Guardian, 21st April 1880.
M. Renan has pursued the line of thought indicated in his first lecture, and in his succeeding lectures has developed the idea that Christianity, as we know it, was born in Imperial Rome, and that in its visible form and active influence on the world it was the manifest product of Roman instincts and habits; it was the spirit of the Empire passing into a new body and accepting in exchange for political power, as it slowly decayed and vanished, a spiritual supremacy as unrivalled and as astonishing. The “Legend of the Roman Church—Peter and Paul,” “Rome the Centre in which Church Authority grew up,” and “Rome the Capital of Catholicism,” are the titles of the three lectures in which this thesis is explained and illustrated. A lecture on Marcus Aurelius, at the Royal Institution, though not one of the series, is obviously connected with it, and concludes M. Renan’s work in England.
Except the brilliant bits of writing which, judging from the full abstracts given in translation in the Times, appear to have been interspersed, and except the undoubting self-confidence and aplomb with which a historical survey, reversing the common ideas of mankind, was delivered, there was little new to be learned from M. Renan’s treatment of his subject. Perhaps it may be described as the Roman Catholic theory of the rise of the Church, put in an infidel point of view. It is Roman Catholic in concentrating all interest, all the sources of influence and power in the Christian religion and Christian Church, from the first moment at Rome. But for Rome the Christian Church would not have existed. The Church is inconceivable without Rome, and Rome as the seat and centre of its spiritual activity. Everything else is forgotten. There were Christian Churches all over the Empire, in Syria, in Egypt, in Africa, in Asia Minor, in Gaul, in Greece. A great body of Christian literature, embodying the ideas and character of Christians all over the Empire, was growing up, and this was not Roman and had nothing to do with Rome; it was Greek as much as Latin, and local, not metropolitan, in its characteristics. Christianity was spreading here, there, and everywhere, slowly and imperceptibly as the tide comes in, or as cells multiply in the growing tissues of organised matter; it was spreading under its many distinct guides and teachers, and taking possession of the cities and provinces of the Empire. All this great movement, the real foundation of all that was to be, is overlooked and forgotten in the attention which is fixed on Rome and confined to it. As in the Roman Catholic view, M. Renan brings St. Paul and St. Peter together to Rome, to found that great Imperial Church in which the manifold and varied history of Christendom is merged and swallowed up. Only, of course, M. Renan brings them there as “fanatics” instead