The Traces of a Primitive Monotheism
By Frank F. Ellinwood
There are two conflicting theories now in vogue in regard to the origin of religion. The first is that of Christian theists as taught in the Old and New Testament Scriptures, viz., that the human race in its first ancestry, and again in the few survivors of the Deluge, possessed the knowledge of the true God. It is not necessary to suppose that they had a full and mature conception of Him, or that that conception excluded the idea of other gods. No one would maintain that Adam or Noah comprehended the nature of the Infinite as it has been revealed in the history of God’s dealings with men in later times. But from their simple worship of one God their descendants came gradually to worship various visible objects with which they associated their blessings—the sun as the source of warmth and vitality, the rain as imparting a quickening power to the earth, the spirits of ancestors to whom they looked with a special awe, and finally a great variety of created things instead of the invisible Creator. The other theory is that man, as we now behold him, has been developed from lower forms of animal life, rising first to the state of a mere human animal, but gradually acquiring intellect, conscience, and finally a soul;–that ethics and religion have been developed from instinct by social contact, especially by ties of family and the tribal relation; that altruism which began with the instinctive care of parents for their offspring, rose to the higher domain of religion and began to recognize the claims of deity; that God, if there be a God, never revealed himself to man by any preternatural means, but that great souls, like Moses, Isaiah, and Plato, by their higher and clearer insight, have gained loftier views of deity than others, and as prophets and teachers have made known their inspirations to their fellow-men. Gradually they have formed rituals and elaborated philosophies, adding such supernatural elements as the ignorant fancy of the masses was supposed to demand.
According to this theory, religions, like everything else, have grown up from simple germs: and it is only in the later stages of his development that man can be said to be a religious being. While an animal merely, and for a time even after he had attained to a rude and savage manhood, a life of selfish passion and marauding was justifiable, since only thus could the survival of the fittest be secured and the advancement of the race attained. It is fair to say that there are various shades of the theory here presented—some materialistic, some theistic, others having a qualified theism, and still others practically agnostic. Some even who claim to be Christians regard the various religions of men as so many stages in the divine education of the race—all being under the direct guidance of God, and all designed to lead ultimately to Christianity which is the goal.
That God has overruled all things, even the errors and wickedness of men, for some wise object will not be denied; that He has implanted in the human understanding many correct conceptions of ethical truth, so that noble principles are found in the teachings of all religious systems; that God is the author of all truth and all right impulses, even in heathen minds, is readily admitted. But that He has directly planned and chosen the non-Christian religions on the principle that half-truths and perverted truths and the direct opposites of the truth, were best adapted to certain stages of development—in other words, that He has causatively led any nation into error and consequent destruction as a means of preparing for subsequent generations something higher and better, we cannot admit. The logic of such a conclusion would lead to a remorseless fatalism. Everything would depend on the age and the environment in which one’s lot were cast. We cannot believe that fetishism and idolatry have been God’s kindergarten method of training the human race for the higher and more spiritual service of His kingdom.
Turning from the testimony of the Scriptures on the one hand and the a priori assumptions of evolution on the other, what is the witness of the actual history of religions? Have they shown an upward or a downward development? Do they appear to have risen from polytheism toward simpler and more spiritual forms, or have simple forms been ramified into polytheism? If we shall be able to establish clear evidence that monotheistic or even henotheistic types of faith existed among all, or nearly all, the races at the dawn of history, a very important point will have been gained. The late Dr. Henry B. Smith, after a careful perusal of Ebrard’s elaborate presentation of the religions of the ancient and the modern world, and his clear proofs that they had at first been invariably monotheistic and had gradually lapsed into ramified forms of polytheism, says in his review of Ebrard’s work: “We do not know where to find a more weighty reply to the assumptions and theories of those writers who persist in claiming, according to the approved hypothesis of a merely naturalistic evolution, that the primitive state of mankind was the lowest and most debased form of polytheistic idolatry, and that the higher religions have been developed out of these base rudiments. Dr. Ebrard shows conclusively that the facts all lead to another conclusion, that gross idolatry is a degeneration of mankind from antecedent and purer forms of religious worship…. He first treats of the civilized nations of antiquity, the Aryan and Indian religions, the Vedas, the Indra period of Brahmanism and Buddhism; then of the religion of the Iranians, the Avesta of the Parsees; next of the Greeks and Romans, the Egyptians, the Canaanites, and the heathen Semitic forms of worship, including the Phoenicians, Assyrians, and Babylonians. His second division is devoted to the half-civilized and savage races in the North and West of Europe, in Asia and Polynesia (Tartars, Mongols, Malays, and Cushites); then the races of America, including a minute examination of the relations of the different races here to the Mongols, Japanese, and old Chinese immigrations.”
Ebrard himself, in summing up the results of these prolonged investigations, says: “We have nowhere been able to discover the least trace of any forward and upward movement from fetichism to polytheism, and from that again to a gradually advancing knowledge of the one God; but, on the contrary, we have found among all the peoples of the heathen world a most decided tendency to sink from an earlier and relatively purer knowledge of God toward something lower.”
If these conclusions, reached by Ebrard and endorsed by the scholarly Dr. Henry B. Smith, are correct, they are of great importance; they bring to the stand the witness of the false religions themselves upon an issue in which historic testimony as distinguished from mere theories is in special demand in our time. Of similar import are the well-considered words of Professor Naville, in the first of his lectures on modern atheism. He says: “Almost all pagans seem to have had a glimpse of the divine unity over the multiplicity of their idols, and of the rays of the divine holiness across the saturnalia of their Olympi. It was a Greek (Cleanthus) who wrote these words: ‘Nothing is accomplished on the earth without Thee, O God, save the deeds which the wicked perpetrate in their folly.’ It was in a theatre at Athens, that the chorus of a tragedy sang, more than two thousand years ago: ‘May destiny aid me to preserve, unsullied, the purity of my words, and of all my actions, according to those sublime laws which, brought forth in the celestial heights, have the raven alone for their father, to which the race of mortals did not give birth and which oblivion shall never entomb. In them is a supreme God, and one who waxes not old.’ It would be easy to multiply quotations of this order and to show, in the documents of Grecian and Roman civilization, numerous traces of the knowledge of the only and holy God.”
With much careful discrimination, Dr. William A.P. Martin, of the Peking University, has said: “It is customary with a certain school to represent religion as altogether the fruit of an intellectual process. It had its birth, say they, in ignorance, is modified by every stage in the progress of knowledge, and expires when the light of philosophy reaches its noon-day. The fetish gives place to a personification of the powers of nature, and this poetic pantheon is, in time, superseded by the high idea of unity in nature expressed by monotheism. This theory has the merit of verisimilitude. It indicates what might be the process if man were left to make his own religion; but it has the misfortune to be at variance with facts. A wide survey of the history of civilized nations (and the history of others is beyond reach) shows that the actual process undergone by the human mind in its religious development is precisely opposite to that which this theory supposes; in a word, that man was not left to construct his own creed, but that his blundering logic has always been active in its attempts to corrupt and obscure a divine original. The connection subsisting between the religious systems of ancient and distant countries presents many a problem difficult of solution. Indeed, their mythologies and religious rites are generally so distinct as to admit the hypothesis of an independent origin; but the simplicity of their earliest beliefs exhibits an unmistakable resemblance, suggestive of a common source.
“China, India, Egypt, and Greece all agree in the monotheistic type of their early religion. The Orphic hymns, long before the advent of the popular divinities, celebrated the Pantheos, the Universal God. The odes compiled by Confucius testify to the early worship of Shangte, the Supreme Euler. The Vedas speak of ‘one unknown true Being, all-present, all-powerful; the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer of the universe.’ And in Egypt, as late as the time of Plutarch, there were still vestiges of a monotheistic worship. ‘The other Egyptians,’ he says, ‘all made offerings at the tombs of the sacred beasts; but the inhabitants of the Thebaid stood alone in making no such offerings, not regarding as a god anything that can die, and acknowledging no god but one, whom they call Kneph, who had no birth, and can have no death. Abraham, in his wanderings, found the God of his fathers known and honored in Salem, in Gerar, and in Memphis; while at a later day Jethro, in Midian, and Balaam, in Mesopotamia, were witnesses that the knowledge of Jehovah was not yet extinct in those countries.’”
Professor Max Mueller speaks in a similar strain of the lapse of mankind from earlier and simpler types of faith to low and manifold superstitions: “Whenever we can trace back a religion to its first beginning,” says the distinguished Oxford professor, “we find it free from many of the blemishes that offend us in its later phases. The founders of the ancient religions of the world, as far as we can judge, were minds of a high stamp, full of noble aspirations, yearning for truth, devoted to the welfare of their neighbors, examples of purity and unselfishness. What they desired to found upon earth was but seldom realized, and their sayings, if preserved in their original form, offered often a strange contrast to the practice of those who profess to be their disciples. As soon as a religion is established, and more particularly when it has become the religion of a powerful state, the foreign and worldly elements encroach more and more on the original foundation, and human interests mar the simplicity and purity of the plan which the founder had conceived in his own heart and matured in his communings with his God.”
But in pursuing our subject we should clearly determine the real question before us. How much may we expect to prove from the early history of the non-Christian systems? Not certainly that all nations once received a knowledge of the Old Testament revelation, as some have claimed, nor that all races possessed at the beginning of their several historic periods one and the same monotheistic faith. We cannot prove from non-scriptural sources that their varying monotheistic conceptions sprang from a common belief. We cannot prove either the supernatural revelation which Professor Max Mueller emphatically rejects, nor the identity of the well-nigh universal henotheisms which he professes to believe. We cannot prove that the worship of one God as supreme did not coexist with a sort of worship of inferior deities or ministering spirits. Almost as a rule, the worship of ancestors, or spirits, or rulers, or the powers of nature, or even totems and fetishes has been rendered as subordinate to the worship of the one supreme deity who created and upholds all things. Even the monotheism of Judaism and of Christianity has been attended with the belief in angels and the worship of intercessory saints, to say nothing of the many superstitions which prevail among the more ignorant classes. We shall only attempt to show that monotheism, in the sense of worshipping one God as supreme, is found in nearly all the early teachings of the world. That these crude faiths are one in the origin is only presumable, if we leave the testimony of the Bible out of the account.
When on a summer afternoon we see great shafts of light arising and spreading fan-shaped from behind a cloud which lies along the western horizon, we have a strong presumption that they all spring from one great luminary toward which they converge, although that luminary is hidden from our view. So tracing the convergence of heathen faiths with respect to one original monotheism, back to the point where the prehistoric obscurity begins, we may on the same principle say that all the evidence in the case, and it is not small, points toward a common origin for the early religious conceptions of mankind.
Professor Robert Flint, in his scholarly article on theism in “The Britannica,” seems to discard the idea that the first religion of mankind was monotheism; but a careful study of his position will show that he has in view those conceptions of monotheism which are common to us, or, as he expresses it, “monotheism in the ordinary or proper sense of the term,” “monotheism properly so called,” “monotheism which excludes polytheism,” etc. Moreover, he maintains that we cannot, from historical sources, learn what conceptions men first had of God. Even when speaking of the Old Testament record, he says: “These chapters (of Genesis), although they plainly teach monotheism and represent the God whose words and acts are recorded in the Bible as no mere national God, but the only true God, they do not teach what is alone in the question—that there was a primitive monotheism, a monotheism revealed and known from the beginning. They give no warrant to the common assumption that God revealed monotheism to Adam, Noah, and others before the Flood, and that the traces of monotheistic beliefs and tendencies in heathendom are derivable from the tradition of this primitive and antediluvian monotheism. The one true God is represented as making himself known by particular words and in particular ways to Adam, but is nowhere said to have taught him that He only was God.” It is plain that Professor Flint is here dealing with a conception of monotheism which is exclusive of all other gods. And his view is undoubtedly correct, so far as Adam was concerned. There was no more need of teaching him that his God was the only God, than that Eve was the only woman. With Noah the case is not so plain. He doubtless worshipped God amid the surroundings of polytheistic heathenism. Enoch probably had a similar environment, and there is no good reason for supposing that their monotheism may not have been as exclusive as that of Abraham. But with respect to the Gentile nations, the dim traces of this monism or henotheism which Professor Flint seems to accord to Adam and to Noah, is all that we are contending for, and all that is necessary to the argument of this lecture. We may even admit that heathen deities may sometimes have been called by different names while the one source of power was intended. Different names seem to have been employed to represent different manifestations of the one God of the Old Testament according to His varied relations toward His people. There are those who deny this polyonomy, as Max Mueller has called it, and who maintain that the names in the earliest Veda represented distinct deities; but, by similar reasoning, Professor Tiele and others insist that three different Hebrew Gods, according to their respective names, were worshipped in successive periods of the Jewish history. It seems quite possible, therefore, that a too restrictive definition of monotheism may prove too much, by opening the way for a claim that even the Jewish and Christian faith, with its old Testament names of God, its angels, its theophanies, and its fully developed trinity, is not strictly monotheistic. For our present purpose, traces of the worship of one supreme God—call it monotheism or henotheism—is all that is required.
With these limitations and qualifications in view, let us turn to the history of some of the leading non-Christian faiths. Looking first to India, we find in the 129th hymn of the Rig Veda, a passage which not only presents the conception of one only supreme and self-existing Being, but at the same time bears significant resemblance to our own account of the creation from chaos. It reads thus:
“In the beginning there was neither naught nor aught,
Then there was neither atmosphere nor sky above, There was neither death nor immortality, There was neither day nor night, nor light, nor darkness, Only the EXISTENT ONE breathed calmly self-contained. Naught else but He was there, naught else above, beyond.
Then first came darkness hid in darkness, gloom in gloom;
Next all was water, chaos indiscrete,
In which ONE lay void, shrouded in nothingness.”
In the 121st hymn of the same Veda occurs a passage which seems to resemble the opening of the Gospel of St. John. It reads thus, as translated by Sir Monier Williams:
“Him let us praise, the golden child that was In the beginning, who was born the Lord, Who made the earth and formed the sky.”
“The one born Lord” reminds us of the New Testament expression, “the only begotten Son.” Both were “in the beginning;” both were the creators of the world. While there is much that is mysterious in these references, the idea of oneness and supremacy is too plain to be mistaken. Professor Max Mueller has well expressed this fact when he said: “There is a monotheism which precedes polytheism in the Veda; and even in the invocation of their (inferior) gods, the remembrance of a God, one and infinite, breaks through the mist of an idolatrous phraseology like the blue sky that is hidden by passing clouds.” These monotheistic conceptions appear to have been common to the Aryans before their removal from their early home near the sources of the Oxus, and we shall see further on that in one form or another they survived among all branches of the migrating race. The same distinguished scholar traces the early existence of monotheism in a series of brief and rapid references to nearly all the scattered Aryans not only, but also to the Turanians on the North and East, to the Tungusic, Mongolic, Tartaric, and Finnic tribes. “Everywhere,” he says, “we find a worship of nature, and the spirits of the departed, but behind it all there rises a belief in some higher power called by different names, who is Maker and Protector of the world, and who always resides in heaven.” He also speaks of an ancient African faith which, together with its worship of reptiles and of ancestors, showed a vague hope of a future life, “and a not altogether faded reminiscence of a supreme God,” which certainly implies a previous knowledge.
The same prevalence of one supreme worship rising above all idolatry he traces among the various tribes of the Pacific Islands. His generalizations are only second to those of Ebrard. Although he rejects the theory of a supernatural revelation, yet stronger language could hardly be used than that which he employs in proof of a universal monotheistic faith. “Nowhere,” he says, “do we find stronger arguments against idolatry, nowhere has the unity of God been upheld more strenuously against the errors of polytheism, than by some of the ancient sages of India. Even in the oldest of the sacred books, the Rig Veda, composed three or four thousand years ago, where we find hymns addressed to the different deities of the sky, the air, the earth, the rivers, the protest of the human heart against many gods breaks forth from time to time with no uncertain sound.” Professor Mueller’s whole position is pretty clearly stated in his first lecture on “The Science of Religion,” in which he protests against the idea that God once gave to man “a preternatural revelation” concerning Himself; and yet he gives in this same lecture this striking testimony to the doctrine of an early and prevailing monotheistic faith:
“Is it not something worth knowing,” he says, “worth knowing even to us after the lapse of four or five thousand years, that before the separation of the Aryan race, before the existence of Sanskrit, Greek, or Latin, before the gods of the Veda had been worshipped, and before there was a sanctuary of Zeus among the sacred oaks of Dodona, one Supreme deity had been found, had been named, had been invoked by the ancestors of our race, and had been invoked by a name which has never been excelled by any other name?” And again, on the same subject, he says: “If a critical examination of the ancient language of the Jews leads to no worse results than those which have followed from a careful interpretation of the petrified language of ancient India and Greece, we need not fear; we shall be gainers, not losers. Like an old precious medal, the ancient religion, after the rust of ages has been removed, will come out in all its purity and brightness; and the image which it discloses will be the image of the Father, the Father of all the nations upon earth; and the superscription, when we can read it again, will be, not only in Judea, but in the languages of all the races of the world, the Word of God, revealed where alone it can be revealed—revealed in the heart of man.”
The late Professor Banergea, of Calcutta, in a publication entitled “The Aryan Witness,” not only maintained the existence of monotheism in the early Vedas, but with his rare knowledge of Sanskrit and kindred tongues, he gathered from Iranian as well as Hindu sources many evidences of a monotheism common to all Aryans. His conclusions derive special value from the fact that he was a high caste Hindu, and was not only well versed in the sacred language, but was perfectly familiar with Hindu traditions and modes of thought. He was as well qualified to judge of early Hinduism as Paul was of Judaism, and for the same reason. And from his Hindu standpoint, as a Pharisee of the Pharisees, though afterward a Christian convert, he did not hesitate to declare his belief, not only that the early Vedic faith was monotheistic, but that it contained traces of that true revelation, once made to men.
In the same line we find the testimony of the various types of revived Aryanism of our own times. The Brahmo Somaj, the Arya Somaj, and other similar organizations, are not only all monotheistic, but they declare that monotheism was the religion of the early Vedas. And many other Hindu reforms, some of them going as far back as the twelfth century, have been so many returns to monotheism. A recent Arya catechism published by Ganeshi, asserts in its first article that there is one only God, omnipotent, infinite, and eternal. It proceeds to show that the Vedas present but one, and that when hymns were addressed to Agni, Vayu, Indra, etc., it was only a use of different names for one and the same Being.
It represents God as having all the attributes of supreme Deity. He created the world by His direct power and for the revelation of His glory to His creatures. Man, according to the Aryas, came not by evolution nor by any of the processes known to Hindu philosophy, but by direct creation from existing atoms.
In all this it is easy to see that much has been borrowed from the Christian conception of God’s character and attributes, but the value of this Aryan testimony lies in the fact that it claims for the ancient Vedas a clear and positive monotheism.
If we consult the sacred books of China, we shall find there also many traces of an ancient faith which antedates both Confucianism and Taouism. The golden age of the past to which all Chinese sages look with reverence, was the dynasty of Yao and Shun, which was eighteen centuries earlier than the period of Confucius and Laotze. The records of the Shu-king which Confucius compiled, and from which unfortunately his agnosticism excluded nearly all its original references to religion, nevertheless retain a full account of certain sacred rites performed by Shun on his accession to the full imperial power. In those rites the worship of One God as supreme is distinctly set forth as a “customary service,” thereby implying that it was already long established. Separate mention is also made of offerings to inferior deities, as if these were honored at his own special instance. It is unquestionably true that in China, and indeed in all lands, there sprang up almost from the first a tendency to worship, or at least to fear, unseen spirits. This tendency has coexisted with all religions of the world—even with the Old Testament cult—even with Christianity. To the excited imaginations of men, especially the ignorant classes, the world has always been a haunted world, and just in proportion as the light of true religion has become dim, countless hordes of ghosts and demons have appeared. When Confucius arose this gross animism had almost monopolized the worship of his countrymen, and universal corruption bore sway. He was not an original thinker, but only a compiler of the ancient wisdom, and in his selections from the traditions of the ancients, he compiled those things only which served his great purpose of building up, from the relations of family and kindred, the complete pyramid of a well-ordered state in which the Emperor should hold to his subjects the place of deity. If such honor to a mortal seemed extravagant, yet in his view a wise emperor was far worthier of reverence than the imaginary ghosts of the popular superstitions. Yet, even Confucius could not quite succeed in banishing the idea of divine help, nor could he destroy that higher and most venerable worship which has ever survived amid all the corruptions of polytheism. Professor Legge, of Oxford, has claimed, from what he regards as valid linguistic proofs, that at a still earlier period than the dynasty of Yao and Shun there existed in China the worship of one God. He says: “Five thousand years ago the Chinese were monotheists—not henotheists, but monotheists”—though he adds that even then there was a constant struggle with nature-worship and divination.
The same high authority cites a remarkable prayer of an Emperor of the Ming dynasty (1538 A.D.) to show that in spite of the agnosticism and reticence of Confucius, Shangte has been worshipped in the centuries which have followed his time. The prayer is very significant as showing how the One Supreme God stands related to the subordinate gods which polytheism has introduced. The Emperor was about to decree a slight change in the name of Shangte to be used in the imperial worship. He first addressed the spirits of the hills, the rivers, and the seas, asking them to intercede for him with Shangte. “We will trouble you,” said he, “on our behalf to exert your spiritual power and to display your vigorous efficacy, communicating our poor desires to Shangte, and praying him graciously to grant us his acceptance and regard, and to be pleased with the title which we shall reverently present.” But very different was the language used when he came to address Shangte himself. “Of old, in the beginning,” he began,–“Of old in the beginning, there was the great chaos without form, and dark. The five elements had not begun to revolve nor the sun and moon to shine. In the midst thereof there presented itself neither form nor sound. Thou, O spiritual Sovereign! earnest forth in thy presidency, and first didst divide the grosser parts from the purer. Thou madest heaven: Thou madest earth:
Thou madest man. All things got their being with their producing power. O Te! when Thou hadst opened the course for the inactive and active forces of matter to operate, thy making work went on. Thou didst produce, O Spirit! the sun and moon and five planets, and pure and beautiful was their light. The vault of heaven was spread out like a curtain, and the square earth supported all on it, and all creatures were happy. I, thy servant, presume reverently to thank Thee.” Farther on he says: “All the numerous tribes of animated beings are indebted to Thy favor for their being. Men and creatures are emparadised in Thy love. All living things are indebted to Thy goodness. But who knows whence his blessings come to him? It is Thou, O Lord! who art the parent of all things.”
Surely this prayer humbly offered by a monarch would not be greatly out of place among the Psalms of David. Its description of the primeval chaos strikingly resembles that which I have quoted from the Rig Veda, and both resemble that of the Mosaic record. If the language used does not present the clear conception of one God, the Creator and the Upholder of all things, and a supreme and personal Sovereign over kings and even “gods,” then language has no meaning. The monotheistic conception of the second petition is as distinct from the polytheism of the first, as any prayer to Jehovah is from a Roman Catholic’s prayer for the intercession of the saints; and there is no stronger argument in the one case against monotheism than in the other. Dr. Legge asserts that both in the Shu-king and in the Shiking, “Te,” or “Shangte,” appears as a personal being ruling in heaven and in earth, the author of man’s moral nature, the governor among the nations, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the evil. There are proofs that Confucius, though in his position with respect to God he fell short of the doctrine of the ancient sages, yet believed in the existence of Shangte as a personal being. When in old age he had finished his writings, he laid them on an altar upon a certain hill-top, and kneeling before the altar he returned thanks that he had been spared to complete his work. Max Mueller says of him: “It is clear from many passages that with Confucius, Tien, or the Spirit of Heaven, was the supreme deity, and that he looked upon the other gods of the people—the spirits of the air, the mountains, and the rivers, and the spirits of the departed, very much with the same feeling with which Socrates regarded the mythological deities of Greece.”
But there remains to this day a remarkable evidence of the worship of the supreme God, Shangte, as he was worshipped in the days of the Emperor Shun, 2356 B.C. It is found in the great Temple of Heaven at Peking. Dr. Martin and Professors Legge and Douglas all insist that the sacrifices there celebrated are relics of the ancient worship of a supreme God. China is full of the traces of polytheism; the land swarms with Taouist deities of all names and functions, with Confucian and ancestral tablets, and with Buddhist temples and dagobas; but within the sacred enclosure of this temple no symbol of heathenism appears. Of the August Imperial service Dr. Martin thus eloquently speaks: “Within the gates of the southern division of the capital, and surrounded by a sacred grove so extensive that the silence of its deep shades is never broken by the noise of the busy world around it, stands the Temple of Heaven. It consists of a single tower, whose tiling of resplendent azure is intended to represent the form and color of the aerial vault. It contains no image; but on a marble altar a bullock is offered once a year as a burnt sacrifice, while the monarch of the empire prostrates himself in adoration of the Spirit of the Universe. This is the high place of Chinese devotion, and the thoughtful visitor feels that he ought to tread its courts with unsandalled feet, for no vulgar idolatry has entered here. This mountain-top still stands above the waves of corruption, and on this solitary altar there still rests a faint ray of its primeval faith. The tablet which represents the invisible deity is inscribed with the name Shangte, the Supreme Ruler, and as we contemplate the Majesty of the Empire before it, while the smoke ascends from his burning sacrifice, our thoughts are irresistably carried back to the time when the King of Salem officiated as priest of the Most High God. There is,” he adds, “no need of extended argument to establish the fact that the early Chinese were by no means destitute of the knowledge of the true God.” Dr. Legge, the learned translator of the Chinese classics, shares so fully the views here expressed, that he actually put his shoes from off his feet before ascending the great altar, feeling that amidst all the mists and darkness of the national superstition, a trace of the glory of the Infinite Jehovah still lingered there. And in many a discussion since he has firmly maintained that that is in a dim way an altar of the true and living God.
Laotze, like Confucius, was agnostic; yet he could not wholly rid himself of the influence of the ancient faith. His conception of Taou, or Reason, was rationalistic, certainly, yet he invested it with all the attributes of personality, as the word “Wisdom” is sometimes used in the Old Testament. He spoke of it as “The Infinite Supreme,” “The First Beginning,” and “The Great Original.” Dr. Medhurst has translated from the “Taou Teh King” this striking Taouist prayer: “O thou perfectly honored One of heaven and earth, the rock, the origin of myriad energies, the great manager of boundless kalpas, do Thou enlighten my spiritual conceptions. Within and without the three worlds, the Logos, or divine Taou, is alone honorable, embodying in himself a golden light. May he overspread and illumine my person. He whom we cannot see with the eye, or hear with the ear, who embraces and includes heaven and earth, may he nourish and support the multitudes of living beings.”
If we turn to the religion of the Iranian or Persian branch of the Aryan family, we find among them also the traces of a primitive monotheism; and that it was not borrowed from Semitic sources, through the descendants of Abraham or others, Ebrard has shown clearly in the second volume of his “Apologetics.” Max Mueller also maintains the identity of the Iranian faith with that of the Indo-Aryans. The very first notices of the religion of the Avesta represent it as monotheistic. Ahura Mazda, even when opposed by Ahriman, is supreme, and in the oldest hymns or gathas of the Yasna, Ahriman does not appear; there are references to evil beings, but they have no formidable head; Persian dualism, therefore, was of later growth. Zoroaster, whom Monier Williams assigns to the close of the sixth century B.C., speaks of himself as a reformer sent to re-establish the pure worship of Ahura, and Haug considers the conception of Ahura identical with that of Jehovah. High on a rocky precipice at Behistun, Rawlinson has deciphered an inscription claiming to have been ordered by Darius Hystaspes, who lived 500 B.C., which is as clearly monotheistic as the Song of Moses. The Vendidad, which Rawlinson supposes to have been composed 800 years B.C., is full of references to minor gods, but Ahura is always supreme. The modern Parsees of Bombay claim to be monotheistic, and declare that such has been the faith of their fathers from the beginning.
A Parsee catechism published in Bombay twenty-five years ago reads thus:
“We believe in only one God, and do not believe in any besides Him…. He is the God who created the heavens, the earth, the angels, the stars, the sun, the moon, the fire, the water, … and all things of the worlds; that God we believe in, Him we invoke, Him we adore.” And lest this should be supposed to be a modern faith, the confession further declares that “This is the religion which the true prophet Zurthust, or Zoroaster, brought from God.”
The Shintoists of Japan, according to their sacred book, the “Kojiki,” believe in one self-existent and supreme God, from whom others emanated. From two of these, male and female, sprang the Goddess of the Sun, and from her the royal line of the Mikados. There was no creation, but the two active emanations stirred up the eternally existing chaos, till from it came forth the teeming world of animal and vegetable life.
It has often been asserted that tribes of men are found who have no conception of God. The author of “Two Years in the Jungle” declares that the Hill Dyaks of Borneo are without the slightest notion of a divine being. But a Government officer, who for two years was the guest of Rajah Brooke, succeeded after long delay in gaining a key to the religion of these Dyaks. He gives the name of one Supreme being among subordinate gods, and describes minutely the forms of worship. Professor Max Mueller, while referring to this same often-repeated allegation as having been applied to the aborigines of Australia, cites one of Sir Hercules Robinson’s Reports on New South Wales, which contains this description of the singular faith of one of the lowest of the interior tribes: First a being is mentioned who is supreme and whose name signifies the “maker or cutter-out,” and who is therefore worshipped as the great author of all things. But as this supreme god is supposed to be inscrutable and far removed, a second deity is named, who is the revealer of the first and his mediator in all the affairs of men.
Rev. A.C. Good, now a missionary among the cannibal tribes of West Africa, stated in the Presbyterian General Assembly at Saratoga in May, 1890, that with all the fetishes and superstitions known among the tribes on the Ogovie, if a man is asked who made him, he points to the sky and utters the name of an unknown being who created all things. When Tschoop, the stalwart Mohican chief, came to the Moravians to ask that a missionary might be sent to his people, he said: “Do not send us a man to tell us that there is a God—we all know that; or that we are sinners—we all know that; but send one to tell us about salvation.” Even Buddhism has not remained true to the atheism of its founder. A Thibetan Lama said to Abbe Huc: “You must not confound religious truths with the superstitions of the vulgar. The Tartars prostrate themselves before whatever they see, but there is one only Sovereign of the universe, the creator of all things, alike without beginning and without end.”
But what is the testimony of the great dead religions of the past with respect to a primitive monotheism? It is admitted that the later developments of the old Egyptian faith were polytheistic. But it has generally been conceded that as we approach the earliest notices of that faith, monotheistic features more and more prevail. This position is contested by Miss Amelia B. Edwards and others, who lean toward the development theory. Miss Edwards declares that the earliest faith of Egypt was mere totemism, while on the other hand Ebrard, gathering up the results of the researches of Lepsius, Ebers, Brugsch, and Emanuel de Rouge, deduces what seem to be clear evidences of an early Egyptian monotheism. He quotes Manetho, who declares that “for the first nine thousand years the god Ptah ruled alone; there was no other.” According to inscriptions quoted by De Rouge, the Egyptians in the primitive period worshipped “the one being who truly lives, who has made all things, and who alone has not been made.” This one God was known in different parts of Egypt under different names, which only in later times came to stand for distinct beings. A text which belongs to a period fifteen hundred years before Moses says:
“He has made all that is; thou alone art, the millions owe their being to thee; he is the Lord of all that which is, and of that which is not.” A papyrus now in Paris, dating 2300 B.C., contains quotations from two much older records, one a writing of the time of King Suffern, about 3500 B.C., which says: “The operation of God is a thing which cannot be understood.” The other, from a writing of Ptah Hotep, about 3000 B.C., reads: “This is the command of the God of creation, the peaceable may come and issue orders…. The eating of bread is in conformity with the ordinance of God; can one forget that his blessing rests thereupon?… If thou art a prudent man teach thy son the love of God.”
Professor Ernest Naville, in speaking of this same subject in a course of popular lectures in Geneva, said: “Listen now to a voice which has come forth actually from the recesses of the sepulchre: it reaches us from ancient Egypt.
“In Egypt, as you know, the degradation of the religious idea was in popular practice complete. But under the confused accents of superstition the science of our age is succeeding in catching from afar the vibrations of a sublime utterance. In the coffins of a large number of mummies have been discovered rolls of papyrus containing a sacred text which is called ‘The Book of the Dead.’ Here is the translation of some fragments which appear to date from a very remote epoch. It is God who speaks thus: ‘I am the Most Holy, the Creator of all that replenishes the earth, and of the earth itself, the habitation of mortals. I am the Prince of the infinite ages. I am the Great and Mighty God, the Most High, shining in the midst of the careering stars and of the armies which praise me above thy head…. It is I who chastise the evil-doers and the persecutors of Godly men. I discover and confound the liars. I am the all-seeing Avenger, … the Guardian of my laws in the land of the righteous.’ These words are found mingled in the text, from which I extract them, with allusions to inferior deities; and it must be acknowledged that the translation of the ancient documents of Egypt is uncertain enough; still this uncertainty does not appear to extend to the general sense and bearing of the recent discoveries of our savans.”
Professor Flint as against Cudworth, Ebrard, Gladstone, and others, maintains that the Egyptian religion at the very dawn of its history had “certain great gods,” though he adds that “there were not so many as in later times.” “Ancestor worship, but not so developed as in later times, and animal worship, but very little of it compared with later times.” On the other hand, as against Professor Tiele, Miss Amelia B. Edwards, and others, he says: “For the opinion that its lower elements were older than the higher there is not a particle of properly historical evidence, not a trace in the inscriptions of mere propitiation of ancestors or of belief in the absolute divinity of kings or animals; on the contrary ancestors are always found propitiated through prayer to some of the great gods; kings worshipped as emanations and images of the sun god and the divine animals adored as divine symbols and incarnations.”
Among the Greeks there are few traces of monotheism, but we have reason for this in the fact that their earliest literature dates from so late a period. It began with Homer not earlier than 600 B.C., and direct accounts of the religion of the Greeks are not traced beyond 560 B.C. But Welcker, whose examinations have been exhaustive, has, in the opinion of Max Mueller, fairly established the primitive monotheism of the Greeks. Mueller says: “When we ascend with him to the most distant heights of Greek history the idea of God as the supreme being stands before us as a simple fact. Next to this adoration of One God the father of men we find in Greece a worship of nature. The powers of nature, originally worshipped as such, were afterward changed into a family of gods, of which Zeus became the king and father. The third phase is what is generally called Greek mythology; but it was preceded in time, or at least rendered possible in thought, by the two prior conceptions, a belief in a supreme God and a worship of the powers of nature…. The divine character of Zeus, as distinguished from his mythological character, is most carefully brought out by Welcker. He avails himself of all the discoveries of comparative philology in order to show more clearly how the same idea which found expression in the ancient religions of the Brahmans, the Sclavs, and the Germans had been preserved under the same simple, clear, and sublime name by the original settlers of Hellas.”
The same high authority traces in his own linguistic studies the important fact that all branches of the Aryan race preserve the same name for the Supreme Being, while they show great ramification and variation in the names of their subordinate gods. If, therefore, the Indo-Aryans give evidence of a monotheistic faith at the time of their dispersion, there is an a priori presumption for the monotheism of the Greeks. “Herodotus,” says Professor Rawlinson, “speaks of God as if he had never heard of polytheism.” The testimony of the Greek poets shows that beneath the prevailing polytheism there remained an underlying conception of monotheistic supremacy. Professor Rawlinson quotes from an Orphic poem the words:
“Ares is war, peace
Soft Aphrodite, wine that God has made
Is Dionysius, Themis is the right
Men render to each. Apollo, too,
And Phoebus and AEschlepius, who doth heal Diseases, are the sun. All these are one.”
Max Mueller traces to this same element of monotheism the real greatness and power of the Hellenic race when he says: “What was it, then, that preserved in their hearts (the Greeks), in spite even of the feuds of tribes and the jealousies of states, the deep feeling of that ideal unity which constitutes a people? It was their primitive religion; it was a dim recollection of the common allegiance they owed from time immemorial to the great father of gods and men; it was their belief in the old Zeus of Dodona in the Pan-Hellenic Zeus.” “There is, in truth, but one,” says Sophocles, “one only God, who made both heaven and long-extended earth and bright-faced swell of seas and force of winds.” Xenophanes says: “’Mongst gods and men there is one mightiest God not mortal or in form or thought. Entire he sees and understands, and without labor governs all by mind.” Aratus, whom Paul quotes, says:
“With Zeus began we; let no mortal voice of men leave Zeus unpraised. Zeus fills the heavens, the streets, the marts. Everywhere we live in Zeus. Zeus fills the sea, the shores, the harbors. We are his offspring, too.” The reference made by Paul evidently implies that this Zeus was a dim conception of the one true God.
That all branches of the Semitic race were monotheistic we may call not only Ebrard and Mueller, but Renan, to witness. According to Renan, evidences that the monotheism of the Semitic races was of a very early origin, appears in the fact that all their names for deity—El, Elohim, Ilu, Baal, Bel, Adonai, Shaddai, and Allah—denote one being and that supreme. These names have resisted all changes, and doubtless extend as far back as the Semitic language or the Semitic race. Max Mueller, in speaking of the early faith of the Arabs, says: “Long before Mohammed the primitive intuition of God made itself felt in Arabia;” and he quotes this ancient Arabian prayer: “I dedicate myself to thy service, O Allah. Thou hast no companion, except the companion of whom thou art master absolute, and of whatever is his.” The book of Job and the story of Balaam indicate the prevalence of an early monotheism beyond the pale of the Abrahamic church. In the records of the kings of Assyria and Babylonia there is a conspicuous polytheism, yet it is significant that each king worshipped one God only. And this fact suggests, as a wide generalization, that political and dynastic jealousies had their influence in multiplying the names and differentiating the attributes of ancient deities. This was notably the case in ancient Egypt, where each invasion and each change of dynasty led to a new adjustment of the Egyptian Pantheon.
Rome had many gods, but Jupiter was supreme. Herodotus says of the Scythians, that they had eight gods, but one was supreme, like Zeus. The Northmen, according to Dr. Dascent, had one supreme god known as the “All-fader.” The Druids, though worshipping various subordinate deities, believed in One who was supreme—the creator of all things and the soul of all things. Though conceived of in a Pantheistic sense, He was personal and exerted a moral control, as is shown by the famous triad:
“Fear God; be just to all men; die for your country.” In the highest and purest period of the old Mexican faith we read of the Tezcucan monarch Nezahualcoyotl, who said: “These idols of wood and stone can neither hear nor feel; much less could they make the heavens and the earth, and man who is the lord of it. These must be the work of the all-powerful unknown God, the Creator of the universe, on whom alone I must rely for consolation and support.” The Incas of Peru also, though sun-worshippers, believed in a supreme creator who made the sun. The oldest of their temples was reared to the supreme god “Virachoca.” And one of the greatest Incas has left his declared belief that “there must be above the sun a greater and more powerful ruler, at whose behest the sun pursues his daily and untiring round.”
It has been assumed throughout this lecture, that instead of an advance in the religions of men, there has everywhere been decline. Our proofs of this are not theoretic but historic. As an example, all writers are agreed, I believe, that during the historic period the religion of the Egyptians steadily deteriorated until Christianity and Mohammedanism superseded it. In strong contrast with the lofty and ennobling prayer which we have quoted from an ancient Egyptian record, is the degradation of the later worship. On a column at Heliopolis, belonging to the fourth century before Christ, is inscribed this petition: “O thou white cat, thy head is the head of the sun god, thy nose is the nose of Thoth, of the exceeding great love of Hemopolis.” The whole prayer is on this low level. Clement, of Alexandria, after describing the great beauty of an Egyptian temple, proceeds to say: “The innermost sanctuary is concealed by a curtain wrought in gold, which the priest draws aside, and there is seen a cat, or a crocodile, or a serpent, which wriggles on a purple cover.”
That the religions of India have degenerated is equally clear. The fact that all the medieval and modern reforms look back for their ideals to the earlier and purer Aryan faith, might of itself afford sufficient proof of this, but we have also abundant evidence which is direct. In the Rig Veda there is little polytheism, and no idolatry. There is no doctrine of caste, no base worship of Siva with the foul enormities of Saktism. In the most ancient times there was no doctrine of transmigration, nor any notion that human life is an evil to be overcome by self-mortification. Woman was comparatively free from the oppressions which she suffered in the later periods. Infanticide had not then been sanctioned and enjoined by religious authority, and widow burning and the religious murders of the Thugs were unknown. And yet so deeply were these evils rooted at the beginning of the British rule in India, that the joint influence of Christian instruction and Governmental authority for a whole century has not been sufficient to overcome them.
Buddhism in the first two or three centuries had much to commend it. King Ashoka left monuments of practical beneficence and philanthropy which have survived to this day. But countless legends soon sprang up to mar the simplicity of Gautama’s ethics. Corruptions crept in. Compromises were made with popular superstitions and with Hindu Saktism. The monastic orders sank into corruption, and by the ninth century of our era the system had been wholly swept from India. The Buddhism of Ceylon was planted first by the devout son and daughter of a king, and for a time was characterized by great purity and devotion. But now it exists only in name, and a prominent missionary of the country declared, in the London Missionary Conference of 1888, that nine-tenths of the Cingalese were worshippers of serpents or of spirits. The prevailing Buddhism in Thibet, from the eighth to the tenth century, was an admixture with Saktism and superstition. Where the system has survived in any good degree of strength, it has been due either to government support or to an alliance with other religions. The history of Taouism has shown a still worse deterioration. Laotze, though impracticable as a reformer, was a profound philosopher. His teachings set forth a lofty moral code. Superstition he abominated. His ideas of deity were cold and rationalistic, but they were pure and lofty. But the modern Taouism is a medley of wild and degrading superstitions. According to its theodicy all nature is haunted. The ignorant masses are enthralled by the fear of ghosts, and all progress is paralyzed by the nightmare of “fung shuay.” Had not Taouism been balanced by the sturdy common-sense ethics of Confucianism, the Chinese might have become a race of savages.
The decline of Mohammedanism from the sublime fanaticism of Abu Bekr and the intellectual aspirations of Haroun Al Raschid, to the senseless imbecility of the modern Turk, is too patent to need argument. The worm of destruction was left in the system by the vices of Mohammed himself; and from the higher level of his early followers it has not only deteriorated, but it has dragged down everything else with it. It has destroyed the family, because it has degraded woman. It has separated her immeasurably from the status of dignity and honor which she enjoyed under the influence of the early Christian church, and it has robbed her of even that freedom which was accorded to her by heathen Rome. One need only look at Northern Africa, the land of Cyprian and Origen, of Augustine and the saintly Monica, to see what Islam has done. And even the later centuries have brought no relief. Prosperous lands have been rendered desolate and sterile, and all progress has been paralyzed.
In the history of the Greek religion it is granted that there were periods of advancement. The times of the fully developed Apollo worship showed vast improvement over previous periods, but even Professor Tiele virtually admits that this was owing to the importation of foreign influences. It was not due to any natural process of evolution; and it was followed by hopeless corruption and decline. The last days of both Greece and Rome were degenerate and full of depression and despair.
It is not contended that no revivals or reforms are possible in heathenism. There have been many of these, but with all allowance for spasmodic efforts, the general drift has been always downward. There is a natural disposition among men to multiply objects of worship. Herbert Spencer’s principle, that development proceeds from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous, is certainly true of the religions of the world; but his other principle, that development proceeds from the incoherent to the coherent, does not apply. Incoherency and moral chaos mark the trend of all man-made faiths. The universal tendency to deterioration is well summed up as follows by Professor Naville:
“Traces are found almost everywhere in the midst of idolatrous superstitions, of a religion comparatively pure and often stamped with a lofty morality. Paganism is not a simple fact; it offers to view in the same bed two currents (like the Arve and the Arveiron)–the one pure, the other impure. What is the relation between these two currents? … Did humanity begin with a coarse fetishism, and thence rise by slow degrees to higher conceptions? Do the traces of a comparatively pure monotheism first show themselves in the recent periods of idolatry? Contemporary science inclines more and more to answer in the negative. It is in the most ancient historical ground that the laborious investigators of the past meet with the most elevated ideas of religion. Cut to the ground a young and vigorous beech-tree, and come back a few years afterward. In place of the tree cut down you will find coppice-wood; the sap which nourished a single trunk has been divided among a multitude of shoots. This comparison expresses well enough the opinion which tends to prevail among our savants on the subject of the historical development of religions. The idea of one God is at the roots—it is primitive; polytheism is derivative.”
We have thus far drawn our proofs of man’s polytheistic tendencies from the history of the non-Christian religions. In proof of the same general tendency we now turn to the history of the Israelites, the chosen people of God. We may properly appeal to the Bible as history, especially when showing idolatrous tendencies even under the full blaze of the truth. In spite of the supernatural revelation which they claimed to possess—notwithstanding all their instructions, warnings, promises, deliverances, divinely aided conquests—they relapsed into idolatry again and again. Ere they had reached the land of promise they had begun to make images of the gods of Egypt. They made constant compromises and alliances with the Canaanites, and not even severe judgments could withhold them from this downward drift. Their wisest king was demoralized by heathen marriages, and his successors openly patronized the heathen shrines. The abominations of Baal worship and the nameless vices of Sodom were practised under the very shadow of the Temple. Judgments followed upon this miserable degeneracy. Prophets were sent with repeated warnings, and many were slain for their faithful messages. Tribe after tribe was borne into captivity, the Temple was destroyed, and at last the nation was virtually broken up and scattered abroad.
There was indeed a true development in the church of God from the Abrahamic period to the Apostolic day. There was a rising from a narrow national spirit to one which embraced the whole brotherhood of man, from type and prophecy to fulfilment, from the sins that were winked at, to a purer ethic and the perfect law of love; but these results came not by natural evolution—far enough from it. They were wrought out not by man, but we might almost say, in spite of man. Divine interpositions were all that saved Judaism from a total wreck, even as the national unity was destroyed. A new Dispensation was introduced, a Divine Redeemer and an Omnipotent Spirit were the forces which saved the world from a second universal apostasy.
We come nearer still to the church of God for proofs of man’s inherent tendency to polytheism. Even under the new Dispensation we have seen the church sink into virtual idolatry. Within six centuries from the time of Christ and His apostles there had been a sad lapse into what seemed the worship of images, pictures, and relics, and a faith in holy places and the bones of saints. What Mohammed saw, or thought he saw, was a Christian idolatry scarcely better than that of the Arabian Koreish. And, as if by the judgment of God, the churches of the East were swept with a destruction like that which had been visited upon the Ten Tribes. In the Christianity of to-day, viewed as a whole, how strong is the tendency to turn from the pure spiritual conception of God to some more objective trust—a saint, a relic, a ritual, an ordinance. In the old churches of the East or on the Continent of Europe, how much of virtual idolatry is there even now? It is only another form of the tendency in man to seek out many devices—to find visible objects of trust—to try new panaceas for the ailments of the soul—to multiply unto himself gods to help his weakness. This is just what has been done in all ages and among all races of the world. This explains polytheism. Man’s religious nature is a vine, and God is its only proper support. Once fallen from that support, it creeps and grovels in all directions and over all false supports.
We have not resorted to Divine revelation for proofs except as history. But our conclusions drawn from heathen sources bring us directly, as one face answereth to another face in a glass, to the plain teachings of Paul and other inspired writers, who tell us that the human race was once possessed of the knowledge of One Supreme God, but that men apostatized from Him, preferring to worship the creature rather than the Creator. There are no traces of an upward evolution toward clearer knowledge and purer lives, except by the operation of outward causes, but there are many proofs that men’s hearts have become darkened and their moral nature more and more depraved. In all lands there have been those who seemed to gain some glimpses of truth, and whose teachings were far above the average sentiment and character of their times, but they have either been discarded like Socrates and the prophets of Israel, or they have obtained a following only for a time and their precepts have fallen into neglect. It has been well said that no race of men live up to their religion, however imperfect it may be. They first disregard it, and then at length degrade it, to suit their apostate character.
Paul’s estimate of heathen character was that of a man who, aside from his direct inspiration, spoke from a wide range of observation. He was a philosopher by education, and he lived in an age and amid national surroundings which afforded the broadest knowledge of men, of customs, of religious faiths, of institutions. Trained as a Jew, dealing constantly with the most enlightened heathen, persecuting the Christians, and then espousing their cause, his preparation for a broad, calm, and unerring judgment of the character of the Gentile nations was complete; and his one emphatic verdict was apostasy.
[Footnote 125: Fiske: The Destiny of Man, pp. 78-80.]
[Footnote 126: We do not care to enter the field of pre-historic speculation where the evolution of religion from totemism or fetishism claims to find its chief support. We are considering only the traditional development of the ancient faiths of man.]
[Footnote 127: Introduction to Christian Theology, Appendix, pp. 166, 167.]
[Footnote 128: Ebrard’s Apologetics, vols. ii. and iii.]
[Footnote 129: Modern Atheism, p. 13.]
[Footnote 130: The Chinese, pp. 163, 164.]
[Footnote 131: Chips from a German Workshop, vol. i., p. 23.]
[Footnote 132: Professor Banergea (see Indian Antiquary, February, 1875) thinks that this Hindu account of creation shows traces of the common revelation made to mankind.]
[Footnote 133: Science of Religion, p. 99.]
[Footnote 134: Science of Religion, p. 88.]
[Footnote 135: “The ancient relics of African faith are rapidly disappearing at the approach of Mohammedan and Christian missionaries; but what has been preserved of it, chiefly through the exertions of learned missionaries, is full of interest to the student of religion, with its strange worship of snakes and ancestors, its vague hope of a future life, and its not altogether faded reminiscence of a Supreme God, the Father of the black as well as of the white man.”–Science of Religion, p. 39.]
[Footnote 136: While he maintains that the idea of God must have preceded that of gods, as the plural always implies the singular, he yet claims very justly that the exclusive conception of monotheism as against polytheism could hardly have existed. Men simply thought of God as God, as a child thinks of its father, and does not even raise the question of a second.—See Chips from a German Workshop, vol. i., p. 349.]
[Footnote 137: St. Augustine, in quoting Cyprian, shows that the fathers of the Church looked upon Plato as a monotheist. The passage is as follows: “For when he (Cyprian) speaks of the Magians, he says that the chief among them, Hostanes, maintains that the true God is invisible, and that true angels sit at His throne; and that Plato agrees with this and believes in one God, considering the others to be demons; and that Hermes Trismegistus also speaks of one God, and confesses that He is incomprehensible.” Angus., De Baptismo contra Donat., Lib. VI., Cap. XLIV.]
[Footnote 138: The Aryan Witness, passim.]
[Footnote 139: Aristotle said, “God, though He is one, has many names, because He is called according to the states into which He always enters anew.”]
[Footnote 140: The Religions of China, p. 16.]
[Footnote 141: The Religions of China, p. 49.]
[Footnote 142: “In the year 1600 the Emperor of China declared in an edict that the Chinese should adore, not the material heavens, but the Master of heaven.”—Cardinal Gibbons: Our Christian Heritage.]
[Footnote 143: Martin: The Chinese, p. 106.]
[Footnote 144: It has been related by Rev. Hudson Taylor that the fishermen of the Fukien Province, when a storm arises, pray to the goddess of the sea; but when that does not avail they throw all the idols aside and pray to the “Great-grandfather in Heaven.” Father is a great conception to the Chinese mind. Great-grandfather is higher still, and stands to them for the Supreme.]
[Footnote 145: Science of Religion, p. 86.]
[Footnote 146: The Chinese, p. 99.]
[Footnote 147: Other writers contend that he was probably contemporaneous with Abraham. Still others think Zoroaster a general name for great prophets. Darmestetter inclines to this view.]
[Footnote 148: Chips from a German Workshop.]
[Footnote 149: Archbishop Vaughn, of Sydney, emphatically declares that the aborigines of Australia believe in a Supreme Being.]
[Footnote 150: Rev. Mr. Johnson, of Lagos, has expressed a belief that the pagan tribes of West Africa were monotheists before the incursion of the Mohammedans. Rev. Alfred Marling, of Gaboon, bears the same testimony of the Fans.]
[Footnote 151: Rev. A.C. Thompson, D.D. The Moravians.
One of the early converts from among the Ojibwas, said to the missionary, Rev. S.G. Wright: “A great deal of your preaching I readily understand, especially what you say about our real characters. We Indians all know that it is wrong to lie, to steal, to be dishonest, to slander, to be covetous, and we always know that the Great Spirit hates all these things. All this we knew before we ever saw the white man. I knew these things when I was a little boy. We did not, however, know the way of pardon for these sins. In our religion there is nothing said by the wise men about pardon. We knew nothing of the Lord Jesus Christ as a Saviour.”]
[Footnote 152: Professor Tiele, of Leyden, asserts that “It is altogether erroneous to regard the Egyptian religion as the polytheistic degeneration of a prehistoric monotheism. It was polytheistic from the beginning.” But on one of the oldest of Egyptian monuments is found this hymn, which is quoted by Cardinal Gibbons in Our Christian Inheritance:
“Hail to thee, say all creatures; …
The gods adore thy majesty,
The spirits thou has made exalt thee,
Rejoicing before the feet of their begetter.
They cry out welcome to thee,
Father of the fathers of all the gods,
Who raises the heavens, who fixes the earth;
We worship thy spirit who alone hast made us,
We whom thou hast made thank thee that thou hast given us birth, We give to thee praises for thy mercy toward us.”]
[Footnote 153: Modern Atheism, p. 13.]
[Footnote 154: Chips from a German Workshop, vol. ii., pp. 146, 147.]
[Footnote 155: Science of Religion, Lecture III., p. 57.]
[Footnote 156: Acts xvii. 28.]
[Footnote 157: Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico.]
[Footnote 158: Reville in his Hibbert Lectures on Mexican and Peruvian religions asserts that polytheism existed from the beginning, but our contention is that One God was supreme and created the sun.]
[Footnote 159: De Pressense: The Ancient World and Christianity.]
[Footnote 160: Bournouf found the Tantras so obscene that he refused to translate them.]
[Footnote 161: T. Rhys Davids: Buddhism, p. 208.]
[Footnote 162: Report of Missionary Conference, vol. i, p. 70.]
[Footnote 163: Buddhism, in the Britannica.]
[Footnote 164: Rev. S.G. Wright, long a missionary among the American Indians, says: “During the forty-six years in which I have been laboring among the Ojibway Indians, I have been more and more impressed with the evidence, showing itself in their language, that at some former time they have been in possession of much higher ideas of God’s attributes, and of what constitutes true happiness, immortality, and virtue, as well as of the nature of the Devil and his influence in the world, than those which they now possess. The thing which early in our experience surprised us, and which has not ceased to impress us, is, that, with their present low conceptions of spiritual things, they could have chosen so lofty and spiritual a word for the Deity. The only satisfactory explanation seems to be that, at an early period of their history, they had higher and more correct ideas concerning God than those which they now possess, and that these have become, as the geologists would say, fossilized in their forms of speech, and so preserved.”–Bibliotheca Sacra, October, 1889.]
[Footnote 165: Modern Atheism, p. 10.]
[Footnote 166: I. Kings, xiv., and II. Kings, xxiii.]