Imagens das páginas

might have apo It collected, grapple, and


Absoluteht envy, thy: It encoled, facts in with a dili.

spiritual nature and relations were but glimpses; and hence in immediate connection with the sublimest truths it set forth, as equally valid and authoritative, the wildest and most absurd conjectures.

Thus an image in which gold, silver, iron, and clay are promiscuously and incongruously blended, would well represent the best theological systems of philosophic Paganism. Here we meet with sublime expressions regarding the Divine agency in nature; but anon we find perhaps that this agency is but a natural power, acting irrationally and blindly, or at best a mere "soul of the world,” having no moral character, nor even power of independent volition. The early speculations on the origin of things seem to have left a Divine agency almost entirely out of the account, and to have sought an explication of the origin and structure of the universe in the mere natural properties of matter and motion. And the celebrated “mind" of Anaxagoras, who first introduced into the Greek cosmogony a principle distinct from and independent of matter, although endowed with some very lofty qualities, yet proves itself little else than a mere intellectual machine, working by a sort of natural necessity, and only on a very limited scale. Of God as a creator, that is, as a producer of the universe out of nothing, (" so that the things which are seen were not made from the things which do appear,") we meet up to the time of Plato absolutely not the slightest indication. The eternity of matter seems with all his predecessors, as with most of those who succeeded him, quite as necessary a doctrine as the eternity of mind. Whether Plato himself held to the doctrine of creation, in its absolute sense, is a point on which the learned hold different opinions, and which cannot perhaps be positively determined. One of his leading arguments for the future existence of the soul is, that there must be a separate existence of souls, else there would be no source of supply to the exigences of ever-springing life. This, with the extension which he gives to the argument, so as to include all the phenomena of change, decay, and reproduction, goes far to show that in Plato's opinion, even if absolute creative power had ever been exercised, it had long since ceased to act, and the entire economy of nature was carried forward by the mere modification of existing elements of being. But we must not at present pursue this subject. We only add that the Greek philosophy was generally either Atheistic, or (which is nearly equivalent) Pantheistic; and that very few of its votaries recognized God as an infinite, absolute, supreme Moral Ruler. Indeed, notwithstanding the sublime expres

act, and ad ever be Plato's

sions employed by Socrates, we may well doubt whether he had any conception of the absolute ubiquity of the Divine Being. That his presence pervaded the entire creation he seems clearly to have held ; but that he regarded it as also filling infinite space, we have no sufficient reason for believing.

The Greek philosophers were also most of them (all, perhaps, of the earlier ones) materialists. They looked upon the soul as a subtle species of matter, or the mere result of a nice adjustment and organization of the elements which composed the body. Thus, with the Pythagoreans, the body was a sort of skilfully adjusted musical instrument, and the soul the harmony to which it gave birth. With the Ionians, the soul was air or fire, or some intermediate essence, according to the views which they respectively took of the elementary principle from which had sprung all the existing variety of things. With many, therefore, the separate existence of the soul was either wholly discarded, or, if held at all, was held quite independently of their philosophical dogmas, and frequently in fact in direct contrariety to them. The Pythagoreans, while they represented the soul sometimes as number, and sometimes as harmony, (according as the mathematical or the musical element of their philosophy happened to be uppermost,) still taught its separate and future existence, but degraded the doctrine by blending it with that of the metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls, according to which the soul which today animates the breast of the philosopher, might to-morrow tenant the body of a monkey or a reptile. Socrates seems to have taught in a more rational way the future being and immortality of the soul ; and Plato applied the energies of his capacious and almost divine intellect to exploring the depths, and reaching “ the height of the great argument.” But while the Phædo stands certainly as one of the noblest monuments of Greek antiquity, rich in all the graces of style and sentiment, in all that wealth and splendor of diction and imagery by which the Great Enchanter of antiquity could throw fascination and attractiveness around the most abstract and subtle disquisition, yet it certainly stands as a mournful proof that the profoundest human intellect fails to fathom the deep things of the spirit of man, as well as the deep things of the Spirit of God. Some noble, and more puerile (or at least weak) arguments are offered for the soul's future existence. The author presses into his service his favorite doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul, and his still more favorite doctrine of absolute forms or essences ; now he appeals to the natural instincts, the irrepressible convictions of the soul, and now, with great ingenuity and acuteness, follows out a subtle and most elaborate chain of reasoning ; but after all, he fails to prove his point. The great truth of immortality is not established ; and although to those who acknowledged the validity of the premises, the argument might for the moment seem conclusive, yet their convictions, we may be sure, would vanish almost with the closing of the volume. With us there are but one or two of the arguments that can have the slightest weight.

But further, as the philosophical teachings of the Greeks wanted consistency and coherence, so they wanted sanction. Even admitting that they had actually succeeded in attaining to the truth, who knew it? Who could vouch for it? Who could bring these speculations to bear upon the multitude, or even upon themselves, in the shape of well attested and authoritative truths? It was at best but speculation; and although it might be correct speculation, yet, coming with no higher voucher than human reason, (or reasoning,) it utterly failed even to command the assent, much more to bind the conscience and control the conduct of the multitude. Who had rent the curtain of the future, and, having looked in upon its profound abysses, had come back to recount the scenes of his travel in the land from whose bourne no traveller returns ? Who had wrested from the unwilling grave its secrets? What eye had explored the realm of darkness? What ear had caught the echoes of the land of silence ? Over that boundless future, over that infinite unknown, hung the curtain of impenetrable mystery. All that entered there were instantly and for ever swallowed up from mortal view; and every individual of the race, were he peasant or philosopher, as he drew near its awful confines, had each for himself to plunge blindly and uncertainly into the “ palpable obscure,” which revealed to his straining vision not a single well-defined object.

But again, the teachings of philosophy, even so far as they were unquestionably correct, and laid on the soul of man their undisputed obligations, finding their vindicator and voucher in every human bosom, were after all wholly inadequate to a successful conflict with the fierce passions of the human heart, and the gigantic organized vices of society. Beautiful and noble sentiments they might be, which lived in the contemplations and influenced the conduct of the thoughtful few; but they vainly strove (if indeed they strove at all) to make any deep impression on the characters and lives of the many. They were like the coruscations of the Aurora Borealis, which glitter, but do not warm; they played over the dark charnel-house of human corruption like the lights which gleam above the sepulchre, but send no reviving ray into the bosom of death. They had in short no medicine for the deeply seated disease of humanity ; no power to make man love the virtues which he hated, and hate the vices which he loved. Nor indeed was such to any considerable extent their aim. The intellect of Greek philosophy was much more capacious than its heart. It possessed little of the aggressive spirit ; little disposition to make the masses of society the recipients of its blessings. The few favored spirits sat on an illumined eminence, and felt, it is to be feared, little anxiety that the light which fell on them should dissipate the darkness of the vales below. Socrates was a distinguished and noble exception. He was the missionary of Paganism; the one solitary example, we believe, furnished in all its annals, of a man avowedly and systematically devoting himself to the benefit of his fellow-creatures. Had Greek philosophy uniformly possessed his spirit, with all her defects, she would indeed have proved an inestimable blessing to mankind. But generally she was encased in a hard and cold selfishness, having little sympathy with humanity at large, and making small effort to strengthen its weaknesses and solace its woes.



o s Thus Greek philosophy was partly indifferent and partly impotent for the working of any thorough moral renovation. Survey it in the two extremes which it reached the systems of the Porch and the Garden, of Zeno and Epicurus. The former of these, the Stoic, proposed to itself a noble and exalted aim, the formation of a perfect man in the complete triumph of the rational and moral nature over all the lower appetites and passions; in the attainment of a sublime indifference to all outward circumstances, to physical pain, to poverty, misfortune, sickness, and death. Such was the rugged system of Zeno. Virtue was the only good ; vice the only evil. All other things were simply indifferent, and their presence or absence could never affect the tranquillity of a wise man. This was a noble, but, alas! an impracticable scheme. It pointed to a proud elevation, but it opened no path by which the magnificent height was to be scaled.

True, under this system many lofty traits of moral heroism might be developed; many stern and rigid virtues might be cultivated ; and a resolute denial of the animal appetites might often seem to be securing a complete spiritual triumph to the zealous votary of perfection. But, alas! Leviathan was not so tamed. That votary had no catholicon in his materia medica for healing the deep-seated dis

« AnteriorContinuar »