Occasional Papers eBook

Richard William Church
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 447 pages of information about Occasional Papers.
Roman harshness and cruelty were softening down”; that “equality and the rights of men were preached by the Stoics”; that “woman was more her own mistress, and slaves were better treated than in the days of Cato”; that “very humane and just laws were enacted under the very worst emperors; that Tiberius and Nero were able financiers”; that “after the terrible butcheries of the old centuries, mankind was crying with the voice of Virgil for peace and pity.”  A good many qualifications and abatements start up in our minds on reading these statements, and a good many formidable doubts suggest themselves, if we can at all believe what has come down to us of the history of these times.  It is hard to accept quite literally the bold assertion that “love for the poor, sympathy with all men, almsgiving, were becoming virtues.”  But allow this as the fair and hopeful side of the Empire.  Yet all this is a long way from accounting for the effects on the world of Christianity, even in the dim, vaporous form in which M. Renan imagines it, much more in the actual concrete reality in which, if we know anything, it appeared.  “Christianity,” he says, “responded to the cry for peace and pity of all weary and tender souls.”  No doubt it did; but what was it that responded, and what was its consolation, and whence was its power drawn?  What was there in the known thoughts or hopes or motives of men at the time to furnish such a response?  “Christianity,” he says, “could only have been born and spread at a time when men had no longer a country”; “it was that explosion of social and religious ideas which became inevitable after Augustus had put an end to political struggles,” after his policy had killed “patriotism.”  It is true enough that the first Christians, believing themselves subjects of an Eternal King and in view of an eternal world, felt themselves strangers and pilgrims in this; yet did the rest of the Roman world under the Caesars feel that they had no country, and was the idea of patriotism extinct in the age of Agricola?  But surely the real question worth asking is, What was it amid the increasing civilisation and prosperous peace of Rome under the first Emperors which made these Christians relinquish the idea of a country?  From whence did Christianity draw its power to set its followers in inflexible opposition to the intensest worship of the State that the world has ever known?

To tell us the conditions under which all this occurred is not to tell us the cause of it.  We follow with interest the sketches which M. Renan gives of these conditions, though it must be said that his generalisations are often extravagantly loose and misleading.  We do indeed want to know more of those wonderful but hidden days which intervene between the great Advent, with its subsequent Apostolic age, and the days when the Church appears fully constituted and recognised.  German research and French intelligence and constructiveness have done something to help us, but not much.  But at the end of all such inquiries appears the question of questions, What was the beginning and root of it all?  Christians have a reasonable answer to the question.  There is none, there is not really the suggestion of one, in M. Renan’s account of the connection of Christianity with the Roman world.

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Occasional Papers from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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