« EdellinenJatka »
SOCRATES ON PRAYER.
should ever happen, they conclude that the reputed son must have been illegitimate, suppositious, or begotten in adultery. Their opinion in this particular shews sufficiently what a notion they must have had of undutifulness in general.—L.
No. 207.-On Prayer; counsel of Socrates on this bead; his rules compared with the teaching of Christ.
Omnibus in terris, quæ sunt a Gadibus usque
Juv. Sat. x. I.
DRYDEN. In my last Saturday's paper1 I laid down some thoughts upon devotion in general, and shall here shew what were the notions of the most refined heathens on this subject, as they are represented in Plato's dialogue upon prayer, entitled Alcibiades the
second, which doubtless gave occasion for Juvenal's tenth satire, 10 and to the second satire of Persius; as the last of these authors
has almost transcribed the preceding dialogue, entitled Alcibiades the first, in his fourth satire.
The speakers in this dialogue upon prayer are Socrates and Alcibiades; and the substance of it (when drawn together out of the intricacies and digressions) as follows.
Socrates meeting his pupil Alcibiades, as he was going to his devotions, and observing his eyes to be fixed upon the earth with great seriousness and attention, tells him that he had reason to
be thoughtful on that occasion, since it was possible for a man to 20 bring down eyils upon himself by his own prayers, and that those
things which the gods send him in answer to his petitions might turn to his destruction: this, says he, may not only happen when a man prays for what he knows is mischievous in his own nature, as Edipus implored the gods to sow dissension between his sons; but when he prays for what he believes would be for his good, and against what he believes would be to his detriment. This the philosopher shews must necessarily happen among us, since most men are blinded with ignorance, prejudice, or passion, which hinder them from seeing such things as are really beneficial to them. For an instance, he asks Alcibiades, Whether he would not be thoroughly pleased and satisfied, if that god, to whom he was going to address himself, should promise to make him the sovereign of the whole earth? Alcibiades answers, That he should doubtless look upon such a promise as the greatest favour that could be bestowed upon him. Socrates then asks him, if, after receiving this great favour, he would be
1 No. 201 : omitted from this selection.
contented to lose his life; or if he would receive it though he 10 was sure he should make an ill use of it? To both which ques
tions Alcibiades answers in the negative. Socrates then shews him, from the examples of others, how these might very probably be the effects of such a blessing. He then adds, that other reputed pieces of good fortune, as that of having a son, or procuring the highest post in a government, are subject to the like fatal consequences; which nevertheless, says he, men ardently desire, and would not fail to pray for, if they thought their prayers might be effectual for the obtaining of them.
Having established this great point, that all the most apparent 20 blessings in this life are obnoxious to such dreadful conse
quences, and that no man knows what in its events would prove to him a blessing or a curse, he teaches Alcibiades after what manner he ought to pray.
In the first place he recommends to him, as the model of his devotions, a short prayer, which a Greek poet composed for the use of his friends, in the following words: “O Jupiter, give us those things which are good for us, whether they are such things as we pray for, or such things as we do not pray for: and remove
from us those things which are hurtful, though they are such 30 things as we pray for.'
In the second place, that his disciple may ask such things as are expedient for him, he shews him that it is absolutely necessary to apply himself to the study of true wisdom, and to the knowledge of that which is his chief good, and the most suitable to the excellency of his nature.
In the third and last place, he informs him that the best methods he could make use of to draw down blessings upon himself, and to render his prayers acceptable, would be to live in a
constant practice of his duty, towards the gods and towards men. 40 Under this head he very much recommends a form of prayer the
PRAYER AND SACRIFICE.
Lacedemonians made use of, in which they petition the gods to give them all good things, so long as they were virtuous. Under this head likewise he gives a very remarkable account of an oracle to the following purpose.
When the Athenians, in the war with the Lacedemonians, received many defeats both by sea and land, they sent a message to the oracle of Jupiter Ammon, to ask the reason why they, who erected so many temples to the gods, and adorned them with
such costly offerings; why they who had instituted so many 10 festivals, and accompanied them with such pomps and ceremonies;
in short, why they, who had slain so many hecatombs at their altars, should be less successful than the Lacedemonians, who fell so short of them in all these particulars. To this, says he, the oracle made the following reply: I am better pleased with the prayers of the Lacedemonians, than with all the oblations of the Greeks. As this prayer implied and encouraged virtue in those who made it, the philosopher proceeds to shew how the most vicious man might be devout, so far as victims could make him,
but that his offerings were regarded by the gods as bribes, and 20 his petitions as blasphemies. He likewise quotes on this occasion
two verses out of Homer, in which the poet says, That the scent of the Trojan sacrifices was carried up to heaven by the winds; but that it was not acceptable to the gods, who were displeased with Priam and all his people n.
The conclusion of this dialogue is very remarkable. Socrates, having deterred Alcibiades from the prayers and sacrifice which he was going to offer, by setting-forth the above-mentioned difficulties of performing that duty as he ought, adds these words,
• We must therefore wait till such time as we may learn how we 30 ought to behave ourselves towards the gods, and towards men.'
• But when will that time come,” says Alcibiades, “and who is it that will instruct us? For I would fain see this man, whoever he is.' 'It is one,' says Socrates, 'who takes care of you; but as Homern tells us that Minerva removed the mist from Diomedes his eyes 9, that he might plainly discover both gods and men, so the darkness that hangs upon your mind must be removed before you are able to discern what is good and what is evil.''Let him remove from my mind,' says Alcibiades, the
darkness, and what else he pleases; I am determined to refuse 40 nothing he shall order me, whoever he is, so that I may become the better man by it.' The remaining part of the dialogue is very obscure: there is something in it that would make us think Socrates hinted at himself, when he spoke of this divine teacher who was to come into the world, did not he own that he himself was, in this respect, as much at a loss, and in as great distress as the rest of mankind n.
Some learned men look upon this conclusion as a prediction of our Saviour, or at least that Socrates, like that high priest, pro
phesied unknowingly, and pointed at that Divine Teacher who 10 was to come into the world some ages after him. However that
may be, we find that this great philosopher saw by the light of reason, that it was more suitable to the goodness of the divine nature to send a person into the world who should instruct mankind in the duties of religion, and, in particular, teach them how to pray.
Whoever reads this abstract of Plato's discourse on prayer, will, I believe, naturally make this reflexion. That the great founder of our religion, as well by his own example, as in the form of
prayer which he taught his disciples, did not only keep up to those 20 rules which the light of nature had suggested to this great philo
sopher, but instructed his disciples in the whole extent of this duty, as well as of all others. He directed them to the proper object of adoration, and taught them, according to the third rule above mentioned, to apply themselves to him in their closets, without shew or ostentation, and to worship him in spirit and in truth. As the Lacedemonians, in their form of prayer, implored the gods in general to give them all good things so long as they were virtuous, we ask in particuiar, 'that our offences may be forgiven, as
we forgive those of others. If we look into the second rule which 30 Socrates has prescribed, namely, that we should apply ourselves to
the knowledge of such things as are best for us, this too is explained at large in the doctrines of the gospel, where we are taught in several instances to regard those things as curses which appear as blessings in the eye of the world; and on the contrary, to esteem those things as blessings, which to the generality of mankind appear as curses. Thus, in the form which is prescribed to us, we only pray for that happiness which is our chief good, and the great end of our existence, when we petition the Supreme Being
for the coming of his kingdom, being solicitous for no other temporal 40 blessing but our daily sustenance. On the other side, we pray
HONOURS AND DISTINCTIONS.
against nothing but sin, and against evil in general, leaving it with Omniscience to determine what is really such. If we look into the first of Socrates his rules of prayer, in which he recommends the above-mentioned form of the ancient poet, we find that form not only comprehended, but very much improved in the petition, wherein we pray to the Supreme Being that His will may be done : which is of the same force with that form which our Saviour used, when he prayed against the most painful and most ignominious of
deaths, nevertheless not my will but thine be done. This compre10 hensive petition is the most humble, as well as the most prudent,
that can be offered up from the creature to his Creator, as it supposes the Supreme Being wills nothing but what is for our good, and that he knows better than ourselves what is so.-L.
No. 219. On the Love of Honour and Distinction; the sources of human
superiority; titles ; the mistakes of this world will be rectified in the
Vix ea nostra voco.-Ovid. Met. xiii. 141. There are but few men who are not ambitious of distinguishing themselves in the nation or country where they live, and of growing considerable among those with whom they converse. There is a kind of grandeur and respect, which the meanest and most insignificant part of mankind endeavour to procure in the little
circle of their friends and acquaintance. The poorest mechanic, 20 nay, the man who lives upon common alms, gets him his set of
admirers, and delights in that superiority which he enjoys over those. who are in some respects beneath him. This ambition, which is natural to the soul of man, might, methinks, receive a very happy turn; and, if it were rightly directed, contribute as much to a person's advantage as it generally does to his uneasiness and disquiet.
I shall therefore put together some thoughts on this subject, which I have not met with in other writers; and shall set them
down as they have occurred to me, without being at the pains to 30 connect or methodize them.
All superiority and pre-eminence that one man can have over another, may be reduced to the notion of quality, which, considered at large, is either that of fortune, body, or mind. The first