Imagens das páginas

ceedingly far-fetched and even ridiculous-showing clearly enough, that our good Father with all his learning, could not reason. Sometimes, when he comes to the proof of his assertion, he merely cites the words of the heathen writer over again, and leaves the reader to make out the connexion for himself. Indeed it is quite obvious in many passages, from the evidence of his own language, that he has misunderstood and misrepresented the meaning both of the heathen and the heretic. But the nature of his subject leads him to speak of opinions and practices widely prevalent in his own time; and the glimpse that we thus obtain into the inner life of society, is exceedingly interesting-far more so than the confused light which he throws on more speculative topics. He is a very fair specimen of the average culture of his age; and notwithstanding his Christianity which must still have secluded him from an enlarged intercourse with the world, we are continually reminded in his book, that he belonged to a period which produced Galen and Ptolemy. It places us in fact in the very heart of the old civilization, now verging to its decline, but still exhibiting many of the fruits of an extended system of public instruction-still preserving many of the materials and conditions of the most valuable knowledge. We see what a state of things it was, on which Christianity was then called to act, and with which it had to contend; how the life of a new world was growing out of the death of the old; and we learn most distinctly from the picture, how little the largest possession of ideas imbibed from books, how little mere skill in handling the forms and instruments of intellectual cultivation, can avail for effecting the true ends of society-when disjoined from the stimulus and responsibilities of freedom, and no longer animated by a spirit of moral earnestness. From the absence of these vital elements the learning of the old world was becoming dead lumber; while in the hearts of slaves and freedmen and barbarians a principle of new life was silently germinating, that was destined after the lapse of ages to reanimate it and weave out of it a richer and nobler form of civilization. Yet the age of Hippolytus followed closely on that which Gibbon has pronounced the happiest recorded in the annals of mankind.

We do not propose in this article to take a general survey of the Gnostic systems, even as represented by Hippolytus; but a few notices of the mental and social condi. tion of his age, as revealed by his work-a few indications of the moral atmosphere which he breathed-may be entertaining and not wholly uninstructive. The first book which, as we have before stated, had already been printed among the works of Origen, is devoted to an exposition of the opinions of the old Greek philosophers, distributed into the three schools of the physical, the ethical, and the dialectic or logical--not without a rapid glance at the doctrines of the Bramins and the Druids. In this summary, which appears to have been extracted and abbreviated, not always very connectedly, from previous works that are not mentioned, and only in a few passages from the writings of the philosophers themselves—we are struck with the fact, how many phænomena preparatory to science had then been observed, and how many fragments of scientific truth were already known, which have only recently entered into large inductions and been generalised into laws. We find that Anaximander who flourished in the sixth century B.C., held that the earth was suspended and kept in its place by a balance of equal attractions, that it was of a round form, and that there were antipodes * Anaxagoras of Clazomenæ, the teacher of Pericles, in the fourth century B.C., understood the cause of lunar and solar eclipses, (yñs-- DENúvngase ártio gattotons,) was aware that the moon shone by the reflected light of the sun, and that its surface was diversified by plains and hollows; knew that winds were occasioned by the rarefaction of the air through the solar heat; and seems to have had some notion of regular atmospheric currents to and from the polet. Democritus anticipated Fontenelle in his doctrine of a plurality of worlds, scattered through space and existing in various states of physical development f. The facts which have been so diligently collected by recent geologists, and made

[ocr errors]

the basis of a fossi] botany and zoology, were not unnoticed by ancient observers and led to cosmogonic theories, like those of Burnet and Woodward, which preceded the modern scientific school. Xenophanes, the founder of the Eleatic School, supposed that there had been a primitive paste, arising from a commixture of land and sea, out of which our actual earth was at length evolved-alleging as proof, the occurrence of marine shells in midland districts and on mountains. He had called attention, according to Hippolytus, to the impression of a fish and other sea animals which had been found in the quarries of Syracuse, and to that of a laurel in the very heart of the rock at Paros; while at Melitus he had observed, that the surfaces of all kinds of marine animals (πλάκας συμπάντων θαλασσίων) might be seen impressed. He concludes very naturally, that these impressions were left when the earth was in a state of mud (öte návraćanaconcav nárai) and had dried in it. It was his belief, that things will return once more to this state; that the earth will again subside into the sea; that mankind will perish, and there will be a new commencement of the race*. Ecphantus of Syracuse taught, that the earth in the centre of the universe, revolves on its own axis with a movement towards the eastt.

The fourth book, which contains an exposure of the astrologers, exhibits more strikingly than any other part of the work, the strange jumble of the most incongruous ideas, which had been one result of the breaking up of old faiths and increased intercourse between all parts of the earth, during the first centuries of the Christian era. In the knavish tricks and miserable legerdemain here described, we behold the lowest form of that wild fusion of mental elements, of which the grand imaginative theories of Valentinus and Basilides exhibit the best fruits and the most respectable expression. There was no lack of ideas, furnished by all sorts of books and by itinerant lecturers; the public mind was overwhelmed with ideas: but there was no sifting of them; there was no principle to organise them. It was a complete caricature of the diffusion of popular knowledge, when not guided by any system nor based on a thorough grounding in rudiments.

P. 19. * Την δε γήν μίσος κόσμου κινείσθαι περί το αυτής κέντρον ως προς ανατολήν.P. 19.

There was no discrimination of authorities; no regard to the laws of evidence. Conclusions were taken up at second hand and loudly vented as truths, without any appeal to facts or any logical analysis of the grounds on which they rested. Hippolytus nowhere appears to more advantage, than in the good sense and scientific knowledge with which he lays bare the ignorant and impudent pretensions of his time. It is difficult at the present day to conceive the effect produced on the popular mind, by the sudden influx of ideas from the Oriental thaumaturgy, the dreams of the New Platonism, the Greek astronomy, and the Christian theology; how Homer and Aratus and the Scriptures were used to interpret each other, and supposed to teach a common truth; and what monstrous doctrines were the result of these unnatural mixtures. Hippolytus calls the presumptuous divination in vogue, coopov copiar* ;-and when we trace its revolting abominations in his pages, we can well understand, and can hardly condemn, the somewhat intense conservative reaction of the church. To the extent of his science, Hippolytus appeals to the facts of the physical universe, for the refutation of these absurdities. He discovers a considerable acquaintance with the doctrines of the older Greek astronomers, Archimedes, Hipparchus and Apollonius; and expresses his special obligations to Ptolemy, for giving him such a knowledge of the laws of the planetary system, as enables him to repel the baseless assumptions of the astrologers. He uses science as a test of truth. Should any one doubt his assertions, he asks him to make the necessary measurements and calculations, and satisfy himselft. We have in all this an anticipation of modern times, and that by a Father of the Church !--He has a strong sense of the mischief of half-knowledge, and holds that disconnected fragments of science, an imperfect apprehension and dishonest abuse of facts, have led to endless heresies; and he makes a remark, which we might profit by even in the nineteenth century, that prognosticators thrive on one successful hit, and are not disconconcerted by a thousand failures f.

We get an insight from this book into the domestic use

[ocr errors]

of the horoscope. In casting a nativity, it was necessary to mark the precise moment of conception or birth. Hippolytus shows from various scientific considerations, the utter impossibility of determining this. With regard to birth, it would seem from his account, that it was customary for an astrologer to be in attendance at the time of an accouchement, and to communicate the fact by the ringing of a signal (του δίσκου ψόφον) to another who was stationed on the roof of the house, that he might record the contemporaneous appearance of the heavens. Besides other hindrances to the needful accuracy of the observation, Hippolytus argues, that as sound travels more slowly than light (for in watching wood-cutters at a distance, we see the stroke of the axe before we hear it) however intently the star-gazer may be looking on the skies, some measurable interval must elapse between the point of birth, however determined, and the sound of the discus, which would render the observation for astrological purposes wholly null; and further, that as observations would have to be made on several of the heavenly bodies, their relative position must be changed, owing to the exceedingly rapid motion of the celestial sphere, between the beginning and the end of the operation*. In this same book are contained descriptions of various tricks of sleight-of-hand and ingenious deception, some of which we meet with again in the middle ages, and others we may still witness in the performances of a modern conjuror ; but which in those days were strangely mixed up with religious feeling, and classed among the heresies, which a grave Christian bishop thought it his duty to confutet. Among other follies we learn it was the practice to divine the secrets of men's , lives by the letters of their names, and to write out their characters—as phrenologists will give them now from the protuberances of the skull—from certain signs furnished by the stars f. It is evident from the language of Hippolytus, that they were accustomed in those days to dissect the brain, and probably, from a reference to its coats and membranes, the eye also g. He uses familiarly the

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »