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successful in converting the Roman empire through what he would call natural agencies, and hence, by implication, would have Christianity so regarded in civilization.
Nothing, perhaps, can better show the author's unfair treatment of the Christian religion than to bring together his positions, which, as gathered from his history and bearing on this point, are substantially as follows: Causes existed, without any help from the supernatural, for the entire transformation. "It may, indeed, be confidently asserted that the conversion of the Roman empire is so far from being of the nature of a miracle or suspension of the ordinary principles of human nature, that there is scarcely any other great movement on record in which the causes and effects so manifestly correspond." "Never before was a religious transformation so manifestly inevitable. No other religion ever combined so many forms of attraction as Christianity, both from its intrinsic excellence and from its manifest adaptation to the special wants of the time." "One great cause of its success was that it produced more heroic actions and formed more upright men than any other creed; but that it should do so was precisely what might have been expected."
In fact, it was quite strange that, at the time, the power of the new religion should not have been better appreciated. "That the greatest religious change in the history of mankind should have taken place under the eyes of a brilliant galaxy of philosophers and historians, who were profoundly conscious of the decomposition around them; that all these writers should have utterly failed to predict the issue of the movement they were observing; and that, during the space of three centuries, they should have treated as simply contemptible an agency which all men must now admit to have been, for good or for evil, the most powerful moral lever that has ever been applied to the affairs of men, are facts well worthy of meditation in any period of religious transition." But this makes the matter so easy that the author would deserve little praise for solving a riddle that others in
1 Vol. i. p. 359.
their ignorance had failed to solve; and he admits it to be a surprising fact that the barbarous nations should have been converted to Christianity as they were. "Still more wonderful," says he, "is the rapid conversion of the barbarous tribes. Of whole tribes or nations it may be truly said that they are absolutely ignorant of the cause of their change. Unfortunately this, which is one of the most important, is also one of the most obscure, pages in the history of the church."
And yet a sagacious observation and application of natural laws will explain all. The nations converted to Christianity, "disconnected from old associations, bowed before the majesty of civilization; and the Latin religion, like the Latin language, though with many adulterations, reigned over the new society." More particularly "the doctrine of exclusive salvation and the doctrine of demons had an admirable missionary power. The first produced an ardor of proselytism which the polytheist can never rival; while the pagan, who was easily led to recognize the Christian God, was menaced with eternal fire, if he did not take the further step of breaking off from his old divinities. The second dispensed the convert from the perhaps impossible task of believing his former religion; for it was only necessary for him to degrade it, attributing its prodigies to infernal beings." It might be well to ask, just here, whether Lecky really believes in the validity of the doctrine of an "exclusive salvation,” and, if not, whether he would seriously affirm that the great missionary power of the church really lay in the promulgation of a doctrine wholly groundless. And when he says: "To a world, in fine, distracted by hostile creeds and colliding philosophies, it [Christianity] taught its doctrines, not as a human speculation, but as a divine revelation, authenticated much less by reason than by faith," we would like to ask, again, whether this learned author believes in a religion whose authority and power over men lie in its being a "divine revelation"? or, whether "a religion under 1 Vol. ii. pp. 190, 191.
pretence" of deriving its authority directly from God, is simply what he holds the Christian religion to be? and so, whether the power of the Christian religion lay in its reality, or in its pretence?
The force of these queries will more fully appear when we find how he regards the miracles connected with the introduction of Christianity. When Mr. Lecky says that, “like all great religions, Christianity was more concerned with modes of feeling than with modes of thought," if he means with the character and the life, rather than with speculation, then we agree with him. But the religion of the New Testament is very far from being indifferent to modes of thought; it would affect the character and life by rectifying the intellect. In other words, Christianity is a doctrine, -a very definite and positive doctrine, as well as a life.
The following deserves careful notice, as combining something of truth with more of error in one short paragraph: "The true cause of its success was the congruity of its teaching with the spiritual nature of mankind. It was because it was true to the moral sentiments of the age, because it represented faithfully the supreme type of excellence to which men were then tending, because it corresponded with their religious wants, aims, and emotions, because the whole spiritual being could then expand and expatiate under its influence, that it planted its roots so deeply in the hearts of men." Now, that the teachings of Jesus Christ are adapted to the spiritual nature of mankind and correspond with our religious wants, is true; but history shows but too plainly that they did not meet with a popular reception on this account. But the moral sentiments of the age were very far from being one with the gospel; nor was the supreme type of excellence to which men were then tending, the Christian type. It is not true, therefore, that Christianity became successful because "true to the moral sentiments of the age," or because it "represented faithfully the supreme type of excellence to which men were then
VOL. XXIX. No. 114.
tending." But Lecky knows of only natural agencies, and admits nothing supernatural.
His treatment of miracles, however, is instructive. They were generally accepted. "Christianity floated into the Roman empire on the wave of credulity that brought with it this long train of oriental superstitions and legends. In its moral aspect it was broadly distinguished from the systems around it; but its miracles were accepted, by both friend and foe, as the ordinary accompaniments of religious teaching." This is, then, why miracles were pretended. But "to suppose that men who held these opinions were capable, in the second or third centuries, of ascertaining with any degree of just confidence whether miracles had taken place in Judea in the first century, is grossly absurd; nor would the conviction of their reality have made any great impression on their minds at a time when miracles were supposed to be so abundantly diffused." This, surely, is to dispose of miracles summarily, if not satisfactorily.
And, of course, with miracles in general, the great miracle of the incarnation must be discarded, and, with the incarnation, that positive Christianity which Lecky is somewhat troubled to treat as a natural agent. And yet a positivist or naturalist has in his system no place for miracles. And why should he trouble himself to examine the evidence on which they rest their claim. On the other hand, a supernatural religion cannot be appreciated from the mere standpoint of nature; nor can its working and its results be apprehended aright, if separated from its principles.
But, observe how the absurdities and non-realities of Christianity become, nevertheless, according to our author, real forces in the natural world. He sees that the teachers of this new religion "enforced their distinctive tenets as absolutely essential to salvation," and he affirms that they thus "assailed at great advantage the supporters of all other creeds which did not claim this exclusive authority." And this although by him it must be regarded as utterly ab
1 Vol. i. 397, 398.
surd — this teaching of the gospel as the only salvation, he holds to be one leading cause of the rapid progress of the church. He also affirms that "Christianity floated into the Roman empire on the wave of credulity that brought with it this long train of oriental superstitions and legends,"2 referring to miracles. Behold, then, the result - the world converted by miracles which in themselves were not realities, and by a claim which in itself is unreasonable !
And yet, from his point of view, how could this writer see that a religion revealed from heaven should and must be positive, and appeal to faith; be exclusive, and claim the assent of all? or, that precisely by being the one and doing the other, it exerted an influence and begat a morality peculiarly its own? And, not recognizing the fact that God has in the gospel of his Son proclaimed an evangel, and provided a supernatural power which is to revolutionize the world, he could not present, as he has not presented, the legitimate influence of Christianity - separating it from its human imperfections, and thus making it the vital element of the new civilization of the Atlantic states, which, because of this vital element, we denominate Christian.
It is refreshing to turn from such a treatment of Christianity as connected with civilization, and read these words from Guizot, who in the historic spirit and a knowledge of the world's history is certainly not inferior to the author of European Morals: "Who but will acknowledge that Christianity has been one of the greatest promoters of civilization? And wherefore? Because it has changed the interior condition of man, his opinions, his sentiments; because it has regenerated his intellectual and moral character."3 And, while speaking of the immense advantage to European civilization, during the fifth century, of a moral power resting on moral convictions, he says: "Had not the Christian church existed at that time, the whole world must have fallen a prey to mere brute force. The Christian 2 Vol. i. p. 397.
8 Guizot's History of Civilization, Vol. i. p. 26.
1 Vol. ii. p. 202.