idolatry: the next is mixed idolatry: and the last is rank idolatry.
So much upon idolatry. I proceed to what approaches the nearest to it, which is worship addressed to deified mortals. The ancient gods were exalted so little above men, that it was no hard task for the imagination to place in heaven, men who had made a figure on earth. The Grecian heaven was entirely peopled with such men, as well as that of many other nations. Men are deified every day by the Romish church, under the denomination of saints: persons are frequently selected for that honour who scarce deserved a place on earth, and some who never had a place there. The Roman Catholics copy the Pagans, in worshipping these saints in quality of tutelar deities. One branch of the office bestow’d on them, is to explain the wants of their votaries to the King of heaven, and to supplicate for them. The mediatorial office prevails with respect to earthly potentates, as well as heavenly: being struck with awe and timidity in approaching those exalted above us, we naturally take hold of some intermediate person to solicit with us. In approaching the Almighty, the mind, sinking down into humility and profound veneration, stops short, relying upon some friend in heaven to intercede in its behalf. Temples among the Cochin-Chinese are constructed with a deep and dark niche, which is their sanctum sanctorum. They hold, that no representation, whether by painting or sculpture, can be made of God, who is invisible. The niche denotes his incomprehensibility; and the good men placed by them in heaven, are believed to be their intercessors at the throne of grace. The prayers of the Chingulese are seldom directed to the supreme being, but to his vicegerents. Intercessors, at the same time, contribute to the ease of their votaries: a Roman Catholic need not assume a very high tone, in addressing a tutelar saint chosen by himself.
False notions of Providence have prompted groveling mortals to put confidence in mediators and intercessors of a still lower class, namely, living mortals, who by idle austerities have acquired a reputation for holiness. Take the following instance, the strongest of the kind that can be figured. Louis XI. of France, sensible of the approach of death, sent for a hermit of Calabria, named Francisco Martarillo; and throwing himself at the hermit’s feet in a flood of tears, entreated him to intercede with God, that his life might be prolonged; as if the voice of a Calabrian friar, says Voltaire, could alter the course of Providence, by preserving a weak and perverse soul in a worn-out body.
Having discussed the persons that are the objects of worship, the next step in order is, to take under view the forms and ceremonies employ’d in religious worship. Forms and ceremonies illustrate a prince in his own court: they are necessary in a court of law for expediting business; and they promote seriousness and solemnity in religious worship. At the same time, in every one of these a just medium ought to be preserved between too many and too few. With respect to religious worship in particular, superfluity of ceremonies quenches devotion, by occupying the mind too much upon externals. The Roman Catholic worship is crowded with ceremonies: it resembles the Italian opera, which is all sound, and no sentiment. The presbyterian form of worship is too naked: it is proper for philosophers more than for the populace. This is fundamentally the cause of the numerous secessions from the church of Scotland that have made a figure of late: people dislike the established forms, when they find less animation in public worship than is desired; and without being sensible of the real cause, they chuse pastors for themselves, who supply the want of ceremonies by loud speaking, with much external fervor and devotion.*
The frequent ablutions or washings among the Mahometans and others, as acts of devotion, show the influence that the slightest resemblances have on the ignorant. Because purification, in several languages, is a term applicable to the mind as well as to the body, shallow thinkers, misled by the double meaning, imagine that the mind, like the body, is purified by water.
The sect of Ali use the Alcoran translated into the Persian language, which is their native tongue. The sect of Omar esteem this to be a gross impiety; being persuaded, that the Alcoran was written in Arabic, by the Angel Gabriel, at the command of God himself. The Roman Catholics are not then the only people who profess to speak nonsense to God Almighty; or, which is the same, who profess to pray in an unknown tongue.
At meals, the ancients poured out some wine as a libation to the gods: Christians pronounce a short prayer, termed a grace.
The gross notion of Deity entertained by the ancients, is exemplified in their worshipping and sacrificing on high places; in order, as they thought, to be more within sight. Jupiter in Homer praises Hector for sacrificing to him frequently upon the top of Ida; and Strabo observes, that the Persians, who used neither images nor altars, sacrificed to the gods in high places. Balak carried Balaam the prophet to the top of Pisgah and other mountains, to sacrifice there, and to curse Israel. The votaries of Baal always worshipped in high places. Even the sage Tacitus was infected with that absurdity. Speaking of certain high mountains where the gods were worshipped, he expresses himself thus: Maxime coelo appropinquare, precesque mortalium a Deo nusquam propius audiri.*
Ceremonies that tend to unhinge morality, belong more properly to the following section, treating of the connection between religion and morality.
It is now full time to take under consideration an objection to the sense of Deity hinted above, arguing from the gross conceptions of deity among many nations, that this sense cannot be innate. The objection is not indeed directly stated in the following passage, borrowed from a justly-celebrated author; but as it perhaps may be implied, the passage shall be fairly transcribed. “The universal propensity to believe invisible intelligent power, being a general attendant on human nature, if not an original instinct, may be considered as a kind of stamp which the Deity has set upon his work; and nothing surely can more dignify mankind, than to be the only earthly being who bears the stamp or image of the universal Creator. But consult this image as it commonly is in popular religions: How is the Deity disfigured! what caprice, absurdity, and immorality, are attributed to him (a) !” A satisfactory answer to the objection implied in this passage, will occur, upon recollecting the progress of men and nations from infancy to maturity. Our external senses, necessary for self-preservation, soon arrive at perfection: the more refined senses of propriety, of right and wrong, of Deity, of being accountable creatures, and many others of the same kind, are of slower growth: the sense of right and wrong in particular and the sense of Deity, seldom reach perfection but by good education and much study. If such be the case among enlightened nations, what is to be expected from savages who are in the lowest stage of understanding? To a savage of New Holland, whose sense of deity is extremely obscure, one may talk without end of a being who created the world, and who governs it by wise laws; but in vain, for the savage will be never the wiser. The same savage hath also a glimmering of the moral sense, as all men have; and yet in vain will you discourse to him of approbation and disapprobation, of merit and demerit: of these terms he has no clear conception. Hence the endless aberrations of rude and barbarous nations, from pure religion as well as from pure morality. Of the latter, there are many instances collected in the preceding tract; and of the former, still more in the present tract. The sense of deity in dark times has indeed been strangely distorted, by certain biasses and passions that enslave the rude and illiterate: but these yield gradually to the rational faculty as it ripens, and at last leave religion free to sound philosophy. Then it is, that men, listening to the innate sense of deity purified from every bias, acquire a clear conviction of one supreme Deity who made and governs the world.
The foregoing objection then weighs not against the sense of deity more than against the moral sense. If it have weight, it resolves into a complaint against Providence for the weakness of the sense of deity in rude and illiterate nations. If such complaint be solidly founded, it pierces extremely deep: why have not all nations, even in their nascent state, the sense of deity and the moral sense in purity and perfection? why do they not possess all the arts of life without necessity of culture or experience? why are we born poor and helpless infants, instead of being produced complete in every member, internal and external, as Adam and Eve were? The plan of Providence is far a-bove the reach of our weak criticisms: it is but a small portion that is laid open to our view; can we pretend to judge of the whole? I venture only to suggest, that as, with respect to individuals, there is a progress from infancy to maturity; so there is a similar progress in every nation, from its savage state to its maturity in arts and sciences. A child that has just conceptions of the Deity and of his attributes, would be a great miracle; and would not such knowledge in a savage be equally so? Nor can I discover what benefit a child or a savage could reap from such knowledge; provided it remained a child or a savage in every other respect. The genuine fruits of religion, are gratitude to the Author of our being, veneration to him as the supreme being, absolute resignation to the established laws of his providence, and chearful performance of every duty: but a child has not the slightest idea of gratitude nor of veneration, and very little of moral duties; and a savage, with respect to these, is not much superior to a child. The formation and government of the world, as far as we know, are excellent: we have great reason to presume the same with respect to what we do not know; and every good man will rest satisfied with the following reflection, That we should have been men from the hour of our birth, complete in every part, had it been conformable to the system of unerring Providence.
Morality considered as a branch of duty to our Maker.
Having travelled long on a rough road, not a little fatiguing, the agreeable part lies before us; which is, to treat of morality as a branch of religion. It was that subject which induced me to undertake the history of natural religion; a subject that will afford salutary instruction; and will inspire true piety, if instruction can produce that effect.
Bayle states a question, Whether a people may not be happy in society and be qualified for good government, upon principles of morality singly, without any sense of religion. The question is ingenious, and may give opportunity for subtile reasoning; but it is useless, because the fact supposed cannot happen. The principles of morality and of religion are equally rooted in our nature: they are indeed weak in children and in savages; but they grow up together, and advance toward maturity with equal steps. Where the moral sense is entire, there must be a sense of religion; and if a man who has no sense of religion live decently in society, he is more indebted for his conduct to good temper than to sound morals.
We have the authority of the Prophet Micah, formerly quoted, for holding, that religion, or, in other words, our duty to God, consists in doing justice, in loving mercy, and in walking humbly with him. The last is the foundation of religious worship, discussed in the foregoing section: the two former belong to the present section. And if we have gratitude to our Maker and Benefactor, if we owe implicit obedience to his will as our rightful sovereign, we ought not to separate the worship we owe to him, from justice and benevolence to our fellow-creatures; for to be unjust to them, to be cruel or hard-hearted, is a transgression of his will, no less gross than a total neglect of religious worship. “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (a) . “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you. For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye cloathed me: sick, and ye visited me: in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and cloathed thee? When saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer, Verily I say unto you, in as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (a) . “Pure religion and undefiled before God, is this, To visit the fatherless and widow in their affliction; and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (b) . “Hostias et victimas Domino offeram quas in usum mei protulit, ut rejiciam ei suum munus? Ingratum est; cum sit litabilis hostia bonus animus, et pura mens, et sincera conscientia. Igitur qui innocentiam colit, Domino supplicat; qui justitiam, Deo libat; qui fraudibus abstinet, propitiat Deum; qui hominem periculo subripit, optimam victimam caedit. Haec nostra sacrificia, haec Dei sacra sunt. Sic apud nos religiosior est ille, qui justior” (c) .* The laws of Zaleucus, lawgiver to the Locrians, who lived before the days of Pythagoras, are introduced with the following preamble. “No man can question the existence of Deity who observes the order and harmony of the universe, which cannot be the production of chance. Men ought to bridle their passions, and to guard against every vice. God is pleased with no sacrifice but a sincere heart; and differs widely from mortals, whose delight is splendid ceremonies and rich offerings. Let justice therefore be studied; for by that only can a man be acceptable to the Deity. Let those who are tempted to do ill, have always before their eyes the severe judgements of the gods against wicked men. Let them always keep in view the hour of death, that fatal hour which is attended with bitter remorse for transgressing the rules of justice. If a bad disposition incline you to vice, pray to Heaven at the foot of the altar, to mend your heart.”
Morality is thus included in religion. Some nations, however, leave not this proposition to reasoning or conviction, but ingross many moral duties in their re-ligious creed. In the 67th chapter of the Sadder, a lie is declared to be a great sin, and is forbid even where it tends to bring about good. So much purer is the morality of the ancient Persians than of the present Jesuits. The religion of the people of Pegu, inculcates charity, forbids to kill, to steal, or to injure others. Attend to the consequence: that people, fierce originally, have become humane and compassionate. In a sacred book of the ancient Persians, it is written, “If you incline to be a saint, give good education to your children; for their virtuous actions will be imputed to you.” The people of Japan pay great respect to their parents; it being an article in their creed, That those who fail in duty to their parents, will be punished by the gods. In these two instances, religion tends greatly to connect parents and children in the most intimate tie of cordial affection. The reverence the Chinese have for their ancestors and the ceremonies performed annually at their tombs, tend to keep them at home, and prevent their wandering into foreign countries.
Ancient Persia was fertile and populous: at present it is barren and thin of inhabitants. Sir John Chardin accounts for the difference. The climate of Persia is so dry, that scarce a shower falls during summer: even grass will not grow without being watered. This defect of climate was remedied by the ancient inhabitants, termed Gaures; among whom it was a religious act, to cultivate waste land and to plant trees for fruit. It was a maxim in the sacred book of that religion, That he who cultivates the ground with care and diligence, acquires a greater stock of religious merit, than can be acquired by ten thousand prayers. The religion, on the contrary, of the present Mahometan inhabitants, leads them to take no care for tomorrow: they grasp at present enjoyment, and leave all the rest to fate.22
Superstitious rites in some religions, are successfully employ’d to enforce certain moral duties. The Romans commonly made their solemn covenants in the capitol, before the statue of Jupiter; by which solemnity he was understood to guarantee the covenant, ready to pour out vengeance upon the transgressor. When an oath enters into any engagement, the Burates, a people in Grand Tartary, require it to be given upon a mountain, held to be sacred: they are firmly persuaded, that the person who swears a falsehood, will not come down alive. The Essenes, a Jewish sect, bound themselves by a solemn oath, to shun unlawful gain, to be faithful to their promises, not to lie, and never to harm any one. In Cochin-China, the souls of those who have been eminent for arts or arms, are worshipped. Their statues are placed in the temples; and the size of a statue is proportioned to the merit of the person represented. If that be impartially executed, there cannot be a nobler incitement to public spirit. The Egyptians did not reach the thought of honouring virtue after death; but they dishonoured vice, by excluding it from the Elysian fields.
The salutary influence of religion on morality, is not confined to pure religion, whether by its connection with morality in general, or by inculcating particular moral duties. There are many religious doctrines, doubtful or perhaps erroneous, that contribute also to enforce morality. Some followers of Confucius ascribe im-mortality to the souls of the just only; and believe that the souls of the wicked perish with their bodies. The native Hindows are gentle and humane: the metempsychosis or transmigration of souls, is an article in their creed; and hence the prohibition to destroy any living creature, because it might disturb the soul of an ancestor.23 In the second chapter of the Sadder, it is written, that a man whose good works are more numerous than his sins, will go to paradise; otherwise that he will be thrust into hell, there to remain for ever. It adds, that a bridge erected over the great abyss where hell is situated, leads from this earth to paradise; that upon the bridge there stands an angel, who weighs in a balance the merits of the passengers; that the passenger whose good works are found light in the balance, is thrown over the bridge into hell; but that the passenger whose good works preponderate, proceeds in his journey to paradise, where there is a glorious city, gardens, rivers, and beautiful virgins, whose looks are a perpetual feast, but who must not be enjoy’d. In the fourth chapter of the Sadder, good works are zealously recommended in the following parable. Zeradusht, or Zoroaster, being in company with God, saw a man in hell who wanted his right foot. “Oh my Creator,” said Zoroaster, “who is that man who wants the right foot? God answered, He was the king of thirty-three cities, reigned many years, but never did any good, except once, when, seeing a sheep ty’d where it could not reach its food, he with his right foot pushed the food to it; upon which account that foot was saved from hell.” In Japan, those of the Sinto religion believe, that the souls of good men are translated to a place of happiness, next to the habitation of their gods. But they admit no place of torment; nor have they any notion of a devil, but what animates the fox, a very mischievous animal in that country. What then becomes of the souls of ill men? Being denied entrance into heaven, they wander about to expiate their sins. Those of the Bubsdo religion believe, that in the other world, there is a place of misery as well as of happiness. Of the latter there are different degrees, for different degrees of virtue; and yet, far from envying the happier lot of others, every inhabitant is perfectly satisfied with his own. There are also different degrees of misery; for justice requires, that every man be punished according to the nature and number of his sins. Jemma O is the severe judge of the wicked: their vices appear to him in all their horror, by means of a mirror, named the mirror of knowledge. When souls have expiated their sins, after suffering long in the prison of darkness, they are sent back into the world, to animate serpents, toads, and such vile animals as resembled them in their former existence. From these they pass into the bodies of more innocent animals; and at last are again suffered to enter human bodies; after the dissolution of which, they run the same course of happiness or misery as at first. The people of Benin, in Africa, believe a man’s shadow to be a real being, that gives testimony after death for or against him; and that he accordingly is made happy or miserable in another world. The Negroes hold that their own country is delicious above all others; and it is the belief of several of their tribes, that where-ever they die, they will return to their own country. This is a perpetual source of comfort, and inspires them with humanity above the other tribes.24 A religious belief in ancient Greece, that the souls of those who are left above ground without rites, have not access to Elysium, tended to promote humanity; for those who are careful of the dead, will not be altogether indifferent about the living.
Immense are the blessings that proceed from the union of pure religion with sound morality: but however immense, I boldly affirm, that they scarce counterbalance the manifold evils that proceed from impure religion, indulging and even encouraging gross immoralities. A few glaring instances shall be selected. The first I shall mention is, the holding religion to consist in the belief of points purely speculative, such as have no relation to good works. The natural effect of that doctrine is, to divorce religion from morality, in manifest contradiction to the will of God. What avails it, for example, to the glory of God or to the happiness of men, whether the conception of the Virgin Mary was maculate or immaculate? The following few instances, selected from a great number, are controversies of that kind, which for ages miserably afflicted the Christian church, and engendered the bitterest enmity, productive of destruction and slaughter among brethren of the same religion. In the fifth century, it was the employment of more than one general council, to determine, whether the mother of God, or the mother of Christ, is the proper epithet of the Virgin Mary. In the sixth century, a bitter controversy arose whether Christ’s body was corruptible. In the seventh century, Christians were divided about the volition of Christ, whether he had one or two Wills, and how his Will operated. In the eighth and ninth centuries, the Greek and Latin churches divided about the Holy Ghost, whether he proceeded from the Father and Son, or only from the Father. In the eleventh century, there arose a warm contest between the Greek and Latin churches about using unleavened bread in the eucharist. In the fourteenth century, it was controverted between Pope John XXII. and the divines of his time, whether souls in their intermediate state see God, or only the human nature of Christ. Franciscans have suffered death in multitudes about the form of their hood. It was disputed between the Dominicans and Franciscans, whether Christ had any property. The Pope pronounced the negative proposition to be a pestilential and blasphemous doctrine, subversive of Catholic faith. Many councils were held at Constantinople, to determine what sort of light it was that the disciples saw on Mount Tabor: it was solemnly pronounced, to be the eternal light with which God is encircled; and which may be termed his energy or operation, but is distinct from his nature and essence. A heap of propositions in the creed of St. Athanasius, as far as intelligible, are merely speculative, such as may be adopted or rejected, without the least danger to religion, or to morality; and yet we are commanded to believe every one of them, under the pain of eternal damnation. An endless number of such propositions, adopted by the Romish church, clearly evince, that Christianity was in that church held to consist entirely in belief, without any regard to good works.* Whether the Alcoran be eternal, or whether it were created, is a dispute that has occasioned much effusion of Mahometan blood. The Calif Mamoun, with many doctors, held it to have been created; but the greater number insisted, that being the word of God, it must like him be eternal. This opinion is embraced by the present Mahometans, who hold all who deny it to be infidels. One great maxim of the Brahmines contained in their ancient books, is, that it is better to sit than to walk, better to lie than to sit, better to sleep than to wake, better to die than to live. This is directly subversive of industry, and consequently of morality.25 There is among men great uniformity of opinion in matters of importance. Religious differences are generally about trifles, where liberty ought to be indulged without reserve (a) ; and yet upon these trifles are founded the bitterest enmities. It ought therefore to be a fundamental law in every church, to abstain from loading its creed with articles that are not essential; for such articles tend to eradicate brotherly love, and to convert into bitter enemies, men who are fundamentally of the same faith. This leads me naturally to say a few words on religion as a branch of education, of all the most important branch. Avoiding all the points disputed among the different sects of Christians, and leaving mysteries to the future sagacity of your children if they shall be inclined to pry into them, let them know that there is a God over all who loves the good, and is an enemy to evil-doers; that this great Being, tho’ invisible to us, is witness to all our words and actions, and that even our secret thoughts are not hid from him. Take every opportunity to inculcate this great truth, till it make so deep an impression as to be the great regulator of their conduct. With respect to every intended action, train them up into the habit of enquiring first how it will appear in the sight of their Maker at the great day of judgement. This is true religion, the main support of virtue. It is all that is requisite in point of education; leaving to those who have penetration and leisure to form a more complete system.26
In the next place shall be mentioned, certain articles of faith that tend to sap the very foundation of one or other moral duty. What, for example, can more effectually promote cruelty, than the creed of the Idaans, a people in the island of Borneo, That every person they put to death must attend them as a slave in the other world? This belief makes them prone to war, and occasions assassinations without end. According to the creed of the savages in Canada, the killing and burning enemies are what chiefly entitle them to be happy in another world; and that he who destroys the greatest number, will be the most happy. At the same time, they have no notion of greater happiness there, than plenty of game, great abundance of all things without labour, and full gratification of every sensual appetite. The Scandinavians had no notion of greater bliss in another world, than to drink beer out of the skull of an enemy, in the hall of Woden their tutelar deity: can hatred and revenge indulged in this world be more honourably rewarded? The doctrine of tutelar deities is equally productive of ha-tred and revenge: relying on a superior power who espouses all my quarrels, I put no bounds to my resentment, and every moral duty in opposition is trampled under foot. The following creed of the inhabitants of the Marian or Ladrone islands, is a great encouragement to cowardice. Heaven, according to that creed, is a region under the earth, filled with cocoa-trees, sugar-canes, and variety of other delicious fruits. Hell is a vast furnace, constantly red hot. Their condition in the other world depends not on good or bad actions, but on the manner of their death. Those who die a natural death, go straight to heaven: they may sin freely, if they can but secure their persons against violence. But war and bloodshed are their aversion, because those who suffer a violent death go straight to hell. In many ancient nations, a goddess was worshipped, whose province it was to promote animal love without regard to matrimony. That goddess was in Greece termed Aphrodité, in Rome Venus, and in Babylon Mylitta. To her was sacrificed, in some countries, the virginity of young women; which, it was believed, did se-cure their chastity for ever after. Justin mentions a custom in the island of Cyprus, of sending young women at stated times to the sea-shore; where they prostituted themselves as a tribute to Venus, that they might be chaste the rest of their lives. His words are, “Pro reliqua pudicitiae libamenta Veneri soluturas” (a) .27 In other nations, a small number only were prostituted, in order to secure to the remainder, a chaste and regular life. This explains a custom among the Babylonians, which, far from being thought a religious act, is held as a proof of abandoned debauchery. The custom was, That every woman once in her life should prostitute herself in the temple of the goddess Mylitta. Herodotus reports, that thereby they became proof against all temptation. And Aelian observes the same of the Lydian ladies. Credat Judeus Apella. Margaret Poretta, who in the fourteenth century made a figure among the Beguines, preached a doctrine not a little favourable to incontinence. She undertook to demonstrate, “That the soul, when absorbed in the love of God, is free from the restraint of law, and may freely gratify every natural appetite, without contracting guilt”; a cordial doctrine for a lady of pleasure. That crazy person, instead of being laugh’d at, was burnt alive at Paris. In the fifteenth century, a sect termed brethren and sisters of the free spirit, held, That modesty is a mark of inhering corruption; and that those only are perfect, who can behold nakedness without emotion. These fanatics appeared at public worship, without the least covering. Many tenets professed by the Jesuits, open a door to every immorality. “Persons truly wicked and void of the love of God, may expect eternal life in heaven; provided only they be impressed with fear of divine anger, and avoid heinous crimes through the dread of future punishment.” Again, “Persons may transgress with safety, who have any plausible argument for transgressing. A judge, for example, may decide for the least probable side of a question, and even against his own opinion, provided he be supported by any tolerable authority.” Again, “Actions intrinsically evil and contrary to divine law, may however be innocently performed, by those who can join, even ideally, a good end to the performance. For example, an ecclesiastic may safely commit simony by purchasing a benefice, if to the unlawful act, he join the innocent purpose of procuring to himself a subsistence. A man who runs another through the body for a slight affront, renders the action lawful, if his motive be honour, not revenge.” A famous Jesuit taught, that a young man may wish the death of his father, and even rejoice at his death, provided the wish proceed, not from hatred, but from fondness of his father’s estate. And another Jesuit has had the effrontery to maintain, that a monk may lawfully assassinate a calumniator, who threatens to charge his order with scandalous practices. Among the negroes of Sanguin on the river Sestro in Guinea, it is an article of faith that dextrous robbery is no less lawful than beneficial.28
The Quakers, a sect generated during the civil wars in the reign of Charles I. contracted such an aversion to war as to declare it unlawful even in self-defence; a doctrine that soars high above morality and is contradictory to human nature. But by what magic has a tenet so unnatural subsisted so long? The Quakers exclude pride, admitting no difference of rank but considering all men as their brethren. And they exclude vanity by simplicity and uniformity of dress. Thus by humility and temperance they have preserved their institutions alive. But these passions cannot always be kept in subjection: vanity is creeping in, especially among the females, who indulge in silks, fine linen, bone-lace, &c. Vanity and pride will reach the males; and the edifice will totter and fall.29
A doctrine that strikes at the root of every moral duty, as well as of religion itself, is, That God will accept a composition for sin; a doctrine that prevailed universally during the days of ignorance. Compositions for crimes were countenanced by law in every country (a) ; and men, prone to indulge their passions, flatter’d themselves, that they might compound with God for sinning against him, as with their neighbours for injuring them: those who have no notion of any motive but interest, naturally think it to be equally powerful with the Deity. An opinion prevailed universally in the Christian church, from the eighth century down to the Reformation, that liberal donations to God, to a saint, to the church, would procure pardon even for the grossest sins. During that period, the building churches and monasteries was in high vogue. This absurd or rather impious doctrine, proved a plentiful harvest of wealth to the clergy; for the great and opulent, who are commonly the boldest sinners, have the greatest ability to compound for their sins. There needs nothing but such an opinion, to annihilate every duty, whether moral or religious; for what wicked man will think either of restitution or of reformation, who can purchase a pardon from Heaven with so little trouble? Louis XI. of France was remarkably superstitious, even in a superstitious age. To ingratiate himself with the Virgin Mary, he surrendered to her the county of Boulogne with great solemnity. Voltaire remarks, that godliness consists, not in making the Virgin a Countess, but in abstaining from sin. Composition for sins is a doctrine of the church of Rome, boldly professed without disguise. A book of rates, published by authority of the Pope, contains stated prices for absolutions, not excepting the most heinous sins. So true is the observation of Aeneas Silvius, afterward Pope Paul II. “Nihil est quod absque argento Romana curia det: ipsa manuum impositio, et Spiritus Sancti dona, venduntur; nec peccatorum venia nisi nummatis impenditur.”* Of all the immoral atonements for sin, human sacrifices are the most brutal; deviating no less from the purity of religion, than from the fundamental principles of morality. They wore out of use as kindly affections prevailed; and will never again be restored, unless we fall back to the savage manners of our forefathers. Composition for crimes, once universal, is now banished from every enlightened nation. Composition for sins, was once equally universal; and I wish it could be said, that there are now no remains of that poisonous opinion among Christians: the practice of the church of Rome will not permit it to be said. Were men deeply convinced, as they ought to be, that sincere repentance and reformation of manners are the only means for obtaining pardon, they would never dream of making bargains with the Almighty, and of compounding with him for their sins.
In the practice of religion, the laying too great weight on forms, ceremonies, and other external arbitrary acts, tends to the corruption of morals. That error has infected every religion. The Sadder, the Bible of the Gaures, prohibits calumny and detraction, lying, stealing, adultery, and fornication. It however enervates morality and religion, by placing many trifling acts on a level with the most important duties. It enjoins the destruction of five kinds of reptiles, frogs, mice, ants, serpents, and flies that sting. It teaches, that to walk barefoot profanes the ground. Great regard for water is enjoin’d: it must not be used during night; and when set upon the fire, a third part of the pot must be empty, to prevent boiling over. The Bramins have wofully degenerated from their original institutions, thinking that religion consists in forms and ceremonies. As soon as an infant is born, the word Oum must be pronounced over it; otherwise it will be eternally miserable: its tongue must be rubbed with consecrated meal: the third day of the moon, it must be carried into open air, with its head to the north. The inhabitants of Formosa believe in hell; but it is only for punishing those who fail to go naked in certain seasons, or who wear cotton instead of silk. In the time of Ghenhizcan, it was held in Tartary a mortal sin, to put a knife into the fire, to whip a horse with his bridle, or to break one bone with another; and yet these pious Tartars held treachery, robbery, murder to be no sins. A faction in Aegina, a Greek commonwealth, treacherously assassinated seven hundred of their fellow-citizens. They cut off the hands of a miserable fugitive, who had laid hold of the altar for protection, in order to murder him without the precincts of the temple. Their treacherous assassinations made no impression: but tho’ they refrained from murder in the temple, yet by profaning it with blood, says Herodotus, they offended the gods, and contracted inexpiable guilt. Would one believe, that a tribunal was established by Charlemagne more horrible than the inquisition itself? It was established in Westphalia, to punish with death every Saxon who eat meat in lent. It was established in Flanders and in French-county, the beginning of the seventeenth century. Smollet in his travels into Italy observes, that it is held more infamous to transgress the slightest ceremonial institution of the church of Rome, than to transgress any moral duty; that a murderer or adulterer will be easily absolved by the church, and even maintain his character in society; but that a man who eats a pigeon on a Saturday, is abhorred as a monster of reprobation. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, long curled hair, of which men of fashion in England were extremely vain, suffered a violent persecution. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, pronounced the sentence of excommunication against those who indulged in that dress; and was cele-brated by his brethren of the clergy, tho’ at that time excommunication was a dreadful punishment. William of Malmsbury relates in lively colours an incident that shows the gross superstition of that age. “A certain knight, who was very proud of his long luxuriant hair, dreamed that a person suffocated him with its curls. As soon as he awoke from his sleep, he cut his hair to a decent length. The report of this spread over all England; and almost all the knights reduced their hair to the proper standard. But this reformation was not of long continuance. For in less than a year all who wished to appear fashionable, returned to their former wickedness, and contended with the ladies in length of hair. Those to whom nature had denied that ornament, supplied the defect by art.” What can be more grossly superstitious than the form used in Roman-Catholic countries of baptizing a church-bell? The priest, assisted by some of his brethren, mumbles over some prayers, and sprinkles the outside with holy water, while they wash the inside with the same precious liquor. The priest next draws seven crosses on the outside, and four on the inside, with consecrated oil. Then a censer full of frankincense is put under the bell to smoke it. And the whole concludes with prayer.30
Listen to a celebrated writer upon this subject. “It is certain, that in every religion, however sublime, many of the votaries, perhaps the greatest number, will still seek the divine favour, not by virtue and good morals, which alone can be acceptable to a perfect being, but either by frivolous observances, by intemperate zeal, by rapturous ecstasies, or by the belief of mysterious and absurd opinions. When the old Romans were attacked with a pestilence, they never ascribed their sufferings to their vices, or dreamed of repentance and amendment. They never thought that they were the general robbers of the world, whose ambition and avarice made desolate the earth, and reduced opulent nations to want and beggary. They only created a dictator in order to drive a nail into a door; and by that means they thought that they had sufficiently appeased their incensed deity” (a) . Thus, gradually, the essentials of religion wear out of mind, by the attention given to forms and ceremonies: these intercept and exhaust the whole stock of devotion, which ought to be reserved for the higher exercises of religion. The neglect or transgression of mere punctilios, are punished as heinous sins; while sins really heinous are suffered to pass with impunity. The Jews exalted the keeping their sabbath holy, above every other duty; and it was the general belief, that the strict observance of that day was alone sufficient to atone for every sin. The command of resting that day, was taken so literally, that they would not on that day defend themselves even against an assassin. Ptolomy, son of Lagus, entered Jerusalem on the Jewish sabbath, in a hostile manner without resistance. Nor did experience open the eyes of that foolish people. Xiphilin, relating the siege of Jerusalem by Pompey, says, that if the Jews had not rested on the sabbath, Pompey would not have been successful. Every Saturday he renewed his batteries; and having on that day made a breach, he marched into the town without opposi-tion. One cannot help smiling at an Amsterdam Jew, who had no check of conscience for breaking open a house and carrying off money; and yet being stopped in his flight by the sabbath, he most piously rested, till he was apprehended, and led to the gallows. Nor are the Jews to this day cured of that frenzy. In some late accounts from Constantinople, a fire broke out in a Jew’s house on Saturday: rather than profane the sabbath, he suffered the flames to spread, which occasioned the destruction of five hundred houses.* We laugh at the Jews, and we have reason; and yet there are many well-meaning Protestants, who lay the whole of religion upon punctual attendance at public worship. Are the Roman Catholics less superstitious with respect to the place of worship, than the Jews are with respect to the day of worship? In the year 1670, some Arabians, watching an opportunity, got into the town of Dieu when the gates were opened in the morning. They might easily have been expelled by the cannon of the citadel; but the Portuguese governor was obliged to look on without firing a gun, being threatened with excommunication, if the least mischief should be done to any of the churches. The only doctrines inculcated from the Romish pulpit down to the Reformation, were the authority of holy mother-church; the merit of the saints, and their credit in the court of heaven; the dignity and glory of the blessed Virgin; the efficacy of relics; the intolerable fire of purgatory; and the vast importance of indulgences. Relying on such pious acts for obtaining remission of sin, all orders of men rushed headlong in-to vice;* nor was there a single attempt to stem the current of immorality; for the traffic of indulgences could not but flourish in proportion to the growth of sin. And thus was religion set in direct opposition to morality. St. Eloy, bishop of Noyon in the seventh century, and canonized by the church of Rome, delivers the following doctrine. “He is a good Christian who goes frequently to church; who presents his oblations upon the altar; who tastes not the fruit of his own industry till part be consecrated to God; who, when the holy festivals approach, lives chastely even with his own wife for several days; and who can repeat the creed and the Lord’s prayer. Redeem then your souls from destruction, while you have the means in your power: offer presents and tithes to churchmen: come more frequently to church: humbly implore the patronage of saints. If you observe these things, you may, in the day of judgement, go with confidence to the tribunal of the eternal Judge, and say, Give to us, O Lord, for we have given unto thee.” A modern author subjoins a proper observation. “We see here a very ample description of a good Christian, in which there is not the least mention of the love of God, resignation to his will, obedience to his laws, nor of justice, benevolence, or charity.” Gross ignorance and wretched superstition prevailed so much even in the fourteenth century, that people reckoned themselves secure of salvation, if at the day of judgement they could show any connection with monks. Many at the point of death, made it their last request, to be admitted into the mendicant order, or to be interred in their burial-place. Religion need not associate with morality, if such silly practices be sufficient for obtaining the favour of God. Is this less absurd than the Hindostan belief, That the water of the Ganges hath a sanctifying virtue; and that those who die on its banks, are not only exempted from future punishment, but are wafted straight to paradise?
Forms and ceremonies are visible acts, which make a deep impression on the vulgar. Hence their influence in reasoning and in morality, as we have seen in the two sketches immediately foregoing; and hence also their influence in religion. Forms and ceremonies are useful at public worship: but they ought not to take place of essentials. People however, governed by what they see and hear, are more addicted to external acts of devotion, than to heart worship, which is not known but by reflection.
It will be no excuse for relying so much on forms and ceremonies, that they are innocent. In themselves they may be innocent; but not so in their consequences. For they have by such reliance a vigorous tendency to relax the obligations of morality. “La pure morale,” says M. Rousseau, “est si chargée de devoirs séveres que si on la surcharge encore de formes indifférentes, c’est presque toujours aux dépends de l’essentiel. On dit que c’est le cas de la plupart des moines, qui, soumis à mille regles inutiles, ne savent ce que c’est qu’honneur et vertu.”31 Religious rites that contradict not any passion, are keenly embraced, and punctually performed; and men, flattering themselves that they have thus been punctual in their duty to God, give vent to their passions against men. “They pay tithes of mint, and anise, and cummin; but omit the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith” (a) . Upon such a man religion sits extremely light. As he seldom exercises any act of genuine devotion, he thinks of the Deity with ease and familiarity: how otherwise is it accountable, that the plays, termed Mysteries, could be relished, where mean and perhaps dissolute persons are brought on the stage, acting Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and even God himself? These objects of worship were certainly no more regarded than the Grecian gods, who frequently made part of the Dramatis personae in Greek plays. Many other facts might be urged, to prove the low ebb of religion in those days: I select one or two, which probably will afford some amusement to the reader. Bartolus, a famous lawyer, in order to shew the form of proceeding in a court of justice, imagines a process between the devil and mankind. The devil cites mankind to appear at the tribunal of Jesus Christ, claiming them as belonging to him by Adam’s fall. He swells in rage, demanding whether any one dare appear in their behalf. Against the Virgin Mary offering herself as their advocate, the devil makes two objections; first, That being the mother of the Judge, her influence would be too great; second, That a woman is debarred from being an advocate: and these objections are supported by numberless quotations from the Corpus Juris. The Virgin, on her part, quotes texts permitting women to appear for widows, orphans, and for persons in distress. She is allowed to plead for mankind, as coming under the last article. The devil urges prescription, as having been in possession of mankind ever since the fall. The Virgin answers, That a mala-fide possessor32 cannot acquire by prescription. Prescription being repelled, the parties go to the merits of the case, which are learnedly discussed with texts from the Pandects. The memoirs of the French academy of Belles Lettres (a) has the following story: A monk returning from a house which he durst not visit in day-light, had a river to cross. The boat was overturned by Satan, and the monk was drowned when he was beginning to invocate the Virgin Mary. Two devils having laid hold of his soul, were stopped by two angels. “My Lords,” said the devils, “true it is and not a fable, that God died for his friends; but this monk was an enemy to God, and we are carrying him to hell.” After much altercation, it was proposed by the angels, to refer the dispute to the Virgin Mary. The devils were willing to accept of God for judge, because he would judge according to law. “But from the Virgin Mary,” said they, “we expect no justice: she would break to atoms every gate of hell, rather than suffer one to remain there a moment who pays any worship to her image. She may say, that black is white, and that puddled water is pure—God never contradicts her. The day on which God made his mother, was a fatal day to us.”
People who profess the same religion, and differ only in forms and ceremonies, may justly be compared to neighbouring states, who are commonly bitter enemies to each other, if they have any difference. At the same time, dissocial passions never rage so furiously, as under the mask of religion; for in that case they are held to be meritorious, as exerted in the cause of God. This observation is but too well verified in the disputes among Christians. However low religion was in the dark ages, yet men fought for forms and ceremonies as pro aris et focis. In the Armenian form of baptism, the priest says at the first immersion, In name of the Father; at the second, In name of the Son; at the third, In name of the Holy Ghost. This form is bitterly condemned by the Romish church, which appoints the three persons of the Trinity to be joined in the same expression, in token of their union. Strahlenberg gives an account of a Christian sect in Russia, which differs from the established Greek church in the following particulars: First, In public worship they re-peat Halleluia but twice; and it is a mortal sin to repeat it thrice. Second, In celebrating mass, not five but seven loaves ought to be used. Third, The cross stamped upon a mass-loaf ought to have eight corners. Fourth, In signing with the cross at prayers, the end of the ring-finger must be joined to the end of the thumb, and the two intermediate fingers be held out at full length. How trifling are these differences! and yet for these, all who dissent from them are held unclean, and no better than Pagans: they will not eat nor drink with any of the established church; and, if a person of that church happen to sit down in a house of theirs, they wash and purify the seat.* There are few sects founded upon more trivial differences than the Turkish and Persian Mahometans. The epithets given to the Persians by the Turks are, “Forsaken of God, Abominable, Blasphemers of the Holy Prophet”; and so bitter is their enmity to the Persians, That the schools of the seraglio are open to young men of all nations, those of Persia alone excepted. The Persians are held to be such apostates from the true faith, as to be utterly past recovery: they receive no quarter in war, being accounted unworthy of life or slavery: nor do the Persians yield to the Turks in hatred. Whether coffee be or be not prohibited in the Alcoran, has produced much controversy in the Mahometan church, and consequently much persecuting zeal. A mufti, not fond of coffee, declared it to have an inebriating quality, and therefore to be virtually prohibited by Mahomet. Another mufti, fond of coffee for its exhilarating virtue, declared it lawful; “because,” said he, “all things are lawful that are not expressly prohibited in the Alcoran.” The coffee-houses in Constantinople were for a long period alternately opened and shut, according to the taste of the reigning mufti; till coffee at last, surmounting all obstacles, came to be an established Maho-metan liquor. Religion thus runs wild, whenever it loses sight of its true ends, worshipping God, and enforcing justice to man. The Hindows hate the Mahometans for eating the flesh of cows: the Mahometans hate the Hindows for eating the flesh of swine. The aversion that men of the same religion have at each other for the most trivial differences, converts them frequently into brutal savages. Suppose, for example, that a man, reduced to the extremity of hunger, makes a greedy meal of a dead horse, a case so deplorable would wring every heart. And yet, let this be done in Lent, or on a meagre day—Behold! every zealot is instantly metamorphosed into a devil incarnate. In the records of St. Claude, a small district of Burgundy, is engrossed a sentence against a poor gentleman named Claude Guillon. The words are: “Having considered the process, and taken advice of the doctors of law, we declare the said Claude Guillon duly convicted for having carried away and boiled a piece of a dead horse, and of having eat the same on the 31st March, being Saturday.” And he was beheaded according-ly 28th July 1629; notwithstanding a defence above all exception, That he committed that irregularity to preserve his life. How was it possible for the monsters to persuade themselves, that this sentence was agreeable to God, who is goodness itself!
No less prejudicial to morality than the relying too much on forms and ceremonies, is the treating some sins with great severity; neglecting others equally heinous, or perhaps more so. In a book of rates for absolution, mentioned above, no just distinction is made among sins; some venial sins being taxed at a higher rate than many of the deepest dye. For example, the killing father, mother, brother, sister, or wife, is taxed at five gross; and the same for incest with a mother or sister. The lying with a woman in the church is taxed at six gross; and, at the same time, absolution for usury is taxed at seven gross, and for simony at no less than sixteen gross.*
A maxim adopted by many pious persons, has a smiling appearance, but in its consequences is hurtful both to religion and morality; which is, That to testify our veneration for the Deity, and zeal for his service, the performing public and private worship, and the fulfilling moral duties, are not alone sufficient; that over and above we are bound to fast, to do penance, to honour the priesthood, and to punish the enemies of God, i.e. those who differ from us in principle or practice. This maxim, which may be termed the doctrine of supererogation, is finely illustrated by an author mentioned above.
The duties which a man performs as a friend or parent, seem merely owing to his benefactor or children; nor can he be wanting to these duties without breaking through all the ties of nature and morality. A strong inclination may prompt him to the performance: a sentiment of order and moral beauty joins its force to these natural ties: and the whole man is drawn to his duty without any effort or endeavour. Even with regard to the virtues which are more austere, and more founded on reflection, such as public spirit, filial duty, temperance, or integrity: the mo-ral obligation, in our apprehension, removes all pretence to religious merit: and the virtuous conduct is esteemed no more than what we owe to society, and to ourselves. In all this, a superstitious man finds nothing which he has properly performed for the sake of his Deity, or which can peculiarly recommend him to the divine favour and protection. He considers not, that the most genuine method of serving the Divinity is, by promoting the happiness of his creatures. He still looks out for some more immediate service of the supreme Being: and any practice recommended to him, which either serves to no purpose in life, or offers the strongest violence to his natural inclinations; that practice he will the more readily embrace, on account of those very circumstances, which should make him absolutely reject it. It seems the more purely religious, that it proceeds from no mixture of any other motive or consideration. And if for its sake he sacrifices much of his ease and quiet, his claim of merit appears still to rise upon him, in proportion to the zeal and devotion which he discovers. In restoring a loan, or paying a debt, his divinity is no wise beholden to him; because these acts of justice are what he was bound to perform, and what many would have performed, were there no God in the universe. But if he fast a day, or give himself a sound whipping, this has a direct reference, in his opinion, to the service of God. No other motive could engage him to such austerities. By these distinguished marks of devotion, he has now acquired the divine favour; and may expect in recompense, protection and safety in this world, and eternal happiness in the next (a) .
My yoke is easy, saith our Saviour, and my burden is light. So they really are. Every essential of religion is founded on our nature, and to a pure heart is pleasant in the performance: what can be more pleasant, than gratitude to our Maker, and obedience to his will in comforting our fellow-creatures? But enthusiasts are not easily persuaded, that to make ourselves happy in the exer-cises of piety and benevolence, is the most acceptable service to God that we can perform. In loading religion with unnecessary articles of faith and practice, they contradict our Saviour, by making his yoke severe, and his burden heavy.* Law, who writes on Christian perfection, enjoins such unnatural austerity of manners, as to be subversive both of religion and morality: loose education is not more so. Our passions, when denied proper exercise, are apt to break their fetters, and to plunge us into every extravagance: like the body, which squeezed in one part, swells the more in another. In the same way of thinking, the pious Jeremy Taylor, treating of mortification, prescribes it as the indispensable duty of a Christian, to give no indulgence even to the most innocent emotions; because, says he, the most indifferent action becomes sinful, when there is no other motive for the performance but barely its being pleasant. Could a malevolent deity contrive any thing more severe against his votaries?
In the same spirit of supererogation, holidays have been multiplied without end, depriving the working poor of time, that would be more usefully employed in providing bread for themselves and families. Such a number of holidays, beside contradicting Providence which framed us more for action than contemplation, have several poisonous effects with respect to morality. The moral sense has great influence on the industrious, who have no time for indulging their irregular appetites: the idle, on the contrary, lie open to every temptation. Men likewise are apt to assume great merit from a rigid observance of holidays and other ceremonies; and having thus acquired, in their opinion, the favour of God, they rely on his indulgence in other matters which they think too sweet for sinners.
Monastic institutions are an improvement upon holidays: the whole life of a monk is intended to be a holiday, dedicated entirely to the service of God. The idleness of the monastic state among Christians, opens a wide door to immorality.
In the third section, penances are handled as a mode of worship, for obtaining pardon of sin. But they are sometimes submitted to by the innocent, in order to procure from the Almighty still more favour than innocence alone is entitled to; in which view, they are evidently a work of supererogation. They seem to have no bad effect with respect to religion as distinguished from morality: the body is indeed tortured unnecessarily; but if enthusiasts voluntarily submit to bodily distresses, they have themselves only to blame. With respect to morality, their bad tendency is not slight. Those who perform extraordinary acts of devotion, conceive themselves peculiarly entitled to the favour of God. Proud of his favour, they attach themselves to him alone, and turn indifferent about every other duty. The favourite of a terrestrial potentate, assumes authority; and takes liberties that private persons dare not venture upon: shall a favourite of Heaven be less indulged? The Faquirs in Hindostan submit to dreadful penances; and, holding themselves secure of God’s favour, they are altogether indifferent about the duty they owe to a neighbour. So much are they above common decency, as to go about naked, not even concealing what modesty hides. The penances enjoined in the Romish church, such as fasting and flagellation, have evidently the same bad tendency.* With respect to fasting in particular, to what good purpose it can serve, except to gluttons, is not readily conceived. Temperance in eating and drinking is essential to health: too much or too little are equally noxious, though their effects are different.† Fasting therefore ought never to be enjoined to the temperate as a religious duty, because it cannot be acceptable to a benevolent Deity. Listen to a great prophet on that subject: “Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness; ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen, to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry; and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” (a)
The most extraordinary penance of all is celibacy considered as a religious duty. Many fathers of the church declare against matrimony. St. Jerom in particular says, That the end of matrimony is eternal death; that the earth, indeed, is filled by it, but heaven by virginity. The intemperate zeal of many primitive Christians led them to abstain from matrimony, and even from conjugal caresses, if they had the misfortune to be married; believing that the carnal appetite is inconsistent with pure religion. Edward the Confessor was sainted, for no better reason than the abstaining from matrimonial duties. Jovinian, in the fourth century, taught, that all who observe the laws of piety and virtue laid down in the gospel, have an equal title to happiness in another life: consequently, that those who pass their days in celibacy and mortification, are in no respect more acceptable to God than those who live virtuously in marriage without mortification. He published his opinions in a book, against which Jerom wrote a bitter and abusive treatise, still extant. These opinions were condemned by the church, and by St. Ambrose, in a council at Milan; and Jovinian was banished by the Emperor Honorius. Such ridiculous self-denial was not confined to Christians. Strabo mentions a sect among the Thracians, who made a vow of perpetual vir-ginity; and were much respected on that account. Garcilasso mentions virgins in Peru consecrated to the sun: a vestal guilty of frailty was buried alive, her lover hanged, and the inhabitants of the town where she lived put to the sword. Among all the absurd acts of mortification, celibacy is the strongest instance of superstition triumphing over common sense; for what can be more inconsistent with common sense, not to talk of religion, than an endeavour to put an end to the human species? Barbeyrac, De la Moriae des Peres, gives examples of fathers of the church who wished to extinguish by celibacy the human species, and to hasten the day of judgment.33 Some glimpses of reason have abated the zeal of enthusiasts for celibacy; but have not totally extirpated it; for celibacy of the clergy remains to this day a law in the Romish church. It cannot, however, seriously be thought the will of our benevolent God, that his priests should be denied the exercise of natural powers, bestowed on all for a most valuable purpose. This impious restraint, which contradicts the great law of Increase and multiply, has opened the door to gross de-bauchery in the pastors of the Romish church, though ecclesiastics ought, of all men, to be the most circumspect in their conduct. Men restrained from what is necessary and proper, are more prone than others to break out into gross irregularities.* Marriage is warmly recommended in the laws of Zoroaster. Children are said to be a bridge that conducts men to heaven; and a man who has no children, is held to be under the power of Ahriman. The prayer of a priest who has no children, is held disagreeable to Ormusd.
The celibacy of the clergy was countenanced by the Pope; and enforced from a political consideration, That it united the whole clergy into one compact body, un-der his spiritual Majesty. How short-sighted is man! It was justly esteemed at the time to be the corner-stone of Papal power; and yet became the chief cause of its downfal. Celibacy precipitated the Romish clergy into adultery, fornication, cunning, dissimulation, and every secret vice. Will men of such manners be listened to, when they preach purity to others? There was no medium, but either to reform their own manners, or to give every indulgence to the laity. But ignorance and superstition in the latter, made the former think themselves secure. The restoration of learning broke the charm. Men beginning to think for themselves, were provoked at the dissolute lives of their pastors; and raised a loud cry against them. Reformers were burnt as heretics; and clergymen were held to be emissaries from Satan, to establish his throne upon earth. Knox, that violent reformer, believed seriously that Cardinal Beaton was a conjured enemy to Christ Jesus. Providence brings good out of ill. Had not the clergy been dissolute, poor Christians might have laboured under ignorance and ecclesiastic thraldom to this hour. Our reformers, beginning with their pastors, extended insensibly their hatred to the doctrines taught by their pastors. Every article of faith was sifted: the chaff was separated from the corn: and a reformation was established upon the scriptures, rejecting every innovation of the Romish church.
There is not mentioned in history a more impudent disregard of moral principles, than a privilege assumed by the Bishop of Rome to disengage men from their oaths and promises: it is not a greater stretch to disengage them from every duty, whether of morality or of religion. The barons of Valentia, dreading a persecution against the industrious Moors, their tenants, obtained the following clause to be inserted in their king’s coronation-oath: “That he should not expel the Moriscos, nor force them to be baptized; that he should never desire to be relieved from the oath by a dispensation from the Pope, nor accept a dispensation if offered.” The Emperor Charles V. took this oath solemnly in presence of his nobles; and yet accepted a dispensation from the Pope, absolving him from the oath, and from the guilt of perjury in breaking it. Augustus King of Poland, in the treaty of Altramstadt, renounced the kingdom of Poland to his competitor Stanislaus. The defeat of the King of Sweden at Poltowa was an inviting opportunity to renew his pretensions. A solemn treaty stood in his way; but the Pope removed that obstacle, by annulling the treaty, and setting him at liberty. The Pope has been known to bestow that wonderful privilege upon others. Pope Pascal II. having, with a solemn oath, renounced the right of investitures, empowered the cardinals to declare his oath null. Bishops also, imitating their superior, have assumed the privilege of dispensing with moral duties. Instances are not rare, of curates being authorized by their bishop to entertain concubines, paying for each a regular tax of a crown yearly. Nay, in some provincial synods, they are enjoined to keep concubines, in order to prevent scandal. Common prostitutes, licensed in the city of Leghorn, have a church peculiar to themselves, and must not enter into any other. They follow their trade with the utmost freedom; except in passion-week, during which they must forbear sinning, under pain of banishment (a) .
The power of bestowing kingdoms, assumed by the Bishop of Rome, was an encroachment on the rules of justice, no less bold. Christian princes, not many ages ago, esteemed the Pope’s gift to be their best title of property. In 1346, the Venetians requested the Pope’s permission to carry on commerce in Asia, and to purchase there pepper and cinnamon. The Pope not only granted their request, but pronounced anathemas upon any who should dare to interfere in that commerce. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain applied to Pope Alexander VI. to vest in them the property of America, discovered under their auspices by Columbus. The Pope having formerly granted to the kings of Portugal their discoveries in the East-Indies, both grants were held sacred; and it came to be strenuously disputed, under which of the grants the Molucca islands were comprehended. Both grants proceed upon a narrative, of the power bestowed by Almighty God on the Pope, as successor to St. Peter and vicar of Christ. To imagine that the Almighty would bestow such powers on the Bishop of Rome, or on any human being, shews gross ignorance of the common rights of mankind, and of the government of Providence.
The grossest of all deviations, not only from sound morality, but from pure religion, and the most extensive in its baneful effects, is a doctrine embraced by established churches, not many excepted, That, because heretics are odious in the sight of God, it is the duty of the ortho-dox to extirpate them, root and branch. Observe the consequence: people who differ from the established church are held to be obstinate sinners, deserving punishment here as well as hereafter. The religion of every country is changeable; and the religion at present dominant may soon be under depression; which of course subjects all mankind to the rigour of persecution. An invention more effectual for extirpating the human race, is not within the reach of imagination: the horror of human sacrifices is as nothing in comparison.
Persecution for differences in religion can never take place but where the ministers of religion are formed into a class, totally distinct from the rest of the people. They made not a distinct class among the old Romans; who, far from having any notion of persecution, adopted the gods of every nation they conquered.34 A learned writer (a) observes, that, as the number of their gods increased with their conquests, it is possible that they might have worshipped all the gods in the world. Their belief in tutelar deities produced that effect. Titus Livius mentions a sect of Bacchanals spread through Italy. They performed their ceremonies during night; men and women mixing in the dark, after intemperate eating and drinking. Never did wicked wretches deserve more exemplary punishment; yet listen to the following decree of the Roman senate, breathing the true spirit of toleration. “Ne qua Bacchanalia Romae, neve in Italia essent. Si quis tale sacrum, solenne, et necessarium duceret, nec sine religione et piaculo se id omittere posse; apud Praetorem urbanum profiteretur; Praetor senatum consuleret. Si ei permissum esset, quum in senatu centum non minus essent; ita id sacrum faceret, dum ne plus quinque sacrificio interessent; neu qua pecunia communis, neu quis magister sacrorum, aut sacerdos esset.”* The Jews were prone to per-secution, because their priests formed a distinct body. It is true, they believed in tutelar deities: their hatred, however, of neighbouring nations prevailed to make them hold in abhorrence the worship of every other god. Even among themselves they were abundantly disposed to war; and nothing kept within bounds the Pharisees, the Saduccees, and the Essenes, their three sects, but terror of the Roman power. The Christian religion implies toleration in its very nature and principles; and yet became prone to persecution above all others. Christian sects were enflamed against each other to a degree of brutality; the most opposite to peace and brotherly love, inculcated in the gospel. It was propagated by the orthodox, that Arius expired in a common jakes, and that his entrails burst out. The same is related of Huneric King of the Vandals, a zealous Arian; with the following addition, that being possessed with the devil, whom he had glutted with the blood of many martyrs, he tore his flesh with his teeth, and ended his wretched life in the most excrutiating, though justly deserved torments. The falsehoods every where spread, during the fourteenth century, against the Jews, such as their poisoning the public fountains, killing Christian infants, and drinking their blood, with many other falsehoods of the same stamp, were invented, and greedily swallowed, through the influence of religious hatred. Through the same influence a law was once made in England, that a Christian marrying a Jew should be burnt alive.35 The greater part of persecutions have been occasioned in the same manner; for men are not so desperately wicked, as to approve of persecution, unless when blinded by intemperate zeal. The same religious hatred produced the assassination of the Duke of Guise, and of two Henries, Kings of France; produced the gunpowder plot; and produced the most horrid deed that ever was perpetrated among men, the massacre of St. Bartholomew.*
There is no occasion to be particular on the massacre of St. Bartholomew, the circumstances of which are universally known. I shall mention another, which happened in Lisbon, 6th April 1506, the effect entirely of bigotry. The day mentioned being Sunday, certain persons in the church of St. Dominic, observing that a crucifix in one of the chapels was more than ordinary luminous, the priest cried out, a miracle! a miracle: A new convert, who had been a Jew, saying slightly that it was but the sun shining on the crucifix, he was dragged instantly out of the church, and burnt. The friars, with vehement speeches, encouraged the rabble assembled about the fire to more mischief; while other friars ran about the streets bawling out, heresy, heresy, with crucifixes in their hands. Above 500 men gathered together, and slew every new convert they could find, and burnt them to ashes. Next morning they murdered above 1000 men, women, and children, dragging them from the altars, to which they had fled as a sanctuary. The same fury continued the third day, on which above 400 persons more were massacred.36
No false principle in religion has shed more innocent or rather virtuous blood, than that of persecuting heretics; i.e. those who differ in any article from the religion established by law. The doctrine of burning heretics, is in effect the professing to burn men eminently virtuous; for they must be so, when they submit to be burnt alive, rather than be guilty even of dissimulation. The Mahometan practice of converting people by the sword, if not more rational, is at least more manly. Louis IX. of France, one of its best princes, would have been a greater blessing to his people had he been less pious: he had an implacable aversion to heretics; against whom he thought it more proper to em-ploy racks and gibbets, than argument. Torquemada, that infernal inquisitor of Spain, brought into the inquisition, in the space of fourteen years, no fewer than 80,000 persons; of whom 6000 were condemned to the flames, and burnt alive with the greatest pomp and exultation. Of that vast number, there was perhaps not a single person, who was not more pure in religion, as well as in morals, than their outrageous persecutor. Hunter, a young man about nineteen years of age, was one of the unhappy victims to the zeal of Queen Mary of England for Popery. Having been inadvertently betrayed by a priest to deny transubstantiation, he absconded, to keep out of harm’s way. Bonner, that arch-hangman of Popery, threatened ruin to the father, if he did not deliver up the young man. Hunter, hearing of his father’s danger, made his appearance, and was burnt alive, instead of being rewarded for his filial piety. A woman of Guernsey was brought to the stake, without regard to her big belly; which bursting by the torture, she was delivered in the midst of the flames. One of the guards snatched the infant from the fire: but the magistrate who attended the execution ordered it to be thrown back; being resolved, he said, that nothing should survive which sprung from a parent so obstinately heretical. Father Paul (a) computes that, in the Netherlands alone, from the time that the edict of Charles V. was promulgated against the reformers, fifty thousand persons were hanged, beheaded, buried alive, or burnt, on account of religion. Some Faquirs, crazed with opium and fanaticism, have been known, with poisoned daggers, to fall upon uncircumcised Europeans, and to put every one to death whom they could master. In the last century, a Faquir at Surate murdered, within the space of a minute, seventeen Dutch sailors with seventeen stabs of a dagger. We think with horror of human sacrifices among the ancient Pagans; and yet we behold them every day among Christians, rendered still more horrid by the most atrocious torments that religious hatred can devise.
The great motive to such cruelties, is the superstitious and absurd notion, that heretics are God’s enemies; which makes it thought an acceptable service to God, not only to persecute them by fire and sword in this world, but to deliver them over to Satan in the world to come. Another circumstance enflames religious hatred; which is, that neighbours are either intimate friends or bitter enemies. This holds with a slight variation in sects of the same religion: however minute their differences are, they cannot be intimate friends; and therefore are bitter enemies: the nearer they approach to unison, if not entirely so, the greater in proportion is their mutual hatred. Such hatred, subduing the meek spirit of Christianity, is an additional cause for persecution. Blind zeal for what is believed to be the only true religion, never discovers error nor innocence in those who differ, but perverseness and criminal obstinacy. Two religions totally different, like two countries in opposite parts of the globe, produce no mutual enmity. At the siege of Constantinople by the Turks, anno 1453, the Emperor, in order to procure assistance from the princes of the Latin church, ordered mass to be celebrated in one of his churches according to the form used in Rome. The people with great indignation protested, that they would rather see the Turks in their churches, than the hat of a cardinal.
The history of the Waldenses, though well known, cannot be too often repeated. In the twelfth century, a merchant of Lyons, named Peter Valdo, dissatisfied with the pomp and ceremonies of the Romish church, ill suited in his opinion to the humility of a Christian, retired to a desert in the high country of Provence, with several poor people his disciples. There he became their spiritual guide, instructing them in certain doctrines, the same that were afterwards adopted by the Protestants. Their incessant labour subdued the barren soil, and prepared it for grain as well as for pasture. The rent which in time they were enabled to pay for land that afforded none originally, endeared them to their landlords. In 250 years, they multiplied to the number of 18,000, occupying thirty villages, beside hamlets, the work of their own hands. Priests they had none, nor any disputes about religion; neither had they occasion for a court of justice, as brotherly love did not suffer them to go to law: they worshipped God in their own plain way, and their innocence was secured by incessant labour. They had long enjoyed the sweets of peace and mutual affection, when the reformers of Germany and Geneva sent ministers among them; which unhappily laid them open to religious hatred, the most unrelenting of all furies. In the year 1540, the parliament of Provence condemned nineteen of them to be burnt for heresy, their trees to be rooted up, and their houses to be razed to the ground. The Waldenses, terrified at this sentence, applied in a body to Cardinal Sadolet, bishop of Carpentras; who received them kindly, and obtained from Francis I. of France, a pardon for the persons under sentence of death, on condition of abjuring heresy. The matter lay over five years; when the parliament, irritated at their perseverance, prevailed on the King to withdraw his pardon. The sentence was executed with great rigour; and the parliament, laying hold of that opportunity, broke through every restraint of law, and commenced a violent persecution against the whole tribe. The soldiers began with massacring old men, women, and children, all having fled who were able to fly; and proceeded to burn their houses, barns, and corn. There remained in the town of Cabriere sixty men and thirty women; who having surrendered upon promise of life, were butchered all of them without mercy. Some women who had taken refuge in a church, were dragged out, and burnt alive. Twenty-two villages were reduced to ashes; and that populous and flourishing district became once more a desart.
To conceive this horrid scene in all its deformity, the people persecuted ought to be compared with the clergy their persecutors; for the civil magistrate was the hand only that executed their vengeance: on the one side, an industrious honest people, pure in their morals, and no less pure in their religion: on the other, proud pampered priests, abandoned without shame to every wickedness, impure in their morals, and still more impure in their religion—the world never furnished such another contrast. Had the scene been reversed, to make these wretches suffer per-secution from the Waldenses—but that people were too upright and too religious for being persecutors. The manners of the Christian clergy in general, before the Reformation, enlivens the contrast. The doctrine promulgated during the dark times of Christianity, That God is a mercenary being, and that every person however wicked may obtain pardon of his sins by money, made riches flow into the hands of the clergy in a plentiful stream. And riches had the same effect upon the Christian clergy that they have upon all men, which is, to produce pride, sensuality, and profligacy: these again produced dissipation of money, which prompted avarice, and every invention for recruiting exhausted treasures.* Even as early as the eighth century, the Christian clergy, tempted by opulence, abandoned themselves to pleasure, without moderation; and far exceeded the laity in luxury, glut-tony, and lust. When such were the pastors, what must have been the flock! Rejoice, O Scotland, over the poverty and temperance of thy pastors. During that period, the clergy could read, and, like parrots, they could mumble prayers in Latin: in every other respect, they rivalled the laity in ignorance. They were indeed more cunning than the laity; and understood their interest better, if to covet riches at the expence of probity, deserve that name. Three articles were established that made religion an easy service. First, That faith is the essence of religion, without regard to good works; and hence the necessity of being strictly orthodox, which the church only could determine. Second, Religious worship was reduced to a number of external ceremonies and forms, which, being declared sufficient for salvation, absolved Christians from every moral duty. Remark, that a priest is always the chief person in ceremonial worship. The third article, That God is a mercenary being, is mentioned above, with its necessary consequences. These articles brought about a total neglect, both in clergy and laity, not only of morality, but of every essential religious duty. In fine, there never was a religion that deviated more from just principles, than that professed by Christians during the dark ages. Persecution reached none but the sincerely pious and virtuous. What a glorious tolerating sentiment doth Arnobius (a) throw out, and what profusion of blood would have been prevented, had it been adopted by all Christians! “Da veniam, Rex summe, tuos persequentibus famulos: et quod tuae benignitatis est proprium, fugientibus ignosce tui nominis et religionis cultum. Non est mirum, si ignoraris: majoris est admirationis, si sciaris.”* The following parable against persecution was communicated to me by Dr. Franklin of Philadelphia, a man who makes a figure in the learned world.
And it came to pass after these things, that Abraham sat in the door of his tent, about the going down of the sun. And behold a man bent with age, coming from the way of the wilderness leaning on a staff. And Abraham arose, and met him, and said unto him, Turn in, I pray thee, and wash thy feet, and tarry all night; and thou shalt arise early in the morning, and go on thy way. And the man said, Nay; for I will abide under this tree. But Abraham pressed him greatly: so he turned, and they went into the tent: and Abraham baked unleavened bread, and they did eat. And when Abraham saw that the man blessed not God, he said unto him, Wherefore dost thou not worship the most high God, creator of heaven and earth? And the man answered and said, I do not worship thy God, neither do I call upon his name; for I have made to myself a god, which abideth always in mine house, and provideth me with all things. And Abraham’s zeal was kindled against the man, and he arose, and fell upon him, and drove him forth with blows into the wilderness. And God called unto Abraham, saying, Abraham, where is the stranger? And Abraham answered and said, Lord, he would not worship thee, neither would he call upon thy name; therefore have I driven him out from before my face into the wilderness. And God said, Have I borne with him these hundred ninety and eight years, and nourished him, and clothed him, notwithstanding his rebellion against me; and couldst not thou, who art thyself a sinner, bear with him one night?
The historical style of the Old Testament is here finely imitated; and the moral must strike every one who is not sunk in stupidity and superstition. Were it really a chapter of Genesis, one is apt to think, that persecution could never have shown a bare face among Jews or Christians. But alas! that is a vain thought. Such a passage in the old Testament, would avail as little against the rancorous passions of men, as the following passages in the New Testament, though persecution cannot be condemned in terms more explicit. “Him that is weak in the faith, receive you, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things; another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth, despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not, judge him that eateth. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgement-seat of Christ, every one to give an account of himself to God. I know, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing unclean, to him it is unclean. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (a) . Our Saviour himself declared against persecution in the most express terms. The Jews and Samaritans were of the same religion; but some trivial differences in the ceremonial part of worship, rendered them odious to each other. Our Saviour being refused lodging in a village of Samaria, because he was travelling to Jerusalem, his disciples James and John said, “Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?” But he rebuked them, and said, “The Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (b) .*
It gives me real concern, that even the hot fire of persecution did not altogether purify our Reformed clergy from that satanical spirit. No sooner were the Dissenters settled in New England, where they fled to avoid persecution, than they set on foot a persecution against the Quakers, no less furious than what they them-selves had suffered at home. Nor did the Reformed clergy in Scotland lose sight of the same magisterial authority that had been assumed by their predecessors of the Romish church, on the ridiculous pretext of being ambassadors to men from Jesus Christ. Upon a representation, anno 1646, from the commission of the kirk of Scotland, James Bell and Colin Campbell, bailies of Glasgow, were committed to prison by the parliament, merely for having said, that kirkmen meddled too much in civil matters. Could a despotic prince have exerted a more arbitrary act? but the church was all-powerful in those days.*
I would do justice to every church, not excepting that of Rome; and it is doing that church no more but justice to acknowledge, that the spirit of persecution was not more eminent in it, than zeal for making converts. The former is retiring out of the world; and I wish it most profound rest, never again to awake. People begin to be ashamed of it, as of a garment long out of fashion. Let the other continue for amusement: it is innocent; and if it do no good, it is not productive of so much harm.
The desire of making converts proceeds from two different causes. In superstitious zealots, it proceeds from an opinion, that all who differ from them are in the road to damnation: for which reason, there is a rage of making converts among Roman Catholics; who, without ceremony, deliver over to the flames of hell, every person who is not of their communion. The other cause is more natural: every man thinks himself in the right, especially in matters of consequence; and, for that reason, he is happy to find others of his opinion (a) . With respect to the first cause, I beg attention to the following considerations; not with any hope of converting zealots, but to prevent, if possible, others from becoming such. In none of the works of God is variety more happily blended with uniformity, than in the formation of man. Uniformity prevails in the human face with respect to eyes, nose, mouth, and other capital parts: variety prevails in the expressions of these parts, serving to distinguish one person from another, without hazard of error. In like manner, the minds of men are uniform with respect to their passions and principles; but the various tones and expressions of these, form different characters without end. A face destitute of a nose or of a mouth, is monstrous: a mind destitute of the moral sense, or of a sense of religion, is no less so. But variety of expression in different faces is agreeable, because we relish variety; and a similar variety in the expressions or tones of passion, ought to be equally agreeable. Endless differences in temper, in taste, and in mental faculties, that of reason in particular, produce necessarily variety in sentiment and in opinion. Can God be displeased with such variety, when it is his own work? He requires no uniformity, except with respect to an upright mind and clear conscience, which are indispensable. Here at the same time is discovered an illustrious final cause. Different countenances in the human race, not only distinguish one person from another, but promote society, by aiding us to chuse a friend, an associate, a partner for life. Differences in opinion and sentiment have still more beneficial effects: they rouse the attention, give exercise to the understanding, and sharpen the reasoning facul-ty. With respect to religion in particular, perfect uniformity, which furnisheth no subject for thinking nor for reasoning, would produce langour in divine worship, and make us sink into cold indifference. How foolish then is the rage of making proselytes? Let every man enjoy his native liberty, of thinking as well as of acting; free to act as he pleases, provided only he obey the rules of morality; equally free to think as he pleases, provided only he acknowledge the Great God as his maker and master, and perceive the necessary connection of religion with morality. Strict uniformity in other matters, may be compared to a spring-day, calm and serene; neither so hot as to make us drop a garment, nor so cold as to require an addition; no wind to ruffle, nor rain to make shelter necessary. We enjoy the sweet scene for a moment: we walk, we sit, we muse—but soon fall asleep. Agitation is the element of man, and the life of society. Let us not attempt to correct the works of God: the attempt will betray us into absurd errors. This doctrine cannot be better illustrated than by a con-versation, reported by the Jesuit Tachard, between the King of Siam, and a French ambassador, who, in his master’s name, urged that king to embrace the Christian religion. “I am surprised,” said his Majesty of Siam, “that the King of France, my good friend, should interest himself so warmly in what concerns God only. He hath given to his creatures different minds and different inclinations, which naturally lead them to differ in opinion. We admire variety in the material world: why not equally admire it in matters of religion? Have we not then reason to believe, that God takes pleasure in all the different forms of worship? Had it been the intention of God to produce uniformity in religion, he would have formed all men with the same mind.” Bernier introduces some Gentiles of Hindostan defending their religion much in the same manner: “That they did not pretend their law to be universal; that they did not hold ours to be false, as, for ought they knew, it might be a good law for us; and that God probably made many roads to heaven.”
With respect to the other cause above mentioned, the desire of putting people in the right road: To reason others into our religious principles, is natural; but it is not always prudent. I wish my neighbour to be of my opinion, because I think my opinion right: but is there no danger of undermining his religious principles, without establishing better in their stead? Ought I not to restrain my desire of making converts, when the attempt may possibly reduce them to abandon religion altogether, as a matter of utter uncertainty? If a man of clear understanding has, by some unhappy means, been led into error, that man may be set right by fair reasoning: but beware of endeavouring to convert people of low parts, who are indebted for their creed to parents, to education, or to example: it is safer to let them rest as they are.
At any rate, let us never attempt to gain proselytes by rewards, or by terror: what other effect can such motives produce, but dissimulation and lying, parents of every secret crime. The Empress of Russia uses a method for converting her Pagan subjects of Kamskatka, no less agreeable than effectual; which is, to exempt from taxes for ten years, such of them as profess the Christian religion. This practice may be political; but it tends not to advance religion, and is destructive of morality. Terror, on the other hand, may be equally effectual, but is not altogether so agreeable. The people of Rum, one of the Hebrides, were Papists till the beginning of the present century, when in one day they were all proselyted to the Protestant faith. Maclean of Coll, their chieftain, went to the island with a Protestant minister, and ordered all the inhabitants to appear on Sunday at public worship. They came, but refused to hear a Protestant minister. The chieftain reasoned with them: but finding that his reasonings made no impression, he laid hold of the most forward; and having made a deep impression on him with his cane, pushed him into the church. The rest followed like meek lambs; and from that day have continued firm Protestants. The Protestantism of Rum is styled by their Popish neighbours the faith of the yellow stick.
To apply any means for making proselytes, other than fair reasoning, appears to me a strange perversion. Can God be pleased with using rewards or punishments, or can any rational man justify them? What then should move any one to put them in practice? I should be utterly at a loss to answer the question, but for a fact mentioned more than once above, that the rude and illiterate judge by sight only, not by reflection. They lay weight on the external visible act, without thinking of intention, which is not visible. In truth, the bulk of mankind rest upon the external profession of religion; they never think of the heart, nor consider how that stands affected. What else is it but the external act merely that moves the Romish missionaries to baptize the infants of savages even at the moment of expiring? which they prosecute with much pious ardour. Their zeal merits applause, but not their judgment. Can any rational person seriously believe, that the dipping a savage or an infant in water will make either of them a Chri-stian, or that the want of this ceremony will precipitate them into hell? The Lithuanians, before their conversion to Christianity, worshipped serpents, every family entertaining one as a household god. Sigismundus, in his commentaries of Muscovy, reports the following incident. A converted Christian having persuaded a neighbour to follow his example, and, in token of his conversion, to kill his serpent, was surprised, at his next visit, to find his convert in the deepest melancholy, bitterly lamenting that he had murdered his god, and that the most dreadful calamities would befal him. Was this person a Christian more than nominally? At the end of the last century, when Kempfer was in Japan, there remained but about fifty Japan Christians, who were locked up in prison for life. These poor people knew no more of the Christian religion, but the names of our Saviour and of the Virgin Mary; and yet so zealous Christians were they, as rather to die miserably in jail, than to renounce the name of Christ, and be set at liberty. The inhabitants of the island Annaboa in the gulf of Guinea have been converted by the Portuguese to Chri-stianity. No more is required of them, as Bosman observes, but to repeat a Pater Noster, and Ave Maria, confess to the priest, and bring offerings to him.37
I cannot with satisfaction conclude this sketch, without congratulating my present countrymen of Britain upon their knowledge of the intimate connection that true religion has with morality. May the importance of that connection, always at heart, excite us to govern every action of our lives by the united principles of morality and religion:—what a happy people would we be!
[* ]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.
[15. ]In the 1st edition this section is entitled simply “Religious Worship.”
[(a) ]Elements of Criticism, vol. 1. p. 180. edit. 5.
[* ]Arnobius (Adversus gentes, lib. 1.) accounts rationally for the worship we pay to the Deity: “Huic omnes ex more prosternimur, hunc collatis precibus adoramus, ab hoc justa, et honesta, et auditu ejus condigna, deposcimus. Non quo ipse desideret supplices nos esse, aut amet substerni tot millium venerationem videre. Utilitas haec nostra est, et commodi nostri rationem spectans. Nam quia proni ad culpas, et ad libidinis varios appetitus, vitio sumus infirmitatis ingenitae, patitur se semper nostris cogitationibus concipi: ut dum illum oramus, et mereri ejus contendimus munera, accipiamus innocentiae voluntatem, et ab omni nos labe delictorum omnium amputatione purgemus.”—[In English thus: “It is our custom, to prostrate ourselves before him; and we ask of him such gifts only as are consistent with justice and with honour, and suitable to the character of the Being whom we adore. Not that he receives pleasure or satisfaction from the humble veneration of thousands of his creatures. From this we ourselves derive benefit and advantage; for being the slaves of appetite, and prone to err from the weakness of our nature, when we address ourselves to God in prayer, and study by our actions to merit his approbation, we gain at least the wish, and the inclination, to be virtuous.”]
[16. ]This and the previous two paragraphs added in 3rd edition.
[17. ]“Gratitude, it would . . . principle among savages”: added in 2nd edition.
[* ]Fasting and celibacy were by Zoroaster condemned with abhorrence, as a criminal rejection of the best gifts of Providence.
[* ]The Abbé de Boissy derives human sacrifices from the history of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac, which, says he, was imitated by others. A man who is so unlucky at guessing had better be silent. [[Note added in 2nd edition.]]
[(a) ]Tract 1.
[(a) ]Chap. 6.
[* ]There is no mention in ancient authors of fish being offered to the gods in sacrifice. The reason I take to be, that the most savoury food of man was reckoned the most agreeable to their gods; that savages never thought of fish till land-animals became scarce; and that the matter as well as form of sacrifices were established in practice, long before men had recourse to fish for food.
[(a) ]Psalm 50.
[(b) ]Psalm 51.
[(c) ]Hosea vi. 6.
[* ]Agathias urges a different reason against sacrifices. “Ego nullam naturam esse existimo, cui voluptati sint foedata sanguine altaria, et animantium lanienae. Quod si qua tamen est cui ista sint cordi, non ea mitis et benigna est aliqua, sed fera ac rabida, qualem pavorem poetae fingunt, et Metum, et Bellonam, et Malam Fortunam, et Discordiam, quam indomitam appellant.”—[In English thus: “I cannot conceive, that there should exist a superior being, who takes delight in the sacrifice of animals, or in altars stained with blood. If such there be, his nature is not benevolent, but barbarous and cruel. Such indeed were the gods whom the poets have created: such were Fear and Terror, the goddess of War, of Evil Fortune, and of Discord.”]—Arnobius batters down bloody sacrifices with a very curious argument. “Ecce si bos aliquis, aut quodlibet ex his animal, quod ad placandas caeditur mitigandasque numinum furias, vocem hominis sumat, eloquaturque his verbis: Ergone, O Jupiter, aut quis alius deus es, humanum est istud et rectum, aut aequitatis alicujus in aestimatione ponendum, ut cum alius peccaverit, ego occidar, et de meo sanguine fieri tibi patiaris satis, qui nunquam te laeserim, nunquam sciens aut nesciens, tuum numen majestatemque violarim, animal, ut scis, mutum, naturae meae simplicitatem sequens, nec multiformium morum varietatibus lubricum?”—[In English thus: “What if the ox, while he is led out to slaughter to appease the fancied wrath of an offended deity, should assume the human voice, and in these words astonish his conductors: Are these, O merciful God, are these the dictates of humanity, or of justice, that for the crime of another I should forfeit my life. I have never by my will offended thee, and, dumb as I am, and uninformed by reason, my actions, according to the simplicity of my nature, cannot have given thee displeasure, who hast made me as I am.”]—If this argument were solid, it would be equally conclusive against animal food.
[* ]Frequent mention is made of such stones in the poems of Ossian. “But remember, my son, to place this sword, this bow, and this horn, within that dark and narrow house marked with one gray stone.” p. 55. “Whose fame is in that dark-green tomb? Four stones with their heads of moss stand there, and mark the narrow house of death.” p. 67. “Let thy bards mourn those who fell. Let Erin give the sons of Lochlin to earth, and raise the mossy stones of their fame; that the children of the north hereafter may behold the place where their fathers fought.” p. 78. “Earth here incloses the loveliest pair on the hill: grass grows between the stones of the tomb.” p. 208. In the same poems we find stones made instruments of worship. The spirit of Loda is introduced threatening Fingal: “‘Fly to thy land,’ replied the form: ‘receive the wind and fly. The blasts are in the hollow of my hand: the course of the storm is mine. The King of Sora is my son: he bends at the stone of my power.’” p. 200.
[18. ]“The sun was . . . that sacred place”: added in 2nd edition.
[* ]“The deficiencies of Polycletus were made up in Phidias and Alcamenes. Phidias is reckoned to have had more skill in forming the statues of gods than of men. In works of ivory he was unrivalled, altho’ there had been no other proofs of his excellence than the statue of Minerva at Athens, and the Jupiter Olympius in Elis. Its beauty seems to have added to the received religion; the majestic statue resembling so much the god himself.”
[19. ]The numen of a deity is his or her power, or spirit.
[(a) ]Tacitus, De moribus Germanorum, cap. 9.
[20. ]“But that this . . . devour one another”: added in 2nd edition. In 1st edition: “However this be, the Egyptian worship is an illustrious instance of the influence of devotion: how powerful must it be in its purity, when even in a wrong direction, it can force its way against every obstacle of common sense! And such respect was paid to these animals, if we can trust Diodorus Siculus, that in a great famine, the Egyptians ventured not to touch the sacred animals, tho’ they were forced to devour one another” [2:419].
[(a) ]Chap. 44.
[21. ]Paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Exod. xxxii. 7.
[(a) ]Deuteronomy, xvi. 22.
[(b) ]1 Kings, xii. 28.
[(c) ]1 Kings, xiv. 23.
[(d) ]2 Kings, x. 25.
[(e) ]2 Kings, x. 29.
[(f) ]Daniel, chap. 3.
[* ]External show figures greatly in dark times, when nothing makes an impression but what is visible. A German traveller (Hentzner) talking of Queen Elisabeth, thus describes the solemnity of her dinner. “While she was at prayers, we saw her table set out in the following solemn manner. A gentleman entered the room bearing a rod, and along with him another who had a table-cloth, which, after they had both kneeled three times with the utmost veneration, he spread upon the table, and after kneeling again, they both retired. Then came two others, one with the rod again, the other with a salt-cellar, a plate and bread; when they had kneeled, as the others had done, and placed what was brought upon the table, they too retired with the same ceremonies performed by the first. At last came an unmarried lady, (we were told she was a Countess), and along with her a married one, bearing a tasting knife; the former was dressed in white silk; who when she had prostrated herself three times, in the most graceful manner, approached the table, and rubbed the plates with bread and salt, with as much awe as if the Queen had been present: when they had waited there a little while, the yeomen of the guard entered, bareheaded, cloathed in scarlet, with a golden rose upon their backs, bringing in at each turn a course of twenty-four dishes, served in plate most of it gilt; these dishes were received by a gentleman in the same order they were brought, and placed upon the table, while the lady-taster gave to each of the guard a mouthful to eat, of the particular dish he had brought, for fear of any poison. During the time that this guard, which consists of the tallest and stoutest men that can be found in all England, were bringing dinner, twelve trumpets and two kettle-drums made the hall ring for half an hour together. At the end of this ceremonial, a number of unmarried ladies appeared, who, with particular solemnity, lifted the meat off the table, and conveyed it into the Queen’s inner and more private chamber, where, after she had chosen for herself, the rest goes to the ladies of the court.” Forms were greatly regarded among the old Romans, dresses appropriated to different ranks; lictors, axes, bundles of rods, and other ensigns of power; military merit rewarded with triumphs, ovations, crowns of gold, of leaves, &c. &c. Such appearances strike the multitude with respect and awe: they are indeed despised by men of plain sense; but they regain their credit with philosophers. Excessive courage, the exertion of which is visible, was the heroism of the last age: “I shall never esteem a king,” said the great Gustavus Adolphus, “who in battle does not expose himself like a private man.” By acuteness of judgement and refinement of taste, we cling to the substance and disregard forms and ceremonies. External show, however, continues to prevail in many instances. A young man is apt to be captivated with beauty or dress: a young woman, with equipage or a title. And hence, many an ill-sorted match. [[Note added in 2nd edition.]]
[* ]“As approaching nearer to heaven, the prayers of mortals are there more distinctly heard.”
[(a) ]Natural History of Religion.
[(a) ]Matthew, xxii. 36.
[(a) ]Matthew, xxv. 34.
[(b) ]James, i. 27.
[(c) ]Minucius Foelix.
[* ]“Shall I offer to God for a sacrifice those creatures which his bounty has given me for my use? It were ingratitude to throw back the gift upon the giver. The most acceptable sacrifice is an upright mind, an untainted conscience, and an honest heart. The actions of the innocent ascend to God in prayer; the observance of justice is more grateful than incense; the man who is sincere in his dealings, secures the favour of his Creator; and the delivery of a fellow-creature from danger or destruction, is dearer in the eyes of the Almighty than the sacrifice of blood.”
[22. ]Paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[23. ]“The native Hindows . . . of an ancestor”: added in 2nd edition.
[24. ]“The Negroes hold . . . the other tribes”: added in 2nd edition.
[* ]The great weight that was laid upon orthodoxy, appears from a triumphal arch erected over the tomb of Charlemagne, upon which was the following inscription: “Here lies the body of Charles, a great and orthodox emperor.” And yet that orthodox Emperor could not write his name. [[“And yet that . . . write his name”: added in 2nd edition.]]
[25. ]“One great maxim . . . consequently of morality”: added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Elements of Criticism, vol. 2. p. 493. edit. 5.
[26. ]“This leads me . . . more complete system”: added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Lib. 18. cap. 5.
[27. ]“They made offerings to Venus in the name of the remainder of their chastity.”
[28. ]“Among the negroes . . . lawful than beneficial”: added in 2nd edition.
[29. ]Paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Historical Law tracts, tract 1.
[* ]“There is nothing to be obtained from the court of Rome but by the force of money: even the ceremony of consecration, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, are sold; and the remission of sins is bestowed only on those who can pay for it.”
[30. ]“Smollet in his . . . concludes with prayer”: added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Natural History of Religion, by David Hume, Esq.
[* ]“And there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together. And Jesus laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue with indignation said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath-day. The Lord then said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? and ought not this woman, whom Satan hath bound, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath-day?” Luke, xiii. 11.
[* ]An ingenious writer pleasantly observes, “That a croisade was the South-Sea project of former times: by the latter, men hoped to gain riches without industry: by the former, they hoped to gain heaven without repentance, amendment of life, or sanctity of manners.” Sir David Dalrymple, a Judge in the Court of Session.
[31. ]“Pure morality is so burdened with strict duties that if in addition it is overburdened with unimportant formalities, it is nearly always at the expense of what is essential. They say that this is the case for most monks, who, subjected to a thousand useless rules, do not know what honour and virtue are” (Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, pt. IV, letter 10, p. 375).
[(a) ]Matthew, xxiii. 23.
[32. ]That is, one who possesses property upon a title which he knows or should know to be invalid.
[(a) ]Vol. 18.
[* ]Christians, occupied too much with external forms, have corrupted several of the fine arts. They have injured architecture, by erecting magnificent churches in the ugly form of a cross. And they have injured painting, by withdrawing the best hands from proper subjects, and employing them on the legendary martyrdom of pretended saints, and other such disagreeable subjects.
[* ]A gross is the third part of a ducat.
[(a) ]Natural History of Religion.
[* ]An old woman walking with others to a sacrament, was observed to pick out the worst bits of the road: “I never can do enough,” said she, “for sweet Jesus.”
[* ]A sect of Christians, styled Flagellantes, held, that flagellation is of equal virtue with baptism and the other sacraments; that it will procure forgiveness of sin; that the old law of Christ is to be abolished; and a new law substituted, enjoining the baptism of blood to be administered by whipping.
[† ]The Baron de Manstein observes, that the frequent lents enjoined by the Greek church, contribute greatly to promote diseases in the Russian armies. They are forbidden to touch flesh three-fourths of the year. The synod, it is true, grants a dispensation to soldiers during war; but such is the superstition of the people, that few take the benefit of the dispensation. [[Note added in 2nd edition.]]
[(a) ]Isaiah, lviii, 4. &c.
[33. ]“Barbeyrac . . . day of judgment”: added in 2nd edition.
[* ]An ingenious writer, mentioned above, makes the following observation: “The celibacy of ecclesiastics was originally introduced by some superstitious refinements on the law of God and nature. Could men have been kept alive without eating or drinking as well as without marriage, the same refinements would have prohibited ecclesiastics from eating and drinking, and thereby have elevated them so much nearer to the state of angels. In process of time, this fanatical interdiction became an instrument of worldly wisdom: and thus, as frequently happens, what weak men began, politicians completed.” Sir David Dalrymple.
[(a) ]Sir David Dalrymple, in his Annals of Scotland, vol. II. page 16th, has the following paragraph: “Thus did Edward chastise the Scots for their breach of faith. It is remarkable, that in the preceding year he himself procured a papal bull, absolving him from the oath which he had taken for maintaining the privileges of his people. But the Scots, without papal authority, violated their oaths, and were punished as perjured men. It is a truth not to be disguised, that in those times the common notions of right and wrong were, in some sort, obliterated. Conscience, intoxicated with indulgencies, or stupified by frequent absolution, was no longer a faithful monitor amidst the temptations of interest, ambition, and national animosities.” This author, a few pages after, very ingeniously observes, that, in those days, an oath or promise on the honour of knighthood, was the only thing relied on; because the Pope did not pretend to interpose in a point of honour. [[Note added in 3rd edition.]]
[34. ]In the 1st edition this paragraph begins: “The old Romans, far from having any notion of perfection, adopted the gods of every nation they conquered” [2:464].
[* ]“Let there be no Bacchanalian ceremonies performed in the city, nor within Italy. If there be any person who reckons it a matter of conscience to perform these rites, and that he ought not to omit them, let him state his opinion to the city Praetor, who shall thereupon consult the senate. If liberty be granted him by the senate when no fewer than a hundred senators are present, let him perform the sacrifice, but privately, in presence of no greater number than five persons. Let there be no public fund for them, nor any who shall preside as priest or master of the rites.”
[35. ]“Through the same . . . be burnt alive”: added in 2nd edition.
[* ]Monsieur de Tavannes, afterwards Mareschal of France, was a great partisan of the Queen-mother; and so active in the massacre, as with his own hand to murder no fewer than seventeen Hugenots. Having on death-bed made a full confession of his sins, “What,” said the priest, “not a word of St. Bartholomew?” “Of St. Bartholomew!” answered the penitent; “the service I did that memorable day to God and the church, is alone a sufficient atonement for all my transgressions.”
[36. ]Paragraph added in 3rd edition.
[(a) ][[Paolo Sarpi, Council of Trent, Book 5.]]
[* ]In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, many of the clergy became merchants; and, being free of taxes, engrossed all. In the Netherlands particularly, there was a great cry, that monasteries were converted into shops and warehouses, and the mansions of secular priests into tap-houses and inns.
[(a) ]Lib. 1. Adversus Gentes.
[* ]“Forgive, Almighty power, the persecutors of thy servants; and, in the peculiar benevolence of thy nature, pardon those men whose unhappiness it is to be strangers to thy name and worship. Ignorant as they are of thee, we cannot wonder at the impiety of their actions.”
[(a) ]Epistle of Paul to the Romans, chap. 14.
[(b) ]Luke ix. 54.
[* ]Toleration in religion, though obvious to common understanding, was not however the production of reason, but of commerce. The advantage of toleration for promoting commerce, was early discovered by the Portuguese. They were too zealous Catholics to think of so bold a measure in Portugal; but it was permitted in Goa, and the inquisition in that town was confined to Roman Catholics. There is a singular example of toleration in the Knights of Malta. That fraternity was instituted to make perpetual war against the Turks; and yet of late years they have erected a mosque for their Turkish prisoners.
[* ]The Christian religion is eminent for a spirit of meekness, toleration, and brotherly love; and yet persecution never raged so furiously in any other religion. Such opposition between practice and principle, is a singular phenomenon in the history of man. Let us try to account for it. In the Pagan religion I discover few traces of persecution. Tutelar deities were universal; and, far from imposing these deities on others, every nation valued itself on being the only favourite of its own deity. Priests by profession have ever been ambitious of imposing on the laity peculiar forms of worship and peculiar religious tenets; but the Greeks and Romans had none such. The Jews had priests by profession; and they were beside a gloomy people naturally inclined to persecution: they hated their neighbours and were hated by them. The Mahometan religion was sown in a fertile soil. The Arabians were warlike; but ignorant and easily deluded by a warm imagination. The Koran is finely contrived to impose upon such a people. The ambition of Mahomet corresponded to the warlike genius of his countrymen; who were taught to convert all men to his religion, by the simple but effectual argument of fire and sword. This spirit of persecution accompanied that of conquest. The latter is now extinguished by luxury and sensuality; and there scarce remains any vestige of the former.
[(a) ]Elements of Criticism, vol. 2. p. 493. edit. 5.
[37. ]“The inhabitants of . . . offerings to him”: added in 2nd edition.