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and higher degrees of excellence, to infer that the same must be true of religion, that as nations become civilized, intelligent, and refined, their views of the divine nature were in proportion corrected and elevated. But this a priori inference is contradicted by the testimony of history. “Superstition and idolatry,” says Dr. Leland,“ instead of being corrected and diminished, rather increased and gathered strength among the heathen nations as they grew in learning and politeness. If we consult fact and experience, we shall find, that the religion of the Gentiles in the most ancient times was in several instances more pure and simple, less incumbered and corrupted with idolatry, than in succeeding ages, when the arts and sciences had made a considerable progress."* In accordance with this view is the opinion of Müller. “It is a striking fact, that the most ancient and in other respects entirely uncultivated nations, had very just conceptions, and a correct knowledge of God, of the world, and of immortality, as well as of the motions of the stars, while the arts which relate to the conveniences of life are much
younger. On the most important subjects the fathers of the human race formed correct judgments ; in the affairs of life they were children. There are preserved among most nations obscure, perverted, misunderstood traces of these primitive ideas.”+
The fact that the early Romans were less cultivated than
* Leland's Advantage and Necessity of Revelation, Part I. chapter xx. He adds, “ This seems to show that the knowledge men had of God and religion in the first ages, was originally owing not merely to the efforts of their own reason, which was then little cultivated and improved, but to a divine revelation made to the first of the human race, and from them communicated to their posterity. It might have been hoped that this tradition, which when duly proposed is agreeable to right reason, would have been preserved with great care, especially when learning and knowledge were improved: but it soon began to degenerate, and became the more corrupt, the farther it was removed from the original. The true primitive theism, which was the most ancient religion of mankind, became soon adulterated with mixtures of polytheism, still preserving for the most part, amidst all their corruptions, some obscure idea of one Supreme Divinity, till at length it was almost lost and confounded amidst a multiplicity of idol deities."
† Allg. Geschichte, I. 24.
some other nations of their own age, or than they themselves afterwards became, is not of itself conclusive proof that they must have been idolaters, or even that their religion did not approach more nearly to truth and reason, than when at a later period they had become more intellectual.
The authority on which Meiners rests his assertion that the early Romans worshipped images, is that of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Livy, and Pliny. The first two, if the characteristics of each are kept in view, may be regarded as excellent writers. The former had for his stand-point the reference of every thing Roman to Greece for its origin. Whatever may be the value of Livy's history in other respects, he is not to be depended on in regard to the religion of the early ages, because he did not choose to disturb the prevailing belief of his own times. The passages cited from Pliny by Meiners, are not sufficient to prove what is contradicted by the express and concurring testimony of writers of good authority. In the strongest of these passages (XXXIV.7
(16.) Pliny states that Numa caused a statue of Janus to be made. But this would not prove that the worship of images was established. In the other (XXXV. 12 (43), he affirms that Tarquinius Priscus first introduced the plastic art into Italy, the inference from which would seem to be that the former statement is incorrect. It is suggested by Meiners, that even if it were proved that Numa did not authorize the use of images, nothing more could be inferred from this fact than that, in so rude an age, there were no artists to carve them. It would seem that this writer had never seen the rough and uncouth idols of the South Sea Islands and other savage heathen of our own times. These hideous and misshapen blocks prove conclusively that the low state of the arts is not a sufficient defence against image-worship.
The difference between the views of the Deity which prevailed in Rome at an early period, and those which were current in Greece, are exhibited in the following passages from Kreutzer's Symbolik: “It were a great misapprehension to confound these and similar traditions with those epic histories of the gods which sprang from the Grecian Anthropomorphism. The religious feeling of the old Italian was removed to the farthest extent from this loquacity in the rehearsal of fables, from this childish simplicity. Even the Grecian Dionysius pays this just tribute to the Romans. In a remarkable passage (Antiqq. Romm. II. 18, p. 273 Reisk) he speaks of the wisdom of the reli
gious institutions of Romulus, and shows the great superiority of the old Roman religion over the Grecian. The former has its temples, consecrated places, altars, images of the gods, and symbols; it brings into view, also, the influence of the immortal gods, and the benefits which they bestow on the human race; it consecrates, moreover, festivals and sacrifices, has, in common with the Greeks, assemblies for divine service, days of rest, and means of atonement. On the other hand, the fables related by the latter, with all the blasphemous accounts of the contests of the gods—the mutilations, wounds, death, imprisonment, and slavery of those divine beings, the religion of the Romans utterly rejected. If this passage is understood, according to its connection, of the original features of the old Roman religion, the view which it gives of the peculiar character of the religious belief of the first Romans, is altogether correct.* Those pious, noble fathers of the quiet, mild, thinking Latium were not to be charmed away from the native circle of the paternal religion by the excitable fancy of Greek poets. A hundred and seventy years the pious old Roman served his divinity without needing any images.f And even at a later period, when idols had already obtained a place in the sacred niches, in the important service of the lofty Vesta, he preserved the memory of the old law. Thenceforward the glowing flame of the pure fire in her still, sacred house, satisfied him without any image or external
* II. 992, 993. Compare the passage in Hegels Vorlesung. en ueber die Philosophie der Geschichte, referred to in Vol. VIII. p. 50 of the Repository. “In the preceding part a closer view has been taken of the Greek religion, and accord. ing to the common idea, the Roman religion, with a change of name only, was the same as the Greek. Upon a nearer inspection, however, the most striking difference shows itself." “In all circumstances the Roman was pious," etc.-Werke, IX. 297.
+ “Plutarch in Numa, Cap. VIII. $ 4, p. 65 B. p. 287 Leopold. Vergl. Augustin de Civ. D. IV. 31. It is not unknown to me that Heyne (Opusc. Acadd. JI. p. 71) has raised certain doubts respecting this representation of the old Roman religion. But that distinguished man was not then in possession of those original helps which have placed us at the present time in an entirely different point of observation, the same, to wit, to which I am endeavoring in this book to conduct my readers,”
sign. And when, in the earthquake, the mysterious energy of the dark powers showed itself in terrific manifestations, then the .mind of the Roman continued in this region of darkness and awe, and prayed to no definite, to no known God.”
2. But whatever opinion may be held respecting the views of the divine nature entertained by the early Romans, that religious feeling was one of the most deeply seated, and strongly developed of the elements of the Roman character, can be
* II. 993. It has been already remarked that Dionysius is disposed to assign a Grecian origin to every thing Roman. The temples, sanctuaries, altars, statues, festivals, and other religious institutions, he thinks, were all copied from the best Greek models. But while he attributes to the Greeks the merit of having, by their intellectual superiority, given laws and religion to the greatest of nations, he praises the founders of the Roman state for the important improvements which they had made in these borrowed institutions, and especially for the superiority of their views respecting the divine nature. “ Among the Romans,” he says, we hear of no Uranus cas. trated by his own children, no Saturn murdering his own offspring, through fear of their conspiring together, no Jupiter destroying the power of Saturn, and confining his own father in the prison of Tartarus, no wars, wounds, bonds, or slavery of the gods with men. Among them no festival is celebrated with black apparel, or funeral solemnities amid the wailing and the tears of females, on account of the disappearance of gods, as is done among the Grecians in reference to the rape of Proserpine, the sufferings of Bacchus, and other things resembling these. Among them, in spite of the corruption already prevalent, can be seen no inspired ravings, no tumults of the Corybantes, no processions of mendicants, no bacchanalian frenzy and secret mysteries, no watchings of men with women throughout the night in the temples, no jugglery of the kind; but all things in reference to the gods are done and said in a reverential manner, unlike the customs both of the Greeks and the barbarians.” “But supposing the accounts circulated about them, in which there are certain calumnies or accusations against them, to be malicious, useless, indecent, and unworthy not only of the gods but even of good men, he rejected the whole, and accustomed men to entertain and express the best ideas concerning the gods, attributing to them no propensities unworthy of their blessed nature."-- Antiq. Rom. II. 18, 19.
doubted by no one who knows any thing of the subject. To the testimony of the writers already adduced, may be added the following striking sentiments of Polybius, whose judgment, means of information, and impartiality, give great weight to his opinion. “ But the greatest superiority which the Roman political constitution possesses, seems to me to consist in their belief respecting the gods. In fact, the very thing which is reprobated among other men, seems to me to hold together the Roman commonwealth–I mean superstition. Its influence has been introduced among them both into the private lives of individuals, and into the public affairs of the state, and carried to the highest possible extent. To many this may seem surprising; but it appears to me to be an expedient adopted on
ount of the populace. If, indeed, it were possible to assemble a state composed wholly of wise men, perhaps no such contrivance would be necessary. But since the multitude are always fickle, full of unlawful desires, and violent passions, and liable to unreasonable excitement, there is no way but to restrain the populace by the dread of things unseen, and such like terrific inventions. It was not in vain, therefore, or by chance, as it seems to me, that the ancients infused into the minds of the people the notions respecting the gods, and a belief in the punishments of the infernal regions. On the contrary, I think that the present generation have rejected them without reason, and to no good purpose. Omitting on this point other examples, (of the good effects of a belief in these doctrines) if among the Greeks those who manage the public funds are intrusted with but a single talent, it is impossible by making use of ten bonds, as many seals, and double the number of witnesses, to secure fidelity. Whereas those who, in the Roman magistracies and embassies, handle a large amount of money, discharge their duty faithfully through the single obligation of the oath. Thus, while in other states it is a rare thing to find a man who, not having laid hands on the public treasure, is pure in this respect, among the Romans it is seldom that any one is convicted of such a crime."* Most of the writers who have been quoted, represent the religion of the early Romans as more or less different from that of Greece, and as superior to the latter. In one point they all concur. They unitedly regard the Roman character and Roman great
* Hist. VI. 54.