Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism - Illustratedby Thomas Inman, John Newton
It may, we think, be taken for granted, that nothing is, or has ever been, adopted into the service of Religion, without a definite purpose. If it be supposed that a religion is built upon the foundation of a distinct revelation from the Almighty, as the Hebrew is said to be, there is a full belief that every emblem, rite, ceremony, dress, symbol… See more details below
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It may, we think, be taken for granted, that nothing is, or has ever been, adopted into the service of Religion, without a definite purpose. If it be supposed that a religion is built upon the foundation of a distinct revelation from the Almighty, as the Hebrew is said to be, there is a full belief that every emblem, rite, ceremony, dress, symbol, etc., has a special signification. Many earnest Christians, indeed, see in Judaic ordinances a reference to Jesus of Nazareth. I have, for example, heard a pious man assert that "leprosy" was only another word for "sin"; but he was greatly staggered in this belief when I pointed out to him that if a person's whole body was affected he was no longer unclean (Lev. xiii. 13), which seemed on the proposed hypothesis to demonstrate that when a sinner was as black as hell he was the equal of a saint. According to such an interpreter, the paschal lamb is a type of Jesus, and consequently all whom his blood sprinkles are blocks of wood, lintels, and side-posts (Exod. xii. 22, 28). By the same style of metaphorical reasoning, Jesus was typified by the "scape-goat," and the proof is clear, for one was driven away into the wilderness, and the other voluntarily went there--one to be destroyed, the other to be tempted by the devil! Hence we infer that there is nothing repugnant to the minds of the pious in an examination respecting the use of symbols, and into that which is shadowed forth by them. What has been done for Judaism may be attempted for other forms of religion.
As the Hebrews and Christians believe their religion to be God-given, so other nations, having a different theology, regard their own peculiar tenets. Though we may, with that unreasoning prejudice and blind bigotry which are common to' the Briton and the Spaniard, and pre-eminently so to the mass of Irish and Scotchmen amongst ourselves, and to the Carlists in the peninsula, disbelieve a heathen pretension to a divine revelation, we cannot doubt that the symbols, etc., of Paganism have a meaning, and that it is as lawful to scrutinise the mysteries which they enfold as it is to speculate upon the Urim and Thummim of the Jews. Yet, even this freedom has, by some, been denied; for there are a few amongst us who adhere rigidly to the precept addressed to the followers of Moses, viz., "Take heed that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods?" (Deut. xii. 30.) The intention of the prohibition thus enunciated is well marked in the following words,1 which indicate that the writer believed that the adoption of heathen gods would follow inquiry respecting them. It is not now-a-days feared that we may become Mahometans if we read the Koran, or Buddhists if we study the Dhammapada; but there are priests who fear that an inquiry into ecclesiastical matters may make their followers Papists, Protestants, Wesleyans, Baptists, Unitarians, or some other religion which the Presbytery object to. The dislike of inquiry ever attends those who profess a religion which is believed or known to be weak.
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