Application of the Seven Notes to the Existing
Developments of Christian Doctrine

Chapter 6. Application of the First Note of a True Development—Preservation of Type

Section 1. The Church of the First Centuries
Pagans Associated Christianity with Oriental Superstitions
View Reinforced by Experience with Gnostics
Mistakes Carry Information
Summary of Pagan View of Early Church
Compare Current View of Catholic Church


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{207} NOW let me attempt to apply the foregoing seven Notes of fidelity in intellectual developments to the instance of Christian Doctrine. And first as to the Note of identity of type.

I have said above, that, whereas all great ideas are found, as time goes on, to involve much which was not seen at first to belong to them, and have developments, that is enlargements, applications, uses and fortunes, very various, one security against error and perversion in the process is the maintenance of the original type, which the idea presented to the world at its origin, amid and through all its apparent changes and vicissitudes from first to last.

How does this apply to Christianity? What is its original type? and has that type been preserved in the developments commonly called Catholic, which have followed, and in the Church which embodies and teaches them? Let us take it as the world now views it in its age; and let us take it as the world once viewed it in its youth; and let us see whether there be any great difference between the early and the later description of it. The following statement will show my meaning:— {208}

There is a religious communion claiming a divine commission, and holding all other religious bodies around it heretical or infidel; it is a well-organized, well-disciplined body; it is a sort of secret society, binding together its members by influences and by engagements which it is difficult for strangers to ascertain. It is spread over the known world; it may be weak or insignificant locally, but it is strong on the whole from its continuity; it may be smaller than all other religious bodies together, but is larger than each separately. It is a natural enemy to governments external to itself; it is intolerant and engrossing, and tends to a new modelling of society; it breaks laws, it divides families. It is a gross superstition; it is charged with the foulest crimes; it is despised by the intellect of the day; it is frightful to the imagination of the many. And there is but one communion such.

Place this description before Pliny or Julian; place it before Frederick the Second or Guizot [Note 1]. "Apparent diræ facies." Each knows at once, without asking a question, who is meant by it. One object, and only one, absorbs each item of the detail of the delineation.

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Section 1. The Church of the First Centuries

The primâ facie view of early Christianity, in the eyes of witnesses external to it, is presented to us in the brief but vivid descriptions given by Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny, the only heathen writers who distinctly mention it for the first hundred and fifty years.

Tacitus is led to speak of the Religion, on occasion of {209} the conflagration of Rome, which was popularly imputed to Nero. "To put an end to the report," he says, "he laid the guilt on others, and visited them with the most exquisite punishment, those, namely, who, held in abhorrence for their crimes (per flagitia invisos), were popularly called Christians. The author of that profession (nominis) was Christ, who, in the reign of Tiberius, was capitally punished by the Procurator, Pontius Pilate. The deadly superstition (exitiabilis superstitio), though checked for a while, broke out afresh; and that, not only throughout Judæa, the original seat of the evil, but through the City also, whither all things atrocious or shocking (atrocia aut pudenda) flow together from every quarter and thrive. At first, certain were seized who avowed it; then, on their report, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much of firing the City, as of hatred of mankind (odio humani generis)." After describing their tortures, he continues, "In consequence, though they were guilty, and deserved most signal punishment, they began to be pitied, as if destroyed not for any public object, but from the barbarity of one man."

Suetonius relates the same transactions thus: "Capital punishments were inflicted on the Christians, a class of men of a new and magical superstition (superstitionis novæ et maleficæ)." What gives additional character to this statement is its context; for it occurs as one out of various police or sumptuary or domestic regulations, which Nero made; such as "controlling private expenses, forbidding taverns to serve meat, repressing the contests of theatrical parties, and securing the integrity of wills."

When Pliny was Governor of Pontus, he wrote his celebrated letter to the Emperor Trajan, to ask advice how he was to deal with the Christians, whom he found there in great numbers. One of his points of hesitation was, whether the very profession of Christianity was not by itself sufficient to justify punishment; "whether the name {210} itself should be visited, though clear of flagitious acts (flagitia) or only when connected with them." He says, he had ordered for execution such as persevered in their profession, after repeated warnings, "as not doubting, whatever it was they professed, that at any rate contumacy and inflexible obstinacy ought to be punished." He required them to invoke the gods, to sacrifice wine and frankincense to the images of the Emperor, and to blaspheme Christ; "to which," he adds, "it is said no real Christian can be compelled." Renegades informed him that "the sum total of their offence or fault was meeting before light on an appointed day, and saying with one another a form of words (carmen) to Christ, as if to a god, and binding themselves by oath, (not to the commission of any wickedness, but) against the commission of theft, robbery, adultery, breach of trust, denial of deposits; that, after this they were accustomed to separate, and then to meet again for a meal, but eaten all together and harmless; however, that they had even left this off after his edicts enforcing the Imperial prohibition of Hetæriæ or Associations." He proceeded to put two women to the torture, but "discovered nothing beyond a bad and excessive superstition" (superstitionem pravam et immodicam), "the contagion" of which, he continues, "had spread through villages and country, till the temples were emptied of worshippers."


In these testimonies, which will form a natural and convenient text for what is to follow, we have various characteristics brought before us of the religion to which they relate. It was a superstition, as all three writers agree; a bad and excessive superstition, according to Pliny; a magical superstition, according to Suetonius; a deadly superstition, according to Tacitus. Next, it was embodied in a society, and moreover a secret and unlawful {211} society or hetæria; and it was a proselytizing society; and its very name was connected with "flagitious," "atrocious," and "shocking" acts.


Now these few points, which are not all which might be set down, contain in themselves a distinct and significant description of Christianity; but they have far greater meaning when illustrated by the history of the times, the testimony of later writers, and the acts of the Roman government towards its professors. It is impossible to mistake the judgment passed on the religion by these three writers, and still more clearly by other writers and Imperial functionaries. They evidently associated Christianity with the oriental superstitions, whether propagated by individuals or embodied in a rite, which were in that day traversing the Empire, and which in the event acted so remarkable a part in breaking up the national forms of worship, and so in preparing the way for Christianity. This, then, is the broad view which the educated heathen took of Christianity; and, if it had been very unlike those rites and curious arts in external appearance, they would not have confused it with them.

Changes in society are, by a providential appointment, commonly preceded and facilitated by the setting in of a certain current in men's thoughts and feelings in that direction towards which a change is to be made. And, as lighter substances whirl about before the tempest and presage it, so words and deeds, ominous but not effective of the coming revolution, are circulated beforehand through the multitude, or pass across the field of events. This was specially the case with Christianity, as became its high dignity; it came heralded and attended by a crowd of shadows, shadows of itself, impotent and monstrous as shadows are but not at first sight distinguishable from it {212} by common spectators. Before the mission of the Apostles, a movement, of which there had been earlier parallels, had begun in Egypt, Syria, and the neighbouring countries, tending to the propagation of new and peculiar forms of worship throughout the Empire. Prophecies were afloat that some new order of things was coming in from the East, which increased the existing unsettlement of the popular mind; pretenders made attempts to satisfy its wants, and old Traditions of the Truth, embodied for ages in local or in national religions, gave to these attempts a doctrinal and ritual shape, which became an additional point of resemblance to that Truth which was soon visibly to appear.


The distinctive character of the rites in question lay in their appealing to the gloomy rather than to the cheerful and hopeful feelings, and in their influencing the mind through fear. The notions of guilt and expiation, of evil and good to come, and of dealings with the invisible world, were in some shape or other pre-eminent in them, and formed a striking contrast to the classical polytheism, which was gay and graceful, as was natural in a civilized age. The new rites, on the other hand, were secret; their doctrine was mysterious; their profession was a discipline, beginning in a formal initiation, manifested in an association, and exercised in privation and pain. They were from the nature of the case proselytizing societies, for they were rising into power; nor were they local, but vagrant, restless, intrusive, and encroaching. Their pretensions to supernatural knowledge brought them into easy connexion with magic and astrology, which are as attractive to the wealthy and luxurious as the more vulgar superstitions to the populace. {213}


Such were the rites of Cybele, Isis, and Mithras; such the Chaldeans, as they were commonly called, and the Magi; they came from one part of the world, and during the first and second century spread with busy perseverance to the northern and western extremities of the empire [Note 2]. Traces of the mysteries of Cybele, a Syrian deity, if the famous temple at Hierapolis was hers, have been found in Spain, in Gaul, and in Britain, as high up as the wall of Severus. The worship of Isis was the most widely spread of all the pagan deities; it was received in Ethiopia and in Germany, and even the name of Paris has been fancifully traced to it. Both worships, as well as the Science of Magic, had their colleges of priests and devotees, which were governed by a president, and in some places were supported by farms. Their processions passed from town to town, begging as they went and attracting proselytes. Apuleius describes one of them as seizing a whip, accusing himself of some offence, and scourging himself in public. These strollers, circulatores or agyrtæ in classical language, told fortunes, and distributed prophetical tickets to the ignorant people who consulted them. Also, they were learned in the doctrine of omens, of lucky and unlucky days, of the rites of expiation and of sacrifices. Such an agyrtes or itinerant was the notorious Alexander of Abonotichus, till he managed to establish himself in Pontus, where he carried on so successful an imposition that his fame reached Rome, and men in office and station entrusted him with their dearest political secrets. Such a wanderer, with a far more religious bearing and a high reputation for virtue, was Apollonius of Tyana, who professed the Pythagorean {214} philosophy, claimed the gift of miracles, and roamed about preaching, teaching, healing, and prophesying from India and Alexandria to Athens and Rome. Another solitary proselytizer, though of an earlier time and of an avowed profligacy, had been the Sacrificulus, viewed with such horror by the Roman Senate, as introducing the infamous Bacchic rites into Rome. Such, again, were those degenerate children of a divine religion, who, in the words of their Creator and Judge, "compassed sea and land to make one proselyte," and made him "twofold more the child of hell than themselves."


These vagrant religionists for the most part professed a severe rule of life, and sometimes one of fanatical mortification. In the mysteries of Mithras, the initiation [Note 3] was preceded by fasting and abstinence, and a variety of painful trials; it was made by means of a baptism as a spiritual washing; and it included an offering of bread, and some emblem of a resurrection. In the Samothracian rites it had been a custom to initiate children; confession too of greater crimes seems to have been required, and would naturally be involved in others in the inquisition prosecuted into the past lives of the candidates for initiation. The garments of the converts were white; their calling was considered as a warfare (militia), and was undertaken with a sacramentum, or military oath. The priests shaved their heads and wore linen, and when they were dead were buried in a sacerdotal garment. It is scarcely necessary to refer to the mutilation inflicted on the priests of Cybele; one instance of their scourgings has been already mentioned; and Tertullian speaks of their high priest cutting his arms {215} for the life of the Emperor Marcus [Note 4]. The priests of Isis, in lamentation for Osiris, tore their breasts with pine cones. This lamentation was a ritual observance, founded on some religious mystery: Isis lost Osiris, and the initiated wept in memory of her sorrow; the Syrian goddess had wept over dead Thammuz, and her mystics commemorated it by a ceremonial woe; in the rites of Bacchus, an image was laid on a bier at midnight [Note 5], which was bewailed in metrical hymns; the god was supposed to die, and then to revive. Nor was this the only worship which was continued through the night; while some of the rites were performed in caves.


Only a heavenly light can give purity to nocturnal and subterraneous worship. Caves were at that time appropriated to the worship of the infernal gods. It was but natural that these wild religions should be connected with magic and its kindred arts; magic has at all times led to cruelty, and licentiousness would be the inevitable reaction from a temporary strictness. An extraordinary profession, when men are in a state of mere nature, makes hypocrites or madmen, and will in no long time be discarded except by the few. The world of that day associated together in one company, Isiac, Phrygian, Mithriac, Chaldean, wizard, astrologer, fortune-teller, itinerant, and, as was not unnatural, Jew. Magic was professed by the profligate Alexander, and was imputed to the grave Apollonius. The rites of Mithras came from the Magi of Persia; and it is obviously difficult to distinguish in principle the ceremonies of the Syrian Taurobolium from those of the Necyomantia in the Odyssey, or of Canidia in Horace. {216} The Theodosian Code calls magic generally a "superstition;" and magic, orgies, mysteries, and "sabbathizings," were referred to the same "barbarous" origin. "Magical superstitions," the "rites of the Magi," the "promises of the Chaldeans," and the "Mathematici," are familiar to the readers of Tacitus. The Emperor Otho, an avowed patron of oriental fashions, took part in the rites of Isis, and consulted the Mathematici. Vespasian, who also consulted them, is heard of in Egypt as performing miracles at the suggestion of Serapis. Tiberius, in an edict, classes together "Egyptian and Jewish rites;" and Tacitus and Suetonius, in recording it, speak of the two religions together as "ea superstitio." [Note 6] Augustus had already associated them together as superstitions, and as unlawful, and that in contrast to others of a like foreign origin. "As to foreign rites (peregrinæ ceremoniæ)," says Suetonius, "as he paid more reverence to those which were old and enjoined, so did he hold the rest in contempt." [Note 7] He goes on to say that, even on the judgment-seat, he had recognized the Eleusinian priests, into whose mysteries he had been initiated at Athens; "whereas, when travelling in Egypt, he had refused to see Apis, and had approved of his grandson Caligula's passing by Judæa without sacrificing at Jerusalem." Plutarch speaks of magic as connected with the mournful mysteries of Orpheus and Zoroaster, with the Egyptian and the Phrygian; and, in his Treatise on Superstition, he puts together in one clause, as specimens of that disease of mind, "covering oneself with mud, wallowing in the mire, sabbathizings, fallings on the face, unseemly postures, foreign adorations." [Note 8] Ovid mentions in consecutive verses the rites of "Adonis lamented by Venus," "The Sabbath of the Syrian Jew," and the "Memphitic Temple of Io in her linen dress. " [Note 9] Juvenal {217} speaks of the rites, as well as the language and the music, of the Syrian Orontes having flooded Rome; and, in his description of the superstition of the Roman women, he places the low Jewish fortune-teller between the pompous priests of Cybele and Isis, and the bloody witchcraft of the Armenian haruspex and the astrology of the Chaldeans [Note 10].


The Christian, being at first accounted a kind of Jew, was even on that score included in whatever odium, and whatever bad associations, attended on the Jewish name. But in a little time his independence of the rejected people was clearly understood, as even the persecutions show; and he stood upon his own ground. Still his character did not change in the eyes of the world; for favour or for reproach, he was still associated with the votaries of secret and magical rites. The Emperor Hadrian, noted as he is for his inquisitive temper, and a partaker in so many mysteries [Note 11], still believed that the Christians of Egypt allowed themselves in the worship of Serapis. They are brought into connexion with the magic of Egypt in the history of what is commonly called the Thundering Legion, so far as this, that the rain which relieved the Emperor's army in the field, and which the Church ascribed to the prayers of the Christian soldiers, is by Dio Cassius attributed to an Egyptian magician, who obtained it by invoking Mercury and other spirits. This war had been the occasion of one of the first recognitions which the state had conceded to the Oriental rites, though statesmen and emperors, as private men, had long taken part in them. The Emperor Marcus had been urged by his fears of the Marcomanni to resort to these foreign introductions, and is said to have employed Magi and Chaldeans in averting an unsuccessful {218} issue of the war. It is observable that, in the growing countenance which was extended to these rites in the third century, Christianity came in for a share. The chapel of Alexander Severas contained statues of Abraham, Orpheus, Apollonius, Pythagoras, and our Lord. Here indeed, as in the case of Zenobia's Judaism, an eclectic philosophy aided the comprehension of religions. But, immediately before Alexander, Heliogabalus, who was no philosopher, while he formally seated his Syrian idol in the Palatine, while he observed the mysteries of Cybele and Adonis, and celebrated his magic rites with human victims, intended also, according to Lampridius, to unite with his horrible superstition "the Jewish and Samaritan religions and the Christian rite, that so the priesthood of Heliogabalus might comprise the mystery of every worship." [Note 12] Hence, more or less, the stories which occur in ecclesiastical history of the conversion or good-will of the emperors to the Christian faith, of Hadrian, Mammæa, and others, besides Heliogabalus and Alexander. Such stories might often mean little more than that they favoured it among other forms of Oriental superstition.


What has been said is sufficient to bring before the mind an historical fact, which indeed does not need evidence. Upon the established religions of Europe the East had renewed her encroachments, and was pouring forth a family of rites which in various ways attracted the attention of the luxurious, the political, the ignorant, the restless, and the remorseful. Armenian, Chaldee, Egyptian, Jew, Syrian, Phrygian, as the case might be, was the designation of the new hierophant; and magic, superstition, barbarism, jugglery, were the names given to his rite by the world. In this company appeared {219} Christianity. When then three well-informed writers call Christianity a superstition and a magical superstition, they were not using words at random, or the language of abuse, but they were describing it in distinct and recognized terms as cognate to those gloomy, secret, odious, disreputable religions which were making so much disturbance up and down the empire.


The impression made on the world by circumstances immediately before the rise of Christianity received a sort of confirmation upon its rise, in the appearance of the Gnostic and kindred heresies, which issued from the Church during the second and third centuries. Their resemblance in ritual and constitution to the Oriental religions, sometimes their historical relationship, is undeniable; and certainly it is a singular coincidence, that Christianity should be first called a magical superstition by Suetonius, and then should be found in the intimate company, and seemingly the parent, of a multitude of magical superstitions, if there was nothing in the Religion itself to give rise to such a charge.


The Gnostic family [Note 13] suitably traces its origin to a mixed race, which had commenced its national history by associating Orientalism with Revelation. After the captivity of the ten tribes, Samaria was colonized by "men from Babylon and Cushan, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim," who were instructed at their own instance in "the manner of the God of the land," by one of the priests of the Church of Jeroboam. The consequence was, that "they feared the Lord and served their own {220} gods." Of this country was Simon, the reputed patriarch of the Gnostics; and he is introduced in the Acts of the Apostles as professing those magical powers which were so principal a characteristic of the Oriental mysteries. His heresy, though broken into a multitude of sects, was poured over the world with a Catholicity not inferior in its day to that of Christianity. St. Peter, who fell in with him originally in Samaria, seems to have encountered him again at Rome. At Rome, St. Polycarp met Marcion of Pontus, whose followers spread through Italy, Egypt, Syria, Arabia, and Persia; Valentinus preached his doctrines in Alexandria, Rome, and Cyprus; and we read of his disciples in Crete, Cæsarea, Antioch, and other parts of the East. Bardesanes and his followers were found in Mesopotamia. The Carpocratians are spoken of at Alexandria, at Rome, and in Cephallenia; the Basilidians spread through the greater part of Egypt; the Ophites were apparently in Bithynia and Galatia; the Cainites or Caians in Africa, and the Marcosians in Gaul. To these must be added several sects, which, though not strictly of the Gnostic stock, are associated with them in date, character, and origin;—the Ebionites of Palestine, the Cerinthians, who rose in some part of Asia Minor, the Encratites and kindred sects, who spread from Mesopotamia to Syria, to Cilicia and other provinces of Asia Minor, and thence to Rome, Gaul, Aquitaine, and Spain; and the Montanists, who, with a town in Phrygia for their metropolis, reached at length from Constantinople to Carthage.

"When [the reader of Christian history] comes to the second century," says Dr. Burton, "he finds that Gnosticism, under some form or other, was professed in every part of the then civilized world. He finds it divided into schools, as numerously and as zealously attended as any which Greece or Asia could boast in their happiest days. {221} He meets with names totally unknown to him before, which excited as much sensation as those of Aristotle or Plato. He hears of volumes having been written in support of this new philosophy, not one of which has survived to our own day." [Note 14] Many of the founders of these sects had been Christians; others were of Jewish parentage; others were more or less connected in fact with the Pagan rites to which their own bore so great a resemblance. Montanus seems even to have been a mutilated priest of Cybele; the followers of Prodicus professed to possess the secret books of Zoroaster; and the doctrine of dualism, which so many of the sects held, is to be traced to the same source. Basilides seems to have recognized Mithras as the Supreme Being, or the Prince of Angels, or the Sun, if Mithras is equivalent to Abraxas, which was inscribed upon his amulets: on the other hand, he is said to have been taught by an immediate disciple of St. Peter, and Valentinus by an immediate disciple of St. Paul. Marcion was the son of a Bishop of Pontus; Tatian, a disciple of St. Justin Martyr.


Whatever might be the history of these sects, and though it may be a question whether they can be properly called "superstitions," and though many of them numbered educated men among their teachers and followers, they closely resembled, at least in ritual and profession, the vagrant Pagan mysteries which have been above described. Their very name of "Gnostic" implied the possession of a secret, which was to be communicated to their disciples. Ceremonial observances were the preparation, and symbolical rites the instrument, of initiation. Tatian and Montanus, the representatives of very distinct schools, agreed in making asceticism a rule of life. The followers {222} of each of these sectaries abstained from wine; the Tatianites and Marcionites, from flesh; the Montanists kept three Lents in the year. All the Gnostic sects seem to have condemned marriage on one or other reason [Note 15]. The Marcionites had three baptisms or more; the Marcosians had two rites of what they called redemption; the latter of these was celebrated as a marriage, and the room adorned as a marriage-chamber. A consecration to a priesthood then followed with anointing. An extreme unction was another of their rites, and prayers for the dead one of their observances. Bardesanes and Harmonius were famous for the beauty of their chants. The prophecies of Montanus were delivered, like the oracles of the heathen, in a state of enthusiasm or ecstasy. To Epiphanes, the son of Carpocrates, who died at the age of seventeen, a temple was erected in the island of Cephallenia, his mother's birthplace, where he was celebrated with hymns and sacrifices. A similar honour was paid by the Carpocratians to Homer, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, as well as to the Apostles; crowns were placed upon their images, and incense burned before them. In one of the inscriptions found at Cyrene, about twenty years since, Zoroaster, Pythagoras, Epicurus, and others, are put together with our Lord, as guides of conduct. These inscriptions also contain the Carpocratian tenet of a community of women. I am unwilling to allude to the Agapæ and Communions of certain of these sects, which were not surpassed in profligacy by the Pagan rites of which they were an imitation. The very name of Gnostic became an expression for the worst impurities, and no one dared eat bread with them, or use their culinary instruments or plates. {223}


These profligate excesses are found in connexion with the exercise of magic and astrology [Note 16]. The amulets of the Basilidians are still extant in great numbers, inscribed with symbols, some Christian, some with figures of Isis, Serapis, and Anubis, represented according to the gross indecencies of the Egyptian mythology [Note 17]. St. Irenæus had already connected together the two crimes in speaking of the Simonians: "Their mystical priests," he says, "live in lewdness, and practise magic, according to the ability of each. They use exorcisms and incantations; love-potions too, and seductive spells; the virtue of spirits, and dreams, and all other curious arts, they diligently observe." [Note 18] The Marcosians were especially devoted to these "curious arts," which are also ascribed to Carpocrates and Apelles. Marcion and others are reported to have used astrology. Tertullian speaks generally of the sects of his day: "Infamous are the dealings of the heretics with sorcerers very many, with mountebanks, with astrologers, with philosophers, to wit, such as are given to curious questions. They everywhere remember, 'Seek, and ye shall find.'" [Note 19]

Such were the Gnostics; and to external and prejudiced spectators, whether philosophers, as Celsus and Porphyry, or the multitude, they wore an appearance sufficiently like the Church to be mistaken for her in the latter part of the Ante-nicene period, as she was confused with the Pagan mysteries in the earlier.


Of course it may happen that the common estimate concerning a person or a body is purely accidental and {224} unfounded; but in such cases it is not lasting. Such were the calumnies of child-eating and impurity in the Christian meetings, which were almost extinct by the time of Origen, and which might arise from the world's confusing them with the pagan and heretical rites. But when it continues from age to age, it is certainly an index of a fact, and corresponds to definite qualities in the object to which it relates. In that case, even mistakes carry information; for they are cognate to the truth, and we can allow for them. Often what seems like a mistake is merely the mode in which the informant conveys his testimony, or the impression which a fact makes on him. Censure is the natural tone of one man in a case where praise is the natural tone of another; the very same character or action inspires one mind with enthusiasm, and another with contempt. What to one man is magnanimity, to another is romance, and pride to a third, and pretence to a fourth, while to a fifth it is simply unintelligible; and yet there is a certain analogy in their separate testimonies, which conveys to us what the thing is like and what it is not like. When a man's acknowledged note is superstition, we may be pretty sure we shall not find him an Academic or an Epicurean; and even words which are ambiguous, as "atheist," or "reformer," admit of a sure interpretation when we are informed of the speaker. In like manner, there is a certain general correspondence between magic and miracle, obstinacy and faith, insubordination and zeal for religion, sophistry and argumentative talent, craft and meekness, as is obvious. Let us proceed then in our contemplation of this reflection, as it may be called of primitive Christianity in the mirror of the world.


All three writers, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny, call it {225} a "superstition;" this is no accidental imputation, but is repeated by a variety of subsequent writers and speakers. The charge of Thyestean banquets scarcely lasts a hundred years; but, while pagan witnesses are to be found, the Church is accused of superstition. The heathen disputant in Minucius calls Christianity, "Vana et demens superstitio." The lawyer Modestinus speaks, with an apparent allusion to Christianity, of "weak minds being terrified superstitione numinis." The heathen magistrate asks St. Marcellus, whether he and others have put away "vain superstitions," and worship the gods whom the emperors worship. The Pagans in Arnobius speak of Christianity as "an execrable and unlucky religion, full of impiety and sacrilege, contaminating the rites instituted from of old with the superstition of its novelty." The anonymous opponent of Lactantius calls it, "Impia et anilis superstitio." Diocletian's inscription at Clunia was, as it declared, on occasion of "the total extinction of the superstition of the Christians, and the extension of the worship of the gods." Maximin, in his Letter upon Constantine's Edict, still calls it a superstition [Note 20].


Now what is meant by the word thus attached by a consensus of heathen authorities to Christianity? At least, it cannot mean a religion in which a man might think what he pleased, and was set free from all yokes, whether of ignorance, fear, authority, or priestcraft. When heathen writers call the Oriental rites superstitions, they evidently use the word in its modern sense; it cannot surely be doubted that they apply it in the same sense to Christianity. But Plutarch explains for us the word at length, {226} in his Treatise which bears the name: "Of all kinds of fear," he says, "superstition is the most fatal to action and resource. He does not fear the sea who does not sail, nor war who does not serve, nor robbers who keeps at home, nor the sycophant who is poor, nor the envious if he is a private man, nor an earthquake if he lives in Gaul, nor thunder if he lives in Ethiopia; but he who fears the gods fears everything, earth, seas, air, sky, darkness, light, noises, silence, sleep. Slaves sleep and forget their masters; of the fettered doth sleep lighten the chain; inflamed wounds, ulcers cruel and agonizing, are not felt by the sleeping. Superstition alone has come to no terms with sleep; but in the very sleep of her victims, as though they were in the realms of the impious, she raises horrible spectres, and monstrous phantoms, and various pains, and whirls the miserable soul about, and persecutes it. They rise, and, instead of making light of what is unreal, they fall into the hands of quacks and conjurers, who say, 'Call the crone to expiate, bathe in the sea, and sit all day on the ground.'" He goes on to speak of the introduction of "uncouth names and barbarous terms" into "the divine and national authority of religion;" observes that, whereas slaves, when they despair of freedom, may demand to be sold to another master, superstition admits of no change of gods, since "the god cannot be found whom he will not fear, who fears the gods of his family and his birth, who shudders at the Saving and the Benignant, who has a trembling and dread at those from whom we ask riches and wealth, concord, peace, success of all good words and deeds." He says, moreover, that, while death is to all men an end of life, it is not so to the superstitious; for then 'there are deep gates of hell to yawn, and headlong streams of at once fire and gloom are opened, and darkness with its many phantoms encompasses, ghosts presenting horrid visages and wretched voices, and judges and {227} executioners, and chasms and dens full of innumerable miseries."

Presently, he says, that in misfortune or sickness the superstitious man refuses to see physician or philosopher, and cries, "Suffer me, O man, to undergo punishment, the impious, the cursed, the hated of gods and spirits. The Atheist," with whom all along he is contrasting the superstitious disadvantageously, "wipes his tears, trims his hair, doffs his mourning; but how can you address, how help the superstitious? He sits apart in sackcloth or filthy rags; and often he strips himself and rolls in the mud, and tells out his sins and offences, as having eaten and drunken something, or walked some way which the divinity did not allow ... And in his best mood, and under the influence of a good-humoured superstition, he sits at home, with sacrifice and slaughter all round him, while the old crones hang on him as on a peg, as Bion says, any charm they fall in with." He continues, "What men like best are festivals, banquets at the temples, initiations, orgies, votive prayers, and adorations. But the superstitious wishes indeed, but is unable to rejoice. He is crowned and turns pale; he sacrifices and is in fear; he prays with a quivering voice, and burns incense with trembling hands, and altogether belies the saying of Pythagoras, that we are then in best case when we go to the gods; for superstitious men are in most wretched and evil case, approaching the houses or shrines of the gods as if they were the dens of bears, or the holes of snakes, or the caves of whales."


Here we have a vivid picture of Plutarch's idea of the essence of Superstition; it was the imagination of the existence of an unseen ever-present Master; the bondage of a rule of life, of a continual responsibility; obligation {228} to attend to little things, the impossibility of escaping from duty, the inability to choose or change one's religion, an interference with the enjoyment of life, a melancholy view of the world, sense of sin, horror at guilt, apprehension of punishment, dread, self-abasement, depression, anxiety and endeavour to be at peace with heaven, and error and absurdity in the methods chosen for the purpose. Such too had been the idea of the Epicurean Velleius, when he shrunk with horror from the "sempiternus dominus" and "curiosus Deus" of the Stoics [Note 21]. Such, surely, was the meaning of Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny. And hence of course the frequent reproach cast on Christians as credulous, weak-minded, and poor-spirited. The heathen objectors in Minucius and Lactantius speak of their "old-woman's tales." [Note 22] Celsus accuses them of "assenting at random and without reason," saying, "Do not inquire, but believe." "They lay it down," he says elsewhere, "Let no educated man approach, no man of wisdom, no man of sense; but if a man be unlearned, weak in intellect, an infant, let him come with confidence. Confessing that these are worthy of their God, they evidently desire, as they are able, to convert none but fools, and vulgar, and stupid, and slavish, women and boys." They "take in the simple, and lead him where they will." They address themselves to "youths, house-servants, and the weak in intellect." They "hurry away from the educated, as not fit subjects of their imposition, and inveigle the rustic." [Note 23] "Thou," says the heathen magistrate to the Martyr Fructuosus, "who as a teacher dost disseminate a new {229} fable, that fickle girls may desert the groves and abandon Jupiter, condemn, if thou art wise, the anile creed." [Note 24]


Hence the epithets of itinerant, mountebank, conjurer, cheat, sophist, sorcerer, heaped upon the teachers of Christianity; sometimes to account for the report or apparent truth of their miracles, sometimes to explain their success. Our Lord was said to have learned His miraculous power in Egypt; "wizard, mediciner, cheat, rogue, conjurer, were the epithets applied to Him by the opponents of Eusebius [Note 25]; they "worship that crucified sophist," says Lucian [Note 26]; "Paul, who surpasses all the conjurers and impostors who ever lived," is Julian's account of the Apostle. "You have sent through the whole world," says St. Justin to Trypho, "to preach that a certain atheistic and lawless sect has sprung from one Jesus, a Galilean cheat." [Note 27] "We know," says Lucian, speaking of Chaldeans and Magicians, "the Syrian from Palestine, who is the sophist in these matters, how many lunatics, with eyes distorted and mouth in foam, he raises and sends away restored, ridding them from the evil at a great price." [Note 28] "If any conjurer came to them, a man of skill and knowing how to manage matters," says the same writer, "he made money in no time, with a broad grin at the simple fellows." [Note 29] The officer who had custody of St. Perpetua feared her escape from prison "by magical incantations." [Note 30] When St. Tiburtius had walked barefoot on hot coals, his judge cried out that Christ had taught him magic. St. Anastasia was thrown into prison as a mediciner; the populace called out against St. Agnes, "Away with the witch," Tolle magam, tolle malificam. {230} When St. Bonosus and St. Maximilian bore the burning pitch without shrinking, Jews and Gentiles cried out, Isti magi et malefici. "What new delusion," says the heathen magistrate concerning St. Romanus, "has brought in these sophists to deny the worship of the gods? How doth this chief sorcerer mock us, skilled by his Thessalian charm (carmine) to laugh at punishment." [Note 31]

Hence we gather the meaning of the word "carmen" as used by Pliny; when he speaks of the Christians "saying with one another a carmen to Christ as to a god," he meant pretty much what Suetonius expresses by the "malefica superstitio." [Note 32] And the words of the last-mentioned writer and Tacitus are still more exactly, and, I may say, singularly illustrated by clauses which occur in the Theodosian code; which seem to show that these historians were using formal terms and phrases to express their notion of Christianity. For instance, Tacitus says, "Quos per flagitia invisos, vulgus Christianos appellabat;" and the Law against the Malefici and Mathematici in the Code speaks of those, "Quos ob facinorum magnitudinem vulgus maleficos appellat." [Note 33] Again, Tacitus charges Christians with the "odium humani generis:" this is the very characteristic of a practiser in magic; the Laws call the Malefici, "humani generis hostes," "humani generis inimici," "naturæ peregrini," "communis salutis hostes." [Note 34] {231}


This also explains the phenomenon, which has created so much surprise to certain moderns;—that a grave, well-informed historian like Tacitus should apply to Christians what sounds like abuse. Yet what is the difficulty, supposing that Christians were considered mathematici and magi; and these were the secret intriguers against established government, the allies of desperate politicians, the enemies of the established religion, the disseminators of lying rumours, the perpetrators of poisonings and other crimes? "Read this," says Paley, after quoting some of the most beautiful and subduing passages of St. Paul, "read this, and then think of exitiabilis superstitio;" and he goes on to express a wish "in contending with heathen authorities, to produce our books against theirs," [Note 35] as if it were a matter of books. Public men care very little for books; the finest sentiments, the most luminous philosophy, the deepest theology, inspiration itself, moves them but little; they look at facts, and care only for facts. The question was, What was the worth, what the tendency of the Christian body in the state? what Christians said, what they thought, was little to the purpose. They might exhort to peaceableness and passive obedience as strongly as words could speak; but what did they do, what was their political position? This is what statesmen thought of then, as they do now. What had men of the world to do with abstract proofs or first principles? a statesman measures parties, and sects, and writers by their bearing upon him; and he has a practised eye in this sort of judgment, and is not likely to be mistaken. "'What is Truth?' said jesting Pilate." Apologies, however eloquent or true, availed nothing with the Roman magistrate against the sure instinct which taught him to dread {232} Christianity. It was a dangerous enemy to any power not built upon itself; he felt it, and the event justified his apprehension.


We must not forget the well-known character of the Roman state in its dealings with its subjects. It had had from the first an extreme jealousy of secret societies; it was prepared to grant a large toleration and a broad comprehension, but, as is the case with modern governments, it wished to have jurisdiction and the ultimate authority in every movement of the body politic and social, and its civil institutions were based, or essentially depended, on its religion. Accordingly, every innovation upon the established paganism, except it was allowed by the law, was rigidly repressed. Hence the professors of low superstitions, of mysteries, of magic, of astrology, were the outlaws of society, and were in a condition analogous, if the comparison may be allowed, to smugglers or poachers among ourselves, or perhaps to burglars and highwaymen. The modern robber is sometimes made to ask in novels or essays, why the majority of a people should bind the minority, and why he is amenable to laws which he does not enact; but the magistrate, relying on the power of the sword, wishes all men to gain a living indeed, and to prosper, but only in his own legally sanctioned ways, and he hangs or transports dissenters from his authority. The Romans applied this rule to religion. Lardner protests against Pliny's application of the words "contumacy and inflexible obstinacy" to the Christians of Pontus. "Indeed, these are hard words," he says, "very improperly applied to men who were open to conviction, and willing to satisfy others, if they might have leave to speak." [Note 36] And he says, "It seems to me that {233} Pliny acted very arbitrarily and unrighteously, in his treatment of the Christians in his province. What right had Pliny to act in this manner? by what law or laws did he punish [them] with death?"—but the Romans had ever burnt the sorcerer, and banished his consulters for life [Note 37]. It was an ancient custom. And at mysteries they looked with especial suspicion, because, since the established religion did not include them in its provisions, they really did supply what may be called a demand of the age. The Greeks of an earlier day had naturalized among themselves the Eleusinian and other mysteries, which had come from Egypt and Syria, and had little to fear from a fresh invasion from the same quarter; yet even in Greece, as Plutarch tell us, the "carmina" of the itinerants of Cybele and Serapis threw the Pythian verses out of fashion, and henceforth the responses from the temple were given in prose. Soon the oracles altogether ceased. What would cause in the Roman mind still greater jealousy of Christianity was the general infidelity which prevailed among all classes as regards the mythological fables of Charon, Cerberus, and the realms of punishment [Note 38].


We know what opposition had been made in Rome even to the philosophy of Greece; much greater would be the aversion of constitutional statesmen and lawyers to the ritual of barbarians. Religion was the Roman point of honour. "Spaniards might rival them in numbers," says Cicero, "Gauls in bodily strength, Carthaginians in address, Greeks in the arts, Italians and Latins in native talent, but the Romans surpassed all nations in piety {234} and devotion." [Note 39] It was one of their laws, "Let no one have gods by himself, nor worship in private new gods nor adventitious, unless added on public authority." [Note 40] Lutatius [Note 41], at the end of the first Punic war, was forbidden by the senate to consult the Sortes Prænestinæ as being "auspicia alienigena." Some years afterwards the Consul took axe in hand, and commenced the destruction of the temples of Isis and Serapis. In the second Punic war, the senate had commanded the surrender of the libri vaticini or precationes, and any written art of sacrificing. When a secret confraternity was discovered, at a later date, the Consul spoke of the rule of their ancestors which forbade the forum, circus, and city to Sacrificuli and prophets, and burnt their books. In the next age banishment was inflicted on individuals who were introducing the worship of the Syrian Sabazius; and in the next the Iseion and Serapeion were destroyed a second time. Mæcenas in Dio advises Augustus to honour the gods according to the national custom, because the contempt of the country's deities leads to civil insubordination, reception of foreign laws, conspiracies, and secret meetings [Note 42]. "Suffer no one," he adds, "to deny the gods or to practise sorcery." The civilian Julius Paulus lays it down as one of the leading principles of Roman Law, that those who introduce new or untried religions should be degraded, and if in the lower orders put to death [Note 43]. In like manner, it is enacted in one of Constantine's Laws that the Haruspices should not exercise their art in private; and there is a law of Valentinian's against nocturnal sacrifices or magic. It is more immediately to our purpose that Trajan had been so earnest in his resistance to Hetæriæ or secret societies, that, when a fire had laid waste Nicomedia, and Pliny {235} proposed to him to incorporate a body of a hundred and fifty firemen in consequence [Note 44], he was afraid of the precedent and forbade it.


What has been said will suggest another point of view in which the Oriental rites were obnoxious to the government, viz., as being vagrant and proselytizing religions. If it tolerated foreign superstitions, this would be on the ground that districts or countries within its jurisdiction held them; to proselytize to a rite hitherto unknown, to form a new party, and to propagate it through the Empire,—a religion not local but Catholic,—was an offence against both order and reason. The state desired peace everywhere, and no change; "considering," according to Lactantius, "that they were rightly and deservedly punished who execrated the public religion handed down to them by their ancestors." [Note 45]

It is impossible surely to deny that, in assembling for religious purposes, the Christians were breaking a solemn law, a vital principle of the Roman constitution; and this is the light in which their conduct was regarded by the historians and philosophers of the Empire. This was a very strong act on the part of the disciples of the great Apostle, who had enjoined obedience to the powers that be. Time after time they resisted the authority of the magistrate; and this is a phenomenon inexplicable on the theory of Private Judgment or of the Voluntary Principle. The justification of such disobedience lies simply in the necessity of obeying the higher authority of some divine law; but if Christianity were in its essence only private and personal, as so many now think, there was no necessity of their meeting together at all. If, on the other hand, in assembling for worship and holy communion, {236} they were fulfilling an indispensable observance, Christianity has imposed a social law on the world, and formally enters the field of politics. Gibbon says that, in consequence of Pliny's edict, "the prudence of the Christians suspended their Agapæ; but it was impossible for them to omit the exercise of public worship." [Note 46] We can draw no other conclusion.


At the end of three hundred years, a more remarkable violation of law seems to have been admitted by the Christian body. It shall be given in the words of Dr. Burton; he has been speaking of Maximin's edict, which provided for the restitution of any of their lands or buildings which had been alienated from them. "It is plain," he says, "from the terms of this edict, that the Christians had for some time been in possession of property. It speaks of houses and lands which did not belong to individuals, but to the whole body. Their possession of such property could hardly have escaped the notice of the government; but it seems to have been held in direct violation of a law of Diocletian, which prohibited corporate bodies, or associations which were not legally recognized, from acquiring property. The Christians were certainly not a body recognized by law at the beginning of the reign of Diocletian, and it might almost be thought that this enactment was specially directed against them. But, like other laws which are founded upon tyranny, and are at variance with the first principles of justice, it is probable that this law about corporate property was evaded. We must suppose that the Christians had purchased lands and houses before the law was passed; and their disregard {237} of the prohibition may be taken as another proof that their religion had now taken so firm a footing that the executors of the laws were obliged to connive at their being broken by so numerous a body." [Note 47]


No wonder that the magistrate who presided at the martyrdom of St. Romanus calls them in Prudentius "a rebel people;" [Note 48] that Galerius speaks of them as "a nefarious conspiracy;" the heathen in Minucius, as "men of a desperate faction;" that others make them guilty of sacrilege and treason, and call them by those other titles which, more closely resembling the language of Tacitus, have been noticed above. Hence the violent accusations against them as the destruction of the Empire, the authors of physical evils, and the cause of the anger of the gods.

"Men cry out," says Tertullian, "that the state is beset, that the Christians are in their fields, in their forts, in their islands. They mourn as for a loss that every sex, condition, and now even rank, is going over to this sect. And yet they do not by this very means advance their minds to the idea of some good therein hidden; they allow not themselves to conjecture more rightly, they choose not to examine more closely. The generality run upon a hatred of this name, with eyes so closed that in bearing favourable testimony to any one they mingle with it the reproach of the name. 'A good man Caius Seius, only he is a Christian.' So another, 'I marvel that that wise man Lucius Titius hath suddenly become a Christian.' No one reflecteth whether Caius be not therefore good and Lucius wise because a Christian, or therefore a Christian because wise and good. They praise that {238} which they know, they revile that which they know not. Virtue is not in such account as hatred of the Christians. Now, then, if the hatred be of the name, what guilt is there in names? What charge against words? Unless it be that any word which is a name have either a barbarous or ill-omened, or a scurrilous or an immodest sound. If the Tiber cometh up to the walls, if the Nile cometh not up to the fields, if the heaven hath stood still, if the earth hath been moved, if there be any famine, if any pestilence, 'The Christians to the lions' is forthwith the word." [Note 49]


"Men of a desperate, lawless, reckless faction," says the heathen Cæcilius, in the passage above referred to, "who collect together out of the lowest rabble the thoughtless portion, and credulous women seduced by the weakness of their sex, and form a mob of impure conspirators, of whom nocturnal assemblies, and solemn fastings, and unnatural food, no sacred rite but pollution, is the bond. A tribe lurking and light-hating, dumb for the public, talkative in corners, they despise our temples as if graves, spit at our gods, deride our religious forms; pitiable themselves, they pity, forsooth, our priests; half-naked themselves, they despise our honours and purple; monstrous folly and incredible impudence! ... Day after day, their abandoned morals wind their serpentine course; over the whole world are those most hideous rites of an impious association growing into shape: ... they recognize each other by marks and signs, and love each other almost before they recognize; promiscuous lust is their religion. Thus does their vain and mad superstition glory in crimes … The writer who tells the story of a criminal capitally punished, and of the gibbet (ligna feralia) of the cross being their {239} observance (ceremonias), assigns to them thereby an altar in keeping with the abandoned and wicked, that they may worship (colant) what they merit ... Why their mighty effort to hide and shroud whatever it is they worship (colunt), since things honest ever like the open day, and crimes are secret? Why have they no altars, no temples, no images known to us, never speak abroad, never assemble freely, were it not that what they worship and suppress is subject either of punishment or of shame? ... What monstrous, what portentous notions do they fabricate! that that God of theirs, whom they can neither show nor see, should be inquiring diligently into the characters, the acts, nay the words and secret thoughts of all men; running to and fro, forsooth, and present everywhere, troublesome, restless, nay impudently curious they would have him; that is, if he is close at every deed, interferes in all places, while he can neither attend to each as being distracted through the whole, nor suffice for the whole as being engaged about each. Think too of their threatening fire, meditating destruction to the whole earth, nay the world itself with its stars! ... Nor content with this mad opinion, they add and append their old wives' tales about a new birth after death, ashes and cinders, and by some strange confidence believe each other's lies. Poor creatures! consider what hangs over you after death, while you are still alive. Lo, the greater part of you, the better, as you say, are in want, cold, toil, hunger, and your God suffers it; but I omit common trials. Lo, threats are offered to you, punishments, torments; crosses to be undergone now, not worshipped (adorandæ); fires too which ye predict and fear; where is that God who can recover, but cannot preserve your life? The answer of Socrates, when he was asked about heavenly matters, is well known, 'What is above us does not concern us.' My opinion also is, that points which are doubtful, as are the {240} points in question, must be left; nor, when so many and such great men are in controversy on the subject, must judgment be rashly and audaciously given on either side, lest the consequence be either anile superstition or the overthrow of all religion."


Such was Christianity in the eyes of those who witnessed its rise and propagation;—one of a number of wild and barbarous rites which were pouring in upon the Empire from the ancient realms of superstition, and the mother of a progeny of sects which were faithful to the original they had derived from Egypt or Syria; a religion unworthy of an educated person, as appealing, not to the intellect, but to the fears and weaknesses of human nature, and consisting, not in the rational and cheerful enjoyment, but in a morose rejection of the gifts of Providence; a horrible religion, as inflicting or enjoining cruel sufferings, and monstrous and loathsome in its very indulgence of the passions; a religion leading by reaction to infidelity; a religion of magic, and of the vulgar arts, real and pretended, with which magic was accompanied; a secret religion which dared not face the day; an itinerant, busy, proselytizing religion, forming an extended confederacy against the state, resisting its authority and breaking its laws. There may be some exceptions to this general impression, such as Pliny's discovery of the innocent and virtuous rule of life adopted by the Christians of Pontus; but this only proves that Christianity was not in fact the infamous religion which the heathen thought it; it did not reverse their general belief to that effect.


Now it must be granted that, in some respects, this view of Christianity depended on the times, and would alter with their alteration. When there was no persecution, Martyrs {241} could not be obstinate; and when the Church was raised aloft in high places, it was no longer in caves. Still, I believe, it continued substantially the same in the judgment of the world external to it, while there was an external world to judge of it. "They thought it enough," says Julian in the fourth century, of our Lord and His Apostles, "to deceive women, servants, and slaves, and by their means wives and husbands." "A human fabrication," says he elsewhere, "put together by wickedness, having nothing divine in it, but making a perverted use of the fable-loving, childish, irrational part of the soul, and offering a set of wonders to create belief." "Miserable men," he says elsewhere, "you refuse to worship the ancile, yet you worship the wood of the cross, and sign it on your foreheads, and fix it on your doors. Shall one for this hate the intelligent among you, or pity the less understanding, who in following you have gone to such an excess of perdition as to leave the everlasting gods and go over to a dead Jew?" He speaks of their adding other dead men to Him who died so long ago. "You have filled all places with sepulchres and monuments, though it is nowhere told you in your religion to haunt the tombs and to attend upon them." Elsewhere he speaks of their "leaving the gods for corpses and relics." On the other hand, he attributes the growth of Christianity to its humanity towards strangers, care in burying the dead, and pretended religiousness of life. In another place he speaks of their care of the poor [Note 50].

Libanius, Julian's preceptor in rhetoric, delivers the same testimony, as far as it goes. He addressed his Oration for the Temples to a Christian Emperor, and would in consequence be guarded in his language; however it runs in one direction. He speaks of "those black-habited {242} men," meaning the monks, "who eat more than elephants, and by the number of their potations trouble those who send them drink in their chantings, and conceal this by paleness artificially acquired." They "are in good condition out of the misfortunes of others, while they pretend to serve God by hunger." Those whom they attack "are like bees, they like drones." I do not quote this passage to prove that there were monks in Libanius's days, which no one doubts, but to show his impression of Christianity, as far as his works betray it.

Numantian, in the same century, describes in verse his voyage from Rome to Gaul: one book of the poem is extant; he falls in with Christianity on two of the islands which lie in his course. He thus describes them as found on one of these: "The island is in a squalid state, being full of light-haters. They call themselves monks, because they wish to live alone without witness. They dread the gifts, from fearing the reverses, of fortune. Thus Homer says that melancholy was the cause of Bellerophon's anxiety; for it is said that after the wounds of grief mankind displeased the offended youth." He meets on the other island a Christian, whom he had known, of good family and fortune, and happy in his marriage, who "impelled by the Furies had left men and gods, and, credulous exile, was living in base concealment. Is not this herd," he continues, "worse than Circean poison? then bodies were changed, now minds."


In the Philopatris, which is the work of an Author of the fourth century [Note 51], Critias is introduced pale and wild. His friend asks him if he has seen Cerberus or Hecate; and he answers that he has heard a rigmarole from certain "thrice-cursed sophists;" which he thinks would {243} drive him mad, if he heard it again, and was nearly sending him headlong over some cliff as it was. He retires for relief with his inquirer to a pleasant place, shadowed by planes, where swallows and nightingales are singing, and a quiet brook is purling. Triephon, his friend, expresses a fear lest he has heard some incantation, and is led by the course of the dialogue, before his friend tells his tale, to give some account of Christianity, being himself a Christian. After speaking of the creation, as described by Moses, he falls at once upon that doctrine of a particular providence which is so distasteful to Plutarch, Velleius in Cicero, and Cæcilius, and generally to unbelievers. "He is in heaven," he says, "looking at just and unjust, and causing actions to be entered in books; and He will recompense all on a day which He has appointed." Critias objects that he cannot make this consistent with the received doctrine about the Fates, "even though he has perhaps been carried aloft with his master, and initiated in unspeakable mysteries." He also asks if the deeds of the Scythians are written in heaven; for if so, there must be many scribes there. After some more words, in course of which, as in the earlier part of the dialogue, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is introduced, Critias gives an account of what befell him. He says, he fell in with a crowd in the streets; and, while asking a friend the cause of it, others joined them (Christians or monks), and a conversation ensues, part of it corrupt or obscure, on the subject, as Gesner supposes, of Julian's oppression of the Christians, especially of the clergy. One of these interlocutors is a wretched old man, whose "phlegm is paler than death;" another has "a rotten cloke on, and no covering on head or feet," who says he has been told by some ill-clad person from the mountains, with a shorn crown, that in the theatre was a name hieroglyphically written of one who would {244} flood the highway with gold. On his laughing at the story, his friend Crato, whom he had joined, bids him be silent, using a Pythagorean word; for he has "most excellent matters to initiate him into, and that the prediction is no dream but true," and will be fulfilled in August, using the Egyptian name of the month. He attempts to leave them in disgust, but Crato pulls him back "at the instigation of that old demon." He is in consequence persuaded to go "to those conjurers," who, says Crato, would "initiate in all mysteries." He finds, in a building which is described in the language used by Homer of the Palace of Menelaus, "not Helen, no, but men pale and downcast," who ask, whether there was any bad news; "for they seemed," he says, "wishing the worst; and rejoicing in misfortune, as the Furies in the theatres." On their asking him how the city and the world went on, and his answering that things went on smoothly and seemed likely to do so still, they frown, and say that "the city is in travail with a bad birth." "You, who dwell aloft," he answers, "and see everything from on high, doubtless have a keen perception in this matter; but tell me, how is the sky? will the Sun be eclipsed? will Mars be in quadrature with Jupiter? &c.;" and he goes on to jest upon their celibacy. On their persisting in prophesying evil to the state, he says, "This evil will fall on your own head, since you are so hard upon your country; for not as high-flyers have ye heard this, nor are ye adepts in the restless astrological art, but if divinations and conjurings have seduced you, double is your stupidity; for they are the discoveries of old women and things to laugh at." The interview then draws to an end; but more than enough has been quoted already to show the author's notion of Christianity. {245}


Such was the language of paganism after Christianity had for fifty years been exposed to the public gaze; after it had been before the world for fifty more, St. Augustine had still to defend it against the charge of being the cause of the calamities of the Empire. And for the charge of magic, when the Arian bishops were in formal disputatious with the Catholic, before Gungebald, Burgundian King of France, at the end of the fifth century, we find still that they charged the Catholics with being "præstigiatores," and worshipping a number of gods; and when the Catholics proposed that the king should repair to the shrine of St. Justus, where both parties might ask him concerning their respective faiths, the Arians cried out that "they would not seek enchantments like Saul, for Scripture was enough for them, which was more powerful than all bewitchments." [Note 52] This was said, not against strangers of whom they knew nothing, as Ethelbert might be suspicious of St. Augustine and his brother missionaries, but against a body of men who lived among them.

I do not think it can be doubted then that, had Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny, Celsus, Prophyry, and the other opponents of Christianity, lived in the fourth century, their evidence concerning Christianity would be very much the same as it has come down to us from the centuries before it. In either case, a man of the world and a philosopher would have been disgusted at the gloom and sadness of its profession, its mysteriousness, its claim of miracles, the want of good sense imputable to its rule of life, and the unsettlement and discord it was introducing into the social and political world.


On the whole then I conclude as follows:—if there is a {246} form of Christianity now in the world which is accused of gross superstition, of borrowing its rites and customs from the heathen, and of ascribing to forms and ceremonies an occult virtue;—a religion which is considered to burden and enslave the mind by its requisitions, to address itself to the weak-minded and ignorant, to be supported by sophistry and imposture, and to contradict reason and exalt mere irrational faith;—a religion which impresses on the serious mind very distressing views of the guilt and consequences of sin, sets upon the minute acts of the day, one by one, their definite value for praise or blame, and thus casts a grave shadow over the future;—a religion which holds up to admiration the surrender of wealth, and disables serious persons from enjoying it if they would;—a religion, the doctrines of which, be they good or bad, are to the generality of men unknown; which is considered to bear on its very surface signs of folly and falsehood so distinct that a glance suffices to judge of it, and that careful examination is preposterous; which is felt to be so simply bad, that it may be calumniated at hazard and at pleasure, it being nothing but absurdity to stand upon the accurate distribution of its guilt among its particular acts, or painfully to determine how far this or that story concerning it is literally true, or what has to be allowed in candour, or what is improbable, or what cuts two ways, or what is not proved, or what may be plausibly defended;—a religion such, that men look at a convert to it with a feeling which no other denomination raises except Judaism, Socialism, or Mormonism, viz. with curiosity, suspicion, fear, disgust, as the case may be, as if something strange had befallen him, as if he had had an initiation into a mystery, and had come into communion with dreadful influences, as if he were now one of a confederacy which claimed him, absorbed him, stripped him of his personality, {247} reduced him to a mere organ or instrument of a whole;—a religion which men hate as proselytizing, anti-social, revolutionary, as dividing families, separating chief friends, corrupting the maxims of government, making a mock at law, dissolving the empire, the enemy of human nature, and a "conspirator against its rights and privileges;" [Note 53]—a religion which they consider the champion and instrument of darkness, and a pollution calling down upon the land the anger of heaven;—a religion which they associate with intrigue and conspiracy, which they speak about in whispers, which they detect by anticipation in whatever goes wrong, and to which they impute whatever is unaccountable;—a religion, the very name of which they cast out as evil, and use simply as a bad epithet, and which from the impulse of self-preservation they would persecute if they could;—if there be such a religion now in the world, it is not unlike Christianity as that same world viewed it, when first it came forth from its Divine Author [Note 54].

Chapter 6 - Section 2

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1. [This juxtaposition of names has been strangely distorted by critics. In the intention of the author, Guizot matched with Pliny, not with Frederick.]
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2. Vid. Muller de Hierarch. et Ascetic. Warburton, Div. Leg ii. 4. Selder de Diis Syr. Acad. des Inscript. t. 3, hist. p. 296, t. 5, mem. p. 63, t. 10, mem. p. 267. Lucian. Pseudomant, Cod. Theod. ix. 16.
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3. Acad. t. 16, mem. p. 27.
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4. Apol. 25. Vid. also Prudent. in hon. Romani, circ. fin. and Lucian de Deo Syr. 50.
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5. Vid, also the scene in Jul. Firm. p. 449.
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6. Tac. Ann. ii. 85; Sueton. Tiber. 36.
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7. August. 93.
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8. De Superst. 3.
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9. De Art. Am. i. init.
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10. Sat. iii. vi.
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11. Tertul. Ap. 5.
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12. Vit. Hel. 3.
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13. Vid. Tillemont, Mem. and Lardner's Hist. Heretics.
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14. Bampton Lect. 2.
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15. Burton, Bampton Lect. note 61.
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16. Burton, Bampton Lect. note 44.
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17. Montfaucon, Antiq. t. ii. part 2, p. 353.
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18. Hær. i. 20.
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19. De Præscr. 43.
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20. Vid. Kortholt, in Plin. et Traj. Epp. p. 152. Comment. in Minuc. F. &c.
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21. "Itaque imposuistis in cervicibus nostris sempiternum dominum, quem dies et noctes timeremus; quis enim non timeat omnia providentem et cogitantem et animadvertentem, et omnia ad se pertinere putantem, curiosum, et plenum negotii Deum?"—Cic. de Nat. Deor. i. 20.
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22. Min. c. 11. Lact. v. 1, 2, vid. Arnob. ii. 8, &c.
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23. Origen, contr. Cels. i. 9, iii. 44, 50, vi. 44.
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24. Prudent. in hon. Fruct, 37.
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25. Evan. Dem. iii. 3, 4.
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26. Mort. Peregr. 13.
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27. c. 108.
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28. i.e. Philop. 16.
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29. De Mort. Pereg. ibid.
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30. Ruin. Mart. pp. 100, 594, &c.
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31. Prud. in hon. Rom. vv. 404, 868.
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32. We have specimens of carmina ascribed to Christians in the Philopatris.
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33. Goth. in Cod. Th. t. 5, p. 120, ed. 1665. Again, "Qui malefici vulgi consuetudine nuncupantur." Leg. 6. So Lactantius, "Magi et ii quos verè maleficos vulgus appellat." Inst. ii. 17. "Quos et maleficos vulgus appellat:" August. Civ. Dei, x. 19. "Quos vulgus mathematicos vocat." Hieron. in Dan. c. ii. Vid. Gothof. in loc. Other laws speak of those who were "maleficiorum labe polluti," and of the "maleficiorum scabies."
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34. Tertuilian too mentions the charge of "hostes principum Romanorum, populi, generis humani, Deorum, Imperatorum, legum, morum, naturæ totius inimici." Apol. 2, 35, 38, ad. Scap. 4, ad. Nat. i. 17.
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35. Evid. part ii. ch. 4.
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36. Heathen Test. 9.
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37. Gothof. in Cod. Th. t. 5, p. 121.
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38. Cic. pro Cluent. 61. Gieseler transl. vol. i. p. 21, note 5. Acad. Inscr. t. 34. hist. p. 110.
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39. De Harusp. Resp. 9.
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40. De Legg. ii. 8.
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41. Acad. Inscr. ibid.
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42. Neander, Eccl. Hist. tr. vol. i. p. 81.
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43. Muller, p. 21, 22, 30. Tertull. Ox. tr. p. 12, note p.
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44. Gibbon. Hist. ch. 16, note 14.
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45. Epit. Instit. 55.
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46. Gibbon, ibid. Origen admits and defends the violation of the laws: [ouk alogon sunthekas para ta nenomismena poiein, tas huper haletheias.]. c. Cels. i. 1.
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47. Hist. p. 418.
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48. In hon. Rom. 62, In Act. S. Cypr. 4, Tert. Apol. 10, &c.
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49. Apol. i. 3, 39, Oxf. tr.
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50. Julian ap. Cyril, pp. 39, 194, 206, 335. Epp. pp. 305, 429, 438, ed. Spanh.
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51. Niebuhr ascribes it to the beginning of the tenth.
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52. Sirm. Opp. ii. p. 225, ed. Ven.
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53. Proph. Office, p. 132 [Via Media, vol. i. p. 109].
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54. [Since the publication of this volume in 1845, a writer in a Conservative periodical of great name has considered that no happier designation could be bestowed upon us than that which heathen statesmen gave to the first Christians, "enemies of the human race." What a remarkable witness to our identity with the Church of St. Paul ("a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition throughout the world"), of St. Ignatius, St. Polycarp, and the other Martyrs! In this matter, Conservative politicians join with Liberals, and with the movement parties in Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, in their view of our religion.

"The Catholics," says the Quarterly Review for January, 1873, pp. 181-2, "wherever they are numerous and powerful in a Protestant nation, compel (sic) as it were by a law of their being, that nation to treat them with stern repression and control ... Catholicism, if it be true to itself and its mission, cannot (sic) ... wherever and whenever the opportunity is afforded it, abstain from claiming, working for, and grasping that supremacy and paramount influence and control, which it conscientiously believes to be its inalienable and universal due ... By the force of circumstances, by the inexorable logic of its claims, it must be the intestine foe or the disturbing element of every state in which it does not bear sway; and ... it must now stand out in the estimate of all Protestants, Patriots and Thinkers" (philosophers and historians, as Tacitus?) "as the hostis humani generis (sic), &c."]
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