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ON THE SENTIMENT OF VENERATION.*
In surveying the appearances of human society, two circumstances hold a prominent place, of which a very inadequate explanation is given by the prevalent philosophy,—the universality of religious worship, and the submission of the many to the few.
It has been well said by an ancient philosopher,t that “ no nation is to be found so utterly destitute of law and morals, as not to believe in gods of some kind or other." Wherever, indeed, we turn, or whatever period of history we observe, the belief of a Superior Being, a certain awe regarding his character and power,-a desire to conciliate his regard and to avert his anger,—are invariably manifesting themselves in private and in public worship; which is fervent, generally, in a degree entitling it to the character of a passion, and strong even in death, after having cheered the season of trial, and heightened the pleasures of prosperity, is found losing its hold on the human heart only in the hour of its dissolution. Men of all characters, too, are observed
We are indebted to Mr James Bridges for the following interesting communication.-EDITOR.
+ Seneca, VOL. III. -No IX.
yielding to its impulses. The cruel and the kind-hearted, the careless and the wary, the ambitious and the contented, the sanguine and the despondent, the proud and the humble, the grave and the gay, the covetous and the liberal, the grandest minds and the feeblest,-all are found, throughout their lives, or at intervals, bowing more or less before the majesty of a God. And as no original difference of disposition thus is to be found which excludes this striking appearance, so neither is it shut out by any variety of the circumstances, in which human beings are placed. It holds equal sway over the king and the beggar, the philosopher and the savage, the poet and the man of business, the soldier and the citizen, the gamester, the thief, the idler, the active. No combination of circumstances, however unfavourable, can extinguish this master principle ; which, like the latent heat of the chemists, is found lurking even in the iciest bosoms.
It further is observable, that while thus universal in its action, the intensity of the principle bears no fixed relation to any of the other circumstances in human society with which it is found in combination. Luxury, rudeness, kņowledge, ignorance, peace, war, plenty, famine, may exist in any given degree; and the principle of devotion shall yet manifest itself in one degree or another. In particular it is to be observed, that the prevalent warmth of religious feeling bears no proportion to the degree in which philosophical speculations and the exercise of the reasoning powers are prosecuted: for though it will be found, that a reflecting mind forms the best receptacle for true piety, the warmth of the feeling neither is caused by that habit of thought, nor always accompanies it.
The disposition, likewise, it is to be observed, manifests itself iŋ an almost endless variety of rational and irrational customs. While with us, it has settled upon one Being who is infinite, eternal, and glorious in his whole attributes, to whom a pure offering is made; with other nations and at
different periods, it has manifested itself in all the inexpres. sible absurdities of polytheism, and of even licentious and cruel sacrifices. To use the words of Gall, whose powerful mind does not fail to seize upon these grand distinctions of the human race,-“ Men adore every thing ; fire, water, “ thunder, lightning, meteors, grasshoppers, crickets. The “Mexicans worshipped Vitzliputzli the god of war, and Tesca“ liputza the god of penitence. The negroes and savages of “ America profess the worship of the Fetish gods, which erects “ animals, and inanimate beings the most absurd, into deities. “ The streaked serpent is the natural divinity of the people of “Juidah. Several American nations, like the Egyptians, make “gods of the crocodile; or, like the Philistines, of the fish of “ the sea. In the peninsula of Yucatan, children are placed un“ der the protection of some animal, chosen at random, which “thenceforth becomes their tutelary god. The Samoiedes and “ Laplanders worship several kinds of animals and stones, which “they anoint; as of old the Syrians adored the stones called “ Boëtiles, and as even now some Americans do their conical stones. “ The ancient Arabians took a square stone for their divinity; “ and the god Casius of the Romans, called Jupiter Petræus by “ Cicero, was a round stone cut in the middle." « The ancient “ Germans made gods of bushy trees, fountains, and lakes; they "worshipped, as still the Laplanders do, certain shapeless trunks, “ which they conceived to resemble divinity. The Franks paid " adoration to the woods, waters, birds, and beasts. Those pri“ mitive modes of worship, which prevailed among the Egyp“ tians and Germans, are found, at a later period, among the “people of Greece;
and it is impossible not to be struck with “ the conformity. Shapeless trunks were the first gods of the “ Greeks. The Venus of Paphos was a white pyramid; the “ Diana of the island of Eubæa an unwrought piece of wood; “the Thespian Juno a trunk of a tree; the Pallas and Ceres of “ Athens a simple stake, not stript; the Matuta of the Phry“ gians was
black stone, with irregular angles, which they “ said fell from heaven at Pessinuntum, and which afterwards was “ carried to Rome with great respect. Men have had, besides " these absurd national divinities, various private objects of wor
ship, from which they expected individual and special pro“ tection.
Such were the gods of Laban, and the household "gods of the Romans. In the kingdom of Issini, one chose for “his Fetish a piece of wood ; another, the teeth of a dog, a ti.
ger, or an elephant. The seas were peopled with Tritons, “ Nereids, and divinities of different kinds ; —the plains with “ Nymphs and Fauns ;-the forests with Dryads and Hamadry“ads. Every rivulet, fountain, village, and city, had its divi“nity. All agreed in thinking, that these divinities exacted “honours,—that they were easily irritated, but appeased by bloody sacrifices. Their barbarism was every where carried “ the length of immolating even human victims to them. Add “ to all this the adoration of trees; the idols of the Chinese; the “palladium of the Trojans; the sacred shield of the Romans ; “ the universal confidence which men have had in talismans and “ amulets; in divinations, dreams, and oracles ; in the casual “ encountering of different objects, such as a dead body or a “cat; in the cry of night-birds; in the fight of birds; in pe“nitences and mortifications of
every kind.” But not merely has the religious principle manifested itself in absurd and incongruous objects of worship; it has occasionally adopted gods for its idolatry which are purely hateful in their character. The gods of the nations have been murderers, adulterers, catamites, prostitutes, drunkards,—and beasts resembling this character in their habits. The devil himself even, who is to be imagined as a concentration of every thing detestable, has been held up to public worship.
Nor is it alone in the character or variety of the objects of worship, that the strength of the natural principle has been put to severe trial in different ages. The species of homage paid to divinity has itself been generally so extravagant, cruel, vicious, or absurd, as to be scarcely at all explicable on the principles of reason. Bloody sacrifices, to the offering up of human victims, have been universal in past ages, and are not unknown even in our own. Impure rites, too vile to be named, have been performed in the sure hope of divine favour, not alone among the barbarians of Otaheite, but among the civilized people of Greece and Rome. And it deserves particularly to be noticed, that the system of sacrifice (regarded abstractly, and not in its more degraded aspects) has with difficulty hitherto been explained on the principles of reason, though it has the authority of inspiration in its favour.
But we must not stop even here. Besides this historical evidence of the strength of the principle of worship, we every where possess before us standing evidence of its power. Thus, while the private dwellings and other worldly establishments of the ancients have very much disappeared in the lapse of