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202 A FRAGMENT OF THE LOST WRITINGS OF IRENÆUS.
scendants, to the effect that every one who worships demons or sacrifices to them, or partakes with them of their table, shall become subject to them and receive all punishment from them, as being under wicked lords."
And so you see, my intelligent friend, that while, on the authority of Peter, I am exempted from the serpent work which orthodoxy attributes to me, I nevertheless exercise all but boundless power over men, fallen angels and demons. The sole restriction put on that authority is effectual resistance to my temptations on the part of God's intelligent creatures, whose feebleness is made fully manifest by the account you have just heard of the origin of evil from the lips of the apostle Peter, who, under Christ, is the head of the Church, the infallible Pope included. For myself, I have no complaint of injustice or harshness to make against "the Rock;" but I do think he has fallen rather heavily on the ladies, and I shall be surprised if, in these days of agitation about "women's rights," a great number of them do not shew by their secession from so ungallant a body as Peter's bachelor Church, that they have a better chance of being justly treated by even me than by the priests; while I am sure that I, a most maligned potentate, have solid grounds for expecting fair treatment from the fair sex.
A stinted reparation to Eve and her descendants is however made in the following extract, one of the "Fragments of the lost Writings of Irenæus," bishop of Lyons in France (177— 202), which I quote the rather because it is more temperate than most of what is said of me by the ecclesiastical Fathers, and will serve as a link in the line in which I unfold their demonology:
"How is it possible to say that the serpent, created by God dumb and irrational, was endowed with reason and speech? For if it had the power of itself to speak, to discern, to understand, and to reply to what was spoken by the woman, there would have been nothing to prevent every serpent from doing this also. If, however, they say again that
IN THE FALL," WOMAN WAS THE STRONGER.
it was according to the Divine will and dispensation that this serpent spake with a human voice to Eve, they render God the author of sin. Neither was it possible for the evil demon to impart speech to a speechless nature, and thus from that which is not to produce that which is; for if that were the case, he never would have ceased, with the view of leading men astray, from conferring with and deceiving them by means of serpents and beasts and birds. From what quarter too did it, being a beast, obtain information regarding the injunction of God to the man, given to him alone and in secret, not even the woman herself being aware of it? Why did it not prefer to make its attack upon the man instead of the woman? And if thou sayest that it attacked her as being the weaker of the two, I reply, that on the contrary she was the stronger, since she appears to have been man's helper in the transgression of the commandment. For she did by herself alone withstand the serpent, and it was after holding out for a while and making opposition that she ate of the tree, being circumvented by craft; whereas Adam, making no fight whatever nor refusal, partook of the fruit handed to him by the woman, which is an indication of the utmost imbecility and effeminacy of mind. And the woman, indeed, having been vanquished in the conquest by a demon, is deserving of pardon; but Adam deserves none, for he was worsted by a woman-he who in his own person had received the command from God. But the woman, having heard of the command from Adam, treated it with disregard, either because she deemed it unworthy of God to speak by means of it, or because she had her doubts, perhaps even held the opinion that the command was given to her by Adam of his own accord. The serpent found her working alone, so that he was able to confer with her apart. Observing her then eating or not eating from the tree, he put before her the fruit of the forbidden tree. And if he saw her eating, it is manifest that she was a partaker of a body subject to corruption; 'for every thing that goeth in at the mouth is cast out into the draught' (Matt. xv. 17). If, then, corruptible, it is manifest
201 PHYSICAL STRUCTURE OF THE SERPENT VERY SUPERIOR.
that she was also mortal. But if mortal, then there was certainly no curse; nor was that a condemnatory sentence when the voice of God spoke to the man, 'For earth thou art, and unto earth shalt thou return' (Gen. iii. 19), as the true course of things proceeds now and always. Then, again, if the serpent observed the woman not eating, how did he induce her to eat who never had eaten? And who pointed out to this accursed man-slaying serpent that the sentence of death pronounced against them by God would not take effect, when he said, 'For in the day that ye eat thereof, ye shall surely die'? And not this merely, but that, along with the impunity, the eyes of those should be opened who had not seen until then? But with the opening of their eyes referred to, they made entrance upon the path of death."
Had the writer allowed his own logic to have its full force in his mind, he would not have descended to the abusive terms, "this accursed man-slaying serpent;" for the tenor of what he says goes to shew that the whole story, taken in its ordinary acceptation, is untrue, and so to acquit me of complicity in the alleged transaction. But here real knowledge steps in to utter the most decided and irrefragable "No!" to the narrative, which breaks down at its centre, and so altogether and irreparably. For the serpent, which is that centre, is not now, nor ever was, under a curse, but on the contrary shews forth the blessedness of the Divine presence in the admirable structure with which it is endowed for the fulfilment of the Divine purposes. I cite the words of one of the high-priests of
"Most annotators to Scripture represent serpents as the progeny of a transmuted species, degraded from its original. form as the penal consequence of its instrumentality in the temptation of Eve. Thus Drs. D'Oyly and Mant, in the edition of the Bible printed under the direction of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (ed. 1823), write― The curse upon the serpent consisted first in bringing down his stature, which was probably in great measure erect before
SCIENCE CONTRADICTS FABLE.
this time upon thy belly shalt thou go,' or 'upon thy breast,' as some versions have it. Secondly, in the meanness of its provision-ʻand dust shalt thou eat;' inasmuch as, creeping upon the ground, it cannot but lick up much dust together with its food.' Almost every commentator writes under the same impression of the special and penal degradation of the serpent to its present form. But when the laws of the science of animated nature form part of the preliminary studies of the theologist, he will appreciate the futility of such attempts to expound the symbolic text as if it were a statement of matter of fact. What Zoology and Anatomy have unfolded of the nature of serpents in their present condition amounts to this: that their parts are as exquisitely adjusted to the form of their whole, and to their habits and sphere of life, as is the organization of any animal which, in the terms of absolute comparison, we call superior to them. It is true that the serpent has no limbs; yet it can out-climb the monkey, out-swim the fish, out-leap the jerboa, and suddenly loosing the coils of its crouching spiral, it can spring so high into the air as to seize the bird upon the wing; thus all those creatures fall its prey. The serpent has neither hands nor claws; yet it can out-wrestle the athlete, and crush the tiger in the embrace of its overlapping folds. Far from licking up its food as it glides along, the serpent lifts up its crushed prey, and presents it, grasped in the death-coil as in a hand, to the gaping mouth. It is truly wonderful to see the work of · hands, feet, fins, performed by a mere modification of its vertebral column. But the vertebræ are specially modified to compensate by the strength of their individual articulations for the weakness of their manifold repetition, and of the consequent elongation of the slender column. But what more particularly concerns us in the relation of the serpent to our own history is the palæontological fact, that these ophidian peculiarities and complexities of cranial* and vertebral organi
"The bony segments or vertebræ of both the head and the trunk, although developed according to the common vertebrate type, are modified
TRADITIONAL THEOLOGY UNDERMINED.
zation, in designed subserviency to a prone position and a gliding progress on the belly, were given, with their poison apparatus, by the Creator, to the serpents of that early tertiary period of our planet's history, when, in the progressive preparation of the dry land, but few, and those only the lower, organized species, now our contemporaries, had been called into existence-before any of the actual kinds of Mammalia (the class to which man belongs) trod the earth, and long ages before the creation of man! Biblical commentators in this matter have erred, knowing only, or believing that they knew, the Scripture, and 'not knowing the power of God.' The admonition of Christ has been needed in all times, and is particularly applicable to the present time.”*
If now, my beloved companion, you cast your mind back on the survey I have set before you of the highest ecclesiastical authorities-those to whom the Papal and the Protestant Church are alike indebted for the substance of their doctrine and the form of their worship; if you carefully observe the character of their state of mind, and the diversity in their several views and opinions on even central points; and if you receive as true my statement that this is that tradition on which the present ecclesiastical organizations "stand at ease,"
for express ends and functions in the several vertebrate species; and in a greater degree, for example, in the serpent than in man. The squamous principle of suture is here carried out to an extreme. The cranial segments of the skull are sheathed one within the other, and the bone in each, being of great density and thickness, supplies a special provision against the dangers to which it would be subject from falling bodies and the tread of heavy beasts. The whole organization of serpents is replete with such instances of design in relation to the needs of their apodal (footless) vermiform character: just as the snake-like eel is compensated by analogous modifications amongst fishes, and the snake-like centipede among insects." Professor Owen in the Lecture described in the next note.
*The Power of God as manifested in his Animal Creation: a Lecture delivered before the Young Men's Christian Association, Nov. 17, 1863, by Professor Richard Owen, D. C.L., F. R.S.," pp. 21-24. London: Longman, 1864.