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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.0
The de- But whatever difference of opinion might submons con- sist between the Orthodox, the Ebionites, and the
sidered as . "t...
the gods of Gnostics, concerning the divinity or the obligaqui y' tion 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 mask 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 demons were the authors, the patrons, and the objects, of idolatry.p 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 demons soon discovered and abused the natural propensity of the human heart toward 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 and revenge, and obtained the only comfort of which they were yet susceptible, the hope of
'Augnstin is a memorable instance of this gradual progress from reason to faith. He was, during several years, engaged in the Manichaean sect.
P The unanimous sentiment of the 'primitive church is very clearly explained by Justin Martyr. Apolog. Major, by Athenagoras Legal, c. 22, &c. and by Lactantius, Institut. Divin. t. 14—19.
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 demon assuming the name and attributes of Jupiter, another of ^Esculapius, a third of Venus, and a fourth perhaps of Apollo ;q 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 preternatural 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 demon, and as an act of rebellion against the majesty of God. Abhor- In consequence of this opinion, it was the first thTchris- ^ut arduous duty of a Christian to preserve himfcms for self pure and undefiled from 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 private life; and it seemed impossible to escape the observance of them, without, at the same time, renouncing the com merce of mankind, and all the offices and amusements of Ceramo- society/ The important transactions of peace nies- and war were prepared or concluded by solemn sacrifices, in which the magistrate, the senator, and the
i Tertollian (Apolog. c. 23.) alleges the confession of the demons, themselves as often as they were tormented by the Christian exorcists.
'Tertullian has written a most severe treatise against idolatry, to caution his brethren against the hourly danger of incurring that guilt . Recogita sylvam- et quant* latitant spinae. De Corona Militis, c. 10.
soldier, were obliged to preside or to participate/ 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 peculiar festivals.1 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." When the bride, struggling with well-affected reluctance, was forced in hymeneal pomp over the threshold of her new habitation ;x or when the sad procession of the dead slowly moved towards the funeral pile ;y 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 concerned in the framing or adorning of idols, was polluted by the stain of idolatry ;* 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." 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 the demons. Even the common language of Greece and Rome abounded with familiar but impious expressions, which the prudent Christian might too carelessly utter, or too patiently hear.b
'The Roman senate was always held in a temple or consecrated place. (Auloa Gellims, 14. 7.) Before they entered on business, every senator dropped some wine and frankincense on the altar. Sueton. in August. c. 35.
1 See Tertullian, De Spectaculis. This severe reformer shews no more indulgence to 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. 13.
11 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 stagnum calidae nquiu introiit, respergens pr<iximos servorum, addilS voce, libare se liquorem ilium Jovi Liberator!. Tacit. Annal. 15. 64.
* See the elegant but idolatrous hymn of Catullus, on the nuptials of Manlius and Julian. O Hymen, Hymenaee Ib! Quis huic Deo compararier ausit?
7 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 iis-iistauts were sprinkled with lustral water.
'Tertullian de Idololatria, c. 11.
The dangerous temptations which on every
Festivals. .,,,,*? ,, ., ,,
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.6 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 eras of Rome, the foundation of the city, and that of the republic; and to restore, during the humane licence 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 this 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.*1
I See every part of Montfaucon's Antiquities. Even the reverses of the Greek and Roman coins were frequently of an idolatrous nature. Here indeed the scruples of the Christian were suspended by a stronger passion.
b Tertullian de Idololatria, c. 20—22. If a Pagan friend (on the occasion perhaps of sneezing) used the familiar expression of" Jupiter bless you," the Christian W.t- obliged to protest against the divinity of Jupiter.
« Consult the most laboured work of Ovid, his imperfect Fa«fi. He finished no more than the first six months of the year. The compilation of Macrobius is called the Kvtnmalia, but it is only a small part of the first book that bears any relation Id the title.
Zeal for Such was the anxious diligence which was reChristi- quired to guard the chastity of the gospel from the infectious breath of idolatry. 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 demons.
* 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 himself and his brethren to the most imminent danger. By the mention of the emperon (Severus and Caracalla), it is evident, notwithstanding the wishes of M. de Lille- moat, that Tertullian composed his treatise De Corona, long before he was engaged in the errors of the Montanists. See Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. 3. p. 384.