T. W. Allies
The Formation of Christendom, Volume II
In the six chapters forming the first volume of this work I was engaged in describing the operation of Christianity, as it took the individual human soul for its unit, purified it, and wrought in it a supernatural life. I began with the consummation of the old world in its state of the highest civilisation united with the utmost moral degeneracy; I proceeded thence to the new creation of individual man; compared heathen with Christian man in the persons of Cicero and St. Augustine; drew out certain effects upon the world around of Christian life, as seen in those professing it, and viewed Christian marriage as restoring the primary relation between man and woman, and thus remaking the basis of human society, while the Virginal Life exhibited the crown and efflorescence of the most distinctive Christian grace in the soul.
I had thus, beginning with the stones of which the building is formed, reached the building itself; and the next thing was to consider the Christian Church in its historical development as the Kingdom of Truth and Grace: for while the soul of man is the unit with which it works, the word “Christendom” betokens a society founded in Christ, made by Christ, stamped with the image of Christ. It is the first great epoch of such a Kingdom of Truth and Grace, proceeding from the Person of its Founder, which I here attempt to delineate.
But not merely is the volume which I now publish a part only of a projected design; even as a part it is incomplete. It was my wish to finish this portion of my subject in one volume, which should reach to the great Nicene Council. But the treatment of the Greek Philosophy was too large for my limits, and so the last two chapters serve but as an introduction to the actual contact of that Philosophy with the Christian Church, which remains to be considered before I can complete my view of the Formation of Christendom in the ante-Nicene period.
Chapter VII. The Gods Of The Nations When Christ Appeared
“Emmanuel, Rex et Legifer noster, Expectatio gentium, et Salvator earum, veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.”
Under the sceptre of the imperial unity were brought together a hundred different lands occupied by as many different races. That rule of Rome which had grown for many centuries with out, as it seemed, any presiding thought, by the casual accretions of conquest, may be said to assume under the hands of Augustus, about the year of Rome 750, certain definite and deliberately chosen limits, and to be governed by a fixed Idea, more and more developed in the imperial policy. The limits which the most fortunate of Roman emperors, nay the creator of the empire itself, put to it, were the Rhine and Danube, with the Euxine Sea, on the north; the deserts of Africa on the south; the Euphrates on the east; the ocean on the west. The Idea, which may indeed have been conceived by Julius, but was certainly first embodied by Augustus, was to change the constitution of a conquering city, ruled by an aristocratic senate, into a commonwealth governed by one man, the representative of the whole people; and the effect of this change, an effect no doubt unforeseen, at least in its extent, by its framer, was gradually to absorb the manifold races inhabiting these vast regions into the majesty of the Roman law, order, and citizenship. The three centuries which follow Augustus are occupied in working out the drama of this unity. During this time the provinces appear to come out more and more as parts of one whole. Some which at its commencement had only just entered the circle of Roman power and thought, as Gaul, become entirely interpenetrated with the law, language, customs, and civilisation of the sovereign city. Spain was nearly as much, and northern Africa perhaps even more Latinised: in all, local inequalities, and the dissimilarity arising from conflicting races, customs, and languages, are more and more softened down, though never entirely removed; and while throughout this period the great city continues the head, yet the body assumes an ever-increasing importance, until at length its members engage the equal solicitude of that central potentate to whom all equally belong. In the times of so-called Roman liberty, the plunder of lands which received pro-consuls for their annual rulers, served to replenish the fortunes of nobles exhausted by the corruption requisite to gain high office; but if the dominion of one at Rome seemed an evil exchange to a nobility which deemed itself born to enjoy a conquered world, at least it served as a protection to those many millions for whom the equality of law and order, the fair administration of justice, and the undisturbed possession of property, constituted the chief goods of life. Cicero and his peers might grieve over the extinction of what they termed liberty, but Gaul, Spain, Africa, and Asia exulted in deliverance from the oppression of a Verres, a Fonteius, a Gabinius, a Piso, or a Clodius, in the communication of citizenship, and in the peace of a common civilisation.
I. With a passing glance at the progress of this unity, which, great and magnificent as it is, is yet external, let us turn to an object filling the whole of this vast empire with its varied manifestations: for this object leads us to the consideration of another unity, wholly internal, without which that of government, law, and order must be apparent rather than real, or at best, however seemingly imposing, be deprived of the greater part of its efficacy.
1. It has been said that the empire contained in it many lands and many races, but these likewise worshipped their own distinct gods, which were acknowledged and sanctioned as national divinities for the several countries wherein they were locally established. Had Augustus ordered an enrolment not only of the numbers, the landed property, and the wealth of his subjects, but of their gods, his public register, or Breviarium, would have included at least ten distinct systems of idolatrous worship. First of all, there would be the proper gods of Rome, then those of the Hellenic race; and these, though the most similar to each other, yet refused a complete amalgamation. But besides these there were on the west the Etrurian, the Iberian, the Gallic, and the Germanic gods; on the east, the Carian and Phrygian, the Syrian, the Assyrian, the Arabian; on the south, the Phœnician, Libyan, and Egyptian. All these different races, inasmuch as they were subjects of the empire, enjoyed undisturbed the right of worshipping their ancestral gods,[1 - Tertull. Apolog. xxiv, “Ideo et Ægyptiis permissa est tam vanæ superstitionis potestas, avibus et bestiis consecrandis, et capite damnandis qui aliquem hujusmodi Deum occiderint. Unicuique etiam provinciæ et civitati suus Deus est, ut Syriæ Astartes, ut Arabiæ Disares, ut Noricis Belenus, ut Africæ Cælestis, ut Mauritaniæ Reguli sui,” &c.; and Minucius Felix, Octavius vi., in like manner.] who, so long as they did not overstep their local boundaries, were recognised; they possessed priests, rites, temples, estates, and self-government; they held the soil, and their worship was legal. It was a matter of Roman policy not to interfere with them. Nay, their several worshippers could carry their rites along with them in their various sojourns and settlements, and even in Rome build altars, and adore Egyptian, Asiatic, African, or Gallic gods. These various systems agreed all in one point, that they were systems of polytheistic idolatry: they all divided the attributes of the godhead, assigning them to more or fewer objects, and worshipping all these by visible symbols which the power worshipped was deemed to inhabit:[2 - See Aug. de Civ. Dei, l. viii. 24.] but they did not make the same division with a mere difference of name; on the contrary, they ran into and across each other with the most bewildering multiplicity, variation, and contradiction. Even in the same system, if we may give this name to any of the various mythologies, the several divinities were perpetually interfering with each other's province. When the Roman made vows for the removal of his ailments, in his uncertainty to which god the ailment belonged, or who was most proper to remove it, he addressed his vow to several together; or in public supplications, being often uncertain to whom exactly the prayer or offering should be made, he cautiously expressed himself, “whether it be a god or a goddess.” And the various Hellenic, Asiatic, or Egyptian cities often possessed local gods, whose worship was supreme there, while they exercised far less influence, or were even scarcely known elsewhere.[3 - Döllinger, Heidenthum und Judenthum, pp. 528, 529.]
Now merely as a specimen of what this worship was all over the Roman empire, let us take the brilliant Athens, Greece's eye, the world's university. First of all ruled in her the worship of Pallas-Athené: she was the lady of the land, who had won it for her own after a hard contest with Poseidon. Her chief sanctuaries were the temple of Athené, guardian of the city, with its old statue fallen down from heaven on the Acropolis. On the Acropolis likewise the Parthenon, built expressly for the gorgeous Panathenaic festival; and in the lower city the Palladium with the statue of the goddess supposed to have been brought from Troy. Yet the worship of the “high goddesses,” Demeter and Persephoné, was also richly endowed with shrines and festivals, and affected scarcely less the feelings of the Athenians. Then Jupiter, as “supreme,” was honoured with unbloody offering before the Erechtheium, dedicated to Athené: whilst as “Olympian” he had the colossal temple begun by Peisistratus and finished after many hundred years by Hadrian, and as “guardian of the city” distinct festivals. Yet more manifold was the invocation of Apollo, as the Pythian, the Delphic, the Lycian, as the ancestral god of the Ionians. The multiform Artemis had her temples and worshippers as the Tauric, by the name Brauronia; as the port-goddess, by the name Munychia; as the goddess of the hunt, by the name Agrotera, who had the credit of the victory won at Marathon; as presiding over birth, she was called Chitone, while Themistocles had built a temple to her as the Counsellor. Heré had only a doorless and roofless temple on the road to Phalerum; but the god of fire was worshipped in Athens abundantly. Hermes had his peculiar statues in every street, irreverence to which might be fatal even to an Alcibiades, the city's darling; while Aphrodité had a crowd of temples and shrines whose unchaste worship found but too many frequenters. Poseidon had to content himself with a single altar in his rival's city, and with games in its harbour; but Dionysos had three temples, with brilliant festivals; Mars was not without one; Hestia was throned in the Prytaneum; the Earth, Kronos, and Rhea had their temples and festivals, as also the Erinnyes, who were worshipped only in two other places in Greece. Here alone in Greece was a sanctuary and a rite to Prometheus; while the Asiatic mother of the gods had a splendid temple where the archives of the state were kept. Besides, there was the worship of the Hours and the Graces, of Eileithyia, goddess of victory and of birth, of Æsculapius and Themis, of the Kabirian Anakes, the Arcadian Pan, the Thracian Cotytto and Bendis, the Egyptian Serapis. Mercy and Shame, Fame and Endeavour had their altars; and the hero-worship numbered Theseus, Codrus, Academus, Solon, the tyrant-slayers Harmodius and Aristogeiton; and Hercules, originally a hero, but here and elsewhere widely honoured as a god.[4 - From Heidenthum und Judenthum, pp. 101-2.]
Athens, if the most superstitious as well as the most intellectual of cities, may be taken as the type of a thousand others of Hellenic race scattered over the Roman empire from Marseilles to Antioch. Say that she had twice as many deities and festivals as her sister cities, enough will remain for them wherewith to occupy the soil with their temples and to fill the year's cycle with their rites.
The lively Grecian imagination impregnated not with stern notions of duty, nor with reverential devotion to those whom it worshipped, but regarding them as objects of æsthetical satisfaction,[5 - Heidenthum und Judenthum, p. 480.] and yearning for a serene and confidential exchange of relations with them, had in process of time spun out a complete web of idolatrous worship which encompassed heaven and earth, the whole domain of nature, every state and act of human life. Rain and sunshine and the weather stood under the ordering of Zeus; the fruitfulness of the soil was Demeter's care; countless nymphs of field, of fountain, and of river, offered to men their gifts; the vine and its juice was under the protection of Dionysos, and Poseidon was lord of the sea. The flocks had their defenders in Hermes and Pan; the Fates ruled the lot of men. Kings and magistrates had in Zeus their prototype and guardian. Athené held her shield over cities; the hearth of each private home and the public hearth of the city were in Hestia's charge. Marriage was secure under Heré's care. Demeter was entrusted with legislation; the pains of childbirth were recommended to Eileithyia, or Artemis. Music, archery, divination, were Apollo's attributes; the art of healing claimed him and his son Æsculapius as patrons. Athené and Ares swayed the issue of war; the chase was the domain of Artemis; smiths and all workers in fire saw in Hephæstus their patron; whilst Athené the Worker protected the gentler trades, and Hecate watched over the roads.[6 - Heidenthum und Judenthum, p. 107.]
Yet Rome itself, whose own Capitoline Jupiter claimed a certain superiority over all these gods, would scarcely have yielded to any Grecian city, even were it Athens, in the number or variety of her deities, the frequency and solemnity of her festivals; while in the costliness of victims offered to her gods, and in the strictness of her ceremonies, she probably far surpassed that and all other cities. Her sterner worship of originally shapeless gods, presiding over the labours of a simple agricultural life, had long yielded to the seductions of her dangerous Grecian captive. The rude block Terminus, and Jupiter the Stone, ceased to satisfy those who had beheld the majesty of the father of gods and men embodied by the genius of a Phidias; and she had ended by going farther in breaking up the conception of one god, and in the personification of particular powers, operations, physical functions, and qualities, than any nation of antiquity.[7 - Heidenthum und Judenthum, p. 469.] But though the beautiful forms of the Hellenic gods, as expressed by the skill of unrivalled sculptors, had carried her away, yet the nature of her worship was in strong contrast with that of Greece. Her religion had rested originally on two ideas, the might of the gods friendly to Rome, and the force of ceremonial over these gods;[8 - Ibid. pp. 468, 480.] and still when she accepted the gods of conquered nations for her own, it was to secure the possession of their might, and to have them for friends instead of foes; while her own worship was a matter of routine and habit jealously guarded by unchanging ceremonies, and prosecuted not out of affection, but for the material security of daily life, which, according to the deeply-rooted feeling of the people, could not go on without it.
The individualised and humanised Latin and Hellenic gods, if they had much in common, still could not be thoroughly amalgamated; but Rome, as the mistress of Western Asia and Egypt, came upon Oriental religions of a very different stamp. Instead of this wide Pantheon of gods, each of whom had his occupation, these Asiatics generally regarded the deity in a sexual relationship, as one male and one female god, representing the active and passive forms of nature,[9 - Heidenthum und Judenthum, p. 344.] and worshipped with a mixture of fear and voluptuousness. Such were Bel and Mylitta, Moloch and Astarte, and by whatever different names the same idea was presented. The worship of the great mother Cybele, so widely spread through Asia Minor, approached in many respects in character to that of this female goddess. But it is needless to go farther into the specific differences of these various idolatries; only bear in mind that they in their several countries occupied the domain of public and private life, as the worship of which I have given the details did at Athens. So it was before the influence of external conquerors reached them. After this a certain change ensues. The Roman empire was accomplishing in the west as well as in the east what the progress of Grecian rule and thought had commenced three hundred years before[10 - Ibid. p. 312.] under Alexander and his successors, the bringing together and in some sort fusing the multiform and often contradictory worship of the nations surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Not merely in Rome, but in all the chief cities of the Empire, the Asiatic, the Egyptian, the Libyan deities, and many others of subject nations under the Roman sway, were worshipped side by side. Accordingly, in the time of Augustus, and at the year of Rome 750, where we are taking our stand, there prevailed all over the hundred millions of men ruled by him a polytheistic idolatry bewildering by its multiplicity, internal contradictions, fluctuations, and mixtures, yet imposing by its universal extent and prevalence. The only exception seems to have been the Jewish worship of one God, whether in its chief seat, the small province of Judæa, or as it was seen in the lives of Jewish settlers scattered throughout the empire. It must be remarked that this Jewish worship of the true God was sanctioned as that of a national god belonging to the Jews, and sacrifice was perpetually offered for Augustus in the Temple at Jerusalem. But the Jews did not, as a rule, make efforts to convert the Gentiles to their religion, nor seek to exhibit it as antagonistic to the prevailing idolatry, and as claiming to subdue and cast it out. They were content to keep their own worship to themselves, and with the toleration which the Roman law thus allowed them. Yet even so in every place where they dwelt in any numbers some of the better heathens were found to be attracted to their worship by the intrinsic beauty of their belief in one God.
2. But such an exception as this hardly made a perceptible break in that continuous mass of evil and falsehood which then surrounded young and old, learned and ignorant, rich and poor, in its grasp. The sea stands in Holy Writ as the well-known image of the world's disobedience to the divine promptings, of its impetuosity and lawlessness. What image is there in nature so striking and awful as the long waves of the Atlantic bearing down in storm upon a helpless ship, and sweeping it upon an iron-bound coast! So broke that wild sea of human error over the individual mind of man. The observer looked round upon all the nations, and it was everywhere the same – a multiplicity of gods filling up the whole circle of human life, many-named, many-natured, but all without truth, purity, and justice; full of violent and sensual deeds, and still viler imaginations. What stay was there for the spirit of man against that universal flood? Its vastness was everywhere. Who was strong enough, who wise enough, to resist what all his fellows accepted? And the struggle of a single soul against it might seem like that of “some strong swimmer in his agony” alone at night amid the waste of waters.
3. For this polytheism was no dormant, otiose power withdrawn into the background and crouching apart from the actions and feelings of daily life. Its presence was indicated in every home by the little images of the Lares; homage was done to it at every table by libations; every house had its consecrated emblems; every street its statues of Hermes and serpents; in the forum there were feasts in honour of the gods; the shops, taverns, and manufactories had little altars on which wine and incense were offered to them; there were idolatrous emblems on the foreheads of the dead, on their funeral pyre, on their tombs. The places of amusement were specially dedicated to the gods; the theatres had representations in honour of them; the circus had their images, chairs, carriages, robes borne in procession; the amphitheatre was consecrated to them, and as being so Tertullian called it “the temple of all demons.” So much for private and social life. But not only so. All political acts were bound up with a crowd of religious formalities, and outward signs of divine concurrence; and were carried on with a ceremonial, every part of which was prescribed as having an exact inward meaning. Then there were continually recurring vows to the gods made for the great, made for private individuals, made for the emperor and his family. Three special ceremonies were used to obtain favours from them or to deprecate calamities, feasts, the solemnly bearing their images on cushions, processions with naked feet.[11 - “Epulæ, lectisternia, nudipedalia.”] To this we must add the priestly colleges, pontifices, flamines, augurs, and magistrates, whether distinct or co-ordinated. Then, besides, consider the magical character of the prayers, and the strict use of formularies without mistake, omission, or addition, which were supposed to insure success apart from the intention of those offering them. Thus the whole life of the Romans was filled with invocations, propitiations, purifications, and even in any small matter a whole string of gods had prayer and service offered to them, and no one of their names might be omitted. Consider again the great frequency of the offerings, whether propitiative or consultatory; and, further, how particular beasts belonged to particular gods. The mere expense of victims was felt as a great burden. It was reckoned that on the accession of Caligula 160,000 animals, chiefly oxen and calves, were sacrificed in the Roman Empire in token of the general joy; and Augustus and Marcus Aurelius devoted such a multitude of beasts to their sacrifices that what had been said of the former was repeated as to the latter, how the white oxen had written to him, saying, “If you conquer, we are lost.” Indications of the will of the gods were to be taken on all occasions; nothing was to be done in public or private without consulting the auspices. Then there was the institution of the Haruspices, in its two branches of examining the entrails of the victims, and divining the meaning of all prodigies. One is still amazed at the ever-untiring solicitude which the senate showed to have all these things carefully watched – eclipses, rainbows of unusual colours, shooting stars, misbirths human or bestial; showers of earth, stones, chalk, or ashes; mice gnawing the golden vessels of a temple, bees swarming on a public place, but especially a shrine touched by lightning. Such things struck senate and people with consternation; special supplications were ordered to appease the causers of them.[12 - These incidents are taken from various places in Heidenthum und Judenthum, pp. 531, 549, 550, &c.]
These are the external manifestations of polytheism which struck every eye, and affected the mind by their constant recurrence. But if we go beneath the surface and examine the root, we shall find an universal sense in the minds of all men in that day of unseen power over and above the material operations of nature. It was too strong as well as too general and invariable to be called an opinion, and it so acted on the nerves and feelings of men that I term it not so much a logical conviction as a sense of the close contact between man and nature, or rather an unseen power behind the veil of nature and working through it. Various as the forms of idolatry were – Egyptian, Asiatic, Libyan, Greek, or Roman; or, again, Iberian, Gallic, German, – all teemed with this sense. To the adherents of these religions, one and all, the world was very far from being a mere system of nature governed by general laws;[13 - Champagny, Les Antonins, liv. v. c. 3.] it may rather be said that this was precisely what it was not. They looked upon nature in all its forms as an expression of the divine will, and therefore the unusual productions of nature became to them intimations respecting that will. And having lost the guidance of a fixed moral and religious teaching, they were ruled by an ever-watchful anxiety to gain acquaintance with that will. On this sense rested the universal belief that it was in man's power to hold intercourse by means of charms, spells, adjurations, with spirits of greater might and knowledge than his own – that is, magic or witchcraft. Hence the evocation of the spirits of the dead to reveal secrets of their prison-house, or necromancy. Hence the recurrence to oracles, running through all pagan history, of which there were many scattered through the Roman world, and which, after a temporary discredit, rose again into name in the time of Hadrian. Not less general was the belief that men and women might be possessed by spirits who ruled their words and actions according to an overmastering will. Then divination existed in endlessly various forms; and of its force we can gather a notion by Cicero's remark that it lay like an oppressive burden on the minds of men, so that even sleep, which should be the refuge from anxieties, became through the meaning attached to dreams the cause of a multitude of cares.[14 - De Divinat. ii. 72.] To this must be added the use of sortileges, amulets, and talismans, in countless number and variety; and the belief that the actions and fortune of men were swayed by the course of the stars – that is, astrology. It was not the vulgar and ignorant merely whose minds were filled with these things. Scarcely a philosopher, scarcely a statesman, scarcely a ruler can be found whose mind, even if proof against a genuine devotion to a divine providence, was not open to one or more manifestations of the dark mysterious power pressing upon the confines of human life, and every now and then breaking through the veil of visible things with evidences of malignant might. A more determined and unscrupulous conqueror than Sylla, a more genuine philosopher than Marcus Aurelius, a more sagacious user of religion than Augustus, we shall not easily find; yet each of these, like their ordinary countrymen, had this sense of the supernatural and intangible above, beneath, and around them. Sylla, on the eve of any battle, would, in the sight of his soldiers, embrace a small statue of Apollo, which he had taken from Delphi, and entreat it to give an early fulfilment of its promises.[15 - Valerius Max. i. c. 2, 3.] Marcus Aurelius, in his war with the Marcomanni, collected priests from all quarters to Rome, and was so long occupied in offering rites to their various foreign gods that he kept his army waiting for him. And Augustus watched carefully the most trivial signs, and was distressed if in the morning his left shoe was given to him for his right. Even that Julius before whose genius all men quailed, and whose disbelief of a future state stands recorded at a notable point of Roman history, never mounted a chariot without uttering certain words for good luck and preservation against calamity.[16 - Merivale's History of the Romans, ii. 447.] We shall therefore judge most inadequately of the force which the innumerable rites, temples, festivals, pomps, ceremonies, prayers, invocations, priesthoods, sodalities, initiations, and mysteries of polytheism exercised upon the minds of men, unless we take into full account that remarkable sense of contact and sympathy between the external world and man – of invisible power betraying itself through palpable agents, whether in reasoning or unreasoning productions, whether in the animal or vegetable world – which served as its basis. The line between religion and superstition in paganism no eye can trace; but at least the foundation of true worship plunged deep out of sight into the secret recesses of abject fear.
4. But what was the moral influence of this multiform, universal, all-embracing, and all-penetrating worship?
Varro, whom Cicero calls the most acute and learned of writers, and whose great work in forty-one books he praises as containing the names, classes, offices, and causes of all divine and human things, divided theology into the fabulous, the natural, and the civil. In the first, he said, are many fictions unworthy of the nature and dignity of immortal beings: such as that one god sprang from the head, another from the thigh, another from drops of blood; such, again, as that gods were thieves or adulterers, or became slaves to men. In fact, this fabulous theology attributed everything to them which might happen not merely to a man, but to the most contemptible of men.[17 - See Varro, quoted by S. Aug. De Civ. Dei, lib. vi. 5.] Let us leave what he calls natural theology, which is the discussion of philosophers concerning the physical nature of the gods, and proceed to the third, which he calls civil, and which is that which the citizens, and especially the priests of human communities, are bound to know and administer. This treats of what gods are to be worshipped, and with what rites and sacrifices. The first theology, he says, belongs to the theatre, the second to the universe, the third to the city. S. Augustine, commenting at length upon his division, proves that the first and the third, the fabulous and the civil, are, in fact, identical, since the universe is a divine work, but the theatre and the city works of men. The theatre is indeed made for the city, and the very same gods are ridiculed on the stage who are adored in the temple; the same have games exhibited in their honour and victims sacrificed to them. The images, features, ages, sexes, bearing of the gods in the one and in the other are the same. Thus this fabulous, theatrical, and scenic theology, full of everything vile and criminal, is actually a part of the civil, cohering with it as limb with limb in the same body.[18 - De Civ. Dei, l. vi. 5, 6, 7.]
Conceive, then, every revolting detail of adultery, prostitution, incest, or of dishonesty, or of violence, which the perverted invention of modern writers has ever dressed up for the theatres of great cities in this and other countries. They will perhaps yield in turpitude to that which the theatres of the Roman empire exhibited. But what these theatres represented in mimic action was the exact image, as reflected in a mirror, of what was transacted at the solemn service of the gods in unnumbered temples.[19 - “Illam theatricam et fabulosam theologiam ab ista civili pendere noverunt, et ei de carminibus poetarum tanquam de speculo resultare: et ideo ista exposita, quam damnare non audent, illam ejus imaginem liberius arguunt.” De Civ. Dei, vi. 9; id. vi. 7.] The exact image so far as it went, yet stopping short in some respects, for our eye-witness above cited declares that gratitude was due to the actors, inasmuch as they spared the eyes of men, and did not lay bare upon the theatre all that was hidden within the walls of temples. It was not enough, then, that all the many games and spectacles in which such things were represented were dedicated to the gods, acted under their especial sanction, even enjoined by them as means of gaining their favour or averting their wrath, which alone would have made them answerable for the immorality so portrayed; not enough, even, that actions of this quality were in the theatres ascribed to the gods who presided over them; but these acts of immorality were not the fictions of poets or the acting of players, but the very substance of the theology itself in which the worship of all these nations was embodied. Priapus appeared to make a laugh on the stage exactly in the costume in which he was worshipped in the temples, or in which he entered into the rites of marriage; a costume of indescribable turpitude, the shame of our human nature. The players on the stage and the statues in the temples equally exhibited Jove bearded and Mercury beardless, Saturn in decrepitude and Apollo in youthful beauty. In the rites of Juno, of Ceres, of Venus, of the mother of the gods, words were uttered and scenes acted such as no decent person would suffer to be spoken or acted before his own mother; or rather they contained, as a portion of themselves, the worst crimes which the theatres represented; nay, crimes which they stopped short of acting, and persons so infamous that they were not tolerated even on the stage, where yet to take part was a civil dishonour. What, then, was the nature of those rites wherein those were chosen to take part whom the utmost license of the stage banished from its boards?[20 - “Quæ sunt ergo illa sacra quibus agendis tales elegit sanctitas quales nec thymelica in se admittit obscœnitas.” De Civ. Dei, vi. 7.] Let us conceive – if such a conception can be adequately represented to the mind – that the vilest drama ever acted upon a modern theatre was being daily carried on in all the churches of Christendom by troops of priests and priestesses, with all the paraphernalia of costliest worship, with prayers, invocation, and sacrifices, as a service acceptable to the Ruler of man's lot, and as an account of what that ruler had Himself done, and of what He loved to be imitated by others. That would be a picture of heathen worship in the time of Augustus; that would be the moral food on which was nurtured that crowd of nations which acknowledged Cæsar's sway; that the conception of divine things wrought into the minds of the hundred millions of men who formed the Roman empire.
Was it surprising that all worshippers of the gods should look for their example rather in Jupiter's actions than in Plato's teaching or the moral judgments of Cato?[21 - “Omnes cultores talium deorum – magis intuentur quid Jupiter fecerit, quam quid docuerit Plato vel censuerit Cato.” De Civ. Dei, ii. 7.] A nature subject in itself to the sway of passion was stimulated by an authority supposed to be divine to the commission of every criminal excess; and herein lay a strong proof of the malignant and impure character of these gods.
On the other hand, the same eye-witness challenges the defenders of the pagan gods to produce a single instance wherein moral precepts of living were delivered to their worshippers upon divine authority. True, indeed, there were here and there whispers of secret rites in which a pure and chaste life was recommended, but where were the buildings dedicated to the public preaching of such truths? Places there were in abundance consecrated to the celebration of infamous games, rightly termed “Fugalia,” since they put modesty and decency to flight, but none where the people might listen to divine commands repressing avarice, ambition, or unchaste desire. Thus with the positive inculcation of all evil, under cover of their own example, was united the negative absence of all moral teaching.[22 - De Civ. Dei, ii. 6. “Demonstrentur vel commemorentur loca – ubi populi audirent quid dii præciperent de cohibenda avaritia, ambitione frangenda, luxuria refrænanda.” See also sec. 28.]
For even the prayers which accompanied these sacrifices and this ceremonial, and this lavish exhibition of every human wickedness under divine names, were not addressed for moral goods, but for wealth, bodily strength, temporal prosperity. Horace but expresses the general mind when he says:
“Sed satis est orare Jovem quæ donat et anfert;
Det vitam, det opes, æquum mi animum ipse parabo.”
(Epist. i. 18, 111.)
They were moreover viewed as carrying with them a sort of physical force, not as prevailing through purity of intention in those who offered them. In fact, the gods to whom they were addressed were powers of nature, or malignant and impure powers, but in neither case beings who looked for a moral service from rational creatures.
One other turpitude the Asiatic idolatry added to the Greek and Roman forms. By consecrating the sexual relations themselves in one male and one female god, they effected this crowning connection of idolatry with immorality that unchaste acts became themselves acts of sacrifice, and so of worship.[23 - See Heidenthum und Judenthum, p. 398. Herodotus, i. 199. Baruch, vi. 42-3.] This is the strange perversion borne witness to by Herodotus, and corroborated by the prophet Jeremiah. A great seat of this worship was the city of Hierapolis, in Syria, where was one of the most magnificent temples of the ancient world, dedicated to Derketo, and rich with the offerings of Arabians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Phœnicians, Cilicians, Cappadocians, and all nations of the Semitic tongue. Nor was this worship confined to the East, for hence, as from a centre, the adherents of the Syrian goddess spread themselves in begging troops over the provinces of the empire. And the worship of Venus at Eryx, and other places in the West, with the thousands of female priestesses dedicated to it, reproduced the same abomination.
As the great result of all that we have said, we find the notion of sanctifying the human will absent from the religious rites of the polytheistic idolatry in all its forms. To this corresponded the absence of the notion of holiness in the gods. And this leads us finally to the remarkable character which defines it as a whole. This worship was throughout a corruption,[24 - See S. Athan, con. Gentes, 5-9. In like manner S. Theophilus, lib. i. ad Autolyc. c. 2.] the spoiling, that is, of something good; a turning away from the better to the worse. The worship itself had been originally good. The corruption lay in the alteration of the quality and the object of the worship. Worship had been implanted in man, and prescribed to him. It was at once the need of his nature and the command of Him who gave that nature. It had for it, first, positive institution, and then tradition and custom, and throughout, the conscience, the reason, and the heart of man. The reason of man ever bore powerful witness to the unity of the Godhead; the breaking up of that unity, as exhibited by this idolatrous polytheism, in contradiction to the original prompting and continued witness of the reason, is a very strong proof of that moral corruption in the will which first generated it, which continued its existence, and which, while multiplying, degraded its forms from age to age. But man was free to decline from the good in which he had been placed. The corruption which was left in his power he exerted; he changed the quality of the service, and the person served. The productive cause of idolatry on the part of man was the soul of man turning away from the notion of a good and holy Creator, the contemplation of whom was its present support and future reward, to visible things. Of these things the chief were bodily pleasures. Thus this corruption of the soul, in process of time, and continually becoming worse, produced this whole pantheon of gods, originally the creation of its own lusts, and subsisting as a perpetual food and support of those lusts. For this cause it had broken up the one perfect idea of God the Creator and Ruler of all persons and things into a multitude of gods, whose functions became more and more divided, until the ether, the air, the earth, and the water swarmed with these supposed beings, which took possession even of wood and stone, dwelling in the statues erected to them; and every desire which the soul in its corruption could entertain had its corresponding patron, helper, and exemplar. In this descending course cause and effect were perpetually reacting on each other, and as the corruption of the human soul had generated these gods, so their multiplication and degradation intensified its corruption from age to age.[25 - In order to form a notion how far this division of gods could descend, and what an incredible depth of turpitude it reached, see De Civ. Dei, l. vi. c. 9, de officiis singulorum deorum. Its foulness prevents any adequate representation of it.]
5. But this was not all. If corrupt affection in man himself, if the charm of representing the unseen objects of worship in visible characters of wood or stone, if, finally, the ignorance of the true God, together with the beauty of the creature substituted for Him,[26 - See S. Thomas, Summa, 2, 2, q. 94, a. 4.] were the disposing causes within man to idolatry, there was a cause outside of him which must not be forgotten. When we look upon this idolatry, occupying not one country or race, but all; not merely bewildering savage or uncivilised man, but throned in the chief seats of the world's choicest civilisation; when we look upon its endlessly divergent forms, its palpable contradictions, its cherished or commanded immoralities, its crowd of debasing, irrational, heterogeneous superstitions, its cruelty, sensuality, and fearfulness, all these being no less an insult to man's reason than a derogation from God's majesty, who is there that does not feel this to be the strangest and most astonishing sight which history presents to man? And yet there is a unity which runs through it all, and stamps it with a double mark. Not only is it a service due from man to God, which is paid by him to the creature rather than to the Creator,[27 - Of this whole polytheism in the mass S. Paul pronounces the judgment: Οἵτινες μετήλλαξαν τὴν ἀλήθειαν τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐν τῷ ψεύδει, καὶ ἐσεβάσθησαν καὶ ἐλάτρευσαν τῇ κτίσει παρὰ τὸν κτίσαντα. Rom. i. 25. And the Psalmist adds: Ὅτι πάντες οἱ θεοὶ τῶν ἐθνῶν δαιμόνια; ὁ δὲ Κύριος τοὺς οὐρανοὺς ἐποίησεν. Sept. xcv. 5. See also Ps. cv. 37.] but more especially it is that service paid by man to God's enemies, the fallen angels. These it is who have assumed the mask of dead men; these it is who within the sculptured forms of Jupiter, Juno, Mars, and Venus, of Baal and Derketo and Mylitta, of Anubis and Serapis, of Thor and Woden, and so many more, receive man's adoration, and rejoice above all things in possessing his heart. These it is who have seduced him by exhibitions of visible beauty, have lain in wait for him by fountain, forest, and field, and filled the groves and high places with the charms which best pleased him under the name of worship; or have promised to disclose future things to him; or, again, have harrowed his soul with phantasms and terrors of the unseen world. These incoherent systems; these deities, whose functions ran into and athwart each other; these investing of human passions, and even unnatural and monstrous vices, with immortality and terrible power; these rivals ever quarrelling with each other, and jealous for the possession of man's homage, all serve the purpose of those behind the scenes, are puppets under their command, and have a common end and result in the captivity of their victim. More even than this; while they seem disunited and contradictory, they are really one, marshalled by the power, directed by the mind, held in the hand of him who is called “the ruler of this world,” “the power of darkness,” “the might of the enemy,” who “holds the power of death,” “the ancient serpent, who leads into error the whole world,” “that malignant one in whom the whole world is lying,” “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience,” who musters “the principalities, the powers, the world-rulers of this life's darkness, the spirits of wickedness in ethereal places,” to serve him in his conflict with man's flesh and blood; in fine, for S. Paul's language goes one point even beyond that of his Master, and terms him not merely the ruler, but “the God of this world;”[28 - See John xii. 31; xiv. 30; xvi. 11; Luke xxii. 53; x. 19; Apoc. xii. 9; Heb. ii. 14; 1 John v. 18; Ephes. vi. 12; ii. 2; 2 Cor. iv. 3.] that is to say, this manifold idolatry is the establishment of his kingdom, the enthronement of his godhead over men, the mark of their captivity and prostration before him.
The statements of our Lord and his apostles being so express and definite as to the existence of this diabolic kingdom, and as to the personal sway of a sovereign over it, let us look once more at this idolatry itself by the light thus shed upon it.
And first, whether we regard men as made to be members of a well-ordered society, enjoying temporal prosperity in this life, or as further intended for happiness in a future life, resulting from their present actions,[29 - These two subjects occupy respectively the first five and the second five books of S. Augustine's City of God, where the argument is carried out in great detail.] the condition in which the heathen nations are actually found at our Lord's coming is quite unintelligible unless we suppose the reality of a diabolic power exercised upon them. The polytheism which we have witnessed holding all human life in its grasp, while it did not teach and uphold the great laws of morality, did, on the other hand, actively inculcate the violation of those laws by continually representing to the minds and eyes of men such a violation in the acts of the deities worshipped. It was a perpetual incitement of men to crimes, as well against social order as against all the sanctities of private life; it fostered the savageness of slavery, and the utmost cruelty in carrying on war, because its deities, being diverse for every nation, and belonging exclusively to the nation, had obliterated the idea that all men were of one blood, and thus delivered over the captive and the slave to the pitiless hatred or equally pitiless luxury of their fellow-men. So much for its action on human society as terminating with this life, while for a life to come it had no doctrine and made no preparation, but had suffered the earlier teaching of a future retribution to be considered as a fable fit for children and old women. Looking at such a condition of human society from the moral point of view, we may conclude with certainty that man would never, if left to himself, have devised it.
Secondly, regarding this polytheism as an object presented to the human intellect, nothing more unreasonable and monstrous than this crowd of deities can even be conceived. The human reason demands imperatively the unity of the godhead, since infinite power at least enters into the conception of the godhead, and to divide or limit infinity is an unreason. All the great works and order of the world bore witness likewise to this unity of the godhead, and were sufficient to prove it;[30 - Rom. i. 20. See the Stoical argument for the unity of the deity in Cic. de Nat. Deor. 2.] and even in the worst times of paganism we find this proof exhibited with a force and lucidity to which even now little can be added. And in the worst times, again, we find the natural witness of the human soul breaking out in moments of sudden trial or great anguish, and calling upon the one God for help.[31 - Tertullian de Testimonio Animæ, 2.] Yet in spite of this we see whole nations renowned for their intellectual productions, and men among them in whom the force of reason has rarely or never been surpassed, bowing their necks to this yoke of polytheism, and accepting this tissue of monstrous error, paying homage to it in their life, and dying with it on their lips; as Socrates offering the cock to Æsculapius, and Seneca the libation to Jove the liberator. We know not how to account for this, were man's reason left alone. We can see an adequate ground for it only in “men having been made unreasonable, and in the demoniacal error overshadowing the earth, and concealing the knowledge of the true God.”[32 - Οὔτω τοίνυν ἀλογωθέντων τῶν ἀνθρώπων, καὶ οὕτω τῆς δαιμονικῆς πλάνης ἐπισκιαζούσης τὰ πανταχοῦ, καὶ κρυπτούσης τὴν περὶ τοῦ ἀληθινοῦ Θεοῦ γνῶσιν. S. Athan. de Incar. 13.]
Let us take a third view of it, neither the moral nor the logical, but the view of it as an existing fact, as something which for many hundred years occupied the earth, ruled nations, moulded the institutions and characters of men. Here we do not speak merely of the multitude of temples, of priests or priestesses serving in them, of sacrifices offered by these, of prayers, vows, festivals in honour of the gods – because all these enter into the notion of a service rendered by man to the power superior to him, and in their utmost perversion there is nothing which may not be accounted for by a simply human corruption stealing into and spoiling an originally good institution; but all these in the actual condition of paganism were mixed up with and penetrated by other elements, and accompanied by effects not to be so accounted for. Let us take the universal persuasion that the statues of the gods were inhabited by the deities which they represented, as bodies by souls.[33 - See S. August. de Civ. Dei, viii. 24. “Immundi spiritus, eisdem simulacris arte illa nefaria colligati, cultorum suorum animas in suam societatem redigendo miserabiliter captivaverant.”] Here was the notion of a spiritual power taking possession of material forms. But how was this notion introduced, propagated, and maintained in men's minds? By certain visible and palpable effects,[34 - Called by S. Athan. ἡ τῶν δαιμόνων ἀπάτη – μανία – φαντασίαι. Thus De Inc. 47. πάλαι μὲν δαίμονες ἐφαντασιασκόπουν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. προκαταλαμβάνοντες πηγὰς ἢ ποταμοὺς, ἢ ξύλα, ἢ λίθους, καὶ οὕτω ταῖς μαγγανείαις ἐξέπληττον τοὺς ἄφρονας. Νῦν δὲ τῆς θείας ἐπιφανείας τοῦ Λόγου γεγενημένης. πέπαυται τούτων ἡ φαντασία.] of which those who were eye-witnesses give us many details. Take again the oracles which existed throughout the heathen world, and, as dealing with the same subject-matter, divination in all its forms. However much of deceit there might be here, was there not also, in many instances, an exhibition of power and knowledge beyond that of man, which no mere deceit could produce? Take again magic, the invocation, adjuration, and compacting with spirits, which ran through heathen society in numberless shapes; and take lastly the fact of spirits seizing upon and possessing the bodies of men, speaking by their voice, and controlling their minds. The four classes which we have just given comprehend in themselves an innumerable multitude of facts which are apparent in pagan history, in all which the corruption of the human soul is an agent or patient, but for which that corruption by itself supplies no adequate cause. A spiritual power is behind, laying hold of and acting upon this corruption, and by fault of the human will making an inroad into the visible world, and partially mastering it, bending it to an evil purpose, and making it serve as an agent to man's captivity. Let us briefly cite as to the reality of this spiritual power the witness of its victims and the witness of its opponents.
First, as to its victims. Scarcely a writer, whether poet, historian, philosopher, or biographer, can be found among the heathens of Greece and Rome who does not attest facts belonging to one or more of these four classes which surpass human power, and suggest an invisible spiritual agency. The poet who writes expressly to deny such an agency speaks of the whole world as bowed beneath the fear of it; another poet,[35 - “Humana ante oculos fœde quam vita jaceretIn terris, oppressa gravi sub religione,” &c. Lucret. i. 63.“Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas,Atque metus omnes et inexorabile fatumSubjecit pedibus, strepitumque Acherontis avari.”Virg. Geo. ii. 491.] referring tacitly to this very passage, felicitates the man not who has a pure conscience, but who through knowledge of natural things has trampled these fears under his feet. Nor is such a belief confined to the vulgar; but scarcely a man of eminence, a soldier, or a statesman can be cited who does not in his life and actions acknowledge it, shrink from it, or cower beneath it. It is too powerful for Alexander or even Julius to escape; and the philosophers who affect to deny it in their systems exhibit it in their conduct. They have all the conviction of an evil power beyond and above nature, but taking hold of natural forms, and ever lying in wait to burst forth from them upon human life. The Greek name for superstition is fear of the demons; and what S. Paul said of the Athenians, that he found them in all things too fearful of the demons, might be applied to the whole circle of nations surrounding the midland sea.
Secondly, as to the opponents of this power. Now they offer a triple witness to its existence. The first of these is in the facts mentioned in the New Testament. The strongest, most terrible, and most inexplicable instance of this power lies in those diabolical possessions with which so many of our Lord's miracles are concerned. Again, as to the reality of divining powers arising from the presence of a demon in a human form, we have the evil spirit in the girl at Philippi acknowledging in S. Paul a servant of the most high God, and, when cast out by the Apostle in the name of Christ, leaving his victim destitute of those powers which had brought gain to her masters, who forthwith try to avenge themselves for their loss by exciting a persecution against the Apostle.[36 - Acts xvi. 16.]
A second witness is found in the rites and offices of the very power set up to dethrone and abolish this other power. The Church called upon every one who was received into her bosom to begin by renouncing the usurpation of this great enemy, which was thus declared to be universal. She provided forms for exorcising him. One of her Apostles warned those to whom he wrote that men could not partake at once of the Christian sacrifice and the heathen; for as truly as one was the chalice of the Lord, the other was the chalice of devils; as one was the table of the Lord, the other was the table of devils.[37 - 1 Cor. x. 21.]
A third witness is found in the unanimous testimony of all Christian writers as to the reality of the demoniacal powers with which they were waging war; as to their perpetual interference with human life; as to the open and palpable effects which they produced; as to their unwilling retirement in the face of that Stronger One who was come upon them. It was not merely the fervid Tertullian who offered to rest the truth of Christianity and the life of any ordinary Christian upon his power publicly to expel a demon. Athanasius, who weighs every word he utters, says also, “Let him who will, try the truth of what we have said, and in the very presence of the spectral illusion of the demons, of the deceit of oracles and the wonders of magic, let him use the sign of the cross derided by them, only naming the name of Christ, and he shall see how by him the demons fly, the oracles cease, and every sort of magic and witchcraft is annulled.” No less express is S. Augustine in acknowledging the reality of these dark powers, and the wonders worked by them.[38 - Tertullian, Apologeticus, 23; S. Athanas. de Inc. 48; S. Aug. de Civ. Dei, xxi. 6, who says, “Ut autem demones illiciantur ab hominibus, prius eos ipsi astutissima calliditate seducunt, vel inspirando eorum cordibus virus occultum, vel étiam fallacibus amicitiis apparendo, eorumque paucos discipulos suos faciunt, plurimorumque doctores. Neque enim potuit, nisi primum ipsis docentibus, disci quid quisque illorum appetat, quid exhorreat, quo invitetur nomine, quo cogatur, unde magicæ artes carumque artifices exstiterunt.”]
Resuming then for a moment our view of heathenism as a whole, with regard to the exhibition of diabolic power in it, let us bear in mind, joined to the absence of moral teaching, its flagrantly immoral disposition; secondly, its illogical character, by which it is an insult to human reason while yet accepted by the human will; and thirdly, the superhuman effects noted in it and attached to its rites, ceremonies, and practices, attested by many generations alike of its victims as of its opponents. These proofs have each their own separate force, but they have likewise as to our conclusion a cumulative force; and its result is, that the existence of a diabolic kingdom and sovereign throned in heathenism, pervading its rites and directing its operations, which is so expressly declared in Holy Writ, is no less strongly proved by the facts of history.
6. Now, having sketched in four main points the substance of this polytheism, its multiplicity, its universality, its hold upon daily life, and its moral corruption, to all which a consummating force is added by the indwelling of diabolic power, it remains to give a glance at certain conditions and circumstances under which it was acting on the minds of men. We have here taken it and examined it by itself, abstracting it from those circumstances, but it never so appeared to those who lived under it. The wonderful error which so enfolded these widespread nations never exhibited itself to them bare and naked. On the contrary, it came to them interwoven with the dearest claims of the family, the city, the country, with the force of habit and tradition, with the dread of change, with the past history and future hopes of their fatherland, coloured moreover with the radiant dress of a rich and ever-advancing civilisation.
To judge of its power, vitality, and chance of permanence, we must look at it under these conditions. And if, when we regard this idolatrous polytheism in itself, one is lost in wonder at its ever having arisen, at its existence, at its continuance, so, when one regards it as throned in the customs, feelings, convictions, and interests of society, one wonders how any moral force could ever overthrow it. At the present time not only are there religions outside of Christianity, but there are also sects within it, so irrational, so devoid of the witness given by internal truth and harmony, so unable to render any account of themselves and their claims which will satisfy a mind looking for consistency, that, regarding them merely as facts, one cannot account for them, yet notwithstanding they may have existed for several hundred years, and had a large share in forming national habits of thought, or even national character; nay, perhaps their secret strength lies in some fold of this character itself. And because they are never seen by themselves, their intrinsic absurdity does not come before their adherents, and the last thing which these think of examining is the foundation of their sect, inasmuch as in fact it has never approached them otherwise than as a condition of their daily life. So we shall understand paganism better by considering it as interwoven with civilisation, polity, and national feelings. We will treat of it briefly under these three heads.
1. First, the whole eastern part of the Roman empire was made up of many various nations having a long and sometimes renowned history, kingdoms, and politics much anterior to Rome herself, of which the Romans had taken violent possession, but wherein remained still the fruits of a rich and undisturbed civilisation. And this word comprehends all the natural life of man, all the discoveries gained by his invention or experience, and accumulated by wealth descending from age to age, all the manifold ties of social intercourse, all the pleasures of the intellect, united, moreover, in their case with an art even now unrivalled in portraying the beauty of the human figure, and in the elegance with which it adapted material forms to the conveniences of life. So rich and varied an inheritance unfolded itself in a thousand Hellenic cities studding the shores of the Mediterranean. The culture itself since the time of Alexander might be termed Hellenic, but it embraced Egypt, and Syria, and all Western Asia. And so completely was idolatrous polytheism interwoven with culture, so inextricably was it blended with the bulk, so gradually had it grown with the growth, and wound its fibres about the tree and the branches, that the worship might be absolutely identified with the civilisation. The gods of Greece were the heads of the most illustrious Grecian families; their hero-worship consecrated every city, every grove, every field. The gods of Egypt were blended with the long renown of the Nile-land, with every Egyptian custom, with the beginning and the end of life. Not less had the gods of Syria and Western Asia occupied their respective lands. These deities struck their root into the home of man, into the union of the sexes, into the loves of parent and child, of brother and sister. They had their mementos in every street of busy traffic; they watched over the Acropolis; not a fountain but laid claim to their patronage, nor a field which was fruitful but by their supposed influence. These countries had lost their political independence, but the material ease of life under the majesty of the Roman name they retained. There was a passionate love for this world's goods, comforts, and enjoyments in the Greek, Syrian, Asiatic, Egyptian, and Libyan races, all of them more or less worn, and effete, and deeply sensualised; but their glory was this great Hellenic civilisation, with which polytheism might be termed one and the same thing.
2. When we turn to the West, the seat of the sovereign city and of the empire itself, we find that from the very beginning and through many centuries the political constitution of the city had been indissolubly blended with the worship of the Roman gods. The religion of Rome was much more than national; her polity seemed only another name for her worship. Her temples were as much a part of her political life as her forum. So far at least she had embodied in her whole structure the legend of her Etruscan teacher, wherein the dwarf Tages sprung from the soil to communicate the worship claimed by the gods.[39 - Merivale, iii. 496.] Her soil and her worship were indivisible. And even after seven centuries, when the city was embracing the world in its arms, this union practically existed. Rome indeed admitted, as we have said, the gods of the conquered nations into her pantheon, but it was on the same tenure as the nations themselves shared her civic rights. Jupiter Capitolinus was a sort of suzerain not only to the gods of the Grecian Olympus, but to the dark forms of the Nile deities, to the Syrian, the Libyan, the Gallic, the Germanic, the Sarmatian Valhalla. When the greatest of her poets would express unending duration, he joins together the race of Æneas enthroned on the Capitol with the god who dwelt there:
“Nulla dies unquam memori vos eximet ævo,
Dum domus Æneæ Capitoli immobile saxum
Accolet, imperiumque Pater Romanus habebit.”
The Roman father is the Capitoline Jupiter. I am not a king; the only king of the Romans is Jupiter, said the most royal of the race, and the founder of her empire, when, seeing all prostrate at his feet, he put away reluctantly the diadem offered by his creature. Thus even he who had seized the reality of power, who would have omens when he pleased, and whose will was his law, left the crown on the head of Jupiter. In Rome, all through her history “piety and patriotism were the same feeling.”[40 - Beugnot, Destruction du Paganisme, i. 8.] When her empire became world-wide, this sort of devotion did not cease. Rome had long been deified; and the double import of her name[41 - ῥώμη, strength; ruma, a mother's breast.] expressed strength against the foe without, and nourishment to the child within. She was at once a warrior-goddess clothed in mail to meet the enemy, and a mother offering her bosom to her citizens clustered around her. And so in her new constitution, adapted for the world, her emperor too was deified, as the first of her children, her living representative, the embodiment of her force and love, the visible wielder of her unseen power. All that is sacred in home and country to us the Roman signified when he swore by the genius of the emperor. Nothing could be more tolerant than this polytheism, if the innovation extended only to the borrowing or creating a new divinity, to reforming a rite or a ceremony,[42 - Beugnot, i. 17.] or to suchlike modifications of worship which admitted that on which it rested; but nothing more intolerant than the same polytheism when the worship itself was attacked. A movement against the Capitoline Jupiter would be not only sacrilege but high treason, and the refusal to call to witness the emperor's genius was in fact to deny his imperial authority. The worship of the gods was as much identified with the empire of Rome in the West as with the civilisation of Greece throughout the East.
3. But as if these two powers were not ties sufficiently strong to hold polytheism together, there was another feeling distinct from both, which formed its last bulwark. The iron hand which held in its grasp these vast countries, many of them so large that by themselves they might have been empires, was strong enough to prevent or crush insurrection, but provided only the majesty of the Roman peace was accepted, did not seek to disturb a large remnant of local feeling and interest still representing the former life and polity of the several provinces. Now whatever of national, tribe, or race feeling existed, was grouped everywhere about the worship of the native gods.[43 - Οἱ ἐγχώριοι θεοί.] The Nile-land had ceased to be a royal seat, and was governed by a simple Roman knight as prefect of the emperor; but not for this had the Nile gods abdicated their dark sway over their votaries. In them the Egyptians still felt that they had something which was their own. Thus, whatever force of patriotism still lurked in the several parts of the empire was nurtured by its own form of polytheism, which it in turn invested with the memories dearest and most ineradicable in man, of past independence or renown. Not only the Egyptians, but the various Asiatic and Libyan races, the Gauls and Germans under Roman sway, were thus attached to their native gods with a feeling no doubt akin to that of the English towards “Old England,” or the Russians towards “Holy Russia.”