« ForrigeFortsæt »
ignorance; he is conscious of no darkness, simply because for him there exists no visual ray of speculation-no vestige of prelusive light.
Similar, and continually more similar, has been the condition of ancient history. Once yielding a mere barren crop of facts and dates, slowly it has been kindling of late years into life and deep interest under superior treatment. And hitherto, as the light has advanced, pari passu have the masses of darkness strengthened. Every question solved has been the parent of three new questions unmasked. And the power of breathing life into dry bones has but seemed to multiply the skeletons and lifeless remains; for the very natural reason that these dry bones formerly (whilst viewed as incapable of revivification) had seemed less numerous, because everywhere confounded to the eye with stocks and stones, so long as there was no motive of hope for marking the distinction between them.
Amongst all the illustrations which might illuminate this truth, none is so instructive as the large question of PAGAN ORACLES. Every part, indeed, of the Pagan religion, the course, geographically or ethnographically, of its traditions, the vast labyrinth of its mythology, the deductions of its contradictory genealogies, the disputed meaning of its many secret "mysteries" [Teletα-symbolic rites or initiations], all these have been submitted of late years to the scrutiny of glasses more powerful, applied under more combined arrangements, and directed according to new principles more comprehensively framed. We cannot in sincerity affirm — always with immediate advantage. But even where the
individual effort may have been a failure as regarded the immediate object, rarely, indeed, it has happened but that much indirect illumination has resulted which, afterwards entering into combination with other scattered currents of light, has issued in discoveries of value; although, perhaps, any one contribution, taken separately, had been, and would have remained, inoperative. Much has been accomplished, chiefly of late years; and, confining our view to ancient history, almost exclusively amongst the Germans by the Savignys, the Niebuhrs, the Otfried Muellers. And, if that much has left still more to do, it has also brought the means of working upon a scale of far accelerated speed.
The books now existing upon the ancient oracles, above all, upon the Greek oracles, amount to a small library. The facts have been collected from all quarters, examined, sifted, winnowed. Theories have been raised upon these facts under every angle of aspect; and yet, after all, we profess ourselves to be dissatisfied. Amongst much that is sagacious, we feel and we resent with disgust a taint of falsehood diffused over these recent speculations from vulgar and even counterfeit incredulity; the one gross vice of German philosophy, not less determinate or less misleading than that vice which, heretofore, through many centuries, had impoverished this subject, and had stopped its discussion under the anile superstition of the ecclesiastical fathers.
These fathers, both Greek and Latin, had the ill fortune to be extravagantly esteemed by the church of Rome; whence, under a natural reäction, they were systematically depreciated by the great leaders
of the Protestant Reformation. And yet hardly in a corresponding degree. For there was, after all, even among the reformers, a deep-seated prejudice in behalf of all that was "primitive" in Christianity; under which term, by some confusion of ideas, the fathers often benefited. Primitive Christianity was reasonably venerated; and, on this argument, that, for the first three centuries, it was necessarily more sincere. We do not think so much of that sincerity which affronted the fear of persecution; because, after all, the searching persecutions were rare and intermitting, and not, perhaps, in any case, so fiery as they have been represented. We think more of that gentle but insidious persecution which lay in the solicitations of besieging friends, and more still of the continual temptations which haunted the irresolute Christian in the fascinations of the public amusements. The theatre, the circus, and, far beyond both, the cruel amphitheatre, constituted, for the ancient world, a passionate enjoyment, that by many authors, and especially through one period of time, is described as going to the verge of frenzy. And we, in modern times, are far too little aware in what degree these great carnivals, together with another · attraction of great cities, the pomps and festivals of the Pagan worship, broke the monotony of domestic life, which, for the old world, was even more oppressive than it is for us. In all principal cities, so as to be within the reach of almost all provincial inhabitants, there was a hippodrome, often uniting the functions of the circus and the amphitheatre; and there was a theatre. From all such pleasures the Christian was sternly excluded by his very pro
fession of faith. From the festivals of the Pagan religion his exclusion was even more absolute; against them he was a sworn militant protester from the hour of his baptism. And when these modes of pleasurable relaxation had been subtracted from ancient life, what could remain? Even less, perhaps, than most readers have been led to consider. For the ancients had no such power of extensive locomotion, of refreshment for their wearied minds, by travelling and change of scene, as we children of modern civilization possess. No ships had then been fitted up for passengers, nor public carriages established, nor roads opened extensively, nor hotels so much as imagined hypothetically; because the relation of εvia, or the obligation to reciprocal hospitality, and latterly the Roman relation of patron and client, had stifled the first motions of enterprise of the ancients; in fact, no man travelled but the soldier, and the man of political authority. Consequently, in sacrificing public amusements, the Christians sacrificed all pleasure whatsoever that was not rigorously domestic; whilst in facing the contingencies of persecutions that might arise under the rapid succession of changing emperors, they faced a perpetual anxiety more trying to the fortitude than any fixed and measurable evil. Here, certainly, we have a guarantee for the deep faithfulness of early Christians, such as never can exist for more mixed bodies of professors, subject to no searching trials.
Better the primitive Christians were (by no means individually better, but better on the total body), yet they were not in any intellectual sense wiser. Unquestionably the elder Christians participated in
the local follies, prejudices, superstitions, of their several provinces and cities, except where any of these happened to be too conspicuously at war with the spirit of love or the spirit of purity which exhaled at every point from the Christian faith; and, in all intellectual features, as were the Christians generally, such were the fathers. Amongst the Greek fathers, one might be unusually learned, as Clement of Alexandria; and another might be reputed unusually eloquent, as Gregory Nazianzen, or Basil. Amongst the Latin fathers, one might be a man of admirable genius, as far beyond the poor, vaunted Rousseau in the impassioned grandeur of his thoughts, as he was in truth and purity of heart; we speak of St. Augustine (usually called St. Austin), and many might be distinguished by various literary merits. But could these advantages anticipate a higher civilization? Most unquestionably some of the fathers were the élite of their own age, but not in advance of their age. They, like all their contemporaries, were besieged by errors, ancient, inveterate, traditional; and accidentally, from one cause special to themselves, they were not merely liable to error, but usually prone to error. This cause lay in the polemic form which so often they found a necessity, or a convenience, or a temptation for assuming, as teachers or defenders of the truth.
He who reveals a body of awful truth to a candid and willing auditory is content with the grand simplicities of truth in the quality of his proofs. And truth, where it happens to be of a high order, is generally its own witness to all who approach it in the spirit of childlike docility. But far different is the