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On the prayers of Pagan worshippers, whether we regard the matter or the mode of expression, it is impossible to speak favourably: they were not only destitute, in general, of every thing allied to the spirit of piety, but were sometimes framed expressly for the purpose of obtaining the countenance of heaven to the vilest undertakings. Indeed the greater part of their religious observances were of an absurd and ridiculous kind, and in many instances strongly tinctured with the most disgraceful barbarism and obscenity. Their festivals and other solemn days were polluted by a licentious indulgence in every species of libidinous excess; and, on these occasions, they were not prohibited even from making their consecrated places—the supposed mansions of their gods—the scenes of vile and beastly gratification.
The care of the temples, together with the superintendance and direction of all religious ordinances, was committed to a class of men bearing the title of priests or flamens. It appertained to the province of these ministers to see that the ancient and customary honours were paid to the publicly acknowledged deities, and that a due regard was manifested in every other respect for the religion of the state. These were their ordinary duties; but superstition ascribed to them functions of a far more exalted nature. It considered them rather in the light of intimate and familiar friends of the gods than in that of officiating ministers at their altar; and consequently attributed to them the highest degree of sanctity, influence, and power. With the minds of the people thus prepossessed in their favour, it could not be very difficult for an artful and designing set of men, possessed of a competent share of knowledge, to maintain a system of spiritual dominion of the most absolute and tyrannical kind.
Besides the public worship of the Pagan deities, several nations--such, for instance, as the Persians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Indians, and some others-had recourse to a dark and concealed species of worship, under the name of MYSTERIES. None were admitted to see or participate of these mysteries, but such as had approved themselves worthy of that distinction by their fidelity and perseverance in the practice of a long course of initiatory forms. The votaries were enjoined, on peril of instant
faithful picture of the mythology of the heathen world, will need no further proof of the correctness of this representation of the matter.
AT THE BIRTH OF CHRIST.
death, to observe the most profound secrecy respecting every thing that passed,—a circumstance which alone sufficiently accounts for the difficulty that we find in obtaining any information respecting the nature of these recluse practices, and for the discordant and contradictory opinions concerning them that are to be found in the writings of various authors, both ancient and modern. According to Dr. Warburton, each of the Heathen deities, besides the worship paid to him in public, had a secret worship, which was termed the mysteries of the god. These, however, were not performed in every place where he was publicly worshipped, but only where his chief residence was supposed to be. We learn from Herodotus, Diodorus, and Plutarch, that these mysteries were first invented in Egypt, whence they spread into most countries of Europe and Asia. In Egypt they were celebrated to the honour of Isis and Osiris ; in Asia to Mythras; in Samothrace to the mother of the gods; in Bæotia to Bacchus; in the isle of Cyprus to Venus; in Crete to Jupiter; in Athens to Ceres and Proserpine; and in other places to other deities, amounting in all to an incredible number. The most noted of these mysteries were the Orphic, those in honour of Bacchus, the Eleusinian, the Samothracian, the Cabiri, and the Mythraic. Butthe Eleusinian mysteries, which were statedly celebrated by the peopleof Athens at Eleusis, a town of Attica, in honour of Ceres and her daughter Proserpine, in process of time supplanted all the rest; for, according to the testimony of Zosimus, “ These most holy rites were then so extensive as to take in the whole race of mankind.” This sufficiently accounts for the fact that ancient writers have spoken more of the Eleusinian mysteries than of any other. They all, nevertheless, proceeded from one fountain, consisted of similar rites, and are supposed to have had the same object in view.
We are informed by the same learned prelate, Warburton, that the general object of these mysteries was, by means of certain shows and representations, accompanied with hymns, to impress the senses and imaginations of the initiated with the belief of the doctrines of religion, according to the views of them which the inventors of the mysteries entertained. And, in order that the mystic exhibitions might make the deeper impression on the initiated, they were always performed in the darkness of night.
The mysteries were divided into two classes, the less and the greater: the former were intended for the common people—the latter for those in higher stations and of more cultivated understandings. But if the design of these mysteries really was, as some have conjectured, to impress the minds of the initiated with just notions of God, of Providence, and of a future state, it is demonstrable that they must have been grossly perverted from their original intent. Bishop Warburton, who stiffly contends for this high honour in their primary institution, is obliged to admit that the orgies of Bacchus, and the mysteries of the mother of the gods, and of Venus and of Cupid, being celebrated in honour of deities who were supposed to inspire and to preside over the sensual appetites, it was natural for the initiated to believe that they honoured these divinities when they committed the vicious actions of which they were the patrons. He further acknowledges that the mysteries of these deities being performed during nocturnal darkness, or in gloomy recesses, and under the seal of the greatest secrecy, the initiated indulged themselves, on these occasions, in all the abominations with which the object of their worship was supposed to be delighted. In fact, the enormities committed in celebrating the mysteries of these impure deities ultimately became so intolerable that their rites were proscribed in various countries, as those of Bacchus were at Rome.* And, from this short account of the matter, we may learn how properly the apostle Paul denominated these boasted Heathen mysteries “the unfruitful works of darkness,” Eph. v. 11-works unproductive of any good either to those who performed them or to society: and how very properly he prohibited Christians from joining in or “having any fellowship with them;" because the things that were done in them, under the seal of secrecy, were such as it was even base to mention, ver. 12. Warburton assures us that while all the other mysteries became exceedingly corrupt, through the folly or wickedness of those who presided at their celebration, and gave occasion to many abominable impurities, by means of which the manners of the Heathens were entirely vitiated, the Eleusinian mysteries long preserved their original purity. But at last
* Livy's Roman History, book xxxix.
AT THE BIRTH OF CÉRIST.
they also, yielding to the fate of all human institutions, partook of the common depravity, and had a very pernicious influence on the morals of mankind. In proportion therefore as the Gospel made its progress in the world, the Eleusinian mysteries themselves fell into disrepute; and, together with all the other Pagan solemnities, were at length suppressed.*
The Religion of the Greeks and Romans. At the time of the birth of Christ, the religion of Rome, or, to speak more properly, the established superstition of the empire, had been received, together with its government and laws, by a great part of the then known world. Much of this system of superstition had been borrowed from the Greeks; and hence the propriety of classing the religion of the two people under one head. There was, however, a difference between the two, and in some points rather material. The framers of the Grecian system seem to have admitted the existence of one supreme, intelligent, great first cause, the author of every thing, visible and invisible, and the supreme governor of the world; but they did not think it either necessary or proper to impart this idea to the multitude, whose gross conceptions they thought might be amused by a variety of fabulous tales, and whose hopes and fears would be more excited by a plurality of deities than by the unity of an overruling power. The divinities first introduced, in consequence of this opinion, were the sun and the principal planets, to which were soon added the elements of fire, air, earth, and water. These fictitious deities were invested with the human form, and all the passions incident to human nature were attributed to them. The fabricated tales of their adventures comprehended an indulgence of the most vicious propensities and the perpetration of enormous crimes. The Greeks adored Jupiter as at the head of the celestial association, the protector of mankind, and governor of the universe; while their philosophers, who appear in general to have been Atheists, by this personage typified the higher region of the air; and by his wife (Juno) the lower atmosphere diffused between the heavens and the sea. And whilst the common people
* Rollin's Ancient History, vol, v.
paid homage to Cybele, as the mother of the gods, the more refined part of the nation intended nothing more than the earth by that object of worship. Fire was deified, and the great body of water had also its divine representative. Apollo was the sun, and the moon was his sister, Artemis, or Diana. Thus, by the fertile imagination of the Greeks, their deities were gradually multiplied to a remarkable: excess: indeed the poet Hesiod swells the amount to THIRTY THOUSAND! According to their mythology, all parts of nature teemed with divine agents, and a system, which it must be owned was in some respects elegantly fanciful, was characterised, under other views, by features of the grossest absurdity.
Worship was originally offered to their deities in the open air, in groves, or upon eminences; but the Greeks, in the progress of their superstition, were led to believe that their deities would be better pleased with the erection of buildings peculiarly devoted to their service; and temples, at first simple and unadorned, afterwards magnificent and sumptuous, were the fruits of this opinion. Of the extent to which this point was ultimately carried, we have indeed a striking instance in the case of the temple of Diana, at Ephesus, the length of which, Pliny tells us, was 425 feet, and its breadth 220. It was supported by 107 pillars, each of them 60 feet high. This magnificent structure was erected at the expense of all Asia, and 250 years were spent in finishing it. At first these temples were without images; but in process of time wooden figures of their gods were exhibited for public reverence. Stone or marble was soon deemed preferable for this use; metals of various kinds were also adopted ; and the rudeness of early fabrication was succeeded by elegant workmanship
Sacrifices formed an essential part of the superstitious worship of the Greeks, as well as of the Romans. Grateful respect for the favours conferred on them by their imaginary deities, the desire of averting their anger after the commission of any offence, and an eagerness to secure their blessing on a projected enterprise, were the inducements to these oblations. Herbs were the earliest offerings, and it was usual to burn them, that the smoke might ascend towards heaven. Barley, and cakes made of that grain, were afterwards substituted for ordinary herbs; and ultimately