Page images
PDF
EPUB

worship the great gods, lest through ignorance they should blunder in the complex ritual; they prefer to pray to the 'theparak,' a lower class of deities among whom the souls of great men take their places at death.' In China, as every one knows, ancestor-worship is the dominant religion of the land, and interesting problems are opened out to the Western mind by the spectacle of a great people who for thousands of years have been thus seeking the living among the dead. Nowhere is the connexion between parental authority and conservatism more graphically shown. The worship of ancestors, begun during their life, is not interrupted but intensified when death makes them deities. The Chinese, prostrate bodily and mentally before the memorial tablets that contain the souls of his ancestors, little thinks that he is all the while proving to mankind how vast a power unlimited filial obedience, prohibiting change from ancestral institutions, may exert in stopping the advance of civilization. The thought of the souls of the dead as sharing the happiness and glory of their descendants is one which widely pervades the world, but most such ideas would seem vague and weak to the Chinese, who will try hard for honours in his competitive examination with the special motive of glorifying his dead ancestors, and whose titles of rank will raise his deceased father and grandfather a grade above himself, as though, with us, Zachary Macaulay and Copley the painter should now have viscounts' coronets officially placed on their tombstones. As so often happens, what is jest to one people is sober sense to another. There are 300 millions of Chinese who would hardly see a joke in Charles Lamb reviling the stupid age that would not read him, and declaring that he would write for antiquity. Had he been a Chinese himself, he might have written his book in all seriousness for the benefit of his great-great-grandfather. Among the Chinese, manes-worship is no rite of mere affection. The living want the help of the ancestral spirits, who reward virtue and punish vice : ‘The exalted

1 Bastian, 'Oestl. Asien,' vol. iii. p. 250.

.

ancestor will bring thee, O Prince, much good!'-'Ancestors and fathers will abandon you and give you up, and come not to help, and ye will die.' If no help comes in

me of need, the Chinese will reproach his ancestor, or even come to doubt his existence. Thus in a Chinese ode the sufferers in a dreadful drought cry, 'Heu-tsi cannot or will not help .. Our ancestors have surely perished.

Father, mother, ancestors, how could you calmly bear this ?' Nor does manes-worship stop short with direct family ties; it is naturally developed to produce, by deification of the heroic dead, a series of superior gods to whom worship is given by the public at large. Thus, according to legend, the War-god or Military Sage was once in human life a distinguished soldier, the Mechanics' god was a skilful workman and inventor of tools, the Swine-god was a hogbreeder who lost his pigs and died of sorrow, and the Gamblers' god, a desperate gamester who lost his all and died of want, is represented by a hideous image called a devil gambling for cash,' and in this shape receives the prayers and offerings of confirmed gamblers, his votaries. The spirits of San-kea Ta-te, and Chang-yuen-sze go to partake of the offerings set out in their temples, returning flushed and florid from their meal; and the spirit of Confucius is present in the temple, where twice a year the Emperor does sacrifice to him.1

The Hindu unites in some degree with the Chinese as to ancestor-worship, and especially as to the necessity of having a son by blood or adoption, who shall offer the proper sacrifices to him after death. “May there be born in our lineage,' the manes are supposed to say, 'a man to offer to us, on the thirteenth day of the moon, rice boiled in milk, honey and ghee.' Offerings made to the divine manes, the “pitaras' (patres, fathers) as they are called, preceded and followed by offerings to the greater deities, give to the worshipper merit

[ocr errors]

Plath, ‘Religion der alten Chinesen,' part i. p. 65, part ii. p. 89 ; Doolittle, 'Chinese,' vol. i. pp. vi. viii. ; vol. ii. p. 373 ; “Journ. Ind. Archip.' New Ser. vol. ii. p. 363 ; Legge, Confucius,' p. 92.

and happiness. In classic Europe, apotheosis lies part within the limits of myth, where it was applied to fabled ancestors, and part within the limits of actual history, as where Julius and Augustus shared its honours with the vile Domitian and Commodus. The most special representatives of ancestor-worship in Europe were perhaps the ancient Romans, whose word 'manes' has become the recognized name for ancestral deities in modern civilized language; they embodied them as images, set them up as household patrons, gratified them with offerings and solemn homage, and counting them as or among the infernal gods, inscribed on tombs D. M., 'Diis Manibus.'? The occurrence of this D. M. in Christian epitaphs is an often-noticed case of religious survival.

Although full ancestor-worship is not practised in modern Christendom, there remains even now within its limits a well-marked worship of the dead. A crowd of saints, who were once men and women, now form an order of inferior deities, active in the affairs of men and receiving from them reverence and prayer, thus coming strictly under the definition of manes. This Christian cultus of the dead, belonging in principle to the older manes-worship, was adapted to answer another purpose in the course of religious transition in Europe. The local gods, the patron gods of particular ranks and crafts, the gods from whom men sought special help in special needs, were too near and dear to the inmost heart of præ-Christian Europe to be done away with without substitutes. It proved easier to replace them by saints who could undertake their particular professions, and even succeed them in their sacred dwellings. The system of spiritual division of labour was in time worked out with wonderful minuteness in the vast array of professional saints, among whom the most familiar to modern English ears are St. Cecilia, patroness of musicians; St. Luke, patron of painters; St. Peter, of fishmongers; St. Valentine, of lovers; St. Sebastian, of archers; St. Crispin, of cobblers; St. Hubert, who cures the bite of mad dogs; St. Vitus, who delivers madmen and sufferers from the disease which bears his name; St. Fiacre, whose name is now less known by his shrine than by the hackney-coaches called after him in the seventeenth century. Not to dwell here minutely on an often-treated topic, it will be enough to touch on two particular points. First, as to the direct historical succession of the Christian saint to the heathen deity, the following are two very perfect illustrations. It is well known that Romulus, mindful of his own adventurous infancy, became after death a Roman deity propitious to the health and safety of young children, so that nurses and mothers would carry sickly infants to present them in his little round temple at the foot of the Palatine. In after ages the temple was replaced by the church of St. Theodorus, and there Dr. Conyers Middleton, who drew public attention to its curious history, used to look in and see ten or a dozen women, each with a sick child in her lap, sitting in silent reverence before the altar of the saint.

1 Manu, book iii.

2 Details in Pauly, “Real-Encyclop.' s.v. “inferi’; Smith’s ‘Dic. of Gr. and Rom. Biog. and Myth.'; Meiners, Hartung, &c.

The ceremony of blessing children, especially after vaccination, may still be seen there on Thursday mornings. Again, Sts. Cosmas and Damianus, according to Maury, owe their recognized office to a similar curious train of events. They were martyrs who suffered under Diocletian, at Ægææ in Cilicia. Now this place was celebrated for the worship of Æsculapius, in whose temple incubation, i.e. sleeping for oracular dreams, was practised. It seems as though the idea was transferred on the spot to the two local saints, for we next hear of them as appearing in a dream to the Emperor Justinian, when he was ill at Byzantium. They cured him, he built them a temple, their cultus spread far and wide, and they frequently appeared to the sick to show them what they should do. Legend settled that Cosmas and Damianus were physicians while they lived on earth, and at any rate they are patron-saints of the profession of medicine to this day. Second, as to the actual state of hagiolatry in modern Europe, it is obvious on a broad view that it is declining among the educated classes. Yet modern examples may be brought forward to show ideas as extreme as those which prevailed more widely a thousand years ago. In the Church of the Jesuit College at Rome lies buried St. Aloysius Gonzaga, on whose festival it is customary especially for the college students to write letters to him, which are placed on his gaily decorated and illuminated altar, and afterwards burnt unopened. The miraculous answering of these letters is vouched for in an English book of 1870. To the same year belongs an English tract commemorating a late miraculous cure. An Italian lady afflicted with a tumour and incipient cancer of the breast was exhorted by a Jesuit priest to recommend herself to the Blessed John Berchmans, a pious Jesuit novice from Belgium, who died in 1621, and was beatified in 1865. Her adviser procured for her three small packets of dust gathered from the coffin of this saintly innocent, a little cross made of the boards of the room the blessed youth occupied, as well as some portion of the wadding in which his venerable head was wrapped. During nine days' devotion the patient accordingly invoked the Blessed John, swallowed small portions of his dust in water, and at last pressed the cross to her breast so vehemently that she was seized with sickness, went to sleep, and awoke without a symptom of the complaint. And when Dr. Panegrossi the physician beheld the incredible cure, and heard that the patient had addressed herself to the Blessed Berchmans, he bowed his head, saying, “When such physicians interfere, we have nothing more to say !'? To sum up the whole

1 Middleton, 'Letter from Rome'; Murray's 'Handbook of Rome.'

1 L. F. Alfred Maury, `Magie, &c.,' p. 249 ; ‘Acta Sanctorum,' 27 Sep. ; Gregor. Turon. De Gloria Martyr, i. 98.

2 J. R. Beste, 'Nowadays at Home and Abroad,' London, 1870, vol. ii. p. 44 ; 'A New Miracle at Rome ; being an Account of a Miraculous Cure, &c., &c.,' London (Washbourne), 1870.

« PreviousContinue »