Are all appearances deceitful? Have our senses been given us only to keep us in continual delusion? Is everything error? Do we live in a dream, surrounded by shadowy chimeras? We see the sun setting when he is already below the horizon; before he has yet risen we see him appear. A square tower seems to be round. A straight stick, thrust into the water, seems to be bent.
You see your face in a mirror and the image appears to be behind the glass: it is, however, neither behind nor before it. This glass, which to the sight and the touch is so smooth and even, is no other than an unequal congregation of projections and cavities. The finest and fairest skin is a kind of bristled network, the openings of which are incomparably larger than the threads, and enclose an infinite number of minute hairs. Under this network there are liquors incessantly passing, and from it there issue continual exhalations which cover the whole surface. What we call large is to an elephant very small, and what we call small is to insects a world. The same motion which would be rapid to a snail would be very slow in the eye of an eagle. This rock, which is impenetrable by steel, is a sieve consisting of more pores than matter, and containing a thousand avenues of prodigious width leading to its centre, in which are lodged multitudes of animals, which may, for aught we know, think themselves the masters of the universe.
Nothing is either as it appears to be, or in the place where we believe it to be. Several philosophers, tired of being constantly deceived by bodies, have in their spleen pronounced that bodies do not exist, and that there is nothing real but our minds. As well might they have concluded that, all appearances being false, and the nature of the soul being as little known as that of the matter, there is no reality in either body or soul. Perhaps it is this despair of knowing anything which has caused some Chinese philosophers to say that nothing is the beginning and the end of all things. This philosophy, so destructive to being, was well known in Molière's time. Doctor Macphurius represents the school; when teaching Sganarelle, he says, "You must not say, 'I am come,' but 'it seems to me that I am come'; for it may seem to you, without such being really the case." But at the present day a comic scene is not an argument, though it is sometimes better than an argument; and there is often as much pleasure in seeking after truth as in laughing at philosophy.
You do not see the network, the cavities, the threads, the inequalities, the exhalations of that white and delicate skin which you idolize. Animals a thousand times less than a mite discern all these objects which escape your vision; they lodge, feed, and travel about in them, as in an extensive country, and those on the right arm are perfectly ignorant that there are creatures of their own species on the left. If you were so unfortunate as to see what they see, your charming skin would strike you with horror.
The harmony of a concert, to which you listen with delight, must have on certain classes of minute animals the effect of terrible thunder; and perhaps it kills them. We see, touch, hear, feel things only in the way in which they ought to be seen, touched, heard, or felt by ourselves.
All is in due proportion. The laws of optics, which show you an object in the water where it is not, and break a right line, are in entire accordance with those which make the sun appear to you with a diameter of two feet, although it is a million times larger than the earth. To see it in its true dimensions would require an eye collecting his rays at an angle as great as his disk, which is impossible. Our senses, then, assist much more than they deceive us.
Motion, time, hardness, softness, dimensions, distance, approximation, strength, weakness, appearances, of whatever kind, all is relative. And who has created these relations?
All great successes, of whatever kind, are founded upon things done or said apropos.
Arnold of Brescia, John Huss, and Jerome of Prague did not come quite apropos; the people were not then sufficiently enlightened; the invention of printing had not then laid the abuses complained of before the eyes of every one. But when men began to read – when the populace, who were solicitous to escape purgatory, but at the same time wished not to pay too dear for indulgences, began to open their eyes, the reformers of the sixteenth century came quite apropos, and succeeded.
It has been elsewhere observed that Cromwell under Elizabeth or Charles the Second, or Cardinal de Retz when Louis XIV. governed by himself, would have been very ordinary persons.
Had Cæsar been born in the time of Scipio Africanus he would not have subjugated the Roman commonwealth; nor would Mahomet, could he rise again at the present day, be more than sheriff of Mecca. But if Archimedes and Virgil were restored, one would still be the best mathematician, the other the best poet of his country.
If any one be desirous of obtaining a thorough knowledge of the antiquities of Arabia, it may be presumed that he will gain no more information than about those of Auvergne and Poitou. It is, however, certain, that the Arabs were of some consequence long before Mahomet. The Jews themselves say that Moses married an Arabian woman, and his father-in-law Jethro seems to have been a man of great good sense.
Mecca is considered, and not without reason, as one of the most ancient cities in the world. It is, indeed, a proof of its antiquity that nothing but superstition could occasion the building of a town on such a spot, for it is in a sandy desert, where the water is brackish, so that the people die of hunger and thirst. The country a few miles to the east is the most delightful upon earth, the best watered and the most fertile. There the Arabs should have built, and not at Mecca. But it was enough for some charlatan, some false prophet, to give out his reveries, to make of Mecca a sacred spot and the resort of neighboring nations. Thus it was that the temple of Jupiter Ammon was built in the midst of sands. Arabia extends from northeast to southwest, from the desert of Jerusalem to Aden or Eden, about the fiftieth degree of north latitude. It is an immense country, about three times as large as Germany. It is very likely that its deserts of sand were brought thither by the waters of the ocean, and that its marine gulfs were once fertile lands.
The belief in this nation's antiquity is favored by the circumstance that no historian speaks of its having been subjugated. It was not subdued even by Alexander, nor by any king of Syria, nor by the Romans. The Arabs, on the contrary, subjugated a hundred nations, from the Indus to the Garonne; and, having afterwards lost their conquests, they retired into their own country and did not mix with any other people.
Having never been subject to nor mixed with other nations it is more than probable that they have preserved their manners and their language. Indeed, Arabic is, in some sense, the mother tongue of all Asia as far as the Indus; or rather, the prevailing tongue, for mother tongues have never existed. Their genius has never changed. They still compose their "Nights' Entertainments," as they did when they imagined one Bac or Bacchus, who passed through the Red Sea with three millions of men, women, and children; who stopped the sun and moon, and made streams of wine issue forth with a blow of his rod, which, when he chose, he changed into a serpent.
A nation so isolated, and whose blood remains unmixed, cannot change its character. The Arabs of the desert have always been given to robbery, and those inhabiting the towns been fond of fables, poetry, and astronomy. It is said, in the historical preface to the Koran, that when any one of their tribes had a good poet the other tribes never failed to send deputies to that one on which God had vouchsafed to bestow so great a gift.
The tribes assembled every year, by representatives, in an open place named Ocad, where verses were recited, nearly in the same way as is now done at Rome in the garden of the academy of the Arcadii, and this custom continued until the time of Mahomet. In his time, each one posted his verses on the door of the temple of Mecca. Labid, son of Rabia, was regarded as the Homer of Mecca; but, having seen the second chapter of the Koran, which Mahomet had posted, he fell on his knees before him, and said, "O Mahomet, son of Abdallah, son of Motalib, son of Achem, thou art a greater poet than I – thou art doubtless the prophet of God."
The Arabs of Maden, Naïd, and Sanaa were no less generous than those of the desert were addicted to plunder. Among them, one friend was dishonored if he had refused his assistance to another. In their collection of verses, entitled "Tograid", it is related that, "one day, in the temple of Mecca, three Arabs were disputing on generosity and friendship, and could not agree as to which, among those who then set the greatest examples of these virtues, deserved the preference. Some were for Abdallah, son of Giafar, uncle to Mahomet; others for Kais, son of Saad; and others for Arabad, of the tribe of As. After a long dispute they agreed to send a friend of Abdallah to him, a friend of Kais to Kais, and a friend of Arabad to Arabad, to try them all three, and to come and make their report to the assembly.
"Then the friend of Abdallah went and said to him, 'Son of the uncle of Mahomet, I am on a journey and am destitute of everything.' Abdallah was mounted on his camel loaded with gold and silk; he dismounted with all speed, gave him his camel, and returned home on foot.
"The second went and made application to his friend Kais, son of Saad. Kais was still asleep, and one of his domestics asked the traveller what he wanted. The traveller answered that he was the friend of Kais, and needed his assistance. The domestic said to him, 'I will not wake my master; but here are seven thousand pieces of gold, which are all that we at present have in the house. Take also a camel from the stable, and a slave; these will, I think, be sufficient for you until you reach your own house.' When Kais awoke, he chid the domestic for not having given more.
"The third repaired to his friend Arabad, of the tribe of As. Arabad was blind, and was coming out of his house, leaning on two slaves, to pray to God in the temple of Mecca. As soon as he heard his friend's voice, he said to him, 'I possess nothing but my two slaves; I beg that you will take and sell them; I will go to the temple as well as I can, with my stick.'
"The three disputants, having returned to the assembly, faithfully related what had happened. Many praises were bestowed on Abdallah, son of Giafar – on Kais, son of Saad – and on Arabad, of the tribe of As, but the preference was given to Arabad."
The Arabs have several tales of this kind, but our western nations have none. Our romances are not in this taste. We have, indeed, several which turn upon trick alone, as those of Boccaccio, "Guzman d'Alfarache," "Gil Bias," etc.
On Job, the Arab.
It is clear that the Arabs at least possessed noble and exalted ideas. Those who are most conversant with the oriental languages think that the Book of Job, which is of the highest antiquity, was composed by an Arab of Idumaea. The most clear and indubitable proof is that the Hebrew translator has left in his translation more than a hundred Arabic words, which, apparently, he did not understand.
Job, the hero of the piece, could not be a Hebrew, for he says, in the forty-second chapter, that having been restored to his former circumstances, he divided his possessions equally among his sons and daughters, which is directly contrary to the Hebrew law.
It is most likely that, if this book had been composed after the period at which we place Moses, the author – who speaks of so many things and is not sparing of examples – would have mentioned some one of the astonishing prodigies worked by Moses, which were, doubtless, known to all the nations of Asia.
In the very first chapter Satan appears before God and asks permission to tempt Job. Satan was unknown in the Pentateuch; it was a Chaldæan word; a fresh proof that the Arabian author was in the neighborhood of Chaldæa.
It has been thought that he might be a Jew because the Hebrew translator has put Jehovah instead of El, or Bel, or Sadai. But what man of the least information does not know that the word Jehovah was common to the Phœnicians, the Syrians, the Egyptians, and every people of the neighboring countries?
A yet stronger proof – one to which there is no reply – is the knowledge of astronomy which appears in the Book of Job. Mention is here made of the constellations which we call Arcturus, Orion, the Pleiades, and even of those of "the chambers of the south." Now, the Hebrews had no knowledge of the sphere; they had not even a term to express astronomy; but the Arabs, like the Chaldæans, have always been famed for their skill in this science.
It does, then, seem to be thoroughly proved that the Book of Job cannot have been written by a Jew, and that it was anterior to all the Jewish books, Philo and Josephus were too prudent to count it among those of the Hebrew canon. It is incontestably an Arabian parable or allegory.
This is not all. We derive from it some knowledge of the customs of the ancient world, and especially of Arabia. Here we read of trading with the Indies; a commerce which the Arabs have in all ages carried on, but which the Jews never even heard of.
Here, too, we see that the art of writing was in great cultivation, and that they already made great books.
It cannot be denied that the commentator Calmet, profound as he is, violates all the rules of logic in pretending that Job announces the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body, when he says:
"For I know that my Redeemer liveth. And though after my skin – worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. But ye should say, Why persecute we him? – seeing the root of the matter is found in me. Be ye afraid of the sword; for wrath bringeth the punishment of the sword, that ye may know there is a judgment."
Can anything be understood by those words, other than his hope of being cured? The immortality of the soul, and the resurrection of the body at the last day, are truths so indubitably announced in the New Testament, and so clearly proved by the fathers and the councils, that there is no need to attribute the first knowledge of them to an Arab. These great mysteries are not explained in any passage of the Hebrew Pentateuch; how then can they be explained in a single verse of Job and that in so obscure a manner? Calmet has no better reason for seeing in the words of Job the immortality of the soul, and the general resurrection, than he would have for discovering a disgraceful disease in the malady with which he was afflicted. Neither physics nor logic take the part of this commentator.
As for this allegorical Book of Job: it being manifestly Arabian, we are at liberty to say that it has neither justness, method, nor precision. Yet it is perhaps the most ancient book that has been written, and the most valuable monument that has been found on this side the Euphrates.
This is a mountain of Armenia, on which the ark rested. The question has long been agitated, whether the deluge was universal – whether it inundated the whole earth without exception, or only the portion of the earth which was then known. Those who have thought that it extended only to the tribes then existing, have founded their opinion on the inutility of flooding unpeopled lands, which reason seems very plausible. As for us, we abide by the Scripture text, without pretending to explain it. But we shall take greater liberty with Berosus, an ancient Chaldæan writer, of whom there are fragments preserved by Abydenus, quoted by Eusebius, and repeated word for word by George Syncellus. From these fragments we find that the Orientals of the borders of the Euxine, in ancient times, made Armenia the abode of their gods. In this they were imitated by the Greeks, who placed their deities on Mount Olympus. Men have always confounded human with divine things. Princes built their citadels on mountains; therefore they were also made the dwelling place of the gods, and became sacred. The summit of Mount Ararat is concealed by mists; therefore the gods hid themselves in those mists, sometimes vouchsafing to appear to mortals in fine weather.
A god of that country, believed to have been Saturn, appeared one day to Xixuter, tenth king of Chaldæa, according to the computation of Africanus, Abydenus, and Apollodorus, and said to him:
"On the fifteenth day of the month Oesi, mankind shall be destroyed by a deluge. Shut up close all your writings in Sipara, the city of the sun, that the memory of things may not be lost. Build a vessel; enter it with your relatives and friends; take with you birds and beasts; stock it with provisions, and, when you are asked, 'Whither are you going in that vessel?' answer, 'To the gods, to beg their favor for mankind.'"
Xixuter built his vessel, which was two stadii wide, and five long; that it, its width was two hundred and fifty geometrical paces, and its length six hundred and twenty-five. This ship, which was to go upon the Black Sea, was a slow sailer. The flood came. When it had ceased Xixuter let some of his birds fly out, but, finding nothing to eat, they returned to the vessel. A few days afterwards he again set some of his birds at liberty, and they returned with mud in their claws. At last they went and returned no more. Xixuter did likewise: he quitted his ship, which had perched upon a mountain of Armenia, and he was seen no more; the gods took him away.
There is probably something historic in this fable. The Euxine overflowed its banks, and inundated some portions of territory, and the king of Chaldæa hastened to repair the damage. We have in Rabelais tales no less ridiculous, founded on some small portion of truth. The ancient historians are, for the most part, serious Rabelais.
As for Mount Ararat, it has been asserted that it was one of the mountains of Phrygia, and that it was called by a name answering that of ark, because it was enclosed by three rivers.
There are thirty opinions respecting this mountain. How shall we distinguish the true one? That which the monks now call Ararat, was, they say, one of the limits of the terrestrial paradise – a paradise of which we find but few traces. It is a collection of rocks and precipices, covered with eternal snows. Tournefort went thither by order of Louis XIV. to seek for plants. He says that the whole neighborhood is horrible, and the mountain itself still more so; that he found snow four feet thick, and quite crystallized, and that there are perpendicular precipices on every side.
The Dutch traveller, John Struys, pretends that he went thither also. He tells us that he ascended to the very top, to cure a hermit afflicted with a rupture.
"His hermitage," says he, "was so distant from the earth that we did not reach it until the close of the seventh day, though each day we went five leagues." If, in this journey, he was constantly ascending, this Mount Ararat must be thirty-five leagues high. In the time of the Giants' war, a few Ararats piled one upon another would have made the ascent to the moon quite easy. John Struys, moreover, assures us that the hermit whom he cured presented him with a cross made of the wood of Noah's ark. Tournefort had not this advantage.
The great theological disputes, for twelve hundred years, were all Greek. What would Homer, Sophocles, Demosthenes, Archimedes, have said, had they witnessed the subtle cavillings which have cost so much blood.
Arius has, even at this day, the honor of being regarded as the inventor of his opinion, as Calvin is considered to have been the founder of Calvinism. The pride in being the head of a sect is the second of this world's vanities; for that of conquest is said to be the first. However, it is certain that neither Arius nor Calvin is entitled to the melancholy glory of invention. The quarrel about the Trinity existed long before Arius took part in it, in the disputatious town of Alexandria, where it had been beyond the power of Euclid to make men think calmly and justly. There never was a people more frivolous than the Alexandrians; in this respect they far exceeded even the Parisians.
There must already have been warm disputes about the Trinity; since the patriarch, who composed the "Alexandrian Chronicle," preserved at Oxford, assures us that the party embraced by Arius was supported by two thousand priests.
We will here, for the reader's convenience, give what is said of Arius in a small book which every one may not have at hand: Here is an incomprehensible question, which, for more than sixteen hundred years, has furnished exercise for curiosity, for sophistic subtlety, for animosity, for the spirit of cabal, for the fury of dominion, for the rage of persecution, for blind and sanguinary fanaticism, for barbarous credulity, and which has produced more horrors than the ambition of princes, which ambition has occasioned very many. Is Jesus the Word? If He be the Word, did He emanate from God in time or before time? If He emanated from God, is He coeternal and consubstantial with Him, or is He of a similar substance? Is He distinct from Him, or is He not? Is He made or begotten? Can He beget in his turn? Has He paternity? or productive virtue without paternity? Is the Holy Ghost made? or begotten? or produced? or proceeding from the Father? or proceeding from the Son? or proceeding from both? Can He beget? can He produce? is His hypostasis consubstantial with the hypostasis of the Father and the Son? and how is it that, having the same nature – the same essence as the Father and the Son, He cannot do the same things done by these persons who are Himself?
These questions, so far above reason, certainly needed the decision of an infallible church. The Christians sophisticated, cavilled, hated, and excommunicated one another, for some of these dogmas inaccessible to human intellect, before the time of Arius and Athanasius. The Egyptian Greeks were remarkably clever; they would split a hair into four, but on this occasion they split it only into three. Alexandros, bishop of Alexandria, thought proper to preach that God, being necessarily individual – single – a monad in the strictest sense of the word, this monad is triune.
The priest Arius, whom we call Arius, was quite scandalized by Alexandros's monad, and explained the thing in quite a different way. He cavilled in part like the priest Sabellius, who had cavilled like the Phrygian Praxeas, who was a great caviller. Alexandros quickly assembled a small council of those of his own opinion, and excommunicated his priest. Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, took the part of Arius. Thus the whole Church was in a flame.
The Emperor Constantine was a villain; I confess it – a parricide, who had smothered his wife in a bath, cut his son's throat, assassinated his father-in-law, his brother-in-law, and his nephew; I cannot deny it – a man puffed up with pride and immersed in pleasure; granted – a detestable tyrant, like his children; transeat– but he was a man of sense. He would not have obtained the empire, and subdued all his rivals, had he not reasoned justly.
When he saw the flames of civil war lighted among the scholastic brains, he sent the celebrated Bishop Osius with dissuasive letters to the two belligerent parties. "You are great fools," he expressly tells them in this letter, "to quarrel about things which you do not understand. It is unworthy the gravity of your ministry to make so much noise about so trifling a matter."
By "so trifling a matter," Constantine meant not what regards the Divinity, but the incomprehensible manner in which they were striving to explain the nature of the Divinity. The Arabian patriarch, who wrote the history of the Church of Alexandria, makes Osius, on presenting the emperor's letter, speak in nearly the following words:
"My brethren, Christianity is just beginning to enjoy the blessings of peace, and you would plunge it into eternal discord. The emperor has but too much reason to tell you that you quarrel about a very trifling matter. Certainly, had the object of the dispute been essential, Jesus Christ, whom we all acknowledge as our legislator, would have mentioned it. God would not have sent His Son on earth, to return without teaching us our catechism. Whatever He has not expressly told us is the work of men and error is their portion. Jesus has commanded you to love one another, and you begin by hating one another and stirring up discord in the empire. Pride alone has given birth to these disputes, and Jesus, your Master, has commanded you to be humble. Not one among you can know whether Jesus is made or begotten. And in what does His nature concern you, provided your own is to be just and reasonable? What has the vain science of words to do with the morality which should guide your actions? You cloud our doctrines with mysteries – you, who were designed to strengthen religion by your virtues. Would you leave the Christian religion a mass of sophistry? Did Christ come for this? Cease to dispute, humble yourselves, edify one another, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and pacify the quarrels of families, instead of giving scandal to the whole empire by your dissensions."
But Osius addressed an obstinate audience. The Council of Nice was assembled and the Roman Empire was torn by a spiritual civil war. This war brought on others and mutual persecution has continued from age to age, unto this day.
The melancholy part of the affair was that as soon as the council was ended the persecution began; but Constantine, when he opened it, did not yet know how he should act, nor upon whom the persecution should fall. He was not a Christian, though he was at the head of the Christians. Baptism alone then constituted Christianity, and he had not been baptized; he had even rebuilt the Temple of Concord at Rome. It was, doubtless, perfectly indifferent to him whether Alexander of Alexandria, or Eusebius of Nicomedia, and the priest Arius, were right or wrong; it is quite evident, from the letter given above, that he had a profound contempt for the dispute.
But there happened that which always happens and always will happen in every court. The enemies of those who were afterwards named Arians accused Eusebius of Nicomedia of having formerly taken part with Licinius against the emperor. "I have proofs of it," said Constantine in his letter to the Church of Nicomedia, "from the priests and deacons in his train whom I have taken," etc.
Thus, from the time of the first great council, intrigue, cabal, and persecution were established, together with the tenets of the Church, without the power to derogate from their sanctity. Constantine gave the chapels of those who did not believe in the consubstantiality to those who did believe in it; confiscated the property of the dissenters to his own profit, and used his despotic power to exile Arius and his partisans, who were not then the strongest. It has even been said that of his own private authority he condemned to death whosoever should not burn the writings of Arius; but this is not true. Constantine, prodigal as he was of human blood, did not carry his cruelty to so mad and absurd an excess as to order his executioners to assassinate the man who should keep an heretical book, while he suffered the heresiarch to live.
At court everything soon changes. Several non-consubstantial bishops, with some of the eunuchs and the women, spoke in favor of Arius, and obtained the reversal of the lettre de cachet. The same thing has repeatedly happened in our modern courts on similar occasions.
The celebrated Eusebius, bishop of Cæsarea, known by his writings, which evince no great discernment, strongly accused Eustatius, bishop of Antioch, of being a Sabellian; and Eustatius accused Eusebius of being an Arian. A council was assembled at Antioch; Eusebius gained his cause; Eustatius was displaced; and the See of Antioch was offered to Eusebius, who would not accept it; the two parties armed against each other, and this was the prelude to controversial warfare. Constantine, who had banished Arius for not believing in the consubstantial Son, now banished Eustatius for believing in Him; nor are such revolutions uncommon.
St. Athanasius was then bishop of Alexandria. He would not admit Arius, whom the emperor had sent thither, into the town, saying that "Arius was excommunicated; that an excommunicated man ought no longer to have either home or country; that he could neither eat nor sleep anywhere; and that it was better to obey God than man." A new council was forthwith held at Tyre, and new lettres de cachet were issued. Athanasius was removed by the Tyrian fathers and banished to Trèves. Thus Arius, and Athanasius, his greatest enemy, were condemned in turn by a man who was not yet a Christian:
The two factions alike employed artifice, fraud, and calumny, according to the old and eternal usage. Constantine left them to dispute and cabal, for he had other occupations. It was at that time that this good prince assassinated his son, his wife, and his nephew, the young Licinius, the hope of the empire, who was not yet twelve years old.
Under Constantine, Arius' party was constantly victorious. The opposite party has unblushingly written that one day St. Macarius, one of the most ardent followers of Athanasius, knowing that Arius was on the way to the cathedral of Constantinople, followed by several of his brethren, prayed so ardently to God to confound this heresiarch that God could not resist the prayer; and immediately all Arius' bowels passed through his fundament – which is impossible. But at length Arius died.