Imatges de pÓgina

the secret to his mother Olympias, but he advised her to say nothing about it-so much are even heroes themselves bound in the chains of superstition.

"It is customary," says Herodotus, "in the city of Rusiris, to strike both men and women after the sacrifice, but I am not permitted to say where they are struck." He leaves it however to be very easily inferred.

I think I see a description of the mysteries of the Eleusinian Ceres, in Claudian's poem on the Rape of Proserpine, much clearer than I can see any in the sixth book of the Æneid. Virgil lived under a prince who joined to all his other bad qualities that of wishing to pass for a religious character; who was probably initiated in these mysteries himself, the better to impose thereby upon the people; and who would not have tolerated what would have been pretended to have been such decided profanation. You see his favourite Horace regards such a revelation as sacriliege:

Vetabo qui Cereris sacrum
Vulgarit arcanæ sub iisdem

Sit trabibus, vel fragilem que mecum

Solvat phaselum.

HORACE, book iii. ode 2.

To silence due rewards we give ;

And they who mysteries reveal

Beneath my roof shall never live,

Shall never hoist with me the doubtful sail.


Besides, the Cumean sibyl and the descent into hell, imitated from Homer much less than it is embellished by Virgil, with the beautiful prediction of the destinies of the Cæsars and the Roman empire, have no relation to the fables of Ceres, Proserpine, and Triptolemus. Accordingly, it his highly probable that the sixth book of the Eneid is not a description of those mysteries. If I ever said the contrary, I here unsay it; but I conceive that Claudian revealed them fully. Ile flourished at a time when it was permitted to divulge the mysteries of Eleusis, and indeed all the mysteries in the world. He lived under Honorius, in the total decline of the ancient Greek and

Roman religion, to which Theodosius I. had already given the mortal blow.

Horace, at that period, would not have been at all afraid of living under the same roof with a revealer of mysteries. Claudian, as a poet, was of the ancient religion, which was more adapted to poetry than the new. He describes the droll absurdities of the mysteries of Ceres, such as they were still performed with all becoming reverence in Greece, down to the time of Theodosius II. They formed a species of operatic pantomime, of the same description as we have seen many very amusing ones, in which were represented all the devilish tricks and conjurations of doctor Faustus, the birth of the world and of Harlequin, who both came from a large egg by the heat of the sun's rays. Just in the same manner, the whole history of Ceres and Proserpine was represented by the mystagogues. The spectacle was fine; the cost must have been great; and it is no matter of astonishment that the initiated should pay the performers. All live by their respective occupations.

Every mystery had its peculiar ceremonies; but all admitted of wakes or vigils of which the youthful votaries fully availed themselves; and it was this abuse in part which finally brought discredit upon those nocturnal ceremonies instituted for sanctification. The ceremonies thus perverted to assignation and licentiousness were abolished in Greece in the time of the Peloponnesian war; they were abolished at Rome in the time of Cicero's youth, eighteen years before his consulship. From the "Aulularia” of Plautus, we are led to consider them as exhibiting scenes of gross debauchery, and as highly injurious to public morals.

Our religion, which, while it adopted, greatly purified various pagan institutions, sanctified the name of the initiated, nocturnal feasts, and vigils, which were a long time in use, but which at length it became necessary to prohibit when an administration of police was introduced into the government of the church, so long entrusted to the piety and zeal that precluded the necessity of police.

The principal formula of all the mysteries, in every place of their celebration, was, “Come out, ye who are profane;" that is, uninitiated. Accordingly, in the first centuries, the christians adopted a similar formula. The deacon said, “Come out, all ye catechumens, all ye who are possessed and who are uninitiated."

It is in speaking of the baptism of the dead that St. Chrysostom says, "I should be glad to explain myself clearly, but I can do so only to the initiated. We are in great embarrassment. We must either speak unintelligibly, or disclose secrets which we are bound to conceal."

It is impossible to describe more clearly the obligation of secrecy and the privilege of initiation. All is now so completely changed, that were you at present to talk about initiation to the greater part of your priests and parish officers, there would not be one of them that would understand you, unless by great chance he had read the chapter of Chrysostom above noticed.

You will see in Minutius Felix the abominable imputations with which the pagans attacked the christian mysteries. The initiated were reproached with treating each other as brethren and sisters, solely with a view to profane that sacred name.* They kissed, it was said, particular parts of the persons of the priests, as is still practised in respect to the santons of Africa; they stained themselves with all those pollutions which have since disgraced and stigmatized the templars. Both were accused of worshipping a kind of ass's head.

We have seen that the early christian societies ascribed to each other, reciprocally, the most inconceivable infamies. The pretext for these calumnies was the inviolable secret which every society made of its mysteries. It is upon this ground that in Minutius Felix, Čecilius, the accuser of the christians, exclaims :


"Why do they so carefully endeavour to conceal what they worship, since what is decent and honourable always courts the light, and crimes alone seek secrecy?" "Cur occultare et abscondere quidquid colunt

Minutius Felix, 22.



magnopere nituntur? Quum honesta semper publico gaudeant, scelera secreta sint."

It cannot be doubted that these accusations, universally spread, drew upon the christians more than one persecution. Whenever a society of men, whatever they may be, are accused by the public voice, the falsehood of the charge is urged in vain, and it is deemed meritorious to persecute them.

How could it easily be otherwise, than that the first christians should be even held in horror, when St. Epiphanius himself urges against them the most execrable imputations? He asserts that the christian phibionites committed indecencies, which he specifies, of the grossest character; and, after passing through various scenes of pollution, exclaimed each of them,"I am the Christ."*

According to the same writer, the gnostics and the stratiotists equalled the phibionites in exhibitions of licentiousness, and all three sects mingled horrid pollutions with their mysteries, men and women displaying equal dissoluteness.+

The carpocratians, according to the same father of the church, even exceeded the horrors and abominations of the three sects just mentioned.‡

The cerinthians did not abandon themselves to abominations such as these: but they were persuaded that Jesus Christ was the son of Joseph.§

The. ebionites, in their gospel, maintained that St. Paul, being desirous of marrying the daughter of Gamaliel, and not able to obtain her, became a christian, and established christianity out of revenge.¶

All these accusations did not for some time reach the ear of the government. The Romans paid but little attention to the quarrels and mutual reproaches which occured between these little societies of Jews, Greeks, and Egyptians, who were, as it were, hidden in the vast and general population; just as at London, in the present day, the parliament does not embarrass or concern itself with the peculiar forms or transactions Epiphanius, lxii.

Epiphanius, xl. + Idem, xxxviii.


Epiphanius, xlvi.
Idem, xlix.


of memnonites, pietists, anabaptists, millinarians, moravians, or methodists. It is occupied with matters of urgency and importance, and pays no attention to their mutual charges and recriminations till they become of importance from their publicity..

The charges above mentioned, at length, however, came to the ears of the senate; either from the Jews, who were implacable enemies of the christians, or from christians themselves; and hence it resulted, that the crimes charged against some christian societies were imputed to all; hence it resulted, that their initiations we so long calumniated; hence resulted the persecutions which they endured. These persecutions, however, obliged them to greater circumspection; they strengthened themselves, they combined, they disclosed their books only to the initiated. No Roman magistrate, no emperor, ever had the slightest knowledge of them, as we have already shewn. Providence increased, during the course of three centuries, both their number and their riches, until at length, Constantius Chlorus openly protected them, and Constantine his son embraced their religion.

In the mean time, the names of initiated and mysteries still subsisted, and they were concealed from the gentiles as much as was possible. As to the mysteries of the gentiles, they continued down to the time of Theodosius.


Of the Massacre of the Innocents.

WHEN people speak of the massacre of the innocents, they do not refer to the Sicilian Vespers, nor to the matins of Paris, known under the name of St. Bartholomew; nor to the inhabitants of the new world, who were murdered because they were not christians, nor to the auto-da-fés of Spain and Portugal, &c. &c. they usually refer to the young children who were killed within the precincts of Bethlehem, by order of Herod the great, and who were afterwards carried to Cologne, where they are still to be found.

« AnteriorContinua »