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Comparison of male and female characteristics
HAVING in the last chapter given a brief, but I trust not altogether indistinct, account of the causes that ensured the triumph of Christianity in Rome, and of the character of the opposition it overcame, I proceed to examine the nature of the moral ideal the new religion introduced, and also the methods by which it attempted to realise it. And at the very outset of this enquiry it is necessary to guard against a serious error. It is common with many persons to establish a comparison between Christianity and Paganism, by placing the teaching of the Christians in juxtaposition with corresponding passages from the writings of Marcus Aurelius or Seneca, and to regard the superiority of the Christian over the philosophical teaching as a complete measure of the mora] advance that was effected by Christianity. But a moment's reflection is sufficient to display the injustice of such a conclusion. The ethics of Paganism were part of a philosophy. The ethics of Christianity were part of a religion. The first were the speculations of a few highly cultivated individuals,
and neither had nor could have had any direct influence upon the masses of mankind. The second were indissolubly connected with the worship, hopes, and fears of a vast religious system, that acts at least as powerfully on the most ignorant as on the most educated. The chief objects of Pagan religions were to foretell the future, to explain the universe, to avert calamity, to obtain the assistance of the gods. They contained no instruments of moral teaching analogous to our institution of preaching, or to the moral preparation for the reception of the sacrament, or to confession, or to the reading of the Bible, or to religious education, or to united prayer for spiritual benefits. To make men virtuous was no more the function of the priest than of the physician. On the other hand, the philosophic expositions of duty were wholly unconnected with the religious ceremonies of the temple. To amalgamate these two spheres, to incorporate moral culture with religion, and thus to enlist in bebalf of the former that desire to enter, by means of ceremonial observances, into direct communication with Heaven, which experience has shown to be one of the most universal and powerful passions of mankind, was among the most important achievements of Christianity. Something bad, no doubt, been already attempted in this direction. Philosophy, in the hands of the rhetoricians, had become more popular. The Pythagoreans enjoined religious ceremonies for the purpose of purifying the mind, and expiatory rites were common, especially in the Oriental religions. But it was the distinguishing characteristic of Christianity that its moral influence was not indirect, casual, remote, or spasmodic. Unlike all Pagan religions, it made moral teaching a main function of its clergy, moral discipline the leading object of its services, moral dispositions the necessary condition of the due performance of its rites. By the pulpit, by its ceremonies, by all the agencies of power it possessed, it laboured systematically and perseveringly for the regeneration of mankind. Under its influence, doctrines concerning the nature
of God, the immortality of the soul, and the duties of man, which the noblest intellects of antiquity could barely grasp, have become the truisms of the village school, the proverbs of the cottage and of the alley.
But neither the beauty of its sacred writings, nor the perfection of its religious services, could have achieved this great result without the introduction of new motives to virtue. These may be either interested or disinterested, and in both spheres the influence of Christianity was very great. In the first, it effected a complete revolution by its teaching concerning the future world and concerning the nature of sin. The doctrine of a future life was far too vague among the Pagans to exercise any powerful general influence, and among the philosophers who clung to it most ardently it was regarded solely in the light of a consolation. Christianity made it a deterrent influence of the strongest kind. In addition to the doctrines of eternal suffering, and the lost condition of the human race, the notion of a minute personal retribution must be regarded as profoundly original. That the commission of great crimes, or the omission of great duties, may be expiated hereafter, was indeed an idea familiar to the Pagans, though it exercised little influence over their lives, and seldom or never produced, even in the case of the worst criminals, those scenes of deathbed repentance which are so conspicuous in Christian biographies. But the Christian notion of the enormity of little sins, the belief that all the details of life will be scrutinised hereafter, that weaknesses of character and petty infractions of duty, of which the historian and the biographer take no note, which have no perceptible influence upon society, and which scarcely elicit a comment among mankind, may be made the grounds of eternal condemnation beyond the grave, was altogether unknown to the ancients, and, at a time when it possessed all the freshness of novelty, it was well fitted to transform the character. The eye of the Pagan philosopher was ever fixed