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The reader cannot too carefully bear in mind that this dictionary has not been written for the purpose of repeating what so many others have said.

The knowledge of a God is not impressed upon us by the hands of nature, for then men would all have the same idea; and no idea is born with us. It does not come to us like the perception of light, of the ground, etc., which we receive as soon as our eyes and our understandings are opened. Is it a philosophical idea? No; men admitted the existence of gods before they were philosophers.

 

Whence, then, is this idea derived? From feeling, and from that natural logic which unfolds itself with age, even in the rudest of mankind. Astonishing effects of nature were beheld--harvests and barrenness, fair weather and storms, benefits and scourges; and the hand of a master was felt. Chiefs were necessary to govern societies; and it was needful to admit sovereigns of these new sovereigns whom human weakness had given itself--beings before whose power these men who could bear down their fellow-men might tremble. The first sovereigns in their time employed these notions to cement their power. Such were the first steps; thus every little society had its god. These notions were rude because everything was rude. It is very natural to reason by analogy. One society under a chief did not deny that the neighboring tribe should likewise have its judge, or its captain; consequently it could not deny that the other should also have its god. But as it was to the interest of each tribe that its captain should be the best, it was also interested in believing, and consequently it did believe, that its god was the mightiest. Hence those ancient fables which have so long been generally diffused, that the gods of one nation fought against the gods of another. Hence the numerous passages in the Hebrew books, which we find constantly disclosing the opinion entertained by the Jews, that the gods of their enemies existed, but that they were inferior to the God of the Jews.

Meanwhile, in the great states where the progress of society allowed to individuals the enjoyment of speculative leisure, there were priests, Magi, and philosophers.

Some of these perfected their reason so far as to acknowledge in secret one only and universal god. So, although the ancient Egyptians adored Osiri, Osiris, or rather Osireth (which signifies this land is mine); though they also adored other superior beings, yet they admitted one supreme, one only principal god, whom they called "_Knef_", whose symbol was a sphere placed on the frontispiece of the temple.

After this model, the Greeks had their Zeus, their Jupiter, the master of the other gods, who were but what the angels are with the Babylonians and the Hebrews, and the saints with the Christians of the Roman communion.

It is a more thorny question than it has been considered, and one by no means profoundly examined, whether several gods, equal in power, can exist at the same time?

We have no adequate idea of the Divinity; we creep on from conjecture to conjecture, from likelihood to probability. We have very few certainties. There is something; therefore there is something eternal; for nothing is produced from nothing. Here is a certain truth on which the mind reposes. Every work which shows us means and an end, announces a workman; then this universe, composed of springs, of means, each of which has its end, discovers a most mighty, a most intelligent workman. Here is a probability approaching the greatest certainty. But is this supreme artificer infinite? Is he everywhere? Is he in one place? How are we, with our feeble intelligence and limited knowledge, to answer these questions?

My reason alone proves to me a being who has arranged the matter of this world; but my reason is unable to prove to me that he made this matter--that he brought it out of nothing. All the sages of antiquity, without exception, believed matter to be eternal, and existing by itself. All then that I can do, without the aid of superior light, is to believe that the God of this world is also eternal, and existing by Himself. God and matter exist by the nature of things. May not other gods exist, as well as other worlds? Whole nations, and very enlightened schools, have clearly admitted two gods in this world--one the source of good, the other the source of evil. They admitted an eternal war between two equal powers. Assuredly, nature can more easily suffer the existence of several independent beings in the immensity of space, than that of limited and powerless gods in this world, of whom one can do no good, and the other no harm.

If God and matter exist from all eternity, as antiquity believed, here then are two necessary beings; now, if there be two necessary beings, there may be thirty. These doubts alone, which are the germ of an infinity of reflections, serve at least to convince us of the feebleness of our understanding. We must, with Cicero, confess our ignorance of the nature of the Divinity; we shall never know any more of it than he did.

In vain do the schools tell us that God is infinite negatively and not privatively--"_formaliter et non materialiter_" that He is the first act, the middle, and the last--that He is everywhere without being in any place; a hundred pages of commentaries on definitions like these cannot give us the smallest light. We have no steps whereby to arrive at such knowledge.

We feel that we are under the hand of an invisible being; this is all; we cannot advance one step farther. It is mad temerity to seek to divine what this being is--whether he is extended or not, whether he is in one place or not, how he exists, or how he operates.