|History of Freemasonry
Non-dogmatic Belief in God
Unity of God, The Universe, and Man
Existence and Expression
Evil and Freedom
Law and Responsibility
The True Word of a Mason
Philosophy and Religion
Virtue and Suffering
A Shining Exemplar
See also:Degree XXXII Question Set 1
Degree XXXII Question Set 2
Degree XXXII Question Set 3
Degree XXXII Question Set 4
Degree XXXII Question Set 5
Degree XXXII Question Set 6
Degree XXXII Question Set 7
Efforts were afterwards made, but ineffectually, to re-conquer Jerusalem and Palestine. The surviving Knights spread themselves over Europe, carrying Masonry and the legend of the Master's Degree with them, and veiling the Christian Mysteries of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Redemption of man under the allegory of the murder and raising of Hiram Abi. The Mysteries of the Craft thus became to Christian Masons the Mysteries of Religion. This important secret they were unwilling to entrust to any whose discretion had not been proved. Then it was that they selected the two Saints John as Patrons of Masonry: John the Baptist, because he was an initiated Essene; and John the Evangelist, it is said, for a still deeper reason, and one that made secrecy indispensable.
It is said (we do not vouch for the truth of the statement, although it is historical) that the Masons of the Orient had embraced the doctrines taught by St John as contra-distinguished from those taught by St Paul and St Peter, and followed by the Romish Church. They considered St John as a more accurate and faithful depository of the doctrines of Christ than St Peter: they believed in the Gospel of Love, and that faith or mere belief without works was useless; and so believing, they denied the spiritual supremacy and infallibility of the Pope and sowed the seeds of opposition to his authority in England, France, and Prussia which afterwards produced such a mighty fruit.
To conceal these dangerous esoteric doctrines, they invented different degrees in order to unfold their doctrines gradually, to make known the primitive truths which, first revealed to the Patriarchs, had been again taught by the Redeemer to the initiates slowly, and after testing them by long privations and the passage through many degrees that they might prove them more thoroughly before teaching them the doctrine of toleration and those others taught by St John, and so contrary to the corruptions of the Church and the Court of Rome corruptions which had changed the equality and humility of the Church and the early Christians into a vast hierarchy, built up storey upon storey, and cemented with the blood of a million of persons slain by the sword, the axe, and the faggot of persecution; and over which Hierarchy domineered an absolute Despot claiming supreme spiritual and temporal authority over all Kings and Emperors, and power to annul laws all over Christendom, and that when he spoke, it was the voice of God Himself speaking through his mouth.
Accordingly, it is said in the early degrees, symbolic secrets only were communicated, without explanations, that the Brethren might have the means of recognising each other, but not of betraying any dangerous secret. Signs, words, and tokens only were given in each degree, for mutual assistance and protection against Cowans, Saracens, and the crafty Emissaries of Rome, that eternal and relentless enemy of Masonry.
Our explanations of Masonry would be incomplete if we should omit to make known to you those which these Christian Masons gave of the ceremonies and symbols of the three first degrees. Whether they are correct or incorrect, it is not for us to decide. They have often been given: and though the doors of Masonry in all the legitimate degrees, and even in that of the Rose Croix and this of the Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret, open to all who believe in a Wise and Just God and in the immortality of the Soul, yet even those Masons who are not of the Christian faith, though firm in their own interpretations of the symbols, may well be curious to know those of others, may well give them a respectful attention, and may, perhaps, find something in them of interest and value. And before we enter upon the final lesson we have to give you, we will delay a few moments to repeat to you these Christian interpretations.
As Entered Apprentices and Fellow-Crafts, Masons are taught to imitate the laudable example of those Masons who laboured at the building of King Solomon's Temple, and to plant firmly and deep in their hearts those foundation-stones of principle, truth, justice, temperance, fortitude, prudence, and charity on which to erect that Christian character which all the storms of misfortune and all the powers and temptations of Hell shall not prevail against; those feelings and noble affections which are the most proper homage that can be paid to the Grand Architect and Great Father of the Universe, and which make the heart a living temple built to Him when the unruly passions are made to submit to rule and measurement and their excesses are struck off with the gavel of self-restraint; and when every action and every principle is accurately corrected and adjusted by the square of wisdom, the level of humility, and the plumb of justice.
The two columns, Jachin and Boaz, are the symbols of that profound faith and implicit trust in God and the Redeemer that are the Christian's strength; and of those good works by which alone that faith can be established and made operative and effectual to salvation.
The three pillars that support the Lodge are symbols of a Christian's Hope in a future state of happiness; Faith in the promises and divine character and mission of the Redeemer; and Charitable Judgment of other men.
The three murderers of Hiram Abi symbolise Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas the High Priest, and Judas Iscariot; and the three blows given him are the betrayal by Judas, the refusal of Roman protection by Pilate, and the condemnation by the High Priest. They also symbolise the blow on the ear, the scourging, and the crown of thorns. The twelve Fellow-Crafts sent in search of the body are the twelve disciples, in doubt whether to believe that the Redeemer would rise from the dead.
The Master's word, supposed to be lost, symbolises the Christian faith and religion, supposed to have been crushed and destroyed when the Redeemer was crucified after Iscariot had betrayed him, Peter deserted him, and when the other disciples doubted whether he would arise from the dead; but which rose from the tomb and flowed rapidly over the civilised world, and so that which was supposed lost was found. It symbolises also the Saviour himself, the Word that was in the beginning that was with God, and that was God; the Word of Life, that was made flesh and dwelt among us, and was supposed to be lost while he lay in the tomb for three days, and his disciples "as yet knew not the scripture that he must rise again from the dead", and doubted when they heard of it, and were amazed and frightened and still doubted when he appeared among them.
The bush of acacia placed at the head of the grave of Hiram is an emblem of resurrection and immortality.
Such are the explanations of our Christian brethren, entitled, like all other Masons, to a respectful consideration.
In the judgment and crucifixion of him who was at least a great reformer, all Masons can see the same three Powers which wrought the death of Jacques de Molay: the despotic Royal power, in the persons of Herod and Pilate; the insolence, cruelty, and blood-thirstiness of the Sacerdotal power, in the person of Caiaphas; and the bitterness of rank, caste, and privilege when truth and right seem about to interfere with and diminish their 'vested rights', their franchises, and immunities by raising up the people to the dignity of manhood, in the Scribes, the Elders, and the Pharisees, who monopolised the wealth and learning of the Jews.
These three have ever been the enemies of Humanity, the implacable foes of Human liberty. The pursuit and search for the assassins of Hiram symbolise the war which Masonry wages, with the arms of reason and with other arms if need be, against these oppressors of the world, these stiflers of free thought, whose chains have galled the limbs of mankind so many ages. Whether in pagan or Catholic Rome, the Emperor and the Hierarchy were the persecutors of opinion; and in the privileged classes they ever found ready instruments of their cruelty.
The Temple, destroyed by the Chaldeans, symbolises the People, the great suffering masses of Humanity, enslaved, and led in chains by Royal and Sacerdotal despotism: for universal man, redeemed and disenthralled, free, educated, and intelligent, will be in his majesty, his might, and his harmony, the most fitting Temple of the All-wise, the Just and the Beneficent Creator.
That Temple, in its beautiful and magnificent proportions, Masonry desires to rebuild. Civil and religious freedom; emancipation of both the muscles and the mind of all who are fit to be free; education, enlightenment, and the raising up of the oppressed masses of Humanity to that level of equality on which they ought to stand: that is the mission in which Masonry is to co-operate, and to fulfil which it must necessarily labour for the overthrow and extermination of Kingly tyranny and Priestly oppression, as well as exclusive privileges of rank and estate.
This is the meaning of that allegory of implacable hostility to the Knights of Malta. They are to us but the symbol of a class; and here, as everywhere in Masonry, truth is hidden in an allegory which, ill-understood, becomes repulsive to the moral sense and shocks a soul devoted to love and to sympathy and the beauty of mercy and forgiveness taught everywhere in Masonry.
But the vengeance which Masonry desires to take is not such as is indicated by the cavern, the fountain, and the bloody head. All that is but a symbol. It desires to see despotism dethroned and Constitutional Government established in its place; the sacerdotal power become like that which the Apostles exercised in the early days of Christianity; the ways to rank and to civil employment, to office and honour, open to the children of the widow, the masses of the people. It labours unceasingly for that result, for the enfranchisement of the soul as well as for that of the body; for well-regulated liberty, and a universal freedom, controlled and directed by law and order. It represents the great working and producing classes; and it adopted the legend of Hiram Abi, a worker in brass, in order that none might mistake its sympathies. What more thoroughly republican dogma could there be than that which seats by the side of the King of Israel and Judah and the King of Phoenicia, the humble worker in the metals, like them a Grand Master, and honoured equally with them by the Craft?
This is Masonry as it has come down to us. Not a system of unmeaning idle ceremonies or of commonplace learning and childish forms; nor of pretences to mysterious secrets that like ignis fatui ever elude the wearied and disappointed pursuer: but a great system, teaching all the grand truths of morality and the primitive revelation, and the mysteries of the primitive faith, first concealed and clothed in allegories which, unfolding by degrees as clouds break and leave the blue sky smiling behind, leave the truths themselves palpable and prominent in all their grand and majestic proportions.
Of this noble band of co-workers in the great cause of human improvement and human civilisation, you are now one, in full fellowship and communion, bound to us to the last moment of your life by the mystic Cable-Tow of Masonry which death alone can sever and relieve us of the obligations it imposes. It behoves you now to see that you do the cause and the Order no discredit, and that you earn and deserve the proud title Faithful and Enlightened: Faithful, to yourself, the Order, your Country, Humanity, your God; Enlightened, to see clearly the True and the Right; and Energetic to follow, protect, and defend them. Receive now from the Grand Chancellor the last words of the Ancient and Accepted Rite upon the Ethics and Philosophy of Masonry which, and not the pronunciation of any given number of letters in a name, are the True Word of a Master Mason.
In its idea of rewarding a faithful and intelligent workman by conferring upon him a knowledge of the True Word, Masonry has perpetuated a very great truth, because it involves the proposition that the idea which a man forms of God is always the most important element in his speculative theory of the Universe, and in his particular plan of action for the Church, the State, the Community, the Family, and his own individual life. It will ever make a vast difference in the conduct of people in war or peace whether they believe the Supreme God to be a cruel Deity delighting in sacrifice and blood, or a God of Love; and an individual's speculative theory as to the mode and extent of God's government, and as to the nature and reality of his own free will and consequent responsibility must have great influence in shaping the course of his life and conversation.
We see every day the vast influence of the popular idea of God. All the great historical civilisations of the race have grown out of the national ideas which were formed of God, or have been intimately connected with those ideas. The popular Theology, which at first is only an abstract idea in the heads of philosophers, by and by shows itself in the laws and in the punishments for crime; in the churches, the ceremonies, the sacraments, the festivals, the fasts, the weddings, the baptisms, and the funerals; in the hospitals, the colleges, the schools, and all the social charities; in the relations of husband and wife, parent and child; in the daily work and the daily prayer of every man.
As the world grows in its development, it necessarily outgrows its ancient ideas of God, which were only temporary and provisional. A man who has a higher conception of God than those about him, and who denies their conception of God, is very likely to be called an Atheist by men who are really far less believers in a God that he is. Thus the Christians who said that the Heathen Idols were no Gods were accounted Atheists by the People, and accordingly put to death; and Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the Jews as an unbelieving blasphemer.
There is a mere formal Atheism which is a denial of God in terms, but not in reality. A man says, There is no God: that is, no God that is self-originated, or that never originated but always WAS and HAD BEEN, Who is the cause of existence, Who is the Mind and the Providence of the Universe; and so the order, beauty, and harmony of the world of matter and mind do not indicate any plan or purpose of Deity. But, he says, NATURE meaning by that the whole total sum of existence that is powerful, active, wise, and good; nature is self-originated, or always was and had been, the cause of its own existence, the mind of the Universe and the Providence of itself. There is obviously a plan and purpose whereby order, beauty and harmony are brought about: but all that is the plan and purpose of Nature.
In such cases, the absolute denial of God is only formal and not real. The qualities of God are admitted, and affirmed to be real; and it is a mere change of name to call the possessor of those qualities Nature, and not God. The real question, then, is whether such Qualities exist as we call God; and not by what particular name we shall designate the Qualities. One man may call the sum total of these Qualities, Nature; another, Heaven; a third, Universe; a fourth, Matter; a fifth, Spirit; a sixth, God, Theos, Zeus, Alfadir, Allah, or what he pleases. All admit the existence of the Being, Power, or Ens, thus diversely named. The name is of the smallest consequence.
The real atheist must deny the existence of the Qualities of God, deny that there is any mind of or in the Universe, any self-conscious Providence, any Providence at all. He must deny that there is any Being or Cause of Finite things that is self-consciously powerful, wise, just, loving, and faithful to itself and its own nature. He must deny that there is any plan in the Universe or any part of it. He must hold either that matter is eternal or that it originated itself, or that it was originated by an Intelligence, or at least by a Cause: and then he admits a God. No doubt it is beyond the reach of our faculties to imagine how matter originated how it began to be where before there was nothing, or God only. But it is equally beyond the reach of our faculties to imagine it eternal and unoriginated. To hold it to be eternal, without thought or will; that the specific forms of it, the seed, the rock, the tree, the man, the solar system, all came with no forethought, planning, or producing them, but rather by 'chance' or 'the fortuitous concourse of atoms' of matter that has no thought or will; and that they indicate no mind, no plan, no purpose, no Providence, is absurd. It is not only to deny the existence of what we understand by mind, plan, purpose, Providence; but to insist that these words shall have some other meaning than that which the human race has ever attached to them: shall mean some unknown thing, for which the human race has no name, because it has of such a thing no possible idea. Either there never was any such thing as a "plan" and the word is nonsense, or the Universe exists in conformity to a plan. The word never meant, and never can mean, any other thing than that which the Universe exhibits. So with the word "purpose"; so with the word "Providence". They mean nothing, or else only what the Universe proves.
It was soon found that the denial of a Conscious Power, the cause of man and of his life, of a Providence, of a Mind and Intelligence arranging man in reference to the world and the world in reference to man, would not satisfy the instinctive desires of human nature or account for the facts of material nature. It did not long answer to say, if it ever was said, that the Universe was drifting in the void inane, and neither it nor any mind within or without it knew of its whence, its whither, or its whereabouts; that man was drifting in the Universe knowing little of his whereabouts, nothing of his whence or whither; that there was no mind, no Providence, no Power, that knew any better; nothing that guided and directed man in his drifting, or the Universe in the weltering waste of Time. To say to man and woman, "your heroism, your bravery, your self-denial all comes to nothing; your nobleness will do you no good; you will die, and your nobleness will do mankind no service, for there is no plan or order in all these things; everything comes and goes by the fortuitous concourse of atoms"; did not, nor ever will, long satisfy the human mind.
True, the theory of Atheism has been uttered. It has been said, "Death is the end: this is a world without a God: you are a body without a soul; there is a Here but no Hereafter for you, an Earth but no Heaven. Die, and return to your dust. Man is bones, blood, bowels, and brain; mind is matter; there is no soul in the brain, nothing but nerves. We can see all the way to a little star in Orion's belt, so distant that it will take a thousand millions of years to come from it to the Earth, journeying at the rate of twelve millions of miles a minute. There is no Heaven this side of that. You see all the way through: there is no speck of Heaven; and do you think that there is any beyond it? and if so when would you reach it? There is no Providence. Nature is a fortuitous concourse of atoms; thought is a fortuitous function of matter, a fortuitous result of a fortuitous result and chance-shot from the great wind-gun of the Universe, accidentally loaded, pointed at random, and fired off by chance. Things happen: they are not arranged. There is luck, and there is ill-luck; but there is no Providence. Die you into dust!"
Does all this satisfy the human instinct of immortality, that makes us ever long with unutterable longing to join ourselves again to our dear ones that have gone away before us, and to mankind, for eternal life? Does it satisfy our mighty hunger and thirst for immortality, our anxious longing to come nearer to, and to know more of, the Eternal Cause of all things?
Man never could be content to believe that there was no mind that thought for man, no conscience to enact eternal laws, no heart to love those whom nothing of Earth loves or cares for, no will of the Universe to marshal the nations in the way of wisdom, justice, and love. History is not thank God! we know it is not the fortuitous concourse of events, or Nature that of atoms. We cannot believe that there is no plan nor purpose in Nature to guide our going out and coming in; that there is a mighty going, but it goes nowhere; that all beauty, wisdom, affection, justice, morality in the world is an accident, and may end tomorrow.
All over the world, there is heroism unrequited, the gentle devotion of woman rewarded by brutal neglect or more brutal abuse and violence; everywhere want, misery, overwork, and under-wages. Add to these the Atheist's creed a body without a soul, an Earth without a Heaven, a world without a God: and what could we hope for but Pandemonium?
The intellect of the Atheist would find matter everywhere, but no Causing and Providing Mind; his moral sense would find no Equitable Will, no Beauty of Moral Excellence, no Conscience enacting Justice into the unchanging law of right, no spiritual Order or spiritual Providence, but only material Fate and Chance. His affections would find only finite things to love; and to them the dead that were loved and that died yesterday are like the rainbow that yesterday evening lived a moment and then passed away. His soul, flying through the vast Inane, and feeling the darkness with its wings, seeking the Soul of all, which at once is Reason, Conscience, and the Heart of all that is, would find no God but a Universe all disorder: no Infinite, no Reason, no Conscience, no Heart, no Soul of things; nothing to reverence, to esteem, to love, to worship, to trust in; but only an Ugly Force, alien and foreign to us, that strikes down those we love and makes us mere worms on the hot sand of the world. No voice would speak from the Earth to comfort him. It is a cruel mother, that great Earth that devours her young a Force, and nothing more. Out of the sky would smile no kind Providence, in all its thousand starry eyes; and in storms, a malignant violence with its lightning-sword would stab into the darkness seeking for men to murder.
No man ever was or ever can be content with that. The evidence of God has been ploughed into Nature so deeply, and so deeply woven into the texture of the human soul, that Atheism has never become a faith, though it has sometimes assumed the shape of theory. Religion is natural to man. Instinctively he turns to God and reverences and relies on Him. In the Mathematics of the Heavens, written in gorgeous diagrams of fire, he sees law, order, beauty, harmony without end. In the ethics of the little nations that inhabit the anthills, he sees the same. In all nature, animate and inanimate, he sees the evidences of a Design, a Will, an Intelligence, and a God of a God beneficent and loving, as well as wise, and merciful and indulgent as well as powerful.
Advancing to the period when man had ceased to look upon the separate parts and individual forces of the Universe as Gods, when he had come to look upon it as a whole, this question occurred to him, and insisted on being answered: "Is this material Universe self-existent, or was it created? Is it eternal, or did it originate?"
And then in succession came crowding on the human mind these other questions:
Let us once more, and for the last time, along the shore of that great ocean, gather a few more relics of the Past, and listen to its mighty voices as they come in fragmentary music, in broken and interrupted rhythm, whispering to us from the great bosom of the Past.
Rites, creeds, and legends express directly or symbolically some leading idea according to which the Mysteries of Being are supposed to be explained in Deity. The intricacies of mythical genealogies are a practical acknowledgement of the mysterious nature of the Omnipotent Deity, displaying in their beautiful but ineffectual imagery the first efforts of the mind to communicate with Nature, the flowers which fancy strewed before the youthful steps of Psyche when she first set out in pursuit of the immortal object of her love. Theories and notions in all their varieties of truth and falsehood are a machinery more or less efficacious, directed to the same end. Every religion was in its origin an embryo philosophy, or a mental attempt to interpret the unknown; and it was only when philosophy, which is essentially progress, outgrew its first acquisitions, that religion became a thing apart, cherishing as unalterable dogmas the notions which philosophy had abandoned. Separated from philosophy, it became arrogant and fantastical, professing to have already attained what its more authentic representative was ever pursuing in vain, and discovering through its initiations and mysteries all that to its contracted view seemed wanting to restore the well-being of mankind, the means of purification and expiation, remedies for disease, expedients to cure the disorders of the soul and to propitiate the Gods.
Why should we attempt to confine the idea of the Supreme Mind within an arbitrary barrier, or exclude from the limits of veracity any conception of the Deity which, if imperfect and inadequate, may be only a little more so than our own? "The name of God", says Hobbes, "is used not to make us conceive Him, for He is inconceivable, but that we may honour Him". "Believe in God, and adore Him", said the Greek Poet, "but investigate Him not; the inquiry is fruitless; seek not to discover who God is; for by the desire to know, you offend Him Who chooses to remain unknown". "When we attempt", says Philo, "to investigate the essence of the Absolute Being, we fall into an abyss of perplexity; and the only benefit to be derived from such researches is the conviction of their absurdity".
Yet man, though ignorant of the constitution of the dust on which he treads, has ventured and still ventures to speculate on the nature of God, and to define dogmatically in creeds the subject least within the compass of his faculties; and even to hate and persecute those who will not accept his views as true.
But though a knowledge of the Divine Essence is impossible, the conceptions formed respecting it are interesting as indications of intellectual development. The history of religion is the history of the human mind; and the conception formed of Deity is always in exact relation to its moral and intellectual attainment. The one is the index and the measure of the other.
The negative notion of God, which consists in abstracting the inferior and finite, is, according to Philo, the only way in which it is possible for man worthily to apprehend the nature of God. After exhausting the varieties of symbolism, we contrast the Divine Greatness with human littleness, and employ expressions apparently affirmative, such as "Infinite", "Almighty", "All-wise", "Omnipotent", "Eternal", and the like; which in reality amount only to denying in regard to God those limits which confine the faculties of man; and thus we remain content with a name which is a mere conventional sign and confession of our ignorance.
The Hebrew Jehovah and the Greek Theon expressed abstract existence, without outward manifestation or development. Of the same nature are the definitions, "God is a sphere whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference nowhere"; "God is He Who sees all, Himself unseen"; and finally that of Proclus and Hegel "Being which has no outward and positive existence". Most of the so-called ideas or definitions of the "Absolute" are only a collection of negations from which, as they affirm nothing, nothing is learnt.
God was first recognised in the Heavenly bodies and in the elements. When man's consciousness of his own intellectuality was matured, and he became convinced that the internal faculty of Thought was something more subtle than even the most subtle elements, he transferred that new conception to the object of his worship and deified a mental principle instead of a physical one. He in every case makes God after his own image: for do what we will, the highest efforts of human thought can conceive nothing higher than the supremacy of intellect; and so he ever comes back to some familiar type of exalted humanity. He at first deifies Nature, and afterwards himself.
The eternal aspiration of the religious sentiment in man is to become united with God. In his earliest development, the wish and its fulfilment were simultaneous, through unquestioning belief. In proportion as the conception of Deity was exalted, the notion of His terrestrial presence or proximity was abandoned; and the difficulty of comprehending the Divine Government, together with the glaring superstitious evils arising out of its misinterpretation, endangered the belief in it altogether.
Even the light of Heaven, which as "bright potentates of the sky" were formerly vigilant directors of the economy of Earth, now shine dim and distant, and Uriel no more descends upon a sunbeam. But the real change has been in the progressive ascent of man's own faculties, and not in the Divine Nature, as the Stars are no more distant now that when they were supposed to rest on the shoulders of Atlas. And yet a little sense of disappointment and humiliation attended the first awakening of the soul when reason, looking upwards towards the Deity, was impressed with a dizzy sense of having fallen.
But hope revives in despondency: and every nation that ever advanced beyond the most elementary conceptions felt the necessity of an attempt to fill the chasm, real or imaginary, separating man from God. To do this was the great task of poetry, philosophy, and religion. Hence the personifications of God's attributes, developments and manifestations as "Powers", "Intelligences", "Angels", "Emanations", through which and the oracular faculty in himself, man could place himself in communion with God.
The various ranks and orders of mythical beings imagined by Persians, Indians, Egyptians, or Etrurians to preside over the various departments of Nature had each his share in a scheme to bring man into closer approximation to the Deity; they eventually gave way only before an analogous though less picturesque symbolism; and the Deities and Daemons of Greece and Rome were perpetuated with only a change of names when their offices were transferred to Saints and Martyrs. The attempts by which reason had sometimes endeavoured to span the unknown by a bridge of metaphysics such as the idealistic systems of Zoroaster, Pythagoras, or Plato, were only a more refined form of the poetical illusions which satisfied the vulgar; and man still looked back with longing to the lost Golden Age when his ancestors communed face to face with the Gods, and hoped that by propitiating Heaven he might accelerate the renewal of it in the islands of the Far West, under the sceptre of Kronos or in a centralisation of political power at Jerusalem. His eager hope overcame even the terrors of the grave; for the Divine power was as infinite as human expectation, and the Egyptian duly ensepulchred in the Libyan catacombs was supposed to be already on his way to the Fortunate Abodes under the guidance of Hermes, there to obtain a perfect association and reunion with his God.
Remembering what we have already said elsewhere in regard to the old ideas concerning the Deity, and repeating it as little as possible, let us once more put ourselves in communion with the Ancient poetic and philosophic mind, and endeavour to learn of it what it thought and how it solved the great problems that have ever tortured the human intellect.
Ocellus Lucanus (who seems to have lived shortly after Pythagoras opened his School in Italy five or six hundred years before our era and in the time of Solon, Thales and the other Sages who had studied in the Schools of Egypt) not only recognises the eternity of the Universe and its divine character as an unproduced and indestructible being, but also the distinction of Active and Passive causes in what he terms the Grand Whole, or the single hermaphroditic Being that comprehends all existences, as well causes as effects; and which is a system regularly ordered, perfect and complete, of all Natures. He well apprehended the dividing-line that separates existence eternally the same from that which eternally changes; the nature of celestial from that of terrestrial bodies, that of causes from that of effects, that which IS from that which only BECOMES, a distinction that naturally struck every thinking man.
We shall not quote his language at full length. The heavenly bodies, he thought, are first and most noble; they move of themselves and ever revolve, without change of form or essence. Fire, water, earth, and air change incessantly and continually, not place but form. Then, as in the Universe there is generation and cause of generation (as generation is where there is change and displacement of parts and cause where there is stability of nature) evidently it belongs to what is the cause of generation to move and to act, and to the recipient to be made and moved. In his view, everything above the Moon was the habitation of the Gods; all below, that of Nature and discord: this operates dissolution of things made; that, production of those that are being made. As the world is unproduced and indestructible, as it had no beginning and will have no end, necessarily the principle that operates generation in another than itself, and that which operates it in itself, have co-existed.
The former is all above the Moon, and especially the Sun; the latter is the sublunary world. Of these two parts, one active, the other passive one divine and always the same, the other mortal and ever-changing, all that we call the "world" or "Universe" is composed.
These accorded with the principles of the Egyptian philosophy, which held that man and the animals had always existed together with the world; that they were its effects, eternal like itself. The chief divisions of nature into active and passive causes, its system of generation and destruction, and the concurrence of the two great principles, Heaven and Earth, uniting to form all things, will, according to Ocellus, always continue to exist. "Enough" he concludes, "as to the Universe, the generations and destructions effected in it, the mode in which it now exists, the mode in which it will ever exist, by the eternal qualities of the two principles, one always moving, the other always moved, one always governing, the other always governed."
Such is a brief summary of the doctrine of this philosopher, whose work is one of the most ancient that have survived to us. The subject on which he treated occupied in his time all men's minds: the poets sang of cosmogonies and theogonies, and the philosophers wrote treatises on the birth of the world and the elements of its composition. The cosmogony of the Hebrews, attributed to Moses; that of the Phoenicians, ascribed to Sanchoniathon; that of the Greeks, composed by Hesiod; that of the Egyptians, the Atlantes and the Cretans, preserved by Diodorus Siculus; the fragments of the theology of Orpheus, divided among different writers; the books of the Persians, or their Boundesh; those of the Indians; the traditions of the Chinese and the people of Macassar; the cosmogonic chants which Virgil puts in the mouth of Iopas at Carthage; and those of the old Silenus, the first book of the Metamorphoses of Ovid: all testify to the antiquity and universality of these fictions as to the origin of the world and its causes.
At the head of the causes of Nature, Heaven, and Earth were placed the most apparent parts of each the Sun, the Moon, the fixed Stars and Planets, and above all the Zodiac, being among the active causes of generation, and the several elements among the passive. These causes were not only classed in the progressive order of their energy, Heaven and Earth heading the respective lists, but distinct sexes were in some sort assigned to them, and characteristics analogous to the mode in which they concur in universal generation.
The doctrine of Ocellus was the general doctrine everywhere: it naturally occurred to all to make the same distinction. The Egyptians did so in selecting those animals in which they recognised these emblematic qualities, in order to symbolise the double sex of the Universe. Their God Kneph, out of whose mouth issued the Orphic egg, whence the author of the Clementine Recognitions makes a hermaphroditic figure to emerge, uniting in itself the two principles whereof Heaven and the Earth are forms, and which enter into the organisation of all beings which the heavens and the Earth engender by their concourse, furnishes another emblem of the double power, active and passive, which the ancients saw in the Universe, and which they symbolised by the egg. Orpheus, who studied in Egypt, borrowed from the theologians of that country the mysterious forms under which the science of nature was veiled, and carried into Greece the symbolic egg, with its division into two parts or causes figured by the hermaphroditic being that issued from it, whereof Heaven and Earth are composed.
The Brahmins of India expressed the same cosmogonic idea by a statue, representative of the Universe, uniting itself in both sexes. The male sex offered an image of the Sun, centre of the active principle, and the female sex of the Moon, at the sphere whereof, proceeding downward, the passive portion of nature begins. The Lingam, unto the present day revered in the Indian temples, being but the conjunction of the organs of generation of the two sexes, was an emblem of the same. The Hindus have ever had the greatest veneration for this symbol of ever-reproductive nature. The Greeks consecrated the same symbols of universal fruitfulness in their Mysteries, and they were exhibited in the sanctuaries of Eleusis. They appear among the sculptured ornaments of all the Indian temples. Tertullian accuses the Valentinians of having adopted the custom of venerating them: a custom, he says, introduced by Melampus from Egypt into Greece. The Egyptians consecrated the Phallus in the Mysteries of Osiris and Isis, as we learn from Plutarch and Diodorus Siculus; and the latter assures us that these emblems were not consecrated by the Egyptians alone, but by every people. They certainly were so among the Persians and Assyrians; and they were regarded everywhere as symbolic of the generative and productive powers of all animated beings. In those early ages, the works of nature and all her agents were sacred like herself.
For the union of Nature with herself is a chaste marriage of which the union of man and woman was a natural image, and their organs were an expressive symbol of the double energy which manifests itself in Heaven and Earth uniting together to produce all beings. "The Heavens", says Plutarch, "seemed to me to fulfil the functions of father, and the Earth of mother. The former impregnated the Earth with its fertilising rains, and the Earth receiving them became fruitful and brought forth." Heaven, which covers and embraces the Earth everywhere, is her potent spouse, uniting himself to her to make her fruitful, without which she would languish in everlasting sterility, buried in the shades of chaos and of night. Their union is their marriage; their productions of parts are their children. The skies are our Father, and Nature the great Mother of us all.
This idea was not the dogma of a single sect, but the general opinion of all the Sages. "Nature was divided", says Cicero, "into two parts, one active and the other that submitted itself to this action, which it received and which modified it. The former was deemed to be a Force, and the latter the material on which that Force exerted itself." Macrobius repeated almost literally the doctrine of Ocellus. Aristotle termed the Earth the fruitful mother, environed on all sides by the air. Above it was Heaven, the dwelling place of the Gods and divine stars, its substance ether, or a fire incessantly moving in circles, divine and incorruptible and subject to no change. Below it, nature, and the elements, mutable and acted on, corruptible and mortal.
Synesius said that generations were effected in the portions of the Universe which we inhabit, while the cause of generations resided in the portions above us, whence descend to us the germs of the effects produced here below. Proclus and Simplicius deemed Heaven the Active Cause and Father, relatively to the Earth. The former says that the World or the Whole is a single Animal; what is done in it is done by it; the same World acts, and acts upon itself. He divides it into "Heaven" and "Generation". In the former, he says, are placed and arranged the conservative causes of generation, superintended by the Genii and Gods. The Earth, or Rhea, associated ever with Saturn in production, is mother of the effects of which Heaven is Father; the womb or bosom that receives the fertilising energy of the God that engenders ages. The great work of generation is operated, he says, primarily by the action of the Sun, and secondarily by that of the Moon, so that the Sun is the primitive source of this energy as father and chief of the male Gods that form his court. He follows the action of the male and female principles through all the portions and divisions of nature, attributing to the former the origin of stability and identity; to the latter that of diversity and mobility. Heaven is to the Earth, he says, as the male to the female. It is the movement of the Heavens that by their revolutions furnish the seminal incitements and force whose emanations received by the Earth make it fruitful, and cause it to produce animals and plants of every kind.
Philo says that Moses recognised this doctrine of two causes, active and passive; but made the former to reside in the Mind or Intelligence external to matter.
The ancient astrologers divided the twelve Signs of the Zodiac into six male and six female, and assigned them to six male and six female Great Gods. Heaven and Earth, or Ouranos and Ghκ, were among most ancient nations, the first and most ancient Divinities. We find them in the Phoenician history of Sanchoniathon and in the Grecian Genealogy of the Gods given by Hesiod. Everywhere they marry, and by their union produce the later Gods. "In the beginning", says Apollodorus, "Ouranos or the Heavens was Lord of all the Universe: he took to wife Ghκ or the Earth, and had by her many children." They were the first Gods of the Cretans and, under other names, of the Armenians as we learn from Berosus, and of Panchaia, an island South of Arabia, as we learn from Euhemerus. Orpheus made the Divinity, or the "Great Whole", male and female because, he said, it could produce nothing unless it united in itself the productive force of both sexes. He called Heaven Pangenetor, the Father of all things, most ancient of Beings, beginning and end of all, containing in Himself the incorruptible and unwearying force of Necessity.
The same idea obtained in the rude North of Europe. The Scythians made the Earth to be the wife of Jupiter, and the Germans adored her under the name of Herta. The Celts worshipped the Heavens and the Earth, and said that without the former the latter would be sterile, and that their marriage produced all things. The Scandinavians acknowledged Bur or the Heavens, and gave Furtur his son the Earth as a wife. Olaus Rudbeck adds that their ancestors were persuaded that Heaven intermarried with the Earth, and thus uniting his forces with hers, produced animals and plants. The marriage of Heaven and Earth produced the Azes, Genii famous in the theology of the North. In the theology of the Phrygians and Lydians, the Asii were born of the marriage of the Supreme God with the Earth; and Fermicus informs us that the Phrygians attributed to the Earth supremacy over the other elements, and considered her the Great Mother of all things.
Virgil sings the impregnation of the joyous Earth by the Ether, its spouse, that descends upon its bosom fertilising it with rains. Columella sings the loves of Nature and her marriage with Heaven annually consummated at the sweet Springtime. He describes the Spirit of Life, the soul that animates the world, fired with the passion of Love, uniting with Nature and itself, itself a part of Nature, and filling its own bosom with new productions. This union of the Universe with itself, this mutual action of two sexes, he terms "the great Secrets of Nature", "the Mysteries of the Union of Heaven with Earth, imaged in the Sacred Mysteries of Atys and Bacchus".
Varro tells us that the great Divinities adored at Samothrace were the Heavens and the Earth, considered as First Causes or Primal Gods, and as male and female agents, one bearing to the other the relations that the Soul and Principle of Movement bear to the body or the matter that receives them. These were the Gods revered in the Mysteries of that Island as they were in the orgies of Phoenicia.
Everywhere the sacred body of Nature was covered with the veil of allegory, which concealed it from the profane and allowed it to be seen only by the sage who thought it worthy to be the object of his study and investigation. She showed herself to those only who loved her in spirit and in truth, and she abandoned the indifferent and careless to error and ignorance. "The Sages of Greece", says Pausanias, "never wrote otherwise than in an enigmatical manner, never naturally and directly". "Nature", says Sallust the Philosopher. "should be sung only in a language that imitates the secrecy of her processes and operations. She is herself an enigma. We see only bodies in movement; the forces and springs that move them are hidden from us".
The poets inspired by the Divinity, the wisest philosophers, all the theologians, the chiefs of the initiations and mysteries, even the gods uttering their oracles, borrowed the figurative language of allegory. "The Egyptians", says Proclus, "preferred that mode of teaching, and spoke of the great secrets of Nature only in mythological enigmas". The Gymnosophists of India and the Druids of Gaul lent to science the same enigmatic language, and in the same style wrote the Hierophants of Phoenicia.
The division of things into the active and the passive cause leads to that of the two Principles of Light and Darkness, connected with and corresponding to it. For Light comes from the ethereal substance that composes the active cause, and darkness comes from Earth or the gross matter which composes the passive cause. In Hesiod, the Earth, by its union with Tartarus, engenders Typhon, Chief of the Powers or Genii of darkness. But it also unites itself with the Ether or Ouranos, when it engenders the Gods of Olympus, or the Stars, children of starry Ouranos.
Light was the first Divinity worshipped by men. To it they owed the brilliant spectacle of Nature. It seems an emanation from the Creator of all things, making known to our senses the Universe which darkness hides from our eyes and, as it were, giving it existence. Darkness, as it were, reduces all nature again to nothingness, and almost entirely annihilates man.
Naturally, therefore, two substances of opposite natures were imagined, to each of which the world was in turn subjected, one contributing to its felicity and the other to its misfortune. Light multiplied its enjoyments, Darkness despoiled it of them; the former was its friend, the latter its enemy. To one all good was attributed, to the other all evil; and thus the words "Light" and "Good" became synonymous, and the words "Darkness" and "Evil". It seeming that Good and Evil could not flow from one and the same source any more than could Light and Darkness, men naturally imagined two Causes or Principles of different natures and opposite in their effects, one of which shed Light and Good on the Universe, and the other darkness and Evil.
This distinction of the two Principles was admitted in all the theologies, and formed one of the principal bases of all religions. It entered as a primary element into the sacred fables, the cosmogonies, and the mysteries of antiquity. "We are not to suppose", says Plutarch, "that the Principles of the Universe are inanimate bodies, as Democritus and Epicurus thought; nor that a matter devoid of qualities is organised and arranged by a single Reason or Providence, Sovereign over all things, as the Stoics held; for it is not possible that a single Being, good or evil, is the cause of all, inasmuch as God can in nowise be the cause of any evil. The harmony of the Universe is a combination of contraries, like the strings of a lyre, or that of a bow, which alternately is stretched and relaxed".
"The good", says Euripides, "is never separated from the Evil. The two must mingle, that all may go well".
Plutarch continues: "This opinion as to the two Principles is that of all antiquity. From the theologians and legislators it passed to the poets and philosophers. Its author is unknown; but the opinion itself is established by the traditions of the whole human race, and consecrated in the mysteries and sacrifices of the Greeks and Barbarians, wherein was recognised the dogma of opposing principles in Nature which, by their contrariety, produce the mixture of good and evil. We must admit two contrary causes, two opposing powers, which lead, one to the right and the other to the left, and thus control our life, as they do the sublunary world, which is therefore subject to so many changes and irregularities of every kind. For if there can be no effect without a cause, and if the Good cannot be the cause of the Evil, it is absolutely necessary that there should be a cause for the Evil as there is one for the Good". This doctrine, he adds, has been generally received among most nations, and especially by those who have had the greatest reputation for wisdom. All have admitted two gods with different occupations, one making the good and the other the evil found in nature. The former has been styled "God", the latter "Demon". The Persians or Zoroaster named the former Ormuzd, and the latter Ahriman; of whom they said that one was of the nature of Light, the other that of Darkness. The Egyptians called the former Osiris, and the latter Typhon, his eternal enemy.
The Hebrews, at least after their return from the Persian captivity, had their good Deity and the Devil, a bad and malicious Spirit, ever opposing God, and Chief of the Angels of Darkness, as God was of those of Light.
The Chaldeans, Plutarch says, had their good and evil stars. The Greeks had their Jupiter and Pluto, and their Giants and Titans, to whom were assigned the attributes of the Serpent with which Pluto or Serapis was encircled, and the shape whereof was assumed by Typhon, Ahriman, and the Satan of the Hebrews. Every people had something equivalent to this.
The People of Pegu believe in two Principles, one author of good and the other of Evil, and strive to propitiate the latter, while they think it needless to worship the former as he is incapable of doing evil. The people of Java, of the Moluccas, of the Gold Coast, the Hottentots, the people of Teneriffe and Madagascar, and the savage Tribes of America, all worship and strive to avert the anger and propitiate the good-will of the Evil Spirit.
But among the Greeks, Egyptians, Chaldeans, Persians, and Assyrians, the doctrine of the two Principles formed a complete and regularly arranged theological system. It was the basis of the religion of the Magi and of Egypt. The author of an ancient work attributed to Origen says that Pythagoras learned from Zarastha, a Magus at Babylon (the same, perhaps, as Zerdusht or Zoroaster), that there are two principles of all things, whereof one is the father and the other the mother; the former, Light, and the latter, Darkness. Pythagoras thought that the Dependencies on Light were warmth, dryness, lightness, swiftness; and those on darkness, cold, wet, weight, and slowness; and that the world derived its existence from these two principles as from the male and the female. According to Porphyry, he conceived two opposing powers, one good, which he termed Unity, the Light, Right, the Equal, the Stable, the Straight; the other evil, which he termed Binary, Darkness, the Left, the Unequal, the Unstable, the Crooked. These ideas he received from the Orientals, for he dwelt twelve years at Babylon, studying with the Magi. Varro says he recognised two Principles of all things the Finite and the Infinite, Good and Evil, Life and Death, Day and Night. White he thought was of the nature of the Good Principle, and Black that of the Evil; that Light and Darkness, Heat and Cold, the Dry and the Wet, mingled in equal proportions; that Summer was the triumph of heat, and Winter of cold; that their equal combination produced Spring and Autumn, the former producing verdure and favourable to health, and the latter deteriorating everything, giving birth to maladies. He applied the same idea to the rising and setting of the Sun; and like the Magi, held that God or Ormuzd in the body resembled light, and the soul, truth.
Aristotle, like Plato, admitted a principle of evil, resident in matter and in its eternal imperfection.
The twelve great Deities of the Persians, the six Amshaspands and the six Devs, marshalled respectively under the banners of Light and Darkness, are the twelve Zodiacal Signs or Months: the six supreme signs, those of Light or of Spring and Summer, commencing with Aries, and the six inferior of Darkness or of Autumn and Winter, commencing with Libra. Limited Time, as contra-distinguished from Time without limits, or Eternity, is Time created and measured by the celestial revolutions. It is comprehended in a period divided into twelve parts, each subdivided into a thousand parts, which the Persians termed years. Thus the circle annually traversed by the Sun was divided into 12,000 parts, or each Sign into 3,000: and thus, each year, the Principle of Light and Good triumphed for 3,000 years, that of Evil and Darkness for 3,000, and they mutually destroyed each other's labours for 6,000, or 3,000 for each: so that the Zodiac was equally divided between them. And accordingly Ocellus Lucanus, the Disciple of Pythagoras, held that the principal cause of all sublunary effects resided in the Zodiac, and that from it flowed the good or bad influences of the planets that revolved therein.
The twenty-four good, and twenty-four evil Deities, enclosed in the Egg, are the forty-eight constellations of the ancient sphere, equally divided between the realms of Light and Darkness, on the concavity of the celestial sphere which was apportioned among them and which, enclosing the world and planets, was the mystic and sacred egg of the Magi, the Indians, and the Egyptians (the egg that issued from the mouth of the God Kneph, that figured as the Orphic Egg in the Mysteries of Greece, that issued from the God Chumong of the Coresians, and from the Egyptian Osiris, and the God Phanes of the Modern Orphics, Principle of Light) the egg crushed by the Sacred Bull of the Japanese, and from which the world emerged; that placed by the Greeks at the feet of Bacchus, the bull-horned God, and from which Aristophanes makes Love emerge who, with Night, organises Chaos.
Thus the Balance, the Scorpion, the Serpent of Ophiuchus, and the Dragon of the Hesperides became malevolent Signs and Evil Genii; the entire Nature was divided between the two principles, and between the agents or partial causes subordinate to them. Hence Michael and his Archangels, and Satan and his fallen compeers. Hence the wars of Jupiter and the Giants, in which the Gods of Olympus fought on the side of the Light-God against the dark progeny of Earth and Chaos a war which Proclus regarded as symbolising the resistance opposed by the dark and chaotic matter to the active and beneficent force which gives it organisation: an idea which in part appears in the old theory of two Principles, one innate in the active and luminous substance of Heaven, and the other in the inert and dark substance of matter that resists the order and the good that Heaven communicates to it.
Osiris conquers Typhon and Ormuzd conquers Ahriman when, at the Vernal Equinox, the creative action of Heaven and its demiurgic energy is most strongly manifested. Then the principle of Light and Good overcomes that of Darkness and Evil, and the world rejoices, redeemed from cold and wintry darkness by the beneficent Sign into which the Sun then enters triumphant and rejoicing, after his resurrection.
From the doctrine of the two Principles, Active and Passive, grew that of the Universe animated by a Principle of Eternal Life, and by a Universal Soul, from which every isolated and temporary being received at its birth an emanation which, at the death of such being, returned to its source. The life of matter as much belonged to Nature as matter itself; and as life is manifested by movement, the sources of life must needs seem to be placed in those luminous and eternal bodies, and above all in the Heaven in which they revolve, and which whirls them along with itself in that rapid course that is swifter than all other movement. And fire and heat have so great an analogy with life that cold, like absence of movement, seemed the distinctive characteristic of death. Accordingly the vital fire that blazes in the Sun and produces the heat that vivifies everything, was regarded as the principle of organisation and life of all sublunary beings.
According to this doctrine, the Universe is not to be regarded in its creative and eternal action merely as an immense machine moved by powerful springs and forced into a continual movement which, emanating from the circumference extends to the centre, acts and reacts in every possible direction, and reproduces in succession all the varied forms which matter receives. So to regard it would be to recognise a cold and purely mechanical action, the energy of which could never produce life.
On the contrary, it was thought, the Universe should be deemed an immense Being, always moved and always moving in an eternal activity inherent in itself and which, subordinate to no foreign cause, is communicated to all its parts, connects them together, and makes of the world of things a complete and perfect whole. The order and harmony which reign therein seem to belong to and be a part of it, and the design of the various plans of construction of organised beings would seem to be graven in its Supreme Intelligence, source of all the other Intelligences which it communicates together with life to man. Nothing existing out of it, it must be regarded as the principle and term of all things.
Chaeremon had no reason for saying that the Ancient Egyptians, inventors of the sacred fables, and adorers of the Sun and the other luminaries, saw in the Universe only a machine without life and without intelligence either in its whole or in its parts, and that their cosmogony was a pure Epicureanism, which required only matter and movement to organise its world and govern it. Such an opinion would necessarily exclude all religious worship. Wherever we suppose a worship, there we must suppose intelligent Deities who receive it and are sensible to the homage of their adorers; and no people were so religious as the Egyptians.
On the contrary, with them the immense, immutable and Eternal being termed "God" or "the Universe" had eminently and in all their plenitude that life and intelligence which sublunary beings, each in an infinitely small and temporary portion of itself, possess in a far inferior degree and infinitely less quantity. It was to them in some sort like the Ocean, whence the springs, brooks, and rivers have arisen by evaporation and to the bosom whereof they return by a longer or shorter course and after a longer or shorter separation from the immense mass of its waters. The machine of the Universe was, in their view, like that of man, moved by a Principle of Life which kept it in eternal activity and circulated in all its parts. The Universe was a living and animated being, like man and the other animals: or rather, they were so only because the Universe was essentially so, and for a few moments communicated to each an infinitely minute portion of its eternal life, breathed by it into the inert and gross matter of sublunary bodies. That withdrawn, the man or the animal died; and the Universe alone, living and circulating around the wrecks of their bodies by its eternal movement, organised and animated new bodies, returning to them the eternal fire and subtle substance which vivified itself and which, incorporated in its immense mass, was its universal soul.
Anchises, in the Aeneid, taught Aeneas this doctrine of Pythagoras, learned by him from his Masters, the Egyptians, in regard to the Soul and Intelligence of the Universe, from which our souls and intelligences, as well as our life and that of the animals emanate. Heaven, Earth, the Sea, the Moon and the Stars, he said, are moved by a principle of internal life which perpetuates their existence; a great, intelligent soul, that penetrates every part of the vast body of the Universe and, mingling with everything, agitates it by an eternal movement. It is the source of life in all living things. The force which animates all emanates from the eternal fire that burns in Heaven. In the Georgics, Virgil repeats the same doctrine: and that at the death of every animal, the life that animated it, part of the Universal Life, returns to its Principle and to the Source of Life that circulates in the sphere of the Stars.
Servius makes God the active Cause that organises the elements into bodies, the vivifying breath or spirit that, spreading through matter or the elements, produces and engenders all things. The elements compose the substance of our bodies: God composes the souls that vivify these bodies. From it come the instincts of the animals, from it their life, he says: and when they die, that life returns to and re-enters into the Universal Soul, and their bodies into Universal Matter.
Timaeus of Locria and Plato his Commentator wrote of the Soul of the World, developing the doctrine of Pythagoras who thought, says Cicero, that God is the Universal Soul, resident everywhere in nature, and of which our souls are but emanations. "God is one", says Pythagoras, as cited by Justin Martyr: "He is not, as some think, without the world, but within it, and entire in its entirety. He sees all that becomes, forms all immortal beings, is the Author of their powers and performances, the Origin of all things, the Light of Heaven, the Father, the Intelligence, the Soul of all beings, the Mover of all spheres."
God, in the view of Pythagoras, was One, a single substance, whose continuous parts extend through all the Universe, without separation, difference, or inequality, like the soul in the human body. He denied the doctrine of the spiritualists, who had severed the Divinity from the Universe, making Him exist apart from the Universe, which thus became no more than a material work on which acted the Abstract Cause, a God isolated from it. The Ancient Theology did not so separate God from the Universe. This Eusebius attests in saying that but a small number of wise men, like Moses, had sought for God or the Cause of all, outside of that All; while the Philosophers of Egypt and Phoenicia, real authors of all the old cosmogonies, had placed the Supreme Cause in the Universe itself, and in its parts, so that in their view the world and all its parts are in God.
The World or Universe was thus compared to man; the Principle of Life that moves it, to that which moves man; the Soul of the World, to that of man. Therefore Pythagoras called man a microcosm or little world, as possessing in miniature all the qualities found on a great scale in the Universe: by his reason and intelligence partaking of the Divine Nature; and by his faculty of changing aliments into other substances, or growing, and reproducing himself, partaking of elementary Nature. Thus he made the Universe a great intelligent Being, like man an immense Deity, having in Itself what man has in himself: movement, life, intelligence; and, besides, a perpetuity of existence which man has not; and as, having in itself perpetuity of movement and life, therefore the Supreme Cause of All.
Everywhere extended, this Universal Soul does not, in the view of Pythagoras, act everywhere equally nor in the same manner. The highest portion of the Universe being, as it were, its head, seemed to him its principal seat, and there was the guiding power of the rest of the world. In the seven concentric spheres is resident an eternal order, fruit of the intelligence, the Universal Soul that moves, by a constant and regular progression, the immortal bodies that form the harmonious system of the Heavens.
Manilius says: "I sing the invisible and potent Soul of Nature; that Divine Substance which, everywhere inherent in Heaven, Earth, and the Waters of the Ocean, forms the bond that holds together and makes one all the parts of the vast body of the Universe. It, balancing all Forces and harmoniously arranging the varied relations of the many members of the world, maintains in it the life and regular movement that agitate it as a result of the action of the living breath or single spirit that dwells in all its parts, circulates in all the channels of universal nature, flashes with rapidity to all its points, and gives to animated bodies the configurations appropriate to the organisation of each... This eternal Law, this Divine Force, that maintains the harmony of the world, makes use of the Celestial Signs to organise and guide the animated creatures that breathe upon the Earth, and gives to each of them the character and habits most appropriate. By the action of this Force, Heaven rules the condition of the Earth and of its fields cultivated by the husbandman: it gives us or takes from us vegetation and harvests; it makes the great ocean overpass its limits at the flow, and retire within them again at the ebbing of the tide."
Thus it is no longer by means of a poetic fiction only that the Heavens and the Earth become animated and personified, and are deemed living existences for which other existences proceed. For now they live with their own life, a life eternal like their bodies, each gifted with a life, and perhaps a soul, like those of man, a portion of the universal life and universal soul; and the other bodies that they form, and which they contain in their bosoms, live only through them and with their life, as the embryo lives in the bosom of its mother, in consequence and by means of the life communicated to it, and which the mother maintains by the active power of her own life. Such is the universal life of the world, reproduced in all the beings which its superior portion creates in its inferior portion, that is as it were the matrix of the world, or of the beings that the Heavens engender in its bosom.
"The soul of the world", says Macrobius, "is nature itself [as the soul of man is man himself] always acting through the celestial spheres which it moves, and which but follow the irresistible impulse it impresses on them. The heavens, the Sun, great seat of generative power, the signs, the stars and the planets act only with the activity of the soul of the Universe. From that soul, through them, come all the variations and changes of sublunary nature, of which the heavens and celestial bodies are but the secondary causes. The zodiac, with its signs, is an existence, immortal and divine, organised by the universal soul and producing, or gathering in itself, all the varied emanations of the different powers that make up the nature of the Divinity".
This doctrine, that gave to the heavens and the spheres living souls, each a portion of the Universal Soul, was of extreme antiquity. It was held by the old Sabeans. It was taught by Timaeus, Plato, Speusippus, Iamblichus, Macrobius, Marcus Aurelius, and Pythagoras. When once men had assigned a soul to the Universe, containing in itself the plenitude of the animal life of particular beings and even of the stars, they soon supposed that soul to be essentially intelligent, and the source of intelligence in all intelligent beings. Then the Universe became to them not only animated but intelligent, and of that intelligence the different parts of nature partook. Each soul was the vehicle and, as it were, the envelope of the intelligence that attached itself to it, and could repose nowhere else. Without a soul there could be no intelligence; and as there was a Universal Soul, source of all souls, the Universal Soul was gifted with a universal intelligence, source of all particular intelligences. So the soul of the world contained in itself the intelligence of the world. All the agents of nature into which the Universal Soul entered received also a portion of its intelligence, and the Universe, in its totality and in its parts, was filled with intelligences that might be regarded as so many emanations from the Sovereign and Universal Intelligence. Wherever the divine soul acted as a cause, there also was intelligence; and thus the heaven, the stars, the elements, and all parts of the Universe, became the seats of so many divine intelligences. Every minutest portion of the Great Soul became a partial intelligence, and the more it was disengaged from gross matter, the more active and intelligent it was. And all the old adorers of nature, the theologians, astrologers, and poets, as well as the most distinguished philosophers, supposed that the stars were so many animated and intelligent beings, or eternal bodies, active causes of effects here below, whom a principle of life animated, and whom an intelligence directed, which was but an emanation from, and a portion of, the universal life and intelligence of the world.
The Universe itself was regarded as a supremely intelligent being. Such was the doctrine of Timaeus of Locria. The soul of man was part of the Intelligent Soul of the Universe, and therefore itself intelligent. His opinion was that of many other philosophers. Cleanthes, a disciple of Zeno, regarded the Universe as God, or as the unproduced and Universal cause of all effects produced. He ascribed a Soul and Intelligence to Universal Nature, and to this Intelligent Soul, in his view, Divinity belonged. From It the intelligence of man was an emanation, and shared its divinity. Chrysippus, the most subtle of the Stoics, placed in the Universal reason that forms the Soul and Intelligence of Nature, that Divine Force or Essence of the Divinity which he assigned to the world moved by the Universal Soul that pervades its every part.
An interlocutor in Cicero's work, De Natura Deorum, formally argues that the Universe is necessarily intelligent and wise because man, an infinitely small portion of it, is so. Cicero make the same argument in his oration for Milo. The physicists came to the same conclusion as the philosophers. They supposed that movement essentially belonged to the soul, and the direction of regular and ordered movements to the intelligence. And as both movement and order exist in the Universe, they therefore held that there must be in it a Soul and an Intelligence that rule it, and are not to be distinguished from itself: because the idea of the Universe is but the aggregate of all the particular ideas of all things that exist.
The argument was that the Heavens, and the stars which make part of them, are animated because they possess a portion of the Universal Soul: they are intelligent beings, because that Universal Soul, part whereof they possess, is supremely intelligent; and they share Divinity with Universal nature because Divinity resides in the Universal Soul and Intelligence which move and rule the world, and of each of which they hold a share. By this process of logic, the interlocutor in Cicero assigned Divinity to the Stars, as animated beings gifted with sensibility and intelligence, and composed of the noblest and purest portion of the ethereal substance, unmixed with matter of an alien nature, and essentially containing light and heat. Hence he concluded them to be so many Gods, of an intelligence superior to that of other Existences, corresponding to the lofty height in which they moved with such perfect regularity and admirable harmony, with a movement spontaneous and free. Hence he made them "Gods", active, eternal, and intelligent "Causes", and peopled the realm of Heaven with a host of Eternal Intelligences, celestial Genii or Angels, sharing the Universal Divinity, and associated with it in the administration of the Universe and the dominion exercised over sublunary nature and man.
We make the motive force of the planets to be a mechanical law, which we explain by the combination of two forces, the centripetal and the centrifugal, whose origin we cannot demonstrate, but whose force we can calculate. The ancients regarded them as moved by an intelligent force that had its origin in the first and Universal Intelligence. Is it so certain, after all, that we are any nearer the truth than they were? Do we know what our centripetal and centrifugal forces mean; for what is a force? With us, the entire Deity acts upon and moves each planet, as He does the sap that circulates in the little blade of grass, and in the particles of blood in the tiny veins of the invisible rotifer. With the Ancients, the Deity of each Star was but a portion of the Universal God, the Soul of Nature. Each Star and Planet, with them, was moved of itself, and directed by its own special intelligence. And this opinion of Achilles Tatius, Diodorus, Chrysippus, Aristotle, Plato, Heraclides of Pontus, Theophrastus, Simplicius, Macrobius, and Proclus, that in each Star there is an immortal soul and intelligence part of the Universal Soul and Intelligence of the Whole; this opinion of Orpheus, Plotinus, and the Stoics, was in reality that of many Christian philosophers. For Origen held the same opinion; and Augustine held that every visible thing in the world was superintended by an Angelic Power; and Cosmas the Monk believed that every Star was under the guidance of an Angel; and the author of the Octateuch, written in the time of the Emperor Justin, says that they are moved by the impulse communicated to them by Angels stationed above the firmament. Whether the Stars were animated beings was a question that Christian antiquity did not decide. Many of the Christian doctors believed they were. Saint Augustine hesitates; Saint Jerome doubts if Solomon did not assign souls to the Stars. St Ambrose does not doubt they have souls; and Pamphilus says that many of the Church believe they are reasonable beings, while many think otherwise, but that neither one nor the other opinion is heretical.
Thus the Ancient Thought, earnest and sincere, wrought out the idea of a Soul inherent in the Universe and in its several parts. The next step was to separate that Soul from the Universe and give it an external and independent existence and personality still omnipresent in every inch of space and in every particle of matter, and yet not a part of Nature but its Cause and its Creator. This is the middle ground between the two doctrines of Pantheism (or that all is God, and God is in all and is all) on the one side, and Atheism (or that all is nature, and there is no other God) on the other; which doctrines, when reduced to their simplest terms, seem to be the same.
We complacently congratulate ourselves on our recognition of a personal God, as being the conception most suited to human sympathies, and exempt from the mystifications of Pantheism. But the Divinity still remains a mystery, notwithstanding all the devices which symbolism, either from the organic or inorganic creation, can supply; and personification is itself a symbol, liable to misapprehension as much as, if not more than, any other, since it is apt to degenerate into a mere reflection of our own infirmities; and hence any affirmative idea or conception of the Deity that we can picture in our own minds must needs be infinitely inadequate.
The spirit of the Vedas (sacred Indian books of great antiquity), as understood by their earliest as well as most recent expositors, is decidedly a pantheistic-monotheism one God, and He all in all; the many divinities, numerous as the prayers addressed to them, being resolvable into the titles and attributes of a few, and ultimately into The One. The machinery of personification was understood to have been unconsciously assumed as a mere expedient to supply the deficiencies of language; and the Mimamsa justly considered itself as only interpreting the true meaning of the Mantras when it proclaimed that, in the beginning, "Nothing was but Mind", the Creative Thought of Him which existed alone from the beginning, and breathed without afflation". The idea suggested in the Mantras is dogmatically asserted and developed in the Upanishads. The Vedanta philosophy, assuming the mystery of the "One in Many" as the fundamental article of faith, maintained not only the Divine Unity, but the identity of matter and spirit. The unity which it advocates is that of one mind. Mind is the Universal Element, the One God, the Great Soul, Mahatma. He is the material as well as efficient cause, and the world is a texture of which he is both the web and the weaver. He is the Macrocosm, the universal organism called Purusha, of which Fire, Air, and Sun are only the chief members. His head is light, his eyes the Sun and Moon, his breath the wind, his voice the opened Vedas. All proceeds from Brahma, like the web from the spider and the grass from the earth.
Yet it is only the impossibility of expressing in language the origination of matter from spirit which gives to Hindu philosophy the appearance of materialism. Formless Himself, the Deity is present in all forms. His glory is displayed in the Universe as the image of the Sun in water which is, yet is not, the luminary itself. All material agency and appearance, the subjective world, are to a great extent phantasms, the notional representations of ignorance. They occupy, however, a middle ground between reality and non-reality: they are unreal, because nothing exists but Brahma; yet in some degree real, inasmuch as they constitute an outward manifestation of Him. They are a self-induced hypostasis of the Deity, under which He presents to Himself the whole of animate and inanimate Nature, the actuality of the moment, the diversified appearances which successively invest the One Pantheistic spirit.
The great aim of reason is to generalise: to discover unity in multiplicity, order in apparent confusion; to separate the stable and universal from the transitory and accidental. In the contemplation of Nature and the vague, but almost intuitive perception of a general uniformity of plan among endless varieties of operation and form, arise those solemn and reverential feelings which, if accompanied by intellectual activity, may eventually ripen into philosophy.
The idea of the Universal preceded the recognition of any system for its explanation. It was felt rather than understood; and it was long before the grand conception on which all philosophy rests received through deliberate investigation that analytical development which might properly entitle it to the name. The sentiment, when first observed by the self-conscious mind was, says Plato, "a Divine gift communicated to mankind by some Prometheus, or by those ancients who lived nearer to the Gods than our degenerate selves". The mind deduced from its first experiences the notion of a general Cause or Antecedent, to which it shortly gave a name and personified it. This was the statement of a theorem, obscure in proportion to its generality. It explained all things but itself. It was a true cause, but an incomprehensible one. Ages had to pass before the nature of the theorem could be rightly appreciated before men, acknowledging the First Cause to be an object of faith rather than science, were contented to confine their researches to those nearer relations of existence and succession which are really within the reach of their faculties.
At first, and for a long time, the intellect deserted the real for a hastily-formed ideal world, and the imagination usurped the place of reason in attempting to put a construction on the most general and inadequate of conceptions by transmuting its symbols into realities and by substantialising it under a thousand arbitrary forms.
In poetry, the idea of Divine unity became, as in nature, obscured by a multifarious symbolism; and the notions of transcendental philosophy reposed on views of nature scarcely more profound than those of the earliest symbolists. Yet the idea of unity was rather obscured or extinguished: and Xenophanes appeared as an enemy of Homer only because he more emphatically insisted on the monotheistic element which in poetry has been comparatively overlooked. The first philosophy reasserted the Unity which poetry had lost; but being unable to investigate Its nature, it again resigned It to the world of approximate sensations, and became bewildered in materialism, considering the exceptional Whole or First Element as some refinement of matter, unchangeable in its essence though subject to mutations of quality and form in an eternal succession of seeming decay and regeneration; comparing it to water, air, or fire, as each endeavoured to refine on the doctrine of his predecessor, or was influenced by a different class of theological traditions.
In the philosophical systems, the Divine Activity divided by the poets among a race of personifications in whom the idea of descent replaced that of cause or of pantheistic evolution, was restored without subdivision or reservation to Nature as a whole: at first as a mechanical force or life; afterwards as an all-pervading soul or inherent thought; and lastly as an external directing Intelligence.
The Ionian revival of pantheism was materialistic. The Moving Force was inseparable from a material element, a subtle yet visible ingredient. Under the form of air or fire, the principle of life was associated with the most obvious material machinery of nature. Everything, it was said, is alive and full of Gods. The wonders of the volcano, the magnet, the ebb and flow of the tide, were vital indications of the breathing or moving of the Great World-Animal. The imperceptible ether of Anaximenes had no positive quality beyond the atmospheric air with which it was easily confused: and even the "Infinite" of Anaximander, though free of the conditions of quality or quantity, was only an ideal chaos, relieved of its coarseness by negations. It was the illimitable store-house or Pleroma, out of which is evolved the endless circle of phenomenal change. A moving Force was recognised in, but not clearly distinguished from, the material Space, Time, Figure, and Number. Other common forms or properties, which exist only as attributes, were treated as substances, or at least as making a substantial connection between the objects to which they belong; and all the conditions of material existence were supposed to have been evolved out of the Pythagorean Monad.
The Eleatic philosophers treated conceptions not only as entities, but as the only entities, alone possessing the stability and certainty and reality vainly sought among phenomena. The only reality was Thought. "All real existence", they said, "is mental existence; non-existence being inconceivable is therefore impossible; existence fills up the whole range of thought, and is inseparable from its exercise; thought and its object are one".
Xenophanes used ambiguous language applicable to the material as well as to the mental, and exclusively appropriate to neither. In other words, he availed himself of material imagery to illustrate an indefinite meaning. In announcing the Universal Being, he appealed to the Heavens as the visible manifestation, calling it spherical, a term borrowed from the material world. He said that God was neither moved nor unmoved, limited nor unlimited. He did not even attempt to express clearly what cannot be conceived clearly, admitting, says Simplicius, that such speculations were above physics. Parmenides employed similar expedients, comparing his metaphysical Deity to a sphere, or to heat, an aggregate or a continuity, and so involuntarily withdrawing its nominal attributes.
The Atomic school, dividing the All into Matter and Force, deemed matter unchangeable in its ultimate constitution, though infinitely variable in its resultant forms. They made all variety proceed from the varied combinations of atoms: but they required no mover or director of the atoms external to themselves; no Universal Reason, but a Mechanical Eternal Necessity, like that of the Poets. Still it is doubtful whether there ever was a time when reason could be said to be entirely asleep, a stranger to his own existence, notwithstanding this apparent materialism. The earliest contemplation of the external world, which brings it into an imagined association with ourselves, assigns either to its whole or its parts the sensation and volition which belong to our own souls.
Anaxagoras admitted the existence of ultimate elementary particles, as Empedocles did, from the combinations whereof all material phenomena resulted. But he asserted the Moving Force to be Mind; and yet, though he clearly saw the impossibility of advancing by illustration or definition beyond a reasonable faith, or a simple negation of materiality, yet he could not wholly desist from the endeavour to illustrate the nature of this non-matter or mind by symbols drawn from those physical considerations which decided him in placing it in a separate category. Whether as human being, or as the regulating Principle in nature, he held it different from all other things in character and effect, and that therefore it must necessarily differ in its essential constitution. It was neither Matter, nor a Force conjoined with matter or homogeneous with it, but independent and generally distinct, especially in this: that being the source of all motion, separation, and cognition, it is something entirely unique, pure, and unmixed; and so being unhindered by any interfering influence limiting its independence of individual action, it has Supreme Empire over all things; over the vortex of worlds as well as over all that live in them. It is most penetrating and powerful, mixing with other things though no other thing mixes with it; it exercises Universal control and cognition, and includes the Necessity of the Poets, as well as the independent power of thought which we exercise within ourselves. In short, it is the self-conscious power of thought extended to the Universe, and exalted into the Supreme External Mind which sees, knows, and directs all things.
Thus Pantheism and Materialism were both avoided; and matter, though as infinitely varied as the senses represent it, was held in a bond of unity transferred to a ruling power apart from it. That Power could not be Prime Mover, if it were itself moved; nor All-governing, if not apart from the things it governs. If the arranging Principle were inherent in matter, it would have been impossible to account for the existence of a chaos: if something external, then the old Ionian doctrine of a "beginning" became more easily conceivable, as being the epoch at which the Arranging Intelligence commenced Its operations.
But this grand idea of an all-governing independent mind involved difficulties which proved insuperable, because it gave to matter in the form of chaos an independent and eternal self-existence, and so introduced a dualism of mind and matter. In the Mind or Intelligence, Anaxagoras included not only life and motion, but the moral principles of the noble and good; and probably used the term on account of the popular misapplication of the word "God", and as being less liable to misconstruction, and more specifically marking his idea. His "Intelligence" principle remained practically liable to many of the same defects as the "Necessity" of the poets. It was the presentiment of a great idea which it was for the time impossible to explain or follow out. It was not yet intelligible, nor was even the road opened through which it might be approached.
Mind cannot advance in metaphysics without self-deification. In attempting to go further, it only enacts the apotheosis of its own subtle conceptions, and so sinks below the simpler ground already taken. The realities which Plato could not recognise in phenomena he discovered within his own mind, and as unhesitatingly as the old Theosophists installed its creations among the Gods. He, like most philosophers after Anaxagoras, made the Supreme Being to be Intelligence: but in other respects left His nature undefined or rather infinite through the variety of definitions a conception vaguely floating between Theism and Pantheism. Though deprecating the demoralising tendencies of poetry, he was too wise to attempt to replace them by other representations of a positive kind. He justly says that spiritual things can be made intelligible only through figures; and the forms of allegorical expression which in a rude age had been adopted unconsciously were designedly chosen by the philosopher as the most appropriate vehicles for theological ideas.
As the devices of symbolism were gradually stripped away in order, if possible, to reach the fundamental conception, the religious feeling habitually connected with it seemed to evaporate under the process. And yet Xenophanes and Heraclitus, the advocates of Monotheism, declaimed only against the making of Gods in human form. They did not attempt to strip nature of its divinity, but rather to recall religious contemplation from an exploded symbolism to a purer one. They continued the veneration which in the background of poetry has been maintained for Sun and Stars, the Fire or Ether. Socrates prostrated himself before the rising luminary; and the eternal spheres which seem to have shared the religious homage of Xenophanes retained a secondary and qualified Divinity in the Schools of the Peripatetics and Stoics.
The unseen being or beings revealed only to the Intellect became the theme of philosophy; and their more ancient symbols, if not openly discredited, were passed over with evasive generality as beings respecting whose problematical existence we must be "content with what has been reported by these ancients who, assuming to be their descendants, must therefore be supposed to have been well acquainted with their own ancestors and family connections". And the Theism of Anaxagoras was still more decidedly subversive, not only of Mythology but of the whole religion of outward nature, it being an appeal from the world without to the consciousness of spiritual dignity within man.
In the doctrines of Aristotle, the world moves on uninterruptedly always changing, yet ever the same: like Time, the Eternal Now, knowing neither repose nor death. There is a principle which makes good the failure of identity by multiplying resemblances: the destruction of the individual by an eternal renewal of the form in which matter is manifested. This regular eternal movement implies an Eternal Mover: not an inert Eternity, such as the Platonic Eidos, but one always acting, His essence being to act, for otherwise He might never have acted, and the existence of the world would be an accident: else what should have decided Him to act after long inactivity? Nor can He be partly in act and partly potential, that is, quiescent and undetermined to act or not to act, for even in that case motion would not be eternal, but contingent and precarious. He is therefore wholly in act, a pure untiring activity, and for the same reasons wholly immaterial. Thus Aristotle avoided the idea that God was inactive and self-contemplative for an eternity, and then for some unknown reason, or by some unknown motive, commenced to act outwardly and produce: but he incurred the opposite hazard of making the result of His action, matter and the Universe, be co-existent with Himself; or, in other words, of denying that there was any time when His outward action commenced.
The First Cause, he said, unmoved, moves all. Act was first, and the Universe has existed forever, one persistent cause directing its continuity. The unity of the First Mover follows from His immateriality. If He were not Himself unmoved, the series of motions and causes of motion would be infinite. Unmoved, therefore, and unchangeable Himself, all movement, even in that space, is caused by Him: He is necessary; He cannot be otherwise than as He is; and it is only through the necessity of His being that we can account for those necessary eternal relations which make a science of Being possible. Thus Aristotle leaned to a seemingly personal God: not a being of parts and passions, like the God of the Hebrews or that of the mass even of educated men in our own day, but a Substantial Head of all the categories of being, an Individuality of Intelligence, the dogma of Anaxagoras revived out of a more elaborate and profound analysis of Nature, something like that living unambiguous Principle which the old poets, in advance of the materialistic cosmogonists from Night or Chaos, had discovered in Ouranos or Zeus.
Soon, however, the vision of personality is withdrawn, and we reach that culminating point of thought where the real blends with the ideal; where moral action and objective thought (that is, thought exercised as to anything outside of itself) as well as the material body are excluded; and where the Divine action in the world retains its veil of impenetrable mystery, and presents but a contradiction to the utmost ingenuity of research. At this extreme, the series of efficient causes resolves itself into the Final Cause. That which moves, itself unmoved, can only be the immobility of Thought or Form. God is both formal, efficient, and final cause: the One Form comprising all forms, the One Good including all good, the goal of the longing of the Universe, moving the world as the object of love or rational desire moves the individual. He is the internal or self-realised Final cause, having no end beyond Himself.
He is no moral agent: for if He were, He would be but an instrument for producing something still higher and greater. One sort of act only, activity of mind or thought, can be assigned to Him Who is at once all act, yet all repose. What we call our highest pleasure, which distinguishes wakefulness and sensation, and which gives a reflected charm to hope and memory, is with Him perpetual. His existence is unbroken enjoyment of that which is most excellent but only temporary with us. The divine quality of active and yet tranquil self-contemplation characterising intelligence is pre-eminently possessed by the Divine Mind; His thought which, unlike ours, is His existence, is unconditional and wholly act. If He can receive any gratification or enjoyment from that which exists beyond Himself, He can also be displeased and pained with it, and then He would be an imperfect being. To suppose pleasure experienced by Him from anything outward supposes an insufficient prior enjoyment and happiness, and a sort of dependency.
Man's Good is beyond himself: not so God's. The eternal act which produces the world's life is the eternal desire of good. The object of the Absolute Thought is the Absolute Good. Nature is all movement, and Thought all repose. In contemplating that absolute good, the Finality can contemplate only Itself; and thus, all material interference being excluded, the distinction of subject and object vanishes in complete identification, and the Divine Thought is "the thinking of thought". The energy of mind is life, and God is that energy in its purity and perfection. He is therefore Life itself, eternal and perfect; and this sums up all that is meant by the term "God". And yet, after all this transcendentalism, the very essence of thought consists in its mobility and power of transference from object to object; and we can conceive of no thought without an object beyond itself about which to think, or of any activity in mere self-contemplation without outward act, movement, or manifestation.
Plato endeavours to show how the Divine Principle of Good becomes realised in nature: Aristotle's system is a vast analogical induction to prove how all Nature tends towards a final good. Plato considered Soul as a principle of movement, and made his Deity realise, that is, turn into realities, his ideas, as a free intelligent Force. Aristotle, for whom Soul is the motionless centre from which motion radiates and to which it converges, conceives a correspondingly unmoved God. The Deity of Plato creates, superintends, and rejoices in the universal joy of His creatures. That of Aristotle is the perfection of man's intellectual activity extended to the Universe. When he makes the Deity to be an eternal act of self-contemplation, the world is not excluded from His cognisance, for He contemplates it within Himself. Apart from and beyond the world, He yet mysteriously intermingles with it. He is Universal as well as Individual; His agency is necessary and general, yet also makes the real and good of the particular.
When Plato had given to the unformed world the animal life of the Ionians, and added to that the Anaxagorean Intelligence, overruling the wild principle of Necessity; and when to Intelligence was added Beneficence; and the dread Wardours Force and Strength were made subordinate to Mildness and Goodness: it seemed as if a further advance were impossible, and that the Deity could not be more than The Wise and the Good.
But the contemplation of the Good implies that of its opposite, Evil. When God is held to be "The Good", it is not because Evil is unknown, but because it is designedly excluded from His attributes. But if Evil be a separate and independent existence, how would it fare with His prerogative of Unity and Supremacy? To meet this dilemma, it remained only to fall back on something more or less akin to the vagueness of antiquity: to make a virtual confession of ignorance, to deny the ultimate reality of Evil like Plato and Aristotle or, with Speusippus, the eternity of its antithetical existence, to surmise that it is only one of those notions which are indeed provisionally indispensable in a condition of finite knowledge, but of which so many have been already discredited by the advance of philosophy: to revert, in short, to the original conception of "The Absolute", or of a single Being in Whom all mysteries are explained, and before Whom the disturbing principle is reduced to a mere turbid spot on the ocean of Eternity, which to the eye of faith may be said no longer to exist.
But the Absolute is nearly allied to the non-existent. Matter and evil obtruded themselves too constantly and too convincingly to be confuted or cancelled by subtleties of Logic. It is in vain to attempt to merge the world in God while the world of experience exhibits contrariety, imperfection, and mutability instead of the immutability of its Source. Philosophy was but another name for uncertainty; and after the mind had successively deified Nature and its own conceptions without any practical result but toilsome occupation; when the reality it sought, without or within, seemed ever to elude its grasp, the intellect, baffled in its higher flights, sought advantage and repose in aiming at truth of a lower but more applicable kind.
The Deity of Plato is a Being proportioned to human sympathies: the Father of the World, as well as its Creator; the Author of Good only, not of Evil. "Envy", he says, "is far removed from celestial beings, and man, if willing, and braced for the effort, is permitted to aspire to a communion with the solemn troops and sweet societies of Heaven. God is the Idea or Essence of Goodness, the Good itself: in goodness He created the World, and gave to it the greatest perfection of which it was susceptible, making it, as far as possible, an image of Himself. The sublime type of all excellence is an object not only of veneration but of love". The Sages of old had already intimated in enigmas that God is the Author of Good; that like the Sun in Heaven, or Aesculapius on Earth, He is the "Healer", "Saviour", and "Redeemer", the destroyer and averter of Evil, ever healing the mischiefs inflicted by Herι, the wanton or irrational power of Nature.
Plato only asserts with more distinctness the dogma of antiquity when he recognises Love as the highest and most beneficent of Gods, who gives to nature the invigorating energy restored by the art of medicine to the body; since Love is emphatically the physician of the Universe, the Aesculapius to whom Socrates wished to sacrifice in the hour of his death.
A figurative idea adopted from familiar imagery gave that endearing aspect to the divine connection with the Universe which had commanded the earliest assent of the sentiments until, rising in refinement with the progress of mental cultivation, it ultimately established itself as firmly in the deliberate approbation of the understanding as it had ever responded to the sympathies. Even the rude Scythians, Bithynians, and Scandinavians called God their "Father"; all nations traced their ancestry more or less directly to Heaven. The Hyperborean Olen, one of the oldest symbols of the religious antiquity of Greece, made Love the First-born of Nature. Who will venture to pronounce at what time God was first worthily and truly honoured, or when man first began to feel aright the mute eloquence of Nature? In the obscure physics of the mystical Theologers who preceded Greek philosophy, Love was the Great First Cause and Parent of the Universe. "Zeus", says Proclus, "when entering upon the work of creation, changed Himself into the form of Love; and He brought forward Aphrodite, the principle of Unity and Universal Harmony, to display her light to all. In the depths of His mysterious being, He contains the principle of Love within Himself; in Him creative wisdom and blessed love are united".
The speculators of the venerable East, who had conceived the idea of an Eternal Being superior to all affection and change, in His own sufficiency enjoying a plenitude of serene and independent bliss, were led to inquire into the apparently inconsistent fact of the creation of the world. Why, they asked, did He who required nothing external to Himself to complete His already existing Perfection, come forth out of His unrevealed and perfect existence, and become incorporated in the vicissitudes of nature? The solution of the difficulty was Love. The Great being beheld the beauty of His own conception, which dwelt with Him alone from the beginning: Maia, of Nature's loveliness, at once the germ of passion and the source of worlds. Love became the Universal parent when the Deity, before remote and inscrutable, became ideally separated into the loving and the beloved.
And here again recurs the ancient difficulty: that, at whatever early period this creation occurred, an eternity had previously elapsed during which God, dwelling alone in His unimpeached Unity, had no object for His Love; and that the very word implies to us an existing object towards which the love is directed; so that we cannot conceive of love in the absence of any object to be loved; and therefore we again return to this point that if love is of God's essence, and He is unchangeable, the same necessity of His nature supposed to have caused creation must ever have made His existence impossible without an object to love; and so the Universe must have been coexistent with Himself.
The words uniformly rendered "God" in the authorised version of the Bible include essential differences of form and meaning in the Hebrew; and the translation does not at all give the meaning of the original. Sometimes the noun is singular, sometimes plural; and when plural, it is sometimes joined with a singular, and sometimes with a plural verb. The plural is usually explained as being like the "We" of royal proclamation, used more distinctly to express the excellence and dignity of God. But where the verb as well as substantive are plural, there it is allowed that the Scriptural Elohim, Aeloim, or Alhim is a "term retained from the usages of Polytheism, and may be considered to mean higher Powers and Intelligences". Abraham, for instance (Gen. 20:13) says that the Elohim caused (in the plural) him to wander from his father's house: and at Beth-Al, or Al-Bith-Al, as Jacob termed it, the Elohim appeared (in the plural) to Jacob (Gen. 35:7); and there Li Alhim said to him, Ani Al Shedi I am Al Shedi, or the Mighty God.
The Hebrew God is usually supposed to be attended by a court resembling the divan of an Eastern monarch, and like Jove in the midst of the divine conclave of the Iliad, to be surrounded by a congregation of saints and mighty ones (Ps. 82: 1; Is. 14:13), "with all the Host of Heaven at his right hand and at his left" (1 Kings, 22:19). When, therefore, he is represented as deliberating with others, "let us make man after our image", etc., it is reasonable to infer that he addresses the present numbers of the holy congregation included in the plurality of the Elohim, the attendant Armies of Heaven or Sons of God, assembled in oriental state around their King. Ihuh, as tutelary God of Israel, is distinguished from the general company of Elohim, and emphatically elevated above them, under the title of Ihuh-Elohim, or Ihuh-Tsbauth, God of Hosts, as their supreme presiding chief who inhabits a dwelling above the starry firmament, and which they are not permitted to enter [Is. 14:13]. But the term "Heavenly Hosts" includes not only the counsellors and emissaries of Ihuh, but also the celestial luminaries [Gen. 2:1; Gen. 22:1,2; Deut. 4:19; Deut. 17:3; ps. 33:6]; and the stars, imagined in the East to be animated Intelligences, presiding over human weal and woe, are identified with the more distinctly impersonated messengers, or angels [Gen. 32:1,2; Job 28:25], who execute the divine decrees, and whose predominance in Heaven is in mysterious correspondence and relation with the powers and dominions of the Earth [Is. 24:21; Is. 40:26].
In the 148th Psalm, while all the creatures in Heaven and on Earth are summoned to do homage to Ihuh, the Angels and Heavenly Hosts [v. 2, 3] are so closely approximated that it is impossible they can have been very clearly distinguished in the writer's mind, especially when, in the 8th verse, they assume a correlation with the earthly elements of fire and hail, snow and vapour, themselves in a subordinate sphere made to act as executors of the divine decrees. Correspondingly, in Job, the Morning Stars and the Sons of God are identified [Job 38:7]; they join in the same chorus of praise to the Almighty; they are both susceptible of joy; they "walk in brightness" [Job 31:26] and are liable to impurity and imperfection in the sight of God [Job, 15:15; Job 25:5].
The Potentates of the Sky, the appropriate types of all earthly authority [Gen. 37:9; Num. 24:17; Is. 14:12], being thus indistinguishable from the Heavenly Beings, the history of the origin of both is supposed to be sufficiently explained when it is said that "God by His Word made all the Host of Heaven [Ps. 33:6]; and the prohibition to worship the one made it unnecessary to lay any express veto on the deification of the other. Hence it is that in the account of creation, the Sun, Moon, and stars take precedence of all other created beings in the scale of animated nature. They dwell in the first-created light, as appropriate inhabitants of Heaven, as the birds are fitted for the atmosphere, the fish for the water, the land animals for the earth. When the personality of the intermediate beings became more generally recognised, it was natural that the Elohim and "Sons of the Elohim" should be interpreted to mean angels, as were the Tsba or Tsbauth, the starry armies.
Many difficulties were thus avoided or explained. It was thus easy to do away with any traces of polytheistic expression to account for representation of human characteristics: to suppose, for instance, that man was created, not literally "in the image of Ihuh", but after the similitude of the Elohim. Yet it still remains open to suppose the collective Elohim to have had an original reference to the Heavenly Host, comprehending in the plural form all that congregation of saints and Holy Ones [Jon 15:15; Jon 38:7] of which Ihuh was afterwards recognised as the Creator and King; or, still more probably, that it meant, as in the very ancient fragment with which Genesis begins, the aggregate of the Creative Forces or Powers, inferior to but emanations of, Ihuh, acting collectively as a unit; that, from long-established habit, the term continued to be employed as a title of Ihuh Himself, and even warranted the archaism of confounding the personality of these Angels or Forces with the more peculiar and revered name of Ihuh; that, in short, Li Alhim, the Alhim or Elohim, was originally a collective noun for "the other Gods" worshipped by the ancestors of the Israelites [Josh. 24: 2; Gen. 20:13; Ps. 34: 7], including not only foreign superstitious forms, but also the Creative Forces or Subordinate Hierarchy of Powers, and all that "Host of Heaven" which was revealed in poetry to the shepherds of the desert, now as careering in chariots of fire [2 Kings, 6:17], now as an encampment of warriors [Gen. 32:1; Ps. 34:7], and now as winged messengers ascending and descending the vault of Heaven to communicate the will of God to mankind [Gen. 28:12].
The Jews continued to preserve in their traditions obscure memorials of the worship of the Stars as having preceded the religion of Ihuh. "The Eternal", they said, in the Bereshith Rabba to Genesis, "called forth Abraham and his posterity out of the dominion of the Stars. By nature, the Israelite was a Servant of the Stars, and born under their influence, as are the heathen; but by virtue of the law given on Mount Sinai, he became liberated from this degrading servitude".
The Nomadic Tribes of the interior of Asia were particularly distinguished by the form of religion called Sabeism. Long before becoming acquainted with the Stellar mythology of the Greeks, the Arab, abiding in the field by night, rejoicing in the refulgence of Moon and Stars, had amused his fancy by giving names to the more conspicuous astral groups; and names taken from the familiar objects of his life, such as ostrich, camel, or tent, continued to be preserved with others more recently introduced. Each tribe singled out among the Heavenly bodies its favourite Gods, and consulted them as omens of futurity. From their neighbours of Arabia and Chaldea, the Hebrews may probably have adopted the few names for the constellations which they appear to have possessed, and which occur characteristically in the pastoral books of Job and Amos the Cluster or Pleiades, the Northern Wain or Bear, and Chesil or Orion.
If we had a translation of the Hebrew writings in which the names of Deity (including all supposed to be such) were simply the Hebrew names repeated in English letters, we should have a knowledge of the Hebrew ideas of Deity which our translation systematically conceals from us. The passage in which the Prophet Amos indignantly denies the early existence of a pure Jehovistic religion proves that the Israelites shared the Star-worship of the Arabs, particularly that of Saturn (or Remphan) to whom the seventh day was immemorially consecrated. This admission, into which Amos seems to have been led by vehemence of feeling, is one of the most remarkable in those writings and, coupled with other explanatory passages such as Jeremiah 7:22, throws an entirely new light on much of the older writings and gives a far different notion of Hebrew religious antiquity from that commonly entertained. The Prophet (Amos) is remonstrating on the uselessness of mere ceremonial observances, but he goes further: he declares that these external ceremonies were not in fact offered to the true Jehovah, but to Moloch, or to a Star-God equivalent to Saturn; the same Star, says Jerome, still worshipped by the Saracens. This is the passage in question (Amos 5: 25,26): "Did ye offer unto Me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O People of Israel? Nay: but ye bore the tabernacle of your Moloch [Melec] and Chiun your images, the Star of your God, which ye made yourselves". And the passage in Jeremiah (which denies much of the teaching called Mosaic to have emanated from Ihuh) is (Jer. 7:22): "For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices".
The Star-God worshipped by the ancient Israelites was not the God of the better religion of the prophets, nor was his law the righteous law of the true Jehovah. And yet, although neither the God El or Al nor Jehovah was merely planetary or solar, yet we cannot deny a direct astrological character to the Power who, seated on the pinnacle of the Universe, is described as leading forth the Host of Heaven, and telling them unerringly by name and number. The Stars of Jehovah are His Sons (Is. 14:13; Is. 38:7), and His "eyes, which run through the whole world, keeping watch over men's deeds". The seven eyes of the Lord, engraved on the stone laid before Joshua, evidently refer to the Seven Planets (Zech. 3:9; Zech. 4:10); and they are the same eyes mentioned in 2 Chron. 16:9; Prov. 15:3; and Deut. 11:12. The earlier Hebrew names of God are all significant. They are chiefly descriptive of Power. Al is commonly interpreted The Strong; Al Shdi, The Mighty; Lal Aliun of Malki-Tsedek, The Strong-Exalted; and the Elohim or Alhim were the Forces or Powers of Deity.
The prevalence of the worship of corner or emblematic stones is also distinctly alluded to in the old Hebrew writings. Ihuh is often compared to a rock, as in 2 Sam. 22:2,3,32; and 23:3. And Zuri-Shedi and Zuri-Al appear to have been common names for the Hebrew Deity (Num. 1:6 and 22), adopted conformably to the custom of the religious East as a family patronymic from Tsur, a rock or stone.
The Patriarchal God of the Hebrews was Al Shedi (Exod. 6:3), Al Alhi Isral (Gen. 33:20), or Al Aliun, titles composed of Al or El, "The Mighty", the well-known general designation of the Semitic Nature-God which enters into the composition of old Israelitish proper names, as the corresponding one of Bel or Baal does into Babylonian and Phoenician. The peculiar characteristic of El or Ilus was to devour his own children.
The great rivals of the Hebrew Deity, who most excited his jealousy, were Bel (Lord) and Moloch (Melec or King). The symbol of the former was the Sun, and that of the latter, Fire. Both were ultimately the same being, and their rites and symbols interchangeable. Human victims were offered to both, as they were to Ihuh. Moloch is not formally introduced until the time of Solomon. In earlier times, the old religion into which the Jews were ever relapsing takes the name of apostasy to Baal and his colleague Ashtaroth, Astarte, or Aschera. There were many separate forms of idols of Baal-worship, as Baal-Peor, Baal-Gad, Baal-Berith, all comprised under the plural Baalim as different modifications of the worship of Al were under that of Alhim.
The same acts and the same conceptions applied to Ihuh as to Bel. Self-mutilation was part of the ritual of both (1 Kings 18:28; Jer. 41:5; Is. 56:4; Matt. 19:12). Both were worshipped upon the same high places (Num. 22:41); and under the same idol forms in Samaria and in Jerusalem (Jer. 7:9, 10, 30; Ezek. 8:16 and 23:39; 2 Chron. 6:13,14). There is no substantial reason why the great Syrian Deity, seated on the Bull, should not be compared with Ihuh riding on a Cherub or winged bull (Ps. 18:10), or figured under the same symbol especially when we know that the feast-days of Bel were the same as Ihuh's (Hosea 2:11,12,16,17); and that the Priests of the latter, with the fanatical Jehu at their head, were not only idolaters but murderers and robbers. "And it shall be at that day, saith the Lord, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shall call me no more Baali: for I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name" (Hosea 2: 16,17).
Both Deities were symbolised by the Sun. Ihuh's continuing help was assured by the continuance of day, or arrived with the heat of noon. The propitiatory heads were hung up before the Lord against the Sun, and Joshua's captive Kings remained on the gallows as a thank-offering until sun-down. The rites of the Hebrews were in many details identical with those of their neighbours: the obelisks or pillars erected by a Phoenician Artist in front of the Hebrew Temple were obviously analogous to those of Hieropolis and Tyre; and the chariots of the Sun and sacred vessels of Baal first destroyed by Josiah were with strange pertinacity restored by his successor. It is precisely when the names formed from El or Al begin to be replaced by those formed from Ihuh, Ih, or Jah, that the name of Moloch enters Hebrew symbolism, usurping the place of Ihuh even in his own Temple.
Indeed, the common title of Ihuh himself is Melec [MLK King, Sovereign, Sultan, etc.], the identical word which is disguised in the title Moloch: and his symbol, like that of the Patriarchal El, the Kronos of Babylonian tradition, was the fire, a devouring fire, to which he is repeatedly compared. In the time of the Prophets, better conceptions were struggling to displace the old Melec or Moloch, or Savage Deity of the Tabernacle. The aspect of this God, Ihuh, was death; his password, destruction; his breath the consuming fire of Tophet. He was emphatically the Terrific God, and ever Terror personified. His fire was always threatening to break out and devour; and so blind was its fury that the very coffer supposed to contain the written command to "do no murder", sacrificed friends and foes indiscriminately. The unfortunate Uzzah was instantly destroyed for preventing the Ark from being upset. Distrusting his own power of self-control, Ihuh substituted an angel, lest he should yield to his desire to consume the people. He had the double aspect of all Nature-Gods, exhibiting a bright and a dark side, holding the balance of life and death, and often as profuse and partial in favours as at other times reckless and indiscriminate in destruction. Even kindness is fearful, when irregular and incomprehensible; "he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy"; but is as often inexplicably severe and unjust. He puts a lying spirit into the mouth of his prophets, and so lays a trap for his people which he could not escape. He gives quails to destroy them, punishing with excessive cruelty a natural appetite and the ordinary weakness of murmuring and complaining at hardships; and he appoints "Statutes which were not good", in order to cause them to pass their first-born through the fire, and for the express purpose of making them desolate.
The notion of blinding or hardening the hearts of men in order to furnish a conspicuous example of God's glory by punishing them is common throughout the old Hebrew writings, and continues even in the New Testament. Pharaoh's heart is hardened for the purpose of affording occasion and excuse for the display of the signs and wonders of an unknown God; and at the end of each plague the same hardening process is repeated in order to justify the infliction of a new one. A capricious power is always terrific; and terror produces the superstitious desperation which discards humanity and pity. The sanguinary principle sanctioned by the example of Abraham extends through the whole of Hebrew ritual and practice. The often-recurring phrase, the being hung, or "dying before the Lord", evidently means a human sacrifice or religious act of atonement. The wholesale murders of Shittim and Gibeah, like the similar individual acts performed, not in reference to a foreign idol but under the immediate influence of the spirit of Ihuh, were strictly sacrifices to a sanguinary God, of the same class with Moloch and Mexitli, whose plagues ceased only on consummation of the rite, to whom the smell of human gore was sweeter than the breath of flowers, who could be best brought to give success to the Hebrew arms by the promise of a general butchery of all the people overcome, and who gladly accepted Jephthah's vow to sacrifice to him with the knife and burn to him with the fire, whatever living creature, even his own child, should first meet him of his return. The calf-worship at Horeb was signalised by a sacrificial massacre of three thousand people; but it is a significant fact that Aaron, far in knowledge above the rude mass of barbarism that surrounded him, and who made the calf for them, escaped with scarce a reprimand. "Slay", said Moses on that occasion, "every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour". For the Levites were authorised by him to be executioners of a Cherem, the form in which men were allowed and even encouraged to sacrifice themselves or some members of their families by a voluntary vow. He said to them (Exod. 32:29): "Come today with full hand for Ihuh, and initiate yourselves in your priestly office by slaying every man his son, his brother, his companion, and his neighbour; and so earn a blessing for yourselves this day". And the Mosaic law, after fixing the price of redemption or commutation for things vowed by "a singular vow", or "sanctified" to the Lord, proceeds to make this stringent provision [Levit. 27:28,29]: "Notwithstanding, no Cherem that a man shall make Cherem unto the Lord, of all he hath, of man or beast or the field in his possession, shall be sold or redeemed; every Cherem is irrevocably consecrated to the Lord. No Cherem, whereby men are Cherem, shall be redeemed, but shall surely be put to death". That was the kind of vow by which Jephthah purchased victory.
Cruelty thus became a sacred duty, and zealots were allowed in their outbursts of enthusiasm to violate every civil and moral tie. Free scope was given to private enmity and to public aggression; and, as under a perpetual reign of terror, any one might denounce his enemy or rival. War was carried on in Ihuh's name with relentless and savage ferocity. It was an acceptable sacrifice; and the exultation with which the Hebrew annalist revels in the description of the utter annihilation of the conquered and accursed cities, and the extermination of all that breathed, man and beast, old and young, feeble age, womanhood and virginity and the tender infant, is frightful and revolting. Rahab and her family only were left alive of all in Jericho; and in the same way Joshua dealt with Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, and all the country of the hills and of the South and of the vale and of the Springs; "he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded". And we are expressly informed in the 11th chapter of Joshua, that he continued this extraordinary process throughout the whole land which he conquered, and until "the land rested from war". In this he only followed the example set him by Moses, who was ever "wroth" with his officers after a battle because they had not slain in cold blood every woman taken captive who was not a virgin; and ordered them to kill forthwith "every male among the little ones, and every woman that hath known man by lying with him" [Numb. 31:14,17]; and in dividing the 16,000 captives still left alive, apportioned thirty-two as "the Lord's tribute", and delivered them to Eleazar the High priest as "a heave offering" [v. 40, 41]. After the age of David, this fearful practice is said to have become less frequent; but the feeling on which it was founded left an indelible impression on the Hebrew language: a thing devoted, or as it was technically called, "holy", being synonymous with the "accursed", and doomed to utter destruction. And when there was no longer any immediate prospect of gratifying fanatical animosity, the imagination revelled in a future renewal of the old scenes of carnage to inaugurate the Messianic Kingdom, which was to be preceded by a "great day of the Lord", in other words, a great sacrificial massacre or representation of the eventful day of Midian: [Joel 2:11; 3:13; Mic. 4:13; Ezek. 39:9,17; Is. 9:4; Zech. 14:11]. "This, this is the day of the Lord God", exclaims Jeremiah, "a day of vengeance, that he may avenge him of his adversaries; and the sword shall devour and shall be satiate and made drunk with their blood; for the Lord God of Armies hath a sacrifice in the North Country by the River Euphrates" [Jer. 46:10]. "Ihuh's sword is filled with blood and fed with fatness, with the blood of camels and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams; for the Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, a great slaughter in the land of Idumea" [Is. 34:6]. "Speak to every bird and to every beast of the field, assemble yourselves and come! Gather yourselves on every side to the sacrifice I prepare for you, a great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel, that ye may eat flesh and drink blood" [Ezek. 39:17]. It was such anticipations repeated from age to age, and even fixing the very spot where the corpses of the heathen were to taint the air, that excited the Jews to the frantic violence which afterwards recoiled so heavily on themselves.
The ancient altar was an image of God, or of the immediate earnest of his presence. The first altars were called by his name, and were treated as Gods. It was essential that the altar, like the world of which it was a symbol, should be four-square. The altar of burnt-offering was a hollow framework overlaid with brass, having at its corners the horns of the calf of bull-idol, reminding us of those hollow Moloch-images of Phoenicia, forming furnaces into which the victim was thrown. On it the fat was burned, and the blood which was originally dashed in the face of the idol was sprinkled on its horns or poured out at its foot. The Levite who touched the altar, and much more the common man who did so, was to die. Its neighbourhood was as formidable to life as that of the flaming mountain made by the divine presence to "smoke as a furnace", and so it was converted into a gigantic Moloch-image which to approach or touch was death. If superstition may be said to have reached its climax when, overcoming the most powerful of human feelings, it brought the infatuated mother to kiss the bull-headed instrument of infanticide, it is not astonishing that one despairing Hebrew mother should have ventured to strike the guilty altar with her slipper, saying, "Wolf! How long wilt thou continue to devour the treasure of Israel's children?"
After a time, it is true, the human victim required to be offered to Ihuh was replaced by an animal-substitute. But at first he claimed a first-born as a sacrifice, and the household escaped on consideration of yielding a child. After the child was commuted for a lamb or a ram, it was natural that, as far as possible, the vestiges of the ancient obnoxious form should be suppressed. But there are sufficient evidences [Mic. 6:7; Is. 1:15; 2 Sam. 21:9] that the immolation of human victims formed part, and no unimportant one, of the ritual of Ihuh. Ezekiel, in a remarkable passage, asserts Moloch-worship to have been authorised by Ihuh in order to make his people know that he was the Lord, and that thus they immolated their firstborn [Ezek. 20:25,26]. The new Passover instituted by the great Reformer Josiah [2 Kings, 23:21-22], the like whereof had not been holden "from the days of the Judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the Kings of Israel, nor of the Kings of Judah", replaced the old Moloch-rite (which Abraham was entirely resigned to practice): in which, if analogy may be a basis for conjecture, a man or child was hung or crucified as an offering "before the Lord" during the last hours of the departing year; and after being suspended until sunset, was then taken down, the blood poured out upon unleavened cakes which, with portions of the flesh, were eaten by the communicants, and the remainder burned in the furnace-fire of Moloch or Melec, the still continuing title of Ihuh in paschal invocations. The redemption clause in regard to the human first-born is a subsequent interpolation, as is evident from its making many parts of the Pentateuch unmeaning: as in Exod. 13:12,13,15 "Thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix ... the males shall be the Lord's ... All the first-born of man among thy children shalt thou redeem ... And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man and the first-born of beasts: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the first-born of my children I redeem".
The edict commanding this redemption proves the commencement of a change, and not its completion. Human sacrifice still continued. Inveterate habit could not be suddenly effaced. It was to prevent these horrid rites that the eating of blood in private dwellings was strictly prohibited, and the suspicious rite of the Passover brought under metropolitan surveillance. [Lev. 3:17; 8:23,26; Deut. 15:19,20,23; 16:2,5]. Under strong excitement, the old and more efficacious expedient was resorted to. Jephthah did not stickle at it, nor deem it illegal to murder his daughter. Killing a man continued to be, in the language of Pliny, "a most pious act, the eating of him a most salubrious one". The cannibalism denounced by the prophets was no unprecedented evil, nor the denunciations mere vague menace. Mothers ate their own children, and in a time of terror human blood flowed freely at the mandate of the Priests [Lam. 2:20; 4:9,10,13]. The prohibition of eating blood or raw flesh did not prevent a mother devouring her child, whom she called her sacrifice [Josephus' War, 6:3,4]; nor restrain the Jews of Cyllene from tasting the entrails of their fellow-citizens. The bloody immersion recommended by Jews to the Emperor Constantine as a specific for leprosy was a nostrum of the old law; and the crucifixion of children under Theodosius was but the revival of a practice far less generally revolting and unusual than Josephus would have us suppose. The Jews still remained semi-barbarous in their hearts. The blood of sacrifice, of circumcision, of the passover, still continued the great pledge of the eternal covenant; and the idea of human sacrifice, though rare in practice, still maintained its place in the background as a mysterious secret. The story of the man found reserved for sacrifice in the temple meets in Josephus but feeble contradiction; and the suspicion which has always attached to the secret Mysteries of the Jews has been kept alive from age to age by the excesses of enthusiasts.
Atonement by blood was ever the great religious idea of the Jews. To spill blood was a specific for all ills. Their God, like that of the Mexicans, figures with blood-drenched sword and gory garments. Animals and enemies were always regarded as economical sacrificial expedients for purchasing divine favour. The reformers who discarded this horrid worship inconsistently retained the theory on which it was founded, and used sacrificial language in reference to the uncomprehended inequalities of Providential dealing. Among murderous priests and cruel altars, where men devoid of mercy as of knowledge offered sacrifices which God desired not, the prophet was scouted when, protesting against popular abominations, he appealed to the plain dictates of humanity.
Such were the ancient ideas of the Hebrews in regard to the Deity, His Nature, and His Attributes: and it might therefore well be said that they had lost the True Word, and that the knowledge of it was confined to the select few of their learned and intellectual men. We shall hereafter inquire what that True Word was; or, in other words, what is the true definition of the Nature and Attributes of God, embodied in the Ineffable Name; and it will then appear how unspeakably important was the true knowledge of that Word to him who was so fortunate as to attain it: for surely it is the greatest of evils and misfortunes to entertain not only insufficient and inadequate, but unjust and injurious, opinions in regard to the nature of God.
And with these, still another question presents itself: whether the Deity governs the Universe by fixed and unalterable laws, or by special Providences and interferences so that He may be induced to change His course and the results of human or material action by prayer and supplication.
God alone is all-powerful: but the human soul has in all ages asserted its claim to be considered as part of the Divine. "The purity of the spirit", says Van Helmont, "is shown through energy and efficaciousness of will. God, by the agency of an infinite will, created the Universe, and the same sort of power in an inferior degree, limited more or less by external hindrances, exists in all spiritual beings".
The higher we ascend in antiquity, the more does prayer take the form of incantation; and that form it still in a great degree retains, since the rites of public worship are generally considered not merely as an expression of trust or reverence, as real spiritual acts the effect of which is looked for only within the mind of the worshipper, but as acts from which some direct outward result is anticipated, the attainment of some desired object: of health or wealth, of supernatural gifts for the body or soul, of exemption from danger or vengeance upon enemies. Prayer was able to change the purposes of Heaven, and to make the Deves tremble under the abyss. It exercised a compulsory influence over the Gods. It promoted the magnetic sympathy of spirit with spirit; and the Hindu and Persian liturgies, addressed not only to the Deity Himself but to his diversified manifestations, were considered wholesome and necessary iterations of the living or creative Word which at first effectuated the divine will, and which from instant to instant supports the universal frame by its eternal repetition.
In the narrative of the Fall, we have the Hebrew mode of explaining the great moral mystery, the origin of evil and the apparent estrangement from Heaven; and a similar idea, variously modified, obtained in all the ancient creeds. Everywhere, man had at the beginning been innocent and happy, and had lapsed by temptation and his own weakness from his first estate. Thus was accounted for the presumed connection of increase of knowledge with increase of misery and, in particular, the great penalty of death was reconciled with Divine justice. Subordinate to these greater points were the questions: why is the Earth covered with thorns and weeds? whence the origin of clothing, of sexual shame and passion? whence the infliction of labour, and how to justify the degraded condition of woman in the East, or account for the loathing so generally felt towards the Serpent Tribe?
The hypothesis of a fall, required under some of its modifications in all systems to account for the apparent imperfection in the work of a Perfect Being, was in Eastern philosophy the unavoidable accompaniment and condition of limited or individual existence since the Soul, considered as a fragment of the Universal Mind, might be said to have lapsed from its pre-eminence when parted from its source and ceasing to form part of integral perfection. The theory of its reunion was correspondent to the assumed cause of its degradation. To reach its prior condition, its individuality must cease: it must be emancipated by re-absorption into the Infinite, the consummation of all things in God to be promoted by human effort in spiritual meditation or self-mortification, and completed in the magical transformation of death.
And as man had fallen, so it was held that the Angels of Evil had fallen from their first estate to which, like men, they were in God's good time to be restored; and the reign of evil was then to cease forever. To this great result, all the Ancient Theologies point; and thus they all endeavoured to reconcile the existence of Sin and Evil with the perfect and undeniable wisdom and beneficence of God.
With man's exercise of thought are inseparably connected freedom and responsibility. Man assumes his proper rank as a moral agent when, with a sense of the limitations of his nature, arise the consciousness of freedom and of the obligations accompanying its exercise, the sense of duty and of the capacity to perform it. To suppose that man ever imagined himself not to be a free agent until he had argued himself into that belief would be to suppose that he was in that below the brutes: for he, like them, is conscious of his freedom to act. Experience alone teaches him that this freedom of action is limited and controlled; and when what is outward to him restrains and limits this freedom of action, he instinctively rebels against it as a wrong. The rule of duty and the materials of experience are derived from an acquaintance with the conditions of the external world in which the faculties are exerted; and thus the problem of man involves those of Nature and God. Our freedom, we learn by experience, is determined by an agency external to us; our happiness is intimately dependent on the relations of the outward World and on the moral character of its Ruler.
Then at once arises this problem. The God of Nature must be One, and His character cannot be other than good. Whence then came evil, the consciousness of which must invariably have preceded or accompanied man's moral development? On this subject, human opinion has ebbed and flowed between two contradictory extremes, one of which seems inconsistent with God's omnipotence and the other with His beneficence. If God, it was said, is perfectly wise and good, evil must arise from some independent and hostile principle. If, on the other hand, all agencies are subordinate to One, it is difficult, if evil does indeed exist, to avoid the impiety of making God the Author of it.
The recognition of a moral and physical dualism was adverse to the doctrine of Divine Unity. Many of the Ancients thought it absurd to imagine one Supreme Being, like Homer's Jove, distributing good and evil out of two urns. They therefore substituted, as we have seen, the doctrine of two distinct and eternal principles, some making the cause of evil to be the inherent imperfection of matter and the flesh without explaining how God was not the cause of that; while others personified the required agency and fancifully invented an Evil Principle, the question of whose origin indeed involved all the difficulty of the original problem but whose existence, if once taken for granted, was sufficient as a popular solution of the mystery. The difficulty was supposed no longer to exist when pushed a step further off, as the difficulty of conceiving the world upheld by an elephant was supposed to be got rid of when it was said that the elephant was supported by a tortoise.
The simpler, and probably the older, notion treated the one and only God as the Author of all things. "I form the light", says Jehovah, "and create darkness; I cause prosperity and create evil; I, the Lord, do all these things". "All mankind", says Maximus Tyrius, "are agreed that there exists one only Universal King and Father, and that the many Gods are his Children". There is nothing improbable in the supposition that the primitive idea was that there was but one God. A vague sense of Nature's Unity blended with a dim perception of an all-pervading Spiritual Essence, has been remarked among the earliest manifestations of the Human Mind. Everywhere it was the dim remembrance, uncertain and indefinite, of the original truth taught by God to the first men.
The Deity of the Old Testament is everywhere represented as the direct author of Evil, commissioning evil and lying spirits to men, hardening the heart of Pharaoh, and visiting the iniquity of the individual sinner on the whole people. The rude conception of sternness predominating over mercy in the Deity, can alone account for the human sacrifices purposed, if not executed, by Abraham and Jephthah. It has not been uncommon in any age or country of the world for men to recognise the existence of one God without forming any becoming estimate of His dignity. The causes of both good and ill are referred to a mysterious centre, to which each assigns such attributes as correspond with his own intellect and advance in civilisation. Hence the assignment to the Deity of the feelings of envy and jealousy. Hence the provocation given by the healing skill of Aesculapius and the humane theft of fire by Prometheus. The very spirit of Nature, personified in Orpheus, Tantalus, or Phineus, was supposed to have been killed, confined, or blinded for having too freely divulged the Divine Mysteries to mankind. This Divine Envy still exists in a modified form and varies according to circumstances. In Hesiod, it appears in the lowest type of human malignity. In the God of Moses, it is jealousy of the infringement of the autocratic power, the check to political treason; and even the penalties denounced for worshipping other Gods often seem dictated rather by a jealous regard for his own greatness in Deity than by the immorality and degraded nature of the worship itself. In Herodotus and other writers, it assumes a more philosophical shape as a strict adherence to a moral equilibrium in the government of the world, in the punishment of pride, arrogance, and insolent pretension.
God acts providentially in Nature by regular and universal laws, by constant modes of operation, and so takes care of material things without violating their constitution, always acting according to the nature of the things which He has made. It is a fact of observation that in the material and unconscious world, He works by its materiality and unconsciousness, not against them; in the animal world, by its animality and partial consciousness, not against them. So in the providential government of the world, He acts by regular and universal laws and constant modes of operation; and so takes care of human things without violating their constitution, acting always according to the human nature of man, not against it, working in the human world by means of man's consciousness and partial freedom, not against them.
God acts by general laws for general purposes. The attraction of gravitation is a good thing for it keeps the world together; and if the tower of Siloam, thereby falling to the world, slays eighteen men of Jerusalem, that number is too small to think of considering the myriad millions who are upheld by the same law. It could not well be repealed for their sake to hold up that tower; nor could it remain in force, and the tower stand.
It is difficult to conceive of a Perfect Will without confounding it with something like mechanism, since language has no name for that combination of the Inexorable with the Moral, which the old poets personified separately in Ananke or Eimarmene and Zeus. How combine understandingly the Perfect Freedom of the Supreme and All-Sovereign Will of God with the inflexible necessity, as part of His Essence, that He should and must continue to be, in all His great attributes (of justice and mercy, for example) what He is now and always has been, and with the impossibility of His changing His nature and becoming unjust, merciless, cruel, fickle, or of His repealing the great moral laws which make crime wrong and the practice of virtue right?
For all that we familiarly know of Free-Will is that capricious exercise of it which we experience in ourselves and other men; and therefore the notion of Supreme Will, still guided by Infallible Law, even if that law be self-imposed, is always in danger of being either stripped of the essential quality of Freedom, or degraded under the ill name of Necessity to something of even less moral and intellectual dignity than the fluctuating course of human operations.
It is not until we elevate the idea of law above that of partiality or tyranny that we discover that the self-imposed limitations of the Supreme Cause, constituting an array of certain alternatives regulating moral choice, are the very sources and safeguards of human freedom: and the doubt recurs whether we do not set a law above God Himself; or whether laws self-imposed may not be self-repealed: and if not, what power prevents it.
The Zeus of Homer, like that of Hesiod, is an array of antitheses, combining strength with weakness, wisdom with folly, universal parentage with narrow family limitation, omnipotent control over events with submission to a superior destiny Destiny, a name by means of which the theological problem was cast back into the original obscurity out of which the powers of the human mind have proved themselves as incapable of rescuing it as the efforts of a fly caught in a spider's web to do more than increase its entanglement.
The oldest notion of Deity was rather indefinite than repulsive. The positive degradation was of later growth. The God of Nature reflects the changeful character of the seasons, varying from dark to bright. Alternately angry and serene, and lavishing abundance which she again withdraws, Nature seems inexplicably capricious, and though capable of responding to the highest requisitions of the moral sentiment through a general comprehension of her mysteries, more liable by a partial or hasty view to become darkened into a Shiva, a Saturn, or a Mexitli, a patron of fierce orgies or blood-stained altars. All the older poetical personifications exhibit traces of this ambiguity. They are neither wholly immoral nor purely beneficent.
No people have ever deliberately made their Deity a malevolent or guilty Being. The simple piety which ascribed the origin of all things to God took all in good part, trusting and hoping all things. The Supreme Ruler was at first looked up to with unquestioning reverence. No startling discords or contradictions had yet raised a doubt as to His beneficence or made men dissatisfied with His government. Fear might cause anxiety but could not banish hope, still less inspire aversion. It was only later, when abstract notions began to assume the semblance of realities and when new or more distinct ideas suggested new words for their expression, that it became necessary to fix a definite barrier between Evil and Good.
To account for moral evil, it became necessary to devise some new expedient suited both to the piety and self-complacency of the inventor such as the perversity of woman, or an agent distinct from God, a Typhon or Ahriman, obtained either by dividing the Gods into two classes or by dethroning the Ancient Divinity and changing Him into a Dev or Daemon. Through a similar want, the Orientals devised the inherent corruption of the fleshy and material; the Hebrew transferred to Satan everything illegal and immoral; and the Greek reflection, occasionally adopting the older and truer view, retorted upon man the obloquy cast on these creatures of his imagination, and showed how he has to thank himself alone for his calamities while his good things are the voluntary gifts, not the plunder, of Heaven. Homer had already made Zeus exclaim in the Assembly of Olympus, "Grievous it is to hear these mortals accuse the gods; they pretend that evils come from us; but they themselves occasion them gratuitously by their own folly". "It is the fault of man", said Solon, in reference to the social evils of his day, "not of God, that destruction comes". And Euripides, after a formal discussion of the origin of evil, comes to the conclusion that men act wrongly, not from want of natural good sense and feeling, but because, knowing what is good, they yet for various reasons neglect to practise it.
And at last reaching the highest truth, Pindar, Hesiod, Aeschylus, Aesop, and Horace said, "All virtue is a struggle: life is not a scene of repose, but of energetic action. Suffering is but another name for the teaching of experience, appointed by Zeus Himself, the giver of all understanding, to be the parent of instruction, the schoolmaster of life. He indeed put an end to the golden age; He gave venom to serpents and predacity to wolves; He shook the honey from the leaf, and stopped the flow of wine to the rivulets; He concealed the element of fire, and made the means of life scanty and precarious. But in all this His object was beneficent; it was not to destroy life, but to improve it. It was a blessing to man, not a curse, to be sentenced to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow; for nothing great or excellent is attainable without exertion; safe and easy virtues are prized neither by Gods nor men; and the parsimoniousness of Nature is justified by its powerful effect in rousing the dormant faculties, and forcing on mankind the invention of useful arts by means of meditation and thought".
Ancient religious reformers pronounced the worship of "idols" to be the root of all evil; and there have been many iconoclasts in different ages of the world. The maxim still holds good: for the worship of idols, that is, of fanciful conceits, if not the source of all evil, is still the cause of much; and it prevails as extensively now as it ever did. Men are ever engaged in worshipping the picturesque fancies of their own imaginations.
Human wisdom must always be limited and incorrect; and even right opinion is only a something intermediate between ignorance and knowledge. The normal condition of man is that of progress. Philosophy is a kind of journey, ever learning, yet never arriving at the ideal perfection of truth. A Mason should, like the wise Socrates, assume the modest title of a "lover of wisdom", for he must ever long after something more excellent than he possesses, something still beyond his reach, which he desires to make eternally his own.
Thus the philosophic sentiment came to be associated with the poetical and the religious, under the comprehensive name of Love. Before the birth of Philosophy, Love had received but scanty and inadequate homage. This mightiest and most ancient of Gods, coeval with the existence of religion and of the world, had been indeed unconsciously felt, but had neither been worthily honoured nor directly celebrated in hymn or paean. In the old days of ignorance, it could scarcely have been recognised. In order that it might exercise its proper influence over religion and philosophy, it was necessary that the God of Nature should cease to be a God of terrors, a personification of mere Power or arbitrary Will, a pure and stern Intelligence, an inflicter of evil, and an unrelenting Judge. The philosophy of Plato, in which this change became forever established, was emphatically a mediation of Love. With him, the inspiration of Love first kindled the light of arts and imparted them to mankind: and not only the arts of mere existence, but the Heavenly art of wisdom, which supports the Universe. It inspires high and generous deeds and noble self-devotion. Without it, neither State nor individual could do anything beautiful or great. Love is our best pilot, confederate, supporter and Saviour; the ornament and governor of all things human and divine; and he with divine harmony forever soothes the minds of men and Gods.
Man is capable of a higher Love which, marrying mind with mind and with the Universe, brings forth all that is noblest in his faculties and lifts him beyond himself. The higher Love is neither mortal nor immortal, but a Power intermediate between the human and the Divine, filling up the mighty interval, and binding the Universe together. He is chief of those celestial emissaries who carry to the Gods the prayers of men and bring down to men the gifts of the Gods. "He is forever poor, and far from being beautiful as mankind imagine, for he is squalid and withered; he flies low along the ground, is homeless and unsandalled; sleeping without covering before the doors and in the unsheltered streets, and possessing so far his mother's nature as being ever the companion of want. Yet, sharing also that of his father, he is forever scheming to obtain things good and beautiful; he is fearless, vehement, and strong; always devising some new contrivance; strictly cautious and full of inventive resource; a philosopher through his whole existence; a powerful enchanter and a subtle sophist."
The ideal consummation of Platonic science is the arrival at the contemplation of that of which Earth exhibits no express image or adequate similitude, the Supreme Prototype of all beauty, pure and uncontaminated with human intermixture of flesh or colour, the Divine Original itself. To one so qualified is given the prerogative of bringing forth not mere images and shadows of virtue but virtue itself, as having been conversant not with shadows but with the truth; and having so brought forth and nurtured a progeny of virtue, he becomes a friend of God and, so far as such a privilege can belong to any human being, immortal.
Socrates believed, like Heraclitus, in a Universal Reason pervading all things and all minds, and consequently revealing itself in ideas. He therefore sought truth in general opinion, and perceived in the communication of mind with mind one of the greatest prerogatives of wisdom and the most powerful means of advancement. He believed true wisdom to be an attainable idea, and that the moral convictions of the mind, those eternal instincts of temperance, conscientiousness, and justice, implanted in it by the Gods, could not deceive if rightly interpreted.
This metaphysical direction given to philosophy ended in visionary extravagance. Having assumed truth to be discoverable in thought, it proceeded to treat thoughts as truths. It thus became an idolatry of notions which it considered either as phantoms exhaled from objects or as portions of the divine pre-existent thought, thus creating a mythology of its own and escaping from one thraldom only to enslave itself afresh. Theories and notions indiscriminately formed and defended are the false gods or "idols" of philosophy. For the word idolon means image, and a false mind-picture of God is as much an idol as a false wooden image of Him. Fearlessly launching into the problem of Universal being, the first philosophy attempted to supply a compendious and decisive solution of every doubt. To do this, it was obliged to make the most sweeping assumptions; and as poetry had already filled the vast void between the human and the Divine by personifying its Deity as man, so philosophy bowed down before the supposed reflection of the divine image in the mind of the inquirer who, in worshipping his own notions, had unconsciously deified himself. Nature was thus enslaved to common notions, and notions very often to words.
By the clashing of incompatible opinions, philosophy was gradually reduced to ignominious confession or utter incapacity and found its check or intellectual fall in scepticism. Xenophanes and Heraclitus mournfully acknowledged the unsatisfactory result of all the struggles of philosophy in the admission of a universality of doubt; and the memorable effort of Socrates to rally the discomfited champions of truth ended in a similar confession.
The worship of abstractions continued the error which personified Evil or deified Fortune; and when mystical philosophy resigned its place to mystical religion, it changed not its nature, but only its name. The great task remained unperformed, of reducing the outward world and its principles to the dominion of the intellect, and of reconciling the conception of the supreme unalterable power asserted by reason with his requisitions of human sympathies.
A general idea of purpose and regularity in nature had been suggested by common appearances to the earliest reflection. The ancients perceived a natural order, a divine legislation, from which human institutions were supposed to be derived laws emblazoned in Heaven and thence revealed to Earth. But the divine law was little more than an analogical inference from human law, taken in the vulgar sense of arbitrary will or partial covenant. It was surmised rather than discovered, and remained unmoral because unintelligible. It mattered little, in the circumstances, whether the Universe were said to be governed by chance or by reason since the latter, if misunderstood, was virtually one with the former. "Better far", said Epicurus, "acquiesce in the fables of tradition than acknowledge the oppressive necessity of the physicists". And Menander speaks of God, Chance, and Intelligence as indistinguishable. Law unacknowledged goes under the name of Chance: perceived, but not understood, it becomes Necessity. The wisdom of the Stoic was a dogged submission to the arbitrary behests of one; that of the Epicurean an advantage snatched by more or less dextrous management from the equal tyranny of the other.
Ignorance sees nothing necessary and is self-abandoned to a power tyrannical because deified by no rule and paradoxical because permitting evil while itself assumed to be unlimited, all-powerful, and perfectly good. A little knowledge, presuming the identification of the Supreme Cause with the inevitable certainty of perfect reason but omitting the analysis or interpretation of it, leaves the mind chain-bound in the ascetic fatalism of the Stoic. Free-will coupled with the universal rule of Chance, or Fatalism and Necessity coupled with Omniscience and fixed and unalterable Law these are the alternatives between which the human mind has eternally vacillated. The Supernaturalist, contemplating a Being acting through impulse though with superhuman wisdom and considering the best courtier to be the most favoured subject, combines contradictory expedients, inconsistently mixing the assertion of free action with the enervating service of petition; while he admits, in the words of a learned archbishop, that "if the production of the things we ask for depend on antecedent, natural, and necessary causes, our desires will be answered no less by the omission than the offering of prayers which, therefore, are a vain thing."
Man commands results only by selecting among the contingent the pre-ordained results most suited to his purposes. In regard to absolute or divine morality, meaning the final cause or purpose of those comprehensive laws which often seem harsh to the individual because inflexibly just and impartial to the Universal, speculation must take refuge in faith, the immediate and obvious purpose often bearing so small a proportion to a wider and unknown one as to be relatively absorbed or lost. The rain that, unseasonable to me, ruins my hopes of an abundant crop, does so because it could not otherwise have blessed and prospered the crops of another kind or of a whole neighbouring district or country. The obvious purpose of a sudden storm of snow, or an unexpected change of wind, exposed to which I lose my life, bears small proportion to the great results which are to flow from that storm or wind over a whole continent. So always, of the good and ill which at first seemed irreconcilable and capriciously distributed, the one holds its ground, the other diminishes by being explained. In a world of a multitude of individuals, a world of action and exertion, a world affording by the conflict of interests and the clashing of passions any scope for the exercise of the manly and generous virtues, even Omnipotence cannot arrange that the comfort and convenience of one man alone shall always be consulted.
Thus the educated mind soon begins to appreciate the moral superiority of a system of law over one of capricious interference; and as the whole jumble of means and ends is brought into more intelligible perspective, partial or seeming good is cheerfully resigned for the disinterested and universal. Self-restraint is found not to imply self-sacrifice. The true meaning of what appeared to be Necessity is found to be, not arbitrary Power, but Strength and Force enlisted in the service of Intelligence. God having made us men and placed us in a world of change and eternal renovation, with ample capacity and abundant means for rational enjoyment, we learn that it is folly to repine because we are not angels inhabiting a world in which change and the clashing of interests and the conflicts of passion are unknown.
Where, then, amid all these conflicting opinions, is the True Word of a Mason?
My Brother, most of the questions which have thus tortured man's minds, it is not within the reach and grasp of the Human Intellect to understand; but without understanding, as we have explained to you heretofore, we may and must believe.
The True Word of a Mason is to be found in the concealed and profound meaning of the Ineffable Name of Deity, I AM WHAT I AM, communicated by God to Moses; and which meaning was long lost by the very precautions taken to conceal it. The true pronunciation of that name was in truth a secret in which, however, was involved the far more profound secret of its meaning. In that meaning is included all the truth that can be known by us in regard to the nature of God.
The Ineffable Name not only embodies the Great Philosophical Idea that the Deity is the Ens, the To On, the Absolute Existence, that of which the Essence is to Exist, the only Substance of Spinoza, the Being that never could not have existed as contra-distinguished from that which only becomes; not Nature or the Soul of Nature, but that which created Nature; but also the idea of the Male and Female Principles in its highest and most profound sense: to wit, that God originally comprehended in Himself all that is; that matter was not co-existent with Him, or independent of Him; that He did not merely fashion and shape a pre-existing chaos into a Universe but that His Thought manifested itself outwardly in that Universe which so became and before was not except as comprehended in Him; that the Generative Power or Spirit and productive matter, ever among the Ancients deemed the Female, originally were in God; and that He was and is all that was, that is, and that shall be.
This was the great Mystery of the Ineffable Name; and the true arrangement of its letters, its true pronunciation, and its meaning soon became lost to all except the select few to whom its was confided. It was concealed from the common people because the Deity thus metaphysically named was not that personal, capricious, and, as it were, tangible God in whom they believed and who alone was within reach of their rude capacities.
Diodorus says that the name given by Moses to God was IAO. Macrobius says that it was an admitted axiom among the Heathen that the triliteral IAO was the sacred name of the Supreme God. And the Clarian Oracle said: "Learn thou that IAO is the great God Supreme, that ruleth over all."
Hence the frequent expression: "I am the First, and I am the Last; and besides me there is no other God. I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last. I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, which is and was and is to come; the Omnipotent." For in this we see shadowed forth the same great truth: that God is all in all the Cause and the Effect the Beginning or Impulse or Generative Power and the Ending or Result or that which is produced; that He is in reality all that ever was and all that ever shall be in the sense that, besides Himself, nothing has existed eternally and co-eternally with Him, or independent of Him, or self-existent or self-originated.
And thus the meaning of the expression Alhim, a plural noun, used in the account of the Creation with which Genesis commences with a singular verb, and of the name or title Ihuh-Alhim, used for the first time in the fourth verse of the second chapter of the same book, becomes clear. The Alhim is the aggregate unity of the manifested Creative Forces or Powers of Deity, His Emanations; and Ihuh-Alhim is the Absolute Existence, or Essence, of these Powers and Forces of which they are Active Manifestations and Emanations.
This was the profound truth hidden in the ancient allegory and covered from the general view with a double veil. This was the esoteric meaning of the generation and production of the Indian, Chaldean, and Phoenician cosmogonies; of the Active and Passive Powers; of the Male and Female Principles; of Heaven and its Luminaries generating and the Earth producing; all hiding from vulgar view, as above its comprehension, the doctrine that matter is not eternal but that God was the only original Existence, the Absolute, from Whom everything has proceeded, and to Whom all returns; and that all moral law springs not from the relation of things but from His Wisdom and Essential Justice as the Omnipotent Legislator. And this True Word is with entire accuracy said to have been lost because its meaning was lost even among the Hebrews, although we still trace the name (its real meaning unsuspected) in the Hu of the Druids and the Fo-Hi of the Chinese.
Moral truth, like every other universal and necessary truth, cannot remain a mere abstraction. Abstractions are unrealities. In ourselves, moral truth is merely conceived of. There must be somewhere a Being that not only conceives of, but constitutes it. It has this characteristic: that it is not only, to the eyes of our intelligence, a universal and necessary truth, but one obligatory on our will. It is a Law. We do not establish that law ourselves. It is imposed on us despite ourselves: its principle must be without us. It supposes a legislator. He cannot be the being to whom the law applies: but must be one that possesses in the highest degree all the characteristics of moral truth. The moral law, universal and necessary, necessarily has as its author a necessary Being: composed of justice and charity, its author must be a Being possessing the plenitude of both.
As all beautiful and all true things refer themselves, these to a Unity which is absolute Truth and those to a Unity which is absolute Beauty, so all the moral principles centre in the single principle which is The Good. Thus we arrive at the conception of The Good in itself, the Absolute Good, superior to all particular duties, and determinate in those duties. This Absolute Good must necessarily be an attribute of the Absolute Being. There cannot be several Absolute Beings, the one in whom are realised Absolute Truth and Absolute Beauty being different from the one in whom is realised Absolute Good. The Absolute necessarily implies absolute Unity. The True, the Beautiful, and the Good are not three distinct essences: but they are one and the same Essence considered in its fundamental attributes, the different phases which, to our eyes, the Absolute and Infinite Perfection assumes. Manifested in the World of the Finite and Relative, these three attributes separate from each other, and are distinguished by our minds which can comprehend nothing except by division. But in the Being from whom they emanate, they are indivisibly united; and this Being, at once triple and one, Who sums up in Himself perfect Beauty, perfect Truth, and perfect Good, is God.
God is necessarily the principle of Moral Truth and of personal morality. Man is a moral person, that is to say, one endowed with reason and liberty. He is capable of Virtue, and Virtue has with him two principal forms: respect for others and love of others; justice and charity.
The creature can possess no real and essential attribute which the Creator does not possess. The effect can draw its reality and existence only from its cause. The cause contains in itself at least what is essential in the effect. The characteristic of the effect is inferiority, short-coming, imperfection. Dependent and derivative, it bears in itself the marks and conditions of dependence; and its imperfection proves the perfection of the cause or else there would be in the effect something immanent, without a cause.
God is not a logical Being Whose Nature may be explained by deduction and by means of algebraic equations. When, setting out with a primary attribute, the attributes of God are deduced one from the other after the manner of the geometricians and scholastics, we have nothing but abstractions. We must emerge from this empty dialectic to arrive at a true and living God. The first notion we have of God, that of an Infinite Being, is not given to us a priori, independently of all experience. It is our consciousness of oneself, as at once a Being and a limited Being, that immediately raises us to the conception of a Being, the principle of our being, and Himself without limits. If the existence that we possess forces us to recur to a cause possessing the same existence in an infinite degree, each of the substantial attributes of existence that we possess equally requires an infinite cause. God, then, is no longer the Infinite, Abstract, Indeterminate Being of which reason and the heart cannot lay hold: but a real Being, determinate like ourselves, a moral person like oneself; and the study of our own souls will conduct us, without resort to hypothesis, to a conception of God both sublime and having a connection with ourselves.
If man be free, God must be so. It would be strange if, while the creature has that marvellous power of disposing of himself, of choosing and willing freely, the Being that has made him should be subject to a necessary development, the cause of which, though in Himself, is a sort of abstract, mechanical, or metaphysical power, inferior to the personal voluntary cause which we are and of which we have the clearest consciousness. God is free because we are: but He is not free as we are. He is at once everything that we are, and nothing that we are. He possesses the same attributes as we, but extended to infinity. He possesses then an infinite liberty, united to an infinite intelligence; and as His intelligence is infallible, exempt from the uncertainty of deliberation, and perceiving at a glance where the Good is, so His liberty accomplishes it spontaneously and without effort.
As we assign to God that liberty which is the basis of our existence, so also we transfer to His character, from our own, justice and charity. In man, they are virtues: in God, His attributes. What is in us the laborious conquest of liberty is in Him His very nature. The idea of the right, and the respect paid to the right, are signs of the dignity of our existence. If respect of rights is the very essence of justice, the Perfect being must know and respect the rights of the lowest of His creatures: for He assigned them those rights. In God resides a sovereign justice that renders to every one what is due him, not according to deceitful appearances but according to the truth of things. And if man, a limited being, has the power to go out of himself, to forget his own person, to love another like himself and devote himself to the other's happiness, dignity, and perfection, the Perfect Being must have, in an infinite degree, that disinterested tenderness, that Charity, the Supreme Virtue of the human person. There is in God an Infinite tenderness for his creatures, manifested in His giving us existence which He might have withheld; and every day it appears in innumerable marks of His Divine Providence.
Plato well understood that love of God, and expresses it in these great words: "Let us speak of the cause which led the Supreme Arranger of the Universe to produce and regulate that Universe. He was good; and he who is good has no kind of ill-will. Exempt from that, he willed that created things should be, as far as possible, like Himself." And Christianity in its turn said, "God has so loved men that He has given them His only Son".
It is not correct to affirm, as is often done, that Christianity has in some sort discovered this noble sentiment. We must not lower human nature to raise Christianity. Antiquity knew, described, and practised charity, the first feature of which, so touching and, thank God! so common, is goodness, as its loftiest one is heroism. Charity is devotion to another; and it is ridiculously senseless to pretend that there ever was an age of the world when the human soul was deprived of that part of its heritage, the power of devotion. But it is certain that Christianity has diffused and popularised this virtue, and that before Christ these words were never spoken: "Love one another; for that is the whole law". Charity presupposes justice. He who truly loves his brother respects the rights of his brother; but he does more: he forgets his own. Egoism sells or takes. Love delights in giving. In God, love is what it is in us: but in an infinite degree. God is inexhaustible in His charity as He is inexhaustible in His essence. That Infinite Omnipotence and infinite charity which by an admirable good-will draws from the bosom of its immense love the favours which it incessantly bestows on the world and on humanity, teaches us that the more we give, the more we possess.
God being all just and all good, He can will nothing but what is good and just. Being Omnipotent, whatever He wills He can do, and consequently does. The world is the work of God: it is therefore perfectly made.
Yet there is disorder in the world that seems to impugn the justice and goodness of God.
A principle indissolubly connected with the very idea of good tells us that every moral agent deserves reward when he does well, and punishment when he does ill. This principle is universal and necessary. It is absolute. If it does not apply in this world, either it is false or the world is badly ordered.
But good actions are not always followed by happiness nor evil ones by misery. Though often this fact is more apparent than real; though virtue, a war against the passions, full of dignity but full of sorrow and pain, has the latter as its condition, yet the pains that follow vice are greater; and virtue conduces most to health, strength, and long life. Though the peaceful conscience that accompanies virtue conduces most to happiness; though public opinion generally decides correctly on men's characters and rewards virtue with esteem and consideration and vice with contempt and infamy; and though, after all, justice reigns in the world and the surest road to happiness is still that of virtue: yet there are exceptions. Virtue is not always rewarded, nor vice punished in this life.
The data of this problem are these:
To reject these two principles, that God is just and the law of merit and demerit absolute, is to raze to the foundations the whole edifice of human faith.
To maintain them is to admit that the present life is to be terminated or continued elsewhere. The moral person that acts well or ill and awaits reward or punishment is connected with a body, lives with it, makes use of it, depends upon it in a measure, but is not it. The body is composed of parts. It diminishes or increases; it is divisible even to infinity. But this something which has a consciousness of itself, that says "I" and "Me" and feels itself free and responsible, feels too that it is incapable of division; that it is a being one and simple; that the Me cannot be halved; that if a limb is cut off and thrown away, no part of the Me goes with it; that it remains identical with itself under the variety of phenomena which successively manifest it. This identity, indivisibility, and absolute unity of the person, are its spirituality, the very essence of the person. It is not in the least a hypothesis to affirm that the soul differs essentially from the body. By the soul, we mean the person, not separated from the consciousness of the attributes which constitute it thought and will. The Existence without consciousness is an abstract being, and not a person. It is the person that is identical, one, simple. Its attributes, developing it, do not divide it. Indivisible, it is indissoluble, and may be immortal. If absolute justice requires this immortality, it does not require what is impossible. The spirituality of the soul is the condition and necessary foundation of immortality; the law of merit and demerit is the direct demonstration of it. The first is the metaphysical, the second the moral proof. Add to these the tendency of all the powers of the soul towards the Infinite and the principle of final causes, and the proof of the immortality of the soul is complete.
God, therefore, in the Masonic creed, is Infinite Truth, Infinite Beauty, Infinite Goodness. He is the Holy of Holies as Author of the Moral law, as the Principle of Liberty, of Justice, and of Charity, Dispenser of Reward and Punishment. Such a God is not an abstract God, but an intelligent and free person Who has made us in His image, from Whom we receive the Law that presides over our destiny, and Whose judgment we await. It is His Love that inspires us in our acts of charity; it is His justice that governs our justice and that of society and the laws. We continually remind ourselves that He is infinite: because otherwise we should degrade His nature; but He would be for us as if He were not if His infinite nature had not forms inherent in ourselves, the forms of our own reason and soul.
When we love Truth, Justice, and Nobility of Soul, we should know that it is God we love underneath these special forms and should unite them all into one great act of total piety. We should feel that we go in and out continually in the midst of the vast forces of the Universe which are only the Forces of God; that in our studies, when we attain a truth, we confront the Thought of God; when we learn the right, we learn the Will of God laid down as a rule of conduct for the Universe; and when we feel disinterested love, we should know that we partake the Feeling of the Infinite God. Then, when we reverence the mighty Cosmic Force, it will not be a blind Fate in an Atheistic or Pantheistic world, but the Infinite God that we shall confront and feel and know. Then we shall be mindful of the Mind of God, conscious of God's Consciousness, sensible of His sentiments, and our own existence will be in the infinite Being of God.
The world is a whole which has its harmony: for a God Who is One could make none but a complete and harmonious work. The harmony of the Universe responds to the unity of God as the indefinite quantity is the defective sign of the infinitude of God. To say that the Universe is God is to admit the world only, and deny God. Give it what name you please, it is atheism at bottom. On the other hand, to suppose that the Universe is void of God and that He is wholly apart from it, is an insupportable and almost impossible abstraction. To distinguish is not to separate. I distinguish, but do not separate myself from, my qualities and effects. So God is not the Universe, although He is everywhere present in spirit and in truth.
To us, as to Plato, absolute truth is in God. It is God Himself under one of His phases. In God, as their original, are the immutable principles of reality and cognisance. In Him things receive at once their existence and their intelligibility. It is by participating in the Divine reason that our own reason possesses something of the absolute. Every judgment of reason envelopes a necessary truth, and every necessary truth supposes the necessary Existence.
Thus, from every direction from metaphysics, aesthetics, and morality above all, we rise to the same principle, the common centre and ultimate foundation of all truth, all beauty, all good. The True, the Beautiful, the Good, are but diverse revelations of one and the same Being. Thus we reach the threshold of religion. We are in communion with the great philosophies which all proclaim a God and, at the same time, with the religions which cover the Earth, all reposing on the sacred foundation of natural religion: of that religion which reveals to us the natural light given to all men without the aid of particular revelation. So long as philosophy does not arrive at religion, it is below all worships, even the most imperfect: for they at least give man a Father, a Witness, a Consoler, a Judge. By religion, philosophy connects itself with humanity which, from one end of the world to the other, aspires to God, believes in God, hopes in God. Philosophy contains in itself the common basis of all religious beliefs; it, as it were, borrows from them their principle, and returns it to them surrounded with light, elevated above uncertainty, secure against all attack.
And then again recurs the ancient difficulty. If it be of God's Nature to create if we cannot conceive of His existing alone without creating, without having created, then what He created was co-existent with Himself. If He could exist an instant without creating, He could as well do so for a myriad of eternities. And so again comes round to us the old doctrine of a God, the Soul of the Universe and co-existent with it. For what He created had a beginning; and however long since that creation occurred, an eternity had before elapsed. The difference between a beginning and no beginning is infinite.
But of some things we can be certain. We are conscious of ourselves of ourselves, if not as substances, at least as Powers to be, to do, to suffer. We are conscious of ourselves not as self-originated at all or as self-sustained alone; but only as dependent, first for existence, and ever since for support.
Among the primary ideas of consciousness that are inseparable from it, the atoms of self-consciousness, we find the idea of God. Carefully examined by the scrutinising intellect, it is the idea of God as infinite, perfectly powerful, wise, just, loving, holy: absolute Being with no limitation. This made us, made all, sustains us, sustains all; made our body, not by a single act, but by a series of acts extending over a vast succession of years for man's body is the resultant of all created things; made our spirit, our mind, conscience, affections, soul, will; appointed for each its natural mode of action; set each at its several aim. Thus self-consciousness leads us to consciousness of God, and at last to consciousness of an Infinite God. That is the highest evidence of our own existence, and it is the highest evidence of His.
If there is a God at all, He must be omnipresent in space. Beyond the last Stars He must be, as He is here. There can be no mote that peoples the sunbeams, no little cell of life that the microscope discovers in the seed-sporule of a moss, but He is there.
He must also be omnipresent in time. There was no second of time before the Stars began to burn but God was in that second. In the most distant nebulous spot in Orion's belt, and in every one of the millions that people a square inch of limestone, God is alike present. He is in the smallest imaginable, or even unimaginable, portion of time, and in every second of its most vast and unimaginable volume; His Here is coterminous with the All of Space; his Now coeval with the All of Time.
Through all this Space, in all this Time, His Being extends, spreads undivided, operates unspent; God in all His infinity, perfectly powerful, wise, just, loving, and holy. His being is an infinite activity, a creating, and so a giving of Himself to the World. The World's being is a becoming, a being created and continued. It is so now, and was so, incalculable and unimaginable millions of ages ago.
All this is philosophy, the unavoidable conclusion of the human mind. It is not the opinion of Coleridge and Kant, but their science; not what they guess, but what they know.
In virtue of this in-dwelling God in matter, we say that the world is a revelation of Him, its existence a show of His. He is in His work. The manifold action of the Universe is only His mode of operation, and all material things are in communion with Him. All grow and move and live in Him, and by means of Him, and only so. Let him withdraw from the space occupied by anything, and it ceases to be. Let Him withdraw any quality of His nature from anything, and it ceases to be. All must partake of Him, He dwelling in each, and yet transcending all.
The failure of fanciful religion to become philosophy does not preclude philosophy from coinciding with true religion. Philosophy, or rather its object, the divine order of the Universe, is the intellectual guide which the religious sentiment needs: while exploring the real relations of the finite, it obtains a constantly improving and self-correcting measure of the perfect law of the Gospel of Love and Liberty and a means of carrying into effect the spiritualism of revealed religion. It establishes law by ascertaining its terms; it guides the spirit to see its way to the amelioration of life and the increase of happiness.
While religion was stationary, science could not walk alone; when both are admitted to be progressive, their interests and aims become identified. Aristotle began to show how religion may be founded on an intellectual basis: but the basis he laid was too narrow. Bacon, by giving to philosophy a definite aim and method, gave it at the same time a safer and self-enlarging basis.
Our position is that of intellectual beings surrounded by limitation; and the latter being constant, we have to intelligence the practical value of laws in whose investigation and application consists that seemingly endless career of intellectual and moral progress which the sentiment of religion inspires and ennobles. The title of Saint has commonly been claimed for those whose boast it has been to despise philosophy: yet faith will stumble and sentiment mislead unless knowledge be present in amount and quality sufficient to purify the one and to give beneficial direction to the other.
Science consists of those matured inferences from experience which all other experience confirms. It is no fixed system superior to revision, but that progressive mediation between ignorance and wisdom, in part conceived by Plato, whose immediate object is happiness and its impulse the highest kind of love. Science realises and unites all that was truly valuable in both the old schemes of mediation: the heroic, or system of action and effort; and the mystical theory of spiritual contemplative communion. "Listen to me", says Galen, "as to the voice of the Eleusinian Hierophant, and believe that the study of nature is a mystery no less important than theirs, nor less adapted to display the wisdom and power of the Great Creator. Their lessons and demonstrations were obscure, but ours are clear and unmistakable".
To science we owe it that no man is any longer entitled to consider himself the central point around which the whole Universe of life and motion revolves the immensely important individual for whose convenience, and even luxurious ease and indulgence, the whole Universe was made. On one side it has shown us an infinite Universe of Stars and Suns and Worlds at incalculable distances from each other, in whose majestic and awful presence we sink and even our world sinks into insignificance: while, on the other side, the microscope has placed us in communication with new worlds of organised living beings, gifted with senses, nerves, appetites, and instincts in every tear and in every drop of putrid water.
Thus science teaches us that we are but an infinitesimal portion of a great whole that stretches out on every side of us and above and below us, infinite in its complications, and which infinite wisdom alone can comprehend. Infinite wisdom has arranged the infinite succession of beings involving the necessity of birth, decay, and death, and made the loftiest virtues possible by providing these conflicts, reverses, trials, and hardships without which not even their names could ever have been invented.
Knowledge is convertible into power and axioms into rules of utility and duty. Modern science is social and communicative. It is moral as well as intellectual; powerful, yet pacific and disinterested; binding man to man as well as to the Universe; filling up the details of obligation and cherishing impulses of virtue; and, by affording clear proof of the consistency and identity of all interests, substituting co-operation for rivalry, liberality for jealousy, and tending far more powerfully than any other means to realise the spirit of religion by healing those inveterate disorders which, traced to their real origin, will be found rooted in an ignorant assumption as to the penurious severity of Providence and the consequent greed of selfish men to confine what seemed as if extorted from it to themselves, or to steal from each other rather than quietly to enjoy their own.
We shall probably never reach those higher forms containing the true differences of things, involving the full discovery and correct expression of their very self or essence. We shall ever fall short of the most general or most simple nature, the ultimate or most comprehensive law. Our widest axioms explain many phenomena, but so too in a degree did the principles or elements of the old philosophers and the cycles and epicycles of ancient astronomy. We cannot in any case of causation assign the whole of the conditions; nor, though we reproduce them in practice, can we mentally distinguish them all without knowing the essences of the things including them. We therefore must not unconsciously ascribe that absolute certainty to axioms which the ancient religionists did to creeds nor allow the mind, which ever strives to insulate itself and its acquisitions, to forget the nature of the process by which it substituted scientific for common notions and so, with one as with the other, lay the basis of self-deception by a pedantic and superstitious employment of them.
Doubt, the essential preliminary of all improvement and discovery, must accompany all the stages of man's onward progress. His intellectual life is a perpetual beginning, a preparation for a birth. The faculty of doubting and questioning, without which those of comparison and judgment would be useless, is itself a divine prerogative of the reason. Knowledge is always imperfect, or complete only in a prospectively boundless career in which discovery multiplies doubt, and doubt leads on to new discovery. The boast of science is not so much its manifested results as its admitted imperfection and capacity of unlimited progress. The true religious philosophy of an imperfect being is not a system or creed but, as Socrates thought, an infinite search for approximation. Finality is but another name for bewilderment or defeat. Science gratifies the religious feeling without arresting it, and opens out the unfathomable mystery of the One Supreme into more explicit and manageable Forms which express, not indeed His Essence, which is wholly beyond our reach and higher than our faculties can climb, but His Will, and so feeds an endless enthusiasm by accumulating forever new objects of pursuit. We have long experienced that knowledge is profitable; we are beginning to find that it is moral; and we shall at last discover it to be religious.
God and truth are inseparable. A knowledge of God is possession of the saving oracles of truth. In proportion as the thought and purpose of the individual are trained to conformity with the rule of right prescribed by Supreme Intelligence, so far is his happiness promoted and the purpose of his existence fulfilled. In this way a new life arises in him; he is no longer isolated, but a part of the eternal harmonies around him. His erring will is directed by the influence of a higher will, informing and moulding it in the path of his true happiness.
Man's power of apprehending outward truth is a qualified privilege the mental, like the physical, inspiration passing through a diluted medium; and yet even when truth, imparted as it were by intuition, has been specious or at least imperfect, the intoxication of sudden discovery has ever claimed it as full, infallible, and divine. While human weakness needed ever to recur to the pure and perfect source, the revelations once popularly accepted and valued assumed an independent substantiality, perpetuating not themselves only, but the whole mass of derivative forms accidentally connected with them and legalised in their names. The mists of error thickened under the shadows of prescription until the free light again broke in upon the night of ages, redeeming the genuine treasure from the superstition which obstinately doted on its accessories.
Even to the Barbarian, Nature reveals a mighty power and a wondrous wisdom and continually points to God. It is no wonder that men worshipped the several things of the world. The world of matter is a revelation of fear to the savage in Northern climes: he trembles at his Deity throned in ice and snow. The lightning, the storm, the earthquake startle the rude man, and he sees the Divine in the extraordinary.
The grand objects of Nature perpetually constrain men to think of their Author. The Alps are the great altar of Europe; the nocturnal sky has been to mankind the dome of a temple, starred all over with admonitions to reverence, trust, and love. The Scriptures for the human race are writ in Earth and Heaven. No organ or miserere touches the heart like the sonorous swell of the sea or the ocean wave's immeasurable laugh. Every year, the old world puts on a new bridal beauty and celebrates its Whit-Sunday when in the sweet Spring each bush and tree reverently dons its new glories. Autumn is a long All-Saints day; and the harvest is Hallowmass to Mankind.
Before the human race marched down from the slopes of the Himalayas to take possession of Asia, Chaldea, and Egypt, men marked each annual crisis, the solstices and the equinoxes, and celebrated religious festivals therein; and even then, and ever since, the material was and has been the element of communion between man and God.
Nature is full of religious lessons to a thoughtful man. He dissolves the matter of the Universe leaving only its forces; he dissolves away the phenomena of human history leaving only immortal spirit; he studies the law, the mode of action of these forces and this spirit, which make up the material and the human world, and cannot fail to be filled with reverence, with trust, with boundless love of the Infinite God Who devised these laws of matter and of mind and thereby bears up this marvellous Universe of things and men.
Science has its New Testament; and the beatitudes of Philosophy are profoundly touching. An undevout astronomer is mad. Familiarity with the grass and the trees teaches us deeper lessons of love and trust than we can glean from the writings of Fenelon and Augustine. The great Bible of God is ever open before mankind. The eternal flowers of Heaven seem to shed sweet influence on the perishable blossoms of the Earth. The great sermon of Jesus was preached on a mountain which preached to him as he did to the people, and the figures of speech were first natural figures of fact.
But knowing that we shall live forever, and that the Infinite God loves all of us, we can look on all the evils of the world and see that it is only the hour before sunrise, and that the light is coming; so we also, even we, may light a little taper to illuminate the darkness while it lasts, and help until the day-spring come. Eternal morning follows the night: a rainbow scarfs the shoulders of every cloud that weeps its rain away to be flowers on land and pearls at sea: Life rises out of the grave for the soul cannot be held by the fettering flesh. No dawn is hopeless; and disaster is only the threshold of delight.
Beautifully, above the great wide chaos of human errors, shines the calm clear light of natural human religion, revealing to us God as the Infinite Parent of all, perfectly powerful, wise, just, loving, and perfectly holy too. Beautiful around stretches off every way the Universe, the Great Bible of God. Material nature is its Old Testament, millions of years old, thick with eternal truths under our feet, glittering with everlasting glories over our heads; and Human Nature is the New Testament from the Infinite God, every day revealing a new page as Time turns over the leaves. Immortality stands waiting to give a recompense for every virtue not rewarded, for every tear not wiped away, for every sorrow undeserved, for every prayer, for every pure intention and emotion of the heart. And over the whole, over Nature Material and Human, over this Mortal Life and over the eternal Past and Future, the infinite Loving-kindness of God the Father comes enfolding all and blessing everything that ever was, that is, that ever shall be.
Everything is a Thought of the Infinite God. Nature is His Prose and man His Poetry. There is no Chance, no Fate: but God's Great Providence, enfolding the whole Universe in its bosom,and feeding it with everlasting Life. In times past there has been evil which we cannot understand; now there are evils which we cannot solve, nor make square with God's perfect goodness by any theory our feeble intellect enables us to frame. There are sufferings, follies, and sins for all mankind, for every nation, for every man and every woman. They were all foreseen by the infinite wisdom Of God, all provided for by His infinite power and justice, and all are consistent with His infinite love. To believe otherwise would be to believe that He made the world to amuse His idle hours with the follies and agonies of mankind, as Domitian was wont to do with the wrigglings and contortions of insect agonies. Then indeed we might despairingly unite in that horrible utterance of Heine: "Alas, God's Satire weighs heavily on me! The Great Author of the Universe, the Aristophanes of Heaven, is bent on demonstrating with crushing force to me, the little, earthly, German Aristophenes, how my wittiest sarcasms are only pitiful attempts at jesting in comparison with His, and how miserably I am beneath Him in humour, in colossal mockery."
No, no! God is not thus amused with and prodigal of human suffering. The world is neither a Here without a Hereafter, a body without a soul, a chaos with no God; nor a body blasted by a soul, a Here with a worse Hereafter, a world with a God that hates more than half the creatures He has made. There is no Savage, Revengeful, and Evil God: but there is an Infinite God, seen everywhere as Perfect Cause, everywhere as Perfect Providence, transcending all, yet in-dwelling everywhere, with perfect power, wisdom, justice, holiness, and love, providing for the future welfare of each and all, foreseeing and forecaring for every bubble that breaks on the great stream of human life and human history.
Whatever is favourable to virtue, whatever gives the moral liberty more energy, whatever can serve the greater moral development of the human race, is good. Suffering is not the worst condition of man on Earth. The worst condition is the moral brutalisation which the absence of physical evil would engender.
External or internal physical evil connects itself with the object of existence which is to accomplish the moral law here below, whatever the consequences, with the firm hope that virtue unfortunate will not fail to be rewarded in another life. The moral law has its sanction and its reason in itself. It owes nothing to that law of merit and demerit that accompanies it but is not its basis. But, though the principle of merit and demerit ought not to be the determining principle of virtuous action, it powerfully concurs with the moral law because it offers virtue a legitimate ground of consolation and hope.
Morality is the recognition of duty as duty, and its accomplishment whatever the consequences.
Religion is the recognition of duty in its necessary harmony with goodness: a harmony that must have its realisation in another life through the justice and omnipotence of God.
Religion is as true as morality: for once morality is admitted, its consequences must be admitted.
The whole moral existence is included in these two words, harmonious with each other: Duty and Hope.
Masonry teaches that God is infinitely good. What motive, what reason and, morally speaking, what possibility can there be to Infinite Power and Infinite Wisdom to be anything but good? Our very sorrows, proclaiming the loss of objects inexpressibly dear to us, demonstrate His goodness. The Being that made us intelligent cannot Himself be without intelligence; and He Who has made us so to love and to sorrow for what we love, must number love for the creatures He has made among His infinite attributes. Amid all our sorrows, we take refuge in the assurance that He loves us; that He does not capriciously or through indifference, and still less in mere anger, grieve and afflict us; that He chastens us in order that by His chastisements, which are by His Universal Law only the consequences of our acts, we may be profited; and that He could not show so much love for His creatures by leaving them unchastened, untried, undisciplined. We have faith in the Infinite; and it is that faith that must save us.
No dispensations of God's Providence, no suffering or bereavement, is a messenger of wrath; none of its circumstances is an indication of God's anger. He is incapable of anger, higher above such feelings than the distant stars are above the Earth. Bad men do not die because God hates them. They die because it is best for them that they should do so and, bad as they are, it is better for them to be in the hands of the infinitely good God than anywhere else.
Darkness and gloom lie upon the paths of men. They stumble at difficulties, are ensnared by temptations, and perplexed by trouble. They are anxious, and troubled, and fearful. Pain and affliction and sorrow often gather around the steps of their earthly pilgrimage. All this is written indelibly upon the tablets of the human heart. It is not to be erased; but Masonry sees and reads it in a new light. It does not expect the ills and trials and sufferings to be removed from life, but rather that the great truth will at some time be believed by all men: that they are the means, selected by infinite wisdom, to purify the heart and to invigorate the soul whose inheritance is immortality and the world its school.
Masonry propagates no creed except its own most simple and Sublime One: that Universal religion taught by Nature and by Reason. Its Lodges are neither Jewish, Moslem, not Christian Temples. It reiterates the precepts of morality of all religions. It venerates the character and commends the teachings of the great and good of all ages and of all countries. It extracts the good and not the evil, the truth and not the error, from all creeds; and acknowledges that there is much which is good and true in all.
If every man were a perfect imitator of that Great, Wise, Good Teacher, clothed with all his faith and all his virtues, how the circle of life's ills and trials would be narrowed! The sensual passions would assail the heart in vain. Want would no longer successfully tempt man to act wrongly, nor curiosity to do rashly. Ambition, spreading before men its Kingdoms and its Thrones, its offices and honours, would cause none to swerve from their great allegiance. Injury and insult would be shamed by forgiveness. "Father", men would say, "forgive them for they know not what they do". None would seek to be enriched at another's loss or expense. Every man would feel that the whole human race were his brothers. All sorrow and pain and anguish would be soothed by a perfect faith and an entire trust in the Infinite Goodness of God. The world around us would be new, and the Heavens above us; for here and there and everywhere through all the ample glories and splendours of the Universe, all men would recognise and feel the presence and the beneficent care of a loving Father.
However the Mason may believe as to creeds and churches and miracles and missions from heaven, he must admit that the life and character of him who taught in Galilee, and fragments of whose teaching have come down to us, are worthy of all imitation. That life [of Jesus. Ed.] is an undenied and undeniable Gospel. Its teachings cannot be passed by and discarded. All must admit that it would be happiness to follow and perfection to imitate him. None ever felt for him a sincere emotion of contempt, nor in anger accused him of sophistry, nor saw immorality lurking in his doctrines however they may judge those who succeeded him and claimed to be his apostles. Divine or human, inspired or only a reforming Essene, it must be agreed that his teachings are far nobler, far purer, far less alloyed with error and imperfection, far less of the Earth earthly, than those of Socrates, Plato, Seneca, Mohammed, or any other of the great moralists and Reformers of the world.
If our aims went as completely as his beyond personal care and selfish gratification; if our thoughts and words and actions were as entirely employed upon the great work of benefiting our kind the true work which we have been placed here to do as his were; if our nature were as gentle and as tender as his; and if society, country, kindred, friendship and home were as dear to us as they were to him, we should be at once relieved of more than half the difficulties and the diseased and painful affections of our lives. Simple obedience to rectitude, instead of self-interest; simple self-culture and self-improvement, instead of constant cultivation of the good opinion of others; single-hearted aims and purposes, instead of improper objects sought and approached by devious and crooked ways, would free our meditations of many disturbing and irritating questions.
Masonry does not require us to renounce the nobler and better affections of our natures, nor happiness, nor our just dues of love and honour from men; to vilify ourselves, nor renounce our self-respect, nor relinquish a just and reasonable sense of our merits and deserts, nor our own righteous virtue. It does require us to renounce our vices, our faults, our passions, our self-flattering delusions; to forego all outward advantages which are to be gained only through a sacrifice of our inward integrity or by anxious and petty contrivances and appliances; to choose and keep the better part; to secure that and let the worst take care of itself; to keep a good conscience and let opinion go as it will; to retain a lofty self-respect and let low self-indulgence go; to keep inward happiness and let outward advantages hold a subordinate place; to renounce our selfishness and that eternal anxiety as to what we are to have and what men think of us, and be content with the plenitude of God's great mercies and so to be happy. For it is the inordinate devotion to and consideration of self that is ever a stumbling-block in the way; that spreads questions, snares, and difficulties around us; that darkens the ways of Providence and makes the world a far less happy one to us than it might be.
As he taught, so Masonry teaches affection to our kindred, tenderness to our friends, gentleness and forbearance towards our inferiors, pity for the suffering, forgiveness of our enemies; and to wear an affectionate nature and gentle disposition as the garment of our life, investing pain, and toil, and agony, and even death, with a serene and holy beauty. It does not teach us to wrap ourselves in the garments of reserve and pride; to care nothing for the world because it cares nothing for us; to withdraw our thoughts from society because it does us no justice and see how patiently we can live within the confines of our own bosoms or, in quiet communion through books, with the mighty dead. No man ever found peace or light in that way. Every relation of hate, scorn, or neglect to mankind is full of vexation and torment. There is nothing to do with men but to love them, to admire their virtues, to pity and bear with their faults, and to forgive their injuries. To hate your adversary will not help you; to kill him will help you still less: nothing within the compass of the Universe will help you but to pity, forgive, and love him.
If we possessed Jesus' gentle and affectionate disposition, his love and compassion for all that err and all that offend, how many difficulties, both within and without us, would they relieve! How many depressed minds would we console! How many troubles in society should we compose! How many enmities soften! How many a knot of mystery and misunderstanding would be untied by a single word, spoken in simple and confiding truth! How many a rough path would be made smooth, and how many a crooked path made straight! Very many places, now solitary, would be made glad; very many dark places filled with light.
The moral truths are distinguished from other truths by this singular characteristic: so soon as we perceive them, they appear to us as the rule of our conduct. If it is true that a deposit is made in order to be returned to its legitimate possessor, it must be returned. To the necessity of believing the truth is added the necessity of practising it.
The necessity of practising the moral truths is obligation. The moral truths, necessary to the eye of reason, are obligatory on the will. The moral obligation, like the moral truth which is its basis, is absolute. As necessary truths are not more or less necessary, so obligation is not more or less obligatory. There are degrees of importance among different obligations; but there are no degrees in the obligation itself. One is not nearly obliged: but wholly so, or not at all. If there be any place of refuge against the obligation, it ceases to exist.
If the obligation is absolute, it is immutable and universal. For if what is obligation today may not be so tomorrow, if what is obligatory for me may not be so for you, the obligation differing from itself, it would be relative and contingent. This fact of absolute, immutable, universal obligation is certain and manifest. The good is the foundation of obligation. If it be not, obligation has no foundation: and that is impossible. If one act ought to be done, and another ought not, it must be because evidently there is an essential difference between the two acts. If one be not good and the other bad, the obligation imposed on us is arbitrary.
To make the Good a consequence of anything whatever is to annihilate it. It is the first, or it is nothing. When we ask an honest man why, despite his urgent necessities, he has respected the sanctity of a deposit, he answers, because it was his duty. Asked why it was his duty, he answers because it was right, was just, was good. Beyond that there is no answer to be made, but there is also no question to be asked. No one permits a duty to be imposed on him without giving himself a reason for it: but when it is admitted that the duty is commanded by justice, the mind is satisfied: for it has arrived at a principle beyond which there is nothing to seek, justice being its own principle. The primary truths include their own reason: and justice, the essential distinction between good and evil, is the first truth of morality.
Justice is not a consequence: because we cannot ascend to any principle above it. Moral truth forces itself on man, and does not emanate from him. It no more becomes subjective, by appearing to us obligatory, than truth does by appearing to us necessary. It is in the very nature of the true and the good that we must seek for the reason of necessity and obligation. Obligation is founded on the necessary distinction between the good and the evil; and it is itself the foundation of liberty. If man has his duties to perform, he must have the faculty of accomplishing them; of resisting desire, passion, and interest in order to obey the law. He must be free: therefore he is so, or human nature is in contradiction with itself. The certainty of the obligation involves the corresponding certainty of free will.
It is the will that is free, though sometimes that will may be ineffectual. The power to do must not be confounded with the power to will. The former may be limited: the latter is sovereign. The external effects may be prevented: the resolution itself cannot. Of this sovereign power of the will, we are conscious. We feel in ourselves, before it becomes determinate, the force which can determine itself one way or another. At the same time when I will this or that, I am equally conscious that I can will the contrary. I am conscious that I am the master of my resolution: that I may check it, continue it, retake it. When the act has ceased, the consciousness of the power which produced it has not. The consciousness and the power remain, superior to all the manifestations of the power. Wherefore free-will is the essential and ever-subsisting attribute of the will itself.
At the same time that we judge that a free agent has done a good or a bad act, we form another judgment, as necessary as the first: that if he has done well, he deserves compensation; if ill, punishment. That judgment may be expressed in a manner more or less vivid according as it is mingled with sentiments more or less ardent. Sometimes it will be merely a kind feeling towards a virtuous agent, and moderately hostile to a guilty one; sometimes enthusiasm or indignation. The judgment of merit and demerit is intimately connected with the judgment of good and evil. Merit is the natural right which we have to be rewarded; demerit the natural right which others have to punish us. But whether or not the reward is received or the punishment undergone, the merit or demerit equally subsists. Reward and punishment are the satisfaction of merit and demerit, but do not constitute them. Take away the former, and the latter continue. Take away the latter, and there are no longer real rewards or punishments. When a base man encompasses our merited honours, he has obtained but the mere appearance of a reward; a mere material advantage. The reward is essentially moral, and its value is independent of its form. One of those simple crowns of oak with which the early Romans awarded heroism was of more real value than all the wealth of the world when it was the sign of the gratitude and admiration of a people. Reward accorded to merit is a debt; without merit, it is an alms or a theft.
The Good is good in itself, and to be accomplished whatever the consequences. The results of the Good cannot but be fortunate. Happiness, separated from the Good, is but a fact to which no moral idea is attached. As an effect of the Good, it enters into the moral order, completes and crowns it.
Virtue without happiness and crime without misery are contradictions and disorder. If virtue suppose sacrifice (i.e. suffering), eternal justice requires that sacrifice generously accepted and courageously borne shall have for its reward the same happiness that was sacrificed; and it also requires that crime shall be punished with unhappiness for the guilty happiness which it attempted to procure.
This law that attaches pleasure and sorrow to the good and the evil is, in general, accomplished even here below. For order rules in the world: because the world lasts. Is that order sometimes disturbed? Are happiness and sorrow not always distributed in legitimate proportion to crime and virtue? The absolute judgment of the Good, the absolute judgment of obligation, the absolute judgment of merit and demerit, continue to subsist, inviolable and imprescriptible; and we cannot help but believe that He who has implanted in us the sentiment and idea of order cannot therein Himself be wanting; and that He will, sooner or later, re-establish the holy harmony of virtue and happiness by means belonging to Himself.
The judgment of the Good, the decision that such a thing is good and that such another is not this is the primitive fact, and reposes on itself. By its intimate resemblances to the judgment of the true and the beautiful, it shows us the secret affinities of morality, metaphysics, and aesthetics. The good, so especially united to the true, is distinguished from it only because it is truth put in practice. The good is obligatory. These are two indivisible, but not identical, ideas. The idea of obligation reposes on the idea of the Good. In this intimate alliance, the former borrows from the latter its universal and absolute character.
The obligatory good is the moral law. That is the foundation of all morality. By it we separate ourselves from the morality of interest and the morality of sentiment. We admit the existence of these facts, and their influence; but we do not assign them the same rank.
To the moral law in the reason of man corresponds liberty in action. Liberty is deduced from obligation, and is a fact irresistibly evident. Man, as free, and subject to obligation, is a moral person; and that involves the idea of rights. To these ideas is added that of merit and demerit: which supposes the distinction between good and evil, obligation and liberty; and creates the idea of reward and punishment.
The sentiments play no unimportant part in morality. All the moral judgments are accompanied by sentiments that respond to them. From the secret sources of enthusiasm the human will draws the mysterious virtue that makes heroes. Truth enlightens and illumines. Sentiment warms and inclines to action. Interest also bears its part: and the hope of happiness is the work of God, and one of the motive powers of human action.
Such is the admirable economy of the moral constitution of man. His Supreme Object, the Good; his law, Virtue, which often imposes upon him suffering, thus making him to excel all other created beings known to us. But this law is harsh, and in contradiction with the instinctive desire for happiness. Wherefore the Beneficent Author of his being has placed in his soul, by the side of the severe law of duty, the sweet, delightful force of sentiment. Generally He attaches happiness to virtue; and for the exceptions, such as there are, He has placed Hope at the end of the journey to be travelled.
Thus there is a side on which morality touches religion. It is a sublime necessity of Humanity to see in God the Legislator supremely wise, the Witness always present, the infallible Judge of virtue. The human mind, ever climbing up to God, would deem the foundations of morality too unstable if it did not place in God the first principle of the moral law. Wishing to give to the moral law a religious character, we run the risk of taking from it its moral character. We may refer it so entirely to God as to make His will an arbitrary decree. But the will of God, whence we deduce morality in order to give it authority, itself has no moral authority except as it is just. The Good comes from the will of God alone: but from His will in so far as it is the expression of His wisdom and justice. The Eternal Justice of God is the sole foundation of Justice such as Humanity perceives and practises it. The Good, duty, merit and demerit are referred to God, as everything is referred to Him; but they have none the less a proper evidence and authority. Religion is the crown of Morality, not its base. The base of Morality is in itself.
Masonry holds him also, by his solemn promise, to a purer life, a nobler generosity, a more perfect charity of opinion and action: to be tolerant, catholic in his love for his race, ardent in his zeal for the interest of mankind, the advancement and progress of humanity.
Such are, we think, the Philosophy and the Morality; such the True Word of a Master Mason, and the Royal Secret of this Degree. He who does not comply with his Masonic obligation is ungrateful. If that degenerate vice possesses thee, hide thyself in the shadow of they shame, and pollute not Masonic society. Let the characters of good things stand indelibly in thy mind, and thy thoughts be active on them. Generous gratitudes, though only once obliged, without quickening repetitions or expectation of new favours, have thankful minds for ever: and Masons should write their obligations in marble memories that wear out only with themselves.
Finally, my Brother, ever imitate the example of our Grand Master Jacques de Molay, who to the end put his trust in God, and in the agony of his last moments uttered that noble cry of faith and Christian resignation which thenceforward became the motto of this Degree: Spes Mea in Deo Est.