Ten Great Religions
An Essay in Comparative Theology
James Freeman Clarke
Prophets who have been since the world began.—Luke i. 70.
Gentiles ... who show the work (or influence) of the (that) law which is written in their hearts.—Romans ii. 15.
God ... hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth ... that they should seek the Lord, if haply they may feel after him and find him.—Acts, xviii. 24-27.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by James Freeman Clarke, in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
Copyright, 1899, By Eliot C. Clarke.
To William Heney Channing, My Friend and Fellow-Student During Many Years, This Work Is Affectionately Inscribed.
The first six chapters of the present volume are composed from six articles prepared for the Atlantic Monthly, and published in that magazine in 1868. They attracted quite as much attention as the writer anticipated, and this has induced him to enlarge them, and add other chapters. His aim is to enable the reader to become acquainted with the doctrines and customs of the principal religions of the world, without having to consult numerous volumes. He has not come to the task without some preparation, for it is more than twenty-five years since he first made of this study a speciality. In this volume it is attempted to give the latest results of modern investigations, so far as any definite and trustworthy facts have been attained. But the writer is well aware of the difficulty of being always accurate in a task which involves such interminable study and such an amount of details. He can only say, in the words of a Hebrew writer: "If I have done well, and as is fitting the story, it is that which I desired; but if slenderly and meanly, it is that which I could attain unto."
Introduction.—Ethnic and Catholic Religions.
Sec. 1. Object of the present Work Sec. 2. Comparative Theology; its Nature, Value, and present Position Sec. 3. Ethnic Religions. Injustice often done to them by Christian Apologists Sec. 4. How Ethnic Religions were regarded by Christ and his Apostles Sec. 5. Comparative Theology will furnish a new Class of Evidences in Support of Christianity Sec. 6. It will show that, while most of the Religions of the World are Ethnic, or the Religions of Races, Christianity is Catholic, or adapted to become the Religion of all Races Sec. 7. It will show that Ethnic Religions are partial, Christianity universal Sec. 8. It will show that Ethnic Religions are arrested, but that Christianity is steadily progressive
Confucius and the Chinese, or the Prose of Asia.
Sec. 1. Peculiarities of Chinese Civilization Sec. 2. Chinese Government based on Education. Civil-Service Examinations Sec. 3. Life and Character of Confucius Sec. 4. Philosophy and subsequent Development of Confucianism Sec. 5. Lao-tse and Tao-ism Sec. 6. Religious Character of the "Kings." Sec. 7. Confucius and Christianity. Character of the Chinese Sec. 8. The Tae-ping Insurrection Note. The Nestorian Inscription in China
Sec. 1. Our Knowledge of Brahmanism. Sir William Jones Sec. 2. Difficulty of this Study. The Complexity of the System. The Hindoos have no History. Their Ultra-Spiritualism Sec. 3. Helps from Comparative Philology. The Aryans in Central Asia Sec. 4. The Aryans in India. The Native Races. The Vedic Age. Theology of the Vedas Sec. 5. Second Period. Laws of Manu. The Brahmanic Age Sec. 6. The Three Hindoo Systems of Philosophy,—The Sankhya, Vedanta, and Nyasa Sec. 7. Origin of the Hindoo Triad Sec. 8. The Epics, the Puranas, and Modern Hindoo Worship Sec. 9. Relation of Brahmanism to Christianity
Buddhism, or the Protestantism of the East.
Sec. 1. Buddhism, in its Forms, resembles Romanism; in its Spirit, Protestantism Sec. 2. Extent of Buddhism. Its Scriptures Sec. 3. Sakya-muni, the Founder of Buddhism Sec. 4. Leading Doctrines of Buddhism Sec. 5. The Spirit of Buddhism Rational and Humane Sec. 6. Buddhism as a Religion Sec. 7. Karma and Nirvana Sec. 8. Good and Evil of Buddhism Sec. 9. Relation of Buddhism to Christianity
Zoroaster and the Zend Avesta.
Sec. 1. Ruins of the Palace of Xerxes at Persepolis Sec. 2. Greek Accounts of Zoroaster. Plutarch's Description of his Religion Sec. 3. Anquetil du Perron and his Discovery of the Zend Avesta Sec. 4. Epoch of Zoroaster. What do we know of him? Sec. 5. Spirit of Zoroaster and of his Religion Sec. 6. Character of the Zend Avesta Sec. 7. Later Development of the System in the Bundehesch Sec. 8. Relation of the Religion of the Zend Avesta to that of the Vedas Sec. 9. Is Monotheism or pure Dualism the Doctrine of the Zend Avesta Sec. 10. Relation of this System to Christianity. The Kingdom of Heaven
The Gods of Egypt.
Sec. 1. Antiquity and Extent of Egyptian Civilization Sec. 2. Religious Character of the Egyptians. Their Ritual Sec. 3. Theology of Egypt. Sources of our Knowledge concerning it Sec. 4. Central Idea of Egyptian Theology and Religion. Animal Worship Sec. 5. Sources of Egyptian Theology. Age of the Empire and Affinities of the Race Sec. 6. The Three Orders of Gods Sec. 7. Influence upon Judaism and Christianity
The Gods Of Greece.
Sec. 1. The Land and the Race Sec. 2. Idea and general Character of Greek Religion Sec. 3. The Gods of Greece before Homer Sec. 4. The Gods of the Poets Sec. 5. The Gods of the Artists Sec. 6. The Gods of the Philosophers Sec. 7. Worship of Greece Sec. 8. The Mysteries. Orphism Sec. 9. Relation of Greek Religion to Christianity
The Religion of Rome.
Sec. 1. Origin and essential Character of the Religion of Rome Sec. 2. The Gods of Rome Sec. 3. Worship and Ritual Sec. 4. The Decay of the Roman Religion Sec. 5. Relation of the Roman Religion to Christianity
The Teutonic and Scandinavian Religion.
Sec. 1. The Land and the Race Sec. 2. Idea of the Scandinavian Religion Sec. 3. The Eddas and their Contents Sec. 4. The Gods of Scandinavia Sec. 5. Resemblance of the Scandinavian Mythology to that of Zoroaster Sec. 6. Scandinavian Worship Sec. 7. Social Character, Maritime Discoveries, and Political Institutions of the Scandinavians Sec. 8. Relation of this System to Christianity
The Jewish Religion.
Sec. 1. Palestine, and the Semitic Races Sec. 2. Abraham; or, Judaism as the Family Worship of a Supreme Being Sec. 3. Moses; or, Judaism as the national Worship of a just and holy King Sec. 4. David; or, Judaism as the personal Worship of a Father and Friend Sec. 5. Solomon; or, the Religious Relapse Sec. 6. The Prophets; or, Judaism as a Hope of a spiritual and universal Kingdom of God Sec. 7. Judaism as a Preparation for Christianity
Mohammed and Islam.
Sec. 1. Recent Works on the Life of Mohammed Sec. 2. The Arabs and Arabia Sec. 3. Early Life of Mohammed, to the Hegira Sec. 4. Change in the Character of Mohammed after the Hegira Sec. 5. Religious Doctrines and Practices among the Mohammedans Sec. 6. The Criticism of Mr. Palgrave on Mohammedan Theology Sec. 7. Mohammedanism a Relapse; the worst Form of Monotheism, and a retarding Element in Civilization Note
The Ten Religions and Christianity.
Sec. 1. General Results of this Survey Sec. 2. Christianity a Pleroma, or Fulness of Life Sec. 3. Christianity, as a Pleroma, compared with Brahmanism, Confucianism, and Buddhism Sec. 4. Christianity compared with the Avesta and the Eddas. The Duad in all Religions Sec. 5. Christianity and the Religions of Egypt, Greece, and Rome Sec. 6. Christianity in Relation to Judaism and Mohammedanism. The Monad in all Religions Sec. 7. The Fulness of Christianity is derived from the Life of Jesus Sec. 8. Christianity as a Religion of Progress and of universal Unity
Ten Great Religions.
Introduction.—Ethnic and Catholic Religions.
Sec. 1. Object of the present Work. Sec. 2. Comparative Theology; its Nature, Value, and present Position. Sec. 3. Ethnic Religions. Injustice often done to them by Christian Apologists. Sec. 4. How Ethnic Religions were regarded by Christ and his Apostles. Sec. 5. Comparative Theology will furnish a new Class of Evidences in Support of Christianity. Sec. 6. It will show that, while most of the Religions of the World are Ethnic, or the Religions of Races, Christianity is Catholic, or adapted to become the Religion of all Races. Sec. 7. It will show that Ethnic Religions are Partial, Christianity Universal. Sec. 8. It will show that Ethnic Religions are arrested, but that Christianity is steadily progressive.
Sec. 1. Object of the present Work.
The present work is what the Germans call a Versuch, and the English an Essay, or attempt. It is an attempt to compare the great religions of the world with each other. When completed, this comparison ought to show what each is, what it contains, wherein it resembles the others, wherein it differs from the others; its origin and development, its place in universal history; its positive and negative qualities, its truths and errors, and its influence, past, present, or future, on the welfare of mankind. For everything becomes more clear by comparison We can never understand the nature of a phenomenon when we contemplate it by itself, as well as when we look at it in its relations to other phenomena of the same kind. The qualities of each become more clear in contrast with those of the others. By comparing together, therefore, the religions of mankind, to see wherein they agree and wherein they differ, we are able to perceive with greater accuracy what each is. The first problem in Comparative Theology is therefore analytical, being to distinguish each religion from the rest. We compare them to see wherein they agree and wherein they differ. But the next problem in Comparative Theology is synthetical, and considers the adaptation of each system to every other, to determine its place, use, and value, in reference to universal or absolute religion. It must, therefore, examine the different religions to find wherein each is complete or defective, true or false; how each may supply the defects of the other or prepare the way for a better; how each religion acts on the race which receives it, is adapted to that race, and to the region of the earth which it inhabits. In this department, therefore, it connects itself with Comparative Geography, with universal history, and with ethics. Finally, this department of Comparative Theology shows the relation of each partial religion to human civilization, and observes how each religion of the world is a step in the progress of humanity. It shows that both the positive and negative side of a religion make it a preparation for a higher religion, and that the universal religion must root itself in the decaying soil of partial religions. And in this sense Comparative Theology becomes the science of missions.
Such a work as this is evidently too great for a single mind. Many students must co-operate, and that through many years, before it can be completed. This volume is intended as a contribution toward that end. It will contain an account of each of the principal religions, and its development. It will be, therefore, devoted to the natural history of ethnic and catholic religions, and its method will be that of analysis. The second part, which may be published hereafter, will compare these different systems to show what each teaches concerning the great subjects of religious thought,—God, Duty, and Immortality. Finally, it will compare them with Christianity, and will inquire whether or not that is capable of becoming the religion of the human race.
Sec. 2. Comparative Theology; its Nature, Value, and present Position.
The work of Comparative Theology is to do equal justice to all the religious tendencies of mankind. Its position is that of a judge, not that of an advocate. Assuming, with the Apostle Paul, that each religion has come providentially, as a method by which different races "should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him and find him," it attempts to show how each may be a step in the religious progress of the races, and "a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ." It is bound, however, to abstain from such inferences until it has accurately ascertained all the facts. Its first problem is to learn what each system contains; it may then go on, and endeavor to generalize from its facts.
Comparative Theology is, therefore, as yet in its infancy. The same tendency in this century, which has produced the sciences of Comparative Anatomy, Comparative Geography, and Comparative Philology, is now creating this new science of Comparative Theology. It will be to any special theology as Comparative Anatomy is to any special anatomy, Comparative Geography to any special geography, or Comparative Philology to the study of any particular language. It may be called a science, since it consists in the study of the facts of human history, and their relation to each other. It does not dogmatize: it observes. It deals only with phenomena,—single phenomena, or facts; grouped phenomena, or laws.
Several valuable works, bearing more or less directly on Comparative Theology, have recently appeared in Germany, France, and England. Among these may be mentioned those of Max Mueller, Bunsen, Burnouf, Doellinger, Hardwicke, St. Hilaire, Duencker, F. C. Baur, Renan, Creuzer, Maurice, G. W. Cox, and others.
In America, except Mr. Alger's admirable monograph on the "Doctrine of the Future Life," we have scarcely anything worthy of notice. Mrs. Lydia Maria Child's work on the "Progress of Religious Ideas" deserves the greatest credit, when we consider the time when it was written and the few sources of information then accessible. Twenty-five years ago it was hardly possible to procure any adequate information concerning Brahmanism, Buddhism, or the religions of Confucius, Zoroaster, and Mohammed. Hardly any part of the Vedas had been translated into a European language. The works of Anquetil du Perron and Kleuker were still the highest authority upon the Zendavesta. About the Buddhists scarcely anything was known. But now, though many important lacunae remain to be filled, we have ample means of ascertaining the essential facts concerning most of these movements of the human soul. The time seems to have come to accomplish something which may have a lasting value.
Sec. 3. Ethnic Religions. Injustice often done to them by Christian Apologists.
Comparative Theology, pursuing its impartial course as a positive science, will avoid the error into which most of the Christian apologists of the last century fell, in speaking of ethnic or heathen religions. In order to show the need of Christianity, they thought it necessary to disparage all other religions. Accordingly they have insisted that, while the Jewish and Christian religions were revealed, all other religions were invented; that, while these were from God, those were the work of man; that, while in the true religions there was nothing false, in the false religions there was nothing true. If any trace of truth was to be found in Polytheism, it was so mixed with error as to be practically only evil. As the doctrines of heathen religions were corrupt, so their worship was only a debasing superstition. Their influence was to make men worse, not better; their tendency was to produce sensuality, cruelty, and universal degradation. They did not proceed, in any sense, from God; they were not even the work of good men, but rather of deliberate imposition and priestcraft. A supernatural religion had become necessary in order to counteract the fatal consequences of these debased and debasing superstitions. This is the view of the great natural religions of the world which was taken by such writers as Leland, Whitby, and Warburton in the last century. Even liberal thinkers, like James Foster and John Locke, declare that, at the coming of Christ, mankind had fallen into utter darkness, and that vice and superstition filled the world. Infidel no less than Christian writers took the same disparaging view of natural religions. They considered them, in their source, the work of fraud; in their essence, corrupt superstitions; in their doctrines, wholly false; in their moral tendency, absolutely injurious; and in their result, degenerating more and more into greater evil.
A few writers, like Cudworth and the Platonists, endeavored to put in a good word for the Greek philosophers, but the religions of the world were abandoned to unmitigated reprobation. The account which so candid a writer as Mosheim gives of them is worth noticing, on account of its sweeping character. "All the nations of the world," he says, "except the Jews, were plunged in the grossest superstition. Some nations, indeed, went beyond others in impiety and absurdity, but all stood charged with irrationality and gross stupidity in matters of religion." "The greater part of the gods of all nations were ancient heroes, famous for their achievements and their worthy deeds, such as kings, generals, and founders of cities." "To these some added the more splendid and useful objects in the natural world, as the sun, moon, and stars; and some were not ashamed to pay divine honors to mountains, rivers, trees, etc." "The worship of these deities consisted in ceremonies, sacrifices, and prayers. The ceremonies were, for the most part, absurd and ridiculous, and throughout debasing, obscene, and cruel. The prayers were truly insipid and void of piety, both in their form and matter." "The priests who presided over this worship basely abused their authority to impose on the people." "The whole pagan system had not the least efficacy to produce and cherish virtuous emotions in the soul; because the gods and goddesses were patterns of vice, the priests bad men, and the doctrines false."
This view of heathen religions is probably much exaggerated. They must contain more truth than error, and must have been, on the whole, useful to mankind. We do not believe that they originated in human fraud, that their essence is superstition, that there is more falsehood than truth in their doctrines, that their moral tendency is mainly injurious, or that they continually degenerate into greater evil. No doubt it may be justly predicated of all these systems that they contain much which is false and injurious to human virtue. But the following considerations may tend to show that all the religions of the earth are providential, and that all tend to benefit mankind.
To ascribe the vast phenomena of religion, in their variety and complexity, to man as their author, and to suppose the whole a mere work of human fraud, is not a satisfactory solution of the facts before us. That priests, working on human ignorance or fear, should be able to build up such a great mass of belief, sentiment, and action, is like the Hindoo cosmogony, which supposes the globe to rest on an elephant, the elephant on a turtle, and the turtle on nothing at all.
If the people were so ignorant, how happened the priests to be so wise? If the people were so credulous, why were not the priests credulous too? "Like people, like priests," is a proverb approved by experience. Among so many nations and through so many centuries, why has not some one priest betrayed the secret of the famous imposition? Apply a similar theory to any other human institution, and how patent is its absurdity! Let a republican contend that all other forms of government—the patriarchal system, government by castes, the feudal system, absolute and limited monarchies, oligarchies, and aristocracies—are wholly useless and evil, and were the result of statecraft alone, with no root in human nature or the needs of man. Let one maintain that every system of law (except our own) was an invention of lawyers for private ends. Let one argue in the same way about medicine, and say that this is a pure system of quackery, devised by physicians, in order to get a support out of the people for doing nothing. We should at once reply that, though error and ignorance may play a part in all these institutions, they cannot be based on error and ignorance only. Nothing which has not in it some elements of use can hold its position in the world during so long a time and over so wide a range. It is only reasonable to say the same of heathen or ethnic religions. They contain, no doubt, error and evil. No doubt priestcraft has been carried very far in them, though not further perhaps than it has sometimes been carried in Christianity. But unless they contained more of good than evil, they could not have kept their place. They partially satisfied a great hunger of the human heart. They exercised some restraint on human wilfulness and passion. They have directed, however imperfectly, the human conscience toward the right. To assume that they are wholly evil is disrespectful to human nature. It supposes man to be the easy and universal dupe of fraud. But these religions do not rest on such a sandy foundation, but on the feeling of dependence, the sense of accountability, the recognition of spiritual realities very near to this world of matter, and the need of looking up and worshipping some unseen power higher and better than ourselves. A decent respect for the opinions of mankind forbids us to ascribe pagan religions to priestcraft as their chief source.
And a reverence for Divine Providence brings us to the same conclusion. Can it be that God has left himself without a witness in the world, except among the Hebrews in ancient times and the Christians in modern times? This narrow creed excludes God from any communion with the great majority of human beings. The Father of the human race is represented as selecting a few of his children to keep near himself, and as leaving all the rest to perish in their ignorance and error. And this is not because they are prodigal children who have gone astray into a far country of their own accord; for they are just where they were placed by their Creator. HE "has determined the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitation." HE has caused some to be born in India, where they can only hear of him through Brahmanism; and some in China, where they can know him only through Buddha and Confucius. The doctrine which we are opposing is; that, being put there by God, they are born into hopeless error, and are then punished for their error by everlasting destruction. The doctrine for which we contend is that of the Apostle Paul, that God has "determined beforehand the bounds of their habitation, that they should seek the Lord, IF HAPLY THEY MAY FEEL AFTER HIM AND FIND HIM." Paul teaches that "all nations dwelling on all the face of the earth" may not only seek and feel after God, but also FIND him. But as all living in heathen lands are heathen, if they find God at all, they must find him through heathenism. The pagan religions are the effort of man to feel after God. Otherwise we must conclude that the Being without whom not a sparrow falls to the ground, the Being who never puts an insect into the air or a polyp into the water without providing it with some appropriate food, so that it may live and grow, has left the vast majority of his human children, made with religious appetences of conscience, reverence, hope, without a corresponding nutriment of truth. This view tends to atheism; for if the presence of adaptation everywhere is the legitimate proof of creative design, the absence of adaptation in so important a sphere tends, so far, to set aside that proof.
The view which we are opposing contradicts that law of progress which alone gives meaning and unity to history. Instead of progress, it teaches degeneracy and failure. But elsewhere we see progress, not recession. Geology shows us higher forms of life succeeding to the lower. Botany exhibits the lichens and mosses preparing a soil for more complex forms of vegetation. Civil history shows the savage state giving way to the semi-civilized, and that to the civilized. If heathen religions are a step, a preparation for Christianity, then this law of degrees appears also in religion; then we see an order in the progress of the human soul,—"first the blade, then the ear, afterward the full corn in the ear." Then we can understand why Christ's coming was delayed till the fulness of the time had come. But otherwise all, in this most important sphere of human life, is in disorder, without unity, progress, meaning, or providence.
These views, we trust, will be amply confirmed when we come to examine each great religion separately and carefully. We shall find them always feeling after God, often finding him. We shall see that in their origin they are not the work of priestcraft, but of human nature; in their essence not superstitions, but religions; in their doctrines true more frequently than false; in their moral tendency good rather than evil. And instead of degenerating toward something worse, they come to prepare the way for something better.
Sec. 4. How Ethnic Religions were regarded by Christ and his Apostles.
According to Christ and the Apostles, Christianity was to grow out of Judaism, and be developed into a universal religion. Accordingly, the method of Jesus was to go first to the Jews; and when he left the limits of Palestine on a single occasion, he declared himself as only going into Phoenicia to seek after the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But he stated that he had other sheep, not of this fold, whom he must bring, recognizing that there were, among the heathen, good and honest hearts prepared for Christianity, and already belonging to him; sheep who knew his voice and were ready to follow him. He also declared that the Roman centurion and the Phoenician woman already possessed great faith, the centurion more than he had yet found in Israel. But the most striking declaration of Jesus, and one singularly overlooked, concerning the character of the heathen, is to be found in his description of the day of judgment, in Matthew (chap. XXV.). It is very curious that men should speculate as to the fate of the heathen, when Jesus has here distinctly taught that all good men among them are his sheep, though they never heard of him. The account begins, "Before him shall be gathered all the Gentiles" (or heathen). It is not a description of the judgment of the Christian world, but of the heathen world. The word here used ([Greek: ta ethnae]) occurs about one hundred and sixty-four times in the New Testament. It is translated "gentiles" oftener than by any other word, that is, about ninety-three times; by "heathen" four or five times; and in the remaining passages it is mostly translated "nations." That it means the Gentiles or heathen here appears from the fact that they are represented as ignorant of Christ, and are judged, not by the standard of Christian faith, but by their humanity and charity toward those in suffering. Jesus recognizes, therefore, among these ethnic or heathen people, some as belonging to himself,—the "other sheep," not of the Jewish fold.
The Apostle Paul, who was especially commissioned to the Gentiles, must be considered as the best authority upon this question. Did he regard their religions as wholly false? On the contrary, he tells the Athenians that they are already worshipping the true God, though ignorantly. "Whom ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you." When he said this he was standing face to face with all that was most imposing in the religion of Greece. He saw the city filled with idols, majestic forms, the perfection of artistic grace and beauty. Was his spirit then moved only with indignation against this worship, and had he no sympathy with the spiritual needs which it expressed? It does not seem so. He recognized piety in their souls. "I see that ye are, in all ways, exceedingly pious." He recognized their worship as passing beyond the idols, to the true God. He did not profess that he came to revolutionize their religion, but to reform it. He does not proceed like the backwoodsman, who fells the forest and takes out the stumps in order to plant a wholly different crop; but like the nurseryman, who grafts a native stock with a better fruit. They were already ignorantly worshipping the true God. What the apostle proposed to do was to enlighten that ignorance by showing them who that true God was, and what was his character. In his subsequent remarks, therefore, he does not teach them that there is one Supreme Being, but he assumes it, as something already believed. He assumes him to be the creator of all things; to be omnipotent,—"the Lord of heaven and earth"; spiritual,—"dwelleth not in temples made with hands"; absolute,—"not needing anything," but the source of all things. He says this, as not expecting any opposition or contradiction; he reserves his criticisms on their idolatry for the end of his discourse. He then states, quite clearly, that the different nations of the world have a common origin, belong to one family, and have been providentially placed in space and time, that each might seek the Lord in its own way. He recognized in them a power of seeking and finding God, the God close at hand, and in whom we live; and he quotes one of their own poets, accepting his statement of God's fatherly character. Now, it is quite common for those who deny that there is any truth in heathenism, to admire this speech of Paul as a masterpiece of ingenuity and eloquence. But he would hardly have made it, unless he thought it to be true. Those who praise his eloquence at the expense of his veracity pay him a poor compliment. Did Paul tell the Athenians that they were worshipping the true God when they were not, and that for the sake of rhetorical effect? If we believe this concerning him, and yet admire him, let us cease henceforth to find fault with the Jesuits.
No! Paul believed what he said, that the Athenians were worshipping the true God, though ignorantly. The sentiment of reverence, of worship, was lifting them to its true object. All they needed was to have their understanding enlightened. Truth he placed in the heart rather than the understanding, but he also connected Christianity with Polytheism where the two religions touched, that is, on their pantheistic side. While placing God above the world as its ruler, "seeing he is Lord of heaven and earth," he placed him in the world as an immanent presence,—"in him we live, and move, and have our being." And afterward, in writing to the Romans, he takes the same ground. He teaches that the Gentiles had a knowledge of the eternal attributes of God (Rom. i. 19) and saw him in his works (v. 20), and that they also had in their nature a law of duty, enabling them to do the things contained in the law. This he calls "the law written in the heart" (Rom. ii. 14,15). He blames them, not for ignorance, but for disobedience. The Apostle Paul, therefore, agrees with us in finding in heathen religions essential truth in connection with their errors.
The early Christian apologists often took the same view. Thus Clement of Alexandria believed that God had one great plan for educating the world, of which Christianity was the final step. He refused to consider the Jewish religion as the only divine preparation for Christianity, but regarded the Greek philosophy as also a preparation for Christ. Neander gives his views at length, and says that Clement was the founder of the true view of history. Tertullian declared the soul to be naturally Christian. The Sibylline books were quoted as good prophetic works along with the Jewish prophets. Socrates was called by the Fathers a Christian before Christ.
Within the last few years the extravagant condemnation of the heathen religions has produced a reaction in their favor. It has been felt to be disparaging to human nature to suppose that almost the whole human race should consent to be fed on error. Such a belief has been seen to be a denial of God's providence, as regards nine tenths of mankind. Accordingly it has become more usual of late to rehabilitate heathenism, and to place it on the same level with Christianity, if not above it. The Vedas are talked about as though they were somewhat superior to the Old Testament, and Confucius is quoted as an authority quite equal to Paul or John. An ignorant admiration of the sacred books of the Buddhists and Brahmins has succeeded to the former ignorant and sweeping condemnation of them. What is now needed is a fair and candid examination and comparison of these systems from reliable sources.
Sec. 5. Comparative Theology will furnish a new Class of Evidences in Support of Christianity.
Such an examination, doing full justice to all other religions, acknowledging their partial truth and use, will not depreciate, but exalt the value of Christianity. It will furnish a new kind of evidence in its favor. But the usual form of argument may perhaps be changed.
Is Christianity a supernatural or a natural religion? Is it a religion attested to be from God by miracles? This has been the great question in evidences for the last century. The truth and divine origin of Christianity have been made to depend on its supernatural character, and to stand or fall with a certain view of miracles. And then, in order to maintain the reality of miracles, it became necessary to prove the infallibility of the record; and so we were taught that, to believe in Jesus Christ, we must first believe in the genuineness and authenticity of the whole New Testament. "All the theology of England," says Mr. Pattison, "was devoted to proving the Christian religion credible, in this manner." "The apostles," said Dr. Johnson, "were being tried one a week for the capital crime of forgery." This was the work of the school of Lardner, Paley, and Whately.
But the real question between Christians and unbelievers in Christianity is, not whether our religion is or is not supernatural; not whether Christ's miracles were or not violations of law; nor whether the New Testament, as it stands, is the work of inspired men. The main question, back of all these, is different, and not dependent on the views we may happen to take of the universality of law. It is this: Is Christianity, as taught by Jesus, intended by God to be the religion of the human race? Is it only one among natural religions? is it to be superseded in its turn by others, or is it the one religion which is to unite all mankind? "Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?" This is the question which we ask of Jesus of Nazareth, and the answer to which makes the real problem of apologetic theology.
Now the defenders of Christianity have been so occupied with their special disputes about miracles, about naturalism and supernaturalism, and about the inspiration and infallibility of the apostles, that they have left uncultivated the wide field of inquiry belonging to Comparative Theology. But it belongs to this science to establish the truth of Christianity by showing that it possesses all the aptitudes which fit it to be the religion of the human race.
This method of establishing Christianity differs from the traditional argument in this: that, while the last undertakes to prove Christianity to be true, this shows it to be true. For if we can make it appear, by a fair survey of the principal religions of the world, that, while they are ethnic or local, Christianity is catholic or universal; that, while they are defective, possessing some truths and wanting others, Christianity possesses all; and that, while they are stationary, Christianity is progressive; it will not then be necessary to discuss in what sense it is a supernatural religion. Such a survey will show that it is adapted to the nature of man. When we see adaptation we naturally infer design. If Christianity appears, after a full comparison with other religions, to be the one and only religion which is perfectly adapted to man, it will be impossible to doubt that it was designed by God to be the religion of our race; that it is the providential religion sent by God to man, its truth God's truth its way the way to God and to heaven.
Sec. 6. It will show that, while most of the Religions of the World are Ethnic, or the Religions of Races, Christianity is Catholic, or adapted to become the Religion of all Races.
By ethnic religions we mean those religions, each of which has always been confined within the boundaries of a particular race or family of mankind, and has never made proselytes or converts, except accidentally, outside of it. By catholic religions we mean those which have shown the desire and power of passing over these limits, and becoming the religion of a considerable number of persons belonging to different races.
Now we are met at once with the striking and obvious fact, that most of the religions of the world are evidently religions limited in some way to particular races or nations. They are, as we have said, ethnic. We use this Greek word rather than its Latin equivalent, gentile, because gentile, though meaning literally "of, or belonging to, a race," has acquired a special sense from its New Testament use as meaning all who are not Jews. The word "ethnic" remains pure from any such secondary or acquired meaning, and signifies simply that which belongs to a race.
The science of ethnology is a modern one, and is still in the process of formation. Some of its conclusions, however, may be considered as established. It has forever set aside Blumenbach's old classification of mankind into the Caucasian and four other varieties, and has given us, instead, a division of the largest part of mankind into Indo-European, Semitic, and Turanian families, leaving a considerable penumbra outside as yet unclassified.
That mankind is so divided into races of men it would seem hardly possible to deny. It is proved by physiology, by psychology, by glossology, and by civil history. Physiology shows us anatomical differences between races. There are as marked and real differences between the skull of a Hindoo and that of a Chinaman as between the skulls of an Englishman and a negro. There is not as great a difference, perhaps, but it is as real and as constant. Then the characters of races remain distinct, the same traits reappearing after many centuries exactly as at first. We find the same difference of character between the Jews and Arabs, who are merely different families of the same Semitic race, as existed between their ancestors, Jacob and Esau, as described in the Book of Genesis. Jacob and the Jews are prudent, loving trade, money-making, tenacious of their ideas, living in cities; Esau and the Arabs, careless, wild, hating cities, loving the desert.
A similar example of the maintaining of a moral type is found in the characteristic differences between the German and Kelts, two families of the same Indo-European race. Take an Irishman and a German, working side by side on the Mississippi, and they present the same characteristic differences as the Germans and Kelts described by Tacitus and Caesar. The German loves liberty, the Kelt equality; the one hates the tyrant, the other the aristocrat; the one is a serious thinker, the other a quick and vivid thinker; the one is a Protestant in religion, the other a Catholic. Ammianus Marcellinus, living in Gaul in the fourth century, describes the Kelts thus (see whether it does not apply to the race now).
"The Gauls," says he, "are mostly tall of stature, fair and red-haired, and horrible from the fierceness of their eyes, fond of strife, and haughtily insolent. A whole band of strangers would not endure one of them, aided in his brawl by his powerful and blue-eyed wife, especially when with swollen neck and gnashing teeth, poising her huge white arms, she begins, joining kicks to blows, to put forth her fists like stones from a catapult. Most of their voices are terrific and threatening, as well when they are quiet as when they are angry. All ages are thought fit for war. They are a nation very fond of wine, and invent many drinks resembling it, and some of the poorer sort wander about with their senses quite blunted by continual intoxication."
Now we find that each race, beside its special moral qualities, seems also to have special religious qualities, which cause it to tend toward some one kind of religion more than to another kind. These religions are the flower of the race; they come forth from it as its best aroma. Thus we see that Brahmanism is confined to that section or race of the great Aryan family which has occupied India for more than thirty centuries. It belongs to the Hindoos, to the people taking its name from the Indus, by the tributaries of which stream it entered India from the northwest. It has never attempted to extend itself beyond that particular variety of mankind. Perhaps one hundred and fifty millions of men accept it as their faith. It has been held by this race as their religion during a period immense in the history of mankind. Its sacred books are certainly more than three thousand years old. But during all this time it has never communicated itself to any race of men outside of the peninsula of India. It is thus seen to be a strictly ethnic religion, showing neither the tendency nor the desire to become the religion of mankind.
The same thing may be said of the religion of Confucius. It belongs to China and the Chinese. It suits their taste and genius. They have had it as their state religion for some twenty-three hundred years, and it rules the opinions of the rulers of opinion among three hundred millions of men. But out of China Confucius is only a name.
So, too, of the system of Zoroaster. It was for a long period the religion of an Aryan tribe who became the ruling people among mankind. The Persians extended themselves through Western Asia, and conquered many nations, but they never communicated their religion. It was strictly a national or ethnic religion, belonging only to the Iranians and their descendants, the Parsees.
In like manner it may be said that the religion of Egypt, of Greece, of Scandinavia, of the Jews, of Islam, and of Buddhism are ethnic religions. Those of Egypt and Scandinavia are strictly so. It is said, to be sure, that the Greeks borrowed the names of their gods from Egypt, but the gods themselves were entirely different ones. It is also true that some of the gods of the Romans were borrowed from the Greeks, but their life was left behind. They merely repeated by rote the Greek mythology, having no power to invent one for themselves. But the Greek religion they never received. For instead of its fair humanities, the Roman gods were only servants of the state,—a higher kind of consuls, tribunes, and lictors. The real Olympus of Rome was the Senate Chamber on the Capitoline Hill. Judaism also was in reality an ethnic religion, though it aimed at catholicity and expected it, and made proselytes. But it could not tolerate unessentials, and so failed of becoming catholic. The Jewish religion, until it had Christianity to help it, was never able to do more than make proselytes here and there. Christianity, while preaching the doctrines of Jesus and the New Testament, has been able to carry also the weight of the Old Testament, and to give a certain catholicity to Judaism. The religion of Mohammed has been catholic, in that it has become the religion of very different races,—the Arabs, Turks, and Persians, belonging to the three great varieties of the human family. But then Mohammedanism has never sought to make converts, but only subjects; it has not asked for belief, but merely for submission. Consequently Mr. Palgrave, Mr. Lane, and Mr. Vambery tell us, that, in Arabia, Egypt, and Turkistan, there are multitudes who are outwardly Mohammedan, but who in their private belief reject Mohammed, and are really Pagans. But, no doubt, there is a catholic tendency both in Judaism and Mohammedanism; and this comes from the great doctrine which they hold in common with Christianity,—the unity of God. Faith in that is the basis of all expectation of a universal religion, and the wish and the power to convert others come from that doctrine of the Divine unity.
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But Christianity teaches the unity of God not merely as a supremacy of power and will, but as a supremacy of love and wisdom; it teaches God as Father, and not merely as King; so it seeks not merely to make proselytes and subjects, but to make converts. Hence Christianity, beginning as a Semitic religion, among the Jews, went across the Greek Archipelago and converted the Hellenic and the Latin races; afterward the Goths, Lombards, Franks, Vandals; later still, the Saxons, Danes, and Normans. Meantime, its Nestorian missionaries, pushing east, made converts in Armenia, Persia, India, and China. In later days it has converted negroes, Indians, and the people of the Pacific Islands. Something, indeed, stopped its progress after its first triumphant successes during seven or eight centuries. At the tenth century it reached its term. Modern missions, whether those of Jesuits or Protestants, have not converted whole nations and races, but only individuals here and there. The reason of this check, probably, is, that Christians have repeated the mistakes of the Jews and Mohammedans. They have sought to make proselytes to an outward system of worship and ritual, or to make subjects to a dogma; but not to make converts to an idea and a life. When the Christian missionaries shall go and say to the Hindoos or the Buddhists: "You are already on your way toward God,—your religion came from him, and was inspired by his Spirit; now he sends you something more and higher by his Son, who does not come to destroy but to fulfil, not to take away any good thing you have, but to add to it something better," then we shall see the process of conversion, checked in the ninth and tenth, centuries, reinaugurated.
Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, all teaching the strict unity of God, have all aimed at becoming universal. Judaism failed because it sought proselytes instead of making converts. Islam, the religion of Mohammed (in reality a Judaizing Christian sect) failed because it sought to make subjects rather than converts. Its conquests over a variety of races were extensive, but not deep. To-day it holds in its embrace at least four very distinct races,—the Arabs, a Semitic race, the Persians, an Indo-European race, the Negroes, and the Turks or Turanians. But, correctly viewed, Islam is only a heretical Christian sect, and so all this must be credited to the interest of Christianity. Islam is a John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord"; Mohammed is a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. It does for the nations just what Judaism did, that is, it teaches the Divine unity. Esau has taken the place of Jacob in the economy of Providence. When the Jews rejected Christ they ceased from their providential work, and their cousins, the Arabs, took their place. The conquests of Islam, therefore, ought to be regarded as the preliminary conquests of Christianity.
There is still another system which has shown some tendencies toward catholicity. This is Buddhism, which has extended itself over the whole of the eastern half of Asia. But though it includes a variety of nationalities, it is doubtful if it includes any variety of races. All the Buddhists appear to belong to the great Mongol family. And although this system originated among the Aryan race in India, it has let go its hold of that family and transferred itself wholly to the Mongols.
But Christianity, from the first, showed itself capable of taking possession of the convictions of the most different races of mankind. Now, as on the day of Pentecost, many races hear the apostles speak in their own tongues, in which they were born,—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, dwellers in Mesopotamia, Judaea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Lybia about Cyrene, strangers of Rome, Cretes and Arabians. The miracle of tongues was a type of the effect of the truth in penetrating the mind and heart of different nationalities. The Jewish Christians, indeed, tried to repeat in Christianity their old mistake which had prevented Judaism from becoming universal. They wished to insist that no one should become a Christian unless he became a Jew at the same time. If they had succeeded in this, they would have effectually kept the Gospel of Christ from becoming a catholic religion. But the Apostle Paul was raised up for the emergency, and he prevented this suicidal course. Consequently Christianity passed at once into Europe, and became the religion of Greeks and Romans as well as Jews. Paul struck off from it its Jewish shell, told them that as Christians they had nothing to do with the Jewish law, or with Jewish Passovers, Sabbaths, or ceremonies. As Christians they were only to know Christ, and they were not to know him according to the flesh, that is, not as a Jew. So Christianity became at once a catholic religion, consisting in the diffusion of great truths and a divine life. It overflowed the nationalities of Greece and Rome, of North Africa, of Persia and Western Asia, at the very beginning. It conquered the Gothic and German conquerors of the Roman Empire. Under Arian missionaries, it converted Goths, Vandals, Lombards. Under Nestorian missionaries, it penetrated as far east as China, and made converts there. In like manner the Gospel spread over the whole of North Africa, whence it was afterwards expelled by the power of Islam. It has shown itself, therefore, capable of adapting itself to every variety of the human race.
Sec. 7. Comparative Theology will probably show that the Ethnic Religions are one-sided, each containing a Truth of its own, but being defective, wanting some corresponding Truth. Christianity, or the Catholic Religion, is complete on every Side.
Brahmanism, for example, is complete on the side of spirit, defective on the side of matter; full as regards the infinite, empty of the finite; recognizing eternity but not time, God but not nature. It is a vast system of spiritual pantheism, in which there is no reality but God, all else being Maya, or illusion. The Hindoo mind is singularly pious, but also singularly immoral. It has no history, for history belongs to time. No one knows when its sacred books were written, when its civilization began, what caused its progress, what its decline. Gentle, devout, abstract, it is capable at once of the loftiest thoughts and the basest actions. It combines the most ascetic self-denials and abstraction from life with the most voluptuous self-indulgence. The key to the whole system of Hindoo thought and life is in this original tendency to see God, not man; eternity, not time; the infinite, not the finite.
Buddhism, which was a revolt from Brahmanism, has exactly the opposite truths and the opposite defects. Where Brahmanism is strong, it is weak; where Brahmanism is weak, it is strong. It recognizes man, not God; the soul, not the all; the finite, not the infinite; morality, not piety. Its only God, Buddha, is a man who has passed on through innumerable transmigrations, till, by means of exemplary virtues, he has reached the lordship of the universe. Its heaven, Nirvana, is indeed the world of infinite bliss; but, incapable of cognizing the infinite, it calls it nothing. Heaven, being the inconceivable infinite, is equivalent to pure negation. Nature, to the Buddhist, instead of being the delusive shadow of God, as the Brahman views it, is envisaged as a nexus of laws, which reward and punish impartially both obedience and disobedience.
The system of Confucius has many merits, especially in its influence on society. The most conservative of all systems, and also the most prosaic, its essential virtue is reverence for all that is. It is not perplexed by any fear or hope of change; the thing which has been is that which shall be; and the very idea of progress is eliminated from the thought of China. Safety, repose, peace, these are its blessings. Probably merely physical comfort, earthly bien-etre, was never carried further than in the Celestial Empire. That virtue so much exploded in Western civilization, of respect for parents, remains in full force in China. The emperor is honored as the father of his people; ancestors are worshipped in every family; and the best reward offered for a good action is a patent of nobility, which does not reach forward to one's children, but backward to one's parents. This is the bright side of Chinese life; the dark side is the fearful ennui, the moral death, which falls on a people among whom there are no such things as hope, expectation, or the sense of progress. Hence the habit of suicide among this people, indicating their small hold on life. In every Chinese drama there are two or three suicides. A soldier will commit suicide rather than go into battle. If you displease a Chinaman, he will resent the offence by killing himself on your doorstep, hoping thus to give you some inconvenience. Such are the merits and such the defects of the system of Confucius.
The doctrine of Zoroaster and of the Zend Avesta is far nobler. Its central thought is that each man is a soldier, bound to battle for good against evil. The world, at the present time, is the scene of a great warfare between the hosts of light and those of darkness. Every man who thinks purely, speaks purely, and acts purely is a servant of Ormazd, the king of light, and thereby helps on his cause. The result of this doctrine was that wonderful Persian empire, which astonished the world for centuries by its brilliant successes; and the virtue and intelligence of the Parsees of the present time, the only representatives in the world of that venerable religion. The one thing lacking to the system is unity. It lives in perpetual conflict. Its virtues are all the virtues of a soldier. Its defects and merits are, both, the polar opposites of those of China. If the everlasting peace of China tends to moral stagnation and death, the perpetual struggle and conflict of Persia tends to exhaustion. The Persian empire rushed through a short career of flame to its tomb; the Chinese empire vegetates, unchanged, through a myriad of years.
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If Brahmanism and Buddhism occupy the opposite poles of the same axis of thought,—if the system of Confucius stands opposed, on another axis, to that of Zoroaster,—we find a third development of like polar antagonisms in the systems of ancient Egypt and Greece. Egypt stands for Nature; Greece for Man. Inscrutable as is the mystery of that Sphinx of the Nile, the old religion of Egypt, we can yet trace some phases of its secret. Its reverence for organization appears in the practice of embalming. The bodies of men and of animals seemed to it to be divine. Even vegetable organization had something sacred in it: "O holy nation," said the Roman satirist, "whose gods grow in gardens!" That plastic force of nature which appears in organic life and growth made up, in various forms, as we shall see in the proper place, the Egyptian Pantheon. The life-force of nature became divided into the three groups of gods, the highest of which represented its largest generalizations. Kneph, Neith, Sevech, Pascht, are symbols, according to Lepsius, of the World-Spirit, the World-Matter, Space and Time. Each circle of the gods shows us some working of the mysterious powers of nature, and of its occult laws. But when we come to Greece, these personified laws turn into men. Everything in the Greek Pantheon is human. All human tendencies appear transfigured into glowing forms of light on Mount Olympus. The gods of Egypt are powers and laws; those of Greece are persons.
The opposite tendencies of these antagonist forms of piety appear in the development of Egyptian and Hellenic life. The gods of Egypt were mysteries too far removed from the popular apprehension to be objects of worship; and so religion in Egypt became priestcraft. In Greece, on the other hand, the gods were too familiar, too near to the people, to be worshipped with any real reverence. Partaking in all human faults and vices, it must sooner or later come to pass that familiarity would breed contempt. And as the religion of Egypt perished from being kept away from the people, as an esoteric system in the hands of priests, that of Greece, in which there was no priesthood as an order, came to an end because the gods ceased to be objects of respect at all.
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We see, from these examples, how each of the great ethnic religions tends to a disproportionate and excessive, because one-sided, statement of some divine truth or law. The question then emerges at this point: "Is Christianity also one-sided, or does it contain in itself all these truths?" Is it teres atque rotundus, so as to be able to meet every natural religion with a kindred truth, and thus to supply the defects of each from its own fulness? If it can be shown to possess this amplitude, it at once is placed by itself in an order of its own. It is not to be classified with the other religions, since it does not share their one family fault. In every other instance we can touch with our finger the weak place, the empty side. Is there any such weak side in Christianity? It is the office of Comparative Theology to answer.
The positive side of Brahmanism we saw to be its sense of spiritual realities. That is also fully present in Christianity. Not merely does this appear in such New Testament texts as these: "God is spirit," "The letter killeth, the spirit giveth life": not only does the New Testament just graze and escape Pantheism in such passages as "From whom, and through whom, and to whom are all things," "Who is above all, and through all, and in us all," "In him we live and move and have our being," but the whole history of Christianity is the record of a spiritualism almost too excessive. It has appeared in the worship of the Church, the hymns of the Church, the tendencies to asceticism, the depreciation of earth and man. Christianity, therefore, fully meets Brahmanism on its positive side, while it fulfils its negations, as we shall see hereafter, by adding as full a recognition of man and nature.
The positive side of Buddhism is its cognition of the human soul and the natural laws of the universe. Now, if we look into the New Testament and into the history of the Church, we find this element also fully expressed. It appears in all the parables and teachings of Jesus, in which man is represented as a responsible agent, rewarded or punished according to the exact measure of his works; receiving the government of ten or five cities according to his stewardship. And when we look into the practical working of Christianity we find almost an exaggerated stress laid on the duty of saving one's soul. This excessive estimate is chiefly seen in the monastic system of the Roman Church, and in the Calvinistic sects of Protestantism. It also comes to light again, curiously enough, in such books as Combe's "Constitution of Man," the theory of which is exactly the same as that of the Buddhists; namely, that the aim of life is a prudential virtue, consisting in wise obedience to the natural laws of the universe. Both systems substitute prudence for Providence as the arbiter of human destiny. But, apart from these special tendencies in Christianity, it cannot be doubted that all Christian experience recognizes the positive truth of Buddhism in regarding the human soul as a substantial, finite, but progressive monad, not to be absorbed, as in Brahmanism, in the abyss of absolute being.
The positive side of the system of Confucius is the organization of the state on the basis of the family. The government of the emperor is paternal government, the obedience of the subject is filial obedience. Now, though Jesus did not for the first time call God "the Father," he first brought men into a truly filial relation to God. The Roman Church is organized on the family idea. The word "Pope" means the "Father"; he is the father of the whole Church. Every bishop and every priest is also the father of a smaller family, and all those born into the Church are its children, as all born into a family are born sons and daughters of the family. In Protestantism, also, society is composed of families as the body is made up of cells. Only in China, and in Christendom, is family life thus sacred and worshipful. In some patriarchal systems, polygamy annuls the wife and the mother; in others the father is a despot, and the children slaves; in other systems, the crushing authority of the state destroys the independence of the household. Christianity alone accepts with China the religion of family life with all its conservative elements, while it fulfils it with the larger hope of the kingdom of heaven and brotherhood of mankind.
This idea of the kingdom of heaven, so central in Christianity, is also the essential motive in the religion of Zoroaster. As, in the Zend Avesta, every man is a soldier, fighting for light or for darkness, and neutrality is impossible; so, in the Gospel, light and good stand opposed to darkness and evil as perpetual foes. A certain current of dualism runs through the Christian Scriptures and the teaching of the Church. God and Satan, heaven and hell, are the only alternatives. Every one must choose between them. In the current theology, this dualism has been so emphasized as even to exceed that of the Zend Avesta. The doctrine of everlasting punishment and an everlasting hell has always been the orthodox doctrine in Christianity, while the Zend Avesta probably, and the religion in its subsequent development certainly, teaches universal restoration, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Nevertheless, practically, in consequence of the greater richness and fulness of Christianity, this tendency to dualism has been neutralized by its monotheism, and evil kept subordinate; while, in the Zend religion, the evil principle assumed such proportions as to make it the formidable rival of good in the mind of the worshipper. Here, as before, we may say that Christianity is able to do justice to all the truth involved in the doctrine of evil, avoiding any superficial optimism, and recognizing the fact that all true life must partake of the nature of a battle.
The positive side of Egyptian religion we saw to be a recognition of the divine element in nature, of that plastic, mysterious life which embodies itself in all organisms. Of this view we find little stated explicitly in the New Testament. But that the principles of Christianity contain it, implicitly, in an undeveloped form, appears, (1.) Because Christian monotheism differs from Jewish and Mohammedan monotheism, in recognizing God "in all things" as well as God "above all things." (2.) Because Christian art and literature differ from classic art and literature in the romantic element, which is exactly the sense of this mysterious life in nature. The classic artist is a [Greek: poietes], a maker; the romantic artist is a troubadour, a finder. The one does his work in giving form to a dead material; the other, by seeking for its hidden life. (3.) Because modern science is invention, i.e. finding. It recognizes mysteries in nature which are to be searched into, and this search becomes a serious religious interest with all truly scientific men. It appears to such men a profanity to doubt or question the revelations of nature, and they believe in its infallible inspiration quite as much as the dogmatist believes in the infallible inspiration of Scripture, or the churchman in the infallible inspiration of the Church. We may, therefore, say, that the essential truth in the Egyptian system has been taken up into our modern Christian life.
And how is it, lastly, with that opposite pole of religious thought which blossomed out in "the fair humanities of old religion" in the wonderful Hellenic mind? The gods of Greece were men. They were not abstract ideas, concealing natural powers and laws. They were open as sunshine, bright as noon, a fair company of men and women idealized and gracious, just a little way off, a little way up. It was humanity projected upon the skies, divine creatures of more than mortal beauty, but thrilling with human life and human sympathies. Has Christianity anything to offer in the place of this charming system of human gods and goddesses?
We answer that the fundamental doctrine of Christianity is the incarnation, the word made flesh. It is God revealed in man. Under some doctrinal type this has always been believed. The common Trinitarian doctrine states it in a somewhat crude and illogical form. Yet somehow the man Christ Jesus has always been seen to be the best revelation of God. But unless there were some human element in the Deity, he could not reveal himself so in a human life. The doctrine of the incarnation, therefore, repeats the Mosaic statement that "man was made in the image of God." Jewish and Mohammedan monotheism separate God entirely from the world. Philosophic monotheism, in our day, separates God from man, by teaching that there is nothing in common between the two by which God can be mediated, and so makes him wholly incomprehensible. Christianity gives us Emmanuel, God with us, equally removed from the stern despotic omnipotence of the Semitic monotheism and the finite and imperfect humanities of Olympus. We see God in Christ, as full of sympathy with man, God "in us all"; and yet we see him in nature, providence, history, as "above all" and "through all." The Roman Catholic Church has, perhaps, humanized religion too far. For every god and goddess of Greece she has given us, on some immortal canvas, an archangel or a saint to be adored and loved. Instead of Apollo and the Python we have Guido's St. Michael and the Dragon; in place of the light, airy Mercury she provides a St. Sebastian; instead of the "untouched" Diana, some heavenly Agnes or Cecilia. The Catholic heaven is peopled, all the way up, with beautiful human forms; and on the upper throne we have holiness and tenderness incarnate in the queen of heaven and her divine Son. All the Greek humanities are thus fulfilled in the ample faith of Christendom.
By such a critical survey as we have thus sketched in mere outline it will be seen that each of the great ethnic religions is full on one side, but empty on the other, while Christianity is full all round. Christianity is adapted to take their place, not because they are false, but because they are true as far as they go. They "know in part and prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away."
Sec. 8. Comparative Theology will probably show that Ethnic Religions are arrested, or degenerate, and will come to an End, while the Catholic Religion is capable of a progressive Development.
The religions of Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, have come to an end; having shared the fate of the national civilization of which each was a part. The religions of China, Islam, Buddha, and Judaea have all been arrested, and remain unchanged and seemingly unchangeable. Like great vessels anchored in a stream, the current of time flows past them, and each year they are further behind the spirit of the age, and less in harmony with its demands. Christianity alone, of all human religions, seems to possess the power of keeping abreast with the advancing civilization of the world. As the child's soul grows with his body, so that when he becomes a man it is a man's soul and not a child's, so the Gospel of Jesus continues the soul of all human culture. It continually drops its old forms and takes new ones. It passed out of its Jewish body under the guidance of Paul. In a speculative age it unfolded into creeds and systems. In a worshipping age it developed ceremonies and a ritual. When the fall of Rome left Europe without unity or centre, it gave it an organization and order through the Papacy. When the Papacy became a tyranny, and the Renaissance called for free thought, it suddenly put forth Protestantism, as the tree by the water-side sends forth its shoots in due season. Protestantism, free as air, opens out into the various sects, each taking hold of some human need; Lutheranism, Calvinism, Methodism, Swedenborgianism, or Rationalism. Christianity blossoms out into modern science, literature, art,—children who indeed often forget their mother, and are ignorant of their source, but which are still fed from her breasts and partake of her life. Christianity, the spirit of faith, hope, and love, is the deep fountain of modern civilization. Its inventions are for the many, not for the few. Its science is not hoarded, but diffused. It elevates the masses, who everywhere else have been trampled down. The friend of the people, it tends to free schools, a free press, a free government, the abolition of slavery, war, vice, and the melioration of society. We cannot, indeed, here prove that Christianity is the cause of these features peculiar to modern life; but we find it everywhere associated with them, and so we can say that it only, of all the religions of mankind, has been capable of accompanying man in his progress from evil to good, from good to better.
We have merely suggested some of the results to which the study of Comparative Theology may lead us. They will appear more fully as we proceed in our examination of the religions, and subsequently in their comparison. This introductory chapter has been designed as a sketch of the course which the work will take. When we have completed our survey, the results to which we hope to arrive will be these, if we succeed in what we have undertaken:—
1. All the great religions of the world, except Christianity and Mohammedanism, are ethnic religions, or religions limited to a single nation or race. Christianity alone (including Mohammedanism and Judaism, which are its temporary and local forms) is the religion of all races.
2. Every ethnic religion has its positive and negative side. Its positive side is that which holds some vital truth; its negative side is the absence of some other essential truth. Every such religion is true and providential, but each limited and imperfect.
3. Christianity alone is a [Greek: plaeroma], or a fulness of truth, not coming to destroy but to fulfil the previous religions; but being capable of replacing them by teaching all the truth they have taught, and supplying that which they have omitted.
4. Christianity, being not a system but a life, not a creed or a form, but a spirit, is able to meet all the changing wants of an advancing civilization by new developments and adaptations, constantly feeding the life of man at its roots by fresh supplies of faith in God and faith in man.
Confucius and the Chinese, or the Prose of Asia.
Sec. 1. Peculiarities of Chinese Civilization. Sec. 2. Chinese Government based on Education. Civil-Service Examinations. Sec. 3. Life and Character of Confucius. Sec. 4. Philosophy and subsequent Development of Confucianism. Sec. 5. Lao-tse and Tao-ism. Sec. 6. Religious Character of the "Kings." Sec. 7. Confucius and Christianity. Character of the Chinese. Sec. 8. The Tae-ping Insurrection. NOTE. The Nestorian Inscription in China of the Eighth Century.
Sec. 1. Peculiarities of Chinese Civilization.
In qualifying the Chinese mind as prosaic, and in calling the writings of Confucius and his successors prose, we intend no disrespect to either. Prose is as good as poetry. But we mean to indicate the point of view from which the study of the Chinese teachers should be approached. Accustomed to regard the East as the land of imagination; reading in our childhood the wild romances of Arabia; passing, in the poetry of Persia, into an atmosphere of tender and entrancing song; then, as we go farther East into India, encountering the vast epics of the Maha-Bharata and the Ramayana;—we might naturally expect to find in far Cathay a still wilder flight of the Asiatic Muse. Not at all. We drop at once from unbridled romance into the most colorless prose. Another race comes to us, which seems to have no affinity with Asia, as we have been accustomed to think of Asia. No more aspiration, no flights of fancy, but the worship of order, decency, propriety, and peaceful commonplaces. As the people, so the priests. The works of Confucius and his commentators are as level as the valley of their great river, the Yang-tse-kiang, which the tide ascends for four hundred miles. All in these writings is calm, serious, and moral They assume that all men desire to be made better, and will take the trouble to find out how they can be made so. It is not thought necessary to entice them into goodness by the attractions of eloquence, the charm of imagery, or the fascinations of a brilliant wit. These philosophers have a Quaker style, a dress of plain drab, used only for clothing the thought, not at all for its ornament.
And surely we ought not to ask for any other attraction than the subject itself, in order to find interest in China and its teachers. The Chinese Empire, which contains more than five millions of square miles, or twice the area of the United States, has a population of five hundred millions, or half the number of the human beings inhabiting the globe. China proper, inhabited by the Chinese, is half as large as Europe, and contains about three hundred and sixty millions of inhabitants. There are eighteen provinces in China, many of which contain, singly, more inhabitants than some of the great states of Europe. But on many other accounts this nation is deeply interesting.
China is the type of permanence in the world. To say that it is older than any other existing nation is saying very little. Herodotus, who has been called the Father of History, travelled in Egypt about 450 B.C. He studied its monuments, bearing the names of kings who were as distant from his time as he is from ours,—monuments which even then belonged to a gray antiquity. But the kings who erected those monuments were possibly posterior to the founders of the Chinese Empire. Porcelain vessels, with Chinese mottoes on them, have been found in those ancient tombs, in shape, material, and appearance precisely like those which are made in China to-day; and Rosellini believes them to have been imported from China by kings contemporary with Moses, or before him. This nation and its institutions have outlasted everything. The ancient Bactrian and Assyrian kingdoms, the Persian monarchy, Greece and Rome, have all risen, flourished, and fallen,—and China continues still the same. The dynasty has been occasionally changed; but the laws, customs, institutions, all that makes national life, have continued. The authentic history of China commences some two thousand years before Christ, and a thousand years in this history is like a century in that of any other people. The oral language of China has continued the same that it is now for thirty centuries. The great wall bounding the empire on the north, which is twelve hundred and forty miles long and twenty feet high, with towers every few hundred yards,—which crosses mountain ridges, descends into valleys, and is carried over rivers on arches,—was built two hundred years before Christ, probably to repel those fierce tribes who, after ineffectual attempts to conquer China, travelled westward till they appeared on the borders of Europe five hundred years later, and, under the name of Huns, assisted in the downfall of the Roman Empire. All China was intersected with canals at a period when none existed in Europe. The great canal, like the great wall, is unrivalled by any similar existing work. It is twice the length of the Erie Canal, is from two hundred to a thousand feet wide, and has enormous banks built of solid granite along a great part of its course. One of the important mechanical inventions of modern Europe is the Artesian well. That sunk at Grenelle, in France, was long supposed to be the deepest in the world, going down eighteen hundred feet. One at St. Louis, in the United States, has since been drilled to a depth, as has recently been stated, of about four thousand. But in China these wells are found by tens of thousands, sunk at very remote periods to obtain salt water. The method used by the Chinese from immemorial time has recently been adopted instead of our own as being the most simple and economical. The Chinese have been long acquainted with the circulation of the blood; they inoculated for the small-pox in the ninth century; and about the same time they invented printing. Their bronze money was made as early as 1100 B.C., and its form has not been changed since the beginning of the Christian era. The mariner's compass, gunpowder, and the art of printing were made known to Europe through stories told by missionaries returning from Asia. These missionaries, coasting the shores of the Celestial Empire in Chinese junks, saw a little box containing a magnetized needle, called Ting-nan-Tchen, or "needle which points to the south." They also noticed terrible machines used by the armies in China called Ho-pao or fire-guns, into which was put an inflammable powder, which produced a noise like thunder and projected stones and pieces of iron with irresistible force.
Father Hue, in his "Christianity in China," says that "the Europeans who penetrated into China were no less struck with the libraries of the Chinese than with their artillery. They were astonished at the sight of the elegant books printed rapidly upon a pliant, silky paper by means of wooden blocks. The first edition of the classical works printed in China appeared in 958, five hundred years before the invention of Gutenberg. The missionaries had, doubtless, often been busied in their convents with the laborious work of copying manuscript books, and the simple Chinese method of printing must have particularly attracted their attention. Many other marvellous productions were noticed, such as silk, porcelain, playing-cards, spectacles, and other products of art and industry unknown in Europe. They brought back these new ideas to Europe; 'and from that time,' says Abel Remusat, 'the West began to hold in due esteem the most beautiful, the most populous, and the most anciently civilized of all the four quarters of the world. The arts, the religious faith, and the languages of its people were studied, and it was even proposed to establish a professorship for the Tartar language in the University of Paris. The world seemed to open towards the East; geography made immense strides, and ardor for discovery opened a new vent for the adventurous spirit of the Europeans. As our own hemisphere became better known, the idea of another ceased to appear a wholly improbable paradox; and in seeking the Zipangon of Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World.'"
The first aspect of China produces that impression on the mind which we call the grotesque. This is merely because the customs of this singular nation are so opposite to our own. They seem morally, no less than physically, our antipodes. Their habits are as opposite to ours as the direction of their bodies. We stand feet to feet in everything. In boxing the compass they say "westnorth" instead of northwest, "eastsouth" instead of southeast, and their compass-needle points south instead of north. Their soldiers wear quilted petticoats, satin boots, and bead necklaces, carry umbrellas and fans, and go to a night attack with lanterns in their hands, being more afraid of the dark than of exposing themselves to the enemy. The people are very fond of fireworks, but prefer to have them in the daytime. Ladies' ride in wheelbarrows, and cows are driven in carriages. While in Europe the feet are put in the stocks, in China the stocks are hung round the neck. In China the family name comes first, and the personal name afterward. Instead of saying Benjamin Franklin or Walter Scott they would say Franklin Benjamin, Scott Walter. Thus the Chinese name of Confucius, Kung-fu-tsee, means the Holy Master Kung;—Kung is the family name. In the recent wars with the English the mandarins or soldiers would sometimes run away, and then commit suicide to avoid punishment. In getting on a horse, the Chinese mount on the right side. Their old men fly kites, while the little boys look on. The left hand is the seat of honor, and to keep on your hat is a sign of respect. Visiting cards are painted red, and are four feet long. In the opinion of the Chinese, the seat of the understanding is the stomach. They have villages which contain a million of inhabitants. Their boats are drawn by men, but their carriages are moved by sails. A married woman while young and pretty is a slave, but when she becomes old and withered is the most powerful, respected, and beloved person in the family. The emperor is regarded with the most profound reverence, but the empress mother is a greater person than he. When a man furnishes his house, instead of laying stress, as we do, on rosewood pianos and carved mahogany, his first ambition is for a handsome camphor-wood coffin, which he keeps in the best place in his room. The interest of money is thirty-six per cent, which, to be sure, we also give in hard times to stave off a stoppage, while with them it is the legal rate. We once heard a bad dinner described thus: "The meat was cold, the wine was hot, and everything was sour but the vinegar." This would not so much displease the Chinese, who carefully warm their wine, while we ice ours. They understand good living, however, very well, are great epicures, and somewhat gourmands, for, after dining on thirty dishes, they will sometimes eat a duck by way of a finish. They toss their meat into their mouths to a tune, every man keeping time with his chop-sticks, while we, on the contrary, make anything but harmony with the clatter of our knives and forks. A Chinaman will not drink a drop of milk, but he will devour birds'-nests, snails, and the fins of sharks with a great relish. Our mourning color is black and theirs is white; they mourn for their parents three years, we a much shorter time. The principal room in their houses is called "the hall of ancestors," the pictures or tablets of whom, set up against the wall, are worshipped by them; we, on the other hand, are only too apt to send our grandfather's portrait to the garret.
Sec. 2. Chinese Government based on Education. Civil-Service Examinations.
Such are a few of the external differences between the Chinese customs and ours. But the most essential peculiarity of this nation is the high value which they attribute to knowledge, and the distinctions and rewards which they bestow on scholarship. All the civil offices in the Empire are given as rewards of literary merit. The government, indeed, is called a complete despotism, and the emperor is said to have absolute authority. He is not bound by any written constitution, indeed; but the public opinion of the land holds him, nevertheless, to a strict responsibility. He, no less than his people, is bound by a law higher than that of any private will,—the authority of custom. For, in China, more than anywhere else, "what is gray with age becomes religion." The authority of the emperor is simply authority to govern according to the ancient usages of the country, and whenever these are persistently violated, a revolution takes place and the dynasty is changed. But a revolution in China changes nothing but the person of the monarch; the unwritten constitution of old usages remains in full force. "A principle as old as the monarchy," says Du Halde, "is this, that the state is a large family, and the emperor is in the place of both father and mother. He must govern his people with affection and goodness; he must attend to the smallest matters which concern their happiness. When he is not supposed to have this sentiment, he soon loses his hold on the reverence of the people, and his throne becomes insecure." The emperor, therefore, is always studying how to preserve this reputation. When a province is afflicted by famine, inundation, or any other calamity, he shuts himself in his palace, fasts, and publishes decrees to relieve it of taxes and afford it aid.
The true power of the government is in the literary class. The government, though nominally a monarchy, is really an aristocracy. But it is not an aristocracy of birth, like that of England, for the humblest man's son can obtain a place in it; neither is it an aristocracy of wealth, like ours in the United States, nor a military aristocracy, like that of Russia, nor an aristocracy of priests, like that of ancient Egypt, and of some modern countries,—as, for instance, that of Paraguay under the Jesuits, or that of the Sandwich Islands under the Protestant missionaries; but it is a literary aristocracy.
The civil officers in China are called mandarins. They are chosen from the three degrees of learned men, who may be called the bachelors, licentiates, and doctors. All persons may be candidates for the first degree, except three excluded classes,—boatmen, barbers, and actors. The candidates are examined by the governors of their own towns. Of those approved, a few are selected after another examination. These again are examined by an officer who makes a circuit once in three years for that purpose. They are placed alone in little rooms or closets, with pencils, ink, and paper, and a subject is given them to write upon. Out of some four hundred candidates fifteen may be selected, who receive the lowest degree. There is another triennial examination for the second degree, at which a small number of the bachelors are promoted. The examination for the highest degree, that of doctor, is held at Pekin only, when some three hundred are taken out of five thousand. These are capable of receiving the highest offices. Whenever a vacancy occurs, one of those who have received a degree is taken by lot from the few senior names. But a few years since, there were five thousand of the highest rank, and twenty-seven thousand of the second rank, who had not received employment.
The subjects upon which the candidates are examined, and the methods of these examinations, are thus described in the Shanghae Almanac (1852).
The examinations for the degree of Keujin (or licentiate) takes place at the principal city of each province once in three years. The average number of bachelors in the large province of Keang-Nan (which contains seventy millions of inhabitants) is twenty thousand, out of whom only about two hundred succeed. Sixty-five mandarins are deputed for this examination, besides subordinate officials. The two chief examiners are sent from Pekin. When the candidates enter the examination hall they are searched for books or manuscripts, which might assist them in writing their essays. This precaution is not superfluous, for many plans have been invented to enable mediocre people to pass. Sometimes a thin book, printed on very small type from copperplates, is slipped into a hole in the sole of the shoe. But persons detected in such practices are ruined for life. In a list of one hundred and forty-four successful candidates, in 1851, thirteen were over forty years of age, and one under fourteen years; seven were under twenty; and all, to succeed, must have known by heart the whole of the Sacred Books, besides being well read in history.