Inasmuch as God is perfect to the utmost in beauty and goodness, he abides ever the same, and without any variation in his form. Then let no poet tell us that (Odyss. xvii. 582)
'In similitude of strangers oft The Gods, who can with ease all shapes assume, Repair to populous cities.'
And let no one slander Proteus and Thetis, or introduce in tragedies, or any other poems, Hera transformed into the guise of a princess collecting
'Alms for the life-giving children of Inachus, river of Argos,'
not to mention many other falsehoods which we must interdict.
"When a poet holds such language concerning the gods, we shall be angry with him, and refuse him a chorus. Neither shall we allow our teachers to use his writings for the instruction of the young, if we would have our guards grow up to be as god-like and god-fearing as it is possible for men to be."
We are thus constrained by the statements of the heathens themselves, as well as by the dictates of common sense, to look beyond the external drapery and the material forms of Polytheism for some deeper and truer meaning that shall be more in harmony with the facts of the universal religious consciousness of our race. The religion of ancient Greece consisted in something more than the fables of Jupiter and Juno, of Apollo and Minerva, of Venus and Bacchus. "Through the rank and poisonous vegetation of mythic phraseology, we may always catch a glimpse of an original stem round which it creeps and winds itself, and without which it can not enjoy that parasitical existence which has been mistaken for independent vitality."
[Footnote 146: "Republic," bk. ii. ch. xix.]
[Footnote 147: "Republic," bk. ii. ch. xx. Much more to the same effect may be seen in ch. ii.]
[Footnote 148: "Republic," bk. ii. ch. xxi.]
[Footnote 149: Max Mueller, "Science of Language," 2d series, p. 433.]
It is an obvious truth, attested by the voice of universal consciousness as revealed in history, that the human mind can never rest satisfied within the sphere of sensible phenomena. Man is impelled by an inward necessity to pass, in thought, beyond the boundary-line of sense, and inquire after causes and entities which his reason assures him must lie beneath all sensible appearances. He must and will interpret nature according to the forms of his own personality, or according to the fundamental ideas of his own reason. In the childlike subjectivity of the undisciplined mind he will either transfer to nature the phenomena of his own personality, regarding the world as a living organism which has within it an informing soul, and thus attain a pantheistic conception of the universe; or else he will fix upon some extraordinary and inexplicable phenomenon of nature, and, investing it with super-natural significance, will rise from thence to a religious and theocratic conception of nature as a whole. An intelligence—a mind within nature, and inseparable from nature, or else above nature and governing nature, is, for man, an inevitable thought.
It is equally obvious that humanity can never relegate itself from a supernatural origin, neither can it ever absolve itself from a permanent correlation with the Divine. Man feels within him an instinctive nobility. He did not arise out of the bosom of nature; in some mysterious way he has descended from an eternal mind, he is "the offspring of God." And furthermore, a theocratic conception of nature, associated with a pre-eminent regard for certain apparently supernatural experiences in the history of humanity, becomes the foundation of governments, of civil authority, and of laws. Society can not be founded without the aid of the Deity, and a commonwealth can only be organized by Divine interposition. "A Ceres must appear and sow the fields with corn." And a Numa or a Lycurgus must be heralded by the oracle as
"Dear to Jove, and all who sit in the halls of the Olympus."
He must be a "descendant of Zeus," appointed by the gods to rule, and one who will "prove himself a god." These divinely-appointed rulers were regarded as the ministers of God, the visible representatives of the unseen Power which really governs all. The divine government must also have its invisible agents—its Nemesis, and Themis, and Dike, the ministers of law, of justice, and of retribution; and its Jupiter, and Juno, and Neptune, and Pluto, ruling, with delegated powers, in the heavens, the air, the sea, and the nethermost regions. So that, in fact, there exists no nation, no commonwealth, no history without a Theophany, and along with it certain sacred legends detailing the origin of the people, the government, the country itself, and the world at large. This is especially true of India, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Their primitive history is eminently mythological.
Grecian polytheism can not be otherwise regarded than as a poetico-historical religion of myth and symbol which is under-laid by a natural Theism; a parasitical growth which winds itself around the original stem of instinctive faith in a supernatural Power and Presence which pervades the universe. The myths are oral traditions, floating down from that dim; twilight of poetic history, which separates real history, with its fixed chronology, from the unmeasured and unrecorded eternity—faint echoes from that mystic border-land which divides the natural from the supernatural, and in which they seem to have been marvellously commingled. They are the lingering memories of those manifestations of God to men, in which he or his celestial ministers came into visible intercourse with our race; the reality of which is attested by sacred history. In all these myths there is a theogonic and cosmogonic element. They tell of the generation of the celestial and aerial divinities—the subordinate agents and ministers of the Divine government. They attempt an explanation of the genesis of the visible universe, the origin of humanity, and the development of human society. In the presence of history, the substance of these myths is preserved by symbols, that is, by means of natural or artificial, real or striking objects, which, by some analogy or arbitrary association, shall suggest the idea to the mind. These symbols were designed to represent the invisible attributes and operations of the Deity; the powers that vitalize nature, that control the elements, that preside over cities, that protect the nations: indeed, all the agencies of the physical and moral government of God. Beneath all the pagan legends of gods, and underlying all the elaborate mechanism of pagan worship, there are unquestionably philosophical ideas, and theological conceptions, and religious sentiments, which give as meaning, and even a mournful grandeur to the whole.
Whilst the pagan polytheistic worship is, under one aspect, to be regarded as a departure from God, inasmuch as it takes away the honor due to God alone, and transfers it to the creature; still, under another aspect, we can not fail to recognize in it the effort of the human mind to fill up the chasm that seemed, to the undisciplined mind, to separate God and man—and to bridge the gulf between the visible and the invisible, the finite and the infinite. It was unquestionably an attempt to bring God nearer to the sense and comprehension of man. It had its origin in that instinctive yearning after the supernatural, the Divine, which dwells in all human hearts, and which has revealed itself in all philosophies, mysticisms, and religions. This longing was stimulated by the contemplation of the living beauty and grandeur of the visible universe, which, to the lively fancy and deep feeling of the Greeks, seemed as the living vesture of the Infinite Mind,—the temple of the eternal Deity. In this visible universe the Divinity was partly revealed, and partly concealed. The unity of the all-pervading Intelligence was veiled beneath an apparent diversity of power, and a manifoldness of operations. They caught some glimpses of this universal presence in nature, but were more immediately and vividly impressed by the several manifestations of the divine perfections and divine operations, as so many separate rays of the Divinity, or so many subordinate agents and functionaries employed to execute the will and carry out the purposes of the Supreme Mind. That unseen, incomprehensible Power and Presence was perceived in the sublimity of the deep blue sky, the energy of the vitalizing sun, the surging of the sea, the rushing wind, the roaring thunder, the ripening corn, and the clustering vine. To these separate manifestations of the Deity they gave personal names, as Jupiter to the heavens, Juno to the air, Neptune to the sea, Ceres to the corn, and Bacchus to the vine. These personals denoted, not the things themselves, but the invisible, divine powers supposed to preside over those several departments of nature. By a kind of prosopopoeia "they spake of the things in nature, and parts of the world, as persons—and consequently as so many gods and goddesses—yet so as the intelligent might easily understand their meaning, that these were in reality nothing else but so many names and notions of that one Numen,—divine force and power which runs through all the world, multiformly displaying itself." "Their various deities were but different names, different conceptions, of that Incomprehensible Being which no thought can reach, and no language express." Having given to these several manifestations of the Divinity personal names, they now sought to represent them to the eye of sense by visible forms, as the symbols or images of the perfections of the unseen, the incomprehensible, the unknown God. And as the Greeks regarded man as the first and noblest among the phenomena of nature, they selected the human form as the highest sensible manifestation of God, the purest symbol of the Divinity. Grecian polytheism was thus a species of mythical anthropomorphism.
[Footnote 150: The original constitution of man is such that he "seeks after" God Acts xvii. 27. "All men yearn after the gods" (Homer, "Odyss." iii. 48).]
[Footnote 151: "Heathenism springs directly from this, that the mind lays undue stress upon the bare letter in the book of creation; that it separates and individualizes its objects as far as possible; that it places the sense of the individual part, in opposition to the sense of the whole,—to the analogia fidei or spiritus which alone gives unity to the book of nature, while it dilutes and renders as transitory as possible the sense of the universal in the whole.... And as it laid great stress upon the letter in the book of nature, it fell into polytheism. The particular symbol of the divine, or of the Godhead, became a myth of some special deity."—Lange's "Bible-work," Genesis, p. 23.]
[Footnote 152: Cudworth, "Intellect. System," vol. i. p. 308.]
[Footnote 153: Max Mueller, "Science of Language," p. 431.]
A philosophy of Grecian mythology, such as we have outlined in the preceding paragraphs, is, in our judgment, perfectly consistent with the views announced by Paul in his address to the Athenians. He intimates that the Athenians "thought that the Godhead was like unto (e nai omoion)—to be imaged or represented by human art—by gold, and silver, and precious stone graven by art, and device of man;" that is, they thought the perfections of God could be represented to the eye by an image, or symbol. The views of Paul are still more articulately expressed in Romans, i. 23, 25: "They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the similitude of an image of corruptible man,.... and they worshipped and served the thing made, para—rather than, or more than the Creator." Here, then, the apostle intimates, first, that the heathen knew God, and that they worshipped God. They worshipped the creature besides or even more than God, but still they also worshipped God. And, secondly, they represented the perfections of God by an image, and under this, as a "likeness" or symbol, they indirectly worshipped God. Their religious system was, then, even to the eye of Paul, a symbolic worship—that is, the objects of their devotion were the omoiomata—the similitudes, the likenesses, the images of the perfections of the invisible God.
[Footnote 154: Verse 21.]
It is at once conceded by us, that the "sensus numinis," the natural intuition of a Supreme Mind, whose power and presence are revealed in nature, can not maintain itself, as an influential, and vivifying, and regulative belief amongst men, without the continual supernatural interposition of God; that is, without a succession of Divine revelations. And further, we grant that, instead of this symbolic mode of worship deepening and vitalizing the sense of God as a living power and presence, there is great danger that the symbol shall at length unconsciously take the place of God, and be worshipped instead of Him. From the purest form of symbolism which prevailed in the earliest ages, there may be an inevitable descent to the rudest form of false worship, with its accompanying darkness, and abominations, and crimes; but, at the same time, let us do justice to the religions of the ancient world—the childhood stammerings of religious life—which were something more than the inventions of designing men, or the mere creations of human fancy; they were, in the words of Paul, "a seeking after God, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, who is not far from any one of us." It can not be denied that the more thoughtful and intelligent Greeks regarded the visible objects of their devotion as mere symbols of the perfections and operations of the unseen God, and of the invisible powers and subordinate agencies which are employed by him in his providential and moral government of the world. And whatever there was of misapprehension and of "ignorance" in the popular mind, we have the assurance of Paul that it was "overlooked" by God.
The views here presented will, we venture to believe, be found most in harmony with a true philosophy of the human mind; with the religious phenomena of the world; and, as we shall subsequently see, with the writings of those poets and philosophers who may be fairly regarded as representing the sentiments and opinions of the ancient world. At the same time, we have no desire to conceal the fact that this whole question as to the origin, and character, and philosophy of the mythology and symbolism of the religions of the ancient world has been a subject of earnest controversy from Patristic times down to the present hour, and that even to-day there exists a wide diversity of opinion among philosophers, as well as theologians.
The principal theories offered may be classed as the ethical, the physical, and the historical, according to the different objects the framers of the myths are supposed to have had in view. Some have regarded the myths as invented by the priests and wise men of old for the improvement and government of society, as designed to give authority to laws, and maintain social order. Others have regarded them as intended to be allegorical interpretations of physical phenomena—the poetic embodiment of the natural philosophy of the primitive races of men; whilst others have looked upon them as historical legends, having a substratum of fact, and, when stripped of the supernatural and miraculous drapery which accompanies fable, as containing the history of primitive times. Some of the latter class have imagined they could recognize in Grecian mythology traces of sacred personages, as well as profane; in fact, a dimmed image of the patriarchal traditions which are preserved in the Old Testament scriptures.
It is beyond our design to discuss all the various theories presented, or even to give a history of opinions entertained. We are fully convinced that the hypothesis we have presented in the preceding pages, viz., that Grecian mythology was a grand symbolic representation of the Divine as manifested in nature and providence, is the only hypothesis which meets and harmonizes all the facts of the case. This is the theory of Plato, of Cudworth, Baumgarten, Max Mueller, and many other distinguished scholars.
[Footnote 155: Empedocles, Metrodorus.]
[Footnote 156: Aristotle.]
[Footnote 157: Hecataeus, Herodotus, some of the early Fathers, Niebuhr, J.H. Voss, Arnold.]
[Footnote 158: Bochart, G.J. Vossius, Faber, Gladstone.]
[Footnote 159: To the English reader who desires an extended and accurate acquaintance with the classic and patristic literature of this deeply interesting subject, we commend the careful study of Cudworth's "Intellectual System of the Universe," especially ch. iv. The style of Cudworth is perplexingly involved, and his great work is unmethodical in its arrangement and discussion. Nevertheless, the patient and persevering student will be amply rewarded for his pains. A work of more profound research into the doctrine of antiquity concerning God, and into the real import of the religious systems of the ancient world, is, probably, not extant in any language.]
There are two fundamental propositions laid down by Cudworth which constitute the basis of this hypothesis.
1. No well-authenticated instance can be furnished from among the Greek Polytheists of one who taught the existence of a multiplicity of independenty uncreated, self-existent deities; they almost universally believed in the existence of ONE SUPREME, UNCREATED, ETERNAL GOD, "The Maker of all things"—"the Father of gods and men,"—"the sole Monarch and Ruler of the world."
2. The Greek Polytheists taught a plurality of"GENERATED DEITIES," who owe their existence to the power and will of the Supreme God, who are by Him invested with delegated powers, and who, as the agents of his universal providence, preside over different departments of the created universe.
The evidence presented by Cudworth in support of his theses is so varied and so voluminous, that it defies all attempts at condensation. His volumes exhibit an extent of reading, of patient research, and of varied learning, which is truly amazing. The discussion of these propositions involves, in fact, nothing less than a complete and exhaustive survey of the entire field of ancient literature, a careful study of the Greek and Latin poets, of the Oriental, Greek, and Alexandrian philosophers, and a review of the statements and criticisms of Rabbinical and Patristic writers in regard to the religions of the pagan world. An adequate conception of the varied and weighty evidence which is collected by our author from these fields, in support of his views, could only be conveyed by transcribing to our pages the larger portion of his memorable fourth chapter. But inasmuch as Grecian polytheism is, in fact, the culmination of all the mythological systems of the ancient world, the fully-developed flower and ripened fruit of the cosmical and theological conceptions of the childhood-condition of humanity, we propose to epitomize the results of his inquiry as to the theological, opinions of the Greeks, supplying additional confirmation of his views from other sources.
And first, he proves most conclusively that Orpheus, Homer, and Hesiod, who are usually designated "the theologians" of Greece, but who were in fact the depravers and corrupters of pagan theology, do not teach the existence of a multitude of unmade, self-existent, and independent deities. Even they believed in the existence of one uncreated and eternal mind, one Supreme God, anterior and superior to all the gods of their mythology. They had some intuition, some apperception of the Divine, even before they had attached to it a sacred name. The gods of their mythology had all, save one, a temporal origin; they were generated of Chaos and Night, by an active principle called Love. "One might suspect," says Aristotle, that Hesiod, and if there be any other who made love or desire a principle of things, aimed at these very things (viz., the designation of the efficient cause of the world); for Parmenides, describing the generation of the universe, says:
'First of all the gods planned he love;'
and further, Hesiod:
'First of all was Chaos, afterwards Earth, With her spacious bosom, And Love, who is pre-eminent among all the immortals;'
as intimating here that in entities there should exist some cause that will impart motion, and hold bodies in union together. But how, in regard to these, one ought to distribute them, as to the order of priority, can be decided afterwards.
[Footnote 160: We do not concern ourselves with the chronological antecedence of these ancient Greek poets. It is of little consequence to us whether Homer preceded Orpheus, or Orpheus Homer. They were not the real creators of the mythology of ancient Greece. The myths were a spontaneous growth of the earliest human thought even before the separation of the Aryan family into its varied branches.
The study of Comparative Mythology, as well as of Comparative Language, assures us that the myths had an origin much earlier than the times of Homer and Orpheus. They floated down from ages on the tide of oral tradition before they were systematized, embellished, and committed to writing by Homer, and Orpheus, and Hesiod. And between the systems of these three poets a perceptible difference is recognizable, which reflects the changes that verbal recitations necessarily and imperceptibly undergo.]
[Footnote 161: "Metaphysics," bk. i. ch. iv.]
Now whether this "first principle," called "Love," "the cause of motion and of union" in the universe, was regarded as a personal Being, and whether, as the ancient scholiast taught, Hesiod's love was "the heavenly Love, which is also God, that other love that was born of Venus being junior," is just now of no moment to the argument. The more important inference is, that amongst the gods of Pagan theology but one is self-existent, or else none are. Because the Hesiodian gods, which are, in fact, all the gods of the Greek mythology, "were either all of them derived from chaos, love itself likewise being generated out of it; or else love was supposed to be distinct from chaos, and the active principle of the universe, from whence, together with chaos, all the theogony and cosmogony was derived." Hence it is evident the poets did not teach the existence of a multiplicity of unmade, self-existent, independent deities.
[Footnote 162: "Cudworth," vol. i. p. 287.]
The careful reader of Cudworth will also learn another truth of the utmost importance in this connection, viz., that the theogony of the Greek poets was, in fact, a cosmogony, the generation of the gods being, in reality, the generation of the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the various powers and phenomena of nature. This is dimly shadowed forth in the very names which are given to some of these divinities. Thus Helios is the sun, Selena is the moon, Zeus the sky—the deep blue heaven, Eos the dawn, and Erse the dew. It is rendered still more evident by the opening lines of Hesiod's "Theogonia," in which he invokes the muses:
"Hail ye daughters of Jupiter! Grant a delightsome song. Tell of the race of immortal gods, always existing, Who are the offspring of the earth, of the starry sky, And of the gloomy night, whom also the ocean nourisheth. Tell how the gods and the earth at first were made, And the rivers, and the mighty deep, boiling with waves, And the glowing stars, and the broad heavens above, And the gods, givers of good, born of these."
Where we see plainly that the generation of the gods is the generation of the earth, the heaven, the stars, the seas, the rivers, and other things produced by them. "But immediately after invocation of the Muses the poet begins with Chaos, and Tartara, and Love, as the first principles, and then proceeds to the production of the earth and of night out of chaos; of the ether and of day, from night; of the starry heavens, mountains, and seas. All which generation of gods is really nothing but a poetic description of the cosmogonia; as through the sequel of the poem all seems to be physiology veiled under fiction and allegory.... Hesiod's gods are thus not only the animated parts of the world, but also the other things of nature personified and deified, or abusively called gods and goddesses." The same is true both of the Orphic and Homeric gods. "Their generation of the gods is the same with the generation or creation of the world, both of them having, in all probability, derived it from the Mosaic cabala, or tradition."
But in spite of all this mythological obscuration, the belief in one Supreme God is here and there most clearly recognizable. "That Zeus was originally to the Greeks the Supreme God, the true God—nay, at some time their only God—can be perceived in spite of the haze which mythology has raised around his name." True, they sometimes used the word "Zeus" in a physical sense to denote the deep expanse of heaven, and sometimes in a historic sense, to designate a hero or deified man said to have been born in Crete. It is also true that the Homeric Zeus is full of contradictions. He is "all-seeing," yet he is cheated; he is "omnipotent," yet he is defied; he is "eternal," yet he has a father; he is "just," yet he is guilty of crime. Now, as Mueller very justly remarks, these contradictions may teach us a lesson. If all the conceptions of Zeus had sprung from one origin, these contradictions could not have existed. If Zeus had simply and only meant the Supreme God, he could not have been the son of Kronos (Time). If, on the other hand, Zeus had been a mere mythological personage, as Eos, the dawn, and Helios, the sun, he could never have been addressed as he is addressed in the famous prayer of Achilles (Iliad, bk. xxi.).
[Footnote 163: Cudworth, vol. i. pp. 321, 332.]
[Footnote 164: Id., ib., vol. i. p. 478.]
[Footnote 165: Max Mueller, "Science of Language," p. 457.]
[Footnote 166: Id., ib., p. 458.]
In Homer there is a perpetual blending of the natural and the supernatural, the human and divine. The Iliad is an incongruous medley of theology, physics, and history. In its gorgeous scenic representations, nature, humanity, and deity are mingled in inextricable confusion. The gods are sometimes supernatural and superhuman personages; sometimes the things and powers of nature personified; and sometimes they are deified men. And yet there are passages, even in Homer, which clearly distinguish Zeus from all the other divinities, and mark him out as the Supreme. He is "the highest, first of Gods" (bk. xix. 284); "most great, most glorious Jove" (bk. ii. 474). He is "the universal Lord" (bk. xi. 229); "of mortals and immortals king supreme," (bk. xii. 263); "over all the immortal gods he reigns in unapproached pre-eminence of power" (bk. xv. 125). He is "the King of kings" (bk. viii. 35), whose "will is sovereign" (bk. iv. 65), and his "power invincible" (bk. viii. 35). He is the "eternal Father" (bk. viii. 77). He "excels in wisdom gods and men; all human things from him proceed" (bk. xiii. 708-10); "the Lord of counsel" (bk. i. 208), "the all-seeing Jove" (bk. xiii. 824). Indeed the mere expression "Father of gods and men" (bk. i. 639), so often applied to Zeus, and him alone, is proof sufficient that, in spite of all the legendary stories of gods and heroes, the idea of Zeus as the Supreme God, the maker of the world, the Father of gods and men, the monarch and ruler of the world, was not obliterated from the Greek mind.
[Footnote 167: "In the order of legendary chronology Zeus comes after Kronos and Uranos, but in the order of Grecian conception Zeus is the prominent person, and Kronos and Uranos are inferior and introductory precursors, set up in order to be overthrown, and to serve as mementos of the powers of their conqueror. To Homer and Hesiod, as well as to the Greeks universally, Zeus is the great, the predominant God, 'the Father of gods and men,' whose power none of the gods can hope to resist, or even deliberately think of questioning. All the other gods have their specific potency, and peculiar sphere of action and duty, with which Zeus does not usually interfere; but it is he who maintains the lineaments of a providential government, as well over the phenomena of Olympus as over the earth."—Grote, "Hist. of Greece," vol. i. p. 3.
Zeus is not only lord of heaven but likewise the ruler of the lower world, and the master of the sea.—Welcher, "Griechische Goetterlehre," vol. i. p. 164. The Zeus of the Greek poets is unquestionably the god of whom Paul declared: In him we live and move, and have our being, as certain of your own poets have also said—
"'For we are his offspring.'"
Now whether this be a quotation from Aratus or Cleanthes, the language of the poets is, "We are the offspring of Zeus;" consequently the Zeus of the poets and the God of Christianity are the same God.
"The father of gods and men in Homer is, of course, the Universal Father of the Scriptures."—Tyler, "Theology of Greek Poets," p. 171.]
"When Homer introduces Eumaios, the swineherd, speaking of this life and the higher powers that rule it, he knows only of just gods 'who hate cruel deeds, but honor justice and the righteous works of men' (Od. xiv. 83). His whole life is built up on a complete trust in the divine government of the world without any artificial helps, as the Erinys, the Nemesis, or Moira. 'Eat,' says the swineherd, 'and enjoy what is here, for God will grant one thing, but another he will refuse, whatever he will in his mind, for he can do all things' (Od. xiv. 444; x. 306). This surely is religion, and it is religion untainted by mythology. Again, the prayer of the female slave, grinding corn in the house of Ulysses is religious in the truest sense—'Father Zeus, thou who rulest over gods and men, surely thou hast just thundered in the starry sky, and there is no cloud anywhere. Thou showest this as a sign to some one. Fulfill now, even to me, miserable wretch, the prayer which I now offer'" (Od. xx. 141-150).
[Footnote 168: No sound reason can be assigned for translating Theos by "a god" as some have proposed, rather than "God." But even if it were translated "a god," this god must certainly be understood as Zeus. Plato tells us that Zeus is the most appropriate name for God. "For in reality the name Zeus is, as it were, a sentence; and persons dividing it in two parts, some of us make use of one part, and some of another; for some call him Zen, and some Dis. But these parts, collected together into one, exhibit the nature of the God;... for there is no one who is more the cause of living, both to us and everything else, than he who is the ruler and king of all. It follows, therefore, that this god is rightly named, through whom life is present in all living beings."—Cratylus, Sec. 28.
Theos was usually employed, says Cudworth, to designate God by way of pre-eminence, Theoi to designate inferior divinities.]
[Footnote 169: Mueller, "Science of Language," p. 434.]
The Greek tragedians were the great religious instructors of the Athenian people. "Greek tragedy grew up in connection with religious worship, and constituted not only a popular but a sacred element in the festivals of the gods.... In short, strange as it may sound to modern ears, the Greek stage was, more nearly than any thing else, the Greek pulpit. With a priesthood that offered sacrifice, but did not preach, with few books of any kind, the people were, in a great measure, dependent on oral instruction for knowledge; and as they learned their rights and duties as citizens from their orators, so they hung on the lips of the 'lofty, grave tragedians' for instruction touching their origin, duty, and destiny as mortal and immortal beings.... Greek tragedy is essentially didactic, ethical, mythological, and religious."
[Footnote 170: Pulpitum, a stage.]
[Footnote 171: Tyler, "Theology of Greek Poets," pp. 205, 206.]
Now it is unquestionable that, with the tragedians, Zeus is the Supreme God. AEschylus is pre-eminently the theological poet of Greece. The great problems which lie at the foundation of religious faith and practice are the main staple of nearly all his tragedies. Homer, Hesiod, the sacred poets, had looked at these questions in their purely poetic aspects. The subsequent philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, developed them more fully by their didactic method. AEschylus stands on the dividing-line between them, no less poetic than the former, scarcely less philosophical than the latter, but more intensely practical, personal, and theological than either. The character of the Supreme Divinity, as represented in his tragedies, approaches more nearly to the Christian idea of God. He is the Universal Father—Father of gods and men; the Universal Cause (panaitios, Agamem. 1485); the All-seer and All-doer (pantopies, panergetes, ibid, and Sup. 139); the All-wise and All-controlling (pankrates, Sup. 813); the Just and the Executor of justice (dikephoros, Agamem. 525); true and incapable of falsehood (Prom. 1031);
pseudegorein gar ouk epistatai stoma to dion, alla pan epos telei,—
holy (agnos, Sup. 650); merciful (preumenes, ibid. 139); the God especially of the suppliant and the stranger (Supplices, passim); the most high and perfect One (teleion upsiston, Eumen. 28); King of kings, of the happy, most happy, of the perfect, most perfect power, blessed Zeus (Sup. 522). Such are some of the titles by which Zeus is most frequently addressed; such the attributes commonly ascribed to him in AEschylus.
Sophocles was the great master who carried Greek tragedy to its highest perfection. Only seven out of more than a hundred of his tragedies have come down to us. There are passages cited by Justin Martyr, Clemens Alexandrinus, and others which are not found in those tragedies now extant. The most famous and extensively quoted passage is given by Cudworth.
Eis tais aletheiaisin, eis estin Theos, Os ouranon t' eteuxe kai gaian makran, Poniou te karapon oidma, kanemon bian, k. t. l.
This "one only God" is Zeus, who is the God of justice, and reigns supreme:
"Still in yon starry heaven supreme, Jove, all-beholding, all-directing, dwells— To him commit thy vengeance."—"Electra," p. 174 sqq.
This description of the unsleeping, undecaying power and dominion of Zeus is worthy of some Hebrew prophet—
"Spurning the power of age, enthroned in might, Thou dwell'st mid heaven's broad light; This was in ages past thy firm decree, Is now, and shall forever be: That none of mortal race on earth shall know A life of joy serene, a course unmarked by woe."
"Antigone," pp. 606-614.
[Footnote 172: Tyler, "Theology of Greek Poets," pp. 213, 214.]
[Footnote 173: "Intellectual Syst.," vol. i. p. 483.]
[Footnote 174: "There is, in truth, one only God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, air, and winds," etc.]
[Footnote 175: "Theology of Greek Poets," p. 322.]
Whether we regard the poets as the principal theological teachers of the ancient Greeks, or as the compilers, systematizers, and artistic embellishers of the theological traditions and myths which were afloat in the primitive Hellenic families, we can not resist the conclusion that, for the masses of the people Zeus was the Supreme God, "the God of gods" as Plato calls him. Whilst all other deities in Greece are more or less local and tribal gods, Zeus was known in every village and to every clan. "He is at home on Ida, on Olympus, at Dodona. While Poseidon drew to himself the AEolian family, Apollo the Dorian, Athene the Ionian, there was one powerful God for all the sons of Hellen—Dorians, AEolians, Ionians, Achaeans, viz., the Panhellenic Zeus." Zeus was the name invoked in their solemn nuncupations of vows—
"O Zeus, father, O Zeus, king."
In moments of deepest sorrow, of immediate urgency and need, of greatest stress and danger, they had recourse to Zeus.
"Courage, courage, my child! There is still in heaven the great Zeus; He watches over all things, and he rules. Commit thy exceeding bitter griefs to him, And be not angry against thine enemies, Nor forget them."
[Footnote 176: "Iliad," bk. iii. 324.]
[Footnote 177: Bk. xvi. 268.]
[Footnote 178: Mueller, p. 452.]
[Footnote 179: Sophocles, "Electra," v. 188.]
He was supplicated, as the God who reigns on high, in the prayer of the Athenian—
"Rain, rain, O dear Zeus, on the land of the Athenians and on their fields."
It has been urged that, as Zeus means the sky, therefore he is no more than the deep concave of heaven personified and deified, and that consequently Zeus is not the true, the only God. This argument is only equalled in feebleness by that of the materialist, who argues that "spiritus" means simply breath, therefore the breath is the soul. Even if the Greeks remembered that, originally, Zeus meant the sky, that would have no more perplexed their minds than the remembrance that "thymos"—mind—meant originally blast. "The fathers of Greek theology gave to that Supreme Intelligence, which they instinctively recognized as above and ruling over the universe, the name of Zeus; but in doing so, they knew well that by Zeus they meant more than the sky. The unfathomable depth, the everlasting calm of the ethereal sky was to their minds an image of that Infinite Presence which overshadows all, and looks down on all. As the question perpetually recurred to their minds, 'Where is he who abideth forever?' they lifted up their eyes, and saw, as they thought, beyond sun, and moon, and stars, and all which changes, and will change, the clear blue sky, the boundless firmament of heaven. That never changed, that was always the same. The clouds and storms rolled far below it, and all the bustle of this noisy world; but there the sky was still, as bright and calm as ever. The Almighty Father must be there, unchangeable in the unchangeable heaven; bright, and pure, and boundless like the heavens, and like the heavens, too, afar off." So they named him after the sky, Zeus, the God who lives in the clear heaven—the heavenly Father.
[Footnote 180: Kingsley, "Good News from God," p. 237, Am. ed.]
The high and brilliant sky has, in many languages and many religions, been regarded as the dwelling-place of God. Indeed, to all of us in Christian times "God is above;" he is "the God of heaven;" "his throne is in the heavens;" "he reigns on high." Now, without doing any violence to thought, the name of the abode might be transferred to him who dwells in heaven. So that in our own language "heaven" may still be used as a synonym for "God." The prodigal son is still represented as saying, I have sinned against "heaven." And a Christian poet has taught us to sing—
"High heaven, that heard my solemn vow, That vow renewed shall daily hear," etc.
Whenever, therefore, we find the name of heaven thus used to designate also the Deity, we must bear in mind that those by whom it was originally employed were simply transferring that name from an object visible to the eye of sense to another object perceived by the eye of reason. They who at first called God "Heaven" had some conception within them they wished to name—the growing image of a God, and they fixed upon the vastest, grandest, purest object in nature, the deep blue concave of heaven, overshadowing all, and embracing all, as the symbol of the Deity. Those who at a later period called heaven "God" had forgotten that they were predicating of heaven something more which was vastly higher than the heaven.
[Footnote 181: See "Science of Language," p. 457.]
Notwithstanding, then, that the instinctive, native faith of humanity in the existence of one supreme God was overlaid and almost buried beneath the rank and luxuriant vegetation of Grecian mythology, we can still catch glimpses here and there of the solid trunk of native faith, around which this parasitic growth of fancy is entwined. Above all the phantasmata of gods and goddesses who descended to the plains of Troy, and mingled in the din and strife of battle, we can recognize an overshadowing, all-embracing Power and Providence that dwells on high, which never descends into the battle-field, and is never seen by mortal eyes—the Universal King and Father,—the "God of gods."
Besides the direct evidence, which is furnished by the poets and mythologists, of the presence of this universal faith in "the heavenly Father," there is also a large amount of collateral testimony that this idea of one Supreme God was generally entertained by the Greek pagans, whether learned or unlearned. Dio Chrysostomus says that "all the poets call the first and greatest God the Father, universally, of all rational kind, as also the King thereof. Agreeably with which doctrine of the poets do mankind erect altars to Jupiter-King (Dios Basileos) and hesitate not to call him Father in their devotions" (Orat. xxxvi.). And Maximus Tyrius declares that both the learned and the unlearned throughout the pagan world universally agree in this; that there is one Supreme God, the Father of gods and men. "If," says he, "there were a meeting called of all the several trades and professions,... and all were required to declare their sense concerning God, do you think that the painter would say one thing, the sculptor another, the poet another, and the philosopher another? No; nor the Scythian neither, nor the Greek, nor the hyperborean. In regard to other things, we find men speaking discordantly one to another, all men, as it were, differing from all men... Nevertheless, on this subject, you may find universally throughout the world one agreeing law and opinion; that there is one God, the King and Father of all, and many gods, the sons of God, co-reigners together with God"(Diss. i. p. 450).
[Footnote 182: Cudworth, vol. i. pp. 593, 594.]
From the poets we now pass to the philosophers. The former we have regarded as reflecting the traditional beliefs of the unreasoning multitude. The philosophers unquestionably represent the reflective spirit, the speculative thought, of the educated classes of Greek society. Turning to the writings of the philosophers, we may therefore reasonably expect that, instead of the dim, undefined, and nebulous form in which the religious sentiment revealed itself amongst the unreflecting portions of the Greek populations, we shall find their theological ideas distinctly and articulately expressed, and that we shall consequently be able to determine their religious opinions with considerable accuracy.
Now that Thales, Pythagoras, Xenophanes, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were all believers in the existence of one supreme, uncreated, eternal God, has been, we think, clearly shown by Cudworth.
[Footnote 183: Vol. i. pp. 491-554.]
In subsequent chapters on "the Philosophers of Athens," we shall enter more fully into the discussion of this question. Meantime we assume that, with few exceptions, the Greek philosophers were "genuine Theists."
The point, however, with which we are now concerned is, that whilst they believed in one supreme, uncreated, eternal God, they at the same time recognized the existence of a plurality of generated deities who owe their existence to the power and will of the Supreme God, and who, as the agents and ministers of His universal providence, preside over different departments of the created universe. They are at once Monotheists and Polytheists—believers in "one God" and "many gods." This is a peculiarity, an anomaly which challenges our attention, and demands an explanation, if we would vindicate for these philosophers a rational Theism.
Now that there can be but one infinite and absolutely perfect Being—one supreme, uncreated, eternal God—is self-evident; therefore a multiplicity of such gods is a contradiction and an impossibility. The early philosophers knew this as well as the modern. The Deity, in order to be Deity, must be one and not many: must be perfect or nothing. If, therefore, we would do justice to these old Greeks, we must inquire what explanations they have offered in regard to "the many gods" of which they speak. We must ascertain whether they regarded these "gods" as created or uncreated beings, dependent or independent, temporal or eternal We must inquire in what sense the term "god" is applied to these lesser divinities,—whether it is not applied in an accommodated and therefore allowable sense, as in the sacred Scriptures it is applied to kings and magistrates, and those who are appointed by God as the teachers and rulers of men. "They are called gods to whom the word of God came." And if it shall be found that all the gods of which they speak, save one, are "generated deities"—dependent beings—creatures and subjects of the one eternal King and Father, and that the name of "god" is applied to them in an accommodated sense, then we have vindicated for the old Greek philosophers a consistent and rational Theism. In what relation, then, do the philosophers place "the gods" to the one Supreme Being?
Thales, one of the most ancient of the Greek philosophers, taught the existence of a plurality of gods, as is evident from that saying of his, preserved by Diogenes Laertius, "The world has life, and is full of gods." At the same time he asserts his belief in one supreme, uncreated Deity; "God is the oldest of all things, because he is unmade, or ungenerated." All the other gods must therefore have been "generated deities," since there is but one unmade God, one only that had "no beginning."
[Footnote 184: See John x. 35.]
[Footnote 185: "Lives," bk. i.; see also Aristotle's "De Anima," bk. i. ch. viii. panta Thion plere.]
[Footnote 186: "Lives," bk. i.]
[Footnote 187: "Lives," bk. i.]
Xenophanes was also an assertor of many gods, and one God; but his one God is unquestionably supreme. "There is one God, the greatest amongst gods and men;" or, "God is one, the greatest amongst gods and men."
Empedocles also believed in one Supreme God, who "is wholly and perfectly mind, ineffable, holy, with rapid and swift-glancing thought pervading the whole world," and from whom all things else are derived,—"all things that are upon the earth, and in the air and water, may be truly called the works of God, who ruleth over the world, out of whom, according to Empedocles, proceed all things, plants, men, beasts, and gods." The minor deities are therefore made by God. It will not be denied that Socrates was a devout and earnest Theist. He taught that "there is a Being whose eye pierces throughout all nature, and whose ear is open to every sound; extending through all time, extended to all places; and whose bounty and care can know no other bounds than those fixed by his own creation." And yet he also recognized the existence of a plurality of gods, and in his last moments expressed his belief that "it is lawful and right to pray to the gods that his departure hence may be happy." We see, however, in his words addressed to Euthydemus, a marked distinction between these subordinate deities and "Him who raised this whole universe, and still upholds the mighty frame, who perfected every part of it in beauty and in goodness, suffering none of these parts to decay through age, but renewing them daily with unfading vigor;... even he, the Supreme God, still holds himself invisible, and it is only in his works that we are capable of admiring him."
[Footnote 188: Clem. Alex., "Stromat." bk. v.]
[Footnote 189: Aristotle, "De Mundo," ch. vi.]
[Footnote 190: Xenophon's "Memorabilia," i. 4.]
[Footnote 191: "Phaedo," Sec. 152.]
[Footnote 192: "Memorabilia," iv. 3.]
It were needless to attempt the proof that Plato believed in one Supreme God, and only one. This one Being is, with him, "the first God;" "the greatest of the gods;" "the God over all;" "the sole Principle of the universe." He is "the Immutable;" "the All-perfect;" "the eternal Being." He is "the Architect of the world; "the Maker of the universe; the Father of gods and men; the sovereign Mind which orders all things, and passes through all things; the sole Monarch and Ruler of the world.
And yet remarkable as these expressions are, sounding, as they do, so like the language of inspiration, there can be no doubt that Plato was also a sincere believer in a plurality of gods, of which, indeed, any one may assure himself by reading the tenth book of "the Laws."
[Footnote 193: See chap. xi.]
[Footnote 194: Some writers have supposed that Plato must have had access through some medium to "the Oracles of God." See Butler, vol. ii. p. 41.]
And, now that we have in Plato the culmination of Grecian speculative thought, we may learn from him the mature and final judgment of the ancients in regard to the gods of pagan mythology. We open the Timaeus, and here we find his views most definitely expressed. After giving an account of the "generation" of the sun, and moon, and planets, which are by him designated as "visible gods," he then proceeds "to speak concerning the other divinities:" "We must on this subject assent to those who in former times have spoken thereon; who were, as they said, the offspring of the gods, and who doubtless were well acquainted with their own ancestors..... Let then the genealogy of the gods be, and be acknowledged to be, that which they deliver. Of Earth and Heaven the children were Oceanus and Tethys; and of these the children were Phorcys, and Kronos, and Rhea, and all that followed these; and from these were born Zeus and Hera, and those who are regarded as brothers and sisters of these, and others their offspring.
"When, then, all the gods were brought into existence, both those which move around in manifest courses [the stars and planets], and those which appear when it pleases them [the mythological deities], the Creator of the Universe thus addressed them: 'Gods, and sons of gods, of whom I am the father and the author, produced by me, ye are indestructible because I will.... Now inasmuch as you have been generated, you are hence not immortal, nor wholly indissoluble; yet you shall never be dissolved nor become subject to the fatality of death, because so I have willed.... Learn, therefore, my commands. Three races of mortals yet remain to be created. Unless these be created, the universe will be imperfect, for it will not contain within it every kind of animal.... In order that these mortal creatures may be, and that this world may be really a cosmos, do you apply yourselves to the creation of animals, imitating the exercises of my power in creating you.'"
[Footnote 195: "Timaeus," ch. xv.]
Here, then, we see that Plato carefully distinguishes between the sole Eternal Author of the universe, on one hand, and the "souls," vital and intelligent, which he attaches to the heavenly orbs, and diffuses through all nature, on the other. These subordinate powers or agents are all created, "generated deities," who owe their continued existence to the will of God; and though intrusted with a sort of deputed creation, and a subsequent direction and government of created things, they are still only the servants and the deputies of the Supreme Creator, and Director, and Ruler of all things. These subordinate agents and ministers employed in the creation and providential government of the world appear, in the estimation of Plato, to have been needed—
1. To satisfy the demands of the popular faith, which presented its facts to be explained no less than those of external nature. Plato had evidently a great veneration for antiquity, a peculiar regard for "tradition venerable through ancient report," and "doctrines hoary with years." He aspired after supernatural light and guidance; he longed for some intercourse with, some communication from, the Deity. And whilst he found many things in the ancient legends which revolted his moral sense, and which his reason rejected, yet the sentiment and the lesson which pervades the whole of Grecian mythology, viz., that the gods are in ceaseless intercourse with the human race, and if men will do right the gods will protect and help them, was one which commended itself to his heart.
[Footnote 196: Ibid., ch. v.]
2. These intermediate agents seem to have been demanded to satisfy the disposition and tendency which has revealed itself in all systems, of interposing some scale of ascent between the material creation and the infinite Creator.
The mechanical theory of the universe has interposed its long series of secondary causes—the qualities, properties, laws, forces of nature; the vital theory which attaches a separate "soul" to the various parts of nature as the cause and intelligent director of its movements. Of these "souls" or gods, there were different orders and degrees—deified men or heroes, aerial, terrestrial, and celestial divinities, ascending from nature up to God. And this tendency to supply some scale of ascent towards the Deity, or at least to people the vast territory which seems to swell between the world and God, finds some countenance in "the angels and archangels," "the thrones, and dominions, and principalities, and powers" of the Christian scriptures.
3. These inferior ministers also seemed to Plato to increase the stately grandeur and imperial majesty of the Divine government. They swell the retinue of the Deity in his grand "circuit through the highest arch of heaven." They wait to execute the Divine commands. They are the agents of Divine providence, "the messengers of God" to men.
[Footnote 197: "The gods of the Platonic system answer, in office and conception, to the angels of Christian Theology."—Butler, vol. i. p. 225.]
[Footnote 198: "Phaedrus," Sec. 56,7.]
4. And, finally, the host of inferior deities interposed between the material sensible world and God seemed to Plato as needful in order to explain the apparent defects and disorders of sublunary affairs. Plato was jealous of the Divine honor. "All good must be ascribed to God, and nothing but good. We must find evil, disorder, suffering, in some other cause." He therefore commits to the junior deities the task of creating animals, and of forming "the mortal part of man," because the mortal part is "possessed of certain dire and necessary passions."
[Footnote 199: "Republic," bk. ii. p.18.]
[Footnote 200: "Timaeus," xliv.]
Aristotle seems to have regarded the popular polytheism of Greece as a perverted relic of a deeper and purer "Theology" which he conceives to have been, in all probability, perfected in the distant past, and then comparatively lost. He says—"The tradition has come down from very ancient times, being left in a mythical garb to succeeding generations, that these (the heavenly bodies) are gods, and that the Divinity encompasses the whole of nature. There have been made, however, to these certain fabulous additions for the purpose of winning the belief of the multitude, and thus securing their obedience to the laws, and their co-operation towards advancing the general welfare of the state. These additions have been to the effect that these gods were of the same form as men, and even that some of them were in appearance similar to certain others amongst the rest of the animal creation. The wise course, however, would be for the philosopher to disengage from these traditions the false element, and to embrace that which is true; and the truth lies in that portion of this ancient doctrine which regards the first and deepest ground of all existence to be the Divine, and this he may regard as a divine utterance. In all probability, every art, and science, and philosophy has been over and over again discovered to the farthest extent possible, and then again lost; and we may conceive these opinions to have been preserved to us as a sort of fragment of these lost philosophers. We see, then, to some extent the relation of the popular belief to these ancient opinions." This conception of a deep Divine ground of all existence (for the immateriality and unity of which he elsewhere earnestly contends) is thus regarded by Aristotle as underlying the popular polytheism of Greece.
[Footnote 201: "Metaph.," xi. 8.]
[Footnote 202: Bk. xi. ch. ii. Sec. 4.]
The views of the educated and philosophic mind of Greece in regard to the mythological deities may, in conclusion, be thus briefly stated—
I. They are all created beings—"GENERATED DEITIES," who are dependent on, and subject to, the will of one supreme God.
II. They are the AGENTS employed by God in the creation of, at least some parts of, the universe, and in the movement and direction of the entire cosmos; and they are also the MINISTERS and MESSENGERS of that universal providence which he exercises over the human race.
These subordinate deities are, 1. the greater parts of the visible mundane system animated by intelligent souls, and called "sensible gods"—the sun, the moon, the stars, and even the earth itself, and known by the names Helios, Selena, Kronos, Hermes, etc.
2. Some are invisible powers, having peculiar offices and functions and presiding over special places provinces and departments of the universe;—one ruling in the heavens (Zeus), another in the air (Juno), another in the sea (Neptune), another in the subterranean regions (Pluto); one god presiding over learning and wisdom (Minerva), another over poetry, music, and religion (Apollo), another over justice and political order (Themis), another over war (Mars), another over corn (Ceres), and another the vine (Bacchus).
3. Others, again, are ethereal and aerial beings, who have the guardianship of individual persons and things, and are called demons, genii, and lares; superior indeed to men, but inferior to the gods above named.
"Wherefore, since there were no other gods among the Pagans besides those above enumerated, unless their images, statues, and symbols should be accounted such (because they were also sometimes abusively called 'gods'), which could not be supposed by them to have been unmade or without beginning, they being the workmanship of their own hands, we conclude, universally, that all that multiplicity of Pagan gods which make so great a show and noise was really either nothing but several names and notions of one supreme Deity, according to his different manifestations, gifts, and effects upon the world personated, or else many inferior understanding beings, generated or created by one supreme: so that one unmade, self-existent Deity, and no more, was acknowledged by the more intelligent Pagans, and, consequently, the Pagan Polytheism (or idolatry) consisted not in worshipping a multiplicity of unmade minds, deities, and creators, self-existent from eternity, and independent upon one Supreme, but in mingling and blending some way or other, unduly, creature-worship with the worship of the Creator."
[Footnote 203: Cudworth, "Intellectual System," vol. i. p. 311.]
That the heathen regard the one Supreme Being as the first and chief object of worship is evident from the apologies which they offered for worshipping, besides Him, many inferior divinities.
1. They claimed to worship them only as inferior beings, and that therefore they were not guilty of giving them that honor which belonged to the Supreme. They claimed to worship the supreme God incomparably above all. 2. That this honor which is bestowed upon the inferior divinities does ultimately redound to the supreme God, and aggrandize his state and majesty, they being all his ministers and attendants. 3. That as demons are mediators between the celestial gods and men, so those celestial gods are also mediators between men and the supreme God, and, as it were, convenient steps by which we ought with reverence to approach him. 4. That demons or angels being appointed to preside over kingdoms, cities, and persons, and being many ways benefactors to us, thanks ought to be returned to them by sacrifice. 5. Lastly, that it can not be thought that the Supreme Being will envy those inferior beings that worship or honor which is bestowed upon them; nor suspect that any of these inferior deities will factiously go about to set up themselves against the Supreme God.
The Pagans, furthermore, apologized for worshipping God in images, statues, and symbols, on the ground that these were only schetically worshipped by them, the honor passing from them to the prototype. And since we live in bodies, and can scarcely, conceive of any thing without having some image or phantasm, we may therefore be indulged in this infirmity of human nature (at least in the vulgar) to worship God under a corporeal image, as a means of preventing men from falling into Atheism.
To the Christian conscience the above reasons assigned furnish no real justification of Polytheism and Idolatry; but they are certainly a tacit confession of their belief in the one Supreme God, and their conviction that, notwithstanding their idolatry, He only ought to be worshipped. The heathen polytheists are therefore justly condemned in Scripture, and pronounced to be "inexcusable." They had the knowledge of the true God—" they knew God" and yet "they glorified him not as God." "They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into a likeness of corruptible man." And, finally, they ended in "worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator."
[Footnote 204: Romans i. 21, 25.]
It can not, then, with justice be denied that the Athenians had some knowledge of the true God, and some just and worthy conceptions of his character. It is equally certain that a powerful and influential religious sentiment pervaded the Athenian mind. Their extreme "carefulness in religion" must be conceded by us, and, in some sense, commended by us, as it was by Paul in his address on Mars' Hill. At the same time it must also be admitted and deplored that the purer theology of primitive times was corrupted by offensive legends, and encrusted by polluting myths, though not utterly defaced. The Homeric gods were for the most part idealized, human personalities, with all the passions and weaknesses of humanity. They had their favorites and their enemies; sometimes they fought in one camp, sometimes in another. They were susceptible of hatred, jealousy, sensual passion. It would be strange indeed if their worshippers were not like unto them. The conduct of the Homeric heroes was, however, better than their creed. And there is this strange incongruity and inconsistency in the conduct of the Homeric gods,—they punish mortals for crimes of which they themselves are guilty, and reward virtues in men which they do not themselves always practise. "They punish with especial severity social and political crimes, such as perjury (Iliad, iii. 279), oppression of the poor (Od. xvii. 475), and unjust judgment in courts of justice (Iliad, xvi. 386)." Jupiter is the god of justice, and of the domestic hearth; he is the protector of the exile, the avenger of the poor, and the vigilant guardian of hospitality. "And with all the imperfections of society, government, and religion, the poem presents a remarkable picture of primitive simplicity, chastity, justice, and practical piety, under the three-fold influence of moral feeling, mutual respect, and fear of the divine displeasure; such, at least, are the motives to which Telemachus makes his appeal when he endeavors to rouse the assembled people of Ithaca to the performance of their duty (Od. ii. 64)."
[Footnote 205: "There was always a double current of religious ideas in Greece; one spiritualist, the other tainted with impure legends."—Pressense.]
[Footnote 206: Tyler, "Theology of Greek Poets," pp. 167, 168; Pressense, "Religion before Christ," p. 77.]
The influence of the religious dramas of AEschylus and Sophocles on the Athenian mind must not be overlooked. No writer of pagan antiquity made the voice of conscience speak with the same power and authority that AEschylus did. "Crime," he says, "never dies without posterity." "Blood that has been shed congeals on the ground, crying out for an avenger." The old poet made himself the echo of what he called "the lyreless hymn of the Furies," who, with him, represented severe Justice striking the guilty when his hour comes, and giving warning beforehand by the terrors which haunt him. His dramas are characterized by deep religious feeling. Reverence for the gods, the recognition of an inflexible moral order, resignation to the decisions of Heaven, an abiding presentiment of a future state of reward and punishment, are strikingly predominant.
Whilst AEschylus reveals to us the sombre, terror-stricken side of conscience, Sophocles shows us the divine and luminous side. No one has ever spoken with nobler eloquence than he of moral obligation—of this immortal, inflexible law, in which dwells a God that never grows old—
"Oh be the lot forever mine Unsullied to maintain, In act and word, with awe divine, What potent laws ordain.
"Laws spring from purer realms above: Their father is the Olympian Jove. Ne'er shall oblivion veil their front sublime, Th' indwelling god is great, nor fears the wastes of time."
The religious inspiration that animates Sophocles breaks out with incomparable beauty in the last words of oedipus, when the old banished king sees through the darkness of death a mysterious light dawn, which illumines his blind eyes, and which brings to him the assurance of a blessed immortality.
[Footnote 207: "oedipus Tyran.," pp. 863-872.]
[Footnote 208: Pressense, "Religion before Christ," pp. 85-87.]
Such a theology could not have been utterly powerless. The influence of truth, in every measure and degree, must be salutary, and especially of truth in relation to God, to duty, and to immortality. The religion of the Athenians must have had some wholesome and conserving influence of the social and political life of Athens. Those who resign the government of this lower world almost exclusively to Satan, may see, in the religion of the Greeks, a simple creation of Satanic powers. But he who believes that the entire progress of humanity has been under the control and direction of a benignant Providence, must suppose that, in the purposes of God, even Ethnicism has fulfilled some end, or it would not have been permitted to live. God has "never left himself without a witness" in any nation under heaven. And some preparatory office has been fulfilled by Heathenism which, at least, repealed the want, and prepared the mind for, the advent of Christianity.
[Footnote 209: The practice, so common with some theological writers, of drawing dark pictures of heathenism, in which not one luminous spot is visible, in order to exalt the revelations given to the Jews, is exceedingly unfortunate, and highly reprehensible. It is unfortunate, because the skeptical scholar knows that there were some elements of truth and excellence, and even of grandeur, in the religion and civilization of the republics of Greece and Rome; and it is reprehensible, because it is a one-sided and unjust procedure, in so far as it withholds part of the truth. This species of argument is a two-edged sword which cuts both ways. The prevalence of murder, and slavery, and treachery, and polygamy, in Greece and Rome, is no more a proof that "the religions of the pagan nations were destructive of morality" (Watson, vol. i. p. 59), than the polygamy of the Hebrews, the falsehoods and impositions of Mediaeval Christianity, the persecutions and martyrdoms of Catholic Christianity, the oppressions and wrongs of Christian England, and the slavery of Protestant America, are proofs that the Christian religion is "destructive of morality." What a fearful picture of the history of Christian nations might be drawn to-day, if all the lines of light, and goodness, and charity were left out, and the crimes, and wrongs, and cruelties of the Christian nations were alone exhibited!
How much more convincing a proof of the truth of Christianity to find in the religions of the ancient world a latent sympathy with, and an unconscious preparation for, the religion of Christ. "The history of religions of human origin is the most striking evidence of the agreement of revealed religion with the soul of man—for each of these forms of worship is the expression of the wants of conscience, its eternal thirst for pardon and restoration—rather let us say, its thirst for God."—Pressense, p. 6.]
The religion of the Athenians was unable to deliver them from the guilt of sin, redeem them from its power, and make them pure and holy. It gave the Athenian no victory over himself, and, practically, brought him no nearer to the living God. But it awakened and educated the conscience, it developed more fully the sense of sin and guilt, and it made man conscious of his inability to save himself from sin and guilt; and "the day that humanity awakens to the want of something more than mere embellishment and culture, that day it feels the need of being saved and restored from the consequences of sin" by a higher power. AEsthetic taste had found its fullest gratification in Athens; poetry, sculpture, architecture, had been carried to the highest perfection; a noble civilization had been reached; but "the need of something deeper and truer was written on the very stones." The highest consummation of Paganism was an altar to "the unknown God," the knowledge of whom it needed, as the source of purity and peace.
The strength and the weakness of Grecian mythology consisted in the contradictory character of its divinities. It was a strange blending of the natural and the supernatural, the human and the divine. Zeus, the eternal Father,—the immortal King, whose will is sovereign, and whose power is invincible,—the All-seeing Jove, has some of the weaknesses and passions of humanity. God and man are thus, in some mysterious way, united. And here that deepest longing of the human heart is met—the unconquerable desire to bring God nearer to the human apprehension, and closer to the human heart. Hence the hold which Polytheism had upon the Grecian mind. But in this human aspect was also found its weakness, for when philosophic thought is brought into contact with, and permitted critically to test mythology, it dethrones the false gods. The age of spontaneous religious sentiment must necessarily be succeeded by the age of reflective thought. Popular theological faiths must be placed in the hot crucible of dialectic analysis, that the false and the frivolous may be separated from the pure and the true. The reason of man demands to be satisfied, as well as the heart. Faith in God must have a logical basis, it must be grounded on demonstration and proof. Or, at any rate, the question must be answered, whether God is cognizable by human reason? If this can be achieved, then a deeper foundation is laid in the mind of humanity, upon which Christianity can rear its higher and nobler truths.
THE UNKNOWN GOD.
"As I passed by, and beheld your sacred objects, I found an altar with this inscription, To the Unknown God."—ST. PAUL.
"That which can be known of God is manifested in their hearts, God himself having shown it to them" [the heathen nations].—ST. PAUL.
Having now reached our first landing-place, from whence we may survey the fields that we have traversed, it may be well to set down in definite propositions the results we have attained. We may then carry them forward, as torches, to illuminate the path of future and still profounder inquiries.
The principles we have assumed as the only adequate and legitimate interpretation of the facts of religious history, and which an extended study of the most fully-developed religious system of the ancient world confirms, may be thus announced:
I. A religious nature and destination appertain to man, so that the purposes of his existence and the perfection of his being can only be secured in and through religion.
II. The idea of God as the unconditioned Cause, the infinite Mind, the personal Lord and Lawgiver, and the consciousness of dependence upon and obligation to God, are the fundamental principles of all religion.
III. Inasmuch as man is a religious being, the instincts and emotions of his nature constraining him to worship, there must also be implanted in his rational nature some original a priori ideas or laws of thought which furnish the necessary cognition of the object of worship; that is, some native, spontaneous cognition of God.
A mere blind impulse would not be adequate to guide man to the true end and perfection of his being without rational ideas; a tendency or appetency, without a revealed object, would be the mockery and misery of his nature—an "ignis fatuus" perpetually alluring and forever deceiving man.
That man has a native, spontaneous apperception of a God, in the true import of that sacred name, has been denied by men of totally opposite schools and tendencies of thought—by the Idealist and the Materialist; by the Theologian and the Atheist. Though differing essentially in their general principles and method, they are agreed in asserting that God is absolutely "the unknown;" and that, so far as reason and logic are concerned, man can not attain to any knowledge of the first principles and causes of the universe, and, consequently, can not determine whether the first principle or principles be intelligent or unintelligent, personal or impersonal, finite or infinite, one or many righteous or non-righteous, evil or good.
The various opponents of the doctrine that God can be cognized by human reason may be classified as follows: I. Those who assert that all human knowledge is necessarily confined to the observation and classification of phenomena in their orders of co-existence, succession, and resemblance. Man has no faculty for cognizing substances, causes, forces, reasons, first principles—no power by which he can know God. This class may be again subdivided into—
1. Those who limit all knowledge to the observation and classification of mental phenomena (e. g., Idealists like J. S. Mill).
2. Those who limit all knowledge to the observation and classification of material phenomena (e. g., Materialists like Comte).
II. The second class comprises all who admit that philosophic knowledge is the knowledge of effects as dependent on causes, and of qualities as inherent in substances; but at the same time assert that "all knowledge is of the phenomenal." Philosophy can never attain to a positive knowledge of the First Cause. Of existence, absolutely and in itself, we know nothing. The infinite can not by us be comprehended, conceived, or thought. Faith is the organ by which we apprehend what is beyond knowledge. We believe in the existence of God, but we can not know God. This class, also, may be again subdivided into—
1. Those who affirm that our idea of the Infinite First Cause is grounded on an intuitional or subjective faith, necessitated by an "impotence of thought"—that is, by a mental inability to conceive an absolute limitation or an infinite illimitation, an absolute commencement or an infinite non-commencement. Both contradictory opposites are equally incomprehensible and inconceivable to us; and yet, though unable to view either as possible, we are forced by a higher law—the "Law of Excluded Middle"—to admit that one, and only one, is necessary (e. g., Hamilton and Mansel).
2. Those who assert that our idea of God rests solely on an historical or objective faith in testimony—the testimony of Scripture, which assures us that, in the course of history, God has manifested his existence in an objective manner to the senses, and given verbal communications of his character and will to men; human reason being utterly incapacitated by the fall, and the consequent depravity of man, to attain any knowledge of the unity, spirituality, and righteousness of God (e. g., Watson, and Dogmatic Theologians generally).
It will thus be manifest that the great question, the central and vital question which demands a thorough and searching consideration, is the following, to wit: Is God cognizable by human reason? Can man attain to a positive cognition of God—can he know God; or is all our supposed knowledge "a learned ignorance," an unreasoning faith? We venture to answer this question in the affirmative. Human reason is now adequate to the cognition of God; it is able, with the fullest confidence, to affirm the being of a God, and, in some degree, to determine his character. The parties and schools above referred to answer this question in the negative form. Whether Theologians or Atheists, they are singularly agreed in denying to human reason all possibility of knowing God.
[Footnote 210: Hamilton's "Philosophy," p. 512.]
Before entering upon the discussion of the negative positions enumerated in the above classification, it may be important we should state our own position explicitly, and exhibit what we regard as the true doctrine of the genesis of the idea of God in the human intelligence. The real question at issue will then stand out in clear relief, and precision will be given to the entire discussion.
(i.) We hold that the idea of God is a common phenomenon of the universal human intelligence. It is found in all minds where reason has had its normal and healthy development; and no race of men has ever been found utterly destitute of the idea of God. The proof of this position has already been furnished in chap, ii., and needs not be re-stated here. We have simply to remark that the appeal which is made by Locke and others of the sensational school to the experiences of infants, idiots, the deaf and dumb, or, indeed, any cases wherein the proper conditions for the normal development of reason are wanting, are utterly irrelevant to the question. The acorn contains within itself the rudimental germ of the future oak, but its mature and perfect development depends on the exterior conditions of moisture, light, and heat. By these exterior conditions it may be rendered luxuriant in its growth, or it may be stunted in its growth. It may barely exist under one class of conditions; it may be distorted and perverted, or it may perish utterly under another. And so in the idiotic mind the ideas of reason may be wanting, or they may be imprisoned by impervious walls of cerebral malformation. In the infant mind the development of reason is yet in an incipient stage. The idea of God is immanent to the infant thought, but the infant thought is not yet matured. The deaf and dumb are certainly not in that full and normal correlation to the world of sense which is a necessary condition of the development of reason. Language, the great vehiculum and instrument of thought, is wanting, and reason can not develop itself without words. "Words without thought are dead sounds, thoughts without words are nothing. The word is the thought incarnate." Under proper and normal conditions, the idea of God is the natural and necessary form in which human thought must be developed. And, with these explanations, we repeat our affirmation that the idea of God is a common phenomenon of the universal human intelligence.
[Footnote 211: Pp. 89,90.]
[Footnote 212: Mueller, "Science of Language," p. 384.]
(ii.) We do not hold that the idea of God, in its completeness, is a simple, direct, and immediate intuition of the reason alone, independent of all experience, and all knowledge of the external world. The idea of God is a complex idea, and not a simple idea. The affirmation, "God exists," is a synthetic and primitive judgment spontaneously developed in the mind, and developed, too, independent of all reflective reasoning. It is a necessary deduction from the facts of the outer world of nature and the primary intuitions of the inner world of reason—a logical deduction from the self-evident truths given in sense, consciousness, and reason. "We do not perceive God, but we conceive Him upon the faith of this admirable world exposed to view, and upon the other world, more admirable still, which we bear in ourselves." Therefore we do not say that man is born with an "innate idea" of God, nor with the definite proposition, "there is a God," written upon his soul; but we do say that the mind is pregnant with certain natural principles, and governed, in its development, by certain necessary laws of thought, which determine it, by a spontaneous logic, to affirm the being of a God; and, furthermore, that this judgment may be called innate in the sense, that it is the primitive, universal, and necessary development of the human understanding which "is innate to itself and equal to itself in all men."
[Footnote 213: Cousin, "True, Beautiful and Good," p.102.]
[Footnote 214: Leibnitz.]
As the vital and rudimentary germ of the oak is contained in the acorn; as it is quickened and excited to activity by the external conditions of moisture, light, and heat, and is fully de developed under the fixed and determinative laws of vegetable life—so the germs of the idea of God are present in the human mind as the intuitions of pure reason (Rational Psychology); these intuitions are excited to energy by our experiential and historical knowledge of the facts and laws of the universe (Phenomenology); and these facts and intuitions are developed into form by the necessary laws of the intellect (Nomology, or Primordial Logic).
The logical demonstration of the being of God commences with the analysis of thought. It asks, What are the ideas which exist in the human intelligence? What are their actual characteristics, and what their primitive characteristics? What is their origin, and what their validity? Having, by this process, found that some of our ideas are subjective, and some objective that some are derived from experience, and that some can not be derived from experience, but are inherent in the very constitution of the mind itself, as a priori ideas of reason; that these are characterized as self-evident, universal, and necessary and that, as laws of thought, they govern the mind in all its conceptions of the universe; it has formulated these necessary judgments, and presented them as distinct and articulate propositions. These a priori, necessary judgments constitute the major premise of the Theistic syllogism, and, in view of the facts of the universe, necessitate the affirmation of the existence of a God as the only valid explanation of the facts.
The natural or chronological order in which the idea of God is developed in the human intelligence, is the reverse process of the scientific or logical order, in which the demonstration of the being of God is presented by philosophy; the latter is reflective and analytic, the former is spontaneous and synthetic. The natural order commences with the knowledge of the facts of the universe, material and mental, as revealed by sensation and experience. In presence of these facts of the universe, the a priori ideas of power, cause, reason, and end are evoked into consciousness with greater or less distinctness; and the judgment, by a natural and spontaneous logic, free from all reflection, and consequently from all possibility of error, affirms a necessary relation between the facts of experience and the a priori ideas of the reason. The result of this involuntary and almost unconscious process of thought is that natural cognition of a God found, with greater or less clearness and definiteness, in all rational minds. The a posteriori, or empirical knowledge of the phenomena of the universe, in their relations to time and space, constitute the minor premise of the Theistic syllogism.
The Theistic argument is, therefore, necessarily composed of both experiential and a priori elements. An a posteriori element exists as a condition of the logical demonstration The rational a priori element is, however, the logical basis, the only valid foundation of the Theistic demonstration. The facts of the universe alone would never lead man to the recognition of a God, if the reason, in presence of these facts, did not enounce certain necessary and universal principles which are the logical antecedents, and adequate explanation of the facts. Of what use would it be to point to the events and changes of the material universe as proofs of the existence of a First Cause, unless we take account of the universal and necessary truth that "every change must have an efficient cause;" that all phenomena are an indication of power; and that "there is an ultimate and sufficient reason why all things exist, and are as they are, and not otherwise." There would be no logical force in enumerating the facts of order and special adaptation which literally crowd the universe, as proofs of the existence of an Intelligent Creator, if the mind did not affirm the necessary principle that "facts of order, having a commencement in time, suppose mind as their source and exponent." There is no logical conclusiveness in the assertion of Paley, "that experience teaches us that a designer must be a person," because, as Hume justly remarks, our "experience" is narrowed down to a mere point, "and can not be a rule for a universe;" but there is an infinitude of force in that dictum of reason, that "intelligence, self-consciousness, and self-determination necessarily constitute personality." A multiplicity of different effects, of which experience does not always reveal the connection, would not conduct to a single cause and to one God, but rather to a plurality of causes and a plurality of gods, did not reason teach us that "all plurality implies an ultimate indivisible unity," and therefore there must be a First Cause of all causes, a First Principle of all principles, the Substance of all substances, the Being of all beings—a God "of whom, in whom, and to whom are all things" (panta ek tou Theou, en to Theo eis ton Theon).
The conclusion, therefore, is, that, as the idea of God is a complex idea, so there are necessarily a number of simple a priori principles, and a variety of experiential facts conspiring to its development in the human intelligence.
(iii.) The universe presents to the human mind an aggregation and history of phenomena which demands the idea of a God—a self-existent, intelligent, personal, righteous First Cause—as its adequate explanation.
The attempt of Positivism to confine all human knowledge to the observation and classification of phenomena, and arrest and foreclose all inquiry as to causes, efficient, final, and ultimate, is simply futile and absurd. It were just as easy to arrest the course of the sun in mid-heaven as to prevent the human mind from seeking to pass beyond phenomena, and ascertain the ground, and reason, and cause of all phenomena. The history of speculative thought clearly attests that, in all ages, the inquiry after the Ultimate Cause and Reason of all existence—the arche, or First Principle of all things—has been the inevitable and necessary tendency of the human mind; to resist which, skepticism and positivism have been utterly impotent. The first philosophers, of the Ionian school, had just as strong a faith in the existence of a Supreme Reality—an Ultimate Cause—as Leibnitz and Cousin. But when, by reflective thought, they attempted to render an account to themselves of this instinctive faith, they imagined that its object must be in some way appreciable to sense, and they sought it in some physical element, or under some visible and tangible shrine. Still, however imperfect and inadequate the method, and however unsatisfactory the results, humanity has never lost its positive and ineradicable confidence that the problem of existence could be solved. The resistless tide of spontaneous and necessary thought has always borne the race onward towards the recognition of a great First Cause; and though philosophy may have erred, again and again, in tracing the logical order of this inevitable thought, and exhibiting the necessary nexus between the premises and conclusion, yet the human mind has never wavered in the confidence which it has reposed in the natural logic of thought, and man has never ceased to believe in a God.
We readily grant that all our empirical knowledge is confined to phenomena in their orders of co-existence, succession, and resemblance. "To our objective perception and comparison nothing is given but qualities and changes; to our inductive generalization nothing but the shifting and grouping of these in time and space." Were it, however, our immediate concern to discuss the question, we could easily show that sensationalism has never succeeded in tracing the genetic origin of our ideas of space and time to observation and experience; and, without the a priori idea of space, as the place of bodies, and of time, as the condition of succession, we can not conceive of phenomena at all. If, therefore, we know any thing beyond phenomena and their mutual relations; if we have any cognition of realities underlying phenomena, and of the relations of phenomena to their objective ground, it must be given by some faculty distinct from sense-perception, and in some process distinct from inductive generalization. The knowledge of real Being and real Power, of an ultimate Reason and a personal Will, is derived from the apperception of pure reason, which affirms the necessary existence of a Supreme Reality—an Uncreated Being beyond all phenomena, which is the ground and reason of the existence—the contemporaneousness and succession—the likeness and unlikeness, of all phenomena.
The immediate presentation of phenomena to sensation is the occasion of the development in consciousness of these a priori ideas of reason: the possession of these ideas or the immanence of these ideas, in the human intellect, constitutes the original power to know external phenomena. The ideas of space, time, power, law, reason, and end, are the logical antecedents of the ideas of body, succession, event, consecution, order, and adaptation. The latter can not be conceived as distinct notions without the former. The former will not be revealed in thought without the presentation to sense, of resistance, movement, change, uniformity, etc. All actual knowledge must, therefore, be impure; that is, it must involve both a priori and a posteriori elements; and between these elements there must be a necessary relation.