On the Miraculous Images. Chapter 7: Analysis Of The Pagan Rites And Practices Which Have Been Retained By The Roman Catholic As Well As The Græco-Russian Church
21 min read
21 min read
I have given the opinion of an eminent Roman Catholic modern author (Chateaubriand) about the introduction of Pagan usages into the Christian worship, and a long extract from another no less distinguished Roman Catholic writer of our day, describing the cause of this corruption. The Roman Catholic writers of this country do not, however, treat this subject with the same sincerity as the illustrious author of the Genie du Christianisme, and the learned French Academician from whose work I have so largely drawn; but they try hard to deny that many usages of their church bear the stamp of Paganism. This is particularly the case with the author of Hierurgia, a work which I have already quoted, and which may be considered as the fairest expression of what the Roman Catholic Church teaches on the subject in question. Thus the use of images in churches is represented as being authorised by Scripture, by the following curious arguments:—
The practice of employing images as ornaments and memorials to decorate the temple of the Lord is in a most especial manner approved by the Word of God himself. Moses was commanded to place two cherubim upon the ark, and to set up a brazen figure of the fiery serpent, that those of the murmuring Israelites who had been bitten might recover from the poison of their wounds by looking on the image. In the description of Solomon’s temple, we read of that prince, not only that he made in the oracle two cherubim of olive tree, of ten cubits in height, but that all the walls of the temple round about he carved with divers figures and carvings.
In the first book of Paralipomenon (Chronicles) we observe that when David imposed his injunction upon Solomon to realise his intention of building a house to the Lord, he delivered to him a description of the porch and temple, and concluded by thus assuring him: All these things came to me written by the hand of the Lord, that I may understand the works of the pattern.
The isolated fact that images were not only directed by the Almighty God to be placed in the Mosaic tabernacle, and in the more sumptuous temple of Jerusalem, but that he himself exhibited the pattern of them, will be alone sufficient to authorise the practice of the Catholic Church in regard to a similar observance.—(Hierurgia, p. 371.)
All this may be briefly answered. There was no representation of the Jewish patriarchs or saints either in the tabernacle or in the temple of Solomon, as is the case with the Christian saints in the Roman Catholic and Græco-Russian Churches; and the brazen serpent, to which the author alludes, was broken into pieces by order of King Hezekiah as soon as the Israelites began to worship it.
The author tries to prove, with considerable learning and ingenuity, that the primitive Christians ornamented their churches with images, and I have already given, his explanation of the Council of Elvira; but his assertions are completely disproved by every direct evidence which we have about the places of worship of those Christians. I have already quoted, the testimony of Minutius Felix, that the Christians had no kind of simulachres in their temples, as well as the indignation of St Epiphanius at an attempt to introduce them into the churches, and for which there would have been no occasion if it had been an established custom.
The most important part of his defence of the use of images is, however, the paragraph entitled, No virtue resident in images themselves, containing what follows:—
Not only are Catholics not exposed to such dangers (i.e., idolatry), but they are expressly prohibited by the church (Concilium Tridentinum, sess. 25.) to believe that there is any divinity or virtue resident in images for which they should be reverenced, or that any thing is to be asked of them, or any confidence placed in them, but that the honour given should be referred to those whom they represent; and so particular are their religious instructors in impressing this truth upon the minds of their congregations, that if a Catholic child, who had learned its first catechism, were asked if it were permitted to pray to images, the child would answer, No, by no means; for they have no life nor sense to help us; and the pastor who discovered any one rendering any portion of the respect which belongs to God alone to a crucifix or to a picture, would have no hesitation in breaking the one and tearing the other into shreds, and throwing the fragments into the flames, in imitation of Ezechias, who broke the brazen serpent on account of the superstitious reverence which the Israelites manifested towards it.—(Hierurgia, p. 382.)
It is perfectly true that the Council of Trent has declared that the images of Christ, of the virgin, and of other saints, are to be honoured and venerated, not because it is believed that there is any divinity or virtue inherent in them, or that any thing is to be asked of them, or any confidence placed in images, as had been done by Pagans, who put their trust in idols (Psalm 135:15-18), but that the honour given should be referred to those whom they represent, so that by the images which we kiss, before which we uncover our heads, or prostrate ourselves (procumbimus), we worship Christ and the saints whose likeness those images represent. But if there is no divinity or virtue resident in images, as is declared by the Council of Trent, what is to become of all those miraculous images which are the subject of pilgrimage in so many Roman Catholic countries, and the existence of whose miraculous powers has been solemnly acknowledged by the highest ecclesiastical authorities? I shall not attempt to enumerate those miraculous images, because their number is legion, but I shall only ask the rev. doctor whether he considers the image of the virgin of Loretto, which is the object of so many pilgrimages, and to which so many miracles are ascribed, as having some virtue resident in it or not? and would he break it in pieces on account of the miraculous powers ascribed to it? Is he prepared to act in such a manner with the celebrated Bambino of Rome? and are the miraculous powers ascribed to it, as well as to the virgin of Loretto, and other images of this kind, a reality or an imposture? and, finally, what will he do with the winking Madonna of Rimini, which has lately made so much noise, and which, instead of being broken to pieces or torn to shreds by the priests or the bishop of the place, has been approved by ecclesiastical authority? I can assure the rev. doctor, that by breaking into pieces the miraculous images, carved as well as painted, he will break down many barriers which now separate the Protestant Christians from those who belong to his own church. I am, however, afraid that he will find many difficulties in attempting such a thing; and I must remind him, that in quoting the above-mentioned canon of the Council of Trent, he forgot an essential part of it, which greatly modifies the declaration that there is no divinity or virtue resident in images, saying, That the holy synod ordains that no one be allowed to place, or cause to be placed, any unusual image in any place or church, howsoever exempted, except that the image be approved by the bishop: also, that no new miracles are to be acknowledged or new relics recognised, unless the said bishop has taken cognizance and approved thereof, who, as soon as he has obtained certain information in regard to these matters, shall, after having taken the advice of theologians and of other pious men, act therein as he shall judge to be consonant with truth and piety.—(Sess. 28., &c.)
The real meaning of the above-mentioned canon of the Council of Trent is therefore, I think, that there is no divinity or virtue resident in the images which are not authorised by the bishop to work miracles, and that unlicensed images are not allowed to have any such divinity or virtue in them, but that such unusual carved or painted images, as those which I have mentioned above, having obtained the required authorization, may work as many miracles as they please, or as their worshippers will believe.
It has been observed by a writer, who certainly cannot be accused of violent opinions, the learned and pious Melancthon, that it was impious and idolatrous to address statues or bones, and to suppose that either the Divinity or the saints were attached to a certain place or to a certain statue more than to other places; and that there was no difference between the prayers which are addressed to the Virgin of Aix la Chapelle, or to that of Ratisbon, and the Pagan invocations of the Ephesian Diana, or the Platean Juno, or any other statue. To these observations I shall only add those of M. Beugnot, which I have given, on the marvellous facility with which the worship of the virgin, established by the Council of Ephesus, 431, has superseded that of the Pagan deities in many countries.
There is scarcely any ceremony in the Western as well as in the Eastern church, the origin of which cannot be traced to the Pagan worship. I shall limit my observations on this subject to the three following objects, which constitute the most important elements in the divine service performed in those churches, namely,—1. The consecrated water; 2. Lamps and candles; and, 3. Incense; giving the Roman Catholic explanation of their origin, as well as that which I believe to be true.
With regard to the consecrated water, it is described by the author of Hierurgia in the following manner:—
The ordinance of Almighty God, promulgated by the lips of Moses, concerning the water of separation, and the mode of sprinkling it, are minutely noticed in the nineteenth chapter of the book of Numbers. In the book of Exodus, we read that the Lord issued the following declarations to Moses:—Thou shalt make a brazen laver, with its foot, to wash in; and thou shalt set it between the tabernacle of the testimony and the altar. And the water being put into it, Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and feet in it when they are going into the tabernacle of the testimony, and when they are to come to the altar to offer incense on it to the Lord.—(Exodus 30:18-20.)
That it was a practice with the Jews, not only peculiar to the members of the priesthood, but observed amongst the people, for each individual to wash his hands before he presumed to pray, is a well-attested fact. The church adopted this as well as several other Jewish ceremonies, which she engrafted on her ritual; and St Paul apparently borrows from such ablution the metaphor which he employs while thus admonishing his disciple Timothy:—I will that men pray in every place, lifting up pure hands.—(1 Timothy 2:8.) That in the early ages the faithful used to wash their hands at the threshold of the church before they entered, is expressly mentioned by a number of writers.
As to the use of holy water being of apostolic origin, he says:—
The introduction of holy or blessed water must be referred to the times of the apostles. That it was the custom, in the very first ages of the church, not only to deposit vessels of water at the entrance of those places where the Christians assembled for the celebration of divine worship, but also to have vases containing water mingled with salt, both of which had been separated from common use, and blessed by the prayers and invocations of the priest, is certain. A particular mention of it is made in the constitution of the apostles; and the pontiff Alexander, the first of that name, but the sixth in succession from St Peter, whose chair he mounted in the year 109, issued a decree by which the use of holy water was permitted to the faithful in their houses.—(Hierurgia, pp. 461-463.)
It is rather a strange thing for Christians to imitate the religious rites of the Jews, whose ceremonial law,—which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation (Hebrews 9:10),—was abolished by the New Testament. However, if this is to be done, why is not the holy water adopted by the Roman Catholic Church prepared in the same manner, and used for the same object, as the Jewish water of separation, described in Numbers 19, but, on the contrary, composed in the same manner, and employed for the same purpose, as the lustral water of the Pagans? The fact is, that it has been borrowed from the Pagan worship and not from the Jewish ceremonial law, the truth of which is honestly acknowledged by the Jesuit La Cerda, who, in a note on the following passage of Virgil,—
Idem ter socios pura circumtulit unda,
Spargens rore levi, et ramo felicis olivæ,
—Æneid, lib. vi. 229—
says, Hence was derived the custom of the holy church to provide purifying or holy water at the entrance of their churches. The same custom was observed in the Pagan temples, at the entrance of which there was a vase containing the holy or lustral water, for the people to sprinkle themselves with, just as is now done at the entrance of the Roman Catholic churches. The author of Hierurgia mentions, as quoted above, that Pope Alexander I. authorised, in the beginning of the second century, the use of holy water; and yet Justin Martyr, who wrote about that time, says that it was invented by demons, in imitation of the true baptism signified by the prophets, that their votaries might also have their pretended purification by water. And the Emperor Julian, in order to vex the Christians, caused the victuals in the markets to be sprinkled with holy water, with the intention of either starving them or compelling them to eat what they considered as impure.
To these evidences of the abomination in which the primitive Christians held the Pagan rite of sprinkling with holy water, I may add the following anecdote, characteristic of the intensity of this feeling:—
When Julian the Apostate was one day going to sacrifice in the temple of Fortune, accompanied by the usual train of the emperors, the Pagan priests, standing on both sides of the temple gate, sprinkled those who were entering it with the lustral or holy water in order to purify them according to the rites of their worship. A Christian tribune, or superior officer of the imperial guards (scutarii), who, being on duty, preceded the monarch, received some drops of this holy water on his chlamys or coat, which made him so indignant, that, notwithstanding the presence of the emperor, he struck the priest who had thus sprinkled him, exclaiming that he did not purify but pollute him. Julian ordered the arrest of the officer who had thus insulted the rites of his religion, giving him the choice either to sacrifice to the gods or to leave the army. The bold Christian chose the latter, but was soon restored to his rank on account of his great military talents, and raised, after the death of Julian and the short reign of Jovian, to the imperial throne as Valentinian I.
This monarch was, however, by no means a bigot; on the contrary, we have the unsuspected testimony of the contemporary Pagan writer Ammianus Marcellinus that he maintained a strict impartiality between the Christians and Pagans, and did not trouble any one on account of his religion. He even regulated and confirmed, by a law in 391, the privileges of the Pagan clergy in a more favourable manner than had been done by many of his predecessors; and yet this monarch, who treated his Pagan subjects with such an extreme liberality, committed, when a private individual, an act of violence against their worship which exposed him to considerable danger. This, I think, is a strong proof of the horror which the Christians felt for a rite which constitutes now an indispensable part of the service in the Western as well as in the Eastern churches, and is most profusely used by them.
With regard to the candles and lamps, which form a no less important and indispensable part of the worship adopted by the above-mentioned churches, the author of Hierurgia defends their use in the following manner:—
After having described the candlesticks employed in the Jewish temple, he says:—But without referring to the ceremonial of the Jewish temple, we have an authority for the employment of light in the functions of religion presented to us in the Apocalypse. In the first chapter of that mystic book, St John particularly mentions the golden candlesticks which he beheld in his prophetic vision in the isle of Patmos. By commentators on the sacred Scripture, it is generally supposed that the Evangelist, in his book of the Apocalypse, adopted the imagery with which he represents his mystic revelations from the ceremonial observed in his days by the church for offering up the mass, or eucharistic sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Christ Jesus.
That the use of lights was adopted by the church, especially at the celebration of the sacred mysteries, as early as the times of the apostles, may likewise, with much probability, be inferred from that passage in their Acts which records the preaching and miracles of St Paul at Troas:—And on the first day of the week, when we were assembled to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, being to depart on the morrow, and he continued his speech until midnight. And there were a great number of lamps in the upper chamber where we were assembled.—(Acts 20:7, 8.) That the many lamps, so particularly noticed in this passage, were not suspended merely for the purpose of illuminating, during the night-time, this upper chamber, in which the faithful had assembled on the first day of the week to break bread, but also to increase the solemnity of that function and betoken a spiritual joy, may be lawfully inferred from every thing we know about the manners of the ancient Jews, from whom the church borrowed the use of lights in celebrating her various rites and festivals.—(Hierurgia, p. 372.)
It is really difficult seriously to answer such extraordinary suppositions as that the seven candlesticks, expressly mentioned as types of the seven churches, should be an allusion to the physical lights used in the worship of those churches, and not to the moral and spiritual light which they were spreading amongst Jews and Gentiles. Such an explanation appears to me nothing better than that tendency to materialise the most abstract and spiritual ideas to which I have alluded above. With regard to the passage in the Acts 20:7, 8, which says that there were a great number of lamps in the upper chamber where St Paul was preaching, I think that this circumstance might have been considered as a religious rite if the apostle had been preaching at noon; but as it is expressly said that he did it at night, nothing can be more simple than the lighting of the upper chamber with lamps. It was also very natural that there should be many of them, because as St Paul was undoubtedly often referring to the Scriptures, his hearers, or at least many of them, being either real Jews or Hellenists, must have been continually looking to copies of the Bible in order to verify his quotation. It was, therefore, necessary to have the room well lighted, and consequently to employ many lamps. It is, indeed, curious to see to what far-fetched suppositions a writer of so much learning and ingenuity as Dr Rock is obliged to recur, in order to defend a purely Pagan rite which has been adopted by his church, giving the simplest and clearest things a non-natural sense, similar to that which some Romanising clergymen have been giving to the precepts of a church which they were betraying whilst in her service and pay.
The same author maintains that lights were employed from primitive times at divine service, saying:—
The custom of employing lights, in the earlier ages of the church, during the celebration of the eucharist; and other religious offices, is authenticated by those venerable records of primitive discipline which are usually denominated Apostolic Canons.—(Hierurgia, p. 393.)
Now, what is the authenticity of these canons? The author himself gives us the best answer to it, saying:—
Though these canons be apocryphal, and by consequence not genuine, inasmuch as they were neither committed to writing by the apostles themselves, nor penned by St Clement, to whom some authors have attributed them; still, however, this does not prevent them from being true and authentic, since they embody the traditions descended from the apostles and the apostolic fathers, and bear a faithful testimony that the discipline which prevailed during the first and second centuries was established by the apostles.—(P. 394.)
I shall not enter into a discussion about the value of evidence furnished by a work which is acknowledged to be apocryphal, and not to have been written by those to whom its defenders had ascribed its authorship; but I shall only remark, that one of the most eminent fathers of the church, the learned Lactantius, who flourished in the fourth century, and consequently long after the time when the Apostolic Canons are supposed to have been composed, takes a very different view from them in regard to this practice, because he positively says, in attacking the use of lights by the Pagans, they light up candles to God as if he lived in the dark, and do they not deserve to pass for madmen who offer lamps to the Author and Giver of light? And is it probable that he could approve of a practice in the Christian church which he condemns in the Pagan?
And, indeed, can there be anything more heathenish than the custom of burning lights before images or relics, which is nothing else than sacrifices which the Pagans offered to their idols?
I have described above, the manner in which St Jerome defended the use of lights in the churches against Vigilantius. This defence of St Jerome is adduced by our author in a rather extraordinary manner.
It happens not unfrequently that those very calumnies which have been propagated, and the attacks which were so furiously directed by the enemies of our holy faith in ancient times, against certain practices of discipline then followed by the church, are the most triumphant testimonies which can be adduced at the present day, both to establish the venerable origin of such observances, and to warrant a continuation of them. In the present instance, the remark is strikingly observable; for the strictures which Vigilantius passed in the fourth age, on the use of lights in churches, as well as on the shrines of the martyrs, and the energetic refutation of St Jerome of the charge of superstition preferred against such a pious usage by that apostate, may be noticed as an irrefragable argument, in the nineteenth century, to establish the remote antiquity of this religious custom. After mentioning as a fact of public notoriety, and in a manner which defied contradiction, that the Christians, at the time when he was actually writing, which was about the year 376, were accustomed to illumine their churches during mid-day with a profusion of wax tapers, Vigilantius proceeds to turn such a devotion into ridicule. But he met with a learned and victorious opponent, who, while he vindicated this practice of the church against the objection of her enemy, took occasion to assign those reasons which induced her to adopt it. That holy father observes:—Throughout all the churches of the East, whenever the Gospel is to be recited, they bring forth lights, though it be at noon-day; not certainly to shine among darkness, but to manifest some sign of joy, that under the type of corporeal light may be indicated that light of which we read in the Psalms, Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.—(Hierurgia, p. 298.)
Now, I would observe to the learned doctor, that St Jerome, in answering Vigilantius, maintained, as I have shown above, that it was calumny to say that the Christians burnt candles in the daylight, and that it was done only by some people, whose zeal was without knowledge. Consequently, the church which has adopted this practice shows, according to the authority of that holy and learned father, that her zeal is without knowledge. With regard to the argument in support of the abovementioned practices given by St Jerome, and reproduced by our author, that the Eastern churches make use of lights, I admit that it is unanswerable, because it is an undoubted fact that the Græco-Russian Church makes an immense consumption of wax candles, chiefly burnt before the images, and it remains for me only to congratulate the advocates of this practice on the support which they derive from such an imperative authority as that of the Græco-Russian Church.
It remains for me now only to say a few words about the incense, which forms a constituent part of the service of the Roman Catholic and Græco-Russian Churches, as much as the holy water and lights, and which is defended by the author of Hierurgia in the following manner. After having described the use of incense in the Jewish temples, he says—
It was from this religious custom of employing incense in the ancient temple, that the royal prophet drew that beautiful simile of his, when he petitioned that his prayers might ascend before the Lord like incense. It was while all the multitude were praying without at the hour of incense, that there appeared to Zachary an angel of the Lord, standing at the right of the altar of incense,—(Luke 1:10, 11). That the oriental nations attached a meaning not only of personal reverence, but also of religious homage to an offering of incense, is demonstrable from the instance of the magi, who, having fallen down to adore the newborn Jesus, and recognise his divinity, presented him with gold, and myrrh, and frankincense. That he might be more intelligible to those who read his book of the Apocalypse, it is very probable that St John adapted his language to the ceremonial of the liturgy then followed by the Christians in celebrating the eucharistic sacrifice, at the period the evangelist was committing to writing his mysterious revelations. In depicting, therefore, the scene which took place in the sanctuary of heaven, where he was given to behold in vision the mystic sacrifice of the Lamb, we are warranted to suppose that he borrowed the imagery, and selected several of his expressions, from the ritual then actually in use, and has in consequence bequeathed to us an outline of the ceremonial which the church employed in the apostolic ages of offering up the unbloody sacrifice of the same divine Lamb of God, Christ Jesus, in her sanctuary upon earth. Now, St John particularly notices how the angel came and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which is before the throne of God; and the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God, from the hand of the angel.—Revelation 8:3-5.—(Hierurgia, p. 518.)
To this explanation of the use of incense in the churches, I may answer by the same observation which I have made, on a similar defence of the use of lights, namely, that it is a strange materialization of spiritual ideas by embodying into a tangible shape what is simply typical, and which is not warranted by any direct evidence. Such far-fetched and fanciful conjectures cannot be refuted by serious arguments; but as regards the Jewish origin of the use of incense, as well as of many other ceremonies common to the Roman Catholic and Greek Churches, I shall give the observation of the celebrated Dr Middleton, on an answer made by a Roman Catholic to his well-known Letter from Rome, and who, defending the ceremonies of his Church in nearly the same manner as the author of Hierurgia, says, That Dr Middleton was mistaken in thinking every ceremony used by the heathens to be heathenish, since the greatest part of them were borrowed from the worship of the true God, in imitation of which the devil affected to have his temples, altars, priests, and sacrifices, and all other things which were used in the true worship. This he applied to the case of incense, lamps, holy water, and processions, adding, that if Middleton had been as well read in the Scriptures as he seemed to be in the heathen poets, he would have found the use of all these in the temple of God, and that by God’s appointment.
I shall not dispute with him, says Middleton, about the origin of these rites, whether they were first instituted by Moses, or were of prior use and antiquity amongst the Egyptians. The Scriptures favour the last, which our Spenser strongly asserts, and their Calmet and Huetius allow; but should we grant him all that he can infer from his argument, what will he gain by it? Were not all those beggarly elements wiped away by the spiritual worship of the Gospel? Were they not all annulled, on account of their weakness and unprofitableness, by the more perfect revelation of Jesus Christ?—(Galatians 4:9; Hebrews 7:18.) If, then, I should acknowledge my mistake, and recall my words, and instead of Pagan, call them Jewish ceremonies, would not the use of Jewish rites be abominable still in a Christian church, where they are expressly abolished and prohibited by God himself?
But to pursue his argument a little farther. While the Mosaic worship subsisted by divine appointment in Jerusalem, the devil likewise, as he tells us, had temples and ceremonies of the same kind, in order to draw votaries to his idolatrous worship, which, after the abolition of the Jewish service, was carried on still with great pomp and splendour, and above all places, in Rome, the principal seat of his worldly empire. Now, it is certain that in the early times of the Gospel, the Christians of Rome were celebrated for their zealous adherence to the faith of Christ, as it was delivered to them by the apostles, pure from every mixture either of Jewish or heathenish superstition, till, after a succession of ages, as they began gradually to deviate from that apostolic simplicity, they introduced at different times into the church the particular ceremonies in question. Whence, then, can we think it probable that they should borrow them from the Jewish or the Pagan ritual? From a temple remote, despised and demolished by the Romans themselves, or from temples and altars perpetually in their view, and subsisting in their streets, in which their ancestors and fellow-citizens have constantly worshipped?95 The question can hardly admit any dispute; the humour of the people, as well as the interest of a corrupted priesthood, would invite them to adopt such rites as were native to the soil, and found upon the place, and which long experience had shown to be useful to the acquisition both of wealth and power. Thus, by the most candid construction of this author’s reasoning, we must necessarily call their ceremonies Jewish, or by pushing it to its full length, shall be obliged to call them devilish.
He observes that I begin my charge with the use of incense as the most notorious proof of their Paganism, and like an artful rhetorician, place my strongest argument in the front. Yet he knows I have assigned a different reason for offering that the first; because it is the first thing that strikes the sense, and surprises a stranger upon his entrance into their churches. But it shall be my strongest proof, if he will have it so, since he has brought nothing, I am sure, to weaken the force of it. He tells us that there was an altar of incense in the temple of Jerusalem, and is surprised, therefore, how I can call it heathenish; yet it is evident, from the nature of that institution, that it was never designed to be perpetual, and that during its continuance, God would have never approved any other altar, either in Jerusalem or any where else. But let him answer directly to this plain question: Was there ever a temple in the world, not strictly heathenish, in which there were several altars, all smoking with incense, within our view, and at one and the same time? It is certain that he must answer in the negative; yet it is as certain that there were many such temples in Pagan Rome, and are as many in Christian Rome; and since there never was an example of it, but what was Paganish, before the time of Popery, how is it possible that it could be derived to them from any other source? or when we see so exact a resemblance in the copy, how can there be any doubt about the original?
What he alleges, therefore, in favour of incense is nothing to the purpose: That it was used in the Jewish, and is of great antiquity in the Christian churches, and that it is mentioned with honour in the Scriptures, which frequently compare it to prayer, and speak of its sweet odours ascending up to God, &c., which figurative expressions, he says, would never have been borrowed by sacred penmen from heathenish superstition; as if such allusions were less proper, or the thing itself less sweet, for its being applied to the purposes of idolatry, as it constantly was in the time of the same penmen, and, according to their own accounts, on the altars of Baal, and the other heathen idols: and when Jeremiah rebukes the people of Judah for burning incense to the queen of heaven (Jeremiah 44:17), one can hardly help imagining that he is prophetically pointing out the worship paid now to the virgin, to whom they actually burn incense at this day under that very title.
But if it be a just ground for retaining a practice in the Christian church, because it was enjoined to the Jews, what will our Catholic say for those usages which were actually prohibited to the Jews, and never practised by any but by the heathens and papists? All the Egyptian priests, as Herodotus informs us, had their heads shaved, and kept continually bald. Thus the Emperor Commodus, that he might be admitted into that order, got himself shaved, and carried the god Anubis in procession. And it was on this account, most probably, that the Jewish priests were commanded not to shave their heads, nor to make any baldness upon them.—(Leviticus 21: 5; Ezekiel 44:20). Yet this Pagan rasure, or tonsure, as they choose to call it, on the crown of the head, has long been the distinguishing mark of the Romish priesthood. It was on the same account, we may imagine, that the Jewish priests were forbidden to make any cuttings in their flesh (Leviticus 19:28, 21:5), since that was likewise the common practice of certain priests and devotees among the heathens, in order to acquire the fame of a more exalted sanctity. Yet the same discipline, as I have shown in my Letter, is constantly practised at Rome in some of their solemn seasons and processions, in imitation of these Pagan enthusiasts, as if they searched the Scriptures to learn, not so much what was enjoined by true religion, as what had been useful at any time in a false one, to delude the multitude, and support an imposture.—(Middleton’s Miscellaneous Works, vol. v., p. 11, et seq.)
The same author justly observes, that under the Pagan emperors the use of incense for any purpose of religion was thought so contrary to the obligations of Christianity, that in their persecutions, the very method of trying and converting a Christian was by requiring him only to throw the least grain of it into the censer or on the altar.
Under the Christian emperors, on the other hand, it was looked upon as a rite so peculiarly heathenish, that the very places or houses where it could be proved to have been done, were, by a law of Theodosius, confiscated to the government.—(Ibid., p. 95.)
I shall conclude this essay by a short sketch of the superstitious practices prevailing in the Græco-Russian Church, which will be the subject of my next and last chapter.