The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, , at sacred-texts.com
All the cults established upon the face of the earth have made a religious duty of prayer. This alone would prove, if it were necessary, what I have advanced concerning the theosophical dogma of the volitive liberty of man; for if man were not free in his actions, and if an irresistible fatality led him on to misfortune and to crime, what use would be invoking the gods, imploring their assistance, begging them to turn aside from him the evils which must inevitably overwhelm him? If, as Epicurus taught, an impenetrable barrier separated gods and men; if these gods, absorbed in their beatitude and their impassive immortality, were such strangers to the evils of humanity that they neither troubled to alleviate them nor to prevent them, for what purpose then the incense burning at the foot of their altars? a
It was, he said, on account of the excellence of their nature that he honoured them thus, and not from any motive of hope or fear, not expecting any good from them and not dreading any evil. b What miserable sophism!
[paragraph continues] How could Epicurus say such a thing before having explained clearly and without amphibology, what the origin of good and evil is, so as to prove that the gods indeed do not cooperate either for the augmentation of the one, or the diminution of the other? But Epicurus had never dreamed of giving this explanation. However little he might have considered it, he would have seen that in whatever fashion he had given it, it would have overthrown the doctrine of atoms; for a sole principle, whatever it may be, cannot produce at the same time good and evil. Nevertheless, if he has not explained this origin, and if he has not shown in a peremptory way that we are in a sphere where absolute evil reigns, and that consequently we can have no sort of communication with that wherein good resides, it will remain always evident that if we are not in such a sphere, and if we possess a portion of good, this good must come to us from the sphere wherein absolute good has its source. Now, this sphere is precisely that in which Epicurus places the gods. a But, perhaps, a defender of Epicurus will say, the good that we possess comes to us only once from the divine sphere and thenceforth it comes to us no more. This is contrary to the most intimate and most general notion that we have of the Divinity, to that of its immutability upon which Epicurus himself leans most, and from which it results that the gods could never be what they have been, nor do what they have done.
In one word, just as well as in a thousand, any maker of a system is obliged to do one of two things, either to declare himself what the origin is of good and evil, or to admit a priori the theosophical dogma of the liberty of man. Epicurus knew this, and although this dogma might ruin his system completely, he preferred to admit it than expose himself to give an explanation beyond his capability and beyond that of all men. But if man is free, he can be counselled; if he can be counselled, it is evident that he can,
even that he must, demand counsel. This is the rational principle of prayer. Now, common sense is the asking for counsel wiser than its own, and sagacity shows in the Gods the source of wisdom.
Epicurus, nevertheless, denied the intervention of divine Providence and pretended that the Gods, absorbed in their supreme felicity, do not mingle in any affair. a A single question, simple and naïve, would overthrow this assertion destitute of proofs, and besides, inconsistent with the conduct of Greek philosophy; but I prefer to leave this question to Bayle, who has expended much logic in sustaining this point. This French philosopher, under pretext of making Epicurus dispute with a polytheistic priest, advances against Providence an argument which he believes irresistible, and which is, indeed, one of the most subtle that one could possibly advance. "Are the gods satisfied with their administration or are they dissatisfied? Be mindful," he says, "of my dilemma: if they are satisfied with what comes to pass under their providence, they are pleased with evil; if they are dissatisfied, they are unhappy." b The manner in which Bayle throws himself into the midst of the question, without examining the principles of it, denounces him as a skeptic; it is necessary therefore to use against him the weapons that I have given against skepticism; that is, to bring him back abruptly to the principles, by interrogating him before replying to him. It is necessary to ask him, if he admits a difference between that which is and that which is not? He is forced to admit it, as I have said; for in whatever region of himself his will takes refuge, whether it exercises its judgment in the instinct, in the understanding or in the intelligence, you will pursue it in him opposing, in the first case, the axiom of common sense: nothing is made from nothing; in the second, that of reason: that which is, is; in the last, that of sagacity: everything has its opposite and can have only one. Nothing is made from nothing
therefore that which is not, can never produce that which is. That which is, is; therefore, that which is not, is not that which is. Everything has its opposite and can have only one; therefore the absolute opposite of that which is, is that which is not. If the skeptic refuses himself the evidence of common sense, of reason and of sagacity united, he lies to his conscience, or he is mad and then one must leave him.
The difference admitted between that which is and that which is not, proceeds therefore against Bayle, or against those who resemble him; ask them if man is a prey to absolute evil, whether physical or moral? They will reply to you, no; for they will feel that if they should respond otherwise, you would prove to them that not having the faculty of making a difference between good and evil, nor of comparing them together, they could never draw from this comparison their strongest argument against Providence. They will, therefore, reply that man is not a prey to absolute evil, but to a very great relative evil; as great as they wish. You, nevertheless continue thus: if man is not a prey to absolute evil, he might be, since it would suffice for this to take away the sum of good which mitigates the evil, and which the difference, previously established between that which is and that which is not, teaches to distinguish. Now, this sum of good, whence comes it? Who dispenses it? Who? If the skeptics are silent, affirm for them that it emanates from the gods themselves and that Providence is the dispenser. Then reply to their dilemma, and say that the gods are content with their administration and that they have reason to be, since by it they procure a sum of good increasing more and more, for the beings which without Providence would never know it; and that their Providence, which has mitigated evil from its origin, mitigates it still and will mitigate it to its end; and if the astonished skeptics object that Providence takes a great deal of time to make what should be made in an instant, reply to
them that it is not a question of knowing how nor why it makes things, but only that it makes them; which is proved by the overthrow of their dilemma; and which, after all, is saying with more reason in this circumstance than in any other, that time has nothing to do with the affair, since it is nothing to Providence, although for us it may be much.
And if, continuing to draw inferences from your reasoning, the skeptics say to you that, according to the continual effusion of good which you establish, the sum ought to be daily augmented, whilst that of evil, diminishing in the same proportion, ought at last to disappear wholly, which they cannot believe; reply, that the inferences of a reasoning which confounds theirs are at their disposal; that they can deduce from them as much as they wish; without engaging you, for that matter, to discuss the extent of their view, either in the past, or in the future, because each one has his own; that, besides, you owe it to truth to teach them that the dogma, by means of which you have ruined the laborious structure of their logic, is no other than a theosophical tradition, universally received from one end of the earth to the other, as it is easy to prove to them.
Open the sacred books of the Chinese, the Burmans, Indians, and Persians, you will find there the unequivocal traces of this dogma. Here, it is Providence represented under the traits of a celestial virgin, who, sent by the Supreme Being, furnished arms to combat and to subjugate the genius of evil, and to bring to perfection everything that it had corrupted. a There, it is the Universe itself and the Worlds which compose it, which are signalized as the instrument employed by this same Providence to attain this end. b Such was the secret doctrine of the mysteries. c Good and
[paragraph continues] Evil were represented in the sanctuaries under the emblems of light and darkness: the formidable spectacle of the combat between these two opposed principles was given there to the initiate; and after many scenes of terror, the most obscure night was insensibly succeeded by the purest and most brilliant day. a It was exactly this that Zoroaster had publicly taught.
Ormuzd [said this theosophist] knew by his sovereign science that at first he could in no way influence Ahriman; but that afterwards he united with him and that at last he finished by subjugating him and changing him to such a degree that the Universe existed without evil for a duration of centuries. b When the end of the world comes [he said in another place] the wickedest of the infernal spirits will be pure, excellent, celestial: yes [he adds], he will become celestial, this liar, this evil doer; he will become holy, celestial, excellent, this cruel one: vice itself, breathing only virtue, will make long offerings of praise to Ormuzd before all the world. c
These words are the more remarkable when one considers that the dogma relating to the downfall of the rebellious angel has passed from the cosmogony of the Parsees into that of the Hebrews, and that it is upon this dogma alone, imperfectly interpreted by the vulgar, that the contradictory doctrine of the eternity of evil and the torments that follow it, have been founded. This doctrine, but little understood, has been sharply attacked. d Simon, very inappropriately surnamed the Magician, forced St. Peter himself, disputing with him, to acknowledge that the Hebraic writings had said nothing positive on this subject. e This is certain. These writings, interpreted as they have been by the Hellenic Jews and given out under the name of Version
of the Septuagint, shed no light upon this important point; but it is well to know that these interpreters have designedly concealed this light, in order not to divulge the meaning of their sacred book. If one understood thoroughly the language of Moses, one would see that, far from setting aside the theosophical traditions which he had received in Egypt, this theocratic legislator remained constantly faithful to them. The passage in his Sepher where he speaks of the annihilation of Evil, in the meaning of Zoroaster, is in chapter iii., v. 15, of the part vulgarly called Genesis, as I hope one day to show. a But without entering at this time, into the discussion where the real translation of this passage would lead me, let it suffice to say that the early Christians were very far from admitting the eternity of evil; for without speaking of Manes and his numerous followers who shared the opinion of Zoroaster, b those who are versed in these sorts of matters know that Origen taught that torments will not be eternal, and that demons, instructed by chastisement, will be converted at last and will obtain their pardon. c He was followed in this by a great number of learned men, by the evidence of Beausobre who quotes, on this subject, the example of a philosopher of Edessa, who maintained that after the consummation of the ages, all creatures would become consubstantial with God. d
One thing worthy of notice is that Zoroaster, who has made prayer one of the principal dogmas of his religion, has been imitated in this by Mohammed, who, unknowingly, perhaps, has borrowed a great number of things from this ancient legislator of the Parsees. It is presumable that the
followers of Manes, having retired to Arabia, were responsible for these borrowings, by the opinions that they circulated there. But, it must be frankly stated, this dogma, quite in its place in the Zend-Avesta, does not appear so consistent in the Koran, for, of what use is it in a cult where the predestination of men, necessitated by the Prescient and All-Powerful Divine, delivers irresistibly the greatest part of them to an eternal damnation, on account of the original stain imprinted upon mankind by the sin of the first man? One cannot be prevented, in reflecting upon this manifest contradiction, from believing that the theosophical tradition pertaining to the free will of man, and the influencing action of Providence operating the progressive augmentation of good and the gradual diminution of evil, announced openly by Zoroaster, must have acted secretly in the mind of the theocratic legislator of Arabia. If it had not been thus, the prayers that he ordered as one of the first and most essential duties of the religion, would have been without object.
According to the doctrine of Pythagoras revealed by Hierocles, two things agree in the efficacy of prayer: the voluntary movement of our soul, and aid from heaven. The first of these things is that which seeks goodness; and the other that which shows it. Prayer is a medium between our quest and the celestial gift. One seeks, one prays in vain, if one adds not prayer to research and research to prayer. Virtue is an emanation from God; it is like a reflected image of the Divinity, the resemblance of which alone constitutes the good and the beautiful. The soul which is attached to this admirable type of all perfection is aroused to prayer by its inclination to virtue, and it augments this inclination by the effusion of the goodness which it receives by means of prayer; so that it does precisely what it demands and demands what it does. a Socrates was not far from the doctrine of Pythagoras in this respect;
he added only, that prayer exacted much precaution and prudence, lest, without perceiving it, one demand of God great evils, in thinking to ask great blessings.
The sage [he said] knows what he ought to say or do; the fool is ignorant of it; the one implores in prayer, what can be really useful to him; the other desires often things which, being granted him, become for him the source of greatest misfortunes. The prudent man [he adds], however little he may doubt himself, ought to resign himself to Providence who knows better than he, the consequences that things must have.
This is why Socrates cited as a model of sense and reason this prayer of an ancient poet:
The prayer was, as I have said, one of the principal dogmas of the religion of Zoroaster b: the Persians also had the greatest confidence therein. Like the Chaldeans, they founded all magical power upon its efficacy. They still possess today certain kinds of prayers for conjuring maladies and driving away demons. These prayers, which they name tavids, are written upon strips of paper and carried after the manner of talismans. c It is quite well-known that the modern Jews use them in the same way. In this they imitate, as in innumerable other things, the ancient Egyptians whose secret doctrine Moses has transmitted to them. d The early Christians were inclined to theosophical ideas on this subject. Origen explains it
clearly in speaking of the virtue attached to certain names invoked by the Egyptian sages and the most enlightened of the magians of Persia. a Synesius, the famous Bishop of Ptolemais, initiated into the mysteries, declares that the science, by means of which one linked the intelligible essences to sentient forms, by the invocation of spirits, was neither vain nor criminal, but on the contrary quite innocent and founded upon the nature of things. b Pythagoras was accused of magic. Ignorance and weakness of mind have always charged science with this banal accusation. c This philosopher, rightly placed in the rank of the ablest physicians of Greece, d was, according to his most devoted disciples, neither of the number of the gods, nor even of those of the divine heroes; he was a man whom virtue and wisdom had adorned with a likeness to the gods, by the complete purifying of his understanding which had been effected through contemplation and prayer. e This is what Lysis expressed by the following lines:
233:a Diogen. Laërt., l. x., § 123; Cicero, De Nat. Deor., l. i., c. 30.
233:b Cicer., ibid., c. 8 et seq.
234:a Cicer., ut suprà.
235:a Diogen. Laërt., l. x., § 123.
235:b Dict. critiq., art. EPICURE, rem. T
237:a Mém. concern. les Chin., t. i., p. 102 et 138.
237:b Asiat. Research., vol. vi., p. 215. Voyez les Pouranas intitulés, Bhagavad-Vedam et Bhagavad-Gita, et conférez avec les Recherches asiatiq., t. v., p. 350 et suiv., et avec louvrage de Holwell (Interest. Hist. Events), ch. 4, § 5, etc.
237:c Cicer., cité par S. August., Contr. Pelag., l. iv.; Pindar, Olymp., ii., v. 122.
238:a Meurs., Eleus., c. 11; Dion. Chrysost., Orat. 12.
238:b Boun-Dehesh, p. 347.
238:c Vendidad-Sadé, 30e M.
238:d Homil. Clement., xix., § 4, p. 744.
238:e Ibid., cité par Beausobre, Hist. du Manich., t. i., p. 38.
239:a It is necessary before all, to restore the language of Moses, lost, as I have said, for more than twenty-four centuries; it must be restored with the aid of Greek and Latin which chain it to the illusory versions; it is necessary to go back to its original source and find its true roots: this enormous work that I have undertaken, I have accomplished.
239:b Fortun. apud August., Disput., ii.; August., Contr. Faust., l. xxi., c. ult.
239:c Origène, cité par Beausobre, Hist. du Manich., t. ii., v., ch. 6.
239:d Beausobre, ibid., t. ii., p. 346.
240:a Hierocl., Aur. Carmin., v. 49 et 50.
241:a Plat., In II. Alcibiad.
241:b Vendidad-Sadé, 68e hâ, p. 242.
241:c Zend-Avesta, Jeshts-Sadés, p. 113.
241:d Hermès, In Asclep., c. 9.