JMC : Essays Philosophical / by Brother Azarias

Symbolism of the Cosmos.{1}

IN the candid title of the last work penned by Strauss a lesson is embodied. It is that man must have a religion; and if he overthrows one it is only to adopt another. After having rejected faith in revealed religion, he seeks the materials with which to build up a creed that will satisfy himself and the eager disciples who were dazzled by his sophistries. With that intent, in his old age, while the hand of death is upon him, he pens this profession of faith. The book is altogether unworthy of the man who at the age of twenty-seven wrote the "Leben Jesu." It is a sad record of nearly forty years' thought. His disciples clamor for a religion and a doctrine; in return he gives them the dregs of thought that float on the surface of the fermenting intellect of Europe; he gives them the crude notions of science which he has been able to gather together from popular manuals on geology, anthropology, sociology, even phrenology; he gives them Kant's planetary dreams; he gives them Hegel's vague idealism; he gives them some commonplace criticism on Goethe and Mozart; and he leaves them as his final opinion, that life is nothing more than a dream of nothingness about something.

But little consolation is to be found in this new faith. It is shadow taken for substance. It is an identifying of the symbol with the thing symbolized. This idea his Cosmic theory best illustrates. With him man is part and parcel of the material world, and nothing more. His life and being he has from the Cosmos, to which he returns after death, as does the dog or the tree. The soul is a metaphysical fiction. Matter is eternal.

"If we contemplate the universe as a whole, there never has been a time when it did not exist, when there did not exist in it a distinction between the heavenly bodies, life and reason; for all this, if not as yet existing in one part of the Cosmos, already existed in another, while in a third it had already ceased to exist; here it was in the act of blooming, yonder in full flower, at a third place already in decline; but the Cosmos itself -- the sum total of infinite worlds in all stages of growth and decay -- abode eternally unchanged, in the constancy of its absolute energy, and in the everlasting revolution and mutation of things."{2}

This is language worthy of a Lucretius or his master Epicurus. It is certainly a falling off from the young author, so intent upon drawing out the spiritual side of existence that he would reduce the well-authenticated facts of the New Testament to be simply mythical expressions of the deeper truths of thought and life. But Strauss goes further, and excludes God from his philosophy.

"After the plurality of gods," he tells us, "in the various religions had resolved themselves into the one personal God, He in like manner resolved Himself into the impersonal but person-shaping All. This same idea forms likewise the ultimate point of departure -- from whichever point of view one regards it -- of our Cosmic conception."{3}

Herbert Spencer has also a "Cosmic conception." In many points he agrees with Strauss. But he struggles hard against the logic of his position, which tends to drift him ultimately to the same conclusion at which Strauss got stranded. He acknowledges a power behind the Cosmos.

"A power," he says, "of which the nature remains forever inconceivable, and to which no limits in time or space can be imagined, works in us certain effects."{4}

But he makes that power impersonal, and by that one word destroys the whole force of his assertion. What is an impersonal power "that works in us certain effects?" We can understand how material force is impersonal; but an impersonal intelligent force is to our mind an absurdity. Herbert Spencer accuses Christian philosophers of attempting to measure the Divinity by their own finite notions. There are some who deserve the rebuke. But we would say to Mr. Spencer, mutato famine, de te fabula narratur. He allows his imagination to impede his reasoning powers. He can conceive no personality that is not limited like his own. This shows that he has no proper conception of what personality is. The essential idea of personality is not one of limiting. It is the completion, not the limitation, of a rational nature. St. Thomas calls it that which is most perfect in all nature;{5} and Boethius defines it as the individual substance of a rational nature.{6} Therefore, an infinite personality is the completion of an infinite rational nature. Here is no contradiction; for assuredly the infinite is perfect. In the light of these principles an impersonal power is a meaningless term when applied to the Prime Mover and Ordainer of all things. Again, Herbert Spencer makes a tottering move in the right direction when he tells us that "matter, motion and force, are but symbols of the unknown reality." This is true, but he is not warranted in asserting it. If the reality is unknown, how knows he that it is symbolized in these things? In his philosophy there is no means of knowing; and his only logical conclusion is with Strauss to make the Cosmos the great All -- "simultaneously both cause and effect, the outward and the inward together." These partial truths occurring in the pages of Spencer, or Strauss, or Comte -- and they all have paid sometimes eloquent tributes to truth -- belong not to their philosophy. They are reminiscences of the old systems they would overturn; and in this clashing between old and new, do they receive their death-blow. With "advance" on their banners, these systems are fast receding to inanition. They begin in mistiness, and end in a maze of contradiction. Their authors pride themselves upon their enlightened conception of the Cosmos. This is especially their conquest and their boast. With their patient research, their wide-searching views of nature, their thoughtful consideration of her laws, they might throw a flood of light upon her operations, and demonstrate the power and greatness and exquisite work of the Great Worker, who is great in the creation of an atom as in the making. of a world, provided they based their knowledge on sound principles in the stead of the scientific guesswork, which now makes the foundation of their theories.

To understand the symbolism of the Cosmos we must go back to principles found in the nature of things. True philosophy deals with the actual. It cannot, therefore, devote itself exclusively to nature. There is also a world of grace: though distinct, the two are inseparable; grace presupposes nature. There is not a man born of woman who has not been the recipient of grace, actual or sanctifying. The philosophy that rejects the religious element, can explain neither man nor nature; for it takes the one for what he is not, and it ignores the Author of the other. Therefore, the writer lays down as the principle that embodies the real relation of things, natural and supernatural, this synthetic formula:

God actualizes the Cosmos by the Word and completes its destiny in the Word.{7}

This principle is not given to man intuitively; otherwise, all would apprehend it in the light of simple reason. Nor is it the product of unaided reason; else why so many theories denying a first cause and a future destiny? Besides, the WORD by whom God spoke and created, by whom man was redeemed, and whose coming raised humanity in the scale of creation, it was purely a gratuitous condescension of God to externize in time, and in his eternal designs to decree that He become incarnate, and that he be made the means by which the destiny of the Cosmos was to be fulfilled.{8} That Divine Word is a revelation of God to man. But inasmuch as the synthetic principle embodies actuality, it is truth. It is based upon reason, and the tradition of a primitive revelation. It is the last word at which philosophy arrives; but in synthesis it may become the first from which it starts. It throws a flood of light upon things of heaven and earth. It contains the how and the why of the Divine decrees concerning the creation. It explains the existence of humanity, of science, of literature. It is the realization of this principle that God sought in the act of creating and in the higher act of becoming incarnate. Let us see what meaning the Cosmos has for us in the light of this principle.

I. The Word by which God created, and in which He completed the destiny of the Cosmos, all things reveal.{9} Only by reason thereof have they a meaning. They reveal the Word as an effect reveals its cause; for every effect in one manner or other reveals its cause;{10} and when God acts, medium and end are one with the primal cause; for all three are His own divine essence. Behind the veil of the created, and distinct from it, is the Creator. Back of the sign and symbol lies the reality. Now, man's knowledge of the finite and sensible is subject to the conditions of space and time. But space and time are no constituents of essences; they only express relations; they clothe things in the drapery of the passing, and render them symbolical of the greater reality. Everything in life and literature, in art and science, is significant of something beyond that revealed by the actual impression. He who rests content with the smoothness and finish of the marble statue, or with the mere sound of the musical chord, or with the brilliancy of the colors on the pictured canvas, and perceives nothing more than a form, a note, a ray of light, mistakes the source and aim of art. The same is true of him who would gauge the meaning of life by its material pursuits. There is evidently something beyond the immediate object of living. Appearance says not all. The phenomenon does not reveal the whole of the noumenon. It reveals only so much as is necessary to distinguish specific differences in objects.

Here lie a Scylla and a Charybdis of thought, clear of which all philosophers have not sailed. It is not true that we only perceive the phenomenon, and that the noumenon is altogether beyond our knowing. We have a glimpse of the essences of things; were it otherwise we could not define them. Neither is it true that man knows the whole noumenon. That is known to God alone. There is philosophic truth in those lines of Tennyson:

"Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies; --
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower -- but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is."

The value of a thing is expressed in the aptness with which it fulfils its destiny. It has a meaning accordingly. But finite things, not being self-existent, have not in themselves the meaning of their existence. That is found in their essential prototypes in the Divine Mind. Nor can man, if he would understand the Cosmos, measure its actual ways and workings by their apparent results. Their full bearing is known to Him alone who gave them being and set them in motion. The unseen is more than the seen. The actual is the symbol of the ideal. Though distinct, one cannot be separated from the other. The actual has its life only in the ideal. It receives therefrom all its significancy. As in speech, the object named determines the meaning of the word used -- and not the word the object -- so it is the ideal that gives meaning and significance to the actual.

The ideal, then, is the real; the actual is its symbol. It is a false system of philosophy that gives the ideal only a mental existence, and makes of it simply a thing of abstraction. It exists in the Divine Mind, and the Divine Mind does not acquire knowledge by the process of abstraction. Therein is it one with the essences of things. Were the ideal only subjective, the Cosmos, God, the Word, would all of them be illusions, man the dupe of his own shadowy fancies, life the dream of a shadow. But no, the ideal has an objective existence. All things assert it. Art, in its various embodiments in marble, in harmony, on the canvas, in poetry, symbolizes the idea that gives it meaning. Religion, in its ceremonies and sacraments, symbolizes the spiritual world, with which it is for man the golden ladder of communication. Science, in the enunciation of its laws, symbolizes the relations of cause and effect, and the conditions that underlie the harmonies of the Cosmos. The ideal formula which expresses the synthetic principle of philosophy, is a symbol that speaks of the relations existing between God and His creation.

Nor is active life less symbolical. In its individual growth and development, in its personal trials and triumphs, it is significant of something beyond; it is a preparation; it is the composing of a harmonious masterpiece which is to resound through all eternity; it is the carving of a grand statue with which to adorn the great Hereafter; it is the writing of a thrilling epic in which the spiritual warfare and progress of a soul will figure with undying interest. In time, only the rough materials are visible to us; we but witness the uncouth block, the blacked and scored music, the scribbled and fragmentary epic; but when the angel of death comes, unless we have been too indolent at our work, and left too much undone, he will illuminate the scroll, recite the poem, intone the sweet chords of harmony we have spun together, finish the statue; and then, when the veil shall have dropped from our eyes, we will behold the import of all the mysteries of life.

In its organic forms of society and government, life is equally symbolical. Government seeks to establish harmony political and social. It speaks and acts by a delegated authority. The power that gives it sanction is only represented in the actual ruler. He symbolizes the higher authority. The people may say who shall wield that power, but in themselves they possess it not. The sanction must come from above. Thus is government also a symbol. So, too, with the simple social relations of man with man. They cannot be ignored. They have serious claims upon his attention. It is an old maxim, and a true one, that he who lives alone must be either an angel or a devil. The disintegration of the social order leads to barbarism. Therefore it must be kept up by agreeable intercourse. The social life banishes all exertion; it leaves strain and labor at the door; it is accompanied with ease, graceful motion, pleasant expression; therein is strength reserved and effort put aside; the hard and rude in man's nature are softened and smoothed; his selfish barbarism is suppressed; the corners of his behavior are rounded; truth, courteousness, beneficence, geniality are developed; man becomes refined; gentleness of disposition is drawn out; he literally becomes a gentleman; he falls under the influence of civilization; he seeks a standard and follows fashion; for when properly understood, fashion is, according to Emerson, "an attempt to organize beauty of behavior."{11}

Nor is this all for its own sake. It has a meaning. It is a partial reversion to that civilization from which man originally fell. It is symbolical, though rudely, often a parody, of the harmonious relations of man with man, of thought with thought, that be long to another order of things, when neither distrust, nor suspicion, nor the selfish motive, nor sin, nor passion, can intrude and mar the beauty of the social intercourse. Life in its spiritual aspects approaches nearer to the ideal; but it also has meaning by reason of something beyond. Those who look to the workings of their souls, and listen to the dictates of their conscience, seem to live in another and a far different world from that in which those live who ignore the spiritual side of their nature. With them, says John Henry Newman:

"Every event has a meaning; they have their own estimate of whatever happens to them; they are mindful of times and seasons, and compare the present with the past; and the world, no longer dull, monotonous, unprofitable and hopeless, is a various and complicated drama, with parts and an object, and an awful moral."{12}

The belief in a spiritual world, the communion with God and His saints, the passing from festival to festival, the preparation to celebrate each worthily, the effort continuously made to suppress the disorderly emotions of human nature, to become more pure and spiritualized, and thus to advance in perfection, the belief in a spirit-world of evil as well as of good, the struggles with the angel of sin and darkness, the distinctness with which these things are visible to the eye of faith, each and all make of this life a living allegory, a "Pilgrim's Progress" in action. That which John Bunyan embodied in his prose poem, had been the uppermost thought of the Mediaeval Christians during centuries. He wrote the history of each soul's spiritual life. The same history had in substance been frequently preached from the pulpit; and nigh two hundred years previously to Bunyan, did the monk, Guillaume de Guileville, in his "Pélerinage de l'Homme," embody the same idea in allegorical form. And if the tinker-dreamer is remembered, while the Cistercian monk is all but forgotten, it is because the former brought to his allegory a robust diction and a Protestant animus which the latter was incapable of, and to which responded the hearts of millions of English people. But life, spiritual and physical, is, like all God's designs, more than symbol. Ernst ist das Leben. It is serious, for the destiny of eternity depends upon the manner in which it is acted out.

To God, too, is the Cosmos a symbol; and to Him alone is the whole meaning of its destiny and the fearful reality underlying it no mystery. To man, has it been given to think in sign and symbol. Therefore, in philosophy and literature, he attempts the explanations of the riddles he everywhere meets; in art, he undertakes to imitate the creative act and embody ideals which his genius learns from the nature of things; in life, he seeks to realize the meaning of his existence; in science, he would rend the veil of creation's temple and read the deeper mysteries behind; in all cases, it is abyss leading to abyss, each deep calls upon a deeper depth; and the last discovery is a more abstruse enigma than the first. One symbol becomes expressed in terms of another more inexplicable symbol. Only one Being has no symbolic significancy for man, and that Being is God. He is in Himself actus purissimus -- most pure actuality. He is not circumscribed by the condition of space and time. He is an eternal Presence. He alone can define Himself as the I am who am. He perceives essences. But though a living, infinite, omnipresent Monad, He also possesses in Himself number, for He is triune. Therefore, He not only sees things generally. He has regard also to the specific, the single, the individual. His omniscience, like all His other powers and attributes, is infinite in intensity. By the preservative act with which He keeps all things in existence, He is intimately present to them, still remaining distinct from them. A different aspect does the Cosmos present to Him from what it presents to man, which were man able to express he would no longer be man but God.

A far different idea of the Cosmos might man have were there to be lifted, only for a moment, the scales of space and time which now bedim and confine his vision. He would behold the laws of nature in harmonious working, with exception and rule and apparent contradiction, contrast and opposition all reconciled; matter in its nature and essence; the source and principle of life; the long chain of vegetable and animal life, in all their linked organic relations germinating, living, acting. developing, decaying, dying; over all and greatest of all, the flower of earthly existence, man.

Still grander were the vision of man: Every individual distinct; each showing a predominant trait of character; in each a different guiding principle; one actuated by this or that passion, or by this or that virtue; the dispositions and motives of all laid open at once; all the notes of humanity assailing the ear at one and the same time, from the infant's wail at birth, through the varied sounds of joy and sorrow, of pleasure and pain, to the deathrattle; life in all its phases simultaneously passing before the eye; humanity a moving mass between an eternal past and an eternal future, which are both but an eternal present.

All is a continual becoming. But this is on the surface. In time we see but change and motion; in eternity is there fixity. Beneath the passing lies the permanent. Becoming is meaningless without a permanent state beyond which there is no further change. But the thing becoming cannot determine that state; otherwise it would already have experience of it and would no longer need to become. The Cosmos, then, has not in itself the power of determining permanency. That lies with Him who has in Himself the meaning of its existence.

The Word, the Incarnate Word, is the clue to the symbolism of the Cosmos. It is in the nature of things that the inferior exist for the superior, and subserve its purposes. Therefore, the natural exists for the supernatural, the Cosmos for the Word; and whatever meaning there is in creation is solved by the understanding of its relations with the Creator. Now, the actual has its whole meaning, its life and being, in the ideal; but the ideal in actuality is the created real, fashioned after the uncreated ideal in the Divine Mind;{13} therefore reality has all its meaning from the creating Power, which is the Word; and through all forms of life and existence runs the Divine note. All symbolize one act; all speak one word. That Word is no symbol, it is reality. It possesses the wisdom of the Divinity; it contains the reason of existences. In becoming incarnate, it bridged over the abyss between the infinite and the finite, and reconciled them. In man is the Cosmos epitomized. He is matter and spirit, In the Incarnate Word, the God-man, has the Cosmos found the inchoate fulfilment of its destiny. God actualizes the Cosmos by the Word, and completes its destiny in the Word.

II. On a misapprehension of the fact that God is pure reality, actus purissimus, in no sense a symbol, but the author of all symbolism, is based that erroneous conception that he is unknowable. Those who so conceive Him, confound knowing with imagining. They fancy that nothing can be understood which cannot first be represented to the mind's eye. They forget that while man cannot comprehend the infinite, he may still apprehend it. Now, the unanimous testimony of men in reference to a Supreme Being proves that man conceives such. The various attempts made to represent Him in wood, or stone, or descriptive language, prove that His great simplicity and His infinite perfections were not thoroughly comprehended by man. To make finite reason the measure of the infinite God is to reverse the order of things, and make reason the only God.

This Comte did when he reduced Him to a metaphysical entity; this Herbert Spencer does in relegating Him to the unknowable; and prior to either, Dupuis did the same, when he undertook to prove that the God of Christianity was as much a fiction of the brain as the deities on Olympus. "The gods," he says, "are, to my mind, children of men; and I think with Hesiod, that earth has produced heaven."{14} This were true enough were heaven to mean simply the Olympus from which Jupiter thundered; but when it includes the abode of the one, true, eternal Deity, we must totally dissent from it, and say rather that heaven produced earth, after which earth produced polytheism and fetishism, including the myth of M. Dupuis. To trace how this came to pass, is to account for the origin of mythology, a theme interesting as it is difficult. A few words on the subject may not be amiss.

The physical Cosmos may be viewed either scientifically or aesthetically. In one case, reason is the faculty most exercised; in the other, imagination predominates. Viewed in either way, the Cosmos is a grand symbol. Scientifically considered, nature is investigated, and her phenomena are referred to their causes. Reason is not satisfied with the outward appearance. It seeks to investigate essences; the primary truths, common to humanity and recognized by all as evident, it brings to bear upon the rest and motion, the action and reaction, the solid and liquid and gaseous states of bodies. It applies instruments to discover the secrets of Nature; it questions her by experiment; it resolves matter into simpler and more primary elements. Mathematics is the key with which to interpret the physical sciences. In its simple formulae it embodies laws, in obedience to which star and planet and atom move; which regulate crystallic and magnetic action; which define gravitation force; which point out the comet's track, and compute the electric flash.

In the present time, this view of nature has become almost the exclusive one. But the primitive peoples did not forget to make a scientific study of the laws of the Cosmos. Nature was for them, as well as for us, an inexhaustible book; and, if all were known, it might be proved that, where we know scarcely the alphabet of the physical sciences, they were deeply read. The Bible -- in Genesis, in Job, in the Psalms -- speaks of the great problems of creation, with what Humboldt calls "individualizing accuracy; and," he adds, "many questions are propounded which we, in the present state of our physical knowledge, may, indeed, be able to express under more scientific definitions, but scarcely to answer satisfactorily."{15} And to mention only one instance of the broad views of things taken in the Book of Job, we need but recur to the history of science, and notice the numerous conjectures formed of the earth, its shape and position in space, and then read the profound science contained in these words: "He stretcheth the north over the empty space, and hangeth the earth upon nothing."{16} Far back in the remote past, among the Egyptians and Chaldaeans, were the foundations laid of our chronology and astronomy, our geometry and chemistry, our divisions of time, our numbers and letters, our cosmogony.{17}

Men of the present are inclined to consider themselves as the discoverers and authors of all scientific progress. They break loose from the traditions of the remote past. They ignore the fact that they were as helpless as Archimedes in his boast to move the world, if that past had not given them the foothold, and planted for them the fulcrum upon which they might effectively move the lever of their scientific attainments. They are prone to take their ignorance of the past as a criterion of the knowledge it possessed. But let them remember that not all which antiquity knew has been written; nor has all which it wrote been preserved. This important rule seems to have dropped out of Kreuzer's calculations when he deduced the following inferences:

"A glance at the poetry and the religion of the diverse peoples is sufficient to convince one of an incontestable fact, namely, that all have shared this antique and universal belief that everything in nature is endowed with life and sentiment. There is no distinction of matter and spirit in the native thought of the first men; everything lives a common and uniform life."{18}

These peoples did distinguish between spirit and matter; but so evident was the distinction to them, so intimately present to them was belief in an immaterial order of things, that it never occurred to them to assert it formally. The spiritual world was to them as much, perhaps more, a reality than the material world. The human mind begins to make formal distinctions only when it fears a misunderstanding.

AEsthetically considered, the Cosmos appeals to man's sense of the beautiful and awakens the ideal in his mind. It mirrors forth the Divinity, His power and glory; and as such man regards it with reverence. As man is the Cosmos in miniature, combining as he does in a single personality both matter and spirit, there is between him and Nature a deep-laid link that binds him in relations of sympathy with it. When man fell, we are told that Nature, on his account, was cursed; the soil grew barren, and gave forth abundance only in return for the sweat he poured upon it; seeds of degeneracy took possession of the very plant and animal.{19} This hidden sympathy is in part the secret of man's attachment to his native land, to the place he has for years inhabited, to the scenery of hill and dale of which he grows fond.

The aesthetic view of nature gives art and literature; the ratiocinative view gives science. They are both of them distinct, though each may occasionally intrude on the domain of the other; but once they went hand in hand; and were man still unfallen they would be found more intimately blended in the human mind. Prior to the fall, the symbolism of Nature was an unclouded mirror in which man read much of the meaning of earth and heaven. He clearly saw beneath the symbol the idea which it symbolized The harmony of spirit, sense and soul within himself was reflected in the harmony of the universe The true was not separated from the good, nor the good from the true, nor the beautiful from either, but all three were one.

But the fall broke the harmony that had previously existed in man's consciousness. By it he came under the control of his senses; he gravitated towards the material; disturbance in the moral order produced disturbance in the physical and intellectual orders; the serene light of reason became clouded by thick-coming fancies, and man in its stead began to follow the will-o'-the-wisps of conjecture and opinion. The symbolism of the Cosmos became obscured But at the same time, God more clearly expressed to man the real relations of things and completed in substance the ideal formula of philosophical instruction which he had been imparting to him. For it was then He showed man that his destiny was to be completed in and by the Word, whom He announced to him as the Redeemer.{20}

This truth was kept alive with prophetic clearness among the Jewish race down to the coming of the Divine Savior; the sacred depository since then has been intrusted to the Church which it pleased the Word to make the visible medium of salvation. It was also preserved among the Gentile nations, though in an imperfect manner, and overlaid with fiction. But in spite of this luminous truth so emphatically laid down in the Divine revelation, the veil of corruption shut out its brilliant rays from man's intelligence, and nations sat in the shadow of darkness. Man fell more and more under the dominion of the senses; he lost sight of the ideal; he lost sight of the creative act; he lost sight of the Creator Himself; and finally identifying the symbol with the thing symbolized, he became an idolater. The many attributes of the Divinity which were symbolized in the sun and the stars, in light and darkness, in the elements -- the wind, the rain, and the ocean -- became so many divinities; thus, we find the signs of the zodiac to be, not of scientific or agricultural, but of mythological origin. The ideal having become separated from the actual in man's conception of things, he looks not beneath their surface.

"The personal idea of God," say Lenormant and Chevalier, "was by degrees confounded with the various manifestations of His power; His attributes and qualities were personified in a host of secondary agents, distributed in a regular hierarchy, in agreement with the general organization of the world and the preservation of its inhabitants. Thus originated that polytheism which in its varied and strange symbolism finally embraced the entire creation."{21}

And thus is mythology primarily based upon Nature-worship. Men saw not the Energizer back of Nature's energies; these they worshipped; these they personified and represented in picture and statue. "That which the purified intelligence calls a force," says Kreuzer, "this primitive observation calls a person."{22} But it is erroneous to consider this the sole fountain-head of mythology. It were to leave unexplained many of the myths and legends of antiquity. Hero-worship was another source of polytheism. "Among the Greeks," says the last. named author, "men were raised to the rank of gods for their extraordinary qualities, their fine actions, and their services."{23} He might have added other nations as well. With all men is it natural, in the course of time and after the human failings and imperfections are forgotten, to make a hero of the benefactor, and as the deeds are exaggerated in number and quality, to attribute to them a Divine origin.

Thus it was that the hero who had benefited a people was remembered with gratitude; statues were erected to his memory; the feats he performed became the germs whence sprang many with no existence outside the fancy that nurtured them; they were no longer deeds within the power of man to compass; only a god could have achieved them; therefore, a god was their benefactor. But among the Greeks there are myths of a later origin which may be regarded as moral allegories, for instance, the ethical myth of Pallas Athenè.

III. The history of mythology, in its origin and early development, is explained by, while it is a confirmation of, the synthetic principle of philosophy: God actualizes the Cosmos by the Word and completes its destiny in the Word. Men did not begin by forgetting this principle, but by misapprehending it. Indeed, it is doubtful if a single term of it has ever dropped out of the teachings of human tradition. Where it is unexpressed, it is frequently implied, for it alone can give meaning to many of the forms and ceremonies of the religions of antiquity. The first term upon which men erred was the term actualizes. In speculating upon the manner in which God actualized the Cosmos they lost sight of the nothingness from which He drew it.

The maxim, ex nihilo nihil fit, true only when applied to secondary causes, practically became the measure of their conception of the Primary Cause. They could not grasp the idea of creation. They knew God to be a Monad, and they had to account for multiplicity. The idea which first and most naturally suggested itself was that of generation. Hence, they imagined the Primary Cause as an androgynous being, that is, one combining in himself both the male and female principle. All the older mythologies, such as the Egyptian and Assyro-Chaldaean, as well as the mysteries and ceremonies abound in allusions to and draw their meaning from that idea. Mythology afterwards embodied the conception of two distinct beings, either eternally coexisting, as Ormuzd and Ahriman were conceived to be by the later Zoroastrians, though not by Zarathustra himself; or engendered from the First Principle as the Yn and Yang of the Chinese, or the humid and igneous elements of the Chaldaeans.{24}

But in the midst of these vagaries, those primitive peoples retained the consciousness of the term God. In recognizing more than one Divine Being, they were destroying the proper conception of the Divinity; but they were at the same time acknowledging the existence of Him they sought in His works. So evident was His existence to all, so easily might He be found by the earnest searcher, so intimately present was He to each individual, that St. Paul does not hold the pagan of his day excused for not having known him. Nor was the term, the Word, altogether forgotten by men. Throughout the nations there hovered a dim idea, as of an almost forgotten tradition, that a Redeemer of men was to come among them. In India the idea took most definite shape. The Avatars of Hindu mythology foreshadow that central fact of all history, that clue to all philosophy, the Incarnation of the Word.{25} It might be proven that the primitive nations became more or less civilized in proportion as they more or less clearly realized in their actions and their literature the synthetic formula of philosophy, or in other words, their origin and destiny. A primitive revelation they all of them had. Tradition kept alive the substance of this revelation, and in so far as it was the actuating principle of their lives were they successful. If there were no God, it would be right and proper for man to consult self at all times, and under all circumstances to abide by its dictates. But since there is a God, man has Him to rely on and to make the motive of his deeds. Any turning away from Him is a degradation of the individual.

Therefore, when man lost sight of God, he sunk down into himself, practically made self the principle of all things, and deified his passions, his appetites, his thoughts. Every stock and stone that he conceived possessed of Divine power he paid homage to, whether it was a tree, as the Vatá. of India;{26} a stone, as with the Dakotas of the West;{27} a dog, as with the Parsees; a bundle of rags or a tuft of straw, an old hat or a rusty nail, as with the negroes;{28} there in a special manner was the Divinity conceived to be concentrated, and there was He worshipped. Such things were considered locations of the Divinity, because they were instruments of magic, by means of which supernatural results were supposed to be brought about.

"When," says F. Schlegel, "we come to examine more closely the accounts of that Fetish-worship (so-called) which is most widely diffused through the interior of Africa, and prevails among some American tribes and nations of the northeast of Asia, it is easy to perceive that magical rites are connected with it, and that all these corporeal objects are but magical instruments and conductors of magical power, and that the religion of these nations, sunk undoubtedly to the lowest grade of idolatry, comprises nothing beyond the rude beginnings of a pagan magic, such as, in all probability, was practiced by the Cainites."{29}

Fetishism is also connected with the older forms of polytheism, when prior to the anthropomorphic image and the glowing myth of the Iliad or the Ramayana, the gods were symbolized in a stone or an uncouth block of wood.

And it would seem that the more profoundly symbolical a people was, the deeper was the degradation into which it became sunken. There is the Chaldaean of old. His founder, Nimrod, who is spoken of in Scripture as "a mighty hunter before the Lord," whom he remembered as a lion in the battle-field, an eagle in the chase, he actually represented with the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle. In the formation of this species of symbolism the Chaldaean cosmogony had much to do. As that speaks of "bulls with human heads, dogs with four bodies and with fishes' tails, men and horses with dogs' heads, creatures with the heads and bodies of horses but with the tails of fish and other animals, mixing the forms of various beasts," all as existing prior to man, it was natural for the popular mind to couple the idea of their first founder with these monsters. But Chaldaea received its symbolism in a great measure from Egypt; for we are told that "Chur begat Nimrod;" and the latest researches of history prove the accuracy of the Scripture phrase.{30}

"Symbolism," says Lenormant, "was the very essence of the genius of the Egyptian nation, and of their religion." Every relic of Egyptian civilization confirms the assertion, and points to her as preëminently the land of symbolism. The hieroglyph-covered monuments look down upon us with a look of deep significancy; the Sphinx tells of an insoluble riddle; the Pyramids have their meaning. The temples speak of mysteries symbolized. The deep scientific knowledge of the Egyptian priesthood gave them insight into the properties of plants and the predominant traits of animals; and accordingly both plant and animal were made symbolical of some attribute of the Divinity. The doctrine of emanation finally led them to conceive Him as embodied in these objects. With them, in all probability, began the custom of representing the gods with the heads of animals and the bodies of men. Herodotus was anxious to know why Jupiter was represented with the head of a ram, and was told that he so appeared to Hercules.{31} But primarily it symbolized "the great idea of a supreme and invisible God becoming perceptible to our sight by the creation of the universe, represented here by the sun entering the zodiacal sign of the ram."{32}

When the primitive idea became more corrupt, it symbolized the Divinity as existing alike in man and beast. The priests, in their religious processions, masked themselves in the head of some animal according to the god they were honoring:

"The sun and planets," says Kreuzer, "have their abodes in heaven; these abodes are the signs of the zodiac, represented by animals; consequently the sun and the planets bear the figure of the sign in which they are found. And when the priests, in their processions and religious ceremonies, wished to represent the different stations and relations of these astronomical gods, they took themselves analogous masks."{33}

And still, with all its science, and all its symbolism, Egypt fell low in idolatry; perhaps no nation ever degraded itself in its mysteries and ceremonies of religion as did Egypt. It shows what a people can become when abandoned to itself and oblivious of God and His revelation.

But the age of myths is not passed. Man to-day as formerly, uses sign and symbol in his thinking. A word gives sufficient material from which to spin a thread of fiction. The name of a person or place, a metaphor, a personification, is each the basis upon which many an aerial structure of mythology is raised. Man communicates ideas by means of sensible images. Abstractions he finds existing only in the concrete. The finite is the plane upon which his intelligence converges all things. It gives a miniature picture. Even the infinite, though ever making correct use of it, he knows how to express but in its relations with the finite; it is not the not-finite.

Men are still to be found who are content to rule their lives by fictions of the brain; that is, by myths. True, they have abandoned the sensuous and palpable form; but in its place they have substituted a scientific abstraction, a Cosmic theory without the author of the Cosmos. Now, he who reduces to a mathematical formula as a mere natural force, the Being who created him; who finds in the universe no God but law; who considers nature self-sufficient, and self the sole standard of action, is a refined Fetish-worshiper. The meaning of the symbolism of the Cosmos has passed from him,

{1} American Catholic Quarterly Review.

{2} "The Old Faith and the New," p. 173.

{3} Ibid., p. 169.

{4} "First Principles," p. 557; London edition.

{5} Respondeo dicendum quod persona significat id quod perfectissimum est in tota natura; scilicet subsistens in rationali natura. "Summa," I., 29, iii.

{6} Persona est rationalis naturae individua substantia; which definition St. Thomas adopts, ibid., I., 29, i.

{7} For a short analysis of this principle and for the grounds on which the writer rejects the Giobertian formula" Ens creat existentias," see the International Review for March, April, 1876.

{8} Creation not being necessary, it follows that the Incarnation is not necessary; but the creative act being accomplished, it were incomplete in the realization of its destiny without the Incarnate act. This proposition admits of rigid demonstration hy the law of sufficient reason, or as it is sometimes called, "of minimum means." See Rosmini, "Teodicea," lib. iii., cap. vii., n. 433; also "Principii di Filosofia Soprannaturale, vol. i., p. 41. The writer has learned that this work is from the pen of Padre Rossi.

{9} Ex uno verbo omnia, et unum loquuntur omnia. "De Im. Christi," lib. i., cap. iii.

{10} Respondeo dicendum quod omnis effectus aliqualiter representat suam causam, sed diversimode. S. Thomas, "Summa," I., vii.

{11} Essays, Second Series, p. 144.

{12} "Idea of a University," p. 133.

{13} I distinguish between the real and the actual. The actual has meaning only by reason of the ideal which it expresses. It is the ideal that gives reality to the actual. Therefore the ideal is the real. The actual expresses a perfect reality in proportion as it approaches the ideal in the Divine Mfnd; which it does by the embodiment of a created ideal. It is that created ideal which is the standard of all excellence, and which the poet and the artist endeavor to express in words, on canvas, or in marble. The ideal they express or represent cannot be the uncreated ideal; for in that case they weuld have intuition direct and immediate from the Godhead -- which is not so, no matter how strongly affirmed by Gioberti and the Ontologists. In this sense, the ideal is the created essence; perhaps it is the noumenon of Kant, but which Kant misapprehended.

{14} Les Dieux, chez moi, sont enfants des hommes; et je pense comme Hesiode, que la terre a produit le ciel. "Sur les Origines de la Culte," I., Jut., p. xxii.

{15} "Cosmos," vol. ii., p. 59, Amer. ed.

{16} Job, chap. xxvi.

{17} See Lenormont, "Essaf sur on Document Mathematique Chaldéen." Paris, 1868.

{18} "Religions de l'Antiquité," tr. fr. Guigniaut, L. I., p. 19.

{19} Genesis, iii., 17-19.

{20} Genesis iii., 15.

{21} "Ancient History of the East," vol. i., p. 318, Eng. tr.

{22} "Religions de l'Antiquité," trad. par Guigniaut, t, I., i., p. 121.

{23} Ibid., t. III., iii., p. 854.

{24} Lenormant thus sums up his discussion of the legend of Semiramis:

{25} F. Thébaud, in his late admirable work, has these suggestive words on the subject:

{26} Hardwick.

{27} Schoolcraft.

{28} S. B. Gould.

{29} "Philosophy of History," p. 199.

{30} See Rawlinson's "Ancient Monarchies," vol. i.

{31} Book II., chap. 42.

{32} "Gentilism," p. 329.

{33} I., i., p. 505.

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