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CHAPTER III.

THE ELEATIC SYSTEM.

The effect of truth, not only to check present error, but to kindle in the minds of aftergenerations a desire of real wisdom, is exemplified in the origin of the Eleatic opinions ; which, resulting from the wide spread of Pythagorean doctrine, were yet distinguished from it, as from the Ionics, in their general bias and character. Thus, while the latter two looked to something beyond sense to explain natural phenomena, the Eleatæ disregarded sensuous perceptions altogether. The former held the material atoms of which things were compounded, and the power which brought them into action, as two separate principles; Xenophanes, the founder of the Eleatics, on the contrary, excluded all second principles, and referred existence to the operation of that single Power which alone is self-existent.

This school derived its name from Elea, a Greek colony of Lower Italy, and Xenophanes, like Pythagoras, was an Ionian by birth. As the system of the latter was posterior to the Ionic and Italic, we find it developing itself rather in an examination into than imitation of previous data. Hence, its opinions are chiefly negative, and contain the germ of future scepticism; the disciples generally advancing in error at a far more rapid pace than their teachers, prompted by the mystery in which the latter enveloped the truth which they but partially investigated.

Xenophanes was born at Colophon, about the fortieth Olympiad ; and, encouraged by the renown of the Pythagoreans, his first public appearance was as a Rhapsodist, or travelling reciter of poems, in which he followed

up tack made by Pythagoras upon polytheism, by vehement invectives against Homer and Hesiod, on account of their genealogies of the gods. He taught that God was supreme, eternal, one, and infinite; and the arguments derived from reason, by which these truths are supported, were advanced by him with great energy.

He derided the idea under which mankind represented the Deity as a being like themselves,

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each country copying its own peculiarity of form and visage, so that, as he expressed it, " the Ethiopians exhibited their divinities of a black hue, and with flat noses ; while the Thracians gave them blue eyes and a ruddy complexion." Polytheism he showed to be impossible, since many divinities could not be equally perfect; and as whatever is eternal must be infinite, having neither beginning nor end, so what is infinite must be One, for, if a plurality existed, one would limit the infinity of the other. In a word, he believed in one eternal, infinite, and immutable Being, without the body, and uninfluenced by the frailties of man, having nothing in common with him in form or existence, but who is himself the eternal Mind and Wisdom. Unhappily, the clearness of this view was mixed with error ; for we find him, at one time, remarking on the sphere or heaven as God, whilst he confesses himself impotent to discover truth ; and at another, the tortuous subtleties of his own thought, with the usual human tendency towards extremes, involve him in all the evils of scepticism. He has been suspected by some, of atheism, though from this he was preserved, partly by not carrying out his own principles,

and partly by his fixed belief in the existence of God, which opposed his general assertion that error was spread over all things, and that truth was wholly unattainable.

Symbolically, he represented the Divine perfection under the image of an impassible sphere; but here again the most discrepant theories are attributed to him, from confusion between the thought and the similitude. One point of difference widely distinguished Xenophanes from Pythagoras-although his physiology, in some degree, partook of the mathematical cast of the latter-in that, while the Samian observed a restriction in imparting knowledge, the Eleatic opposed reserve, and declared that truth was intended for all men. No reliance can be placed on the authenticity of those wild vagaries of thought which his pretended astronomical theories present; nor is it possible to imagine that so sound a reasoner believed the stars were exhalations, extinguished every morning, and re-lighted at night, or that eclipses were caused by the temporary extinction of the sun : and, in fact, such misrepresentations refute their own credibility; and we rather hold with Cicero, that Xenophanes conceived the moon to be a habitable world

like our own, as he also conjectured that an infinity of worlds existed, and from fossils concluded that the earth had undergone a revolution.

His end was invested with much that was painful. Banished for the inculcation of the great truth of God's unity, he died at the age of nearly one hundred years, presenting, in the lamentation recorded of him by Timon, an affecting portrait of the disappointment of a thoughtful mind at the comparative inconclusiveness of its inquiries, and at the vanity of all its labour under the sun. He is thus said to have expressed himself :

“Oh, that mine were the deep mind, prudent and looking to

both sides! Long, alas! have I strayed on the road of error, beguiled, And am now hoary of years, yet exposed to doubt and

distraction Of all kinds : for, wherever I turn to consider, I am lost in

the One and All."

A more striking contrast between the impotency of unaided reason to satisfy the soul longing to “ flee away, and be at rest," and the inexhaustible fulness which is laid up in the gospel of Christ, to refresh the "weary and heavy laden” with the promise of that rest which

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