Page images
PDF
EPUB

a sentiment or an idea, which sometimes crawls in the dust, and is sometimes lost in the clouds.” 1

We may therefore conclude that unlike Christianity, Mohammedanismi furnishes no evidence of a divine origin or mission in its rapid diffusion, the number of its votaries, or its long duration. These are reasonably accounted for when we consider that it was enforced by the sword, exacts no sacrifice and denies to natural appetite no indulgence.

[ocr errors]

Ibid., V. V.I, p312.

CHAPTER XVIII.

PAGAN SYSTEM OF WORSHIP. ORIGIN AND DESTINY OF MAN AS VIEWED BY

PAGAN PHILOSOPHY.

Let us imagine ourselves standing on one of Rome's seven hills during the Empire, and let us contemplate in spirit that immense capital teeming with a promiscuous population of about two millions of inhabitants gathered together from every part of the world. We behold at our feet the city dotted with its idolatrous temples, and the public squares and edifices adorned with idols erected to false gods. We see the people paying divine worship to every being in heaven above, on the earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth, excepting to God alone, to whom alone is divine homage due. They worshipped the sun, moon, and stars of heaven. Every sea and river, every grove and forest, every avocation and function of life had its tutelary gods; even every passion and vice was deified. Drunkenness and lust, war and theft, had their patronal divinities. In the words of 18

273

St. Paul to the Romans themselves, they “ changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and of four-footed beasts, and of creeping things . . . and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” I

What I say of Rome must be applied to the Empire also; and what I say of the Empire can be affirmed of the whole world, Palestine excepted. And what is still more remarkable, the most enlightened nations, such as those of Chaldea, Egypt, Phoenicia, and Greece were the most profoundly darkened in regard to religious truth, a fact that conclusively demonstrates man's moral inability to arrive, by his own power, at the knowledge of this truth, and the consequent necessity of a divine revelation.?

a

Rom. I., 23, 25.

2 The truth of this assertion is clearly stated by the Vatican Council: “The same Holy Mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the beginning and the end of all things, can be known for a certainty from created things by the natural light of human reason; ... that it pleased His divine wisdom and goodness, however, to reveal to the human race Himself and the eternal decrees in a supernatural manner. ...

“It is entirely owing to this divine revelation that, even in the present condition of the human race, a knowledge of the things of God, which of themselves are not beyond the reach of human reason, can be acquired easily and without any admixture of doubt or error. It is not for this reason, however, that Revelation is absolutely necessary; but because God, in His infinite goodness, has destined man for a supernatural end, that is, for a participation in those divine blessings that surpass all human understanding." Sess. III., ch. II.

The sanguinary rites of the Gentile world were in keeping with their degraded idea of the Divinity. The practice of immolating human victims prevailed not only in Arabia, Carthage, and Tyre, and in the Druidical worship of Gaul and Britain ; but among the Pagan nations generally, even in more enlightened Greece and Rome. Boys and maidens, young men and old, were sacrificed, according as the custom of the place demanded. These sacrifices were offered up chiefly in fulfilment of vows, or to propitiate the gods in time of danger, or in thanksgiving for victories achieved. When Carthage was besieged by Agathocles, fathers moved by paternal instinct immolated to Moloch strange children instead of their own, as they were required to do. To appease the gods, when the deceit was discovered, two hundred of the noblest children were voluntarily offered in sacrifice by their parents.

Instead of invoking the living God and confiding in an overruling Providence, the Pagan nations had recourse to lying oracles and soothsayers, to divination, astrology, and the interpretation of dreams, in order to ascertain their destiny, or to propitiate their passionate and whimsical divinities.

It is true, indeed, that many ancient philosophers, guided by the light of reason, believed in one Supreme God, and ridiculed the host of divinities that were the objects of popular worship. But they were vague and contradictory in their declarations

2

1 The Gentile and the Jew, Döllinger. Diod., XX., 14,

1

which never have the clear ring of the Christian Credo. They had not the courage of their convictions, and they feared to run counter to the prevailing belief. They often invoked in their public speeches the gods whom they repudiated in their philosophical writings. And even if they had the will, they could not have succeeded in stemming the widespread torrent of superstition.

Cicero in his orations frequently appeals to the “immortal gods,” and expresses himself strongly in favor of the existing system of religion, as in harmony with public sentiment.

Socrates gave as a maxim that every one must follow the prevailing religion of his country ;and he disavowed the charge of denying the gods whom the people adored. 3

Plato, his disciple, says that it would be senseless to change the established religion of the State, and he lays down the order in which the various gods are, to be worshipped. He condemns the violation of their sanctuaries, upholds their festivals, and declares it most honorable to offer them sacrifice.

Aristotle believes in one God, but denies His providential supervision of human affairs.

Confused and contradictory in their teachings concerning God, have the Pagan philosophers thrown more light on the origin of the world? They had no knowledge to impart on the subject. They had

5

1 De Leg., III., 12.

4 De Leg. 2 Xen. Memor., L. I. 5 The Gentile and the Jew. 3 Apol. Socrat. apud Plat, et Xenoph,

« EelmineJätka »