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(Nat. Qu., II. 45, and Prolog. 13): “Will you call God the world ? You may do so without mistake. For he is all that you see around you.” What is God? The mind of the universe. What is God? All that you see, and all that you do not see.
It was not philosophy which destroyed religion in Rome. Philosophy, no doubt, weakened faith in the national gods, and made the national worship seem absurd. But it was the general tendency downward ; it was the loss of the old Roman simplicity and purity; it was the curse of. Cæsarism, which, destroying all other human life, destroyed also the life of religion. What it came to at last, in well-endowed minds, may be seen in this extract from the elder Pliny:
“ All religion is the offspring of necessity, weakness, and fear. What God is, if in truth he be anything distinct from the world, it is beyond the compass of man's understanding to know. But it is a foolish delusion, which has sprung from human weakness and human pride, to imagine that such an infinite spirit would concern himself with the petty affairs of
It is difficult to say, whether it might not be better for men to be wholly without religion, than to have one of this kind, which is a reproach to its object. The vanity of man, and his insatiable longing after existence, have led him also to dream of a life after death. A being full of contradictions, he is the most wretched of creatures; since the other creatures have no wants transcending the bounds of their nature. Man is full of desires and wants that reach to infinity, and can never be satisfied. His nature is a lie, uniting the greatest poverty with the greatest pride. Among these so great evils, the best thing God has bestowed on man is the power to take his own life." +
The system of the Stoics was exactly adapted to the Roman character ; but, naturally, it exaggerated its faults instead of correcting them. It supplanted all other systems in the esteem of leading minds; but the narrowness of the Roman intellect reacted on the philosophy, and made that much more narrow than it was in the Greek
* Zeller, Stoics Epicureans and Sceptics, p. 150. of Quoted by Neander, Church History, l. 10 (Am. ed.).
thought. It became simple ethics, omitting both the physical and metaphysical side.
Turning to literature, we find in Horace a gay epicureanism, which always says: “Enjoy this life, for it will be soon over, and after death there is nothing left for us.” Virgil tells us that those are happy who know the causes of things, and so escape the terrors of Acheron. The serious Tacitus, a man always in earnest, a penetrating mind, is by Bunsen called “the last Roman prophet, but a prophet of death and judgment. He saw that Rome hastened to ruin, and that Cæsarism was an unmixed evil, but an evil not to be remedied.” * He declares that the gods had to mingle in Roman affairs as protectors ; they now appeared only for vengeance.t Tacitus in one passage speaks of human freedom as superior to fate, # but in another expresses his uncertainty on the whole question. Equally uncertain was he concerning the future life, though inclined to believe that the soul is not extinguished with the body. ||
But the tone of the sepulchral monuments of that period is not so hopeful.
some which are quoted by Döllinger, I from Muratori and Fabretti : “Reader, enjoy thy life ; for, after death, there is neither laughter nor play, nor any kind of enjoyment.” “Friend, I advise thee to mix a goblet of wine and drink, crowning thy head with flowers. Earth and fire consume all that remains at death." "Pilgrim, stop and listen. In Hades is no boat and no Charon ; no Eacus and no Çerberus. Once dead, we are all alike.”
Another says: "Hold all a mockery, reader; nothing is our own.”
So ended the Roman religion; in superstition among the ignorant, in unbelief among the wise. It was time that something should come to renew hope. This was the gift which the Gospel brought to the Romans,— hope
* Gott in der Geschichte, Zweiter Theil, Seite 387. † Tacitus, History, I. 3. # Ibid., Annals, IV. 20. § Ibid., Annals, VI. 22. li Ibid., Agricola, 46. I The Greek and the Jew, Vol. II. p. 147.
for time, hope beyond time. This was the prayer for the Romans of the Apostle Paul: "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” * A remarkable fact, that a Jewish writer should exhort Romans to hope and courage !
§ 5. Relation of the Roman Religion to Christianity.
The idea of Rome is law, that of Christianity is love. In Roman worship law took the form of iron rules ; in Roman theology it appeared as a stern fate; in both as a slavery. Christianity came as freedom, in a worship free from forms, in a view of God which left freedom to
Christianity came to the Roman world, not as a new theory, but as a new life. As, during the early spring, the power of the returning sun penetrates the soil, silently touching the springs of life; so Christianity during two hundred years moved silently in the heart of Roman society, creating a new faith, hope, and love. And as, at last, in the spring the grass shoots, the buds open, the leaves appear, the flowers bloom ; so, at last, Christianity, long working in silence and shadow, suddenly became apparent, and showed that it had been transforming the whole tone and temper of Roman civilization.
But wherever there is action there is also reaction, and no power or force can wholly escape this law. So Roman thought, acted on by Christianity, reacted and modified in many respects the Gospel. Not always in a bad way, sometimes it helped its developments. For the Providence which made the Gospel for the Romans made the Romans for the Gospel.
The great legacy bequeathed to mankind by ancient Rome was law. Other nations, it is true, had codes of law, like the Institutes of Manu in India, or the jurisprudence of Solon and the enactments of Lycurgus. But Roman law from the beginning was sanctified by the conviction that it was founded on justice, and not merely on expediency or prudence. In submitting to
Epistle to the Romans, xv. 13.
the laws, even when they were cruel and oppressive, the Roman was obeying, not force, but conscience. The view which Plato gave as an ideal in Crito was realized in Roman society from the first. Consider the cruel enactments which made the debtors the slaves of the creditor, and the fact that when the plebeians were ground to the earth by that oppression, they did not attempt to resist the law, but in their despair fled from their homes, beyond the jurisdiction of Rome, to establish a new city where these enactments could not reach them. Only when the laws are thus enforced by the public conscience as something sacred, does society become possible; and this sense of the divinity which hedges a code of laws has been transmitted from ancient Rome into the civilization of Europe.
Cicero, in his admirable treatise on the laws, which unfortunately we have in an imperfect condition, devotes the whole of the first book to establishing eternal justice as the basis of all jurisprudence. No better text-book could have been found for the defence of what was called " the higher law,” in the great American antislavery struggle, than this work of Cicero. “Let us establish," he says, “ the principles of justice on that supreme law which has existed from all ages before any legislative enactments were written, or any political governments formed." Among all questions, there is none more important to understand than this, that man is born for justice; and that law and equity have not been established by opinion, but by nature." "It is an absurd extravagance in some philosophers to assert that all things are necessarily just which are established by the laws and institutions of nations.' “ Justice does not consist in submission to written laws." "If the will of the people, the decrees of the senate, the decisions of magistrates, were sufficient to establish rights, then it might become right to rob, to commit adultery, to forge wills, if this was sanctioned by the votes or decrees of the majority.” The sum of all is, that what is right should be sought for its own sake, because it is right, and not because it is enacted."
Law appears from the very beginnings of the Roman
state. The oldest traditions make Romulus, Numa, and Servius to be legislators. From that time, after the expulsion of the Tarquins, Rome was governed by laws. Even the despotism of the Cæsars did not interfere with the general administration of the laws in civil affairs; for the one-man power, though it may corrupt and degrade a state, does not immediately and directly affect many persons in their private lives. Law continued to rule in common affairs, and this legacy of a society organized by law was the gift of Rome to modern Europe. How great a blessing it has been may be seen by comparing the worst Christian government with the best of the despotic governments of Asia. Mohammedan society is ruled by a hierarchy of tyranny, each little tyrant being in turn the victim of the one above him.
The feudal system, introduced by the Teutonic races, atteinpted to organize Europe on the basis of military despotism ; but Roman law was too strong for feudal law, and happily for mankind overcame it and at last expelled it.
Christianity, in its ready hospitality for all the truth and good which it encounters, accepted Roman jurisprudence and gave to it a new lease of life. * Christian emperors and Christian lawyers codified the long line of decrees and enactments reaching back to the Twelve Tables, and established them as the laws of the Christian world. But the spirit of Roman law acted on Christianity in a more subtle manner. It reproduced the organic character of the Roman state in the Western Latin Church, and it reproduced the soul of Roman law in the Western Latin theology.
It has not always been sufficiently considered how much the Latin Church was a reproduction, on a higher
* “ The legislation of Justinian, as far as it was original, in his Code, Pandects, and Institutes, was still almost exclusively Roman. It might seem that Christianity could hardly penetrate into the solid and well. compacted body of Roman law; or rather the inmutable principles of justice had been so clearly discerned by the inflexible rectitude of the Roman mind, and so sagaciously applied by the wisdom of her great law. yers, that Christianity was content to acquiesce in these statutes, which she might despair, except in some respects, of rendering more equitable." - Milman, Latin Christianity, Vol. II. p. 11.