The First Christians
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The First Christians.
[An Extract from the Writings of Voltaire.]
Mr. Editor:-I send you for publication an extract from Voltaire, if you think it deserving. Like most of his theological works, it was published under an assumed name. It is from his "God and Men, by Dr. Obern; a theological, but reasonable work, translated by Jacques Aimon." The following is by "the translator-Jacques Aimon," in the form of an appendix.
Brooklyn Heights, (N. Y.;) Nov. 22, 1857.
After the chapter on "Christian Platonists," I should like to add a few words to conJirm the opinion of the author, if it will be permitted me to mix my ideas with his. I affirm that all the opinions of the first Christians were taken from Plato, even to the dogma of the immortality of the soul, which was unknown to the ancient Jews. I shall show that the expression kingdom of heaven, which is so often used in the Gospels, is found in the Phedon of Plato. Here are the own words of the Greek philosopher, who, without knowing it, founded Christianism:--"Another pure world is above this pure heaven where the stars are; the earth that we inhabit is only the gross sediment of this ethereal world," etc.
Plato then adds, that "We could see this kingdom of heaven, this abode of the blessed, if we could transport ourselves to the other side of this gross air, as the fish can see our earth when they jump above the level of the water."
Again, he expresses himself thus:--"In this perfect earth, all is perfect; it produces precious stones to which ours cannot approach......; it is covered with gold and silver; this spectacle is the pleasure of the righteous. Their seasons are always temperate; their organs, their intelligence, their health, are all infinitely above ours," etc.
Who cannot recognize in this description the celestial Jerusalem? The only difference is, that there is at least some philosophy in the celestial city of Plato, and none in that of the Apocalypse attributed to St. John. "It was like," said he, "a jasper stone, clear as crystal..... He that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city...... The city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth, and it measured twelve thousand furlongs; the length, breadth, and the height of it are equal..... The first foundation was jasper; the second sapphire; the third a chalcedony; the fourth an emerald," etc.
The purgatory, especially, is cvillently taken from the Phedon; the words of Plato are remarkable:--"Those who are not entirely criminal, nor absolutely innocent, are carried to Aeheroll; there they suffer pains proportionate to their faults, until, having been purged from their sins, they receive the recompense of their good actions."
The doctrine of the resurrection is yet more Platonic, since in the tenth book of the Republic, the Greek philosopher introduces Heres resuscitated, and relates what passed in the other world.
It matters little where Plato had obtained his opinions, or, if you like, his fables, whether from the ancient Egyptian philosophers, from Timeus of Socres, or from his own brain. That which is most important to consider, is that they were consoling to the human species; and this was what made Cicero say that he loved better to be deceived with Plato, than have reason with Epicurus. It is certain that the moral and physical evils of our short lives, would make it sweet to hope for an elcrnal life where no evil dare approach. But why commence by giving us the evil before the good? Why was not this eternal life given at first? Would it not be ridiculous and barbarous to build for his children a magnificent palace filled with all imaginable delicacies, but the hall to be a dungeon inhabited by toads and serpents, and to imprison his children in this horrible dungeon for seventy or eighty years, to make them like better all the luxuries with which the palace abounds; luxuries that they shall feel only after the serpents in the hall shall have devoured their flesh and bones?
It is unquestionable that all this doctrine was spread throughout entire Greece before the Jewish people had heard the least of it. The Jewish law, that the Jews pretended had been given them by God himself, never alludes to the immortality of the soul, punishments and recompenses after death, nor the resurrection of the body. It is the height of folly to say that these ideas are darkly expressed in the Pentateuch. If they are divine, they would nol be merely limited; they would be clearly expressed. They only became adopted by some Hebrews a long time after Plato, while Plato is the real founder of Christianism.
If we then considcr that the doctrine of the Word and the Trinity is expressed by no author but Plato, it is absolutely necessary to regard him as the only founder of Christian metaphysics. Jesus, who wrote nothing himself, who came so long after Plato, and who only appeared to a gross and barbarous people, could not be the author of a system so much older than himself, and which he certainly never knew.
The Platonic philosophy, once more, is the father of Christianism, and the Jewish religion is its mother.
But what could be more unnatural than to beat its father and mother? Let a man hold to the Platonic philosophy to day, and a pedant of theology would present a request that he be compelled to recant in a public place, or, if he could, do as a pedant did to Michael Servetus. When a Spanish neuvo christiano imitated Jesus Christ, in being circumcised as him, observing the Sabbath like him, and eating like him the paschal lamb with milk in the month of March, the officers of the Inquisition sought to burn him publicly.
It is equally a remarkable and horrible thing that the Christian sect has nearly always caused blood to flow; and the Epicurean sect who denied both Providence and the immortality of the soul, have always been pacific. There is not a single affront in the whole history of the Epicureans; and there has not been perhaps a single year, from Athenasuis and Arius to Quesnel and Le Pellier, that has not been marked by exiles, imprisonment, robberies, assassinations, conspiracies, and murderous combats.
Plato never imagined that one day his sublime and unintelligible reveries would become the pretext of so many abominations. If they have perverted so horribly philosophy, it is time to develope its first purity.
All the ancient sects, except the Christian, supported one another; let us then support that of the Christians; but let them also support us. Let them not be an insolvent monster, because the first chapter of the Gospel attributed to John has been evidently composed by a Christian; that is no reason for persecuting me. Let the priests who are nourished, clothed, fed, only by the tenths I pay, who only subsist by the sweat of my brow, or that of our farmers, no more -pretend to by my master, and a bad master; I pay them to teach morality, to give an example of gentleness, and not to be a tyrant.
All priests are in this predicament; the Pope himself, his officers, valets, guards, are dependent upon them who cultivate. the earth, and who were born their equals. There are none who do not feel that the power of the Pope is only founded upon their prejudices. Let them abuse them no more, and tremble that these prejudices ate not dissipated.
- Dyer D. Lum, “The First Christians,” The Boston Investigator 27, no. 36 (December 30, 1857): 1.