Imágenes de páginas

history or transmitting any information on the subject. So far certainly as regards the novelty of the christian religion, it is not strange, that it did not arrest and fix the attention of men. At this very period, in all the large and populous cities, particularly at Rome and Alexandria, not only foreign rites of worship, brought from all parts of the earth, like those in honor of Isis and Mithra, were from time to time making their appearance, but frequently new ceremonies (zaivai rɛherα) like those of the Alexander, whom Lucian assailed under the name of Pseudomantis, were instituted. Nor did it appear wonderful, that the Christians worshipped the Deity without temples, aitars and images. For the Jews, dispersed throughout the Roman world, had been accustomed everywhere to offer their devotions in a similar manner. But little importance again was attached to the invectives, with which the Christians denounced the gods of the heathen. In this they were not singular: for many of the philosophers also despised and ridiculed the gods. Nor was it deemed a matter, which deserved to interest specially the public mind, that the Christians suffered at one time from civil persecution, and at another from the violence of the multitude. The State was thrown into no very serious commotion either by the tumults of the people, demanding the sacrifice of their victims, or by the decisions of the judges, dooming them to death. Those too, who perished in this way, were obscure men, whose fate was not deemed of sufficient consequence to merit a place in history.

Add to this, that many of the Greeks and Romans held the Christians in contempt as the observers of Jewish rites, and also detested them, both on account of the crimes, which were laid to their charge, and the insubordinate, restless spirit, which was supposed to animate them. It is well known, that the Greeks and Romans regarded the Jews as a barbarous, superstitious, and illiterate people, and for this reason felt no interest in their concerns. In this way many were led to look upon the Christians also in the same light; who, as they derived their religion from the Jews, worshipped Jesus Christ, who was born among the Jews, acknowledged the prophets of the Jews as the messengers of God, and regulated their churches after the pattern of the synagogue, were supposed to practise Jewish rites and imitate the manners of the Jews. To contempt were frequently added hatred and indignation. Those, who cherished such feelings towards them, did in fact but their duty, if they considered VOL. XI. No. 29. 29


them really guilty of celebrating feasts, at which they committed murder and incest. That the suspicion of such guilt was deeply fixed in the minds of many, may be learned from the efforts of the Apologists, who left no stone unturned in their anxiety to clear themselves from these accusations, (OVEGTELα δείπνα and Οι διποδειοι μίξεις, as they are called by the Greeks). But those, who placed no confidence in uncertain rumor, or who knew, that these imputations were false, were still displeased, that men so obscure and illiterate should affect to be wise above their condition, and refuse to conform to what the laws prescribed. This was natural. For it is common for men in the higher walks of life to censure those things, which are contrary to the established laws and usages, although, while they deny the right to others, they themselves assert the liberty of disregarding and renouncing them, as they please. Hence many, who discovered but little zeal themselves in the worship of the gods, condemned the Christians for their contempt of the public services of religion, and pronounced it mere obstinacy, that they refused to burn incense to the gods, and swear by the divinity of the emperor.

Such we consider to be the explanation of the fact that most of the Greek and Roman writers, even in the age of the Antonines, were either entirely silent in respect to the Christians, or confined their notice of them to brief and cursory allusions. They appeared to observe nothing in them, which was particularly worthy either of their own attention, or the information of posterity; and, as they either despised them, as a branch of the Jews, or hated them for the infamous crimes, of which they were suspected, and for their seditious spirit, it was impossible, that they should have been otherwise than hostile to their cause.

But all the Greeks and Romans, who were distinguished for their attention to letters, did not entertain such an opinion of the Christians, or rest satisfied with so superficial a knowledge of their affairs. The Apologies, written by Justin, Melito, Athenagoras, and others, were composed with too much ability and dispersed by the Christians with too much zeal, to allow us to suppose, that they were but little read. Those, therefore, who had seen these defences, or had met with the Christians in the intercourse of life, could not have failed to know, that they were not only guiltless of the crimes, with which they were charged, but taught doctrines and rules of conduct, which accorded with the sentiments of the most celebrated philosophers.

It may perhaps be further inquired then, why the Christians found no eulogists among the philosophers, who were superior to the multitude in wisdom, and entertained more correct views upon religious subjects.

The fact now here is, that many of those, who rejected indeed the public religion as mere superstition, but still adhered to its forms as an expression of their reverence for the Deity, and as an aid to the development of their moral nature, became not merely eulogists of the Christians, but in very deed Christians themselves. Of this number were Quadratus, Aristides, Melito, Justin, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Minucius Felix, and many others, who, natives either of Syria, or Greece, or Egypt, or Africa, adopted the christian faith, transferred to the church their various accomplishments in Grecian and Roman science, and, especially in the age of the Antonines, advocated the cause of the Christians. All these men, averse indeed to the public belief, yet possessing minds ever wakeful on religious subjects, joined the christian church, because it presented to them views of truth, to which their hearts responded, because it spread before them a sacred history, which bore, as it were, the marks of a witness and messenger of the Deity, and prescribed to its members, united in the bonds of a common faith and mutual love, the duties, which are best suited to the cultivation of a pious spirit. No inconsiderable number, therefore, who had been enabled by the aid of Grecian philosophy to rise to more worthy conceptions of religion than those of the multitude, cordially approved and embraced the doctrines of Christianity. But those philosophers, who became Christians, are to be classed, not among the Greeks and Romans, who are the subjects of our present inquiry, but among the Christian writers, whom it would be out of place here to notice.

Others however of this class, and those by far the majority, took a different view; they condemned the Christian rites and withheld from then every expression of their sympathy and favor. Some of them did this from their regard to the authority of law and custom which weighed with them far more than the acknowledged defects of the public religion; and others again, from the contempt, in which they held every thing sacred.

Of this number were the Stoics and Platonists, who preceded the Neo-Platonists so called xar' ornv. The Platonists of these times, as Plutarch, Alcinous, Apuleius, and the Stoics, as Arrian and Marcus Antoninus, having derived from philosophy


many correct notions of religious truth, perceived, that the mythic fictions contained much that was absurd and equally unworthy of gods and men, favored the idea, that the worship of the Deity depended on the state of the mind, rather than on the performance of external services, and distinguished very justly between εὐσέβεια and δεισιδαιμονια. In the works of Plutarch especially there occur many noble sentiments on religious subjects, showing that he and those like him had advanced beyond the multitude in their conceptions of truth, and taught not a few principles very similar to those of the christian religion. But most of these philosophers were unwilling, that the established forms of worship should be abandoned, and others substituted for them. They revered them, because they were supported by law and custom; and feared, lest if their national and ancient institutions should give place to those of foreign and recent origin, it might derange the whole order and frame of society. For this reason they either considered it the part of a wise man to follow philosophy as his guide in private life, but in public life to conform to the laws and worship in the ancient manner, or to endeavor, by divesting the received mythology of its literal sense, and understanding it to teach only physical and moral truths, or by distinguishing between daemons and gods and referring to the former every thing of an unworthy nature, to improve the public religion and harmonize it with the doctrines of philosophy. Those now, who thought and did thus, could not have patronized the cause of the Christians, nor have appeared as the eulogists of those, who were despising the public rites, who were censuring, and ridiculing them, and preparing the way for their ruin. Many things indeed taught by the Christians they approved as perfectly agreeable to right reason. But they were of the opinion, that a knowledge of divine and human subjects was to be sought, not from the Christians, but from the philosophers of their own country, far excelling in their estimation both in acuteness and eloquence the prophets of the Jews and the apostles, founders of the christian church. Thus the cause of the Christians was not favored even by those philosophers, who approached very nearly to them in the sentiments which they entertained.

But those, by whom sacred rites of every description were despised, and all religion accounted as superstition, had still other reasons either for neglecting or censuring the followers of Christ. To this class belonged the Epicureans, and Cynics;

which is learned not only from Plutarch, who frequently characterizes the Epicureans as άous, and censures severely* their γελωτας and χλευασμού, but also from the example of Lucian, who embraced the Epicurean philosophy. For Lucian not only ridiculed the heathen mythology, exhibited the Grecian gods in a ridiculous light and held up to contempt the public ceremonies, but also especially in those treatises, of which one is entitled Ζευς ἐλεγχόμενος, the other Ζευς Τραγῳδος, argued against religion itself, and endeavored to subvert the doctrine of a Divine Being, who is interested in the concerns of men.t Philosophers now, discarding thus the idea of a Divine power, could not but have extended that contempt which they felt for all religion, to the christian religion also, and have turned with abhorrence from those, whom they considered either as the authors or supporters of a new superstition. Nor did those attacks, which were made by the Christians upon the prevalent errors, have any special tendency to conciliate their favor. They supposed, that they themselves, following in the steps of Evemerus and other philosophers of past times, had fully discovered and proved the vanity, senselessness and absurdity of the mythic system.

It is therefore sufficiently accounted for, that the Christians even at that time, when they had now become generally known, found, not a few followers indeed, but no eulogists and advocates among the philosophers.

But those of these philosophers, who felt such a dislike to the Christians, because they were unwilling, that the public rites, established by law and custom, should be disturbed and abolished, appear to have had appropriate reasons, not so much for neglecting to speak of their affairs, as for arraigning the correctness of their opinions. For the Christians surely were preparing the way for the ruin of those rites: their poets, known by the name of Sibyllists, were, in imitation of the author of the Apocalypse, predicting it; and their apologists, seeking the same result in every possible way, made no secret of the fact, that they too desired it, that they prayed and labored, that all would abandon the temples and altars of idols and turn to the true God. It may therefore be very properly asked, why no one, except Celsus, (for Crescens and Fronto appear to have

See his book de Oraculorum Defectu, c. 19.

See particularly his Zeus Tragoedus, c. 42-49. p. 694–698. Tom. II. ed. Reitz.

« AnteriorContinuar »