The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, , at sacred-texts.com
Pythagoras, of whom a modern savant, otherwise most estimable, has rather thoughtlessly reproached with being a fanatical and superstitious man, a begins his teaching, nevertheless, by laying down a principle of universal tolerance. He commands his disciples to follow the cult established by the laws, whatever this cult may be, and to adore the gods of their country, what ever these gods may be; enjoining them only, to guard afterwards their faiththat is, to remain inwardly faithful to his doctrine, and never to divulge the mysteries. Lysis, in writing these opening lines, adroitly conceals herein a double meaning. By the first he commended, as I have said, tolerance and reserve for the Pythagorean, and, following the example of the Egyptian priests, established two doctrines, the one apparent and vulgar, conformable to the law; the other mysterious and secret, analogous to the faith; by the second meaning, he reassures the suspicious people of Greece, who, according to the slanders which were in circulation might have feared that the new sect would attack the sanctity of their gods. This tolerance on the one hand, and this reserve on the other, were no more than what they would be today. The Christian Religion, exclusive and severe, has changed all our ideas in this respect: by admitting only one sole. doctrine in one unique church, this religion has necessarily confused tolerance with indifference or coldness, and reserve with heresy or hypocrisy; but in the spirit of polytheism these same things take on another colour. A Christian philosopher could not, without perjuring himself and committing a frightful impiety, bend the knee in China before Kong-Tse, nor offer incense to Chang-Ty nor to Tien; he could neither
render, in India, homage to Krishna, nor present himself at Benares as a worshipper of Vishnu; he could not even, although recognizing the same God as the Jews and Mussulmans, take part in their ceremonies, or what is still more, worship this God with the Arians, the Lutherans, or Calvinists, if he were a Catholic. This belongs to the very essence of his cult. A Pythagorean philosopher did not recognize in the least these formidable barriers, which hem in the nations, as it were, isolate them, and make them worse than enemies. The gods of the people were in his eyes the same gods, and his cosmopolitan dogmas condemned no one to eternal damnation. From one end of the earth to the other he could cause incense to rise from the altar of the Divinity, under whatever name, under whatever form it might be worshipped, and render to it the public cult established by the law. And this is the reason. Polytheism was not in their opinion what it has become in ours, an impious and gross idolatry, a cult inspired by the infernal adversary to seduce men and to claim for itself the honours which are due only to the Divinity; it was a particularization of the Universal Being, a personification of its attributes and its faculties. Before Moses, none of the theocratic legislators had thought it well to present for the adoration of the people, the Supreme God, unique and uncreated in His unfathomable universality. The Indian Brahmans, who can be considered as the living types of all the sages and of all the pontiffs of the world, never permit themselves, even in this day when their great age has effaced the traces of their ancient science, to utter the name of God, principle of All. a They are content to meditate upon its essence in silence and to offer sacrifices to its sublimest emanations. The Chinese sages act the same with regard to the Primal Cause, that must be neither named nor defined b; the followers of Zoroaster, who believe that the two universal
principles of good and evil, Ormuzd and Ahriman, emanate from this ineffable Cause, are content to designate it under the name of Eternity. a The Egyptians, so celebrated for their wisdom, the extent of their learning, and the multitude of their divine symbols, honoured with silence the God, principle and source of all things b; they never spoke of it, regarding it as inaccessible to all the researches of man; and Orpheus, their disciple, first author of the brilliant mythology of the Greeks, Orpheus, who seemed to announce the soul of the World as creator of this same God from which it emanated, said plainly:
"I never see this Being surrounded with a cloud." c
Moses, as I have said, was the first who made a public dogma of the unity of God, and who divulged what, up to that time had been buried in the seclusion of the sanctuaries; for the principal tenets of the mysteries, those upon which reposed all others, were the Unity of God and the homogeneity of Nature. d It is true that Moses, in making this disclosure, permitted no definition, no reflection, either upon the essence or upon the nature of this unique Being; this is very remarkable. Before him, in all the known world, and after him (save in Judea where more than one cloud still darkened the idea of divine Unity, until the establishment of Christianity), the Divinity was considered by the theosophists of all nations, under two relations: primarily as unique, secondarily as infinite; as unique, preserved under the seal of silence to the contemplation and meditation of the sages; as infinite, delivered to the veneration and invocation of the people. Now the unity of God resides in His essence so that the vulgar can never in any way either
conceive or understand. His infinity consists in His perfections, His faculties, His attributes, of which the vulgar can, according to the measure of their understanding, grasp some feeble emanations, and draw nearer to Him by detaching them from the universalitythat is, by particularizing and personifying them. This is the particularization and the personification which constitutes, as I have said, polytheism. The mass of gods which result from it, is as infinite as the Divinity itself whence it had birth. Each nation, each people, each city adopts at its liking, those of the divine faculties which are best suited to its character and its requirements. These faculties, represented by simulacra, become so many particular gods whose variety of names augments the number still further. Nothing can limit this immense theogony, since the Primal Cause whence it emanates has not done so. The vulgar, lured by the objects which strike the senses, can become idolatrous, and he does ordinarily; he can even distinguish these objects of his adoration, one from another, and believe that there really exist as many gods as statues; but the sage, the philosopher, the most ordinary man of letters does not fall into this error. He knows, with Plutarch, that different places and names do not make different gods; that the Greeks and Barbarians, the nations of the North and those of the South, adore the same Divinity a; he restores easily that infinity of attributes to the unity of the essence, and as the honoured remnants of the ancient Sramanas, the priests of the Burmans, still do today, he worships God, whatever may be the altar, the temple, and the place where he finds himself! b
This is what was done by the disciples of Pythagoras, according to the commandment of their master; they saw in the gods of the nations, the attributes of the Ineffable Being which were forbidden them to name; they augmented ostensibly and without the slightest reluctance, the number of these attributes of which they recognized the Infinite Cause; they gave homage to the cult consecrated by the law and brought them all back secretly to the Unity which was the object of their faith.
128:a Bacon, Novum Organum, Aph., 65 et 71.
129:a Asiat. Res., t. iii., p. 371 à 374.
129:b Mém. concern. les Chin., t. ii., p. 26.
130:a Eulma Esclam. Note du Boun-Dehesh, p. 344.
130:b Porphyr., De Antr. Nymph., p. 126.
130:c Αὐτόν δ᾽εκ ὁράω περὶ γὰρ νέφος ἐσήρικται. Voyez Dacier, dans ses Remarques sur les Comment. dHiérocl.
130:d Vitâ Pythagor.; Phot., Cod., 259; Macrob., Somn. Scip., l. i., c. 6, l. ii., c 12; August., De Civit. Dei, l. iv., c. 9 et 11; Euseb., Præp. Evang., l. iii., c. 9; Lactant., De Fals. Relig., l. i., c. 6 et 7; Plot., Ennead., iii., l. ii.
131:a Plutar., De Isid. et Osirid., p. 377.
131:b The priests of the Burmans, called Rahans, but whose generic name is that of Sramana, whence came to them that of Sramaneras, which the ancients gave them, carry the spirit of tolerance as far as possible. They visit with the same devotion pagodas, mosques, and churches; never does one see them being persecuted, nor persecuting others in the cause of religion. The Brahmans, Mussulmans, and Christians occupy important posts among them without their being scandalized. They regard all men as brothers. (Asiat. Research., p. 132 t. vi., pp. 274-279). The Brahmans are of the same mind. One reads these wonderful words in the Bhaghavad Gita: "A great diversity of cults, similar as to substance but varying in forms, are manifested by the will of the Supreme Being. Some follow one cult, others attach themselves to another: all of these worshippers are purified from their offences by their particular cult. . . . God is the gift of charity, God is the offering, God is the fire upon the altar; it is God even, who makes the sacrifice, and God will be obtained by him who makes God the sole object of his labours." (Lect. iv.)