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it if possible, laws were at length enacted against strange gods and strange forms of worship; but it was too late, for though the public worship of other than the national deities could be prevented, at least to some extent and for a time, the private could not be so easily set aside.
The revolution, therefore, of the religious mode of thinking and acting, and of the moral tone of the Romans, went on, secretly and silently for a long time, but still surely, under the influence of foreign thought and action. Rome rapidly declined into a luxurious style of living. The severer life to which the nation had been accustomed almost entirely passed, for the world was enjoying a profound peace when Christ came,-and with this passed also the stern application to labor and exact studies. And so superstitions came in like waves of the sea. Law had lost its power, and foreign priests and modes of worship obtained more and more influence. To add to the general disorder, also, there came great numbers of astrologers, pretending to the possession of all miraculous powers; and these, spreading themselves through the empire, helped to sink it still deeper in corruption.
The state of Roman morals, as they obtained just prior to the Advent, may be better imagined than described. Many of the forms of worship were indecent beyond expression, and outraged all feelings of natural modesty. Whatever of virtue had been possessed by Rome had almost altogether vanished; and in place thereof all seemed to have abandoned themselves to the most unrestrained indulgence of their passions. The very gods and goddesses to whom public homage was rendered, were themselves (as represented) examples of the most flagitious crimes-greater in vice in proportion as they were deemed superior in power and capacity. The priests of the people, also, instead of striving to retard the spread of immorality, were only “blind leaders of the blind," themselves even more corrupt than their unfortunate followers.
How universal was the corruption and depravity existing, is apparent in the impunity with which the most appalling wickedness was suffered. No public laws seemed to take notice of crime (unless political); and so far from being prohibited, custom, at least, sanctioned the unhallowed sports of the gladiator; the exercise of unnatural lusts; the licentiousness of free divorce ; the custom of exposing infants ; and other vices too terrible to recount.
Of course, there were some not altogether lost to all decency, and all sense of moral feeling. These saw the deformity of the systems of religion, and knowing no better (with the exception of the philosophers, of whom we have yet to speak,) were utterly and thoroughly atheistic. But even these did not dare openly to make war upon the gods, for the priests held the people so powerfully in the grasp of superstition, that they would have incited them against all opposers, as being rebels against the majority of the immortal gods, and they would have been torn to pieces by infuriated mobs.
The Roman philosophers looked at religion from a politic point of view. They thought it better for the safety of the State, and the contentment of the masses, that they should be held in the chains of priestcraft and superstitious rites and ceremonies.
If we turn now for a moment to the Greeks, we find obtaining the same general condition, substantially, as characterized the Romans. The Greek deities were ideal Greeks; but they never exhorted to or developed virtue, save such virtues as the most enlightened Greek philosophers deemed absolutely essential to the safety and perpetuity of the State. Grecian worship indeed was against morality, rather than in its favor. Religion, with the Greek, was nothing but the enjoyment of an art. The cultivation of the intellect and the taste was preferred to morality. And as a consequence, as it ever is when intellect and taste are alone cultivated, the Greeks sank into a state of immorality deeper than characterized any other nation of the ancient world. Nor is there any thing strange in all this. The fact is merely an instance, on a large scale, of the futility of reliance on mere intellectual cultivation in matters of philosophy and taste to preserve from pollution and moral death. The fact shows this too, notwithstanding we hear so much and so often, from certain quarters, of the sufficiency of the light of education, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, to guide the soul and develope it aright.
The supreme principle—for it cannot be called God—of the universe, as conceived in Grecian thought, took various forms. Aristotle spoke of it as being like the principle that gives motion to a machine ; as a nature happy in selfcontemplation, but utterly regardless of human affairs. The Stoic philosophers conceived of God as sitting above the starry dome in supine indolence, careless of all that transpired, but as having a corporeal being. It was united to matter by a law of necessity, and was subject to the control of inexorable fate. This system confined the existence of the soul to a period reaching beyond the future, but ending at last. Plato, probably the wisest of all the ancient Greeks, represented God as entirely destitute of many perfections now recognized as His, and as being confined to a determinate portion of space. He taught an immortality; but it was, after all, and as might be expected, doubtfully and hesitatingly announced. The highest religious teaching therefore of the Greeks was illy calculated to nourish strong and stern virtue, far less any correct ideas of this life or any other life ; and so, together with the influences of the innumerable deities of the nation, the people were all sunk in the most deplorable condition of moral degradation.
Not a few Greeks, and among them some of the wisest and noblest, declared openly against all religion, and virtually against all morality. Of these there were two principal parties, the Epicureans and the Academics. The theory of the Epicureans was, that the world was the product of chance—a fortuitous concourse of atoms; that the gods, if there were any, neither did nor could exercise care or influence over human beings or actions; that the soul was essentially mortal ; that to satisfy oneself was the great end of life; that virtue, as virtue, was worthy of neither choice nor esteem ; and that pleasure was the all in all. The Academics held (and their race, as indeed the race of the Epicureans, is not yet extinct) that it was impossible to arrive at the correct knowledge of any
that it was by no means certain whether there were or were not gods; whether the soul had, or had not, or would have, an immortality; and whether virtue should be preferred to vice, or vice to virtue. These two parties naturally struck at the root of all morality; and their proselytes were numerous beyond all computation at the time of the birth of Christ. Nor could any thing be more deplorable than the influence they exerted, supported and encouraged as they were by the patronage of the wealthy and the powerful.
Yet, all this time, be it borne in mind, the Greeks were in the first rank among the nations for learning and philosophy. In many places, especially in Athens, were congregated men distinguished for their education, their acuteness, and their eloquence. There were philosophers of all sects, teaching daily ; rhetoricians, also, and men of surpassing mental powers, who instructed the Grecian youth in all the liberal arts; and to the schools of these teachers, flocked the young men from all parts of the nation, and even of the known world. The Grecian philosophers and rhetoricians had even penetrated into Egypt, and had a school at Alexandria, so celebrated that it, also, enticed the youth of all nations.
Turning back to the Romans, we find that they made a respectable figure among the learned and polished of those times. All the known sciences flourished at Rome. The Roman youth were instructed, at an early age, in the Greek language, literature, and rules of eloquence. From this they proceeded to the study of philosophy—between which and religion there had now become an identity and laws. They finished their literary education by a journey to Greece; and through this means the philosophies of Greece were introduced more fully into Rome, together with their religious developments; and the Greek language became almost universally prevalent. The Academics and Epicureans were especially honored in Rome ; for the Romans were soothed by their doctrines, which placed no restraints upon the free indulgence of their passions, and left no room for remorse or the terrors of a rebuking conscience.
While Greece and Rome were most conspicuous among the nations of antiquity, there were others well worthy a brief notice. The historic records of these other nations are so few as to render it almost impossible to give more than a general idea of their condition. We have sufficient data, however, for our present purpose.
Politically they were strangers to aught like liberty, and were groaning under the burdens of oppressions laid upon them by their rulers. The masses were slaves, in almost every sense of the term—the slavery all the more real, since they did not seem to realize it, so far had they lost their selfrespect and manliness. Their religions served still more securely to rivet even their political chains. The consequence was, a moral condition as abject and degraded as can well be imagined. Indeed, properly considered, the religions of these nations may be made to account both for the political and moral degradation existing. Polytheism cannot, in the very nature of the case, be favorable to the development of morality; and where there is not a hightoned morality political freedom is doomed, and must speedily be altogether lost. Polytheism is necessarily unfavorable to morality, because the deities are finite, resembling man, inasmuch as the divinity is thus separated, and limited in time and space. Every nation therefore must give its own expression to its deities, and this expression is of the “earth, earthy.” Hence such deities cannot lead to a higher development of character than already obtains in their worshippers; and hence again, they cannot, and never did, inspire respect and love, but only fear and dread. These deities, moreover, thus being finite and represented as partaking the characteristics of humanity, helped to sanctify the vices of mankind; and so we find their worship attended with the most shocking practices and rites,—the worship of Bel, in Babylon ; of Amun, in Thebes ; of Aphrodite, in Cyprus and Corinth ; and other gods, of other nations or cities, elevated licentiousness to the dignity of a religious service; and the worship of some deities, at least, excited to the highest pitch of a brutal sensuality. The gods were all different, and differing :-in some places we have heroes; in others, the sun, moon, and stars ; in others, the forces of the universe, or the physical surroundings of this world ; in others, the most revolting graven images ; and so down the scale, to reptiles and the lowest orders of creation. The several deities were honored with rites, ceremonies and sacrifices, according to their respective natures and positions. These were always absurd and ridiculous, as viewed from a Christian stand-point, often cruel, frequently obscene.
How terribly in earnest were these worshippers is seen in their Sacrifices to their divinities, which, though generally only the lower animals, on special occasions were even human victims! These were offered as annual sacrifices of expiation, in many places, but always and everywhere on occasions of extraordinary danger, as means to propitiate the enraged deities. Nor was this sacrifice of human beings