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Title: What Does History Teach? - Two Edinburgh Lectures
Author: Blackie, John Stuart
Language: English
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THE following Lectures were prepared for the Philosophical Institution
of Edinburgh, and were delivered, with the exception of a few passages,
before audiences consisting of Members of that Institution on the
evenings of 8th and 11th December in the present year.

EDINBURGH, _December_ 1885.


Ὥσπερ τελεωθὲν βέλτιστον τῶν ζῴων ἄνθρωπος οὕτω καὶ χωρισθὲν νόμου
καὶ δίκης χείριστον πάντων.--ARISTOTLE.

HISTORY, whether founded on reliable record, or on monuments, or on
the scientific analysis of the great fossil tradition called language,
knows nothing of the earliest beginnings. The seed of human society,
like the seed of the vegetable growth, lies under ground in darkness,
and its earliest processes are invisible to the outward eye.
Speculations about the descent of the primeval man from a monkey, of the
primeval monkey from an ascidian, and of the primeval ascidian from a
protoplastic bubble, though they may act as a potent stimulus to the
biological research of the hour, certainly never can form the
starting-point of a profitable philosophy of history.

As revealed in history, man is an animal, not only generically different
from, but characteristically antagonistic to the brute. That which makes
him a man is precisely that which no brute possesses, or can by any
process of training be made to possess. The man can no more be developed
out of the brute than the purple heather out of the granite rock which
it clothes. The relation of the one to the other is a relation of mere
outward attachment or dependency--like the relation which exists
between the painter's easel and the picture which is painted on
it. The easel is essential to the picture, but it did not make the
picture, nor give even the smallest hint towards the making of it. So
the monkey, as a basis, may be essential to the man without being in any
way participant of the divine indwelling λόγος which makes a man a
man. The two are related only as all things are related, inasmuch as
they are all shot forth from the great fountain-head of all vital
forces, whom we justly call GOD.

The distinctive character of man as revealed in history is threefold.
Man is an inventive animal, and he does not invent from a compulsion of
nature, as bees make cells or as swallows build nests. These are all
prescribed operations which the animal must perform; but the inventive
faculty in man is free, in such a manner that the course of its action
cannot be foreseen or calculated. It revels in variety, and, above all
things, shuns that uniformity which is the servile province of brute
activity. A man may live in a hole like a fox, but his proper humanity
is shown by building a house and inventing a style of architecture. A
man can sing like a bird, but--what the bird cannot do--he can
make a harp or an organ. He can scrape with his nails like a terrier,
but, as a man manifesting his proper manhood, he prefers to make a
shovel of wood and a hatchet of stone or iron. The other animals,
however cunning, and often wonderfully adaptable in their instincts, are
mere machines. Man makes machines. In this respect he is justly entitled
to look upon himself as the God to the lower animals, just as the
sheriff in the counties by delegated right represents the supreme
authority of the Crown. But, above all things, man is a progressive
animal,--not merely progressive as the grass grows from root to
blade and from blade to blossom to perfect its individual type of
vegetable life, but advancing from stage to stage and mounting from
platform to platform for the perfectionation of the race; nor even
progressive as plants and fruits are improved by culture and favourable
surroundings, and what is called forcing, or as the breed of sheep and
cattle is improved by selection. No doubt progress of this kind is made
by man as well as by plants and brutes; but his most distinctive human
progress is made, not by imposition from without, but by projection from
within. These projections from within are what in philosophical language
is called the idea; they proceed from the essential nature of mind,
whose imperial function it is to dictate forms, as it is the servile
function of the senses to receive impressions. These intelligent forms,
coming directly from the divine source of all excellence, and projected
from within with sovereign authority to shape for themselves an outward
embodiment, constitute what in art, in literature, in religion, and in
social organisms, is called the ideal; and man may accordingly be
defined as an animal that lives by the conception of ideals, and whose
destiny it is to spend his strength, and, if need be, to lay down his
life, for the realisation of such ideals. The steps of this realisation,
often slow and painful, and always difficult, are what we mean by human
progress; and it is the dominant characteristic of man, of which amongst
the lower animals there is not a vestige, neither indeed could be; for
so long as they have no ideas, neither reason nor the outward expression
of reason in language--two things so closely bound together that
the wise Greeks expressed them both by one word, λόγος--so
long must it be ridiculous to think of them shaping their career
according to an inborn type of progressive excellence. To do so is
exclusively human. Hence our poems, our high art, our churches, our
legislations, our apostleships, our philosophies, our social
arrangements and devices, our speculations and schemes of all kinds,
which, though they are sometimes foolish, and always more or less
inadequate, deliver the strongest possible proof that man is an animal
who will rather die and embrace martyrdom than be content to live as the
brutes do, neither spurred with the hope of progress nor borne aloft on
the wings of the ideal.

Of the very earliest state of human society, as we have already said,
history teaches nothing; but, as man is a progressive animal, and the
plan of Providence with regard to him seems plain to let him shift for
itself and learn to do right by blundering, as children learn to walk by
tumbling, we may safely say that the easier, more obvious, and more rude
forms of living together must have preceded the more difficult, the more
complex, and the more polished. And in perfect consistency with this
presumption, we find three social platforms rising one above the other
in human value, duly accredited either by monuments, by popular
tradition, or by the evidence of comparative philology. These three
are--(1) The prehistoric or stone period, from which such a rich
store of monuments has been set up in the Copenhagen Museum, and the
existence of which is indicated in Gen. iv. 22 as antecedent to Tubal
Cain, the instructor of every artificer in brass and iron. (2) The
shepherd or pastoral stage, represented by Abel (Gen. iv. 2), in which
men subsisted from the easy dominance which they asserted over wild
animals, and from fruits of the earth requiring no culture. (3) The
agricultural stage, when cereal crops were systematically and
scientifically cultivated, which, of course, implied the limitation of
particular districts of ground to particular proprietors, and those
agrarian laws which caused the Greek Demeter to be honoured with the
title of θεσμοφόρος, or lawgiver--a step of marked and decided advance,
insomuch that we may justly attribute to it the redemption of society
from the _vagus concubitus_ of the earliest times, and the firm
establishment of the family, with all its sanctities and all its binding
power, as the prime social monad. To the priestess of this goddess
accordingly, amongst the Greeks, was assigned the function of ushering
in the newly-married pair to the peculiar duties of their new social

The fact that the family is the great social monad, as it is undoubtedly
one of the oldest and most accredited facts in human tradition, so it
presents to us perhaps the most important of all the lessons that
history teaches--a lesson as necessary to be inculcated at the
present hour as at the earliest stages of social advance; and Aristotle
certainly was never more in the right than when he emphasised this truth
strongly in traversing Plato's fancy of making the state the
universal family, to the utter absorption of all subordinated family
monads. Here, as in one or two other matters, the great idealist would
be wiser than God; and so his philosophy, so far as that point was
concerned, became only a more sublime attitude of folly. The importance
of the family, as the divinely instituted social monad, depends
manifestly on the happy combination and harmonious blending of authority
and love which grow out of its constitution--two elements with the
full development and true balance of which the well-being and happiness
of all societies is intimately bound up. The fine moral training which
the family relation alone can inspire we find not only at our own door,
in the fidelity and self-sacrificing devotion of our noble Highlanders,
who derived their inspiration from the clan system, of which the family
love and respect is the binding element,[2] as contrasted with the
slavish system of vassalage, the badge of feudalism; but in the habits
and institutions of the three great ancient peoples to whom modern
Europe owes its higher civilisation, Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans,
specially the last,[3] the great masters of the difficult art of
government, who, to use Mommsen's phrase, carried out the unity of
the family through the virtue of paternal authority "with an
inexorable consistency," the beneficial effect of which could not
fail to display itself in social life far beyond the sphere from which
it originally emanated; for obedience to authority is the fundamental
postulate of all possibie societies. With the family, if not absolutely,
certainly with the best and normal state of it, most closely connected
is monogamy; for, though instances of bigamy and polygamy, from Lamech
downwards (Gen. iv. 19) to King David and Solomon in the Old Testament
history, crop up here and there in the oldest times, and even in the
post-Babylonian period, without any formal mark of disapprobation, yet
it is quite certain that the Greeks and Romans were guided by a sound
social instinct when they held the practice of bigamy to be inconsistent
with the proper constitution of a family. What troubles are apt to arise
from a multiplication of contending wives and ambitious mothers the
latter story of King David tells in more unhappy episodes than one; and
generally it may be laid down as one of the great lessons of history
that polygamy, in every shape, is one of those acts of Oriental
self-indulgence which may be sweet in the mouth but has a very strong
tendency to be bitter in the belly, and therefore ought by all means to
be avoided.

By the instinct of aggregation, which belongs to an essentially social
animal, families will club together into townships or villages, and
townships will be centralised into states. Humanity without townships
would degenerate into tigerhood, or whatever type of animal existence
might express an essentially self-contained, solitary, and selfish
creature; townships without that sort of headship which the word State
implies, would make society cry halt at a stage of loosely-connected
aggregates which would render common action for any high human purpose
extremely difficult, and, in the general case, as human beings are,
impossible. Hence the centralisation of the Attic townships at Athens in
the legendary traditions of the Athenians attributed to Theseus;[4]
hence also the lax confederation of the earliest Latin states under the
headship of Albalonga; and, after the humiliation of that old
stronghold, the more closely cemented union of those states under the
hegemony of Rome.[5] Whatever may be the evils connected with the growth
of large towns, especially when, as in modern times, they have been
allowed to swell to enormous magnitude without regulation or control, it
is one of the undoubted lessons of universal history that the social
stimulus necessary for the creation of vigorous thought, no less than
the centralised force indispensable to great achievement, is found only
in the large towns. The Christians were called Christian first at
Antioch; and, had there been no Rome to unify a little Latium, there
would have been no great Roman Empire to amalgamate the rude barbarians
of the North with the smooth civilisation of the South by the force of a
common law and common language.[6]

The form of government natural to such infant states as the expansion of
the original social monad, the FAMILY, is a loose but not unkindly
mixture of monarchy, democracy, and aristocracy--the aristocracy
being always the preponderating element. In the single family, of
course, we have only the monarchical element in the father, and the
democratic element in the children; but, as families expand into
townships, it could not be but that the heads of the families composing
it, partly from their age and experience, partly from the force of
individual character, should form a sort of natural aristocracy, while
the less notable and less prominent members would form the δῆμος,
or great body of the constantly increasing multitude of the associated
families. Below these three dominant elements of the body social, there
would always be found a loose company of dependents and
onhangers--the class called Θῆτες in Homer (Od., iv. 644),
and in the Solonian constitution--who had no civic rights any more
than the serfs and vassals of our medieval feudalism. The weakness of
the monarchical and the strength of the aristocratic elements in the
early societies arose from the original equality of the heads of
families, and from the jealousy with which they would naturally look on
any functions of superiority exercised by any of their order naturally
no better than themselves. The king, accordingly, like Agamemnon in
Homer, would claim the homage which the title implies only for purposes
of common action; and even in such cases would always be kept in check
by a βουλή, or council of the aristocracy, of whose will properly
he was only the executive hand; while the great mass of the people,
occupied with the labours that belong to an agricultural and pastoral
population, and unaccustomed to the large views which statesmanship and
generalship require, would come together only on rare occasions of
peculiar urgency.

The element in that loose triad of social forces that was first
formulated into a more distinct type, and endowed with more imperative
efficiency, was the kingship. The power of the king was increased, which
of course implies that the power of the people, and specially of the
aristocracy, was diminished. And here let it be observed generally that
the progress of civilisation in its natural and healthy career is the
progress of limitation and the curtailment in various ways of that
freedom which originally belonged to every member of the community. The
tanned savage of the backwoods is the freest man in existence; next to
him, the nomad or the wandering gipsy, such as may still be seen in
their glory at St. James' fair in Kelso, whose house is at once
his dwelling-place, his manufactory or place of business, and his
travelling car; least free is the civilised citizen hemmed in on all
sides by police-officers, soldiers, sentinels, door-keepers, and
game-keepers, and the whole fraternity of dignified but unpopular
officials of various kinds whose business it is to the general public to
say No! This accretion of strength to the king proceeded first from his
mere personal influence and the general deference paid to him during the
continuance of a prolonged and easily-exercised sovereignty; all
classes, even the aristocracy, whose ambition is thus kept in check and
their perilous enmities softened, feel the benefit of a wise head and a
firm hand; but the party specially benefited by the kingship is the
demos; for this body, from its position peculiarly liable to be trampled
on by an insolent aristocracy, naturally looks up to the king as the
father of the whole family, who, on his part, feels his position
strengthened and his respect increased by performing with tact and
firmness the delicate functions of a mediator. But the great social
force which operates in giving prominence and predominance to the
monarchy is WAR; and, though war is unquestionably an evil, it is an
evil only as death is, and a form of dying accompanied not seldom with
an exhibition of more manhood than the experience of many a peaceful
deathbed can show. In fact, as stout old Balmerino said on the scaffold
in 1746, "The man who is not ready to die is not fit to
live;" that is, we hold our life under the condition that we may
at any time be called on to sacrifice it, whether for the preservation
of our own self-respect, or for the integrity of the community of which
we are a member. All great nations, in fact, have been cradled in war,
the Hebrews no less than the Greeks and Romans; and it is only an
amiable sentimentalism, pardonable in women, but inexcusable in men,
that, in contemplation of the hard blows, red wounds, and gashed bodies
with which war is accompanied, will allow itself to forget the
hardihood, endurance, courage, self-sacrifice, and devotion to public
duty, of which, under Providence, it has always been the great training
school.[7] There is no profession that I know more favourable to the
growth of noble sentiment and manly action than that of the soldier; and
to its beneficial action in the formation of States every page of
history bears flaming testimony. War, in fact, is the principal agent in
producing that unification so absolutely necessary to social existence,
but which is lost so soon as the headship of the common father of the
expanded clan ceases to be recognised. Thus it was under the compulsion
of war from their Lombardian neighbours on the west and Sclavonians on
the east that the petty democratic communities, which after the
disruption of the Roman Empire occupied the Venetian isles, found
themselves, in the year 697, obliged to elect a king for life, wisely
masking his absolute authority under the name of Doge or Duke. And in a
similar fashion the situation of the Piedmontese, constantly forced to
defend themselves against Gallican and Teutonic ambition, begot in them
a stoutness of self-assertion and a general manhood of character which
up to the present hour has placed them in favourable contrast to the
inhabitants of the southern half of the peninsula; and the manhood
displayed by the Counts of Savoy in asserting their independence against
great odds was no doubt the cause why, in the Peace of Utrecht in 1713,
their lords were allowed to assume and maintain the title of
kings--a circumstance which gave rise to the saying of Frederick
the Great of Prussia, that the lords of Savoy were kings by virtue of
their locality.[8] This is certainly true, not only of Sardinia, but of
all States that ever rose above the loose aggregation of the original
townships. It was the necessity of adjusting matters with troublesome
neighbours that caused a perpetual succession of petty wars; and these
could not be conducted without a prolongation of the power of the
successful general, which acted practically as a kingship. The
successful general in such times did not require to usurp a title which
the people were forward to force upon him; and only a few, we may
imagine, like Gideon (Judges viii. 22), had virtue enough to remain
contented with the distinction belonging to a private station when the
grace of the crown and the authority of the sceptre were formally
pressed upon them by a grateful people. So in Greece we find an early
kingship signalised by the names of Ægeus, Theseus, and Codrus; so in
Rome a succession of seven kings, more or less distinctly outlined, the
last of whom, Tarquin the Proud, stands forward as the head of the great
Latin league, and entering in this capacity into a formal treaty with
Carthage, the great commercial State of the Mediterranean. Closely
connected with war, or, more properly, as the natural development of it
in its more advanced stages, we must mention CONQUEST; that is, the
violent imposition of the results of a foreign civilisation on the
native social foundations of any country. Here, no doubt, there may
often be on the conquering side something very different from a manly
self-assertion--viz. self-aggrandisement at the expense of an
innocent neighbour, greed of territory, lust of power, and the vanity of
mere military glory, which our brilliant neighbours the French were so
fond to have in their mouth. The virtue of war as a training school of
civic manhood does by no means exclude the operation of many forces far
from admirable in their motive; and it is the presence of these unholy
influences, no doubt piously brooded over, that has generated in the
breasts of our mild friends the Quakers that anti-bellicose gospel which
they preach with such lovable persistency. But whatever the motives of
famous conquerors have been, the results of their achievements in the
great history of society have been most important. The imposition of a
foreign type on the peoples of Western Asia by the brilliant conquests
of Alexander the Great, gave to the whole of that valuable part of the
world, along with the rich coast of Northern Africa, a common medium of
culture of the utmost importance to the future civilisation of the race.
The imposition of the Norman yoke 900 years ago on this island gave to
the contentious Saxon kingdoms, by a single vigorous stroke from
without, that social consistency which the bloody strife of five
centuries of petty kings and kinglets among themselves had failed to
produce; while in India the imposition of the most highly advanced
mercantile and Christian civilisation of the West on crude masses of an
altogether diverse type of Asiatic society, presents to the thoughtful
student of history a problem of assimilation of an altogether unique
character, the final solution of which, under the action of many complex
forces, no most sagacious human intellect at the present moment can
divine. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the blessings which
conquest brings with it, when vigorously managed and wisely used, are
lightly turned into a bane whenever the power which has the force to
conquer has not the wisdom to administer; of which unblissful lack of
administrative capacity and assimilating genius the conquests of the
Turks in Europe, and of the English in Ireland, present a most
instructive example.

The monarchies created in the above fashion, by the combination of old
patriarchal habits with military necessities, however firmly rooted they
may appear at the start, carry with them a certain germ of
dissatisfaction, which, under the influence of popular irritability,
seriously endangers their permanence, and may at any time break up their
consistency. The causes of such dissatisfaction are chiefly the
following:--(1) The original motive for creating a king, the
pressure of foreign war, as war cannot last for ever, in time of peace
will cease to operate, and the instinct of individual liberty, which
belongs to all men, unless when violently stamped out, will revive, and
cause the subjection of all men to the will of one to be looked on with
disfavour. (2) This feeling will be specially strong with the
ἄριστοι, or natural aristocracy, whose individual importance
must diminish as the power of the king increases. (3) A great danger
will arise from the fixation of the order of succession to the throne.
The natural tendency will be to follow the example of succession in
private families, and recognise the right of the son to walk into the
public heritage of his father; but the additional influence thus given
to the king will have a tendency to sharpen the jealousy of the nobles.
And, again, the son may be a weakling or a fool, and utterly unfit to
play the part of a supreme ruler with that mixture of intelligence,
firmness, and tact which the royal function for its fair and full action
requires. (4) And if, in order to avoid these evils, the elective
principle is maintained, either absolutely or within certain limits, the
tendency to faction inherent in all aristocracies, stimulated by the
potent spur of a competition for power, will be increased; and this
factious yeast will work so potently in the blood of the nobles that
they will either reduce the power of the king to a mere name, and change
the government into an exclusive oligarchy, as in Venice, or they will
even go the length of calling in foreign arbiters to heal their
dissensions, which, as in the case of Poland, will naturally end in
subjection to some foreign power; or, lastly, they will dispense with
the kingship altogether, and return to their original mixture of
aristocracy and democracy with more firmly-defined functions and more
reliable guarantees. (5) This result may be precipitated by some
outbreak of that insolence which is so naturally fostered by the
possession of absolute power; the sacredness of personal property and
the reverence of ancestral possession will not be respected by some Ahab
of the day; some young Tarquin or Hipparchus may cast his lustful eye on
the fair daughter of an humble citizen; and then will be unsheathed the
sword of a Brutus, and then uprise the song of a Harmodius and
Aristogeiton, which will sound a long knell to monarchy, during the
manhood of a free, an independent, a self-reliant, and a self-governing

The system of self-government thus introduced, as the natural fruit of
the elements out of which it arose, would be a mixture of aristocracy
and democracy, with a decided predominance of the former element at
starting, but with a gradually increasing momentum on the side of the
inferior factor in proportion as the mass of the people excluded from
aristocratic privileges by a necessary law of social growth advanced in
numbers and in social importance. Greece and Rome, or rather Athens and
Rome, present to us here two types from which important lessons may be
learned. In both the discarding of the kings was the work of the
aristocracy; but, while the germ of the democratic element was equally
strong in both, in Athens, partly from the genius of the people, partly
from peculiar circumstances, this germ blossomed into an earlier, a more
marked, and a more characteristic manhood; whereas in Rome, in the most
brilliant period of its political action, the form of government might
rather be defined as a strong aristocracy limited by a strong democracy
than a pure democracy, to which category Athens undoubtedly belongs. In
both States the aristocratic element did not submit to the necessary
curtailment of its power without a struggle; but in Athens the names of
Solon (600 B.C.), Clisthenes, Aristides, and Pericles distinctly marked
the early formation of a democracy almost totally purged from any
remnant of aristocratic influence, at an epoch in its development
corresponding to which we find Rome pursuing her system of worldwide
conquest under a system of compromise between the patrician and the
plebeian element, similar in some sort to what we see before our eyes at
the present moment in our own country. To Athens, therefore, we look, in
the first place, for an answer to the question, What does history teach
in regard to the virtue of a purely democratic government? And here we
may safely say that, under favourable circumstances, there is no form of
government which, while it lasts, has such a virtue to give scope to a
vigorous growth and luxuriant fruitage of various manhood as a pure
democracy. Instead of choking and strangling, or at least depressing,
the free self-assertion of the individual, by which alone he feels the
full dignity of manhood, such a democracy gives a free career to talent
and civic efficiency in the greatest number of capable individuals; but
it does not follow that, though in this regard it has not been surpassed
by any other form of government, it is therefore absolutely the best of
all forms of government. All that we are warranted to say is, as
Cornewall Lewis does,[9] that without a strong admixture of the
democratic spirit humanity in its social form cannot achieve its highest
results; of which truth, indeed, we have the most striking proof before
our eyes in our own happy island, where, even before the time which Mr.
Green happily designates as Puritan England, powerful kings had received
a lesson that as they had been elected so they might be dismissed from
office by the voice of London burghers. Neither, on the other hand, does
it follow from the shortness of the bright reign of Athenian
democracy--not more than 200 years from Clisthenes to the
Macedonians--that all democracies are short-lived, and must pay,
like dissipated young gentlemen, with premature decay for the feverish
abuse of their vital force. Possible no doubt it is that, if the power
of what we may call a sort of Athenian Second Chamber, the Areiopagus,
instead of being weakened as it was by Aristides and Pericles, had been
built up according to the idea of Æschylus and the intelligent
aristocrats of his day, such a body, armed, like our House of Lords,
with an effective negative on all outbursts of popular rashness, might
have prevented the ambition of the Athenians from launching on that
famous Syracusan expedition which exhausted their force and maimed their
action for the future. But the lesson taught by the short-lived glory of
Athens, and its subjugation under the rough foot of the astute
Macedonian, is not that democracies, under the influence of faction,
and, it may be, not free from venality, will sell their liberties to a
strong neighbour--for aristocratic Poland did this in a much more
blushless way than democratic Greece--but that any loose aggregate
of independent States, given more to quarrel amongst themselves than to
unite against a common enemy, whether democratic, or aristocratic, or
monarchical in their form of government, cannot in the long run maintain
their ground against the firm policy and the well-massed force of a
strong monarchy. Athens was blotted out from the map of free peoples at
Chæronea, not because the Athenian people had too much freedom, but
because the Greek States had too little unity. They were used by Philip
exactly in the same way that Napoleon used the German States at the
commencement of the present century. DIVIDE ET INFERA is the
politician's most familiar maxim, which, when wisely and
persistently applied, whether by an ancient Macedonia or a modern
Russia, will always give a strong monarchy a decided advantage over
every other form of government. Surround me with a belt of petty
principalities, says the despot, however highly civilised and however
well governed, and I shall know to make them play my game and work
themselves into confusion, till the hour comes when I may appear as a
god to allay by my intervention the troubles which I have fostered by my

So much for Athens. Let us now see what lessons are to be learned from
ROME. And here, on the threshold, it is quite plain that the abolition
of kingship goes in the first place to strengthen the aristocracy, on
whom as a body the supreme functions exercised by the monarch naturally
devolve. The highly aristocratic type of the early Roman republic,
unlimited from above by any superior power, and with only a slight
occasional check from a plebeian citizenship in the tender bud, is
universally admitted. Plainly enough also it stands written on the face
of the early history of the Commonwealth that the administration of the
aristocracy was marked in no ordinary degree by all that exclusiveness,
insolence, selfishness, and rapacity, which are the besetting sins of an
order of men cradled in hereditary conceit, and eating the bread not of
labour, but of privilege, "_das unverbesserliche Junkerthum_,"
as Mommsen calls them. To such an extent did they abuse the natural
vantage ground of their social position that, while the great body of
the substantial yeomanry, who shed their blood in a constant succession
of petty wars for the safety of the State, were stinted of their natural
reward and degraded from their rightful position, the insolent
monopolisers of all dignities and privileges did not blush to take from
the people their natural heritage in the public land, and, for the
enlargement of their own order, to deprive the State of its stoutest
citizens, and the army of its most effective soldiers. The irritation
produced by this insolent and anti-social procedure of the old Roman
landlords, by the law of reaction common to all forces, produced as its
natural consequence a revolt; for, as it has been truly said that the
blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, no less true is it in
all history that the insolence of the aristocracy is the cradle of the
democracy. That happened accordingly in ancient Rome which Sismondi
prophesied might happen in modern Scotland: "If the mighty thanes who
rule in those trans-Grampian regions begin to think that they can do
without the people, the people may begin to think they can do without
them."[10] So at least the Roman plebs thought when, in the year of the
city 259, they marched in a body out to the Sacred Mount on the banks of
the Anio, and refused to return to the city till their just claims had
been conceded and their wrongs redressed. Their wrongs were redressed:
conferences, concessions, and compromises, in a hurried and blundering
sort of way, were made; tribunes of the plebs were appointed, with the
absolute power of stopping the whole machinery of the State with a
single negation; and thus was sown the seed of a democracy destined to
grow into monstrous proportions, and ripen into the bloody blossom of a
military despotism by the hands of the very class of persons who were
chiefly interested in preventing it.

The different stages of the battle between plebeians and patricians, or,
as we term it, Whig and Tory, as they evolved themselves by a social
necessity from time to time, belong to the special history of Rome, not
to the general philosophy of history with which we are here concerned.
The seed of democracy sown at the Sacred Mount went on from one stage of
expansion to another, breaking down every barrier of hereditary
privilege between the mass of the people and the old aristocracy, till
it ended in the _Lex Hortensia_, passed B.C. 288, which gave to all
ordinances passed by the _Comitia Tributa_--that is, the
people assembled in local tribes and voting independently of all
aristocratic check or co-operation--the full validity of law. And
in this progress of equalisation between class and class in a community,
the Muse of history sees only a special illustration of a general law
that every aristocracy contending for the maintenance of exclusive
privilege against natural right fights a losing battle. But the
necessity of the adjustment of the opposing claims of a conservative and
a progressive body in the State is a very different thing from the
fashion in which the adjustment may be made, and from the consequences
that may grow out of the adjustment. Here there is room for any amount
of wisdom, and unfortunately also for a large amount of blundering. No
man can say that the Roman constitution as it stood, after the plebeians
had broken through all aristocratic barriers, was a cunningly compacted
machine, or that it afforded any strong guarantee against that
degeneracy into licence towards which all unreined democracies naturally
tend. But one thing certainly was achieved. Out of the plebeian and
patrician elements of the body social, no longer arrayed in hostile
attitude, but fronting one another with equal rights before the law, and
adjusting their forces in a fairly-balanced equilibrium, there was
formed a great political corporation, deliberative and administrative,
which for independence, dignity, patriotism, and sagacity, used its
authority in such a masterly style and to such world-wide issues that it
has earned from Mommsen the complimentary acknowledgment of having been
"the first political corporation of all times."[11] This
corporation was the Roman Senate, which ruled the policy of Rome for a
period of 200 years, from the passing of the Hortensian Law through a
long period of African and Asiatic wars down to the civil war of Sulla
and Marius, 88 B.C.--a body of which we may perhaps best easily
understand the composition and the virtue if we imagine the best
elements of our House of Commons and the best elements of the House of
Lords merged in one Supreme Assembly of practical wisdom, to the
exclusion at once of the feverish factiousness and multitudinous babble
of the one assembly, and the brainless obstructiveness and incurable
blindness of hereditary class interests in the other. But there was
something else in the mixed constitution of Rome besides the tried
wisdom and the great practical weight of the Senate. What was that?
There was, in the first place, the evil of an elective kingship--for
the Consul was really an annual king under a different name, as the
President of the United States is a quadriennial king, with greatly more
power while his kingship lasts than the Queen of Great Britain; and this
implied an annual fit of social fever, and the annual sowing of a germ
of faction ready to shoot into luxuriance under the strong stimulant of
the love of power. Then, as in the natural growth of society, a new
aristocracy grew up, formed by the addition of the wealthy plebeian
families to the old family aristocracy, and along with it a new and
numerous plebeian body, practically though not legally excluded from the
privilege of the _optimates_, the old antagonism of patrician and
plebeian would revive, and the question arose, What machinery had the
legislation of the previous centuries provided to prevent a collision
and a rupture between the antagonistic tendencies of the democratic and
oligarchic elements in the State? The answer is, None. The authority of
the Senate, great as it was both morally and numerically, was
antagonised by the co-equal legislative authority of the _Comitia
Tributa_--an assembly as open to any agitator for factious or
revolutionary purposes as a meeting of a London mob in Hyde Park, and
composed of elements of the most motley and loose description, ready at
any moment to give the solemn sanction of a national ordinance to any
act of hasty violence or calculated party move which might flatter the
vanity or feed the craving of the masses. But this was not all. The
tribunate, originally appointed simply for the protection of the
commonalty against the rude exercise of patrician power, had now grown
to such formidable dimensions that the popular tribune of the day might
become the most powerful man in the State, and only require re-election
to constitute him into a king whose decrees the consuls and the senators
must humiliate themselves to register. Here was a machinery cunningly,
one might think, constructed for the purpose of working out its own
disruption, even supposing both the popular and aristocratic elements
had been composed of average good materials. But they were not so. In
the age of the Gracchi, 133 B.C., the high sense of honour, the proud
inheritance of an uncorrupted patrician body, and the shrewd sense and
sobriety of a sound-hearted yeomanry, had equally disappeared. The
aristocracy were corrupted by the wealth which flowed in from the spoils
of conquest; they had become lovers of power rather than lovers of Rome;
lords of the soil, not fathers of the people; banded together for the
narrow interests of their own order rather than for the general
well-being of the community. The sturdy yeomanry again, of which the
mass of the original popular assemblies had been composed, had partly
dwindled away under maladministration of the public lands, and partly
were mixed up with motley groups of citizens of no fixed residence, and
of a town rabble who could be induced to vote for anything by any man
who knew to win their favour by a large distribution of Sicilian corn or
the exciting luxury of gladiatorial shows; in a word, the _populus_ had
become a _plebsy_ or, in our language, the people a populace.
Furthermore, let it be noted that this people or populace, tied down to
meet only in Rome, as the high seat of Government, was called upon to
deal with the administration of countries as far apart and as diverse in
character as Madrid and Cairo, or Bagdad and Moscow are from London.
Think of a mob of London artisans, on the motion of a Henry George, or
even a rational Radical like Mr. Chamberlain, drummed together to pass
laws on landed property and taxation through all that vast domain! But
so it was; and most unfortunately also the original fathers of the
agitation which, at the time of the Gracchi, ranged the great rulers of
the world into two hostile factions, stabbing one another in the back
and cutting one another's throats, and plotting and counter-plotting in
every conceivable style of baseness, after the fashion which is now
being exemplified before us in Ireland,--the authors of this agitation
were not the demagogues, but the aristocracy; as indeed in all cases of
general discontent, social fret, and illegal violence, the parties who
are accused of stirring class against class are not the agitators who
appear on the scene, but the maladministrators who made their appearance
necessary. Man is an animal naturally inclined to obey and to take
things quietly; insurrection is too expensive an affair to be indulged
in by way of recreation; and there is no truth in the philosophy of
history more certain than that whenever the multitude of the ruled rebel
against their rulers, the original fault--I do not say the whole blame,
for as things go on from bad to worse there may be blame and blunders on
both sides--but the original fault and germinative cause of discontent
and revolt unquestionably lies with the rulers. Whatever may be said
about Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, there can be no doubt that in
the case of Rome the original cause of the democratising of the old
constitution and the over-riding of senatorial authority by tribunician
ordinances was the senators themselves, who, in direct contravention of
the public law of the State, with that greed for more land which is the
besetting sin of every aristocracy, had quartered themselves, after the
fashion of colonial squatters, on the public lands, and refused to
surrender them to the State till compelled by the cry of popular right
against might, raised by such patriotic and self-sacrificing agitators
as the Gracchi--patriotic men who attained their object at last by the
only means in their power, but means so drastic that, like doctor's
drugs, they drave out one devil by bringing in a score, and paid for the
partial healing of an incurable disease by destroying for ever the
balance of the constitution, and inaugurating with their own martyr
blood one of the most woeful epochs in human history--an epoch varied by
periodical assassinations and consummated by wholesale butcheries.

I said the Gracchi attained their object, and that by appointing a
Commission for a distribution of the public lands, such as the friends
of the crofters in the Highlands now propose for the repeopling of the
old depopulated homes of the clan. But I said also that the disease
under which Rome laboured was incurable. How was this? Simply because,
whatever might have been the merits of the special Agrarian Law carried
by the Gracchi, the violent steam by which the State machine was moved
remained the same, the clumsy machine itself remained, and the materials
with which it had to deal in a long and critical course of foreign
conquest became every year larger and more unmanageable. It was not to
be expected either, on the one hand, that a strong and influential
aristocracy should die with a single kick, or, on the other, that a
democracy, which had once learned the power of a popular flood to break
down aristocratic dams, would cease to exercise that power when a
convenient occasion offered. And so the strife of oligarchic and
plebeian factions continued. The political struggle, as always happens
in such cases, became a struggle for personal supremacy; the sanguinary
street battle between the younger Gracchus and the Consul Opimius,
though followed by a lull for a season, was renewed after a few years in
more startling form and much bloodier issues, first between Marius and
Sulla, and finally between Cæsar and Pompey. Such a succession of
embittered civil wars could end only in exhaustion and submission; and
this is the last emphatic lesson which the history of Rome has taught to
the governors of the people. Every constitution of mixed aristocratic
and democratic elements which fails by kindly control on the one side,
and reasonable demand on the other, to achieve that balance of those
antagonising forces which means good government, must end in a military
despotism. That which will not bridle itself must be bridled; and when
constant irritation, fretful jars, and cruel collisions are the bloody
fruit of unchastened liberty, slavery and stagnation seem not too high a
price to pay for peace.

I have enlarged on the development and decay of the Roman republic, not
only because in point of political achievement Rome is by far the most
notable of the great States of the world, but because in the struggle
between aristocracy and democracy which was the salient feature of its
history from the expulsion of the kings to the battle of Actium, it
presents a very close and instructive parallel to what has been going on
amongst ourselves from the revolution settlement of 1688 to the present
hour. If for annual kings with large power we put hereditary kings with
small power, the parallel is complete.[12] Let us now cast a glance, for
time and space allow us no more, over some modern developments. The
modern States of Europe have good reason, upon the whole, to think
themselves fortunate in their having retained the kingship, which the
Greeks and Romans rejected, either as their original type, or elevated
and glorified from the dukedoms, margravates, and electorates with which
they started. There cannot be much doubt, I imagine, that, if the Romans
had retained their king in a hereditary or nearly hereditary form, he
might have exercised a mediatorial function between the contending
parties that would have prevented those bloody strifes and those ugly
civic wounds with which the record of their political career stands now
so sorrowfully defaced. In the experience of their own earliest story,
Servius Tullius had already shown them how a king in the strife of
classes might step in by a peaceful new model to open the ranks of a
close aristocracy with dignity and safety to a rising democracy; and in
modern times the case of Leopold II. of Tuscany does not stand alone as
an example of what good service a wise king may do in the adjustment of
contending claims and smoothing the march of necessary social
transitions. In fact, the most democratic people amongst the ancients,
in order to effect such an adjustment in a peaceful way, had been
obliged to make Solon a king for the nonce; and the Romans, urged by a
like social pressure, named their dictator, or re-elected their consuls
and their tribunes, in order to secure for the need of the moment that
unity of counsel, energy of conduct, and moral authority which is the
grand recommendation of the kingship. No doubt kings in modern as in
ancient times have erred; they have not been able always to keep
themselves sober under the intoxicating influence of absolute power, and
they have paid dearly for their errors; but we were wise in this
country, while beheading one despot and banishing another, to punish the
offender without abolishing the office. True, a thorough-going and
sternly-consistent republican may ask, with an indignant sneer, What is
the use of a king, when we have shorn him of all honours save the grace
of a crown and the bauble of a sceptre--reduced him, in fact, to a
mere machine to register the decrees of a democratic assembly? But such
persons require to be reminded that there is nothing more dangerous, not
only in political, but in all practical matters, than logical
consistency; that the most narrow-minded people are always the most
consistent, and this for the very obvious reason that they have only
room for one idea in their small brain chambers, whereas God's
world contains many ideas, stiff ideas too, and given to battle, which
must be brought into some friendly balance or compromise, or set about
throat-cutting on a large scale--a process to which consistent
republicans have never shown a less bloody inclination than consistent
monarchists. They must be reminded also that the person of the monarch
is an incarnated, visible, and tangible symbol of the unity of the
nation, of which parties and factions are so apt to be forgetful; and if
our logically-consistent republican may look on this as a matter of
association and sentiment which he will not acknowledge, he must simply
be told that the man who does not acknowledge the important place played
by associations and sentiments in all matters of Church and State knows
nothing of human nature, and is altogether unfit for meddling with the
difficult and dangerous art of politics. He may write books, and lecture
to coteries, and harangue electoral meetings, and delight himself
largely in the reverberation of his own wisdom, but by all means let him
not be a prime minister. To what ends logical consistency can lead a
politician in high places Charles I. and Archbishop Laud learned when it
was too late; and the fate of these two high-perched worthies stands as
a speaking lesson to all politicians, whether of the democratic or the
monarchical type, how easy a thing it is for a man to be a good
Christian and a consistent thinker, and yet on all political matters a
perfect fool.

Among the notable modern States three stand before us with
an exceptional preference for the democratic form of
government--Switzerland, France, and the great trans-Atlantic
Republic. These must be regarded with curious interest and kindly human
sympathy as great social experiments, by no means to be prejudged and
denounced by any sweeping conclusions made from the unfortunate
breakdown of the two celebrated ancient republics. The experiment in
these cases, as made in altogether different circumstances and under
different conditions, cannot warrant any such denunciations. The
representative system which now universally prevails, and which enables
a most widely-scattered and diverse-minded population to vote with a
coolness and a precision and a large survey of which the urban system of
Greece and Rome never dreamed; the general growth of intelligence among
all classes through the action of cheap education and the large
circulation of cheap books; the rapid and ever more rapid travelling of
contagious thought from the centre to the extreme limbs and flourishes
of social unities; and, above all, let us hope the improved tone of
social feeling in all the relations of man to man, which we owe to the
great Christian principle of living as brother with brother, and sister
with sister, under a common heavenly fatherhood,--these are all
forces largely operating in the present day which justify us in hoping
that many a social experiment which signally failed with the ancients
may be crowned in the centuries which are now being inaugurated with
encouraging success. Of the three which we have named, Switzerland is
the country in which, from topographical peculiarities, the interests of
jealous, neighbours, and the traditional habits of a peasant population
well trained to provincial self-government, the permanence of a
democratic federation may be prophesied with the greatest safety, but at
the same time with the least interest to the general march of humanity.
Ancient Rome, had it continued as compact and as little disturbed by
external forces and internal fermentations as modern Switzerland, might
have remained during the whole course of its career as sober-minded and
as stable as in the days of Cincinnatus, and the yeomanry which were
displaced by huge absentee landlords, and Syrian or Sicilian slaves. The
case of France is altogether different. A republic in an over-civilised,
highly-centralised, bureaucratically-governed country, with a
religiously hollow, hasty, violent, excitable, and explosive people,
seems of all social experiments the least hopeful: and that is all that
can wisely be said of it at present. But the social conditions in
America are altogether different; and the experiment of a great
democratic republic for the first time in the history of the
world--for Rome in its best times, as we have seen, was an
aristocracy--will be looked on by all lovers of their species with
the most kindly curiosity and the most hopeful sympathy. Here we have
the stout, self-reliant, sober-minded Anglo-Saxon stock, well trained in
the process of the ages to the difficult art of self-government; here we
have a constitution framed with the most cautious consideration, and
with the most effective checks against the dangers of an over-riding
democracy; here also a people as free from any imminent external danger
as they have unlimited scope for internal progress. Under no
circumstances could the experiment of self-government, on a great scale,
have been made with a more promising start. No doubt they have a
difficult and slippery problem to perform. The frequent recurrence of
elections to the supreme magistracy has always been, and ever must be,
the breeder of faction, the nurse of venality, and the spur of ambition.
Once already has this Titanic confederacy, though only a hundred years
old, by going through a process of a long, bitter, and bloody civil war,
shown that the unifying machinery so cunningly put together by the
conservative genius of a Washington, an Adams, and a Madison, was
insufficient to hold in check the rebellious forces at war within its
womb. No doubt also it were in vain to speak America free from those
acts of gigantic jobbing, blushless venality, and over-riding of the
masses in various ways, which were working the ruin of Rome in the days
of Jugurtha. The aristocracy of gold and the tyranny of capitalists in
Christian New York has shown itself no less able to usurp the public
land and defraud the people of their share in the soil than the lordly
aristocracy and the slave-dealing magnates of heathen Rome. Nevertheless
we need not despair. The sins of American democracy may serve as a
useful hint to us not rashly to tinker our own mixed constitution
without waiting for a verdict on issues, which, as Socrates wisely says,
lie with the gods; nor, on the other hand, is there any wisdom in
ascribing to the American form of government evils which, as belonging
to human nature, crop up with more or less abundance under all forms of
government, and which may be specially rife among ourselves. We also
have our Glasgow banks, our bubble companies of all kinds, our heady
speculations, our hot competitions, our over-productions, our haste to
be rich, our idol worship of mere material magnificence,--these are
evils, and the root of all evil, with the production of which no form of
government has anything to do, and against which every form of
government will be in vain invoked to contend.

In conclusion, we must bear in mind that democracy or social
self-government is the most difficult of all human problems, and must be
approached, not with inflated hopes and rosy imaginations, but with
sobriety and caution and a sound mind, and at critical moments not
without prayer and fasting. Before entering on any scheme for rebuilding
our social edifice on a democratic model, we should consider seriously
what a democracy really implies, and what we may reasonably promise
ourselves from its possible success. Of the two rallying cries which
have made it a favourite with persons given to change, equality and
liberty, the one is no more true than that all the mountains in the
Highlands are as high as Ben Nevis, and can only mean at the best that
all men have an equal right to be called men and to be treated as men,
while the other is only true so far as concerns the removal of all
artificial barriers to the free exercise of each man's function,
according to his capacity and opportunities. But this is a mere
starting-point in the social life of a great people. When the bird is
out of the cage, which it must be in order to be a perfect bird, the
more serious question emerges, what use it shall make of its
newly-acquired liberty. Here certainly to men, as to birds, there are
great dangers to be faced; and with nations the progress of society, as
already remarked, is measured to a much larger extent by the increase of
limitations than by the extension of liberties. Then, again, the
fundamental postulate of extreme democracy that the majority have
everywhere a right to govern is manifestly false. No man as a member of
society has a natural right to govern: he has a right to be governed,
and well governed; and that can only be when the government is conducted
by the wisest and best men who compose the society. If the numerical
majority is composed of sober-minded, sensible, and intelligent persons
who will either govern wisely themselves or choose persons who will do
so, then democracy is justified by its deeds; but if it is otherwise,
and if, when an appeal is made to the multitude, they will choose the
most daring, the most ambitious, and the most unscrupulous, rather than
the most sensible, the most moderate, and the most conscientious, then
democracy is a bad thing, at least nothing better than the other
_ocracies_ which it supplants. It is manifest, therefore, that of
all forms of government democracy is that which imperatively requires
the greatest amount of intelligence and moderation among the great mass
of the people, especially amongst the lower classes, who have always
been the most numerous; and, as history can point to no quarter of the
world where such a happy condition of the numerical intelligence has
been realised, it cannot look with any favour on schemes of universal
suffrage, even when qualified with a stout array of effective checks.
The system, indeed, of representing every man individually, and giving
every member of a society a capitation vote, as they have a capitation
tax in Turkey, however popular with the advocates of extreme democracy,
seems quite unreasonable. What requires to be represented in a
reasonable representative system is not so much individuals as
qualities, capacities, interests, and types. Every class should be
represented, rather than every man in a class. Besides, the equality of
votes which democracy demands, on the principle that I am as good as you
and perhaps a little better, is utterly false, and tends to nourish
conceit and impertinence, to banish all reverence, and to ignore all
distinctions in society. Anyhow, there can be no doubt that great masses
of men acting together on exciting occasions are peculiarly liable to
hasty resolutions and violent opinions; all democracies, therefore, are
unsafe which are unprovided with checks in the form of an upper chamber
composed of more cool materials, and planted firmly in a position that
makes them independent of the fever and faction of the hour. A strong
democracy stands as much in need of an aristocratic rein as a strong
aristocracy does of a democratic spur. And let it never be
forgotten--what democracies are far too apt to forget--that
minorities have rights as well as majorities; nay, that one of the great
ends to be achieved by a good government is to protect the few against
the natural insolence of a majority glorying in its numbers, and hurried
on by the spring-tide of a popular contagion. A state of society is not
at all inconceivable in which the many shall make all the laws and
monopolise all the offices of a fussy bureaucracy, while the few are
burdened with all the taxes. Never too frequently can we repeat, in
reference to all public acts, no less than to the conduct of individuals
in private life, the great Aristotelian maxim that ALL EXTREMES ARE
WRONG; that every force when in full action tends to an excess which
for its own salvation must be met by a counterpoising force; that all
good government, as all healthy existence, is the balance of opposites
and the marriage of contraries; and that the more mettlesome the charger
the more need of a firm rein and a cautious rider. He who overlooks this
prime postulate of all sane action in this complex world may pile his
democratic house tier above tier and enjoy his green conceit for a
season; but the day of sore trial and civic storm is not far, when the
rain shall descend, and the floods come, and the winds blow and beat
upon that house, and it will fall, because it was founded upon a dream.


Οὐ πᾶς ὁ λέγων μοι Κύριε, Κύριε, εἰσελεύσεται εἰς
τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν· ἀλλ᾽ ὁ ποιῶν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ
πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν τοῖς οῦρανοῖς.--Ὁ ΣΩΤΗΡ.

MAN is characteristically a religious animal; in fact, as Socrates
teaches, the only religious animal;[13] for, though a dog has no doubt
reverential emotions, it cannot be said with any propriety that he has
religious ideas or ecclesiastical institutions, for a very good reason,
because he has no ideas at all: observation he has very keen, and memory
also wonderfully retentive; instincts also, like all primal vital
forces, divine and miraculous; but ideas certainly none, for ideas mean
knowledge; and brutes that have no language properly so called that is a
system of significant vocal signs expressive of ideas, but only cries,
gesticulations, and visible or audible signs expressive of sensations
and feelings, can by no law of natural analogy be credited with the
possession of a faculty of which they give no manifestation. Language is
the outward body and form of which thought and reason and knowledge and
ideas are the inward soul and force; and hence the wise Greeks, unlike
our modern scientists, who delight in confounding man with the monkey,
expressed language and reason with one word λόγος, while what we
dignify with the name of language in birds and other animals was simply
φωνή, or significant voice. If, therefore, there is any thing most
human that history has to teach, it must be about religion. All the
great nations whose names mark the march of human fates have been
religious nations. A people without religion does not exist, or, if it
does exist, it exists only as an abnormal and deficient specimen of the
genus to which it belongs, which is of no more account in the just
estimate of the type than a fox without a tail, or a lawyer without a
tongue; and as for individual atheists, who have been talked about in
ancient times, and specially in these latter days, they are either
philosophers like Spinoza, the most pious of men, falsely baptized with
an odious title from the stupidity, prejudice, or malice of the
community, or, if they really are atheists, they are monsters which a
man may stare at as at an ass with three heads or with no head at all in
a show.

The form in which religion generally presents itself in early history is
what we commonly call Polytheism, though it is quite possible--a
matter about which I am not careful curiously to dogmatise--that
there may have been in some places an original Dualism, like the ancient
Persian, or even a Monotheism, out of which the Polytheism was
developed. For there cannot be the slightest doubt that, whatever may
have been the starting-point, there lay in the popular theology a
tendency to multiply and to reproduce itself in kindred but not always
easily recognisable forms, like the children of a family or the
cousinship of a clan. But, taking Polytheism as the type under which
history presents the objects of religious faith in the earliest times,
we have to remark that under this common name, as in the case of
Christianity, the greatest contrasts, both in speculative idea and in
social efficiency, stare us everywhere in the face. In the eye of the
Christian or the monotheistic devotee the worships of Aphrodite and of
Pallas Athene are equally idolatrous; but, allowing that these
anthropomorphic forms of divine forces and functions of the universe are
equally destitute of a foundation in fact or reason, the reverence paid
to them by a devout people might be as different as passion is from
thought, and sense from spirit. As the ideal of wisdom in counsel and in
action, the Athenian Pallas no doubt exercised as beneficent a sway over
her Hellenic worshippers as the ideal of Christian womanhood, in the
person of the Virgin Mary, does at the present day over millions of
Christian worshippers. It is only when the cosmic function impersonated
in the polytheistic god, being of an inferior order, leaps from its
proper position of subordination and usurps the controlling and
regulating action belonging to the superior function, that polytheistic
idolatry becomes immoral; though, of course, the very facility of this
usurpation, and the stamp of a pseudo divinity that may thereby be given
to beastly vice, is a sufficient reason for the denunciations of the
heathen idolatries so frequent in the Old Testament, which ultimately
ripened into the spiritual apostleship and monotheistic aggression of
St. Paul. One other striking feature of all polytheistic religions may
not be omitted. They are naturally complete--more catholic, more
sympathetic with universal nature and universal life than monotheistic
religions; if they make a philosophical mistake in worshipping many
gods, they do not make a moral mistake in excluding any of his
attributes. With the polytheistic worshipper everything is sacred: the
sun and the sea and the sky, dark earth and awful night, excite in him
an emotion of reverence. If the Greek polytheist was devout at all, he
was devout everywhere; whereas, under monotheistic influences, there is
a danger that devout feelings may respond exclusively to the stern
decrees of an absolute lawgiver and the awful threatenings of a violated
law. Polytheistic piety, whatever its defects, was always ready to add a
grace to every innocent enjoyment; monotheistic religiousness, as we see
its severe features in some modern churches, contents itself with adding
a solemn sanction to the moral law--a severity which here and there
has not been able to keep itself free from the unlovely phase of
regarding the innocent enjoyments and the graceful pleasantries of life
as a sin.

So much for the soul of the business; the body is what we call the
Church. And here the very word is significant. In one sense, as a
separate ethical corporation, the ancients had no Church. Why? Because
Church and State were one; or, if they were two, they were too like the
famous Siamese twins that used to be carried about the country as a
show, two so closely connected that they could no more be torn from one
another and live than the limpet can be separated from the rock to which
it clings. With the peoples of the ancient world the State was the
Church and the Church was the State; the priest was a magistrate and the
magistrate was a priest. This identity of two things, or loose
intercommunion and fusion of two things in modern association so
instinctively kept apart, arose from the common germ out of which both
Church and State grew--viz., as we saw in the previous lecture, the
FAMILY. Every father of a family, in the normal and healthy state of
society, is his own priest as well as his own king. In religion and
morals, as well as in all domestic ordinances, he is absolute and
supreme; and the functions which necessarily belonged to him as supreme
administrator in his own family would, under the influence of family
feelings, naturally be conceded to him when the family grew to a clan,
and the clan to a kingdom. And this is the state of things which we meet
with in the Book of Genesis, long before the promulgation of the Mosaic
law, where we read (xiv. 18) that Melchizedek, _king_ of Salem,
went out to bless Abraham, and he was _priest_ of the Most High
God; the distinction between priest and layman, to which our ears are so
familiar, being in this, as in a thousand other well-known instances,
altogether ignored. Not only in Homer, where we find Agamemnon, the king
of men, performing sacrificial functions without even the presence of a
priest,[14] but in the sober historical age we find the King of Sparta
performing all the public sacrifices--being, in fact, in virtue of
his office, high priest of Jove.[15] So closely indeed was the State
religion identified with the person of the supreme magistrate that, when
the kingship was abolished in Greece, and three principal archons and
seven secondary ones shared his functions, one still retained the title
of βασιλεύς, _king_, and had the supervision, or, as we
would say, supreme episcopacy and overseership of all matters pertaining
to religion.[16] The same thing took place in Rome, where the name of
king was even more odious than in Greece; but nevertheless a _rex
sacrificulus_, or _king-sacrificer_, with his _regina_ or
_queen_, took rank in all the public pontifical dinners above the
_pontifex maximus_ himself. The college of pontiffs in Rome, which
had the supreme direction of all religious matters, was not a board of
priests, but of laymen--or at least of laymen who, without any
qualification but some inaugurating ceremony, might be assumed into the
pontifical college; whence the title of _pontifex maximus_, which
the emperors assumed, was no more of the nature of a usurpation than the
title of _imperator_, which belonged to them as supreme commanders
of the army. Who, then, were the priests, and what need of them, at all
if the laity might legally perform all their functions? The answer is
simple. Both in Greece and Rome there were priests and priestly
families, as the _Eumolpidæ_ in Eleusis, specially dedicated to
the service of certain local gods; but there was no order, class, or
body of persons having the exclusive right to officiate in sacred
matters over the whole community. No doubt the social position of
priests in democratic Greece and monarchical Egypt was extremely
different, but in one respect they were identical: in Athens Church and
State were one as much as in Memphis. In Egypt there was a remarkably
strong body or clan of priests enjoying the highest dignities and
immunities; but there is no proof that they were a caste, in the strict
sense of the word; and their virtues were so far from being
incommunicable that, when the Pharaoh did not happen to be a born
priest, but of the military class, he was obliged to be made a priest
before he could be a king; and when once king he became _ipso
facto_ the high priest of the nation, and took precedence of all
priests in all great public acts of religious ceremonial. It must not be
supposed, however, that, though he was supreme in all sacred matters and
the actual head of the Church, to use our language, he could set
himself, like our Henry VIII., to carve creeds for the people, and
imprison or burn devout persons for refusing to acknowledge his
arbitrary decrees. The exercise of sacred functions in the hands of the
masterful Tudor and his Machiavelian minister was a usurpation tolerated
by a loyal people as their readiest and most effective way of getting
rid of the masterdom of the Roman Pope, which in those days pressed like
an incubus on the European conscience; it was invoking one devil to turn
out another, and was successful, as such operations are wont to be, in a
blundering sort of way. But the worshipful "Sons of the
Sun"--for so they were betitled--on the banks of the
sweet-watered Nile, had no monstrous pretension of this kind, and could
not even have dreamt of it. They did not sit on the throne to reform
religion, but to maintain it. Neither in Egypt nor in Greece in those
days was any such thing known as the rights of the individual
conscience; but both kings and people received religious laws and
consuetudes as we do _Magna Charta_; reasonable people, in the long
course of the centuries before Christ, would no more dream of disturbing
the ancestral belief about the gods than they would think of influencing
the settled courses of the stars. It was their very deep-rooted
permanency, in the midst of the startling mutabilities to which human
affairs are liable, that made the fundamental truths of religion so
valuable to their souls; and as to the particular forms under which
these fundamental truths might have been symbolised by venerable
tradition, the people were not given to form themselves into hostile
camps on the ground of any local difference, as we do in Scotland about
ecclesiastical conceits and crotchets; and every devout Egyptian allowed
his neighbour without offence to pay sacred honours to a crocodile or a
cat, convinced that these honours were equally legitimate and equally
beneficial whenever the sacred symbolism peculiar to the worship was
wisely understood. Collisions, therefore, between Church and State, or
between priesthood and kingship, such as signalised the medieval
struggles of the Popes and Emperors, and the convulsions of our infant
Protestant freedom in England, could not take place amongst the ancient
polytheists. A wise Socrates was equally willing with the most
superstitious devotee, when pious gratitude called, to sacrifice a cock
to Æsculapius; and the νόμῳ πόλεως, by the custom of the
State, was the direction which he gave to all who inquired of him by
what rites they ought to worship the gods.[17] Only amongst the Hebrews,
as a people in whose religious habitude polytheistic and monotheistic
tendencies had never come to any decisive settlement of their inherent
antagonism, do I find a record of a very serious collision between
Church and State, after the fashion of our German Henries and
Transalpine Hildebrands in the days of Papal aggression. Scotsmen
familiar with their Bibles will easily see that I allude to the case of
Uzziah, as recorded in 2 Chron. xxvi. 16-20:--"But when he
was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he
transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the
Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest
went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the Lord, that were
valiant men: And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It
appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but
to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense:
go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be
for thine honour from the Lord God. Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a
censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the
priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in
the house of the Lord, from beside the incense altar. And Azariah the
chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was
leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea,
himself hasted also to go out, because the Lord had smitten him."

So much for Polytheism. That it should have served the spiritual needs
of the human heart so long--five thousand years at least, from the
first Pharaoh that looked down from his Memphian pyramid on the mystic
form of the Sphinx, to the last Roman Emperor that sacrificed white
bulls from Clitumnus at the altar of the Capitoline Jove--is proof
sufficient that, with all its faults, it was made of very serviceable
stuff; but creeds and kingdoms, like individuals, must die. At the
commencement of the eighth century of the Roman Republic heathenism was
doomed in all Romanised Europe, in all Northern Africa, and in Western
Asia, and that for four reasons. The polytheistic religions of the Old
World, created as they were in the infancy of society, no doubt under
the guidance of a healthy instinct of dependence on the ruling power of
the universe, but in the main inspired by the emotions and formulated by
the imagination, without the regulating control of reason, could not
hope to hold their ground permanently in the face of that rich growth of
individual speculation which, from the sixth century before Christ,
spread with such ample ramification from Asiatic and European Greece
over the greater part of the civilised world. If it was a necessity of
human beings at all times to have a religion, it was a no less urgent
problem, as the range of vision enlarged with the process of the ages,
to harmonise their theology with their thinking. And if, on the
intellectual side, the polytheistic religions of that cultivated age
were threatened with a collapse, the sensuous element, always strongly
represented in emotional faiths, was in constant danger of being dragged
down into a disturbing and degrading sensuality. Then, again, when the
Roman Republic, in the age of Augustus Cæsar, had completed the range
of its world-wide conquests, two social forces, unknown in the best ages
of Greece and Rome, viz., wealth and luxury, added their perilous
momentum to the corrupting elements which were already at work in the
bosom of the polytheistic system. And in what a hot-bed of fermenting
putridity these evil leavens had resulted at this period, the pages of
Suetonius and many chapters in St. Paul are witnesses equally credible
and equally tragic. Add to all this the fact that the motley
intermixture of ideas and the inorganic confusion and forced
assimilation of creeds which, accompanied the universal march of Roman
polity, brought about a vague desire for some sort of religious unity
which might run parallel with the political unity under which men lived;
and this desire could be gratified only by placing in the foreground the
great truth of the unity of the Supreme Being, which to vindicate in
pre-Christian ages had been the special mission of the Hebrew race, and
which the Greeks themselves had not indistinctly indicated by placing
the moral government of the world and the issues of peace and war in the
hands of an omnipotent, all-wise, all-beneficent, and absolute Jove.
These and the like considerations will lead the thoughtful student of
history easily to understand how the appearance of such an extraordinary
moral force as Christianity was imperatively called for at the period
when our Saviour, with His divine mission to a fallen race, began His
preaching on the shores of a lonely Galilean lake; and the most
superficial glance at the contents of His preaching, as contrasted with
the heathenism which it replaced, will show how wonderful was the new
start which it gave to the moral life of the world, and how effective
the spur which it applied to the march of the ages--a spur so
potent that we may, without the slightest exaggeration, say that to
Christianity we owe almost exclusively whatever mild agencies tempered
the harshness and sweetened the sourness of crude government in the
Middle Ages; and no less, whatever hopeful elements are at the present
moment working among ourselves to save the British people, at a critical
stage of their social development, from the decadence and the
degradation that overtook the Romans after their great military mission
had been fulfilled. Let us look articulately at the main constituents of
that new leaven wherewith Christianity was equipped to regenerate the
world. These I find to be--

(1.) By asserting in the strongest way the unity of God, it at once cut
the root of the tendency in human nature to create arbitrary objects of
worship according to the lust or fancy of the worshipper, and accustomed
the popular intelligence to a harmonised view of the various forces at
work in the constitution of a world so various and so complex as to a
superficial view readily to appear contradictory and irreconcilable.

(2.) By preaching the unity of God, not as an abstract metaphysical
idea, but as what it really is, a divine fatherhood, Christianity at one
stroke bound all men together as brethren and members of a common
family; and in this way, while in the relation of nation to nation it
substituted apostleships of love for wars of subjugation, in the
relation of class to class it established a sort of spiritual democracy,
in which the implied equality of all men as men gradually led to the
abolition of the abnormal institution of slavery, on which all ancient
society rested.

(3.) Christianity, by starting religion as an independent moral
association altogether separate from the State, at once purified the
sphere of the Church from corrupting elements, and confined the State
within those bounds which the nature of a civic administration
furnishes. Religion in this way was purified and elevated, because in
its nicely segregated sphere no secular considerations of any kind could
interfere to tone down its ideal, direct its current, or lame its
efficiency; while the State, on the other hand, was saved from the folly
of intermeddling with matters which it did not understand, and
professing principles which it did not believe.

(4.) Christianity, by planting itself emphatically at the very first
start, as one may see in the Sermon on the Mount, in direct antagonism
to ritualism, ceremonialism, and every variety of externalism, and
placing the essence of all true religion in regeneration, or, as St.
Paul has it, a new creature--_i.e._ the legitimate practical
dominance of the spiritual and ethical above the sensual and carnal part
of our nature--broke down the middle wall of partition which had so
often divided piety from morality; so that now a man of culture might
consistently give his right hand to religion and his left hand to
philosophy, an attitude which, so long as Homer was all that the Greeks
had for a bible, no devout Hellenist could assume.

(5.) By placing a firm belief in a future life as a guiding prospect in
the foreground, the religion of Christ gave the highest possible value
to human life, and the strongest possible spur to perseverance in a
virtuous career.

(6.) By appealing directly to the individual conscience, and making
religion a matter of personal concern and of moral conviction, it raised
the value of each individual as a responsible moral agent, and placed
the dignity of every man as a social monad on the firmest possible

(7.) By making love its chief motive power, it supplied both the steam
and the oil of the social machine with a continuity of moral force never
dreamt of in any of the ancient societies--a force which no mere
socialistic schemes for organising labour, no boards of health, no
political economy, no mathematical abstractions, no curiosities of
physical science, no democratic suffrages, and no school inspectorships,
though multiplied a thousand times, apart from this divine agency, can
ever hope to achieve.

Thus equipped with a moral armature such as the world had never yet
seen, it might have been expected that the triumph of Christianity over
the ruins of heathenism would have been as complete and as pure from all
admixture of evil as it appears in the great evangelical manifesto
commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. But it was not to be so; nor,
indeed, created as human nature is, could possibly be. The miraculous
virtue of the seed could not change the nature of the soil, and the
sweet new wine put into old bottles could not fail to catch a taint from
the acid incrustations of the original liquor. _Corruptia optimi
pessima_ is the great lesson which history everywhere teaches, and
nowhere with a more tragic impressiveness than in the history of the
Christian Church. What a rank crop of old wives' fables, endless
genealogies, ceremonial observances, worship of the letter, voluntary
humilities, and disputations of science, falsely so called, started into
fretful array before the spiritual swordsmanship of St. Paul, no reader
of the grandest correspondence in the world need be told; but it was not
so much from Jewish drivel, Attic subtlety, or Corinthian sensualism,
that the corrupting forces were to proceed which in the post-Apostolic
age insinuated themselves like a poison into the pure blood of the
Church. It is from within that, in moral matters, our great danger
flows: if the kingdom of heaven is there, the kingdom of hell is there
no less distinctly. The doctrine of Aristotle, and the teaching of
history that ALL EXTREMES ARE WRONG, is ever and ever repeated to
passion-spurred mortals, and ever and ever forgotten. In the green
ardour of our worship we make an idol of our virtue; the strong lines of
the particular excellence which we admire are stretched into a
caricature; our sublime, severed from all root of soundness, reels over
into the ridiculous; we revel and riot and get into an intoxicated
excitement with the fruit of our own fancy; and work ourselves from one
stage of inflammation to another, till, as our great dramatist says,

  "Goodness, grown to a pleurisy,
  Dies of its own too much."

The excess into which Christianity at its first start most naturally
fell was ultra-spiritualism, asceticism, or by whatever name we may
choose to characterise that high-flying system in morals which, not
content with the regulation and subordination, aims at the violent
subjugation and, as much as may be, the total suppression of the
physical element in man. How near this abuse lay is evident, not only
from the general tendency of every man to make an idol of his
distinctive virtue, and of every sect to delight in the exaggeration of
its most characteristic feature, but there are not a few passages of the
New Testament which plainly show that the masculine Christianity of St.
Paul had not more occasion to protest against those Greek libertines who
turned the grace of God into licentiousness, than against those
offshoots of the Jewish Essenes who professed a self-imposed arbitrary
religiosity (Col. ii. 18, 23), even forbidding to marry and commanding
to abstain from meats (I Tim. iv. 3).[18] There is, indeed, something
very seductive in these attempts to acquire a superhuman virtue, whether
they be made by a poet casting off the vulgar bonds that bind him to his
fellows, like Percy Bysshe Shelley, that he may feed upon sun-dews and
get drunk on transcendental imaginations, or by a religious person, that
he may devote himself to spiritual exercises, free from the disturbing
influence of earthly passions. Such a renunciation of the flesh
gratifies his pride, and has, in fact, the aspect of a heroic virtue in
a special line; while, at the same time, it is with some persons more
convenient, inasmuch as when the resolution is once formed and a decided
start made, it is always easier to abstain than to be moderate.
Nevertheless, all such ambitious schemes to ignore the body and to cut
short the natural rights of our physical nature must fail. It never can
be the virtue of a man to wish to be more than man; and every religion
which sets a stamp of special approval on superhuman, and therefore
unhuman, virtue, erects a wall of separation between the gospel which it
preaches and the world which it should convert. In fact, it rather gives
up the world in despair, and institutes an artificial school for the
practice of certain select virtues, which only a few will practise, and
which, when practised, can only make those few unfit for the social
position which Providence meant them to occupy.

The second excess into which Christianity, under the action of frail
human nature, easily ran was intolerance. This intolerance, as in the
previous case, is only a virtue run to seed; for, as all asceticism is
merely a misapplication or an exaggeration of the virtue of self-denial
and self-control, so all intolerance, or defect of kindly regard to the
contrary in opinion or conduct, is merely a crude or an impolitic
extension of the imperative ought which lies at the root of all moral
truth, and specially of all monotheistic religions. There is, indeed, a
certain intolerance in truth which will not allow it to hold parley with
error; and every new religion with a lofty inspiration, conscious of a
divine mission, is necessarily aggressive: it delights to pluck the
beard of ancestral authority, and marches right into the presence of
hoary absurdity and consecrated stupidity. No doubt there is a boundary
here which the divine wisdom of the Son of God pointed at emphatically
enough when he was asked to bring down fire from heaven on those who
taught or did otherwise; but the evil spirit of self-importance which
prompted this request was too deeply engrained in human nature to be
eradicated by a single warning of the great teacher. This spirit of
arrogant individualism asserted itself at an early period in the
disorderly Corinthian Church very much in the same way as it does
amongst ourselves, specially in Scotland, at the present moment--viz.
by the multiplication of sects, the exaggeration of petty distinctions,
and the fomenting of petty rivalries,--"Now this I say, that every one
of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I
of Christ" (I Cor. i. 12),--a spirit which the apostle most strongly
denounces as proceeding manifestly from the overrated importance of
some secondary specialty, or some accessory condition, of the body of
believers, who thus clubbed themselves into a denomination, and
resulting in an unkindly divergence from the common highway of
evangelic life, and an intolerant desire to override one Christian
brother with the private shibboleth of another, and to stamp him with
the seal of their own conceit. The field in which this intolerant Spirit
displayed itself was of course different, according to the influences at
work at the time; but there is one field which, if church history is to
teach us anything, we are bound to emphasise strongly, that is the field
of dogma; for, if there be any influence that has worked more powerfully
to discredit Christianity than even the immoral lives and selfish maxims
of professing Christians, it is the fixation and glorification and
idol-worship of the dogma. No doubt Christianity is far from being that
system, or rather no system, of vague and cloudy sentiment to which some
persons would reduce it: it has bones, and a firm framework; it stands
upon facts, and is not without doctrines, but it does not make a parade
of doctrines; and the faith which it enjoins, as is manifest from the
definition and historical examples in Hebrews xi., is not an
intellectual faith in the doctrines of a metaphysical theology, but a
living faith in the moral government of the world and a heroic conduct
in life, as the necessary expression of such faith. The mere
intellectual orthodoxy on which the Christian Church has, by the
tradition of centuries, placed such a high value, is, in the apostolical
estimate, plainly worth nothing; for the devils also believe and
tremble, as St. James has it, or as our Lord himself said in the
striking summation to the Sermon on the Mount, "Not they who call me
_Lord, Lord_, shall enter into the kingdom, but they who do the will of
my Father who is in heaven. By their works, not by their creed, ye shall
know them."[19] Nevertheless, the exaltation of the dogma has always
been a favourite tendency of the Church, and the besetting sin of the
clergy. With the mass of the people, to swear to a curious creed is
always more easy than to lead a noble life; while to the clerical
intellect it must always give a secret satisfaction to think that the
science of theology, which is the furthest removed from the handling of
the great mass of men, has in their hands assumed a well-defined shape,
of which the articulations are as subtle and as necessary as the steps
of solution in a difficult algebraic problem. The late Baron Bunsen, for
many years Prussian ambassador in London, one of the most large-minded
and large-hearted of Christian men, in the preface to his great _Bibel
werk_, devotes a special chapter to Dogmatism as a vice of the clerical
mind leading to false views of Scripture; over and above what he calls
the modern revival of scholastic theology in Germany, he enumerates four
dominant epochs of ecclesiastical life in which this anti-evangelical
tendency has prominently asserted itself. These are--(1) the dogmatism
of the great Church councils in the reigns of Constantine, Theodosius,
and Justinian; (2) the medieval scholasticism of the Western Church; (3)
the Protestant scholasticism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries;
(4) the dogmatism of the Jesuits, Perron, Bossuet, and others. Had this
dogmatic tendency of the Church contented itself with tabulating a
curious scheme of divine mysteries, though it might justly have been
deemed impertinent, and here and there a little presumptuous, yet it
might have been condoned lightly as a sort of clerical recreation in
hours which might have been worse employed; but it could not be content
with this: it passed at once into action, and in this guise prevailed to
deface the fair front of the Church with gashes of more bloody and
barbarous inhumanity than ever marked the altars of the Baals and
Molochs of the most savage heathen superstitions.

Another monstrous abuse born out of the bosom of the Church, though not
so directly, is Sacerdotalism. I say not so directly, because the genius
of Christianity is so distinctly negative of all priesthood that, had
there been even an express prohibition of it, its contradiction to the
whole tone of the New Testament could not have been more apparent. Not
more certainly are the sacrifices of the Jewish law abolished in the
sacrifice of Christ, according to the Pauline theology, than the
Levitical priesthood stands abolished in the priesthood of Christ and in
the priesthood of the individual members of his spiritual body (2 Peter
v. 9).[20] Whence, then, came our Christian priesthood? Partly, I
suspect, as the Jewish Sabbath was interpolated into the Christian
Lord's Day, from the nearness and external similitude of the two
things--the presbyter being to the outward eye pretty much the same
as the priest was to the Jewish worshippers; partly from the
self-importance which is the besetting sin of all bodies of men
prominently planted in the social platform, and which induces them to
magnify their vocation, and in doing so stilt their professional pride
up into the attitude of a very stately and a very reputable virtue. The
proper functions of the office-bearers of the early Christian Church,
call them overseers, bishops, or what you will, were so honourable and
so beneficent that, especially with an unlearned and unthinking people,
the reverential respect due to the actors might easily pass into a
superstitious belief in the mystical virtue of the operations of which
they were the conductors; and this ready submission on the part of the
people, holding out a willing hand to the natural self-importance and
potentiated self-estimate of the clerical body, resulted in a
four-square system of sacerdotal control, sacerdotal virtue, and
sacerdotal influence, to which we shall search for a parallel in vain
through all the annals of Asiatic and African heathenism. Nay, I can
readily believe that those who can find a priesthood in the genius of
the gospel and the apostolic institution of the Christian Church, will
naturally be inclined to maintain that the superior power of the
Gregories, Bonifaces, and Innocents of the medieval Church, as
contrasted with anything that we read or know of the Egyptian, Hebrew,
and Roman pontiffs, is the natural and necessary outcome of the superior
excellence of the Christian religion; and this, no doubt, is the only
comfortable belief on which all forms of Christian sacerdotalism can

So much for the corruptions of the Christian religion proceeding from
what, in theological language, might be called the indwelling sin of the
Church, unstimulated by any strong external seduction. But this
seduction came. After three centuries of hardship, manfully endured in
the school of adversity, the more severe trial of prosperity had to be
gone through. The Church, which had been declared to be not of this
world, and had stood face to face with the greatest political power the
world ever knew in a position of sublime moral isolation, was now
adopted by the State, and formed a bond of the most intimate connection
with its hereditary persecutors. The starting-point of the oldest
heathen social attitude, the identity of Church and State, seemed to be
recalled; and a Justinian on the shores of the Bosphorus seemed as
really a head of the Church as a Menes or an Amenophis on the banks of
the Nile. But under the outward likeness a radical difference lay
concealed. As an essentially ethical society, with its own special
credentials, its separate history, and its independent triumph, the
Christian Church might form an alliance with a purely secular
institution like the State, but it could not be absorbed or identified
with it. That alliance might be made beneficially in various ways and on
various terms; the civil magistrate might be proud to be called the
friend and the brother of the Christian bishop, or he might humble
himself to be its servant, but he never could be its master. The
alliance therefore was, as it ought to be, all in favour of the
spiritual body; the Church gained the civil power to execute its decrees
and to patronise its missions; but a Christian State could never gain
the right to dictate the creed or perform the functions of the Church.
The idea that there is anything absolutely sinful, or necessarily
pernicious, in the conception of an alliance between the Church and the
State, is one of those hyperconscientious crotchets of modern British
sectarianism at which the Muse of history can only smile. There can be
no greater sin in an Established Church than in an Established
University or an Established Royal Academy. Religion and Science and Art
have their separate and well-marked provinces, in the administration of
which they may wisely seek for the co-operation, though they will always
jealously avoid the dictation, of the State. But, though there could be
no sin in the Church receiving the right hand of fellowship from the
State, there might be danger, and that of a very serious description.
Nothing strikes a man so much in the reading of the New Testament as the
little respect which it pays to riches and the pomp and pride of life,
and worldly honours and dignities of all kinds. "_How can ye
believe who receive honour one from another?_" is a sentence
that cuts very deep into the connection between the Church and State,
which might readily mean the alliance of a secular institution,
delighting in pomp and parade and glittering show, with a religion of
which, like the philosophy of the porch, the most prominent feature was
unworldliness, humility, and spirituality. Here unquestionably was
danger: an alliance in which, as in an ill-consorted marriage, the lower
element was as likely to drag down the higher as the higher to lift up
the lower. And so it actually happened. The Church was secularised.
Alongside of the hundred and one monkeries of stolid asceticism and the
hundred and one mummeries of sacerdotal ceremonialism, there grew up in
the process of the ages a consolidated hierarchy of such concentrated,
secular, and sacred potency that the loftiest crowned heads of Europe
ducked beneath its shadow and quailed beneath its ban. To understand
this, we must take note of the change by which the scattered presbyters
of the primitive Church were gradually massed into a strong aristocracy,
which in due season, after the fashion of the State, found its key-stone
in an ecclesiastical monarch. It was the wisdom of the founders of the
Christian Church not to lay down any fixed norm of official
administration, but to leave all the external machinery of a purely
spiritual institution free to adapt itself to the existing forms of
society as time and circumstance and national genius might demand. The
form of government natural to the Church in its earliest stages was
democratic, with a certain loose, ill-defined element of presidential
aristocracy. But in an age which had bidden a long farewell both to the
spirit and the form of democracy in civil administration, such a form of
government in the Church could not hope to maintain itself. Under the
influence of the magnificent autocracy of Rome in its decadence, the
simple overseer or superintendent (ἐπίσκοπος) of a remote
provincial congregation of believers gradually grew into a metropolitan
dignitary, and culminated in the wielder of a secular sovereignty
sitting in council with the most influential monarchs of Europe. The
epiphany of an absolute monarch with a triple tiara on his head when
contrasted with the simplicity and unworldliness of the primitive
bishops wears such a strange look that it has been judged, especially in
Protestant countries, with a more sweeping severity than it deserved. As
a mere form of government, no man can give any good reason why the
Church should not be governed by a monarch as well as the State; the
bishop of Rome, as supreme head of the body of bishops all over
Christendom, and guided by them as his habitual advisers, was at least
as natural and as reasonable a guide for the direction of the conscience
of Christendom in the Middle Ages as the Council of Protestants who at
Dort, in the year 1618, condemned the greatest theologian and jurist of
the day to pine in a Dutch prison, or the Assembly of Divines in
Westminster who empowered the supreme magistrate to suppress the right
of free thought in the breasts of all persons who were not prepared to
set their seal to the damnatory dogmas of extreme Calvinism. Nay, so far
from there being anything anti-Christian or anti-social in the Popedom
as a form of Church government, we may safely say that in ages of
general turmoil, confusion, and violence, the admitted supremacy of the
visible head of a church founded on principles of peace and conciliation
could not act otherwise than beneficially. But when the person in whom
this moral supremacy was vested became the acknowledged head of a
secular princedom, the case was altered. It was an unhappy day for the
Christian Church, the most unhappy day perhaps in its whole eventful
history, when Pepin, the ambitious minister of the last of the
Merovingian kings, in the year 751, contrived to get out of Pope Zachary
a spiritual sanction for his usurption of his master's throne.
From that moment the Church was doomed to a blazing and brilliant, but a
sure career of downfall. The spiritual abetter of a secular crime had to
be rewarded for his pious subserviency: he received the exarchate of
Ravenna, and became a temporal prince. From that time forward the head
of the Christian Church, who ought to have stood before the world as a
model of all purity, truthfulness, peacefulness, and ethical nobility,
was condemned to serve two masters, God and Mammon, unworldly morality
and worldly power, which was impossible. From this time forward there
was not a single court intrigue in Europe, nor a single plot of any knot
of conspirators, into whose counsels the supreme bishop of the gospel of
peace might not be dragged, or, what is worse, into whose lawless and
ungodly machinations he might not be officially thrusting himself, in
order to preserve some accessory interest or gain some paltry advantage
altogether unconnected with his spiritual function. If there is any one
element, always of course excepting the element of gross sensuality and
absolute villainy, which more than another is adverse to the spirit of
Evangelical Christianity, it is the element of court intrigue, political
contention, and party feuds. In this region love, which is the life of
the regenerate soul, cannot breathe; truth is put under ban; lies
flourish; conscience is smothered; and low expediency everywhere takes
the place of lofty principle. So it fared not seldom with the Popes; and
much worse in the last degree; for wickedness, like everything that
lives, must live by growing, and the seed of secular ambition which was
sown in lies, will grow to robbery, blossom in lust, and ripen into
murder. This anywhere, but specially in Italy, where from the time of
the patrician Scipio, who suppressed the elder Gracchus, the hot
contenders for absolute power, in the eager pursuit of their object,
have never shrank from the free use of the assassin's dagger and
the poisoner's bowl. In fact, if the love of mere animal pleasure
makes a man a beast, it is the love of power that translates him into a
fiend; and of this sort of human fiends Italian history presents as
appalling a register as can be found anywhere in the annals of our race;
and at the top of this register stand some of the Popes, whose names are
as prominent in the story of ecclesiastical Rome as those of Nero,
Domitianus, and Heliogabalus are in the story of the imperial decadence.
When we cast a rapid glance--for it deserves nothing more--on
the revolting record of the Roman Popes in the age immediately preceding
the Reformation, we hear the solemn voice of history repeating again the
maxim above quoted--_corruptio optimi pessima_: when priests
are bad, they are very bad; when the salt of the gospel, which was meant
to preserve the moral life of society from putrescence, has lost its
savour, if not cast out, it is worse than useless--it becomes a

Before proceeding to the modern history of the Church, we ought to
emphasise in a special paragraph the fact that one unfortunate result of
the incorporation of the Church with the State was that the Church was
now in a position to request the State to lend its potent aid in
establishing the true doctrine of the gospel and suppressing all
heresies. That the State had a right to do so no man doubted; even in
democratic Greece free-thinking philosophers, such as Anaxagoras,
Diogenes, and Socrates, were banished or suffered death on charges of
impiety; and though, no doubt, political elements, as in the case of the
Arminians in Holland, worked along with the strictly religious feeling
to set the brand of atheism on those men, there cannot be any doubt that
where the State and the Church were so essentially one, persecutions for
unauthorised religious observances were perfectly legitimate, as indeed
the memorable case of the forcible suppression of the Dionysiac
mysteries, more than two hundred years before the earliest of the
Christian martyrdoms in Rome, abundantly testifies. But there was a
double horror in the religious persecution, after the establishment of
Christianity, now inaugurated for the first time--the horror of a
conduct so diametrically opposed to the spirit and the express
injunction of the Founder of the Gospel, in whose defence it was
practised, and the horror also that what was now violently suppressed
was not, as in the case of the Dionysiac mysteries, rather immoral
practices than erroneous beliefs, but simply and nakedly metaphysical
objections against metaphysical propositions in theology, which, whether
true or false, could not be made the subject of State action, or, in my
opinion at least, of ecclesiastical censure, without a flagrant
violation of that law of charity which a large philosophy and a catholic
Christianity equally enjoin. The banishment of Arius to Illyria, as the
civil consequence of the formal signature of the Trinitarian creed by
the decision of the Council of Nice in the year 325, though it made no
small noise in the world in those days, was a very innocent overture to
the barbarous dramas of fire and blood that were in after ages to be
enacted on this evil precedent. There are many grand places rich with
historical lessons in London, and not a few sad ones; but the saddest of
all is Smithfield. I can never pace the stones of this memorable site,
where our noblest Scot, Sir William Wallace, was disembowelled and
quartered to gratify the vengeance of an imperious Norman, without
thinking of the sad fate of the young and beautiful Anne Askew. This
lady, the daughter of a knight of good family in Lincolnshire, under
some of those stimulants of thought which were stirring up the stagnant
traditions of medieval piety, had been led to conceive serious doubts
with regard to the Scripture authority for some of the most universally
received doctrines of the Roman Church. This pious scepticism coming to
the ears of certain leading persons in Church and State, who, after the
example of the Nicean doctors, considered it a sacred duty in matters
pertaining to religion to tolerate no contradiction, first brought this
lady before the Lord Chancellor, who tore her limb from limb on the
rack, because she would not say that she believed what she could not
believe without denying her senses, and then dragged her to the
blood-stained pavement of Smithfield, where she was girt with gunpowder
bags and fenced with faggots, to be burnt to death, as if the God of
Christians were a second and enlarged edition of the old Moloch of
Palestine. And what was her offence--beautiful, young, pure, and
truthful woman, not more than twenty-five years of age--that she
should be treated in this worse than cannibalic style in the name of the
gospel of Jesus Christ? Simply that Henry VIII., in that style of
insolent masterdom which he showed so royally, and conceiting himself,
like a Scotch fool who came after him, to be a considerable theologian,
assumed the right to put the stamp of absolute kingship on the doctrine
of the Church that a piece of bread, over which a priestly benediction
had been pronounced by a priest, was by the mystical virtue of this
benediction changed into flesh, while the fair young lady persisted in
seeing nothing but bread. Let it be granted that the lady was in the
wrong and the churchly tradition right, it never could be right to tear
her flesh to shreds and to burn her bones to ashes because she held an
opinion which, to say the least of it, looked as like the truth as its
opposite. How sad, how sorrowfully sad, and what a commentary on what we
are ever and anon tempted to call poor, pitiful, prideful, and
presumptuous human nature, that Christianity had at that time been more
than fifteen hundred years in the world, sitting in high places, and
walking with triumphal banners over the earth, and yet neither the
princes of the earth nor the rulers of the Church should have retained
even a slight echo of that reproof from a mild Master to a zealous
disciple, to the effect that no man who knew the spirit of the divine
religion which He taught, would ever propose to bring fire down from
heaven or up from hell to consume the unbeliever.

Such enormities in the doctrine and practice of the Church, as we have
indicated rather than described, could lead to only one of two
issues--Reform or Revolution. The change brought about, though
contenting itself with the milder name, was in fact the more drastic
procedure. The European reformation of Martin Luther in 1517 was a
revolution in the Church, much more radical and much more worthy of so
strong a designation than the political revolution of 1688 in Great
Britain. It is needless to recapitulate the causes of offence; they were
only too patent--insolence, secularity, sensuality, venality,
idleness, vice, and worthlessness of every kind in the Church; but there
were two causes which, in addition to corruption from within, tended to
open the ears of Christendom largely to the cry for Church reform. These
were the stir in the intellectual movement from the days of the author
of the Divine Comedy downwards, enforced by the invention of printing in
the middle of the fifteenth century, which was amply sufficient to
become a danger to even a much less vulnerable creed than that which had
satisfied the crude demands of medieval intelligence; and, in the second
place, the hostility which the insolence and ambition of Churchmen had
roused in the secular magistracy--that is, not only the monarch and
his official ministers, but the great body of the higher nobility who
found themselves ousted from their place in the familiar counsels of the
monarch by the advocates and ambassadors of a foreign potentate. Thus
the two best friends of every Established Church in its normal state
were converted into enemies; and the natural indignation of the common
people at the licentious lives and gross venality of the clergy was
stimulated into an explosion by the desire of the secular dignities to
curb the pride of the clergy, and, it might lightly happen also, to rob
them of part of their overgrown wealth, nominally for the public good,
really for the aggrandisement of the Crown and the nobility. The
shameless nepotism of Pope Sixtus IV., the flagitious lives and
abhorrent practices of the Borgias, more fit for a sensational melodrama
in the lowest Parisian theatre than for the home of a Christian bishop;
the military rage of a Julius, who turned the Church of Christ into a
travelling camp and the bishop's crozier into a soldier's
sword; the literary dilettantism of the Court of Leo X., more eager to
distinguish itself by the elegant trimming of Latin versicles than by
apostolic zeal and Christian purity,--all this, so long as it
disported itself on Italian ground, the aristocracy of England and
Scotland might have continued to look on with indifference; but that the
son of anybody or nobody, in a county of unvalued clodhoppers, should
jostle them in the antechamber of the monarch, and claim precedence in
the hall of audience, simply because he was the supple instrument of an
insolent Italian priest, this was not to be borne; and so the
Reformation came, with the mob of the lowest classes, the mass of the
respectable middle classes, the most influential of the nobility, and
the power of the Crown, all in full cry against the ecclesiastical fox.
The revolution thus volcanically effected, and known in history under
the name of Protestantism, meant simply the right of every individual
member of the Christian Church to take the principles and the practice
of his Church directly from the original records of the Church, without
the intervention of any body of authorised interpreters; and the
necessary product of this right when exercised was first to declare
certain practices and doctrines that had grown up in the Church through
long centuries to be unauthorised departures from the original
simplicity and purity of the gospel; and, further, to deny that there
existed in the Christian Church, as originally constituted, any class or
caste of men enjoying the exclusive privilege to perform sacred
functions, and endowed with a divine virtue to perform sacramental
miracles by their consecrating touch,--in a word, that there was no
priesthood, properly so called, in the Reformed Christian Church. Nor is
this doctrine, as some may think, the teaching only of the Helvetic
confession, what certain persons have been fond to call extreme
Protestantism; for, though the word priest has been retained in the
English prayerbook as a minister in sacred things of a particular grade
and exercising a particular function, the attempt made by Archbishop
Laud and the Romanising party in the Reformed Church of England to
retain in the bosom of the Anglican Church the ideas which the ancient
Jews and the Romish Christians attached to the word _priest_,
proved a signal failure; and for the sacerdotal despotism which it
implied, as well as for the secular despotism which the priest advised
and encouraged the unfortunate king to assert, the adviser and the
advised justly lost their heads. Of all the teachings of Church history,
from the Waldenses in the twelfth century down to the present hour,
there is nothing more certain than this, that between Popery and
Protestantism there is no middle term possible. They may agree, in fact
they do agree, in many essential things, and in a few accidental; but in
the fundamental principle of Church administration they are
diametrically opposed. The principle of the one is sacerdotal authority,
absolute and unqualified; the principle of the other is individual and
congregational liberty. The one form of polity is a close oligarchy, the
other either a free democracy or an aristocracy more or less penetrated
by a democratic spirit.

The practical outcome of this great Protestant movement, in the midst of
which we live, cannot fail to a reasonable eye to appear in the highest
degree satisfactory. Never was the life of the Christian Church at once
more intensely earnest and more expansively distributive than at the
present moment. On the one hand, the Roman Church, wisely taught by the
experience of the past, though obstinately cleaving to that stout
conservatism of doctrine and ritual inherent in the very bones of all
sacerdotal religions, has been, in the main, studious to avoid those
causes of offence from which the great rupture proceeded. On the other
hand, the Protestant Churches, shaken free from the distracting
influence of sacerdotal assumption and secular ambition, have found
themselves in a condition to permeate all classes of society with a
moral virtue, of whose regenerative action Plato and Socrates, in their
best hours, could not have dreamed. Some people, while gladly admitting
the immense amount of social good that is done by the various sections
of the Protestant Church, never cease to sigh for a lost ecclesiastical
unity, and to lament the unseemly strifes that arise among those that
should be possessed by one spirit and strive together for a common end.
But the persons who speak thus are either sentimental weaklings, being
Protestants, or are Romanists and sacerdotalists in their heart. Variety
is the law of nature in the moral no less than in the physical world;
and the absorption of all sects into one results in a stagnation which
will never be found amongst moral beings, unless when produced by
weakness of vital force from within, or unnatural suppression from
above. The two dominant types of church polity recognised in this
country since the Reformation--the Episcopal and the Presbyterian--of
which the one boasts a more aristocratic intellectual culture, and the
other a more fervid and forcible popular action, may well be allowed to
exist together on a mutual understanding of giving and taking whatever
is best in each, and thus, in apostolic language, provoking one another
to love and to good works. Competition is for the public benefit as much
in churches as in trades. Dissent from any dominant body, even though it
may proceed from the exaggerated importance given to a secondary matter,
will always produce the good result that the dominant body will thereby
be stirred to greater activity and greater watchfulness; so that, in
this view, we may lay it down as one of the great lessons of history
that the best form of church government is a strong establishment
qualified by a strong dissent. As to the proposals which have in recent
times been made for the formal separation of Church and State, they bear
on their face more of a political than of a religious significance.
Impartial history offers no countenance to the notion that Established
Churches, when well flanked by dissent, and in an age when the spiritual
ruler has ceased to make the arm of the State the tool of intolerance,
are contrary either to piety or to policy; and in the desire so loudly
expressed at election contests to lay violent hands on the valuable
organism of church agency existing in this country, the venerated
inheritance of many ages of patriotic struggle, the student of history,
with a charitable allowance for the best motives in not a few, feels
himself constrained to suspect in all such movements no small admixture
of sectarian jealousy, fussy religiosity, and domineering democracy.
Christianity, of course, stands in no need of an Established Church;
religion existed for three hundred years in the church without any State
connection, and may exist again; but Christianity does, above all
things, abhor the stirring up of strife betwixt Church and Church from
motives of jealousy, envy, or greed; and, along with the highest
philosophy and the most far-sighted political wisdom, must protest in
the strongest terms against the abolishing of a useful ethical
institution to gratify the insane lust of levelling in a mere numerical

The Church of the future, whether established or disestablished, or, as
I think best, both together, provoking one another to love and to good
works, has a great mission before it, if it keep sharply in view the two
lessons which the teaching of eighteen centuries so eloquently enforces.
Our evangelists must remove from the van of their evangelic force all
that sharp fence of metaphysical subtlety and scholastic dogma, which,
being ostentatiously paraded in creeds and catechisms, has given more
just offence to those without than edification to those within the
Church; the gospel must be presented to the world with all that catholic
breadth, kindly humanity, and popular directness which were its boast
before it was laced and screwed into artificial shapes by the decrees of
intolerent councils, and the subtleties of ingenious schoolmen. And,
again, they must not allow the gospel to be handled, what is too often
the case, as a mere message of hope and comfort in view of a future
world; but they must make it walk directly into the complex relations of
modern society, and think that it has done nothing till the ideal of
sentiment and conduct which it preached on Sunday has been more or less
practised on Monday. In fact, there ought to be less vague preaching on
Sunday, and more specific and direct application through the week of
gospel principle in various spheres of the intellectual and moral life
of the community. If, in addition to this, our prophets of the pulpit
take care to keep abreast of the intellectual movement of the age, so as
not only to stir the world in sermons, but to guide them in the wisdom
of daily life, they have nothing to fear from all the windy artillery
that the speculations of a soulless physical science, the imaginations
of a dreamy socialism, or the dogmatism of a cold philosophical
formalism, can bring to bear upon them. Let them grapple bravely with
all social problems, and prove whether Christianity, which has done so
much to purify the motives of individuals, may not be able also to put a
more effective steam into the machinery of society. If they shall fail
here, they will fail gloriously, having done their best. It is not given
to any people, however great, to solve all problems. When Great Britain
shall have played out her part, there will be scope enough in the
process of the ages for another stout social worker to place the cornice
on the edifice of which she was privileged to raise the pillars.

The End


[Footnote 1]

Plutarch conjugalia præcepta init.

[Footnote 2]

The word _clan_ is the familiar, well-known Celtic word for _children_.

[Footnote 3]

"Nulli alii sunt homines qui talem in liberos habeant potestatem qualem
nos habemus." _Institut_. i. 9, 2.

[Footnote 4]

Thucyd. ii. 15. The Athenians went further, and attributed to the son
of Ægeus the creation of their democracy (Pausan., _Att_. iii.); but
this, of course, was only the popular instinct, everywhere active, which
loves to heap all graces upon the head of a favourite hero.

[Footnote 5]

See the words of the Latin league, Dionys. Hal. vi. 95, contrasting
strongly with the original collection of autonomous villages described
by Strabo, v. 229, κατἁ κώμας αὐτονομεῖσθαι.

[Footnote 6]

The influence of the great city in centralising the villages and making
a state possible was in Greece philologically stereotyped by the fact
that for _city_ and _state_ the language had only one word, πόλις. The
_city_ was the _state_ in the same sense that the head is the body, for
without the head no living body could be.

[Footnote 7]

ὁ στρατιωτικὸς βίος πολλὰ ἒχει μέρη τῶς ἀρετῆς.--Aristot. Pol. ii. 9.
St. Paul also frequently in the Epistles, and Clemens Romanus (Oxon.
1633, p. 48) refers to the military profession as a great school of
manly virtue.

[Footnote 8]

Spalding's _Italy_, ii. p. 284.

[Footnote 9]

_On Method in Political Science_.

[Footnote 10]

Sismondi, _Etudes sur l'economie politique_, Essai iv.

[Footnote 11]

With which sentence Mr. Freeman agrees. _Comparative Politics_,
Lecture iii. p. 78.

[Footnote 12]

This parallel has been noticed by the thoughtful Germans; see
particularly Zacharia Sulla, i. 40.

[Footnote 13]

τίνος γὰρ ἂλλου ζῴου ψυχὴ πρῶτα μὲν θεῶν τῶν τὰ μέγιστα καὶ
κάλλιστα συνταξάντων ᾔσθηται ὃτι εἰσι: τί δὲ φῦλον ἄλλο ἢ
ἄνθρωποι θεοὺς θεραπεύουσι.--Xen. _Mem_. i. 4.

[Footnote 14]

_Iliad_, iii. 271; and compare Virgil, _Æneid_, iii. 80.

[Footnote 15]

Xen., _Rep. Lac._, i. 15; Herod, vi. 56.

[Footnote 16]

Pollux, viii. 90.

[Footnote 17]

Xen., _Mem_. i. 3.

[Footnote 18]

From the διδαχή τῶν ἀποστόλων, or _Early Teaching of the Apostles_,
lately discovered, ch. viii., we learn that it was the custom of
the early Christians to observe two days of fasting in the
week--Wednesday and Friday.--Edit. Oxford Parker, 1885.

[Footnote 19]

In the διδαχή τῶν ἀποστόλων there is absolutely no dogma. It is all
practice, and this is quite in harmony with the use of διδαχή by Paul
(I Tim. i. 10), and indeed with the whole tone of these two admirable

[Footnote 20]

In the διδαχή τῶν ἀποστόλων, c. xiii., the "_prophets_" are said to be
to Christians what the "_high priests_" were to the Jews,--a
phraseology which could not possibly have been used had any priesthood,
in the Hebrew sense, existed in the early Church.

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