Books, Prehistory, Avebury A Temple of British Druids, Avebury Chapter XV

Avebury Chapter XV is in Avebury A Temple of British Druids, With Some Others, Described by William Stukeley.

A metaphysical disquisition concerning the nature of the deity, shewing how the Druids, by the strength of reason, might arrive to the knowledge of a divine emanation or person, from the supreme first cause, which we call the Son of God; and the necessity of admitting of such an emanation. All the philosophers and priests of antiquity had this notion; as we read in Plato and many more.

I HAVE given the reader an account of three eminent builders of these Dracontia, or serpentine temples, in the earliest times after the flood, and in the more eastern parts of the world; as well as described one of those works in our island. There are many more such builders and buildings, which will be easily found out by those that are conversant in ancient learning. This figure of the circle and snake, on which they are founded, had obtained a very venerable regard, in being expressive of the most eminent and illustrious act of the deity, the multiplication of his own nature, as the Zoroastrians and Platonists speak; and in being a symbol of that divine person who was the consequence of it.

We shall not wonder that the Druids had a perception of this great truth, when we consider that it was known, as far as necessary, to all the philosophic and religious sects of antiquity, as shewn at large by several learned writers. My opinion is, that it was communicated to mankind, originally, by God himself. 'Tis the highest point of wisdom which the human mind can arrive at, to understand somewhat of the nature of the deity; and the studious, the pious, and thinking part of the world, would not fail to improve this knowledge by reflexion and ratiocination.

Tho' my business is to speak more fully of the religion of the Druids in the next volume, yet I judge it very pertinent to the present subject to anticipate that intention, so as to shew how far they might advance toward that knowledge, by the dint of reason; to further the works, wherein they have, in the largest characters that ever were made, consigned their notions of this sort, remaining to this day, such as we have been describing; and which may induce us to have the same sentiment concerning them as Pere Marten in his Religion des Gaulois, tho' he knew nothing of our antiquities; but thus he writes, "that the Druids worshiped the true God, and that their ideas of religion were truly grand, sublime, magnificent."

We may therefore very justly affirm of them, that in their serious contemplations in this place, concerning the nature of the deity, which, as Cæsar tells us, was one part of their inquiries, they would thus reason in their own minds.

A contemplative person, viewing and considering the world around him, is ravished with the harmony and beauty, the fitnesses of things in it, the uses and connexion of all its parts, and the infinite agreement shining throughout the whole. He must belye all his senses to doubt, that it was composed by a being of infinite power, wisdom and goodness, which we call God. But among all the most glorious attributes of divinity, goodness is preeminent. For this beautiful fabric of the world displays thro' every atom of it, such an amazing scene of the goodness and beneficence of its author; that it appears to such contemplative minds, that his infinite power and wisdom were but as the two hands, employed by the goodness of the sovereign architect.

Goodness was the beginning, the middle, the end of the creation. To explain, to prove, or illustrate this topic, would be an affront to the common understanding of mankind. The sum of what we can know of him is, that he is good, essentially good. We are not more assured of the existence of the first being, than that he is good, the good, goodness itself, in eminence. He is God, because he is good; which is the meaning of the word in english, and in many other languages. This, in God almighty, is the attribute of attributes, the perfection of his all-perfect nature. He made and maintains those creatures which he multiplyed to an infinite degree, the objects of his care and beneficence; those great characters of supreme love, that render him deservedly adorable.

All possible perfections, both moral and natural, must needs be inherent in this first and supreme being, because from him alone they can flow. This is in one comprehensive word, what we call good. But good unexercised, unemployed, incommunicate, is no good, and implies a contradiction, when affirmed of the all-good being. Therefore it undeniably follows, there never was a time, never can be, when God was useless, and did not communicate of his goodness.

But there was a time before creation, before this beautiful fabric of the world was made, before even chaos itself, or the production of the rude matter, of which the world was made. And this time must be affirmed, not only as to material creation, but to that of angels and spiritual beings. Reckon we never so many ages, or myriads of ages, for the commencement of creation, yet it certainly began, and there was a time before that beginning. For, by the definition, creation is bringing that into being which was not before. There must have been a time before it.

Here then occurs the difficulty, of filling up that infinite gap before creation. Consider the supreme first being sitting in the center of an universal solitude, environed with the abyss of infinite nothing, a chasm of immense vacuity! what words can paint the greatness of the solecism? what mind does not start at the horror of such an absurdity? and especially supposing this state subsisted from infinite ages.

'Tis in vain to pretend, that a being of all perfections can be happy in himself, in the consciousness of those perfections, whilst he does no good to any thing; in the reflexive idea of his possessing all excellency, whilst he exerts no tittle of any one. This is the picture of a being quite dissonant to that of the All-good. And as the Druids would, without difficulty, judge, that there must needs be one, only, self-originated first being, the origin of all things: so they would see the necessity of admitting one or more eternal beings, or emanations from that first being, in a manner quite distinct from creation.

That there ever was one eternal, self-existent, unoriginated being, is the very first and most necessary truth, which the human mind can possibly, by contemplation and ratiocination, obtain. Still by considering the matter intimately, they would find it impossible to conceive, that there should ever be a time, when there was but one being in the universe, which we call the first and self-originated being, possessing in himself all possible perfections, and remaining for endless myriads of ages, torpid, unactive, solitary, useless. This is a notion so abhorrent to reason, so contrary to the nature of goodness, so absolutely absurd, that we may as well imagine this great being altogether absent, and that there was no being at all.

This all the philosophers were sensible of, for good unexercised, that always lay dormant, never was put into act, is no goodness; it may as well be supposed absent, and even that there was no God. To imagine that God could be asleep all this while, shocks the mind, therefore it casts about, to remedy this great paradox.

Now it cannot be said of any part of creation, or of the whole, that God always did good to any created being or beings; for these are not, cannot be commensurate in time with his own being. Count backward never so long for the beginning of things, still there was a time prior to this beginning of things; for eternal creation is an equal absurdity with an eternal absence of any being: where no part is necessary, to affirm the whole is a necessarily and self-existing being, is a mere portent of reason.

So we see, in every light, an absolute necessity of admitting a being or beings coeval with the supreme and self-originated being, distinct from any creation, and which must needs flow from the first being, the cause of all existence. For two self-originated beings is as much an absurdity as any of the preceding.

But, as 'tis impossible that the act of creation should be coeval with the first being, what other act of goodness can be? For that being which is essentially good, must ever have been actively and actually so. To answer this great question, we must thus expostulate, as the prophet Isaiah does in the person of God, in his last chapter, when summing up the business of his prophetical office: "Shall I bring to the birth, and not beget, saith Jehovah: shall I cause to bring forth, and be myself barren, saith thy God?" He is there speaking of the birth of the son of God in human form; but we may apply it in a more eminent degree, to the son of God in his divine nature; and as the Druids may well be supposed to have done. The highest act of goodness which is possible, even for the supreme being, is the production of his like, the act of filiation, the begetting of his son, Prov. viii. 22. "The LORD begat me from eternity, before his works of old;" (so it ought to be read) ver. 30. "then I was by him, as one brought up with him (amoun in the original) and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him."

This is the internal divine fecundity of the fruitful cause of all things. Creation is external fecundity. The Druids would naturally apply the term generation, to this act of producing this person, or divine emanation from the supreme, which we are obliged to admit of: and to affirm him coeval with the supreme. The difficulty of priority in time, between father and son, would easily be removed, by considering the difference between divine and human generation, the production of necessary and contingent beings.

If an artist produces an admirable and curious piece of mechanism, he is said to make it; if he produces a person or being altogether like himself, he is rightly said to generate that person; he begets a son, 'tis an act of filiation. So the like we must affirm of the supreme being generating another being, with whom only he could communicate of his goodness from all eternity, and without any beginning; or, in scripture language, in whom he always had complacency. This is what Plato means, "by love being ancienter than all the gods; that the kingdom of love is prior to the88 kingdom of necessity." And this son must be a self-existent, all-perfect being, equally as the father, self-origination only excepted, which the necessary relation or oeconomy between them forbids. If he is a son, he is like himself; if he is like himself, he is God; if he is God, an eternity of existence is one necessary part of his divine nature and perfection.

If the son be of the same substance and nature as the father, an eternity of being is one part of his nature; therefore no time can be assigned for this divine geniture, and it must be what we call eternal. Or perhaps we may express it as well by saying, it was before eternity; or that he is coeval with the almighty father. In this same sense Proclus de patriarch. uses the word προαιώνιος, præeternus. For tho' 'tis impossible that creation, whether of material or immaterial beings, should be coeval with God; yet, if the son be of the same nature with the father, which must be granted, then 'tis impossible to be otherwise, than that the son of God should be coeval with the father.

If goodness be, as it were, the essence of God, then he can have no happiness but in the exercise of that goodness. We must not say, as many are apt to do, that he was always and infinitely happy, in reflecting upon his own being and infinite perfections, in the idea of himself. This is no exercise of goodness, unless we allow this idea of himself which he produces, to be a being without him, or distinct from himself; and that is granting what we contend for. A true and exact idea of himself is the logos of the ancients, the first-born of the first cause. And this is the meaning of what the eastern and all other philosophers assert, "that it was necessary for unity to make an evolution of itself, and multiply; it was necessary for good to communicate itself. There could be no time before then, for then he would be an imperfect unity, and may as well be termed a cypher, which of itself can never produce any thing." Agreeable to this doctrine, Philo in II. de monarchiis, writes, "the logos is the express image of God, and by whom all the whole world was made." It would be senseless to think here, he meant only the wisdom of the supreme, the reason, the cunning of God, a quality, not a personality.

What difficulty here is in the thing, arises merely from the weakness of our conceptions, and in being conversant only with ordinary generation. A son of ours is of the same nature as his father. His father was begat in time, therefore the son the like. Not so in divine generation. But as the father is from eternity, so is the son. This only difference there is, or rather distinction; the father is self-existent, and unoriginate; the son is of the father.

Further, we must remove, in this kind of reasoning, all the imperfection of different sexes, as well as time, which is in human generations; and all such gross ideas incompatible with the most pure and perfect divine nature. The whole of this our reasoning further confirms, that the son is necessarily existing. It was necessary for God to be actively good always, and begetting his son was the greatest act of divine goodness, and the first, necessarily. But the word first is absurd, betraying our own imperfection of speech and ideas, when we treat of these matters; for there could be no first, where no beginning. And the very names of father and son are but relative and oeconomical; so far useful, that we may be able to entertain some tolerable notion in these things, so far above our understanding.

But tho' it be infinitely above our understanding, yet we reach so far, as to see the necessity of it. And we can no otherwise cure that immense vacuum,89 that greatest of all absurdities, the indolence and uselesness of the supreme being, before creation. And all this the Druids might, and I may venture to say, did arrive at, by ratiocination. And we can have no difficulty of admitting it, if we do but suppose, there were obscure notions of such being the nature of the deity, handed down from the beginning of the world. Whence in Chronicon Alexandrinum, Malala, and other authors, we read, for instance, "in those times (the most early) among the Egyptians reigned, of the family of Misraim, Sesosiris, that is, the branch or offspring of Osiris, a man highly venerable for wisdom, who taught, there were three greatest energies or persons in the deity, which were but one." This man was Lud, or Thoth, son of Misraim or Osiris, and for this reason, when idolatry began, he was consecrated by the name of Hermes, meaning one of those divine energies, which we call the Holy Spirit.

This is a short and easy account of that knowledge which the ancients had of the nature of the deity, deduced from reason in a contemplative mind, and which certainly was known to all the world from the beginning, and rightly called a mystery. For our reason is strong enough to see the necessity of admitting this doctrine, but not to see the manner. The how of an eternal generation is only to be understood by the deity itself.

The Druids would pursue this notion from like reasoning a little further, in this manner. Tho' from all that has been said, there is a necessity of admitting an eternal generation, yet the person so generated, all-perfect God, does not multiply the deity itself, tho' he is a person distinct from his father. For addition or subtraction is argument of imperfection, a thing not to be affirmed of the nature of the deity. They would therefore say, that tho' these two, the father and the son, are different divine personalities, yet they cannot be called two Gods, or two godheads; for this would be discerping the deity or godhead, which is equally absurd and wicked.

That mankind did formerly reason in this wise, is too notorious to need my going about formally to prove it. 'Tis not to be controverted; very many authors have done it substantially. And when there was such a notion in the world, our Druids, who had the highest fame for theological studies, would cultivate it in some such manner as I have delivered, by the mere strength of natural reason. Whether they would think in this manner ex priori, I cannot say; but that they did so think, we can need no weightier an argument than the operose work of Abury before us; for nought else could induce men to make such a stamp, such a picture of their own notion, as this stupendous production of labour and art.

As our western philosophers made a huge picture of this their idea, in a work of three miles' extent, and, as it were, shaded by the interposition of divers hills; so the more eastern sages who were not so shy of writing, yet, chose to express it in many obscure and enigmatic ways. Pythagoras, for instance, affirmed, the original of all things was from unity and an infinite duality. Plutarc. de plac. philos. Plato makes three divine authors of all things, the first or supreme he calls king, the good. Beside him, he names the cause, descended from the former; and between them he names dux, the leader, or at other times he calls him the mind. Just in the same manner, the Egyptians called them father, mind, power. Therefore Plato, in his VIth epistle, writing to Hermias and his friends, to enter into a most solemn oath, directs it to be made before "God the leader or prince of all things, both that are, and that shall be; and before the Lord, the father of that leader or prince; and of the cause: all whom, says he,90 we shall know manifestly, if we philosophize rightly, as far as the powers of good men will carry us." And in Timæus he makes MIND to be the son of GOOD, and to be the more immediate architect of the world. And in Epinomis he writes, "the most divine LOGOS or WORD made the world," the like as Philo wrote; which is expressly a christian verity.

'Tis not to be wondered at, that the ancients wraped up this doctrine in an abstruse and symbolic way of speaking, of writing, and in hieroglyphic characters and works, as we have seen. It was communicated to them in the same manner; they did not, could not comprehend it any more than we, but they held it as a precious depositum of sacred wisdom.

We may therefore make this deduction from what has been said, that the christian doctrine of distinct personalities in the deity, is so far from being contrary to reason, as some would have it, or above human reason as others, that 'tis evidently deducible therefrom, at least highly agreeable thereto, when seriously proposed to our reason. And when most undoubtedly the ancients had such a notion, even from the creation, those minds that were of a contemplative turn, would embrace it and cultivate it, as being the most exalted knowledge we are capable of. Of such a turn were our Druids, as all accounts agree.