[Footnote 87: Watson, "Theol. Inst.," vol. i. p. 46.]
[Footnote 88: Maurice, "Religions of the World," p. 59: Edin. Review,1862, art "Recent Researches on Buddhism." See also Mueller's "Chips from a German Workshop," vol. i. ch. i. to vi.]
[Footnote 89: "It has been said that Buddha and Kapila were both atheists, and that Buddha borrowed his atheism from Kapila. But atheism is an indefinite term, and may mean very different things. In one sense every Indian philosopher was an atheist, for they all perceived that the gods of the populace could not claim the attributes that belong to a Supreme Being. But all the important philosophical systems of the Brahmans admit, in some form or another, the existence of an Absolute and Supreme Being, the source of all that exists, or seems to exist."—Mueller, "Chips from a German Workshop," vol. i. pp. 224,5.
Buddha, which means "intelligence," "clear light," "perfect wisdom," was not only the name of the founder of the religion of Eastern Asia, but Adi Buddha was the name of the Absolute, Eternal Intelligence.—Maurice, "Religions of the World," p. 102.]
[Footnote 90: "Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa," p. 158.]
Now had the idea of God rested solely on tradition, it were the most natural probability that it might be lost, nay, must be lost, amongst those races of men who were geographically and chronologically far removed from the primitive cradle of humanity in the East. The people who, in their migrations, had wandered to the remotest parts of the earth, and had become isolated from the rest of mankind, might, after the lapse of ages, be expected to lose the idea of God, if it were not a spontaneous and native intuition of the mind,—a necessity of thought. A fact of history must be presumed to stick to the mind with much greater tenacity than a purely rational idea which has no visible symbol in the sensible world, and yet, even in regard to the events of history, the persistence and pertinacity of tradition is exceedingly feeble. The South Sea Islanders know not from whence, or at what time, their ancestors came. There are monuments in Tonga and Fiji of which the present inhabitants can give no account. How, then, can a pure, abstract idea which can have no sensible representation, no visible image, retain its hold upon the memory of humanity for thousands of years? The Fijian may not remember whence his immediate ancestors came, but he knows that the race came originally from the hands of the Creator. He can not tell who built the monuments of solid masonry which are found in his island-home, but he can tell who reared the everlasting hills and built the universe. He may not know who reigned in Vewa a hundred years ago, but he knows who now reigns, and has always reigned, over the whole earth. "The idea of a God is familiar to the Fijian, and the existence of an invisible superhuman power controlling and influencing nature, and all earthly things, is fully recognized by him." The idea of God is a common fact of human consciousness, and tradition alone is manifestly inadequate to account for its universality.
[Footnote 91: "Fiji and the Fijians," p. 215.]
3. A verbal revelation would be inadequate to convey the knowledge of God to an intelligence "purely passive" and utterly unfurnished with any a priori ideas or necessary laws of cognition and thought.
Of course it is not denied that important verbal communications relating to the character of God, and the duties we owe to God, were given to the first human pair, more clear and definite, it may be, than any knowledge attained by Socrates and Plato through their dialectic processes, and that these oral revelations were successively repeated and enlarged to the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament church. And furthermore, that some rays of light proceeding from this pure fountain of truth were diffused, and are still lingering among the heathen nations, we have no desire, and no need to deny.
All this, however, supposes, at least, a natural power and aptitude for the knowledge of God, and some configuration and correlation of the human intelligence to the Divine. "We have no knowledge of a dynamic influence, spiritual or natural, without a dynamic reaction." Matter can not be moved and controlled by forces and laws, unless it have properties which correlate it with those forces and laws. And mind can not be determined from without to any specific form of cognition, unless it have active powers of apprehension and conception which are governed by uniform laws. The "material" of thought may be supplied from without, but the "form" is determined by the necessary laws of our inward being. All our cognition of the external world is conditioned by the a priori ideas of time and space, and all our thinking is governed by the principles of causality and substance, and the law of "sufficient reason." The mind itself supplies an element of knowledge in all our cognitions. Man can not be taught the knowledge of God if he be not naturally possessed of a presentiment, or an apperception of a God, as the cause and reason of the universe. "If education be not already preceded by an innate consciousness of God, as an operative predisposition, there would be nothing for education and culture to act upon." A mere verbal revelation can not communicate the knowledge of God, if man have not already the idea of a God in his mind. A name is a mere empty sign, a meaningless symbol, without a mental image of the object which it represents, or an innate perception, or an abstract conception of the mind, of which the word is the sign. The mental image or the abstract conception must, therefore, precede the name; cognition must be anterior to, and give the meaning of language. The child knows a thing even before it can speak its name. And, universally, we must know the thing in itself, or image it by analogies and resemblances to some other thing we do know, before the name can have any meaning for us. As to purely rational ideas and abstract conceptions,—as space, cause, the infinite, the perfect,—language can never convey these to the mind, nor can the mind ever attain them by experience if they are not an original, connate part of our mental equipment and furniture. The mere verbal affirmation "there is a God" made to one who has no idea of a God, would be meaningless and unintelligible. What notion can a man form of "the First Cause" if the principle of causality is not inherent in his mind? What conception can he form of "the Infinite Mind" if the infinite be not a primitive intuition? How can he conceive of "a Righteous Governor" if he have no idea of right, no sense of obligation, no apprehension of a retribution? Words are empty sounds without ideas, and God is a mere name if the mind has no apperception of a God.
[Footnote 92: Nitzsch, "System of Christian Doctrine," p. 10.]
[Footnote 93: "Ideas must pre-exist their sensible signs." See De Boismont on "Hallucination," etc., p. iii.]
It may be affirmed that, preceding or accompanying the announcement of the Divine Name, there was given to the first human pair, and to the early fathers of our race, some visible manifestation of the presence of God, and some supernatural display of divine power. What, then, was the character of these early manifestations, and were they adequate to convey the proper idea of God? Did God first reveal himself in human form, and if so, how could their conception of God advance beyond a rude anthropomorphism? Did he reveal his presence in a vast columnar cloud or a pillar of fire? How could such an image convey any conception of the intelligence, the omnipresence, the eternity of God? Nay, can the infinite and eternal Mind be represented by any visible manifestation? Can the human mind conceive an image of God? The knowledge of God, it is clear, can not be conveyed by any sensible sign or symbol if man has no prior rational idea of God as the Infinite and the Perfect Being.
If the facts of order, and design, and special adaptation which crowd the universe, and the a priori ideas of an unconditioned Cause and an infinite Intelligence which arise in the mind in presence of these facts, are inadequate to produce the logical conviction that it is the work of an intelligent mind, how can any preternatural display of power produce a rational conviction that God exists? "If the universe could come by chance or fate, surely all the lesser phenomena, termed miraculous, might occur so too." If we find ourselves standing amid an eternal series of events, may not miracles be a part of that series? Or if all things are the result of necessary and unchangeable laws, may not miracles also result from some natural or psychological law of which we are yet in ignorance? Let it be granted that man is not so constituted that, by the necessary laws of his intelligence, he must affirm that facts of order having a commencement in time prove mind; let it be granted that man has no intuitive belief in the Infinite and Perfect—in short, no idea of God; how, then, could a marvellous display of power, a new, peculiar, and startling phenomenon which even seemed to transcend nature, prove to him the existence of an infinite intelligence—a personal God? The proof would be simply inadequate, because not the right kind of proof. Power does not indicate intelligence, force does not imply personality.
[Footnote 94: Morell, "Hist. of Philos." p. 737.]
Miracles, in short, were never intended to prove the existence of God. The foundation of this truth had already been laid in the constitution and laws of the human mind, and miracles were designed to convince us that He of whose existence we had a prior certainty, spoke to us by His Messenger, and in this way attested his credentials. To the man who has a rational belief in the existence of God this evidence of a divine mission is at once appropriate and conclusive. "Master, we know thou art a teacher sent from God; for no man can do the works which thou doest, except God be with him." The Christian missionary does not commence his instruction to the heathen, who have an imperfect, or even erroneous conception of "the Great Spirit," by narrating the miracles of Christ, or quoting the testimony of the Divine Book he carries along with him. He points to the heavens and the earth, and says, "There is a Being who made all these things, and Jehovah is his name; I have come to you with a message from Him!" Or he need scarce do even so much; for already the heathen, in view of the order and beauty which pervades the universe, has been constrained, by the laws of his own intelligence, to believe in and offer worship to the "Agnostos Theos"—the unseen and incomprehensible God; and pointing to their altars, he may announce with Paul, "this God whom ye worship, though ignorantly, him declare I unto you!"
The results of our study of the various hypotheses which have been offered in explanation of the religious phenomena of the world may be summed up as follows: The first and second theories we have rejected as utterly false. Instead of being faithful to and adequately explaining the facts, they pervert, and maltreat, and distort the facts of religious history. The last three each contain a precious element of truth which must not be undervalued, and which can not be omitted in an explanation which can be pronounced complete. Each theory, taken by itself, is incomplete and inadequate. The third hypothesis overrates feeling; the fourth, reason; the fifth, verbal instruction. The first extreme is Mysticism, the second is Rationalism, the last is Dogmatism. Reason, feeling, and faith in testimony must be combined, and mutually condition each other. No purely rationalistic hypothesis will meet and satisfy the wants and yearnings of the heart. No theory based on feeling alone can satisfy the demands of the human intellect. And, finally, an hypothesis which bases all religion upon historical testimony and outward fact, and despises and tramples upon the intuitions of the reason and the instincts of the heart can never command the general faith of mankind. Religion embraces and conditionates the whole sphere of life—thought, feeling, faith, and action; it must therefore be grounded in the entire spiritual nature of man.
Our criticism of opposite theories has thus prepared the way for, and obviated the necessity of an extended discussion of the hypothesis we now advance.
The universal phenomenon of religion has originated in the a priori apperceptions of reason, and the natural instinctive feelings of the heart, which, from age to age, have been vitalized, unfolded, and perfected by supernatural communications and testamentary revelations.
There are universal facts of religious history which can only be explained on the first principle of this hypothesis; there are special facts which can only be explained on the latter principle. The universal prevalence of the idea of God, and the feeling of obligation to obey and worship God, belong to the first order of facts; the general prevalence of expiatory sacrifices, of the rite of circumcision, and the observance of sacred and holy days, belong to the latter. To the last class of facts the observance of the Christian Sabbath, and the rites of Baptism and the Lord's Supper may be added.
The history of all religions clearly attests that there are two orders of principles—the natural and the positive, and, in some measure, two authorities of religious life which are intimately related without negativing each other. The characteristic of the natural is that it is intrinsic, of the positive, that it is extrinsic. In all ages men have sought the authority of the positive in that which is immediately beyond and above man—in some "voice of the Divinity" toning down the stream of ages, or speaking through a prophet or oracle, or written in some inspired and sacred book. They have sought for the authority of the natural in that which is immediately within man—the voice of the Divinity speaking in the conscience and heart of man. A careful study of the history of religion will show a reciprocal relation between the two, and indicate their common source.
We expect to find that our hypothesis will be abundantly sustained by the study of the Religion of the Athenians.
THE RELIGION OF THE ATHENIANS.
"All things which I behold bear witness to your carefulness in religion (deisidaimonesterous). For as I passed through your city, and beheld the objects of your worship, I found amongst them an altar with this inscription—'TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.' Whom therefore ye worship...."—ST. PAUL.
Through one of those remarkable counter-strokes of Divine Providence by which the evil designs of men are overruled, and made to subserve the purposes of God, the Apostle Paul was brought to Athens. He walked beneath its stately porticoes, he entered its solemn temples, he stood before its glorious statuary, he viewed its beautiful altars—all devoted to pagan worship. And "his spirit was stirred within him," he was moved with indignation "when he saw the city full of images of the gods." At the very entrance of the city he met the evidence of this peculiar tendency of the Athenians to multiply the objects of their devotion; for here at the gateway stands an image of Neptune, seated on horseback, and brandishing the trident. Passing through the gate, his attention would be immediately arrested by the sculptured forms of Minerva, Jupiter, Apollo, Mercury, and the Muses, standing near a sanctuary of Bacchus. A long street is now before him, with temples, statues, and altars crowded on either hand. Walking to the end of this street, and turning to the right, he entered the Agora, a public square surrounded with porticoes and temples, which were adorned with statuary and paintings in honor of the gods of Grecian mythology. Amid the plane-trees planted by the hand of Cimon are the statues of the deified heroes of Athens, Hercules and Theseus, and the whole series of the Eponymi, together with the memorials of the older divinities; Mercuries which gave the name to the streets on which they were placed; statues dedicated to Apollo as patron of the city and her deliverer from the plague; and in the centre of all the altar of the Twelve Gods.
[Footnote 95: Lange's Commentary, Acts xvii. 16.]
Standing in the market-place, and looking up to the Areopagus, Paul would see the temple of Mars, from whom the hill derived its name. And turning toward the Acropolis, he would behold, closing the long perspective, a series of little sanctuaries on the very ledges of the rocks, shrines of Bacchus and AEsculapius, Venus, Earth, and Ceres, ending with the lovely form of the Temple of Unwinged Victory, which glittered in front of the Propylaea.
If the apostle entered the "fivefold gates," and ascended the flight of stone steps to the platform of the Acropolis, he would find the whole area one grand composition of architecture and statuary dedicated to the worship of the gods. Here stood the Parthenon, the Virgin House, the glorious temple which was erected during the proudest days of Athenian glory, an entire offering to Minerva, the tutelary divinity of Athens. Within was the colossal statue of the goddess wrought in ivory and gold. Outside the temple there stood another statue of Minerva, cast from the brazen spoils of Marathon; and near by yet another brazen Pallas, which was called by pre-eminence "the Beautiful."
Indeed, to whatever part of Athens the apostle wandered, he would meet the evidences of their "carefulness in religion," for every public place and every public building was a sanctuary of some god. The Metroum, or record-house, was a temple to the mother of the gods. The council-house held statues of Apollo and Jupiter, with an altar to Vesta. The theatre at the base of the Acropolis was consecrated to Bacchus. The Pnyx was dedicated to Jupiter on high. And as if, in this direction, the Attic imagination knew no bounds, abstractions were deified; altars were erected to Fame, to Energy, to Modesty, and even to Pity, and these abstractions were honored and worshipped as gods.
The impression made upon the mind of Paul was, that the city was literally "full of idols," or images of the gods. This impression is sustained by the testimony of numerous Greek and Roman writers. Pausanias declares that Athens "had more images than all the rest of Greece;" and Petronius, the Roman satirist, says, "it was easier to find a god in Athens than a man."
[Footnote 96: See Conybeare and Howson's "Life and Epistles of St. Paul;" also, art. "Athens," in Encyclopaedia Britannica, whence our account of the "sacred objects" in Athens is chiefly gathered.]
No wonder, then, that as Paul wandered amid these scenes "his spirit was stirred in him." He burned with holy zeal to maintain the honor of the true and only God, whom now he saw dishonored on every side. He was filled with compassion for those Athenians who, notwithstanding their intellectual greatness, had changed the glory of God into an image made in the likeness of corruptible man, and who really worshipped the creature more than the Creator. The images intended to symbolize the invisible perfections of God were usurping the place of God, and receiving the worship due alone to him. We may presume the apostle was not insensible to the beauties of Grecian art. The sublime architecture of the Propylaea and the Parthenon, the magnificent sculpture of Phidias and Praxiteles, could not fail to excite his wonder. But he remembered that those superb temples and this glorious statuary were the creation of the pagan spirit, and devoted to polytheistic worship. The glory of the supreme God was obscured by all this symbolism. The creatures formed by God, the symbols of his power and presence in nature, the ministers of his providence and moral government, were receiving the honor due to him. Over all this scene of material beauty and aesthetic perfection there rose in dark and hideous proportions the errors and delusions and sins against the living God which Polytheism nurtured, and unable any longer to restrain himself, he commenced to "reason" with the crowds of Athenians who stood beneath the shadows of the plane-trees, or lounged beneath the porticoes that surrounded the Agora. Among these groups of idlers were mingled the disciples of Zeno and Epicurus, who "encountered" Paul. The nature of these "disputations" may be easily conjectured, The opinions of these philosophers are even now familiarly known: they are, in one form or another, current in the literature of modern times. Materialism and Pantheism still "encounter" Christianity. The apostle asserted the personal being and spirituality of one supreme and only God, who has in divers ways revealed himself to man, and therefore may be "known." He proclaimed that Jesus is the fullest and most perfect revelation of God—the only "manifestation of God in the flesh." He pointed to his "resurrection" as the proof of his superhuman character and mission to the world. Some of his hearers were disposed to treat him with contempt; they represented him as an ignorant "babbler," who had picked up a few scraps of learning, and who now sought to palm them off as a "new" philosophy. But most of them regarded him with that peculiar Attic curiosity which was always anxious to be hearing some "new thing." So they led him away from the tumult of the market-place to the top of Mars' Hill, where, in its serene atmosphere, they might hear him more carefully, and said, "May we hear what this new doctrine is whereof thou speakest?"
Surrounded by these men of thoughtful, philosophic mind—men who had deeply pondered the great problem of existence, who had earnestly inquired after the "first principles of things;" men who had reasoned high of creation, fate, and providence; of right and wrong; of conscience, law, and retribution; and had formed strong and decided opinions on all these questions—he delivered his discourse on the being, the providence, the spirituality, and the moral government of God.
This grand theme was suggested by an inscription he had observed on one of the altars of the city, which was dedicated "To the Unknown God." "Ye men of Athens! every thing which I behold bears witness to your carefulness in religion. For as I passed by and beheld your sacred objects I found an altar with this inscription, 'To the Unknown God;' whom, therefore, ye worship, though ye know him not [adequately], Him declare I unto you." Starting from this point, the manifest carefulness of the Athenians in religion, and accepting this inscription as the evidence that they had some presentiment, some native intuition, some dim conception of the one true and living God, he strives to lead them to a deeper knowledge of Him. It is here conceded by the apostle that the Athenians were a religious people. The observations he had made during his short stay in Athens enabled him to bear witness that the Athenians were "a God-fearing people," and he felt that fairness and candor demanded that this trait should receive from him an ample recognition and a full acknowledgment. Accordingly he commences by saying in gentle terms, well fitted to conciliate his audience, "All things which I behold bear witness to your carefulness in religion." I recognize you as most devout; ye appear to me to be a God-fearing people, for as I passed by and beheld your sacred objects I found an altar with this inscription, "To the Unknown God," whom therefore ye worship.
[Footnote 97: Lange's Commentary, in loco.]
[Footnote 98: "Os before deisid.—so imports. I recognize you as such."—Lange's Commentary.]
The assertion that the Athenians were "a religious people" will, to many of our readers, appear a strange and startling utterance, which has in it more of novelty than truth. Nay, some will be shocked to hear the Apostle Paul described as complimenting these Athenians—these pagan worshippers—on their "carefulness in religion." We have been so long accustomed to use the word "heathen" as an opprobrious epithet—expressing, indeed, the utmost extremes of ignorance, and barbarism, and cruelty, that it has become difficult for us to believe that in a heathen there can be any good.
From our childhood we have read in our English Bibles, Ye men of Athens, I perceive in all things ye are too superstitious and we can scarcely tolerate another version, even if it can be shown that it approaches nearer to the actual language employed by Paul. We must, therefore, ask the patience and candor of the reader, while we endeavor to show, on the authority of Paul's words, that the Athenians were a "religious people," and that all our notions to the contrary are founded on prejudice and misapprehension.
First, then, let us commence even with our English version: "Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious." And what now is the meaning of the word "superstition?" It is true, we now use it only in an evil sense, to express a belief in the agency of invisible, capricious, malignant powers, which fills the mind with fear and terror, and sees in every unexplained phenomenon of nature an omen, or prognostic, of some future evil. But this is not its proper and original meaning. Superstition is from the Latin superstitio, which means a superabundance of religion, an extreme exactitude in religious observance. And this is precisely the sense in which the corresponding Greek term is used by the Apostle Paul. Deisidaimonia properly means "reverence for the gods." "It is used," says Barnes, "in the classic writers, in a good sense, to denote piety towards the gods, or suitable fear and reverence for them." "The word," says Lechler, "is, without doubt, to be understood here in a good sense; although it seems to have been intentionally chosen, in order to indicate the conception of fear(deido), which predominated in the religion of the apostle's hearers." This reading is sustained by the ablest critics and scholars of modern times. Bengel reads the sentence, "I perceive that ye are very religious" Cudworth translates it thus: "Ye are every way more than ordinarily religious." Conybeare and Howson read the text as we have already given it, "All things which I behold bear witness to your carefulness in religion." Lechler reads "very devout;" Alford, "carrying your religious reverence very far;" and Albert Barnes, "I perceive ye are greatly devoted to reverence for religion." Whoever, therefore, will give attention to the actual words of the apostle, and search for their real meaning, must be convinced he opens his address by complimenting the Athenians on their being more than ordinarily religious.
[Footnote 99: Nitzsch, "System of Christ. Doctrine," p. 33.]
[Footnote 100: Lange's Commentary, in loco.]
[Footnote 101: "Gnomon of the New Testament."]
[Footnote 102: "Intellectual System," vol. i. p. 626.]
[Footnote 103: "Life and Epistles of St. Paul," vol. i. p. 378.]
[Footnote 104: Lange's Commentary.]
[Footnote 105: Greek Test.]
[Footnote 106: Notes on Acts.]
[Footnote 107: Also Clarke's Comment., in loco.]
Nor are we for a moment to suppose the apostle is here dealing in hollow compliments, or having recourse to a "pious fraud." Such a course would have been altogether out of character with Paul, and to suppose him capable of pursuing such a course is to do him great injustice. If "to the Jews he became as a Jew," it was because he recognized in Judaism the same fundamental truths which underlie the Christian system. And if here he seems to become, in any sense, at one with "heathenism," that he might gain the heathen to the faith of Christ, it was because he found in heathenism some elements of truth akin to Christianity, and a state of feeling favorable to an inquiry into the truths he had to present. He beheld in Athens an altar reared to the God he worshipped, and it afforded him some pleasure to find that God was not totally forgotten, and his worship totally neglected, by the Athenians. The God whom they knew imperfectly, "Him" said he, "I declare unto you;" I now desire to make him more fully known. The worship of "the Unknown God" was a recognition of the being of a God whose nature transcends all human thought, a God who is ineffable; who, as Plato said, "is hard to be discovered, and having discovered him, to make him known to all, impossible." It is the confession of a want of knowledge, the expression of a desire to know, the acknowledgment of the duty of worshipping him. Underlying all the forms of idol-worship the eye of Paul recognized an influential Theism. Deep down in the pagan heart he discovered a "feeling after God"—a yearning for a deeper knowledge of the "unknown," the invisible, the incomprehensible, which he could not despise or disregard. The mysterious sentiments of fear, of reverence, of conscious dependence on a supernatural power and presence overshadowing man, which were expressed in the symbolism of the "sacred objects" which Paul saw everywhere in Athens, commanded his respect. And he alludes to their "devotions," not in the language of reproach or censure, but as furnishing to his own mind the evidence of the strength of their religious instincts, and the proof of the existence in their hearts of that native apprehension of the supernatural, the divine, which dwells alike in all human souls.
[Footnote 108: Timaeus, ch. ix.]
The case of the Athenians has, therefore, a peculiar interest to every thoughtful mind. It confirms the belief that religion is a necessity to every human mind, a want of every human heart. Without religion, the nature of man can never be properly developed; the noblest part of man—the divine, the spiritual element which dwells in man, as "the offspring of God"—must remain utterly dwarfed. The spirit, the personal being, the rational nature, is religious, and Atheism is the vain and the wicked attempt to be something less than man. If the spiritual nature of man has its normal and healthy development, he must become a worshipper. This is attested by the universal history of man. We look down the long-drawn aisles of antiquity, and everywhere we behold the smoking altar, the ascending incense, the prostrate form, the attitude of devotion. Athens, with her four thousand deities—Rome, with her crowded Pantheon of gods—Egypt, with her degrading superstitions—Hindostan, with her horrid and revolting rites—all attest that the religious principle is deeply seated in the nature of man. And we are sure religion can never be robbed of her supremacy, she can never be dethroned in the hearts of men. It were easier to satisfy the cravings of hunger by logical syllogisms, than to satisfy the yearnings of the human heart without religion. The attempt of Xerxes to bind the rushing floods of the Hellespont in chains was not more futile nor more impotent than the attempt of skepticism to repress the universal tendency to worship, so peculiar and so natural to man in every age and clime.
[Footnote 109: The indispensable necessity for a religion of some kind to satisfy the emotional nature of man is tacitly confessed by the atheist Comte in the publication of his "Catechism of Positive Religion."]
The unwillingness of many to recognize a religious element in the Athenian mind is further accounted for by their misconception of the meaning of the word "religion." We are all too much accustomed to regard religion as a mere system of dogmatic teaching. We use the terms "Christian religion," "Jewish religion," "Mohammedan religion," as comprehending simply the characteristic doctrines by which each is distinguished; whereas religion is a mode of thought, and feeling, and action, determined by the consciousness of our relation to and our dependence upon God. It does not appropriate to itself any specific department of our mental powers and susceptibilities, but it conditions the entire functions and circle of our spiritual life. It is not simply a mode of conceiving God in thought, nor simply a mode of venerating God in the affections, nor yet simply a mode of worshipping God in outward and formal acts, but it comprehends the whole. Religion (religere, respect, awe, reverence) regulates our thoughts, feelings, and acts towards God. "It is a reference and a relationship of our finite consciousness to the Creator and Sustainer and Governor of the universe." It is such a consciousness of the Divine as shall awaken in the heart of man the sentiments of reverence, fear, and gratitude towards God; such a sense of dependence as shall prompt man to pray, and lead him to perform external acts of worship.
Religion does not, therefore, consist exclusively in knowledge, however correct; and yet it must be preceded and accompanied by some intuitive cognition of a Supreme Being, and some conception of him as a free moral personality. But the religious sentiments, which belong rather to the heart than to the understanding of man—the consciousness of dependence, the sense of obligation, the feeling of reverence, the instinct to pray, the appetency to worship—these may all exist and be largely developed in a human mind even when, as in the case of the Athenians, there is a very imperfect knowledge of the real character of God.
Regarding this, then, as the generic conception of religion, namely, that it is a mode of thought and feeling and action determined by our consciousness of dependence on a Supreme Being, we claim that the apostle was perfectly right in complimenting the Athenians on their "more than ordinary religiousness," for,
1. They had, in some degree at least, that faith in the being and providence of God which precedes and accompanies all religion.
They had erected an altar to the unseen, the unsearchable, the incomprehensible, the unknown God. And this "unknown God" whom the Athenians "worshipped" was the true God, the God whom Paul worshipped, and whom he desired more fully to reveal to them; "Him declare I unto you." The Athenians had, therefore, some knowledge of the true God, some dim recognition, at least, of his being, and some conception, however imperfect, of his character. The Deity to whom the Athenians reared this altar is called "the unknown God," because he is unseen by all human eyes and incomprehensible to human thought. There is a sense in which to Paul, as well as to the Athenians—to the Christian as well as to the pagan—to the philosopher as well as to the peasant—God is "the unknown," and in which he must forever remain the incomprehensible. This has been confessed by all thoughtful minds in every age. It was confessed by Plato. To his mind God is "the ineffable," the unspeakable. Zophar, the friend of Job, asks, "Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?" This knowledge is "high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?" Does not Wesley teach us to sing,
"Hail, Father, whose creating call Unnumbered worlds attend; Jehovah, comprehending all, Whom none can comprehend?"
To his mind, as well as to the mind of the Athenian, God was "the great unseen, unknown." "Beyond the universe and man," says Cousin, "there remains in God something unknown, impenetrable, incomprehensible. Hence, in the immeasurable spaces of the universe, and beneath all the profundities of the human soul, God escapes us in this inexhaustible infinitude, whence he is able to draw without limit new worlds, new beings, new manifestations. God is therefore to us incomprehensible." And without making ourselves in the least responsible for Hamilton's "negative" doctrine of the Infinite, or even responsible for the full import of his words, we may quote his remarkable utterances on this subject: "The Divinity is in part concealed and in part revealed. He is at once known and unknown. But the last and highest consecration of all true religion must be an altar 'to the unknown God.' In this consummation nature and religion, Paganism and Christianity, are at one."
[Footnote 110: "Lectures," vol. i. p. 104.]
[Footnote 111: "Discussions on Philosophy," p. 23.]
When, therefore, the apostle affirms that while the Athenians worshipped the God whom he proclaimed they "knew him not," we can not understand him as saying they were destitute of all faith in the being of God, and of all ideas of his real character. Because for him to have asserted they had no knowledge of God would not only have been contrary to all the facts of the case, but also an utter contradiction of all his settled convictions and his recorded opinions. There is not in modern times a more earnest asserter of the doctrine that the human mind has an intuitive cognition of God, and that the external world reveals God to man. There is a passage in his letter to the Romans which is justly entitled to stand at the head of all discourses on "natural theology," Rom. i. 19-21. Speaking of the heathen world, who had not been favored, as the Jews, with a verbal revelation, he says, "That which may be known of God is manifest in them," that is, in the constitution and laws of their spiritual nature, "for God hath showed it unto them" in the voice of reason and of conscience, so that in the instincts of our hearts, in the elements of our moral nature, in the ideas and laws of our reason, we are taught the being of a God. These are the subjective teachings of the human soul.
Not only is the being of God revealed to man in the constitution and laws of his rational and moral nature, but God is also manifested to us objectively in the realm of things around us; therefore Paul adds, "The invisible things of him, even his eternal power and Godhead, from the creation are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made." The world of sense, therefore, discloses the being and perfections of God. The invisible attributes of God are made apparent by the things that are visible. Forth out of nature, as the product of the Divine Mind, the supernatural shines. The forces, laws, and harmonies of the universe are indices of the presence of a presiding and informing Intelligence. The creation itself is an example of God's coming forth out of the mysterious depths of his own eternal and invisible being, and making himself apparent to man. There, on the pages of the volume of nature, we may read, in the marvellous language of symbol, the grand conceptions, the glorious thoughts, the ideals of beauty which dwell in the uncreated Mind, These two sources of knowledge—the subjective teachings of God in the human soul, and the objective manifestations of God in the visible universe—harmonize, and, together, fill up the complement of our natural idea of God. They are two hemispheres of thought, which together form one full-orbed fountain of light, and ought never to be separated in our philosophy. And, inasmuch as this divine light shines on all human minds, and these works of God are seen by all human eyes, the apostle argues that the heathen world "is without excuse, because, knowing God (gnontes ton Theon) they did not glorify him as God, neither were thankful; but in their reasonings they went astray after vanities, and their hearts, being void of wisdom, were filled with darkness. Calling themselves wise, they were turned into fools, and changed the glory of the imperishable God for idols graven in the likeness of perishable man, or of birds, and beasts, and creeping things,...and they bartered the truth of God for lies, and reverenced and worshipped the things made rather than the Maker, who is blessed forever. Amen."
[Footnote 112: Rom. i. 21-25, Conybeare and Howson's translation.]
The brief and elliptical report of Paul's address on Mars' Hill must therefore, in all fairness, be interpreted in the light of his more carefully elaborated statements in the Epistle to the Romans. And when Paul intimates that the Athenians "knew not God," we can not understand him as saying they had no knowledge, but that their knowledge was imperfect. They did not know God as Creator, Father, and Ruler; above all, they did not know him as a pardoning God and a sanctifying Spirit. They had not that knowledge of God which purifies the heart, and changes the character, and gives its possessor eternal life.
The apostle clearly and unequivocally recognizes this truth, that the idea of God is connatural to the human mind; that in fact there is not to be found a race of men upon the face of the globe utterly destitute of some idea of a Supreme Being. Wherever human reason has had its normal and healthful development, it has spontaneously and necessarily led the human mind to the recognition of a God. The Athenians were no exception to this general law. They believed in the existence of one supreme and eternal Mind, invisible, incomprehensible, infeffable—"the unknown God."
2. The Athenians had also that consciousness of dependence upon God which is the foundation of all the primary religious emotions.
When the apostle affirmed that "in God we live, and move, and have our being," he uttered the sentiments of many, if not all, of his hearers, and in support of that affirmation he could quote the words of their own poets, for we are also his offspring;  and, as his offspring, we have a derived and a dependent being. Indeed, this consciousness of dependence is analogous to the feeling which is awakened in the heart of a child when its parent is first manifested to its opening mind as the giver of those things which it immediately needs, as its continual protector, and as the preserver of its life. The moment a man becomes conscious of his own personality, that moment he becomes conscious of some relation to another personality, to which he is subject, and on which he depends.
"Jove's presence fills all space, upholds this ball; All need his aid; his power sustains us all, For we his offspring are." Aratus, "The Phaenomena," book v. p. 5.
Aratus was a poet of Cilicia, Paul's native province. He flourished B.C. 277.
"Great and divine Father, whose names are many, But who art one and the same unchangeable, almighty power; O thou supreme Author of nature! That governest by a single unerring law! Hail King! For thou art able, to enforce obedience from all frail mortals, Because we are all thine offspring, The image and the echo only of thy eternal voice." Cleanthes, "Hymn to Jupiter."
Cleanthes was the pupil of Zeno, and his successor as chief of the Stoic philosophers.]
[Footnote 114: "As soon as a man becomes conscious of himself, as soon as he perceives himself as distinct from other persons and things, he at the same moment becomes conscious of a higher self, a higher power, without which he feels that neither he nor any thing else would have any life or reality. We are so fashioned that as soon as we awake we feel on all sides our dependence on something else; and all nations join in some way or another in the words of the Psalmist, 'It is He that made us, not we ourselves.' This is the first sense of the Godhead, the sensus numinis, as it has well been called; for it is a sensus, an immediate perception, not the result of reasoning or generalization, but an intuition as irresistible as the impressions of our senses.... This sensus numinis, or, as we may call it in more homely language, faith, is the source of all religion; it is that without which no religion, whether true or false, is possible."—Max Mueller, "Science of Language," Second Series, p. 455.]
A little reflection will convince us that this is the necessary order in which human consciousness is developed.
There are at least two fundamental and radical tendencies in human personality, namely, to know and to act. If we would conceive of them as they exist in the innermost sphere of selfhood, we must distinguish the first as self-consciousness, and the second as self-determination. These are unquestionably the two factors of human personality.
If we consider the first of these factors more closely, we shall discover that self-consciousness exists under limitations and conditions. Man can not become clearly conscious of self without distinguishing himself from the outer world of sensation, nor without distinguishing self and the world from another being upon whom they depend as the ultimate substance and cause. Mere coenoeesthesis is not consciousness. Common feeling is unquestionably found among the lowest forms of animal life, the protozoa; but it can never rise to a clear consciousness of personality until it can distinguish itself from sensation, and acquire a presentiment of a divine power, on which self and the outer world depend. The Ego does not exist for itself, can not perceive itself, but by distinguishing itself from the ceaseless flow and change of sensation, and by this act of distinguishing, the Ego takes place in consciousness. And the Ego can not perceive itself, nor cognize sensation as a state or affection of the Ego except by the intervention of the reason, which supplies the two great fundamental laws of causality and substance. The facts of consciousness thus comprehend three elements—self, nature, and God. The determinate being, the Ego, is never an absolutely independent being, but is always in some way or other codetermined by another; it can not, therefore, be an absolutely original and independent, but must in some way or another be a derived and conditioned existence.
Now that which limits and conditions human self-consciousness can not be mere nature, because nature can not give what it does not possess; it can not produce what is toto genere different from itself. Self-consciousness can not arise out of unconsciousness. This new beginning is beyond the power of nature. Personal power, the creative principle of all new beginnings, is alone adequate to its production. If, then, self-consciousness exists in man, it necessarily presupposes an absolutely original, therefore unconditioned, self-consciousness. Human self-consciousness, in its temporal actualization, of course presupposes a nature-basis upon which it elevates itself; but it is only possible on the ground that an eternal self-conscious Mind ordained and rules over all the processes of nature, and implants the divine spark of the personal spirit with the corporeal frame, to realize itself in the light-flame of human self-consciousness. The original light of the divine self-consciousness is eternally and absolutely first and before all. "Thus, in the depths of our own self-consciousness, as its concealed background, the God-consciousness reveals itself to us. This descent into our inmost being is at the same time an ascent to God. Every deep reflection on ourselves breaks through the mere crust of world-consciousness, which separates us from the inmost truth of our existence, and leads us up to Him in whom we live and move and are."
[Footnote 115: Mueller, "Christian Doctrine of Sin," vol. i. p. 81.]
Self-determination, equally with self-consciousness, exists in us under manifold limitations. Self-determination is limited by physical, corporeal, and mental conditions, so that there is "an impassable boundary line drawn around the area of volitional freedom." But the most fundamental and original limitation is that of duty. The self-determining power of man is not only circumscribed by necessary conditions, but also by the moral law in the consciousness of man. Self-determination alone does not suffice for the full conception of responsible freedom; it only becomes, will, properly by its being an intelligent and conscious determination; that is, the rational subject is able previously to recognize "the right," and present before his mind that which he ought to do, that which he is morally bound to realize and actualize by his own self-determination and choice. Accordingly we find in our inmost being a sense of obligation to obey the moral law as revealed in the conscience. As we can not become conscious of self without also becoming conscious of God, so we can not become properly conscious of self-determination until we have recognized in the conscience a law for the movements of the will.
Now this moral law, as revealed in the conscience, is not a mere autonomy—a simple subjective law having no relation to a personal lawgiver out of and above man. Every admonition of conscience directly excites the consciousness of a God to whom man is accountable. The universal consciousness of our race, as revealed in history, has always associated the phenomena of conscience with the idea of a personal Power above man, to whom he is subject and upon whom he depends. In every age, the voice of conscience has been regarded as the voice of God, so that when it has filled man with guilty apprehensions, he has had recourse to sacrifices, and penances, and prayers to expatiate his wrath.
It is clear, then, that if man has duties there must he a self-conscious Will by whom these duties are imposed, for only a real will can be legislative. If man has a sense of obligation, there must be a supreme authority by which he is obliged. If he is responsible, there must be a being to whom he is accountable. It can not be said that he is accountable to himself, for by that supposition the idea of duty is obliterated, and "right" becomes identical with mere interest or pleasure. It can not be said that he is simply responsible to society—to mere conventions of human opinions and human governments—for then "right" becomes a mere creature of human legislation, and "justice" is nothing but the arbitrary will of the strong who tyrannize over the weak. Might constitutes right. Against such hypotheses the human mind, however, instinctively revolts. Mankind feel, universally, that there is an authority beyond all human governments, and a higher law above all human laws, from whence all their powers are derived. That higher law is the Law of God, that supreme authority is the God of Justice. To this eternally just God, innocence, under oppression and wrong, has made its proud appeal, like that of Prometheus to the elements, to the witnessing clouds, to coming ages, and has been sustained and comforted. And to that higher law the weak have confidently appealed against the unrighteous enactments of the strong, and have finally conquered. The last and inmost ground of all obligation is thus the conscious relation of the moral creature to God. The sense of absolute dependence upon a Supreme Being compels man, even while conscious of subjective freedom, to recognize at the same time his obligation to determine himself in harmony with the will of Him "in whom we live, and move, and are."
[Footnote 116: "The thought of God will wake up a terrible monitor whose name is Judge."—Kant.]
This feeling of dependence, and this consequent sense of obligation, lie at the very foundation of all religion. They lead the mind towards God, and anchor it in the Divine. They prompt man to pray, and inspire him with an instinctive confidence in the efficacy of prayer. So that prayer is natural to man, and necessary to man. Never yet has the traveller found a people on earth without prayer. Races of men have been found without houses, without raiment, without arts and sciences, but never without prayer any more than without speech. Plutarch wrote, eighteen centuries ago, If you go through all the world, you may find cities without walls, without letters, without rulers, without money, without theatres, but never without temples and gods, or without prayers, oaths, prophecies, and sacrifices, used to obtain blessings and benefits, or to avert curses and calamities. The naturalness of prayer is admitted even by the modern unbeliever. Gerrit Smith says, "Let us who believe that the religion of reason calls for the religion of nature, remember that the flow of prayer is just as natural as the flow of water; the prayerless man has become an unnatural man." Is man in sorrow or in danger, his most natural and spontaneous refuge is in prayer. The suffering, bewildered, terror-stricken soul turns towards God. "Nature in an agony is no atheist; the soul that knows not where to fly, flies to God." And in the hour of deliverance and joy, a feeling of gratitude pervades the soul—and gratitude, too, not to some blind nature-force, to some unconscious and impersonal power, but gratitude to God. The soul's natural and appropriate language in the hour of deliverance is thanksgiving and praise.
[Footnote 117: "Against Kalotes," ch. xxxi.]
[Footnote 118: "Religion of Reason."]
This universal tendency to recognize a superior Power upon whom we are dependent, and by whose hand our well-being and our destinies are absolutely controlled, has revealed itself even amid the most complicated forms of polytheistic worship. Amid the even and undisturbed flow of every-day life they might be satisfied with the worship of subordinate deities, but in the midst of sudden and unexpected calamities, and of terrible catastrophes, then they cried to the Supreme God. "When alarmed by an earthquake," says Aulus Gellius, "the ancient Romans were accustomed to pray, not to some one of the gods individually, but to God in general, as to the Unknown."
[Footnote 119: "At critical moments, when the deepest feelings of the human heart are stirred, the old Greeks and Romans seem suddenly to have dropped all mythological ideas, and to have fallen back on the universal language of true religion."—Max Mueller, "Science of Language." p. 436.]
[Footnote 120: Tholuck, "Nature and Influence of Heathenism," p. 23.]
"Thus also Minutius Felix says, 'When they stretch out their hands to heaven they mention only God; and these forms of speech, He is great, and God is true, and If God grant(which are the natural language of the vulgar), are a plain confession of the truth of Christianity.' And also Lactantius testifies, 'When they swear, and when they wish, and when they give thanks, they name not many gods, but God only; the truth, by a secret force of nature, thus breaking forth from them whether they will or no;' and again he says, 'They fly to God; aid is desired of God; they pray that God would help them; and when one is reduced to extreme necessity, he begs for God's sake, and by his divine power alone implores the mercy of men.'" The account which is given by Diogenes Laertius of the erection of altars bearing the inscription "to the unknown God," clearly shows that they had their origin in this general sentiment of dependence on a higher Power. "The Athenians being afflicted with pestilence invited Epimenides to lustrate their city. The method adopted by him was to carry several sheep to the Areopagus, whence they were left to wander as they pleased, under the observation of persons sent to attend them. As each sheep lay down it was sacrificed to the propitious God. By this ceremony it is said the city was relieved; but as it was still unknown what deity was propitious, an altar was erected to the unknown God on every spot where a sheep had been sacrificed."
[Footnote 121: Cudworth, vol. i. p. 300.]
[Footnote 122: "Lives of Philosophers," book i., Epimenides.]
[Footnote 123: See Townsend's "Chronological Arrangement of New Testament," note 19, part xii.; Doddridge's "Exposition;" and Barnes's "Notes on Acts."]
"The unknown God" was their deliverer from the plague. And the erection of an altar to him was a confession of their absolute dependence upon him, of their obligation to worship him, as well as of their need of a deeper knowledge of him. The gods who were known and named were not able to deliver them in times of calamity, and they were compelled to look beyond the existing forms of Grecian mythology for relief. Beyond all the gods of the Olympus there was "one God over all," the Father of gods and men, the Creator of all the subordinate local deities, upon whom even these created gods were dependent, upon whom man was absolutely dependent, and therefore in times of deepest need, of severest suffering, of extremest peril, then they cried to the living, supreme, eternal God.
[Footnote 124: "The men and women of the Iliad and Odyssey are habitually religious. The language of religion is often on their tongues, as it is ever on the lips of every body in the East at this day. The thought of the gods, and of their providence and government of the world, is a familiar thought. They seem to have an abiding conviction of their dependence on the gods. The results of all actions depend on the will of the gods; it lies on their knees (Theon ev gounasi keitai, Od. i. 267), is the often repeated and significant expression of their feeling of dependence."—Tyler, "Theology of Greek Poets," p. 165.]
3. The Athenians developed in a high degree those religious emotions which always accompany the consciousness of dependence on a Supreme Being.
The first emotional element of all religion is fear. This is unquestionably true, whether religion be considered from a Christian or a heathen stand-point. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Associated with, perhaps preceding, all definite ideas of God, there exists in the human mind certain feelings of awe, and reverence, and fear which arise spontaneously in presence of the vastness, and grandeur, and magnificence of the universe, and of the power and glory of which the created universe is but the symbol and shadow. There is the felt apprehension that, beyond and back of the visible and the tangible, there is a personal, living Power, which is the foundation of all, and which fashions all, and fills all with its light and life; that "the universe is the living vesture in which the Invisible has robed his mysterious loveliness." There is the feeling of an overshadowing Presence which "compasseth man behind and before, and lays its hand upon him."
This wonderful presentiment of an invisible power and presence pervading and informing all nature is beautifully described by Wordsworth in his history of the development of the Scottish herdsman's mind:
So the foundations of his mind were laid In such communion, not from terror free. While yet a child, and long before his time, Had he perceived the presence and the power Of greatness; and deep feelings had impressed So vividly great objects, that they lay Upon his mind like substances, whose presence Perplexed the bodily sense. ... In the after-day Of boyhood, many an hour in caves forlorn, And 'mid the hollow depths of naked crags, He sat, and even in their fixed lineaments, Or from the power of a peculiar eye, Or by creative feeling overborne, Or by predominance of thought oppressed, Even in their fixed and steady lineaments He traced an ebbing and a flowing mind.... Such was the Boy,—but for the growing Youth, What soul was his, when, from the naked top Of some bold headland, he beheld the sun Rise up, and bathe the world in light! He looked: Ocean and earth, the solid frame of earth And ocean's liquid mass, in gladness lay Beneath him; far and wide the clouds were touched. And in their silent faces could he read Unutterable love. Sound needed none, Nor any voice of joy; his spirit drank The spectacle: sensation, soul, and form All melted into him; they swallowed up His animal being; in them did he live, And by them did he live; they were his life, In such access of mind, in such high hour Of visitation from the living God.
But it may be said this is all mere poetry; to which we answer, in the words of Aristotle, "Poetry is a thing more philosophical and weightier than history." The true poet is the interpreter of nature. His soul is in the fullest sympathy with the grand ideas which nature symbolizes, and he "deciphers the universe as the autobiography of the Infinite Spirit." Spontaneous feeling is a kind of inspiration.
It is true that all minds may not be developed in precisely the same manner as Wordsworth's herdsman's, because the development of every individual mind is modified in some measure by exterior conditions. Men may contemplate nature from different points of view. Some may be impressed with one aspect of nature, some with another. But none will fail to recognize a mysterious presence and invisible power beneath all the fleeting and changeful phenomena of the universe. "And sometimes there are moments of tenderness, of sorrow, and of vague mystery which bring the feeling of the Infinite Presence close to the human heart."
[Footnote 125: "The Wanderer."]
[Footnote 126: Poet, ch. ix.]
[Footnote 127: Robertson.]
Now we hold that this feeling and sentiment of the Divine—the supernatural—exists in every mind. It may be, it undoubtedly is, somewhat modified in its manifestations by the circumstances in which men are placed, and the degree of culture they have enjoyed. The African Fetichist, in his moral and intellectual debasement, conceives a supernatural power enshrined in every object of nature. The rude Fijian regards with dread, and even terror, the Being who darts the lightnings and wields the thunderbolts. The Indian "sees God in clouds, and hears him in the wind." The Scottish "herdsman" on the lonely mountain-top "feels the presence and the power of greatness," and "in its fixed and steady lineaments he sees an ebbing and a flowing mind." The philosopher lifts his eyes to "the starry heavens" in all the depth of their concave, and with all their constellations of glory moving on in solemn grandeur, and, to his mind, these immeasurable regions seem "filled with the splendors of the Deity, and crowded with the monuments of his power;" or he turns his eye to "the Moral Law within," and he hears the voice of an intelligent and a righteous God. In all these cases we have a revelation of the sentiment of the Divine, which dwells alike in all human minds. In the Athenians this sentiment was developed in a high degree. The serene heaven which Greece enjoyed, and which was the best-loved roof of its inhabitants, the brilliant sun, the mountain scenery of unsurpassed grandeur, the deep blue sea, an image of the infinite, these poured all their fullness on the Athenian mind, and furnished the most favorable conditions for the development of the religious sentiments. The people of Athens spent most of their time in the open air in communion with nature, and in the cheerful and temperate enjoyment of existence. To recognize the Deity in the living powers of nature, and especially in man, as the highest sensible manifestation of the Divine, was the peculiar prerogative of the Grecian mind. And here in Athens, art also vied with nature to deepen the religious sentiments. It raised the mind to ideal conceptions of a beauty and a sublimity which transcended all mere nature-forms, and by images, of supernatural grandeur and loveliness presented to the Athenians symbolic representations of the separate attributes and operations of the invisible God. The plastic art of Greece was designed to express religious ideas, and was consecrated by religious feeling. Thus the facts of the case are strikingly in harmony with the words of the Apostle: "All things which I behold bear witness to your carefulness in religion," your "reverence for the Deity," your "fear of God." "The sacred objects" in Athens, and especially "the altar to the Unknown God," were all regarded by Paul as evidences of their instinctive faith in the invisible, the supernatural, the divine.
[Footnote 128: Kant, in "Critique of Practical Reason."]
[Footnote 129: See Parkhurst's Lexicon, under Deisidaimonia, which Suidas explains by eulabeia peri to Theion—reverence for the Divine, and Hesychius by Phubutheia—fear of God. Also, Josephus, Antiq., book x. ch. iii, Sec. 2: "Manasseh, after his repentance and reformation, strove to behave himself (te deisidaimonia chrestheia) in the most religious manner towards God." Also see A. Clarke on Acts xvii.]
Along with this sentiment of the Divine there is also associated, in all human minds, an instinctive yearning after the Invisible; not a mere feeling of curiosity to pierce the mystery of being and of life, but what Paul designates "a feeling after God," which prompts man to seek after a deeper knowledge, and a more immediate consciousness. To attain this deeper knowledge—this more conscious realization of the being and the presence of God, has been the effort of all philosophy and all religion in all ages. The Hindoo Yogis proposes to withdraw into his inmost self, and by a complete suspension of all his active powers to become absorbed and swallowed up in the Infinite. Plato and his followers sought by an immediate abstraction to apprehend "the unchangeable and permanent Being," and, by a loving contemplation, to become "assimilated to the Deity," and in this way to attain the immediate consciousness of God. The Neo-Platonic mystic sought by asceticism and self-mortification to prepare himself for divine communings. He would contemplate the divine perfections in himself; and in an ecstatic state, wherein all individuality vanishes, he would realize a union, or identity, with the Divine Essence. While the universal Church of God, indeed, has in her purest days always taught that man may, by inward purity and a believing love, be rendered capable of spiritually apprehending, and consciously feeling, the presence of God. Some may be disposed to pronounce this as all mere mysticism. We answer, The living internal energy of religion is always mystical, it is grounded in feeling—a "sensus numinis" common to humanity. It is the mysterious sentiment of the Divine; it is the prolepsis of the human spirit reaching out towards the Infinite; the living susceptibility of our spiritual nature stretching after the powers and influences of the higher world. It is upon this inner instinct of the supernatural that all religion rests. I do not say every religious idea, but whatever is positive, practical, powerful, durable, and popular. Everywhere, in all climates, in all epochs of history, and in all degrees of civilization, man is animated by the sentiment—I would rather say, the presentiment—that the world in which he lives, the order of things in the midst of which he moves, the facts which regularly and constantly succeed each other, are not all. In vain he daily makes discoveries and conquests in this vast universe; in vain he observes and learnedly verifies the general laws which govern it; his thought is not inclosed in the world surrendered to his science; the spectacle of it does not suffice his soul, it is raised beyond it; it searches after and catches glimpses of something beyond it; it aspires higher both for the universe and itself; it aims at another destiny, another master.
[Footnote 130: Vaughan, "Hours with the Mystics," vol. i. p. 44.]
[Footnote 131: Id. ib., vol. i. p. 65.]
"'Par dela tous ces cieux le Dieu des cieux reside.'"
So Voltaire has said, and the God who is beyond the skies is not nature personified, but a supernatural Personality. It is to this highest Personality that all religions address themselves. It is to bring man into communion with Him that they exist.
[Footnote 132: "Beyond all these heavens the God of the heavens resides."]
[Footnote 133: Guizot, "L'Eglise et la Societe Chretiennes" en 1861.]
4. The Athenians had that deep consciousness of sin and guilt, and of consequent liability to punishment, which confesses the need of expiation by piacular sacrifices.
Every man feels himself to be an accountable being, and he is conscious that in wrong-doing he is deserving of blame and of punishment. Deep within the soul of the transgressor is the consciousness that he is a guilty man, and he is haunted with the perpetual apprehension of a retribution which, like the spectre of evil omen, crosses his every path, and meets him at every turn.
"'Tis guilt alone, Like brain-sick frenzy in its feverish mode, Fills the light air with visionary terrors, And shapeless forms of fear."
Man does not possess this consciousness of guilt so much as it holds possession of him. It pursues the fugitive from justice, and it lays hold on the man who has resisted or escaped the hand of the executioner. The sense of guilt is a power over and above man; a power so wonderful that it often compels the most reckless criminal to deliver himself up, with the confession of his deed, to the sword of justice, when a falsehood would have easily protected him. Man is only able by persevering, ever-repeated efforts at self-induration, against the remonstrances of conscience, to withdraw himself from its power. His success is, however, but very partial; for sometimes, in the moments of his greatest security, the reproaches of conscience break in upon him like a flood, and sweep away all his refuge of lies. "The evil conscience is the divine bond which binds the created spirit, even in deep apostasy, to its Original. In the consciousness of guilt there is revealed the essential relation of our spirit to God, although misunderstood by man until he has something higher than his evil conscience. The trouble and anguish which the remonstrances of this consciousness excite—the inward unrest which sometimes seizes the slave of sin—are proofs that he has not quite broken away from God."
[Footnote 134: Mueller, "Christian Doctrine of Sin," vol. i. pp. 225, 226.]
In Grecian mythology there was a very distinct recognition of the power of conscience, and a reference of its authority to the Divinity, together with the idea of retribution. Nemesis was regarded as the impersonation of the upbraidings of conscience, of the natural dread of punishment that springs up in the human heart after the commission of sin. And as the feeling of remorse may be considered as the consequence of the displeasure and vengeance of an offended God, Nemesis came to be regarded as the goddess of retribution, relentlessly pursuing the guilty until she has driven them into irretrievable woe and ruin. The Erinyes or Eumenides are the deities whose business it is to punish, in hades, the crimes committed upon earth. When an aggravated crime has excited their displeasure they manifest their greatest power in the disquietude of conscience.
Along with this deep consciousness of guilt, and this fear of retribution which haunts the guilty mind, there has also rested upon the heart of universal humanity a deep and abiding conviction that something must be done to expiate the guilt of sin—some restitution must be made, some suffering must be endured, some sacrifice offered to atone for past misdeeds. Hence it is that men in all ages have had recourse to penances and prayers, to self-inflicted tortures and costly sacrifices to appease a righteous anger which their sins had excited, and avert an impending punishment. That sacrifice to atone for sin has prevailed universally—that it has been practised "sem-per, ubique, et ab omnibus," always, in all places, and by all men—will not be denied by the candid and competent inquirer. The evidence which has been collected from ancient history by Grotius and Magee, and the additional evidence from contemporaneous history, which is being now furnished by the researches of ethnologists and Christian missionaries, is conclusive. No intelligent man can doubt the fact. Sacrificial offerings have prevailed in every nation and in every age. "Almost the entire worship of the pagan nations consisted in rites of deprecation. Fear of the Divine displeasure seems to have been the leading feature of their religious impressions; and in the diversity, the costliness, the cruelty of their sacrifices they sought to appease gods to whose wrath they felt themselves exposed, from a consciousness of sin, unrelieved by any information as to the means of escaping its effects."
[Footnote 135: Punishment is the penalty due to sin; or, to use the favorite expression of Homer, not unusual in the Scriptures also, it is the payment of a debt incurred by sin. When he is punished, the criminal is said to pay off or pay back (apotinein) his crimes; in other words, to expiate or atone for them (Iliad, iv. 161,162),
syn te megalo apetisan syn sphesin kephalesi gynaixi te kai tekeessin.
that is, they shall pay off, pay back, atone, etc., for their treachery with a great price, with their lives, and their wives and children.—Tyler, "Theology of Greek Poets," p. 194.]
[Footnote 136: Magee, "On the Atonement," No. V. p. 30.]
It must be known to every one at all acquainted with Greek mythology that the idea of expiation—atonement—was a fundamental idea of their religion. Independent of any historical research, a very slight glance at the Greek and Roman classics, especially the poets, who were the theologians of that age, can leave little doubt upon this head. Their language everywhere announces the notion of propitiation, and, particularly the Latin, furnishes the terms which are still employed in theology. We need only mention the words ilasmos, ilaskomai, lytron, peripsema, as examples from the Greek, and placare, propitiare, expiare, piaculum, from the Latin. All these indicate that the notion of expiation was interwoven into the very modes of thought and framework of the language of the ancient Greeks.
[Footnote 137: In Homer the doctrine is expressly taught that the gods may, and sometimes do, remit the penalty, when duly propitiated by prayers and sacrifices accompanied by suitable reparations ("Iliad," ix. 497 sqq.). "We have a practical illustration of this doctrine in the first book of the Iliad, where Apollo averts the pestilence from the army, when the daughter of his priest is returned without ransom, and a sacrifice (elatombe) is sent to the altar of the god at sacred Chrysa.... Apollo hearkens to the intercession of his priest, accepts the sacred hecatomb, is delighted with the accompanying songs and libations, and sends back the embassy with a favoring breeze, and a favorable answer to the army, who meanwhile had been purifying (apelymainonto) themselves, and offering unblemished hecatombs of bulls and goats on the shore of the sea which washes the place of their encampment."
"The object of the propitiatory embassy to Apollo is thus stated by Ulysses: Agamemnon, king of men, has sent me to bring back thy daughter Chryses, and to offer a sacred hecatomb for (yper) the Greeks, that we may propitiate (ilasomestha) the king, who now sends woes and many groans upon the Argives" (442 sqq.).—Tyler, "Theology of Greek Poets," pp. 196, 197.]
We do not deem it needful to discuss at length the question which has been so earnestly debated among theologians, as to whether the idea of expiation be a primitive and necessary idea of the human mind, or whether the practice of piacular sacrifices came into the post-diluvian world with Noah, as a positive institution of a primitive religion then first directly instituted by God. On either hypothesis the practice of expiatory rites derives its authority from God; in the latter case, by an outward and verbal revelation, in the former by an inward and intuitive revelation.
This much, however, must be conceded on all hands, that there are certain fundamental intuitions, universal and necessary, which underlie the almost universal practice of expiatory sacrifice, namely, the universal consciousness of guilt, and the universal conviction that something must be done to expiate guilt, to compensate for wrong, and to atone for past misdeeds. But how that expiation can be effected, how that atonement can be made, is a question which reason does not seem competent to answer. That personal sin can be atoned for by vicarious suffering, that national guilt can be expiated and national punishment averted by animal sacrifices, or even by human sacrifices, is repugnant to rather than conformable with natural reason. There exists no discernible connection between the one and the other. We may suppose that eucharistic, penitential, and even deprecatory sacrifices may have originated in the light of nature and reason, but we are unable to account for the practice of piacular sacrifices for substitutional atonement, on the same principle. The ethical principle, that one's own sins are not transferable either in their guilt or punishment, is so obviously just that we feel it must have been as clear to the mind of the Greek who brought his victim to be offered to Zeus, as it is to the philosophic mind of to-day. The knowledge that the Divine displeasure can be averted by sacrifice is not, by Plato, grounded upon any intuition of reason, as is the existence of God, the idea of the true, the just, and good, but on "tradition," and the "interpretations" of Apollo. "To the Delphian Apollo there remains the greatest, noblest, and most important of legal institutions—the erection of temples, sacrifices, and other services to the gods,... and what other services should be gone through with a view to their propitiation. Such things as these, indeed, we neither know ourselves, nor in founding the State would we intrust them to others, if we be wise;... the god of the country is the natural interpreter to all men about such matters."
[Footnote 138: "He that hath done the deed, to suffer for it—thus cries a proverb thrice hallowed by age."—AEschylus, "Choeph," 311.]
[Footnote 139: "Laws," book vi. ch. xv.]
[Footnote 140: "Republic," book iv. ch. v.]
The origin of expiatory sacrifices can not, we think, be explained except on the principle of a primitive revelation and a positive appointment of God. They can not be understood except as a divinely-appointed symbolism, in which there is exhibited a confession of personal guilt and desert of punishment; an intimation and a hope that God will be propitious and merciful; and a typical promise and prophecy of a future Redeemer from sin, who shall "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." This sacred rite was instituted in connection with the protevangelium given to our first parents; it was diffused among the nations by tradition, and has been kept alive as a general, and, indeed, almost universal observance, by that deep sense of sin, and consciousness of guilt, and personal urgency of the need of a reconciliation, which are so clearly displayed in Grecian mythology.
The legitimate inference we find ourselves entitled to draw from the words of Paul, when fairly interpreted in the light of the past religious history of the world, is, that the Athenians were a religious people; that is, they were, however unknowing, believers in and worshippers of the One Supreme God.
THE RELIGION OF THE ATHENIANS: ITS MYTHOLOGICAL AND SYMBOLICAL ASPECTS.
"That there is one Supreme Deity, both philosophers and poets, and even the vulgar worshippers of the gods themselves frequently acknowledge; which because the assertors of gods well understood, they affirm these gods of theirs to preside over the several parts of the world, yet so that there is only one chief governor. Whence it follows, that all their other gods can be no other than ministers and officers which one greatest God, who is omnipotent, hath variously appointed, and constituted so as to serve his command."—LACTANTIUS.
The conclusion reached in the previous chapter that the Athenians were believers in and worshippers of the One Supreme God, has been challenged with some considerable show of reason and force, on the ground that they were Polytheists and Idolaters.
An objection which presents itself so immediately on the very face of the sacred narrative, and which is sustained by the unanimous voice of history, is entitled to the fullest consideration. And as the interests of truth are infinitely more precious than the maintenance of any theory, however plausible, we are constrained to accord to this objection the fullest weight, and give to it the most impartial consideration. We can not do otherwise than at once admit that the Athenians were Polytheists—they worshipped "many gods" besides "the unknown God." It is equally true that they were Idolaters—they worshipped images or statues of the gods, which images were also, by an easy metonymy, called "gods."
But surely no one supposes that this is all that can be said upon the subject, and that, after such admissions, the discussion must be closed. On the contrary, we have, as yet, scarce caught a glimpse of the real character and genius of Grecian polytheistic worship, and we have not made the first approach towards a philosophy of Grecian mythology.
The assumption that the heathen regarded the images "graven by art and device of man" as the real creators of the world and man, or as having any control over the destinies of men, sinks at once under the weight of its own absurdity. Such hypothesis is repudiated with scorn and indignation by the heathens themselves. Cotta, in Cicero, declares explicitly: "though it be common and familiar language amongst us to call corn Ceres, and wine Bacchus, yet who can think any one so mad as to take that to be really a god that he feeds upon?" And Plutarch condemns the whole practice of giving the names of gods and goddesses to inanimate objects, as absurd, impious, and atheistical: "they who give the names of gods to senseless matter and inanimate things, and such as are destroyed by men in the using, beget most wicked and atheistical opinions in the minds of men, since it can not be conceived how these things should be gods, for nothing that is inanimate is a god." And so also the Hindoo, the Buddhist, the American Indian, the Fijian of to-day, repel the notion that their visible images are real gods, or that they worship them instead of the unseen God.
[Footnote 141: Cudworth's "Intell. System," vol. ii. p. 257, Eng. ed.]
[Footnote 142: Quoted in Cudworth's "Intell. System," vol. ii. p. 258, Eng. ed.]
And furthermore, that even the invisible divinities which these images were designed to represent, were each independent, self-existent beings, and that the stories which are told concerning them by Homer and Hesiod were received in a literal sense, is equally improbable. The earliest philosophers knew as well as we know, that the Deity, in order to be Deity, must be either perfect or nothing—that he must be one, not many—without parts and passions; and they were scandalized and shocked by the religious fables of the ancient mythology as much as we are. Xenophanes, who lived, as we know, before Pythagoras, accuses Homer and Hesiod of having ascribed to the gods every thing that is disgraceful amongst men, as stealing, adultery, and deceit. He remarks "that men seem to have created their gods, and to have given them their own mind, and voice, and figure." He himself declares that "God is one, the greatest amongst gods and men, neither in form nor in thought like unto men." He calls the battles of the Titans and the Giants, and the Centaurs, "the inventions of former generations," and he demands that God shall be praised in holy songs and nobler strains. Diogenes Laertius relates the following of Pythagoras, "that when he descended to the shades below, he saw the soul of Hesiod bound to a pillar of brass and gnashing his teeth; and that of Homer, as suspended on a tree, and surrounded by serpents; as a punishment for the things they had said of the gods." These poets, who had corrupted theology, Plato proposes to exclude from his ideal Republic; or if permitted at all, they must be subjected to a rigid expurgation. "We shall," says he, "have to repudiate a large part of those fables which are now in vogue; and, especially, of what I call the greater fables,—the stories which Hesiod and Homer tell us. In these stories there is a fault which deserves the gravest condemnation; namely, when an author gives a bad representation of gods and heroes. We must condemn such a poet, as we should condemn a painter, whose pictures bear no resemblance to the objects which he tries to imitate. For instance, the poet Hesiod related an ugly story when he told how Uranus acted, and how Kronos had his revenge upon him. They are offensive stories, and must not be repeated in our cities. Not yet is it proper to say, in any case,—what is indeed untrue—that gods wage war against gods, and intrigue and fight among themselves. Stories like the chaining of Juno by her son Vulcan, and the flinging of Vulcan out of heaven for trying to take his mother's part when his father was beating her, and all other battles of the gods which are found in Homer, must be refused admission into our state, whether they are allegorical or not. For a child can not discriminate between what is allegorical and what is not; and whatever is adopted, as a matter of belief, in childhood, has a tendency to become fixed and indelible; and therefore we ought to esteem it as of the greatest importance that the fables which children first hear should be adapted, as far as possible, to promote virtue."
[Footnote 143: Max Muller, "Science of Language," pp. 405, 406.]
[Footnote 144: "Lives," bk. viii. ch. xix. p. 347.]
[Footnote 145: "Republic," bk. ii. ch. xvii.]
If, then, poetic and allegorical representations of divine things are to be permitted in the ideal republic, then the founders of the state are to prescribe "the moulds in which the poets are to cast their fictions."
"Now what are these moulds to be in the case of Theology? They may be described as follows: It is right always to represent God as he really is, whether the poet describe him in an epic, or a lyric, or a dramatic poem. Now God is, beyond all else, good in reality, and therefore so to be represented. But nothing that is good is hurtful. That which is good hurts not; does no evil; is the cause of no evil. That which is good is beneficial; is the cause of good. And, therefore, that which is good is not the cause of all which is and happens, but only of that which is as it should be.... The good things we must ascribe to God, whilst we must seek elsewhere, and not in him, the causes of evil things."
We must, then, express our disapprobation of Homer, or any other poet, who is guilty of such a foolish blunder as to tell us (Iliad, xxiv. 660) that:
'Fast by the threshold of Jove's court are placed Two casks—one stored with evil, one with good:'
and that he for whom the Thunderer mingles both—
'He leads a life checkered with good and ill.'
But as for the man to whom he gives the bitter cup unmixed—
'He walks The blessed earth unbless'd, go where he will.'
And if any one asserts that the violation of oaths and treaties by the act of Pandarus was brought about by Athene and Zeus (Iliad, ii. 60), we should refuse our approbation. Nor can we allow it to be said that the strife and trial of strength between tween the gods (Iliad, xx.) was instigated by Themis and Zeus.... Such language can not be used without irreverence; it is both injurious to us, and contradictory in itself.