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THE EUROPEAN AGE OF FAITH.
AGE OF FAITH IN THE EAST.
Consolidation of the Byzantine System, or the Union of Church and
State.—The consequent Paganization of Religion and Persecution of
Philosophy. Political Necessity for the enforcement of Patristicism, or Science of the
Fathers.—Its peculiar Doctrines. Obliteration of the Vestiges of Greek Knowledge by Patristicism.—The
Libraries and Serapion of Alexandria.—Destruction of the latter by Theodosius.—Death of Hypatia.—Extinction of Learning in the East by Cyril, his Associates and Successors.
The age of
THE policy of Constantine the Great inevitably tended to the paganization of Christianity. An incorporation of its
pure doctrines with decaying pagan ideas was the necessary consequence of the control that had been attained by unscrupulous politicians and placemen. The
faith, thus contaminated, gained a more general
and ready popular acceptance, but at the cost of a new lease of life to those ideas.
So thorough was the adulteration, that it was not until the Reformation, a period of more than a thousand years, that a separation of the true from the false could be accomplished.
Considering how many nations were involved in these events, and the length of time over which they extend, a clear treatment of the subject requires its subdivision. I Subdivision of shall therefore speak, Ist, of the Age of Faith in the subject. the East; 2nd, of the Age of Faith in the West. The former was closed prematurely by the Mohammedan conquest; the latter, after undergoing slow metamorphosis,
passed into the European Age of Reason during the pontificate of Nicholas V.
In this and the following chapter I shall therefore treat of the age of Faith in the East, and of the catastrophe that closed it. I shall then turn to the Age of Faith in the West-a long but an instructive story.
The paganization of religion was in no small degree accomplished by the influence of the females of
The paganizathe court of Constantinople. It soon manifested tion of Chrisall the essential features of a true mythology
tianity. and hero-worship. Helena, the empress-mother, superintended the building of monumental churches over the reputed places of interest in the history of our Saviour-those of his birth, his burial, his ascension. A vast and ever-increasing crowd of converts from paganism, who had become such from worldly considerations, and still hankered after wonders like those in which their forefathers had from time immemorial believed, lent a ready ear to assertions which, to more hesitating or better-instructed minds, would have seemed to carry imposture on their very face. A temple of Venus, formerly erected on the site of the Holy Sepulchre, being torn down, there were discovered, in
Discovery of a cavern beneath, three crosses, and also the the true cross inscription written by Pilate. The Saviour's cross, being by miracle distinguished from those of the thieves, was divided, a .part being kept at Jerusalem and a part sent to Constantinople, together with the nails used in the crucifixion, which were also fortunately found. These were destined to adorn the head of the emperor's statue on the top of the porphyry pillar. The wood of the cross, moreover, displayed a property of growth, and hence furnished an abundant supply for the demands of pilgrims, and an unfailing source of pecuniary profit to its possessors. In the course of subsequent years there was accumulated in the various churches of Europe, from this particular relic, a sufficiency to have constructed many hundred crosses. The age that could accept such a prodigy, of course found no difficulty in the vision of Constantine and the story of the Labarum.
Such was the tendency of the times to adulterate
Christianity with the spirit of paganism, partly to con
ciliate the prejudices of worldly converts, partly Political
in the hope of securing its more rapid spread. paganization. There is a solemnity in the truthful accusation which Faustus makes to Augustine: “ You have substituted your agapæ for the sacrifices of the pagans; for their idols your martyrs, whom you serve with the very same honours. You appease the shades of the dead with wine and feasts; you celebrate the solemn festivals of the Gentiles, their calends and their solstices; and as to their manners, those you have retained without any alteration. Nothing distinguishes you from the pagans except that you hold your assemblies apart from them.”
As we have seen in the last chapter, the course of political affairs had detached the power of the state from the philosophical and polytheistic parties. Joined to the new movement, it was not long before it gave significant proofs of the sincerity of its friendship by commencing an
active persecution of the remnant of philosophy. Relative action of faith It is to be borne in mind that the direction of and philo the proselytism, which was thus leading to sophy.
important results, was from below upward through society. As to philosophy, its action had been in the other direction; its depository in the few enlightened, in the few educated; its course, socially, from above downward. Under these circumstances, it was obvious enough that the prejudices of the ignorant populace would find, in the end, a full expression; that learning would have no consideration shown to it, or would be denounced as mere magic; that philosophy would be looked upon as a vain, and therefore sinful pursuit. When once a political aspirant has bidden with the multitude for power, and still depends on their pleasure for effective support, it is no easy thing to refuse their wishes or hold back from
their demands. Even Constantine himself felt
the pressure of the influence to which he was ecclesiastical allied, and was compelled to surrender his friend
Sopater, the philosopher, who was accused of binding the winds in an adverse quarter by the influence of magic, so that the corn-ships could not reach Constantinople; and the emperor was obliged to give orders for
The emperors resist their
his decapitation to satisfy the clamours in the theatre. Not that such requisitions were submitted to without a struggle, or that succeeding sovereigns were willing to make their dignity tacitly subordinate to ecclesiastical domination. It was the aim of Constantine to make theology a branch of politics; it was the hope of every bishop in the empire to make politics a branch of theology. Already, however, it was apparent that the ecclesiastical party would, in the end, get the upper hand, and that the reluctance of some of the emperors to obey its behests was merely the revolt of individual minds, and therefore ephemeral in its nature, and that the popular wishes would be abundantly gratified as soon as emperors arose who not merely, like Constantine, availed themselves of Christianity, but absolutely and sincerely adopted it.
Julian, by his brief but ineffectual attempt to restore paganism, scarcely restrained for a moment the course of the new doctrines now strengthening themselves The Emperor continually in public estimation by incorporating Julian. ideas borrowed from paganism. Through the reign of Valentinian, who was a Nicenist, and of Valens, who was an Arian, things went on almost as if the episode of Julian had never occurred. The ancient gods, whose existence no one seems ever to have denied, were now thoroughly identified with dæmons; their worship was stigmatized as the practice of magic. Against this crime, regarded by the laws as equal to treason, a violent persecu- Persecutions tion arose.
Persons resorting to Rome for the of his sucpurposes of study were forbidden to remain there cessors. after they were twenty-one years of age. The force of this persecution fell practically upon the old religion, though nominally directed against the black art, for the primary function of paganism was to foretell future events in this world, and hence its connexion with divination and its punishment as magic.
But the persecution, though directed at paganism, struck also at what remained of philosophy. A great party had attained to power under circumstances which
Necessity of compelled it to enforce the principle on which learning to
the bishops. it was originally founded. That principle was the exaction of unkesitating belief, which, though it will answer very well for the humbler and more numerous class of men, is unsuited for those of a higher intellectual grade. The policy of Constantine had opened a career in the state, through the Church, for men of the lowest rank. Many of such had already attained to the highest dignities. A burning zeal rather than the possession of profound learning animated them. But eminent position once attained, none stood more in need of the appearance of wisdom. Under such circumstances, they were tempted to set up their own notions as final and unimpeachable truth, and to denounce as magic, or the sinful pursuit of vain trifling, all the learning that stood in the way. In this the hand of the civil power assisted. It was intended to cut off every philosopher. Every manuscript that could be seized was forth with burned. Throughout the East, men in terror destroyed their libraries, for fear that some unfortunate sentence contained in any of the books should involve them and their families in destruction. The universal opinion was that it was right to compel men to
believe what the majority of society had now Growth of bigotry and accepted as the truth, and, if they refused, it superstition.
was right to punish them. No one in the dominating party was heard to raise his voice in behalf of intellectual liberty. The mystery of things above reason was held to be the very cause that they should be accepted by Faith; a singular merit was supposed to appertain to that mental condition in which belief precedes understanding.
The death-blow to paganism was given by the Emperor Theodosius, a Spaniard, who, from the services he rendered Fanaticism of in this particular, has been rewarded with the
title of The Great." From making the practice of magic and the inspection of the entrails of animals capital offences, he proceeded to prohibit sacrifices, A.D. 391, and even the entering of temples. He alienated the revenues of many temples, confiscated the estates of others, some he demolished. The vestal virgins he dismissed, and any house profaned by incense he declared forfeited to the imperial exchequer. When once the property of a religious establishment has been irrevocably taken away, it is needless to declare its worship a capital crime.