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ABSENCE OF CHRISTIAN MEMORIALS.
Nymphs and the Dea Matres, have all had their votaries. But scarcely any Christian remains have been found. A tile, thought to represent Sampson and the foxes, was found in the sixteenth century in Mark Lane; a silver vase, with a Christian monogram, at Corbridge; and the same monogram in the midst of pagan emblems on a mosaic floor at Frampton, have been since discovered. But Christian epitaphs, even of that transitional kind3 which commenced with an invocation to the Dî Manes, are at present unknown in the Roman antiquities of our country. Many British names of towns have been preserved. But the prefix "Llan " or " Church," so common in Wales, is unknown in England proper. Again, there is no proof that the war between Briton and Saxon ever took a religious character. The Saxons regarded the faith of Augustine with superstitious dread; but no history records religious massacres, such as afterwards abounded in the struggle against the Danes. The distinction of faith was no doubt a rallying point to either nationality, but it was probably nothing more. All this seems to point to the inference that Christianity was never firmly established in the Romanized parts of the island, but existed side by side with paganism as a habit rather than a conviction.
Our knowledge is not yet sufficient to enable us to explain altogether these difficulties; but a partial solution of them lies in the facts of the growth of Christianity. The early bynames for the men of the new faith, Galilæans and Greeks,5 point to the countries in which the Christian doctrine was first
1 Wright's Celt, Roman, and Saxon, chap 9. Quart. Rev., vol. 97.
2 A woodcut of this accompanies a letter from a Mr. Bagford to Leland.Collec. Ant., vol. i., p. 71. But its date can hardly have been determined with precision in the 16th century; and I do not know if it still exists.
3 Milman's Christianity, vol. iii., p. 500.
Mr. Davies, Philological Transactions, No. v., 1857. But much stress cannot be laid upon this argument, as there are several places whose names begin with Eccles (Ecclesia). The Keltic word may have been a distinction of the Kymric parts. That it means a diocesan or monastic establishment, rather than a church, is, however, an argument against any great antiquity for Welsh Christianity.
Bingham's Eccl. Ant., book i., chap. 2.
EASTERN ORIGIN OF CHRISTIANITY.
developed, and where it found readiest acceptance. Now, to any Roman such an origin would in itself be a sufficient motive for aversion and contempt. Of all the conquered races who swarmed in the streets of the great City of the world, Syrians1 and Greeks were the most abject; of all religions that had penetrated to the capital, the Eastern worships of Isis, Serapis, and Mithras, were those which a respectable citizen regarded with the deepest horror. The ascendancy of the priests over women, the secret and midnight orgies, the effeminate tendency of the doctrines, were all outrages upon national self-respect. It is clear that for many generations Christianity was confounded with these sects, and the monstrous descriptions which Apuleius circulated, and the vulgar believed, of the Agape, were not so much wanton calumnies as charges loosely based upon a false analogy. Men of cultivation like Seneca, earnest moralists such as Tacitus and Juvenal, might perhaps have been expected to recognize what was good in the new opinions. But, except St. Paul and St. John, the first teachers of the Gospel were men of a low social position; and the homely eloquence which stirred the masses, would seem, to a fastidious philosopher, like the rantings of a Capuchin or a Particular Baptist to an educated man of the 19th century. Moreover, the Roman mind was unsympathetic and hard; it revolted from impulsive devotion, and never heartily espoused Christianity till Christianity had united with Roman law to form a system by which state polity and household life were regulated. The majority in the Senate was probably pagan at the very date when Theodosius forbade sacrifices. For
1 Juvenal, Sat. iii., 60-68. Merivale, Romans under the Empire, vol. vi., c. 54. 2 Apuleius, Metamorphoses, lib. ix., where he speaks of a baker's wife, who, belonging to a certain sect, sacrilegâ præsumptione Dei quem predicaret unicum,
matutino mero et continuo stupro corpus mancipârat. Tertullian, Apologia, cap. 8. Tertullian's language (De Jejunis, c. 27,) seems to show that the practice might be perverted, and the church at last suppressed it. Milman's Christianity, book iv., chap. 2.
3 Milman's Christianity, book iii., chap. 8. Up to the accession of Gratian, 367, the Christian Emperor had been formally arrayed in the robes of the Sovereign Pontiff.
PAGAN CHARACTER OF ROMAN THOUGHT.
many years, indeed, it had become apparent that the old faith was doomed. Men like Marcus Aurelius and Julian represent the prevalent Roman opinion which clung to the hope of a philosophical reform: let the impure mythology be discarded, let mysteries from Eleusis be introduced for those who delighted in secret worship, let the monstrous discrepancies of the Pantheon be harmonized in a rhapsodical Platonism, and the gods whom Curius and Camillus had worshipped, with whom the greatness of Rome had grown up, might still influence the thoughts and lives of an upright and manly people. Between the morality of Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus, and that debased theology in which Arian, Donatist, and Catholic, devoted each other to vengeance as God's enemies, the advantage certainly lay with the pagan philosophers. Moreover, the very existence of Rome was threatened by the growth of a sect whose disciples declined military service, substituted church communion for citizenship, and made withdrawal from the world the ideal of life. Even, therefore, when it appeared that there was no resurrection for the dead heathenism which lay in the graves of the great men of the Commonwealth, the ghosts of the old gods seemed to haunt the precincts of the Christian basilica. Livy and Virgil were witnesses to the past, whom no Roman could read unmoved; Plato was still the great master of thought; and of those Italians who were Christians in name, the greater number were probably pagan by their tastes and sympathies. Among the more eminent fathers of the church, the first whom Italy claims belongs to the end of the fourth century; and Ambrose was a civilian by profession, and still unbaptized, the day he was chosen bishop. What is true of Romans by blood, is true equally of those who possessed the highest culture of the times, or whose rank was patrician. Sidonius, bishop of Clermont, A.D. 471, was the centre of a little literary coterie, exchanged epigrams or wrote verses, in
1 So much was this the case, that Orosius wrote a Roman history on Christian principles, tracing the decline of the empire to paganism. See, too, Augustine's preface to the "De Civitate Dei."
POPULAR FEATURES OF CHRISTIANITY.
which Mars and the Muses figured, and even speaks of a dead emperor as translated to the ranks of the gods. Still more striking is the case of Synesius, who presided with exemplary care over a diocese, while he corresponded in pagan language with the passionately pagan Hypatia.
Very different was the case of the subject-nations of the empire. They had no Roman traditions, no feeling of citizenship, and the decay of that vast tyranny under which their local liberties had been crushed, was regarded by them with a gloomy exultation; the crash of the world could not make them more miserable, but it would avenge them on Rome. The peaceful tenets of the Gospel were congenial to men who had forgotten the use of arms; and to give up the world might seem easy when the world gave them so little; when baths and gardens, office and dignity, were reserved for their rulers. There were special reasons why the Kelts of Gaul and Britain should embrace Christianity. Their own religion had been violently suppressed; its priests and its rites extirpated. The mere sense of a void would impel them to adopt a new religion; the moral growth of two centuries would lead them to demand something better than Druidism had been; and Christianity was the only faith that sought them out in their homes. Both the better and the worse parts of their nature found satisfaction in the doctrine of their teachers; their enthusiasm was fired by the pathetic history of Christ and his sufferings; their dreamy fancy took refuge from present misery in the vision of another world; and their sullen love of vengeance fed upon the thought of hell for their enemies. While the German and the Roman revolted from the conception of a crucified God, the Kelt, more impressionable and less self-reliant, perceived the beauty of the sacrifice, and did not shrink from reverencing a Lord who had passed out of life in shame and agony. The equality of all men in the church might disgust the patrician, the chief, or the legionary; but it raised the position of the
1 The Sibylline Prophecies and the Apocalypse exhibit this feeling very strongly.
2 "Cette race veut l'infini; elle en a soif," &c.-Renan, Essais, p. 386.
THE BRITISH CHURCH.
peasant, and it gratified the democratic instincts of the Kelt. The mere organization of the church hierarchy was a pregnant political fact: it gave the subject-peoples everywhere a separate civic life, interests which they might control, offices and honours which they might enjoy. It was not its least service to society, that it prepared the way for freedom and thought of action, when the Goth should have sacked Rome.
These considerations will serve to explain the probable position of the Christian church in Britain under the Romans. It must have existed in the fourth century, and it may have been founded long before; but it was throughout a missionary establishment, chiefly working among the native tribes, having little influence among the Romanized populations of the towns, perhaps not even derived from a Roman original. Its wealth would be small, its buildings consequently few, and its proselytes, at once from poverty and from national custom, would leave no funeral inscriptions behind them. From the little we do know, there is no reason to believe that the British church, recruited as it was from barbarians, and unsustained by the intellect of the province, was either enlightened or pure in doctrine, or severely moral. Its delegates seem to have consented to the Arian apostasy at Rimini. The speculations of Pelagius a few years later were adopted so cordially, that a special mission was sent from Gaul to reclaim the island. As late as 429 A.D. we find that the greater part of the British army at Maes Garmon was unbaptized, although nominally Christian.1 The saints and divines of the church in the fourth and fifth centuries have passed away without any record in credible history; if we know that they lived and laboured, it is all. But the bitter rhetoric of a native theologian in the sixth century declares that the wars and invasion which scourged the island were the just vengeance of God on the ineffable sins of the princes and the people. The evidence is not sufficient, but it is all we have.
1 Bede, H. E., lib. i., cap. 20. "Madidus baptismate exercitus," &c.
2 Gildas, Hist., cap. 22. Appropinquabat siquidem tempus, quo ejus
(populi) iniquitates ut olim Amorrhæorum complerentur,” and passim.