Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/23

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13
HISTORY

was exclusive and the Emperor was its head; so conformity was required of all citizens of the Empire, and conformity could only be obtained by paying a price. The masses were wedded to their ancient cults, their ancient gods, their ancient temples, their ancient rites. To sweep them away at one stroke and to substitute something different was not possible. So a compromise was effected. The priests, the temples, the ritual, the statues, remained, but they were relabeled with Christian labels, under cover of which Christian ideas were slipped in. A great metamorphosis took place of which the intelligent traveler and reader of to-day can still find traces :—

"The fair form, the lovely pageant that had entwined the Mediterranean with sculptured marble, and garlands of roses, and human emotion, was fading into stuff for the fantasies of dreamers. The white-robed priest and smoking altar, the riotous procession and mystic ritual would no longer chain the affections of mankind. No longer would the shepherd blow his rude tibia in honor of Cybele, no longer would a thousand delicious fables, fine wrought webs of poetic imagination, haunt the sacred groves and colonnades of the gods. Day after day, night after night, as constantly as Apollo and Diana ran their course in heaven, had all these things run their course on earth; now, under the spell of the man of Galilee, they had shivered into a rainbow vapor, a mist of times past, unreal, unthinkable, save where the historian may reconstruct a few ruins or the poet relive past lives. And yet the externals in great part remained. For it was at the heart that paganism was struck, and it was there it was weakest. It had attempted, but had failed, to acquire a conscience, while the new faith had founded itself on that strong rock. Christianity had triumphed through the revolt of the individual conscience; it was now to attempt the dangerous task of creating a collective one."[1]


THE FALL OF ROME

The establishment of Christianity at Rome came not a moment too soon to infuse a little life into the fast-decaying Empire. Constantine himself helped to break it in two, a Roman and a Greek half, by creating a new capital, Constantinople. More ominous yet

  1. Johnston, "Holy Christian Church," p. 146.