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6) The good religion
'In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God: and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life: and the life was the light of men....And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.' So does St. John describe the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and His incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ.

The doctrine of the Word of God which is at the same time His Wisdom and His Reason is, of course, not peculiar to Christianity. What makes Christianity unique is not the doctrine of the Eternal Word but the incarnation of that Word in a human being.

Islam too has its doctrine of the Word of God and of the irruption of that Word into the temporal and created world. But whereas in Christianity the Word becomes incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ so that Christ, not the Bible, is by right and nature the prime object of devotion to the Christian, in Islam the Eternal Word breaks into time not as the Prophet Muhammad, but as the Koran which, for Moslem, is the eternal and consubstantial Word of God. The Prophet Muhammad is merely the vehicle through which the Word is transmitted to man. If, then, the Christians believe in the Word made flesh, the Muhammadans believe equally in the Word made Book. We must now consider whether the Zoroastrians had any such doctrine, and, if so, what they believed the Word to be in this material and temporal world.

We have already seen that 'omniscience and goodness' make up the permanent disposition of Ohrmazd and that these were also called 'the Religion.' 'The interpretation of both is the same, namely the permanent disposition of Infinite Time, for Ohrmazd and the Space, Religion, and Time of Ohrmazd were and are and evermore shall be.' Thus God's omniscience which is identified with 'the Religion,' that is Zoroastrian religion, seems to be the Zoroastrian version of the doctrine of the Logos or Word. This Religion is itself the very Wisdom of God, his thought through which he creates. Thus in the book of the Menok i Khrat or 'Spirit of Wisdom' we find Wisdom saying: 'From the first among spiritual and material beings was I who am Innate Wisdom with Ohrmazd. And the Creator Ohrmazd fashioned and created, maintains and orders (all) spiritual and material creatures, the gods and all the rest of creation through the power and valour, wisdom and experience of Innate Wisdom. And at the end of the Rehabilitation he will destroy and smite Ahriman and his abortions chiefly by the power of Wisdom. And Soshyans and Kay-Khusraw and all the others who bring about the Resurrection and the Final Body, will bring it about chiefly by the power and help of Wisdom.

'(All) knowledge and experience on earth, education, and the learning of all trades, and every occupation practised by men in this temporal world, are by Wisdom. The souls of the blessed escape from Hell and go to Heaven chiefly through the power and protection of Wisdom. And men on earth should seek a good life and happiness and a good name and all good things through the power of Wisdom.'

Similarly it is through Wisdom that the embryo is safely preserved in the womb, that the plants grow and the world is full of good things, that the Sun, Moon, and stars follow their appointed courses, that the rains rain, and finally that Man recognizes the truth of the Good Religion. Wisdom, then, is God's Word which gives the world its being and which maintains it in existence; and this Word is identical with the Den, the Religion.

As the creative Word of God the Religion is summed up in the Ahunavar prayer, which, as we have seen, Ohrmazd pronounces at the very beginning of creation and which has the effect of precipitating Ahriman back into his own kingdom of darkness for three thousand years. By pronouncing his Eternal Word God reveals to his Enemy his final defeat and destruction, the creation of the world and its final rehabilitation at the end of time. Ohrmazd's first pronouncement of the Ahunavar is the first manifestation of the godhead: it sets the whole creative process in motion and marks the beginning of finite Time. Creation, indeed, is the 'manifestation' of God's eternal Wisdom in the Religion and of his temporal infinity beyond finite Time.

Substantially God's Wisdom and his Religion are one. The Religion is both the unmanifest Wisdom of God, its manifestation in the Ahunavar prayer at the beginning of time, and finally, in the form of the Avesta, its full and detailed formulation which the Zoroastrians believe was transmitted by God to Zoroaster. In an interesting passage which Fr. J. de Menasce has recently brought to light, Ohrmazd says, 'I, the Religion, and the Word (exist eternally). The Religion is the act of Ohrmazd; the Word is his faith.... The Religion is superior to the Word because the act is superior to speech.' The passage, though the exact sense is uncertain, seems to imply that the Religion is a larger concept than the word (by which is meant the Ahunavar) and that it has eternal as well as temporal existence. The Avesta, then, as being the Religion manifested on earth, is the earthly copy of the divine and eternal exemplar in Heaven: it is the divine Wisdom 'manifested' to Zoroaster on earth.

Zoroaster himself is a prophet and no more than a prophet. Like Muhammad he is simply the vehicle through which the divine Word is transmitted to man. The 'Good Religion,' however, of which he was the vehicle, is not quite identical with the Avesta: it is not so much a book, it is rather a principle. It can be summed up in the following words, -order, righteousness or justice, and the Mean. For the later Zoroastrians the sum of wisdom was the Aristotelian 'Mean.' So wholly did they accept the Greek idea that they claimed it as being specifically Iranian. 'Iran has always commended the Mean,' we are informed, 'and censured excess and deficiency. In the Byzantine Empire the philosophers, in India the learned, and elsewhere the specialists have in general commended the man whose argument showed subtlety, but the kingdom of Iran has shown approval of the (truly) wise.'

The Zoroastrians, then, adopted and enthusiastically proclaimed Aristotle's famous doctrine of the Mean (as indeed they did the equally typically Aristotelian doctrines of matter and form, and potentiality and actuality); and the whole of their ethics in the late Sassanian period is based on this doctrine which sees in virtue a mean between the two extremes of excess and deficiency, between the 'opposite' (hamestar) and the 'kindred' or 'related' (bratarot) vice. The essence then of the Zoroastrian ethic is 'nothing in excess': it is essentially a gentleman's ethical code, a code of moderation and good manners. Opposition to the 'Lie' means opposition to the two extremes of excess and deficiency which are in turn two aspects of varan, a term which may mean either concupiscence or heresy. In the theological texts, extracts from which we reproduce in this chapter, varan is used exclusively in the sense of heresy, the opposite of Den, the Religion, and we have so translated it. Characteristic of varan or heresy is that it ascribes evil, directly or indirectly, to the supreme God. The term, then, does not only cover the Zoroastrian heresies such as the Zervanite which placed the principle of Infinite Time above Ohrmazd and Ahriman, and indeed made him their father, but also the non-Zoroastrian religions, and particularly Christianity and Islam, -religions which, in Zoroastrian eyes, imputed evil to God. Such a god, they say, is no god at all, he is a demon, and his worshippers are therefore classed among the 'worshippers of the demons,' a term that originally applied only to the worshippers of the old Aryan gods whom Zoroaster had dethroned.

The Good Religion, then, is God's Word made manifest on earth: all other religions derive from varan 'heresy' 'the original word' of which 'is that evil comes from the Creator'. The Good Religion is the golden mean between excess and deficiency; the other religions all derive from these two and are therefore, each in its own way, distortions of the truth which is the Zoroastrian via media.

Our first extract in this chapter compares the Good Religion to a tree: its trunk is the Mean; its two great boughs the religious commands and prohibitions (action and abstention), its three branches the famous triad of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, its four offbranches the four castes, and its five roots the five degrees of government. Over all stands the King of Kings, 'the Governor of the whole world.'

This brings us to another aspect of the Good Religion. It is the most perfect example of Erastianism to be found on the face of the globe. Church and State are mutually interdependent, and the symbol and crown of both is the King of Kings, the Sassanian monarch who is the guardian of religion as he is of justice and order. Religion indeed, in the Zoroastrian sense, is almost synonymous with justice and order by which is understood the socially stratified order of the Sassanian Empire exemplified in the four castes of priests, warriors, peasants, and artisans, -with the priesthood standing at the top. 'Know,' Ardashir I is reported as saying, 'that religion and kingship are two brothers, and neither can dispense with the other. Religion is the foundation of kingship and kingship protects religion. For whatever lacks a foundation must perish, and whatever lacks a protector disappears.' When the two are perfectly conjoined in one person, the final Rehabilitation will come to pass, for such a combination cannot be resisted by Ahriman and the demons who concentrate all their efforts on separating the two. Thus, according to one of our texts, had Yam (that is, the mythical king Jamshid) who is here represented as the ideal ruler, agreed to accept the Good Religion as well as kingship, or had Zoroaster been endowed with kingship as well as granted the Religion, the millennium would have set in. Only in the Soshyans, the promised Saviour who, in the last days, will arise from the seed of Zoroaster, are the two united; and it is he who is destined to restore the world.

The comparatively rapid disappearance of Zoroastrianism after the Muhammadan conquest has always remained somewhat of a puzzle. There is, however, a very cogent psychological reason for this. The fall of the dynasty and the conquest of Iran by 'worshippers of a demon' meant the final end of the marriage of Church and state; and to the Zoroastrian mind the one could not exist apart from the other. Once the world had been deprived of the Great King, the Religion he protected must necessarily succumb, 'for whatever lacks a protector disappears.' Thus the Zoroastrians could only look forward to the coming of the Soshyans who, by once again bringing together the Religion and the Crown, would be the architect of a new world in which Iran would once again assume her rightful hegemony.

Shikand Gumani Vazar, chapter I

'... The Religion of omniscience (is) like a mighty tree (12) with one trunk, two great boughs, three branches, four off-branches, and five roots. (13) And the one trunk is the Mean, (14) the two great boughs are action and abstention, (15) the three branches are humat, hukht, and huvarsht, that is, good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. (16) The four-branches are the four religious castes by which the Religion and secular life are (both) maintained, (17) the priesthood, the warrior caste, the caste of husbandmen, and the caste of artisans. (18) The five roots are the five (degrees of) government whose names in Religion are manpat (householder), vispat (village headman), zandpat (tribal chieftain), dehpat (provincial governor) and the Zarathrushtotom (the highest religious authority and representative of Zoroaster on earth). (19) (Over and above these) is another, the Chief of all chiefs, that is the King of Kings, the governor of the (whole) world.

(20) And in the microcosm which is Man [four things] are seen to correspond to these four earthly castes, (21) the head to priesthood, (22) the hands to the warrior caste, (23) the belly to the caste of husbandmen, (24) and the feet to the caste of husbandmen, (24) and the feet to the caste of artisans. (25) So too the four virtues indwelling Man, that is, temperance, fortitude, reason, and energy. (26) Priesthood corresponds to temperance, for temperance is the highest duty of the priests, for through temperance they do not commit sin for very shame and fear. (27) The warrior caste corresponds to fortitude, for fortitude is the sovereign adornment of the warriors; it is explained (as meaning) "innate manliness." (28) Reason corresponds to the caste of husbandmen, for the function of *reason is the tilling of the soil and the promotion of a continuous evolution towards the final Rehabilitation. (29) Energy corresponds to the caste of artisans, for it is the greatest stimulant of their trade. (30) All these diverse functions (are based) on the one trunk of righteousness (truth) and the Mean (and are) opposed to the Lie and its organs which are their opposites.'

Abstracted from : The Teachings of the Magi, R.C. Zaehner, London, 1956

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