Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

pleteness of content, which confessedly must have been very imperfect, but whether it was monotheistic or polytheistic. Through the speculations of the “ Positive Philosophy" and of various types of evolutionist science, the view has been widely put forth that back of all monotheistic thought, polytheistic notions and practices held sway. “No trace of monotheism,” it has been said, “ is to be found anywhere in the world except with a polytheism behind it.”! The genesis of the idea being supposed to take place from a time and condition of so-called “nature-worship"—the fetishism of reverencing or propitiating the different powers of nature—it is urged that this naturally at first gave it polytheistic shape in different invisible divinities behind the various cosmic powers. The question is essentially a question of fact, and the siftings of historical research, as well as of rational thought, have given an ample refutation of the theory. It must suffice simply to point out the line of decisive evidence.

Psychologically the polytheistic form can hardly be conceived as co-incident with the origin of the idea. “The singular in thought must precede the plural. ... It is too often forgotten by those who believe that a polytheistic worship was the most natural unfolding of the religious life, that polytheism must everywhere have been preceded by a more or less conscious theism. In no language does the plural exist before the singular. No human mind could have conceived the idea of Gods without having previously conceived the idea of a God.... It might seem, indeed, as if in such a faith the oneness of God, though not expressly asserted, was yet implied,

Prof. W. D. Whitney, of Yale, in “Princeton Review," May, 1881.

2

and that it existed, though latent, in the first revelation." 1 Max Müller recognizes this notion: "There is a God," as one kind of monotheism, but prefers the designation "henotheism "" as specifically expressive of the thought until the mind makes the further affirmation: "There is only One." Primitive thinking might, indeed, having the thought, "There is a God," move in the direction of saying, "There are many or more than One," but, psychologically, the essentially monotheistic thought must precede a polytheistic notion or faith.

Philological research has disclosed the further fact that the various terms and names for God in all the branches of the Aryan or Indo-European family of races when traced back exhibit a common root, a single word, as designation of the idea, carried from their original home in central Asia from which they migrated. In the early period, prior to the dispersion, they had an individual conception expressed by one term and a common name, still found embedded in the root-forms of the various languages sprung from that ancient tongue.3 Under that single term the deity appears to have been worshiped by the Aryan race as a whole.

The same investigation brings to view the fact that in all these races the polytheism becomes simpler and less, and approaches monotheism, the further it is traced back. "The younger the polytheism, the fewer its gods." This fact, joined with the psychological order of the precedence of the singular in thought and the one

1 Max Müller, "Chips from a German Workshop," Vol. I., PP. 347

350.

2 From és Évós, one, as opposed to μóvoç, only one.

3 A. M. Fairbairn, "Studies in the Philosophy of Religion and History" (New York), pp. 30-48.

4 Ib., p. 30.

ness of the root-term, evidently becomes expressive of the direction of the movement under which the manifold luxuriant national pantheons have been produced. They appear as a growth under the process of specialization of the original idea and false applications of it to invisible nature-powers and apotheosis of heroes.

This conclusion is fully sustained by historic and critical investigations which distinctly discover and report monotheism (counting the so-called “henotheism” as possibly its initial type) as having been in fact the earliest form of the idea among the three most ancient peoples or nations in the world, whose records open our deepest view into antiquity, in India, Egypt, and China.

As to India, Max Müller, after comprehensive scholarly research, has voiced the testimony of its oldest literature in affirming the singular as preceding the plural in its theistic conception. In his “Origin and Growth of Religion," while giving the origin of the idea an inferential rather than a revelatory basis, he distinctly repudiates the notion of a polytheism at the roots of the conception in the religion of that land.

With respect to Egypt, this conclusion is given with emphasis by most of the great Egyptologists. P. Le Page Renouf, in the “Hibbert Lectures” for 1879, answering the question of the earliest form of religion there, as shown in archaic documents, says: “The whole mythology of Egypt may be said to turn upon the histories of Ra and Osiris, and these histories run into each other, sometimes in inextricable confusion, which ceases to be wonderful when texts are discovered which simply identify Osiris and Ra. And, finally, other texts are known, wherein Ra, Osiris, Ammon, and all other gods disappear, except as simple names, and the unity of God is asserted in the noblest language of monotheistic religion. There are many very eminent scholars who, with full knowledge of all that can be said to the contrary, maintain that the Egyptian religion is essentially monotheistic, and that the multiplicity of gods is only due to the personification of the attributes, the characters, and offices of the Supreme God."1 Renouf quotes the matured testimony of Rougé, than whom, he says, no scholar is better entitled to be heard : “No one has called in question the fundamental meaning of the principal passages, by the help of which we are enabled to establish what Egypt has taught concerning God, the world, and man. I say God, not gods. The first characteristic of the religion is the Unity (of God] most energetically expressed : God, One, Sole, and Only; no other with Him. He is the Only Being—living in truth. Thou art One, and millions of beings proceed from Thee. He has made everything, and He alone has not been made. ... But how reconcile the Unity of God with Egyptian polytheism ? History and geography will perhaps elucidate the matter. The Egyptian religion comprehends a quantity of local worships. The Egypt which Menes brought together entire under his sceptre was divided into nomes, each having a capital town; each one of these regions had its principal God designated by a special name; but it is always the same doctrine which reappears under different names. One idea predominates, that of a single and primeval God, everywhere and always it is One Substance, self-existent, and an unapproachable God. . . . Are these doctrines,

1 "Hibbert Lectures, " 1878, pp. 250-275.

1 “ Hibbert Lectures,' p. 92.

[ocr errors]

then, the result of centuries ? Certainly not ; for they were in existence more than two thousand years before the Christian era. On the other hand, polytheism, the sources of which we have pointed out, develops itself and progresses without interruption until the times of the Ptolomies. It is, therefore, more than five thousand years since, in the valley of the Nile, the hymn began to the unity of God and the immortality of the soul, and we find Egypt in the last ages arrived at the most unbridled polytheism. The belief in the unity of the Supreme God and in His attributes as Creator and Lawgiver of man, whom He has endowed with an immortal soul—these are the primitive notions, encased, like indestructible diamonds, in the midst of mythological superfetations, accumulated in the centuries which have passed over the ancient civilization.” 1 Prof. Tiele, of Leiden, explains that though it was distinctly taught that 'the invisible God by whom all things came into existence is a Being who is One and alone, He yet revealed Himself afterwards in innumerable manifestations, and symbolic representations were easily imagined and multiplied. Through different forms of local representation, without felt inconsistency with the emphatic assertion of the oneness of His being, polytheistic language and practice obtained place and propagated itself until the latter obscured the former. “Men had long been accustomed to regard these various divinities as nothing more than different names for the same God." 2

In respect to China, Prof. James Legge, in the depart

1 " Hibbert Lectures," pp. 92-94.

: "History of the Egyptian Religion," pp. 216-223. Like testimonies may be found in the works of Brugsch, Chabas, Maspero, Pierret, and others.

« AnteriorContinua »