At Rome, as elsewhere, it was the women who were, and were expected to be, devout, and they had an honorable and recognized share in public and private worship. In spite of the frequency of divorce the tendency of Roman religion was to make marriage indissoluble, and the most solemn form of it (confarreatio) could only be dissolved with extreme difficulty.

The slave world of Rome also felt the benefit of the upward religious movement. For the Roman religion not only did not close its temples against the slave but recognized that he had a soul and that his future fate did not differ from that of his master. At the Saturnalia it allowed him to take his master's place and console himself by a day's sport for a year's humiliation, while, like philosophy, it favored emancipation.

Perhaps the most curious fact of Roman slavery was that rich slaves themselves possessed other slaves (vicarii), who gave their servile master the title dominus. The house of a wealthy Roman citizen was a perfect republic of slaves who had all sorts of complex interrelations. Thus, in one instance, the slaves belonging to the dining-room of a great house resolved to erect a statue to a superior slave who had been good to them, and their resolution reads like a decree of the Senate: Ob merita et beneficia sæpe in se collata statuam ponendam tricliniares decreverunt.

One among the ameliorations of their condition was the fact that marriage among them, at first in no way legal, came to receive a quasi-official recogni


But its incompleteness was still the occasion of many abuses. Thus among the inscriptions at Naples is one of a slave who records, as if it were nothing, that he had married his own sister. Others show that it was not uncommon for two men harmoniously to share a wife between them, at whose death the husbands would together mourn for her and combine to erect a tomb to her memory. Slavery bad other more essential and ineradicable evils, not the least of which was the absence of any adequate protection for the children of slaves from the lusts of their


The early Italians seem to have felt a

great repugnance at the idea of annihilation, but definite belief in a future life was in the days of the republic far from universal, and the Epicurean philosophy was a welcome boon to many, as doing away with those fears of Tartarus which Lucretius taught it was above all necessary to banish. But a reaction soon set in, because the Epicurean doctrine, if it banished fear, also destroyed all hope beyond the present life. Thus in the days of Augustus a belief in immortality had again become prevalent, and it naturally grew stronger with the religious advance of the first two centuries. But many inscriptions show that it was very vague, while some plainly deny it (e.g., Non fueram, non sum), while others are of a very Epicurean character, as Amici, dum vivimus vivamus, and Bibite vos qui vivitis.


The great thought and care bestowed

funeral arrangements, however, plainly proclaim the widespread apprehension which existed not only of a purgatorial fire (purgatorius ignis), but of the horrors depicted in the sixth book of Virgil's Eneid, which have not been without their influence on Christian sentiments and beliefs.

The monuments which bordered the roads to Rome touchingly expressed how great was the desire that the dead should not be forgotten by the living, and tombs were often endowed to provide recompenses for those who brought libations or flowers, or who would feast near the ashes of the dead. It was specially desired that the passer-by should repeat the words, "May the earth lie lightly on thee," not as an empty formula, but as a prayer for the deceased's welfare in the lower world, for which sacrifices (which even slaves endeavored to procure) were also offered.

The poorer classes, in order that they might secure for themselves due funeral rites, formed associations, which, for such a purpose, were freely allowed, although for other purposes such institutions, for the most part, had been forbidden by Augustus. Such associations possessed either a common purse, supplied by contributions from the members and devoted to the performance of their funeral rites, or else a place for sepulture in common. Now these asso

ciations became most widely diffused when Christianity was beginning its hidden and secret propaganda, and the primitive Christians eagerly availed themselves of the freedom accorded to such societies.

But the way for Christianity was largely prepared by the antecedent migration of other Eastern religions to Rome, in spite of the hostility and absolute prohibitions which they had, at first, there to encounter.

It was from ancient times a generally diffused belief that each state had at least one supernatural patron, whose power was manifested by the prosperity and power of his clients.

The Romans, who held their own gods in such high esteem, were not likely to despise the power of other divinities. Accordingly, when laying siege to any city, they practised a curious formula of evocation, whereby they hoped to gain over that city's gods to their own side; and when a region was devastated, some families were left to carry on the worship of the local gods, and so save the victors from any effects of their hostility.

With such notions intolerance and a spirit of proselytism were incompatible. When a Roman travelled he was careful to adore local deities, without a thought of being thereby unfaithful to his own most powerful gods, who had made Rome the capital of the world.

This disposition of mind greatly facilitated conquest, since no religious rancor hindered the fusion of a new province with the rest of Rome's vast domain. Tolerance was further promoted by that tendency of philosophy (before mentioned) to consider the several worships of various deities as but so many different modes of adoring the same god-as the divine influence on the earth might be adored as Ceres, that of the sea as Neptune, and that of the heavens as Jupiter.

We have seen how laic was the spirit of Roman religion. But most, if not all, the religions from the East assigned a much more important and mystical position to their priesthoods. Thus when a man desired to be initiated into the mysteries of Isis a priest served as his spiritual father, and had a claim for life on the gratitude of his spiritual son.

Such priests were by no means contented with directing the externals of worship; they desired to "save souls," and to this end did what was altogether new at Rome, actually preached sermons! Thus Apuleius represents a priest, after a miracle in the temple of Isis, declaiming against unbelievers as follows: "Let them approach, let them come and examine for themselves, and then confess their error." Then turning to the subject of such miraculous favor he is said to have exclaimed, "If thou wouldst dwell in security, inaccessible to the blows of fortune, enroll thyself in the Holy Militia; come voluntarily and bow thy head under the yoke of the sacred ministry. It is only when thou shalt be the slave of the goddess that thou wilt begin to experience what perfect freedom is."

Such priests devoted themselves exclusively to their sacred calling, glorying in detachment from the world and ordinary human affections, with definite rules of life, and wearing a distinctive habit.

Eastern religions became more and more influential with the Antonines, and attained a triumphal position under Severus. Processions wended their way through the streets of Rome, sometimes of black-robed priests of Bellona, tearing their flesh and dancing like modern dervishes; sometimes of priests of Isis in snow-white linen robes and with tonsured heads.

One great advantage pertained to these Eastern religions-namely, the pardons they could grant in return for ceremonial observances. Gladly did trembling sinners practise fastings, offer sacrifices, and scatter their wealth profusely, in order thereby effectually to disarm divine justice.

There were priestly brotherhoods in Egypt which inhabited temples, and, rejecting all active employment, consecrated their lives to worship and devout contemplation. Their movements were grave and measured; they kept their hands folded within their mantles, and slept on palm leaves, with a block of wood for a pillow, abstaining from wine and various kinds of food. Such a monastic institution existed at Memphis, the strictly enclosed members of which called themselves servants of


Serapis." There were pagan anchorites in Egypt who, 150 years before Christ, anticipated the Christian recluses of the Thebaid. Such institutions evidently accorded with the genius of the nation. Similarly in Syria pilgrims came by thousands not only to adore the famed goddess Astarte, but also to assist at the functions performed by her priests.

Twice a year one of them ascended to the summit of an enormous phallus, where he remained seven days and nights without sleeping, making intercession for the devotees, who deposited their offerings at the base of the structure on which he thus dwelt-strange anticipation, as far as externals went, of the peculiar devotional practices of St. Simeon Stylites and the other pillar saints of Syria !

In the Eastern religions, however details might vary, the special subject of religious excitement was generally a legend of the death and resurrection of some god-as Osiris, mourned by Isis; Adonis, by Astarte; or the great mother seeing the beauteous Athis expire in her arms. To mourning, plaintive or tumultuous, succeeded explosions of joy on all sides, with groans and tears, when at length were heard the mystic words. "He is regained; let us rejoice!"

It was especially in Egypt that exciting public worship took place within the temples, such as long had no place in those of Rome. But the Eastern influence extended by degrees even to the very worship of Jupiter at the Capitol. His temple was solemnly opened for his "awakening," and as soon as the entering crowd perceived his image in the distance they cried out, "Salve, imperator!" All day long devotees performed, or pretended to perform, services of the most varied kinds to the greatest and best of gods. There were women who even flattered themselves that they could gain his love, and who would pass whole days seated beneath his statue without any fear of Juno's


But while foreign religions had thus their effect on that of Rome, the latter reacted upon them by promoting calmness and sobriety with exactness of ritual observance. Thus with the great fusion of races which the Empire

brought about, its tolerant, non proselytizing spirit also brought about a vast religious fusion. So it was that a sort of pagan Catholic Church spread and diffused itself throughout the civilized world. It can, however, only by courtesy be called a " Church," since it had no common dogmas, no universal discipline, no means (nor any desire) of enforcing conformity and obedience to a supreme religious authority. Still it constituted a sort of religious pax romana; it broadened the road of Christianity, and especially prepared the way for its effective organization.


As Rome became a residence for all strange gods, it also became both the religious capital of the world and its 1eligious centre. It became, and was called, the Holy City" and the "Eternal City;" and so, when Christianity ultimately triumphed, it still retained those titles, and became naturally, as well as for other reasons, regarded as the religious capital of the Christian world.

Only two religions were excluded from the otherwise almost universal toleration of paganism-namely, Judaism and Christianity. Fathers of the Church have complained of this, yet somewhat unreasonably; for the concord which existed between the various pagan forms resulted from their willingness to make reciprocal concessions. This neither Jews nor Christians would, nor could, consent to; and they had naturally to take the consequences. Yet peace was offered to them on the same conditions. as to others. The pagans were ready to recognize in Jehovah their own Jupiter or Bacchus, and not a few were willing to keep the Sabbath and observe Jewish fasts and feasts. There were also some Jews, like Herod, who would not have regretted such mutual understandings; but the mass of the nation repelled them with horror, and thereby incurred bloody persecutions, wherein thousands lost their lives, and furious hatred against them arose, which only ceased when they associated themselves with the pagans to persecute Christianity.

The Christians, as every one knows, were also offered what were deemed favorable terms, and little difficulty would have been felt in the acceptance

of Christ as one god more, and (as readers will remember) his image had its place in the private chapel of the Emperor Alexander Severus, besides those of Orpheus and Apollonius. But no consistent Christian could tolerate idolatry even to the extent of scattering a few grains of incense on the altars either of the Goddess of Rome or of the Genius of the Emperor. Such a spirit of exclusiveness was a new thing to the pagans and naturally appeared disloyal to the Romans and opposed to the very essence of "civicism."

The limited space at my disposal compels me to pass over much I would fain say as to Roman paganism, and to proceed at once, from this brief record of facts, to sum up those of its characters which most opposed, or directly or indirectly aided, the Christian system.

(1) It was the identification of the Roman religion with the State which was, perhaps, the most powerful of all hostile influences, while closely connected therewith was the lay spirit of its various priesthoods. Since no character which was baneful to the progress of Christianity could possibly have pertained to its essence, the identification of temporal with spiritual ends and aims could not be an essential character of Christianity, but must be more or less completely opposed thereto.

Later on (as we have seen) the Eastern religions introduced another spirit, and one more in harmony with the growing religious needs of the pagans of the first two centuries. This change, however, instead of favoring Christianity, indirectly impeded it. It did so inasmuch as it occasioned a rejuvenes cence of paganism, and enabled it (by imperfectly ministering to those grow ing religious needs which only Christianity could completely satisfy) to prolong its life by acting as a rival to the Christian system.

(2) The non-moral nature of paganism generally must have gained it the support of those least disposed to conform to ethical requirements, and so aided the direct opposition to Christianity; while the moral amelioration introduced by philosophy, like the just mentioned religious rejuvenescence, must have indirectly opposed it by the more successful rivalry thus occasioned.

That morality is of the very essence of Christianity is a fact which no one will probably for one moment question.

(3) That Roman religion consisted merely of ceremonial observances, and was devoid of dogma on the whole, greatly facilitated (as we have seen) its general acceptance and maintenance, and so far was one great barrier against Christian progress. Such a character of mere formality and such repugnance to dogma could not, therefore, pertain to the essence of Christianity.

(4) The growth of and tendency toward monotheism, imperfect as it was,* cannot have acted as a hostile influence, save in so far as it may have lent some strength to pagan rivalry.

(5) The existence of slavery on the one hand, and the improved condition of the female sex on the other, had doubtless effects, both direct and indirect, of an unfavorable character; but we do not see evidence that they necessarily predominated over other of their effects which were favorable.

We will now pass on to enumerate characters which appear to us to have, directly or indirectly, helped the reception and progress of the Christian Church.

(1) And in the first place the whole upward religious movement, which, after its initiation by Augustus, continued to advance during the first two centuries, served as a most important, if not absolutely indispensable, direct auxiliary.

(2) That state of mental expectation (before referred to in connection with Virgil) must have disposed many a mind to accept the Christian revelation.

(3) The fact that paganism, in spite of all the efforts of philosophy, could not succeed in purging its religion of immorality, was one of the most powerful of the causes which induced its overthrow. Besides sexual impurities, human sacrifices, in spite of all laws, from

*Thus the devotees of various gods often regarded their particular god as the only one, for which all the others were but different names or different aspects. This was especially the case with Jupiter and Isis, and also with Cybele, and Mithra-who was ultimately so god was God par excellence, was very different from a dogmatic assertion of the essential unity of the Divine Nature.

widely adored. But the assertion that a given

time to time recurred, and the beauty and fashion of Rome would make a gay excursion to behold a newly installed priest of that priesthood composed exclusively of murderers which Renan has so graphically depicted.

(4) The formal and undogmatic char. acters of Roman religion, though (as we have just seen) they had these adverse influences, none the less greatly aided the Christian advance; for there were multitudes of men and women who craved for more definite religious knowledge and for more hearty and spiritual worship.

To such the various "mysteries" and Eastern religions afforded some solace, but M. Boissier gives us evidence that they were far from satisfying the cravings felt. Nothing was, perhaps, more difficult for paganism than the formulation of dogmas, except the formation of, say, a general and complete authoritative system. The latter, indeed, may be said to have been absolutely impossible to it. There were many who desired a religious yoke, but none-Jews and Christians apart-who could consistently impose it. Besides this defect, philosophy made no sufficient efforts to enlighten and instruct the people, and great was the contrast, in this respect, between both pagan priests and philosophers, and the early preachers of the Gospel. These deficiencies in worship, dogma, and instruction, gave great indirect aid to the progress of Christianity.

(5) The imperfection (already noted) of the attempts made to attain to monotheism must also have indirectly, by contrast and defect, served to help on the Christian cause.

(6) The increased power and influence of the devout sex was of immense benefit to the nascent Church, which was also largely recruited by the servile class, whose very disabilities tended to make them seek its comfort and moral support.

(7) One of the most powerful impulses toward the Christian religion seems to have been due to that combined anxiety and uncertainty about a future life which was so prevalent in the Roman world. Without dogma believed to be certain, because reposing upon an infallible revelation, no ade

quate consolation for the trials and afflictions of this life can possibly be offered.

Such, if we are not greatly mistaken, were the main influences which opposed or favored the advance of Christianity. It only remains for us to note certain contrasts between the last-named religion and the system it found existing in the world, in order to be able to determine one or two characteristics which we think must be admitted to pertain to the essence of Christianity.

That great, non-contentious, incoherent religious mass which, by a somewhat forced comparison, we have termed the "pagan Church" was entirely devoid of a definite, universally received system of belief, the same for the cultured and the ignorant, without any distinction of esoteric and exoteric views. Even that which seemed the most stable and definite system of thought-that of the Stoics-was such only in appearance. The Stoics were agreed neither as to the immortality of the soul nor as to the nature of God, who was for some the sun, for others the ether, and for yet others nothing but the material world itself.

Philosophy had proposed and attempted to answer the most important problems, but had left them unresolved. The religious revival had excited pious desires and aspirations without affording them any solid satisfaction. The Emperor was Pontifex Maximus, and worshipped while alive as well as after death. Yet, though Roman religion was identified with him, he was as impotent as undesirous to settle any fundamental beliefs for his people's hearty and conscientious acceptance, though of course he could enforce external ceremonial. There was universal toleration precisely because there was a universal impotence for establishing any certain and dogmatic truth. The toleration of such a Church was but a negative, and consisted in the non-insistence universally of beliefs which were locally deemed of most vital importance. Its Catholicity was similarly spurious and negative and depended on the non-universal acceptance of what were locally regarded as the most sacred of religious truths.

Contrasting with this nebulous re

« VorigeDoorgaan »