Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

jan, after ten centuries, could have re-visited Rome, he would, without difficulty, have recognized the drama, though the actors and scenery had all changed; he would have reflected how great a mistake had been committed in the legislation of his reign, and how much better it is, when the intellectual basis of a religion is gone, for a wise government to abstain from all compulsion in behalf of what has become untenable, and to throw itself into the new movement so as to shape the career by assuming the lead. Philosophy is useless when misapplied in support of things which common sense has begun to reject; she shares in the discredit which is attaching to them. The opportunity of rendering herself of service to humanity once lost, ages may elapse before it occurs again. Ignorance and low interests seize the moment, and fasten a burden on man which the struggles of a thousand years may not suffice to cast off. Of all the duties of an enlightened government, this of allying itself with Philosophy in the critical moment in which society is passing through so serious a metamorphosis of its opinions as is involved in the casting off of its ancient investiture of Faith, and its assumption of a new one, is the most important, for it stands connected with things that outlast all temporal concerns.

[merged small][ocr errors]







[ocr errors]

Subject of ROM the decay of Polytheism and the decline of philosothe Chapter.

phy, from the moral and social disorganization of the Roman empire, I have now to turn to the most important of all events, the rise of Christianity. I have to show how a variation of opinion proceeded and reached its culmination; how it was closed by the establishment of a criterion of truth, under the form of ecclesiastical councils, and a system developed which supplied the intellectual wants of Europe for nearly a

thousand years. Introduc The reader, to whom I have thus offered a representation of tion to the

the state of Roman affairs, must now prepare to look at the study of Christia

consequences thereof. Together we must trace out the pronity.

gress of Christianity, examine the adaptation of its cardinal principles to the wants of the empire, and the variations it exhibited,-a task supremely difficult, for even sincerity and truth will sometimes offend. For


intention to speak with veneration on this great topic, and yet with liberty, for freedom of thought and expression is to me the

first of all earthly things. Distinction But, that I may not be misunderstood, I here, at the outChristiani. set, emphatically distinguish between Christianity and ecclesity and ec. astical organizations. The former is the gift of God; the organiza- latter are the product of human exigencies and human inven

my part, it is



[blocks in formation]


tion, and therefore open to criticism, or, if need be, to condemnation.

From the condition of the Roman empire may be indicated Moral state the principles of any new system adapted to its amelioration. world at

this period. In the reign of Augustus, violence paused only because it had finished its work. Faith was dead; morality had disappeared. Around the shores of the Mediterranean the conquered nations looked at one another—partakers of a common misfortune, associates in a common lot. Not one of them had found a god to help her in her day of need. Europe, Asia, and Africa were tranquil, but it was the silence of despair. Rome never considered man as an individual, but only as a


tyranny of thing. Her way to political greatness was pursued utterly Rome. regardless of human suffering. If advantages accrued to the conquered under her dominion, they arose altogether from incident, and never from her purposed intent. She was self-conscious, deliberate civilizer. Conquest and rapine, the uniform aim of her actions, never permitted her, even at her utmost intellectual developement, to comprehend the equal rights of all men in the eye of the law. Unpitying in her stern policy, few were the occasions when, for high state reasons, she stayed her uplifted hand. She might, in the wantonness of her power, stoop to mercy; she never rose to benevolence. When Syria was paying one-third of its annual produce in Prepares

the way for taxes, is it surprising that the Jewish peasant sighed for a de- the recog. liverer, and eagerly listened to the traditions of his nation the equathat a temporal Messiah, "a king of the Jews,” would soon lity of all come? When there was announced the equality of all men before God, “who maketh the sun to shine on the good and the evil, and sendeth his rain on the just and the unjust,” is it surprising that men looked for equal rights before the law ? Universal equality means universal benevolence; it substitutes for the impersonal and easily-eluded commands of the state the dictates of an ever-present conscience; it accepts the injunction," Do unto others as you would they should do to you.”

In the spread of a doctrine two things are concerned—its own intrinsic nature, and the condition of him on whom it is


[blocks in formation]

Attitude of

Attitude of intended to act. The spread of Christianity is not difficult to Paganism.

be understood. Its antagonist, Paganism, presented inherent weakness, infidelity, and a cheerless prospect; a system,

if that can be called so which had no ruling idea, no principles, no organization; caring nothing for proselytes; its rival pontiffs devoted to many gods, but forming no political combination; occupying themselves with directing public worship and foretelling future events, but not interfering in domestic life; giving itself no concern for the lowly and unfortunate; not recognizing, or, at the best, doubtfully admitting a future life; limiting the hopes and destiny of man to this world ; teaching that temporal prosperity may be selfishly gained at any cost, and looking to suicide as the relief of the brave from misfortune.

On the other side was Christianity, with its enthusiasm and nity. burning faith ; its rewards in this life, and everlasting happi

ness or damnation in the next; the precise doctrines it by degrees gathered of sin, repentance, pardon; the efficacy of the blood of the Son of God; its proselytizing spirit ; its vivid dogmas of a resurrection from the dead, the approaching end of the world, the judgment-day. Above all, iu a worldly point of view, the incomparable organization it soon attained, and its preaching in season and out of season. To the needy Christian the charities of the faithful were freely given ; to the desolate, sympathy. In every congregation there were prayers to God that he would listen to the sighing of the prisoner and captive, and have mercy on those who were ready to die. For the slave and his master there was one law and one hope, one baptism, one Saviour, one Judge. In times of domestic bereavement the Christian slave doubtless often consoled his pagan mistress with the suggestion that our present separations are only for a little while, and revealed to her willing ear that there is another world-a land in which we rejoin our dead. How is it possible to arrest the spread of a faith

which can make the broken heart leap with joy ? Its first or

At its first organization Christianity embodied itself in a ganization:

form of communism, the merging of the property of the disciples into a common stock, from which the necessary provision


Its First Organization.

261 for the needy was made. Such a system, carried out rigorously, is however only suited to small numbers and a brief period. In its very nature it is impracticable on the great scale. Scarcely had it been resorted to, before such troubles as that connected with the question of the Hebrew and Greek widows showed that it must be modified. By this relief or maintenance out of the funds of the Church, the spread of the faith among the humbler classes was greatly facilitated. In warm climates, where the necessities of life are small, an apparently insignificant sum will accomplish much in this way. But, as wealth accumulated, besides this inducement for the poor, there were temptations for the ambitious : luxurious appointments and a splendid maintenance, the ecclesiastical dignitaries becoming more than rivals for those of the state.

From the modification which the primitive organization Gradual thus underwent, we may draw the instructive conclusion that divergenthe special forms of embodiment which the Christian principle from time to time has assumed, and of which many might be mentioned, were, in reality, of only secondary importance. The sects of the early ages have so totally died away, that we hardly recall the meaning of their names, or determine their essential dogmas. From fasting, penance, and the gift of money, things which are of precise measurement, and therefore well suited to intellectual infancy, there may be perceived an advancing orthodoxy up to the highest metaphysical ideas. Yet it must not be supposed that new observances and doctrines, as they emerged, were the disconnected inventions of ambitious men. If rightly considered, they are, in the aggregate, the product of the uniform progression of human opinions.

Those authors who have treated of the sects of earlier times Early variwill point out to the curious reader how, in the beginning, the opinions. Church was agitated by a lingering attachment to the Hebrew rites, and with difficulty tore itself away from Judaism, which for the first ten years was paramount in it; how then, for several centuries, it became engrossed with disputes respecting the nature of Christ, and creed after creed arose therefrom : to the Ebionites he was a mere man; to the Docetes, a phan

ation of

« AnteriorContinuar »