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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.-Pp. 240–243.
This may be ingenious, but is it honest? What have we to do with what Christianity seemed to the contemptuous heathen in the first centuries; to what misrepresentations or calumnies it was exposed ? What was it, in itself, in the secluded chamber where it met to worship in secret ;—in the houses, in the habits, in the hearts of its first votaries ?
Primæval Christianity, we fearlessly assert, was not a religion of gloom; it fed not to the desert, it brought not the selftorturing practices of the desert into the home; the dominant sentiment was rejoicing at the glad tidings of the Gospel, the revelation of life and immortality brought to light by Christ. Look at every symbol; it is of gentleness, of hope, of peace. The Good Shepherd, the Lamb, the vine with its clusters. The Christian appears returning from the dark regions of the grave; the phenix rising from her ashes. Even the cross was not among the very earliest symbols, and then it was a simple cross; it required centuries of moody, monastic agency before the bleeding image of the Saviour was represented upon it. Read the inscriptions in the catacombs, the later they are the more forcible our arguments; all is quiet resignation of life, peace, and the hope of a joyful resurrection. In pace’ is the universal epitaph; every symbol is of glad hope ; Jonah coming forth from the fish; the dove from the ark; the raising of Lazarus; the deliverance of Daniel and the three children ; there too is ever the Good Shepherd watching in love over his own.
The whole chapter which traces the development of this false Heathen Idea of Christianity is the ablest in the book, full of various reading, and told with ease and perspicuity; it is not so profoundly theological as those which follow, and in which this same test is applied to the later centuries, but it is more full of general interest—the work, in short, of an accomplished scholar. Yet even on this plain historical question we are directly at issue with Mr. Newman. His own authorities, at least those which bear upon the question, are to our judgement, properly understood, directly against him. The theory is that Christianity was confounded in the heathen mind with those multifarious religions which flowed in from the East ;-few of them, we say (for on this point we differ from Mr. Newman), before the birth of our Saviour—Mithriac, Isiac, Phrygian, Bacchanalian: but all inseparably moulded up with the notion of magic, on which the Roman mind looked with the utmost aversion, and against which the Roman law pronounced the strongest condemnation. Yet we cannot but think that, at least before the breaking out of the Gnostic sects in the middle of the second century, the suspicion of magic, or indeed of any close relationship with the Oriental systems abovenamed, did not much affect the Roman mind in its estimate of Christianity. It was the Jewish descent of the Christians, with their assertion of the unsocial religious principles of the Jews, which was chiefly hateful to the Roman world. That world recognized in them the same stern aversion to idolatry; the same, as it appeared, sullen withdrawal from the public games and festivals; the same, as it was called, morose virtue, which condemned the universal licentiousness of manners. Even the foul charges of Edipodean unions and Thyestean banquets did not necessarily imply magical rites: the nocturnal meetings to which the Christians were often reduced from the fear of persecution, and the assembling of the sexes together for common worship, gave rise to the former; possibly misapprehended Christian language in part to the latter calumny. The Jews, however the heathen world might resent what seemed their insolent intolerance, had yet the privilege of a nation to worship their national God, and as long as the Christians were but Jews, they were at first treated as they were at Corinth by
Gallio; afterwards as rebels against the law, as traitors to the state, of which in Rome the religion was a part, and as forming hetairiæ or associations (self-governed clubs or fraternities) against which the laws of Rome, from political rather than religious reasons, were suspiciously severe. It was when the subjects of Rome dared to deny the gods of Rome; when the more successful proselytism of the Christians began to withdraw the people in masses from the national rites; it was on the desertion of the temples in Bithynia that the hatred of the people, and the jealous watchfulness of the government were roused. The test by which the martyrs were tried appears to us conclusive; it was one at which no Roman addicted to magic—we doubt if any Isiac or Mithriac worshipper—would have scrupled for an instant; it was to adore the Emperor, to offer incense before his statue, to invoke the gods: in their case it was sometimes added to blaspheme the name of Christ. In later times the indiscriminating fury of the populace, among other appellations of hate, might call them sorcerers or witches; but the government was evidently better acquainted with their peculiar tenets, and employed the means of detection which they could neither escape nor elude. Magic, we believe, became only at a later period, when connected with the theurgy of the later Platonists, the crime imputed to large communities. It was before that of the individual, of the Canidia or the Erictho; and vented its malignity, as we read in Virgil, in individual acts of fascination, or bewitchment, or destruction of limb or life.
The first heathen notion of Christianity can be gathered only from the well-known passages in Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger.
When these three well-informed writers (says Mr. Newman) call Christianity a superstition, and a magical superstition, they were not using words at random.
A superstition they unquestionably called it, as all foreign religions were called, but not a magical one. Tacitus speaks of their hatred to the human race. This was the standing charge against the Jews; and, as far as it arose from their obstinate, unsocial aversion to all the public rites and festivals, was even more clearly imputable to the Christians. Nor was their hostility to the gods of mankind, which implied hatred of mankind, less rigid or avowed. In Suetonius, in that curious passage which shows perhaps that the opinion of that epigramwriter is not of much weight on such subjects, the Christians are clearly considered but a faction of Jews. Claudius, he says, expelled the Jews from Rome on account of the perpetual tumults excited by Chrestus. In another passage Suetonius certainly applies the word malefica' to the superstition of the Jews, and in later writers, in the Theodosian laws, and in some accounts of the Christian martyrdoms, maleficium seems to have acquired the peculiar sense of, or to have been connected with, magic. But we doubt much whether it necessarily conveyed that meaning in the ordinary Latin of Suetonius or Tacitus. In one passage of Tacitus (Ann. xi. 69) it is certainly used in connection with witchcraft and enchantments, but the peculiar significance is indicated by the previous words. In several others, in the same writer, it merely means crimes, misdeeds, the deeds of a malefactor. The melting a silver statue of the emperor, to turn into money, is called maleficium. In two other passages of Suetonius which we have consulted, it is used in its general sense. Mr. Newman even forces the passage of Pliny into a support of his theory. He translates the carmen,' the hymn to Christ, some have supposed the alternating chaunt which was reported to be sung as part of the Christian worship, as a magical incantation. The innocent word carmen' was doubtless sometimes used in that sense, but it was by no means its primary or ordinary one; and in the whole of Pliny's letter there is not one syllable which warrants the belief that he suspected them of any crime beyond that of contumacy to the imperial will, in presuming to have a religion of their own, and to hold private assemblies, on which the laws of Rome looked with especial jealousy. He allows their entire blamelessness as to any other charge; and
it must be observed that this carmen to Christ as God' was reported to Pliny by men who had been Christians, who must have understood its real meaning, and had no reason for imputing to their former brethren so odious a crime as magic.
But we dwell too long on this; nor must we indulge ourselves in, we trust, amicable debate with Mr. Newman on historical ground, which we much prefer to the dry and barren sands of metaphysical or theologic discussion. For, we repeat, that the question is not what Christianity appeared to be to the hostile heathens, but what it was in the ordinary life and in the bosom of Christian families. If Mr. Newman's Mediæval Christianity be a true development of the false idea-of the religion as it was erringly conceived or calumniously misrepresented by its adversaries—the conclusion would be destructive rather than in favour of its fidelity to the original and perfect Idea.
II. The second test is Continuity of Principle. Here again we are lost in a wilderness of incomplete and inapplicable analogies, grammatical, political, dramatic. We have much which is acute, much which is fertile in invention, and original in language-much subtilized into fantastic distinctions, and loose in expression; all, however, curiously illustrative of the state and temper of the author's mind. He is drawing the distinction between principles and doctrines. Personal responsibility is a principle—the Being of God is a doctrine ; from that doctrine all theology has come in due course, whereas that principle is not clearer under the Gospel than a (qu. in) paradise, and depends not on belief in an Almighty Governor, but on conscience. Surely Mr. Newman must mean the sense of personal responsibility; and the belief, if not of an Almighty Governor, of some Superior Power, must form part of that notion of personal responsibility, recognized by the conscience. Presently we read— Personal responsibility may be made a doctrinal basis, and develop into Arminianism and Pelagianism. Is personal responsibility, then, a dangerous doctrine ?