Imágenes de páginas
[blocks in formation]

tions of a true theology must be laid. The physicians of the times exerted no little influence on the promotion of such views; for the most part they embraced the Pantheistic doctrine. As one of them, Sextus Empiricus may be mentioned ; his works, still remaining, indicate to us the tendency of this

school to materialism. Philosophi. Such was the tone of thought among the cultivated Romans; cal atheism among the and to this philosophical atheism ainong them was added an educated.

atheism of indifference among the vulgar. But, since man is so constituted that he cannot live for any length of time without a form of worship, it is evident that there was great danger, whenever events should be ripe for the appearance of some monotheistic idea, that it might come in a base aspect. At a much later period than that we are here considering, one of the emperors expressed himself to the effect that it would be necessary to give liberty for the exercise of a sound philosophy among the higher classes, and provide a gorgeous ceremonial for the lower; he saw how difficult it is, by mere statesmanship, to coordinate two such requirements, in their very nature contradictory. Though polytheism had lost all intellectual strength, the nations who had so recently parted with it could not be expected to have ceased from all disposition to an animalization of religion and corporealization of God. In a certain sense the emperor was only a more remote and more majestic form of the conquered and vanished kings, but, like them, he was a man. There was danger that the theological system, thus changing with the political, would yield only expanded anthro

pomorphic conceptions. Principles, History perpetually demonstrates that nations cannot be tive, must permanently modified except by principles or actions conspiwith celist- ring with their existing tendency. Violence perpetrated upon ing tenden- them may pass away, leaving perhaps, in a few generations,

no vestige of itself. Even Victory is conquered by Time. Profound changes alone ensue when the operating force is in unison with the temper of the age. International peace among so many people once in conflict-peace under the auspices of a great overshadowing power; the unity of sentiment and brotherhood of feeling fast finding its way round the Mediter

to be effec

[blocks in formation]

ranean shores; the interests of a vast growing commerce, unfettered through the absorption of so many little kingdoms into one great republic, were silently bringing things to a condition that political force could be given to any religious dogma founded upon sentiments of mutual regard and interest. Nor could it be otherwise than that among the great soldiers one would at last arise whose practical intellect would discocover the personal advantages that must accrue from putting himself in relation with the universally prevailing idea. How could he better find adherents from the centre to the remotest corner of the empire ? And even, if his own personal intellectual state should disable him from accepting in its fullness the special form in which the idea had become embodied, could there be any doubt, if he received it, and was true to it as a politician, though he might decline it as a man, of the immense power it would yield him in return,-a power sufficient, if the metropolis should resist, or be otherwise unsuited to his designs, to enable him to found a rival to her. in a more congenial place, and leave her to herself, the skeleton of so much glory and of so much guilt.

Thus, after the event, we can plainly see that the final blow The coming to Polytheism was the suppression of the ancient indepen- ism must be

bounded by dent nationalities round the Mediterranean Sea ; and that, in the limits of like manner, Monotheism was the result of the establishment of an imperial government in Rome. But the great statesmen of those times, who were at the general point of view, must have foreseen that, in whatever form the expected change came, its limits of definition would inevitably be those of the empire itself, and that wherever the language of Rome was understood the religion of Rome would prevail. In the course of ages, an expansion beyond those limits might ensue wherever the state of things was congenial. On the south, beyond the mere verge of Africa, nothing was to be hoped for: it is the country in which man lives in degradation and is happy. On the east there were great unsubdued and untouched monarchies, having their own types of civilization, and experiencing no want in a religious respect. But on the north there were nations who, though they were plunged in hideous bar

Roman influence.


Conduct of the Educated Romans.


[blocks in formation]

barism, filthy in an equal degree in body and mind, polygamists, idolaters, drunkards out of their enemies' skulls, were yet capable of an illustrious career. For these there was a glorious participation in store.

Except the death of a nation, there is no event in human history more profoundly solemn than the passing away of ancient religion, though religious ideas are transitory, and creeds succeed one another with a periodicity determined by the law of continuous variation of human thought. The intellectual epoch at which we have now arrived has for its essential characteristic such a succession of change—the abandonment of a time-honoured but obsolete system, the acceptance of a new and living one; and, in the incipient stages, opinion succeeding opinion in a well-marked way, until at length, after a few centuries of fusion and solution, there crystallized on the remnant of Roman power, as on a nucleus, a definite form, which, slowly modifying itself into the Papacy, served the purposes of Europe for more than a thousand years throughout its age of Faith.

In this abandonment, the personal conduct of the educated classes very powerfully assisted. They outwardly conformed to the ceremonial of the times, reserving their higher doctrines to themselves, as something beyond vulgar comprehension. Considering themselves as an intellectual aristocracy, they stood aloof, and, with an ill-concealed smile, consented to the transparent folly around them. It had come to an evil state when authors like Polybius and Strabo apologized to their compeers for the traditions and legends they ostensibly accepted, on the ground that it is inconvenient and needless to give popular offence, and that those who are children in understanding must, like those who are children in age, be kept in order by bugbears. It had come to an evil state when the awful ceremonial of former times had degenerated into a pageant, played off by an infidel priesthood and unbelieving aristocracy; when oracles were becoming mute, because they could no longer withstand the sly wit of the initiated; when the miracles of the ancients were regarded as mere lies, and of contemporaries as feats of legerdemain. It had come to

Conduct of the Roman educated men at this period.

an evil

Their Religious Condition.

255 pass

when even statesmen received it as a maxim that “ when the people have advanced in intellectual culture to a certain point, the sacerdotal class must either deceive them or oppress them if it means to keep its power." In Rome, at the time of Augustus, the intellectual classes Religious

condition of -philosophers and statesmen—had completely emerged from the intellecthe ancient modes of thought. To them, the national legends, in Rome. so jealousy guarded by the populace, had become mere fictions. The miraculous conception of Rhea Sylvia by the god Mars, an event from which their ancestors had deduced with pride the celestial origin of the founder of their city, had dwindled into a myth; as a source of actual reliance and trust, the intercession of Venus, that emblem of female loveliness, with the father of the gods in behalf of her human favourites, was abandoned ; the Sibylline books, once believed to contain all that was necessary for the prosperity of the republic, were suspected of an origin more sinister than celestial; nor were insinuations wanting that from time to time they had been tampered with to suit the expediency of passing interests, or even that the true ones were lost and forgeries put in their stead. The Greek mythology was to them as it is to us, an object of reverence, not because of any inherent truth, but for the sake of the exquisite embodiments it can yield in poetry, in painting, in marble. The existence of those illustrious men who, on account of their useful lives or excellent example, had, by the pious ages of old, been sanctified or even deified, was denied, or, if admitted, they were regarded as the exaggerations of dark and barbarous times. It was thus with Æsculapius, Bacchus, and Hercules. And as to the various forms of worship, the multitude of sects into which the pagan nations were broken up offered themselves as a spectacle of imbecile and inconsistent devotion altogether unworthy of attention, except so far as they might be of use to the interests of the state.

Such was the position of things among the educated. In Their irreone sense they had passed into liberty, in another they were in bondage. Their indisposition to encounter those inflictions with which their illiterate contemporaries might visit them may seem to us surprising: they acted as if they thought that



Influence of the Illiterate Classes.

the public was a wild beast that would bite, if awakened too abruptly from its dream; but their pusillanimity, at the most, could only postpone for a little an inevitable day. The ignorant classes, whom they had so much feared, awoke spontaneously

in due season, and saw in the clear light how matters stood. Surrender

Of the Roman emperors there were some whose intellectual of affairs to the illiter- endowments were of the highest kind; yet, though it must ate classes, have been plain to them, as to all who turned their attention

to the matter, in what direction society was drifting, they let things take their course, and no one lifted a finger to guide. It may be said that the genius of Rome manifested itself rather in physical than in intellectual operations; but in her best days it was never the genius of Rome to abandon great events to freedmen, eunuchs, and slaves. By such it was that the ancient gods were politically cast aside, while the government was speciously yielding a simulated obedience to them, aud hence it was not at all surprising that, soon after the introduction of Christianity, its pure doctrines were debased by a commingling with ceremonies of the departing creed. It was not to be expected that the popular mind could spontaneously extricate itself from the vicious circle in which it was involved. Nothing but philosophy was competent to deliver it, and philosophy failed in its duty at the critical moment. The classical scholar need scarcely express his surprise that the

Feriæ Augusti were continued in the Church as the Festival And conse- S. Petri ad Vincula ; that even to our own times an image of quent de basement of the holy Virgin was carried to the river in the same manner Christianity in Rome.

as in the old times was that of Cybele, and that many pagan rites still continue to be observed in Rome. Had it been in such incidental particulars only that the vestiges of paganism were preserved, the thing would have been of little moment; but, as all who have examined the subject very well know, the evil was far more general and far more profound. When it was announced to the Ephesians that the Council of that place, headed by Cyril, had decreed that the Virgin should be called “the Mother of God," with tears of joy they embraced the knees of their bishop; it was the old instinct peeping out; their ancestors would have done the same for Diana. If Tra

« AnteriorContinuar »