Rome and the Orient
THOSE who have lived for any length of time in the city of Rome are familiar with that psychological phenomenon which a residence there is almost sure to produce in each receptive and responsive individual; that sense of the continuity of history, that breaking away of partition walls, that rendering futile our most cherished chronological subdivisions. We talk much of the Eternal City. In these days of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Italian unity almost every orator uses the phrase. This is as it should be, for in the presence of the miracle of united Italy we are reminded of eternal power, and there is something beautifully human and patriotically disproportionate in the celebration of fifty years in the history of eternity and in a gigantic national monument on the Capitoline.
But we are more apt to use the phrase than to consider its meaning, and few of us ever ask ourselves wherein the eternity of Home consists. It does not consist in a physical eternity, for Rome was not without beginning and she shall surely not be without end. It is rather a philosophical eternity. It is eternity as Kant has taught it to us, the eternity of timelessness. It is the timelessness of Rome, rather than the actual extent of time, which makes t he eternal, and this timelessness shows itself in nothing more clearly than in Rome’s eternal youth. She who to-day might well be an old lady with her three thousand winters, is only the incorporation of young Italy, this modern young woman, with her head full of socialistic theories and her garments ornamented with the gridiron pattern of tramways.
When we speak of ancient Rome, we must remember that Rome was just as young then as she is now. Those who work in that period always posit this youth in her beginnings, but as they study her story they fall into a very natural confusion, and as they trace the growth of her ideas and see them growing old, they are apt to think of the whole of Rome as old, although it is only that small portion of the community which has ideas, which ever grows old. There was probably almost as much youth in the time of Marcus Aurelius, when the world to him was old and weary, as there was in the time of Cato the Elder. It is, however, the continuity of Rome’s history which has made her such a favorite historical study.
She is like some famous woodland glade that every artist paints; she is like some problem in bridge-building, at which every engineer tries his hand. Thus, in the days when history consisted of wars and battles, men studied Rome as the great manual of military experience; and when our conception of history advanced so as to include governmental problems, it was Rome that, was the great text-book in the history of legislation. In very recent days we have suffered a reaction from the formality of the classical school of history, and we have entered upon the orgies of realism. Starting out from a half-digested theory that because antiquity in some respects resembled the present, therefore it must have been exactly like the present, we have reached marvelous and strange results. Yet this presupposes that history repeats itself. We can of course never prove that it does not; but we can assert that it does not, with all the intensity of the faith that is in us. We are not squirrels going round in a cage, and could we see any complex epoch in the past as well as we can any period in the present, we should see the difference; and where the eye of the mind fails we have the right to see by the eye of faith.
Thus we must not think of Rome as a unique text-book for the training of human experience. It is not an infallible guide to be consulted in every crisis of our modern day. There are essential differences between past conditions in Rome, and our present estate; and to emphasize these differences would be a much more profitable task than to harp forever upon the resemblances. It is not a popular method, and never can be. The human race, especially the less cultured members of it, take an extraordinary satisfaction in being told that there is nothing new under the sun. Perhaps they feel that it lessens their responsibility to know what there is under the sun. The only trouble is, that alas, there are under the sun a great many new things.
The western world to-day finds itself confronted by two great problems, one internal, one external: an internal problem of the immediate present, an external problem of the immediate future. The internal problem is the question of the classes versus the masses, individualism versus socialism, and the various attempts at compromise. The external problem is what we call the ‘Oriental’ problem, and Orientals, doubtless, the ‘Occidental’ problem.
Rome’s attempt to solve the socialistic problem, her real failure and her apparent success, is a fascinating theme, but one which does not concern us here. But the story of Rome’s relations to the Orient forms, to my mind, an even more interesting theme, and this we are to discuss; and the fact that we shall come to what is in the main a negative conclusion only adds to the interest, because it sets us free from the experience of others and gives a fair field and no favor in the making of our own solution.
We are all of us aware that the Romans are descended from an Italic, that is, one of the branches of the Aryan or Indo-European, stock. The Aryan stock as a whole is not considered as occidental. Certain branches — forexample, the Indian and the Persian — are classed as oriental. In fact, to-day, we consider the truly western nations to be descended from only three of the various branches of this stock, the Italic, the Celtic, and the Teutonic. The Slavic stock and the Greek stock really represent a compromise between the East and the West. Thus, so far as we can tell, our Italic people started out as almost pure westerners. Nor do they seem to have been much affected by those primitive peoples whom they must have found inhabiting Italy before them. Thus there settled throughout Italy the groups in which we are interested, living on the hilltops where Rome was afterwards to be. There they built their primitive earth-walls and wooden stockades, and unconsciously awaited developments.
These developments came in an extraordinary way. There arrived, namely, on the western coast of Tuscany, at Veii, Tarquinii, and higher up at Orbctello, and still higher up at Volaterræ, bands of seafaring men who had come across the Mediterranean from Asia Minor, and before that had come out of Babylon. These men landed, and came into relations with the peoples settled there, so that by degrees they united with them, and the product of their union was the Etruscan race. As this mixed race grew more numerous, they moved slowly inland in two directions: northeastwards over the Apennines to Felsina (Bologna) and so into the valley of the Po; and southeastwards toward Volsinii (Orvieto) and Falerii, and so to Rome, and beyond Rome to Tusculum which still bears their name, and so on into Campania. They were unquestionably an oriental people: their appearance, their history, so far as we know it, and their character, at once sensuous and virile, bear out this statement. Modern historians have tended to underestimate their influence upon the Roman people, but the simple facts are these. Before they came, Rome was in a semibarbarous condition: her religion was merely an advanced form of animism, and her organization was just passing out of the tribal state. When the Etruscans left her, she was possessed of an organization, and, what was far more important, of a patriotic instinct. She was sufficiently raised from the level of semi-barbarism so that Greek things were able to appeal to her. Nations cannot do these things for themselves in such a short time; there was no one there except the Etruscans, and therefore they did it.
But our evidence is positive as well as negative. We have the clear proof that the city of Rome, as a city, was founded by the Etruscans, and we have the cult and the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.
At first sight it is difficult to accustom ourselves to these ideas. We are willing to give Greece credit for Rome’s artistic and literary inspiration, but we cling fast to the idea that Rome’s organization, her idea of the state, must have been entirely her own product. Yet we feel this because we fail to realize the essential quality of Rome. Rome is, and always has been, and always will be, not a mass of material things, but a spiritual entity manifesting itself in ability to subdue all things unto itself, and possessed of unlimited powers of acquisition and equally unlimited powers of adaptation; the capacity to receive from all sides and to permeate all that it touched with the essential qualities of its own individuality. Not things, but spirit; not invention, but appropriation: this is Rome.
Thus the Etruscans came and went, and though they covered Rome for a time, her own essential elements grew up through them. They left behind them a certain number of their own people, a stone wall of defense, a temple and a trinity of gods on the Capitoline; they left a knowledge of surveying and certain architectural principles; they left the haruspicina, a method of consulting the liver of the sacrifices in time of peril and prodigy; and then they disappeared. They seem to have given to Rome something which they did not possess themselves, a miracle repeated every day in the gifts which parents often bestow upon their children. Patriotic Rome was born, and the people who had cared hitherto merely for physical reproduction and material aggrandizement were now looking beyond, and beginning to be possessed of a purpose, the purpose of the Roman state. How surprised these Etruscans would have been, — had their eyes not been holden, and had they been enabled to look ahead at what were to be the results of their teaching, — to see the Rome which they were inspiring, for six hundred years the centre of the western world’s political unity, and then for a thousand years the centre of the western world’s religious life.
This is our first step therefore in fixing Rome’s relation to the Orient; and what is our net result? Etruria has done two things for Rome. She has brought her, first, this ideal of patriotism. It was a gift which Etruria did not herself possess, and which may therefore have been called forth in Rome by very contrast and self-assertion. The second thing that she did was to give to Rome the outward form of organization, those titles and insignia for which the Romans themselves always gave credit to Etruria. But these were merely external things, devoid of the power of psychological contagion.
The Orient had therefore come to Rome without her knowing it, and with equal unconsciousness Rome had conquered. In this case, at least, no progress had been made toward a permanent influence. The great world-ideal of the synthesis of East and West was no nearer its solution. The sky had been cleared of Etruria, all save one little cloud of the size of a man’s hand: that was the science of the inspection of the liver, the haruspicina. This cloud was to continue and to grow and to encourage Rome’s superstition, and to be joined by later increments, and thus eventually to produce that great flood of oriental influence of which we shall treat later.
Meantime Rome was left alone in the gentle spiritual guardianship of Greece. We are all familiar with the brave story of Rome’s wars at home and abroad, of her settlements of social difficulties in her own midst, and of her warfare against her neighbors, which continued until by degrees she became possessed of the whole of the peninsula of Italy. The fifth and the fourth century before Christ are characterized by only one thing which in any way partook of the Orient. This was the influence of Greece in religious matters, especially through the Sibylline books. In a sense Greece represents the equipoise of Occident and Orient. We shall see later of what incalculable value this equipoise was. Greece could consult oracles, and receive information from the gods without being superstitiously terrified thereby. The gods had always walked with men, and therefore there was nothing fearful or embarrassing in knowing their will. To the Romans, however, to whom the gods had always been unknown, it was a fearftd thing to receive their messages. But what the Romans at first feared became, by virtue of this very terror, a source of morbid fascination, so that the Sibylline oracles, combined with the Etruscan haruspicina, were constantly sowing the seeds of superstition.
As yet, however, Rome had had no further direct contact with the East. But when at the beginning of the third century she became mistress of the peninsula of Italy, she found herself involved in the general struggle for the possession of the Mediterranean, and this struggle in its turn brought her into contact with the people of Carthage. The Carthaginians were Orientals of the purest type, yet Rome’s contact with them brought practically no results, so far as the approximation of East and West is concerned. Even when Carthage itself was eventually conquered, and when the Punic libraries fell into Rome’s hands, and the world had its unique chance for the preservation of Punic literature, Rome gave the books to the petty potentates of Africa, all except one, a treatise on farming, which she caused to be carefully translated.
Thus once again Rome escaped the issue, and aside from the failure to solve the great cultural problem, history has lost this Punic literature. But though the Carthaginians had no effect on Rome, the war with Carthage brought Rome into contact with the East in a very curious way. In the stress of the war, Rome, terrified by extraordinary prodigies in the city itself, and unable to dislodge Hannibal from southern Italy, even after he had been defeated, caused the Sibylline books to be consulted. The oracles commanded the introduction of the cult of the goddess Cybele of Pessinus in Phrygia. Accordingly, a Roman ship was sent to Phrygia, and the sacred stone, the symbol of the goddess, was brought to Ostia. There it was received by the matrons of Rome, carried in triumph to the temple of victory on the Palatine, and worshiped therein, until such time as the goddess’s own temple was ready for her.
It was Greek influence which brought Cybele into Rome, but the goddess herself was absolutely an Oriental. Her coming marks an epoch in Rome’s relations with the Orient, though at first Roman citizens stood more or less aloof.
Hitherto the Orient had failed to come to Rome, and now it began to be Rome’s turn to go to the Orient. It was the fortunes of her eastern conquests which took her there during the second century, the wars with Antiochus and with Macedonia, and during the last century of the Republic the war with Mithridates. The effect of these campaigns was twofold, and in each of these two effects ancient conditions were entirely different from modern ones. In the first place, the campaigns had the result of taking vast numbers of Romans and Italians into the East, of bringing them into contact with the eastern civilizations, and of keeping them there for prolonged periods of time, so that the eastern environment became habitual to them. The individual grew accustomed to certain surroundings so that he was positively uncomfortable without them. This was the first effect; the second was even more important. Success in war meant the taking of prisoners, and such prisoners meant slaves brought to Rome. Nothing is more misleading than to explain ancient slavery by means of modern conditions. By and large, slaves were by no means the dregs of society. In many cases, they, especially these eastern slaves, represented the knowledge and the scientific and technical skill of the times. Very many of the wise men who came-out of the East came out in chains and lived the life of the servant.
Thus two distinct influences were brought into Rome, a demand for oriental luxury, and the actual presence of intellectual Orientals. These two influences had entirely different effects. The influence of oriental luxury is easily exaggerated. It was, after all, only a part of the increasingly central position of Rome, by which she became the natural point of exchange for the world’s commodities. Such luxuries indicate no real rapprochement, any more than the drinking of Chinese tea gives insight into the Chinese character, or the love of curry interprets India.
But the presence of Asiatic slaves was an entirely different matter. Their influence was permeative and continuous. They possessed the oriental qualities of perseverance and continuity in the things to which they had been accustomed. They did not change with their changed environment. During the second century before Christ we begin to see the effects of these influences. Eastern prophets, especially the Chaldeans, began to pour over Italy. Here, as always, old Cato sounds the note of warning, forbidding his bailiff to consult Chaldeans and Haruspices. In fact, the Chaldean matter became so serious that in B. C. 139 an edict was promulgated by which the Chaldeans were ordered to leave Rome and Italy within ten days. Then, too, the influence of Cybele, the Great Mother, was constantly felt more and more, and men left Rome to make pilgrimages to Pessinus.
It is a strange thought, that Rome, which was to be the Mecca of the western world, should now go eastwards on her pilgrimages. Such pilgrims grew more and more common. Even men of position joined their ranks, as, for example, Marius. Then, too, in B. C. 101, Roman citizens began to enter the eunuch priesthood of Cybele, and in B. c. 100 we have the extraordinary story of Battaces, the High Priest of Cybele, who came to Rome from Pessinus, and received such a tumultuous ovation that a Roman official thought it his duty to interfere, and dragged him away from the speaker’s platform. As it turned out, this was the best thing that could have happened to Battaces, for the official died very suddenly the day after, — and Rome knew why, — and when Battaces left he was escorted to t he gates by a great procession of men and women.
During the last two centuries of the Republic, it is very difficult to estimate the depth and power of oriental influence. It might seem easy to overestimate it, and we might say, as it is so easy to say, that only the upper classes, and not the rank and file of the common people, were affected by it. Hortensius might introduce the Asiatic style into his oratory, Marius might go to Pessinus, Sulla might have a favorite Chaldean, but these were only the fads and fancies of the ruling classes. The rest of the world went on its way demurely. There is, however, an argument to show that this is not true, and that the Orient was present in Rome’s midst and throughout the whole body of her people. It is a psychological change which, so far as I can tell, cannot be accounted for in any other way.
Before the time of the Punic wars, if you had spoken to a Roman about his soul, if you had made to him any reference to his individual responsibility, he could not have understood you, for the simple reason that the individual did not consciously exist. Each unit was so wrapped up in the bundle of life that it existed only in its relation to those about it. A man’s whole moral responsibility was toward society in its divisions of curia, gens, and familia. There was no individuality, even in what is to us most personal, namely religious thought. A man did not choose his gods. He was born into them, as he was into the members of his own family. His self was his Genius, if he were a man; his Juno, if he were a woman. But even Genius and Juno were simply the two phases of reproduction, — the procreative phase in the Genius, the conceptive phase in the Juno. In other words, as an individual he existed only in his animal functions. And when he died and went over into the majority, the same thing occurred again, for there he joined the ‘good gods,’ the Di Manes, the bloodless flitting shades, seeking the one thing, the blood, which was to give them consciousness again, but which they would deign to accept only at the hands of those who were their descendants, and who were thus carrying on the race.
What a vastly different state of affairs from what we have at the close of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire! Then, men were so terrified by their sense of personal guilt and so afraid of the punishment which was to come, that Lucretius writes his wonderful poem against religion and superstition. And even though Lucretius is himself of an intensely religious nature, and destroys only to build up again, the existence of his poem is ample testimony to the terror of the superstition of the day. Finally, at the beginning of the Empire we have the spectacle of the whole Roman world engaged in seeking personal salvation, either in philosophy or in one of the oriental cults.
This is a complete revulsion in psychological attitude. We can see several elements in Rome’s history which might well have assisted the development of this state of affairs. Great prosperity made possible great private fortunes. These fortunes in their turn made self-indulgence possible. Out of the excesses of this self-indulgence there might well spring up a sense of individuality. Nature often brings purity out of filth, and water-lilies float on scum. Thus perchance he who was doing what he could to lose his soul might in this way find it. Then, too, the wear and tear of the nervous system doubtless produced in many cases a neurotic condit ion, and thus we might define as symptoms of neurasthenia the sense of oppression, the awaiting of misfortune, the sense of guilt, and the fear of punishment. But all the world could not indulge itself, and for every rich man there were a thousand beggars. Nor was neurasthenia a universal complaint. The vast majority of men had no chance at self-indulgence, and therefore could not suffer its penalties. And yet it is the bottom of society quite as much as the top that we see at the beginning of the Empire responding to the cry of individual need.
Yet this idea of individual need was characteristic of all that came out of the Orient; even as it is to-day, when the Buddhistic doctrine of Nirvana is only an attempt to rid the individual of the burden of himself.
Thus it would seem that in the last two centuries of the Republic the influence of the Orient on the psychological and religious views of the individual must have been much greater than we commonly suppose.
Thus we come to the Augustan age. So far as an individual can stem the flood which is overwhelming a nation, Augustus stood opposed to the Orient. It would almost seem as if his choice of Apollo, which has frequently troubled historians, might be explained in this connection. Rome must have something to which the imagination can respond, and this is Apollo, who is orthodox Greek, and far removed from the hordes of Syria and Phrygia. We are all of us aware that Augustus was the regulator of that formal religion which was destined to be one of the greatest forces in keeping the Empire bound together — the worship of the Emperor. Yet see how strongly he fights here against the oriental touch. That the dead are gods is orthodox Roman religion: they are the Di Manes, the Divi Manes. Thus Julius becomes Divus Julius, and except for the accent on one of the Di Manes, the process is devoid of heresy. With the living it was more difficult. Yet even here it was possible to graft the new concept upon the old tree. In orthodox Roman religion every man was, as we have seen above, possessed of a divine parallel, his Genius, who was the recipient of worship at the hands of the individual with whom he was connected. Thus, while the living emperor could not with propriety be worshiped, the Genius of the emperor was a fit and proper subject of adoration; and even in the later period when the worship was avowedly directed toward the Emperor himself rather than toward his Genius, a respect for the past, and the memory of the Genius concept, caused at least a thin veil of adjectives to be placed between the worshiper and the object of his worship.
Thus we start forth upon our study of the Empire. The three centuries from Augustus to Constantine were the period in which the Orient was to come to a synthesis with the Occident more nearly than it has at any period since. The whole Roman world was now acquainted with the Orient, and to a certain extent interested in it. There was, to be sure, a great deal that the Orient possessed in which Rome took relatively little interest. The science of the Orient, the only real science which the world then contained, was matter of relative indifference to the Romans. Rome had always discouraged such things because they seemed to have no apparent practical value. There was no persecution or expression of open hostility to these ideas, which might have resulted in encouraging them, but only, most deadly attitude of all, sublime superior indifference. Other things were of so much greater importance, and these other things were growing very rapidly to be the ‘cure of souls.’ The growth of superstition which had been going on steadily during the last two centuries of the Republic was now having its effect. The oriental idea of the relative insignificance of this present life had become almost instinctive in the west. The accent was now laid upon the life to come. Not only was human life short, but the world itself was coming to an end.
It is false to assert that these ideas came into the world through Christianity. They were of course implicit in her doctrines, but they were also abundantly present outside of her. They were the common property of all the spiritual life of the period.
These conceptions, coupled with a sense of sin and of personal responsibility, caused men to be interested exclusively in the salvation of their own souls. But now a very extraordinary thing happened, for Greece stepped in and put up a shielding arm in the attempt to ward off this oriental attack. And here we must say a word about Greece. We think of her as a western nation, and so, perhaps, she was at first, in purely physiological descent. But every turn of the spade is showing us to-day how stupendously the Orient affected her. And yet, for all that, we are conscious of her western elements too. The fact is that Greece was so infinitely superior to any existing race, that we instinctively feel our separation from her. But this sense of our own inferiority, this feeling that we can understand Rome but that we can never understand Greece, is simply owing to the fact that the synthesis of East and West, the internal equipoise, was effected in her. This is the explanation of her art, an explanation which is, after all, only putting the mystery one step further back. And this is also the explanation of her ethical life. This is why her great ethical teachers strove to turn men from the error of t heir ways, not by conversion, not by affecting the will, for the will was good, but by bringing men to knowledge. ‘To know the truth is to do it,’is an axiom false in modern life, but which may well have been true in ancient Greece. And so Greece stepped forward to help Rome, and this help took the form of salvation by knowledge, salvation by the understanding of philosophical truth.
We meet with it throughout the first two centuries of the Empire, in a Seneca, a Marcus Aurelius, an Epictetus. But if that had been the extent of the help which Greece offered, there would have been nothing especially remarkable about it; for such men have been with us in all ages of the world. The remarkable thing, however, which now happened, was the adoption of these philosophical principles at one of those moments, which come at long intervals in this world of ours, when those who have determine to share with those who have not. Sometimes it is knowledge that is given, sometimes spiritual help, sometimes food and lodging; but whether it be a Dio Chrysostom and the bands of wandering Cynic philosophers, or whether it be St. Francis and his Brethren, or whether it be General Booth and the Salvation Army, it all goes back to the same universal principle. Few of us have any adequate conception of the extraordinary extent of the labors of these philosophic missionaries who now went forth in the name of Greece. Even Lucian, who saw the comedy of life as no man has ever seen it, has a sort of concealed admiration for these people. We feel that they occupied a warm place in that large and empty heart of the satirist.
There is something infinitely pathetic in this carrying of philosophy to the masses. In the process, philosophy had to be popularized and cheapened. Anecdotes had to usurp the place of philosophic expression. Miracles of healing were necessary to att ract and hold the audience. And when it was all over, the auditors could scarcely have carried away less had they been listening to a modern sermon.
Sometimes it seems as if this arm which Greece raised in defense really served to beckon on the forces of the Orient. And they came, — Isis and Osiris from Egypt, Cybele and Attis from Phrygia, Mithras from Persia, and all the host of the Syrian gods. Many of these gods had taken root in Italy before the close of the Republic, Cybele as far back as the time of the second Punic war, Isis in the time of Sulla, and Mithras when Pompey conquered the Cilician pirates. They came from all parts of the Orient, and they lived side by side in Rome in almost perfect peace. But the most extraordinary thing was that the atmosphere which they had themselves created began in its turn to influence them, so that they began to resemble one another; but instead of the contagion of evil we have the contagion of spiritual ideas. Thus the Taurobolium of the Great Mother, the bath of blood which the worshiper received, standing in a pit, under a grating upon which a bull was slain, was at first merely the primitive communion of god and man, whereby man ‘ate the god,’ and thus the god entered into him carnally, and he became ‘full of god,’ in this case full of the strength of the bull. Soon, however, a more spiritual conception drove the older view into the background, and the blood became the blood of purification. When a man descended into the pit, he died and went down into the grave and was buried, but by the shedding of blood he was purified and born into newness of life. He came forth ’born again into eternity.’
In the cult of Mithras, the spiritual element was even more pronounced. Mithras was not simply the god of physical light as contrasted with darkness. It was he who brought light and purity into men’s minds, who drove away evil thoughts and temptations, and filled the spirit of man with a divine light. It was he who taught men the love of truth, and the great truth of the brotherhood of man.
The climax and the triumph of the Orient was reached at the end of the third century, during the reign of Diocletian, when, in the midst of an orientalized court, Diocletian openly acknowledged Mithras as the source of his power. Elaga balus may have worshiped Elagabal, Aurelian may have delighted to honor the Sungod of Palmyra, but, after all, these gods were either themselves a form of Jupiter or Jupiter stood above them. But now Mithras becomes officially the patron god of the Roman empire.
This was the state of affairs in A. D. 300. Now look ahead three hundred years, to the year 600. So far as the city of Rome and the western world were concerned, the Orient had almost entirely disappeared. The Occident already possessed a religious life of its own, and was soon to acquire an independent political organization. These two developments are in reality one; they are both of them inseparably connected with the rise and growth of western Christianity. Let us see in slightly more detail how this development occurred.
We have seen how, during the first three centuries of the Empire, Rome had become thoroughly oriental, and we have also seen that the greatest orientalizing influences were the spiritual and religious conceptions of the day. It was a period in which religion signified very much in men’s lives. The religious need was very great, and the religious supply was almost exclusively from the Orient. Christianity itself was no exception to this rule. It, too, was in the first stages apparently only another oriental religion.
Salvation was of the Jews. The Founder of Christianity had himself declared it thus to the woman of Samaria. But soon others than Jews became interested in the movement, and the question arose for decision: Salvation is of the Jews, but is it for the Jews only or is it for Gent iles as well? It was Paul, the Apostle, who answered that question, and all the history of western civilization waited on his answer.
It is the fashion of our day to speak slightingly of Paul. Men often speak of him as if he had distorted the teachings of the Founder, and had ‘ruined’ Christianity. The attempt is sometimes made to eliminate him and his theories from our conception of Christianity. We cannot discuss these things here, for fortunately our task is that of the historian, and not of the theologian. But this much the historian must say in behalf of historical justice. We have doubtless the right to disapprove of Paul’s interpretation and to try to eliminate it from our modern Christianity, but we have no right to allow our disapproval to take the form of belittling the man Paul. He it was who translated Oriental Christianity into terms of the Occident. It is of small account whether we approve of his attitude or not, but it is of great importance that we realize that the existence of the western world, the preservation of occidental civilization, depended upon the occidentalizing of Christianity. In things religious Rome had entirely submitted to the Orient. It was Paul who saved western civilization by transmuting an oriental worship into terms of Roman law. This he could and did do because he was more essentially Roman than Hebrew. In these days of sympathy with the Orient, and desire to come into relations of mutual understanding with her, we may for a moment regret, that Paul in a sense inserted the edge of the wedge which was to cleave East and West asunder, and to hold them so for two milleniums; but we should not forget how the West has worked out her own salvation, and by progress in selfgovernment has brought individual freedom into existence. Only the West alone, unhampered by the East, could have obtained this precious result.
In a very real sense, the Epistle to the Romans may be considered as the Magna Charta of western civilization. Christianity thus explained was no longer an oriental mystery; it was a definite legal statement, wholly consonant with the Roman instinct for law and formalism. It was upon this foundation that the western world was to be built. We cannot enter in any detail into the lives and the works of those who did actually build upon this foundation. Tertullian claims his place as the father of Latin Christianity. By him the powerful influence of the Romans’ own language was given to the expression of religious ideas whose original medium had been Greek.
But it was Constantine who did a still greater work, not by confessing Christianity — for, after all, his personal religious influence was almost null — but by the founding of Constantinople. The new capital saved the old capital. Constantinople was the scapegoat for the sins of Rome. Upon the new city were laid all the new fashions, all the orientalizing tendencies, and Rome, relieved, neglected, could fall asleep and dream her old dreams until she awakened in the terror of the Visigothic capture.
Alaric’s siege of Rome and Augustine’s City of God are two parallel expressions of the birth of the new western world. Rome’s privacy was invaded; she was brought face to face with that fresh Teutonic stock, of which in one form or another she was never again to rid herself. She was to receive them all, Visigoths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Lombards, and finally Franks, with whom she was to accomplish her destiny of the Holy Roman Empire. But with Alaric alone the picture is not complete. It was not merely temporal power which was to be the ultimate portion of Rome. This power was to have a spiritual background, a background wider and deeper than the foreground. Western Christianity was to be a larger thing than the accepted religion of Rome.
Paul might extend Christianity to the Gentiles; but his Gentiles and even his barbarians were either present or prospective members of the great Roman Empire. His Christianity was that of a Roman; it was the spiritual parallel of the political and territorial aggrandizement of Trajan, which was to follow. But with Augustine all this was different. The old Roman empire was falling into ruins; the Holy Roman Empire had not yet dawned. For him Christianity was a larger thing than Rome. It was a universal religion. It was that far-off divine event toward which the whole creation moves; it was the City of God, whose foundat ions are on the holy mountains.
Thus the western world was ushered into its ‘Middle Ages.’ A Benedict was yet to come, who was to preserve the material things of ancient culture; a Gregory was yet to come who was to prepare the way for Rome’s autonomy, and for the preservation in a new form of the institutions of the old Roman Empire.
Thus the Orient had come to Rome, and Rome had taken her to her bosom, and then had cast her forth again, and relegated her to the Eastern Empire with its cent re at Constantinople. Thus Western Europe went forth to defend herself against the Orient at Châlons and at Tours, and to work out that extraordinary governmental progress which seems to be reaching its climax in these latter days.
Once again the oriental problem is upon us, but it comes in a new sense, and Rome has nothing to teach us, except that we see that her failure was in a sense a gain, and in so far a success. It was well that the western world was separated from the East.
Is this separation still desirable today? Are East and West still incommensurable?