Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/806

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

It has been said that religions change, but worship continues the same. The assertion in this shape is too absolute; but it is certain that every religion preserves in its rites and symbols survivals from the whole series of previous religions. And this does it no harm. The important thing is, not the leather bottle, but the wine that is poured out of it; not the form, but the thought that animates it and goes beyond it. When Christians and Buddhists respectively concentrate upon their Master the principal attributes of the sun, beginning with the nimbus, the prototype of which goes back to the aureoles engraved upon the Chaldean monuments, they do not suppose themselves to be giving homage to the star of day. They only intend, in reality, to reflect upon the venerated face of their founder the symbol which has from time immemorial formed an image of the celestial glory, and which also, in contemporary cults, specially characterized the highest personification of divinity. We are reminded of the answer which a father in the Church gave to those who accused the Christians of celebrating the day of the sun: "We solemnize this day, not, like the infidels, on account of the sun, but on account of him who made the sun." Constantine went further when he composed a prayer for his legions to recite on Sunday that could satisfy at once, as M. V. Duruy remarks, the worshipers of Mithra, Serapis, the sun, and Christ. Symbolism may ally itself with the most mystic tendencies, but, like mysticism, it is a powerful auxiliary of the religious sentiment against the immobility of dogma and the tyranny of the letter. M. Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu has shown, pertinently to this point, how in Russia the conservative ritualism of the old believers has been able, by means of the symbolical interpretation of texts and ceremonies, to attain liberty of doctrines and, in certain cases, a complete rationalism, without breaking with the traditional forms of Christianity or of the Eastern Church.

There comes a time when religions which make an important factor of the supernatural find themselves in conflict with the progress of knowledge, and especially with a growing belief in a rational order of the universe. Symbolism then offers them a way of safety which they have more than once taken advantage of to keep pace with their times. If we take peoples in an inferior degree of religious development, we find them having fetiches—that is, beings and objects arbitrarily invested with superhuman faculties; then idols, or fetiches carved into resemblance of a man or an animal; but we rarely discover symbols among them, for they imply both the desire to represent the abstract by the concrete and the consciousness that there is no identity between the symbol and the reality for which it stands. When the mind opens to the notion of abstract or invisible gods, it can preserve its veneration