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The adoption of Trajan assured to civilised humanity after cruel trials a century of happiness. The Empire was saved. The malignant predictions of the apocalypse makers were completely contradicted. The world still desired to live: the Empire, in spite of the fall of the Julii and the Flavii, found in its strong military organisation resources which the superficial provincials never suspected. Trajan, whom the choice of Nerva was to carry to the Imperial throne, was a very great man, a true Roman, master of himself, cool in command, of a grave and dignified bearing. He had certainly less political genius than a Cæsar, an Augustus, a Tiberius, but he was their superior in justice and in goodness, while in military talent, he 195was the equal of Cæsar. He made no profession of philosophy like Marcus Aurelius, but he equalled him in practical wisdom and benevolence. His firm faith in Liberalism never faltered; he showed, by an illustrious example, that the heroically optimist party which makes us admit that men are good when they are not proved to be bad, may be reconciled with the firmness of a sovereign. Surprising thing! this world of idealogues and of men of opposition, whom the death of Domitian carried into power, knew how to govern. He frankly reconciled himself to the necessity, and it was then seen how excellent a thing is a monarchy made by converted Republicans. The old Virginius Rufus, the great citizen who had dreamed all his life of a Republic, and who did all that he could to get it proclaimed at the death of Nero as it had been at the death of Caligula, Virginius illustrious for having many times refused the Empire, was completely won over, and served as a centre for that distinguished society. The Radical party renounced its dream, and admitted that if the principate and liberty had until then been irreconcilable, the happiness of the times had made such a miracle easy.

Galba had been the first to recognise that combination of apparently contradictory elements. Nerva and Trajan realised it. The Empire with them became Republican, or rather the Emperor was the first and only Republican in the Empire. The great men who are praised in the world which surrounds the sovereign are Thrasea, Helvidius, Senecion, Cato, Brutus, the Greek heroes who expelled the tyrants from their country. Therein lies the explanation of the fact that after the year 98 nothing more is heard of protests against the principate. The philosophers who had been until then in some sort the soul of the Radical opposition, and whose attitude had been so hostile under the Flavii, suddenly held their peace: they were satisfied. Between the new régime and philosophy 196there was an intimate alliance. It must be said that never in the government of human affairs was to be seen a group of men so worthy to preside. There were Pliny, Tacitus, Virginius Rufus, Junius Mauricus, Gratilla, Fannia, noble men, chaste women, all having been persecuted by Domitian, all lamenting some relation, some friend, victim of the abhorred reign.

The age of monsters had gone by. That haughty race of the Julii, and the families which were allied to them, had unfolded before the world the strangest spectacle of folly, grandeur, and perversity. Henceforward the bitterness of the Roman blood appears exhausted. Rome has sweated away all her malice. It is the peculiarity of an aristocracy which has lived its life without restraint, to become in its old age rigid, orthodox, puritan. The Roman nobility, the most terrible that ever existed, is now distinguished chiefly by refinements, extremes of virtue, delicacy, modesty.

This transformation was in a great measure the work of Greece. The Greek schoolmaster had succeeded in making himself accepted by the Roman noblesse, by dint of submitting to its pride, its coarseness, its contempt for matters of mind. In the time of Julius Cæsar, Sextius, the father, brought from Athens to Rome the proud moral discipline of Stoicism, the examination of conscience, asceticism, abstinence, love of poverty. After him, Sextius, the son, Sohon of Alexandria, Attala, Demetrius the cynic, Metronax, Claranus, Fabianus, Seneca, gave the model of an active and practical philosophy, employing all means—preaching, direction of conscience—for the propagation of virtue. The noble struggle of the philosophers against Nero and Domitian, their banishments, their punishments, had all ended in making them dear to the best Roman society. Their credit continues increasing until the time of Marcus Aurelius, under whom they reigned. The strength of a party is 197always in proportion to the number of its martyrs. Philosophy had had its own. It, like everything else that was noble, had suffered from the abominable governments under which it had existed; it profited by the moral reaction provoked by the excess of evil. Then arose an idea dear to rhetoricians; the tyrant, born enemy of philosophy; philosophy, the born enemy of tyrants. All the masters of the Antonines are full of this idea; the good Marcus Aurelius passed his youth in declaiming against the tyrants; the horror for Nero and for those Emperors whom Pliny the Elder called “the firebrands of the human race,” fills the literature of the time. Trajan had always for philosophers the greatest regard and the most delicate attentions. Between Greek discipline and Roman pride the alliance is henceforward intimate. “To live as beseems a Roman and a man,” is the dream of everyone who respects himself; Marcus Aurelius is not yet born, but he is here morally; the spiritual matrix from which he will issue, is completely constructed.

Ancient philosophy assuredly had days of greater originality, but it had never penetrated life and society more deeply. The differences of the schools were almost effaced; general systems were abandoned; a superficial eclecticism, such as men of the world like when they are anxious to do well, was the fashion. The philosophy became oratorical, literary preaching tending more towards moral amelioration than to the satisfaction of curiosity. A host of persons made it their rule and even the law of their exterior life. Musonius Rufus and Artemidorus were true confessors of their faith, heroes of stoical virtue. Euphrates of Tyre offered the ideal of the gentleman philosopher, his person had a great charm, his manners were of the rarest distinction. Dion Chrysostom created a series of lectures akin to sermons, and obtained immense successes, without ever falling short 198of the most elevated tone. The good Plutarch wrote for the future, Morality in Action, of good sense, of honesty, and imagined that Greek antiquity, gentle and paternal, little resembling the true (which was resplendent with beauty, liberty, and genius), but better suited than the true to the necessities of education. Epictetus himself had the words of eternity, and took his place by the side of Jesus, not upon the golden mountains of Galilee, enlightened by the sun of the kingdom of God, but in the ideal world of perfect virtue. Without a resurrection, without a chimerical Tabor, without a kingdom of God, he preached self-sacrifice, renunciation, abnegation. He was the sublime snow point which humanity contemplates with a sort of terror on its horizon; Jesus had the more lovable part of God amongst men—a smile, gaiety, forgiveness of sins were permitted to him.

Literature, on its side, having become all at once grave and worthy, exhibits an immense progress in the manners of good society. Quintilian already, in the worst days of the reign of Domitian, had laid out the code of oratorical probity which ought to be in such perfect accord with our greatest minds of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Rollin, M.M. de Port Royal. Now literary honesty never goes alone; it is only serious ages that can have a serious literature. Tacitus wrote history with a high aristocratic sense, which did not save him from errors of detail, but which inspired him with those outbursts of virtuous passion which have made of him for all eternity the spectre of tyrants. Suetonius prepared himself, by labours of solid erudition, for his part of exact and impartial biographer. Pliny, a man of good birth, liberal, humane, charitable, refined, founds schools and public libraries; he might be a Frenchman of the most amiable society of the eighteenth century. Juvenal, sincere in declamation, and moral in his 199painting of vice, has fine accents of humanity, and preserves, notwithstanding the stains on his life, a sentiment of Roman pride. It was like a tardy flowering of the beautiful intellectual culture, created by the collaboration of the Greek and the Italian genius. That culture was already stricken with death at the root; but before dying, it produced a last crop of leaves and flowers.

The world is then at last to be governed by reason. Philosophy will enjoy for a hundred years the right which it is credited with of rendering people happy. A great number of excellent laws, forming the best part of the Roman law, are of this date. Public assistance begins; children are, above all, the object of the solicitude of the State. A real moral sentiment animates the government; never before the eighteenth century was so much done for the amelioration of the condition of the human race. The Emperor is a god accomplishing his journey upon earth, and signalising his passage by benefits.

Such a system must, of course, differ greatly from what we consider as essentially a Liberal government. We should seek vainly for any trace of parliamentary or representative institutions: the state of the world was Incompatible with such things. The opinion of the politicians of the time is that power belongs, by a sort of natural delegation, to honest, sensible, moderate men. That designation was made by the Tatum; when it was once accepted, the Emperor governs the Empire as the ram conducts his troop, and the bull his herd. By the side of this a language altogether Republican. With the best faith in the world these excellent sovereigns thought that they would be able to realise a State founded upon the natural equality of all citizens, a royalty having as its basis respect for liberty. Liberty, justice, respect for opponents, were their fundamental maxims. But these words, borrowed from the history of the Greek Republics, 200where letters were cultivated, had but little meaning in the real society of the time. Civil equality did not exist. The difference between rich and poor was written in the law, the Roman or Italiote aristocracy preserved all its privileges; the Senate, re-established in its rights and dignity by Nerva, remained as much walled in as it had ever been; the cursus honorum was the exclusive privilege of the nobility. The good Roman families have reconquered their exclusive predominance in politics: outside of them, it does not happen.

The victory of these families was assuredly a just victory, for under the odious reigns of Nero and Domitian they had given an asylum to virtue, to self-respect, to the instinct of reasonable command, to good literary and philosophical education; but these same families, as usually happens, formed a very closely-enclosed world. The advent of Nerva and Trajan, which was the work of an aristocratic, Liberal-Conservative party, put an end to two things—barrack troubles, and the importance of the Orientals, the domestics, and favourites of the Emperors. The freedmen, people of Egypt and Syria, will no longer be able to trouble all that is best in Rome. These wretches, who made themselves masters by their guilty complaisances in the reigns of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, who had even been the counsellors and the confidants of the debaucheries of Titus before his accession, fell into contempt. The irritation which the Romans felt at the honours decreed to a Herod Agrippa, to a Tiberius Alexander, was not again felt after the fall of Flavius. The Senate increased as much in power; but the action of the provinces was lessened; the attempts to break the ice of the official world were almost reduced to impotence.

Hellenism did not suffer; for it knew by its suppleness or by its high distinction how to make itself acceptable to the best of the Roman world. But 201Judaism and Christianity suffered for it. We have seen on two occasions in the first century, under Nero and under the Flavii, Jews and Christians approach the house of the Emperor, and exercise considerable influence there. From Nerva to Commodus they were a thousand leagues apart. For one thing, the Jews had no nobility; the worldly Jews, like the Herodians, the Tiberius Alexanders, were dead; every Jew is henceforward a fanatic separated from the rest of the world by an abyss of contempt. A mass of impurities, ineptitudes, absurdities—that is what Mosaism was for the most enlightened men of the time. The Jews appeared to be at the same time superstitious and irreligious; atheists devoted to the most vulgar beliefs. Their religion appeared like a world turned upside down, a defiance of reason, a pledge to contradict in everything the customs of other people. Travestied in a grotesque fashion, their history served a theme for endless pleasantries; it was generally thought to be a form of the worship of Bacchus. “Antiochus,” it was said, “tried in vain to improve this detestable race.” One accusation especially—that of hating all who were not of them, was murderous, for it was based upon specious motives of a kind to mislead public opinion. Still more dangerous was the idea according to which the proselyte who attached himself to Mosaism learned as his first lesson to despise the gods, to cast off every patriotic sentiment, to forget parents, children, and friends. Their benevolence, it was said, was but egotism; their morality only apparent; amongst them everything is permitted.

Trajan, Adrian, Antonine, Marcus Aurelius, held themselves in this way with regard to Judaism and to Christianity in a sort of haughty isolation. They did not know it; they did not care to study it. Tacitus, who wrote for the great world, speaks of the Jews as an exotic curiosity, totally ignored by those 202to whom he addresses himself, and his errors are surprising. The exclusive confidence of these noble minds in the Roman discipline rendered them careless of a doctrine which presented itself to them as foreign and absurd. History ought to speak only with respect of honest and courageous politicians who lifted the world out of the mire into which it had been cast by the last Julius and the last Flavius; but they had imperfections which were really the result of their qualities. They were aristocrats, men of traditions, of the race of English Tories, drawing their strength from their very prejudices. They were profoundly Roman. Persuaded that no man who is not rich or well-born can possibly be an honest man, they did not feel for the foreign doctrines that weakness which the Flavii, men of lower birth, could not avoid. Their surroundings, the society which rose into power along with them—Tacitus, Pliny—have the same contempt for the barbarous doctrines. A ditch seems to have been dug during the whole of the second century between Christianity and the special world. The four great and good Emperors are clearly hostile to it, and it is under the monster Commodus that we find once more, as under Claudius, under Nero, and under the Flavii, “Christians of the House of Cæsar.” The defects of these virtuous Emperors are those of the Romans themselves,—too much confidence in the Latin tradition, a disagreeable obstinacy in not admitting honour out of Rome, much pride and harshness towards the humble, the poor, foreigners, Syrians, and for all the people whom Augustus disdainfully called “the Greeks,” and to whom he permitted adulations forbidden to the Italiots. These outcasts took their revenge, showing that they also have their nobility and are capable of virtue.

The question of liberty is thus raised as it has never been raised before in any of the republics of antiquity. The ancient city, which was only an enlarged family, 203could have only one religion, that of the city itself; that religion was almost always the worship of mythical founders, of the very idea of the city. When it was not practised, the idea of the city was excluded. Such a religion was logical even when it was intolerant; but Alexander had been unreasonable. Antiochus Epiphanes was so in the highest degree, in wishing to persecute to the profit of a particular religion, since their States resulting from conquest formed various cities whose political existence had been suppressed. Cæsar, with his marvellous lucidity of mind, understood that. Then the narrow idea of the Roman city regained the ascendency, feebly and by short intermissions in the first century, in a manner much followed in the second. Already under Tiberius, a Valerius Maximus, maker of indifferent books, and a dishonest man, preached the religion with an astonishing air of convection. We have seen even Domitian extend a powerful protection to the Latin religion, attempt a sort of union of “the throne and the altar.” All that sprang out of a sentiment analogous to that which attaches to the Catholicism of our own days, a host of people who believe very little, but who are convinced that this worship is the religion of France. Martial and Statius, gazetteers of the scandalous chronicle of the times, who at heart regret the fine times of Nero, become grave and religious, applaud the censorship of manners, preach respect for authority. Social and political crises usually have the effect of provoking political reactions of this kind. Society in peril attaches itself where it can. A threatened world ranges itself in order of battle; convinced that every thought turns to evil, becomes timid, holds its breath as it were, since it fears that every movement may overthrow the frail edifice which serves it as shelter.

Trajan and his successors scarcely cared to renew the sad excess of sneaking hypocrisy which characterised 204the reign of Domitian. Yet these princes and their surroundings showed themselves very Conservative in religion. They saw salvation only in the old Roman spirit. Marcus Aurelius, philosopher though he was, is in no way exempt from superstition. He is a rigid observer of the official religion. The brotherhood of the Salii had no more devout member. He affected to imitate Numa, from whom he claimed to be descended, and maintained with severity the laws which forbade foreign religions. Devotions on the eve of death! The day when one holds most to these memories is the day that in which they go astray. How much injury has accrued to the House of Bourbon through thinking too much of St Louis, and claiming to be descended from Cloris and Charlemagne!

To that strong preference for the national worship was joined, with the great emperors of the second century, the fear of the heteria, cœtus illiciti, or associations which might become factions in the cities. A simple body of firemen were suspected. Too many people at a family festivity disquieted the authorities. Trajan required that the invitations should be limited and given by name. Even the associations ad sustinendam tenuiorium inopiam were permitted only in the cities which had special charters for the purpose. In that matter Trajan followed the tradition of all the great Emperors after Cæsar. It is impossible that such measures could have appeared necessary to such great men if they had not been justified in some respects. But the administrative spirit of the second century was carried to excess. Instead of practising public benevolence, as the State had begun to do, how much better it would have been to leave the associations free to exercise it! These associations aspired to spring up in all parts: the State was full of injustice and harshness for them. It wanted peace at any price, but peace, when it is based by authority on the 205suppression of private effort, is more prejudicial to society than the very troubles of which it is desired to get rid by the sacrifice of all liberty.

In that lies the cause of that phenomenon, in itself so singular, of Christianity being found worse under the wise administration of the great emperors of the second century than under the furious rage with which the scoundrels of the first attacked it. The violences of Nero, of Domitian, lasted only a few weeks or months; they were either passing acts of brutality or else the results of annoyances springing out of a fantastic and shady policy. In the interval which passed between the appearance of Christianity and the accession of Trajan, never once do we find the criminal law put in force against Christians. Legislation on the subject of the illicit colleges already existed in part, but it was never applied with so much rigour as was done later. On the contrary, the very legal but very governmental rule (as we should say nowadays) of the Trajans and the Antonines, will be more oppressive to Christianity than the ferocity and the wickedness of the tyrants. These great Conservatives of things Roman will perceive, not without reason, a serious danger to the Empire in that too firm faith in a kingdom of God which is the inversion of existing society. The theocratic element which underlies Judaism and Christianity alike terrifies them. They see indistinctly but certainly what the Decii, the Aurelians, the Diocletians will see more clearly after them, all the restorers of the Empire failing in the third century,—that a choice must be made between the Empire and the Church,—that full liberty of the Church means the end of the Empire. They struggle as a matter of duty; they allow a harsh law to be applied, since it is the condition of the existence of society in their time. Thus a fair understanding with Christianity was much more remote than under Nero or under Flavius. Public men had felt the 206danger, and stood on guard. Stoicism had grown more rigid; the world was no longer for tender souls full of feminine sentiments like Virgil. The disciples of Jesus have now to deal with stern men, inflexible doctrinaires, men sure of being right, capable of being systematically harsh, since they can give proof of acting only for the good of the State, and of saying, with an imperturbable gentleness, “What is not useful to the swarm is no more useful to the bee.”

Assuredly, according to our ideas, Trajan and Marcus Aurelius would have done better had they been Liberals altogether, had they fully conceded the right of association, of recognising corporations as being capable of holding property; free, in case of schism, to divide the property of the corporation amongst the members, in proportion to the number of adherents to each party. This last point would have been sufficient to get rid of all danger. Already in the third century it is the Empire which maintains the unity of the Church in making it a rule that he shall be regarded as the true bishop of a church in any city who corresponds with the Bishop of Rome, and is recognised by him. What would have happened in the fourth, in the midst of those embittered struggles with Arianism? Numberless and irremediable schisms. The emperors, and then the barbarian kings, alone could put an end to the matter by limiting the question of orthodoxy to “who was the canonical bishop?” Corporations not connected with the State are never very formidable to the State, when the State remains really neutral, does not assume the office of judge of the denominations, and in the legal proceedings before it for the possession of goods, observes the rule of dividing the capital in strict proportion to numbers. Thus all associations which might become dangerous to the peace of the State may readily be dissolved; division will reduce them to dust. The authority of the State alone can cause 207schisms in bodies of this kind to cease; the neutrality of the State renders them incurable. The Liberal system is the surest solvent of too powerful associations, as has been proved on many occasions. But Trajan and Marcus Aurelius did not know this. Their error in this as in so many other points where we find their legislative work defective, was one which centuries alone could correct.

Permanent persecution by the State. Such, then, is in brief the story of the era which is now opening for Christianity. It has been thought sometimes that there was a special edict in these terms:—Non licet esse Christianos, which served as basis for all the proceedings against the Christians. It is possible, but it is not necessary, to suppose that there was. Christians were, by the very fact of their existence, in conflict with the laws concerning association. They were guilty of sacrilege, of lèse majesté, of nightly meetings. They could not render to the Emperor the honours which a loyal subject should. Now the crime of lèse majesté was punished with the most cruel tortures: no one accused of the crime was exempt from the torture. And there was that sombre category of flagitia nomini cohærentia, crimes which it was not necessary to prove, which the name of Christian alone was supposed to be sufficient to prove à priori, and which entailed the character of hostis publicus. Such crimes were officially prosecuted. Such, in particular, was the crime of arson, constantly kept in mind by the remembrance of 64, and also by the persistence with which the apocalypses returned to the idea of a final conflagration. To this was joined the constant suspicion of secret infamies, of nightly meetings, of guilty commerce with women, young girls, and children. From thence to judge the Christians capable of every crime and to attribute to them all misdeeds, was but one step, and that step the crowd rather than the magistracy took every day.


When to all this is added the terrible discretion which was left to the judges, especially in the choice of punishment, and it will be understood how, without exceptional laws, without special legislation, it was possible to produce the desolating spectacle which the history of the Roman Empire presents at its best periods. The law may be applied with greater or less rigour, but it is still the law. This condition of things will last like a low and slow fever throughout the second century, with intervals of exasperation and remission in the third. It will end only with the terrible outburst of the first years of the fourth century, and will be definitely closed by the edict of Milan of 313. Every revival of the Roman spirit will be a redoubling of persecution. The emperors who, on divers occasions in the fourth century, undertook to restore the Empire, are the persecutors. The tolerant emperors—Alexander, Severus, Philip—are those who have no Roman blood in their veins, and who sacrifice Latin traditions to the cosmopolitanism of the East.

Venerate the Divine in all things and everywhere, according to the usages of the nation, and force others to honour him. Hate and punish the partisans of foreign ceremonies, not merely out of respect for the gods, but especially because those who introduce new divinities thereby spread the taste for foreign customs, which leads to conjurations, to coalitions to associations, things which agree in no way with the Monarchy. Neither permit any man to profess at atheism or magic. Divination is necessary; let augurs and auspices be officially named, therefore, to whom those who wish to consult them may address themselves, but let there be no free magicians, for such persona, mixing some truths with many lies, may urge the citizens to rebellion. The same thing may be said of many of those who call themselves philosophers; beware of them; they only do mischief to private persons and to the peoples.

It was in such terms that a statesman of the generation which followed the Antonines summed up their religious policy. As in a time nearer to our own, the State thought itself to be displaying immense 209ability when it made use of superstition as a means of government. The municipalities enjoyed the same right by delegation. Religion was only a simple affair of the police,—a system of absolute isolation, where every movement is repressed, where every individual act is accounted dangerous, where the isolated individual, without a religious bond with other men, is no more than a purely official being, placed between a family reduced to the paltriest proportions and a state too great to be a country, to form the mind, to make the heart beat; such was the ideal which was dreamed of. Everything that was thought capable of affecting men, of producing emotion, was a crime which was to be prevented by death or exile. It was in this way that the Roman Empire killed the antique life, killed the soul, killed science, formed that school of heavy and restricted minds, of narrow politics, which, under the pretence of abolishing superstition, brought about in reality the triumph of theocracy.

A great intellectual decline was the result of these efforts to restore a faith which no one held. A sort of commonplaceness spread itself over beliefs, and took away from them everything that was serious. Free-thinkers, innumerable in the century before and the century after Jesus Christ, diminished in numbers and disappeared. The easy tone of the great Latin literature was lost, and gave place to a heavy credulity. Science extinguished itself from day to day. After the death of Seneca it could hardly be said that there was a single savant who was altogether a rationalist. Pliny the elder is curious, but is no critic. Tacitus, Pliny the younger, Suetonius, avoid all expression of opinion on the inanity of the most ridiculous imagination. Pliny the younger believes in childish ghost stories. Epictetus desires to practise the established religion. Even a writer as frivolous as Apuleius believes himself, when the gods are in question, obliged to take the tone of a rigid Conservative. A 210single man about the middle of this century appears altogether free from supernatural beliefs—Lucan. The scientific spirit which is the negation of the supernatural, exists no longer save amongst an extremely small number; superstition invades everything, enervates all reason.

Whilst religion was corrupting philosophy, philosophy sought for apparent reconciliations with the supernatural. A foolish and hollow theology, mixed with imposture, came into fashion Apuleius will soon call the philosophers “the priests of all the gods.” Alexander of Abonotica will found a religion upon conjuring tricks. Religious quackery, miracle-mongering, relieved by a false varnish of philosophy, became the fashion. Apollonius of Tyana afforded the first example of it, although it would be difficult to say who this singular personage was in reality, It was at a later date that he was imagined to be a religious revealer, a sort of philosophical demi-god. Such was the promptitude of the decadence of the human mind that a wretched theurgist who, in the time of Trajan, would hardly have been accepted by the Gapers of Asia Minor, became a hundred years afterwards, thanks to shameless writers, who used him to amuse a public fallen altogether into credulity, a personage of the first order, a divine incarnation whom they dared to compare with Jesus.

Public instruction obtained from the emperors much more attention than under the Cæsars and even under the Flavii; but there was no question of literature; the grand discipline of the mind which comes especially from science will obtain from these professors but little profit. Philosophy was specially favoured by Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius; but philosophy, which is the supreme object of life, which includes everything else, can scarcely be taught by the State. In any case, that instruction affected the people very little. It was something abstract and elevated, something 211which passed over their heads, and as, on the other hand, the Temple gave nothing of that moral teaching which the Church has more recently dispensed, the lower classes stagnated in a deplorable condition of abandonment. All this implies no reproach upon the great emperors who did not succeed in the impossible task of saving the ancient civilisation. Time failed them. One evening, after having endured during the day the assault of declaimers who promised him an infinite glory if he converted the world to philosophy, Marcus Aurelius wrote upon his tablets the following reflection, for his own use only:—“The universal cause is a torrent which draws all things with it. How simple are these pretended politicians who imagine that they can manage affairs by the maxims of philosophy. They are children who are babbling still. Do not hope that there will ever be a Republic of Plato; content thyself with small improvements, and if thou succeedest, do not imagine that that will be a small thing. Who can in effect change the inward dispositions of men? And without the change of hearts and of opinions, of what avail is all the rest? Thou wilt never do more than make slaves and hypocrites. The work of philosophy is a simple and a modest thing: far from us be all this pretentious gibberish?” Ah! honest man!

To sum up! Notwithstanding all its defects, society in the second century was making progress. There was intellectual decadence but moral improvement, as appears to be the case in our own days in the upper ranks of French society. The ideas of charity, of assistance to the poor, of disgust at the (gladiatorial) spectacles, increased everywhere. So much did this excellent spirit preside over the destinies of the Empire, that at the death of Marcus Aurelius Christianity seemed to be brought to a standstill It pressed forward, on the contrary, with an irresistible movement 212when in the third century the noble maxims of the Antonines were forgotten. As we have already said, Nerva, Trajan, Adrian, Antoninus, Marcus Aurelius, prolonged the life of the emperors for a hundred years; we may almost say that they retarded the advance of Christianity for the same time. The progress which Christianity made in the first and in the third centuries was gigantic as compared with that of the second. In the second century, Christianity was confronted by a great force, that of practical philosophy labouring rationally for the amelioration of human society. From the time of Commodus, individual egotism, and what may be called the egotism of the State, left no place for ideal aspirations except in the Church. The Church thus became the asylum of all the heart and soul; shortly after, civil and political life concentrated themselves equally within it.

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