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It is by the new discipline of life which it introduced into the world that Christianity conquered. The world had need of a moral reformation; philosophy did not provide it; the established religions in the Greek and Latin countries were struck by incapacity to improve man. Among all the religious institutions of the ancient world, Judaism alone raised against the corruption of the times a cry of despair. Eternal and unique glory this, which 324ought to make one forget even its follies and its violence! The Jews are the revolutionaries of the first and second centuries of our era. Respect their fever! Possessed by a high ideal of justice, convinced that this ideal ought to be realised on this earth, not admitting these compositions with which those who believe in Paradise and hell content themselves so readily, they had a hunger for good, and they conceived of it under the form of a little synagogical life of which the Christian life is only the ascetic transformation. Some numerous little groups of humble and pious people, leading among them a pure life, and awaiting together the great day which shall be their triumph, and shall inaugurate upon the earth the reign of the saints—that is, budding Christianity. The happiness which they enjoyed in these little guest-chambers became a powerful attraction. The people threw themselves by a sort of instinctive movement into a sect which satisfied their innermost aspirations, and opened up infinite hopes.

The intellectual exigencies of the time were very weak; the tender necessities of the heart were most imperious. Minds did not shine, but manners were sweetened. A religion was desired which should teach piety, myths which offered good examples, capable of being imitated, a sort of morality in action provided by the gods. An honest religion was desired, for Paganism was not that. Moral preaching proposes deism or monotheism; polytheism has never been a worship tending to morality. It was desired specially to have some assurances for a further life where the injustices of this should be repaired. The religion which promises immortality, and assures us that one day we shall see again those whom we have loved, always succeeds. “Those who have no hope” are very quickly conquered. A crowd of 325brotherhoods, where those consoling beliefs were professed, drew numerous adherents. Such were the Sabazian and Orphic mysteries in Macedonia, in Thrace the mysteries of Dionysius. In the second century, the symbols of Psyche took a funereal sense, and became a little religion of immortality, which the Christians adopted with earnestness. Ideas as to the other life, alas! as everything which is a matter of taste and sentiment, are those which subdue most easily the caprices of the world. The pictures which on this point have for a moment contented us pass quickly away; in making dreams beyond the tomb, we wish always something new, for nothing can long bear investigation. The established religion did not therefore give any satisfaction to the deep necessities of the age. The old god was neither good nor bad; he was a force. With time the adventures which were accounted concerning these divinities became immoral. The worship bordered on the grossest idolatry, sometimes the most ridiculous. It was not rare for philosophers in public to deliver themselves of attacks against the official religion, and that amid the applause of their auditors. The government, by wishing to mix themselves up with it, only brought it to the ground. The divinities of Greece, so long identified with the divinities of Rome, had their place by right in the Pantheon. The barbarian divinities suffered analogous identifications, and became Jupiters, Apollos, and Esculapiuses. As to the local divinities, they were saved by the cult of the Lares gods. Augustus had introduced into the religion a very considerable change, by restoring and regulating the cult of the Lares gods, especially the Lares of the streets, and by permitting to be joined to the two Lares consecrated by custom a third Lare, the Genius of the Emperor. The Lares gained by this association 326the epithet of August (Lares Augusti), and, as the local gods retained for the most part their legal right to their title of Lares, nearly all were thus described as August (numina augusta). Around this complex worship a clergy was formed, composed of the Flamen, a sort of archbishop representing the State, and some august sevirs, corporations of workmen and little tradesmen specially attached to Lares or local divinities. But the Genius of the Emperor naturally bore down its neighbours; the true religion of the State was the religion of Rome, of the emperor, and of the administration. The Lares remained very little personages. Jehovah, the only local god who resisted obstinately the august association, and whom it was impossible to transform into an innocent fetish of the cross, killed both the divinity of Augustus and all the other gods who lent themselves so easily to become the panders to tyranny. The struggle was from that point established between Judaism and the oddly-amalgamated cult which Rome sought to impose. Rome shall be stranded on this point. Rome shall give to the world government, civilisation, law, and the arts of administration; but it shall not give it religion. The religion which shall spread itself apparently in spite of Rome, in reality thanks to it, shall be in no wise the religion of Latium, or the religion patched up by Augustus; it shall be the religion which Rome has so often believed it has destroyed—the religion of Jehovah.

We have referred to the noble efforts of philosophy to meet the exigencies of the soul which religion no longer satisfied. Philosophy had seen everything and expressed everything in exquisite language; but it was necessary that this should be said under a popular, that is to say, a religious form. Religious movements are only made by priests; philosophy has too much reason. The 327reward she offers is not tangible enough. The poor, the person without instruction, who cannot approach it, are really without religion and without hope. Man is born so mediocre that he is not good except when he dreams. He needs some illusions that he may do what he ought to do for the love of good. This slave has need of fear and of lies to make him perform his duty. We can only obtain sacrifices from the masses by promising that they shall be paid in return. The self-denial of the Christian is nothing after all but a clever calculation, a placing of the Kingdom of God before the vision. Reason will always have few martyrs. We only devote ourselves for what we believe. Now, what we believe is the uncertain, the unreasonable; we submit to the reasonable, we do not believe it. That is why reason does not impel to action, it rather impels to abstention. No great revolution has been produced in humanity without very distinct ideas, without prejudices, without dogmatism; we are not strong except in the condition of deceiving ourselves with the whole world. Stoicism besides implied an error which injured it much before the people. In its eyes virtue and moral sentiment are identical. Christianity distinguishes between these two things. Jesus loves the prodigal son, the harlot, souls good at bottom, although sinners. To the Stoics all sins are equal; sin is unpardonable. Christianity has pardon for all crimes. The more one has sinned, the more it is his. Constantine shall become a Christian because he believes that the Christians alone have expiation for the murder of a son by his father. The success which at the beginning of the second century shall attend. the hideous bullock sacrifices, from which people came covered with blood, proves how the imagination of the time was set upon finding means to appease the gods who were supposed 328to be angry. The bullock sacrifice is, among all the Pagan rites, that which the Christians most dreaded as competing with them. It was in some sects the last effort of expiring Paganism against the merit, each day more triumphant, of the blood of Jesus. We might have hoped one moment that the confraternities of cultores deorum would give the people the religious aliment which they needed. The second century saw their rise and their decadence. The religious character disappeared then little by little. In certain countries they lost even their funereal destination and became Tontines, treasuries of assurance and retreat, associations for mutual help. Alone, the colleges devoted to the worship of the Oriental gods (religious pastophores, isiastes, dendrophores, of the Great Mother) kept some devotees. It is evident that these gods spoke much more to the religious sentiment than the Greek and Italian gods. People grouped themselves around them; their faithful became quickly brothers and friends, while men scarcely grouped themselves at all, at least in heart, around the official gods. In religion there are but few sects which cannot succeed in founding something.

It is so pleasant to regard ourselves as a little aristocracy of the truth, to believe that we possess, along with a group of the privileged, the treasure of goodness. Pride is found here; the Jew, the metuali of Syria humbled, ashamed of everything, are at bottom impertinent and disdainful. No affront hurts them, they are so proud among themselves of being the elect people. In our days such a miserable association of minds gives more consolation to its members than healthy philosophy. A mass of people find happiness in these chimeras, and attach their moral life to them. In its day the abracadabra procured religious pleasures, and with 329a little willingness we could find there a sublime theology.

The worship of Isis had its regular inroads into Greece from the fourth century before Jesus Christ. All the Greek and Roman world was literally overrun. This worship, such as we see it represented in the paintings of Pompeii and Herculaneum, with its tonsured and beardless priests, clothed with a kind of alb, resemble much our “offices.” Every morning the timbrel, like the clock of our parishes, calls the devotees to a sort of mass accompanied by a sermon, prayers for the emperor and the empire, sprinklings with the water of the Nile. Ite missa est. In the evening the salutation takes place, they wish good night to the goddess, they kiss her feet. There were some bizarre, some ridiculous processions in the streets, where the brothers carried their gods upon their shoulders. At other times they begged in a foreign dress, which made the true Romans laugh. That resembled much the brotherhoods of penitents in southern countries. The Isaists had their heads shaved. They were clad in a linen tunic, in which they wished to be buried. There were some miracles added to this little society, some sermons, a “taking of the habit,” ardent prayers, baptisms, confessions and bloody penances. After the initiation a lively devotion took place like that of the Middle Ages towards the Virgin; they felt a pleasure in nothing but seeing the image of the goddess. The purifications, the expiations kept the soul awake. It established, especially among the assistants in these pious comedies, a tender feeling of brotherhood; they became father, son, brother, sister to each other. These little freemasonries, with some passwords, such as ΙΧΘΧC of the Christians, created deep and secret bonds.

Osiris, Serapis, and Anubis shared the favour of 330Isis. Serapis in particular, identified with Jupiter, became one of the Divine names which the most of those who aspired to a certain Monotheism, and especially to intimate relations with heaven, affected. The Egyptian god has a real presence, they see him unceasingly; he communicates with them by dreams and by continual apparitions; religion in that way is a perpetual sacred kiss between the faithful and his deity. They were especially women who leant towards these foreign cults. The national worship was cold to them. The courtesans, notably, were nearly all devoted to Isis and Serapis; the temples of Isis were looked upon as places for amorous meetings. The idols in this sort of chapels were adorned like the Madonnas. Women had a part in the ministry, they bore sacred titles. Everything showed devotion, and contributed to the excitement of the senses: weepings, passionate chants, dances to the sound of the flute, representations commemorative of the death and resurrection of a god. The moral discipline, without being serious, had the appearance of it. There were fasts, austerities, and days of continence. Ovid and Tibullus complain of the injury which these enchantments did to their amusements, in a tone which shows that the goddess asked nothing of these devoted beauties except the most limited mortifications.

A multitude of other gods were accepted without opposition, even with welcome. The heavenly Juno, the Asiatic Bellona, Sabazius, Adonis, the goddess of Syria, had their believers. The soldiers were the vehicle of these different cults, thanks to the habit they had of embracing one after another the religions of the countries through which they passed. Coming home, they consecrated a temple, an altar to their recollections of the garrison. Hence these dedications to Jupiter of Baal-bek, to Jupiter of Dolica, which are found in all parts of 331the empire. An oriental god especially held for a moment in the balance the fate of Christendom, and became the object of one of those cults of universal propaganda which seize upon the entire portions of humanity. Mitra is in Arian primitive mythology one of the names of the sun. This name became among the Persians of the Achemeniidan times a god of the first order. We hear mention of him for the first time in the Græco-Roman world about the year 70 before Christ. The fashion gradually leant towards him; it is only in the second and third century that the worship of Mithra, knowingly organised upon the type of the mysteries which had already so deeply moved ancient Greece, obtained an extraordinary success.

The resemblances of this cult to Christianity were so striking that St. Justin and Tertullian saw in it a Satanic plagiarism. Mithraism had baptism, the eucharist, the agapes, penitence, expiations and anointings. Its chapels much resembled little churches. It created a bond of brotherhood among the initiated. We have said it twenty times, it was the great need of the age. Congregations were desired where people could love each other, sustain each other, observe one another, some brotherhoods offering a narrow field (for man is not perfect) for all sorts of little vain pursuits, the inoffensive development of childish ambitions in the synagogues. From many other points of view, Mithraism resembled freemasonry. There were certain grades, orders of initiation, bearing odd names, some gradual trials, a fast of fifty days, terrors and flagellations. A lively piety was developed through these exercises. They believed in the immortality of the initiated, in a paradise for pure souls. The mystery of the cup, so like the Christian Supper, certain evening gatherings analogous to those of our pious congregations, in 332“caves” or “little oratories,” a numerous clergy, to which women were admitted, some expiations by the sacrifice of bullocks, frightful, but thrilling, answered well to the aspirations of the Roman world towards a sort of materialistic religiosity. The immorality of the Phrygian Sabazites had not disappeared, but was marked by a veneer of pantheism and mysticity, sometimes by a quiet scepticism in the style of Ecclesiastes.

We may say that if Christianity had been arrested in its growth by some mortal malady, the world would have been Mithraistic. Mithra lent himself to all the confusions, with Attis, with Adonis, with Sabazius, with Mên, who had been already in possession for a long time back, to make the tears of women flow. The soldiers also affected this worship. In going back to their homes, they carried it to the frontier on the Rhine and the Danube. Thus Mithraism resisted Christianity more than the other cults. It needed, to destroy it, the terrible blows struck at it by the Christian empire. It was in the year 376 that we find the greatest number of monuments raised by the adorers of the great goddess of Mithra. Some very respectable senatorial families remaining attached to her rebuilt at their own expense the destroyed altars, and, by force of legacies and foundation, essayed to give eternity to a religion which was moribund.

The mysteries were the ordinary form of these exotic cults and the principal cause of their success. The impressions which the initiations left were very deep, like that of freemasonry in our day; although it was clumsy, it served as an aliment for the soul. It was a sort of first communion; one day, there was a pure being, privileged, presented to the pious public as a blessed one, as a saint, with the head crown, and a taper in the hand. Some strange spectacles, some appearances of gigantic 333puppets, some alternations of light and darkness, visions of the other life which they believed real, inspired a fervour of devotion whose souvenir was never effaced. There was mingled with them more of an equivocal sentiment, whose evil manners of antiquity they abused. As in the Catholic confraternities, they believed themselves bound by an oath; they held to it even when they scarcely believed it, for there was attached to it the idea of a special favour, of a character which separated them from the vulgar. All these Oriental cults involved more money than those of the West. The priests had there more importance than in the Latin cult; they formed a clergy with different orders, a sacred soldiery, retired from the world, having its own rules. These priests had a grave, and as we say now, an ecclesiastical air; they had the tonsure, mitres, and a separate costume.

Religion founded like that of Apollonius of Tyana upon the belief in a journey upon the god to the earth had special chances of success. Humanity seeks for the ideal; but it wishes the ideal to be a person, it does not love an abstraction. A man-incarnation of the ideal, and whose biography would serve as a framework to all the aspirations of the time, that is what religious opinion demanded. The gospel of Apollonius of Tyana had only a half success; that of Jesus succeeded completely. The necessities of the imagination and the heart which the nations cultivated were just those to which Christianity gave a complete satisfaction. The objections which the Christian belief presents to minds led by rational culture to the impossibility of admitting the supernatural did not then exist. Generally it is more difficult to prevent a man from believing than to make him believe. No century indeed has ever been more credulous than the second. Everybody admitted the miracles to be 334the most ridiculous; the current mythology, having lost its primitive sense, reached the last limits of absurdity. The sense of the sacrifices which Christianity demanded from reason were less than Paganism supposed. To be converted to Christianity is not therefore an act of credulity; it is almost an act of relative good sense. Indeed from the rationalist’s point of view Christianity might be looked upon as an advancement; it was the man religiously enlightened who adopted it. The believer in the ancient gods was the paganus, the peasant always inclined against progress behind his age; as one day perhaps in the twentieth century the last Christians will in their turn be called pagani, “rustics.”

On two essential points, the worship of idols and the bloody sacrifices, Christianity answered to the most advanced ideas of the time, as we would say to-day, and made a sort of junction with stoicism. The absence of images which in the Christian worship on the part of the people made a kind of accusation of atheism was pleasing to good minds revolted by the official idolatry. The bloody sacrifices involved also the most offensive ideas as to the Divinity. The Essenes, the Elkasaïtes, the Ebionites, and the Christians of every sect, inheritors in this of the ancient prophets, had on this point an admirable sentiment of progress. Flesh was seen to be excluded even from the paschal feast. Thus the pure worship was founded. The lower side of religion—these are the customs which have been considered to operate themselves. Jesus, by the rôle there has been given him, if not by his personal act, has marked the end of these practices. Why speak of sacrifices? That of Jesus is worth all the others. Of the passover? Jesus is the true paschal lamb. Of the Thora? The example of Jesus is worth much more. It is by this reasoning that St. 335Paul has destroyed the law—that Protestantism has killed Catholicism. The faith in Jesus has thus replaced everything. The very excesses of Christianity have been the principle of its force; by this dogma that Jesus has done all for the justification of his faithful, works have been put aside as useless, every other worship than the faith has been discouraged.

Christianity had therefore an immense superiority over the religion of the State which Rome patronised and over the different religions she tolerated. The Pagans comprehended it vaguely. Alexander Severus having had the idea of raising a temple to Christ, they brought before him some old sacred texts from which it was made plain that if he followed out his idea all would become Christians, and that the other temples would be abandoned. In vain Julian shall try to apply to the official cult the organisation which made the strength of the Church; Paganism shall resist a transformation contrary to its nature. Christianity shall impose itself over the whole empire. The religion which Rome will spread in the world shall be just that which she has the most strongly combated, Judaism under the Christian form. Far from being surprised at the success in the Roman empire, it is much more astonishing that this revolution has been so slow in being accomplished.

That which was deeply affected by Christianity was the maxims of the State, the basis of Roman polity. These maxims defended themselves vigorously during a hundred and fifty years, and retarded the coming of the worship destined to victory. But that coming was inevitable. Melito was right. Christianity was destined to be the religion of the Roman Empire. The West still showed itself refractory; Asia Minor and Syria, on the contrary, reckoned dense masses of Christian 336populations, increasing every day in political importance. The centre of gravity of the empire drew them from that side; they felt already that an ambitious man would have the temptation to sustain himself upon these crowds which mendicity placed in the hands of the Church, and which the Church in its turn would place in the hand of the Cwsar who should be the most favourable to it. The political position of the bishop does not date from Constantine. From the third century the bishop of the great towns of the east is shown us as a personage analogous to what in our days the bishop is in Turkey, among the Christian Greeks, Armenians, &c. The depôts of the faithful, the testaments, the tutorship of pupils, processes, all the administration, in a word, are confided to him. He is a magistrate alongside of the public magistrature, benefiting by all the faults of that institution. The Church in the third century is already a vast agency of popular interests. It is felt that one day, when the empire falls, the bishop will be its heir. When the State refuses to occupy itself with social problems, these shall solve themselves apart by means of associations which demolish the empire.

The glory of Rome is to have attempted to solve the problem of human society without theocracy, without supernatural dogma. Judaism, Christianity, Islamism, and Buddhism are, on the contrary, great institutions, embracing the whole human life under the form of revealed religions. These religions are human society itself; nothing exists outside of them. The triumph of Christianity was the extinction of civil life for a thousand years. The Church is the community, if you will, but under a religious form. To be a member of that commune it is not enough to be born; a metaphysical dogma must be professed, and if your mind 337refuses to believe that dogma, so much the worse for you. Islamism only applies the same principle. The mosque, like the synagogue and the Church, is the centre of all life. The Middle Ages, ruled by Christianity, Islamism, and Buddhism, are indeed the era of the theocracy. The stroke of genius of the Renaissance has been to return to the Roman law, which is essentially the laic law—to return to philosophy, science, true art, and reason outside of all revelation. Let us keep it there. The supreme goal of humanity is the liberty of the individual. Now the theocracy and revelation never will create liberty. The theocracy made of the man clothed with power a functionary of God; reason makes of him a mainstay of the wills and the rights of each.

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