Freethought Archives > Baron d'Holbach > Christianity Unveiled
OF THE RITES AND MYSTERIOUS CEREMONIES OR THEURGY OF THE CHRISTIANS.
IF the doctrines of the Christian religion be mysteries inaccessible to reason; if the God it announces be inconceivable, we ought not to be surprised at seeing the rites and ceremonies of this religion mysterious and unintelligible. Concerning a God, who hath revealed himself only to confound human reason, all things must necessarily be incomprehensible and unreasonable.
The most important ceremony of the Christian religion is called baptism. Without this, no man, it is held, can be saved. It consists in pouring water on the infant or adult, with an invocation on the name of the Trinity. By the mysterious virtue of this water, and the words by which it is accompanied, the person is spiritually regenerated. He is cleansed from the stains, transmitted through successive generations, from the father of the human race. In a word, he becomes a child of God, and is prepared to enter into his glory at death. Now, it is said, that the death of man is the effect of the sin of Adam; and if, by baptism, sin be effaced, why is man still subject to death? But here we are told, it is from the spiritual, not bodily death, that Christ has delivered mankind. Yet this spiritual death is only the death of sinfulness. In this ease, how does it happen that Christians continue to sin, as if they had never been redeemed and delivered from sin? Whence it results, that baptism is a mystery impenetrable to reason; and its efficacy is disproved by experience. [48:1]
In some Christian sects, a bishop or pontiff, by pronouncing a few words, and applying a few drops of oil to the forehead, causes the spirit to descend upon whom he pleases. By this ceremony the Christian is confirmed in the faith, and receives invisibly a profusion of graces from the Most High. Those who wandering farthest from reason, have entered most deeply into the spirit of the Christian religion, not contented with the dark mysteries common to other sects, have invented one still darker amid more astonishing, which they denominate transubstantiation. At the all-powerful command of a priest, the God of the Universe is forced to descend from the habitation of his glory, and transform himself into a piece of bread. This bread is afterwards worshipped by a people, who boast their detestation of idolatry. [48:2]
In the puerile ceremonies, so highly valued by Christians, we cannot avoid seeing the plainest traces of the Theurgy practised among the Orientals, where the Divine Being, compelled by the magic power of certain words and ceremonies uttered by priests, or other persons initiated into the necessary secret, descends to earth and performs miracles. This sort of magic is also exercised among Christian priests. They persuade their disciples that, by certain arbitrary actions, and certain movements or the body, they can oblige the God of Nature to suspend his laws, give himself up to their desires, and load them with every favour they choose to demand. Thus, in this religion, the priest assumes the right of commanding God himself. On this empire over their God, this real Theurgy, or mysterious commerce with heaven, are founded those puerile and ridiculous ceremonies which Christians call sacraments. We have already seen this Theurgy in Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. We find it, also, in penitence, or the power which the priests of some sects arrogate to themselves, of remitting, in the name of Heaven, all sins confessed to them. It as seen in orders, that is to say, in the ceremony which impresses on certain men a sacred character, by which they are ever after distinguished from profane mortals. It is seen in the rites and functions which torture the last moments of the dying. It is seen in marriage, which natural union, it is supposed, cannot meet with the approbation of Heaven, unless the ceremony of a priest render it valid, and procure it the sanction of the Most High. [49:1]
We see this Theurgy, or white magic, in the prayers, forms, liturgies, and, in short, in all the ceremonies of the Christians. We find it in their opinion, that words disposed in a certain manner can influence the will All of God, and oblige him to change his immutable decrees. Its efficacy is seen in exorcisms, that is, ceremonies, in which, by means of a magic water and some mysterious words, it is pretended that evil spirits which infest mankind can be expelled. Holy water, which has taken the place of the aqua lustralis of the Romans, is believed by certain Christians to possess astonishing virtues. It renders sacred, places and things which were profane. In fine, the Christian Theurgy being employed by a pontiff in the consecration of a king, renders him more respectable in the eyes of men, and stamps him with a divine character.
Thus all is magic and mystery, all is incomprehensible, in a religion revealed by God himself, to enlighten the darkened understanding of mankind.
[48:1] The ceremony of baptism was practised in the mysteries of Mythias, and those initiated were thereby regenerated. This Mythias was also a mediator. Although Christian divines consider baptism necessary to salvation, we find Paul would not suffer the Corinthians to he baptised. We also learn that he circumcised Timotheus.
[48:2] The Bramas of Indostan, distribute a kind of grain in their Pagodas; this distribution is called Prajadim, or Eucharist. The Mexicans believe in a kind of transubstantiation, which is mentioned by father Acosta. See his Travels, chap. 24. The Protestants have had the courage to reject transubstantiation, although it is formally established by Christ, who says, "Take, eat; this is my body." Averoes said: "Anima mea fit cum philosophis, non vero cum Christianis, gente stolidissima, qui Deum faciunt et comedunt. The Peruvians have a religious ceremony, in which, after sacrificing a lamb, they mingle his blood with flour, and distribute it amongst the people.--Alnetanae quest. lib. ii. cap. 20.
[49:1] The number of Roman Catholic sacraments, seven; a cabalistic, magic, and mysterious number.
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