History of the Conflict
Between
Religion and Science




 

Chapter II.

The Origin of Christianity. -- Its Transformation on Attaining Imperial Power. -- Its Relations to Science.

Religious condition of the Roman Republic. -- The adoption of imperialism leads to monotheism. -- Christianity spreads over the Roman Empire. -- The circumstances under which it attained imperial power make its union with Paganism a political necessity. -- Tertullian's description of its doctrines and practices. -- Debasing effect of the policy of Constantine on it. -- Its alliance with the civil power. -- Its incompatibility with science. -- Destruction of the Alexandrian Library and prohibition of philosophy. -- Exposition of the Augustinian philosophy and Patristic science generally. -- The Scriptures made the standard of science.

In a political sense, Christianity is the bequest of the Roman Empire to the world.

At the epoch of the transition of Rome from the republican to the imperial form of government, all the independent nationalities around the Mediterranean Sea had been brought under the control of that central power. The conquest that had befallen them in succession had been by no means a disaster. The perpetual wars they had maintained with each other came to an end; the miseries their conflicts had engendered were exchanged for universal peace.

Not only as a token of the conquest she had made, but also as a gratification to her pride, the conquering republic brought the gods of the vanquished peoples to Rome. With disdainful toleration, she permitted the worship of them all. That paramount authority exercised by each divinity in his original seat disappeared at once in the crowd of gods and goddesses among whom he had been brought. Already, as we have seen, through geographical discoveries and philosophical criticism, faith in the religion of the old days had been profoundly shaken. It was, by this policy of Rome, brought to an end.

The kings of all the conquered provinces had vanished; in their stead one emperor had come. The gods also had disappeared. Considering the connection which in all ages has existed between political and religious ideas, it was then not at all strange that polytheism should manifest a tendency to pass into monotheism. Accordingly, divine honors were paid at first to the deceased and at length to the living emperor.

The facility with which gods were thus called into existence had a powerful moral effect. The manufacture of a new one cast ridicule on the origin of the old. Incarnation in the East and apotheosis in the West were fast filling Olympus with divinities. In the East, gods descended from heaven, and were made incarnate in men; in the West, men ascended from earth, and took their seat among the gods. It was not the importation of Greek skepticism that made Rome skeptical. The excesses of religion itself sapped the foundations of faith.

Not with equal rapidity did all classes of the population adopt monotheistic views. The merchants and lawyers and soldiers, who by the nature of their pursuits are more familiar with the vicissitudes of life, and have larger intellectual views, were the first to be affected, the land laborers and farmers the last.

Monotheism in The Roman Empire.

When the empire in a military and political sense had reached its culmination, in a religious and social aspect it had attained its height of immorality. It had become thoroughly epicurean; its maxim was, that life should be made a feast, that virtue is only the seasoning of pleasure, and temperance the means of prolonging it. Dining-rooms glittering with gold and incrusted with gems, slaves in superb apparel, the fascinations of female society where all the women were dissolute, magnificent baths, theatres, gladiators, such were the objects of Roman desire. The conquerors of the world had discovered that the only thing worth worshiping is Force. By it all things might be secured, all that toil and trade had laboriously obtained. The confiscation of goods and lands, the taxation of provinces, were the reward of successful warfare; and the emperor was the symbol of force. There was a social splendor, but it was the phosphorescent corruption of the ancient Mediterranean world.

In one of the Eastern provinces, Syria, some persons in very humble life had associated themselves together for benevolent and religious purposes. The doctrines they held were in harmony with that sentiment of universal brotherhood arising from the coalescence of the conquered kingdoms. They were doctrines inculcated by Jesus.

The Jewish people at that time entertained a belief, founded on old traditions, that a deliverer would arise among them, who would restore them to their ancient splendor. The disciples of Jesus regarded him as this long-expected Messiah. But the priesthood, believing that the doctrines he taught were prejudicial to their interests, denounced him to the Roman governor, who, to satisfy their clamors, reluctantly delivered him over to death.

His doctrines of benevolence and human brotherhood outlasted that event. The disciples, instead of scattering, organized. They associated themselves on a principle of communism, each throwing into the common stock whatever property he possessed, and all his gains. The widows and orphans of the community were thus supported, the poor and the sick sustained. From this germ was developed a new, and as the events proved, all-powerful society -- the Church; new, for nothing of the kind had existed in antiquity; powerful, for the local churches, at first isolated, soon began to confederate for their common interest. Through this organization Christianity achieved all her political triumphs.

As we have said, the military domination of Rome had brought about universal peace, and had generated a sentiment of brotherhood among the vanquished nations. Things were, therefore, propitious for the rapid diffusion of the newly-established -- the Christian -- principle throughout the empire. It spread from Syria through all Asia Minor, and successively reached Cyprus, Greece, Italy, eventually extending westward as far as Gaul and Britain.

Its propagation was hastened by missionaries who made it known in all directions. None of the ancient classical philosophies had ever taken advantage of such a means.

Political conditions determined the boundaries of the new religion. Its limits were eventually those of the Roman Empire; Rome, doubtfully the place of death of Peter, not Jerusalem, indisputably the place of the death of our Savior, became the religious capital. It was better to have possession of the imperial seven-hilled city, than of Gethsemane and Calvary with all their holy souvenirs.

The Rise of Christianity.

For many years Christianity manifested itself as a system enjoining three things -- toward God veneration, in personal life purity, in social life benevolence. In its early days of feebleness it made proselytes only by persuasion, but, as it increased in numbers and influence, it began to exhibit political tendencies, a disposition to form a government within the government, an empire within the empire. These tendencies it has never since lost. They are, in truth, the logical result of its development. The Roman emperors, discovering that it was absolutely incompatible with the imperial system, tried to put it down by force. This was in accordance with the spirit of their military maxims, which had no other means but force for the establishment of conformity.

In the winter A. D. 302-'3, the Christian soldiers in some of the legions refused to join in the time-honored solemnities for propitiating the gods. The mutiny spread so quickly, the emergency became so pressing, that the Emperor Diocletian was compelled to hold a council for the purpose of determining what should be done. The difficulty of the position may perhaps be appreciated when it is understood that the wife and the daughter of Diocletian himself were Christians. He was a man of great capacity and large political views; he recognized in the opposition that must be made to the new party a political necessity, yet he expressly enjoined that there should be no bloodshed. But who can control an infuriated civil commotion? The church of Nicomedia was razed to the ground; in retaliation the imperial palace was set on fire, an edict was openly insulted and torn down. The Christian officers in the army were cashiered; in all directions, martyrdoms and massacres were taking place. So resistless was the march of events, that not even the emperor himself could stop the persecution.

It Gathers Political Power.

It had now become evident that the Christians constituted a powerful party in the state, animated with indignation at the atrocities they had suffered, and determined to endure them no longer. After the abdication of Diocletian (A. D. 305), Constantine, one of the competitors for the purple, perceiving the advantages that would accrue to him from such a policy, put himself forth as the head of the Christian party. This gave him, in every part of the empire, men and women ready to encounter fire and sword in his behalf; it gave him unwavering adherents in every legion of the armies. In a decisive battle, near the Milvian bridge, victory crowned his schemes. The death of Maximin, and subsequently that of Licinius, removed all obstacles. He ascended the throne of the Cæsars -- the first Christian emperor.

Place, profit, power -- these were in view of whoever now joined the conquering sect. Crowds of worldly persons, who cared nothing about its religious ideas, became its warmest supporters. Pagans at heart, their influence was soon manifested in the paganization of Christianity that forthwith ensued. The emperor, no better than they, did nothing to check their proceedings. But he did not personally conform to the ceremonial requirements of the Church until the close of his evil life, A. D. 337.

The First Christian Emperor.

That we may clearly appreciate the modifications now impressed on Christianity -- modifications which eventually brought it in conflict with science -- we must have, as a means of comparison, a statement of what it was in its purer days. Such, fortunately, we find in the "Apology or Defense of the Christians against the Accusations of the Gentiles," written by Tertullian, at Rome, during the persecution of Severus. He addressed it, not to the emperor, but to the magistrates who sat in judgment on the accused. It is a solemn and most earnest expostulation, setting forth all that could be said in explanation of the subject, a representation of the belief and cause of the Christians made in the imperial city in the face of the whole world, not a querulous or passionate ecclesiastical appeal, but a grave historical document. It has ever been looked upon as one of the ablest of the early Christian works. Its date is about A. D. 200.

With no inconsiderable skill Tertullian opens his argument. He tells the magistrates that Christianity is a stranger upon earth, and that she expects to meet with enemies in a country which is not her own. She only asks that she may not be condemned unheard, and that Roman magistrates will permit her to defend herself; that the laws of the empire will gather lustre, if judgment be passed upon her after she has been tried, but not if she is sentenced without a hearing of her cause; that it is unjust to hate a thing of which we are ignorant, even though it may be a thing worthy of hate; that the laws of Rome deal with actions, not with mere names; but that, notwithstanding this, persons have been punished because they were called Christians, and that without any accusation of crime.

He then advances to an exposition of the origin, the nature, and the effects of Christianity, stating that it is founded on the Hebrew Scriptures, which are the most venerable of all books. He says to the magistrates: "The books of Moses, in which God has inclosed, as in a treasure, all the religion of the Jews, and consequently all the Christian religion, reach far beyond the oldest you have, even beyond all your public monuments, the establishment of your state, the foundation of many great cities -- all that is most advanced by you in all ages of history, and memory of times; the invention of letters, which are the interpreters of sciences and the guardians of all excellent things. I think I may say more -- beyond your gods, your temples, your oracles and sacrifices. The author of those books lived a thousand years before the siege of Troy, and more than fifteen hundred before Homer." Time is the ally of truth, and wise men believe nothing but what is certain, and what has been verified by time. The principal authority of these Scriptures is derived from their venerable antiquity. The most learned of the Ptolemies, who was surnamed Philadelphus, an accomplished prince, by the advice of Demetrius Phalareus, obtained a copy of these holy books. It may be found at this day in his library. The divinity of these Scriptures is proved by this, that all that is done in our days may be found predicted in them; they contain all that has since passed in the view of men.

Is not the accomplishment of a prophecy a testimony to its truth? Seeing that events which are past have vindicated these prophecies, shall we be blamed for trusting them in events that are to come? Now, as we believe things that have been prophesied and have come to pass, so we believe things that have been told us, but not yet come to pass, because they have all been foretold by the same Scriptures, as well those that are verified every day as those that still remain to be fulfilled.

These Holy Scriptures teach us that there is one God, who made the world out of nothing, who, though daily seen, is invisible; his infiniteness is known only to himself; his immensity conceals, but at the same time discovers him. He has ordained for men, according to their lives, rewards and punishments; he will raise all the dead that have ever lived from the creation of the world, will command them to reassume their bodies, and thereupon adjudge them to felicity that has so end, or to eternal flames. The fires of hell are those hidden flames which the earth shuts up in her bosom. He has in past times sent into the world preachers or prophets. The prophets of those old times were Jews; they addressed their oracles, for such they were, to the Jews, who have stored them up in the Scriptures. On them, as has been said, Christianity is founded, though the Christian differs in his ceremonies from the Jew. We are accused of worshiping a man, and not the God of the Jews. Not so. The honor we bear to Christ does not derogate from the honor we bear to God.

On account of the merit of these ancient patriarchs, the Jews were the only beloved people of God; he delighted to be in communication with them by his own mouth. By him they were raised to admirable greatness. But with perversity they wickedly ceased to regard him; they changed his laws into a profane worship. He warned them that he would take to himself servants more faithful than they, and, for their crime, punished them by driving them forth from their country. They are now spread all over the world; they wander in all parts; they cannot enjoy the air they breathed at their birth; they have neither man nor God for their king. As he threatened them, so he has done. He has taken, in all nations and countries of the earth, people more faithful than they. Through his prophets he had declared that these should have greater favors, and that a Messiah should come, to publish a new law among them. This Messiah was Jesus, who is also God. For God may be derived from God, as the light of a candle may be derived from the light of another candle. God and his Son are the self-same God -- a light is the same light as that from which it was taken.

The Scriptures make known two comings of the Son of God; the first in humility, the second at the day of judgment, in power. The Jews might have known all this from the prophets, but their sins have so blinded them that they did not recognize him at his first coming, and are still vainly expecting him. They believed that all the miracles wrought by him were the work of magic. The doctors of the law and the chief priests were envious of him; they denounced him to Pilate. He was crucified, died, was buried, and after three days rose again. For forty days he remained among his disciples. Then he was environed in a cloud, and rose up to heaven -- a truth far more certain than any human testimonies touching the ascension of Romulus or of any other Roman prince mounting up to the same place.

Tertullian then describes the origin and nature of devils, who, under Satan, their prince, produce diseases, irregularities of the air, plagues, and the blighting of the blossoms of the earth, who seduce men to offer sacrifices, that they may have the blood of the victims, which is their food. They are as nimble as the birds, and hence know every thing that is passing upon earth; they live in the air, and hence can spy what is going on in heaven; for this reason they can impose on men feigned prophecies, and deliver oracles. Thus they announced in Rome that a victory would be obtained over King Perseus, when in truth they knew that the battle was already won. They falsely cure diseases; for, taking possession of the body of a man, they produce in him a distemper, and then ordaining some remedy to he used, they cease to afflict him, and men think that a cure has taken place.

Though Christians deny that the emperor is a god, they nevertheless pray for his prosperity, because the general dissolution that threatens the universe, the conflagration of the world, is retarded so long as the glorious majesty of the triumphant Roman Empire shall last. They desire not to be present at the subversion of all Nature. They acknowledge only one republic, but it is the whole world; they constitute one body, worship one God, and all look forward to eternal happiness. Not only do they pray for the emperor and the magistrates, but also for peace. They read the Scriptures to nourish their faith, lift up their hope, and strengthen the confidence they have in God. They assemble to exhort one another; they remove sinners from their societies; they have bishops who preside over them, approved by the suffrages of those whom they are to conduct. At the end of each month every one contributes if he will, but no one is constrained to give; the money gathered in this manner is the pledge of piety; it is not consumed in eating and drinking, but in feeding the poor, and burying them, in comforting children that are destitute of parents and goods, in helping old men who have spent the best of their days in the service of the faithful, in assisting those who have lost by shipwreck what they had, and those who are condemned to the mines, or have been banished to islands, or shut up in prisons, because they professed the religion of the true God. There is but one thing that Christians have not in common, and that one thing is their wives. They do not feast as if they should die to-morrow, nor build as if they should never die. The objects of their life are innocence, justice, patience, temperance, chastity.

To this noble exposition of Christian belief and life in his day, Tertullian does not hesitate to add an ominous warning to the magistrates he is addressing -- ominous, for it was a forecast of a great event soon to come to pass: "Our origin is but recent, yet already we fill all that your power acknowledges -- cities, fortresses, islands, provinces, the assemblies of the people, the wards of Rome, the palace, the senate, the public places, and especially the armies. We have left you nothing but your temples. Reflect what wars we are able to undertake! With what promptitude might we not arm ourselves were we not restrained by our religion, which teaches us that it is better to be killed than to kill!"

Before he closes his defense, Tertullian renews an assertion which, carried into practice, as it subsequently was, affected the intellectual development of all Europe. He declares that the Holy Scriptures are a treasure from which all the true wisdom in the world has been drawn; that every philosopher and every poet is indebted to them. He labors to show that they are the standard and measure of all truth, and that whatever is inconsistent with them must necessarily be false.

From Tertullian's able work we see what Christianity was while it was suffering persecution and struggling for existence. We have now to see what it became when in possession of imperial power. Great is the difference between Christianity under Severus and Christianity after Constantine. Many of the doctrines which at the latter period were preëminent, in the former were unknown.

Tertullian's Exposition of Christianity.

Two causes led to the amalgamation of Christianity with paganism: 1. The political necessities of the new dynasty; 2. The policy adopted by the new religion to insure its spread.

1. Though the Christian party had proved itself sufficiently strong to give a master to the empire, it was never sufficiently strong to destroy its antagonist, paganism. The issue of the struggle between them was an amalgamation of the principles of both. In this, Christianity differed from Mohammedanism, which absolutely annihilated its antagonist, and spread its own doctrines without adulteration.

Constantine continually showed by his acts that he felt he must be the impartial sovereign of all his people, not merely the representative of a successful faction. Hence, if he built Christian churches, he also restored pagan temples; if he listened to the clergy, he also consulted the haruspices; if he summoned the Council of Nicea, he also honored the statue of Fortune; if he accepted the rite of baptism, he also struck a medal bearing his title of "God." His statue, on the top of the great porphyry pillar at Constantinople, consisted of an ancient image of Apollo, whose features were replaced by those of the emperor, and its head surrounded by the nails feigned to have been used at the crucifixion of Christ, arranged so as to form a crown of glory.

Feeling that there must be concessions to the defeated pagan party, in accordance with its ideas, he looked with favor on the idolatrous movements of his court. In fact, the leaders of these movements were persons of his own family.

Paganization of Christianity.

2. To the emperor -- a mere worldling -- a man without any religious convictions, doubtless it appeared best for himself, best for the empire, and best for the contending parties, Christian and pagan, to promote their union or amalgamation as much as possible. Even sincere Christians do not seem to have been averse to this; perhaps they believed that the new doctrines would diffuse most thoroughly by incorporating in themselves ideas borrowed from the old, that Truth would assert herself in the end, and the impurity be cast off. In accomplishing this amalgamation, Helena, the empress-mother, aided by the court ladies, led the way. For her gratification there were discovered, in a cavern at Jerusalem, wherein they had lain buried for more than three centuries, the Savior's cross, and those of the two thieves, the inscription, and the nails that had been used. They were identified by miracle. A true relic-worship set in. The superstition of the old Greek times reappeared; the times when the tools with which the Trojan horse was made might still be seen at Metapontum, the sceptre of Pelops at Chæroneia, the spear of Achilles at Phaselis, the sword of Memnon at Nicomedia, when the Tegeates could show the hide of the Calydonian boar and very many cities boasted their possession of the true palladium of Troy; when there were statues of Minerva that could brandish spears, paintings that could blush, images that could sweat, and endless shrines and sanctuaries at which miracle-cures could be performed.

As years passed on, the faith described by Tertullian was transmuted into one more fashionable and more debased. It was incorporated with the old Greek mythology. Olympus was restored, but the divinities passed under other names. The more powerful provinces insisted on the adoption of their time-honored conceptions. Views of the Trinity, in accordance with Egyptian traditions, were established. Not only was the adoration of Isis under a new name restored, but even her image, standing on the crescent moon, reappeared. The well-known effigy of that goddess, with the infant Horus in her arms, has descended to our days in the beautiful, artistic creations of the Madonna and Child. Such restorations of old conceptions under novel forms were everywhere received with delight. When it was announced to the Ephesians that the Council of that place, headed by Cyril, had decreed that the Virgin should be called "the Mother of God," with tears of joy they embraced the knees of their bishop; it was the old instinct peeping out; their ancestors would have done the same for Diana.

This attempt to conciliate worldly converts, by adopting their ideas and practices, did not pass without remonstrance from those whose intelligence discerned the motive. "You have," says Faustus to Augustine, "substituted your agapæ for the sacrifices of the pagans; for their idols your martyrs, whom you serve with the very same honors. You appease the shades of the dead with wine and feasts; you celebrate the solemn festivities of the Gentiles, their calends, and their solstices; and, as to their manners, those you have retained without any alteration. Nothing distinguishes you from the pagans, except that you hold your assemblies apart from them." Pagan observances were everywhere introduced. At weddings it was the custom to sing hymns to Venus.

Christianity under Constantine.

Let us pause here a moment, and see, in anticipation, to what a depth of intellectual degradation this policy of paganization eventually led. Heathen rites were adopted, a pompous and splendid ritual, gorgeous robes, mitres, tiaras, wax-tapers, processional services, lustrations, gold and silver vases, were introduced. The Roman lituus, the chief ensign of the augurs, became the crozier. Churches were built over the tombs of martyrs, and consecrated with rites borrowed from the ancient laws of the Roman pontiffs. Festivals and commemorations of martyrs multiplied with the numberless fictitious discoveries of their remains. Fasting became the grand means of repelling the devil and appeasing God; celibacy the greatest of the virtues. Pilgrimages were made to Palestine and the tombs of the martyrs. Quantities of dust and earth were brought from the Holy Land and sold at enormous prices, as antidotes against devils. The virtues of consecrated water were upheld. Images and relics were introduced into the churches, and worshiped after the fashion of the heathen gods. It was given out that prodigies and miracles were to be seen in certain places, as in the heathen times. The happy souls of departed Christians were invoked; it was believed that they were wandering about the world, or haunting their graves. There was a multiplication of temples, altars, and penitential garments. The festival of the purification of the Virgin was invented to remove the uneasiness of heathen converts on account of the loss of their Lupercalia, or feasts of Pan. The worship of images, of fragments of the cross, or bones, nails, and other relics, a true fetich worship, was cultivated. Two arguments were relied on for the authenticity of these objects -- the authority of the Church, and the working of miracles. Even the worn-out clothing of the saints and the earth of their graves were venerated. From Palestine were brought what were affirmed to be the skeletons of St. Mark and St. James, and other ancient worthies. The apotheosis of the old Roman times was replaced by canonization; tutelary saints succeed to local mythological divinities. Then came the mystery of transubstantiation, or the conversion of bread and wine by the priest into the flesh and blood of Christ. As centuries passed, the paganization became more and more complete. Festivals sacred to the memory of the lance with which the Savior's side was pierced, the nails that fastened him to the cross, and the crown of thorns, were instituted. Though there were several abbeys that possessed this last peerless relic, no one dared to say that it was impossible they could all be authentic.

We may read with advantage the remarks made by Bishop Newton on this paganization of Christianity. He asks: "Is not the worship of saints and angels now in all respects the same that the worship of demons was in former times? The name only is different, the thing is identically the same, ... the deified men of the Christians are substituted for the deified men of the heathens. The promoters of this worship were sensible that it was the same, and that the one succeeded to the other; and, as the worship is the same, so likewise it is performed with the same ceremonies. The burning of incense or perfumes on several altars at one and the same time; the sprinkling of holy water, or a mixture of salt and common water, at going into and coming out of places of public worship; the lighting up of a great number of lamps and wax-candles in broad daylight before altars and statues of these deities; the hanging up of votive offerings and rich presents as attestations of so many miraculous cures and deliverances from diseases and dangers; the canonization or deification of deceased worthies; the assigning of distinct provinces or prefectures to departed heroes and saints; the worshiping and adoring of the dead in their sepulchres, shrines, and relics; the consecrating and bowing down to images; the attributing of miraculous powers and virtues to idols; the setting up of little oratories, altars, and statues in the streets and highways, and on the tops of mountains; the carrying of images and relics in pompous procession, with numerous lights and with music and singing; flagellations at solemn seasons under the notion of penance; a great variety of religious orders and fraternities of priests; the shaving of priests, or the tonsure as it is called, on the crown of their heads; the imposing of celibacy and vows of chastity on the religious of both sexes -- all these and many more rites and ceremonies are equally parts of pagan and popish superstition. Nay, the very same temples, the very same images, which were once consecrated to Jupiter and the other demons, are now consecrated to the Virgin Mary and the other saints. The very same rites and inscriptions are ascribed to both, the very same prodigies and miracles are related of these as of those. In short, almost the whole of paganism is converted and applied to popery; the one is manifestly formed upon the same plan and principles as the other; so that there is not only a conformity, but even a uniformity, in the worship of ancient and modern, of heathen and Christian Rome."

Introduction of Roman Rites.

Thus far Bishop Newton; but to return to the times of Constantine: though these concessions to old and popular ideas were permitted and even encouraged, the dominant religious party never for a moment hesitated to enforce its decisions by the aid of the civil power -- an aid which was freely given. Constantine thus carried into effect the acts of the Council of Nicea. In the affair of Arius, he even ordered that whoever should find a book of that heretic, and not burn it, should be put to death. In like manner Nestor was by Theodosius the Younger banished to an Egyptian oasis.

The pagan party included many of the old aristocratic families of the empire; it counted among its adherents all the disciples of the old philosophical schools. It looked down on its antagonist with contempt. It asserted that knowledge is to be obtained only by the laborious exercise of human observation and human reason.

The Christian party asserted that all knowledge is to be found in the Scriptures and in the traditions of the Church; that, in the written revelation, God had not only given a criterion of truth, but had furnished us all that he intended us to know. The Scriptures, therefore, contain the sum, the end of all knowledge. The clergy, with the emperor at their back, would endure no intellectual competition.

Thus came into prominence what were termed sacred and profane knowledge; thus came into presence of each other two opposing parties, one relying on human reason as its guide, the other on revelation. Paganism leaned for support on the learning of its philosophers, Christianity on the inspiration of its Fathers

The Church thus set herself forth as the depository and arbiter of knowledge; she was ever ready to resort to the civil power to compel obedience to her decisions. She thus took a course which determined her whole future career: she became a stumbling-block in the intellectual advancement of Europe for more than a thousand years.

The reign of Constantine marks the epoch of the transformation of Christianity from a religion into a political system; and though, in one sense, that system was degraded into an idolatry, in another it had risen into a development of the old Greek mythology. The maxim holds good in the social as well as in the mechanical world, that, when two bodies strike, the form of both is changed. Paganism was modified by Christianity; Christianity by Paganism.

Debasement of Christianity.

In the Trinitarian controversy, which first broke out in Egypt -- Egypt, the land of Trinities -- the chief point in discussion was to define the position of "the Son." There lived in Alexandria a presbyter of the name of Arius, a disappointed candidate for the office of bishop. He took the ground that there was a time when, from the very nature of sonship, the Son did not exist, and a time at which he commenced to be, asserting that it is the necessary condition of the filial relation that a father must be older than his son. But this assertion evidently denied the coeternity of the three persons of the Trinity; it suggested a subordination or inequality among them, and indeed implied a time when the Trinity did not exist. Hereupon, the bishop, who had been the successful competitor against Arius, displayed his rhetorical powers in public debates on the question, and, the strife spreading, the Jews and pagans, who formed a very large portion of the population of Alexandria, amused themselves with theatrical representations of the contest on the stage -- the point of their burlesques being the equality of age of the Father and his Son.

Such was the violence the controversy at length assumed, that the matter had to be referred to the emperor. At first he looked upon the dispute as altogether frivolous, and perhaps in truth inclined to the assertion of Arius, that in the very nature of the thing a father must be older than his son. So great, however, was the pressure laid upon him, that he was eventually compelled to summon the Council of Nicea, which, to dispose of the conflict, set forth a formulary or creed, and attached to it this anathema: "The Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes those who say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, and that, before he was begotten, he was not, and that he was made out of nothing, or out of another substance or essence, and is created, or changeable, or alterable." Constantine at once enforced the decision of the council by the civil power.

A few years subsequently the Emperor Theodosius prohibited sacrifices, made the inspection of the entrails of animals a capital offense, and forbade any one entering a temple. He instituted Inquisitors of Faith, and ordained that all who did not accord with the belief of Damasus, the Bishop of Rome, and Peter, the Bishop of Alexandria, should be driven into exile, and deprived of civil rights. Those who presumed to celebrate Easter on the same day as the Jews, he condemned to death. The Greek language was now ceasing to be known in the West, and true learning was becoming extinct.

At this time the bishopric of Alexandria was held by one Theophilus. An ancient temple of Osiris having been given to the Christians of the city for the site of a church, it happened that, in digging the foundation for the new edifice, the obscene symbols of the former worship chanced to be found. These, with more zeal than modesty, Theophilus exhibited in the market-place to public derision. With less forbearance than the Christian party showed when it was insulted in the theatre during the Trinitarian dispute, the pagans resorted to violence, and a riot ensued. They held the Serapion as their headquarters. Such were the disorder and bloodshed that the emperor had to interfere. He dispatched a rescript to Alexandria, enjoining the bishop, Theophilus, to destroy the Serapion; and the great library, which had been collected by the Ptolemies, and had escaped the fire of Julius Cæsar, was by that fanatic dispersed.

The Trinitarian Dispute.

The bishopric thus held by Theophilus was in due time occupied by his nephew St. Cyril, who had commended himself to the approval of the Alexandrian congregations as a successful and fashionable preacher. It was he who had so much to do with the introduction of the worship of the Virgin Mary. His hold upon the audiences of the giddy city was, however, much weakened by Hypatia, the daughter of Theon, the mathematician, who not only distinguished herself by her expositions of the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle, but also by her comments on the writings of Apollonius and other geometers. Each day before her academy stood a long train of chariots; her lecture-room was crowded with the wealth and fashion of Alexandria. They came to listen to her discourses on those questions which man in all ages has asked, but which never yet have been answered: "What am I? Where am I? What can I know?"

Hypatia and Cyril! Philosophy and bigotry. They cannot exist together. So Cyril felt, and on that feeling he acted. As Hypatia repaired to her academy, she was assaulted by Cyril's mob -- a mob of many monks. Stripped naked in the street, she was dragged into a church, and there killed by the club of Peter the Reader. The corpse was cut to pieces, the flesh was scraped from the bones with shells, and the remnants cast into a fire. For this frightful crime Cyril was never called to account. It seemed to be admitted that the end sanctified the means.

So ended Greek philosophy in Alexandria, so came to an untimely close the learning that the Ptolemies had done so much to promote. The "Daughter Library," that of the Serapion, had been dispersed. The fate of Hypatia was a warning to all who would cultivate profane knowledge. Henceforth there was to be no freedom for human thought. Every one must think as the ecclesiastical authority ordered him, A. D. 414. In Athens itself philosophy awaited its doom. Justinian at length prohibited its teaching, and caused all its schools in that city to be closed.

The Murder of Hypatia.

While these events were transpiring in the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, the spirit that had produced them was displaying itself in the West. A British monk, who had assumed the name of Pelagius, passed through Western Europe and Northern Africa, teaching that death was not introduced into the world by the sin of Adam; that on the contrary he was necessarily and by nature mortal, and had he not sinned he would nevertheless have died; that the consequences of his sins were confined to himself, and did not affect his posterity. From these premises Pelagius drew certain important theological conclusions.

At Rome, Pelagius had been received with favor; at Carthage, at the instigation of St. Augustine, he was denounced. By a synod, held at Diospolis, he was acquitted of heresy, but, on referring the matter to the Bishop of Rome, Innocent I., he was, on the contrary, condemned. It happened that at this moment Innocent died, and his successor, Zosimus, annulled his judgment, and declared the opinions of Pelagius to be orthodox. These contradictory decisions are still often referred to by the opponents of papal infallibility. Things were in this state of confusion, when the wily African bishops, through the influence of Count Valerius, procured from the emperor an edict denouncing Pelagius as a heretic; he and his accomplices were condemned to exile and the forfeiture of their goods. To affirm that death was in the world before the fall of Adam, was a state crime.

Pelagius.

It is very instructive to consider the principles on which this strange decision was founded. Since the question was purely philosophical, one might suppose that it would have been discussed on natural principles; instead of that, theological considerations alone were adduced. The attentive reader will have remarked, in Tertullian's statement of the principles of Christianity, a complete absence of the doctrines of original sin, total depravity, predestination, grace, and atonement. The intention of Christianity, as set forth by him, has nothing in common with the plan of salvation upheld two centuries subsequently. It is to St. Augustine, a Carthaginian, that we are indebted for the precision of our views on these important points.

In deciding whether death had been in the world before the fall of Adam, or whether it was the penalty inflicted on the world for his sin, the course taken was to ascertain whether the views of Pelagius were accordant or discordant not with Nature but with the theological doctrines of St. Augustine. And the result has been such as might be expected. The doctrine declared to be orthodox by ecclesiastical authority is overthrown by the unquestionable discoveries of modern science. Long before a human being had appeared upon earth, millions of individuals -- nay, more, thousands of species and even genera -- had died; those which remain with us are an insignificant fraction of the vast hosts that have passed away.

A consequence of great importance issued from the decision of the Pelagian controversy. The book of Genesis had been made the basis of Christianity. If, in a theological point of view, to its account of the sin in the garden of Eden, and the transgression and punishment of Adam, so much weight had been attached, it also in a philosophical point of view became the grand authority of Patristic science. Astronomy, geology, geography, anthropology, chronology, and indeed all the various departments of human knowledge, were made to conform to it.

Condemnation of Pelagius.

As the doctrines of St. Augustine have had the effect of thus placing theology in antagonism with science, it may be interesting to examine briefly some of the more purely philosophical views of that great man. For this purpose, we may appropriately select portions of his study of the first chapter of Genesis, as contained in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth books of his "Confessions."

These consist of philosophical discussions, largely interspersed with rhapsodies. He prays that God will give him to understand the Scriptures, and will open their meaning to him; he declares that in them there is nothing superfluous, but that the words have a manifold meaning.

The face of creation testifies that there has been a Creator; but at once arises the question, "How and when did he make heaven and earth? They could not have been made in heaven and earth, the world could not have been made in the world, nor could they have been made when there was nothing to make them of." The solution of this fundamental inquiry St. Augustine finds in saying, "Thou spakest, and they were made."

But the difficulty does not end here. St. Augustine goes on to remark that the syllables thus uttered by God came forth in succession, and there must have been some created thing to express the words. This created thing must, therefore, have existed before heaven and earth, and yet there could have been no corporeal thing before heaven and earth. It must have been a creature, because the words passed away and came to an end; but we know that "the word of the Lord endureth forever."

Moreover, it is plain that the words thus spoken could not have been spoken successively, but simultaneously, else there would have been time and change -- succession in its nature implying time; whereas there was then nothing but eternity and immortality. God knows and says eternally what takes place in time.

St. Augustine.

St. Augustine then defines, not without much mysticism, what is meant by the opening words of Genesis: "In the beginning." He is guided to his conclusion by another scriptural passage: "How wonderful are thy works, O Lord! in wisdom hast thou made them all." This "wisdom" is "the beginning," and in that beginning the Lord created the heaven and the earth.

"But," he adds, "some one may ask, 'What was God doing before he made the heaven and the earth? for, if at any particular moment he began to employ himself, that means time, not eternity. In eternity nothing transpires -- the whole is present.'" In answering this question, he cannot forbear one of those touches of rhetoric for which he was so celebrated: "I will not answer this question by saying that he was preparing hell for priers into his mysteries. I say that, before God made heaven and earth, he did not make any thing, for no creature could be made before any creature was made. Time itself is a creature, and hence it could not possibly exist before creation.

"What, then, is time? The past is not, the future is not, the present -- who can tell what it is, unless it be that which has no duration between two nonentities? There is no such thing as 'a long time,' or 'a short time,' for there are no such things as the past and the future. They have no existence, except in the soul."

The style in which St. Augustine conveyed his ideas is that of a rhapsodical conversation with God. His works are an incoherent dream. That the reader may appreciate this remark, I might copy almost at random any of his paragraphs. The following is from the twelfth book: "This then, is what I conceive, O my God, when I hear thy Scripture saying, In the beginning God made heaven and earth: and the earth was invisible and without form, and darkness was upon the deep, and not mentioning what day thou createdst them; this is what I conceive, that because of the heaven of heavens -- that intellectual heaven, whose intelligences know all at once, not in part, not darkly, not through a glass, but as a whole, in manifestation, face to face; not this thing now, and that thing anon; but (as I said) know all at once, without any succession of times; and because of the earth, invisible and without form, without any succession of times, which succession presents 'this thing now, that thing anon;' because, where there is no form, there is no distinction of things; it is, then, on account of these two, a primitive formed, and a primitive formless; the one, heaven, but the heaven of heavens; the other, earth, but the earth movable and without form; because of these two do I conceive, did thy Scripture say without mention of days, In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. For, forthwith it subjoined what earth it spake of; and also in that the firmament is recorded to be created the second day, and called heaven, it conveys to us of which heaven he before spake, without mention of days.

"Wondrous depth of thy words! whose surface behold! is before us, inviting to little ones; yet are they a wondrous depth, O my God, a wondrous depth! It is awful to look therein; an awfulness of honor, and a trembling of love. The enemies thereof I hate vehemently; O that thou wouldst slay them with thy two-edged sword, that they might no longer be enemies to it: for so do I love to have them slain unto themselves, that they may live unto thee."

As an example of the hermeneutical manner in which St. Augustine unfolded the concealed facts of the Scriptures, I may cite the following from the thirteenth book of the "Confessions;" his object is to show that the doctrine of the Trinity is contained in the Mosaic narrative of the creation:

"Lo, now the Trinity appears unto me in a glass darkly, which is thou my God, because thou, O Father, in him who is the beginning of our wisdom, which is thy wisdom, born of thyself, equal unto thee and coeternal, that is, in thy Son, createdst heaven and earth. Much now have we said of the heaven of heavens, and of the earth invisible and without form, and of the darksome deep, in reference to the wandering instability of its spiritual deformity, unless it had been converted unto him, from whom it had its then degree of life, and by his enlightening became a beauteous life, and the heaven of that heaven, which was afterward set between water and water. And under the name of God, I now held the Father, who made these things; and under the name of the beginning, the Son, in whom he made these things; and believing, as I did, my God as the Trinity, I searched further in his holy words, and lo! thy Spirit moved upon the waters. Behold the Trinity, my God! -- Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost, Creator of all creation."

That I might convey to my reader a just impression of the character of St. Augustine's philosophical writings, I have, in the two quotations here given, substituted for my own translation that of the Rev. Dr. Pusey, as contained in Vol. I. of the "Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church," published at Oxford, 1840.

Considering the eminent authority which has been attributed to the writings of St. Augustine by the religious world for nearly fifteen centuries, it is proper to speak of them with respect. And indeed it is not necessary to do otherwise. The paragraphs here quoted criticise themselves. No one did more than this Father to bring science and religion into antagonism; it was mainly he who diverted the Bible from its true office -- a guide to purity of life -- and placed it in the perilous position of being the arbiter of human knowledge, an audacious tyranny over the mind of man. The example once set, there was no want of followers; the works of the great Greek philosophers were stigmatized as profane; the transcendently glorious achievements of the Museum of Alexandria were hidden from sight by a cloud of ignorance, mysticism, and unintelligible jargon, out of which there too often flashed the destroying lightnings of ecclesiastical vengeance.
 

Criticism of St. Augustine.

A divine revelation of science admits of no improvement, no change, no advance. It discourages as needless, and indeed as presumptuous, all new discovery, considering it as an unlawful prying into things which it was the intention of God to conceal.

What, then, is that sacred, that revealed science, declared by the Fathers to be the sum of all knowledge?

It likened all phenomena, natural and spiritual, to human acts. It saw in the Almighty, the Eternal, only a gigantic man.

As to the earth, it affirmed that it is a flat surface, over which the sky is spread like a dome, or, as St. Augustine tells us, is stretched like a skin. In this the sun and moon and stars move, so that they may give light by day and by night to man. The earth was made of matter created by God out of nothing, and, with all the tribes of animals and plants inhabiting it, was finished in six days. Above the sky or firmament is heaven; in the dark and fiery space beneath the earth is hell. The earth is the central and most important body of the universe, all other things being intended for and subservient to it.

As to man, he was made out of the dust of the earth. At first he was alone, but subsequently woman was formed from one of his ribs. He is the greatest and choicest of the works of God. He was placed in a paradise near the banks of the Euphrates, and was very wise and very pure; but, having tasted of the forbidden fruit, and thereby broken the commandment given to him, he was condemned to labor and to death.

The descendants of the first man, undeterred by his punishment, pursued such a career of wickedness that it became necessary to destroy them. A deluge, therefore, flooded the face of the earth, and rose over the tops of the mountains. Having accomplished its purpose, the water was dried up by a wind.

From this catastrophe Noah and his three sons, with their wives, were saved in an ark. Of these sons, Shem remained in Asia and repeopled it. Ham peopled Africa; Japhet, Europe. As the Fathers were not acquainted with the existence of America, they did not provide an ancestor for its people.

Let us listen to what some of these authorities say in support of their assertions. Thus Lactantius, referring to the heretical doctrine of the globular form of the earth, remarks: "Is it possible that men can be so absurd as to believe that the crops and the trees on the other side of the earth hang downward, and that men have their feet higher than their heads? If you ask them how they defend these monstrosities, how things do not fall away from the earth on that side, they reply that the nature of things is such that heavy bodies tend toward the centre, like the spokes of a wheel, while light bodies, as clouds, smoke, fire, tend from the centre to the heavens on all sides. Now, I am really at a loss what to say of those who, when they have once gone wrong, steadily persevere in their folly, and defend one absurd opinion by another." On the question of the antipodes, St. Augustine asserts that "it is impossible there should be inhabitants on the opposite side of the earth, since no such race is recorded by Scripture among the descendants of Adam." Perhaps, however, the most unanswerable argument against the sphericity of the earth was this, that "in the day of judgment, men on the other side of a globe could not see the Lord descending through the air."

It is unnecessary for me to say any thing respecting the introduction of death into the world, the continual interventions of spiritual agencies in the course of events, the offices of angels and devils, the expected conflagration of the earth, the tower of Babel, the confusion of tongues, the dispersion of mankind, the interpretation of natural phenomena, as eclipses, the rainbow, etc. Above all, I abstain from commenting on the Patristic conceptions of the Almighty; they are too anthropomorphic, and wanting in sublimity.

Perhaps, however, I may quote from Cosmas Indicopleustes the views that were entertained in the sixth century. He wrote a work entitled "Christian Topography," the chief intent of which was to confute the heretical opinion of the globular form of the earth, and the pagan assertion that there is a temperate zone on the southern side of the torrid. He affirms that, according to the true orthodox system of geography, the earth is a quadrangular plane, extending four hundred days' journey east and west, and exactly half as much north and south; that it is inclosed by mountains, on which the sky rests; that one on the north side, huger than the others, by intercepting the rays of the sun, produces night; and that the plane of the earth is not set exactly horizontally, but with a little inclination from the north: hence the Euphrates, Tigris, and other rivers, running southward, are rapid; but the Nile, having to run up-hill, has necessarily a very slow current.

The Venerable Bede, writing in the seventh century, tells us that "the creation was accomplished in six days, and that the earth is its centre and its primary object. The heaven is of a fiery and subtile nature, round, and equidistant in every part, as a canopy from the centre of the earth. It turns round every day with ineffable rapidity, only moderated by the resistance of the seven planets, three above the sun -- Saturn, Jupiter, Mars -- then the sun; three below -- Venus, Mercury, the moon. The stars go round in their fixed courses, the northern perform the shortest circle. The highest heaven has its proper limit; it contains the angelic virtues who descend upon earth, assume ethereal bodies, perform human functions, and return. The heaven is tempered with glacial waters, lest it should be set on fire. The inferior heaven is called the firmament, because it separates the superincumbent waters from the waters below. The firmamental waters are lower than the spiritual heaven, higher than all corporeal beings, reserved, some say, for a second deluge; others, more truly, to temper the fire of the fixed stars."

Was it for this preposterous scheme -- this product of ignorance and audacity -- that the works of the Greek philosophers were to be given up? It was none too soon that the great critics who appeared at the Reformation, by comparing the works of these writers with one another, brought them to their proper level, and taught us to look upon them all with contempt.

Of this presumptuous system, the strangest part was its logic, the nature of its proofs. It relied upon miracle-evidence. A fact was supposed to he demonstrated by an astounding illustration of something else! An Arabian writer, referring to this, says: "If a conjurer should say to me, 'Three are more than ten, and in proof of it I will change this stick into a serpent,' I might be surprised at his legerdemain, but I certainly should not admit his assertion." Yet, for more than a thousand years, such was the accepted logic, and all over Europe propositions equally absurd were accepted on equally ridiculous proof.

Since the party that had become dominant in the empire could not furnish works capable of intellectual competition with those of the great pagan authors, and since it was impossible for it to accept a position of inferiority, there arose a political necessity for the discouragement, and even persecution, of profane learning. The persecution of the Platonists under Valentinian was due to that necessity. They were accused of magic, and many of them were put to death. The profession of philosophy had become dangerous -- it was a state crime. In its stead there arose a passion for the marvelous, a spirit of superstition. Egypt exchanged the great men, who had made her Museum immortal, for bands of solitary monks and sequestered virgins, with which she was overrun.

The Patristic Philosophy.