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Middleton shows the exact conformity between popery and paganism, in a number of particulars, which it is not my intention to quote at length, though I intend to give some more of ihe most prominent. My object is to show that the great leading features of the two systems are the same, and that the one was evidently derived from the other. Pope Gregory the Great, who gave the above instructions to the monk Augustine, for the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons, plainly confessed that images and pictures were set up in churches for the sake of the pagans; that those who did not know, and could not read the scriptures, might learn from the images what they ought to worship. (See Middleton, p. 243.) The images and pictures were not, at first, professedly objects of worship; but, with the increasing darkness and growing ignorance of persons called Christians, they soon came to be so. The first admission of such things as helps to devotion, was an open departure from the simplicity of spiritual worship; and it prepared the way for all the idol worshipihat followed. Doubtless there were many in the apostolic churches who could not read, who were yet taught to worship God in spirit and in truth, without the aid of pictures and images. In fact, there are no images that can represent those things, by the knowledge and belief of which sinners are saved, and taught to offer to God acceptable worship. It is life eternal to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. That is, to know and acknowledge God in those characters of justice and mercy by which he makes himself known in the gospel of his Son. Here he is revealed as the just God and the Saviour; as a Being of such holiness and purity, that he cannot look upon sin; and yet so rich in mercy, as to devise a way for the salvation of sinners, consistently with these characters of holiness and justice. It is by the knowledge of this, as revealed to us in the scriptures, that sinners are saved ; and this is the foundation of all Christian worship. But these things cannot possibly be represented by material images or pictures. What figure would any man use to represent the love of God the Father? Is it possible to paint on canvass, or cut in marble, a resemblance of infinite holiness and justice? Is it possible to represent by sculpture, or painting, the anguish of mind which Christ suffered on account of sin, when his soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death? It certainly is not possible to make images of such things. No man could think of it, unless his mind were diverted from the God who is a Spirit, and directed to a creature of his own fancy, to which he wishes to give that honour which is due to God alone. Hence it is, that it was so peremptorily forbidden to worship God by means of any figure of any thing in the heavens, or in the earth; for this could not be thought of without the alienation of the mind from the knowledge of the true God.
The image of the cross, indeed, is thought to represent the sufferings of Christ on account of sin; and this, I suppose, was one of the first images that was set up in any Christian church. But, in fact, it represents no such thing; and it can be of no more use in Christian worship, than the image of Jupiter, or any piece of heathen sculpture. Death by crucifixion was a common punishment among the Romans; and the figure of a cross, with the figure of a man extended upon it, can give no more idea of the sufferings of Christ, than of the sufferings of any other man put to death in the same way. It may tend to
preserve the remembrance of the fact, that Christ was crucified, and so it may perpetuate the name of Christian, where there is nothing of real Christianity: but the knowledge of the fact is of no value without the knowledge of its meaning, and the knowledge that the principal part of Christ's sufferings were not those of his body upon the cross, but those of his soul, when God exacted of him the penalty of the transgressions of all his people. This cannot possibly be represented by an image; and the very attempt to represent the sufferings of Christ in such a way, shows that the person who does so, has false and degrading notions of the death of Christ, --such as, in fact, show that he is no Christian; and the devotion of such a man, however ardent it may be, is nothing but devotion to an idol which he has set up in his own mind.
It is pleaded by popish writers, that the image of the cross is calculated to excite devotion and gratitude to Him who died upon it; but if the image could effect this, surely the reality would have been much more likely to do so. If a wooden cross, and a wooden image upon it, be so effectual in producing sentiments of piety and devotion, it might have been supposed, that when Christ himself hung upon the cross, in the view of all Jerusalem, many thousands would have been moved to devotion by the sight; but we know that such was not the case. The multitude were moved by no feeling more amiable than rage, and hatred of Him whom they had crucified; and we know that, in subsequent ages, men calling themselves Christians, have exhibited the same hatred and rage against Christ and his cause, when they put thousands to death, and that, 100, under the banner of the cross, for no greater crime than confessing his truth according to his word. In short, the cross is one of the great bloody idols of the church of Rome; and has occasioned, I suppose, a greater waste of human life than any one idol known in the heathen world.
But, to return to the conformity between popish and pagan worship, there is in Rome, at this day, a practice of presenting children before the image of a saint, which has evidently been borrowed from a fable respecting Romulus, the founder of the city : -"From the tradition," says Dr. Middleton, “ of the wonderful escape which Romulus had in this very place, when exposed, in his infancy, to perish in the Tiber; as soon as he came to be a god, he was looked upon as singularly propitious to the health and safety of young children; from which notion, it became a practice for nurses and mothers to present their sickly infants before his shrine in this temple, in confidence of a cure or relief by his favour. Now, when this temple was converted afterwards into a Christian church, lest any piece of superstition should be lost, or the people think themselves sufferers by the change, in losing the benefit of such a protection for their children, care was taken to find out, in the place of the heathen god, a Christian saint, who had been exposed too in his infancy, and found by chance, like Romulus, and for the same reason, might be presumed to be just as fond of children, as their old deity had been : and thus, the worship paid to Romulus being now transferred to Theodorus, the old superstition still subsists, and the custom of presenting children at this shrine continues to this day, without intermission; of which I myself have been a witness; having seen, as oft as I looked into this church, ten or a
dozen women decently dressed, each with a child in her lap, sitting with silent reverence before the altar of the saint, in expectation of his miraculous influence on the health of the infant.
“ In consecrating these heathen temples to the popish worship, that the change might be less offensive, and the old superstition as little shocked as possible, they generally observe some resemblance of character and quality in the saint, whom they substitute to the old deity: •If, in converting the profane worship of the Gentiles,' says the describer of modern Rome, 'to the pure and sacred worship of the church, the faithful use to follow some rule and proportion, they have certainly hit upon it here, in dedicating to the Madonna, or holy virgin, the temple formerly sacred to the Bona Dea, or good goddess. But they have more frequently, on these occasions, had regard rather to a similitude of name between the old and new idol. Thus, in a place formerly sacred to Apollo, there now stands the church of Apollinaris; built there, as they tell us, that the profane name of that deity might be converted into the glorious name of this martyr; and where there anciently stood a temple of Mars, they have erected a church to Martina, with this inscription:
Mars hence expell’d, Martina, martyr'd maid,
Claims now the worship which to him was paid.' “ Whatever worship was paid by the ancients, to their heroes or inferior deities, the Romans now pay the same to their saints and martyrs, as their own inscriptions plainly declare; which, like those mentioned above, of St. Martina, and the Pantheon, generally signify, that the honours which of old had been impiously given in that place to the false god, are now piously and rightly transferred to the Christian saint: or, as one of their celebrated poets expresses himself in regard to St. George:
As Mars our fathers once ador'd, so now
Pages 167, 168, 177. “But what gave me a still greater notion of the superstition of these countries, was to see those little oratories, or rural shrines, sometimes placed under the cover of a tree or grove, agreeably to the descriptions of the old idolatry, the sacred as well as profane writers; or, more generally, raised on some eminence; or, in the phrase of scripture, on high places, the constant scenes of idolatrous worship in all ages; it being an universal opinion among the heathens, that the gods, in a peculiar manner, loved to reside on eminences or tops of mountains; which pagan notion prevails still so generally with the Papists, that there is hardly a rock or precipice, how dreadful or difficult soever of access, that has not an oratory, or altar, or crucifix, at least, planted upon it.” Page 184.
“When we enter their towns, the case is still the same as it was in the country; we find every where the same marks of idolatry, and the same reasons to make us fancy that we are still treading pagan ground; whilst, at every corner, we see images and altars, with lamps or candles burning before them; exactly answering to the descriptions of the ancient writers; and to what Tertullian reproaches the heathen with, that their streets, their markets, their baths, were not without an
idol. But, above all, in the pomp and solemnity of their holy-days, and especially their religious processions, we see the genuine remains of heathenism, and proof enough to convince us that this is still the same Rome which old Numa first tamed and civilized by the arts of religion ; who, as Plutarch says, by the institution of supplications and processions to the gods, which inspire reverence, whilst they give pleasure to the spectators, and, by pretended miracles and divine apparitions, reduced the fierce spirits of his subjects under the power of superstition.” Page 187.
* The descriptions of the religious pomps and processions of the heathens come so near to what we see on every festival of the virgin, or other Romish saint, that one can hardly help thinking these popish ones to be still regulated by the old ceremonial of pagan Rome. At these solemnities, the chief magistrate used frequently to assist, in robes of ceremony, attended by the priests in surplices, with wax candles in their hands, carrying upon a pageant, or thensa, the images of their gods, dressed out in their best clothes; these were usually followed by the principal youth of the place, in white linen vestments, or surplices, singing hymns in honour of the god whose festival they were celebrating, accompanied by crowds of all sorts, that were initiated in the same religion, all with flambeaux or wax candles in their hands. This is the account which Apuleius and other authors give of a heathen procession; and I may appeal to all who have been abroad, whether it might not pass quite as well for the description of a popish one. Monsieur Tournefort, in his travels through Greece, reflects upon the Greek church, for having retained, and taken into their present worship, many of the old rites of heathenism; and particularly, that of carrying and dancing about the images of the saints in their processions, to singing and music. The reflection is fully as applicable to his own as to the Greek church; and the practice itself, so far from giving scandal in Italy, that the learned publisher of the Florentine Inscriptions takes occasion to show the conformity between them and the heathens, from this very instance of carrying about the pictures of their saints, as the pagans did those of their gods, in their sacred processions.
“ In one of these processions, made lately to St. Peter's in the time of Lent, I saw that ridiculous penance of the flagellantes, or self-whippers, who march with whips in their hands, and lash themselves as they go along, on the bare back, till it is all covered with blood; in the same manner as the fanatical priests of Bellona, or the Syrian goddess, as well as the votaries of Isis, used to slash and cut themselves of old, in order to please the goddess, by the sacrifice of their own blood; which mad piece of discipline we find frequently mentioned, · and as oft ridiculed, by the ancient writers.
“But they have another exercise of the same kind, and in the same season of Lent, which, under the notion of penance, is still a more absurd mockery of all religion : when, on a certain day, appointed annually for this discipline, men of all conditions assemble themselves, towards the evening, in one of the churches of the city; where whips or lashes, made of cords, are provided, and distributed to every person present; and after they are all served, and a short office of devotion performed, the candles being put out, upon the warning of a little bell,
the whole company begin presently to strip, and try the force of their whips on their own backs : during all which time, the church becomes, as it were, the proper image of hell
, where nothing is heard but the noise of lashes and chains, mixed with the groans of these self-tormentors; till, satiated with their exercise, they are content to put on their clothes; and the candles being lighted again, upon the tinkling of a second bell, they all appear
dress. “Seneca, alluding to the very same effects of fanaticism in pagan Rome, says, 'So great is the force of it on disordered minds, that they try to appease the gods, by such methods as an enraged man would hardly think of to revenge himself. But, if there be any gods who desire to be worshipped after this manner, they do not deserve to be worshipped at all, since the very worst of tyrants, though they have sometimes torn and tortured people's limbs, yet have never commanded men to torture themselves.' But, there is no occasion to imagine, that all the blood which seems to flow on these occasions, really comes from the backs of these bigots; for, it is probable, that, like their frantic predecessors, they may use some craft, as well as zeal, in this their fury; and, I cannot but think there was a great deal of justice in that edict of the Emperor Commodus, with regard to these Belonarii, or whippers of antiquity, though it is usually imputed to his cruelty, when he commanded that they should not be suffered to impose upon the spectators, but be obliged to cut and slash themselves in good earnest.” Pages 188—193.
I would gladly give more extracts from this interesting work; indeed it would be doing a service to the public to reprint the whole; but this is the less necessary, as the letters of Igxotus, to which I referred in my last number, contain the greater part of it, with a confirmation of some material facts, from other authors. In particular, he has shown the exact conformity of the water idolatry of our Papists in Ireland with that of the Hindoos, from Mr. Grant's Observations on India, ordered by the house of commons to be printed, 15th June, 1813. “Of holy rivers," says Mr. Grant, “ dedicated to one or other of the deities, Brahma, Vishnu, or Mahades, there are twenty-eight, named in the institutes of the Emperor Akber, beginning with the Ganges, and traversing the whole continent, to the Indies ; so that all the professors of Hindooism are within reach of an antidote against the consequences of guilt.” “The virtues of the river Ganges are universally allowed to be pre-eminent;—the water of it assuredly purifies from all sin; ablutions in it are used continually to this end, as Europeans daily see: and the dying, when within a moderate distance of it, are carried to its edge, and their feet are placed in the river, that thus they may have a happy passage out of life. Its water is conveyed to distant parts for the same purpose; and, if persons are not within reach of it—thinking of it and invoking it, when they bathe in any other water, will still give them all the efficacy of it."
“Now," says Ignotus, p. 60, “the analogy between the practices of heathen Rome and India, and the practices of the church of Rome and her priests in Ireland, although forming a part of our Protestant empire, and lying immediately under our own eyes, is very remarkable. A main part of the worship of Irish Roman Catholics, is made by their priests to consist in this water idolatry. St. Patrick's purgatory is an island situate in the midst of a lake in the county of Donegal, called