Imatges de pÓgina

tical head in fact, four days after this conversation. He requested of Jacovello the key of a small cave and an inner chamber, that no person might possibly be a witness of the awful mystery. The hermit, having introduced a tube from this cave into the head, and made every other suitable arrangement, went to prayer with his friend Jacovello, and the head at that moment uttered the following words: "Jacovello, I will recompense thy zeal. I announce to thee a treasure of a hundred thousand crowns under a yew-tree in thy garden. But thou shalt die by a sudden death, if thou makest any attempt to obtain this treasure until thou hast produced before me a pot containing coin amounting to ten gold marks."

Jacovello ran speedily to his coffers, and placed before the oracle a pot containing the ten marks. The good hermit had had the precaution to procure a similar vessel which he had filled with sand, and he dexterously substituted that for the pot of Jacovello, on his turning his back, and then left the pious miser with one death's head more, and ten gold marks less, than he had before.

Nearly such is the way in which all oracles have been delivered, beginning with those of Jupiter Ammon, and ending with that of Trophonius.

One of the secrets of the priests of antiquity, as it is of our own, was confession in the mysteries. It was by this that they gained correct and particular information about the affairs of families, and qualified themselves in a great measure to give pertinent and suitable replies to those who came to consult them. To this subject applies the anecdote which Plutarch has rendered so celebrated. A priest once urging an initiated person to confession, that person said-To whom should I confess? To God, replied the priest. Begone then man, said the desired penitent; begone and leave me alone with God.

It would be almost endless to recount all the interesting facts and narratives with which Van Dale has enriched his book. Fontenelle did not translate it, but

he extracted from it what he thought would be most suitable to his countrymen, who love sprightly anecdote and observation better than profound knowledge. He was eagerly read by what in France is called good company; and Van Dale, who had written in Latin and Greek, had been read only by the learned. The rough diamond of Van Dale shone with exquisite brilliancy after the cutting and polish of Fontenelle: the success of the work was such that the fanatics became alarmed. Notwithstanding all Fontenelle's endeavours to soften down the expressions of Van Dale, and his explaining himself sometimes with the licence of a Norman, he was too well understood by the monks, who never like to be told that their brethren have been impostors.

A certain jesuit of the name of Baltus, born near Messina, one of that description of learned persons who know how to consult old books, and to falsify and cite them, although after all nothing to the purpose, took the part of the devil against Van Dale and Fontenelle. The devil could not have chosen a more tiresome and wretched advocate; his name is now known solely from the honour he had of writing against two celebrated men who advocated a good cause.

Baltus likewise, in his capacity of Jesuit, caballed with no little perseverance and bitterness on the occasion, in union with his brethren, who at that time were as high in credit and influence as they have since been plunged deep in ignominy. The jansenists, on their part, more impassioned and exasperated than even the jesuits, clamoured in a still louder tone than they did. In short, all the fanatics were convinced, that it would be all over with the christian religion, if the devil were not supported in his rights.

In the course of time the books of jansenists and jesuits have all sunk into oblivion. That of Van Dale still remains for men of learning, and that of Fontenelle for men of wit.

With respect to the devil, he resembles both jesuits and jansenists, and is losing credit from day to day.


Some curious and surprising histories of oracles, which it was thought could be ascribed only to the power of genii, made the christians think they were delivered by demons, and that they had ceased at the coming of Christ. They were thus enabled to save the time and trouble that would have been required by an investigation of the facts; and they thought to strengthen the religion which informed them of the existence of demons, by referring to those beings such events.

The histories however that were circulated on the subject of oracles are exceedingly suspicious. That of Thamus, to which Eusebius gives gredit, and which Plutarch alone relates, is followed in the same history by another story so ridiculous, that that would be sufficient to throw discredit upon it; but it is, besides, incapable of any reasonable interpretation. If this great Pan were a demon, can we suppose the demons incapable of communicating the event of his death to one another without employing Thamus about it? If the great Pan were Jesus Christ, how came it that not a single pagan was undeceived with respect to his reli-. gion, and converted to the belief, that this same Pan was in fact Jesus Christ who died in Judea, if God himself compelled the demons to announce this death to the pagans?

The history of Thulis, whose oracle is clear and positive on the subject of the Trinity, is related only by Suidas. This Thulis, king of Egypt, was not certainly one of the Ptolemies. What becomes of the whole oracle of Serapis, when it is ascertained that Herodotus does not speak of that god, while Tacitus relates at length how and why one of the Ptolemies brought the god Serapis from Pontus, where he had only until then been known?

The oracle delivered to Augustus about the Hebrew infant who should be obeyed by all the gods, is abso

*See, for the quotations, the latin work of the learned Anthony Van Dale, from which this extract is taken.

lutely inadmissible. Cedrenus quotes it from Eusebius, but it is not now to be found in him. It certainly is not impossible that Cedrenus may have made a false quotation, or have quoted a work falsely ascribed to Eusebius; but how is it to be accounted for, that all the early apologists for christianity should have preserved complete silence with respect to an oracle so favourable to their religion?

The oracles which Eusebius relates from Porphyry, who was attached to paganism, are not of a more embarrassing nature than those just noticed. He gives them to us stripped of all the accompanying circumstances that attended them in the writings of Porphyry. How do we know whether that pagan did not refute them? For the interest of his cause it would naturally have been an object for him to do so; and if he did not do it, most assuredly it was from some concealed motive, such, for instance, as presenting them to the christians only for an occasion to prove and deride their credulity, if they should really receive them as true and rest their religion on such weak foundations.

Besides, some of the ancient christians reproached the pagans with being the dupes of their priests. Observe how Clement of Alexandria speaks of them:"Boast as long as you please of your childish and impertinent oracles, whether of Claros or the Pythian Apollo, of Dindymus or Amphilochus; and add to these your augurs and interpreters of dreams and prodigies. Bring forward also those clever gentry who, in the presence of the mighty Pythian Apollo, effect their divinations through the medium of meal or barley, and those also who, by a certain talent of ventriloquism, have obtained such high reputation. Let the secrets of the Egyptian temples, and the necromancy of the Etruscans, remain in darkness; all these things are most certainly nothing more than decided impostures, as completely tricks as those of a juggler with his cups and balls. The goats carefully trained for the divination, the ravens elaborately instructed to deliver the oracles, are—if we may use the expression-merely

accomplices of the charlatans by whom the whole world has thus been cheated."

Eusebius, in his turn, displays a number of excellent reasons to prove that oracles could be nothing but impostures; and if he attributes them to demons, it is the result of deplorable prejudice or of an affected respect for general opinion. The pagans would never admit, that their oracles were merely the artifices of their priests; it was imagined therefore, by rather an awkward process of reasoning, that a little was gained in the dispute by admitting the possibility, that there might be something supernatural in their oracles, and insisting at the same time, that if there were, it was the operation, not of the deity, but of demons.

It is no longer necessary now, in order to expose the finesse and stratagems of priests, to resort to means which might themselves appear too strongly marked by those qualities. A time has already been when they were completely exhibited to the eyes of the whole world, the time, I mean, when the christian religion proudly triumphed over paganism under christian emperors.

Theodoret says that Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, exhibited to the inhabitants of that city the hollow statues into which the priests entered, from secret passages, to deliver the oracles. When, by Constantine's order, the temple of Esculapius at Egea, in Cilicia, was pulled down, there was driven out of it, says Eusebius in his life of that Emperor, not a god, nor a demon, but the human impostor who had so long duped the credulity of nations. To this he adds the general observation, that in the statues of the gods that were thrown down, not the slightest appearance was found of gods, or demons, or even any wretched and gloomy spectres, but only hay, straw, or the bones of the dead.

The greatest difficulty respecting oracles is surmounted, when it is ascertained and admitted, that demons had no concern with them. There is no longer any reason why they should cease precisely on the coming of Jesus Christ. And moreover, there are

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