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great and able' emperor was also extremely un.' casy, when he happened to change his shoes, and put the right foot fhoe on the left foot*. . In short, it cannot be doubted, but the votaries of the established fuperftition of antiquity were as numerous in every state, as those of the modern religion are at present. Its influence was as universal; though it was not so great. As many people gave their assent to it; though that assent was not feemingly so strong, precise, and affirmative.
We may, obferve, that, notwithstanding the dogmatical, imperious style of all superstition, the conviction of the religionists, in all ages, is more, affected than real, and scarcely ever approaches, in any degree, to that solid belief and perfuasion which governs us in the coinmon affairs of life. Men dare not avow, even to their own hearts, the doubts which they entertain on such subjects: They make a merit of implicit faith; and diguise to themselves their real infidelity, by the strongest asseverations and most positive bigotry. Bur nature is too hard for all their endeavours, and suffers, not the obscure, glimmering light, afforded in those shadowy regions, to equal the strong impressions, made by common sense and by experience. The usual course of men's conduct belies their words, and shows, that their assent in these matters is some unaccountable operation of the mind between disbelief and conviction, but approaching much nearer to the former than to the latter.
Since, therefore, the mind of man appears of so loose and unsteady a texture, that, even at present, when so many persons find an interest in continually employing on it the chiffel and the hammer, yet are they not able to engrave theological tenets with any lasting impression; Gg2
* Sueton. Aug. cap. 90, 91, 92. Plin. lib. ii. cap. 72.
how much more must this have been the case in ancient times, when the retainers to the holy function were so much fewer in comparison? No wonder, that the appearances were then very inconsistent, and that men, on some occasions might seem determined infidels, and enemies to the efrablished religion, without being so in reality; or at least, without knowing their own minds in that particular.
Another cause, which rendered the ancient religions much looser than the modern, is, that the former were traditional and the latter are scriptural; and the tradition in the former was complex, contradi&tory, and, on many occasions, doubtful; fo that it could not poffibly be reduced to any ftandard and canon, or afford any determinate articles of faith. The stories of the gods were numberless like the popish legends; and though every one, almost, believed a part of these stories, yet no one could believe or know the whole: While, at the same time, all must have acknowledged, that no one part stood on a better foundation than the rest. The traditions of different cities and nations were also, on many occasions, directly opposite; and no reason could be assigned for preferring one to the other. And as there was an infinite number of stories, with regard to which tradition was nowise positive; the gradation was infenfíble, from the most fundamental articles of faith, to those loose and precarious fictions. The pagan religion, therefore, seemed to vanish like a cloud, whenever one approached to it, and examined it piecemeal. It could never be ascertained by any fixed dogmas and principles. And though this did not convert the generality of mankind from fo absurd a faith; for when will the people be reasonable? yet it made them faulter and hesitate more in maintaining their principles, and
articles. The pagan when
was even apt to produce, in certain dispositions of mind, some practices and opinions, which had the appearance of determined infidelity.
To which we may add, that the fables of the pagan religion were, of themselves, light, easy, and familiar; without devils, or seas of brim. ftone, or any object that could much terrify the imagination. Who could forbear smiling, when he thought of the loves of Mars and Venus, or the amorous frolics of Jupiter and Pan? In this respect, it was a true poetical religion; if it had not rather too much levity for the graver kinds of poetry. We find that it has been adopted by inodern bards; nor have these talked with greater freedom and irreverence of the gods, whom they regarded as fictions, than the ancients did of the real objects of their de-' votion. ,
The inference is by no means just, that, because a system of religion has made no deep impression on the minds of a people, it muit therefore have been positively rejected by all men of common sense, and that opposite principles, in spite of the prejudices of education, were generally established by argument and reasoning. I know not, but a contrary inference may be more probable. The less importunate and alsuming any species of superstition appears, the less will it provoke men's spleen and indignation, or engage them into enquiries concerning its foundation and origin. This in the mean time is obvious, that the empire of all religious faith over the understanding is wavering and uncertain, subject to every variety of humour, and dependent on the present incidents, which ftrike the imagination. The difference is only in the degrees. An ancient will place a stroke of impiety and one of superstition alternately, throughout a
whole discourse*: A modern often thinks in the same way, though he may be more guarded in his expression.'
Lucian tells us expressly t, that whoever believed not the most ridiculous fables of paganism was deemed by the people. profane and impious. To what purpose, indeed, would that agreeable author have employed the whole force of his wit and satire against the national religion, had not that religion been generally believed by his countrymen and contemporaries?
Livy I acknowledges as frankly, as any divine would at present, the common incredulity of his age; but then he condemns it as severely. And who can imagine, that a superstition, which could delude so ingenious a man, would not alfo 'impofe on the generality of the people ?
The Stoics bestowed many mągnificent and even impious epithets on their fage; that he alone was rich, free, a king, and equal to the immortal gods. They forgot to add, that he was not inferior in prudence and understanding to an old woman. For furely nothing can be inore pitiful than the sentiments; which that fect entertained with regard to religious matters; while they seriously agree with the common augurs, that, when à raven
* Witness this remarkable passage of Tacitus : “ Præter mul" tiplices rerum humanarum casus, cælo terraque prodigia, & « fulminum monitus & futurorum præfagia, læta, triftia, ambi“ gua, manifesta. Nec enim unquam atrocioribus populi Ro" mani cladibus, magisque justis judiciis approbatum est, non « effe curæ Diis fecuritatem noftram, elle ultionem." Hift. lib. 1. Auguftus's quarrel with Neptune is an instance of the same kind. Had not the emperor believed Neptune to be a real being, and to have dominion over the sea, where had been the foundation of his anger ? And if he believed it, what madness to provoke still farther that deity? The fame observation may be made upon Quintilian's exclamation, on account of the death of his children, lib. vi. Præf.. + Philopseudes.
| Lib. x. cap. 40.
rook inakes he only Stoic:
croaks from the left, it is a good omen; but a bad one, when a rook makes a noise from the same quarter. Panætius was the only Stoic, among the Greeks, who fo much as doubted with regard to auguries and divinations *. Marcus Antoninus + tells us, that he himself had received many admonitions from the gods in his seep. It is true, Epictetus I forbids us to regard the language of rooks and ravens; but it is not, that they do not speak truth: It is only, because they can foretel nothing but the breaking of our neck or the forfeiture of our eftate; which are circumstances, says he, that nowise concern us. Thus the Stoics join a philosophical enthusiasm to a religious superstition. The force of their mind, being all turned to the side of morals, unbent itself in that of religion 1.
Plato s introduces Socrates affirming, that the accusation of impiety raised against him was owing entirely to his rejecting such fábles, as those of Saturn's castrating his father Uranus, and Jupiter's dethroning Saturn: Yet in a subsequent dialogue to Socrates confeffes, that the doctrine of the mortality of the foul was the received opinion of the people. Is there here any contradiction? Yes, furely: But the contradiction is not in Plato; it is in the people, whose religious principles in general are always composed of the most discordant parts; especially in an age, when fuperftition sate fo.easy and light upon them to
• Cicero de divin. lib. i. cap. 3 & 7. + Lib. i. § 17.
I Ench. § 17. # The Stoics, I own, were not quite orthodox in the elta. blished religion ; but one may fee, from these instances, that they went a great way: And the people undoubtedly went every length. § Eutyphro.