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LIFE IN THE ROMAN WORLD OF NERO AND ST. PAUL

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ROMAN RELIGION--STATE AND INDIVIDUAL

To undertake to set forth with any definiteness the "religious ideas of a Roman" of A.D. 64 would be an extremely difficult task. Those ideas would differ with the individual, being determined or varied by a number of considerations and influences--by locality, education, and temperament. Silius would not hold the views of Scius and probably not those of Marcia. We may speak of the "State religion" of Rome, as distinct from various other religions tolerated and practised in different parts of the empire, but it is scarcely possible to define the contents of that "State religion." There were certain special priests and priestly bodies who saw to it that certain rites and ceremonies should be perfortied scrupulously in a prescribed manner and on prescribed dates; but these were officers of the state, whose knowledge and functions were confined to the ritual observances with which they had to deal. They were not persons trained in a system of theology, nor were they preachers of a code of doctrines or morals; they had no "cure of souls," and belonged to no church; they had no credo and no Bible or corresponding authority to which to refer. Though most well-informed persons could have told the names of the prominent deities in the calendar--such as Jupiter, Mars, Apollo, and Ceres--perhaps scarcely any one but an encyclopaedist or antiquarian could have named one-half of the total. It is not merely that the deities on the list were so numerous. There were other reasons for ignorance or vagueness. In the first place, the line between the operations of one deity and those of another was often too fine to draw, and deities originally more or less distinct came to be confused or identified. Secondly, it was often hard, if not impossible, to make up one's mind whether a so-called deity--such as Virtue, Peace, or Health--was supposed to have a real existence, or whether it was simply the personification of an abstract quality. Thirdly, many of the ancient divinities had fallen out of fashion, and to a large extent out of memory, while many new ones--Isis and Serapis for example--had come, or were coming, into vogue.

The state possessed its old-established calendar of days sacred to a number of deities, and its code of ritual to be performed in their honour. There were ancient prescriptions as to what certain priests should wear, what they should do or avoid in their priestly character, what victims--ox, sheep, or pig--they should sacrifice, what instruments they should use for the purpose, and in what formula of words they should pray in particular connections. There was a standing commission, with the Pontifex Maximus--at this date that excellent religious authority, the emperor Nero--at its head, to safeguard the state religion, to see that its requirements were carried out, and that no one ventured to commit an outrage towards it. But the state could not have told you with any precision that you must believe in just so many deities and no others; it could not have told you precisely what notions to entertain concerning those deities whom it did officially recognise; it dictated no theological doctrines; neither did it dictate any moral doctrines beyond those which you would find in the secular law. It reserved the right to prevent the introduction of foreign or new divinities if it found sufficient cause; but so long as the temples, the rites and ceremonies, the cardinal moral axioms of the Roman "religion," and the basic principles of Roman society were respected, the state practised no sort of inquisition into your beliefs or non-beliefs, and in no way interfered with your particular selection of favourite deities.

Polytheism in an advanced community is always tolerant, because it is necessarily always indefinite. What it does not readily endure is an organised attack upon the entire system, whether openly avowed or manifestly implied. Even undisguised unbelief in any deity at all it is often willing to tolerate, so long as the unbelief is rather a matter of dialectics than anything else, and makes no attempt at a crusade. When a state so disposed is found to interfere with a novel religion, it will generally be easy to perceive that the jealousy is not on behalf of the deities nor of a creed, but on behalf of the community in its political, economic, or social aspect. This, however, is perhaps to anticipate. Let us endeavour to realise as best we can the religious situation among the Roman or romanized portion of the population.

Though we are not here directly concerned with the steps by which the Roman religion had come to be what it was, we can scarcely hope to understand the position without some comprehension of that development. The Romans were a conservative people, and many of the peculiarities of their worship were due to the retention of old forms which had lost such spirit as they once possessed.

In the infant days of the nation there had been no such things as gods in human shape, or in recognisable shape at all. There were only "powers" or "influences" superior to mankind, by whose aid or concurrence man must work out his existence. The early Romans and such Italian tribes as they became blended with were, as they still are, extremely superstitious. In a pre-scientific age they, like other peoples, were at a loss to understand what produced thunder and lightning, rain, the fertility or failure of crops, the changes of the seasons, the flow or cessation of springs and streams, the intoxication or exhilaration proceeding from wine, and a multitude of other phenomena. Fire was a perplexing thing; so was wind: the woods were full of mysterious sounds and movements. They could comprehend neither birth nor death, nor the fructification of plants. The consequence was a feeling that these things were due to unseen agencies; and the attempt was made to bring those powers into some sort of relation with mankind, either by the compulsion of magical operations and magical formulae, or by sacrifices and offerings of propitiation, or by promises. A superhuman power might be placed under a spell, or placated with food and drink, or persuaded by a vow. Such "powers" were exceedingly numerous. Greatest of all, and recognised equally by all, was the power working in the sky with the thunder and the rain. Its presence was everywhere alike, and its operations most palpable at every season. Countless others were concerned with particular localities or with particular functions. Every wood, if not every tree, and also every fountain, was controlled by some such higher "power"; every manifestation or operation of nature came from such an "influence." There was no kind of action or undertaking, no new stage of life or change of condition, which did not depend for help or hindrance upon a similar power. At first the "powers" bore no distinctive names, and were conceived in no definite shapes. They were not yet gods. The human being who sought to work upon them to favour him could only do, say, and offer such things as he thought likely to move them. But in process of time it became inevitable that these superhuman agencies should be referred to under some sort of title, and the title literally expressed the conception. Hence a multitude of names. Not only was there the ever-prominent Jupiter or "sky-father"; there a veritable multitude of powers with provinces great and small. Among the larger conceptions the power concerned with the sowing of seed was Saturn that with the growth of crops was Ceres, that with the blazing of fire was Vesta. Among the smaller the power which taught a babe to eat was Edulia that which attended the bringing home of a bride was Domiduca. The ability to speak or to walk was supposed to be imparted by separate agencies named accordingly. Flowers depended on Flora and fruits on Pomona.

[Illustration: FIG. 109.--JUPITER.]

But to assign a name is a great step towards creating a "power" into a "god," and such agencies began to take shape in the mind of those who named them. This was the second stage. Jupiter, Ceres, Saturn, and almost all the rest became "gods." The powers in the woodlands--a Silvanus or Faunus--became embodied, like the more modern gnomes and kobbolds. Once imagine a shape, and the tendency is to give it visible form in an image "like unto man," and to honour it with an abode--a temple or shrine. The earliest Romans known to us erected no images or temples, but they were not long in creating them. Particularly rapid was the reducing of a god to human form when they came into close contact with the Etruscans and the Greeks. For all the important deities poetry and art combined to evolve an appropriate bodily form, which gradually became conventional, so that the ordinary notion of a Jupiter, a Juno, a Mercury, or a Ceres was approximately that which had been gathered from the statue thus developed. This trouble was not taken with all the most ancient divinities. Many of the old rural and local deities, and many of those with quite minor provinces, were left vague and unrealised. They were represented in no temples and by no statues. Naturally as the Roman state grew from a set of neighbouring farms into a great city, and from a small settlement into a vast empire, the little local gods fell into the background. The deities which concerned the state, and to which it erected temples, were those with the more far-reaching operations--such as the gods identified with the sky and its thunders, with war, with fertility, with the sea, with the hearth-fire of all Rome. The rest might well be left to localities or to domestic worship.

From the early days of Rome there existed a calendar for festivals to certain divinities important to the little growing town, and a code of ceremonies to be performed in their honour, and of formulae of prayer to be offered to them. The later Romans, in their characteristic conservatism, adhered to those festivals, to that ritual, and to those formulae, even when some of the deities had ceased to be of appreciable account, and when neither the meaning of the ritual nor the sense of the old words was any longer understood by the very priests who used them.

Reflect a moment on this situation. First, we have a number of deities of the first rank, housed in temples, embodied in statues, and recognised in all the Roman world; next a number of minor divinities whose operations and worship may be remotely rural or otherwise local, and whose functions are by no means always distinguishable from those of the greater gods; then a series of more or less unintelligible ceremonials carried out by ancient rule in honour of divinities often practically forgotten; outside these a number of vague powers presiding over small domestic and other actions; finally, a peculiar Roman tendency--in keeping with the last--to erect into divinities, and to symbolise in statue housed in temples, all manner of abstract qualities and states, such as Hope, Harmony, Peace, Wealth, Health, Fame, and Youth.

[Illustration: FIG. 110.--A SACRIFICE.]

Reflect again that, when the Romans, as they spread, came into contact with Greeks, Egyptians, or other foreigners, they met with deities whose provinces were necessarily often identical with or closely akin to their own. Then remember that there is no church and no official document to define the complete list of Roman gods. Does it not follow, as a matter of course, on the one hand, that the importation of new gods was an easy matter, and on the other, that no individual Roman could draw the line as to the number of even the old-established deities in whom he should or should not believe?

The guardians of the public religion were satisfied if the due rites were paid by the state to those deities, on those dates, and precisely in that manner, which happened to be prescribed in the official religious books. For the rest they left matters to the individual.

So much it has been necessary to say in order to account for existing attitudes. We must use the plural, since the attitude of the state officials is but one of several, and, inasmuch as the state officials themselves were not a theological caste but only secular servants of the community administering the regulations for external worship as laid down in the records, it often happened that their official attitude had nothing to do with their individual beliefs. Often they did not know or care whether there was a real religious efficacy in the acts which they performed; sometimes all that they knew was that they were doing what the state required to be done properly by some one.

Cicero quotes a dictum of a Pontifex Maximus that there was one religion of the poet, another of the philosopher, and another of the statesman. This is true, but it is hardly adequate. We must at least add that of the common people. A well-known statement of more modern birth puts the case--rather too strongly--that at our period all religions were regarded by the people as equally true, by the philosopher as equally false and by the statesman as equally useful. We may begin with the ordinary people of whatever station, who were not poets nor thinkers nor magistrates. It is an error to suppose that such Romans of the first century were either atheistic or indifferent to religion. Their fault was rather that they were too superstitious, ready to believe too much rather than too little, but to believe without relating their belief to conduct. They did not question the existence of the traditional gods, nor the characters attributed to them; they were ready to perform their dues of worship and to make their due offerings, but all this had no bearing upon their own morality. They believed with the terror of the superstitious in omens and portents, and in rites of expiation and purification to avert the threatened evil. They were alarmed by thunder and lightning, earthquakes, bad dreams, ravens seen on the wrong side of the road, and other evil tokens. They commonly accepted the existence of malign spirits, including ghosts. They were prepared to believe that on occasion a statue had bled or turned round on its base; that an ox had spoken in human language; or that there had been a rain of blood. There were doubtless exceptions, and superstition was less dire and oppressive than once it was. More than fifty years before our date Cicero had said that even old women no longer shuddered at the terrors of an underworld, and fifty years after it the satirist asserts the same of children. But both writers are speaking somewhat hyperbolically. Doubtless it had been wondered how two augurs could look at each other without a smile, but there is nothing to show that even a minority of augurs were acutely conscious of anything to smile at.

[Illustration: FIG. 111.--ISIS WORSHIP. (Wall-Painting.)]

In the multiplicity of deities the ordinary people were prepared to accept as many more as you chose to offer them, especially if the worship attaching to them contained mystic or orgiastic ceremonies. By this date the populace had become exceedingly mixed, especially in the capital, and the cool hard-headed Roman stock had been largely replaced or leavened by foreign elements, especially from the East. The official worship of the state was formal and frigid; it offered nothing to the emotions or the hopes. Many among the people felt an instinct for something more sacramental, and especially attractive was any form of worship which promised a continued existence, and probably a happier existence, after death. Even the mere mysteriousness of a form of worship had its allurements. Hence a tendency to Judaism, still more to the Egyptian worship of Isis and Osiris. The latter made many proselytes, particularly among the women, and contained ideas which are by no means ignoble but to our modern minds far more truly "religious" than anything to be found in the native Roman cults. To pass through purification, to practise asceticism, to feel that there was a life beyond the grave apportioned to your deserts, to go through an impressive form of worship held every day, and to have the emotions thus worked upon--all this supplied something to the moral nature which was lacking in the chill sacrifices and prayers to Jupiter and the other national divinities. In vain had the authorities, in their doubt as to the moral effects, tried on several occasions to suppress this foreign worship; it always revived, and it now held its established place both in the imperial city and in the provinces, particularly near the sea, for it was especially a sailors' religion. Rome, like Pompeii, had its temple of Isis and her daily celebrations. There was, however, no necessary conflict between this worship and the official religion. It was quite possible to accept Isis while accepting Jupiter. Nor, though this particular cult has required mention, must it be taken as belonging to more than a section of the Roman population. Most Romans would look upon it and other deviations with acquiescence, some with contempt, and perhaps some with a shake of the head, while themselves satisfied with an indifferent conformity to the more established customs of the state.

Setting aside the devotees of the mystic, the more ordinary point of view was that between Romans and the established gods of Rome there is an understanding. The gods will support Rome so long as Rome pays to them their dues of formal recognition. Their ritual must not be neglected by the authorities; it is not necessary for an individual member of the community to concern himself further in the matter. The state, through its appointed ministers, will make the necessary sacrifices and say the necessary words; the citizen need not put in an appearance or take any part. He will not do or say anything disrespectful towards the deities in question, and he will enjoy the festivals belonging to them. If remarkable portents and disasters occur, he will agree that there is something wrong in the behaviour of the state, and that there must be some public purification or other placation of the gods. If the state orders such a proceeding, he will perform whatever may be his share in it. So far he is loyal to the "religion of the state."

[Illustration: FIG. 112.--HOUSEHOLD SHRINE. (Pompeii.)]

In his private capacity he has his own wants, fears, and hopes. He therefore betakes himself to whatever divinity he considers most likely to help him; he makes his own prayers and vows an offering if his request is granted. Reduced to plain commercial language his ordinary attitude is--no success, no payment. A cardinal difference between the religion of the Romans and our own is to be seen in the nature of their prayers. They always ask for some definite advantage--prosperity, safety, health, or the like. They never pray for a clean heart or for some moral improvement. Of more importance than the man's moral condition will be his scrupulous observance of the right external practices. Unlike the Greek, he will cover his head when he prays. He will raise his hand to his lips before the statue, or, if he is appealing to the celestial deities, he will stretch his palms upwards above his head; if to the infernal powers, he will hold them downwards. These are the things that matter.

At home, if he belongs to the better type of representative citizen, our Roman has his household shrine and his household divinities, whom he never neglects. If he is very pious, he may pray to them every morning, or at least before every enterprise. In any case he will remember them with a small offering when he dines. There are the "gods of the stores"--his "penates"--certain deities whom he has selected as guardians of his belongings, and who have their little images by the hearth in the kitchen. There is the household "protector," or more commonly there are two, who may be painted under the form of lightly-stepping youths in a little niche or shrine above a small altar. To these he will offer fruits, flowers, incense, and cakes. And there is the "Genius" of the master of the house, who is also painted on the wall, or who may be represented by his own portrait bust or by the picture of a snake. That "Genius" means the power presiding over his vitality and health and wellbeing. If he is an artisan and belongs to a guild, he will pay special worship to the patron god or goddess of that guild--to Vesta, if he is a baker, to Minerva, if he is a fuller. Out of doors he will find a street shrine in the wall at a crossing, pertaining to the tutelary god of what may be called his "parish," and this he will not neglect. Like all other orthodox Romans he will not undertake any new enterprise--betrothal, marriage, journey, or important business--without ascertaining that the auspices are favourable.

In a general way he has a notion that the gods are displeased at certain forms of crime, and that they approve of justice and the carrying out of compacts. The gods overlook the state, because the state engages them so to do, and therefore to break the laws of the state is to anger the gods of the state. But this is rather subtle for the common man, and there is generally no understood immediate relation between these gods and his moral conduct, unless he has sworn an oath by one or other of them. The purpose of calling a god to witness is to bring upon a perjurer the anger of the offended deity. But he entertains no such conception as the modern one of "sin" or of "remorse for sin." "Sin" is either a breach of the secular law or breach of a contract with a deity and "remorse" is but fear of or regret for the consequences.

His morality is determined by the laws of the state, family discipline, and social custom. For that reason his vices on the positive side will mostly be those of his appetites, and on the negative side a want of charity and compassion. He may be guiltless of lying and stealing, murder and violence; he may be honest and law-abiding; but there is nothing to make him temperate, continent, or gentle. His avowed code is "duty," and duty is defined by law and tradition.

If this is the religious condition of the common-place man or woman--a blend of superstition, formalism, and tolerance--it is by no means that of the educated thinker. Such persons were for the most part freethinkers. Many of them, finding no better guide to conduct, conform to the "religion" of the state without any real belief in its gods or attaching any importance to its ceremonies. They do not feel called upon to propagate any other views, and they probably think the current notions are at least as good for the ignorant as any others. If they are poets, like Horace or Lucan, they will dress up the mythology, mostly from Greek models, and write fluently about Jupiter and Juno, Venus and Mercury, either attributing to them the recognised characters and legends, or varying them so as to make them more picturesque and interesting--perhaps even improving them--but all the time believing no more in the stories they are telling, or in the deities themselves, than Tennyson need have believed in King Arthur and Guinevere. The gods are good poetic material and are sure to afford popular, or at least inoffensive, reading. The poets doubtless do something to humanise and beautify the popular conception of a deity, but they seldom deliberately set out with any such purpose. If the educated are not poets, but public men of affairs, they may believe just as little, and yet regard the established cult of the gods as an excellent discipline for the vulgar and the best known means of upholding the national principle of "duty." If they are philosophers they may not, and the Epicureans in reality do not, believe in the gods at all--certainly not as they are generally conceived--and will openly discuss in speech and in writing the question of their existence or non-existence, and of their character and nature if they do exist. They will endeavour to substitute for the barren formalism of rites and ceremonies, or the inconsistent or incomplete traditional morality of duty, another set of principles as a sounder guide to life and conduct. Some are monotheists, some are simply in doubt. Says Nero's own tutor, Seneca, "Do you want to propitiate the gods? Then be good. The true worshipper of the gods is he who acts like them." "Better," remarks Plutarch, "not believe in a God at all than cringe before a god who is worse than the worst of men." In the actual worship of images none of them believe. One conspicuous writer of the time says: "To look for a form and shape to a god, I consider to be a mark of human feebleness of mind." Concerning the schools of thought and in particular the tenets of those Stoics and Epicureans whom St. Paul met at Athens, and whom he could meet in educated circles all over the Roman Empire, we shall have to speak in a following chapter, when summing up the intellectual and moral condition of the time. Meanwhile it should be understood that, though a profound or anything approaching a professional study of philosophy was discouraged among the true Romans--more than once the professional philosophers were banished from the capital--there were few cultivated persons who did not to some extent dabble in it, and even go so far as to profess an adherence to one school or another. None of these men believed in the "Roman religion" as administered by the state, although many of them were administering it themselves. The same man could one day freely discuss the gods in conversation or a treatise, and the next he might be clad in priestly garb and officially seeing that the rites of sacrifice were being religiously carried out in terms of the books, or that the auspices were being properly taken.

It does not, however, follow at all that because poet or public man cared nothing for the pantheon and all its mythology, he was therefore without his superstitions. He might still tremble at signs and portents, at comets, at dreams, and at the unpropitious behaviour of birds and beasts. He might believe in astrology and resort to its professors, called the "Chaldaeans." On the other hand he might laugh at such things. It was all a matter of temperament. It certainly was not every man who dared to act like one of the Roman admirals. When it was reported that the omens were unpropitious to an imminent battle because the sacred chickens "would not eat," he ordered them to be thrown into the sea so that at least they might drink. The freethinkers were in advance of their times. "Science" in the modern sense hardly existed, and until phenomena are explained it is hard to avoid a perplexity or astonishment which is equivalent to superstition.

Consider now these various states of mind--that of the people, ready to add almost any deity to the large and vague number already recognised; that of the poet, who finds the deities such useful literary material; that of the magistrate or public man, who, without enthusiasm or necessary belief, regards religion as a thing useful to society; and that of the philosopher, who thinks all the current religious conceptions unsound, if not absurd, and morally almost useless.

Manifestly a society so composed will be one of unusual tolerance. The Romans had no disposition to force their religion on the subject provinces of the empire. Their religion was the Roman religion; the religion of the Greeks might be left Greek, the Jewish religion Jewish, and the Egyptian religion Egyptian. Any nation had a right to the religion of its fathers. Nay, the Jews had such peculiar notions about a Sabbath day and other matters that a Jew was exempted from the military service which would have compelled him to break his national laws. All religions were permitted, so long as they were national religions. Also all religious views were permitted to the individual, so long as they were not considered dangerous to the empire or imperial rule, or so long as they threatened no appreciable harm to the social order. If a Jew came to Rome and practised Judaism well and good. It was, in the eyes of the Romans, a narrow-minded and uncharitable religion, marked by many strange and absurd practices and superstitions, but if a misguided oriental people liked to indulge in it, well and good. Even if a Roman became a proselyte to Judaism, well and good, so long as he did not flout the official religion of his own country. If the Egyptians chose to worship cats, ibises, and crocodiles, that was their affair, so long as they let other people alone. In Gaul, it is true, the emperor Claudius, predecessor of Nero, had put down the Druids. Earlier still the Druids had already been interfered with; but that was because the Druids--those weird old white-sheeted men with their long beards and strange magic--were performing human sacrifices--burning men alive in wicker frames--and such conduct was not only contrary to the secular law of Rome, but even to natural law. And when Claudius finally suppressed them, or drove the remnant out of Gaul into Britain, it was not simply because they worshipped non-Roman gods and performed non-Roman rites, but because they were, as they had always notoriously been, a dangerous political influence interfering with the proper carrying out of the Roman government.

And when we come to Christianity it must be remarked that, so long as that nascent religion was regarded as merely a variety of Judaism, it was actually protected by the Roman power, and owes no little of its original progress to the fact. In the Acts of the Apostles it is always from the Roman governor that St. Paul receives, not only the fairest, but the most courteous treatment. It is the Jews who persecute him and work up difficulties against him, because to them he is a renegade and is weaning away their people. To the philosophers at Athens he appears as the preacher of a new philosophy, and they think him a "smatterer" in such subjects. To the Roman he is a man charged by a certain community with being dangerous to social order, to wit, causing factious disturbances and profaning the temple; and since he refuses to let the local authorities judge his case, and has exercised his citizen privilege by appealing to Caesar, to Caesar he is sent. And, when a prisoner in somewhat free custody at Rome, note that he is permitted to speak "with all freedom," and that in the first instance he is acquitted.

True, but the fact remains that Nero burnt Christians in his gardens after the great fire of Rome, and that certain later emperors are found punishing Christians merely for avowing themselves such. Why was Christianity thus singled out? It was not through what can be reasonably called "religious intolerance," for, as has been said, the Romans did not seek to force Roman religion on other peoples nor did they make any inquisition into the beliefs of Romans themselves. The reasons for singling out Christianity for special treatment are obvious enough. The question is not whether the reasons were sound, whether the Romans properly understood or tried to understand, whether they could be as wise before the event as we are after it, but whether the motive was what we should call a "religious" one. To allow Epicureans to deny the existence of gods at all, and to make scornful concessions to the peculiar tenets of Jews, could not be the action of a people which was bigoted. If there was bigotry and intolerance, it was political or social bigotry and intolerance, not religious. To prevent any possible misconception let the present writer say here that he considers the principles of Christianity, as laid down by its Founder and as spread by St. Paul, to have been the most humanizing and civilising influence ever brought to bear upon society. But that is not the point. The early Christians were treated as they were, not because they held non-Roman views, but because they held anti-Roman views; not because they did not believe in Jupiter and Venus, but because they refused to let any one else believe in them; not because they threatened to weaken Roman faith, but because they threatened to weaken and even to wreck the whole fabric of Roman society; not because they were known to be heretics, but because they were supposed to be disloyal; not because they converted men, but because they appeared to convert them into dangerous characters. As it has been put, the Christians were regarded as the "Nihilists" of the period. We are apt to judge the Romans from the standpoint of Christianity dominant and understood; it is fairer to judge them from the standpoint of a dominant pagan empire looking on at a strange new phenomenon altogether misunderstood and often deliberately misrepresented. Moreover--and the point is worth more attention than it commonly receives--we have only to read the Epistles to the Corinthians, to perceive that the early Christian gatherings were by no means always such meek, pure, and model assemblages as they are almost always assumed to have been. Some of the members, for instance, quarrelled and "were drunken." There were evidently many unworthy members of the new communion, and of course there were also many manifestations of insulting bigotry on their part. The class of society to which the Christians belonged was closely associated in the Roman mind with the rabble and the slave, if not with criminals. What the pagan observer saw in the new religion was "a pestilent superstition," "hatred of the human race," "a malevolent superstition." He thought its practices to be connected with magic. The intransigeant Christian refused to take the customary oath in the law courts, and therefore appeared to menace a trustworthy administration of the law. He took no interest in the affairs of the empire, but talked of another king and his coming kingdom, and he appeared to be an enemy to the Roman power. He held what appeared to be secret meetings, although the empire rigidly suppressed all secret societies. He weakened the martial spirit of the soldier. He divided families--the basis of Roman society--against themselves. He was a socialist leveller. He threatened with ruin all the trades connected with either the established worship--as amongst the silversmiths at Ephesus--or with the luxuries and amusements of life. Those amusements in circus or amphitheatre he hated, and therefore appeared misanthropic. He not only stood aloof from the religious observances of the state and the household, but treated them with contempt or abhorrence.

Moreover, at this date, he refused to acknowledge the one great symbol of the imperial authority. This was the statue of the emperor. When that statue was set up in every town it was not understood by any intelligent man that the emperor was actually a god, or that, when incense was burnt before the statue, it was being burned to the emperor himself as deity. But just as every householder had his attendant "Genius"--the power determining his vital functions and well-being--which was often represented as a bust with the man's own features, so the statue of the Augustus, "His Highness," represented the Genius of that Head of the State, and the offering of incense was meant as an appeal to the Genius to keep the emperor and the imperial power "in health and wealth long to live." The man who refused to make such an offering was necessarily considered to be ill-disposed to the majesty and welfare of the Head of the State, and therefore of the state itself. The Roman attitude towards the early Christians was partly that of a modern government towards Nihilists, and partly that of a generation or two ago to a blend of extreme Radical with extreme atheist.

We are not here concerned with the whole story of the persecution of the Christians, but only with the situation at and immediately after the date we have chosen. It is at least quite certain that when Nero burned the Christians in the year 64 he was treating them, not as the adherents of a religion, but as social criminals or nuisances. How far his notions of Christianity may have been influenced by Poppaea we do not know. At least he believed he was pleasing the populace.




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