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CHAP. his connexion with the Sun, that luminary was appropriated as the home or symbol of his younger representative. Originally placed, as it would seem, midway between the sun and moon, and so perhaps identified on some occasions with the planet Venus', Mithra was ere long a potent and invincible sungod, author of the light, dispeller of the darkness; and in subsequent stages of the mythe, he rose completely to the rank of a supreme divinity, corresponding in the vastness and the splendour of his attributes to the Osiris of the later Pharaohs. Mithra was the sun-god of the Medo-Persian system. Post-Chris- Drawing his existence no longer from Ormazd, of tian repre- whom in the Avesta he was ever made a creature of Mithra. and a tributary, he is pictured to us in post-Christian writings as the preternatural offspring of a rock, or of the soil3. According also to the numerous sculptures of him still surviving he has been invested with distinctly human properties. He is a young man, clothed with a tunic and a Persian cloke, and having on his head a Persian bonnet or tiara. He kneels upon a prostrate bull;
1 See above, p. 216, n. 2.
2 Strabo is the first Greek writer who says this expressly: Пépoal... τιμῶσι δὲ καὶ ἥλιον, ὃν καλοῦσι Μία Opny (xv. 13). It is further worth noting that the name does not occur on the Achæmenian inscriptions until the reign of Artaxerxes Mnemon (Rawlinson's Herod. Vol. I. p. 272, note) yet there can be no doubt as to its ancient usage in connexion with the Sun, in both the branches of the A'ryan family. To pass by Medo-Persian names Mithradates (or Mirpadárns, Her. I. 110), as importing'given by the Sun' (cf. Hormis
dates 'given by Ormazd'), we have continual examples in the Rig-Véda, where Mitra is used as the equivalent of A'ditya, 'the sun,' or one at least of twelve personifications of the Sun corresponding to the signs of the Zodiac.
3 St Jerome, who followed a history of Mithra by Eubulus (now lost) informs us (Adv. Jovinian. Opp. IV. col. 149, ed. Bened.): 'Narrant et Gentilium fabulæ Mithram et Erichthonium, vel in lapide, vel in terra, de solo æstu libidinis esse generatos.'
and while holding it with the left hand by the CHAP. nostrils, with the right he plunges into its shoulder a short sword or dagger. The bull is at the same time vigorously attacked by a dog, a serpent and a scorpion. The ideas embodied in the suffering Meaning animal are at once elucidated when we call to symbols. mind', that in the old mythology of Persia all organic life, the human and the bestial, issued from the shoulder of the primitive bull; and therefore astronomic and other symbols here employed are probably to be expounded of the action of the sungod on created nature, his far-piercing beams awakening all its latent energies, opening the fresh veins of life and drawing thence a large supply of fructifying virtue. The key, however, to Mithraic Mithraic mysteries, all of which are said to have been celebrated in a species of 'cave,' was not intrusted to the vulgar and unlettered, but reserved, as in the other kindred rites and orgies, for the few who underwent a solemn initiation. Here indeed the worship of the Persian sun-god lost all traces of its old resemblance to the creed of the Avesta. It fell off into the whirl of mystic and ascetic faiths, wherein the laxer party such as Commodus and monsters like him, reconciled the adoration of Serapis and of Mithra with the foulest violations of the law of conscience; while the genuine devotee was eagerly accepting the severe prescriptions of the mystagogue, who told him that by passing through a lengthened ordeal of torture and privation, he was able to escape from the necessity of repeated births and consummate his union with the glorious Mithra, 'his god and his
1 Above, pp. 193, 194.
There is no doubt that while the visions of the Bundehesh derived their colouring, and in part Opposition their substance also, from Semitic or from quasiMithraism Christian influences, the advocates of Mithra-wortianity. ship in the earlier centuries of our era were
engaged with more or less of system in retarding the triumphant march of Christianity'. At a period when the claims of our religion were put forward with an irresistible charm alike in the unspotted lives and the heroic deaths of its true-hearted converts, many of the heathen, still unwilling to embrace it, so far yielded to vibrations it excited in all quarters, as to recognise in it the hidden working of a supernatural virtue. We discern this tendency amid the swarm of startling heresies that sprang up in its track; for most of them were anxious to embody one or more dissevered doctrines of the Gospel with their wild and heathenish speculations; and others have been also charged with mimicking the smaller details of its ritual system. We discern this tendency still more in
1 This is one of Von Hammer's conclusions, in which Creuzer (I. 329) apparently acquiesces, extending the remark to other heathen 'orgies' and 'mysteries' of the postChristian period. Yet, as various writers have complained, there was occasionally a disposition in apologists of the early Church to lay undue stress on some points of resemblance between Mithraism and Christianity.
2 e. g. Tertullian (De Præscript. Hær. c. XI) alludes to such apparent mimicries in speaking of Mithraism itself: 'Sed quæritur, a quo intellectus intervertatur eorum, qui ad hæreses faciant? A diabolo scilicet,
cujus sunt partes intervertendi veritatem: qui ipsas quoque res sacramentorum divinorum in idolorum mysteriis æmulatur. Tingit et ipse quosdam, utique credentes et fideles suos [referring to the ceremony of initiation when water was poured by the mystagogue on the aspirant's head] expositionem delictorum de lavacro repromittit: et si adhuc initiat Mithra, signat illic in frontibus milites suos; celebrat et panis oblationem' (referring perhaps, to a kind of Parsee communion, where bread was blessed by the priest and eaten, in conjunction with draughts of the homa-plant: cf. Döllinger, p. 373).
one particular instance, bearing on the present CHAP. theme, for almost every thing that Zoroaster taught of Mithra' was perpetuated in the school of Mani, with the noticeable difference that the Persian misbeliever did not scruple to transfer it all directly to his Christ'. And, strange though Wide dif such an issue may appear, not Mani's system only Mithraism. but the heathen form of Mithraism as well, was able, in the breaking up of old religions, to attract unto itself a multitude of followers both in East and West. It flourished in alliance with some kindred systems in the mother-city of the Roman empire: it was planted, by the ardour of the foreign legionaries, in the Roman capital of Britain2.
of the Gen
Vain, however, and unfruitful was the zeal put Christ the forward in transplanting these fantastic shadows True Light of exhausted paganism. The western world, excited by the general 'shaking of the nations,' was now yielding to the voice of the celestial Charmer: it was gazing on the silent march of that obscure yet glorious, of that suffering yet majestic system, to whose birthplace the inquiring Magi came of old, the first-fruits of the Gentile harvest. When they saw the young child, with Mary his mother, they fell down and worshipped Him.' And Christians of all future times have counted it their highest glory to prolong that wondrous act of love and
1 Neander, Ch. Hist. II. 177. 2 See Wellbeloved's Eburacum, pp. 80-86, York, 1842; and, for some very curious matter with regard to this and kindred subjects, An Essay on the Neo-Druidic Heresy in Britannia (ascribed to the late Mr Algernon Herbert), pp. 29 sq. Lond.
1838. The Druidizing Mithriacs'
CHAP. adoration. They are conscious that in Christ are fully satisfied the cravings of a spiritual hunger which religions of the world may stimulate but have no power to appease. While Bráhmans, in despair of all the helpers whom their own imagination had created, were still dreaming of some future and more permanent avatára; while the Buddhist, equally in north and south, abandoned the original Buddha and sought comfort now in picturing to himself the distant paradise of Amitabha 'the unmeasured Light,' and now in praying for the gracious intervention of some Buddha of the future; while the primitive vision of the helper Sosiosh, dim and fluctuating at the best, was blotted from the Persian mind entirely, or was fading under the augmented brilliance of the younger Mithra;-Christ and Christ alone, expected in the old œconomy and made manifest in the new, the living, reigning and historic Christ, the brightness of the Father's glory and the 'first-born' of a human brotherhood, was everywhere imprinting on the world an image of His love, which neither time nor space could deaden. He 'lighteth every man' by shining down into the heart. He is the true Sun, of which all heathen mediators are but transient and confused parhelia; for while Mithra, once his mighty rival and as such rejoicing in the name of 'the Invincible,' has left no traces, save in monumental sculptures, of the homage rendered to him in the early centuries of our era, Christ, the sovereign Lord of all, is going forward on His peaceful conquest of the nations, 'the same yesterday and to-day and for ever.'