I am today twenty-five hundred years old. I have been dead for nearly
as many years. My place of birth was Athens; my grave was not far from
those of Xenophon and Plato, within view of the white glory of Athens
and the shimmering waters of the Aegean sea.
After sleeping in my grave for many centuries I awoke suddenly--I
cannot tell how nor why--and was transported by a force beyond my
control to this new day and this new city. I arrived here at daybreak,
when the sky was still dull and drowsy. As I approached the city I
heard bells ringing, and a little later I found the streets astir with
throngs of well dressed people in family groups wending their way
hither and thither. Evidently they were not going to work, for they
were accompanied by their children in their best clothes, and a
pleasant expression was upon their faces.
"This must be a day of festival and worship, devoted to one of their
gods," I murmured to myself.
Looking about me I saw a gentleman in a neat black dress, smiling, and
his hand extended to me with great cordiality. He must have realized I
was a stranger and wished to tender his hospitality to me. I accepted
it gratefully. I clasped his hand. He pressed mine. We gazed for a
moment silently into each other's eyes. He understood my bewilderment
amid my novel surroundings, and offered to enlighten me. He explained
to me the ringing of the bells and the meaning of the holiday crowds
moving in the streets. It was Sunday--Sunday before Christmas, and the
people were going to "the House of God."
"Of course you are going there, too," I said to my friendly guide.
"Yes," he answered, "I conduct the worship. I am a priest."
"A priest of Apollo?" I interrogated.
"No, no," he replied, raising his hand to command silence, "Apollo is
not a god; he was only an idol."
"An idol?" I whispered, taken by surprise.
"I perceive you are a Greek," he said to me, "and the Greeks," he
continued, "notwithstanding their distinguished accomplishments, were
an idolatrous people. They worshipped gods that did not exist. They
built temples to divinities which were merely empty names--empty
names," he repeated. "Apollo and Athene--and the entire Olympian lot
were no more than inventions of the fancy."
"But the Greeks loved their gods," I protested, my heart clamoring in
"They were not gods, they were idols, and the difference between a god
and an idol is this: an idol is a thing; God is a living being. When
you cannot prove the existence of your god, when you have never seen
him, nor heard his voice, nor touched him--when you have nothing
provable about him, he is an idol. Have you seen Apollo? Have you
heard him? Have you touched him?"
"No," I said, in a low voice.
"Do you know of any one who has?"
I had to admit that I did not.
"He was an idol, then, and not a god."
"But many of us Greeks," I said, "have felt Apollo in our hearts and
have been inspired by him."
"You imagine you have," returned my guide. "If he were really divine
he would be living to this day."
"Is he, then, dead?" I asked.
"He never lived; and for the last two thousand years or more his
temple has been a heap of ruins."
I wept to hear that Apollo, the god of light and music, was no
more--that his fair temple had fallen into ruins and the fire upon his
altar had been extinguished; then, wiping a tear from my eyes, I said,
"Oh, but our gods were fair and beautiful; our religion was rich and
picturesque. It made the Greeks a nation of poets, orators, artists,
warriors, thinkers. It made Athens a city of light; it created the
beautiful, the true, the good--yes, our religion was divine."
"It had only one fault," interrupted my guide.
"What was that?" I inquired, without knowing what his answer would be.
"It was not true."
"But I still believe in Apollo," I exclaimed; "he is not dead, I know
he is alive."
"Prove it," he said to me; then, pausing for a moment, "if you produce
him," he said, "we shall all fall down and worship him. Produce Apollo
and he shall be our god."
"Produce him!" I whispered to myself. "What blasphemy!" Then, taking
heart, I told my guide how more than once I had felt Apollo's radiant
presence in my heart, and told him of the immortal lines of Homer
concerning the divine Apollo. "Do you doubt Homer?" I said to him;
"Homer, the inspired bard? Homer, whose inkwell was as big as the sea;
whose imperishable page was Time? Homer, whose every word was a drop
of light?" Then I proceeded to quote from Homer's _Iliad_, the Greek
Bible, worshipped by all the Hellenes as the rarest Manuscript between
heaven and earth. I quoted his description of Apollo, than whose lyre
nothing is more musical, than whose speech even honey is not sweeter.
I recited how his mother went from town to town to select a worthy
place to give birth to the young god, son of Zeus, the Supreme Being,
and how he was born and cradled amid the ministrations of all the
goddesses, who bathed him in the running stream and fed him with
nectar and ambrosia from Olympus. Then I recited the lines which
picture Apollo bursting his bands, leaping forth from his cradle, and
spreading his wings like a swan, soaring sunward, declaring that he
had come to announce to mortals the will of God. "Is it possible," I
asked, "that all this is pure fabrication, a fantasy of the brain, as
unsubstantial as the air? No, no, Apollo is not an idol. He is a god,
and the son of a god. The whole Greek world will bear me witness that
I am telling the truth." Then I looked at my guide to see what
impression this outburst of sincere enthusiasm had produced upon him,
and I saw a cold smile upon his lips that cut me to the heart. It
seemed as if he wished to say to me, "You poor deluded pagan! You are
not intelligent enough to know that Homer was only a mortal after all,
and that he was writing a play in which he manufactured the gods of
whom he sang--that these gods existed only in his imagination, and
that today they are as dead as is their inventor--the poet."
By this time we stood at the entrance of a large edifice which my
guide said was "the House of God." As we walked in I saw innumerable
little lights blinking and winking all over the spacious interior.
There were, besides, pictures, altars and images all around me. The
air was heavy with incense; a number of men in gorgeous vestments were
passing to and fro, bowing and kneeling before the various lights and
images. The audience was upon its knees enveloped in silence--a
silence so solemn that it awed me. Observing my anxiety to understand
the meaning of all this, my guide took me aside and in a whisper told
me that the people were celebrating the anniversary of the birthday of
their beautiful Savior--Jesus, the Son of God.
"So was Apollo the son of God," I replied, thinking perhaps that after
all we might find ourselves in agreement with one another.
"Forget Apollo," he said, with a suggestion of severity in his voice.
"There is no such person. He was only an idol. If you were to search
for Apollo in all the universe you would never find any one answering
to his name or description. Jesus," he resumed, "is the Son of God. He
came to our earth and was born of a virgin."
Again I was tempted to tell my guide that that was how Apollo became
incarnate; but I restrained myself.
"Then Jesus grew up to be a man," continued my guide, "performing
unheard-of wonders, such as treading the seas, giving sight, hearing
and speech to the blind, the deaf and the dumb, converting water into
wine, feeding the multitudes miraculously, predicting coming events
and resurrecting the dead."
"Of course, of your gods, too," he added, "it is claimed that they
performed miracles, and of your oracles that they foretold the future,
but there is this difference--the things related of your gods are a
fiction, the things told of Jesus are a fact, and the difference
between Paganism and Christianity is the difference between fiction
Just then I heard a wave of murmur, like the rustling of leaves in a
forest, sweep over the bowed audience. I turned about and
unconsciously, my Greek curiosity impelling me, I pushed forward
toward where the greater candle lights were blazing. I felt that
perhaps the commotion in the house was the announcement that the God
Jesus was about to make his appearance, and I wanted to see him. I
wanted to touch him, or, if the crowd were too large to allow me that
privilege, I wanted, at least, to hear his voice. I, who had never
seen a god, never touched one, never heard one speak, I who had
believed in Apollo without ever having known anything provable about
him, I wanted to see the real God, Jesus.
But my guide placed his hand quickly upon my shoulder, and held me
"I want to see Jesus," I hastened, turning toward him. I said this
reverently and in good faith. "Will he not be here this morning? Will
he not speak to his worshippers?" I asked again. "Will he not permit
them to touch him, to caress his hand, to clasp his divine feet, to
inhale the ambrosial fragrance of his breath, to bask in the golden
light of his eyes, to hear the music of his immaculate accents? Let
me, too, see Jesus," I pleaded.
"You cannot see him," answered my guide, with a trace of embarrassment
in his voice. "He does not show himself any more."
I was too much surprised at this to make any immediate reply.
"For the last two thousand years," my guide continued, "it has not
pleased Jesus to show himself to any one; neither has he been heard
from for the same number of years."
"For two thousand years no one has either seen or heard Jesus?" I
asked, my eyes filled with wonder and my voice quivering with
"No," he answered.
"Would not that, then," I ventured to ask, impatiently, "make Jesus as
much of an idol as Apollo? And are not these people on their knees
before a god of whose existence they are as much in the dark as were
the Greeks of fair Apollo, and of whose past they have only rumors
such as Homer reports of our Olympian gods--as idolatrous as the
Athenians? What would you say," I asked my guide, "if I were to demand
that you should produce Jesus and prove him to my eyes and ears as you
have asked me to produce and prove Apollo? What is the difference
between a ceremony performed in honor of Apollo and one performed in
honor of Jesus, since it is as impossible to give oracular
demonstration of the existence of the one as of the other? If Jesus is
alive and a god, and Apollo is an idol and dead, what is the evidence,
since the one is as invisible, as inaccessible, and as unproducible as
the other? And, if faith that Jesus is a god proves him a god, why
will not faith in Apollo make him a god? But if worshipping Jesus,
whom for the best part of the last two thousand years no man has seen,
heard or touched; if building temples to him, burning incense upon his
altars, bowing at his shrine and calling him "God," is not idolatry,
neither is it idolatry to kindle fire upon the luminous altars of the
Greek Apollo,--God of the dawn, master of the enchanted lyre--he with
the bow and arrow tipped with fire! I am not denying," I said, "that
Jesus ever lived. He may have been alive two thousand years ago, but
if he has not been heard from since, if the same thing that happened
to the people living at the time he lived has happened to him, namely--if
he is dead, then you are worshipping the dead, which fact stamps
your religion as idolatrous."
And, then, remembering what he had said to me about the Greek
mythology being beautiful but not true, I said to him: "Your temples
are indeed gorgeous and costly; your music is grand; your altars are
superb; your litany is exquisite; your chants are melting; your
incense, and bells and flowers, your gold and silver vessels are all
in rare taste, and I dare say your dogmas are subtle and your
preachers eloquent, but your religion has one fault--_it is not