« Prev SECT. XI. An answer to this, that the rise and… Next »

SECT. XI. An answer to this, that the rise and decay of religion is owing to the stars.

THERE were some philosophers who ascribed the rise and decay of all religion to the stars; but this starry science, which they profess to know and understand, is delivered in 173such different rules, that there is nothing certain to be found in it, but this one thing, that there is no certainly in it.518518   See the excellent dissertation of Bardesanes, the Syrian, concerning this matter; which you may find in the Philocalia collected from Origen, and in Eusebius’s Preparat. book vi. chap. 10. I do not speak of those effects which naturally follow from necessary causes; but of such as proceed from the will of man, which is in its own nature so far free, as that no external necessity can be laid upon it;519519   See Alexander Aphrodisæus’s book concerning this matter. for if the act of willing Bowed from such a necessary impression, that power which we experience in the soul, of deliberating and choosing, would be given us to no purpose:520520   See Eusebius’s gospel preparat. book vi. chap. 6. and the justice of all laws, and of rewards and punishments, would be entirely taken away; because there is neither blame nor desert due to that which is plainly unavoidable.521521   See Justin, apology ii. “If mankind ho not endued with a power of choosing freely; to avoid that which is bad, and to comply with that which is good; the cause of either of them cannot be said to be from himself.” See also what follows. And thus Tatian: “The freedom of the will consists in this; that a wicked man is justly punished, because his wickedness is from himself; and a good man is rewarded, because he has not voluntarily transgressed the will of God.” To this may be added Chalcidius’s disputation concerning this matter in Timæus. Further, since some actions of the will are evil, if they are caused by a certain necessity of the heavens, and because God has given such a power to the heavens and the heavenly bodies, it will follow, that God, who is perfectly good, is the true cause of moral evil;522522   Plato speaks against this, in his second republic; “The cause is from him that chooses; God is not the cause.” Thus Chalcidius translates it in Timæus, which Justin, in the fore-mentioned place, says, agrees with Moses. and at the same time that be professes his utter abhorrence of wickedness in his positive law, he has planted the efficient and inevitable cause of it in the nature of things; therefore he wills two things contrary to 174each other, viz. that the same thing should be, and not be; and that that should be a sin which is done by a divine impulse. It is said by others, with a greater shew of probability, that first the air, and afterwards our bodies, are affected by the influence of the stars, and so imbibe certain qualities, which for the most part excite in the soul desires answerable to them; that by these the will is enticed, and oftentimes yields to them.523523   But they speak most truly who deny any such influences at all, and acknowledge nothing else in the stars but heat and light; to which we may add, their weight resulting from their bigness; but these have, properly speaking, no relation to the mind. Le Clerc. But if this be granted, it makes nothing to the question in hand: for the religion of Christ could not possibly have its rise from the affections of the body, nor consequently from the power of the stars; which, as was said, act upon the mind no otherwise than by such affections; because this religion, in the highest degree, draws men off from those things that delight the body. The wisest astrologers do except truly knowing and good men from the law of the stars;524524   Thus Zoroaster: “Do not increase your fate.” And Ptolemais: “A wise man may avoid many influences of the stars.” and such were they who first proposed the Christian religion, as their lives plainly shew: and if we allow a power in learning and knowledge to hinder their bodies from being thus infected, there always were amongst Christians some who might be commended upon this account. Further, the effects of the stars, as the most learned confess, respect only particular parts of the world, and are temporary: but this religion has continued already for above sixteen hundred years, not only in one, but in very distant parts of the world, and such as are under very different positions of the stars.

SECT. XII. The principal things of the Christian religion were approved of by the wisest heathens: and if there be any thing in it hard to be believed, the like is to be found amongst the heathen.

THERE is the less reason for the heathens to oppose the Christian religion; because all the parts of it are so agreeable 175to the rules of virtue, that, by their own light, they do in a manner convince the mind; insomuch that there have not been wanting some amongst the heathen who have said those things singly, which in our religion are all put together. For instance, that religion does not consist in ceremonies, but is in the mind;525525   Menander:—    “With a clean mind do sacrifice to God;
Not so much neat in clothes, as pure in heart.”

   Cicero in his second book of the nature of the gods: “The best worship of the gods, which is also the most innocent, the most holy, and the most full of piety, is to reverence them always with a pure, sincere, uncorrupted mind and expression.” And again, in his second book of laws: “The law commands us to approach the gods sincerely, that is, with our minds, which is all in all.” Persius, Sat. ii.
   “This let us offer to the gods: (which blear’d
Messala’s offspring can’t, with all their cost):
Justice and right in all our secret thoughts,
An undissembled virtue from the breast:
Bring these, and what you please then sacrifice.”

   These verses seem to have respect to the Pythian oracle, which we find in Porphyry’s second book against eating living creatures; where any thing offered by a pious man is preferred to hecatombs of another. In the same book Porphyry has these words to the like purpose: “Now, they esteem him not fit to offer sacrifice worthily, whose body is not clothed with a white and clean garment; but they do not think it any great matter, if some go to sacrifice, having their bodies clean, and also their garments, though their minds be not void of evil: as if God were not most delighted with the purity of that which in us is most divine, and bears the nearest resemblance to him. For it is written in the temple of Epidaurus,
   “Let all who come to offer at this shrine
Be pure; so we command.”

   “New, purity consists in holy thoughts.” And a little after: “No material things ought to be offered or dedicated to God, who, as the wise man said, is above all; for every thing material is impure to him who is immaterial: wherefore words are not proper to express ourselves by to him, not even internal ones, if polluted by the passions of the mind.” And again: “For it is not reasonable that in those temples which are dedicated to the gods by men, they should wear clean shoes without any spots; and in the temple of the Father, that is, in this world, not keep their inner clothes (which is the body) neat, and converse with purity in the temple of their Father.” Neither can I omit what follows out of the same book: “Whoever is persuaded that the gods have no need of these, (sacrifices), but look only to the manners of those who approach them, esteeming right notions of them and of things, the best sacrifices; how can such a one be otherwise than sober, godly, and righteous?” Where we find these three known words of Paul, Tit. ii. 2. soberly, righteously, and godly. Charondas, in his preface to the laws: “Let your mind be void of all evil: for the gods delight not in the sacrifices and expences of wicked men, but in the just and virtuous actions of good men.” Seneca, quoted by Lactantius in his institutions, book vi. chap. 25. “Would you conceive God to be great, propitious, and to be reverenced, as meek in majesty, as a friend, and always at hand; you must not worship him with sacrifices, and abundance of blood, but with a pure mind, and an upright intention.” To the same sense is that of Dion Prusæensis, orat. 3. Thucydides, book i. “There is no other festival, but a man’s doing his duty.” Diogenes: “Does not a good man think every day a festival?”
that he who has it in his 176heart to commit adultery, is an adulterer;526526   Thus Ovid:—    “He who forbears only because forbid,
Does sin; hilt body’s free, his mind is staked;
Were be alone, he’d be an adulterer.”

   Seneca the father: “There is such a thing as incest, without the act of whoredom; viz. the desire of it.” And in another place: “She is reckoned amongst sinners, and not without reason, who is modest out of fear, and not for virtue’s sake.”
that we ought not to return an injury;527527   See Plato’s Criton, and Maximus Tyrius’s second dissertation. Menander:—    “O Gorgias, he’s the very best of men,
Who can forgive the greatest injuries.”

   Ariston Spartianus: “To a certain person, who said that it was princely thing to do good to friends, and evil to enemies: Rather, answered he, to do good to friends, and to make enemies friends.” And the same Dion, the deliverer of Sicily, in Plutarch says, that a true demonstration of a philosophical disposition consists not in any one’s being kind to his friends; but, when he is injured, is being easily entreated, and merciful towards those who have offended him.
that a husband ought to have but 177one wife;528528   See what is before quoted out of Sallust and others, about this matter. Euripides in his Andromache:—    ——“It is by no means fit
One man should o’er two women have the rule:
One nuptial bed will a wise man suffice,
Who would have all things regulated well.”

   And more to the same purpose, in the chorus of the same tragedy.
that the bands of matrimony ought not to be dissolved;529529   So it was amongst the Romans till the five hundred and twentieth year of the city, as Valerius Maximus informs us, book iii. chap.1. Anaxandrides to the same purpose:—    “’Tis shameful thus for men to ebb and flow.” that it is every man’s duty to do good to another,530530   Terence’s self-tormentor:—
   “I am a man, and think every thing humane belong to me.”

   “We are by nature related to each other,” says Florentinus the lawyer, L. ut vim. D. de Justitia. And this is the meaning of the proverb, “One man is a kind of god to another.” Cicero, in his first book of offices, says, there is a mutual society betwixt men, all of them being related to one another.
especially to him that is in want;531531   Horace, book ii.—
   “Wretch, why should any want, when you are rich?”

   In Mimus:—

   “Mercy procures strong security.”
that, as much as possible, men ought to abstain from swearing;532532   Pythagoras: “We ought not to swear by the gods, but endeavour to make ourselves believed without an oath:” which is largely explained by Hierocles, on his golden verses. Marcus Antoninus, book iii. in his description of a good man, says, “Such a one needs no oath.” Sophocles in his Œdipus Coloneus:—
   “I would not have you swear, because ’tis bad.”

   Clinius the Pythagorean would sooner lose three talents in a cause, than affirm the truth with an oath. This story is related by Basilius concerning reading Greek authors.
that in 178meat and clothes, they ought to be content with what is necessary to supply nature.533533   Euripides:—    “There are but two things which mankind do want,
A crust of bread, and draught of springing water;
Both which are near, and will suffice for life.”

   And Lucan:—

   “There is enough of bread and drink for all.”

   And Aristides:—

   ” We want nothing but clothes, houses, and food.”
And if there be any thing in the Christian religion difficult to be believed, the like is to be found amongst the wisest of the heathens, as we have before made appear, with respect to the immortality of the soul, and bodies being restored to life again. Thus Plato, taught by the Chaldeans, distinguished the divine nature into the Father; the Father’s Mind, which he also calls a branch of the Deity, the Maker of the world; and the soul, which comprehends and contains all things.534534   See Plato’s epistle to Dionysius. Plato calls the first principle the Father; the second principle the Cause or Governor of all things, in his epistle to Hermias, Erastus, and Coriscus. The same is called the Mind by Plotinus, in his book “of the Three Principal Substances.” Numenius calls it the Workman, and also the Son: and Amelius the Word, as you may see in Eusebius, book xi. chap. 17, 19, 19. See also Cyril’s third, fourth, and eighth books against Julian. Chalcidius on Timæus, calls the first the Supreme God; the second, the Mind, or Providence; the third, the Soul of the World, or the Second Mind. In another place he distinguishes these three thus: the Contriver, the Commander, and the Effecter. He speaks thus of the second: “The reason of God is God consulting the affairs of men; which is the cause of men’s living well and happily, if they do not neglect that gift which the Supreme God has bestowed on them.”—“The Pythagoreans assign to the Supreme God the number three, as perfect,” says Servius, on the seventh eclogue. Not much differing from which is that of Aristotle, concerning the same Pythagoreans, in the beginning of his first book of the heavens.—(This is more largely handled by the very learned R. Cudworth, in his English work of the intellectual system of the world, book. i. chap. 4. which you will not repent consulting. Le Clerc.) That the Divine nature could be joined with the human, Julian, 179that great enemy to the Christians, believed, and gave an example in Æsculapius,535535   Book vi. “Amongst those things which have understanding, Jupiter produced Æsculapius from himself, and caused him to appear upon earth, by means of the fruitful life of the sun; he, taking his journey from heaven to earth, appeared in one form in Epidaurus.” Thus Porphyry, as Cyril relates his words in his fore-mentioned eighth book: “There is a certain kind of gods, which in a proper season are transformed into men.” What the Egyptians’ opinion of this matter was, see Plutarch, Sympos. viii. quæst. i. to which may be added that place of Acts xiv. 11. who be thought came from heaven to deliver to men the art of physic. Many are offended a the cross of Christ; but what stories are there which the heathen authors do not tell of their gods! Some were servants to kings; others were struck with thunderbolts, ripped up, wounded. And the wisest of them affirmed, that the more virtue cost, the more delightful it was. Plato, in his second Republic, says, in a manner, prophetically,536536   2 The words are these, translated from the Greek: “He will be scourged, tormented, bound, his eyes burnt out, and die by crucifixion, after he has endured all those evils.” Whence he had that, which he relates in his third book of Republic: “That a good man will be tormented, furiously treated, have his hands cut off, his eyes plucked out, will be bound, condemned, and burnt.” Lactantius, in his institutions, book vi. chap. 17. has preserved this place of Seneca: “This is that virtuous man, who, though his body suffer torments in every part, though the flame enter into his mouth, though his hands be extended on a cross, does not regard what he suffers, but how well.” Such a one Euripides represents to us in these verses;—    Burn, scald this tender flesh; drink your full glut
Of purple blood. Sooner may heaven and earth
Approach each other, and be join’d in one,
Than I to you express a flattering word.”

   To which that of Æschylus, mentioned by Plato in the fore-cited place, exactly agrees:—
   “He strives to be, not to be thought, the best;
Deep-rooted in his mind he bears a stock,
Whence all his wiser counsels are derived.”
that 180for a man to appear truly good, it is necessary that his virtue be deprived of all its ornaments, so that he may be looked upon by others as a wicked man, may be derided, and at last hanged: and certainly to be an example of eminent patience, is no otherwise to be obtained.

« Prev SECT. XI. An answer to this, that the rise and… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection