chiefly to be ascribed to two causes. In the first place, whatever is highly valued will naturally be an object of scrupulous care and of assiduous exertions for its improvement; with a view to preserve or improve, men frequently deteriorate what they value and admire, either by absurd guards or by preposterous refinement. Secondly, whatever is in itself conducive to the reformation of morals and the amendment of the heart, meets with strong resistance from that very corruption which it is intended to remove or to diminish. The remedy is not positively rejected, but it is so sophisticated and altered that its operation is either entirely defeated or much impaired in its efficacy. Thus, while the name of the salutary application is retained, its nature is changed, and its efficiency destroyed.

All this has been particularly the case with religion. It has been more corrupted than any other useful and salutary gift which heaven has bestowed on mankind ; and its reality has speedily produced its resemblances and counterfeits, which have claimed its authority and usurped its power. Human folly and corruption seem in this field to have attempted to wage perpetual war with divine wisdom and goodness.

It would be vain to' endeavour to enumerate all the forms of corruption which religion has been forced to assume in the different ages of the world ; nay, it would be an almost endless task to aim at detailing merely the corruptions of Christianity. But these corruptions may be reduced to four general heads, as including the four grand sources from which they have all flowed, namely, Superstition, Fanaticism, Bigotry, and Imposture. On each of these I shall offer some observations.

I. Superstition exhibits one principal counterfeit of true religion, pretends to bear its form, completely perverts its nature, and frustrates its beneficial tendency. In ascertaining the peculíar and appropriate character of Superstition, as distinct from Fanaticism, Bigotry, and Imposture, with the first two of which it has some common features, it may be of some use to attend to the derivation of the word. It has been transferred into our language from the Latin, through the medium of the French. Cicero gives, in my opinion, an erroneous derivation of the word Superstitio in his own language, the origin of the word in ours. Those," says he, “ who prayed and sacrificed whole days, that their children might survive them, were called superstitious, and the term afterwards obtained a more extensive signification,” Lactantius rejects this derivation as absurd, and although I cannot assent to the whole of his argument on

Qui totos dies precabantur et immolabant, ut sui sibi liberi superstites essent, superstitiosi sunt appellati; quod nomen postea latius patuit. De Nat. Deor. l. ii. c. 28.


the point, I think his derivation is more natural, and rests on more solid ground. His words chiefly affecting the point in question are, ** They are denominated superstitious, not who desire that their sons may survive them, (for this we all desire) but either they who pay worship to the memories of the dead, or who worshipped the images of their deceased parents as household deities. For, those who adopt new religious rites, honouring as gods deceased men whom they believed to be received into heaven, were called superstitious. But those who worshipped only the public and ancient deities were called religious. Hence Virgil

Vain superstition knows not ancient gods. But, since we find that even the old deities were in this manner consecrated after death, the superstitious are such as worship a plurality of false gods; but we who adore the one true Deity are religious."

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Superstitiosi autem vocantur, non qui filios suos superstites optant omnes enim optamus) sed qui superstitem memoriam defunctorum colunt, aut qui parentibus suis superstites, colebant imagines eorum domi, tanquam Deos penates. Nam qui novos sibi ritus assumunt, ut deorum vice mortuos honorarent, quos ex hominibus in cælum receptos putabant, hos superstitiosos vocabant. Eos vero qui publicos et antiquos Deos colerent, religiosos nominabant; unde Virgilius

Vana superstitio veterumque ignara deorum. Sed cum veteres quoque deos inveniamus, eodem modo consecratos esse post obitum, superstitiosi ergo qui multos ac falsos deos colunt. Nos autem religiosi qui uni et vero Deo supplicamus. Lact. Div. Instit. 1. iv. c. 28.

Although the assertion of Lactantius in the last sentence of this quotation may be admitted, in reference to the polytheists whom he contrasts with the worshippers of the one only God, it cannot be sustained as a general maxim that this last circumstance is of itself sufficient to exclude superstition ; for it has prevailed in a very high degree, even when one supreme Deity only was acknowledged. The Jews had corrupted their religion by a variety of superstitious devices, and Christianity has long suffered the same corruption. Even in the days of Lactantius, superstition had made considerable inroads on the pure doctrine and worship of the gospel ; and as it was one of the grand objects of this last, on its introcluction, to banish superstition; so it must ever be one of its principal energies to resist and suppress it in all succeeding ages.

All superstition is grounded on false notions of the divine nature and perfections, and introduces modes of conciliating his favour or of averting his displeasure inconsistent with these, and either foreign or repugnant to the moral improvement of man. It rests on the weakness of the human mind, and figures to itself a Deity of a human character subject to partial affection, capriciously influenced and offended, or displeased by actions that have no intrinsic excellence and no relative moral tendency. Superstition even dethrones the infinite Deity, and puts in his place a variety of imaginary agents, to whom it ascribes the direction of human affairs, and whom it endeavours to conciliate by means adapted to the natures which it has bestowed on them. - Unknown evils are dreaded from unknown agents; and when real objects of terror are wanting, the soul, active to its own prejudice, and fostering its predominant inclination, finds imaginary ones, to whose power and malevolence it sets no limits. As these enemies are entirely invisible and unknown, the methods taken to appease them are equally unaccountable, and consist in ceremonies, observances, mortifications, sacrifices, presents, or in any practice however absurd or frivolous, which either folly or knavery recommends to a blind and terrified credulity. Weakness, fear, melancholy, together with ignorance, are therefore the true sources of superstition.”

In this passage Mr. Hume has assigned to su. perstition many of its principal causes, but he has not comprehended them all. Ignorance is indeed its constant attendant, as well as of every other species of corrupt or counterfeit religion sincerely professed. To this he adds weakness, fear, melancholy, as if these, operating

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a Hume's Essay-Of Superstition and Enthusiasm.

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