« AnteriorContinuar »
every one who can no longer bear the miseries of life is apon just deliberation, and a conscientious belief that the gods will not disapprove, free to commit suicide. His maxim is that all have a part to play, and he has done well who has done his best--that he must look to conscience as his guide. If Seneca said that time alone is our ab olute and only possession, and that nothing else belongs to man, Epictetus tanght that his thoughts are all that man has any power over, every thing else being beyond his control. M. Aurelius Antoninus, the emperor, did not hesitate to acknowledge his thankfulness to Epictetus, the slave, in his attempt to guide his life according to the principles of the Stoics. He recommends every man to preserve his dæmon free from sin, and prefers religious devotions to the researches of physics, in this departing to some extent from the original doctrines of the sect; but the evil times on which men had fallen led them to seek support in religious consolations rather than in philosophi- Maximus cal inquiries. In Maximus Tyrius, A.D. 146, we Tyrius. discover a corresponding sentiment, enveloped, it is true, in an air of Platonism, and countenancing an impression that image worship and sanctuaries are unnecessary for those who have a lively remembrance of the view they once enjoyed of the divine, though excellent for the vulgar, who have forgotten their past. Alexander of Alexandr of Aphrodisias exhibits the tendency, which was Aphrodisias. becoming very prevalent, to combine Plato and Aristotle. He treats upon Providence, both absolute and contingent; considers its bearings upon religion, and shows a disposition to cultivate the pious feelings of the age.
Galen, the physician, asserts that experience is the only source of knowledge; lays great stress on the cul- Ancient ture of mathematics and logic, observing that he Physicians. himself should have been a l'yrrhonist had it not been for geometry. In the teleological doctrine of physiology he considers that the foundations 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.
Such was the tone of thought among the cultivated Romans; and to this philosophical atheism among them was added an 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 Philosophical atheism a
cal is evident that there was great danger, whenmong the edu- ever events shuuld be ripe for the appearance of Jated.
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 co-ordinate 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 anthropomorphic conceptions.
History perpetually demonstrates that nations cannot be permanently modified except by principles or actions conspiring with their existing tendency. Violence perpetrated upon them may pass away, leaving, perhaps in a few generations, no vestige of itself. Even i ictory is conquered by Time. Profound changes only ensue when Priuciples, to the operating force is in unison with the temper be effective of the age. International peace among so many with existing people once in conflict-peace under the auspices tendencies. of a great overshadowing power; the unity of sentiment and brotherhood of feeling fast finding its way around the Mediterranean 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 of those times one would at last arise whose practical intellect would discover 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 fulness 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 to Polytheism was the suppression of the ancient independent nationalities around the Mediterranean Sea; and that, in like manner, Monotheism was the The coming result of the establishment of an imperial govern- Monotheism ment in Rome. But the great statesmen of those bounded by
the limits of times, who were at the general point of view, ki
Roman in must have foreseen that, in whatever form the fluence. 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 barbarism, filthy in an equal degree in body and mind, polygarnists, 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 an 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 changeThe new ideas the abandonment of a time-honoured but obsolete coalesce with system, the acceptance of a new and living one;
old. 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 in
tellectual aristocracy, they stood aloof, and, with Cinduct of the Riman edu. an ill-concealed smile, consented to the transc ted men at parent folly around them. It had come to an this periud.
evil state when authors like Polybius and Strabo apologized to their com peers for the traditions and legends they ostensibly accepted, on the ground that it is incon. venient 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 an evil 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 -- philosophers and statesmen – had completely emerged from the ancient modes of thought. To them, the national legends, so jealously guarded by Religious con. the populace, had become mere fictions. The dition of the miraculous conception of Rhea Sylvia by the god classes in Mars, an event from which their ancestors had Rome. 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 because 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 ever 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 alto. gether 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 one sense they had passed into liberty, in another they were in bondage. Their indisposition to encounter those inflictions with which their illiterate contem- Their irresoporaries might visit them may seem to us sur- lution. prizing: they acted as if they thought that the public was à 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