« PrécédentContinuer »
when he has no revelation, he has an instinctive sense of God, and seeks Him according to his ability. If there had ever been, and if there still existed anywhere, a people absolutely without religion, it could only be an exceptional degeneration which amounted to animality. It is impossible to admit that the Aryan race, gifted as it was, had sunk so low, or that at any time it was without religious beliefs. And as Polytheism, by its very nature, has only been able to develop itself gradually, it must have been preceded by a simple religion. May this religion have been a Monotheism, not reasoned or reflective, but instinctive and more or less vague? This is the question which presents itself, and upon which this comparative philology alone can cast any light, if the problem be still soluble.
In this problem it is not the mythologies that are to be consulted, for mythologies are themselves only the secondary products of Polytheism. The comparative study of myths is doubtless of the highest interest; but the vastness of the field which it embraces, the incertitudes and obscurities of a poetic element which is essentially mobile, and which allows a great latitude to interpretation, must make this a special branch of the science of “The Origins of Mankind,” like the comparison of languages. We will leave, then, on one side the mythologies, only referring to them as they touch the true religious question. With regard to it, proceeding without any preconceived system, we shall pass in review the most ancient names which have served to express the idea of God in general, and seek to mount to their original signification. This is, in truth, the only means of knowing the manner in which the primitive Aryans conceived the divinity. If these names relate to nature and its phenomena it will follow that the religion of that ancient people has been from the beginning, or at least from the earliest period accessible to us, only a worship of divinised nature, which implies the existence of a Polytheism which has developed gradually but constantly from the very origins of the race. If, on the contrary, these names can be only explained by the conception of a Being, superior to and distinct from the world, then it will be necessary to admit that this notion must have prevailed, to some degree, before the Polytheistic worship of nature, and it will only remain for us to discover by what influences this latter worship has been able to arise, so as to develop itself at a later period with so much power.
After a lengthened investigation into the earliest words denoting the Deity, and the myths which expressed other religious ideas, M. Pictet thus sums up his conclusion :"If we now review the sum of the facts which we have arrayed, we shall be able to draw some inductions of a more
precise order upon the religious development of the Aryans at the time of their dispersion, or in earlier ages.
"The comparative study of the particular divinities has shown us that, towards the close of their united life, the religion of the Aryans consisted in a Polytheism which already comprehended the principal powers of nature. The heaven, earth, sun, morning, fire, waters, wind,—such were the beings personified to whom they addressed their prayers. There may have been others besides, but these are the only ones which the comparison of the Indo-European languages discovers to us. Though much more simple in its entirety than the different religions which afterwards proceeded from it, yet this Polytheism was already encircled with a changing aureola of poetic myths. A primitive simplicity likewise ruled in the rites of worship. Nothing in. dicates the existence of a regular priesthood. It is likely that the father of the family, or the chief of the clan, fulfilled the functions of the priest. Libations of milk and of fermented drinks, the smoke of incense, the blood of some domestic animals -these were the offerings of sacrifice that accompanied consecration and prayer. And these rites were performed under the vault of heaven at the break of dawn, or on the rising of the sun, or on the family hearth; for there were neither temples nor images of the gods. At least comparative philology leads us to presume thus much, though it is true its positive results may be incomplete.
“Now, however simple the religious system may have been, if we compare the further developments which divers Polytheisms have taken, it is impossible to admit that it was constructed complete in all its parts, at any one epoch of the ancient Aryan life. It must have been formed gradually, and its first origins cannot be traced as far back as those of the language itself. This is already proved by those names of gods, which are none other than the names of natural objects designated by one of their characteristic attributes. The earth which is extended, the sun which shines and fertilizes, the dawn which brightens, the fire which trembles, &c., had received their names before becoming divinities. If the Aryans from the beginning had adored nature, there would have remained some trace of it in their language, in which, however, there is nothing but absolute realism as to the words which designate natural phenomena. We must therefore acknowledge that there was a time when Polytheism did not yet exist, and yet the language was already formed. Can we then suppose that then, and during all that preparatory period, the primitive Aryans remained without any religious beliefs, delivered exclusively to the interests of the material life, or the superstitions of a gross fetishism? That
trian life. Pleite in all its mpossible toents, which I have bee
nated by none other than proved by ththose of the lan
supposition would not accord at all with the intellectual and moral sentiments which their whole language reveals to us in so eminent a degree. Man without any idea of God is only a brutish savage, and the brutish savage does not raise himself by his own efforts to the mighty developinent which the Aryans made in all directions.
“It is in consequence of these considerations that we conjectured, à priori, the existence of a Monotheism which preceded the Polytheism of the ancient Aryans, and the comparative study of the names of the Deity has issued in confirming the hypothesis. These names, in fact, and especially that one of ‘Dieu' (Deus, Oéos, &c.) which has traversed so many ages and several religions to reach us, are not like the names of special divinities, appellations which designate natural beings, and yet they belong to the most ancient formations of the language, as their cognate forms among the different Aryan nations prove. We must now see what this primitive Monotheism could be,* and in what way Polytheism must have risen naturally out of it.
" Is man incapable of rising of himself to the idea of the 'One God,' as some theologians suppose ? Taken in an absolute sense, that opinion does not appear to us to be well founded, either in fact or in reason. Because that missionaries have found some savage tribes without any notion of a Divinity, we should not infer a complete impotence of the human spirit, of which these tribes were assuredly wretched representatives. Besides, in this matter testimonies vary, and other observers have signalized the existence of Monotheistic beliefs among nations equally savage. These beliefs are naturally more or less vague, according to the aptitude of the races; but, however imperfect they may be, they contain a germ which would have been able to develop itself under favourable circumstances, and which has developed itself more than once in a remarkable manner.
"Thus, when the Guarani of Brazil calls the Supreme Being • Tupa,' a word composed of a particle of admiration 'tu,' and of another of interrogation 'pa,' do we not see the naïve expression of that astonishment which must seize the soul of men of nature, in presence of the idea of God, yet obscure and instinctive? Do not we probably discover that astonishment at the origin of the most complete Monotheism, that of the Hebrews, if, as some orientalists think, their ancient name of God (EI, Eloha, Elohim); in Arabic, Ill, Ilah, Allah (from Al and Ilah), is connected with the Arabic root Allâ, was amazed or astonished. When compared with the Tupa' of the Guarani, which remained in the sterile form of a vague nature; the Kitchi Manitou,' or Great Spirit of the Alginquins, shows us already a conception much more precise, and yet the Alginquins were also only savages. It is, however, especially among the more gifted races of the Peruvians and the Mexicans that the trace of a singularly lofty Monotheism has been found, and which has preceded the sun worship of the one, and the barbarous Polytheism of the other. The Peruvians acknowledged a Supreme Being, creator and governor of the universe, and they adored Him under the names of Pachacamac, i.e., He who sustains and vivifies the world; and of Vivacocha, the sense of which remains obscure. This Supreme Being had no images, and only one temple near Lima, which existed before the domination of the Incas and the worship of the stars (Prescott, vol. i. page 101).
* We need hardly assure our readers that we do not agree with the conclusions of M. Pictet on this subject, but his argument is full of suggestive thought. Assuredly the human intellect, which was drawn off to Polytheism from Monotheism in the manner M. Pictet describes, was much more likely, if left to its spontaneous activity in the matter, to have originated Polytheism from the beginning. But if God's original revelation of Himself to man be conceded, the study of these “ origins of humanity" become intelligible, and the fall of man into Polytheism an instructive spectacle.
“The Aztecs, likewise the ancestors of the Mexicans, believed in a Supreme Creator, master of the universe. They addressed prayers to Him as to the God by whom we live, present everywhere, who knows all thoughts, and dispenses all gifts, without whom man is as nothing, invisible, incorporeal, one only God of absolute perfection, under whose wings we find repose and protection (Prescott's Conquest of Mexico,' page 37). Some reminiscence of this lofty Monotheism was preserved later amidst the worship of the Mexicans, when it had degenerated into barbarism, for the king Nezahuacoyotl raised a pyramidal temple to the unknown God, cause of causes, who had no statue, and to whom were only offered flowers and perfumes. These examples enable us to comprehend clearly what may have been the conception of God among the ancient Aryans, a race superior, without doubt, to the aborigines of America in natural endowments.
"Up to what point of development has this primitive Monotheism, still very vague, been able to arrive? Has the Celestial Being, the Deva, been conceived as a spirit, as the creator of the world, as a supreme intelligence in relation with man? Has He been the object of worship? All this we might justly infer from the other names given to the Divinity, together with Deva, if we were certain that they mounted back to a period as remote. However this may be, it is difficult to believe in a Monotheism, distinctly formulated like that of the Hebrews, for the origin of Polytheism would then be inexplicable. *
* But observe, first, the proclivity and the frequent fall of the Hebrews
“We could not understand how the truth, once set forth in clear light, should have been abandoned for error. It is therefore to be presumed that this first belief remained with the Aryans in a germinal state, that the idea of God did not emerge from its mysterious obscurity, and that finally Polytheism is born precisely from the need of seeking intermediaries more nearly related to man, and of explaining the multiplicity of the phenomena of nature, by placing them under the direction of as many superior agents.
“In order to render an account of the manner in which this transaction may have taken place, we must not forget that these had then no notion of nature as a system co-ordinated by constant laws, and forming a harmonious whole. In the midst of the variety of the forces in play, and of the conflict of the elements, the unity of the great system was hidden from them; and this was inevitable, in proportion as they received more vivid and profound impressions from the spectacle of nature. How could they have acknowledged the manifestations of the only God in the tranquil splendours of the sky, and in the fury of the tempests, in the devouring might of fire, and the genial influence of water, in the beneficent appearances of nature, and the dreadful calamities that overwhelmed them? The first vague idea of a Heavenly Being did not suffice. It was necessary to recognize others with a reality nearer and more immediate, and presiding each over a special order of phenomena. Hence the personifications of the great powers of nature; and as the new gods were in direct and constant relation with the interests of man, it was to them that worship was henceforth addressed, whilst the Supreme Being was relegated further and further to the distant depths of the heavens. We must believe, however, that this religious movement has followed a gradual course, and that in the beginning, the new gods, in small number, were regarded as the subordinate agents of the only God. The first phase of Polytheism remained probably with the Aryans till the period of their dispersion.
“But, once launched in the way of multiplication of gods, by the methods of personification and anthropomorphism, Polytheism no longer restrains itself, and but for some religious revolution,
into idolatry, notwithstanding their articulately expressed Monotheistic creed; and, second, the creed of the Mexicans, as quoted from Prescott by M. Pictet, is very bold and distinct in its affirmations, approaching very ncar to the Hebrew faith; yet they fell into barbarous Polytheism. M. Pictet claims for the Aryans a higher nature, and a higher religious faith, than the Mexicans had. If so, it could not have been much, if at all inferior to the faith of the Hebrew patriarchs; and their lapse into Polytheism must be explained from another cause than the indistinctness and uncertainty of their Monotheistic beliefs.