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only conjectures to offer; they were hopelessly divided among themselves on this great question.
Some, like Aristotle, taught that the world even in its present form is eternal.
Others, with Plato, approached nearer to the truth by saying that the world as it now exists was formed by God from eternally existing chaos.1
Others, with Democritus and Lucretius, imagined that the world was gradually and accidentally formed from imperceptible atoms which had been eternally floating in space, and that life was due to spontaneous generation.2
Porphyrius, with other Pantheists, asserted that the universe was an emanation from the Divinity.
The heathen world was as ignorant of man's origin and destiny, as it was of the origin of the works of creation. Man, "know thyself," was the precept of the great Pagan philosopher. But this admonition was more easily given than executed. He knew not whence he came or whither he was going. Man was to himself a profound mystery, which no human philosophy could fathom. He knew only that he was in a state of transition, considering himself the sport of the gods, or driven hither and thither by stern fate, or by chance, or by the influence of the planets.3
But the past and the future for him were envel
1 Tim., pp. 27, et seq.
2 The Gentile and the Jew, Vol. I., p. 266; Hist. of European Morals, Vol. II., p. 163.
Tacitus, Hist. I., 22.
oped in impenetrable darkness. When Edwin, King of Northumbria, England, had, in 627, resolved to become a Christian, he convoked an assembly of his principal counsellors, or Thanes, and required them to state their sentiments on the subject of religion. One of them addressed the king in the following speech: "Often, O king, in the depth of winter, while you are feasting with your Thanes and the fire is blazing on the hearth, you have seen a sparrow pelted by the storm enter one door and escape by the other. During its passage it was visible, but whence it came or whither it went, you knew not. Such seems to me to be the life of man. He walks the earth for a few years; but what precedes his birth, or what is to follow after death, he cannot tell. Undoubtedly, if the new religion can unfold these important secrets, it must be worthy of your attention, and it ought to be followed." This quaint and homely speech strikingly reveals the blindness of the Gentile world regarding the origin and destiny of the human race.
It is no wonder that the Pagans took a gloomy view of life, since they were without God in this world and the hope of Him in the world to come. Their poets, philosophers, and historians proclaimed that man is, of all creatures, the most wretched and unhappy. These maxims were often on their lips : "Not to have been born, were best; the earliest possible death was the next best."2 "They whom the
1Bede, B. II., C. 13. Lactan., III., 18, 19.
gods love, die early." This was said, not in the Christian sense, that they might enter soon into their reward; but that they might cease to suffer by ceasing to exist.
And as their belief in a life to come, with its hopes of future rewards and dread of punishments, was dim and obscure because unaided by revelation, they made the most of their time by plunging into every excess of sensual enjoyment, and by trying to forget their misery in a continued round of intoxicating pleasures. Their philosophy of life was expressed in this brief sentence: "Let us eat and drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die."
And when the cup of pleasure had been emptied to the dregs, they often took refuge in suicide as releasing them from a life no longer endurable. Suicide is, unfortunately, too frequently committed in our own day by men that have emancipated themselves from religious restraint. If self-destruction is so common with us in the face of an enlightened and Christian public opinion, which reprobates it not only as a crime against God and society, but also as an act of moral cowardice, how wide-spread must have been the habit in antiquity, when many of its philosophers and moralists, such as Marcus Aurelius and Pliny,1 not only declared it to be a lawful deed as a release from mental and physical sufferings, but even enthusiastically applauded it as an heroic act of virtue; and many others, such as Cato and Seneca,
Zeno and Cleanthes,' practised what they preached by voluntarily putting an end to their own life.
Some philosophers there were, indeed, who like Plato, Cicero, and Plutarch, had a clearer insight into a future state; but their voice was drowned amid the wail of despair that echoed everywhere around them.
"Since therefore," as Gibbon observes, "the most sublime efforts of philosophy can extend no farther than feebly to point out the desire, the hope, or at most, the probability of a future state, there is nothing except a divine revelation that can ascertain the existence, and describe the condition of the invisible country which is destined to receive the souls of men after their separation from the body."
1 Plutarch, adv. Stoic, p. 1063.
2 Decline and Fall, Chap. XV.
ORIGIN AND DESTINY OF MAN AS VIEWED BY MODERN UNBELIEF.1
Modern scientists, as soon as they close their eyes to the light of Revelation, wander into the most bewildering mazes regarding our common origin. Darwin, Huxley, and Haeckel are the standard-bearers of the modern school of evolutionists. According to their theory, you and I must claim as our primeval father the ape, the monkey, or the gorilla. Our ancestors were dumb beasts. They could speak no articulate tongue. They were without reason, without conscience, without a soul. They had no idea of right and wrong or moral duty. They had no moral freedom, no notion of virtue or vice, of honor or shame.
Mr. Samuel Wainwright exposes the groundlessness of this theory in the following words: "The theory of man's ape-descent is perfect, but it is in the air. It lacks but one thing to give it relevance, and that one thing is reality. Like the 'Chateaux en Espagne,' it exists only in the interested imagination of the pretender. Du Bois Reymond has
1 See Cardinal Mazella's Treatise, De Deo Creante, De Hominis Origine.