Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAP.

I.

ment of Roman

[ocr errors]

There was a stronger moral element in the Ro

man religion, than in that of Greece.* In Greece Moral Ele- the gods had been represented, in their collective

capacity, as the avengers of great crimes a kind Religion.

of general retributive justice was assigned to them; they guarded the sanctity of oaths. But in the better days of the republic, Rome had, as it were, deified her own virtues. Temples arose to Concord, to Faith, to Constancy, to Modesty (Pudor), to Hope. The Penates, the household deities, became the guardians of domestic happiness. Venus Verticordia presided over the purity of domestic morals t, and Jupiter Stator over courage. But the true national character of the Roman theology is most remarkably shown in the various temples, and various attributes assigned to the good Fortune of the city, who might appear the Deity of Patriotism. Even Peace was at length received among the gods of Rome. And as long as the worship of the heart continued to sanctify these impersonations of human virtues, their adoration tended to maintain the lofty moral tone; but as soon as that was withdrawn, or languished into apathy, the deities became cold abstractions, without even that reality which might appear to attach itself to the other gods of the city: their temples stood, their rites were perhaps solemnised, but they had ceased to command, and no longer received the active veneration of the

* The distinction between the of M. Constant, Du Polytheisme Roman and Greek religions is Romain. drawn with singular felicity in the + The most virtuous woman in two supplemental (in my opinion Rome was chosen to dedicate her the most valuable and original), but statue, Val. Max. viii. 15. unfortunately, unfinished volumes I Constant, i. 16.

CHAP.

I.

people. What, in fact, is the general result of the Roman religious calendar, half a year of which is described in the Fasti of Ovid ? There are festivals founded on old Italian and on picturesque Grecian legends; others commemorative of the great events of the heroic days of the republic; others instituted in base flattery of the ruling dynasty; one ceremonial only, that of the Manes*, which relates to the doctrine of another life, and that preserved as it were from pride, and as a memorial of older times. Nothing can show more strongly the nationality of the Roman religion, and its almost complete transmutation from a moral into a political power.f

Amidst all this labyrinth, we behold the sacred Religion of secret of the divine Unity, preserved inviolate, though sometimes under the most adverse circumstances, and, as it were, perpetually hovering on the verge of extinction, in one narrow district of the world, the province of Palestine. Nor is it there the recondite treasure of a high and learned caste, or the hardly worked-out conclusion of the thinking and philosophical few, but the plain and distinct groundwork of the popular creed. Still, even there, as though in its earlier period, the yet undeveloped mind of man was unfit for the reception, or at least for the preservation of this doctrine, in

the Jews.

* II. 533. The Lemuria (Re- + See the fine description of Mamuria) were instituted to appease jestas (Fasti, v. 25–52.), who bethe shade of Remus, V. 451, &c. comes at the end the tutelar deity

Ovid applies on another occasion of the senate and matrons, and prehis general maxim

sides over the triumphs of Rome. Pro magnâ teste vetustas Creditur : acceptam parce movere fidem.

Fasti, iv, 202.

1.

CHAP. its perfect spiritual purity; as though the Deity

condescended to the capacities of the age, and it were impossible for the divine nature to maintain its place in the mind of man, without some visible representative ; a kind of symbolic worship still enshrines the one great God of the Mosaic religion. There is a striking analogy between the Shechinah* or luminous appearance which “dwelt between the cherubim,” and the pure immaterial fire of the Theism, which approaches nearest to the Hebrew, that of the early Persians. Yet even here likewise is found the great indelible distinction between the religion of the ancient and of the modern world; the characteristic, which besides the general practice of propitiating the Deity, usually by animal sacrifices, universally prevails in the præ-Christian

ages. The physical predominates over the moral God under character of the Deity. God is Power in the old

religion, he is Love under the new. Nor does his Religion. pure and essential spirituality, in the more complete

faith of the gospel, attach itself to, or exhibit itself under any form. “God,” says the divine author of Christianity, “is a Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.” In the early Jewish worship, it was the physical power of the Deity, which was presented to the mind of the worshipper : he was their temporal king, the dispenser of earthly blessings, famine and plenty, drought and rain, discomfiture or success in war.

the old and the new

* Even if the notion of a visible residence behind the veil, in the Shechinah was of a later period, unapproachable Holy of Holies ; (note to Heber's Bampton Lectures, and the imagination would thus be p. 278.), God was universally be- even more powerfully excited than lieved to have a local and personal by a visible symbol.

I.

The miracles recorded in the Old Testament, parti- CHAP. cularly in the earlier books, are amplifications, as it were, or new directions of the powers of nature; as if the object were to show that the deities of other nations were but subordinate and obedient instruments in the hand of the great self-existent Being, the Jehovah of Jewish worship.

Yet, when it is said that the physical rather than the moral character of the Deity predominated, it must not be supposed that the latter was altogether excluded. It is impossible entirely to dissociate the notion of moral government from that belief, or that propensity to believe, in the existence of a God, implanted in the human mind; and religion was too useful an ally, not to be called in to confirm the consciously imperfect authority of human law. But it may be laid down as a principle, that the nearer the nation approaches to barbarism, the childhood of the human race, the more earthly are the conceptions of the Deity ; the moral aspect of the divine nature seems gradually to develope itself with the development of the human mind. It is at first, as in Egypt and India, the prerogative of the higher class; the vulgar are left to their stocks and their stones, their animals and their reptiles. In the republican states of Greece, the intellectual aristocracy of the philosophers, guarded by no such legally established distinction, rarely dared openly to assert their superiority ; but concealed their more extended views behind a prudential veil, as a secret or esoteric doctrine, and by studious conformity to the national rites and ceremonies.

CH AP.

1.

tion for new

Gradually, however, as the period approaches,

in which the religion of civilisation is to be introPrepara- duced into the great drama of human life, as we Religion in descend nearer towards the point of separation the Heathen between the ancient and modern world, the human World.

mind appears expanding. Polytheism is evidently relaxing its hold upon all classes : the monarch maintains his throne, not from the deep-rooted, or rational, or conscientious loyalty of his subjects, but from the want of a competitor; because mankind were habituated to a government which the statesman thought it might be dangerous, and the philosopher, enjoying perfect toleration, and rather proud of his distinctive superiority, than anxious to propagate his opinions throughout the world, did not think it worth while, at the hazard of popular

odium, to disturb. Among the

manifest indications of a preparation for a more essentially spiritual, more purely moral faith. The symbolic presence of the Deity (according to their own tradition *) ceased with the temple of Solomon; and the heathen world beheld with astonishment a whole race whose deity was represented under no visible form or likeness. The conqueror Pompey, who enters the violated temple, is filled with wonder at finding the sanctuary without image or emblem of the presiding deity t; the poet describes them as worshipping nothing but the clouds and the divinity that fills the

Judaism

gave

Jews.

* Hist, of the Jews, ii. 10.

+ Ib. ii, 70.

« PreviousContinue »