- Facts and Information About the Roman Empire

The Religion of Rome.

-- From Ten Great Religions by James Freeman Clarke, first published 1899
Roman religion

§ 1. Origin and essential Character of the Religion of Rome.

In the Roman state nothing grew, everything was made. The practicalunderstanding was the despotic faculty in the genius of this people.Fancy, imagination, humor, seem to have been omitted in the character ofthe Latin race. The only form of wit which appeared among them was satire,that is, wit used for a serious purpose, to punish crimes not amenable toother laws, to remove abuses not to be reached by the ordinary police. Thegay, light-hearted Greek must have felt in Rome very much as a Frenchmanfeels in England. The Romans did not know how to amuse themselves; theypursued their recreations with ferocious earnestness, making always alabor of their pleasure. They said, indeed, that it was well sometimesto unbend, Dulce est desipere in locis; but a Roman when unbent was likean unbent bow, almost as stiff as before.

In other words, all spontaneity was absent from the Roman mind. Everythingdone was done on purpose, with a deliberate intention. This also appearsin their religion. Their religion was not an inspiration, but anintention. It was all regular, precise, exact. The Roman cultus, like theRoman state, was a compact mass, in which all varieties were merged into astern unity. All forms of religion might come to Rome and take theirplaces in its pantheon, but they must come as servants and soldiers ofthe state. Rome opened a hospitable asylum to them, just as Rome hadestablished a refuge on the Capitoline Hill to which all outlaws mightcome and be safe, on the condition of serving the community.

As everything in Rome must serve the state, so the religion of Rome was astate institution, an established church. But as the state can onlycommand and forbid outward actions, and has no control over the heart, sothe religion of Rome was essentially external. It was a system of worship,a ritual, a ceremony. If the externals were properly attended to, it tookno notice of opinions or of sentiments. Thus we find in Cicero ("De NaturaDeorum") the chief pontiff arguing against the existence of the gods andthe use of divination. He claims to believe in religion as a pontifex,while he argues against it as a philosopher. The toleration of Romeconsisted in this, that as long as there was outward conformity toprescribed observances, it troubled itself very little about opinions. Itsaid to all religions what Gallio said to the Jews: "If it be a questionof words and names and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judgeof such matters." Gallio was a genuine representative of Roman sentiment.With religion, as long as it remained within the limits of opinion orfeeling, the magistrate had nothing to do; only when it became an act ofdisobedience to the public law it was to be punished. Indeed, the veryrespect for national law in the Roman mind caused it to legalize in Romethe worship of national gods. They considered it the duty of the Jews, inRome, to worship the Jewish God; of Egyptians, in Rome, to worship thegods of Egypt. "Men of a thousand nations," says Dionysius ofHalicarnassus, "come to the city, and must worship the gods of theircountry, according to their laws at home." As long as the Christians inRome were regarded as a Jewish sect, their faith was a religio licita,when it was understood to be a departure from Judaism, it was then acriminal rebellion against a national faith268.

The Roman religion has often been considered as a mere copy of that ofGreece, and has therefore been confounded with it, as very nearly the samesystem. No doubt the Romans were imitators; they had no creativeimagination. They borrowed and begged their stories about the gods, fromGreece or elsewhere. But Hegel has long ago remarked that the resemblancebetween the two religions is superficial. The gods of Rome, he says, arepractical gods, not theoretic; prosaic, not poetic. The religion of Romeis serious and earnest, while that of Greece is gay. Dionysius ofHalicarnassus thinks the Roman religion the better of the two, because itrejected the blasphemous myths concerning the loves and quarrels of theheavenly powers. But, on the other hand, the deities of Greece were moreliving and real persons, with characters of their own. The deities of Romewere working gods, who had each a task assigned to him. They all had someofficial duty to perform; while the gods of Olympus could amuse themselvesas they pleased. While the Zeus of Greece spent his time in adventures,many of which were disreputable, the Jupiter Capitolinus remained at home,attending to his sole business, which was to make Rome the mistress of theworld. The gods of Rome, says Hegel, are not human beings, like those ofGreece, but soulless machines, gods made by the understanding, even whenborrowed from Greek story. They were worshipped also in the interest ofthe practical understanding, as givers of earthly fortune. The Romans hadno real reverence for their gods; they worshipped them in no spirit ofadoring love, but always for some useful object. It was a utilitarianworship. Accordingly the practical faculties, engaged in useful arts, weredeified. There was a Jupiter Pistor, presiding over bakers. There was agoddess of ovens; and a Juno Moneta, who took care of the coin. There wasa goddess who presided over doing nothing, Tranquillitas Vacuna; and eventhe plague had an altar erected to it. But, after all, no deities were sogreat, in the opinion of the Romans, as Rome itself. The chief distinctionof these deities was that they belonged to the Roman state269.

Cicero considers the Romans to be the most religious of all nations,because they carried their religion into all the details of life. This istrue; but one might as well consider himself a devout worshipper of ironor of wood, because he is always using these materials, in doors and out,in his parlor, kitchen, and stable.

As the religion of Rome had no doctrinal system, its truths werecommunicated mostly by spectacles and ceremonies, which chiefly consistedin the wholesale slaughter of men and animals. There was somethingfrightful in the extent to which this was carried; for when crueltyproceeds from a principle and purpose, it is far worse than when arisingfrom brutal passion. An angry man may beat his wife; but the deliberate,repeated, and ingenious torments of the Inquisition, the massacre ofthousands of gladiators in a Roman amphitheatre, or the torture ofprisoners by the North American Indians, are all parts of a system, andreinforced by considerations of propriety, duty, and religious reverence.

Mommsen remarks270, that the Roman religion in all its details was areflection of the Roman state. When the constitution and institutions ofRome changed, their religion changed with them. One illustration of thiscorrespondence he finds in the fact that when the Romans admitted thepeople of a conquered state to become citizens of Rome, their gods wereadmitted with them; but in both cases the new citizens (novensides)occupied a subordinate position to the old settlers (indigites271).

That the races of Italy, among whom the Latin language originated, were ofthe same great Asiatic stock as the Greeks, Germans, Kelts, and Slavictribes, is sufficiently proved by the unimpeachable evidence of language.The old Latin roots and grammatic forms all retain the analogies of theAryan families. Their gods and their religion bear marks of the sameorigin, yet with a special and marked development. For the Roman nationwas derived from at least three secondary sources,—the Latins, Sabines,and Etruscans. To these may be added the Pelasgian settlers on the westerncoast (unless these are included in the Etruscan element), and the veryancient race of Siculi or Sikels, whose name suggests, by its phoneticanalogy, a branch of that widely wandering race, the Kelts272. But theobscure and confused traditions of these Italian races help us very littlein our present inquiry. That some of the oldest Roman deities were Latin,others Sabine, and others Etruscan, is, however, well ascertained. Fromthe Latin towns Alba and Lavinium came the worship of Vesta, Jupiter,Juno, Saturn and Tellus, Diana and Mars. Niebuhr thinks that the Sabineritual was adopted by the Romans, and that Varro found the real remains ofSabine chapels on the Quirinal. From Etruria came the system ofdivination. Some of the oldest portions of the Roman religion were derivedfrom agriculture. The god Saturn took his name from sowing. Picus andFaunus were agricultural gods. Pales, the goddess of herbage, hadofferings of milk on her festivals. The Romans, says Döllinger, had nocosmogony of their own; a practical people, they took the world as theyfound it, and did not trouble themselves about its origin. Nor had theyany favorite deities; they worshipped according to what was proper, everyone in turn at the right time. Though the most polytheistic of religions,there ran through their system an obscure conception of one supreme being,Jupiter Optimus-Maximus, of whom all the other deities were but qualitiesand attributes. But they carried furthest of all nations thispersonifying and deifying of every separate power, this minute subdivisionof the deity. Heffter273 says this was carried to an extent which wasalmost comic. They had divinities who presided over talkativeness andsilence, over beginnings and endings, over the manuring of the fields, andover all household transactions. And as the number increased, it becamealways more difficult to recollect which was the right god to appeal tounder any special circumstances. So that often they were obliged to callon the gods in general, and, dismissing the whole polytheistic pantheon,to invoke some unknown god, or the supreme being. Sometimes, however, inthese emergencies, new deities were created for the occasion. Thus theycame to invoke the pestilence, defeat in battle, blight, etc., asdangerous beings whose hostility must be placated by sacrifices. A betterpart of their mythology was the worship of Modesty (Pudicitia), Faith orFidelity (Fides), Concord (Concordia), and the gods of home. It was thebusiness of the pontiffs to see to the creation of new divinities. So theRomans had a goddess Pecunia, money (from Pecus, cattle), dating from thetime when the circulating medium consisted in cows and sheep. But whencopper money came, a god of copper was added, Æsculanus; and when silvermoney was invented, a god Argentarius arrived.

§ 2. The Gods of Rome.

Creuzer, in speaking of the Italian worship, says that "one fact whichemerges more prominently than any other is the concourse of Oriental,Pelasgic, Samothracian, and Hellenic elements in the religion of Rome." Inlike manner the Roman deities bear traces of very different sources. Wehave found reason to believe, in our previous chapters, that the religionof Egypt had a twofold origin, from Asiatic and African elements, and thatthe religion of Greece, in like manner, was derived from Egyptian andPelasgic sources. So, too, we find the institutions and people of Romepartaking of a Keltic and Pelasgic origin. Let us now see what was thecharacter of the Roman deities.

One of the oldest and also most original of the gods of Rome was theSabine god JANUS. He was the deity who presided over beginnings andendings, over the act of opening and shutting. Hence the month whichopened the year, January, received its name from this god, who also gavehis name to Janua, a gate or door274, and probably to the hillJaniculum275.

The Romans laid great stress on all beginnings; believing that thecommencement of any course of conduct determined, by a sort of magicalnecessity, its results. Bad success in an enterprise they attributed to awrong beginning, and the only remedy, therefore, was to begin anew. Ovid(Fasti, I. 179) makes Janus say, "All depends on the beginning." Whenother gods were worshipped, Janus was invoked first of all. He was god ofthe year. His temple had four sides for the four seasons, and each sidehad three windows for the months. That his temple was open in war, butclosed in peace, indicated that the character of Rome in times of war wasto attack and not to defend. She then opened her gates to send her troopsforth against the enemy; while in seasons of peace she shut them in athome. This symbol accords well with the haughty courage of the Republic,which commanded victory, by not admitting the possibility of defeat276.

This deity is believed by Creuzer and others to have had an Indian origin,and his name to have been derived from the Sanskrit "Jan," to be born.He resembles no Greek god, and very probably travelled all the way fromBactria to Rome.

On the Kalends of January, which was the chief feast of Janus, it was theduty of every Roman citizen to be careful that all he thought, said, ordid should be pure and true, because this day determined the character ofthe year. All dressed themselves in holiday garb, avoided oaths, abusivewords, and quarrels, gave presents, and wished each other a happy year.The presents were little coins with a Janus-head, and sweetmeats. It wascustomary to sacrifice to Janus at the beginning of all importantbusiness.

Janus was the great god of the Sabines, and his most ancient templeappears to have been on Mount Janiculum277. The altar of Fontus, son ofJanus, and the tomb of Numa, a Sabine king, were both supposed to bethere. Ovid also278 makes Janus say that the Janiculum was his citadel.Ampère remarks as a curious coincidence, that this god, represented with akey in his hand, as the heavenly gate-keeper, should have his home on thehill close to the Vatican, where is the tomb of Peter, who also bears akey with the same significance. The same writer regards the Sabines asinhabiting the hills of Rome before the Pelasgi came and gave this name ofRoma (meaning "strength") to their small fortress on one side of thePalatine.

In every important city of Etruria there were temples to the three gods,JUPITER, JUNO, and MINERVA. In like manner, the magnificent temple of theCapitol at Rome consisted of three parts,—a nave, sacred to Jupiter; andtwo wings or aisles, one dedicated to Juno and the other to Minerva. Thistemple was nearly square, being two hundred and fifteen feet long and twohundred feet wide; and the wealth accumulated in it was immense. The wallsand roof were of marble, covered with gold and silver.

JUPITER, the chief god of Rome, according to most philologists, deriveshis name (like the Greek Ζεὸς) from the far-away Sanskrit word "Div" or"Diu," indicating the splendor of heaven or of day. Ju-piter is from"Djaus-Pitar," which is the Sanskrit for Father of Heaven, or else from"Diu-pitar," Father of Light. He is, at all events, the equivalent ofthe Olympian Zeus. He carries the lightning, and, under many appellations,is the supreme god of the skies. Many temples were erected to him in Rome,under various designations. He was called Pluvius, Fulgurator, Tonans,Fulminator, Imbricitor, Serenator,—from the substantives designatingrain, lightning, thunder, and the serene sky. Anything struck withlightning became sacred, and was consecrated to Jupiter. As the supremebeing he was called Optimus Maximus, also Imperator, Victor, Invictus,Stator, Prædator, Triumphator, and Urbis Custos. And temples or shrineswere erected to him under all these names, as the head of the armies, andcommander-in-chief of the legions; as Conqueror, as Invincible, as theTurner of Flight, as the God of Booty, and as the Guardian of the City.There is said to have been in Rome three hundred Jupiters, which must meanthat Jupiter was worshipped under three hundred different attributes.Another name of this god was Elicius, from the belief that a methodexisted of eliciting or drawing down the lightning; which belief probablyarose from an accidental anticipation of Dr. Franklin's famous experiment.There were no such myths told about Jupiter as concerning the Greek Zeus.The Latin deity was a much more solemn person, his whole time occupiedwith the care of the city and state. But traces of his origin as a rulerof the atmosphere remained rooted in language; and the Romans, in the timeof Augustus, spoke familiarly of "a cold Jupiter," for a cold sky, and ofa "bad Jupiter," for stormy weather.

The Juno of the Capitol was the Queen of Heaven, and in this sense was thefemale Jupiter. But Juno was also the goddess of womanhood, and had theepithets of Virginensis, Matrona, and Opigena; that is, the friend ofvirgins, of matrons, and the daughter of help. Her chief festival was theMatronalia, on the first of March, hence called the "Women's Kalends." Onthis day presents were given to women by their husbands and friends. Junowas the patroness of marriage, and her month of June was believed to bevery favorable for wedlock. As Juno Lucina she presided over birth; asMater Matuta,279 over children; as Juno Moneta, over the mint.

The name of Minerva, the Roman Athênê, is said to be derived from an oldEtruscan word signifying mental action.280 In the songs of the Sabiansthe word "promenervet" is used for "monet." The first syllable evidentlycontains the root, which in all Aryan languages implies thought. TheTrinity of the Capitol, therefore, united Power, Wisdom, and Affection, asJupiter, Minerva, and Juno. The statue of Minerva was placed in schools.She had many temples and festivals, and one of the former was dedicated toher as Minerva Medica.

The Roman pantheon contained three classes of gods and goddesses. First,the old Italian divinities, Etruscan, Latin, and Sabine, naturalized andadopted by the state. Secondly, the pale abstractions of theunderstanding, invented by the College of Pontiffs for moral and politicalpurposes. And thirdly, the gods of Greece, imported, with a change ofname, by the literary admirers and imitators of Hellas.

The genuine deities of the Roman religion were all of the first order.Some of them, like Janus, Vertumnus, Faunus, Vesta, retained theiroriginal character; others were deliberately confounded with some Greekdeity. Thus Venus, an old Latin or Sabine goddess to whom Titus Tatiuserected a temple as Venus Cloacina, and Servius Tullius another as VenusLibertina,281 was afterward transformed into the Greek Aphroditê,goddess of love. If it be true, as is asserted by Nævius and Plautus, thatshe was the goddess of gardens, as Venus Hortensis and Venus Fruti, thenshe may have been originally the female Vertumnus. So Diana was originallyDiva Jana, and was simply the female Janus, until she was transformed intothe Greek Artemis.

The second class of Roman divinities were those manufactured by thepontiffs for utilitarian purposes,—almost the only instance in thehistory of religion of such a deliberate piece of god-making. The purposeof the pontiffs was excellent; but the result, naturally, was small. Theworship of such abstractions as Hope (Spes), Fear (Pallor), Concord(Concordia), Courage (Virtus), Justice (Æquitas), Clemency (Clementia),could have little influence, since it must have been apparent to theworshipper himself that these were not real beings, but only his ownconceptions, thrown heavenward.

The third class of deities were those adopted from Greece. New deities,like Apollo, were imported, and the old ones Hellenized. The Romans had nostatues of their gods in early times; this custom they learned fromGreece. "A full river of influence," says Cicero, "and not a little brook,has flowed into Rome out of Greece282." They sent to Delphi to inquireof the Greek oracle. In a few decades, says Hartung, the Roman religionwas wholly transformed by this Greek influence; and that happened whilethe senate and priests were taking the utmost care that not an iota of theold ceremonies should be altered. Meantime the object was to identify theobjects of worship in other countries with those worshipped at home. Thiswas done in an arbitrary and superficial way, and caused great confusionin the mythologies283. Accidental resemblances, slight coincidences ofnames, were sufficient for the identification of two gods. As long as theservice of the temple was unaltered, the priests troubled themselves verylittle about such changes. In this way, the twelve gods of Olympus—Zeus,Poseidôn, Apollo, Arês, Hêphæstos, Hermes, Hêrê, Athênê, Artemis,Aphroditê, Hestia, and Dêmêtêr—were naturalized or identified as Jupiter,Neptune, Apollo, Mars, Vulcan, Mercury, Juno, Minerva, Diana, Venus,Vesta, and Ceres, Dionysos became Liber or Bacchus; Persephonê,Proserpina; and the Muses were accepted as the Greeks had imagined them.

To find the true Roman worship, therefore, we must divest their deities ofthese Greek habiliments, and go back to their original Etruscan or Latincharacters.

Among the Etruscans we find one doctrine unknown to the Greeks and notadopted by the Romans; that, namely, of the higher "veiled deities,"284superior to Jupiter. They also had a dodecad of six male and six femaledeities, the Consentes and Complices, making a council of gods, whomJupiter consulted in important cases. Vertumnus was an Etruscan; so,according to Ottfried Müller, was the Genius. So are the Lares, orhousehold protectors, and Charun, or Charon, a power of the under-world.The minute system of worship was derived by Rome from Etruria. The wholesystem of omens, especially by lightning, came from the same source.

After Janus, and three Capitoline gods (Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva), abovementioned, the Romans worshipped a series of deities who may be classed asfollows:—

I. Gods representing the powers of nature:—

1. SOL, the Sun. A Sabine deity. In later times the poets attributed tohim all the characters of Helios; but as a Roman god, he never emergedinto his own daylight.

2. LUNA, the Moon. Also regarded as of Sabine origin.

3. MATER MATUTA. Mother of Day, that is, the dawn. Worshipped at theMatronalia in June, as the possessor of all motherly qualities, andespecially as the protector of children from ill-treatment. As the stormswere apt to go down at morning, she was appealed to to protect marinersfrom shipwreck. The consul Tib. Semp. Gracchus dedicated a temple to herB.C. 176.

4. TEMPESTATES, the tempests. A temple was dedicated to the storms, B.C.259.

5. VULCANUS. This name is supposed to be from the same root as "fulgeo,"to shine. He was an old Italian deity. His temple is mentioned asexisting B.C. 491.

6. FONTUS, the god of fountains. The Romans valued water so highly, thatthey erected altars and temples to this divinity, and had a feast offountains (Fontinalia) on October 13th. There were also goddesses offountains, as Lynapha Juturna, the goddess of mineral springs. Egeria isthe only nymph of a fountain mentioned in Roman mythology.

7. DIVUS PATER TIBERINUS, or Father Tiber, was of course the chief rivergod. The augurs called him Coluber, the snake, from his meandering andbending current.

8. NEPTUNUS. The origin of this word has been a great puzzle to thelearned, who, however, connect it with nebula, a cloud, as the clouds comefrom the sea. He had his temple and his festivals at Rome.

Other deities connected with the powers of nature were PORTUNUS, the godof harbors; SALACIA, a goddess of the salt sea; TRANQUILLITAS, the goddessof calm weather.

II. Gods of human relations:—

1. VESTA, an ancient Latin goddess, and one of the oldest and mostrevered. She was the queen of the hearth and of the household fire. Shewas also the protector of the house, associated with the Lares andPenates. Some offering was due to her at every meal. She sanctified thehome.

Afterward, when all Rome became one vast family, Vesta became the goddessof this public home, and her temple was the fireside of the city, in whichburned always the sacred fire, watched by the vestal virgins. In thisworship, and its associations, we find the best side of Romanmanners,—the love of home, the respect for family life, the hatred ofimpurity and immodesty. She was also called "the mother," and qualified asMater Stata, that is, the immovable mother.

2. The PENATES and LARES. These deities were also peculiarly Roman. TheLar, or Lares, were supposed to be the souls of ancestors which resided inthe home and guarded it. Their images were kept in an oratory or domesticchapel, called a Lararium, and were crowned by the master of the house tomake them propitious. The paterfamilias conducted all the domestic worshipof the household, whether of prayers or sacrifices, according to the maximof Cato, "Scito dominum pro tota familia rem divinam facere285." ThePenates were beings of a higher order than the Lares, but having much thesame offices. Their name was from the words denoting the interior of themansion (Penetralia, Penitus). They took part in all the joys and sorrowsof the family. To go home was "to return to one's Penates." In the sameway, "Lar meus" meant "my house "; "Lar conductus," "a hired house ";"Larem mutare" meant to change one's house. Thus the Roman in his homefelt himself surrounded by invisible friends and guardians. No othernation, except the Chinese, have carried this religion of home so far.This is the tender side of the stern Roman character. Very little ofpathos or sentiment appears in Roman poetry, but the lines by Catullus tohis home are as tender as anything in modern literature. The littlepeninsula of Sirmio on the Lago di Garda has been glorified by these fewwords.

3. The GENIUS. The worship of the genius of a person or place was alsopeculiarly Italian. Each man had his genius, from whom his living powerand vital force came. Tertullian speaks of the genius of places. On coinsare found the Genius of Rome. Almost everything had its genius,—nations,colonies, princes, the senate, sleep, the theatre. The marriage-bed iscalled genial, because guarded by a genius. All this reminds us of theFravashi of the Avesta and of the Persian monuments. Yet the Genius alsotakes his place among the highest gods.

III. Deities of the human soul:—

1. MENS, Mind, Intellect.

2. PUDICITIA, Chastity.

3. PIETAS, Piety, Reverence for Parents.

4 FIDES, Fidelity.

5. CONCORDIA, Concord.

6. VIRTUS, Courage.

7. SPES, Hope.

8. PALLOR or PAVOR, Fear.

9. VOLUPTAS, Pleasure.

IV. Deities of rural and other occupations:—

1. TELLUS, the Earth.

2. SATURNUS, Saturn. The root of this name is SAO = SERO, to sow. Saturnis the god of planting and sowing.

3. OPS, goddess of the harvest.

4. MARS. Originally an agricultural god, dangerous to crops; afterwardsgod of war.

5. SILVANUS, the wood god.

6. FAUNUS, an old Italian deity, the patron of agriculture.

7. TERMINUS, an old Italian deity, the guardian of limits and boundaries.

8. CERES, goddess of the cereal grasses.

9. LIBER, god of the vine, and of wine.

10. BONA DEA, the good goddess. The worship of the good goddess wasimported from Greece in later times; and perhaps its basis was the worshipof Dêmêtêr. The temple of the good goddess was on Mount Aventine. At herfeast on the 1st of May all suggestions of the male sex were banished fromthe house; no wine must be drunk; the myrtle, as a symbol of love, wasremoved. The idea of the feast was of a chaste marriage, as helping topreserve the human race.

11. MAGNA MATER, or Cybele. This was a foreign worship, but earlyintroduced at Rome.

12. FLORA. She was an original goddess of Italy, presiding over flowersand blossoms. Great license was practised at her worship.

13. VERTUMNUS, the god of gardens, was an old Italian deity, existingbefore the foundation of Rome.

14. POMONA, goddess of the harvest.

18. PALES. A rural god, protecting cattle. At his feast men and cattlewere purified.

The Romans had many other deities, whose worship was more or lesspopular. But those now mentioned were the principal ones. This list showsthat the powers of earth were more objects of reverence than the heavenlybodies. The sun and stars attracted this agricultural people less than thespring and summer, seedtime and harvest. Among the Italians the countrywas before the city, and Rome was founded by country people.

§ 3. Worship and Ritual.

The Roman ceremonial worship was very elaborate and minute, applying toevery part of daily life. It consisted in sacrifices, prayers, festivals,and the investigation by augurs and haruspices of the will of the gods andthe course of future events. The Romans accounted themselves anexceedingly religious people, because their religion was so intimatelyconnected with the affairs of home and state.

The Romans distinguished carefully between things sacred and profane. Thisword "profane" comes from the root "fari," to speak; because the godswere supposed to speak to men by symbolic events. A fane is a place thusconsecrated by some divine event; a profane place, one notconsecrated.286 But that which man dedicates to the gods (dedicat ordicat) is sacred, or consecrated.287 Every place which was to bededicated was first "liberated" by the augur from common uses; then"consecrated" to divine uses by the pontiff. A "temple" is a place thusseparated, or cut off from other places; for the root of this word, likethat of "tempus" (time) is the same as the Greek τέμνω, tocut.

The Roman year was full of festivals (feriæ) set apart for religioususes. It was declared by the pontiffs a sin to do any common work on thesedays, but works of necessity were allowed. These festivals were forparticular gods, in honor of great events in the history of Rome, or ofrural occurrences, days of purification and atonement, family feasts, orfeasts in honor of the dead. The old Roman calendar288 was as carefullyarranged as that of modern Rome. The day began at midnight. The followingis a view of the Roman year in its relation to festivals:—


  • 1. Feast of Janus, the god of beginnings.
  • 9. Agonalia.
  • 11. Carmentalia. In honor of the nymph Carmenta, a woman's festival.
  • 16. Dedication of the Temple of Concord.
  • 31. Feast of the Penates.


  • 1. Feast of Juno Sospita, the Savior: an old goddess.
  • 13. Faunalia, dedicated to Faunus and the rural gods.
  • 15. Lupercalia. Feast of fruitfulness.
  • 17. Fornacalia. Feast of the oven goddess Fornax.
  • 18 to 28. The Februatio, or feast of purification and atonement, and the Feralia, or feast of the dead. Februus was an old Etrurian god of the under-world. Also, the Charistia, a family festival for putting an end to quarrels among relations.
  • 23. Feast of Terminus, god of boundaries. Boundary-stones anointed and crowned.


  • 1. Feast of Mars. Also, the Matronalia. The Salii, priests of Mars, go their rounds, singing old hymns.
  • 6. Feast of Vesta.
  • 7. Feast of Vejovis or Vedius, i.e. the boy Jupiter.
  • 14. Equiria, or horse-races in honor of Mars.
  • 15. Feast of Anna-Perenna, goddess of health.
  • 17. Liberalia, Feast of Bacchus. Young men invested with the Toga-Virilis on this day.
  • 19 to 23. Feast of Minerva, for five days. Offerings made to her by all mechanics, artists, and scholars.


  • 1. Feast of Venus, to whom the month is sacred.
  • 4. Megalesia. Feast of Cybele and Altys. It lasted six days, and was the Roman analogue of the feast of Ceres in Greece and of Isis in Egypt.
  • 12. Cerealia. Feast of Ceres. Games in the circus.
  • 15. Fordicicia. Feast of cows.
  • 21. Palililia. Feast of Pales, and of the founding of Rome.
  • 23. Vinalia. Feast of new wine.
  • 25. Robigalia. Feast of the goddess of blight, Robigo.
  • 28. Floralia. Feast of the goddess Flora; very licentious.


  • 1. Feast of the Bona Dea, the good goddess; otherwise Maia, Ops, Tellus, or the Earth. This was the feast held by women secretly in the house of the pontiff.
  • 9. Lemuralia. Feast of the departed spirits or ghosts.
  • 12. Games to Mars.
  • 23. Tubilustria, to consecrate wind instruments.


  • 1. Feast of Carna, goddess of the internal organs of the body, and of Juno Moneta.
  • 4. Feast of Bellona.
  • 5. Feast of Deus Fidius.
  • 7 to 15. Feast of Vesta.
  • 19. Matralia. Feast of Mater Matuta.

Other lesser festivals in this month to Summanus, Fortuna, Fortis,Jupiter Stator, etc.


  • 1. Day devoted to changing residences, like the 1st of May in New York. 4. Fortuna Muliebris.
  • 5. Populifuga. In memory of the people's flight, on some occasion, afterward forgotten.
  • 7. Feast of Juno Caprotina.
  • 15. Feast of Castor and Pollux.

Other festivals in this month were the Lucaria, Neptunalia, andFurinalia.


  • 1. Games to Mars.
  • 17. Feast of the god Portumnus.
  • 18. Consualia, feast of Consus. Rape of the Sabines.
  • 23. Vulcanalia, to avert fires.
  • 25. Opeconsivia. Feast of Ops Consiva.


The chief feasts in this month were the games (Ludi Magni or Romani)in honor of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.


  • 13. Fontinalia. Feast of fountains, when the springs were strewed with flowers.
  • 15. Sacrifice of a horse to Mars.

The feasts in November are unimportant.


  • 5. Faunalia, in honor of Faunus.
  • 19. Saturnalia, sacred to Saturn. A Roman thanksgiving for the harvest. It lasted seven days, during which the slaves had their liberty, in memory of the age of Saturn, when all were equal. The rich kept open table to all comers, and themselves waited on the slaves. Presents were interchanged, schools were closed. The Senate did not sit.

Thus religion everywhere met the public life of the Roman by itsfestivals, and laid an equal yoke on his private life by its requisitionof sacrifices, prayers, and auguries. All pursuits must be conductedaccording to a system, carefully laid down by the College of Pontiffs.Sacrifices and prayers of one or another kind were demanded during most ofthe occasions of life. Hidden in our word "inaugurate" is the record ofthe fact that nothing could be properly begun without the assistance ofthe augurs. Sacrifices of lustration and expiation were very common, notso much for moral offences as for ceremonial mistakes. The doctrine of theopus operatum was supreme in Roman religion. The intention was of littleimportance; the question was whether the ceremony had been performedexactly in accordance with rule. If not, it must be done again. Sometimesfifty or a hundred victims were killed before the priestly etiquette wascontented. Sometimes magistrates must resign because the college of augurssuspected some informality in the ceremonies of their election. Laws wereannulled and judicial proceedings revoked for the same reason. If theaugurs declared the signs unfavorable, a public meeting must be adjournedand no business done. A single mistake in the form of a prayer would makeit ineffectual. If a man went out to walk, there was a form to be recited;if he mounted his chariot, another. All these religious acts were of thenature of charms, which acted on the gods by an inherent power, andcompelled them to be favorable, whatever their own wishes might be. Thegods were, therefore, as much the slaves of external mechanical laws asthe Romans themselves. In reality, the supreme god of Rome was law, in theform of rule. But these rules afterward expanded, as the Romancivilization increased, into a more generous jurisprudence. Regularitybroadened into justice.289 But for a long period the whole of the Romanorganic law was a system of hard external method. And the rise of law asjustice and reason was the decline of religion as mere prescription andrule. This one change is the key to the dissolution of the Roman system ofreligious practices.

The seat of Roman worship in the oldest times was the Regia in the ViaSacra, near the Forum. This was the house of the chief pontiff, and herethe sacrifices were performed290 by the Rex Sacrorum. Near by was thetemple of Vesta. The Palatine Hill was regarded as the home of the Latingods, while the Quirinal was that of the Sabine deities. But the Penatesof Rome remained at Lavinium, the old metropolis of the LatinConfederation, and mother of the later city. Every one of the highestofficers of Rome was obliged to go and sacrifice to the ancient gods, atthis mother city of Lavinium, before entering on his office.

The old worship of Rome was free from idolatry. Jupiter, Juno, Janus, Ops,Vesta, were not represented by idols. This feature was subsequentlyimported by means of Hellenic influences coming through Cuma and othercities of Magna Græcia. By the same channels came the Sibylline books.There were ten Sibyls,—the Persian, Libyan, Delphian, Cumæan,Erythræan, Samian, Amalthæan, Hellespontine, Phrygian, and Tiburtine.The Sibylline books authorized or commanded the worship of various Greekgods; they were intrusted to the Decemviri.

Roman worship was at first administered by certain patrician families, andthis was continued till B.C. 300, when plebeians were allowed to enter thesacred colleges. A plebeian became Pontifex Maximus, for the first time,B.C. 253.

The pontiffs (Pontifices) derived their name (bridge-builders) from abridge over the Tiber, which it was their duty to build and repair inorder to sacrifice on either bank. They possessed the supreme authority inall matters of worship, and decided questions concerning marriage,inheritance, public games.

The Flamens were the priests of particular deities. The office was forlife, and there were fifteen Flamens in all. The Flamen Dialis, or priestof Jupiter, had a life burdened with etiquette. He must not take an oath,ride, have anything tied with knots on his person, see armed men, look ata prisoner, see any one at work on a Festa, touch a goat, or dog, or rawflesh, or yeast. He must not bathe in the open air, pass a night outsidethe city, and he could only resign his office on the death of his wife.This office is Pelasgic, and very ancient.

The Salii were from early times priests of Mars, who danced in armor, andsang old hymns. The Luperci were another body of priests, also of veryancient origin. Other colleges of priests were the Epulones, Curiones,Tities.

The Vestal virgins were highly honored and very sacred. Their work was totend the fire of Vesta, and prevent the evil omen of its extinction. Theywere appointed by the Pontifex Maximus. They were selected when veryyoung, and could resign their office after thirty years of service. Theyhad a large revenue, enjoyed the highest honors, and to strike them was acapital offence. If a criminal about to be executed met them, his life wasspared. Consuls and prætors must give way to them in the streets. Theyassisted at the theatres and at all public entertainments. They could goout to visit and to dine with their relations. Their very presenceprotected any one from assault, and their intercession must not beneglected. They prepared the sacred cakes, took part in many sacrifices,and had the charge of a holy serpent, keeping his table supplied withmeat.

The duty of the augurs was to inquire into the divine will; and they couldprevent any public business by declaring the omens unfavorable. The nameis probably derived from an old Aryan word, meaning "sight" or "eye,"which has come to us in the Greek αὐγή, and the Germanauge. Our words "auspicious" and "auspicate" are derived from the"auspices," or outlook on nature which these seers practised. For theywere in truth the Roman seers. Their business was to look, at midnight,into the starry heavens; to observe thunder, lightning, meteors; thechirping or flying of birds; the habits of the sacred chickens; theappearance of quadrupeds; or casualties of various kinds, as sneezing,stumbling, spilling salt or wine. The last relics of these superstitionsare to be found in the little books sold in Rome, in which the fortunatenumber in a lottery is indicated by such accidents and events of commonlife.

The Romans, when at prayer, were in the habit of covering their heads, sothat no sound of evil augury might be heard. The suppliant was to kiss hisright hand, and then turn round in a circle and sit down. Many formulæ ofprayers were prescribed to be used on all occasions of life. They must berepeated three times, at least, to insure success. Different animals weresacrificed to different gods,—white cattle with gilded horns to Jupiter,a bull to Apollo, a horse to Mars. Sometimes the number of victims wasenormous. On Caligula's accession, one hundred and sixty thousand victimswere killed in the Roman Empire.

Lustrations were great acts of atonement or purification, and are oftendescribed by ancient writers. The city was lustrated by a grand processionof the four colleges of Augurs, Pontifices, Quindecemviri, and Septemviri.Lucan, in his Pharsalia, describes such a lustration.291 Tacitus gives alike description, in his History,292 of the ceremonies attending therebuilding the Capitol. On an auspicious day, beneath a serene sky, theground chosen for the foundation was surrounded with ribbons and flowers.Soldiers, selected for their auspicious names, brought into the enclosurebranches from the trees sacred to the gods. The Vestal virgins, followedby a band of children, sprinkled the place with water drawn from threefountains and three rivers. The prætor and the pontiff next sacrificed aswine, a sheep, and a bull, and besought Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva tofavor the undertaking. The magistrates, priests, senators, and knightsthen drew the corner-stone to its place, throwing in ingots of gold andsilver.

The Romans, ever anxious about the will of the gods, naturalized amongthemselves the Etruscan institution of the Haruspices. The prodigiesobserved were in the entrails of animals and the phenomena of nature. Theparts of the entrails observed were the tongue, lungs, heart, liver, gallbladder, spleen, kidneys, and caul. If the head of the right lobe of theliver was absent, it was considered a very bad omen. If certain fissuresexisted, or were absent, it was a portent of the first importance. But theRomans were a very practical people, and not easily deterred from theirpurpose. So if one sacrifice failed they would try another and another,until the portents were favorable. But sceptical persons were naturallyled to ask some puzzling questions, such as these, which Cicero puts inhis work on Divination:293 How can a cleft in a liver be connected, byany natural law, with my acquisition of a property? If it is so connected,what would be the result, if some one else, who was about to lose hisproperty, had examined the same victim? If you answer that the divineenergy, which extends through the universe, directs each man in the choiceof a victim, then how happens it that a man having first had anunfavorable omen, by trying again should get a good one? How happens itthat a sacrifice to one deity gives a favorable sign, and that to anotherthe opposite? But these criticisms only arrived after the old Roman faithhad begun to decline.

Funeral solemnities were held with great care and pomp, and festivals forthe dead were regularly celebrated. The dead father or mother wasaccounted a god, and yet a certain terror of ancestral spectres was shownby a practice of driving them out of the house by lustrations. For it wasuncertain whether the paternal Manes were good spirits, Lares, or evilspirits, and Lemures. Consequently in May there was the Lemuria, or feastfor exorcising the evil spirits from houses and homes, conducted withgreat solemnity.

§ 4. The Decay of the Roman Religion.

"The more distinguished a Roman became," says Mommsen, "the less was he afree man. The omnipotence of law, the despotism of the rule, drove himinto a narrow circle of thought and action, and his credit and influencedepended on the sad austerity of his life. The whole duty of man, with thehumblest and greatest of the Romans, was to keep his house in order, andbe the obedient servant of the state." While each individual could benothing more than a member of the community, a single link in the ironchain of Roman power; he, on the other hand, shared the glory and might ofall-conquering Rome. Never was such esprit de corps developed, neversuch intense patriotism, never such absolute subservience and sacrificeof the individual to the community. But as man is manifold and cannot beforever confined to a single form of life, a reaction against this narrowpatriotism was to be expected in the interest of personal freedom, and itcame very naturally from Greek influences. The Roman could not contemplatethe exuberant development of Greek thought, art, literature, society,without bitterly feeling how confined was his own range, how meagre andempty his own life. Hence, very early, Roman society began to beHellenized, but especially after the unification of Italy. To quoteMommsen once more: "The Greek civilization was grandly human andcosmopolitan; and Rome not only was stimulated by this influence, but waspenetrated by it to its very centre." Even in politics there was a newschool, whose fixed idea was the consolidation and propagandism ofrepublicanism; but this Philhellenism showed itself especially in therealm of thought and faith. As the old faith died, more ceremonies wereadded; for as life goes out, forms come in. As the winter of unbelieflowers the stream of piety, the ice of ritualism accumulates along itsbanks. In addition to the three colleges of Pontiffs, Haruspices, andQuindecemviri, another of Epulones, whose business was to attend to thereligious feasts, was instituted in A.U. 558 (B.C. 196). Contributions andtithes of all sorts were demanded from the people. Hercules, especially,as is more than once intimated in the plays of Plautus, became very richby his tithes.294 Religion became more and more a charm, on the exactperformance of which the favor of the gods depended; so that ceremonieswere sometimes performed thirty times before the essential accuracy wasattained.

The gods were now changed, in the hands of Greek statuaries, intoornaments for a rich man's home. Greek myths were imported and connectedwith the story of Roman deities, as Ennius made Saturn the son of Coelus,in imitation of the genealogy of Kronos. That form of rationalism calledEuhemerism, which explains every god into a mythical king or hero, becamepopular. So, too, was the doctrine of Epicharmos, who considered thedivinities as powers of nature symbolized. According to the usual courseof events, superstition and unbelief went hand in hand. As the old faithdied out, new forms of worship, like those of Cybele and Bacchus, came in.Stern conservatives like Cato opposed all these innovations andscepticisms, but ineffectually.

Gibbon says that "the admirable work of Cicero,'De Naturâ Deorum,' is thebest clew we have to guide us through this dark abyss" (the moral andreligious teachings of the philosophers).295 After, in the first twobooks, the arguments for the existence and providence of the gods havebeen set forth and denied, by Velleius the Epicurean, Cotta theacademician, and Balbus the Stoic; in the third book, Cotta, the head ofthe priesthood, the Pontifex Maximus, proceeds to refute the stoicalopinion that there are gods who govern the universe and provide for thewelfare of mankind. To be sure, he says, as Pontifex, he of coursebelieves in the gods, but he feels free as a philosopher to deny theirexistence. "I believe in the gods," says he, "on the authority andtradition of our ancestors; but if we reason, I shall reason against theirexistence." "Of course," he says, "I believe in divination, as I havealways been taught to do. But who knows whence it comes? As to the voiceof the Fauns, I never heard it; and I do not know what a Faun is. You saythat the regular course of nature proves the existence of some orderingpower. But what more regular than a tertian or quartan fever? The worldsubsists by the power of nature." Cotta goes on to criticise the Romanpantheon, ridiculing the idea of such gods as "Love, Deceit, Fear, Labor,Envy, Old Age, Death, Darkness, Misery, Lamentation, Favor, Fraud,Obstinacy," etc. He shows that there are many gods of the same name;several Jupiters, Vulcans, Apollos, and Venuses. He then deniesprovidence, by showing that the wicked succeed and the good areunfortunate. Finally, all was left in doubt, and the dialogue ends with atone of triumphant uncertainty. This was Cicero's contribution totheology; and Cicero was far more religious than most men of his period.

Many writers, and more recently Merivale,296 have referred to theremarkable debate which took place in the Roman Senate, on the occasion ofCatiline's conspiracy. Cæsar, at that time chief pontiff, the highestreligious authority in the state, gave his opinion against putting theconspirators to death; for death, says he, "is the end of all suffering.After death there is neither pain nor pleasure (ultra neque curæ, nequegaudii locum)." Cato, the Stoic, remarked that Cæsar had spoken wellconcerning life and death. "I take it," says he, "that he regards as falsewhat we are told about the sufferings of the wicked hereafter," but doesnot object to that statement. These speeches are reported by Sallust, andare confirmed by Cicero's fourth Catiline Oration. The remarkable fact is,not that such things were said, but that they were heard with totalindifference. No one seemed to think it was of any consequence one way orthe other. Suppose that when the question of the execution of Charles I.was before Parliament, it had been opposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury(had he been there) on the ground that after death all pain and pleasureceased. The absurdity of the supposition shows the different position ofthe human mind at the two epochs.

In fact, an impassable gulf yawned between the old Roman religion andmodern Roman thought. It was out of the question for an educated Roman,who read Plato and Zeno, who listened to Cicero and Hortensius, to believein Janus and the Penates. "All very well for the people," said they. "Thepeople must be kept in order by these superstitions."297 But the secretcould not be kept. Sincere men, like Lucretius, who saw all the evil ofthese superstitions, and who had no strong religious sense, would speakout, and proclaim all religion to be priestcraft and an unmitigatedevil. The poem of Lucretius, "De Rerum Naturâ," declares faith in the godsto have been the curse of the human race, and immortality to be a sillydelusion. He denies the gods, providence, the human soul, and any moralpurpose in the universe. But as religion is an instinct, which will breakout in some form, and when expelled from the soul returns in disguise,Lucretius, denying all the gods, pours out a lovely hymn to Venus, goddessof beauty and love.

The last philosophic protest, in behalf of a pure and authoritative faith,came from the Stoics. The names of Seneca, Epictetus, and AureliusAntoninus gave dignity, if they could not bring safety, to the decliningreligion of Rome.

Seneca, indeed, was inferior to the other two in personal character, andwas more of a rhetorician than a philosopher. But noble thoughts occur inhis writings. "A sacred spirit sits in every heart," he says, "and treatsus as we treat it." He opposed idolatry, he condemned animal sacrifices.The moral element is very marked in his brilliant pages. Philosophy, hesays, is an effort to be wise and good.298 Physical studies he condemnsas useless.299 Goodness is that which harmonizes with the naturalmovements of the soul.300 God and matter are the two principles of allbeing; God is the active principle, matter the passive. God is spirit, andall souls are part of this spirit.301 Reason is the bond which unitesGod and other souls, and so God dwells in all souls.302

One of the best sayings of Epictetus is that "the wise man does not merelyknow by tradition and hearsay that Jupiter is the father of gods and men;but is inwardly convinced of it in his soul, and therefore cannot helpacting and feeling according to this conviction."303

Epictetus declared that the philosopher could have no will but that of thedeity; he never blames fate or fortune, for he knows that no real evil canbefall the just man. The life of Epictetus was as true as his thoughtswere noble, but he had fallen on an evil age, which needed for its reform,not a new philosophy, but a new inspiration of divine life. This steadycurrent downward darkened the pure soul of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, ofwhom Niebuhr says,304 "If there is any sublime human virtue, it is his."He adds: "He was certainly the noblest character of his time; and I knowno other man who combined such unaffected kindness, mildness, and humilitywith such conscientiousness and severity towards himself." "If there isanywhere an expression of virtue, it is in the heavenly features of M.Aurelius. His 'Meditations' are a golden book, though there are things init which cannot be read without deep grief, for there we find this purestof men without happiness." Though absolute monarch of the Empire, and richin the universal love of his people, he was not powerful enough to resistthe steady tendency to decay in society. Nor did he know that the powerthat was to renew the life of the world was already present inChristianity. He himself was in soul almost a Christian, though he did notknow it, and though the Christian element of faith and hope was wanting.But he expressed a thought worthy of the Gospel, when he said: "The man ofdisciplined mind reverently bids Nature, who bestows all things andresumes them again to herself, 'Give what thou wilt, and take what thouwilt.'"305

Although we have seen that Seneca speaks of a sacred, spirit which dwellsin us, other passages in his works (quoted by Zeller) show that he was,like other Stoics, a pantheist, and meant the soul of the world. He says(Nat. Qu., II. 45, and Prolog. 13): "Will you call God the world? You maydo so without mistake. For he is all that you see around you." "What isGod? The mind of the universe. What is God? All that you see, and all thatyou do not see."306

It was not philosophy which destroyed religion in Rome. Philosophy, nodoubt, weakened faith in the national gods, and made the national worshipseem absurd. But it was the general tendency downward; it was the loss ofthe old Roman simplicity and purity; it was the curse of Cæsarism, which,destroying all other human life, destroyed also the life of religion. Whatit came to at last, in well-endowed minds, may be seen in this extractfrom the elder Pliny:—

"All religion is the offspring of necessity, weakness, and fear. What God is, if in truth he be anything distinct from the world, it is beyond the compass of man's understanding to know. But it is a foolish delusion, which has sprung from human weakness and human pride, to imagine that such an infinite spirit would concern himself with the petty affairs of men. It is difficult to say, whether it might not be better for men to be wholly without religion, than to have one of this kind, which is a reproach to its object. The vanity of man, and his insatiable longing after existence, have led him also to dream of a life after death. A being full of contradictions, he is the most wretched of creatures; since the other creatures have no wants transcending the bounds of their nature. Man is full of desires and wants that reach to infinity, and can never be satisfied. His nature is a lie, uniting the greatest poverty with the greatest pride. Among these so great evils, the best thing God has bestowed on man is the power to take his own life."307

The system of the Stoics was exactly adapted to the Roman character; but,naturally, it exaggerated its faults instead of correcting them. Itsupplanted all other systems in the esteem of leading minds; but thenarrowness of the Roman intellect reacted on the philosophy, and made thatmuch more narrow than it was in the Greek thought. It became simpleethics, omitting both the physical and metaphysical side.

Turning to literature, we find in Horace a gay epicureanism, which alwayssays: "Enjoy this life, for it will be soon over, and after death there isnothing left for us." Virgil tells us that those are happy who know thecauses of things, and so escape the terrors of Acheron. The seriousTacitus, a man always in earnest, a penetrating mind, is by Bunsen called"the last Roman prophet, but a prophet of death and judgment. He saw thatRome hastened to ruin, and that Cæsarism was an unmixed evil, but an evilnot to be remedied."308 He declares that the gods had to mingle in Romanaffairs as protectors; they now appeared only for vengeance.309 Tacitusin one passage speaks of human freedom as superior to fate,310 but inanother expresses his uncertainty on the whole question.311 Equallyuncertain was he concerning the future life, though inclined to believethat the soul is not extinguished with the body.312

But the tone of the sepulchral monuments of that period is not so hopeful.Here are some which are quoted by Döllinger,313 from Muratori andFabretti: "Reader, enjoy thy life; for, after death, there is neitherlaughter nor play, nor any kind of enjoyment." "Friend, I advise thee tomix a goblet of wine and drink, crowning thy head with flowers. Earth andfire consume all that remains at death." "Pilgrim, stop and listen. InHades is no boat and no Charon; no Eacus and no Cerberus. Once dead, weare all alike." Another says: "Hold all a mockery, reader; nothing is ourown."

So ended the Roman religion; in superstition among the ignorant, inunbelief among the wise. It was time that something should come to renewhope. This was the gift which the Gospel brought to the Romans,—hope fortime, hope beyond time. This was the prayer for the Romans of the ApostlePaul: "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost."314 Aremarkable fact, that a Jewish writer should exhort Romans to hope andcourage!

§ 5. Relation of the Roman Religion to Christianity.

The idea of Rome is law, that of Christianity is love. In Roman worshiplaw took the form of iron rules; in Roman theology it appeared as a sternfate; in both as a slavery. Christianity came as freedom, in a worshipfree from forms, in a view of God which left freedom to man. Christianitycame to the Roman world, not as a new theory, but as a new life. As,during the early spring, the power of the returning sun penetrates thesoil, silently touching the springs of life; so Christianity during twohundred years moved silently in the heart of Roman society, creating a newfaith, hope, and love. And as, at last, in the spring the grass shoots,the buds open, the leaves appear, the flowers bloom; so, at last,Christianity, long working in silence and shadow, suddenly becameapparent, and showed that it had been transforming the whole tone andtemper of Roman civilization.

But wherever there is action there is also reaction, and no power or forcecan wholly escape this law. So Roman thought, acted on by Christianity,reacted and modified in many respects the Gospel. Not always in a bad way,sometimes it helped its developments. For the Providence which made theGospel for the Romans made the Romans for the Gospel.

The great legacy bequeathed to mankind by ancient Rome was law. Othernations, it is true, had codes of law, like the Institutes of Manu inIndia, or the jurisprudence of Solon and the enactments of Lycurgus. ButRoman law from the beginning was sanctified by the conviction that it wasfounded on justice, and not merely on expediency or prudence. Insubmitting to the laws, even when they were cruel and oppressive, theRoman was obeying, not force, but conscience. The view which Plato gave asan ideal in Crito was realized in Roman society from the first. Considerthe cruel enactments which made the debtors the slaves of the creditor,and the fact that when the plebeians were ground to the earth by thatoppression, they did not attempt to resist the law, but in their despairfled from their homes, beyond the jurisdiction of Rome, to establish a newcity where these enactments could not reach them. Only when the laws arethus enforced by the public conscience as something sacred, does societybecome possible; and this sense of the divinity which hedges a code oflaws has been transmitted from ancient Rome into the civilization ofEurope.

Cicero, in his admirable treatise on the laws, which unfortunately we havein an imperfect condition, devotes the whole of the first book toestablishing eternal justice as the basis of all jurisprudence. No bettertext-book could have been found for the defence of what was called "thehigher law," in the great American antislavery struggle, than this work ofCicero. "Let us establish," he says, "the principles of justice on thatsupreme law which has existed from all ages before any legislativeenactments were written, or any political governments formed." "Among allquestions, there is none more important to understand than this, that manis born for justice; and that law and equity have not been established byopinion, but by nature." "It is an absurd extravagance in somephilosophers to assert that all things are necessarily just which areestablished by the laws and institutions of nations." "Justice does notconsist in submission to written laws." "If the will of the people, thedecrees of the senate, the decisions of magistrates, were sufficient toestablish rights, then it might become right to rob, to commit adultery,to forge wills, if this was sanctioned by the votes or decrees of themajority." "The sum of all is, that what is right should be sought for itsown sake, because it is right, and not because it is enacted."

Law appears from the very beginnings of the Roman state. The oldesttraditions make Romulus, Numa, and Servius to be legislators. From thattime, after the expulsion of the Tarquins, Rome was governed by laws. Eventhe despotism of the Cæsars did not interfere with the generaladministration of the laws in civil affairs; for the one-man power, thoughit may corrupt and degrade a state, does not immediately and directlyaffect many persons in their private lives. Law continued to rule incommon affairs, and this legacy of a society organized by law was the giftof Rome to modern Europe. How great a blessing it has been may be seen bycomparing the worst Christian government with the best of the despoticgovernments of Asia. Mohammedan society is ruled by a hierarchy oftyranny, each little tyrant being in turn the victim of the one above him.

The feudal system, introduced by the Teutonic races, attempted to organizeEurope on the basis of military despotism; but Roman law was too strongfor feudal law, and happily for mankind overcame it and at last expelledit.

Christianity, in its ready hospitality for all the truth and good which itencounters, accepted Roman jurisprudence and gave to it a new lease oflife.315 Christian emperors and Christian lawyers codified the long lineof decrees and enactments reaching back to the Twelve Tables, andestablished them as the laws of the Christian world. But the spirit ofRoman law acted on Christianity in a more subtle manner. It reproduced theorganic character of the Roman state in the Western Latin Church, and itreproduced the soul of Roman law in the Western Latin theology.

It has not always been sufficiently considered how much the Latin Churchwas a reproduction, on a higher plane, of the old Roman Commonwealth. Theresemblance between the Roman Catholic ceremonies and those of Pagan Romehas been often noticed. The Roman Catholic Church has borrowed fromPaganism saints' days, incense, lustrations, consecrations of sacredplaces, votive-offerings, relics; winking, nodding, sweating, and bleedingimages; holy water, vestments, etc. But the Church of Rome itself, in itscentral idea of authority, is a reproduction of the Roman state religion,which was a part of the Roman state. The Eastern churches were sacerdotaland religious; the Church of Rome added to these elements that of anorganized political authority. It was the resurrection of Rome,—Romanideas rising into a higher life. The Roman Catholic Church, at first anaristocratic republic, like the Roman state, afterwards became, like theRoman state, a disguised despotism. The Papal Church is therefore a legacyof ancient Rome.316

And just as the Roman state was first a help and then a hindrance to theprogress of humanity, so it has been with the Roman Catholic Church.Ancient Rome gradually bound together into a vast political unity thedivided tribes and states of Europe, and so infused into them thecivilization which she had developed or received. And so the Papal Churchunited Europe again, and once more permeated it with the elements of law,of order, of Christian faith. All intelligent Protestants admit the gooddone in this way by the mediæval church.

For example, Milman317 says, speaking of Gregory the Great and his work,that it was necessary that there should be some central power like thePapacy to resist the dissolution of society at the downfall of the RomanEmpire. "The life and death of Christianity" depended, he says, "on therise of such a power." "It is impossible to conceive what had been theconfusion, the lawlessness, the chaotic state of the Middle Ages, withoutthe mediæval Papacy."

The whole history of Rome had infused into the minds of Western nations aconviction of the importance of centralization in order to union. FromRome, as a centre, had proceeded government, law, civilization.Christianity therefore seemed to need a like centre, in order to retainits unity. Hence the supremacy early yielded to the Bishop of Rome. Hisprimacy was accepted, because it was useful. The Papal Church would neverhave existed, if Rome and its organizing ideas had not existed beforeChristianity was born.

In like manner the ideas developed in the Roman mind determined the courseof Western theology, as differing from that of the East. It is well knownthat Eastern theological speculation was occupied with the nature of Godand the person of Christ, but that Western theology discussed sin andsalvation. Mr. Maine, in his work on "Ancient Law," considers thisdifference to have been occasioned by habits of thought produced by Romanjurisprudence. I quote his language at some length:—

"What has to be determined is whether jurisprudence has ever served as themedium through which theological principles have been viewed; whether, bysupplying a peculiar language, a peculiar mode of reasoning, and apeculiar solution of many of the problems of life, it has ever opened newchannels in which theological speculation could flow out and expanditself."

"On all questions," continues Mr. Maine, quoting Dean Milman, "whichconcerned the person of Christ and the nature of the Trinity, the Westernworld accepted passively the dogmatic system of the East." "But as soon asthe Latin-speaking empire began to live an intellectual life of its own,its deference to the East was at once exchanged for the agitation of anumber of questions entirely foreign to Eastern speculation." "The natureof sin and its transmission by inheritance, the debt owed by man and itsvicarious satisfaction, and like theological problems, relating not to thedivinity but to human nature, immediately began to be agitated." "Iaffirm," says Mr. Maine, "without hesitation, that the difference betweenthe two theological systems is accounted for by the fact that, in passingfrom the East to the West, theological speculation had passed from aclimate of Greek metaphysics to a climate of Roman law. For some centuriesbefore these controversies rose into overwhelming importance, all theintellectual activity of the Western Romans had been expended onjurisprudence exclusively. They had been occupied in applying a peculiarset of principles to all combinations in which the circumstances of lifeare capable of being arranged. No foreign pursuit or taste called offtheir attention from this engrossing occupation, and for carrying it onthey possessed a vocabulary as accurate as it was copious, a strict methodof reasoning, a stock of general propositions on conduct more or lessverified by experience, and a rigid moral philosophy. It was impossiblethat they should not select from the questions indicated by the Christianrecords those which had some affinity with the order of speculations towhich they were accustomed, and that their manner of dealing with themshould not borrow something from their forensic habits. Almost every onewho has knowledge enough of Roman law to appreciate the Roman penalsystem, the Roman theory of the obligations established by contract ordelict, the Roman view of debts, etc., the Roman notion of the continuanceof individual existence by universal succession, may be trusted to saywhence arose the frame of mind to which the problems of Western theologyproved so congenial, whence came the phraseology in which these problemswere stated, and whence the description of reasoning employed in theirsolution." "As soon as they (the Western Church) ceased to sit at the feetof the Greeks and began to ponder out a theology of their own, thetheology proved to be permeated with forensic ideas and couched in aforensic phraseology. It is certain that this substratum of law in Westerntheology lies exceedingly deep."318

The theory of the atonement, developed by the scholastic writers,illustrates this view. In the East, for a thousand years, the atoning workof Christ had been viewed mainly as redemption, as a ransom paid toobtain the freedom of mankind, enslaved by the Devil in consequence oftheir sins. It was not a legal theory, or one based on notions ofjurisprudence, but it was founded on warlike notions. Men were captivestaken in war, and, like all captives in those times, destined to slavery.Their captor was Satan, and the ransom must be paid to him, as he heldthem prisoners by the law of battle. Now as Christ had committed no sin,the Devil had no just power over him; in putting Christ to death he hadlost his rights over his other captives, and Christ could justly claimtheir freedom as a compensation for this injury. Christ, therefore,strictly and literally, according to the ancient view, "gave his life aransom for many."

But the mind of Anselm, educated by notions derived from Romanjurisprudence, substituted for this original theory of the atonement onebased upon legal ideas. All, in this theory, turns on the law of debt andpenalty. Sin he defines as "not paying to God what we owe him."319 Butwe owe God constant and entire obedience, and every sin deserves eitherpenalty or satisfaction. We are unable to make it good, for at everymoment we owe God all that we can do. Christ, as God-man, can satisfy Godfor our omissions; his death, as offered freely, when he did not deservedeath on account of any sin of his own, is sufficient satisfaction. Itwill easily be seen how entirely this argument has substituted a legalbasis for the atonement in place of the old warlike foundation.

This, therefore, has been the legacy of ancient Rome to Christianity:firstly, the organization of the Latin Church; secondly, the scholastictheology, founded on notions of jurisprudence introduced into man'srelations to God. In turn, Christianity has bestowed on Western Europewhat the old Romans never knew,—a religion of love and inspiration. Inplace of the hard and cold Roman life, modern Europe has sentiment andheart united with thought and force. With Roman strength it has joined aChristian tenderness, romance, and personal freedom. Humanity now isgreater than the social organization; the state, according to our view, ismade for man, not man for the state. We are outgrowing the hard and drytheology which we have inherited from Roman law through the scholasticteachers; but we shall not outgrow our inheritance from Rome of unity inthe Church, definite thought in our theology, and society organized bylaw.


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