By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: English Conferences of Ernest Renan - Rome and Christianity. Marcus Aurelius
Author: Renan, Ernest, 1823-1892
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "English Conferences of Ernest Renan - Rome and Christianity. Marcus Aurelius" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.






  Copyright, 1880,

  Franklin Press:
  Stereotyped and Printed by
  Rand, Avery, & Co.,



  The Hibbert Conferences.

    _First Conference._ The Sense in which Christianity
      is a Roman Work                                        9

    _Second Conference._ The Legend of the Roman
      Church.--Peter and Paul                               39

    _Third Conference._ Rome, the Centre of the Formation
      of Ecclesiastical Authority                           73

    _Fourth Conference._ Rome, the Capital of Catholicism  103

  The Royal Institution Conference.

    Marcus Aurelius                                        139


The lectures contained in this volume were delivered by M. Ernest Renan
in London during April of the present year. The first four, upon "Rome
and Christianity," were given under the auspices of "The Hibbert
Foundation," in response to an invitation under which the distinguished
author visited England. The fifth, "Marcus Aurelius," was incidental to
the visit, and was given before "The Royal Institution." The word
"Conferences," though somewhat new to English usage in its present
sense, has been retained as best expressing the author's original title,
"_Conferences d'Angleterre_."



  London, April 6, 1880.




Ladies and Gentlemen,--I was proud and happy to receive from the
curators of this noble institution an invitation to continue here an
instruction inaugurated by my illustrious confrère and friend, Max
Müller, the usefulness of which will be more and more appreciated. A
broad and sincere thought always bears fruit. It is thirty years since
the venerable Robert Hibbert made a legacy for the purpose of aiding the
progress of enlightened Christianity, inseparable, according to his
idea, from the progress of science and reason. Wisely carried out, this
foundation has become, in the hands of intelligent administrators, the
centre of conferences upon all the great chapters of the history of
religion and humanity: the promoters of this reform have asked, with
reason, why the method which has proved good in all departments of
intellectual culture should not also be good in the domain of religion?
why the pursuit of truth, without regard to consequences, should be
dangerous in theology, when it is approved of in the entire domain of
social and natural science? You believed the truth, gentlemen, and you
were right. There is but one truth; and we are wanting in respect to its
revelation, if we allow that the critic ought to soften his severe
processes when he treats of it. No, gentlemen, the truth is able to
dispense with compliments. I come gladly at your call; for I understand
the duties towards the right exactly as you do. With you, I should
believe that I injured a faith in admitting that it required to be
treated with a certain softness. I believe with you that the worship due
from man to the ideal consists in independent scientific research,
without regard to results, and that the true manner of rendering homage
to the truth is to pursue it without ceasing, with the firm resolution
of sacrificing all to it. You desire that these conferences shall
present a great historic _ensemble_ of the efforts which the human race
has made to resolve the problems which surround it, and affect its
destiny. In the present state of the human mind, no one can hope to
resolve these problems: we suspect all dogmatism simply because it is
dogmatism. We grant willingly that a religious or philosophical system
can, indeed, or that it ought to, enclose a certain portion of truth;
but we deny to it, without examination, the possibility of enclosing the
absolute truth. What we love is history. History well written is always
good; for, even if it should prove that man in seeking to seize the
infinite has pursued a chimera, the history of these attempts, more
generous than successful, will always be useful. It proves, that, in
reality, man goes beyond the circle of his limited life through his
aspirations. It shows what energy he has expended for the sake of his
love of the good and true; it teaches us to estimate him,--this poor
disinherited one, who, in addition to the sufferings which nature
imposes upon him, imposes still further upon himself the torture of the
unknown, the torture of doubt, the severe resistances of virtue, the
abstinences of austerity, the voluntary sufferings of the ascetic. Is
all this a pure loss? Is this unceasing effort to attain the
unattainable as vain as the course of the child who pursues the ever
flying object of his desire? It pains me to believe it; and the faith
which eludes me when I examine in detail each of the systems scattered
throughout the world, I find, in a measure, when I reflect upon all
these systems together. All religions may be defective and incomplete;
religion in humanity is nothing less than divine, and a mark of superior
destiny. No, they have not labored in vain--those grand founders, those
reformers, those prophets of all ages--who have protested against the
false evidences of gross materialism, who have beaten themselves
against the wall of the apparent fatality that encloses us; who have
employed their thought, given their life, for the accomplishment of a
mission which the spirit of their age had imposed upon them. If the fact
of the existence of the martyrs does not prove the exclusive truth of
this or that sect (all sects can show a rich martyrology), this fact in
general proves that religious zeal responds to something mysterious.
All,--as many as we are,--we are sons of martyrs. Those who talk the
most of scepticism are frequently the most satisfied and indifferent.
Those who have founded among you religious and political liberty, those
who have founded in all Europe liberty of thought and research, those
who have labored for the amelioration of the fate of men, those who will
doubtless find means for further amelioration, have suffered, or will
suffer, for their good work; for no one is ever recompensed for what he
does for the good of humanity. Nevertheless they will always have
imitators. There will always be some to carry on the work of the
incorrigibles; some, possessed of the divine spirit, who will sacrifice
their personal interest to truth and justice. Be it so: they have chosen
the better part. I know not what assures me that he who, without knowing
why, through simple nobility of nature, has chosen for himself in this
world the essentially unproductive lot of doing good, is the true sage,
and has discovered the legitimate use of life with more sagacity than
the selfish man.


You have asked me to retrace before you one of those pages of religious
history which places the thoughts which I come to express in their
fullest aspect. The origins of Christianity form the most heroic episode
in the history of humanity. Man never drew from his heart more devotion,
more love of the ideal, than in the one hundred and fifty years which
elapsed from the sweet Galilean vision, under Tiberius, to the death of
Marcus Aurelius. The religious consciousness was never more eminently
creative, and never laid down with more authority the law of the future.
This extraordinary movement, to which no other can be compared, came
forth from the bosom of Judaism. But it is doubtful if Judaism alone
would have conquered the world. It was necessary that a young and bold
school, coming out of its midst, should take the audacious part of
renouncing the largest portion of the Mosaic ritual. It was necessary,
above all, that the new movement should be transported into the midst of
the Greeks and Latins, while awaiting the Barbarians, and become like
yeast in the bosom of those European races by which humanity
accomplishes its destinies. What a beautiful subject he will discourse
upon who shall one day explain to you the part which Greece took in that
great common work! You have commissioned me to show to you the part of
Rome. The action of Rome is the first in date. It was scarcely until the
beginning of the third century that the Greek genius, with Clement of
Alexandria and Origen, really seized upon Christianity. I hope to show
you, that, since the second century, Rome has exercised a decisive
influence upon the Church of Jesus.

In one sense, Rome has diffused religion through the world, as she has
diffused civilization, as she has founded the idea of a central
government, extending itself over a considerable part of the world. But
even as the civilization which Rome has diffused has not been the small,
narrow, austere culture of ancient Latium, but in fact the grand and
large civilization which Greece created, so the religion to which she
definitely lent her support was not the niggardly superstition which was
sufficient to the rude and primitive inhabitants of the Palatine: it was
Judaism, that is to say, in fact, the religion which Rome scorned and
hated most, that which two or three times she believed herself to have
finally vanquished to the profit of her own national worship. This
ancient religion of Latium, which contented a race endowed with narrow
intellectual wants and morals, among which customs and social rank
almost held the place of a religion during some centuries, was a
sufficiently despicable thing. As M. Boissier has perfectly proved, a
more false conception of the divinity was never seen. In the Roman
worship, as in most of the ancient Italiote worships, prayer was a magic
formula, acting by its own virtue, independent of the moral dispositions
of him who prayed. People prayed only for a selfish end. There exist
some registers called _indigitamenta_, containing lists of the gods who
supply all the wants of men; thus there was no need of being deceived.
If the god was not addressed by his true name, by that under which it
pleased him to be invoked, he was capable of misapprehension, or of
interpreting capriciously. Now these gods, who are in some degree the
forces of the world, are innumerable. There was a little god who made
the infant utter his first cry (_Vaticanus_); there was another who
presided over his first word (_Fabulinus_); another who taught the baby
to eat (_Educa_); another who taught him to drink (_Potina_); another
who made him keep quiet in his cradle (_Cuba_). In truth, the good wife
of Petronius was right, when, in speaking of the Campagna, she said,
"This country is so peopled with divinities, that it is easier to find a
god than a man." Besides these, there were unending series of
allegories, or deified abstractions, Fear, the Cough, Fever, Manly
Fortune, Patrician Chastity, Plebeian Chastity, the Security of the Age,
the Genius of the Customs (or of the _octroi_), and above all (listen,
that one who, to say the truth, was the great god of Rome), the Safety
of the Roman People. It was a civil religion in the full force of the
term. It was essentially the religion of the State. There was no
priesthood distinct from the functions of the State: the State was the
veritable god of Rome. The father had there the right of life and death
over his son; but if this son had the least function, and the father met
him in his path, he descended from his horse, and bent himself before

The consequence of this essentially political character was, that the
Roman religion remained always an aristocratic religion. A man became
pontiff as he became prætor or consul. When a man desired these
religious functions, he submitted to no examination; he went into no
retreat in a seminary; he did not ask himself whether he had the
ecclesiastical vocation: he proved that he had served his country well,
and that he had been wounded in a certain battle. There was no
sacerdotal spirit. These civil pontiffs remained cold, practical men,
and had not the least idea that their functions should separate them
from the world. The religion of Rome is, in every respect, the inversion
of theocracy. Civil law rules acts: it does not trouble itself with
thoughts; thus did the Roman religion. Rome never had the least idea of
dogma. The exact observation of the rites commanded by the divinity, in
which it did not regard piety or the sentiments of the heart, if the
request was in form, was all that was required. Even more,--devotion was
a fault; calmness, order, regularity, only, were necessary: more than
that was an excess (_superstitio_). Cato absolutely forbade that a slave
should be allowed to conceive any sentiment of piety. "Know," said he,
"that it is the master who sacrifices for all the household." It was not
needful to neglect what was due to the gods; but it was not needful to
give them more than was due: that was superstition, of which the true
Roman had as much horror as of impiety.

Was there ever, I ask you, a religion less capable of becoming the
religion of the human race than that? Not only was the access to the
priesthood for a long time forbidden to the plebeians, but they were
also excluded from the public worship. In the great struggle for civil
equality which fills the history of Rome, religion is the great argument
with which the revolutionists are opposed. "How," say they, "could you
become a prætor or consul? You have not the right to take the omens."
Above all, the people were very little attached to religion. Each
popular victory was followed, as one may say, by an anti-clerical
re-action: on the contrary, the aristocracy remained always faithful to
a worship which gave a divine sanction to its privileges.

The matter became still more pressing when the Roman people, by their
manly, patriotic virtues, had conquered all the nations upon the borders
of the Mediterranean. What interest, think you an African, a Gaul, a
Syrian, took in a worship which concerned only a small number of high
and often tyrannical families? The local religions were continued
everywhere; but Augustus, who was still more a religious organizer than
a great politician, made the Roman idea to hover everywhere by the
establishment of the Roman worship. The altars of Rome and of Augustus
became the centre of a hierarchical organization of Flamens and Augustan
_Sevirs_, who served to found, more than one imagines, the divisions of
the dioceses and ecclesiastical provinces. Augustus admitted all the
local gods as Lares; he allowed more than the number of Lares in each
house; at each cross-road an additional Lare was placed,--the Genius of
the Emperor. Thanks to this fellowship, all the local gods and all the
special gods became "Augustan gods." It was a great advance. But this
grand attempt of the worship of the Roman State was notoriously
insufficient to satisfy the religious needs of the heart. There was
elsewhere a god who could not accommodate himself in any way to this
fraternity: it was the God of the Jews. It was impossible to make
Jehovah pass for a Lare, and associate with the Genius of the Emperor.
It was evident that a conflict must be established between the Roman
State and this unchangeable and refractory God, who did not bend to the
complaisant transformations exacted by the politics of the times.

Ah, well! behold the most extraordinary historical phenomenon, the most
intense irony of all history: it is that the worship which Rome has
diffused through the world is not in the least the old worship of
Jupiter Capitolinus, or Latiaris, still less the worship of Augustus and
of the Genius of the Emperor: it is, in truth, the worship of Jehovah.
It is Judaism in its Christian form that Rome has propagated, without
wishing it, in so powerful a manner, that, from a certain epoch,
Romanism and Christianity have become almost synonymous words.

Truly, I repeat it, it is more than doubtful if pure Judaism--that which
is developed under the Talmudical form, and which is still in our day so
powerful--would have had this extraordinary fortune. Judaism propagates
itself through Christianity. But one understands nothing of religious
history (some one, I hope, will demonstrate it to you some day), unless
it is fixed as a fundamental principle that Christianity had its origin
in Judaism itself,--Judaism with its fruitful principles of alms and
charity, with its absolute confidence in the future of humanity, with
that joy of the heart of which it has always had the secret,--only
Judaism freed from some observances and distinctive traits which had
been invented to characterize the special religion of the children of


If one studies in fact the progress of the primitive Christian missions,
he remarks that they are all directed towards the West: in other words,
they take the Roman Empire as their theatre and limit. If one excepts
some small portions of the vassal territory of the Arsacidæ, lying
between the Euphrates and the Tigris, the empire of the Parthians
received no Christian missions during the first century. The Tigris was
an eastern boundary which Christianity did not pass under the Sassanidæ.
Two great causes--the Mediterranean and the Roman Empire--determined
this capital fact.

The Mediterranean had been, during a thousand years, the great route on
which all civilizations and all ideas had passed each other. The Romans,
having freed it from piracy, had made it an unequalled way of
communication. It was in a sense the railroad of that time. A numerous
marine of coasting-vessels rendered the voyages along the borders of
this great lake very easy. The relative security which the routes of the
empire afforded, the sure guaranties found in the public powers, the
scattering of the Jews over all the coasts of the Mediterranean, the use
of the Greek tongue in the eastern portion of this sea, the unity of
civilization which the Greeks first, and then the Romans, had created,
made the map of the empire also the map of the countries reserved to the
Christian missions and destined to become Christian. The Roman _orbis_
became the Christian _orbis_ in the sense in which it may be said that
the founders of the empire were the founders of the Christian monarchy,
or, at least, that they have drawn its outlines. Every province
conquered by the Roman Empire became a province conquered by
Christianity. Let the figures of the apostles be imagined in the
presence of Asia Minor, of Greece, of Italy divided into a hundred
little republics, of Gaul, of Spain, of Africa, of Egypt, with its old
national institutions, and their success can no more be thought of, or
rather it would seem that their project could never have had birth. The
union of the empire was the necessary preliminary condition of all great
religious propagandism, placing it above nationalities. The empire
recognized this in the fourth century. It became Christian. It saw that
Christianity was the religion which it had accepted without knowing
it,--the religion limited by its frontiers, identified with it, capable
of bringing it a second life.

The Church, on its side, made itself entirely Roman, and has remained to
this day a fragment of the empire. During the middle ages the Church was
the old Rome, seizing again its authority over the barbarians, imposing
on them its decretals, as formerly it had imposed its laws, governing
them by its cardinals, as it had before governed through its imperial
legates and proconsuls.

In creating its vast empire, Rome imposed, then, the material condition
of the propagation of Christianity. She raised up, above all, the moral
state which served as an atmosphere and a medium for the new doctrine.
While destroying politics everywhere, it created what may be called
socialism and religion. At the close of the frightful wars which for
some centuries had rent the world, the empire had an era of prosperity
and of welfare such as it had never known: we may even be permitted to
add (without a paradox) liberty. Liberty of thought, at least, increased
under this new _régime_. This liberty is often more prosperous under a
king or a prince than under the jealous and narrow-minded plebeian. The
ancient republics did not have it. The Greeks did great things without
it, thanks to the incomparable power of their genius; but it must not be
forgotten that Athens had a fine and noble Inquisition. The king Archon
was the inquisitor; the royal Portico was the holy office in which the
accusations of impiety were adjudged. These were the cases in which the
Attic orators were most frequently engaged. Not only philosophical
crimes, such as the denial of God or of a Providence, but the lightest
attaint of the municipal worship, the preaching of strange religions,
the most puerile infractions of the scrupulous legislation of the
mysteries, were crimes guilty of death. The gods whom Aristophanes
mocked on the stage sometimes destroyed. They destroyed Socrates; they
failed to kill Alcibiades. Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Diagoras of Melas,
Prodicus of Ceos, Stilpo, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Aspasia, Euripides,
were more or less seriously disturbed. Liberty of thought was, in truth,
the fruit of the royalties resulting from the Macedonian conquest. It
was the Attali, the Ptolemies, who first gave to men of thought the
freedom which no one of the old republics had ever offered them. The
Roman Empire held to the same traditions. There was under the empire
more than one arbitrary law against the philosophers; but these always
resulted from their meddling with political affairs. In the laws of the
Romans, before the time of Constantine, no clause is found against the
liberty of thought; in the history of the emperors, no process of
abstract doctrine. No _savant_ was disturbed in his researches. Men
whom the middle ages would have burned, such as Galen, Lucian, Plotinus,
lived tranquilly, protected by law. The empire inaugurated a period of
liberty in the sense that it destroyed the absolute sovereignty of the
family, the city, the tribe, and replaced or modified these
sovereignties by those of the State. Now, an absolute power is as much
more vexatious as the circle in which it is exercised is more narrow.
The ancient republics, the feudalities, tyrannized over the individual
much more than did the State. Unquestionably the Roman Empire persecuted
Christianity severely at times; but at least it did not destroy it. Now
the republics would have rendered it impossible. Judaism, if it had not
been under the Roman authority, would have stifled it. It was the Roman
magistrates who hindered the Pharisees from killing Christianity. Some
lofty ideas of universal brotherhood--results, in the main, of
stoicism,--a sort of general sentiment of humanity, were the fruit of
the least narrow _régime_ and of the least exclusive education to which
the individual was submitted. The people dreamed of a new era and new
worlds. The public riches were great; and, in spite of the imperfection
of the economical doctrines of the time, there was general comfort.

General customs were not such as are often imagined. It is true, that,
in Rome, all the vices were publicly displayed with a revolting
cynicism: the spectacles, above all, had introduced a frightful
corruption. Certain countries, as Egypt, had descended to the lowest
baseness. But there existed in most of the provinces a middle class, in
which goodness, conjugal fidelity, the domestic virtues, and uprightness
were commonly practised. Does there anywhere exist, in a world of honest
people in small villages, an ideal of family life more charming than
that which Plutarch has left us? What good fellowship! What sweetness of
manners! What chaste and attractive simplicity! Chæronea was evidently
not the only place where life was so pure and so innocent.

The customs, even outside of Rome, were still somewhat cruel, either
through the remaining spirit of ancient manners, everywhere sanguinary,
or through the special influence of Roman harshness. But there was
progress during this period. What sweet and pure sentiment, what feeling
of melancholy tenderness, has not found expression by the pen of Virgil
or of Tibullus? The world unbent, lost its ancient severity, and
acquired some softness and tenderness. Some maxims for humanity were
spread abroad. Equality and the abstract idea of the rights of man were
boldly preached by stoicism. Woman became more and more the mistress of
herself. The precepts for the treatment of slaves were improved. The
slave was no longer that necessarily grotesque and wicked being which
the Latin comedy introduced in order to provoke bursts of laughter, and
whom Cato recommended to be treated as a beast of burden. Now, times are
much changed. The slave is morally equal to his master: it is admitted
that he is capable of virtue, of fidelity, of devotion, and he gives
proofs of it. The prejudices concerning noble birth grow less. Some very
humane and just laws are made, even under the worst emperors. Tiberius
was a skilful financier: he founded upon an excellent basis an
establishment of _crédit foncier_. Nero inaugurated in the system of
taxation, until then unjust and barbarous, some improvements which shame
even our own time. Legislation was considerably advanced, while the
punishment of death was stupidly prodigal. Love of the poor, sympathy
for all, and almsgiving, came to be considered virtues.


Unquestionably I understand and share the indignation of sincere
liberals against a government which diffused a frightful despotism over
the world. But is it our fault that the wants of humanity are diverse,
its aspirations manifold, its aims contradictory? Politics is not every
thing here below. What the world desired, after those frightful
butcheries of the earlier centuries, was gentleness, humanity. They had
enough of heroism: those vigorous goddesses, eternally brandishing their
spears on the height of the Acropolis, inspired sentiment no longer. The
earth, as in the time of Cadmus, had swallowed her most noble sons. The
proud Grecian races had killed each other. The Peloponessus was a
desert. The sweet voice of Virgil gently took up the cry of humanity,
peace, pity!

The establishment of Christianity responded to this cry of all tender
and weary souls. Christianity could only have had birth and expansion in
a time when there were no longer free cities. If there was any thing
totally lacking in the founders of the Church, it was patriotism. They
were not cosmopolites, for the entire planet was to them a place of
exile: they were idealists in the most absolute sense.

A country is a composition of soul and body. The soul is the souvenirs,
the legends, the customs, the misfortunes, the hopes, the common
sorrows: the body is the soil, the race, the language, the mountains,
the rivers, the characteristic productions. Now, was a people ever more
wanting in all this than the first Christians? They did not cling to
Judæa; after a few years they had forgotten Galilee; the glory of Greece
and Rome was indifferent to them. The countries in which Christianity
was first established--Syria, Cyprus, and Asia Minor--no longer
remembered the time when they were free. Greece and Rome, it is true,
still had a grand national sentiment. At Rome, patriotism survived in a
few families; in Greece, Christianity flourished only at Corinth,--a
city which, since its destruction by Mummius, and its reconstruction by
Cæsar, was the resort of men of all races. The true Greek countries,
then, as to-day, very jealous, very much absorbed in the memories of
their past, gave little countenance to the new doctrines: they were
always lukewarm Christians. On the contrary, those gay, indolent,
voluptuous countries of Asia and Syria, countries of pleasure, of free
manners, _de laisser aller_, accustomed to receive life and government
from others, had nothing to resign in the way of pride and traditions.
The most ancient capitals of Christianity--Antioch, Ephesus,
Thessalonica, Corinth, and Rome--were common cities, so to speak, cities
of the modern type of Alexandria, in which all races met, where that
marriage between man and the soil, which constitutes a nation, was
absolutely broken.

The importance given to social questions is always the inverse of
political pre-occupations. Socialism takes the lead when patriotism
grows weak. Christianity exploded the social and religious ideas, as was
inevitable, since Augustus had put an end to political struggles.
Christianity, if a universal worship, would, like Islamism, in reality
be the enemy of nationalities. Only centuries, only schisms, could form
national churches from a religion which was from the beginning a denial
of all terrestrial countries, which had its birth at an epoch in which
there were no longer in the world either cities or citizens, and which
the old and powerful republics of Italy and of Greece would surely have
expelled as a mortal poison to the State.

And here was one of the causes of the grandeur of the new religion.
Humanity is a multiform, changeable thing, tormented by conflicting
desires. _La patrie_ is grand, and the heroes of Marathon and Thermopylæ
are saints. But one's country is not all here below: one is a man and a
son of God, before he is a Frenchman, or a German. The kingdom of God,
an eternal dream which is never destroyed in the heart of man, is a
protestation against a too exclusive patriotism. The thought of an
organization of humanity, in view of its greatest happiness and its
moral amelioration, is legitimate. The State knows, and can only know,
one thing,--to organize a collective egoism. This is not indifference,
because egoism is the most powerful and seizable of human motives, but
is not sufficient. The governments which have rested upon the
supposition that man is composed of covetous instincts only, have
deceived themselves. Devotion is as natural as egoism to a true-born
man. The organization of devotion is religion: let no one hope, then, to
dispense with religion, or religious associations. Each progression of
modern society will render this want more imperious.

A great exaltation of religious sentiment was, then, the consequence of
the _Roman peace_ established by Augustus. Augustus realized it. But I
ask, What satisfaction could the institutions which Rome dared to
believe eternal present to the religious wants which were arising?
Surely almost nothing. All the old worships, of very different origin,
had one common trait. They shared equally the impossibility of reaching
a theological teaching, a practical morality, an edifying preaching, a
pastoral ministry truly fruitful for the people. The Pagan temple, in
its best time, was the same thing as the synagogue and the church: I
wish to say the common house, the school, the inn, the hospital, the
shelter in which the poor sought an asylum, it was a cold _cella_, into
which one seldom entered, where one learned nothing. The affectation
which led the Roman patricians to distinguish the "religion," that is to
say, their own worship, from the "superstition," that is to say, the
worship of strangers, appears to us puerile. All the Pagan worships were
essentially superstitious. The peasant who in our day places a sou in
the box of a miraculous chapel, who invokes some saint on account of his
oxen, or his horses, who drinks certain waters for certain maladies, is
in these acts a Pagan. Indeed, nearly all our superstitions are the
remains of a religion anterior to Christianity, which that has not been
able to entirely uproot. If one would find the image of Paganism in our
day, it must be sought in some obscure village in the depth of some
out-of-the-way country.

Having as guardians a popular, vacillating tradition, and selfish
sacristans, the Pagan religion could but degenerate in worship.
Augustus, although with a certain reserve, accepted the adoration of his
subjects in the provinces. Tiberius allowed, under his own eyes, that
ignoble concourse of the cities of Asia to dispute the honor of raising
a temple to him. The extravagant impieties of Caligula produced no
re-action: outside of Judaism there was not found a single priest to
resist such follies. Coming forth, for the most part, from a primitive
worship of natural forces ten times transformed by minglings of all
sorts, and by the imagination of the peoples, the Pagan worships were
limited by their past. One could never draw from them what had never
existed in them,--Deism or instruction. The fathers of the church amuse
us when they bring to notice the misdeeds of Saturn as the father of a
family, and of Jupiter as a husband. But without doubt, it was still
more ridiculous to set up Jupiter (that is to say, the atmosphere) as a
moral god who commands, defends, rewards, and punishes. In a world which
aspires to possess a catechism, what could one do with a worship like
that of Venus, which arose from an old social necessity of the first
Ph[oe]nician navigation in the Mediterranean, but became in time an
outrage to that which one regards more and more as the essence of

Here is the explanation of that singular attraction, which, towards the
commencement of our era, drew the populations of the Old World towards
the worships of the East. These worships had something more profound
than the Greek and Latin worships: they appealed, moreover, to the
religious sentiment. Almost all were relative to the state of the soul
in another life, and they were believed to contain some pledges of
immortality. From this arose that favor which the Thracian and Sabasian
mysteries enjoyed, the worshippers of Bacchus, and brotherhoods of all
sorts. There was less of coldness in these little circles, in which one
pressed against another, than in the great glacial world elsewhere. Some
minor religions, like that of Psyche, destined solely to console for
death, had immense popularity. Those noble Egyptian worships which
concealed the emptiness within by grand splendor of ceremonies counted
their devotees throughout the empire. Isis and Serapis had their altars
at the extremities of the world. In visiting the ruins of Pompeii, one
would be tempted to believe that the worship of Isis was the principal
one practised there. Those little Egyptian temples had some assiduous
devotees, among whom were counted a large number of persons of the class
of the friends of Catullus and Tibullus. There was a service each
morning,--a sort of mass, celebrated by a tonsured and beardless priest;
there were some sprinklings of holy water, and perhaps an evening
service: it occupied, amused, and quieted. What more is necessary?

But, more than all others, the Mithraic worship enjoyed in the second
and third centuries an extraordinary popularity. I sometimes allow
myself to say, that, had not Christianity taken the lead, Mithraicism
would have become the religion of the world. Mithraicism had mysterious
re-unions, and chapels which strongly resembled little churches. It
established a very solid bond of brotherhood between its votaries; it
had the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, and bore such a resemblance to the
Christian mysteries, that the good Justin the Apologist saw only one
explanation of these resemblances: it is that Satan, in order to deceive
the human race, sought to mimic the Christian ceremonies, and committed
this plagiarism. The Mithraic tomb of the Catacombs of Rome is as
edifying and deeply mysterious as the Christian tombs. There were some
devoted Mithraists, who, even after the triumph of Christianity,
defended the sincerity of their faith with courage. The people grouped
themselves around these foreign gods: around the Greek and Italiote gods
there were no gatherings. We must say a good word for it: it is only the
small sects that lay the foundation and build up. It is so sweet to
believe one's self a little aristocracy of truth, to imagine, that, in
common with a very few, one owns the repository of truth! Such a foolish
sect in our own time gives to its adherents more consolation than a more
healthy philosophy. In his day, Abracadabra secured some joyous
followers, and, by means of a little good-will, a sublime theology has
been found in him.

       *       *       *       *       *

We shall see, however, in our next conference, that the religious reign
of the future belonged neither to Serapis, nor to Mithra. The
predestined religion grew imperceptibly in Judæa. This would have
greatly astonished the most sagacious Romans, if it had been announced
to them. It would have been shocking to them in the highest degree. But
so often in history have improbable predictions become true, so often
has wisdom been mistaken, that it is not best to rely too much upon the
likes and dislikes of enlightened men, of _bons esprits_ as we say, when
they undertake to predict the future.


  London, April 9, 1880.




Ladies and Gentlemen,--At our last meeting we attempted to show the
situation of the Roman Empire in regard to religious questions during
the first century. There was in the vast gathering of populations which
composed the empire a pressing want of religion, a true moral progress,
which called for a pure worship without superstitious practices or
bloody sacrifices; a tendency to Monotheism, which made the old
mythological recitals appear ridiculous; a general sentiment of sympathy
and of charity, which inspired the desire of association, of assembling
together for prayer, for support, for consolation, for the assurance
that after death one would be interred by his brethren, who would also
make a little feast in his memory. Asia Minor, Greece, Syria, and Egypt
contained masses of the poor,--very honest men, after their manner,
humble, and without distinction; but revolted at the spectacle which the
Roman aristocracy made, full of horror at those hideous representations
in the theatres, in which Rome made a diversion of suffering. The moral
conscience of the human race sent up an immense protestation, and there
was no priest to interpret it, no pitying God to reply to the sighs of
poor suffering humanity. Slavery, in spite of the protestations of the
sages, remained very cruel. Claudius thought to do a grand and humane
act in making a law that the master who should drive from his house an
old and sick slave should lose his right in that slave, if he were
cured. How could gods without compassion, and born of joy and the
primitive imagination, be expected to console for such evils? A Father
in heaven was required, who kept a record of the efforts of man, and
promised him a recompense. A future of justice was desired, in which the
earth belonged to the feeble and the poor. The assurance was necessary,
that, when a man suffered, it was not an entire loss, and that beyond
those sad horizons, veiled by tears, there were happy fields in which
one day he should console himself for his sorrows. Judaism indeed had
all that. By the institution of the synagogues (do not forget,
gentlemen, that it is from the synagogue that the church comes), it
established association in the most powerful form in which it had ever
been realized. In appearance, at least, the worship was pure Deism; no
images, only scorn and sarcasm for idols. But that which above all
characterized the Jew was his confidence in a brilliant and happy
future for humanity. Having no idea based upon the immortality of the
soul, nor upon the remunerations and punishments beyond the tomb, the
Jew, disciple of the ancient prophet, was as if intoxicated with the
sentiment of justice: he wished justice now upon earth. Having little
confidence in the assurances of the eternity which made the Christians
so easily resigned, the Jew grumbled at Jehovah, reproached him with his
ignorance, and demanded how he could leave the earth so long in the
power of the impious. As for himself, he did not doubt that the earth
would one day be his, and that his law would make love and justice to
reign therein.

In this struggle, gentlemen, the Jew will be victorious. Hope, that
which the Jew calls the _Tiqva_, that assurance of something which
nothing proves, but to which one attaches himself with so much the more
frenzy because it is not sure, is the soul of the Jew. His psalms were
like the continuous sound of a harp, filling life with harmony and a
melancholy faith: his prophets held the words of eternity. For example,
that second Isaiah, the prophet of the captivity, pictured the future
with more dazzling colors than man had ever seen in his dreams. The
Thora, besides that, gives the recipe for being happy (for being happy
here below, I mean), by observing the moral law, the spirit of the
family, and the spirit of duty.


The establishment of the Jews at Rome dated nearly sixty years before
Jesus Christ. They multiplied rapidly. Cicero represented it as an act
of courage to dare to oppose them. Cæsar favored them, and found them
faithful. The people detested them, thought them malevolent, accused
them of forming a secret society whose members were advanced at any
price, to the detriment of others. But all did not approve these
superficial judgments. The Jews had as many friends as detractors:
something superior was noticeable in them. The poor Jewish colporter of
the Trastevere often in the evening returned home rich with the
charities received from a pious hand. Women, above all, were attracted
by these missionaries in rags. Juvenal counts the weakness towards the
Jewish religion among the vices of the ladies of his time. The word of
Zachariah was verified to the letter: the world seized upon the garments
of the Jews, and said, "Lead us to Jerusalem."

The principal Jewish quarter of Rome was situated beyond the Tiber, that
is to say, in the poorest and dirtiest part of the city, probably near
the present _Porta Portese_. There, or rather opposite to the foot of
the Aventine, the gate of Rome was formerly situated, where the
merchandise brought from Ostia in barges was discharged. It was a
quarter of Jews and Syrians,--"nations born for servitude," as Cicero
said. The nucleus of the Jewish population at Rome was formed, in truth,
of freedmen, descended, for the most part, from those prisoners whom
Pompey had carried there. They had passed through slavery, without
changing their religious customs in the least. That which is admirable
in Judaism is that simplicity of faith which makes the Jew, transported
a thousand leagues from his country, at the end of several generations,
always a very Jew. The intercourse between the synagogues of Rome and
Jerusalem was continual. The first colony had been re-enforced with
numerous emigrants. These poor men disembarked by hundreds at the Ripa,
and lived together in the adjacent quarter of the Trastevere, serving as
street-porters, engaged in small affairs, exchanging matches for broken
glasses, and showing to the proud Italiote populations a type which
later became too familiar to them,--that of the beggar accomplished in
his art. A Roman who respected himself never placed his foot in these
abject quarters. It was as a suburb given up to despised classes and to
infectious employments: the tanneries, the gut-works, the rotting vats
were banished there. These unhappy people lived tranquilly enough in
this remote corner, in the midst of bales of merchandise, low inns, and
porters of manure (_Syri_), who had there their general headquarters.
The police only entered there when affrays were bloody, or occurred too
often. Few quarters of Rome were so free: politics had nothing to do
there. Worship was not only practised there in ordinary times without
obstacles, but its propagation was also accomplished with great

Protected by the disdain which they inspired, caring little, moreover,
for the railleries of the men of the world, the Jews of the Trastevere
led a very active religious and social life. They had some schools of
_hakamin_: nowhere was the ritual and ceremonial of the law observed
more scrupulously: the organization of the synagogue was the most
complete ever known. The titles of "father and mother" of the synagogues
were much prized. Some rich converts took biblical names; they brought
their slaves into the church with them, they had the Scriptures
explained by the doctors, built places of prayer, and manifested their
pride of the consideration which they enjoyed in this little world. The
poor Jew found the means, while begging with a trembling voice, to
whisper in the ear of the great Roman lady some words of the law, and
frequently won over the matron who opened to him her hand full of small
coin. To observe the sabbath and the Jewish feasts was to Horace the
trait which classed a man in the crowd of weak minds. The universal
benevolence, the happiness of reposing with the just, the assistance of
the poor, the purity of manners, the gentle acceptance of death
considered as a sleep, are some of the sentiments which are found in the
Jewish inscriptions, with that particular accent of touching unction, of
certain hope, which characterizes the Christian inscriptions. There have
been many rich and powerful Jews in the world, such as Tiberius
Alexander, who arrived at the greatest honors of the empire, who
exercised two or three times the strongest influence upon public
affairs, and even had, to the great grief of the Romans, his statue in
the Forum; but those were not good Jews. The Herods, though practising
their worship at Rome with much show, were also far from being true
Israelites, even if their only sins were their relations with the

A world of ideas was thus set in motion on the vulgar quay where the
merchandise of the whole world was piled up; but all that would be lost
in a great city like Paris. Undoubtedly the proud patricians, who, in
their promenades on the Aventine, cast their eyes upon the other side of
the Tiber, did not imagine the future that was forming itself in that
little cluster of poor houses at the foot of Janiculum.

Near the port was a sort of lodging-house well known to the people and
the soldiers under the name of _Taberna Meritoria_. In order to attract
the loungers, a pretended spring of oil coming out of a rock was shown
there. From a very early time this spring of oil was considered by the
Christians as symbolic: it was pretended that its appearance was
coincident with the birth of Jesus. It seems that later the _Taberna_
became a church. Under Alexander Severus we find the Christians and the
inn-keepers in a contest over a place which formerly had been public:
that good emperor gave it to the Christians. This is probably the origin
of the Church of the Santa Maria of the Trastevere.

It is natural that the capital should have fully accepted the name of
Jesus before the intermediate countries could be evangelized, as a high
summit is lighted up while the valleys between it and the sun are still
obscure. Rome was the rendezvous for all the Oriental worships,--the
point upon the coast of the Mediterranean with which the Syrians had the
most intercourse. They arrived there in enormous bands. Like all the
poor populations rising for the assault of the great cities to which
they come to seek their fortunes, they were serviceable and humble. All
the world spoke Greek. The ancient Roman plebeians, attached to the old
customs, lost ground each day, drowned as they were in this wave of

We admit then, that towards the year 50 of our era, some Syrian Jews,
already Christians, entered the capital of the empire, and communicated
the faith which rendered them happy to their companions. At this time no
one suspected that the founder of a second empire was in Rome,--a second
Romulus, lodging at the port in a bed of straw. A little band was
formed. These ancestors of the Roman prelates were poor, dirty, common
people, without distinction, without manners, clothed with fetid
garments, having the bad breath of men who are badly fed. Their
dwellings had that odor of misery which is exhaled from persons grossly
clothed and nourished, and huddled together in narrow rooms. We know the
names of two Jews who were the most prominent in these movements. They
were Aquila, a Jew, originally from Pontus, who was like St. Paul an
upholsterer, and Priscilla his wife,--a pious couple. Banished from Rome
they took refuge at Corinth, where they soon became the intimate friends
of St. Paul, and zealous workers with him. Thus Aquila and Priscilla are
the most ancient known members of the Church of Rome. There is scarcely
a souvenir of them there. Tradition, always unjust, because it is always
ruled by political motives, has expelled these two obscure workmen from
the Christian Pantheon in order to attribute the honor of the foundation
of the Church of Rome to a name more in keeping with its proud
pretensions. We do not see the original point of the origin of
Occidental Christianity in the theatrical Basilica consecrated to St.
Peter: it is at that ancient _Ghetto_, the _Porta Portese_. It is in
tracing these poor vagabond Jews, who bore with them the religion of the
world,--these suffering men, dreaming in their misery of the kingdom of
God,--that we shall find it again. We do not dispute with Rome its
essential title. Rome was probably the first point in the Western World,
and even in Europe, where Christianity was established.

But, instead of these lofty basilicas, in place of these insulting
devices,--_Christus vincit_, _Christus regnat_, _Christus imperat_,--it
would be better to raise a poor chapel to these good Jews who first
pronounced on the quay of Rome the name of Jesus.

A capital trait, which it is important to note in any case, is, that the
Church of Rome was not, like the churches of Asia Minor, Macedonia, and
Greece, a foundation of the school of Paul. It was fundamentally
Judæan-Christian, re-attaching itself directly to the Church of
Jerusalem. Paul here will never be on his own ground: he will find in
this great church many weaknesses which he will treat with indulgence,
but which will wound his exalted idealism. Attached to circumcision and
outward observances, Ebionite through its taste for abstinences, and by
its doctrine concerning the person and death of Jesus more Jewish than
Christian, leaning strongly towards Millenarianism, the Roman Church
showed, since its first days, the essential traits which will
distinguish it through its long history. Own daughter of Jerusalem, the
Roman Church will always have an ascetic, sacerdotal character, opposed
to the Protestant tendencies of Paul. Peter will be its veritable head;
then, the political and hierarchical spirit of old Rome penetrating it,
it will indeed become the new Jerusalem, the city of the Pontificate, of
the hieratic and solemn religion, of the material sacraments which
justify of themselves, the city of the ascetics of the manner of Jacques
Ohliam with his callous knees and his plate of gold upon his brow. It
will be the authoritative church. If we can believe it, the only mark of
the apostolic mission will be to show a letter signed by the apostles,
to produce a certificate of orthodoxy. The good and the evil which the
Church of Jerusalem did in giving birth to Christianity, the Church of
Rome will do for the Universal Church. It is in vain that Paul will
address to it his beautiful epistle to explain the mystery of the cross
of Jesus and of salvation by faith alone. The Church of Rome will
scarcely comprehend it; but Luther four and a half centuries later will
comprehend it, and will open a new era in a secular series of the
alternate triumphs of Peter and Paul.


An important event in the history of the world took place in the year
61. Paul was led a prisoner to Rome in order to follow up the appeal
which he had made to the tribunal of the emperor. A sort of profound
instinct had always made Paul desire this journey. His arrival at Rome
was almost as marked an event in his life as his conversion. He believed
that he had attained the summit of his apostolic life; and doubtless he
recalled the dream in which, after one of his days of struggle, Christ
had appeared to him, and said, "Be of good cheer, Paul; for as thou hast
testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome."

You will not forget the wide divisions which separated the disciples
of Jesus during the first century from the foundation of
Christianity,--divisions so broad, that all the differences which to-day
separate the orthodox, the heretics, and the schismatics of the whole
world, are nothing beside the dissensions of Peter and Paul. The Church
of Jerusalem, obstinately attached to Judaism, refused all intercourse
with the uncircumcised, however pious they might be. Paul, on the
contrary, thought that to maintain the ancient law was an injury to
Jesus, since thus it might be supposed, that, outside the merits of
Jesus, such or such a work could serve for the justification of the
faithful. However strange it may appear, it is certain that the
Judæan-Christians of Jerusalem, with James at their head, organized some
active contra-missions in order to combat the effect of the missions of
Paul, and that the emissaries of these ardent conservatives followed in
some sort the lead of the apostle of the Gentiles. Peter belonged to the
party at Jerusalem, but showed in his conduct that sort of timid
moderation which seems to have been the foundation of his character. Did
Peter also come to Rome? Formerly, gentlemen, this question was one of
the most exciting which could be agitated. Formerly the history of
religion was written, not to recount it, but in order to prove it:
religious history was an annex of theology. During the grand revolt, so
full of courage and of ardent conviction, which, during the sixteenth
century, placed one-half of Europe in opposition to Rome, the negation
of the sojourn of Peter at Rome became a sort of dogma. The Bishop of
Rome is the successor of St. Peter, said the Catholics, and as such the
head of Christendom. How could that reasoning be more strongly refuted
than by maintaining that Peter never placed his foot in Rome?

As for us, we are permitted to regard this question with the most
perfect disinterestedness. We do not believe, in any sense, that Jesus
intended to give any head whatever to his church; and above all, it is
doubtful whether the idea of such a church as developed later had
existed in the mind of the founder of Christianity. The word _ecclesia_
occurs only in the Gospel of St. Matthew. The idea of the _episcopos_,
as it existed in the second century, had no place in the mind of Jesus.
He himself was the living _episcopos_ during his brief Galilean
appearance: from that time it is the Spirit who inspires each one until
he may return. In any case, if it had been possible that Jesus should
have had any idea whatever of the _ecclesia_ and _episcopos_, it is
absolutely beyond doubt, that Jesus never thought of giving the future
_episcopos_ of the city of Rome to be the head of his church,--that
impious city, the centre of all the impurities of the earth, of whose
existence he perhaps knew scarcely any thing, and of which he should
have entertained the gloomy opinions which all the Jews professed. If
there is any thing in the world which was not instituted by Jesus, it is
the Papacy, that is to say, the idea that the Church is a monarchy. We
are, then, perfectly at liberty to discuss the question of Peter's
coming to Rome. This question is absolutely without consequence for us;
and from our solution the only result will be to say whether Leo XIII.
is or is not the head of the Christian conscience. Whether Peter was or
was not in Rome, it has for us no political nor moral bearing. It is a
curious question of history: it is useless to pursue it further.

First, let us say, that the Catholics have laid themselves open to the
peremptory objections of their adversaries by their unfortunate
reckoning of the coming of Peter to Rome in the year 42,--a reckoning
borrowed from Eusebius and St. Jerome, which extends the duration of the
pontificate of Peter to twenty-three or twenty-four years. There is
nothing more inadmissible. In order to leave no doubt in regard to this,
it is sufficient to consider that the persecution of Peter at Jerusalem
by Herod Agrippa occurred in the year 44. It would be superfluous to
oppose longer a thesis which can have no one reasonable defence. It is
possible, in fact, to go much further, and to affirm that Peter had not
yet come to Rome when Paul was taken there, that is to say, in the year
61. The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, written about the year 58, is a
very considerable argument here. One can scarcely imagine St. Paul
writing to the faithful, of whom St. Peter was the head, without making
the least mention of the latter. The last chapter of the Acts of the
Apostles is still more demonstrative. This chapter, especially from the
seventeenth to the twenty-ninth verse, cannot be explained, if Peter
was at Rome when Paul arrived there. Let us, then, consider it
absolutely certain that Peter did not come to Rome before Paul, that is
to say, before or about the year 61.

But did he not come there after Paul? This has never been positively
proved; this late journey of Peter's to Rome was not only probable, but
there are strong arguments in its favor. Besides the testimony of the
Fathers of the second and third centuries, there are three reasons which
do not appear to me unworthy:--

1st, It is indisputably certain that Peter suffered a martyr's death.
The testimony of the fourth evangelist, of Clement Romanus, of the
fragment which is called the "_Canon de Muratori_," of Denis of Corinth,
of Caius, of Tertullian, leave no doubt in this respect. Let the fourth
Gospel be apocryphal, allow that chapter xxi. has been added in later
times, it makes no difference. It is clear, that, in the verses in which
Jesus announces to Peter that he shall die by the same suffering as his
own, we have the expression of an opinion established in the Church
about 120 or 130, to which allusions are made as to a fact known to all.
Now, it is not possible to imagine that Peter died a martyr outside of
Rome. It was only at Rome, in fact, that the persecution of Nero was
violent. At Jerusalem, at Antioch, the martyrdom of Peter would have
been much less probable.

2d, The second reason is found in the Epistle attributed to St. Peter
(v. 13): "The church that is at Babylon ... saluteth you." Babylon, in
this passage, evidently indicates Rome. If the Epistle is authentic, the
passage is decisive: if it is apocryphal, the conclusion to be drawn
from the text is not weakened. The author, in short, whoever he may be,
wishes it to be regarded as the work of Peter. He was consequently
forced, in order to give an appearance of truth to his fraud, to arrange
the circumstances which he related, according to what he knew, or
believed was known in his time, of the life of Peter. If, in such a
spirit, he dated the letter at Rome, it shows, that, in his day, it was
the general opinion that Peter had resided at Rome. But, in any case,
the First Epistle of Peter is a very ancient work, and had very early a
high authority.

3d, The theory which is founded upon the Ebionite Acts of St. Peter is
also worthy of much consideration. This theory represents St. Peter as
following Simon the Magician everywhere (according to St. Paul), in
order to dispute his false doctrines. M. Lipsius has shown an admirable
critical sagacity in his analysis of this legend. He has shown that the
base of all the different versions of it which have come to us was
written about the year 130. It seems improbable that an Ebionite author
of such early date could have given so much importance to Peter's
journey to Rome, if this journey had not taken place in reality. The
theory of the Ebionite legend must contain some truth at the bottom, in
spite of the fables which are mingled with it. It is quite admissible
that St. Peter might have come to Rome, as he went to Antioch, following
St. Paul, and in part to neutralize his influence. The missions of St.
Paul, and the facility which the Jews had acquired in their voyages had
made long expeditions quite the custom. The apostle Philip is even
represented by an ancient and persistent tradition as having settled
himself in Hierapolis, in Asia Minor.

I regard, then, as probable, the tradition of the sojourn of Peter at
Rome; but I believe that this sojourn was short, and that Peter suffered
martyrdom soon after his arrival in the Eternal City.


You know the mystery which hovers above the history of primitive
Christianity, which we might desire to know more in detail. The death of
the apostles Peter and Paul remains enveloped in a veil which will never
be penetrated. That which appears the most probable is, that they both
disappeared in the great massacre of Christians commanded by Nero.

On the 19th of July, in the year 64, a violent fire burst out at Rome.
It originated in that portion of the great Circus near to the Palatine
and C[oe]lian Hills. In this quarter there were many little shops,
filled with inflammable matter, in which the flames spread with
prodigious rapidity. Thence it made the turn of the Palatine, ravaged
the Velabra, the Forum, the Carinæ, ascended the hills, greatly injured
the Palatine, descended again to the valleys, devouring compact
quarters, and piercing tortuous streets, continuing six days and seven
nights. An enormous pile of houses which were torn down near the foot of
the Esquiline, arrested its progress for a time; then it again broke
out, and endured three days more. A considerable number of people
perished. Of the fourteen portions which composed the city, three were
entirely destroyed; of seven, only blackened walls remained. Rome was an
extremely compact city, and the population very dense. This disaster was
frightful, and the like of it had never before been seen.

When the fire broke out, Nero was at Antium. He returned to the city
about the time when it approached his "transitory" house. It was not
possible to arrest the flames. The imperial houses of the Palatine, the
"transitory" house itself with its dependencies, and the whole
surrounding quarter, were destroyed. Nero did not seem much to regret
the loss of his house. The sublime horror of the spectacle transported
him. Later it was said that he had watched the fire from a tower, where,
in a theatrical costume, with a lyre in his hand, he chanted the ruin of
Ilion to the rhythm of an ancient elegy.

This was a legend, the fruit of a period of successive exaggerations;
but one point upon which the universal opinion was decisive from the
first was, that Nero had commanded this fire, or at least had revived it
when it seemed about to die out.

These suspicions were confirmed by the fact, that, after the fire, Nero,
under pretext of removing the ruins at his own cost, in order to leave
the place free to the proprietors, undertook to clear away the _débris_;
and the people were not allowed to approach. This seemed worse when it
was seen that he drew from the ruins what belonged to the country, when
the new palace, that "golden house" which had been the plaything of his
delirious imagination, was seen rising upon the site of the ancient
provisory residence, enlarged by the spaces which the fire had cleared.

It was believed that he had desired to prepare the place for his new
palace, to justify the reconstruction which he had long contemplated, to
procure money by appropriating the wreck of the fire, in short, to
satisfy his mad vanity, which led him to desire to rebuild the whole of
Rome, so that it might date from him, and be called Neropolis.

All the honest men of the city were outraged. The most precious
antiquities of Rome, the houses of the ancient leaders, decorated with
triumphal spoils, the most holy objects, the trophies, the ancient
_ex-votos_, the most revered temples, all the belongings of the old
worship of the Romans, had disappeared. It was as if they mourned the
souvenirs and the traditions of the whole country. They celebrated
expiatory services; they consulted the books of the Sibyl: the ladies
especially observed various _piacula_. But the secret consciousness of a
crime and infamy still remained.

Then an infernal idea took possession of the mind of Nero. He cast about
to see if he could find anywhere some miserable wretches, still more
detested by the Roman plebeians than himself, upon whom he could rest
the odium of the incendiarism. He thought of the Christians. The horror
which they testified towards the temples and the most venerated edifices
of the Romans made the idea plausible, that they should have been the
authors of this fire, the result of which was the destruction of these
sanctuaries. Their air of sadness in regarding the monuments appeared
like an injury to the nation. Rome was a very religious city, and
whoever protested against the national worship was at once remarked. It
should be remembered that certain rigorous Jews went so far as to refuse
to touch money which bore an effigy: they even saw a great crime in
bearing or looking at an image, unless engaged in the occupation of
carving. Others refused to pass beneath a city gate surmounted by a
statue. All this excited the ridicule and ill-will of the people.
Perhaps the idea that the Christians were incendiaries gained force from
their manner of talking about the final conflagration, their sinister
prophecies, their love of reiterating that the world would soon be
ended, and ended by fire. It is even admissible that some of the
faithful might have committed imprudences, and that there were pretexts
for accusing them of having wished, by anticipating the celestial
flames, to justify their oracles, at any price. Four and a half years
later the Apocalypse was to present a chant upon the burning of Rome,
for which the event of 64 probably furnished more than one feature. The
destruction of Rome by fire had been a Christian and Jewish dream; and
it was not merely a dream: the pious sectaries were pleased to see in
spirit the saints and angels applauding from the heights of heaven what
they regarded as a just expiation.

A certain number of persons suspected of belonging to the new sect were
arrested, and thrown into prison, which was of itself a punishment. The
first arrests were followed by many others. The people were surprised at
the multitude of converts who had accepted these gloomy doctrines: it
was only spoken of with alarm. All sensible men considered the
accusation of having caused the fire as extremely weak. "Their true
crime," said they, "is hatred of the human race." Although persuaded
that the burning was the crime of Nero, many serious Romans saw in this
work of the police a mode of delivering the city from a dreadful
nuisance. Tacitus, in spite of his pity, was of this opinion. And
Suetonius counted the sufferings which Nero heaped upon the partisans of
the new and mischievous superstitions as among his laudable measures.

These sufferings were something frightful. Such refinements of cruelty
had never been seen. Almost all those arrested were of the _humiliores_
(the poorest classes). The sentence of these unfortunates, when it
concerned high treason or sacrilege, was to be thrown to the beasts, or
to be burned alive in the amphitheatre. One of the most hideous traits
of Roman manners was that of making a _fête_, a public amusement, of
these tortures. The amphitheatres had become places of execution: the
tribunals furnished the victims. The condemned of the entire world were
forwarded to Rome for the provisionment of the circus and the amusement
of the people. At this time derision was added to the barbarism of these
tortures. The victims were kept for a feast day, to which was given,
without doubt, an expiatory character. "The morning spectacle,"
consecrated to the combats of animals, presented an appearance hitherto
unknown. The condemned, covered with the tawny skins of beasts, were
hurried into the arena, where they were torn by dogs. Some were
crucified: others, reclothed with tunics steeped in oil, wax, or resin,
were bound to posts, and reserved to light up the evening _fêtes_. When
the day lowered, these living torches were ignited. For this spectacle,
Nero offered his magnificent gardens beyond the Tiber, which occupied
the site of the present Borgo, the Square, and the Church of St. Peter.
Near by was a circus commenced by Caligula, in which the middle of the
_Spina_ was marked by an obelisk brought from Heliopolis (the same one
which in our day stands in the centre of the Square of St. Peter). This
place had already been the scene of massacres by the light of torches.
Caligula, in one of his walks, decapitated a certain number of consular
personages, senators, and Roman ladies, by the light of torches. The
idea of replacing lanterns by human bodies impregnated with inflammable
substances had occurred to the ingenious Nero. Burning alive was not a
new mode of suffering; it was the ordinary penance of incendiaries: but
it had never been made a system of illumination. By the light of these
hideous torches, Nero, who had established the custom of evening
entertainments, showed himself in the arena, sometimes mingling with the
people in the dress of a charioteer, sometimes conducting his chariot
and seeking applause. Women and young girls were involved in these
horrible games: a _fête_ was made of the nameless indignities which they
suffered. Under Nero, the custom was established of compelling the
condemned to play in the amphitheatre some mythological part entailing
the death of the actor. These hideous operas, where mechanical science
attained to prodigious effects, were very popular. The miserable wretch
was introduced into the arena, richly costumed as god or hero devoted to
death. He then represented by his suffering some tragic scene of the
fables consecrated by sculptors and poets. Sometimes it was the furious
Hercules burned on Mount [OE]ta, tearing the waxed tunic from his skin;
sometimes Orpheus torn in pieces by a bear; Dædalus thrown from heaven,
and devoured by beasts; Pasiphæ struggling in the embraces of the bull;
Attys murdered. Sometimes there were horrible masquerades, in which the
men were dressed like priests of Saturn with a red cloak, the women as
priestesses of Ceres with fillets on the brow; finally, at other times,
some dramatic work of the time, in which the hero was really condemned
to death as Laureolus; or the representations were those of such tragic
acts as that of Mucius Scævola. At the end of these hideous spectacles,
Mercury, with a red-hot iron wand, touched each corpse to see if it
moved. Some masked valets, dressed like Pluto or Orcus, dragged away the
dead by the feet, killing with hammers all who still breathed. The
Christian ladies of the highest respectability even suffered these
monstrosities. Some played the _rôle_ of the Danaïdes, others that of
Dirce. It is difficult to say what fable furnishes a more bloody picture
than that of the Danaïdes. The suffering which all mythological
tradition attributes to these guilty women was not cruel enough to
suffice for the pleasure of Nero and the _habitués_ of his amphitheatre.
Sometimes they were led out bearing urns, and received the fatal blow
from an actor figuring as Lynceus. Sometimes these unhappy beings went
through the series of the sufferings of Tartarus before the spectators,
and only died after hours of torments. The representations of Hell were
quite _à la mode_. Some years previous (the year 41), some Egyptians and
Nubians came to Rome, and made a great success in giving evening
performances, in which they displayed in order the horrors of the
subterranean world, conforming to the paintings of the burial-places of
Thebes, notably those of the tomb of Seti I.

As for the sufferings of the Dirces, there was no doubt about them.
People know the colossal group now in the Museum of Naples, called the
_Toro Farnese_,--Amphion and Zethus attaching Dirce to the horns of an
unmanageable bull, which is to drag her over the rocks and briers of
Cithæron. This mediocre Rhodian marble, brought to Rome in the time of
Augustus, was the object of universal admiration. How could there be a
finer subject for the hideous art which the cruelty of the time had made
in vogue, and which consisted in reproducing the celebrated statues in
living tableaux? An inscription and a fresco of Pompeii seem to prove
that this terrible scene was frequently repeated in the arenas, when a
woman was the sufferer. Naked, attached by the hair to the horns of a
furious bull, these poor wretches glutted the eyes of a ferocious
people. Some of the Christians immolated in this way were feeble in
body: their courage was superhuman. But the infamous crowd had eyes
alone for their torn bowels and lacerated bosoms.

After the day when Jesus expired in Golgotha, the _fête_ day in the
Gardens of Nero (it may be fixed about the first of August, 64) was the
most solemn in the history of Christianity. The solidity of any
construction is in proportion to the sum of virtue, of sacrifices, and
of devotion which has been laid down at its base. Only fanatics lay
foundations. Judaism endures still on account of the intense frenzy of
its zealots; Christianity, on account of its first witnesses. The orgy
of Nero was the grand baptism of blood which set Rome apart as the city
of martyrs in order to play a distinct _rôle_ in the history of
Christianity and to be the second Holy City. It was the taking
possession of the Vatican Hill by conquerors hitherto unknown there. The
odious, hair-brained man who governed the world did not perceive that he
was the founder of a new order, and that he signed a charter for the
future, the effects of which would be claimed after eighteen hundred


As we have said, it is allowable, without improbability, to connect the
deaths of the apostles Peter and Paul with the account which we have
just given. The only historical incident known, by which the martyrdom
of Peter can be explained, is the episode recounted by Tacitus. Some
solid reasons also lead us to believe that Paul suffered the death of a
martyr at Rome. It is then natural to suppose that he also died in the
massacre of July and August, 64. As to the manner of death of the two
apostles, we know with certainty that Peter was crucified. According to
some ancient writings, his wife was executed with him, and he saw her
led to the sacrifice. One accepted account of the third century says,
that, too humble to equal Jesus, he suffered with his head down. The
characteristic trait of the butchery of 64 having been the search for
odious rarities in torture, it is possible that in truth Peter was shown
to the crowd in this hideous attitude. Seneca mentions some cases in
which tyrants have been known to turn the heads of the crucified towards
the earth. Christian piety has seen a mystical refinement in that which
was indeed an odd caprice of the executioner. Perhaps this extract from
the Fourth Gospel--"Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another
shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not"--includes
some allusion to a peculiarity in the suffering of Peter. Paul, in his
quality of _honestior_, had his head cut off. It is also probable that
he was judged regularly, and that he was not included in the summary
condemnations of the victims in the _fête_ of Nero. All that, I repeat,
is doubtful, and of little importance. True or not, the legend is
believed. At the commencement of the third century, near Rome, there
were already seen two monuments bearing the names of Peter and Paul. One
was situated at the foot of the Vatican Hill, that of St. Peter: the
other, in the way to Ostia, was that of St. Paul. They were called in
oratorial style the trophies of the apostles. In the fourth century two
basilicas were raised above these trophies. One of them is the present
basilica of St. Peter: the other, St. Paul-without-the-Walls, has
retained its essential features until our own century.

Did the trophies which the Christians venerated about the year 200
designate the spots upon which these apostles suffered? It is possible.
It is not unlikely that Paul, toward the end of his life, dwelt in the
suburb which extended beyond the Lavernal gate as far as the pine of the
Salvian springs in the way to Ostia. The shade of Peter, on the other
hand, wanders always, according to the Christian legend, towards the
turpentine-tree of the Vatican, not far from the gardens of the Circus
of Nero, and especially about the obelisk. It may be that the ancient
place of the obelisk in the sacristy of St. Peter, now indicated by an
inscription, is nearer to the place where St. Peter upon the cross of
his frightful agony surfeited the eyes of a populace greedy to see him
suffer. However, that is a secondary question. If the basilica of the
Vatican does not really cover the tomb of St. Peter, it points out not
the less for our remembrance one of the spots most truly hallowed by
Christianity. The place which the seventeenth century surrounded with a
theatrical colonnade was a second Calvary; and, even supposing that
Peter was not crucified there, at least we cannot doubt the sufferings
of the Danaïdes and the Dirces.

       *       *       *       *       *

We shall show in our next assembly how tradition disposes of all these
doubts, and how the Church consummates reconciliation between Peter and
Paul, which death perhaps began. This was the price of success. The
Judæan-Christianity of Peter and the Hellenism of Paul, apparently
irreconcilable, were equally necessary to the success of the future
work. The Judæan-Christianity represented the conservative spirit
without which nothing is solid; Hellenism, advance and progress, without
which nothing truly exists. Life is the result of a conflict between two
contrary forces. The absence of all revolutionary spirit is as fatal as
the excess of revolution.


  London, April 13, 1880.





Almost always the nations created to play a part in universal
civilization, like Judæa, Greece, and the Italy of the renaissance,
exercise their full action upon the world, only after becoming victims
to their own grandeur. They must first die; then the world lives on
them, assimilates to itself that which they have created at the price of
their fever and their sufferings. Nations ought to choose in fact
between the long, tranquil, obscure destiny of that which lives for
itself, and the troubled, stormy career of that which lives for
humanity. The nation which works out social and religious problems in
its own bosom is almost always weak politically. Every country which
dreams of a kingdom of God, which lives for general ideas, which pursues
a work of universal interest, sacrifices through the same its individual
destiny, enfeebles and destroys its _rôle_ as a terrestrial country.
One can never set himself on fire with impunity. Since Judæa made the
religious conquest of the world, it was necessary that she should
disappear as a nation. A revolution of extreme violence broke out in
this country in the year 66. During four years, this strange race, which
seemed created to defy equally that which blessed and that which cursed
it, was in a convulsion before which the historian should pause with
respect as he would before all mystery.

The causes of this crisis were very old, and the crisis itself was
inevitable. The Mosaic law, a work of exalted Utopians possessed of a
powerful socialist ideal,--the least politic of men,--was, like the
Islam, exclusive of a civil society parallel with a religious society.
This law, which appears to have been drawn up, as we now read it, in the
seventh century before Jesus Christ, would have been the means of
destroying the little kingdom of the descendants of David, even without
the Assyrian conquest. Since the preponderance assumed by the prophetic
element, the kingdom of Judah--embroiled with all its neighbors, seized
with a permanent rage against Tyre, hating Edom, Moab, and Ammon--could
no longer survive. I repeat, a nation which devotes itself to social and
religious problems neglects its politics. The day in which Israel became
"a peculiar people of God, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation," it was
written that she should no longer be a nation as other nations.
Contrary destinies cannot be united: an exaltation is always expiated by
an abasement.

The Achemenidean kingdom gave Israel little repose. This grand
feudality, tolerant towards all provincial differences, almost analogous
to the Califat of Bagdad and to the Ottoman Empire, was the rule under
which the Jews found themselves most at ease. The Ptolemaic rule in the
third century before Jesus Christ seemed equally sympathetic to them:
there were even no Seleucidæ. Antioch had become an active centre of
Hellenic propagandism. Antiochus Epiphanus felt it necessary to set up
everywhere the image of Jupiter Olympus as the sign of his power. Then
broke out the first great Jewish revolt against profane civilization.
Israel had patiently supported the disappearance of its political
existence since Nebuchadnezzar. It retained no measure in which it saw a
danger to its religious institutions. A race, in general not military,
was seized with an access of heroism; without a regular army, without
generals, without tactics, it conquered the Seleucidæ, maintained its
revealed rights, and created a second period of autonomy. The Asmonean
royalty, nevertheless, was always distracted by profound interior vices.
It endured but one century. The destiny of the Jewish people was not to
constitute a separate nationality. That people dreamed always of
something international. Its ideal was not the city, it was the
synagogue, the free congregation. The same is true of the Islam, which
has created an immense empire, but has destroyed all nationality, in the
sense in which we understand it, among the peoples which it has
subjugated, and leaves them no other country than the mosque and the

The name of theocracy is often applied to such a social condition, and
rightly so, if we mean by it that the profound idea of the Semitic
religions, and of the empires which came out from them, is the kingdom
of God considered as the master of the world, and universal suzerain.
But theocracy with these nations was not synonymous with the domination
of priests. The priest, properly speaking, plays an unimportant _rôle_
in the history of Judaism and Islamism. The power belongs to the
representative of God,--to him whom God inspires, to the prophet, to the
holy man, to him who has received his mission from Heaven, and who
proves his mission by a miracle, that is to say, by success. In default
of a prophet, the power belongs to the author of apocalypses, and of
apocryphal books attributed to the ancient prophets, or, better, to the
doctor who interprets the divine law, to the head of the synagogue, and,
still more, to the head of the family who guards the depository of the
law, and transmits it to his children. A civil power, a royalty, has
little to do with such social organization. This organization never
works better than among spread-out peoples, under the rights of
tolerated foreigners, in a grand empire where uniformity does not rule.
It is the nature of Judaism to be politically subordinate, since it
cannot draw from its own bosom a principle of military power. Its
_animus_ has been to form communities with their own laws and their own
magistrates in the midst of other states, until modern liberalism
introduced the principle of the equality of all before the law.

The Roman rule, established in Judæa sixty-three years before Christ by
the armies of Pompey, seemed at first to realize some of the conditions
of Jewish life. Rome at this epoch did not pursue the policy of
assimilating the countries which she annexed to her vast empire. She
robbed them of the right of peace and war, and arrogated to herself only
the arbitration in great political questions.

Under the degenerated remains of the Asmonean dynasty and under the
Herods, the Jewish nation preserved a half independence, in which its
religious state was respected. But the interior feeling of the people
was too strong. Beyond a certain degree of religious fanaticism, man is
ungovernable. It should be said that Rome strove without ceasing to
render her power in the East more effective. The little vassal kingdoms
which she had at first preserved, disappeared day by day, and the
provinces made returns to the empire pure and simple. The administrative
customs of the Romans, even in their most reasonable aspects, were
odious to the Jews. In general, the Romans showed the greatest
condescension to the fastidious scruples of the nation; but that was not
sufficient: things had come to a point where nothing could be done
without touching upon a canonical question. These absolute religions,
like Islamism and Judaism, allow no participation: if they do not reign,
they call themselves persecuted. If they feel themselves protected, they
become exacting, and seek to render life impossible to other worships
about them.

I should depart from my plan if I recounted to you that strange struggle
of which Josephus tells us,--the terror in Jerusalem, Simon Bar-Gioras,
commandant in the city, John of Giscala with his assassins, master of
the temple. Fanatical movements are far from excluding hate, jealousy,
and defiance, from those who take part in them. Very decided and
passionate men associated together ordinarily suspect each other, and in
this there is a force; for reciprocal suspicion establishes terror among
them, binds them as with an iron chain, hinders defections and moments
of weakness. Interest creates the _coterie_. Absolute principles create
division, and inspire the temptation to decimate, to expel, to kill
enemies. Those who judge human affairs superficially believe that a
revolution is quelled when the revolutionists "eat one another," as it
is expressed. It is, on the contrary, a proof that the revolution has
all its energy, that an impersonal ardor presides over it. This is
nowhere more clearly seen than in the terrible drama at Jerusalem. The
actors seem to have entered into the compact of death like some infernal
rounds, in which, according to the belief of the middle ages, Satan was
seen forming a chain to draw into a fantastic gulf numbers of men,
dancing, and holding each other by the hand. So revolution allows no one
to escape from the dance which it leads. Terror is behind the lukewarm.
Turn by turn, exalting some, and exalted by others, they rush into the
abyss. None can recede; for behind each one is a concealed sword, which,
at the moment that he wishes to draw back, forces him to advance.

The strangest thing of all is that these madmen were not wholly wrong.
The fanatics of Jerusalem, who affirmed that Jerusalem was eternal even
while it was burning, were nearer the truth than those who regarded them
as mere assassins. They deceived themselves upon the military question,
but not upon the distant religious result. These troubled days point
out, in fact, the moment when Jerusalem became the spiritual capital of
the world. The Apocalypse, a burning expression of the love which she
inspired, has taken its place among the religious writings of humanity,
and has there consecrated the image of the beloved city. Ah, how
important it is never to predict the future of a saint or a villain, a
fool or a sage! Jerusalem, a city of common people, would have pursued
indefinitely its uninteresting history. It is because it had the
incomparable honor of being the cradle of Christianity, that it was the
victim of the Johns of Giscala, of the Bar-Gioras,--in appearance the
scourges of their country, in reality the instruments of its apotheosis.
These zealots, whom Josephus treats as brigands and assassins, were
politicians of the highest order, but unskilful soldiers: still they
lost heroically a country which could not be saved. They lost a material
city: they established the spiritual reign of Jerusalem, sitting in her
desolation far more glorious than she was in the days of Herod and of
Solomon. What did these conservatives, these Sadducees, really desire?
They wished something mean,--the continuation of a city of priests like
Emesa, Tyane, Comane. Assuredly they did not deceive themselves when
they declared that the surging enthusiasm was the ruin of the nation.
Revolution and Messianism destroyed the national existence of the Jewish
people; but revolution and Messianism were the true vocation of this
people,--that by which they contributed to the universal civilization.


The victory of Rome was complete. A captain of our race, of our blood, a
man like us, at the head of legions in whose roll, if we could read it,
we should meet many of our ancestors, had come to crush the fortress of
Semitism, to inflict upon the revealed, accepted law the greatest injury
which it had received. It was the triumph of Roman right, or rather
rational right, a creation utterly philosophical, presupposing no
revelation, above the Jewish Thora, the fruit of a revelation. This
right, whose roots were partly Greek, but in which the practical genius
of the Latins made so fine a part, was the excellent gift which Rome
brought to the vanquished in return for their independence. Each victory
for Rome was a victory for right. Rome bore into the world a better
principle in several respects than that of the Jews: I mean the profane
state, reposing on a purely civil conception of society.

The triumph of Titus was then legitimate in many ways, and still there
never was a more useless triumph. The deplorable religious nothingness
of Rome rendered its victory unfruitful. This victory did not retard the
progress of Judaism a single day: it did not give the religion of the
empire an added chance to struggle against this redoubtable rival. The
national existence of the Jewish people was lost forever; but that was a
blessing. The true glory of Judaism was Christianity, about to be born.
The ruin of Jerusalem and the temple was an unequalled good for

If the reasoning of Titus according to Tacitus is correctly reported,
the victorious general believed that the destruction of the temple would
be the ruin of Christianity as well as that of Judaism. No one was ever
more completely deceived. The Romans imagined, that, in tearing up the
root, they should eradicate the shoot at the same time; but the shoot
was already a shrub that lived its own life. If the temple had survived,
Christianity would certainly have been arrested in its development. The
surviving temple would have continued to be the centre of all Judaic
works. It would always have been regarded as the most holy place of the
world: pilgrims would have come there, and would there have brought
their tributes. The Church of Jerusalem, grouped around by consecrated
parvises, would have continued, by the strength of its primacy, to
receive the homage of all the world, to persecute the Christians of the
Church of Paul, to exact, that, in order to have the right to call one's
self the disciple of Jesus, one should practise the circumcision, and
observe the Mosaic code. All effectual propagandism would have been
interdicted: letters of obedience signed at Jerusalem would have been
exacted from the missionary. A centre of irrefragable authority, a
patriarchate composed of a sort of college of cardinals under the
presidency of men like James, pure Jews belonging to the family of
Jesus, would have been established, and would have constituted an
immense danger for the new-born Church. When one sees St. Paul after so
many mishaps remaining always attached to the Church of Jerusalem, one
understands what difficulties a rupture with these holy personages would
have presented. Such a schism would have been considered as an enormity.
The separation from Judaism would have been impossible; and this
separation was the indispensable condition of the existence of the new
religion. The mother was about to kill the child. The temple, on the
contrary, once destroyed, the Christians thought no more of it: very
soon, indeed, they will consider it a profane place: Jesus will be every
thing to them. The Christian Church of Jerusalem was by the same stroke
reduced to a secondary importance. It was re-organized around the
element which made its force, the _desposyni_, the members of the family
of Jesus, the sons of Clopas; but it will reign no more. This centre of
hate and exclusion once destroyed, the reconciliation of the opposing
parties in the Church of Jesus will become easy. Peter and Paul will be
brought into accord, and the terrible duality of the new-born
Christianity will cease to be a mortal sore. Lost in the depth of the
interior of the Batanæa and the Hauran, the little group which attached
itself to James and Clopas becomes the Ebionite sect, and slowly dies.

These relatives of Jesus were pious, tranquil, mild, modest,
hard-working men, faithful to the severest precepts of Jesus concerning
poverty, but at the same time very exact Jews, considering the title of
"Child of Israel" before every other advantage. From the year 70 to
about the year 110, they really governed the churches beyond the Jordan,
and formed a sort of Christian senate. There is no need to demonstrate
the immense danger which these pre-occupations, with genealogies, were
to the new-born Christianity. A sort of nobility of Christianity was
about to be formed. In the political order the nobility is almost a
necessity to the state. Politics having elements of gross struggles
which render it more material than ideal, a state is very strong only
when a certain number of families has, by tradition and privilege, the
duty and interest of guarding its welfare, representing and defending
it. But, in the order of the ideal government, birth is nothing: each
one is valued in proportion to the truth he shows, and the good he does.
The institutions which have a religious, literary, moral end, are lost,
when considerations of family, caste, heredity, prevail in them. The
nephews and cousins of Jesus would have ruined Christianity, if the
churches of Paul had not already been strong enough to act as a
counterpoise to this aristocracy, the tendency of which would have been
to proclaim itself alone respectable, and to treat all converts as
intruders. Some pretensions analogous to those of the Alides in Islam
were established. Islamism would certainly have perished under the
embarrassment caused by the family of the prophet, if the result of the
struggles of the first century of the Hegira had not been to reject,
upon second thought, all those who were too near the person of the
prophet. The true heirs of a great man are those who continue his work,
and not his relatives by blood. Considering the tradition of Jesus as
his own possession, the little _coterie_ of the Nazarenes, as they are
called, would certainly have stifled it. Happily this narrow circle
disappeared in good season: the relatives of Jesus were soon forgotten
in the interior of the Hauran. They lost all importance, and left Jesus
to his true family, the only one which he has recognized,--those of whom
he said, "They hear the word of God, and keep it."


According as the Church of Jerusalem sank, the Church of Rome rose, or,
rather, a phenomenon was evidently manifested in the years which
followed the victory of Titus. It was that the Church of Rome became
more and more the inheritor and the substitute of the Church of
Jerusalem. The spirit of the two churches was the same: what was a
danger at Jerusalem became an advantage at Rome. The taste for tradition
and the hierarchy, and the respect for authority, were in some sort
transplanted from the parvises of the temple to the Occident. James, the
brother of the Lord, had been a sort of pope at Jerusalem. Rome is about
to take up the part of James. We shall have the pope at Rome. Without
Titus, we should have had the pope in Jerusalem, but with this great
difference, that the pope at Jerusalem would have extinguished
Christianity in about one or two hundred years, while the Pope of Rome
has made it the religion of the universe.

Here appears a very important person, who seems to have been the head of
the Roman Church in the early years of the first century, concerning
whom I am happy to find myself in accord with one of your most scholarly
and enlightened critics, Mr. Lightfoot. I speak of Clement Romanus. In
the penumbra in which he remains, enveloped and almost lost in the
luminous dust of a beautiful far-off history, Clement is one of the
grand figures of early Christianity: one would say that it was the head
of an old effaced fresco of Giotto's, recognizable still from his golden
aureola, and some dim features of striking purity and sweetness. One
thing is beyond doubt: it is the high rank which he held in the utterly
spiritual hierarchy of the church of his time, and the unequalled credit
with which he sustained it. His approval made the law. All parties clung
to him, and wished to shield themselves under his authority. It is
probable that he was one of the most energetic agents of the grand work
that was about to be accomplished: I mean the posthumous reconciliation
of Peter and Paul, without which union the work of Christ could only
have perished. His high personality, aggrandized by tradition, was,
after that of Peter, the most holy figure of the primitive Christian

Already the idea of a certain primacy in the Church of Rome began to
show itself. The right of advising the other churches and of settling
their differences was accorded to this church. It is believed that like
privileges had been allowed to Peter among the disciples. Now a still
closer bond was established between Peter and Rome. In the time of
Clement, great dissensions divided the Church at Corinth. The Roman
Church, being applied to in these troubles, replied by an epistle,
which has been preserved to us. The epistle is anonymous; but a very
ancient tradition teaches that Clement was the author of it. The Church
at Corinth had changed but little since St. Paul. It had the same proud,
disputant, feeble spirit. It is evident that the principal opposition to
the hierarchy was found in this Greek spirit, always mobile, because it
was always full of life, undisciplined (and for my part I like it), not
knowing how to form a flock from a crowd. The women and the children
were in full revolt. Some superior doctors imagined that they possessed
a profound sense in every thing, and mystic secrets analogous to the
gift of tongues and the discernment of spirits. Those who were honored
with these supernatural gifts scorned the ancients, and aspired to
replace them. Corinth had a respectable presbytery, which, however, did
not receive the highest mysticism. The advanced pretenders cast it in
the shade, and put themselves in its place. Some of the _presbyteri_
were even dismissed. The struggle between the established hierarchy and
personal revelations began, and this struggle fills the history of the
Church; the privileged soul complaining, that, in spite of the favors
with which it is honored, a gross clergy, wanting in spiritual life,
dominates it officially. We see that this was the heresy of individual
mysticism, maintaining the rights of the spirit against authority,
pretending to rise above common mortals and the ordinary clergy by right
of its direct intercourse with divinity.

The Roman Church was always the church of order, of subordination, and
of rule. Its fundamental principle was that humility and submission were
of more value than the most sublime gifts. Its epistle is the first
manifestation in the Christian Church of the principle of authority.

A few years since, there was much surprise when a French archbishop,
then a senator, said in the Tribune, "My clergy is my regiment." Clement
had said this before him. Order and obedience were the supreme laws of
the family and the church. "Let us consider the soldiers who serve under
our sovereigns. With what order, what punctuality, what submission, they
obey their commands: all are not prefects, nor tribunes, nor centurions;
but each one in his rank executes the orders of the emperor and of his
chiefs. The great cannot exist without the small, nor the small without
the great. In every thing there is a mingling of diverse elements, and
by this mingling all advances. Let us take, for example, our bodies. The
head is nothing without the feet; the feet are nothing without the head.
The smallest of our organs are necessary, and serve the whole body: all
conspire, and obey the same principle of subordination for the
preservation of the whole."

The history of the ecclesiastical hierarchy is the history of a triple
abdication; the community of the faithful first placing all its powers
in the hands of the ancients, or _presbyteri_; the presbyteral body at
length delegating its authority to one person who was the _episcopos_;
then the _episcopi_ of the Latin Church recognized as their head one of
themselves, who became the pope. This last progress, if we may call it
so, was not accomplished until our time. The creation of the episcopate,
on the contrary, was the work of the second century. The absorption of
the church by the _presbyteri_ was accomplished before the year 100. In
the Epistle of Clement Romanus it is not yet with the episcopate, but
with the presbytery, that he deals. We find there no trace of a
_presbyteros_ superior to the others, and entitled to dethrone them; but
the author proclaims positively that the presbytery and the clergy are
above the people. The apostles, in establishing churches, chose through
the inspiration of the Spirit the "bishops and the deacons of the future
believers." The power emanating from the apostles has been transmitted
by regular succession. No church has then the right to dethrone its
seniors. The privilege of the rich is nothing in the church.
Accordingly, those who are favored with mystic gifts, instead of
believing themselves above the hierarchy, should be the more submissive.
This involves the great problem, "Who exists in the church? Is it the
people? Is it the clergy? Is it inspiration?" This problem was already
given in the time of St. Paul, who resolved it in the true manner by
mutual charity. One epistle trenches upon the question in the sense of
pure Catholicism. The apostolic title is every thing: the right of the
people is reduced to nothing. We may then safely assert that Catholicism
had its origin at Rome, since the Church of Rome laid down its first
rules. Prescience pertains to spiritual gifts, to science and
distinction: it belongs to the hierarchy, to the powers transmitted
through the medium of the canonical ordination, which attaches itself to
the apostles by an unbroken chain. The free church as Christ conceived
it, and as St. Paul also regarded it, was a Utopia which held nothing
for the future. Evangelical liberty had destroyed it; and it was not
realized, that, with the hierarchy uniformity and death would come in


Clement had probably not seen either Peter or Paul. His great practical
sense showed him that the salvation of the Christian Church demanded the
reconciliation of the two founders. Did he influence the author of the
Acts which represent to us this reconciliation as accomplished, and with
whom he seems to have had some intercourse, or did these two pious souls
spontaneously fall into accord on account of the bias which he had given
to Christian opinion? We are ignorant for want of proofs. One thing is
sure, the reconciliation of Peter and Paul was a Roman work. Rome had
two churches,--one coming from Peter, the other from Paul. Those
numerous converts who came to Jesus--some through the school of Peter,
and some through that of Paul--were tempted to exclaim, "What! Are
there, then, two Christs?" It was necessary to be able to reply, "No:
Peter and Paul understand each other perfectly: the Christianity of one
is the Christianity of the other." Perhaps (this is an ingenious
hypothesis of M. Strauss) a light cloud was introduced for this purpose
into the evangelical legend of the miraculous fishing. According to the
recital of Luke, the nets of Peter would not contain the multitudes of
fish which could easily have been taken; Peter was obliged to make a
sign to his co-workers to come to his aid. A second bark (Paul and his
friends) was filled as the first, and the fishing of the kingdom of God
was superabundant.

The life of the apostles begins to become obscure. All those who have
seen them have disappeared: most of them left no writings. One had
entire liberty to embroider on this virgin canvas still. Friends and
enemies profited by the unknown to set up arguments in support of their
theses, and to satisfy their hates. Towards the year 130, that is to say
about sixty-six years after the death of the apostles, a vast Ebionite
legend was produced at Rome, and designated by the title of the
preaching, or the travels, of Peter. The missions of the chief of the
apostles were recounted there, principally those along the coast of
Ph[oe]nicia; the conversions which he had made; above all, his struggles
against the great anti-Christ, Simon the Magician, who was at this epoch
the spectre of the Christian conscience. But frequently under this
abhorred name another person was concealed: it was the false apostle
Paul, the enemy of the law, the veritable destroyer of the Church. The
true Church was that at Jerusalem, presided over by James, the brother
of the Lord. No apostolate was of any value, if it could not show
letters emanating from this central college. Paul had none: therefore he
was an intruder. He was the "man enemy," who came behind to sow the
tares in the steps of the true sower. With what fury Peter gave the
denial to his impostures, to his false allegations of personal
revelations, his ascension to the third heaven, his, pretension of
knowing about Jesus some things which the hearers of the gospel had not
understood, the exaggerated manner in which he and his disciples
interpreted the divinity of Jesus!

These strange ideas of half ignorant sectaries would have been without
consequences outside of Rome; but every thing which related to Peter
assumed importance in the capital of the world. In spite of its
heresies, "The Preachings of Peter" had much interest for the orthodox.
The primacy of Peter was there proclaimed. St. Paul was thus injured;
but a few retouches extenuated what was shocking in these attacks.
Several attempts were made to diminish the peculiarities of the new
book, and adapt it to the Catholics. This mode of re-modelling books to
suit the sect to which one belonged was the order of the day. Little by
little the force of things was understood: all sensible men saw that
there was safety for the work of Jesus only in the perfect
reconciliation of the two heads of the Christian doctrine. Paul had,
even in the sixth century, some bitter enemies: he had always some
enthusiastic followers like Marcion. Outside of these obstinate men of
the right and left, there was a union of the moderate masses, who,
before their Christianism in one of the schools, fully recognized the
right of the other to be called Christian. James, the partisan of
absolute Judaism, was sacrificed, although he had been the true chief of
the circumcision. Peter, who was much less objectionable to the
disciples of Paul, was preferred before him. James retained no devoted
partisans outside of the Judæan-Christians.

It is difficult to say who gained the most in this reconciliation. The
concessions came principally from the side of Paul: all Paul's disciples
received the others without difficulty, while those of Peter repulsed
the followers of Paul. But concessions usually come from the strong. In
truth, each day confirmed Paul's victory.

Each Gentile convert weighted the balance on his side. Outside of Syria,
the Judæan-Christians were swallowed up by the wave of new converts. The
churches of Paul prospered: they had good judgment, solidity of mind,
and some pecuniary resources which the others had not. The Ebionite
churches, on the contrary, grew poorer each day. The money of the
churches of Paul was spent in the support of some glorious poor men, who
were unable to earn any thing, but who possessed the traditional life of
the primitive spirit. The elevated piety and severe manners of these
last were admired by the Christian communities of Pagan origin, who
imitated and assimilated themselves to these customs. It soon happened
that no distinction was manifest: the sweet and conciliatory spirit of
St. Luke and Clement Romanus prevailed. The compact of peace was sealed.
It was agreed that Peter had converted the first-fruits of the
Gentiles, that he had first absolved them from the yoke of the law. It
was admitted that Peter and Paul had been the two heads, the founders of
the Church of Rome; Peter and Paul became the halves of an inseparable
couple,--two luminaries, like the sun and moon. What one taught, the
other taught also. They had always been in accord: they had opposed the
same enemies, had been victims of Simon the Magician. At Rome they lived
like brothers; the Church of Rome was their common work. The supremacy
of this church was established for ages.

Thus, from the reconciliation of these parties, the settlement of these
primitive struggles, there came forth a grand unity,--the Catholic
Church, the Church of Peter and of Paul, a stranger to the rivalries
which had marked the first century.

It was, above all, the death of the two apostles which pre-occupied the
parties, and gave an opportunity for the most diverse combinations. The
tissue of tradition grew in this respect, by an instinctive travail,
almost as imperious as that which had presided at the construction of
the legend of Jesus. The end of the life of Peter and of Paul was
commanded _à priori_. It was maintained that Christ had predicted the
martyrdom of Peter, as he had announced the death of the sons of
Zebedee. The need was felt of associating in death the two persons who
had been reconciled by force. It was hoped, and perhaps this was not far
from right, that they died together, or at least as the consequence of
the same event. The places which were believed to have been sanctified
by this bloody drama were early fixed upon, and consecrated by
_memoriæ_. In each case, whatever the people desired came in the end to
be true. Tradition makes history, retrospectively, as it ought to have
been, and as it never is. Not long ago the portraits of Victor Emmanuel
and Pius IX. hung side by side in every frequented place in Italy; and
the people desired that these two men, who represented principles whose
reconciliation was generally considered necessary to Italy, should be in
reality completely united. If, in our time, such views impose themselves
on history, it will one day appear, in documents reputed to be serious,
that Victor Emmanuel and Pius IX. (probably Garibaldi will be added) met
each other secretly, understood and loved each other. During the middle
ages, at different times, similar attempts were made to appease the
hatreds of the Dominicans and Franciscans; to prove that the founders of
these two orders were two brothers living together in the most
affectionate intercourse; that at first their rules were the same; and
that St. Dominic girded himself with the cord of St. Francis.

Concerning Peter and Paul, the increase of the legend was rich and
rapid. Rome and all its environs, above all the way to Ostia, were full
of souvenirs which were pretended to be connected with the last days of
the two apostles. A crowd of touching circumstances; the flight of
Peter; the vision of Jesus bearing his cross, _iterum crucifigi_; the
final adieu of Peter and Paul; the meeting of Peter with his wife; Paul
at the Salvian waters; Plautilla sending the handkerchief which bound
her hair to bandage the eyes of Paul,--all this presented a beautiful
ensemble, to which was only wanting an ingenuous and skilful writer. It
was too late; the vein of the first Christian literature was spent; the
serenity of the narrator of the Acts was lost; his voice was raised no
more in story or in romance. It is impossible to choose between a crowd
of equally apocryphal writings: in vain one seeks to shield these
recitals with the most venerable names (pseudo-Linus, pseudo-Marcellus);
the Roman legend of Peter and Paul remains always in a sporadic state.
It was more often recounted by the pious guides than seriously read. It
was a local affair: no text concerning it has been consecrated and made
authoritative for reading in the churches.

       *       *       *       *       *

Many among you, ladies and gentlemen, will go to Rome, or will return
there. Ah, well! if you preserve any good remembrance of these
conferences, go, in memory of me, to the Salvian waters, _alle tre
fontane_, to St. Paul-without-the-Walls. It is one of the most beautiful
parts of the Roman Campagna,--deserted, damp, green, and sad. There, in
a deep depression in the soil, crowned by those grand horizontal lines,
disturbed by no living detail,--there are some clear and cold springs.
The fever and mouldiness of the tomb are inhaled there. Some Trappists
are there established, conscientiously practising their religious
suicide. When you are there, sit down a moment, not too long (one
quickly catches the fever there), and, while the Trappists give you to
drink the water which gushes from the three bounds which the head of
Paul made, think of him who came here to talk of these legends with you,
and to whom you have listened with so much courtesy and kind attention.


  London, April 14, 1880.




Ladies and Gentlemen,--It is plain that the importance of the churches
in the primitive Christian community was in proportion to their
apostolic nobility. The guaranty of orthodoxy was in the succession of
the bishops, by which the great churches were linked to the apostles. A
direct line appeared to afford a very strong assurance of conformity of
doctrine, and it was jealously maintained. Now, what can be said of a
church founded by both Peter and Paul? It is clear that such a church
ought to endure in order to have a veritable superiority over others.
The _chef-d'[oe]uvre_ of the competency of the Roman Church was the
establishment of this superiority. That once assured, the ecclesiastical
destiny of Rome was established. When this city should have cast off her
secular character, she would have another,--a sacred capacity,
corresponding to that of Jerusalem.

She would know how to confiscate to her profit this Christianity which
she had so cruelly combated,--so much had humanity suffered, to escape
from those whom fate had designed for this great secular task, _regere
imperio populos!_

Under Antonine and Marcus Aurelius, Rome reached its highest grandeur;
its rule of the whole world seemed to be undisputed; no cloud could be
seen upon its horizon. The emigration from the provinces, above all from
the Orient, was augmented rather than lessened. The Greek-speaking
population was larger than it had ever been. All who desired a place in
the world aspired to come to Rome: nothing was sanctioned until it had
received the stamp of this universal exposition of the products of the
entire universe.

The centre of a future catholic orthodoxy was evidently there. The
well-developed germ of the Papacy existed under Antonine. The Church of
Rome showed itself more and more indifferent to those crude Gnostic
speculations which occupied some minds filled with the intellectual
activity of the Greeks, but tainted with the reveries of the Orient. The
organization of Christian society was the principal labor at Rome. This
extraordinary city applied to this object the energetic moral strength
and the practical genius which she has employed in the most diverse
causes. Careless of speculation, decidedly hostile to dogmatic
innovations, she presided there,--a mistress already trained by all the
changes which had been brought about in discipline and in the


From the year 120 to 130 the Episcopate was elaborated in the Christian
Church, and the creation of the Episcopate was eminently a Roman work.
All _ecclesiæ_ imply a little hierarchy,--a bureau as it is called
to-day,--a president, some assessors, and a small staff of men in its
service. Democratic associations are careful that these functions shall
be limited as far as possible as to power and duration; but from this
arises that precarious something which has prevented any democratic
association from outlasting the circumstances which have created it. The
Jewish synagogues have had more continuity, although the synagogical
body has never come to be a clergy. This is the result of the
subordinate place which Judaism has held during several centuries: the
pressure from without has counteracted the effects of internal
divisions. If the Christian Church had been left with the same absence
of directorship, it would doubtless have missed its destiny.

If its ecclesiastical powers had continued to be regarded as emanating
from the Church itself, it would have lost all its hieratic and
theocratic character. It was written, on the contrary, that a clergy
should monopolize the Christian Church, and substitute themselves for
it. Acting as its spokesman, presenting itself as having the sole power
of attorney in every thing, this clergy will be its strength, and at the
same time its gnawing worm,--the principal cause of its future falls.

I repeat, that history has no example of a more complete transformation
than that which occurred in the government of the Christian Church about
the time of Hadrian and Antonine. What happened in the Christian Church
will happen in any association in which the subordinates could resign in
favor of the bureau, and that again in favor of the president; so that
afterwards the subordinates and the seniors would have no deliberative
voice nor influence, nor any control in the management of the funds, and
the president would be able to say, "I alone, I, am the association."
The _presbyteri_ (seniors) or _episcopi_ (superintending officers)
became very soon the only representatives of the Church; and almost
immediately another still more important revolution took place. Among
the _presbyteri_ or _episcopi_, there had been one, who, through the
habit of occupying the principal seat, absorbed the power of the others,
and became pre-eminently the _episcopos_ or the _presbyteros_. The form
of worship contributed powerfully to the establishment of this unity.
The eucharistic act could only be celebrated by one person, and gave to
the celebrant an extreme importance. That _episcopos_, with a surprising
rapidity, became the head of the presbytery, and, consequently, the
entire Church. His _cathedra_ was placed apart, and, having the form of
an arm-chair, became the seat of honor, the symbol of primacy. From this
time, each church has but one chief _presbyteros_, who is thus called to
the exclusion of the other _episcopi_. Beside this bishop, there were
deacons, widows, and a council of _presbyteri_: but the great step has
been taken; the bishop is the sole successor of the prophets, his
associates have disappeared. Apostolic authority, reputed as transmitted
by the laying-on of hands, suppressed the authority of the community.
The bishops of the various churches soon placed themselves in
communication with the others, and formed of the Universal Church a sort
of oligarchy, which held assemblies, censured its members, decided
questions of faith, and was in itself a true sovereign power. On one
side, the shepherds; on the other, the flock. Primitive equality no
longer existed: in fact, it had endured but a single day. The Church,
however, was only an instrument in the hands of those who guided her;
and these held their power, not from the community, but from the
spiritual inheritance of a transmission claiming to date back to the
apostles in a continuous line. It is evident that the representative
system will never be in any degree whatever the law of the Christian

It was the Episcopate, without the intervention of civil power, with no
support from the tribunals, which thus established order above liberty
in a society originally founded upon individual inspiration. This is why
the Ebionites, who had no Episcopate, had also no idea of Catholicity.
At first sight, the work of Jesus was not made to last. Founded upon a
belief in the destruction of the world, which, as years rolled on, was
proved an error, it seemed that his congregation could only dissolve in
anarchy. The prophetic book, the _charismes_, the speaking of tongues,
individual inspiration, were no more than were necessary to bring all
again into the proportions of a common chapel. Individual inspiration
created, but immediately destroyed what it created. After liberty, law
is necessary. The work of Jesus might be considered as saved the day in
which it was admitted that the Church has a direct power, a power
representing that of Jesus. Since then the Church dominates the
individual, drawing him to her bosom through his need. Inspiration
passes from the individual to the community. The clergy is the dispenser
of all pardons, the intermediary between God and the faithful.
Obedience, first to the Church, then to the bishop, becomes the highest
duty. Innovation is the sign of error: schism, henceforth, will be for
the Christian the worst of crimes.

In a certain regard one may say that this was a decadence, a diminution
of that spontaneity which had been eminently creative until now. It was
evident that ecclesiastical forms were about to absorb, to stifle, the
work of Jesus, that all free manifestations of Christian life would soon
be arrested. Under the censure of the Episcopate, the speaking of
tongues, prophecy, the creation of legends, the making of new sacred
books, would soon become withered powers, the _charismes_ would be
reduced to official sacraments. In another sense, however, such a
transformation was the essential condition of the strength of humanity.
And, moreover, the centralization of powers became necessary when
churches were more numerous: intercourse between these little pious
societies would be impossible, unless they had representatives appointed
to act for them. It is undeniable, moreover, that, without the
Episcopate, the churches, re-united for a time by the souvenirs of
Jesus, would gradually have been dispersed. The divergences of opinion,
the difference in the turn of imagination, and, above all, the
rivalries, and the unsatisfied _amours-propres_, would have operated by
their infinite effects of disunion and disintegration. Christianity
would have expired at the end of three or four centuries, like
Mithraicism and so many other sects which were not allowed to endure.
Democracy is sometimes eminently creative; but it is upon the condition
that the democracy comes forth from conservative institutions which
prevent the revolutionary fever from prolonging itself indefinitely.

Here was the greatest miracle of the new Christianity. It drew order,
hierarchy, authority, and obedience from the free subjection of desires:
it organized the crowd; it disciplined anarchy. What does this miracle
accomplish other than to strike at the pretended derogations to the laws
of physical nature? The spirit of Jesus strongly inoculated in his
disciples that spirit of sweetness, of abnegation, of forgetfulness of
the present; that unique pursuit of interior joys which kills ambition;
that strong preference given to childhood; those words repeated without
ceasing, as from Jesus, "Whoever is first among you, let him be the
servant of all." The influence of the apostles was not less in that
direction. The apostles lived and ruled after their death. The idea that
the head of the Church held his command under the members of the Church
who had elected him never once occurs in the literature of this time.
The Church thus escaped through the supernatural origin of its power,
that element of decay which exists in delegated authority. A legislative
and executive authority may come from the people; but sacraments and
dispensations of celestial pardons have nothing in common with universal
suffrage. Such privileges come from heaven, or, according to the
Christian formula, from Jesus Christ, the source of all pardon and of
all good.

The religion of Jesus thus became something solid and consistent. The
great danger of Gnosticism, which was to divide Christianity into
numberless sects, was exorcised. The word "Catholic Church" resounded
everywhere, as the name of that great body which would thenceforth
survive the ages unbroken. The character of this catholicity is already
seen. The Montanists are regarded as sectarian; the Marcionites are
convinced of the falseness of the apostolic doctrine; the different
Gnostic schools are more and more driven from the bosom of the general
church. Something had arisen which was neither Montanism, nor
Marcionism, nor Gnosticism; which was Christianity, not sectarian,--the
Christianity of the majority of bishops, resisting sects, and using them
all, having, if you will, only negative characters, but preserved by
these negative characters from the pietist aberrations, and from
dissolving rationalism. Christianity, like all parties who wish to live,
disciplines itself, and restrains its own excesses. It unites to
mystical exaltation a fund of good sense and moderation which will kill
Millenarism, Charisms, Glossolaly, and all the primitive phenomenal
spirits. A handful of excited men, like the Montanists, running into
martyrdom, discouraging penitence, condemning marriage, are not the
Church. The _juste milieu_ triumphs. Radicals of any sort will never be
allowed to destroy the work of Jesus. The Church is always of a medium
opinion: it belongs to all the world, and is not the privilege of an
aristocracy. The pietist aristocracy of the Phrygian sects and the
speculative aristocracy of the Gnostics are equally stripped of their

In the midst of the enormous variety of opinions which fill the first
Christian age, the Catholic opinion constitutes a sort of standard. It
was not necessary to reason with the heretic in order to convince him.
It was sufficient to show him that he was not in communion with the
Catholic Church, with the grand churches which trace the succession of
their bishops to the apostles. _Quod semper, quod ubique_ became the
absolute rule of truth. The argument of prescription to which Tertullian
gave such eloquent force reviews all the Catholic controversy. To prove
to any one that he was an innovator, a disturber, was to prove that he
was wrong,--an insufficient rule, since, by a singular irony of fate,
the doctor himself who developed this method of refutation in so
imperious a manner, Tertullian, died a heretic.

Correspondence between the churches was an early custom. Circular
letters from the heads of the great churches, read on Sunday in the
re-unions of the faithful, were a sort of continuation of the apostolic
literature. The ecclesiastical province, questioning the precedency of
the great churches, appeared in germ. The Church, like the synagogue and
the mosque, is essentially a citadel. Christianity, like Judaism and
Islamism, is a religion of cities. The countryman, the _paganus_, will
be the last resistance which Christianity will encounter. The few rural
Christians came to the church of the neighboring city. The Roman
municipality thus enclosed the church. Among the cities, the _civitas_,
the grand city, was alone a veritable church, with an _episcopos_. The
small city was in ecclesiastical dependence on the great city. This
primacy of the great cities was an important fact. The great city once
converted, the small city and the country followed the movement. The
diocese was thus the unity of the conglomerate Christians. As for the
ecclesiastical province, it corresponded to the Roman province: the
divisions of worship of Rome and Augustus were the secret law which
ruled all. Those cities which had a flamen, or _archiereus_, are those
which later had an archbishop: the _flamen civitatis_ became the bishop.
After the third century, the flamen held the rank in the city which was
later that of the bishop in the diocese. Thus it happened that the
ecclesiastical geography of a country was very nearly the geography of
the same country in the Roman epoch. The picture of the bishops and the
archbishops is that of the ancient _civitates_, according to their line
of subordination. The empire was as the mould in which the new religion
was formed. The interior framework, the outlines, the hierarchical
divisions, were those of the empire. The ancient archives of the Roman
administration, and the church-registers of the middle ages, and even
those of our own day, are nearly the same thing.

Thus the grand organisms which have become so essential a part of the
moral and political life of European nations were all created by those
_naïve_ and sincere Christians, whose faith has become inseparable from
the moral culture of humanity. The Episcopate under Marcus Aurelius was
fully ripe: the Papacy existed in germ. [OE]cumenical councils were
impossible. The Christian Empire alone could authorize great assemblies;
but the provincial synod was used in the affairs of the Montanists and
of the Passover. The bishop of the capital of the province was allowed
to preside without contest.


Rome was the place in which the grand idea of Catholicity was conceived.
Rome became each day more and more the capital of Christianity, and
replaced Jerusalem as the religious centre of humanity. Its church had a
generally recognized precedence over others. All doubtful questions
which disturbed the Christian conscience demanded an arbitration, if not
a solution, at Rome. This very defective reasoning was used,--that,
since Christ had made Cephas the corner-stone of his church, this
privilege ought to extend to his successors. By an unequalled stroke,
the Church of Rome had succeeded in making itself at the same time the
Church of Peter and the Church of Paul, a new mythical duality,
replacing that of Romulus and Remus. The Bishop of Rome became the
bishop of bishops, the one who admonished others. Rome proclaims its
right (a dangerous right) to excommunicate those who do not entirely
agree with her. The poor Artemonites (a sort of anticipated Arians) had
much to complain of in the injustice of the fate which made them
heretics; while, even until Victor, all the Church of Rome thought with
them; but they were not heard. From this point, the Church of Rome
placed itself above history. The spirit which in 1870 could proclaim the
infallibility of the Pope might see itself reflected at the end of the
second century by certain clear indications. The writing made at Rome
about 180, of which the Roman fragment known as the "_Canon de
Muratori_" makes a part, shows us Rome already regulating the canon of
the churches, making the passion of Peter the basis of Catholicity, and
repulsing equally Montanism and Gnosticism. Irenæus refutes all
heresies by the faith of this church, "the grandest, the most ancient,
the most illustrious, which possesses by continuous succession the true
tradition of the apostles Peter and Paul; to which, on account of its
primacy, all the rest of the Church should have recourse."

One material cause contributed much to that pre-eminence which most of
the churches recognized in the Church of Rome. This Church was extremely
rich: its goods, skilfully administered, served to succor and propagate
other churches. The heretics condemned to the mines received a subsidy
from it: the common treasury was in a certain sense at Rome. The Sunday
collection, practised continually in the Roman Church, was probably
already established. A marvellous spirit of tradition animated this
little community, in which Judæa, Greece, and Latium seemed to have
confounded their very different gifts, in view of a prodigious future.
While the Jewish Monotheism furnished the immovable base of the new
formation, while Greece continued through Gnosticism its work of free
speculation, Rome attached itself with an astonishing readiness to the
work of the government. All its authorities and artifices served well
for that. Politics recoils not before fraud. Now, politics had already
taken up its home in the most secret councils of the Church of Rome.
Some veins of apocryphal literature, constantly refilled, sometimes
under the name of the apostles, sometimes under that of apostolic
personages, such as Clement and Hermas, were received with confidence to
the limits of the Christian world on account of the guaranty of Rome.

This precedence of the Church of Rome continued to increase up to the
third century. The bishops of Rome showed a rare competency, evading
theological questions, but always in the first rank in matters of
organization and administration. The tradition of the Roman Church
passes for the most ancient of all. Pope Cornelius took the lead in the
matter of substitution. This was particularly seen in the dismissal of
the bishops of Italy, and the appointment of their successors. Rome was
also the central authority of the churches of Africa.

This authority was already excessive, and showed itself above all in the
affair of the Passover. This question was much more important than it
appears to us. In the early times all Christians continued to make the
Jewish Passover their principal feast. They celebrated this feast on the
same day as the Jews,--on the 14th of Nisan, upon whatever day of the
week it happened to fall. Persuaded, according to the account of all the
old gospels, that Jesus, the evening before his death, had eaten the
Passover with his disciples, they regarded such a solemnity as a
commemoration of the last supper, rather than as a memorial of the
resurrection. As Christianity became more and more separated from
Judaism, such a manner of regarding it was very much questioned. At
first a new tradition was promulgated,--that Jesus, being about to die,
had not eaten the Passover, but had died the very day of the Jewish
feast, thus constituting himself the Pascal Lamb. Moreover, this purely
Jewish feast wounded the Christian conscience, especially in the
churches of Paul. The great feast of the Christians, the resurrection of
Jesus, occurred in any case the Sunday after the Jewish Passover.
According to this idea, the feast was celebrated the Sunday which
followed the Friday after the 14th of Nisan.

In Rome this custom prevailed, at least since the pontificates of Xystus
and Telesphorus (about 120). In Asia there were great divisions. The
conservatives, like Polycarp, Meliton, and all the ancient school,
believed that the old Jewish custom conformed to the first Gospels and
to the usage of the apostles John and Philip. This was the object of the
voyage to Rome which Polycarp undertook about the year 154, under the
Pope Anicetus. The interview between Polycarp and Anicetus was very
cordial. The discussion of certain points appears to have been sharp,
but they understood each other. Polycarp was not able to persuade
Anicetus to renounce a practice which had been that of the bishops of
Rome before his time. Anicetus, on the other hand, hesitated when
Polycarp told him that he governed himself according to the rule of John
and the other apostles, with whom he had lived on a familiar footing.
The two religious leaders remained in full communion with each other;
and Anicetus showed Polycarp an almost unprecedented honor. In fact he
desired that Polycarp, in the Assembly of the Faithful at Rome, should
pronounce, in his stead and in his presence, the words of the
eucharistic consecration. These ardent men were full of too lofty a
sentiment to rest the unity of their souls upon the uniformity of rites
and exterior observances.

Later, unhappily, Rome took the stand of insisting upon its right. About
the year 196 the question was more exciting than ever. The churches of
Asia persisted in their old usage. Rome, always enthusiastic for unity,
wished to coerce them. Upon the invitation of Pope Victor, convocations
of bishops were held: a vast correspondence was exchanged. But the
bishops of Asia, strong in the tradition of two apostles and of so many
illustrious men, would not submit. The old Polycrates, Bishop of
Ephesus, wrote in their name a very sharp letter to Victor and to the
Church of Rome. The incredible design which Victor conceived on account
of the acrimony of this letter proves that the Papacy was already born,
and well born. He pretended to excommunicate, to separate from the
Universal Church, the most illustrious province, because it had not bent
its traditions before the Roman discipline. He published a decree by
virtue of which Asia was placed under the ban of the Christian
community. But the other bishops opposed this violent measure, and
recalled Victor to charity. St. Irenæus, in particular, who, through the
necessity of the country in which he lived, had accepted for himself and
his churches in Gaul the Occidental custom, could not support the
thought that the mother-churches of Asia, to which he felt himself bound
in the depths of his soul, should be separated from the body of the
Universal Church. He energetically persuaded Victor from the
excommunication of the churches which held to the traditions of their
fathers, and recalled to him the examples of his more tolerant
predecessors. This act of rare good sense prevented the schism of the
Orient and the Occident from occurring in the second century. Irenæus
wrote to the bishops on all sides, and the question remained open to the
churches of Asia.

In one sense, the process which brought about the debate was of more
importance than the debate itself. By reason of this difference, the
Church was brought to a clearer idea of its organization. And first it
was evident that the laity were no longer any thing. The bishops alone
handled questions, and promulgated their opinions. The bishops collected
together in provincial synods, over which the bishop of the capital of
the province presided (the archbishop of the future), or, at times, the
oldest bishop. The synodal assembly came out with a letter, which was
sent to other churches. This was then like an attempt at federative
organization,--an attempt to resolve questions by means of provincial
assemblies, presided over by bishops agreeing among themselves. Later,
questions concerning the presiding over synods and the hierarchy of the
Church sought solution in the documents of this great debate. Among all
the churches, that of Rome appeared to have a particular initiative
right. But that initiative was far from being synonymous with
infallibility; for Eusebius declares that he read the letters in which
the bishops severely blamed the conduct of Victor.


Authority, gentlemen, loves authority. The authoritaires, as we say
to-day, in the most diverse ranks, extend the hand to each other. Men as
conservative as the leaders of the Church of Rome must be strongly
tempted to favor public force, the effect of which is often for good,
as they must admit. This tendency had been manifest since the first days
of Christianity. Jesus had laid down the rule. The image of the money
was for him the supreme criterion of its lawfulness, beyond which there
was nothing to seek. In the height of the reign of Nero, St. Paul wrote,
"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power
but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever,
therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." Some
years later, Peter, or the person who wrote in his name the Epistle
known as the First of Peter, expresses himself in an identical manner.
Clement was an equally devoted subject of the Roman Empire.

In fine, one of the traits of St. Luke (according to my idea there was a
bond between St. Luke and the spirit of the church at Rome) is his
respect of the imperial authority, and the precautions which he took not
to injure it. The author of the Acts evaded every thing which would
present the Romans as the enemies of Christ. On the contrary, he seeks
to show, that, under many circumstances, they defended St. Paul and the
Christians against the Jews. Never a disparaging word against the civil
magistrates. Luke loved to show how the Roman functionaries were
favorable to the new religion, sometimes even embracing it; and how
Roman justice was equitable, and superior to the passions of the local
powers. He insists upon the advantages which Paul owed to his title of
Roman citizen. If he ends his recital with the arrival of Paul at Rome,
it is perhaps in order not to recount the monstrosities of Nero.

Without doubt, there were in other parts of the empire devoted
Christians who sympathized entirely with the anger of the Jews, and
dreamed only of the destruction of the idolatrous city which they
identified with Babylon. Such were the authors of apocalypses and
sibylline writings. But the faithful of the great churches were of quite
a different way of thinking. In 70, the Church of Jerusalem, with a
sentiment more Christian than patriotic, left the revolutionary city,
and sought peace beyond the Jordan. In the revolt of Barkokébas, the
division was still more pronounced. Not a single Christian was willing
to take part in this attempt of blind despair. St. Justin in his
Apologies never combats the principle of empire. He desired that the
empire should examine the Christian doctrine, approve and countersign it
in some way, and condemn those who calumniated it. The most learned
doctor of the time of Marcus Aurelius, Meliton, Bishop of Sardis, made
still more decided advances, and undertook to show that there is always
in Christianity something to recommend it to a true Roman. In his
Treaty upon Truth, preserved in Syriac, Meliton expresses himself in the
same way as a bishop of the fourth century, explaining to one Theodosius
that his first duty is to establish by his authority the triumph of
truth (without telling us, alas! by what sign one recognizes truth). Let
the empire become Christian, and the persecuted of to-day would find
that the interference of the state in the domain of conscience is
perfectly legitimate.

The system of the apologists, so warmly sustained by Tertullian,
according to which the good emperors favored Christianity, and the bad
ones persecuted it, was already full blown. "Born together," said they,
"Christianity and the empire have grown up together, and prospered
together." Their interests, their sufferings, their fortunes, their
future,--all was in common. The apologists were advocates; and advocates
in all orders resemble each other. They have arguments for every
situation and all tastes. Nearly a hundred and fifty years rolled on
before these sweet and half sincere invitations were understood. But the
only impression they made in the time of Marcus Aurelius upon the mind
of one of the most enlightened leaders of the Church was as a prognostic
of the future. Christianity and the empire will become reconciled. They
are made for each other. The shade of Meliton will tremble with joy
when the empire becomes Christian, and the emperor takes in hand the
cause of truth.

Thus the Church already took more than one step toward empire. Through
politeness, without doubt, but only as a very legitimate consequence of
his principles, Meliton does not allow that an emperor can give an
unjust order. It was easy to believe that certain emperors had not been
absolutely opposed to Christianity. It is pleasant to relate that
Tiberius had proposed to place Jesus in the rank of the gods: it was the
senate which objected. The decided preference of Christianity for power
where it hopes for favors is already very transparent. It is shown,
contrary to all truth, that Hadrian and Antonine sought to repair the
evil done by Nero and Domitian. Tertullian and his generation say the
same thing of Marcus Aurelius. Tertullian doubted, it is true, whether
one could be at the same time a Cæsar and a Christian; but this
incompatibility a century later struck no one, and Constantine proved
that Meliton of Sardis was a very sagacious man when he discerned so
well--a century and a half in advance, seeing through the proconsular
persecutions--the possibility of a Christian Empire.

The hatred of Christianity and of the empire was that of men who must
one day love them. Under the Severi, the language of the Church remained
plaintive and tender, as it had been under the Antonines. The
apologists affixed a species of legitimism, a pretension that the Church
had always from the first saluted the emperor. "There were never among
us," said Tertullian, "partisans of Cassius, partisans of Albinus,
partisans of Niger." Foolish illusion! Certainly the revolt of Avidius
Cassius against Marcus Aurelius was a political crime, and the
Christians did well not to be involved in it. As for Severus, Albinus,
and Niger, it was success that decided between them; and the Church had
no other merit in attaching itself to Severus than that of seeing
clearly who would be the strongest. This pretended worship of legitimacy
was in truth only the worship of a fixed fact. The principle of St. Paul
bore fruit: "All power comes from God: he who holds the sword holds it
from God for good."

This correct attitude in regard to power clung to exterior necessities
as much as to the principles which the Church had received from its
founders. The Church was already a powerful association. It was
essentially conservative. It needed order and legal guaranties. This was
admirably shown in the act of Paul of Samos, Bishop of Antioch, under
Aurelian. The Bishop of Antioch had become a powerful personage at this
epoch. The goods of the Church were in his keeping: a crowd of men lived
on his favors. Paul was a brilliant man, somewhat mystical, worldly, a
great secular lord, seeking to render Christianity acceptable to men of
the world and authority. The Pietists, as might be expected, considered
him heretical, and dismissed him. Paul resisted, and refused to quit the
Episcopal house. See into what the most exalted sects are led! They were
in possession, and who could decide a question of proprietorship and
possession, if not the civil authority. Aurelian, about this time,
passed on his way towards Antioch; and the question was referred to him.
Here was seen this original spectacle of an infidel sovereign and
persecutor deputed to decide which was the true bishop. Aurelian showed
under these circumstances remarkably good sense for a layman. He
examined the correspondence of the two bishops, took note as to which
was in relation with Rome and Italy, and decided that he was the true
Bishop of Antioch.

Aurelian made some objections to the theological reasoning used on this
occasion; but one fact was evident: it was, that Christianity could not
live without the empire, and that the empire, on the other hand, could
not do better than adopt Christianity as its religion. The world desired
a religion of congregations, of churches, or of synagogues and
chapels,--a religion in which the essence of the worship should be
re-union, association, and fraternity. Christianity answered to all
these conditions. Its admirable worship, its well-organized clergy,
assured its future.

Several times in the third century this historical necessity fell short
of realization. This is seen most plainly under those Syrian emperors
whom their quality of foreigners and base origin placed beyond
prejudices, and who, in spite of their vices, inaugurated a largeness of
ideas and a tolerance hitherto unknown. Those Syrian women of
Emesa,--Julia Domna, Julia Mæsa, Julia Mammæa, Julia Soemia,--beautiful,
intelligent, perfectly fearless, and held by no tradition or social law,
hesitated at nothing. They did what Roman women would never have dared.
They entered the Senate, deliberated there, and governed the empire
effectively, dreaming of Semiramis and Nitocris. The Roman worship
seemed cold and insignificant to them. Not being bound by any family
reasons, and their imagination being more in harmony with Christianity
than with Italian Paganism, these women amused themselves with the
recitals of the deed of the gods upon earth. Philostratus enchanted them
with his "Life of Apollonius Tyane." Perhaps they had more than one
secret affinity with Christianity. Certainly Heliogabalus was mad; and
yet his chimera of a central, Monotheistic worship, established at Rome,
and absorbing all the other worships, proved that the narrow circle of
ideas of the Antonines was broken. Alexander Severus went still farther.
He was sympathetic with the Christians: not content with according them
liberty, he placed Jesus in his lararium with a touching eclecticism.
Peace seemed to be made, not, as under Constantine, by the defection of
one of the parties, but by a large reconciliation. The same thing was
seen again under Philip the Arab, in the East under Zenobia, and
generally under those emperors whose foreign origin placed them beyond
Roman patriotism.

The struggle redoubled in rage when those grand reformers, Diocletian
and Maximian, animated by the ancient spirit, believed themselves able
to give new life for the empire by holding it to the narrow circle of
Roman ideas. The Church triumphed through its martyrs. Roman pride was
humbled. Constantine saw the interior strength of the Church. The
population of Asia Minor, Syria, Thrace, and Macedonia, in a word the
eastern part of the empire, was already more than half Christian. His
mother, who had been a servant in an inn at Nicomedia, dazzled his eyes
with the picture of an Eastern empire having its centre near Nicæa or
Nicomedia, whose nerves should be the bishops and those multitudes of
poor matriculates of the Church who controlled opinion in large cities.
Constantine made the empire Christian. From the Occidental point of
view, that was astonishing; for the Christians were still but a feeble
minority in the West: in the Orient, the politics of Constantine was not
only natural, but commanded.

Wonderful thing! The city of Rome received from that politics the
heaviest blow it had ever suffered. Christianity was successful under
Constantine; but it was Oriental Christianity. In building a new Rome on
the Bosphorus, Constantine made the old Rome the capital of the West
alone. The cataclysms which followed, the invasions of the barbarians
who spared Constantinople, and fell upon Rome with all their weight,
reduced the ancient capital of the world to a limited and often humble
condition. That ecclesiastical primacy of Rome which burst with so much
effect upon the second and third centuries flourished no longer when the
Orient had an existence and a separate capital. Constantine was the real
author of the schism of the Latin Church and the Church of the Orient.

Rome took its revenge, principally by the seriousness and depth of its
spirit of organization. What men were St. Sylvester, St. Damasus, and
Gregory the Great! With an admirable courage they labored for the
conversion of the barbarians, attached them to themselves, and made them
their friends and subjects. The master-work of its politics was its
alliance with the Carlovingian house, and the bold stroke by which it
re-established in that house the empire which had been dead three
hundred years. The Church of Rome rose again more powerful than ever,
and became again the centre of all the grand affairs of the Occident
during eight centuries.

       *       *       *       *       *

Here my task is ended, gentlemen. You will confide to others the care of
recounting the prodigious history of the feudal church, its grandeurs
and its abuses. Another still will show you the re-action against these
abuses,--Protestantism returning to the primitive idea of Christianity,
and dividing, in its turn, the Latin Church. Each one of these grand
historical pages will have its charm and its instruction. What I have
recounted to you is full of grandeur. One is impartial only to the dead.
Since Catholicism was an inimical power, a danger to the liberty of the
human mind, it was right to oppose it. Our age is the age of history,
because it is the age of doubt upon dogmatic matters: it is the age in
which, without entering into the discussion of systems, an enlightened
mind says to itself, "If, since right exists, and so many thousand
symbols have made the pretension of presenting the complete truth, and
if this pretension is always found vain, is it indeed probable that I
shall be more happy than so many others, and that the truth has awaited
my coming here below in order to make its definite revelation?" There is
no definite revelation. It is the touching effort of man to render his
destiny supportable. But its reward is not disdain, it is gratitude.
Whoever believes that he has something to teach us concerning our
destiny and our end should be welcome. Recall the account in your old
histories of the judicious and discreet words of the Saxon chief of
Northumbria, in the assembly where the question was discussed concerning
the adoption of the doctrine of the Roman missionaries.

"Perhaps thou rememberest, O king! something which happens sometimes in
the winter days, when thou art seated at table with thy captains and thy
men-at-arms; that a good fire is lighted, that thy chamber is very warm,
while it rains, snows, and blows without. There comes a little bird,
which crosses the chamber on the wing, entering at one door, and going
out by the other. The moment of this passage is full of sweetness for
him: he no more feels the rain nor the storm. The bird is gone in an
instant, and from the winter he passes again into the winter. Such seems
to me the life of men on this earth, and its course of a moment,
compared to the length of time which precedes and follows it. The time
before birth and after death is gloomy. It torments us by its
impossibility of comprehension: if, then, the new doctrine can teach us
any thing a little certain, it deserves to be considered."

Alas! the Roman missionaries did not bear this minimum of certainty,
with which the old Northumbrian chief, sage as he was, declared himself
content. Life always appears to us a short passage between two long
nights. Happy those who can sleep in the empty noise of menaces which
trouble at times the human conscience, and should no more than cradle
it! One thing is certain: it is the paternal smile which at certain
hours pierces nature, attesting that one eye regards us, and one heart
follows us. Let us guard ourselves from all absolute formula which might
become one day an obstacle to the free expansion of our spirits. There
is no religious communion which does not still possess some gifts of
life and pardon; but it is on the condition only that an humble docility
succeeds sympathetic adhesion. The comparison of the regiment, invented
by Clement Romanus, and since so many times repeated, ought to be
utterly abandoned.

You wished that I should recall to you the grandeurs of Catholicism in
its finest epoch. I thank you for it. Some associations of childhood,
the most profound of all, attach me to Catholicism; and, although I am
separated from it, I am often tempted to say, as Job said (at least in
our Latin version), "_Etiam si occideret me, in ipso sperabo._" This
great Catholic family is too numerous not to have still a grand future.
The strange excesses which it has supported during fifty years, this
unequalled pontificate of Pius IX., the most astonishing in history,
cannot be terminated in any ordinary way. There will be thunders and
lightnings such as accompany all the great judgment-days of God. And
will she have much to do in order to still remain acceptable to those
who love her,--this old mother, who will not die so soon? Perhaps she
will find, in order to arrest the arms of her conqueror, which is modern
reason, some magician's arts, some words such as Balder murmured.

The Catholic Church is a woman: let us distrust the charming words of
her agony. Let us imagine that she says to us, "My children, every thing
here below is but a symbol and a dream. In this world there is only one
little ray of light which pierces the darkness, and seems to be the
reflection of a benevolent will. Come into my bosom, where one finds
forgetfulness. For those who wish fetishes, I have them; to those who
wish works, I offer them; for those who wish intoxication of heart, I
have the milk of my breast, which will make drunk; for those who desire
love, I have an abundance; to those who crave irony, I pour out freely.
Come all: the time of dogmatic sadness is past. I have music and incense
for your funerals, flowers for your marriages, the joyous welcome of
bells for your new-born ones." Ah, well! if she should say that, our
embarrassment would be extreme. But she never will.

Your great and glorious England has resolved, gentlemen, the practical
part of the question. It is as easy to trace the line of conduct which
the state and individuals should follow in the same matter, as it is
impossible to arrive at a theoretic solution of the religious problem.
All this may be conveyed in a single word, gentlemen,--_liberty_. What
could be more simple? Faith does not control itself. We believe what we
believe true. No one is bound to believe what he thinks false, whether
it is false or not. To deny liberty of thought is a sort of
contradiction. From liberty of thought to the right to express one's
thought, there is but one step; for right is the same for all. I have no
right to prevent a person from expressing his mind; but no one has the
right to prevent me from expressing mine. Here is a theory which will
appear very humble to the learned doctors who believe themselves to be
in possession of absolute truth. We have a great advantage over them,
gentlemen. They are obliged to be persecutors in order to be consistent;
to us it is permitted to be tolerant,--tolerant for all, even for those,
who, if they could, would not be so to us. Yes, let us even make this
paradox: liberty is the best weapon against the enemies of liberty. Some
fanatics say to us with sincerity, "We take your liberty, because you
owe it to us according to your principles; but you shall not have ours,
because we do not owe it to you." Ah, well! let us give them liberty
all the same, and we do not imagine that in this exchange we shall be
duped. No: liberty is the great dissolvent of all fanaticisms. In giving
back liberty to my enemy, who would suppress me if he had the power, I
shall really make him the worst gift. I oblige him to drink a strong
beverage which shall turn his head, while I shall keep my own. Science
supports the strange _régime_ of liberty: fanaticism and superstition do
not support it. We do more harm to dogmatism by treating it with an
implacable sweetness than by persecuting it. By this sweetness we even
inculcate the principle which destroys all dogmatism at its root, by
understanding that all metaphysical controversy is sterile, and that,
for this reason, the truth for each one is as he believes it. The
essential, then, is not to silence dangerous teaching, and hush the
discordant voice: the essential is to place the human mind in a state in
which the mass can see the uselessness of its rage. When this spirit
becomes the atmosphere of society, the fanatic can no longer live. He is
conquered by a pervading gentleness. If, instead of conducting
Polyeuctus to punishment, the Roman magistrate had dismissed him
smiling, and taken him amicably by the hand, Polyeuctus would not have
continued: perhaps even in his old age he would have laughed at his
escapade, and would have become a man of good sense.


  Royal Academy, London, April 16, 1880.




Ladies and Gentlemen,--I have accepted with great pleasure the
invitation to address you in this illustrious institution devoted to the
noblest researches of science and of true philosophy. I have dreamed
since my childhood of this island, where I have so many friends, and
which I visit so tardily.

I am a Briton of France. In our old books, England is always called the
Island of the Saints; and, in truth, all our saints of Armorican
Brittany, those saints of doubtful orthodoxy, who, if they were again
alive, would be more in harmony with us than with the Jesuits, came from
the Island of Britain. I have seen in their chapel the trough of stone
in which they crossed the sea. Of all races, the Britain race is that
which has ever taken religion the most seriously. Even when the progress
of reflection has shown us that some articles among the catalogues of
things which we have always regarded as fixed should be modified, we
never break away from the symbol under which we have from the first
approved the ideal.

For our faith is not contained in obscure metaphysical propositions: it
is in the affirmations of the heart. I have therefore chosen for my
discourse to you, not one of those subtleties which divide, but one of
those themes, dear to the soul, which bring nearer, and reconcile. I
shall speak to you of that book resplendent with the divine spirit, that
manual of submissive life which the most godly of men has left us,--the
Cæsar, Marcus Aurelius Antonine. It is the glory of sovereigns that the
most irreproachable model of virtue may be found in their ranks, and
that the most beautiful lessons of patience and of self-control may come
from a condition which one naturally believes to be subject to all the
seductions of pleasure and of vanity.


The inheritance of wisdom with a throne is always rare: I find in
history but two striking examples of it,--in India, the succession of
the three Mongol emperors, Bâber, Hoomâyoon, and Akbar; at Rome, at the
head of the greatest empire that ever existed, the two admirable reigns
of Antonine the Pious and Marcus Aurelius. Of the last two, I consider
Antonine the greatest. His goodness did not lead him into faults: he was
not tormented with that internal trouble which disturbed without
ceasing the heart of his adopted son. This strange malady, this restless
study of himself, this demon of scrupulousness, this fever of
perfection, are signs of a less strong and distinguished nature. As the
finest thoughts are those which are not written, Antonine had in this
respect also a superiority over Marcus Aurelius. But let us add that we
should be ignorant of Antonine, if Marcus Aurelius had not transmitted
to us that exquisite portrait of his adopted father, in which he seems
to have applied himself, through humility, to painting the picture of a
better man than himself.

It is he who has sketched in the first book of his "Thoughts,"--that
admirable background where the noble and pure forms of his father,
mother, grandfather, and tutors, move in a celestial light. Thanks to
Marcus Aurelius, we are able to understand how these old Roman families,
who had seen the reign of the wicked emperors, still retained honesty,
dignity, justice, the civil, and, if I may dare to say it, the
republican spirit. They lived there in admiration of Cato, of Brutus, of
Thrasea, and of the great stoics whose souls had never bowed under
tyranny. The reign of Domitian was abhorred by them. The sages who had
endured it without submission were honored as heroes. The accession of
the Antonines was only the coming to power of the society of sages, of
whose just anger Tacitus has informed us,--a society of wise men formed
by the league of all those who had revolted against the despotism of the
first Cæsars.

The salutary principle of adoption made the imperial court of the second
century a true cradle of virtue. The noble and learned Nerva, in
establishing this principle, assured the happiness of the human race
during almost a hundred years, and gave to the world the best century of
progress of which any knowledge has been preserved. The sovereignty thus
possessed in common by a group of choice men who delegated it or shared
it, according to the needs of the moment, lost a part of that attraction
which renders it so dangerous.

Men came to the throne without seeking it, but also without the right of
birth, or in any sense the divine right: men came there understanding
themselves, experienced, having been long prepared. The empire was a
civil burden which each accepted in his turn, without dreaming of
hastening the hour. Marcus Aurelius was made emperor so young, that the
idea of ruling had scarcely occurred to him, and had not for a moment
exercised its charm upon his mind.

At eight years, when he was already _præsul_ of the Salian priests,
Hadrian remarked this sad child, and loved him for his good-nature, his
docility, and his incapability of falsehood. At eighteen years the
empire was assured to him. He awaited it patiently for twenty-two years.
The evening when Antonine, feeling himself about to die, after having
given to the tribune the watchword, _Æquanimitas_, commanded the golden
statue of Fortune, which was always in the apartment of the emperor, to
be borne into that of his adopted son, he experienced neither surprise
nor joy.

He had long been sated with all joys, without having tasted them: he had
seen the absolute vanity of them by the profoundness of his philosophy.

The great inconvenience of practical life, and that which renders it
insupportable to a superior man, is, that, if one carries into it the
principles of the ideal, talents become defects; so that very often the
accomplished man is less successful in it than one who is fitted by
egotism or ordinary routine. Three or four times the virtue of Marcus
Aurelius came near being his ruin. The first fault into which it led him
was that of sharing the empire with Lucius Verus, to whom he was under
no obligation. Verus was a frivolous and worthless man. Prodigies of
goodness and delicacy were necessary in order to prevent his committing
disastrous follies. The wise emperor, earnest and industrious, took with
him in his _lectica_ (sedan) the senseless colleague whom he had given
himself. He persisted in treating him seriously: he never once revolted
against this sorry companionship. Like all well-bred men, Marcus
Aurelius discommoded himself continually: his manners came from a
general habit of firmness and dignity. Souls of this kind, either from
respect for human nature, or in order not to wound others, resign
themselves to the appearance of seeing no evil. Their life is a
perpetual dissimulation.

According to some, he even deceived himself, since, in his intimate
intercourse with the gods, on the borders of the Granicus, speaking of
his unworthy wife, he thanked them for having given him a wife "so
amiable, so affectionate, so pure." I have shown elsewhere that the
patience, or, if one chooses, the weakness, on this point, of Marcus
Aurelius, has been somewhat exaggerated. Faustina had faults: the
greatest one was that she disliked the friends of her husband; and, as
these friends wrote history, she has paid the penalty before posterity.
But a discriminating critic has no trouble in showing the exaggerations
of the legend. Every thing indicates that Faustina at first found
happiness and love in that villa at Lorium, or in that beautiful retreat
at Lanuvium upon the highest points of the Alban mount, which Marcus
Aurelius described to his tutor Fronto as an abode full of the purest
joys. Then she became weary of too much wisdom. Let us tell all: the
beautiful sentences of Marcus Aurelius, his austere virtue, his
perpetual melancholy, might have become tiresome to a young and
capricious woman possessed of an ardent temperament and marvellous
beauty. He understood it, suffered it, and spoke not. Faustina remained
always his "very good and very faithful wife." No one succeeded, even
after her death, in persuading him to give up this pious lie. In a
bas-relief which is still seen in the Museum of the Capitol at Rome,
while Faustina is borne to heaven by a messenger of the gods, the
excellent emperor regards her with a look full of love. It seems that at
last he had deceived himself, and forgotten all. But through what a
struggle he must have passed in order to do this! During long years, a
sickness at heart slowly consumed him. The desperate effort which was
the essence of his philosophy, this frenzy of renunciation, carried
sometimes even to sophism, concealed an immense wound at the bottom. How
necessary it must have been to bid adieu to happiness in order to reach
such an excess! No one will ever understand all that this poor wounded
heart suffered, the bitterness which that pale face concealed, always
calm, always smiling. It is true that the farewell to happiness is the
beginning of wisdom and the surest means of finding peace. There is
nothing so sweet as the return of joy which follows the renunciation of
joy; nothing so keen, so profound, so charming, as the enchantment of
the disenchanted.

Some historians, more or less imbued with that policy which believes
itself to be superior, because it is not suspected of any philosophy,
have naturally sought to prove that so accomplished a man was a bad
administrator and a mediocre sovereign. It appears, in fact, that Marcus
Aurelius sinned more than once by too much lenity. But never was there a
reign more fruitful in reforms and progress. The public charity founded
by Nerva and Trajan was admirably developed by him. New schools were
established for poor children; the superintendents of provisions became
functionaries of the first rank, and were chosen with extreme care;
while the wants of poor young girls were cared for by the Institute of
_Jeunes Faustiniennes_. The principle that the state has duties in some
degree paternal towards its members (a principle which should be
remembered with gratitude, even when it has been dispensed with),--this
principle, I say, was proclaimed for the first time in the world by
Trajan and his successors. Neither the puerile pomp of Oriental
kingdoms, founded on the baseness and stupidity of men, nor the pedantic
pride of the kingdoms of the middle ages, founded on an exaggerated
sentiment for hereditary succession, and on a simple faith in the rights
of blood, could give an idea of the utterly republican sovereignty of
Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonine, and Marcus Aurelius.

Nothing of the prince by hereditary or divine right, nothing of the
military chieftain: it was a sort of grand civil magistracy, without
resembling a court in any way, or depriving the emperor of his private
character. Marcus Aurelius, in particular, was neither much nor little a
king in the true sense of the word. His fortune was immense, but all
employed for good: his aversion for "the Cæsars," whom he considered as
a species of Sardanapali, magnificent, debauched, and cruel, burst out
at each instant. The civility of his manners was extreme. He gave to the
Senate all its ancient importance: when he was at Rome, he never missed
a session, and left his place only when the Consul had pronounced the
formula, "_Nihil vos moramar, patres conscripti_." Almost every year of
his reign he made war, and he made it well, although he found in it only
_ennui_. His listless campaigns against the Quadi and Marcomanni were
very well conducted: the disgust which he felt for them did not prevent
his most conscientious attention to them. It was in the course of one of
these expeditions, that, encamped on the banks of the Granicus, in the
midst of the monotonous plains of Hungary, he wrote the most beautiful
pages of the exquisite book which has revealed his whole soul to us. It
is probable, that, when very young, he kept a journal of his secret
thoughts. He inscribed there the maxims to which he had recourse in
order to fortify himself, the reminiscences of his favorite authors, the
passages of the moralists which appealed most to him, the principles
which had sustained him through the day, sometimes the reproaches which
his scrupulous conscience addressed to him. "One seeks for himself
solitary retreats, rustic cottages, sea-shore, or mountains: like
others, thou lovest to dream of these good things. To what end, since it
is permitted to thee to retire within thy soul each hour? Man has
nowhere a more tranquil retreat, above all, if he has within himself
those things, the contemplation of which will calm him. Learn, then, how
to enjoy this retreat, and there renew thy strength. Let there be those
short fundamental maxims, which above all will give again serenity to
thy soul, and restore thee to a state in which to support with
resignation the world to which thou shouldest return."

During the sad winters of the North, this consolation became still more
necessary to him. He was nearly sixty years old: old age was premature
with him. One evening all the pictures of his pious youth returned to
his remembrance, and he passed some delicious hours in calculating how
much he owed to each one of the virtuous beings who had surrounded him.

"Examples of my grandfather Verus,--sweetness of manners, unchangeable

"Qualities which one valued in my father, the souvenir which he has left
me,--modesty, manly character."

"To imitate the piety of my mother, her benevolence; to abstain, like
her, not only from doing evil, but from conceiving the thought of it; to
lead her frugal life, which so little resembled the habitual luxury of
the rich."

Then appeared to him, in turn, Diagnotus, who had inspired him with a
taste for philosophy, and made agreeable to his eyes the pallet, the
covering made of a simple skin, and all the apparel of Hellenic
discipline; Junius Rusticus, who taught him to avoid all affectation of
elegance in style, and loaned him the Conversations of Epictetus;
Apollonius of Chalcis, who realized the Stoic ideal of extreme firmness
and perfect sweetness; Sextus of Chaeroneia, so grave and so good;
Alexander the grammarian, who censured with such refined politeness;
Fronto, "who taught him the envy, duplicity, and hypocrisy of a tyrant,
and the hardness which may exist in the heart of a patrician;" his
brother Severus, "who made him understand Thrasia, Helvidius, Cato,
Brutus, who gave him the idea of what a free government is, where the
rule is the natural equality of the citizens and the equality of their
rights; of a royalty which places before all else the respect for the
liberty of the citizens;" and, rising above all others in his immaculate
grandeur, Antonine, his father by adoption, whose picture he traces for
us with redoubled gratitude and love. "I thank the gods," said he
finally, "for having given me good ancestors, good parents, a good
sister, good teachers, and in my surroundings, in my relations, in my
friends, men almost all filled with goodness. I never allowed myself to
be wanting in deference towards them: from my natural disposition, I
could sometimes have shown irreverence; but the benevolence of the gods
never permitted the occasion to present itself. I am also indebted to
the gods, who preserved pure the flower of my youth, for having been
reared under the rule of a prince, and a father who strove to free my
soul from all trace of pride, to make me understand that it is possible,
while living in a palace, to dispense with guards, with splendid
clothes, with torches, with statues, to teach me, in short, that a
prince can almost contract his life within the limits of that of a
simple citizen, without, on that account, showing less nobility and
vigor when he comes to be an emperor, and transact the affairs of state.
They gave me a brother, whose manners were a continual exhortation to
watch over myself, while his deference and attachment should have made
the joy of my heart.

"Thanks to the gods again, that I have made haste to raise those who
have cared for my education, to the honors which they seemed to desire.
They have enabled me to understand Apollonius, Rusticus, Maximus, and
have held out to me, surrounded with brilliant light, the picture of a
life conformed to nature. I have fallen short of it in the end, it is
true; but it is my fault. If my body has long supported the rude life
which I lead; if, in spite of my frequent neglect of Rusticus, I have
never overstepped the bounds, or done any thing of which I should
repent; if my mother, who died young, was able, nevertheless, to pass
her last years near me; if, whenever I have wished to succor the poor or
afflicted, money has never been wanting; if I have never needed to
accept any thing from others; if I have a wife of an amiable,
affectionate, and pure character; if I have found many capable men for
the education of my children; if, at the beginning of my passion for
philosophy, I did not become the prey of a sophist,--it is to the gods
that I owe it all. Yes, so many blessings could only be the result of
the aid of the gods and a happy fortune."

This divine candor breathes in every page. No one has ever written more
simply than did he for the sole purpose of unburdening his heart to
God, his only witness. There is not a shadow of system in it. Marcus
Aurelius, to speak exactly, had no philosophy: although he owed almost
every thing to stoicism transformed by the Roman spirit, it is of no
school. According to our idea, he has too little curiosity; for he knows
not all that a contemporary of Ptolemy and Galen should know: he has
some opinions on the system of the world, which were not up to the
highest science of his time. But his moral thought, thus detached from
all alliance with a system, reaches a singular height. The author of the
book, "The Imitation," himself, although free from the quarrels of the
schools, does not rise to this, for his manner of feeling is essentially
Christian. Take away his Christian dogmas, and his book retains only a
portion of its charm. The book of Marcus Aurelius, having no dogmatic
base, preserves its freshness eternally. Every one, from the atheist, or
he who believes himself one, to the man who is the most devoted to the
especial creeds of each worship, can find in it some fruits of
edification. It is the most purely human book which exists. It deals
with no question of controversy. In theology, Marcus Aurelius floats
between pure Deism, Polytheism interpreted in a physical sense according
to the manner of the Stoics, and a sort of cosmic Pantheism. He holds
not much more firmly to one hypothesis than to the other, and he uses
indiscriminately the three vocabularies of the Deist, Polytheist, and
Pantheist. His considerations have always two sides, according as God
and the soul have, or have not, reality. It is the reasoning which we do
each hour; for, if the most complete Materialism is right, we who have
believed in truth and goodness shall be no more duped than others. If
Idealism is right, we have been the true sages, and we have been wise in
the only manner which becomes us, that is to say, with no selfish
waiting, without having looked for a remuneration.


We here touch a great secret of moral philosophy and religion. Marcus
Aurelius has no speculative philosophy; his theology is utterly
contradictory; he has no idea founded upon the soul and immortality. How
could he be so moral without the beliefs that are now regarded as the
foundations of morality? how so profoundly religious, without having
professed one of the dogmas of what is called natural religion? It is
important to make this inquiry.

The doubts, which, to the view of speculative reason, hover above the
truths of natural religion, are not, as Kant has admirably shown,
accidental doubts, capable of being removed, belonging, as is sometimes
imagined, to certain conditions of the human mind. These doubts are
inherent to the nature even of these truths, if one may say it without a
paradox; and, if these doubts were removed, the truths with which they
quarrel would disappear at the same time. Let us suppose, in short, a
direct, positive proof, evident to all, of future sufferings and
rewards: where will be the merit of doing good? They would be but fools
whom gayety of heart should hasten to damnation. A crowd of base souls
would secure their salvation without concealment: they would, in a
sense, force the divine power. Who does not see, that, in such a system,
there is neither morality nor religion? In the moral and religious order
it is indispensable to believe without demonstration. It deals not with
certainty: it acts by faith. This is what Deism forgets, with its habits
of intemperate affirmation. It forgets that creeds too precise
concerning human destiny would destroy all moral merit. For us, they
would say that we should do as did St. Louis when he was told of the
miraculous wafer,--we should refuse to see it. What need have we of
these brutal proofs which trammel our liberty?

We should fear to become assimilated to those speculators in virtue, or
those vulgar cowards, who mingle with spiritual things the gross
selfishness of practical life. In the days which followed the belief in
the resurrection of Jesus, this sentiment was manifested in the most
touching manner. The faithful in heart, the sensitive ones, preferred to
believe without seeing. "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet
have believed," became the word for the time. Charming words! Eternal
symbol of tender and generous Idealism, which has a horror of touching
with the hands that which should only be seen with the heart!

Our good Marcus Aurelius, on this point as on all others, was in advance
of the ages. He never cared to argue with himself concerning God and the
soul. As if he had read the "Criticism of Practical Reason," he saw
clearly, that, where the Infinite is concerned, no formula is absolute;
and that, in such matters, one has no chance of seeing the truth during
his life, without much self-contradiction. He distinctly separates moral
beauty from all theoretical theology. He allows duty to depend on no
metaphysical opinion of the First Cause. The intimate union with an
unseen god was never carried to a more unheard-of delicacy. "To offer to
the government of God that which is within thee,--a strong being ripened
by age, a friend of the public good, a Roman, an emperor, a soldier at
his post awaiting the signal of the trumpet, a man ready to quit life
without regret." "There are many grains of incense destined to the same
altar: one falls sooner, the other later, in the fire; but the
difference is nothing." "Man should live according to nature during the
few days that are given him on the earth, and, when the moment of
leaving it comes, should submit himself sweetly, as an olive, which, in
falling, blesses the tree which has produced it, and renders thanks to
the branch which has borne it." "All that which thou arrangest is suited
to me, O Cosmos! Nothing of that which comes from thee is premature or
backward to me. I find my fruit in that which thy seasons bear, O
Nature! From thee comes all; in thee is all; to thee all returns." "O
man! thou hast been a citizen in the great city: what matters it to thee
to have remained three or five years? That which is governed by laws is
unjust for no one. What is there, then, so sorrowful in being sent from
the city, not by a tyrant, not by an unjust judge, but by the same
nature which allowed thee to enter there? It is as if a comedian is
discharged from the theatre by the same prætor who engaged him. But wilt
thou say, 'I have not played the five acts; I have played but three?'
Thou sayest well; but in life three acts suffice to complete the entire
piece.... Go, then, content, since he who dismisses thee is content."

Is this to say that he never revolted against the strange fate which
leaves man alone face to face with the needs of devotion, of sacrifice,
of heroism, and nature with its transcendent immorality, its supreme
disdain for virtue? No. Once at least the absurdity, the colossal
iniquity, of death, strikes him. But soon his temperament, completely
mortified, resumes its power, and he becomes calm. "How happens it that
the gods, who have ordered all things so well, and with so much love for
men, should have forgotten one thing only; that is, that men of tried
virtue, who during their lives have had a sort of interchange of
relations with divinity, who have made themselves loved by it on account
of their pious acts and their sacrifices, live not after death, but may
be extinguished forever?

"Since it is so, be sure, that, if it should be otherwise, they (the
gods) would not have failed; for, if it had been just, it would have
been possible; if it had been suitable to nature, nature would have
permitted it. Consequently, when it is not thus, strengthen thyself in
this consideration, that it was not necessary that it should be thus.
Thou thyself seest plainly that to make such a demand is to dispute his
right with God. Now, we would not thus contend with the gods if they
were not absolutely good and absolutely just: if they are so, they have
allowed nothing to make a part of the order of the world which is
contrary to justice and right."

Ah! is it too much resignation, ladies and gentlemen? If it is veritably
thus, we have the right to complain. To say, that, if this world has not
its counterpart, the man who is sacrificed to truth or right ought to
leave it content, and absolve the gods,--that is too _naïve_. No, he has
a right to blaspheme them. For, in short, why has his credulity been
thus abused? Why should he have been endowed with deceitful instincts,
of which he has been the honest dupe? Wherefore is this premium given to
the frivolous or wicked man? Is it, then, he who is not deceived who is
the wise man? Then cursed be the gods who so adjudge their preferences!
I desire that the future may be an enigma; but, if there is no future,
then this world is a frightful ambuscade. Take notice that our wish is
not that of the vulgar clown. We wish not to see the chastisement of the
culpable, nor to meddle with the interests of our virtue. Our wish has
no selfishness: it is simply to be, to remain in accord with light, to
continue the thought we have begun, to know more of it, to enjoy some
day that truth which we seek with so much labor, to see the triumph of
the good which we have loved. Nothing is more legitimate. The worthy
emperor, moreover, was also sensible of it: "What! the light of a lamp
burns until the moment in which it is extinguished, and loses nothing of
its brilliancy, and the truth, justice, temperance, which are in thee
shall be extinguished with thee!" All his life was passed in this noble
hesitation. If he sinned, it was through too much piety. Less resigned,
he would have been more just; for surely to demand that there should be
an intimate and sympathetic witness of the struggles which we endure for
goodness and truth is not to ask too much.

It is possible, also, that if his philosophy had been less exclusively
moral, if it had implied a more curious study of history and of the
universe, it would have escaped a certain excessive rigor. Like the
ascetic Christians, Marcus Aurelius sometimes carried renunciation to
dryness and subtlety. One feels that this calmness, which never belies
itself, is obtained through an immense effort. Certainly, evil had never
an attraction for him: he had no passion to struggle against. "Whatever
one may do or say," writes he, "it is necessary that I should be a good
man; as the emerald might say, 'Whatever one may say or do, I must
remain an emerald, and retain my color.'" But, in order to hold one's
self always upon the icy summit of stoicism, it is necessary to do cruel
violence to nature, and to cut away from it more than one noble element.
This perpetual repetition of the same reasoning, the thousand figures
under which he seeks to represent to himself the vanity of all things,
these frequently artless proofs of universal frivolity, testify to
strifes which he has passed through in order to extinguish all desire in
himself. At times we find in it something harsh and sad. The reading of
Marcus Aurelius strengthens, but it does not console: it leaves a void
in the soul which is at once cruel and delightful, which one would not
exchange for full satisfaction. Humility, renunciation, severity towards
self, were never carried further. Glory--that last illusion of great
souls--is reduced to nothingness. It is needful to do right without
disturbing one's self as to whether any one knows that we do it. He
perceives that history will speak of him: he sometimes dreams of the men
of the past with whom the future will associate him. "If they have only
played the part of tragic actors," said he, "no one has condemned me to
imitate them." The absolute mortification at which he had arrived had
destroyed the last fibre of self-love in him.

The consequences of this austere philosophy might have been hardness and
obstinacy. It is here that the rare goodness of the nature of Marcus
Aurelius shines out in its full brilliancy. His severity is only for
himself. The fruit of this great tension of soul is an infinite
benevolence. All his life was a study of how to return good for evil. At
evening, after some sad experience of human perversity, he wrote only
as follows: "If thou canst, correct them; on the other hand, remember
that thou shouldest exercise benevolence towards those who have been
given to thee. The gods themselves are benevolent to men: they aid
them,--so great is their goodness!--to acquire health, riches, glory.
Thou art permitted to be like the gods." Another day, some one was very
wicked; for see what he wrote upon his tablets: "Such is the order of
nature: men of this sort must act thus from necessity. To wish it to be
otherwise is to wish that the fig-tree shall bear no figs. Remember,
thou, in one word, this thing: in a very short time thou and he will
die; soon after, your names even will be known no more." The thoughts of
a universal pardon recur without ceasing. At times a scarcely
perceptible smile is mingled with this charming goodness,--"The best
method of avenging one's self upon the wicked is not to be like them;"
or a light stroke of pride,--"It is a royal thing to hear evil said of
one's self when one does right." One day he thus reproached himself:
"Thou hast forgotten," said he, "what holy relationship unites each man
to the human race,--a relationship not of blood, or of birth, but the
participation in the same intelligence. Thou hast forgotten that the
reasoning power of each one is a god, derived from the Supreme Being."

In the business of life he was always exact, although a little
ingenuous, as very good men usually are. The nine reasons for
forbearance which he valued for himself (book xi. art. 18) show us his
charming good-nature before family troubles, which perhaps came to him
through his unworthy son. "If, upon occasion," said he to himself, "thou
exhortest him quietly, and shalt give to him without anger some lessons
like these,--'No, my child; we are born for each other. It is not I who
suffer the evil, it is thou who doest it thyself, my child!'--show him
adroitly, by a general consideration, that such is the rule; that
neither the bees, nor the animals who live naturally in herds, resemble
him. Say this without mockery or insult, with an air of true affection,
with a heart which is not excited by anger; not as a pedant, not for the
sake of being admired by those who are present; think only of him."

Commodus (if it was for him that he thus acted) was, without doubt,
little touched by this good paternal rhetoric. One of the maxims of the
excellent emperor was, that the wicked are unhappy, that one is only
wicked in spite of himself, and through ignorance. He pitied those who
were not like himself: he did not believe that he had the right to
obtrude himself upon them.

He well understood the baseness of men; but he did not avow it. This
willing blindness is the defect of choice spirits. The world not being
all that they could wish, they lie to themselves in order not to see it
as it is. From thence arises an expediency in their judgments. In Marcus
Aurelius, this expediency sometimes provokes us a little. If we wished
to believe him, his instructors, several of whom were men of mediocrity,
were, without exception, superior men. One would say that every one near
him had been virtuous. This is carried to such a point, that one is
forced to ask if the brother for whom he pronounces such a grand eulogy
in his thanks to the gods was not his adopted brother, Lucius Verus. It
is certain that the good emperor was capable of strong illusions when he
undertook to lend to others his own virtues.

This quality, expressed as an ancient opinion, especially by the pen of
the Emperor Julian, caused him to commit an enormous error, which was
that of not disinheriting Commodus. This is one of those things which it
is easy to say at a distance, when there are no obstacles present, and
when one reasons without facts. It is forgotten at first that the
emperors, who, after Nerva, made adoption so fruitful a political
system, had no sons. Adoption, with the exheredation of the son or
grandson, occurred in the first century of the empire without good
results. Marcus Aurelius was evidently from principle in favor of
direct inheritance, in which he saw the advantage of the prevention of

After the birth of Commodus, in 161, he presented him alone to the
people, although he had a twin-brother: he frequently took him in his
arms and renewed this act, which was a sort of proclamation. In 166
Lucius Verus demanded that the two sons of Marcus, Commodus and Annius
Verus, should be made Cæsars. In 172 Commodus shared with his father the
title of Germanicus. In 173, after the repression of the revolt of
Avidius, the Senate, in order to recognize in some way the family
disinterestedness which Marcus Aurelius had shown, demanded by
acclamation the empire and the tribunitial power for Commodus.

Already the natural wickedness of the latter had betrayed itself by more
than one symptom known to his tutors; but how shall one foresee the
future from a few naughty acts of a child of twelve years? In 176-177
his father made him _Imperator_, Consul, Augustus. This was certainly an
imprudence; but he was bound by his previous acts: Commodus, moreover,
still restrained himself. In later years, the evil completely revealed
itself. On each page of the last books of the "Thoughts," we see the
trace of the martyr within the excellent father, of the accomplished
emperor, who saw a monster growing up beside him, ready to succeed him,
and to take in every thing through antipathy, the opposite course from
that which he had believed to be for the good of men. The thought of
disinheriting Commodus must, without doubt, have come often to Marcus
Aurelius. But it was too late. After having associated him in the
empire, after having so many times proclaimed him to the legions as
perfect and accomplished, to come before the world and declare him to be
unworthy would be a scandal. Marcus was caught in his own phrases, by
that style of benevolent expediency which was too habitual with him.
And, after all, Commodus was only seventeen years old: who could be sure
that he would not reform? Even after the death of Marcus Aurelius this
was hoped for. Commodus at first showed the intention of following the
counsels of meritorious persons with whom his father had surrounded him.

The reproach which is made, then, against Marcus Aurelius, is not that
of not having, but of having, a son. It was not his fault if the age
could not support so much wisdom. In philosophy, the great emperor had
placed the ideal of virtue so high, that no one would care to follow
him. In politics, his benevolent optimism had enfeebled the state
services, above all, the army. In religion, in order not to be too much
bound by a religion of the state, of which he saw the weakness, he
prepared the great triumph of the non-official worship, and left a
reproach to hover above his memory,--unjust, it is true; but even its
shadow should not be found in so pure a life. We touch here upon one of
the most delicate points in the biography of Marcus Aurelius. It is
unhappily certain, that, under his reign, Christians were condemned to
death, and executed. The policy of his predecessors had been firm in
this particular. Trajan, Antonine, Hadrian himself, saw in the
Christians a secret sect, anti-social, dreaming of overturning the
empire. Like all men true to the old Roman principles, they believed in
the necessity of repressing them. There was no need of special edicts:
the laws against the _c[oe]tus illiciti_, the _illicita collegia_, were
numerous. The Christians fell in the most explicit sense under the force
of these laws. Truly, it would have been worthy of the wise emperor who
introduced so many reforms full of humanity, to suppress the edicts
which entailed such cruel and unjust consequences. But it is necessary
to observe primarily, that the true spirit of liberty, as we understand
it, was not then understood by any one; and that Christianity, when it
was master, practised it no more than the Pagan emperors. In the second
place, the abrogation of the laws against illicit societies would have
been the ruin of the empire, founded essentially upon the principle that
the state ought not to admit within its bosom any society differing
from it. The principle was bad, according to our ideas: it is very
certain, at least, that it was the corner-stone in the Roman
constitution. Marcus Aurelius, far from exaggerating it, extenuated it
with all his powers; and one of the glories of his reign is the
extension of the right of association. However, he did not go to the
root: he did not completely abolish the laws against the _collegia
illicita_, and in the provinces there resulted from them some processes
infinitely to be regretted. The reproach which can be made against him
is the same that might be made to the rulers of our day, who do not
suppress with a stroke of the pen all the laws restrictive of the
liberties of re-union, of association, and of the press.

From the distance at which we stand, we can see that Marcus Aurelius, in
being more completely liberal, would have been wiser. Perhaps
Christianity left free would have developed in a manner less disastrous
the theocratic and absolute principle which was in it; but one cannot
reproach a man with not having stirred up a radical revolution on
account of a prevision of what would occur several centuries after him.
Trajan, Hadrian, Antonine, Marcus Aurelius, could not know the
principles of general history and political economy which have been
understood only in our time, and which only our last revolutions could
reveal. In any case, the mansuetude of the good emperor was in this
respect shielded from all reproach. No one has the right to be more
exacting in this respect than was Tertullian. "Consult your annals,"
said he to the Roman magistrates. "You will then see that the princes
who have been severe towards us are of those who have held to the honor
of having been our persecutors. On the contrary, all the princes who
have respected divine and human laws include but one who persecuted the
Christians. We can even name one of them who declared himself their
protector,--the wise Marcus Aurelius. If he did not openly revoke the
edicts against our brethren, he destroyed their power by the severe
penalties which he declared against their accusers." It is necessary to
remember that the Roman Empire was ten or twelve times as large as
France, and that the responsibility of the emperor was very little in
the judgments which were rendered in the provinces. It is necessary,
moreover, to recall the fact that Christianity claimed not only the
liberty of worship: all the creeds which tolerated each other were
allowed much freedom in the empire. Christianity and Judaism were the
exceptions to this rule on account of their intolerance and spirit of

We have, then, good reason to mourn sincerely for Marcus Aurelius. Under
him philosophy reigned. One moment, thanks to him, the world was
governed by the best and greatest man of his age. Frightful decadences
followed; but the little casket which contained the "Thoughts" on the
banks of the Granicus was saved. From it came forth that incomparable
book in which Epictetus was surpassed, that Evangel of those who believe
not in the supernatural, which has not been comprehended until our day.
Veritable, eternal Evangel, the book of "Thoughts," which will never
grow old, because it asserts no dogma. The virtue of Marcus Aurelius,
like our own, rests upon reason, upon nature. St. Louis was a very
virtuous man, because he was a Christian: Marcus Aurelius was the most
godly of men, not because he was a Pagan, but because he was a gifted
man. He was the honor of human nature, and not of an established
religion. Science may yet destroy, in appearance, God and the immortal
soul; but the book of the "Thoughts" will still remain young with life
and truth.

The religion of Marcus Aurelius is the absolute religion, that which
results from the simple fact of a high moral conscience placed face to
face with the universe. It is of no race, neither of any country. No
revolution, no change, no discovery, will have power to affect it.

  Transcriber's Notes:

    Phrases in italics are indicated by _italics_.

    Words in the text which were in small-caps were
      converted to title-case.

    The "oe" ligature is indicated by "[oe]" (e.g. Ph[oe]nician).

    Missing word added:
      pg  34  the word "it" has been added to the phrase:
        "if (it) had been announced"

    Words re-arranged:
      pg 126  "the be strongest" --> "be the strongest"

    Typos corrected:
      pg  32  "Pysche" --> "Psyche"
      pg  54  "apochryphal" --> "apocryphal"
      pg  95  "Judean" --> "Judæan" (2 occurrences)
      pg 109  "Mithracism" --> "Mithraicism"
      pg 150  "ctizens" --> "citizens"

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "English Conferences of Ernest Renan - Rome and Christianity. Marcus Aurelius" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.