I should have too fair a game should I consider man in his common way of living and in gross; yet I might do it by his own rule, who judges truth not by weight, but by the number of votes. Let us set the people aside,
Qui vigilans stertit,....
Mortua cui vita est prope jam vivo atque videnti;
"Half of his life by lazy sleep's possess'd,
And when awake his soul but nods at best;"
who neither feel nor judge, and let most of their natural faculties lie idle; I will take man in his highest ground. Let us consider him in that little number of men, excellent and culled out from the rest, who, having been endowed with a remarkable and particular natural force, have moreover hardened and whetted it by care, study, and art, and raised it to the highest pitch of wisdom to which it can possibly arrive. They have adjusted their souls to all ways and all biases; have propped and supported them with all foreign helps proper for them, and enriched and adorned them with all they could borrow for their advantage, both within and without the world; 'tis in these is placed the utmost and most supreme height to which human nature can attain. They have regulated the world with policies and laws. They have instructed it with arts and sciences, and by the example of their admirable manners. I shall make account of none but such men as these, their testimony and experience. Let us examine how far they have proceeded, and where they stopped. The errors and defects that we shall find amongst these men the world may boldly avow as their own.
Whoever goes in search of any thing must come to this, either to say that he has found it, or that it is not to be found, or that he is yet upon the search. All philosophy is divided into these three kinds; her design is to seek out truth, knowledge, and certainty. The Peripatetics, Epicureans, Stoics, and others, have thought they have found it. These established the sciences we have, and have treated of them as of certain knowledge. Clitomachus, Carneades, and the Academics, have despaired in their search, and concluded that truth could not be conceived by our understandings. The result of these is weakness and human ignorance. This sect has had the most and the most noble followers. Pyrrho, and other skeptics or epechists, whose dogmas are held by many of the ancients to be taken from Homer, the seven sages, and from Archilochus and Euripides, and to whose number these are added, Zeno, Democritus, and Xenophanes, say that they are yet upon the inquiry after truth. These conclude that the others, who think they have found it out, are infinitely deceived; and that it is too daring a vanity in the second sort to determine that human reason is not able to attain unto it; for this establishing a standard of our power, to know and judge the difficulty of things, is a great and extreme knowledge, of which they doubt whether man is capable:—
Nil sciri quisquis putat, id quoque nescit,
An sciri possit; quam se nil scire fatetur.
"He that says nothing can be known, o'erthrows
His own opinion, for he nothing knows,
So knows not that."
The ignorance that knows itself, judges and condemns itself, is not an absolute ignorance; to be such, it must be ignorant of itself; so that the profession of the Pyrrhonians is to waver, doubt, and inquire, not to make themselves sure of, or responsible to themselves for any thing. Of the three actions of the soul, imaginative, appetitive, and consentive, they receive the two first; the last they kept ambiguous, without inclination or approbation, either of one thing or another, so light as it is. Zeno represented the motion of his imagination upon these divisions of the faculties of the soul thus: "An open and expanded hand signified appearance; a hand half shut, and the fingers a little bending, consent; a clenched fist, comprehension; when with the left he yet thrust the right fist closer, knowledge." Now this situation of their judgment upright and inflexible, receiving all objects without application or consent, leads them to their ataraxy, which is a peaceable condition of life, temperate, and exempt from the agitations we receive by the impression of opinion and knowledge that we think we have of things; whence spring fear, avarice, envy, immoderate desires, ambition, pride, superstition, love of novelty, rebellion, disobedience, obstinacy, and the greatest part of bodily ills; nay, and by that they are exempt from the jealousy of their discipline; for they debate after a very gentle manner; they fear no requital in their disputes; when they affirm that heavy things descend they would be sorry to be believed, and love tobe contradicted, to engender doubt and suspense of judgment, which is their end. They only put forward their propositions to contend with those they think we have in our belief. If you take their arguments, they will as readily maintain the contrary; 'tis all one to them, they have no choice. If you maintain that snow is black, they will argue on the contrary that it is white; if you say it is neither the one nor the other, they will maintain that it is both. If you hold, of certain judgment, that you know nothing, they will maintain that you do. Yea, and if by an affirmative axiom you assure them that you doubt, they will argue against you that you doubt not; or that you cannot judge and determine that you doubt. And by this extremity of doubt, which jostles itself, they separate and divide themselves from many opinions, even of those they have several ways maintained, both concerning doubt and ignorance. "Why shall not they be allowed to doubt," say they, "as well as the dogmatists, one of whom says green, another yellow? Can any thing be proposed to us to grant, or deny, which it shall not be permitted to consider as ambiguous?" And where others are carried away, either by the custom of their country, or by the instruction of parents, or by accident, as by a tempest, without judgment and without choice, nay, and for the most part before the age of discretion, to such and such an opinion, to the sect whether Stoic or Epicurean, with which they are prepossessed, enslaved, and fast bound, as to a thing they cannot forsake: Ad quamcumque disciplinant, velut tempestate, delati, ad earn, tanquam ad saxum, adhorescunt; "every one cleaves to the doctrine he has happened upon, as to a rock against which he has been thrown by tempest;" why shall not these likewise be permitted to maintain their liberty, and consider things without obligation or slavery? hoc liberiores et solutiores, quod integra illis est judicandi potestas: "in this more unconstrained and free, because they have the greater power of judging." Is it not of some advantage to be disengaged from the necessity that curbs others? Is it not better to remain in suspense than to entangle one's self in the innumerable errors that human fancy has produced? Is it not much better to suspend one's persuasion than to intermeddle with these wrangling and seditious divisions: "What shall I choose?" "What you please, provided you will choose." A very foolish answer; but such a one, nevertheless, as all dogmatism seems to point at, and by which we are not permitted to be ignorant of what we are ignorant of.
Take the most eminent side, that of the greatest reputation; it will never be so sure that you shall not be forced to attack and contend with a hundred and a hundred adversaries to defend it. Is it not better to keep out of this hurly-burly? You are permitted to embrace Aristotle's opinions of the immortality of the soul with as much zeal as your honour and life, and to give the lie to Plato thereupon, and shall they be interdicted to doubt him? If it be lawful for Pantius to maintain his opinion about augury, dreams, oracles, vaticinations, of which the Stoics made no doubt at all; why may not a wise man dare to do the same in all things that he dared to do in those he had learned of his masters, established by the common consent of the school, whereof he is a professor and a member? If it be a child that judges, he knows not what it is; if a wise man, he is prepossessed. They have reserved for themselves a marvellous advantage in battle, having eased themselves of the care of defence. If you strike them, they care not, provided they strike too, and they turn every thing to their own use. If they overcome, your argument is lame; if you, theirs; if they fall short, they verify ignorance; if you fall short, you do it; if they prove that nothing is known, 'tis well; if they cannot prove it, 'tis also well: Ut quurn in eadem re paria contrariis in partibus momenta inveniuntur, facilius ab utraque parte assertio sustineatur: "That when like sentiments happen pro and con in the same thing, the assent may on both sides be more easily suspended." And they make account to find out, with much greater facility, why a thing is false, than why 'tis true; that which is not, than that which is; and what they do not believe, than what they do. Their way of speaking is: "I assert nothing; it is no more so than so, or than neither one nor t'other; I understand it not. Appearances are everywhere equal; the law of speaking, pro or con, is the same. Nothing seems true, that may not seem false." Their sacramental word is that is to say, "I hold, I stir not." This is the burden of their song, and others of like stuff. The effect of which is a pure, entire, perfect, and absolute suspension of judgment. They make use of their reason to inquire and debate, but not to fix and determine. Whoever shall imagine a perpetual confession of ignorance, a judgment without bias, propension, or inclination, upon any occasion whatever, conceives a true idea of Pyrrhonism. I express this fancy as well as I can, by reason that many find it hard to conceive, and the authors themselves represent it a little variously and obscurely.
As to what concerns the actions of life, they are in this of the common fashion. They yield and give up themselves to their natural inclinations, to the power and impulse of passions, to the constitution of laws and customs, and to the tradition of arts; Non enim nos Deus ista scire, sed tantummodo uti, voluit. "For God would not have us know, but only use those things." They suffer their ordinary actions to be guided by those things, without any dispute or judgment. For which reason I cannot consent to what is said of Pyrrho, by those who represent him heavy and immovable, leading a kind of savage and unsociable life, standing the jostle of carts, going upon the edge of precipices, and refusing to accommodate himself to the laws. This is to enhance upon his discipline; he would never make himself a stock or a stone, he would show himself a living man, discoursing, reasoning, enjoying all reasonable conveniences and pleasures, employing and making use of all his corporal and spiritual faculties in rule and reason. The fantastic, imaginary, and false privileges that man had usurped of lording it, ordaining, and establishing, he has utterly quitted and renounced. Yet there is no sect but is constrained to permit her sage to follow several things not comprehended, perceived, or consented to, if he means to live. And if he goes to sea, he follows that design, not knowing whether his voyage shall be successful or no; and only insists upon the tightness of the vessel, the experience of the pilot, and the convenience of the season, and such probable circumstances; after which he is bound to go, and suffer himself to be governed by appearances, provided there be no express and manifest contrariety in them. He has a body, he has a soul; the senses push them, the mind spurs them on. And although he does not find in himself this proper and singular sign of judging, and that he perceives that he ought not to engage his consent, considering that there may be some false, equal to these true appearances, yet does he not, for all that, fail of carrying on the offices of his life with great liberty and convenience. How many arts are there that profess to consist more in conjecture than knowledge; that decide not on true and false, and only follow that which seems so! There are, say they, true and false, and we have in us wherewith to seek it; but not to make it stay when we touch it. We are much more prudent, in letting ourselves be regulated by the order of the world, without inquiry. A soul clear from prejudice has a marvellous advance towards tranquillity and repose. Men that judge and control their judges, do never duly submit to them.
How much more docile and easy to be governed, both by the laws of religion and civil polity, are simple and incurious minds, than those over-vigilant wits, that will still be prating of divine and human causes! There is nothing in human invention that carries so great a show of likelihood and utility as this; this presents man, naked and empty, confessing his natural weakness, fit to receive some foreign force from above, unfurnished of human, and therefore more apt to receive into him the divine knowledge, making nought of his own judgment, to give more room to faith; neither disbelieving nor establishing any dogma against common observances; humble, obedient, disciplinable, and studious; a sworn enemy of heresy; and consequently freeing himself from vain and irreligious opinions, introduced by false sects. 'Tis a blank paper prepared to receive such forms from the finger of God as he shall please to write upon it. The more we resign and commit ourselves to God, and the more we renounce ourselves, of the greater value we are. "Take in good part," says Ecclesiastes, "the things that present themselves to thee, as they seem and taste from hand to mouth; the rest is out of thy knowledge." Dominus novit cogitationes hominum, quoniam van sunt: "The Lord knoweth the hearts of men, that they are but vanity."
Thus we see that of the three general sects of philosophy, two make open profession of doubt and ignorance; and in that of the Dogmatists, which is the third, it is easy to discover that the greatest part of them only assume this face of confidence and assurance that
they may produce the better effect; they have not so much thought to establish any certainty for us, as to show us how far they have proceeded in their search of truth: Quam docti jingunt magis quam nrunt: "Which the learned rather feign than know." Timus, being to instruct Socrates in what he knew of the gods, the world, and men, proposes to speak to him as a man to a man; and that it is sufficient, if his reasons are probable as those of another; for that exact reasons were neither in his nor any other mortal hand; which one of his followers has thus imitated: Ut potero, explicabo: nec tamen, ut Pythius Apollo, certa ut sint et fixa qu dixero; sed, ut homunculus, probabilia conjectur sequens: "I will, as well as I am able, explain; affirming, yet not as the Pythian oracle, that what I say is fixed and certain, but like a mere man, that follows probabilities by conjecture." And this, upon the natural and common subject of the contempt of death; he has elsewhere translated from the very words of Plato: Si forte, de Deorum natur ortuque mundi disserentes, minus id quod habemiis in animo consequi-mur, haud erit mirum; oquum est enim meminisse, et me, qui disseram, hominem esse, et vos, qui judicetis, ut, si probabilia dicentur, nihil ultra requiratis? "If perchance, when we discourse of the nature of God, and the world's original, we cannot do it as we desire, it will be no great wonder. For it is just you should remember that both I who speak and you who are to judge, are men; so that if probable things are delivered, you shall require and expect no more." Aristotle ordinarily heaps up a great number of other men's opinions and beliefs, to compare them with his own, and to let us see how much he has gone beyond them, and how much nearer he approaches to the likelihood of truth; for truth is not to be judged by the authority and testimony of others; which made Epicurus religiously avoid quoting them in his writings. This is the prince of all dogmatists, and yet we are told by him that the more we know the more we have room for doubt. In earnest, we sometimes see him shroud and muffle up himself in so thick and so inextricable an obscurity that we know not what to make of his advice; it is, in effect, a Pyrrhonism under a resolutive form. Hear Cicero's protestation, who expounds to us another's fancy by his own: Qui requirunt quid de quque re ipsi sentiamus, curiosius id faciunt quam necesse est,... Hoc in philosophi ratio, contra omnia disserendi, nuttamque rem aperte judicandi, profecta a Socrate, repetita ab Arcesila, conjirmata a Gameade, usqu ad nostram viget cetatem..........Hi sumus, qui omnibus veris falsa quodam adjuncta esse dicamus, tanta similitudine, ut in iis nulla insit certe judicandi et assentiendi nota. "They who desire to know what we think of every thing are therein more inquisitive than is necessary. This practice in philosophy of disputing against every thing, and of absolutely concluding nothing, begun by Socrates, repeated by Arcesilaus, and confirmed by Cameades, has continued in use even to our own times. We are they who declare that there is so great a mixture of things false amongst all that are true, and they so resemble one another, that there can be in them no certain mark to direct us either to judge or assent." Why hath not Aristotle only, but most of the philosophers, affected difficulty, if not to set a greater value upon the vanity of the subject, and amuse the curiosity of our minds by giving them this hollow and fleshless bone to pick? Clitomachus affirmed "That he could never discover by Carneades's writings what opinion he was of." This was it that made Epicurus affect to be abstruse, and that procured Heraclitus the epithet of [—Greek—] Difficulty is a coin the learned make use of, like jugglers, to conceal the vanity of their art, and which human sottishness easily takes for current pay.
Claras, ob obscuram linguam, magis inter manes...
Omnia enim stolidi magis admirantur amantque
Inversis qu sub verbis latitantia cemunt.
"Bombast and riddle best do puppies please,
For fools admire and love such things as these;
And a dull quibble, wrapt in dubious phrase,
Up to the height doth their wise wonder raise."
Cicero reprehends some of his friends for giving more of their time to the study of astrology, logic, and geometry, than they were really worth; saying that they were by these diverted from the duties of life, and more profitable and proper studies. The Cyrenaick philosophers, in like manner, despised physics and logic. Zeno, in the very beginning of the books of the commonwealth, declared all the liberal arts of no use. Chrysippus said "That what Plato and Aristotle had writ, concerning logic, they had only done in sport, and by way of exercise;" and could not believe that they spoke in earnest of so vain a thing. Plutarch says the same of metaphysics. And Epicurus would have said as much of rhetoric, grammar, poetry, mathematics, and, natural philosophy excepted, of all the sciences; and Socrates of them all, excepting that which treats of manners and of life. Whatever any one required to be instructed in, by him, he would ever, in the first place, demand an account of the conditions of his life present and past, which he examined and judged, esteeming all other learning subsequent to that and supernumerary: Parum mihi placeant e littero quo ad virtutem doctoribus nihil pro-fuerunt. "That learning is in small repute with me which nothing profited the teachers themselves to virtue." Most of the arts have been in like manner decried by the same knowledge; but they did not consider that it was from the purpose to exercise their wits in those very matters wherein there was no solid advantage.
As to the rest, some have looked upon Plato as a dogmatist, others as a doubter, others in some things the one, and in other things the other. Socrates, the conductor of his dialogues, is eternally upon questions and stirring up disputes, never determining, never satisfying, and professes to have no other science but that of opposing himself. Homer, their author, has equally laid the foundations of all the sects of philosophy, to show how indifferent it was which way we should choose. 'Tis said that ten several sects sprung from Plato; yet, in my opinion, never did any instruction halt and stumble, if his does not.
Socrates said that midwives, in taking upon them the trade of helping others to bring forth, left the trade of bringing forth themselves; and that by the title of a wise man or sage, which the gods had conferred upon him, he was disabled, in his virile and mental love, of the faculty of bringing forth, contenting himself to help and assist those that could; to open their nature, anoint the passes, and facilitate their birth; to judge of the infant, baptize, nourish, fortify, swath, and circumcise it, exercising and employing his understanding in the perils and fortunes of others.
It is so with the most part of this third sort of authors, as the ancients have observed in the writings of Anaxagoras, Democritus, Parmenides, Xenophanes, and others. They have a way of writing, doubtful in substance and design, rather inquiring than teaching, though they mix their style with some dogmatical periods. Is not the same thing seen in Seneca and Plutarch? How many contradictions are there to be found if a man pry narrowly into them! So many that the reconciling lawyers ought first to reconcile them every one to themselves. Plato seems to have affected this method of philosophizing in dialogues; to the end that he might with greater decency, from several mouths, deliver the diversity and variety of his own fancies. It is as well to treat variously of things as to treat of them conformably, and better, that is to say, more copiously and with greater profit. Let us take example from ourselves: judgments are the utmost point of all dogmatical and determinative speaking; and yet those arrets that our parliaments give the people, the most exemplary of them, and those most proper to nourish in them the reverence due to that dignity, principally through the sufficiency of the persons acting, derive their beauty not so much from the conclusion, which with them is quotidian and common to every judge, as from the dispute and heat of divers and contrary arguments that the matter of law and equity will permit And the largest field for reprehension that some philosophers have against others is drawn from the diversities and contradictions wherein every one of them finds himself perplexed, either on purpose to show the vacillation of the human mind concerning every thing, or ignorantly compelled by the volubility and incomprehensibility of all matter; which is the meaning of the maxim—"In a slippery and sliding place let us suspend our belief;" for, as Euripides says,—
"God's various works perplex the thoughts of men."
Like that which Empedocles, as if transported with a divine fury, and compelled by truth, often strewed here and there in his writings: "No, no, we feel nothing, we see nothing; all things are concealed from us; there is not one thing of which we can positively say what it is;" according to the divine saying: Cogitationes mortalium timid, et incert adinventiones nostro et providentice. "For the thoughts of mortal men are doubtful; and our devices are but uncertain." It is not to be thought strange if men, despairing to overtake what they hunt after, have not however lost the pleasure of the chase; study being of itself so pleasant an employment; and so pleasant that amongst the pleasures, the Stoics forbid that also which proceeds from the exercise of the mind, will have it curbed, and find a kind of intemperance in too much knowledge.
Democritus having eaten figs at his table that tasted of honey, fell presently to considering with himself whence they should derive this unusual sweetness; and to be satisfied in it, was about to rise from the table to see the place whence the figs had been gathered; which his maid observing, and having understood the cause, smilingly told him that "he need not trouble himself about that, for she had put them into a vessel in which there had been honey." He was vexed at this discovery, and that she had deprived him of the occasion of this inquiry, and robbed his curiosity of matter to work upon: "Go thy way," said he, "thou hast done me an injury; but, for all that, I will seek out the cause as if it were natural;" and would willingly have found out some true reason for a false and imaginary effect. This story of a famous and great philosopher very clearly represents to us that studious passion that puts us upon the pursuit of things, of the acquisition of which we despair. Plutarch gives a like example of some one who would not be satisfied in that whereof he was in doubt, that he might not lose the pleasure of inquiring into it; like the other who would not that his physician should allay the thirst of his fever, that he might not lose the pleasure of quenching it by drinking. Satius est supervacua discere, quam nihil. "'Tis better to learn more than necessary than nothing at all." As in all sorts of feeding, the pleasure of eating is very often single and alone, and that what we take, which is acceptable to the palate, is not always nourishing or wholesome; so that which our minds extract from science does not cease to be pleasant, though there be nothing in it either nutritive or healthful. Thus they say: "The consideration of nature is a diet proper for our minds, it raises and elevates us, makes us disdain low and terrestrial things, by comparing them with those that are celestial and high. The mere inquisition into great and occult things is very pleasant, even to those who acquire no other benefit than the reverence and fear of judging it." This is what they profess. The vain image of this sickly curiosity is yet more manifest in this other example which they so often urge. "Eudoxus wished and begged of the gods that he might once see the sun near at hand, to comprehend the form, greatness, and beauty of it; even though he should thereby be immediately burned." He would at the price of his life purchase a knowledge, of which the use and possession should at the same time be taken from him; and for this sudden and vanishing knowledge lose all the other knowledge he had in present, or might afterwards have acquired.
I cannot easily persuade myself that Epicurus, Plato, and Pytagoras, have given us their atom, idea and numbers, for current pay. They were too wise to establish their articles of faith upon things so disputable and uncertain. But in that obscurity and ignorance in which the world then was, every one of these great men endeavoured to present some kind of image or reflection of light, and worked their brains for inventions that might have a pleasant and subtle appearance; provided that, though false, they might make good their ground against those that would oppose them. Unicuique ista pro ingenio finguntur, non ex scienti vi. "These things every one fancies according to his wit, and not by any power of knowledge."
One of the ancients, who was reproached, "That he professed philosophy, of which he nevertheless in his own judgment made no great account," made answer, "That this was truly to philosophize."
They wished to consider all, to balance every thing, and found that an employment well suited to our natural curiosity. Some things they wrote for the benefit of public society, as their religions; and for that consideration it was but reasonable that they should not examine public opinions to the quick, that they might not disturb the common obedience to the laws and customs of their country.
Plato treats of this mystery with a raillery manifest enough; for where he writes according to his own method he gives no certain rule. When he plays the legislator he borrows a magisterial and positive style, and boldly there foists in his most fantastic inventions, as fit to persuade the vulgar, as impossible to be believed by himself; knowing very well how fit we are to receive all sorts of impressions, especially the most immoderate and preposterous; and yet, in his Laws, he takes singular care that nothing be sung in public but poetry, of which the fiction and fabulous relations tend to some advantageous end; it being so easy to imprint all sorts of phantasms in human minds, that it were injustice not to feed them rather with profitable untruths than with untruths that are unprofitable and hurtful. He says very roundly, in his Republic, "That it is often necessary, for the benefit of men, to deceive them." It is very easy to distinguish that some of the sects have more followed truth, and the others utility, by which the last have gained their reputation. 'Tis the misery of our condition that often that which presents itself to our imagination for the truest does not appear the most useful to life. The boldest sects, as the Epicurean, Pyrrhonian, and the new Academic, are yet constrained to submit to the civil law at the end of the account.
There are other subjects that they have tumbled and tossed about, some to the right and others to the left, every one endeavouring, right or wrong, to give them some kind of colour; for, having found nothing so abstruse that they would not venture to speak of, they are very often forced to forge weak and ridiculous conjectures; not that they themselves looked upon them as any foundation, or establishing any certain truth, but merely for exercise. Non tam id sensisse quod dicerent, quam exercere ingnia materio difficultate videntur voluisse. "They seem not so much themselves to have believed what they said, as to have had a mind to exercise their wits in the difficulty of the matter." And if we did not take it thus, how should we palliate so great inconstancy, variety, and vanity of opinions, as we see have been produced by those excellent and admirable men? As, for example, what can be more vain than to imagine, to guess at God, by our analogies and conjectures? To direct and govern him and the world by our capacities and our laws? And to serve ourselves, at the expense of the divinity, with what small portion of capacity he has been pleased to impart to our natural condition; and because we cannot extend our sight to his glorious throne, to have brought him down to our corruption and our miseries?
Of all human and ancient opinions concerning religion, that seems to me the most likely and most excusable, that acknowledged God as an incomprehensible power, the original and preserver of all things, all goodness, all perfection, receiving and taking in good part the honour and reverence that man paid him, under what method, name, or ceremonies soever—
Jupiter omnipotens, rerum, regumque, demque,
"Jove, the almighty, author of all things,
The father, mother, of both gods and kings."
This zeal has universally been looked upon from heaven with a gracious eye. All governments have reaped fruit from their devotion; impious men and actions have everywhere had suitable events. Pagan histories acknowledge dignity, order, justice, prodigies, and oracles, employed for their profit and instruction in their fabulous religions; God, through his mercy, vouchsafing, by these temporal benefits, to cherish the tender principles of a kind of brutish knowledge that natural reason gave them of him, through the deceiving images of their dreams. Not only deceiving and false, but impious also and injurious, are those that man has forged from his own invention: and of all the religions that St. Paul found in repute at Athens, that which they had dedicated "to the unknown God" seemed to him the most to be excused.
Pythagoras shadowed the truth a little more closely, judging that the knowledge of this first cause and being of beings ought to be indefinite, without limitation, without declaration; that it was nothing else than the extreme effort of our imagination towards perfection, every one amplifying the idea according to the talent of his capacity. But if Numa attempted to conform the devotion of his people to this project; to attach them to a religion purely mental, without any prefixed object and material mixture, he undertook a thing of no use; the human mind could never support itself floating in such an infinity of inform thoughts; there is required some certain image to be presented according to its own model. The divine majesty has thus, in some sort, suffered himself to be circumscribed in corporal limits for our advantage. His supernatural and celestial sacraments have signs of our earthly condition; his adoration is by sensible offices and words; for 'tis man that believes and prays. I shall omit the other arguments upon this subject; but a man would have much ado to make me believe that the sight of our crucifixes, that the picture of our Saviour's passion, that the ornaments and ceremonious motions of our churches, that the voices accommodated to the devotion of our thoughts, and that emotion of the senses, do not warm the souls of the people with a religious passion of very advantageous effect.
Of those to whom they have given a body, as necessity required in that universal blindness, I should, I fancy, most incline to those who adored the sun:—
La Lumire commune,
L'oil du monde; et si Dieu au chef porte des yeux,
Les rayons du soleil sont ses yeulx radieux,
Qui donnent vie touts, nous maintiennent et gardent,
Et les faictsdes humains en ce monde regardent:
Ce beau, ce grand soleil qui nous faict les saisons,
Selon qu'il entre ou sort de ses douze maisons;
Qui remplit l'univers de ses vertus cognues;
Qui d'un traict de ses yeulx nous dissipe les nues;
L'esprit, l'ame du monde, ardent et flamboyant,
En la course d'un jour tout le Ciel tournoyant;
Plein d'immense grandeur, rond, vagabond, et ferme;
Lequel tient dessoubs luy tout le monde pour terme:
En repos, sans repos; oysif, et sans sjour;
Fils aisn de nature, et le pre du jour:
"The common light that equal shines on all,
Diffused around the whole terrestrial ball;
And, if the almighty Ruler of the skies
Has eyes, the sunbeams are his radiant eyes,
That life and safety give to young and old,
And all men's actions upon earth behold.
This great, this beautiful, the glorious sun,
Who makes their course the varied seasons run;
That with his virtues fills the universe,
And with one glance can sullen clouds disperse;
Earth's life and soul, that, flaming in his sphere,
Surrounds the heavens in one day's career;
Immensely great, moving yet firm and round,
Who the whole world below has made his bound;
At rest, without rest, idle without stay,
Nature's first son, and father of the day:"
forasmuch as, beside this grandeur and beauty of his, 'tis the only piece of this machine that we discover at the remotest distance from us; and by that means so little known that they were pardonable for entering into so great admiration and reverence of it.
Thales, who first inquired into this sort of matter, believed God to be a Spirit that made all things of water; Anaximander, that the gods were always dying and entering into life again; and that there were an infinite number of worlds; Anaximines, that the air was God, that he was procreate and immense, always moving. Anaxagoras the first, was of opinion that the description and manner of all things were conducted by the power and reason of an infinite spirit. Alcmon gave divinity to the sun, moon, and stars, and to the soul. Pythagoras made God a spirit, spread over the nature of all things, whence our souls are extracted; Parmenides, a circle surrounding the heaven, and supporting the world by the ardour of light. Empedocles pronounced the four elements, of which all things are composed, to be gods; Protagoras had nothing to say, whether they were or were not, or what they were; Democritus was one while of opinion that the images and their circuitions were gods; another while, the nature that darts out those images; and then, our science and intelligence. Plato divides his belief into several opinions; he says, in his Timus, that the Father of the World cannot be named; in his Laws, that men are not to inquire into his being; and elsewhere, in the very same books, he makes the world, the heavens, the stars, the earth, and our souls, gods; admitting, moreover, those which have been received by ancient institution in every republic.
Xenophon reports a like perplexity in Socrates's doctrine; one while that men are not to inquire into the form of God, and presently makes him maintain that the sun is God, and the soul God; that there is but one God, and then that there are many. Speusippus, the nephew of Plato, makes God a certain power governing all things, and that he has a soul. Aristotle one while says it is the spirit, and another the world; one while he gives the world another master, and another while makes God the heat of heaven. Zenocrates makes eight, five named amongst the planets; the sixth composed of all the fixed stars, as of so many members; the seventh and eighth, the sun and moon. Heraclides Ponticus does nothing but float in his opinion, and finally deprives God of sense, and makes him shift from one form to another, and at last says that it is heaven and earth. Theophrastus wanders in the same irresolution amongst his fancies, attributing the superintendency of the world one while to the understanding, another while to heaven, and then to the stars. Strato says that 'tis nature, she having the power of generation, augmentation, and diminution, without form and sentiment Zeno says 'tis the law of nature, commanding good and prohibiting evil; which law is an animal; and takes away the accustomed gods, Jupiter, Juno, and Vesta. Diogenes Apolloniates, that 'tis air. Zenophanes makes God round, seeing and hearing, not breathing, and having nothing in common with human nature. Aristo thinks the form of God to be incomprehensible, deprives him of sense, and knows not whether he be an animal or something else; Cleanthes, one while supposes it to be reason, another while the world, another the soul of nature, and then the supreme heat rolling about, and environing all. Perseus, Zeno's disciple, was of opinion that men have given the title of gods to such as have been useful, and have added any notable advantage to human life, and even to profitable things themselves. Chrysippus made a confused heap of all the preceding theories, and reckons, amongst a thousand forms of gods that he makes, the men also that have been deified. Diagoras and Theodoras flatly denied that there were any gods at all. Epicurus makes the gods shining, transparent, and perflable, lodged as betwixt two forts, betwixt two worlds, secure from blows, clothed in a human figure, and with such members as we have; which members are to them of no use:—
Ego Deum genus esse semper duxi, et dicam colitum;
Sed eos non curare opinor quid agat humanum genus.
"I ever thought that gods above there were,
But do not think they care what men do here."
Trust to your philosophy, my masters; and brag that you have found the bean in the cake when you see what a rattle is here with so many philosophical heads! The perplexity of so many worldly forms has gained this over me, that manners and opinions contrary to mine do not so much displease as instruct me; nor so much make me proud as they humble me, in comparing them. And all other choice than what comes from the express and immediate hand of God seems to me a choice of very little privilege. The policies of the world are no less opposite upon this subject than the schools, by which we may understand that fortune itself is not more variable and inconstant, nor more blind and inconsiderate, than our reason. The things that are most unknown are most proper to be deified; wherefore to make gods of ourselves, as the ancients did, exceeds the extremest weakness of understanding. I would much rather have gone along with those who adored the serpent, the dog, or the ox; forasmuch as their nature and being is less known to us, and that we have more room to imagine what we please of those beasts, and to attribute to them extraordinary faculties. But to have made gods of our own condition, of whom we ought to know the imperfections; and to have attributed to them desire, anger, revenge, marriages, generation, alliances, love, jealousy, our members and bones, our fevers and pleasures, our death and obsequies; this must needs have proceeded from a marvellous inebriety of the human understanding;
Qu procul usque adeo divino ab numine distant,
Inque Dem numro qu sint indigna videri;
"From divine natures these so distant are,
They are unworthy of that character."
Formo, otates, vestitus, omatus noti sunt; genera, conjugia, cognationes, omniaque traducta ad similitudinem imbellitar tis humano: nam et perturbatis animis inducuntur; accipimus enim deorurn cupiditates, cegritudines, iracundias; "Their forms, ages, clothes, and ornaments are known: their descents, marriages, and kindred, and all adapted to the similitude of human weakness; for they are represented to us with anxious minds, and we read of the lusts, sickness, and anger of the gods;" as having attributed divinity not only to faith, virtue, honour, concord, liberty, victory, and piety; but also to voluptuousness, fraud, death, envy, old age, misery; to fear, fever, ill fortune, and other injuries of our frail and transitory life:—
Quid juvat hoc, templis nostros inducere mores?
O curv in terris anim et colestium inanes!
"O earth-born souls! by earth-born passions led,
To every spark of heav'nly influence dead!
Think ye that what man values will inspire
In minds celestial the same base desire?"
The Egyptians, with an impudent prudence, interdicted, upon pain of hanging, that any one should say that their gods, Serapis and Isis, had formerly been men; and yet no one was ignorant that they had been such; and their effigies, represented with the finger upon the mouth, signified, says Varro, that mysterious decree to their priests, to conceal their mortal original, as it must by necessary consequence cancel all the veneration paid to them. Seeing that man so much desired to equal himself to God, he had done better, says Cicero, to have attracted those divine conditions to himself, and drawn them down hither below, than to send his corruption and misery up on high; but, to take it right, he has several ways done both the one and the other, with like vanity of opinion.