The Ancient Church
Thus arose a New Church, represented in the Word by Noah and his sons. This Church was in possession of a written Revelation, consisting of Doctrinals handed down from the Most Ancient Church, and also of Historical and Prophetical Books, like our Word. Prom this Revelation the men of the Noachic or Ancient Church knew that God was One, that He was a Divine Man; and by this Church also He was called by His most ancient name, Jehovah. As to this it is stated in Arcana Caelestia, n. 4692, "All those who were of the Ancient Church, and did not separate Charity from Faith, believed that the God of the Universe was a Divine Man, and that He was the Divine Esse. Hence, also, they named Him Jehovah. They knew this from the most-ancients, and also because He appeared to many of their brethren as a Man." Many of them knew, also, that the Lord was to come into the world in an ultimate Human, to conquer the Hells, and make the Human in Himself Divine. This, then, was the primary of the Divine Worship in the Ancient Church.
It was said that the men of this Church, instead of Perception had Conscience—that is, instead of an internal sight and sensation by interior immediate influx from the Lord, they had to be taught mediately, or by external scientifics what was good and true, and then do this by self-compulsion, contrary to the affections of their unregenerate will. Hence, also, they did not any more immediately perceive the representatives and correspondences in the natural world of the internal things of the Kingdom of the Lord, but had to receive instruction as to these things from their fathers, who, again, knew them from the traditions of the Most Ancient Church. Thus they knew that all things of the universe represented and signified spiritual things, and hence, and because they highly venerated what was from the Most Ancient Church, they held representatives and significatives, holy and Divine. '' Still, they did not worship external objects themselves, but by external things they were reminded of internal things, and hence, when they were in their representatives and significatives, they were in the holy of worship" (A C. 2722.) These were, therefore, to them the means of worship, hence the science of Correspondences was in the Ancient Church the Science of Sciences. This Church was, therefore, pre-eminently a representative Church, and the more simple among them were highly delighted in forming to themselves sculptures and images of various things by which they were constantly being reminded of the celestial and spiritual things which they represented.
Knowing that the Lord was a Divine Man, they thus delighted in being reminded of this Universal Truth by forming human images, representative of the various Divine attributes and qualities of the Lord. So they also expressed these various attributes and qualities of the Lord by various names and epithets, correspondingly as we speak of the Divine Providence, the Divine Omniscence, Omnipotence, the Divine Esse, Existere, etc.
It was also customary among the Ancients to add something to the name of Jehovah, and thence to record some of His benefits or attributes. Examples of this custom we find very frequently in the Old Testament, such as Jehovah Zebaoth, Jehovah Jireh, Jehovah Nissi, Jehovah Shalom. Under all these various names and representative forms, only one God, the Lord Jehovah, was worshiped and venerated.
Not only did the men of the Ancient Church love thus to represent Divine qualities, but also all spiritual and celestial things flowing from the Divine. Thus they made various images of old men, virgins, and boys to represent wisdom, the affection of truth, innocence, etc.; further, horses, oxen, calves, lambs, yea birds, fishes, and serpents to represent the various affections and qualities of the spiritual and of the natural man. These they furthermore placed in groves and gardens, and on mountains and hill-tops, besides in their temples, courts, and houses, and this because of the various states and faculties of the internal man to which these places correspond.
Thus their worship, and even their daily life, was throughout representative, and this to such an extent that the very mode of their writing was of this character, as abundantly appears in the hieroglyphics of Egypt.
Knowing, then, these fundamentals of the worship of the Ancient Church, we shall be able to explain the historical origin of the Polytheism and Idolatry which subsequently arose in all those kingdoms in which the Ancient Church had flourished, viz.: in Canaan, Syria, Assyria, Egypt, and hence in most countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and probably also in America.
This will explain, however, only the external origin of idolatry. The internal origin is to be sought in the spiritual states of men. Spiritually considered, idolatry is in general the worship of external things instead of internal things, and such a state always arises in a Church when charity is separated from faith.
Idolatry is, therefore, twofold: interior and exterior, the one prior to the other and the other consequent upon the prior. Interior idolatry is of three kinds: love of self, love of the world, and love of pleasures. The idols are the conceits and cupidities of man.
When the former love of the Ancient Church, which was love of the neighbor, began to be turned into these three idolatrous loves, external idolatry soon followed. A general descent into externalism universally took place which can be traced by various channels into the various phases of idolatry of which we now have a knowledge.
In general, then, we must make a distinction between Polytheism, or worship of many gods, and Idolatry, or worship of images. These are generally found together, but instances are also found where many gods are worshiped without external images. Such a Polytheism is, for example, Protestant Christianity, which worships three gods, while professing not to worship idols as do the Roman Catholics. Another instance is that of the Persian worship of the sun and of fire, and, with many American Indians, the worship of spirits.