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Idol is derived from the Greek word "_eidos_," figure; "_eidolos_," the representation of a figure, and "_latreuein_," to serve, revere, or adore.

It does not appear that there was ever any people on earth who took the name of idolaters. This word is an offence, an insulting term, like that of "_gavache_," which the Spaniards formerly gave to the French; and that of "_maranes_," which the French gave to the Spaniards in return. If we had demanded of the senate of the Areopagus of Athens, or at the court of the kings of Persia: "Are you idolaters?" they would scarcely have understood the question.

None would have answered: "We adore images and idols." This word, idolater, idolatry, is found neither in Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, nor any other author of the religion of the Gentiles. There was never any edict, any law, which commanded that idols should be adored; that they should be treated as gods and regarded as gods.

When the Roman and Carthaginian captains made a treaty, they called all their gods to witness. "It is in their presence," said they, "that we swear peace." Yet the statues of these gods, whose number was very great, were not in the tents of the generals. They regarded, or pretended to regard, the gods as present at the actions of men as witnesses and judges. And assuredly it was not the image which constituted the divinity.

In what view, therefore, did they see the statues of their false gods in the temples? With the same view, if we may so express ourselves, that the Catholics see the images, the object of _their_ veneration. The error was not in adoring a piece of wood or marble, but in adoring a false divinity, represented by this wood and marble. The difference between them and the Catholics is, not that they had images, and the Catholics had none; the difference is, that their images represented the fantastic beings of a false religion, and that the Christian images represent real beings in a true religion. The Greeks had the statue of Hercules, and we have that of St. Christopher; they had Æsculapius and his goat, we have St. Roch and his dog; they had Mars and his lance, and we have St. Anthony of Padua and St. James of Compostella.

When the consul Pliny addresses prayers to the immortal gods in the exordium of the panegyric of Trajan, it is not to images that he addresses them. These images were not immortal.

Neither the latest nor the most remote times of paganism offer a single fact which can lead to the conclusion that they adored idols. Homer speaks only of the gods who inhabited the high Olympus. The palladium, although fallen from heaven, was only a sacred token of the protection of Pallas; it was herself that was venerated in the palladium. It was our ampoule, or holy oil.

But the Romans and Greeks knelt before their statues, gave them crowns, incense, and flowers, and carried them in triumph in the public places. The Catholics have sanctified these customs, and yet are not called idolaters.

The women in times of drouth carried the statues of the Gods after having fasted. They walked barefooted with dishevelled hair, and it quickly rained bucketfuls, says Pretonius: "_Et statim urceatim pluebat_." Has not this custom been consecrated; illegitimate indeed among the Gentiles, but legitimate among the Catholics? In how many towns are not images carried to obtain the blessings of heaven through their intercession? If a Turk, or a learned Chinese, were a witness of these ceremonies, he would, through ignorance, accuse the Italians of putting their trust in the figures which they thus promenade in possession.