Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

ADORATION.

Is it not a great fault in some modern languages that the same word that is used in addressing the Supreme Being is also used in addressing a mistress? We not infrequently go from hearing a sermon, in which the preacher has talked of nothing but adoring God in spirit and in truth, to the opera, where nothing is to be heard but the charming object of my adoration, etc.

The Greeks and Romans, at least, did not fall into this extravagant profanation. Horace does not say that he adores Lalage; Tibullus does not adore Delia; nor is even the term adoration to be found in Petronius. If anything can excuse this indecency, it is the frequent mention which is made in our operas and songs of the gods of ancient fable. Poets have said that their mistresses were more adorable than these false divinities; for which no one could blame them. We have insensibly become familiarized with this mode of expression, until at last, without any perception of the folly, the God of the universe is addressed in the same terms as an opera singer.

But to return to the important part of our subject: There is no civilized nation which does not render public adoration to God. It is true that neither in Asia nor in Africa is any person forced to the mosque or temple of the place; each one goes of his own accord. This custom of assembling should tend to unite the minds of men and render them more gentle in society; yet have they been seen raging against each other, even in the consecrated abode of peace. The temple of Jerusalem was deluged with blood by zealots who murdered their brethren, and our churches have more than once been defiled by carnage.

In the article on “China” it will be seen that the emperor is the chief pontiff, and that the worship is august and simple. There are other countries in which it is simple without any magnificence, as among the reformers of Europe and in British America. In others wax tapers must be lighted at noon, although in the primitive ages they were held in abomination. A convent of nuns, if deprived of their tapers, would cry out that the light of the faith was extinguished and the world would shortly be at an end. The Church of England holds a middle course between the pompous ceremonies of the Church of Rome and the plainness of the Calvinists.

Throughout the East, songs, dances and torches formed part of the ceremonies essential in all sacred feasts. No sacerdotal institution existed among the Greeks without songs and dances. The Hebrews borrowed this custom from their neighbors; for David sang and danced before the ark.

St. Matthew speaks of a canticle sung by Jesus Christ Himself and by His apostles after their Passover. This canticle, which is not admitted into the authorized books, is to be found in fragments in the 237th letter of St. Augustine to Bishop Chretius; and, whatever disputes there may have been about its authenticity, it is certain that singing was employed in all religious ceremonies. Mahomet found this a settled mode of worship among the Arabs; it is also established in India, but does not appear to be in use among the lettered men of China. The ceremonies of all places have some resemblance and some difference; but God is worshipped throughout the earth. Woe, assuredly, unto those who do not adore Him as we do! whether erring in their tenets or in their rites. They sit in the shadow of death; but the greater their misfortune the more are they to be pitied and supported.

It is indeed a great consolation for us that the Mahometans, the Indians, the Chinese, the Tartars, all adore one only God; for so far they are our kindred. Their fatal ignorance of our sacred mysteries can only inspire us with tender compassion for our wandering brethren. Far from us be all spirit of persecution which would only serve to render them irreconcilable.

One only God being adored throughout the known world, shall those who acknowledge Him as their Father never cease to present to Him the revolting spectacle of His children detesting, anathematizing, persecuting and massacring one another by way of argument?

It is hard to determine precisely what the Greeks and Romans understood by adoring, or whether they adored fauns, sylvans, dryads and naiads as they adored the twelve superior gods. It is not likely that Adrian’s minion, Antinous, was adored by the Egyptians of later times with the same worship which they paid to Serapis; and it is sufficiently proved that the ancient Egyptians did not adore onions and crocodiles as they did Isis and Osiris. Ambiguity abounds everywhere and confounds everything; we are obliged at every word to exclaim, What do you mean? we must constantly repeat — Define your terms.

Is it quite true that Simon, called the Magician, was adored among the Romans? It is not more true that he was utterly unknown to them. St. Justin in his “Apology,” which was as little known at Rome as Simon, tells us that this God had a statue erected on the Tiber, or rather near the Tiber, between the two bridges, with this inscription: Simoni deo sancto. St. Irenæus and Tertullian attest the same thing; but to whom do they attest it? To people who had never seen Rome — to Africans, to Allobroges, to Syrians, and to some of the inhabitants of Sichem. They had certainly not seen this statue, the real inscription on which was Semo sanco deo fidio, and not Simoni deo sancto. They should at least have consulted Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who gives this inscription in his fourth book. Semo sanco was an old Sabine word, signifying half god and half man; we find in Livy, Bona Semoni sanco censuerunt consecranda. This god was one of the most ancient in Roman worship, having been consecrated by Tarquin the Proud, and was considered as the god of alliances and good faith. It was the custom to sacrifice an ox to him, and to write any treaty made with a neighboring people upon the skin. He had a temple near that of Quirinus; offerings were sometimes presented to him under the name of Semo the father, and sometimes under that of Sancus fidius, whence Ovid says in his “Fasti”:

Quærebam nonas Sanco, Fidove referrem,

An tibi, Semo pater.

Such was the Roman divinity which for so many ages was taken for Simon the Magician. St. Cyril of Jerusalem had no doubts on the subject, and St. Augustine in his first book of “Heresies” tells us that Simon the Magician himself procured the erection of this statue, together with that of his Helena, by order of the emperor and senate.

This strange fable, the falsehood of which might so easily have been discovered, was constantly connected with another fable, which relates that Simon and St. Peter both appeared before Nero and challenged each other which of them should soonest bring to life the corpse of a near relative of Nero’s, and also raise himself highest in the air; that Simon caused himself to be carried up by devils in a fiery chariot; that St. Peter and St. Paul brought him down by their prayers; that he broke his legs and in consequence died, and that Nero, being enraged, put both St. Peter and St. Paul to death.

Abdias, Marcellinus and Hegisippus have each related this story, with a little difference in the details. Arnobius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Sulpicius Severus, Philaster, St. Epiphanius, Isidorus of Damietta, Maximus of Turin, and several other authors successively gave currency to this error, and it was generally adopted, until at length there was found at Rome a statue of Semo sancus deus fidius, and the learned Father Mabillon dug up an ancient monument with the inscription Semoni sanco deo fidio.

It is nevertheless certain that there was a Simon, whom the Jews believed to be a magician, as it is certain that there was an Apollonius of Tyana. It is also true that this Simon, who was born in the little country of Samaria, gathered together some vagabonds, whom he persuaded that he was one sent by God; he baptized, indeed, as well as the apostles, and raised altar against altar.

The Jews of Samaria, always hostile to those of Jerusalem, ventured to oppose this Simon to Jesus Christ, acknowledged by the apostles and disciples, all of whom were of the tribe of Benjamin or that of Judah. He baptized like them, but to the baptism of water he added fire, saying that he had been foretold by John the Baptist in these words: “He that cometh after me is mightier than I; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”

Simon lighted a lambent flame over the baptismal font with naphtha from the Asphaltic Lake. His party was very strong, but it is very doubtful whether his disciples adored him; St. Justin is the only one who believes it.

Menander, like Simon, said he was sent by God to be the savior of men. All the false Messiahs, Barcochebas especially, called themselves sent by God; but not even Barcochebas demanded to be adored. Men are not often erected into divinities while they live, unless, indeed, they be Alexanders or Roman emperors, who expressly order their slaves so to do. But this is not, strictly speaking, adoration; it is an extraordinary homage, an anticipated apotheosis, a flattery as ridiculous as those which are lavished on Octavius by Virgil and Horace.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/v/voltaire/dictionary/chapter11.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25