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Horace has been justly admired for the grandeur of his
language, when celebrating the praises of Jupiter.§
"Claims not the eternal Sire his wonted praise?
In the fourth Ode of the third book, there is a passage, strikingly adapted to our present purpose. Speaking of Jupiter,
O'er gods and mortals, o'er the dreary plains,
And shadowy ghosts supremely just he reigns.
With thunders headlong rage, the fierce Titanian brood;
Unnumbered, on their sinew force relied;
And shook the throne of Jove, and made the thunderer fear."
Here, you perceive, that this Jupiter, to whom the poet ascribes omnipotence, is thrown into consternation by an insurrection among his subalterns.
From these quotations it may be judged, whether, if the ancient pagans held opinions in religion conformable to the doctrine of the poets, they could have entertained any just views of the divine supremacy and independence.
It has been further said, that the various heathen deities were nothing but names, or notions of the Supreme God, according to his various powers and manifestations; it being thought fit, that those different glories and perfections of the Deity should not be crowded together in one general acknowledgment of an invisible being, the Maker of the world: but that each of these perfections should be severally and distinctly displayed.
Now if this representation were true, how should there ever happen discord among the gods? If Jupiter only signi fies the Supreme power, as exerted in heaven. and Neptune the same power exerted in earth, how could one join in a
§ Od. I. 12.
Cudw. In. Sys. 268.
Priestly's Inst. of Moses. 78.
conspiracy for dethroning the other? The power of God in one part of the Universe cannot be hostile to the same power in another part of it. Yet we are told by the poets, that Neptune took part in a rebellion, the object of which was to seize on the empire of Jove.
Further, the opinion, now under consideration, seems little consistent with the personality, so distinctly attributed by the poets to the heathen gods. Their temples and worship were altogether distinct; and so it appears were their characters and interests. At all events, nothing was less to have been expected, than that the common people should have understood the poets as meaning what this opinion attributes to them. Accordingly, the learned author, who advances the sentiment, concedes, that the unskilful and sottish vulgar, (for so he terms the common pagans) might sometimes mistake these gods, not only for so many real and substantial, but also independent and self existent deities.
It is indeed a matter of no small difficulty to determine, with any considerable exactness, in what light the ancient heathen gods were viewed by their votaries. Euhemerus of Messina, as mentioned by Cicero, wrote a history of the gods, in which he proved, that they had once been on earth, as mere mortals; and pointed out the places of their respective deaths and burials.* This work was translated into Latin, by Ennius; nor does it appear to have been ill re. ceived. See Herodotus, as to the Persians, volume I. page 136. He says the Persians do not like the Greeks who consider the gods as of human origin. Here is the testimony of a grave historian that the Greeks did thus consider them. And the learned writer, whom I have several times mentioned as laboring to prove, that the heathen, notwithstanding their polytheism, still worshipped one God, unoriginated and eternal, from whom the rest proceeded, confesses, that the fabulous theology, both of the Greeks and Romans, not only generated all the other gods, but even Jupiter himself, assigning him both father and mother. And this, he tells us
Cicero de Nat. Dec. 1, 63.
was tolerated and connived at by the politicians, in way necessary compliance with the vulgar; it being so extremely difficult for them to conceive of any being, whose existence never began.
So far as the lower classes of society are concerned, this concession is a complete abandonment of the opinion, which, with so much learning and ability, he endeavours to establish. For surely, if they considered the supreme Jupiter, as having been once a mortal, there could have been no God, whom they considered, as unoriginated and eternal. The probability seems to be, that they had no distinct or fixed notions on the subject. Certain it is, that the language of the poets is not only various, but absolutely inconsistent. At one time it is such, as can be applied only to a being, that is eternal. At other times it is such, as can be true only in relation to mortals.
Let us now inquire into the origin of a fact so remarkable. How did it occur, that the poets attributed to their Supreme Deity discordant and opposite qualities?
It can hardly be doubted, that man, at his creation, received some knowledge of that being, from whom he originated. The doctrine of one eternal, independent God, when once made known, as it approves itself so clearly to the unbiassed reason of man, would not soon be forgotten. Many ages would elapse, and many errors would be attached to it, before it could be entirely abandoned. Accordingly it is remarked by those, who have most investigated the subject, that the further into antiquity our researches extend, traces of belief of the divine unity and eternity be
come more numerous.
It is probable, that the most ancient kind of idolatry consisted in the worship of the heavenly bodies.* Of all natural objects, these are the most striking. In addition to their majesty and lustre, their apparent motions, and the influence, which they have on vegetation, or the state of the atmosphere, is peculiarly calculated to make an impression. Eus. Præp. Evang. chap. vi.
From regarding them, as striking displays of divine power, and instruments under the direction of God, men began gradually, and perhaps insensibly, to attribute to them a portion of divinity, and supposed them to perform their exact revolutions by their own inherent intelligence.
This representation is supported by Cicero's treatise on the Nature of the Gods; in which Balbus, the stoic, is introduced, as disputing with an Epicurian, and endeavoring to show, that the planets must be intelligent beings, as they could not otherwise pursue their respective courses with so much order and constancy. His words are these, “Hanc igitur in stellis constantiam, hanc tantam, tam variis cursibus in omni eternitate convenientiam temporum, non possum intelligere, sine mente, ratione, consilio. Qua quum in sideribus inesse videamus, non possumus ea ipsa non in deorum numero reponere."
That the worship of the celestial luminaries is very ancient, is apparent from the book of Job." If, saith he, I beheld the sun, when it shineth, or the moon walking in brightness, and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand, this also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge: for I should have denied the God that is above. The worship of the hosts of heaven is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, as prevalent among the heathen. It seems indeed to have been, in the countries and periods to which that history relates, the most general kind of idolatry. The sun, moon, and stars, there is little doubt, were first worshipped, not as independent Deities, but as subordinate to the eternal Sovereign of the Universe.
This kind of worship appears to have prevailed very extensively through the heathen world. Nor was it relinquished at so late a period, as the time of Julian the apostate. There is an oration of his, now extant, and recently translated, addressed to the sovereign sun; of which luminary the author professes himself a devout worshipper.
The worship of human spirits was probably subsequent
to that of the celestial bodies. How this kind of worship originated, it is impossible for us to determine. Like the other, it was, we have reason to believe, introduced by insensible degrees. After the death of any one, who had been a benefactor to society, or had acquired a powerful influence, either over the affections or fears of his contemporaries, it was natural, that high respect should be paid to his memory. It would be natural to visit the place, where his remains were deposited, and to erect some monument to perpetuate his name. That which, at first was nothing more than respect, or affection, might, by distance of time, become adoration. Those vigorous or beneficent spirits, which once actuated mortal bodies, were supposed not only to retain their existence after death, but to occupy a sort of intermediate state between man and superior intelligences. As the celestial bodies, so, no doubt, did human souls receive, at first, a subordinate worship. They were worshipped, as deities, inferior to the first Cause, and dependent on him. This subordinate worship seems now to have been gradually transferred from what are called the natural gods, i.e. the heavenly bodies, to the spirits of departed men.
When there were thus two kinds of worship; the one rendered to the Supreme Being, and the other to the spirits of human origin, it is no difficult matter to see, that the latter would gain on the former. It must have been apparent, that no worship would be rendered acceptable to the true God, unless it were pure and rational; unless it proceeded from upright dispositions, and tended to increase them. The worship, and even the contemplation of such a being, would necessarily, to sensual and profligate men, be attended with self reproach. They would, therefore, dislike to retain God in their knowledge. But human spirits had neither the purity nor the majesty of God. Previously to their separation from the body, they had all the passions, and all the imperfections and vices, which are common to mortals. In con