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LECTURE XX - CONCLUSION


"A time of spiritual awakening, of a calling to higher destinies, came upon the world, the civilised world which lay around the Mediterranean Sea, at the beginning of our era. The calling was concentrated in the life and death of the Founder of Christianity."[956] The writer of these words goes on to point out that the beginning of our era was "a time of general stirring in all the higher fields of human activity," and that all such stirring, all that brings higher ideals before the minds of men of action, of imagination, or of reflection, if not itself religion, is in some sense religious, and in that age must be taken into account as having some bearing on the origin of Christianity, the greatest of all religious movements. And inasmuch as the new spirit of the age seems to have put new life into the old religious systems, with the help of philosophy and poetry, as well as of a purer and more effective conception of Man's relation to the Power manifesting itself in the universe, he finds it useful and legitimate to show how the ideas and characteristics of the leading types of religion in the civilised world of which he speaks were absorbed or "baptized" into the spirit of Christianity. In other words, we may ask what was the contribution of each of these religious types to the formation of the Christian type of religion; for however new was the inspiration which was the essential living germ of our religion, yet that germ was of necessity planted in soil full of other religious ingredients, which found their way into the sap of the plant as it grew towards maturity.

I have all along wished to bring our subject, the religious experience of the Roman people, into touch with Christianity, whether by marking points of contact, or of contrast, or both. In the last few lectures I have laid stress on certain points likely to be useful to us in this last stage of our studies, and these will, I hope, furnish us with some amount of material. But I confess that I have approached this subject with great hesitation. What I shall have to say will be tentative and suggestive only; but I hope that the account that I have given in these lectures of Roman religious experience may be of use in helping a better qualified student to carry on the work more adequately.

Let us glance back for a moment at the results of the last four lectures, in which I have been dealing with Roman religious experience after the paralysis or hypnotism of the old religion of the State. We saw, in the first place, that the educated part of Roman society had been brought to the very threshold of a new and more elevating type of religion, by Greek philosophy transplanted to Roman soil, and chiefly by Stoicism. True, one great Epicurean genius had had his share in this process, by denouncing the weakness and wickedness of the Roman society, and the futility of all the religious forms and fancies with which they still dallied; but Lucretius had nothing to offer in the place of these forms and fancies--nothing, that is, which could grip the conscience and act as a real force upon conduct. The Roman was in a religious sense destitute, both of a real sense of duty to his fellow-men of all grades, and in regard to God; and for this destitution Lucretius' remedy, the accurate knowledge of a philosophical theory of the universe, was wholly inadequate. The first real appeal to the conscience of the Roman came from Stoicism, the reasonable and less austere type of Stoicism which Panaetius preached to the Scipionic circle. From this the Roman learnt that as a part of the divine universe Man himself is divine: that as endowed with a portion of that Reason which itself is God, he has a sacred duty to perform in using it. Thus, as the Universal was revealed, so the Individual was ennobled; and the only thing wanting to make of this a real religion was a bond that might unite the two more effectually in conduct as well as in thought. Though a later development of Stoicism did indeed all but achieve this union, that of the later Republic failed to do so, because it inherited the old Stoic neglect of the emotional side of man's nature, and could take little advantage from a strong current of mystical feeling that was running side by side with it. The Stoic ingredient in the soil which was being prepared for Christianity was rich and valuable, but in this one respect it was poor. It was intellectually beautiful, but it stirred as yet no "enthusiasm of humanity."[957]

Another ingredient in the soil was that imaginative transcendentalism which we discussed under the name of Mysticism, in which the soul becomes of greater interest than the body, and a strange yearning possesses the mind to speculate on the nature of the soul, its existence before this life, and its lot in another world. These imaginative yearnings were not native to the Roman, who had never had any very definite idea of a future life, nor had ever troubled himself about a previous one; they filtered through the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy into that type of later Stoicism which attracted him. They were hardly treated in Roman society with real religious earnestness, except perhaps in some few moments of sorrow and emotion such as I dwelt on in the experience of Cicero. But the mere fact that they were in the air at Rome is of importance for us. They stimulated the imaginative faculty in religious thought; they kept alive in the minds at least of some men the questions why we are here, what we are, and what becomes of us after death. They prepared the Roman mind for Christian eschatology; and this, though never so important in the Latin Church as in the Greek, was yet an important part of the teaching of the early Church. St. Paul exactly expresses the yearning thus dimly foreshadowed in the mystical movement of which I am speaking: "We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened; not for that we would be unclothed, but that we would be clothed upon, that what is mortal may be swallowed up of life" (2 Cor. v. 4). It was essential that the Roman should be able to understand words like these, and to associate them with a religion which, though in its most vital points one mainly affecting this life, was also, like those of Isis and Mithras, strongly tinged with mysticism. "All religions of that time," it has lately been said, "were religions of hope. Stress was laid on the future: the present time was but for preparation. So in the mysterious cults of Hellenism, whose highest aim is to offer guarantees for other worldly happiness; so too in Judaism, whose legacy has but the aim of furnishing the happy life in the kingdom of the future. But Christianity is a religion of faith, the gospel not only giving guarantees for the future life, but bringing confidence, peace, joy, salvation, forgiveness, righteousness--whatever man's heart yearns after."[958]

Yet another ingredient was that kindly, charitable, sympathetic outlook on the world which we found in the poems of Virgil, and which is associated throughout them with the idea of duty and honourable service. The husbandman toiling cheerfully and doing his simple acts of worship, among the patient animals that he loves, and the scenes of natural beauty that inspire him with pure and tender thoughts; and then again in the Aeneid the warrior kept true to his goal by a sense of duty stimulated by supernatural influence: both these sides of the Virgilian spirit show well how the soil is being prepared for another and a richer crop. Love and Duty are the essentials of Christian ethics; they are both to be found in this poet, and through him made their way into the ideas of the better Romans of the next generation, and so into the philosophy of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. "To minds touched with the same sense of life's problems which pervades the poetry of Virgil, the ideas that came from Galilee brought the rest and peace which they could not find elsewhere."[959] The early Christian writers loved the "vates Gentilium," and St. Augustine in particular is for ever quoting him; but I should be going beyond the limits of my subject if I were to follow his gentle influence farther down the stream of time.

In my last lecture we discussed the revival of the old religious forms by Augustus, and the consummation of this work of his in the splendid ritual of the Ludi saeculares. Can it be said that such an astute and worldly policy as this had any value in the way of preparation for Christianity? Only, I think, in one way; it renewed the idea of the connection between religion and the State, and of the religious duties of the individual citizen towards the State. It preserved the outward features of the old State religion, such as the calendar, the ritual, and the terminology or vocabulary, and handed these down to a time when they could be of service to a Latin Christian church.[960] Had the old forms been allowed to go utterly to rack and ruin, as they had been already doing for the last two centuries, the Roman State would have been as such without religion, or the worship of the Caesars would have become disastrously powerful and prominent, or maybe the State would have adopted the religion of Isis or Mithras or some other Oriental cult and belief, before Christianity could lay a firm grasp on it. I think it might be shown that the continuity of the old religion in its connection with the State was really of value in keeping these growths from occupying too much ground: of value in checking too rapid a growth of individualism:[961] of value too in cherishing certain really precious religious characteristics, orderliness and decency in ritual, for example, which, as we have seen, were very early developed in the Roman religious system, and which owed their continued vitality to the overwhelming influence of the Roman State over all her citizens and their ideas. Thus when at last, after a period of anxious conflict between rival religions, the State proclaimed itself Christian, and henceforward for good or ill extended its protection to the Church, its religious tradition was still one of decency and order, still free from almost all that the old Roman State knew and dreaded as superstitio. There was, in fact, a legacy, not indeed a spiritual one, but yet one of some small value, left by the old Roman religion to the Latin Church: and this I will turn for a few minutes to examine.

As an example of the orderly, sane, and decent character which the Church inherited from the Roman religion, I might recall what I said in Lecture IX. about lustratio, that slow and orderly processional movement in which the old Romans delighted, and which is familiar still to all travellers in Italy.[962] Another is the tender and reverential care for the resting-places of departed relatives. I am not sure that Prof. Gardner is right in asserting that the prayers for the dead of the Catholic Church took the place of the worship of the dead in the Roman family;[963] for it is not easy to say how far it is true that the dead were ever really worshipped at Rome, and the idea of prayer for the dead, if it can be traced to Roman sources at all, may be rather due to those tendencies which we discussed under Mysticism, than to anything inherent in the old Roman attitude to the departed. None the less there is in the sacra privata of the Parentalia, and especially of the Caristia which concluded it--a kind of love-feast of all members of the family, where all quarrels and differences were to be laid aside,[964]--something that suggests the Christian attitude towards the dead, and in some dim way too the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. And we may also notice how closely in regard to externals the great events of family life,--those critical moments when the aid of the numina was most needed--the first days of infancy, the eras of puberty and of marriage, passed on in their sober and orderly ritual into the baptism, confirmation, and sacramental wedding of the Christian Church. In such ways the private religion of the Roman family had doubtless a real continuity in the new era, though the line of connection is difficult to trace. This, and many other examples of survival, the worship of local saints which took the place of that of local deities, the use of holy water and of incense as symbolic elements in worship, and the general resemblance of the arrangement of festivals in the Calendars, Roman and Christian, might be interesting matter for a complete course of lectures, but must be omitted here.

Another point of interest, which might also be widely expanded, is the influence of the Roman religious spirit, as distinct from the outward form, on Christian thought and literature in the Western half of the Empire. The subtle transcendentalism of the Greek fathers was foreign to Latin Christianity; the characteristics of Roman life as reflected in Roman worship are plainly visible in the Latin fathers. From Minucius Felix onwards, the Christians who wrote in Latin, so far from being imaginative and dreamy, are one and all matter-of-fact; historical, abounding in illustration of life and conduct; ethical rather than speculative; legal in their cast of thought rather than philosophical; rhetorical in their manner of expression rather than fervent or poetical. They were well versed in the great literature of Rome, but most of them, and especially the African school (which carried Roman tendencies to an extreme), knew comparatively little of Greek. St. Augustine, for example, could not bring himself to work at Greek with ardour, nor could he explain why this was so.[965] Of Augustine, as the type of the literature of Latin Christianity, Bishop Westcott wrote with something of an exaggerated criticism, lamenting that he had not the Greek which had so large a place in the Bishop's own training. "He looked" (more particularly in the de Civitate Dei) "at everything from the side of law and not of freedom: from the side of God, as an irresponsible sovereign, and not of man, as a loving servant. In spite of his admiration for Plato, he was driven by a passion for system" (how this reminds us of the old Roman religious lawyers!) "to fix, to externalise, to freeze every idea into a rigid shape. In spite of his genius he could not shake off the influence of a legal and rhetorical training, which controversy called into active exercise."[966] The lecture from which I am quoting is an interesting one, on the work and character of Origen, the great Alexandrian of the third century A.D., with whom Augustine is contrasted, as in an earlier age we might contrast Seneca with Philo; the Latin writers rhetorical, practical, realistic; the Greek authors idealistic and fervent, apt to see deep moral significance in all human life. And this is really the manner and mental attitude of all the famous Latin fathers: of Lactantius, the clear, precise Ciceronian, whose every page shows the perennial value of the Latin tongue; of Tertullian, the subtle and acute rhetorician, more gifted with imagination than his fellows; of Arnobius, another Roman African, the reputed teacher of Lactantius.

One of the characteristics of these Latin fathers is their fondness for using the famous words of the old Roman religion, but in new senses. They inherit that Roman love for a strong technical word of pregnant meaning which has left us so many imperishable legacies in terminology. Municipium, colonia, imperium, collegium, rise in one's mind the moment the subject is mentioned; and a few minutes' thought will reveal another score of words which in various forms pervade all our modern European terminology. So, too, with the language of religion. These Latin advocates of Christian doctrine took the old words which we have so often dwelt on in the course of these lectures, and gave them new but almost equally clear and pregnant meanings. Let us glance at three or four of these; for such a legacy as this is no mean property of the Christian religion of the West.

Let us take, to begin with, the greatest of all these words--religio. I have maintained throughout these lectures that the original sense of this word was the natural feeling of man in the presence of the supernatural; and though this has actually been questioned since I began them,[967] I see no good reason to alter my conviction. But in the age of Cicero and Lucretius the word begins to take on a different meaning, of great importance for the future. Though Cicero as a young man had defined religio as "the feeling of the presence of a higher or divine nature, which prompts man to worship,--to cura et caerimonia,"[968] yet later on in life he uses it with much freedom of that cura et caerimonia apart from the feeling. To take a single example among many: in a passage in his de Legibus he says that to worship private or strange or foreign gods, "confusionem habet religionum";[969] and again he calls his own imaginary ius divinum in that treatise a constitutio religionum, a system of religious duties.[970] In many other passages, on the other hand, we find both the feeling which prompts and the cult-acts which follow on it equally connoted by the word; for example, the phrase religio sepulcrorum suggests quite as much the feeling as the ritual. So it would seem that religio is already beginning to pass into the sense in which we still use it--i.e., the feeling which suggests worship, and the forms under which we perform that worship. In this broad sense it is also used by Lucretius, who included under it all that was for him the world's evil and folly, both the feeling of awe which he believed to be degrading, and the organised worship of the family and the State, which he no less firmly believed to be futile. "Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum."[971] The fact is that in that age, when the old local character of the cults was disappearing, and when men like Posidonius, Varro, and Cicero were thinking and writing about the nature of the gods and kindred subjects, a word was wanted to gather up and express all this religious side of human life and experience: it must be a word without a definite technical meaning, and such a word was religio.

Thus while religio continues to express the feeling only or the cult only, if called on to do so, it gains in the age of Cicero a more comprehensive connotation, as the result of the contemplation of religion by philosophy as a thing apart from itself; and this enabled the early Christian writers, who knew their Cicero well, to give it a meaning in which it is still in use among all European nations.

But there was yet to be a real change in the meaning of the word, one that was inevitable, as the contrast between Christianity and other religions called for emphasis. The second century A.D. was that in which the competition was keenest between various religious creeds and forms, each with its own vitality, and each clearly marked off from the others. It is no longer a question of religion as a whole, contemplated by a critical or a sympathetic philosophy; the question is, which creed or form is to be the true and the victorious religion. Our wonderful word again adapts itself to the situation. Each separate religious system can now be called a religio. The old polytheistic system can now be called religio Deorum by the Christian, while his own creed is religio Dei. In the Octavius of Minucius Felix, written about the end of the second century, the word is already used in this sense. Nostra religio, vera religio,[972] is for him the whole Christian faith and practice as it stood then--the depth of feeling and the acts which gave it outward form. The one true religion can thus be now expressed by the word. In Lactantius, Arnobius, Tertullian, in the third century A.D., this new sense is to be found on almost every page, but a single noble passage of Lactantius must suffice to illustrate it. "The heathen sacrifice," he says, "and leave all their religion in the temple; thus it is that such religiones cannot make men good or firm in their faith. But 'nostra religio eo firma est et solida et immutabilis, quia mentem ipsam pro sacrificio habet, quia tota in animo colentis est.'"[973]

Here at last we come upon a force of meaning which the word had never before attained. Religio here is not awe only or cult only, but a mental devotion capable of building up character. "The kingdom of God is within you." Surely this is a valuable legacy to the Christian faith from our hard, dry, old Roman religion.

Another legacy in words is that of pius. Our English word "pious" has suffered some damage from the sanctimoniousness of a certain type of Puritanism; but piety still remains sweet and wholesome, and, like its Latin original in the middle ages it seems to express one beautiful aspect of the Christian life better than any other word. In the old Roman religion pius meant the man who strictly conforms his life to the ius divinum; this we know from the very definite ancient explanations of its contrary, impius. The impius is the man who wilfully breaks the ius divinum and the pax deorum; for him no piaculum was of avail.[974] Such a crime is the nearest approach in Roman antiquity to our idea of sin. Pius is therefore, as we saw in discussing Aeneas, the man who knows the will of the gods, and so far as in him lies adjusts his conduct thereto, whether in the life of the family or as a citizen of the State. As applied to things, to a war for example, the word pium is almost equivalent to iustum or purum, i.e., pium bellum is a war declared and conducted in accordance with the principles of the ius divinum.[975] Pietas is therefore a virtue, that of obedience to the will of God as shown in private and public life, and it herein differs from religio, which is not a virtue, but a feeling. But we need not be surprised to find that in Lactantius pietas can be used to explain religio; for religio is no longer a feeling only or a cult only, but, as we saw just now, a mental devotion capable of building up character. In one passage he says that it is no true philosophy which "veram religionem, id est summam pietatem, non habet."[976] In another interesting chapter he shows plainly enough that he uses pietas just as he uses religio, to express the whole Christian mental furniture.[977] He begins by scornfully pointing to Aeneas as the typical pius, and asking what we are to think of the pietas of a man who could bind the hands of prisoners in order to slaughter them as a sacrifice to the shade of Pallas[978] (little dreaming, indeed, that Christian piety should ever be guilty of such slaughter in the cause of the faith); and ends by asking, "What, then, is pietas? Surely it is with those who know not war; who keep at peace with all men; who love their enemies and count all men their brethren; who can control their anger and curb all mental wilfulness." And once again, pietas is the main ingredient in iustitia, that is, in Christian righteousness, for "pietas nihil aliud est quam Dei notio." Even here it is not so far removed from its old meaning; but in a Christian writer it can mean conformity to the will of God, based on a real knowledge of Him, in a sense which shows us by a sudden illuminating flash the deep gulf set between the old religion and the new.

Another word, bequeathed in this case rather by the Latin language than the Roman religion, in which it held no strictly technical meaning, is sanctus, which has played so large a part in the terminology of the Catholic Church, and passed thence into the language of Puritanism for the living Christian, as in Baxter's famous book, The Saints' Rest. The exact meaning of sanctus is extremely difficult to fix, and this may be why it was found to be a convenient word for a type of character negative rather than positive. The lawyers defined it as meaning what is sancitum by the State,[979] without tracing it back to a time when the State was a religious as well as a civil entity. But there was beyond doubt a religious flavour in it from the beginning, as in other old Italian words connected with it; and thus it seems to be able to express a certain conjunction of religious and moral purity which finally brought it into the hands of the Christian writers. A single verse of Virgil will serve to explain what I mean. Turnus, before he rushes forth to meet his death at Aeneas' hand, and knowing that he is to meet it, asks the Manes to be good to him, "quoniam superis aversa voluntas," for--

sancta ad vos anima atque istius nescia culpae descendam magnorum haud unquam indignus avorum.[980]

He goes to the shades with a conscience clear of guilt or of impietas; as the ancient scholiast interprets the word, it is equivalent to incorrupta.[981] In this sense it became one of the favourite superlatives to describe in sepulchral inscriptions, pagan or Christian, the purity of departed women and children.[982]

Lastly, we have the great word sacer, with its compounds sacrificium and sacramentum. The adjective itself has no new or special significance, I think, in the language of the early Christians, and in our Teutonic languages the Roman sense of it, "that which is made over to God," is expressed by the word holy, sacred being retained in a general sense for that which is not "common." But sacrificium, the act of making a thing, animate or inanimate, or yourself, as in devotio, over to the gods, is indeed a great legacy on which I do not need to dwell. Sacramentum, on the other hand, needs a word of explanation.

Sacramentum in Roman public law meant (1) a legal formula (legis actio), under which a sum of money was deposited, originally in a temple,[983] to be forfeited by the loser in a suit. The deposition in loco sacro gives the word to the process, and helps us to see that it must mean some act which has a religious sanction. So with (2) its other meaning, i.e. the oath of obedience taken by the soldier, who was iuratus in verba, that is, sworn under a formula with a religious sanction attached.[984] It is tempting to suppose that it is through this channel that it found its way into the Christian vocabulary--the soldier of Christ affirming his allegiance in the solemn rites of baptism, marriage, or the Eucharist. It is a curious fact that it seems to be used in this way in the religion of Mithras,[985] which was especially powerful among the Roman legions of the Empire, and in which there was a grade of the faithful with the title of milites. Sacramentum was here the word for the initiatory rites of a grade. In the earliest Christian writers of Latin it usually means a mystery; thus Arnobius writes of the Christian religion as revealing the "veritatis absconditae sacramenta";[986] but in another passage the idea in his mind seems to be that of military service. It is better, he says, for Christians to break their worldly contracts, even of marriage, than to break the fides Christiana, "et salutaris militiae sacramenta deponere;"[987] and Tertullian more than once attaches the same military meaning to it: "Vocati sumus ad militiam Dei vivi iam tunc cum in verba sacramenti spopondimus."[988] Perhaps we may take it that the word, though of general significance for a religiously binding force produced by certain mysterious rites, had a special attraction for writers of the painful third century A.D., as reflecting into the Christian life from old Roman times something of the spirit of the duty and self-sacrifice of the loyal legionary. In any case we have once more a verbal legacy of priceless value.[989]

To sum up what I have been saying, there were certain ingredients in the Roman soil, deposits of the Roman religious experience, which were in their several ways favourable to the growth of a new plant. There were also certain direct legacies from the old Roman religion, of which Christianity could dispose with profit, in the shape of forms of ritual, and, what was even of greater value, words of real significance in the old religion, which were destined to become of permanent and priceless value in the Christian speech of the western nations. There were also other points in the society and organisation of the Roman Empire which were of great importance for the growth of the new creed; but these lie outside my proper subject, and have been dealt with by Professor Gardner in the lecture to which I alluded at the beginning of this lecture, and most instructively by Sir W. M. Ramsay in more than one of his books, and especially in St. Paul, the Traveller and Roman Citizen.

And yet, all this taken together, so far from explaining Christianity, does not help us much in getting to understand even the conditions under which it grew into men's minds as a new power in the life of the world. The plant, though grown in soil which had borne other crops, was wholly new in structure and vital principle. I say this deliberately, after spending so many years on the study of the religion of the Romans, and making myself acquainted in some measure with the religions of other peoples. The essential difference, as it appears to me as a student of the history of religion, is this, that whereas the connection between religion and morality has so far been a loose one,--at Rome, indeed, so loose, that many have refused to believe in its existence,--the new religion was itself morality,[990] but morality consecrated and raised to a higher power than it had ever yet reached. It becomes active instead of passive; mere good nature is replaced by a doctrine of universal love; pietas, the sense of duty in outward things, becomes an enthusiasm embracing all humanity, consecrated by such an appeal to the conscience as there never had been in the world before--the appeal to the life and death of the divine Master.

This is what is meant, if I am not mistaken, by the great contrast so often and so vividly drawn by St. Paul between the spirit and the flesh, between the children of light and the children of darkness, between the sleep or the death of the world and the waking to life in Christ, between the blameless and the harmless sons of God and the crooked and perverse generation among whom they shine as lights in the world. I confess that I never realised this contrast fully or intelligently until I read through the Pauline Epistles from beginning to end with a special historical object in view. It is useful to be familiar with the life and literature of the two preceding centuries, if only to be able the better to realise, in passing to St. Paul, a Roman citizen, a man of education and experience, the great gulf fixed between the old and the new as he himself saw it.

But historical knowledge, knowledge of the Roman society of the day, study of the Roman religious experience, cannot do more than give us a little help; they cannot reveal the secret. History can explain the progress of morality, but it cannot explain its consecration. With St. Paul the contrast is not merely one of good and bad, but of the spirit and the flesh, of life and death. No mere contemplation of the world around him could have kindled the fervency of spirit with which this contrast is by him conceived and expressed. Absolute devotion to the life and death of the Master, apart even from His work and teaching (of which, indeed, St. Paul says little), this alone can explain it. The love of Christ is the entirely new power that has come into the world;[991] not merely as a new type of morality, but as "a Divine influence transfiguring human nature in a universal love." The passion of St. Paul's appeal lies in the consecration of every detail of it by reference to the life and death of his Master; and the great contrast is for him not as with the Stoics, between the universal law of Nature and those who rebel against it; not as with Lucretius, between the blind victims of religio and the indefatigable student of the rerum natura; not, as in the Aeneid, between the man who bows to the decrees of fate, destiny, God, or whatever we choose to call it, and the wilful rebel, victim of his own passions; not, as in the Roman State and family, between the man who performs religious duties and the man who wilfully neglects them--between pius and impius; but between the universal law of love, focussed and concentrated in the love of Christ, and the sleep, the darkness, the death of a world that will not recognise it.

I will conclude these lectures with one practical illustration of this great contrast, which will carry us back for a moment to the ritual of the old Roman ius divinum. That ritual, we saw, consisted mainly of sacrifice and prayer, the two apparently inseparable from each other. I pointed out that though the efficacy of the whole process was believed to depend on the strictest adherence to prescribed forms, whether of actions or words, the prayers, when we first meet with them, have got beyond the region of charm or spell, and are cast in the language of petition; they show clearly a sense of the dependence of man on the Power manifesting itself in the universe. There was here, perhaps, a germ of religious development; but it was arrested in its growth by the formalisation of the whole Roman religious system, and no substitute was to be found for it either in the imported Greek ritual, or in the more enlightening doctrines of exotic Greek philosophy. The prayers used in the ritual of Augustus' great festival, which was almost as much Greek as Roman in character, seem to us as hard and formal as the most ancient Roman prayers that have come down to us. In the most emotional moments of the life of a Roman of enlightenment like Cicero, when we can truly say of him that he was touched by true religious feeling, as well as by the spiritual aspirations of the nobler Greek philosophers, prayers find no place at all.

But for St. Paul and the members of the early Christian brotherhood the whole of life was a continuous worship, and the one great feature of that worship was prayer. It has been said by a great Christian writer of recent times that "when the attention of a thinking heathen was directed to the new religion spreading in the Roman Empire, the first thing to strike him as extraordinary would be that a religion of prayer was superseding the religion of ceremonies and invocation of gods; that it encouraged all, even the most uneducated, to pray, or, in other words, to meditate and exercise the mind in self-scrutiny and contemplation of God."[992] And, as the same writer says, prayer thus became a motive power of moral renewal and inward civilisation, to which nothing else could be compared for efficacy. And more than this, it was the chief inward and spiritual means of maintaining that universal law of love, which, so far as this life was concerned, was the great secret of the new religion.



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