« السابقةمتابعة »
outdo in fact what the highest efforts of Grecian genius had never presented as possible to a human being.
But perhaps nowhere has even Paul shewn himself so great, as when before the court of Areopagus he declares, to that grave and venerable assembly, the supremacy of God to the displacement of all their gods and heroes for the mediatorial rule of one who should raise the dead and judge the world in his own right, as the Son of God, declared with power by His own resurrection from the grave. In this we scarce know which most to admire, the boldness or the address of our apostle.
It was by this same dreadful assemblage, and under the same laws, that Socrates had been doomed to death, on the ground that he had taught the worship of strange gods ; when he had given to the gods of his city only strange names, borrowed from the rituals of Egypt and the East. For what the Greeks held to signify by a perversion of his words a dog and a goose (μά τον κυνα και την χήνα) we are told by Porphyry in his book De Abstinentia, and Plato in his Gorgias, to have been an Egyptian god ; that Plutarch in Isis and Osiris affirms to be the same with the Grecian Hermes ; doubtless the same as the Chinn or Remphan of the Scriptures, who, like the other gods of heathenism, was sometimes male and sometimes female ; whence Socrates gave the name in both forms.
But when Paul, after being for some time the butt of ridicule for all the wits of Athens, at length began to attract the notice of the authorities, and the officers of the laws haled him away to that terrible Judgment-seat, where, in the darkness of night, either alone by himself
, or by the aid of an advocate not to be procured without a cost beyond the means of an apostle to meet, he must plead for his life; and in so doing avoid all appeal to the passions of his judges, and confine himself solely to the facts of the law,—then was the hour for the greatest reasoner in the world to show himself capable of filling the most trying position possible, and not only, by one of the most ingenious arguments ever constructed, prove his teaching to be in strict conformity with the Athenian laws, but to shew himself superior to the gravest and most learned of their philosophers, in discoursing of the nature and worship of God. His success proved complete. Not only was he himself cleared of all blame by the decision of the court, but, as beseems the favorite apostle of Him who“ led captivity captive,” he bore away with him one even from among his judges, and the name of “ Dionysius the Areopagite,” has become as inseparable from that of Paul, as Damon from Pythias, or Jonathan from David.
It is not our purpose to show that in Paul's defence before his judges there are to be found all the parts of a regular discourse ; though there is nothing more perfect as a model of forensic eloquence than the speeches of Paul always are ; but to develop the leading characteristics of his plea and argument, as it must have affected his hearers; in order that we may be able with more certainiy to perceive what helps and what hindrances the gospel met in the heathenism of the apostolic age.
It is saying little, when we affirm that there is nothing extant in the oratory of the Gentile world, that shows such an opening to a discourse as in this of Paul. When Tertullus appeared before Felix as Paul's accuser, it was with consummate art, but with a strain of adulation offensive to a man of just feeling. When Cicero would impeach Verres, he begins by assuring the judges they have now an opportunity of proving how false or how true is the common impression that they were not inaccessible to corruption-a compliment savoring rather of insult than of flattery. But when Paul seeks to propitiate the good will of his judges, he remembers his own dignity as an apostle, and the gravity of his judges, and says nothing that can, by the most distant implication, be taken to justify the will-worship of the heathen, nor anything to afford the most fastidious a ground of offence. Hence he chooses a form of words that may import a compliment of the highest order, while it may also be understood to convey a delicate reproof of excessive veneration for many gods; but of this no idea can be formed from a translation,
For it is well known that Deloidalumrla may be taken no less for the unworthy fear men are prone to entertain of created spirits and the mere phantasms of a disordered imagination, such as is usually understood by superstition, than for that veneration for the supreme Deity, which is becoming in creatures, and is commonly named religion. For though Deol xal sa iyoves gods and demons, are often taken together to signify the greater and lesser hero and angel-gods of Paganism, yet often has daiyar the sense of Osos or God; as in the fragments of Callimachus, “ If thou knowest God, this also thou knowest that the divinity (Saigovı) is almighty. Vide in Homer Il. 1. 98. In like manner io Suquóviov is used for the supreme God. Thus it is said in Aristotle, “God ( tò daquó
vio) is envious," i. e. allows no man to be prosperous without mixing ills with his condition. And in Epictetus; “Commit all to God (tū daluovio) and his providence.” Also in Isocrates—" Worship God (10 davuorior) at all times, but especially with the city in her public sacrifices.." And in Demosthenes—"The Gods (ol deoi) and the Deity (rò daquóvior) will note him that gives not a just sentence.” Orat. nepl napanpeopelas p. 266, Basil 1532 fol. So as to Socrates in Plato, we find him arguing with Melitus that he was no atheist, though his enemies so held him; and he says that he has been acknowledged to assert the existence of something divine (Sarpória) whence he must also have taught the being of gods (δαίμονας.)
According to this view then, we shall make Paul say, “O men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are exceedingly devout”
He then gives a reason for his opinion in these words, “For as I was passing
and beheld your devotions, I saw an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” It is asserted that there were many such altars consecrated to unknown deities in and around Athens. For when any public calamity was not removed by the invocation of gods known by name to the laws, it was customary to let go the victims into the fields, or along the public ways, and wherever they stopped there to sacrifice them “ to the propitious unknown God.” And this, though it might in many cases be only one of the ordinary gods, yet we are too well assured to doubt that it was often no other than the true God. Indeed, had it been aught else than the Supreme Deity to whom the Athenian altar Paul found was erected, he would have met with only contempt for making mention of it; since he directly asserts it and bases upon it his plea of not guilty in the matter of declaring a God and a worship unrecognized by the laws of their city. For it immediately follows, " Whom ye worship as unknown, him I declare unto you.
It is not possible to exceed the heathen writers in the variety and appositeness of names they attribute to God; with whom he is the Maker, the Prince and chief Ruler of the world, the first God, the great God, the greatest God, the Most High, the supreme of gods, the highest God, the chief God, the God of gods, the Principle of Principles, the First Cause, he that generated the whole world, he that rules the universe, the Supreme Governor and Lord of all, the God over all, the ingenerate, self-originated, and self-existent Deity, unity and goodness itself, that which is above essence, or superessential, that which is above mind or understanding, the supreme and eternal, immutable and imperishable, the beginning, and middle and end of all things, and infinite more of the same kind. But one of the famous modes of representing God, is that mentioned by Paul himself, when he describes him as named The Unknown. This we find also among our sacred writers, see Prov. 30:4; Job 11:7. Among the Egyptians Isis was never unveiled; and the sacred Trinity Damascius affirms (according to Eudemus and Eryubinus) to have been honored among them as a darkness above all knowledge and understanding, or an unknown darkness to be thrice repeated. It is unnecessary here to cite Lactantius, Aulus Gellius, Tertullianus and others, to show that the heathen universally in the deeper emotions of their souls, or in times of great danger, as an earthquake, were used to invoke not the gods, but the Unknown or Invisible God: though after the danger was past they would flock to the temples of their inferior gods and pour out to them their libations.
Thus Paul, by one great master-stroke, showed himself clear of declaring a God not acknowledged by the laws of Athens, or the
empire. “Him that ye worship as the Unknown God declare I unto you.
But his defence is not yet complete. He stands accused of set. ting up as new gods, Jesus and Anastasis, or the Resurrection ; that they deem certain deities of oriental mysticism; and of this he is now called to speak. How shall he dispose of such a charge ? He worships Christ as God-man ; how shall he escape with his life if he acknowledge this? Surely there is no Athenian or Ro. man law that decrees worship to Christ. Here then is a dilemma; which horn shall he choose ?
He has opened his cause wisely by making the God he declares to be the same with the Athenian's “ Unknown God;" and he is thus prepared to vindicate himself, should there be occasion, for honoring Christ as God; because as God he is recognized by the laws of Athens. He is the “Unknown God” now manifested and shining forth to all creatures in a human form. We shall perceive in the sequel that he does not actually do this. It was sufficient for his purpose to speak of Christ as merely a man raised from the dead and appointed to act as judge of the world ; though in doing this he comes so near to disclosing the Divinity of Christ that we are astonished to find nó suspicion expressed; but some at once begin to rail on the doctrine of a resurrection ; while others desire to hear more of the matter at another time. He cannot be cen. sured for preaching Jesus as raised up instead of Æacus, Minos, * Rhadamanthus, or Cato to be the divine medium of judgment to the whole world; and his Anastasis proves no goddess, but a change of human bodies from death to life.
It is an important law of rhetoric, that in a discourse nothing is to be introduced which is not necessary to the case in hand. No advocate should raise a point of law, or use a fact, not called for in making out a just cause. So no minister of the gospel should indulge in a loose and rambling style of argument; it lays him open to criticism, and tends to destroy the force of his discourse. We know of no more perfect examples of strict adherence to this rule than are to be found in the New Testament. Christ, for example, when called upon to defend the doctrine of a resurrection to human bodies before the multitude, attempted not to show that all shall rise from the dead; but instead he used merely the language that was then current among the religious teachers of the nation, many of whom affirmed the resurrection of the body (as Josephus informs us) to be the privilege of none but good men ; whence he says, “ They that are accounted worthy to obtain that world and the resurrection of the dead are like the angels." So Paul before the Areopagus, had no occasion to declare the supreme Divinity of Jesus Christ, except by assigning him the work of judging the world, not by lot, as the heathen judges are held to have done, though divinely directed, but by divine wisdom; as his judgment is to be “in righteousness," and not according to any mere arbitrary laws or conventional customs, the only measures usual in the judgments of men, or, so far as we can learn, assigned to the heathen judges of departed souls.
And yet, had there been occasion to speak explicitly upon this head (and we probably have only the substance of his defence) there was no ground for cavil in the heathen mind. All their gods, and all the things of nature, were mere incarnations and embodi. ments of the supreme Deity; and that some man was expected about this time to be, in a higher sense than any before him, a visible incarnation of the Godhead there is no occasion to prove. So that in all probability the Athenians understood Paul to assert that incarnation as fulfilled in Jesus ; though they mostly regarded it as a pretence based upon grounds too little known or too slight to deserve their notice.
But we may notice here that in all the choicest oratory of the heathen world there is nothing to compare with the splendor, the majesty, the dignity, with which that wonderful man entered upon his explanation of Christ and the Resurrection. “God that mad the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not confined in temples made with hands; nei ther is worshipped with the hands of men as though he were in need of anything, since he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation ; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him and find him though he be not far from every one of us; for in him we live and move and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring."
With what emotions of admiration and astonishment must that learned and grave auditory have listened to this discourse from one whom they deemed a barbarian and a fanatic! With what delicacy does he reprove their idolisms, their splendid temple service, and all those things of a religious kind of which they were vain! Those everlasting edifices, dedicated to a hundred gods, with their wonderful statuary—the master works of Phidias, or Praxiteles, and that even in their ruin challenge the admiration of the world—all surround him with their splendor, and the conclave of superior deities look blank upon him from the frieze of the Par. thenon, lest from his fluent lips leap forth some word that should change them to dust, and disgrace the deities of Olympus by sending them down together to groan upon burning rocks where the fugitive demons of Empedocles lie chained in eternal torments.
Yet was there not found a single listener who could note a fault in our apostle's doctrine. The Epicurean could not deny God to be "a living one, that hath all happiness with incorruptibility,"