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error in application. How many miraculous images have we? The ancients only boasted of possessing what we possess, and if we are not idolaters for using images, by what correct principle can we term them so ?
Those who profess magic, and who either believe or affect to believe it a science, pretend to possess the secret of making the gods descend into their statues, not, indeed, the superior gods, but the secondary gods or genii. This is what Hermes Trismegistus calls 'making' gods-a doctrine which is controverted by St. Augustin in his City of God. But even this clearly shows that the images were not thought to possess anything divine, since it required a magician to animate them, and it happened very rarely that a magician was successful in these sublime endeavours.
In a word, the images of the gods were not gods. Jupiter, and not his statue, launched his thunderbolts ; it was not the statue of Neptune which stirred up tempests, nor that of Apollo which bestowed light. The Greeks and the Romans were gentiles and polytheists, but not idolaters.
We lavished this reproach upon them when we had neither statues nor temples, and have continued the injustice even after having employed painting and sculpture to honour and represent our truths, precisely in the manner in which those we reproach employed them to honour and personify their fictions. :
SECTION III. Whether the Persians, the Sabæans, the Egyptians, the
Tartars, or the Turks, have been Idolaters ? and the extent of the Antiquity of the Images called Idols. History of their Worship.
It is a great error to denominate those idolaters who worship the sun and the stars. These nations for a long time had neither images nor temples. If they were wrong, it was in rendering to the stars that which belonged only to the creator of the stars. Moreover, the dogma of Zoroaster, or Zerdusht, unfolded in the Sadder, teaches a Supreme Being, an avenger and rewarder, which opinion is very distant from idolatry. The government of China possesses no idol, but has always preserved the simple worship of the master of heaven, Kien-tien.*
Ghengis Khan, among the Tartars, was not an idolåter, and used no images. The Mahometan's who inhabit Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Persia, India, and Africa, call the christians idolaters and giaours, because they imagine that christians worship images. They break the statues which they find in Sancta Sophia, the church of the Holy Apostles; and others they convert into mosques.
Appearances have deceived them, as they are eternally deceiving man, and have led them to believe, that churches dedicated to saints, who were formerly men; images of saints worshipped kneeling; and miracles worked in these churches, are invincible proofs of absolute idolatry; although all amount to nothing. Christians, in fact, adore one God only, and even in the blessed, only revere the virtues of God manifested in them. The image-breakers (iconoclastes) and the protestants who reproach the catholic church with idolatry, claim the same answer.
As men rarely form precise ideas, and still less express them with precision, we call the gentiles, and still more the polytheists, idolaters. An immense num-: ber of volumes have been written in order to develop the various opinions upon the origin of the worship rendered to the deity. This multitude of books and opinions prove nothing, except ignorance.
It is not known who invented coats, shoes, and stockings, and yet we would know who invented idols,
* And have brought him down into the person of the Teshoo Lama, a sort of divinity under protection. The variety of invention by which human policy avails itself of the notion`of an intermediate source of communication with the Deity, is as remarkable as the avidity with which the bulk of mankind seek relief from the simple ideas of unity and omnipotence, by arbitrary personifications of attributes and qualifications, which make of the Deity a part and parcel of themselves. China, in its affected paternity and real despotism, although more tolerant than many other governments, is not so purely deistical as Voltaire imagined, as the theory of the Lama avatar, or incarnation, proves.-T.
What signifies a passage of Sanchoniathon, who lived before the battle of Troy? What does he teach us, when he
that Chaos—the spirit, that is to say, the breath—in love with his principles, draws the veil from it, which renders the air luminous ; that the wind Colp, and his wife Bau, engendered Eon; that Eon engendered Genos, that Cronos, their descendant, had two eyes behind as well as before ; that he became a god, and that he gave Egypt to his son Thaut? Such is one of the most respectable monuments of antiquity.
Orpheus will teach us no more in his Theogony, than Damascius has preserved to us.
He represents the principle of the world under the figure of a dragon with two heads, the one of a bull, the other of a lion; a face in the middle, which he calls the face of God, and golden wings to his shoulders.
But, from these fantastic ideas may be drawn two great truths; the one, that sensible images and hieroglyphics are of the remotest antiquity; the other, that all the ancient philosophers have recognised a First Principle.
As to polytheism, good sense will tell you, that as long as men have existed—that is to say, weak animals capable of reason and folly, subject to all accidents, sickness, and death—these men have felt their weakness and dependence. Obliged to acknowledge that there is something more powerful than themselves; having discovered a principle in the earth which furnishes their aliment; one in the air which often destroys them; one in fire which consumes; and in water which drowns them--what is more natural than for ignorant men to imagine beings which preside over these elements ? What is more natural than to revere the invisible power which makes the sun and stars shine to our eyes? and, since they would form an idea of powers superior to man—what more natural than to figure them in a sensible manner ?
Could they think otherwise? The Jewish religion, which preceded ours, and which was given by God himself, was filled with these images, under which God is represent ed. He deigns to speak the human language in a
bush; he appeared once on a mountain; the celestial spirits which he sends all come with a human form: finally, the sanctuary is covered with cherubs, which are the bodies of men with the wings and heads of animals. It is this which has given rise to the error of Plutarch, Tacitus, Appian, and so many others, of reproaching the Jews with adoring an ass's head. God, in spite of his prohibition to paint or form likenesses, has, therefore, deigned to adopt himself to human weakness, which required the senses to be addressed by sensible images.
Isaiah, in chapter vi. sees the Lord seated on a throne, and his train filled the temple. The Lord extends his hand, and touches the mouth of Jeremiah, in chap. i. of that prophet. Ezekiel, in chap. i. sees a throne of sapphire, and God appeared to him like a man seated on this throne. These images alter not the purity of the Jewish religion, which never employed pictures, statues, or idols, to represent God to the eyes of the people.
The learned Chinese, the Persees, and the ancient Egyptians, had no idols; but Isis and Osiris were soon represented. Bel, at Babylon, was a great colossus. Brama was a fantastic monster in the peninsula of India. Above all, the Greeks multiplied the names of the gods, statues, and temples, but always attributed the supreme power to their Zeus, called Jupiter by the Latins, the sovereign of gods and men. The Romans imitated the Greeks. These people always placed all the gods in heaven, without knowing what they understood by heaven.
The Romans had their twelve great gods, six male, and six female, whom they called “ Dii majorum gentium :" Jupiter, Neptune, Apollo, Vulcan, Mars, Mercury, Juno, Vesta, Minerva, Ceres, Venus, and Diana; Pluto was therefore forgotten; Vesta took his place.
Afterwards, came the gods“ minorum gentium,” the gods of mortal origin; the heroes, as Bacchus, Hercules, and Esculapius; the infernal gods, Pluto and Proserpine; those of the sea, as Tethys, Amphitrite, the Nereids, and Glaucus. The Dryads, Naiads, gods of gardens; those of shepherds, &c. They had them, indeed, for every profession, for every action of life, for children, marriageable girls, married, and lying-in women: they had even the god Peditum; and finally, they idolized their emperors. Neither these emperors, nor the god Peditum, the goddess Pertunda,
Priapus, nor Rumilia, the goddess of nipples; nor Stercutius, the god of the privy, were, in truth, regared as the masters of heaven and earth. The emperors had sometimes temples, the petty gods—the penates—had none; but all had their representations, their images.
There were little images with which they ornamented their closets, the amusements of old women and children, which were not authorised by any public worship. The superstition of every individual was left to act according to his own taste. These small idols are still found in the ruins of ancient towns.
If no person knows when men began to make these images, they must know that they are of the greatest antiquity. Terah, the father of Abraham, made them at Ur in Chaldea. Rachael stole and carried off the images of Laban her father. We cannot go back further.
But what precise notion had the ancient nations of all these representations? What virtue, what power was attributed to them? Believed they that the gods descended from heaven to conceal themselves in these statues; or that they communicated to them a part of the divine spirit; or that they communicated to them nothing at all? There has been much very uselessly written on this subject; it is clear that every man judged of it according to the degree of his reason, credulity, or fanatisism. It is evident that the priests attached as much divinity to their statues as they possibly could, to attract more offerings. We know that the philosophers reproved these superstitions, that warriors laughed at them, that the magistrates tolerated them, and that the people, always absurd, knew not what they did. In a word, this is the history of all nations to which God has not made himself known.