Page images

the advantage of studying among a cultured racet he survival of religion from ruler ancient times, kept up by official ordinance. The state religion of China is in its dominant doctrine the worship of Tien, Heaven, identified with Shangti, the Emperor-above, next to whom stands Tu, Eirth; while below them are worshipped great nature-spirits and ancestors. It is possible that this faith, as Professor Max Müller argnes, may be ethnologically and even linguistically part and parcel of the general Heaven-worship of the Turanian tribes of Siberia. At any rate, it is identical with it in its primary idea, the adoration of the supreme Heaven. Dr. Legge charges Confucius with an inclination to substitute in his religious teaching the name of Tien, Heaven, for that known to more ancient religion and used in more ancient books, Shang-ti, the personal ruling Deity. But it seems rather that the sage was in fact upholding the traditions of the ancient faith, thus acting according to the character on which he prided himself, that of a transmitter and not a maker, a preserver of old knowledge, not a new revealer. It is in accordance with the usual course of theologic development, for the divine IIeaven to reign in rude mythologic religion over the lesser spirits of the world, before the childlike poetic thought passes into the statesman's conception of a Celestial Emperor. As Plath well remarks, “It belongs to the Chinese system that all nature is animated by spirits, and that all these follow one oriler. As the Chinese cannot think of a Chinese Empire with an Emperor only, and without the host of vassal-princes and officials, so he cannot think of the Upper Emperor without the host of spirits.” Developed in a different line, the idea of a supreme Heaven comes to pervade Chinese philosophy and ethics as a general expression of fate, ordinance, duty. “Heaven's order is nature”—“The wise man readily awaits Heaven's command”—“Man must first do his own part; when he has done all, then he can wait for Heaven to complete it"-"All state officers are Heaven's workmen, and represent him "--"How does Heaven speak? The four

seasons have their course, the hundred things arise, what speaks he?"-"No, Heaven speaks not; by the course of events he makes himself understood, no more." 1

These stray scraps from old Chinese literature are intelligible to European ears, for our Aryan race has indeed worked out religious ideas from the like source and almost in the like directions. The Samoyed or Tunguz Heavengod had his analogue in Dyu, Heaven, of the Vedic hymns. Once meaning the sky, and the sky personified, this Zeus came to mean far more than mere heaven in the minds of Greek poets and philosophers, when it rose toward "that conception which in sublimity, brightness, and infinity transcended all others as much as the bright blue sky transcended all other things visible upon earth." At the lower level of mythic religion, the ideal process of shaping the divine world into a monarchic constitution was worked out by the ancient Greeks, on the same simple plan as among such barbarians as the Kols of Chota-Nagpur or the Gallas of Abyssinia; Zeus is King over Olympian gods, and below these again are marshalled the crowded ranks of demigods, heroes, demons, nymphs, ghosts. At the higher level of theologic speculation, exalted thoughts of universal cause and being, of physical and moral law, took personality under the name of Zeus. It is in direct derivation along this historic line, that the classical heaven-cultus still asserts itself in song and pageant among us, in that quaintest of quaint survivals, the factitious religion of the Italian Opera, where such worship as artistic ends require is still addressed to the divine Cielo. Even in our daily talk, colloquial expressions call up before the mind of the ethnographer outlines of remotest religious history. Heaven grants, forbids, blesses still in phrase, as heretofore in fact.

Vast and difficult as is the research into the full scope and history of the doctrine of supremacy among the higher

1 Plath, Rel. der Alten Chinesen,' part i. p. 18, etc. See Max Müller, 'Lectures on Science of Religion, No. III. in Fraser's Mag.' 1870. Legge, 'Confucius,' p. 100.



nations, it may be at least seen that helpful clues exist to lead the explorer. The doctrine of mighty nature-spirits, inhabiting and controlling sky and earth and sea, seems to expand in Asia into such ideas as that of Mahatman the Great Spirit, Paramâtman the Highest Spirit, taking personality as Brahma the all-pervading universal soul1-in Europe into philosophic conceptions of which a grand type stands out in Kepler's words, that the universe is a harmonious whole, whose soul is God. There is a saying of Comte's that throws strong light upon this track of specula tive theology: he declares that the conception among the ancients of the Soul of the Universe, the notion that the earth is a vast living animal, and in our own time, the obscure pantheism which is so rife among German metaphysicians, are only fetishism generalized and made systematic. Polytheism, in its inextricable confusion of the persons and functions of the great divinities, and in its assignment of the sovereignty of the world to a supreme being who combines in himself the attributes of several such minor deities, tends toward the doctrine of fundamental unity. Max Müller, in a lecture on the Veda, has given the name of kathenotheism to the doctrine of divine unity in diversity which comes into view in these instructive lines:

"Indram Mitram Varunam Agnim âhur atho
divyah sa suparno Garutmån:

Ekam sad vipiâ bahudha vadanti Agnim

Yaman Mâtariç vânam âhuh."

"They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni; then he is the beau tiful-winged heavenly Garutmat: That which is One the wise call it in divers manners; they call it Agni, Yama, Mâtariçvan." 3

1 See Colebrooke, 'Essays,' vol. ii. Wuttke, 'Heidenthum,' part i. p. 254. Ward, Hindoos,' vol. i. p. xxi. vol. ii. p. 1.

* Comte, Philosophie Positive.' Cf. Bp. Berkeley's 'Siris'; and for a modern dissertation on the universal æther as the divine soul of the world, see Phil. Spiller, Gott im Lichte der Naturwissenschaften,' Berlin, 1873 (note to 2nd ed.).

[ocr errors]

3 'Rig-Veda,' i. 164, 46. Max Müller, Chips,' vol. i. pp. 27, 241.

The figure of the supreme deity, be he Heaven-god, Sungod, Great Spirit, beginning already in savage thought to take the form and function of a divine ruler of the world, represents a conception which it becomes the age-long work of systematic theology to develope and to define. Thus in Greece arises Zeus the highest, greatest, best, "who was and is and shall be," "beginning and chief of all things," "who rules over all mortals and immortals," "Zeus the god of gods." Such is Ahura Mazda in the Persian faith, among whose seventy-two names of might are these: Creator, Protector, Nourisher, Holiest Heavenly One, Healing, Priest, Most Pure, Most Majestic, Most Knowing, Most Ruling at Will. There may be truth in the assertion that the esoteric religion of ancient Egypt centred in a doctrine of divine unity, manifested through the heterogeneous crowd of popular deities. It may be a hopeless task to disentangle the confused personalities of Baal, Bel, and Moloch, and no antiquary may ever fully solve the enigma how far the divine. name of El carried in its wide range among the Jewish and other Semitic nations a doctrine of divine supremacy. The great Syro-Phoenician kingdoms and religions have long since passed away into darkness, leaving but antiquarian relics to vouch for their former might. Far other has been the history of their Jewish kindred, still standing fast to their ancient nationality, still upholding to this day their patriarchal religion, in the midst of nations who inherit from the faith of Israel the belief in one God, highest, almighty, who in the beginning made the heavens and the earth, whose throne is established of old, who is from everlasting to everlasting.

Before now bringing these researches to a close, it will be well to state compactly the reasons for treating the animism

1 See Welcker, 'Griech. Götterlehre,' pp. 143, 175. Avesta; trans. by Spiegel, Ormazd-Yasht.' 12.

3 Wilkinson, Ancient Eg.' vol. iv. ch. xii.; Bunsen, Egypt,' vol. iv. p.


4 Movers, 'Phönizier,' vol. i. p. 169, etc. See Max Müller, 'Lecture,'

iii. 1. c.

of the modern savage world as more or less representing the animism of remotely ancient races of mankind. Savage animism, founded on a doctrine of souls carried to an extent far beyond its limits in the cultivated world, and thence expanding to a yet wider doctrine of spiritual beings animating and controlling the universe in all its parts, becomes a theory of personal causes developed into a general philosophy of man and nature. As such, it may be reasonably accounted for as the direct product of natural religion, using this term according to the sense of its definition by Wilkins: “I call that natural religion, which men might know, and should be obliged unto, by the meer principles of reason, improved by consideration and experience, without the help of revelation.”] It will scarcely be argued by theologians familiar with the religions of savage tribes, that they are direct or nearly direct products of revelation, for the theology of our time would abolish or modify their details till scarce one was left intact. The main issue of the problem is this, whether savage animism is a primary formation belonging to the lower culture, or whether it consists, mostly or entirely, of beliefs originating in some higher culture, and conveyed by adoption or degradation into the lower. The evidence for the first alternative, though not amounting to complete demonstration, seems reasonably strong, and not met by contrary evidence approaching it in force. The animism of the lower tribes, self-contained and self-supporting, maintained in close contact with that direct evidence of the senses on which it appears to be originally based, is a system which might quite reasonably exist among mankind, had they never any

i Cited in Johnson's Dictionary. The term “natural religion " is used in various and even incompatible senses. Thus Butler in his “Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constirution and Course of Nature,' signifies by “natural religion” a primeval system which he expressly argues to have been not reasoned out, but taught first by revelation. This system, of which the main tenets are the belief in one God, the Creator and Moral Governor of the World, and in a future state of moral retribution, ditfers in the extreme from the actual religions of the lower races.

« PreviousContinue »