Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, , at sacred-texts.com
There has thus emerged from a survey of the comparative
evolution of religions the conclusion that not only do all undergo change in spite of the special religious aversion to change, but all evolve by the same laws, their differences being invariably reducible to effects of environment. Of this the decisive proof is the fact that, under the very roof of a professed monotheism, there arose as aforesaid a secondary God-idea on the lines of a normal process of polytheism. The law of the process is everywhere an interposition of a new God, evolved by later psychosis, between the worshippers and the earlier God, so long as the God-idea remains a psychic need. Only the violent rupture with Christism, and the ensuing feud, prevented Judaism from obeying the law in the normal manner: what happened was that on the severance of the new cult from the old, the older deity was himself modified, with, for a time, somewhat grotesque results. 1 But for Christists the new God stands to the old in the convenient relation that was normal in the original environmentthat of son. Even as Apollo, and Athenê, and Attis, and Herakles, and Dionysos, had to become children of Zeus, and Merodach the son of Ea, and Khonsu the son of Amun at Thebes, 2 and Mithra the son of Ahura-Mazda, the Judæo-Greek Logos had to be the son of Yahweh, the anti-Judaic animus of the Gnostics failing to oust the already formed myth. 3
Such an evolution stands in all cases alike for the simple need of the worshipper who has ceased to relate fully to the old environment, and is appealed to by a cult coming from an environment like his own, or adapts his old God to a new moral climate. In the oldest systems known to us such modifications are seen taking place. Already in the Vedas, Indra, originally a God of thunder and storm, has been "touched with emotion" till he becomes of the order of the Beloved Gods, giving and receiving the love of men; 4 and still his cult was in its own sphere largely superseded by that of Krishna, 5 who could better be made to play the part. In Egypt, again, Osiris is visibly made to meet the need for a "nearer God" by assuming new characteristics from age to age; 6 and yet, after millenniums of possession, he seems to have waned before Serapis, who in turn ceded, not without force, to Jesus. 7 All the while, indeed, inferior
deities were popular by reason of the same general need for a God "near at hand." 1
In the so-called "Aryan" religions the process is essentially the same. Apollo had to supervene on Zeus, as Zeus had done on Kronos; and "that father lost, lost his," in a sufficiently primitive myth. Where new culture-contacts follow each other rapidly, and the rites of one accredited Son-God fail to meet the newest psychic needs, another is given him as a brother; and so Dionysos, grouped in another triad, stands alongside of Apollo. This is accomplished in spite of the most furious resistance of kings and men who see in the new cult only evil and madness; till in time the priests of Apollo, who can have been no less resentful, give it a place in their chief temple. 2 In all such developments, the new God partially supersedes the older, 3 whatever formalities be maintained; and no further explanation is needed for the fact, so fallaciously stressed in some modern propaganda, that many savages recognise a Supreme God or Creator to whom they do not sacrifice or pray. 4 The Supreme God, so to speak, has retired from business, in virtue not of any superiority of character but of the law of divine superannuation.
Nor is there any limit to the process of substitution save in the cessation of the need. All heresy, all dissent, is but a subsidiary phase of the process which in old time evolved new Gods. The early Church could live down the manifold imaginations of Gnosticism, because they were framed for the speculative minds, and such minds tended to disappear as the intellectual decadence continued; but only after long convulsions, desperate persecution, and much exhaustion, could it live down its more intimate heresies; and when Arianism and Manichæism seemed at length destroyed, it was only to rise again in new forms, philosophic on the one side, popular on the other.
And the Gods survive in the ratio of their capacity to meet either order or needthat is to say, in the ratio of the adaptive skill and economic address of their prophets and priests. Without such adaptation they are insalvable. In the orthodox Christian trinity, framed under Judaic restrictions, the Holy Spirit has been
from first to last, technically speaking, a failure, being for all practical purposes superseded by the Virgin Mother, and for all philosophic purposes merged in the Logos on the one hand and in the Father-God on the other. But just as Jesus tended to supersede Yahweh, so Mary in large measure tended to supersede Jesus, who is seen to have become more inaccessible and supernal as his Mother was made in her turn to play the part of Mediator. There are even traces in later medieval art of a tendency to make Mary's mother, Saint Anna, take the place of the Father in a new trinity; and the similar tendency to create a secondary trinity out of the human father and mother and son, Joseph and Mary and Jesus, is not yet exhausted. 1 It depends upon the total fortunes of civilisation whether that tendency shall be realised, or be arrested by the culture-forces which are at present disintegrating all theistic thought.
In fine, Christ-making is but a form or stage of God-making, the Christs or Son-Gods being but secondary Gods. Of necessity they are evolved out of prior materialthe material, it may be, of primitive cults to which men reverted in times of distress and despair of help from the Gods in nominal power; but when the reversion persists the old material is transformed, and the result is a new God who, Antæus-like, has fresh vitality through contact with the primary sources of religious emotion, but is turned to the account of new phases of emotion, moral and other. Thus in the Hellenised cult of the Thrakian Bacchus, out of the very riot of savagery, the reek of blood and of living flesh torn by the hands and teeth of wine-maddened Mnads, there arises the dream of absorption in the God, and of utter devotion to his will, even as we meet it in the suicide-seeking transports of the early Christians. 2 And thus, on the æsthetic side of the evolution, from the rude block of the rustic Beer-God 3 there is ultimately fashioned, under the hands even of the unbelieving Euripides, the gracious form of the calm God of Joy:
[paragraph continues] And even such a mystery as Hellenic hands wrought out of the hypostasis of the Beer-God, Hellenistic hands could shape from that of a man of sorrows, moulding from the sombre figure of the human sacrifice, slain a million times through æons of ignorance, a God of another and a more enduring cast. In the understanding of this secondary process lies the comprehension of the history of what may be conveniently termed "culture-religion" as distinguished from the "Nature religion" studied under the head of anthropology. In terms of this distinction we may say that hierology proper begins with the typically secondary Gods, where anthropology in the ordinary sense ends. 1 But it is essential to a scientific view that we remember there has been no break in the evolution, no supernatural or enigmatic interposition; and this will be sufficiently clear when we study the evolution of the secondary Gods in detail.
94:1 Jevons, Introduction, p. 334.
94:2 Les Apôtres, ed. 1866, pp. 324, 328, 329.
94:3 J. Girard, Le Sentiment religieux en Grèce, p. 7. Cp. Miss Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, 2nd ed. pp. ix, 1-10.
94:4 Burckhardt, Griechische Culturgeschichte, i, 11, citing Boeckh.
94:5 E.g.. Eurynomos, "who according to the antiquarians at Delphi is a daimon in Hades, and eats the flesh of the dead clean to the bones......His colour is a blueish-black, like that of the flies that infest meat, and he shows his fangs." Pausanias, x, 28.
95:1 Cp. Hershon, Genesis with a Talmudical Commentary, 1883, pp. 1, 45, 60, 98, 121, 124,
95:2 As to the evolution of humbler "popular" Gods, see Erman, Handbook, as cited, pp. 74-79.
95:3 Cp. A Short History of Christianity, pp. 113-117.
95:4 Muir, Sanskrit Texts, v. 103 sq.
95:5 Vishnu Purâna, B. v., cc. 10, 11, 12, 30 (Wilson's trans. 1840, pp. 522-8, 588). Cp. Muir, Texts, iv, ch. ii, § 5.
95:6 Cp. Tiele, Egyptian Religion, Eng. tr. pp. 118-120, 139, 140, 167, 168, 185, etc.; Erman, as cited, pp 1.
95:7 The Egyptian cults were forcibly abolished by Theodosius in 381.
96:1 Cp. Prof. Erman, Handbook, as cited, p. 75.
96:2 Plutarch, De Ei ap. Delphi, ix. Cp. Girard, Le Sentiment religieux en Grèce, 1861 p. 240.
96:3 Cp. Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, p. 103; Maspero, Hist. ancienne, pp. 286-7; Jastrow, p. 118; Tiele, Egypt. Rel. p. 155.
96:4 Cp. A Short History of Freethought, i, 94; Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 48 sq.); Barth, Religions of India, p. 18 (as to Varuna); Ellis, Polynesian Researches, i, 324; Mariner, Tonga Islands, ii, 105-6; and cases cited by Krasinski, Sketch of the Religious History of the Slavonic Nations, ed. 1851, p, 13, and by Büchner, Force and Matter, Eng. tr. p. 393.
97:1 Cp. A Short History of Christianity, pp. 235-6.
97:2 Cp. Girard, Le Sentiment religieux en Grèce, pp. 396-402. K. O. Müller had previously put it (Hist. Lit. Anc. Greece, p. 289) that there was an "intense desire felt by every worshipper of Bacchus to fight, to conquer, to suffer, in common with him," and that this led to the satyric element in the festivals. Haigh (Tragic Drama of the Greeks, 1896, p. 21) points out that the satyric chorus was anything but devotional, and that the temper in question belonged to "the orgiastic worship of Dionysos, as performed by ecstatic Mnads at Thebes and Delphi, where the dominant note, undoubtedly, was one of agonised sympathy with the sufferings of the God." Cp. Miss Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, ch. X.
97:3 Cp. Miss Harrison, Prolegomena, 2nd ed. pp. 415-425.
97:4 Bacchæ, 421-3. Gilbert Murray's translation.
98:1 Cp. Tiele, Outlines, p. 6.