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CHAPTER II.: Progress of Opinions with respect to Deity. - 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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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.*
[* ]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.