« ForrigeFortsett »
the most part they arose in the second century, nourished during the third, and were suppressed in the fourth or fifth, by the prevalence of more fashionable controversies, and by the superior ascendant of the reigning power. Though they constantly disturbed the peace, and frequently disgraced the name, of religion, they contributed to assist rather than to retard the progress of Christianity. The Gentile converts, whose strongest objections and prejudices were directed against the law of Moses, could find admission into many Christian societies, which required not from their untutored mind any belief of an antecedent revelation. Their faith was insensibly fortified and enlarged, and the church was ultimately benefited by the conquests of its most inveterate enemies.38
But, whatever difference of opinion might subsist between the »• «m>tm
Orthodox, the Ebionites, and the Gnostics, concerning the &».g°<j» of
divinity or the obligation of the Mosaic law, they were all
equally animated by the same exclusive zeal and by the same
abhorrence for idolatry which had distinguished the Jews from
the other nations of the ancient world. The philosopher, who
considered the system of polytheism as a composition of human
fraud and error, could disguise a smile of contempt under the
i.i.isk of devotion, without apprehending that either the mockery
or the compliance would expose him to the resentment of any
invisible, or, as he conceived them, imaginary powers. But the
established religions of Paganism were seen by the primitive
Christians in a much more odious and formidable light. It
was the universal sentiment both of the church and of heretics
that the daemons were the authors, the patrons, and the objects
of idolatry.39 Those rebellious spirits who had been degraded
from the rank of angels, and cast down into the infernal pit,
were still permitted to roam upon earth, to torment the bodies,
and to seduce the minds, of sinful men. The daemons soon
discovered and abused the natural propensity of the human
heart towards devotion, and, artfully withdrawing the adoration
of mankind from their Creator, they usurped the place and
honours of the Supreme Deity. By the success of their
malicious contrivances, they at once gratified their own vanity
K Augtistin is a memorable instance of this gradual progress from reason to faith. He was, during several years, engaged in the Manichjean sect.
"The unanimous sentiment of the primitive church is very clearly explained by Justin Martyr, Apolog. Major [c. 25], by Athenagoras Legat. c. 22 [25. »j>eo-S«i« T*pi Xpumaiw is the title: best ed. by E. Schwartz, 1891 ], &c, and by Laclantius, Institut. Divin, ii. 14—19. [See also Athanasius de incarn. v. 47.]
and revenge, and obtained the only comfort of which they were yet susceptible, the hope of involving the human species in the participation of their guilt and misery. It was confessed, or at least it was imagined, that they had distributed among themselves the most important characters of polytheism, one daemon assuming the name and attributes of Jupiter, another of jKsculapius, a third of Venus, and a fourth perhaps of Apollo ; 40 and that, by the advantage of their long experience and aerial nature, they were enabled to execute, with sufficient skill and dignity, the parts which they had undertaken. They lurked in the temples, instituted festivals and sacrifices, invented fables, pronounced oracles, and were frequently allowed to perform miracles. The Christians, who, by the interposition of evil spirits, could so readily explain every praeternatural appearance, were disposed and even desirous to admit the most extravagant fictions of the Pagan mythology. But the belief of the Christian was accompanied with horror. The most trifling mark of respect to the national worship he considered as a direct homage yielded to the daemon, and as an act of rebellion against the majesty of God. AbhorwiiM In consequence of this opinion, it was the first but arduous ji»M for duty of a Christian to preserve himself pure and undefiled by the practice of idolatry. The religion of the nations was not merely a speculative doctrine professed in the schools or preached in the temples. The innumerable deities and rites of polytheism were closely interwoven with every circumstance of business or pleasure, of public or of private life; and it seemed impossible to escape the observance of them, without, at the same time, renouncing the commerce of mankind and all the offices and coremoniM amusements of society.41 The important transactions of peace and war were prepared or concluded by solemn sacrifices, in which the magistrate, the senator, and the soldier were obliged to preside or to participate.42 The public spectacles were an essential part of the cheerful devotion of the Pagans, and the gods were supposed to accept, as the most grateful offering, the games that the prince and people celebrated in honour of their
^Tcrtullian (Apolog. c. 23 ) alleges the confession of the Daemons themselves as often as they were tormented by the Christian exorcists.
a Tertullian has written a most severe treatise against idolatry, to caution his brethren against the hourly danger of incurring that guilt. Recogita silvam, et quanta? latitant spince. De Corona Militis, c. 10.
^The Roman senate was always held in a temple or consecrated place (Aulus Gellius, xiv. 7). Before they entered on business, every senator dropped some wine and frankincense on the altar. Sucton. in August, c. 35.
peculiar festivals.43 The Christian, who with pious horror avoided the abomination of the circus or the theatre, found himself encompassed with infernal snares in every convivial entertainment, as often as his friends, invoking the hospitable deities, poured out libations to each other's happiness.44 When the bride, struggling with well-affected reluctance, was forced in hymena-al pomp over the threshold of her new habitation,45 or when the sad procession of the dead slowly moved towards the funeral pile; *" the Christian, on these interesting occasions, was compelled to desert the persons who were the dearest to him, rather than contract the guilt inherent to those impious ceremonies. Every art and every trade that was in the least Art. concerned in the framing or adorning of idols was polluted by the stain of idolatry;47 a severe sentence, since it devoted to eternal misery the far greater part of the community, which is employed in the exercise of liberal or mechanic professions. If we cast our eyes over the numerous remains of antiquity, we shall perceive that, besides the immediate representations of the Gods and the holy instruments of their worship, the elegant forms and agreeable fictions, consecrated by the imagination of the Greeks, were introduced as the richest ornaments of the houses, the dress, and the furniture, of the Pagans.48 Even the arts of music and painting, of eloquence and poetry, flowed from the same impure origin. In the style of the fathers, Apollo and the Muses were the organs of the infernal spirit, Homer and Virgil were the most eminent of his servants, and the beautiful mythology which pervades and animates the compositions of their genius is destined to celebrate the glory of
* See Tamilian, De Speclaculis. This severe reformer shews no more indulgence lo a tragedy of Euripides than to a combat of gladiators. The dress of the actors particularly offends him. By the use of the lofty buskin, they impiously strive to add a cubit to their stature, c. 23. [Cp. Noldechen, Z.f. Kirchengesch. xv. 1895,161 sgg.]
**The ancient practice of concluding the entertainment with libations may be found in every classic. Socrates and Seneca, in their last moments, made a noble application of this custom. Postquam [leg. postremo] stagnum calidoe aqu» ifitroiit, respergens proximos servorum, addita voce, libare se liquorem ilium Jovi Liberatori, Tacit. Annal. xv. 64.
46 See the elegant but idolatrous hymn of Catullus, on the nuptials of Manlius and Julia. O Hymen, Hymenoee io! Quis huic Deo compararier ausit?
•The ancient funerals (in those of Misenus and Pallas) are no less accurately described by Virgil than they are illustrated by his commentator Servius. The pile itself was an altar, the flames were fed with the blood of victims, and all the assistants were sprinkled with lustral water.
* Tertullian de Idololatria, c. 11.
•See every part of Montfaucon's Antiquities. Even the reverses of the Greek iod Roman coins were frequently of an idolatrous nature. Here indeed the axuples of the Christian were suspended by a stronger passion.
Vol. n. 2
the daemons. Even the common language of Greece and Rome abounded with familiar but impious expressions, which the imprudent Christian might too carelessly utter, or too patiently hear.49
The dangerous temptations which on every side lurked in ambush to surprise the unguarded believer assailed him with redoubled violence on the days of solemn festivals. So artfully were they framed and disposed throughout the year that superstition always wore the appearance of pleasure, and often of virtue.50 Some of the most sacred festivals in the Roman ritual were destined to salute the new calends of January with vows of public and private felicity, to indulge the pious remembrance of the dead and living, to ascertain the inviolable bounds of property, to hail, on the return of spring, the genial powers of fecundity, to perpetuate the two memorable aeras of Rome, the foundation of the city and that of the republic, and to restore, during the humane license of the Saturnalia, the primitive equality of mankind. Some idea may be conceived of the abhorrence of the Christians for such impious ceremonies, by the scrupulous delicacy which they displayed on a much less alarming occasion. On days of general festivity, it was the custom of the ancients to adorn their doors with lamps and with branches of laurel, and to crown their heads with a garland of flowers. This innocent and elegant practice might, perhaps, have been tolerated as a mere civil institution. But it most unluckily happened that the doors were under the protection of the household gods, that the laurel was sacred to the lover of Daphne, and that garlands of flowers, though frequently worn as a symbol either of joy or mourning, had been dedicated in their first origin to the service of superstition. The trembling Christians, who were persuaded in this1 instance to comply with the fashion of their country and the commands of the magistrate, laboured under the most gloomy apprehensions, from the reproaches of their own conscience, the censures of the church, and the denunciations of divine vengeance.81
*>Tertullian de Idololatria, c. 20, 21, 22. If a Pagan friend (on the occasion perhaps of sneezing) used the familiar expression of "Jupiter bless you," the Christian was obliged to protest against the divinity of Jupiter.
M Consult the most laboured work of Ovid, his imperfect Fasti. He finished no more than the first six months of the year. The compilation of Macrobius is called the Saturnalia, but it is only a small part of the first book that bears any relation to the title.
81 Tertullian has composed a defence, or rather panegyric, of the rash action of a Christian soldier who, by throwing away his crown of laurel, had exposed
Such was the anxious diligence which was required to guard zaai for the chastity of the gospel from the infectious breath of idolatry. 1
The superstitious observances of public or private rites were carelessly practised, from education and habit, by the followers of the established religion. But, as often as they occurred, they afforded the Christians an opportunity of declaring and confirming their zealous opposition. By these frequent protestations, their attachment to the faith was continually fortified, and, in proportion to the increase of zeal, they combated with the more ardour and success in the holy war which they had undertaken against the empire of the daemons.
II. The writings of Cicero B2 represent, in the most lively The Second colours, the ignorance, the errors, and the uncertainty of the Jj£££; o?* indent philosophers, with regard to the immortality of the £5^,°^, soul. When they are desirous of arming their disciples against S?S3S»the fear of death, they inculcate, as an obvious though melan-i*,n cboly position, that the fatal stroke of our dissolution releases os from the calamities of life, and that those can no longer suffer who no longer exist. Yet there were a few sages of Greece and Rome who had conceived a more exalted, and, in some respects, a juster idea of human nature; though it must be confessed that, in the sublime inquiry, their reason had been often guided by their imagination, and that their imagination had been prompted by their vanity. When they viewed with complacency the extent of their own mental powers when they exercised the various faculties of memory, of fancy, and of judgment, in the most profound speculations, or the most important labours, and when they reflected on the desire of fame, which transported them into future ages far beyond the bounds of death and of the grave; they were unwilling to confound themselves with the beasts of the field, or to suppose that a being, for whose dignity they entertained the most sincere admiration, could be limited to a spot of earth and to a few years of duration. With this favourable prepossession, they summoned to their aid the science, or rather the language, of
himself and his brethren to the most imminent danger. By the mention of the tsferors (Severus and Caracalla) it is evident, notwithstanding the wishes of M. de Tillemont, that Tertullian composed his treatise De Corona long before he was engaged in the errors of the Montanists. See Memoires Ecclesiastiques, torn. iii. p 384. [Date rather 211 ; he joined Montanists, 207. Cp. Nbldechcn, Bricger's itschr. f. Kirchengeschichte, xi. 1890, p. 352 n/</.]
a In particular, the first book of the Tusculan Questions, and the treatise De Senectute, and the Somnium Scipionis contain, in the most beautiful language, twything that Grecian philosophy, or Roman good sense, could possibly suggest on this dark but important object.