In the last essay we have followed Greek popular religion to the very threshold of Christianity, till we found not only a soil ready for the seed of Christian metaphysic, but a large number of the plants already in full and exuberant growth. A complete history of Greek religion ought, without doubt, to include at least the rise of Christianity and the growth of the Orthodox Church, but, of course, the present series of studies does not aim at completeness. We will take the Christian theology for granted as we took the classical Greek philosophy, and will finish with a brief glance at the Pagan reaction of the fourth century, when the old religion, already full of allegory, mysticism, asceticism, and Oriental influences, raised itself for a last indignant stand against the all-prevailing deniers of the gods.
This period, however, admits a rather simpler treatment than the others. It so happens that for the last period of paganism we actually possess an authoritative statement of doctrine, something between a creed and a catechism. It seems to me a document so singularly important and, as far as I can make out, so little known, that I shall venture to print it entire.
A creed or catechism is, of course, not at all the same thing as the real religion of those who subscribe p. 174 to it. The rules of metre are not the same thing as poetry; the rules of cricket, if the analogy may be excused, are not the same thing as good play. Nay, more. A man states in his creed only the articles which he thinks it right to assert positively against those who think otherwise. His deepest and most practical beliefs are those on which he acts without question, which have never occurred to him as being open to doubt. If you take on the one hand a number of persons who have accepted the same creed but lived in markedly different ages and societies, with markedly different standards of thought and conduct, and on the other an equal number who profess different creeds but live in the same general environment, I think there will probably be more real identity of religion in the latter group. Take three orthodox Christians, enlightened according to the standards of their time, in the fourth, the sixteenth, and the twentieth centuries respectively, I think you will find more profound differences of religion between them than between a Methodist, a Catholic, a Freethinker, and even perhaps a well-educated Buddhist or Brahmin at the present day, provided you take the most generally enlightened representatives of each class. Still, when a student is trying to understand the inner religion of the ancients, he realizes how immensely valuable a creed or even a regular liturgy would be.
Literature enables us sometimes to approach pretty close, in various ways, to the minds of certain of the great men of antiquity, and understand how they thought and felt about a good many subjects. At times one of these subjects is the accepted religion of p. 175 their society; we can see how they criticized it or rejected it. But it is very hard to know from their reaction against it what that accepted religion really was. Who, for instance, knows Herodotus's religion? He talks in his penetrating and garrulous way, 'sometimes for children and sometimes for philosophers,' as Gibbon puts it, about everything in the world; but at the end of his book you find that he has not opened his heart on this subject. No doubt his profession as a reciter and story-teller prevented him. We can see that Thucydides was sceptical; but can we fully see what his scepticism was directed against, or where, for instance, Nikias would have disagreed with him, and where he and Nikias both agreed against us?
We have, of course, the systems of the great philosophers—especially of Plato and Aristotle. Better than either, perhaps, we can make out the religion of M. Aurelius. Amid all the harshness and plainness of his literary style, Marcus possessed a gift which has been granted to few, the power of writing down what was in his heart just as it was, not obscured by any consciousness of the presence of witnesses or any striving after effect. He does not seem to have tried deliberately to reveal himself, yet he has revealed himself in that short personal note-book almost as much as the great inspired egotists, Rousseau and St. Augustine. True, there are some passages in the book which are unintelligible to us; that is natural in a work which was not meant to be read by the public; broken flames of the white passion that consumed him bursting through the armour of his habitual accuracy and self-restraint.
People fail to understand Marcus, not because of his lack of self-expression, but because it is hard for most men to breathe at that intense height of spiritual life, or, at least, to breathe soberly. They can do it if they are allowed to abandon themselves to floods of emotion, and to lose self-judgement and self-control. I am often rather surprised at good critics speaking of Marcus as 'cold'. There is as much intensity of feeling in as in most of the nobler modern books of religion, only there is a sterner power controlling it. The feeling never amounts to complete self-abandonment. 'The Guiding Power' never trembles upon its throne, and the emotion is severely purged of earthly dross. That being so, we children of earth respond to it less readily.
Still, whether or no we can share Marcus's religion, we can at any rate understand most of it. But even then we reach only the personal religion of a very extraordinary man; we are not much nearer to the religion of the average educated person—the background against which Marcus, like Plato, ought to stand out. I believe that our conceptions of it are really very vague and various. Our great-grandfathers who read 'Tully's Offices and Ends' were better informed than we. But there are many large and apparently simple questions about which, even after reading Cicero's philosophical translations, scholars probably feel quite uncertain. Were the morals of Epictetus or the morals of Part V of the Anthology most near to those of real life among respectable persons? Are there not subjects on which Plato himself sometimes makes our flesh creep? What are we to feel about slavery, about the exposing p. 177 of children? True, slavery was not peculiar to antiquity; it flourished in a civilized and peculiarly humane people of English blood till a generation ago. And the history of infanticide among the finest modern nations is such as to make one reluctant to throw stones, and even doubtful in which direction to throw them. Still, these great facts and others like them have to be understood, and are rather hard to understand, in their bearing on the religious life of the ancients.
Points of minor morals again are apt to surprise a reader of ancient literature. We must remember, of course, that they always do surprise one, in every age of history, as soon as its manners are studied in detail. One need not go beyond Salimbene's Chronicle, one need hardly go beyond Macaulay's History, or any of the famous French memoirs, to realize that. Was it really an ordinary thing in the first century, as Philo seems to say, for gentlemen at dinner-parties to black one another's eyes or bite one another's ears off?177_1 Or were such practices confined to some Smart Set? Or was Philo, for his own purposes, using some particular scandalous occurrence as if it was typical?
St. Augustine mentions among the virtues of his mother her unusual meekness and tact. Although her husband had a fiery temper, she never had bruises on her face, which made her a rara avis among the matrons of her circle.177_2 Her circle, presumably, included Christians as well as Pagans and Manicheans. And Philo's circle can scarcely be considered Pagan. Indeed, as for the difference of p. 178 religion, we should bear in mind that, just at the time we are about to consider, the middle of the fourth century, the conduct of the Christians, either to the rest of the world or to one another, was very far from evangelical. Ammianus says that no savage beasts could equal its cruelty; Ammianus was a pagan; but St. Gregory himself says it was like Hell.178_1
I have expressed elsewhere my own general answer to this puzzle.178_2 Not only in early Greek times, but throughout the whole of antiquity the possibility of all sorts of absurd and atrocious things lay much nearer, the protective forces of society were much weaker, the strain on personal character, the need for real 'wisdom and virtue', was much greater than it is at the present day. That is one of the causes that make antiquity so interesting. Of course, different periods of antiquity varied greatly, both in the conventional standard demanded and in the spiritual force which answered or surpassed the demand. But, in general, the strong governments and orderly societies of modern Europe have made it infinitely easier for men of no particular virtue to live a decent life, infinitely easier also for men of no particular reasoning power or scientific knowledge to have a more or less scientific or sane view of the world.
That, however, does not carry us far towards solving the main problem: it brings us no nearer to knowledge of anything that we may call typically a religious creed or an authorized code of morals, in any age from Hesiod to M. Aurelius.
The book which I have ventured to call a Creed or Catechism is the work of Sallustius About the Gods and the World, a book, I should say, about the length of the Scottish Shorter Catechism. It is printed in the third volume of Mullach's Fragmenta Philosophorum; apart from that, the only edition generally accessible—and that is rare—is a duodecimo published by Allatius in 1539. Orelli's brochure of 1821 seems to be unprocurable.
The author was in all probability that Sallustius who is known to us as a close friend of Julian before his accession, and a backer or inspirer of the emperor's efforts to restore the old religion. He was concerned in an educational edition of Sophocles—the seven selected plays now extant with a commentary. He was given the rank of prefect in 362, that of consul in 363. One must remember, of course, that in that rigorous and ascetic court high rank connoted no pomp or luxury. Julian had dismissed the thousand hairdressers, the innumerable cooks and eunuchs of his Christian predecessor. It probably brought with it only an increased obligation to live on pulse and to do without such pamperings of the body as fine clothes or warmth or washing.
Julian's fourth oration, a prose hymn To King Sun, , is dedicated to Sallustius; his eighth is a 'Consolation to Himself upon the Departure of Sallustius'. (He had been with Julian in the wars in Gaul, and was recalled by the jealousy of the emperor Constantius.) It is a touching and even a noble treatise. The nervous self-distrust which was habitual in Julian makes him write always with a certain affectation, but no one could mistake p. 180 the real feeling of loss and loneliness that runs through the consolation. He has lost his 'comrade in the ranks', and now is 'Odysseus left alone'. So he writes, quoting the Iliad; Sallustius has been carried by God outside the spears and arrows: 'which malignant men were always aiming at you, or rather at me, trying to wound me through you, and believing that the only way to beat me down was by depriving me of the fellowship of my true friend and fellow-soldier, the comrade who never flinched from sharing my dangers.'
One note recurs four times; he has lost the one man to whom he could talk as a brother; the man of 'guileless and clean free-speech',180_1 who was honest and unafraid and able to contradict the emperor freely because of their mutual trust. If one thinks of it, Julian, for all his gentleness, must have been an alarming emperor to converse with. His standard of conduct was not only uncomfortably high, it was also a little unaccountable. The most correct and blameless court officials must often have suspected that their master looked upon them as simply wallowing in sin. And that feeling does not promote ease or truthfulness. Julian compares his friendship with Sallustius to that of Scipio and Laelius. People said of Scipio that he only carried out what Laelius told him. 'Is that true of me?' Julian asks himself. 'Have I only done what Sallustius told me?' His answer is sincere and beautiful: . It little matters who suggested, and who agreed to the suggestion; his thoughts, and any credit that came from the thoughts, are his friend's as much as his p. 181 own. We happen to hear from the Christian Theodoret (Hist. iii. 11) that on one occasion when Julian was nearly goaded into persecution of the Christians, it was Sallustius who recalled him to their fixed policy of toleration.
Sallustius then may be taken to represent in the most authoritative way the Pagan reaction of Julian's time, in its final struggle against Christianity.
He was, roughly speaking, a Neo-Platonist. But it is not as a professed philosopher that he writes. It is only that Neo-Platonism had permeated the whole atmosphere of the age.181_1 The strife of the philosophical sects had almost ceased. Just as Julian's mysticism made all gods and almost all forms of worship into one, so his enthusiasm for Hellenism revered, nay, idolized, almost all the great philosophers of the past. They were all trying to say the same ineffable thing; all lifting mankind towards the knowledge of God. I say 'almost' in both cases; for the Christians are outside the pale in one domain and the Epicureans and a few Cynics in the other. Both had committed the cardinal sin; they had denied the gods. They are sometimes lumped together as Atheoi. L'athéisme, voilà l'ennemi.
This may surprise us at first sight, but the explanation is easy. To Julian the one great truth that matters is the presence and glory of the gods. No p. 182 doubt, they are all ultimately one: they are , 'forces,' not persons, but for reasons above our comprehension they are manifest only under conditions of form, time, and personality, and have so been revealed and worshipped and partly known by the great minds of the past. In Julian's mind the religious emotion itself becomes the thing to live for. Every object that has been touched by that emotion is thereby glorified and made sacred. Every shrine where men have worshipped in truth of heart is thereby a house of God. The worship may be mixed up with all sorts of folly, all sorts of unedifying practice. Such things must be purged away, or, still better, must be properly understood. For to the pure all things are pure: and the myths that shock the vulgar are noble allegories to the wise and reverent. Purge religion from dross, if you like; but remember that you do so at your peril. One false step, one self-confident rejection of a thing which is merely too high for you to grasp, and you are darkening the Sun, casting God out of the world. And that was just what the Christians deliberately did. In many of the early Christian writings denial is a much greater element than assertion. The beautiful Octavius of Minucius Felix (about a. d. 130-60) is an example. Such denial was, of course, to our judgement, eminently needed, and rendered a great service to the world. But to Julian it seemed impiety. In other Christian writings the misrepresentation of pagan rites and beliefs is decidedly foul-mouthed and malicious. Quite apart from his personal wrongs and his contempt for the character of Constantius, Julian could have no sympathy for p. 183 men who overturned altars and heaped blasphemy on old deserted shrines, defilers of every sacred object that was not protected by popularity. The most that such people could expect from him was that they should not be proscribed by law.
But meantime what were the multitudes of the god-fearing to believe? The arm of the state was not very strong or effective. Labour as he might to supply good teaching to all provincial towns, Julian could not hope to educate the poor and ignorant to understand Plato and M. Aurelius. For them, he seems to say, all that is necessary is that they should be pious and god-fearing in their own way. But for more or less educated people, not blankly ignorant, and yet not professed students of philosophy, there might be some simple and authoritative treatise issued—a sort of reasoned creed, to lay down in a convincing manner the outlines of the old Hellenic religion, before the Christians and Atheists should have swept all fear of the gods from off the earth.
The treatise is this work of Sallustius.
The Christian fathers from Minucius Felix onward have shown us what was the most vulnerable point of Paganism: the traditional mythology. Sallustius deals with it at once. The Akroâtês, or pupil, he says in Section 1, needs some preliminary training. He should have been well brought up, should not be incurably stupid, and should not have been familiarized with foolish fables. Evidently the mythology was not to be taught to children. He enunciates certain postulates of religious thought, viz. that God is always good and not subject to passion or to p. 184 change, and then proceeds straight to the traditional myths. In the first place, he insists that they are what he calls 'divine'. That is, they are inspired or have some touch of divine truth in them. This is proved by the fact that they have been uttered, and sometimes invented, by the most inspired poets and philosophers and by the gods themselves in oracles—a very characteristic argument.
The myths are all expressions of God and of the goodness of God; but they follow the usual method of divine revelation, to wit, mystery and allegory. The myths state clearly the one tremendous fact that the Gods are; that is what Julian cared about and the Christians denied: what they are the myths reveal only to those who have understanding. 'The world itself is a great myth, in which bodies and inanimate things are visible, souls and minds invisible.'
'But, admitting all this, how comes it that the myths are so often absurd and even immoral?' For the usual purpose of mystery and allegory; in order to make people think. The soul that wishes to know God must make its own effort; it cannot expect simply to lie still and be told. The myths by their obvious falsity and absurdity on the surface stimulate the mind capable of religion to probe deeper.
He proceeds to give instances, and chooses at once myths that had been for generations the mock of the sceptic, and in his own day furnished abundant ammunition for the artillery of Christian polemic. He takes first Hesiod's story of Kronos swallowing his children; then the Judgement of Paris; then comes p. 185 a long and earnest explanation of the myth of Attis and the Mother of the Gods. It is on the face of it a story highly discreditable both to the heart and the head of those august beings, and though the rites themselves do not seem to have been in any way improper, the Christians naturally attacked the Pagans and Julian personally for countenancing the worship. Sallustius's explanation is taken directly from Julian's fifth oration in praise of the Great Mother, and reduces the myth and the ritual to an expression of the adventures of the Soul seeking God.
So much for the whole traditional mythology. It has been explained completely away and made subservient to philosophy and edification, while it can still be used as a great well-spring of religious emotion. For the explanations given by Sallustius and Julian are never rationalistic. They never stimulate a spirit of scepticism, always a spirit of mysticism and reverence. And, lest by chance even this reverent theorizing should have been somehow lacking in insight or true piety, Sallustius ends with the prayer: 'When I say these things concerning the myths, may the gods themselves and the spirits of those who wrote the myths be gracious to me.'
He now leaves mythology and turns to the First Cause. It must be one, and it must be present in all things. Thus, it cannot be Life, for, if it were, all things would be alive. By a Platonic argument in which he will still find some philosophers to follow him, he proves that everything which exists, exists because of some goodness in it; and thus arrives at the conclusion that the First Cause is , the Good.
The gods are emanations or forces issuing from the Good; the makers of this world are secondary gods; above them are the makers of the makers, above all the One.
Next comes a proof that the world is eternal—a very important point of doctrine; next that the soul is immortal; next a definition of the workings of Divine Providence, Fate, and Fortune—a fairly skilful piece of dialectic dealing with a hopeless difficulty. Next come Virtue and Vice, and, in a dead and perfunctory echo of Plato's Republic, an enumeration of the good and bad forms of human society. The questions which vibrated with life in free Athens had become meaningless to a despot-governed world. Then follows more adventurous matter.
First a chapter headed: 'Whence Evil things come, and that there is no Phusis Kakou—Evil is not a real thing.' 'It is perhaps best', he says, 'to observe at once that, since the gods are good and make everything, there is no positive evil; there is only absence of good; just as there is no positive darkness, only absence of light.'
What we call 'evils' arise only in the activities of men, and even here no one ever does evil for the sake of evil. 'One who indulges in some pleasant vice thinks the vice bad but his pleasure good; a murderer thinks the murder bad, but the money he will get by it, good; one who injures an enemy thinks the injury bad, but the being quits with his enemy, good'; and so on. The evil acts are all done for the sake of some good, but human souls, being very far removed from the original flawless divine nature, p. 187 make mistakes or sins. One of the great objects of the world, he goes on to explain, of gods, men, and spirits, of religious institutions and human laws alike, is to keep the souls from these errors and to purge them again when they have fallen.
Next comes a speculative difficulty. Sallustius has called the world 'eternal in the fullest sense'—that is, it always has been and always will be. And yet it is 'made' by the gods. How are these statements compatible? If it was made, there must have been a time before it was made. The answer is ingenious. It is not made by handicraft as a table is; it is not begotten as a son by a father. It is the result of a quality of God just as light is the result of a quality of the sun. The sun causes light, but the light is there as soon as the sun is there. The world is simply the other side, as it were, of the goodness of God, and has existed as long as that goodness has existed.
Next come some simpler questions about man's relation to the gods. In what sense do we say that the gods are angry with the wicked or are appeased by repentance? Sallustius is quite firm. The gods cannot ever be glad—for that which is glad is also sorry; cannot be angry—for anger is a passion; and obviously they cannot be appeased by gifts or prayers. Even men, if they are honest, require higher motives than that. God is unchangeable, always good, always doing good. If we are good, we are nearer to the gods, and we feel it; if we are evil, we are separated further from them. It is not they that are angry, it is our sins that hide them from us and prevent the goodness of God from shining into us. p. 188 If we repent, again, we do not make any change in God; we only, by the conversion of our soul towards the divine, heal our own badness and enjoy again the goodness of the gods. To say that the gods turn away from the wicked, would be like saying that the sun turns away from a blind man.
Why then do we make offerings and sacrifices to the gods, when the gods need nothing and can have nothing added to them? We do so in order to have more communion with the gods. The whole temple service, in fact, is an elaborate allegory, a representation of the divine government of the world.
The custom of sacrificing animals had died out some time before this. The Jews of the Dispersion had given it up long since because the Law forbade any such sacrifice outside the Temple.188_1 When Jerusalem was destroyed Jewish sacrifice ceased altogether. The Christians seem from the beginning to have generally followed the Jewish practice. But sacrifice was in itself not likely to continue in a society of large towns. It meant turning your temples into very ill-conducted slaughter-houses, and was also associated with a great deal of muddled and indiscriminate charity.188_2 One might have hoped that men so high-minded and spiritual as Julian and Sallustius would have considered this practice unnecessary or even have reformed it away. But no. It was part of the genuine Hellenic tradition; and p. 189 no jot or tittle of that tradition should, if they could help it, be allowed to die. Sacrifice is desirable, argues Sallustius, because it is a gift of life. God has given us life, as He has given us all else. We must therefore pay to Him some emblematic tithe of life. Again, prayers in themselves are merely words; but with sacrifice they are words plus life, Living Words. Lastly, we are Life of a sort, and God is Life of an infinitely higher sort. To approach Him we need always a medium or a mediator; the medium between life and life must needs be life. We find that life in the sacrificed animal.189_1
The argument shows what ingenuity these religious men had at their command, and what trouble they would take to avoid having to face a fact and reform a bad system.
There follows a long and rather difficult argument to show that the world is, in itself, eternal. The former discussion on this point had only shown that the gods would not destroy it. This shows that its own nature is indestructible. The arguments are very inconclusive, though clever, and one wonders why the author is at so much pains. Indeed, he is so earnest that at the end of the chapter he finds it necessary to apologize to the Kosmos in case his language should have been indiscreet. The reason, I think, is that the Christians were still, as in apostolic times, pinning their faith to the approaching end of p. 190 the world by fire.190_1 They announced the end of the world as near, and they rejoiced in the prospect of its destruction. History has shown more than once what terrible results can be produced by such beliefs as these in the minds of excitable and suffering populations, especially those of eastern blood. It was widely believed that Christian fanatics had from time to time actually tried to light fires which should consume the accursed world and thus hasten the coming of the kingdom which should bring such incalculable rewards to their own organization and plunge the rest of mankind in everlasting torment. To any respectable Pagan such action was an insane crime made worse by a diabolical motive. The destruction of the world, therefore, seems to have become a subject of profound irritation, if not actually of terror. At any rate the doctrine lay at the very heart of the perniciosa superstitio, and Sallustius uses his best dialectic against it.
The title of Chapter XVIII has a somewhat pathetic ring: 'Why are Atheïai'—Atheisms or rejections of God—'permitted, and that God is not injured thereby?' 'If over certain parts of the world there have occurred (and will occur more hereafter) rejections of the gods, a wise man need not be disturbed at that.' We have always known that the human soul was prone to error. God's providence is there; but we cannot expect all men at all times p. 191 and places to enjoy it equally. In the human body it is only the eye that sees the light, the rest of the body is ignorant of the light. So are many parts of the earth ignorant of God.
Very likely, also, this rejection of God is a punishment. Persons who in a previous life have known the gods but disregarded them, are perhaps now born, as it were, blind, unable to see God; persons who have committed the blasphemy of worshipping their own kings as gods may perhaps now be cast out from the knowledge of God.
Philosophy had always rejected the Man-God, especially in the form of King-worship; but opposition to Christianity no doubt intensifies the protest.
The last chapter is very short. 'Souls that have lived in virtue, being otherwise blessed and especially separated from their irrational part and purged of all body, are joined with the gods and sway the whole world together with them.' So far triumphant faith: then the after-thought of the brave man who means to live his best life even if faith fail him. 'But even if none of these rewards came to them, still Virtue itself and the Joy and Glory of Virtue, and the Life that is subject to no grief and no master, would be enough to make blessed those who have set themselves to live in Virtue and have succeeded.'
There the book ends. It ends upon that well-worn paradox which, from the second book of the Republic onwards, seems to have brought so much comfort to the nobler spirits of the ancient world. Strange how we moderns cannot rise to it! We seem simply to lack the intensity of moral enthusiasm. When we p. 192 speak of martyrs being happy on the rack; in the first place we rarely believe it, and in the second we are usually supposing that the rack will soon be over and that harps and golden crowns will presently follow. The ancient moralist believed that the good man was happy then and there, because the joy, being in his soul, was not affected by the torture of his body.192_1
Not being able fully to feel this conviction, we naturally incline to think it affected or unreal. But, taking the conditions of the ancient world into account, we must admit that the men who uttered this belief at least understood better than most of us what suffering was. Many of them were slaves, many had been captives of war. They knew what they were talking about. I think, on a careful study of M. Aurelius, Epictetus, and some of these Neo-Platonic philosophers, that we shall be forced to realize that these men could rise to much the same heights of religious heroism as the Catholic saints of the Middle Age, and that they often did so—if I may use such a phrase—on a purer and thinner diet of sensuous emotion, with less wallowing in the dust and less delirium.
Be that as it may, we have now seen in outline the kind of religion which ancient Paganism had become at the time of its final reaction against Christianity. It is a more or less intelligible whole, and succeeds better than most religions in combining two great appeals. It appeals to the philosopher and the thoughtful man as a fairly complete and rational p. 193 system of thought, which speculative and enlightened minds in any age might believe without disgrace. I do not mean that it is probably true; to me all these overpowering optimisms which, by means of a few untested a priori postulates, affect triumphantly to disprove the most obvious facts of life, seem very soon to become meaningless. I conceive it to be no comfort at all, to a man suffering agonies of frostbite, to be told by science that cold is merely negative and does not exist. So far as the statement is true it is irrelevant; so far as it pretends to be relevant it is false. I only mean that a system like that of Sallustius is, judged by any standard, high, civilized, and enlightened.
At the same time this religion appeals to the ignorant and the humble-minded. It takes from the pious villager no single object of worship that has turned his thoughts heavenwards. It may explain and purge; it never condemns or ridicules. In its own eyes that was its great glory, in the eyes of history perhaps its most fatal weakness. Christianity, apart from its positive doctrines, had inherited from Judaism the noble courage of its disbeliefs.
To compare this Paganism in detail with its great rival would be, even if I possessed the necessary learning, a laborious and unsatisfactory task. But if a student with very imperfect knowledge may venture a personal opinion on this obscure subject, it seems to me that we often look at such problems from a wrong angle. Harnack somewhere, in discussing the comparative success or failure of various early Christian sects, makes the illuminating remark that the main determining cause in each case was not their p. 194 comparative reasonableness of doctrine or skill in controversy—for they practically never converted one another—but simply the comparative increase or decrease of the birth-rate in the respective populations. On somewhat similar lines it always appears to me that, historically speaking, the character of Christianity in these early centuries is to be sought not so much in the doctrines which it professed, nearly all of which had their roots and their close parallels in older Hellenistic or Hebrew thought, but in the organization on which it rested. For my own part, when I try to understand Christianity as a mass of doctrines, Gnostic, Trinitarian, Monophysite, Arian and the rest, I get no further. When I try to realize it as a sort of semi-secret society for mutual help with a mystical religious basis, resting first on the proletariates of Antioch and the great commercial and manufacturing towns of the Levant, then spreading by instinctive sympathy to similar classes in Rome and the West, and rising in influence, like certain other mystical cults, by the special appeal it made to women, the various historical puzzles begin to fall into place. Among other things this explains the strange subterranean power by which the emperor Diocletian was baffled, and to which the pretender Constantine had to capitulate; it explains its humanity, its intense feeling of brotherhood within its own bounds, its incessant care for the poor, and also its comparative indifference to the virtues which are specially incumbent on a governing class, such as statesmanship, moderation, truthfulness, active courage, learning, culture, and public spirit. Of course, such indifference was only p. 195 comparative. After the time of Constantine the governing classes come into the fold, bringing with them their normal qualities, and thereafter it is Paganism, not Christianity, that must uphold the flag of a desperate fidelity in the face of a hostile world—a task to which, naturally enough, Paganism was not equal. But I never wished to pit the two systems against one another. The battle is over, and it is poor work to jeer at the wounded and the dead. If we read the literature of the time, especially some records of the martyrs under Diocletian, we shall at first perhaps imagine that, apart from some startling exceptions, the conquered party were all vicious and hateful, the conquerors, all wise and saintly. Then, looking a little deeper, we shall see that this great controversy does not stand altogether by itself. As in other wars, each side had its wise men and its foolish, its good men and its evil. Like other conquerors these conquerors were often treacherous and brutal; like other vanquished these vanquished have been tried at the bar of history without benefit of counsel, have been condemned in their absence and died with their lips sealed. The polemic literature of Christianity is loud and triumphant, the books of the Pagans have been destroyed.
Only an ignorant man will pronounce a violent or bitter judgement here. The minds that are now tender, timid, and reverent in their orthodoxy would probably in the third or fourth century have sided with the old gods; those of more daring and puritan temper with the Christians. The historian will only try to have sympathy and understanding for both. They are all dead now, Diocletian and Ignatius, p. 196 Cyril and Hypatia, Julian and Basil, Athanasius and Arîus: every party has yielded up its persecutors and its martyrs, its hates and slanders and aspirations and heroisms, to the arms of that great Silence whose secrets they all claimed so loudly to have read. Even the dogmas for which they fought might seem to be dead too. For if Julian and Sallustius, Gregory and John Chrysostom, were to rise again and see the world as it now is, they would probably feel their personal differences melt away in comparison with the vast difference between their world and this. They fought to the death about this credo and that, but the same spirit was in all of them. In the words of one who speaks with greater knowledge than mine, 'the most inward man in these four contemporaries is the same. It is the Spirit of the Fourth Century.'196_1
'Dieselbe Seelenstimmung, derselbe Spiritualismus'; also the same passionate asceticism. All through antiquity the fight against luxury was a fiercer and stronger fight than comes into our modern experience. There was not more objective luxury in any period of ancient history than there is now; there was never anything like so much. But there does seem to have been more subjective abandonment to physical pleasure and concomitantly a stronger protest against it. From some time before the Christian era it seems as if the subconscious instinct of humanity was slowly rousing itself for a great revolt against the long intolerable tyranny of the senses over the soul, and by the fourth century p. 197 the revolt threatened to become all-absorbing. The Emperor Julian was probably as proud of his fireless cell and the crowding lice in his beard and cassock as an average Egyptian monk. The ascetic movement grew, as we all know, to be measureless and insane. It seemed to be almost another form of lust, and to have the same affinities with cruelty. But it has probably rendered priceless help to us who come afterwards. The insane ages have often done service for the sane, the harsh and suffering ages for the gentle and well-to-do.
Sophrosynê, however we try to translate it, temperance, gentleness, the spirit that in any trouble thinks and is patient, that saves and not destroys, is the right spirit. And it is to be feared that none of these fourth-century leaders, neither the fierce bishops with their homilies on Charity, nor Julian and Sallustius with their worship of Hellenism, came very near to that classic ideal. To bring back that note of Sophrosynê I will venture, before proceeding to the fourth-century Pagan creed, to give some sentences from an earlier Pagan prayer. It is cited by Stobaeus from a certain Eusebius, a late Ionic Platonist of whom almost nothing is known, not even the date at which he lived.197_1 But the voice sounds like that of a stronger and more sober age.
'May I be no man's enemy,' it begins, 'and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides. May I never quarrel with those nearest to me; and if I do, may I be reconciled quickly. May I never devise evil against any man; if any devise evil p. 198 against me, may I escape uninjured and without the need of hurting him. May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good. May I wish for all men's happiness and envy none. May I never rejoice in the ill-fortune of one who has wronged me. . . . When I have done or said what is wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make amends. . . . May I win no victory that harms either me or my opponent. . . . May I reconcile friends who are wroth with one another. May I, to the extent of my power, give all needful help to my friends and to all who are in want. May I never fail a friend in danger. When visiting those in grief may I be able by gentle and healing words to soften their pain. . . . May I respect myself. . . . May I always keep tame that which rages within me. . . . May I accustom myself to be gentle, and never be angry with people because of circumstances. May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good men and follow in their footsteps.'
There is more of it. How unpretending it is and yet how searching! And in the whole there is no petition for any material blessing, and—most striking of all—it is addressed to no personal god. It is pure prayer. Of course, to some it will feel thin and cold. Most men demand of their religion more outward and personal help, more physical ecstasy, a more heady atmosphere of illusion. No one man's attitude towards the Uncharted can be quite the same as his neighbour's. In part instinctively, in part superficially and self-consciously, each generation of mankind reacts against the last. The grown man turns from the lights that were thrust upon his eyes in p. 199 childhood. The son shrugs his shoulders at the watchwords that thrilled his father, and with varying degrees of sensitiveness or dullness, of fuller or more fragmentary experience, writes out for himself the manuscript of his creed. Yet, even for the wildest or bravest rebel, that manuscript is only a palimpsest. On the surface all is new writing, clean and self-assertive. Underneath, dim but indelible in the very fibres of the parchment, lie the characters of many ancient aspirations and raptures and battles which his conscious mind has rejected or utterly forgotten. And forgotten things, if there be real life in them, will sometimes return out of the dust, vivid to help still in the forward groping of humanity. A religious system like that of Eusebius or Marcus, or even Sallustius, was not built up without much noble life and strenuous thought and a steady passion for the knowledge of God. Things of that make do not, as a rule, die for ever.
177_1 De Vit. Contempl., p. 477 M.
177_2 Conf. ix. 9.
178_1 Gibbon, chap. xxi, notes 161, 162.
178_2 Rise of the Greek Epic, chap. i.
181_1 'Many of his sections come straight from Plotinus: xiv and xv perhaps from Porphyry's Letter to Marcella, an invaluable document for the religious side of Neo-Platonism. A few things (prayer to the souls of the dead in iv, to the Cosmos in xvii, the doctrine of , in ix) are definitely un-Plotinian: probably concessions to popular religion.'—E. R. D.
188_1 S. Reinach, Orpheus, p. 273 (Engl. trans., p. 185).
188_2 See Ammianus, xxii. 12, on the bad effect of Julian's sacrifices. Sacrifice was finally forbidden by the emperor Theodosius in 391. It was condemned by Theophrastus, and is said by Porphyry (De Abstinentia, ii. 11) simply .
189_1 Sallustius's view of sacrifice is curiously like the illuminating theory of MM. Hubert and Mauss, in which they define primitive sacrifice as a medium, a bridge or lightning-conductor, between the profane and the sacred. 'Essai sur la Nature et la Fonction du Sacrifice' (Année Sociologique, ii. 1897-8), since republished in the Mélanges d'Histoire des Religions, 1909.
190_1 Cf. Minucius Felix, Octavius, p. 96, Ouzel (chap. 11, Boenig). 'Quid quod toti orbi et ipsi mundo cum sideribus suis minantur incendium, ruinam moliuntur?' The doctrine in their mouths became a very different thing from the Stoic theory of the periodic re-absorption of the universe in the Divine Element. Ibid., pp. 322 ff. (34 Boenig).
192_1 Even Epicurus himself held . Diog. La. x. 118. See above, end of chap. iii.
196_1 Geffcken in the Neue Jahrbücher, xxi. 162 f.
197_1 Mullach, Fragmenta Philosophorum, iii. 7, from Stob. Flor. i. 85.