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Thus a religion made for the internal comfort of quite a small number of elect ones became, by an unheard-of chance, the religion of millions of men constituting the most active part of humanity. It is especially in the victories of religious orders that it is true to say that the conquered make the law to the conquerors. The crowds by entering into the little churches of saints carried with them their imperfections, sometimes their impurities. A race by embracing a religion which has not been made for it transformed itself according to the demands of its imagination and its heart.

In the primitive Christian conception a Christian was perfect; the sinner, simply because he was a sinner, ceased to be a Christian. When entire towns came to be converted en masse everything was changed. The precepts of devoutness and evangelical self-denial became inapplicable; some advice was given designed only for those who aspire to perfection. And where is this perfection to be realised? The world, such as it was, absolutely excluded it; he who in the world practised the Gospel to the letter played the part of a dupe and an idiot. The monastery remains. Logic 360demanded its rights. The Christian morality, the morality of a little church and people retired from the world, created itself the means which was necessary for it. The Gospel must join with the convent; a Christianity having its complete organisations cannot do without convents—that is to say, places where the evangelical life, impossible elsewhere, can be practised. The convent is the perfect church; the monk is the true Christian. Thus the most effectual works of Christianity have only been executed by the monastic orders. These orders, far from being a leprosy which should attack from the outside the work of Jesus, were the internal and inevitable consequences of the work of Jesus. In the West they had more advantages than inconveniences, for the Germanic conquest maintained in the face of the monk a powerful military caste; the East, on the contrary, was really consumed by a monachism which had only the most deceptive appearance of Christian perfection.

A mediocre morality, and a natural leaning towards idolatry, such were the gloomy dispositions which brought into the Church the masses who entered it partly by force after the close of the fourth century. Man does not change in a day; baptism has not instantaneous miraculous effects. These Pagan multitudes, scarcely evangelised, remained what they were before their conversion; in the East wicked, egotistical, corrupt; in the West gross and superstitious. As to what regards morality, the Church had only to maintain its rules already written in books held to be canonical. As to what regards superstition, the task was much more delicate. Changes in religion are in general only apparent. Man, whatever his conversions or apostasies may be, remains faithful to the first worship which he has practised, and more or less loved. A multitude of idolaters, in no way changed at heart, 361and transmitting the same instincts to their children, entered the Church. Superstition began to flow in full stream in the religious community which up till that time had been most exempt from it.

If we except some Oriental sects, the primitive Christians were the least superstitious of men. The Christian, the Jew, might be fanatics, they were not superstitious as a Gaul or a Paphlagonian were. Among them were no amulets, no images of saints, no object of worship beyond the divine hypostases. The converted Pagans could not lend themselves to such a simplicity. The worship of the martyrs was the first concession forced by human weakness from the gentleness of a clergy who wished to be all in all to gain all to Jesus Christ. The holy bodies had miraculous virtues, they became talismans, the places where they reposed were marked by a holiness more special than the other sanctuaries consecrated to God. The absence of all ideas to the laws of nature soon opened the door to an unbridled thaumaturgy. The Celtic and Italian races, which formed the basis of the population of the West, are the most superstitious of races. A crowd of beliefs, which the first Christianity would have considered sacrilegious, thus passed into the Church. It did what it could; its efforts to improve and to elevate the gross catechumens form one of the most beautiful pages of human history. During five or six centuries the Councils were occupied in combating the ancient naturalistic superstitions; but the priests went beyond that. St. Gregory the Great took his part in it, and counselled the missionaries not to suppress the rites and the holy places of the Anglo-Saxons, but only to consecrate them to the new worship.

Thus a singular phenomenon came about; the thick vegetation of Pagan fables and beliefs which 362primitive Christianity believed itself called upon to destroy was preserved to a large extent. Far from succeeding like Islam in suppressing the times of ignorance, that is to say, the former souvenirs, they concealed them under a light Christian varnish. Gregory of Tours is as superstitious as Elian or Elius Aristides. The world in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries was more grossly Pagan than it had ever been. Up till the advancement in primary instruction at the present day, our peasants had not abandoned a solitary one of their little Gallic gods. The worship of the saints has been the cover under which polytheism has been established. This encroachment of the idolatrous spirit has sadly dishonoured modern Catholicism. The follies of Lourdes and Salette, the multiplication of images, the Sacred Heart, the vows, the pilgrimages, make of contemporary Catholicism, at least in certain countries, a religion as material as a worship such as that of Syria combated by John Chrysostom, or suppressed by the edicts of the emperor. The Church had, in fact, two attitudes in regard to the Pagan cults—sometimes a struggle to the death, like that which took place in Aphaca and in Phœnicia; sometimes a compromise, the old creed accepting more or less complacently a Christian shade. Every Pagan who embraced Christianity in the second or third century had a horror of his old religion: he who baptized him asked him to detest his ancient gods. It was not the same with the Gallic peasant, with the Frank or Anglo-Saxon warrior; his old religion was such a small affair that it was not worthy of being hated or seriously opposed.

The complacency which Christianity, become the religion of crowds, showed for the ancient cults, it had also for many Greek prejudices. It seems to have been ashamed of its Jewish origin, and tried 363to conceal it. We have seen the Gnostics and the author of the Epistle to Diognetes affecting to believe that Christianity was born spontaneously, without any relation with Judaism. Origen and Eusebius did not dare to say so, for they knew the facts too well; but St. John Chrysostom, and, in general, the fathers who had received a Hellenic education, did not know the true beginnings of Christianity, and did not wish to know them. They rejected all the Judeo-Christian and millenarian literature; the orthodox Church eagerly sought their works: books of this sort were not known except when they were translated into Latin or the Oriental tongues. The Apocalypse of John escaped only because it held by its roots in the very heart of the canon. Some essays of Unitarian Christianity, without metaphysic or mythology—of a Christianity little distinguished from Jewish rationalism, such as were the attempts of Zenobia and Paul of Samosata—were cut to the ground. These attempts would have produced a simple Christianity, a continuation of Judaism, something analogous to what Islam produced. If they had succeeded, they would have no doubt prevented the success of Mahomet among the Arabs and Syrians. What fanaticism would thus have been shunned! Christianity is an edition of Judaism accommodated to the Indo-European taste; Islam is an edition of Judaism accommodated to the taste of the Arabs. Mahomet did nothing in short but return to the Judeo-Christianity of Zenobia, by a reaction against the metaphysical polytheism of the Council of Nicea and the Councils which followed.

The separation, more and more deep, between the clergy and the people was another consequence of the conversions en masse which took place in the fourth and fifth centuries. These ignorant crowds could not but listen. The Church came to be little 364more than a clergy. Far from this transformation having contributed to elevate the intellectual average of Christianity, it lowered it. Experience proves that little Churches without clergy are more liberal than the large. In England, the Quakers and the Methodists have done more for ecclesiastical liberality than the Established Church. Contrary to what happened in the second century, we see this good and reasonable authority of the Episcopi and Presbyteri keeping back excesses and follies; henceforth those things which shall be law among the clergy, these are the demands of the basest party. The Councils obeyed the maniacal crowds in their deep fanaticism. In all the Councils it is the most superstitious dogma which carries the day. Arianism, which had the rare merit of converting the Germans before their entrance into the empire, and which could have given to the world a Christianity susceptible of becoming rational, was stifled by the grossness of a clergy which willed the absurd. In the Middle Ages this clergy became a feudalism. The democratic Book par excellence, the Gospel, is confiscated by those who claim to interpret it, and those prudently conceal its boldness.

The lot of Christianity has therefore been almost to founder in its victory, like a ship which nearly sinks by the fact of the number of passengers who crowd it. Never has a founder had votaries who have so little resembled him as Jesus. Jesus is much more a great Jew than a great man; his disciples have made out that he was more of an anti-Jew—a God-man. The additions made to his work by superstition, metaphysics and politics, have entirely masked the Great Prophet—so much so, that reform of Christianity consists apparently in suppressing the graces which our Pagan ancestors have added to it to return to Jesus as he was. But the gravest error which can be committed in religious 365history is to believe that religions are to be valued for themselves in an absolute manner. Religions are to be estimated by the people who accept them. Islamism has been useful or fatal according to the races who have adopted it. Among the debased peoples of the East Christianity is a very mediocre religion, inspiring very little virtue. It is among our Western races—Celtic, Germanic and Italian—that Christianity has been really fruitful.

A product entirely Jewish in its origin, Christianity has gradually come to be stripped, with time, of all which it holds by its origin, so much so that the theory of those who consider it the Aryan religion par excellence is true from many points of view. During the centuries we have imported into it our ways of feeling, all our aspirations, qualities, and defects. The exegesis according to which Christianity should be carved from the interior of the Old Testament is the falsest in the world. Christianity has been the rupture with Judaism—the abrogation of the Thora. St. Bernard, Francis d’Assisi, St. Elizabeth, St. Theresa, Francis de Sales, Vincent de Paul, Fenélon and Channing were nothing like Jews. These are people of our race, feeling with our hearts, thinking with our brain. Christianity has been the traditional notion upon which they have embellished their poem, but the genius is their own. St. Bernard interpreting the Psalms is the most romantic of men. Every race attaching itself to the discipline of the past claims it, makes it its own. The Bible has thus borne fruits which are not its own; Judaism has only been the wild-stock upon which the Aryan race has produced its flower. In England, in Scotland, the Bible has become the national book of the Aryan branch which resembles the Hebrews least. This is how Christianity, so notoriously Jewish in origin, has been able to 366become the national religion of the European races, which have sacrificed to it their ancient mythology. The renunciation of our old ethnic traditions in favour of Christian holiness, a renunciation little serious at bottom, has been apparently so absolute that it has taken nearly fifteen hundred years to produce this result as an accomplished fact. The grand awakening of national minds which was produced by it in the nineteenth century, this kind of resurrection of dead races, of which we are the witnesses, cannot fail to bring the recollection of our abdication before the sons of Shem, and to provoke in that respect some reaction. Although assuredly no one beyond the cabinets of comparative mythology could longer think of recalling the Germanic, Pelasgian, Celtic and Slav Mythologies, it would have been much better for Christianity if those dangerous images had been suppressed altogether, as was done in the establishment of Islam. Races which claim nobility and originality in everything are not wounded by being in religion the vassals of a despised family.

The impetuous Germanists have not concealed their shame, some Celto-maniacs have manifested the same feeling. The Greeks, finding again their importance in the world by the souvenirs of ancient Hellenism, have no longer concealed the fact that Christianity has been for them an apostasy. Greeks, Germans, and Celts have consoled themselves by saying that if they have accepted Christianity they have at least transformed it, and made it their national property. It is not less true that the modern principle of races has been hurtful to Christianity. The religious action of Judaism is apparently colossal. We see the defects of Israel at the same time as its greatness. We have been ashamed of being made Jewish in the same way 367that fanatical German patriots have believed themselves obliged to treat so badly the seventeenth and eighteenth French centuries, to which they owe so much.

Another cause has strongly undermined, in our days, the religion which our ancestors practised with such perfect contentment.

The negation of the supernatural has become an absolute dogma for every cultured spirit. The history of the physical and moral worlds would appear to us like a development having its causes in itself and excluding miracle. That is to say, the intervention specially reflected wills. Now from Christianity’s point of view, the history of the world is nothing but a series of miracles. The creation, the history of the Jewish people, the rule of Jesus, all passed through the crucible of the most liberal exegesis, leave a residuum of the supernatural, which no operation can suppress or transform. The Semitic-Monotheistic religions are at bottom enemies of physical science, which would appear to them a diminution, nearly a denial, of God.

God has done everything and does everything still; that is their universal explanation. Christianity, not having carried this dogma to the same exaggerations as Islam, implies revelation; that is to say, a miracle, a fact such as science has never proved. Between Christianity and science the struggle is therefore inevitable; one of the two adversaries must succumb.

From the thirteenth century, the moment when, following upon the study of the works of Aristotle, Averroès, the scientific spirit, commenced to awake in the Latin countries, up to the sixteenth century, the Church, using the public strength, succeeded in defeating her enemy, but in the seventeenth century scientific discovery has been too striking to be 368stifled. The Church is still strong enough to trouble gravely the life of Galileo, to disquiet Descartes, but not to prevent their discoveries from becoming the law of the intellectual. In the eighteenth century reason triumphs; about the year 1800 A.D. scarcely any educated man believed in the supernatural. The reactions which have followed have not been hindrances of any consequence. If many timid minds, fearing great social questions, have refused to be logical, the people in the town and country are wandering more and more from Christianity, and the supernatural loses some of its adherents every day.

What has Christianity done to put itself on guard against the formidable assault which shall sweep it away if it does not abandon certain desperate positions? The reform of the sixteenth century was assuredly a deed of wisdom and conservatism. Protestantism diminished the supernatural daily; it returned in a sense to the primitive Christianity, and reduced to a small matter the idolatrous and Pagan part of the creed. But the principle of miracle, especially in what regards the inspiration of “the books,” was preserved. This reform, besides, could not extend over all Christendom; it has gained life through rationalism, which will probably suppress the matter to be reformed before the reformation is made. Protestantism will only save Christianity if it arrives at complete rationalism, if it make a junction with all free spirits, whose programme may perhaps thus be summed up:—

“Great and splendid is the world, and, in spite of all the obscurities which surround it, we see that it is the fruit of a deep tendency towards good—a supreme goodness. Christianity is the most striking of those efforts, which are drawn up in history for the birth of an ideal of light and justice. Let it be that the first slip has been Jewish, Christianity has 369become with time the common work of humanity; each race has given to it the special gift with which it has been endowed, whatever was best in it. God is not exclusively present there, but he is more present there than in any other religious or moral development. Christianity is, in fact, the religion of civilised people; each nation admits it in different senses, according to its degree of intellectual culture. The free-thinker, who is satisfied at once, is in his right; but the free-thinker constitutes a highly respectable individual case; his intellectual and moral position cannot yet be that of a nation or of humanity.

“Let us preserve then Christianity with admiration for its high moral value, for its majestic history, for the beauty of its sacred books. These books assuredly are books. We must apply to them the rules of interpretation and criticism we apply to all books, but they constitute the religious archives of humanity; even the weak parts which they include are worthy of respect. It is the same with dogma; let us revive, without making ourselves their slaves, those formulas under which fourteen centuries have adored the Divine wisdom. Without admitting either particular miracle or limited inspiration, let us bow before the supreme miracle of this great Church, the inexhaustible mother of unceasingly varied manifestations. As to worship, let us seek to eliminate from it some shocking dross; let us hold it in any case as a secondary thing, not having any other value than the sentiments which are infused into it.”

If so many Christians have entered into such sentiments, we may hope for a future for Christianity. But, the Protestant liberal congregations apart, the great Christian masses have in no way modified their attitude. Catholicism continues with a species of desperate fury to bury itself in the miraculous; 370orthodox Protestantism remains immovable. During this time popular rationalism, the inevitable consequence of the advancement in public instruction and democratic institutions, caused the temples to be deserted and multiplied purely civil marriages and funerals. We shall not bring back the people of the large cities to old churches, and the people of the country will not go there from habit. Now, a Church does not exist without people, the Church is the place for the people. The Catholic party on the other hand has committed in these last years so many faults that its political power is nearly gone. A tremendous crisis will take place in the bosom of Catholicism. It is probable that a part of that great body will persevere in its idolatry, and remain at the side of the modern movement like a counter-current of stagnant and dead water. Another party shall live, and, abandoning the supernatural errors, shall unite itself to liberal Protestantism, to enlightened Israelitism, to ideal philosophy, to march towards the conquest of pure religion in spirit and in truth. What is beyond doubt, whatever may be the religious future of humanity, is that the place of Jesus shall be very high. He has been the founder of Christianity, and Christianity remains the bed of the great religious river of humanity; some tributaries coming from the most opposite points in the horizon have mingled with it. In this confluence no source can say, “This water is mine.” But let us not forget the primitive brook of the beginnings, the spring on the mountains, the upper course whence a river, becoming at once as large as the Amazon, flowed at first into a bend of the earth of little extent. It is the picture of this higher course which I have wished to draw; happy shall I be if I have presented in its truth what there was on these high summits of vigour and force—sensations, sometimes hot, 371sometimes icy, of divine life and fellowship with heaven. The creators of Christianity occupy with good right the first rank in the homage of men. These men were very inferior to us in the knowledge of the real; but they have never been equalled in conviction, in devotion. Now it is that which makes the foundation. The solidity of a construction is in proportion to the amount of virtue, that is to say of sacrifices, which have been laid as its foundations.

In this edifice, demolished by time, what excellent stones besides are there which could be re-employed, such as they are, to the profit of our modern constructions. What better than Messianistic Judaism could point us to irrefragable hope and a blessed future—faith in a brilliant destiny for humanity under the government of an aristocracy of the righteous? Is the kingdom of God not the perfect expression of the final goal which the idealist pursues? The Sermon on the Mount remains the completed code of it; reciprocal love, gentleness, goodness, disinterestedness will be always the essential laws of perfect life. The association of the weak is the legitimate solution of the larger part of the problems which the organisation of humanity suggests. Christianity can give upon this point some lessons to all the ages. The Christian martyr will remain up to the end of time the type of the defender of the rights of conscience. At last the difficult and dangerous art of governing minds, if it is one day recovered, shall be upon the models furnished by the first Christian doctors. They had some secrets which can be learned only in their school. There have been professors of virtue more austere, perhaps firmer, but there never have been like masters in the science of goodness. The joy of the soul is the grand Christian art, to such an extent that civil society has been 372obliged to take precautions lest humanity should bury itself there. The fatherland and the family are the two great natural forms of human associations. They are both necessary, but they are not sufficient. There needs to be maintained alongside of them the place for an institution where one may receive nourishment for the soul, comfort, advice; where charity can be organised, where one shall find spiritual masters or directors. That is called the Church. We shall never pass from that without the danger of reducing life to a desperate dryness, above all for women. What is needful is that ecclesiastical society should not enfeeble civil society, that it should be only a liberty, that it should display no temporal power, that the State should not concern itself with it, nor control it, nor patronise it. During two hundred and fifty years Christianity gave in these little free reunions faultless models.

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