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We shall now endeavor to show, that this is a matter, which ought to excite no surprise: that pagan philosophy not only did not produce correct sentiments and pure morals, but had no tendency towards such a result. And,
I. That philosophy was no adequate guide, as to subjects most interesting to man, appears from the confession of some who professed it, Socrates acknowledges, that divine instruction and assistance were necessary to enable men to worship God in a suitable manner.
To the same purpose speaks Jamblicus, as quoted by Leland.,, It is manifest, says that philosopher, that those things are to be done, which are pleasing to God; but what they are, it is not easy to know, except a man were taught them by God himself, or by some person, who had received them from God, or obtained a knowledge of them by some other means."
II. Philosophers were extremely erroneous and discordant in regard to their views of the Supreme Being. There is no subject, says Cicero, concerning which, not only the igno rant, but also the learned, are so little agreed. While some denied his existence, others spake of it in very doubtful terms, or confounded his existence with that of the Universe.
Bion, of Scythia was openly an atheist, and took much pleasure in ridiculing those, who sacrificed to the gods; though, at the close of his life, he retracted his former sentiments, and professed repentance for all, which he had said, offensive to religion.
Theodorus was ejected, first from Cyrene, and then from Athens, on a charge of atheism. This charge is supported by the authority of Cicero, Plutarch, and Suidas, as quoted by Stanley. Protagoras doubted, whether there were gods says Cicero, and Diagoras denied them. Democritus either entirely rejected the notion of a Deity, or allowed him no share in the creation and government of the world. The same may be said of Epicurus. As it respects religion, or even morality, it is immaterial, which of these opinions is embraced.
Many of those, who acknowledged an invisible, presiding power, had, notwithstanding, very lax opinions as to the relation, subsisting between that power and the objects of this world. Of the Ionic school, instituted by Thales, no one, says Leland, before Anaxagoras, attributed the creation of the world to an intelligent mind.
To the same Anaxagoras, the preceptor of Socrates, Mitford attributes the first conception of an eternal, almighty, good being, independent of matter.
Among ancient philosophers, there is none, perhaps, who has been held in higher estimation by the christian world, than Socrates. He entertained sentiments concerning the Supreme Being, which were, in a great measure, just, and were highly elevated. Yet, in his last conversation with his disciples, a little before he received the fatal potion, he spake of the gods, in the plural number, and did not reprove his friends for swearing by them. Nay, in his defence before his judges, he addresses Melitus, his accuser, in the following manner, "I conjure you in the name of those gods, whose interest is now concerned, to explain your meaning more clearly." Moreover, Socrates habitually sacrificed to the gods after the manner of his country. And Xenophon informs us, that he appealed to this fact to repel the charge, brought against him of not acknowledging as gods, those, whom his country recognized as such. Besides, what account can be given of the sacrifice, which, in the last moments of his life, when there could be no temptation to dissemble his opinions, he directed his friends to offer to Æsculapius? I know of no method of accounting for this, but by supposing, that besides the one Supreme Being, "Socrates admitted the existence of others, who hold a middle station between God and man, to whose immediate agency he ascribed the phenomena of nature, and whom he believ ed to be particularly concerned in the management of human affairs." This is, indeed, the opinion attributed to him by Dr. Enfield. It appears then, that, however correct may have been the opinions of Socrates, as to the Supreme
Being, he was nevertheless a polytheist, paying religious homage to those objects, which had been deified by pagan superstition.
Similar observations are applicable to Plato. He spake in exalted language of the Supreme God. (Eus. Præp. Ev. p. 262.) Yet he seems not to have considered him, as the object to which human beings were to direct their worship. (Anach. iv. 312, 213.) Accordingly Eugubinus employs a chapter in assigning reasons, why Plato, in his treatise de legibus, prescribes the worship of inferior deities, such as the celestial luminaries, rather than the Supreme God; viz. that the latter is incomprehensible, and not to be be expressed in words.
Cicero, it is known, as well as Plato, has written de legibus. but the unity of god is no more recognized in the political institutions of the one, than of the other. The Supreme God, is, indeed, named; but he is not exhibited, as the object of worship. Polytheism was to be the religion of his contemplated community; and the worship of human spir. its was expressly required. Divos, et eos, qui cœlestes semper habiti, colunto: et ollos, quos endo cœlo merita vocaverint, Herculem, Liberum, ÆEsculapium, Castorem, Pollucem, Quirinum.
This is certainly a remarkable passage. Cicero either believed, that Hercules, Bacchus, Romulus, were gods, or he did not. And so far as our present object is concerned, viz. to show how incompetent he was to teach the doctrines of religion, it is not very material, which of these suppositions is found to be true. In the one case, he was grossly, though sincerely an idolater; in the other, he enjoined on men, to worship, as gods, those, whom he knew to be entitled to no such honor.
Plotinus, a follower of Plato, speaks of Deity, in a manner, calculated rather to confound his readers, than to give them any distinct ideas of the Supreme Being. "Of the unity of God, saith he, nothing can be predicated, neither being, nor essence, nor life; because it is above all these."
It seems to have been no uncommon opinion among an.
No man, in the
cient philosophers, that anger could never be attributed to Deity. If, by this, they had meant only, that the divine nature is incapable of that mental agitation, implied in human anger, the sentiment, I suppose, would have been unexceptionable. They however considered it, as implying, that no sufferings, were to be apprehended from the divine justice. Agreeably to this are the words of Seneca. Deos nemo sanus timet. Furor est enim metuere salutaria. exercise of his reason, fears the gods. It is madness to fear that, which is salutary. Again, Die immortales nec volunt obesse, nec possunt. The immortal gods have neither the inclination nor power to hurt any one. To the same purpose, in his ninety fifth epistle, he asserts, Errat, si quis putat illos nocere velle. Non possunt. Nec accipere injuriam queant, nec facere. He is in an error, who imagines, that the gods have a disposition to hurt any one. It is impossible. They can neither do nor receive an injury.
It is obvious, that such sentiments are consistent neither with truth, nor with the well being of mankind in the pres
I. They are not true. God does not indeed possess either the weakness or passions of men. Yet are there some things, which he views with approbation, and others, which he views with displeasure. Nothing can be more reproachful to God, than to represent him indifferent to virtue and vice. But if he is not indifferent to these, his creatures will not be treated, as if he were. It is so far from being madness, therefore to fear God, i. e. to view him as the punisher of sin, as well as the bountiful rewarder of virtue, that no sentiments different from these, are worthy of God, or consistent with the reason of man.
But 2ndly, this opinion of Seneca is doubtless, in a very high degree, unfriendly to civil order, and good morals. If it be generally believed, that the Supreme Being has no disposition to punish vice, as well as to reward virtue, and that no evil from an avenging hand is to be apprehended by the offender, the most powerful restraints will be then removed
from human passions, and society will be a turbid ocean, on which the conflicting elements of our nature will mingle and rage in wild disorder.
Philosophy was an insufficient guide, as it respects that government, which the Supreme Being maintains over the world.
In the introduction to Cicero's treatise de Natura Deorum, he represents it as the great question, at issue among philosophers, whether the gods enjoy their existence in eternal leisure, regardless of human affairs; or whether, having created the world, they employ their power and wisdom in sustaining and governing it. The latter of these opinions is defended by Balbus, the stoick. It is ridiculed by the Epicurean Velleius; and is not treated with much more respect by Cotta, the Academic, who appears to some readers, as speaking the sentiments of Cicero himself.
Tacitus, who lived when christianity had been for some time introduced, and who, for that reason, had better opportunity, than more ancient philosophers, to obtain correct views concerning divine providence, not only intimates his own doubts on the subject, but asserts, that "many of the wisest men, had this opinion fixed in their minds, that neither our beginning, nor our end, nor men at all, are regarded by the gods."
Pliny, the elder, represents it, as a thing ridiculous to imagine, that the Supreme God should maintain a providence in human affairs. Pliny was not only an indefatigable student, but devoted his studies to natural philosophy. The works of God, whence arguments are drawn to prove his existence and attributes, were the object of his unwearied investigation. Still was he not convinced, that there is a God. who governs in the earth.
On this subject, it was remarked in the lecture on Divine Providence, that even those, among ancient philosophers, who were most decided as to the general doctrine, were not agreed. The Stoics firmly believed, and ably defended the doctrine; but did not all believe it in the same sense.