The Roman religion has often been considered as a mere copy of that of Greece, and has therefore been confounded with it, as very nearly the same system. No doubt the Romans were imitators; they had no creative imagination. They borrowed and begged their stories about the gods, from Greece or elsewhere. But Hegel has long ago remarked that the resemblance between the two religions is superficial. The gods of Rome, he says, are practical gods, not theoretic; prosaic, not poetic. The religion of Rome is serious and earnest, while that of Greece is gay. Dionysius of Halicarnassus thinks the Roman religion the better of the two, because it rejected the blasphemous myths concerning the loves and quarrels of the heavenly powers. But, on the other hand, the deities of Greece were more living and real persons, with characters of their own. The deities of Rome were working gods, who had each a task assigned to him. They all had some official duty to perform; while the gods of Olympus could amuse themselves as they pleased. While the Zeus of Greece spent his time in adventures, many of which were disreputable, the Jupiter Capitolinus remained at home, attending to his sole business, which was to make Rome the mistress of the world. The gods of Rome, says Hegel, are not human beings, like those of Greece, but soulless machines, gods made by the understanding, even when borrowed from Greek story. They were worshipped also in the interest of the practical understanding, as givers of earthly fortune. The Romans had no real reverence for their gods; they worshipped them in no spirit of adoring love, but always for some useful object. It was a utilitarian worship. Accordingly the practical faculties, engaged in useful arts, were deified. There was a Jupiter Pistor, presiding over bakers. There was a goddess of ovens; and a Juno Moneta, who took care of the coin. There was a goddess who presided over doing nothing, Tranquillitas Vacuna; and even the plague had an altar erected to it. But, after all, no deities were so great, in the opinion of the Romans, as Rome itself. The chief distinction of these deities was that they belonged to the Roman state.
Cicero considers the Romans to be the most religious of all nations, because they carried their religion into all the details of life. This is true; but one might as well consider himself a devout worshipper of iron or of wood, because he is always using these materials, in doors and out, in his parlor, kitchen, and stable.
As the religion of Rome had no doctrinal system, its truths were communicated mostly by spectacles and ceremonies, which chiefly consisted in the wholesale slaughter of men and animals. There was something frightful in the extent to which this was carried; for when cruelty proceeds from a principle and purpose, it is far worse than when arising from brutal passion. An angry man may beat his wife; but the deliberate, repeated, and ingenious torments of the Inquisition, the massacre of thousands of gladiators in a Roman amphitheatre, or the torture of prisoners by the North American Indians, are all parts of a system, and reinforced by considerations of propriety, duty, and religious reverence.
Mommsen remarks, that the Roman religion in all its details was a reflection of the Roman state. When the constitution and institutions of Rome changed, their religion changed with them. One illustration of this correspondence he finds in the fact that when the Romans admitted the people of a conquered state to become citizens of Rome, their gods were admitted with them; but in both cases the new citizens (novensides) occupied a subordinate position to the old settlers (indigites).
That the races of Italy, among whom the Latin language originated, were of the same great Asiatic stock as the Greeks, Germans, Kelts, and Slavic tribes, is sufficiently proved by the unimpeachable evidence of language. The old Latin roots and grammatic forms all retain the analogies of the Aryan families. Their gods and their religion bear marks of the same origin, yet with a special and marked development. For the Roman nation was derived from at least three secondary sources,—the Latins, Sabines, and Etruscans. To these may be added the Pelasgian settlers on the western coast (unless these are included in the Etruscan element), and the very ancient race of Siculi or Sikels, whose name suggests, by its phonetic analogy, a branch of that widely wandering race, the Kelts. But the obscure and confused traditions of these Italian races help us very little in our present inquiry. That some of the oldest Roman deities were Latin, others Sabine, and others Etruscan, is, however, well ascertained. From the Latin towns Alba and Lavinium came the worship of Vesta, Jupiter, Juno, Saturn and Tellus, Diana and Mars. Niebuhr thinks that the Sabine ritual was adopted by the Romans, and that Varro found the real remains of Sabine chapels on the Quirinal. From Etruria came the system of divination. Some of the oldest portions of the Roman religion were derived from agriculture. The god Saturn took his name from sowing. Picus and Faunus were agricultural gods. Pales, the goddess of herbage, had offerings of milk on her festivals. The Romans, says Doellinger, had no cosmogony of their own; a practical people, they took the world as they found it, and did not trouble themselves about its origin. Nor had they any favorite deities; they worshipped according to what was proper, every one in turn at the right time. Though the most polytheistic of religions, there ran through their system an obscure conception of one supreme being, Jupiter Optimus-Maximus, of whom all the other deities were but qualities and attributes. But they carried furthest of all nations this personifying and deifying of every separate power, this minute subdivision of the deity. Heffter says this was carried to an extent which was almost comic. They had divinities who presided over talkativeness and silence, over beginnings and endings, over the manuring of the fields, and over all household transactions. And as the number increased, it became always more difficult to recollect which was the right god to appeal to under any special circumstances. So that often they were obliged to call on the gods in general, and, dismissing the whole polytheistic pantheon, to invoke some unknown god, or the supreme being. Sometimes, however, in these emergencies, new deities were created for the occasion. Thus they came to invoke the pestilence, defeat in battle, blight, etc., as dangerous beings whose hostility must be placated by sacrifices. A better part of their mythology was the worship of Modesty (Pudicitia), Faith or Fidelity (Fides), Concord (Concordia), and the gods of home. It was the business of the pontiffs to see to the creation of new divinities. So the Romans had a goddess Pecunia, money (from Pecus, cattle), dating from the time when the circulating medium consisted in cows and sheep. But when copper money came, a god of copper was added, AEsculanus; and when silver money was invented, a god Argentarius arrived.
Sec. 2. The Gods of Rome.
Creuzer, in speaking of the Italian worship, says that "one fact which emerges more prominently than any other is the concourse of Oriental, Pelasgic, Samothracian, and Hellenic elements in the religion of Rome." In like manner the Roman deities bear traces of very different sources. We have found reason to believe, in our previous chapters, that the religion of Egypt had a twofold origin, from Asiatic and African elements, and that the religion of Greece, in like manner, was derived from Egyptian and Pelasgic sources. So, too, we find the institutions and people of Rome partaking of a Keltic and Pelasgic origin. Let us now see what was the character of the Roman deities.
* * * * *
One of the oldest and also most original of the gods of Rome was the Sabine god JANUS. He was the deity who presided over beginnings and endings, over the act of opening and shutting. Hence the month which opened the year, January, received its name from this god, who also gave his name to Janua, a gate or door, and probably to the hill Janiculum.
The Romans laid great stress on all beginnings; believing that the commencement of any course of conduct determined, by a sort of magical necessity, its results. Bad success in an enterprise they attributed to a wrong beginning, and the only remedy, therefore, was to begin anew. Ovid (Fasti, I. 179) makes Janus say, "All depends on the beginning." When other gods were worshipped, Janus was invoked first of all. He was god of the year. His temple had four sides for the four seasons, and each side had three windows for the months. That his temple was open in war, but closed in peace, indicated that the character of Rome in times of war was to attack and not to defend. She then opened her gates to send her troops forth against the enemy; while in seasons of peace she shut them in at home. This symbol accords well with the haughty courage of the Republic, which commanded victory, by not admitting the possibility of defeat.
This deity is believed by Creuzer and others to have had an Indian origin, and his name to have been derived from the Sanskrit "Jan," to be born. He resembles no Greek god, and very probably travelled all the way from Bactria to Rome.
On the Kalends of January, which was the chief feast of Janus, it was the duty of every Roman citizen to be careful that all he thought, said, or did should be pure and true, because this day determined the character of the year. All dressed themselves in holiday garb, avoided oaths, abusive words, and quarrels, gave presents, and wished each other a happy year. The presents were little coins with a Janus-head, and sweetmeats. It was customary to sacrifice to Janus at the beginning of all important business.
Janus was the great god of the Sabines, and his most ancient temple appears to have been on Mount Janiculum. The altar of Fontus, son of Janus, and the tomb of Numa, a Sabine king, were both supposed to be there. Ovid also makes Janus say that the Janiculum was his citadel. Ampere remarks as a curious coincidence, that this god, represented with a key in his hand, as the heavenly gate-keeper, should have his home on the hill close to the Vatican, where is the tomb of Peter, who also bears a key with the same significance. The same writer regards the Sabines as inhabiting the hills of Rome before the Pelasgi came and gave this name of Roma (meaning "strength") to their small fortress on one side of the Palatine.
In every important city of Etruria there were temples to the three gods, JUPITER, JUNO, and MINERVA. In like manner, the magnificent temple of the Capitol at Rome consisted of three parts,—a nave, sacred to Jupiter; and two wings or aisles, one dedicated to Juno and the other to Minerva. This temple was nearly square, being two hundred and fifteen feet long and two hundred feet wide; and the wealth accumulated in it was immense. The walls and roof were of marble, covered with gold and silver.
JUPITER, the chief god of Rome, according to most philologists, derives his name (like the Greek [Greek: Zeos]) from the far-away Sanskrit word "Div" or "Diu," indicating the splendor of heaven or of day. Ju-piter is from "Djaus-Pitar," which is the Sanskrit for Father of Heaven, or else from "Diu-pitar," Father of Light. He is, at all events, the equivalent of the Olympian Zeus. He carries the lightning, and, under many appellations, is the supreme god of the skies. Many temples were erected to him in Rome, under various designations. He was called Pluvius, Fulgurator, Tonans, Fulminator, Imbricitor, Serenator,—from the substantives designating rain, lightning, thunder, and the serene sky. Anything struck with lightning became sacred, and was consecrated to Jupiter. As the supreme being he was called Optimus Maximus, also Imperator, Victor, Invictus, Stator, Praedator, Triumphator, and Urbis Custos. And temples or shrines were erected to him under all these names, as the head of the armies, and commander-in-chief of the legions; as Conqueror, as Invincible, as the Turner of Flight, as the God of Booty, and as the Guardian of the City. There is said to have been in Rome three hundred Jupiters, which must mean that Jupiter was worshipped under three hundred different attributes. Another name of this god was Elicius, from the belief that a method existed of eliciting or drawing down the lightning; which belief probably arose from an accidental anticipation of Dr. Franklin's famous experiment. There were no such myths told about Jupiter as concerning the Greek Zeus. The Latin deity was a much more solemn person, his whole time occupied with the care of the city and state. But traces of his origin as a ruler of the atmosphere remained rooted in language; and the Romans, in the time of Augustus, spoke familiarly of "a cold Jupiter," for a cold sky, and of a "bad Jupiter," for stormy weather.
The Juno of the Capitol was the Queen of Heaven, and in this sense was the female Jupiter. But Juno was also the goddess of womanhood, and had the epithets of Virginensis, Matrona, and Opigena; that is, the friend of virgins, of matrons, and the daughter of help. Her chief festival was the Matronalia, on the first of March, hence called the "Women's Kalends." On this day presents were given to women by their husbands and friends. Juno was the patroness of marriage, and her month of June was believed to be very favorable for wedlock. As Juno Lucina she presided over birth; as Mater Matuta, over children; as Juno Moneta, over the mint.
The name of Minerva, the Roman Athene, is said to be derived from an old Etruscan word signifying mental action. In the songs of the Sabians the word "promenervet" is used for "monet." The first syllable evidently contains the root, which in all Aryan languages implies thought. The Trinity of the Capitol, therefore, united Power, Wisdom, and Affection, as Jupiter, Minerva, and Juno. The statue of Minerva was placed in schools. She had many temples and festivals, and one of the former was dedicated to her as Minerva Medica.
The Roman pantheon contained three classes of gods and goddesses. First, the old Italian divinities, Etruscan, Latin, and Sabine, naturalized and adopted by the state. Secondly, the pale abstractions of the understanding, invented by the College of Pontiffs for moral and political purposes. And thirdly, the gods of Greece, imported, with a change of name, by the literary admirers and imitators of Hellas.
The genuine deities of the Roman religion were all of the first order. Some of them, like Janus, Vertumnus, Faunus, Vesta, retained their original character; others were deliberately confounded with some Greek deity. Thus Venus, an old Latin or Sabine goddess to whom Titus Tatius erected a temple as Venus Cloacina, and Servius Tullius another as Venus Libertina, was afterward transformed into the Greek Aphrodite, goddess of love. If it be true, as is asserted by Naevius and Plautus, that she was the goddess of gardens, as Venus Hortensis and Venus Fruti, then she may have been originally the female Vertumnus. So Diana was originally Diva Jana, and was simply the female Janus, until she was transformed into the Greek Artemis.
The second class of Roman divinities were those manufactured by the pontiffs for utilitarian purposes,—almost the only instance in the history of religion of such a deliberate piece of god-making. The purpose of the pontiffs was excellent; but the result, naturally, was small. The worship of such abstractions as Hope (Spes), Fear (Pallor), Concord (Concordia), Courage (Virtus), Justice (AEquitas), Clemency (Clementia), could have little influence, since it must have been apparent to the worshipper himself that these were not real beings, but only his own conceptions, thrown heavenward.
The third class of deities were those adopted from Greece. New deities, like Apollo, were imported, and the old ones Hellenized. The Romans had no statues of their gods in early times; this custom they learned from Greece. "A full river of influence," says Cicero, "and not a little brook, has flowed into Rome out of Greece." They sent to Delphi to inquire of the Greek oracle. In a few decades, says Hartung, the Roman religion was wholly transformed by this Greek influence; and that happened while the senate and priests were taking the utmost care that not an iota of the old ceremonies should be altered. Meantime the object was to identify the objects of worship in other countries with those worshipped at home. This was done in an arbitrary and superficial way, and caused great confusion in the mythologies. Accidental resemblances, slight coincidences of names, were sufficient for the identification of two gods. As long as the service of the temple was unaltered, the priests troubled themselves very little about such changes. In this way, the twelve gods of Olympus—Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, Ares, Hephaestos, Hermes, Here, Athene, Artemis, Aphrodite, Hestia, and Demeter—were naturalized or identified as Jupiter, Neptune, Apollo, Mars, Vulcan, Mercury, Juno, Minerva, Diana, Venus, Vesta, and Ceres, Dionysos became Liber or Bacchus; Persephone, Proserpina; and the Muses were accepted as the Greeks had imagined them.
To find the true Roman worship, therefore, we must divest their deities of these Greek habiliments, and go back to their original Etruscan or Latin characters.
Among the Etruscans we find one doctrine unknown to the Greeks and not adopted by the Romans; that, namely, of the higher "veiled deities," superior to Jupiter. They also had a dodecad of six male and six female deities, the Consentes and Complices, making a council of gods, whom Jupiter consulted in important cases. Vertumnus was an Etruscan; so, according to Ottfried Mueller, was the Genius. So are the Lares, or household protectors, and Charun, or Charon, a power of the under-world. The minute system of worship was derived by Rome from Etruria. The whole system of omens, especially by lightning, came from the same source.
After Janus, and three Capitoline gods (Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva), above mentioned, the Romans worshipped a series of deities who may be classed as follows:—
I. Gods representing the powers of nature:—
1. SOL, the Sun. A Sabine deity. In later times the poets attributed to him all the characters of Helios; but as a Roman god, he never emerged into his own daylight.
2. LUNA, the Moon. Also regarded as of Sabine origin.
3. MATER MATUTA. Mother of Day, that is, the dawn. Worshipped at the Matronalia in June, as the possessor of all motherly qualities, and especially as the protector of children from ill-treatment. As the storms were apt to go down at morning, she was appealed to to protect mariners from shipwreck. The consul Tib. Semp. Gracchus dedicated a temple to her B.C. 176.
4. TEMPESTATES, the tempests. A temple was dedicated to the storms, B.C. 259.
5. VULCANUS. This name is supposed to be from the same root as "fulgeo," to shine. He was an old Italian deity. His temple is mentioned as existing B.C. 491.
6. FONTUS, the god of fountains. The Romans valued water so highly, that they erected altars and temples to this divinity, and had a feast of fountains (Fontinalia) on October 13th. There were also goddesses of fountains, as Lynapha Juturna, the goddess of mineral springs. Egeria is the only nymph of a fountain mentioned in Roman mythology.
7. DIVUS PATER TIBERINUS, or Father Tiber, was of course the chief river god. The augurs called him Coluber, the snake, from his meandering and bending current.
8. NEPTUNUS. The origin of this word has been a great puzzle to the learned, who, however, connect it with nebula, a cloud, as the clouds come from the sea. He had his temple and his festivals at Rome.
Other deities connected with the powers of nature were PORTUNUS, the god of harbors; SALACIA, a goddess of the salt sea; TRANQUILLITAS, the goddess of calm weather.
II. Gods of human relations:—
1. VESTA, an ancient Latin goddess, and one of the oldest and most revered. She was the queen of the hearth and of the household fire. She was also the protector of the house, associated with the Lares and Penates. Some offering was due to her at every meal. She sanctified the home.
Afterward, when all Rome became one vast family, Vesta became the goddess of this public home, and her temple was the fireside of the city, in which burned always the sacred fire, watched by the vestal virgins. In this worship, and its associations, we find the best side of Roman manners,—the love of home, the respect for family life, the hatred of impurity and immodesty. She was also called "the mother," and qualified as Mater Stata, that is, the immovable mother.
2. The PENATES and LARES. These deities were also peculiarly Roman. The Lar, or Lares, were supposed to be the souls of ancestors which resided in the home and guarded it. Their images were kept in an oratory or domestic chapel, called a Lararium, and were crowned by the master of the house to make them propitious. The paterfamilias conducted all the domestic worship of the household, whether of prayers or sacrifices, according to the maxim of Cato, "Scito dominum pro tota familia rem divinam facere." The Penates were beings of a higher order than the Lares, but having much the same offices. Their name was from the words denoting the interior of the mansion (Penetralia, Penitus). They took part in all the joys and sorrows of the family. To go home was "to return to one's Penates." In the same way, "Lar meus" meant "my house "; "Lar conductus," "a hired house "; "Larem mutare" meant to change one's house. Thus the Roman in his home felt himself surrounded by invisible friends and guardians. No other nation, except the Chinese, have carried this religion of home so far. This is the tender side of the stern Roman character. Very little of pathos or sentiment appears in Roman poetry, but the lines by Catullus to his home are as tender as anything in modern literature. The little peninsula of Sirmio on the Lago di Garda has been glorified by these few words.
3. The GENIUS. The worship of the genius of a person or place was also peculiarly Italian. Each man had his genius, from whom his living power and vital force came. Tertullian speaks of the genius of places. On coins are found the Genius of Rome. Almost everything had its genius,—nations, colonies, princes, the senate, sleep, the theatre. The marriage-bed is called genial, because guarded by a genius. All this reminds us of the Fravashi of the Avesta and of the Persian monuments. Yet the Genius also takes his place among the highest gods.
III. Deities of the human soul:—
1. MENS, Mind, Intellect.
2. PUDICITIA, Chastity.
3. PIETAS, Piety, Reverence for Parents.
4 FIDES, Fidelity.
5. CONCORDIA, Concord.
6. VIRTUS, Courage.
7. SPES, Hope.
8. PALLOR or PAVOR, Fear.
9. VOLUPTAS, Pleasure.
IV. Deities of rural and other occupations:—
1. TELLUS, the Earth.
2. SATURNUS, Saturn. The root of this name is SAO = SERO, to sow. Saturn is the god of planting and sowing.
3. OPS, goddess of the harvest.
4. MARS. Originally an agricultural god, dangerous to crops; afterwards god of war.
5. SILVANUS, the wood god.
6. FAUNUS, an old Italian deity, the patron of agriculture.
7. TERMINUS, an old Italian deity, the guardian of limits and boundaries.
8. CERES, goddess of the cereal grasses.
9. LIBER, god of the vine, and of wine.
10. BONA DEA, the good goddess. The worship of the good goddess was imported from Greece in later times; and perhaps its basis was the worship of Demeter. The temple of the good goddess was on Mount Aventine. At her feast on the 1st of May all suggestions of the male sex were banished from the house; no wine must be drunk; the myrtle, as a symbol of love, was removed. The idea of the feast was of a chaste marriage, as helping to preserve the human race.
11. MAGNA MATER, or Cybele. This was a foreign worship, but early introduced at Rome.
12. FLORA. She was an original goddess of Italy, presiding over flowers and blossoms. Great license was practised at her worship.
13. VERTUMNUS, the god of gardens, was an old Italian deity, existing before the foundation of Rome.
14. POMONA, goddess of the harvest.
18. PALES. A rural god, protecting cattle. At his feast men and cattle were purified.
The Romans had many other deities, whose worship was more or less popular. But those now mentioned were the principal ones. This list shows that the powers of earth were more objects of reverence than the heavenly bodies. The sun and stars attracted this agricultural people less than the spring and summer, seedtime and harvest. Among the Italians the country was before the city, and Rome was founded by country people.
Sec. 3. Worship and Ritual.
The Roman ceremonial worship was very elaborate and minute, applying to every part of daily life. It consisted in sacrifices, prayers, festivals, and the investigation by augurs and haruspices of the will of the gods and the course of future events. The Romans accounted themselves an exceedingly religious people, because their religion was so intimately connected with the affairs of home and state.
The Romans distinguished carefully between things sacred and profane. This word "profane" comes from the root "fari," to speak; because the gods were supposed to speak to men by symbolic events. A fane is a place thus consecrated by some divine event; a profane place, one not consecrated. But that which man dedicates to the gods (dedicat or dicat) is sacred, or consecrated. Every place which was to be dedicated was first "liberated" by the augur from common uses; then "consecrated" to divine uses by the pontiff. A "temple" is a place thus separated, or cut off from other places; for the root of this word, like that of "tempus" (time) is the same as the Greek [Greek: temno], to cut.
The Roman year was full of festivals (feriae) set apart for religious uses. It was declared by the pontiffs a sin to do any common work on these days, but works of necessity were allowed. These festivals were for particular gods, in honor of great events in the history of Rome, or of rural occurrences, days of purification and atonement, family feasts, or feasts in honor of the dead. The old Roman calendar was as carefully arranged as that of modern Rome. The day began at midnight. The following is a view of the Roman year in its relation to festivals:—
1. Feast of Janus, the god of beginnings. 9. Agonalia. 11. Carmentalia. In honor of the nymph Carmenta, a woman's festival. 16. Dedication of the Temple of Concord. 31. Feast of the Penates.
1. Feast of Juno Sospita, the Savior: an old goddess. 13. Faunalia, dedicated to Faunus and the rural gods. 15. Lupercalia. Feast of fruitfulness. 17. Fornacalia. Feast of the oven goddess Fornax. 18 to 28. The Februatio, or feast of purification and atonement, and the Feralia, or feast of the dead. Februus was an old Etrurian god of the under-world. Also, the Charistia, a family festival for putting an end to quarrels among relations. 23. Feast of Terminus, god of boundaries. Boundary-stones anointed and crowned.
1. Feast of Mars. Also, the Matronalia. The Salii, priests of Mars, go their rounds, singing old hymns. 6. Feast of Vesta. 7. Feast of Vejovis or Vedius, i.e. the boy Jupiter. 14. Equiria, or horse-races in honor of Mars. 15. Feast of Anna-Perenna, goddess of health. 17. Liberalia, Feast of Bacchus. Young men invested with the Toga-Virilis on this day. 19 to 23. Feast of Minerva, for five days. Offerings made to her by all mechanics, artists, and scholars.
1. Feast of Venus, to whom the month is sacred. 4. Megalesia. Feast of Cybele and Altys. It lasted six days, and was the Roman analogue of the feast of Ceres in Greece and of Isis in Egypt. 12. Cerealia. Feast of Ceres. Games in the circus. 15. Fordicicia. Feast of cows. 21. Palililia. Feast of Pales, and of the founding of Rome. 23. Vinalia. Feast of new wine. 25. Robigalia. Feast of the goddess of blight, Robigo. 28. Floralia. Feast of the goddess Flora; very licentious.
1. Feast of the Bona Dea, the good goddess; otherwise Maia, Ops, Tellus, or the Earth. This was the feast held by women secretly in the house of the pontiff. 9. Lemuralia. Feast of the departed spirits or ghosts. 12. Games to Mars. 23. Tubilustria, to consecrate wind instruments.
1. Feast of Carna, goddess of the internal organs of the body, and of Juno Moneta. 4. Feast of Bellona. 5. Feast of Deus Fidius. 7 to 15. Feast of Vesta. 19. Matralia. Feast of Mater Matuta.
Other lesser festivals in this month to Summanus, Fortuna, Fortis, Jupiter Stator, etc.
1. Day devoted to changing residences, like the 1st of May in New York. 4. Fortuna Muliebris. 5. Populifuga. In memory of the people's flight, on some occasion, afterward forgotten. 7. Feast of Juno Caprotina. 15. Feast of Castor and Pollux.
Other festivals in this month were the Lucaria, Neptunalia, and Furinalia.
1. Games to Mars. 17. Feast of the god Portumnus. 18. Consualia, feast of Consus. Rape of the Sabines. 23. Vulcanalia, to avert fires. 25. Opeconsivia. Feast of Ops Consiva.
The chief feasts in this month were the games (Ludi Magni or Romani) in honor of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.
13. Fontinalia. Feast of fountains, when the springs were strewed with flowers. 15. Sacrifice of a horse to Mars.
The feasts in November are unimportant.
5. Faunalia, in honor of Faunus. 19. Saturnalia, sacred to Saturn. A Roman thanksgiving for the harvest. It lasted seven days, during which the slaves had their liberty, in memory of the age of Saturn, when all were equal. The rich kept open table to all comers, and themselves waited on the slaves. Presents were interchanged, schools were closed. The Senate did not sit.
Thus religion everywhere met the public life of the Roman by its festivals, and laid an equal yoke on his private life by its requisition of sacrifices, prayers, and auguries. All pursuits must be conducted according to a system, carefully laid down by the College of Pontiffs. Sacrifices and prayers of one or another kind were demanded during most of the occasions of life. Hidden in our word "inaugurate" is the record of the fact that nothing could be properly begun without the assistance of the augurs. Sacrifices of lustration and expiation were very common, not so much for moral offences as for ceremonial mistakes. The doctrine of the opus operatum was supreme in Roman religion. The intention was of little importance; the question was whether the ceremony had been performed exactly in accordance with rule. If not, it must be done again. Sometimes fifty or a hundred victims were killed before the priestly etiquette was contented. Sometimes magistrates must resign because the college of augurs suspected some informality in the ceremonies of their election. Laws were annulled and judicial proceedings revoked for the same reason. If the augurs declared the signs unfavorable, a public meeting must be adjourned and no business done. A single mistake in the form of a prayer would make it ineffectual. If a man went out to walk, there was a form to be recited; if he mounted his chariot, another. All these religious acts were of the nature of charms, which acted on the gods by an inherent power, and compelled them to be favorable, whatever their own wishes might be. The gods were, therefore, as much the slaves of external mechanical laws as the Romans themselves. In reality, the supreme god of Rome was law, in the form of rule. But these rules afterward expanded, as the Roman civilization increased, into a more generous jurisprudence. Regularity broadened into justice. But for a long period the whole of the Roman organic law was a system of hard external method. And the rise of law as justice and reason was the decline of religion as mere prescription and rule. This one change is the key to the dissolution of the Roman system of religious practices.
The seat of Roman worship in the oldest times was the Regia in the Via Sacra, near the Forum. This was the house of the chief pontiff, and here the sacrifices were performed by the Rex Sacrorum. Near by was the temple of Vesta. The Palatine Hill was regarded as the home of the Latin gods, while the Quirinal was that of the Sabine deities. But the Penates of Rome remained at Lavinium, the old metropolis of the Latin Confederation, and mother of the later city. Every one of the highest officers of Rome was obliged to go and sacrifice to the ancient gods, at this mother city of Lavinium, before entering on his office.
The old worship of Rome was free from idolatry. Jupiter, Juno, Janus, Ops, Vesta, were not represented by idols. This feature was subsequently imported by means of Hellenic influences coming through Cuma and other cities of Magna Graecia. By the same channels came the Sibylline books. There were ten Sibyls,—the Persian, Libyan, Delphian, Cumaean, Erythraean, Samian, Amalthaean, Hellespontine, Phrygian, and Tiburtine. The Sibylline books authorized or commanded the worship of various Greek gods; they were intrusted to the Decemviri.
Roman worship was at first administered by certain patrician families, and this was continued till B.C. 300, when plebeians were allowed to enter the sacred colleges. A plebeian became Pontifex Maximus, for the first time, B.C. 253.
The pontiffs (Pontifices) derived their name (bridge-builders) from a bridge over the Tiber, which it was their duty to build and repair in order to sacrifice on either bank. They possessed the supreme authority in all matters of worship, and decided questions concerning marriage, inheritance, public games.
The Flamens were the priests of particular deities. The office was for life, and there were fifteen Flamens in all. The Flamen Dialis, or priest of Jupiter, had a life burdened with etiquette. He must not take an oath, ride, have anything tied with knots on his person, see armed men, look at a prisoner, see any one at work on a Festa, touch a goat, or dog, or raw flesh, or yeast. He must not bathe in the open air, pass a night outside the city, and he could only resign his office on the death of his wife. This office is Pelasgic, and very ancient.
The Salii were from early times priests of Mars, who danced in armor, and sang old hymns. The Luperci were another body of priests, also of very ancient origin. Other colleges of priests were the Epulones, Curiones, Tities.
The Vestal virgins were highly honored and very sacred. Their work was to tend the fire of Vesta, and prevent the evil omen of its extinction. They were appointed by the Pontifex Maximus. They were selected when very young, and could resign their office after thirty years of service. They had a large revenue, enjoyed the highest honors, and to strike them was a capital offence. If a criminal about to be executed met them, his life was spared. Consuls and praetors must give way to them in the streets. They assisted at the theatres and at all public entertainments. They could go out to visit and to dine with their relations. Their very presence protected any one from assault, and their intercession must not be neglected. They prepared the sacred cakes, took part in many sacrifices, and had the charge of a holy serpent, keeping his table supplied with meat.
The duty of the augurs was to inquire into the divine will; and they could prevent any public business by declaring the omens unfavorable. The name is probably derived from an old Aryan word, meaning "sight" or "eye," which has come to us in the Greek [Greek: augae], and the German auge. Our words "auspicious" and "auspicate" are derived from the "auspices," or outlook on nature which these seers practised. For they were in truth the Roman seers. Their business was to look, at midnight, into the starry heavens; to observe thunder, lightning, meteors; the chirping or flying of birds; the habits of the sacred chickens; the appearance of quadrupeds; or casualties of various kinds, as sneezing, stumbling, spilling salt or wine. The last relics of these superstitions are to be found in the little books sold in Rome, in which the fortunate number in a lottery is indicated by such accidents and events of common life.
The Romans, when at prayer, were in the habit of covering their heads, so that no sound of evil augury might be heard. The suppliant was to kiss his right hand, and then turn round in a circle and sit down. Many formulae of prayers were prescribed to be used on all occasions of life. They must be repeated three times, at least, to insure success. Different animals were sacrificed to different gods,—white cattle with gilded horns to Jupiter, a bull to Apollo, a horse to Mars. Sometimes the number of victims was enormous. On Caligula's accession, one hundred and sixty thousand victims were killed in the Roman Empire.
Lustrations were great acts of atonement or purification, and are often described by ancient writers. The city was lustrated by a grand procession of the four colleges of Augurs, Pontifices, Quindecemviri, and Septemviri. Lucan, in his Pharsalia, describes such a lustration. Tacitus gives a like description, in his History, of the ceremonies attending the rebuilding the Capitol. On an auspicious day, beneath a serene sky, the ground chosen for the foundation was surrounded with ribbons and flowers. Soldiers, selected for their auspicious names, brought into the enclosure branches from the trees sacred to the gods. The Vestal virgins, followed by a band of children, sprinkled the place with water drawn from three fountains and three rivers. The praetor and the pontiff next sacrificed a swine, a sheep, and a bull, and besought Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva to favor the undertaking. The magistrates, priests, senators, and knights then drew the corner-stone to its place, throwing in ingots of gold and silver.
The Romans, ever anxious about the will of the gods, naturalized among themselves the Etruscan institution of the Haruspices. The prodigies observed were in the entrails of animals and the phenomena of nature. The parts of the entrails observed were the tongue, lungs, heart, liver, gall bladder, spleen, kidneys, and caul. If the head of the right lobe of the liver was absent, it was considered a very bad omen. If certain fissures existed, or were absent, it was a portent of the first importance. But the Romans were a very practical people, and not easily deterred from their purpose. So if one sacrifice failed they would try another and another, until the portents were favorable. But sceptical persons were naturally led to ask some puzzling questions, such as these, which Cicero puts in his work on Divination: How can a cleft in a liver be connected, by any natural law, with my acquisition of a property? If it is so connected, what would be the result, if some one else, who was about to lose his property, had examined the same victim? If you answer that the divine energy, which extends through the universe, directs each man in the choice of a victim, then how happens it that a man having first had an unfavorable omen, by trying again should get a good one? How happens it that a sacrifice to one deity gives a favorable sign, and that to another the opposite? But these criticisms only arrived after the old Roman faith had begun to decline.
Funeral solemnities were held with great care and pomp, and festivals for the dead were regularly celebrated. The dead father or mother was accounted a god, and yet a certain terror of ancestral spectres was shown by a practice of driving them out of the house by lustrations. For it was uncertain whether the paternal Manes were good spirits, Lares, or evil spirits, and Lemures. Consequently in May there was the Lemuria, or feast for exorcising the evil spirits from houses and homes, conducted with great solemnity.
Sec. 4. The Decay of the Roman Religion.
"The more distinguished a Roman became," says Mommsen, "the less was he a free man. The omnipotence of law, the despotism of the rule, drove him into a narrow circle of thought and action, and his credit and influence depended on the sad austerity of his life. The whole duty of man, with the humblest and greatest of the Romans, was to keep his house in order, and be the obedient servant of the state." While each individual could be nothing more than a member of the community, a single link in the iron chain of Roman power; he, on the other hand, shared the glory and might of all-conquering Rome. Never was such esprit de corps developed, never such intense patriotism, never such absolute subservience and sacrifice of the individual to the community. But as man is manifold and cannot be forever confined to a single form of life, a reaction against this narrow patriotism was to be expected in the interest of personal freedom, and it came very naturally from Greek influences. The Roman could not contemplate the exuberant development of Greek thought, art, literature, society, without bitterly feeling how confined was his own range, how meagre and empty his own life. Hence, very early, Roman society began to be Hellenized, but especially after the unification of Italy. To quote Mommsen once more: "The Greek civilization was grandly human and cosmopolitan; and Rome not only was stimulated by this influence, but was penetrated by it to its very centre." Even in politics there was a new school, whose fixed idea was the consolidation and propagandism of republicanism; but this Philhellenism showed itself especially in the realm of thought and faith. As the old faith died, more ceremonies were added; for as life goes out, forms come in. As the winter of unbelief lowers the stream of piety, the ice of ritualism accumulates along its banks. In addition to the three colleges of Pontiffs, Haruspices, and Quindecemviri, another of Epulones, whose business was to attend to the religious feasts, was instituted in A.U. 558 (B.C. 196). Contributions and tithes of all sorts were demanded from the people. Hercules, especially, as is more than once intimated in the plays of Plautus, became very rich by his tithes. Religion became more and more a charm, on the exact performance of which the favor of the gods depended; so that ceremonies were sometimes performed thirty times before the essential accuracy was attained.
The gods were now changed, in the hands of Greek statuaries, into ornaments for a rich man's home. Greek myths were imported and connected with the story of Roman deities, as Ennius made Saturn the son of Coelus, in imitation of the genealogy of Kronos. That form of rationalism called Euhemerism, which explains every god into a mythical king or hero, became popular. So, too, was the doctrine of Epicharmos, who considered the divinities as powers of nature symbolized. According to the usual course of events, superstition and unbelief went hand in hand. As the old faith died out, new forms of worship, like those of Cybele and Bacchus, came in. Stern conservatives like Cato opposed all these innovations and scepticisms, but ineffectually.
Gibbon says that "the admirable work of Cicero,'De Natura Deorum,' is the best clew we have to guide us through this dark abyss" (the moral and religious teachings of the philosophers). After, in the first two books, the arguments for the existence and providence of the gods have been set forth and denied, by Velleius the Epicurean, Cotta the academician, and Balbus the Stoic; in the third book, Cotta, the head of the priesthood, the Pontifex Maximus, proceeds to refute the stoical opinion that there are gods who govern the universe and provide for the welfare of mankind. To be sure, he says, as Pontifex, he of course believes in the gods, but he feels free as a philosopher to deny their existence. "I believe in the gods," says he, "on the authority and tradition of our ancestors; but if we reason, I shall reason against their existence." "Of course," he says, "I believe in divination, as I have always been taught to do. But who knows whence it comes? As to the voice of the Fauns, I never heard it; and I do not know what a Faun is. You say that the regular course of nature proves the existence of some ordering power. But what more regular than a tertian or quartan fever? The world subsists by the power of nature." Cotta goes on to criticise the Roman pantheon, ridiculing the idea of such gods as "Love, Deceit, Fear, Labor, Envy, Old Age, Death, Darkness, Misery, Lamentation, Favor, Fraud, Obstinacy," etc. He shows that there are many gods of the same name; several Jupiters, Vulcans, Apollos, and Venuses. He then denies providence, by showing that the wicked succeed and the good are unfortunate. Finally, all was left in doubt, and the dialogue ends with a tone of triumphant uncertainty. This was Cicero's contribution to theology; and Cicero was far more religious than most men of his period.
Many writers, and more recently Merivale, have referred to the remarkable debate which took place in the Roman Senate, on the occasion of Catiline's conspiracy. Caesar, at that time chief pontiff, the highest religious authority in the state, gave his opinion against putting the conspirators to death; for death, says he, "is the end of all suffering. After death there is neither pain nor pleasure (ultra neque curae, neque gaudii locum)." Cato, the Stoic, remarked that Caesar had spoken well concerning life and death. "I take it," says he, "that he regards as false what we are told about the sufferings of the wicked hereafter," but does not object to that statement. These speeches are reported by Sallust, and are confirmed by Cicero's fourth Catiline Oration. The remarkable fact is, not that such things were said, but that they were heard with total indifference. No one seemed to think it was of any consequence one way or the other. Suppose that when the question of the execution of Charles I. was before Parliament, it had been opposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury (had he been there) on the ground that after death all pain and pleasure ceased. The absurdity of the supposition shows the different position of the human mind at the two epochs.
In fact, an impassable gulf yawned between the old Roman religion and modern Roman thought. It was out of the question for an educated Roman, who read Plato and Zeno, who listened to Cicero and Hortensius, to believe in Janus and the Penates. "All very well for the people," said they. "The people must be kept in order by these superstitions." But the secret could not be kept. Sincere men, like Lucretius, who saw all the evil of these superstitions, and who had no strong religious sense, would speak out, and proclaim all religion to be priestcraft and an unmitigated evil. The poem of Lucretius, "De Rerum Natura," declares faith in the gods to have been the curse of the human race, and immortality to be a silly delusion. He denies the gods, providence, the human soul, and any moral purpose in the universe. But as religion is an instinct, which will break out in some form, and when expelled from the soul returns in disguise, Lucretius, denying all the gods, pours out a lovely hymn to Venus, goddess of beauty and love.
The last philosophic protest, in behalf of a pure and authoritative faith, came from the Stoics. The names of Seneca, Epictetus, and Aurelius Antoninus gave dignity, if they could not bring safety, to the declining religion of Rome.
Seneca, indeed, was inferior to the other two in personal character, and was more of a rhetorician than a philosopher. But noble thoughts occur in his writings. "A sacred spirit sits in every heart," he says, "and treats us as we treat it." He opposed idolatry, he condemned animal sacrifices. The moral element is very marked in his brilliant pages. Philosophy, he says, is an effort to be wise and good. Physical studies he condemns as useless. Goodness is that which harmonizes with the natural movements of the soul. God and matter are the two principles of all being; God is the active principle, matter the passive. God is spirit, and all souls are part of this spirit. Reason is the bond which unites God and other souls, and so God dwells in all souls.
One of the best sayings of Epictetus is that "the wise man does not merely know by tradition and hearsay that Jupiter is the father of gods and men; but is inwardly convinced of it in his soul, and therefore cannot help acting and feeling according to this conviction."
Epictetus declared that the philosopher could have no will but that of the deity; he never blames fate or fortune, for he knows that no real evil can befall the just man. The life of Epictetus was as true as his thoughts were noble, but he had fallen on an evil age, which needed for its reform, not a new philosophy, but a new inspiration of divine life. This steady current downward darkened the pure soul of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, of whom Niebuhr says, "If there is any sublime human virtue, it is his." He adds: "He was certainly the noblest character of his time; and I know no other man who combined such unaffected kindness, mildness, and humility with such conscientiousness and severity towards himself." "If there is anywhere an expression of virtue, it is in the heavenly features of M. Aurelius. His 'Meditations' are a golden book, though there are things in it which cannot be read without deep grief, for there we find this purest of men without happiness." Though absolute monarch of the Empire, and rich in the universal love of his people, he was not powerful enough to resist the steady tendency to decay in society. Nor did he know that the power that was to renew the life of the world was already present in Christianity. He himself was in soul almost a Christian, though he did not know it, and though the Christian element of faith and hope was wanting. But he expressed a thought worthy of the Gospel, when he said: "The man of disciplined mind reverently bids Nature, who bestows all things and resumes them again to herself, 'Give what thou wilt, and take what thou wilt.'"
Although we have seen that Seneca speaks of a sacred, spirit which dwells in us, other passages in his works (quoted by Zeller) show that he was, like other Stoics, a pantheist, and meant the soul of the world. He says (Nat. Qu., II. 45, and Prolog. 13): "Will you call God the world? You may do so without mistake. For he is all that you see around you." "What is God? The mind of the universe. What is God? All that you see, and all that you do not see."
It was not philosophy which destroyed religion in Rome. Philosophy, no doubt, weakened faith in the national gods, and made the national worship seem absurd. But it was the general tendency downward; it was the loss of the old Roman simplicity and purity; it was the curse of Caesarism, which, destroying all other human life, destroyed also the life of religion. What it came to at last, in well-endowed minds, may be seen in this extract from the elder Pliny:—
"All religion is the offspring of necessity, weakness, and fear. What God is, if in truth he be anything distinct from the world, it is beyond the compass of man's understanding to know. But it is a foolish delusion, which has sprung from human weakness and human pride, to imagine that such an infinite spirit would concern himself with the petty affairs of men. It is difficult to say, whether it might not be better for men to be wholly without religion, than to have one of this kind, which is a reproach to its object. The vanity of man, and his insatiable longing after existence, have led him also to dream of a life after death. A being full of contradictions, he is the most wretched of creatures; since the other creatures have no wants transcending the bounds of their nature. Man is full of desires and wants that reach to infinity, and can never be satisfied. His nature is a lie, uniting the greatest poverty with the greatest pride. Among these so great evils, the best thing God has bestowed on man is the power to take his own life."
The system of the Stoics was exactly adapted to the Roman character; but, naturally, it exaggerated its faults instead of correcting them. It supplanted all other systems in the esteem of leading minds; but the narrowness of the Roman intellect reacted on the philosophy, and made that much more narrow than it was in the Greek thought. It became simple ethics, omitting both the physical and metaphysical side.
Turning to literature, we find in Horace a gay epicureanism, which always says: "Enjoy this life, for it will be soon over, and after death there is nothing left for us." Virgil tells us that those are happy who know the causes of things, and so escape the terrors of Acheron. The serious Tacitus, a man always in earnest, a penetrating mind, is by Bunsen called "the last Roman prophet, but a prophet of death and judgment. He saw that Rome hastened to ruin, and that Caesarism was an unmixed evil, but an evil not to be remedied." He declares that the gods had to mingle in Roman affairs as protectors; they now appeared only for vengeance. Tacitus in one passage speaks of human freedom as superior to fate, but in another expresses his uncertainty on the whole question. Equally uncertain was he concerning the future life, though inclined to believe that the soul is not extinguished with the body.
But the tone of the sepulchral monuments of that period is not so hopeful. Here are some which are quoted by Doellinger, from Muratori and Fabretti: "Reader, enjoy thy life; for, after death, there is neither laughter nor play, nor any kind of enjoyment." "Friend, I advise thee to mix a goblet of wine and drink, crowning thy head with flowers. Earth and fire consume all that remains at death." "Pilgrim, stop and listen. In Hades is no boat and no Charon; no Eacus and no Cerberus. Once dead, we are all alike." Another says: "Hold all a mockery, reader; nothing is our own."
* * * * *
So ended the Roman religion; in superstition among the ignorant, in unbelief among the wise. It was time that something should come to renew hope. This was the gift which the Gospel brought to the Romans,—hope for time, hope beyond time. This was the prayer for the Romans of the Apostle Paul: "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost." A remarkable fact, that a Jewish writer should exhort Romans to hope and courage!
Sec. 5. Relation of the Roman Religion to Christianity.
The idea of Rome is law, that of Christianity is love. In Roman worship law took the form of iron rules; in Roman theology it appeared as a stern fate; in both as a slavery. Christianity came as freedom, in a worship free from forms, in a view of God which left freedom to man. Christianity came to the Roman world, not as a new theory, but as a new life. As, during the early spring, the power of the returning sun penetrates the soil, silently touching the springs of life; so Christianity during two hundred years moved silently in the heart of Roman society, creating a new faith, hope, and love. And as, at last, in the spring the grass shoots, the buds open, the leaves appear, the flowers bloom; so, at last, Christianity, long working in silence and shadow, suddenly became apparent, and showed that it had been transforming the whole tone and temper of Roman civilization.
But wherever there is action there is also reaction, and no power or force can wholly escape this law. So Roman thought, acted on by Christianity, reacted and modified in many respects the Gospel. Not always in a bad way, sometimes it helped its developments. For the Providence which made the Gospel for the Romans made the Romans for the Gospel.
The great legacy bequeathed to mankind by ancient Rome was law. Other nations, it is true, had codes of law, like the Institutes of Manu in India, or the jurisprudence of Solon and the enactments of Lycurgus. But Roman law from the beginning was sanctified by the conviction that it was founded on justice, and not merely on expediency or prudence. In submitting to the laws, even when they were cruel and oppressive, the Roman was obeying, not force, but conscience. The view which Plato gave as an ideal in Crito was realized in Roman society from the first. Consider the cruel enactments which made the debtors the slaves of the creditor, and the fact that when the plebeians were ground to the earth by that oppression, they did not attempt to resist the law, but in their despair fled from their homes, beyond the jurisdiction of Rome, to establish a new city where these enactments could not reach them. Only when the laws are thus enforced by the public conscience as something sacred, does society become possible; and this sense of the divinity which hedges a code of laws has been transmitted from ancient Rome into the civilization of Europe.
Cicero, in his admirable treatise on the laws, which unfortunately we have in an imperfect condition, devotes the whole of the first book to establishing eternal justice as the basis of all jurisprudence. No better text-book could have been found for the defence of what was called "the higher law," in the great American antislavery struggle, than this work of Cicero. "Let us establish," he says, "the principles of justice on that supreme law which has existed from all ages before any legislative enactments were written, or any political governments formed." "Among all questions, there is none more important to understand than this, that man is born for justice; and that law and equity have not been established by opinion, but by nature." "It is an absurd extravagance in some philosophers to assert that all things are necessarily just which are established by the laws and institutions of nations." "Justice does not consist in submission to written laws." "If the will of the people, the decrees of the senate, the decisions of magistrates, were sufficient to establish rights, then it might become right to rob, to commit adultery, to forge wills, if this was sanctioned by the votes or decrees of the majority." "The sum of all is, that what is right should be sought for its own sake, because it is right, and not because it is enacted."
Law appears from the very beginnings of the Roman state. The oldest traditions make Romulus, Numa, and Servius to be legislators. From that time, after the expulsion of the Tarquins, Rome was governed by laws. Even the despotism of the Caesars did not interfere with the general administration of the laws in civil affairs; for the one-man power, though it may corrupt and degrade a state, does not immediately and directly affect many persons in their private lives. Law continued to rule in common affairs, and this legacy of a society organized by law was the gift of Rome to modern Europe. How great a blessing it has been may be seen by comparing the worst Christian government with the best of the despotic governments of Asia. Mohammedan society is ruled by a hierarchy of tyranny, each little tyrant being in turn the victim of the one above him.
The feudal system, introduced by the Teutonic races, attempted to organize Europe on the basis of military despotism; but Roman law was too strong for feudal law, and happily for mankind overcame it and at last expelled it.
Christianity, in its ready hospitality for all the truth and good which it encounters, accepted Roman jurisprudence and gave to it a new lease of life. Christian emperors and Christian lawyers codified the long line of decrees and enactments reaching back to the Twelve Tables, and established them as the laws of the Christian world. But the spirit of Roman law acted on Christianity in a more subtle manner. It reproduced the organic character of the Roman state in the Western Latin Church, and it reproduced the soul of Roman law in the Western Latin theology.
It has not always been sufficiently considered how much the Latin Church was a reproduction, on a higher plane, of the old Roman Commonwealth. The resemblance between the Roman Catholic ceremonies and those of Pagan Rome has been often noticed. The Roman Catholic Church has borrowed from Paganism saints' days, incense, lustrations, consecrations of sacred places, votive-offerings, relics; winking, nodding, sweating, and bleeding images; holy water, vestments, etc. But the Church of Rome itself, in its central idea of authority, is a reproduction of the Roman state religion, which was a part of the Roman state. The Eastern churches were sacerdotal and religious; the Church of Rome added to these elements that of an organized political authority. It was the resurrection of Rome,—Roman ideas rising into a higher life. The Roman Catholic Church, at first an aristocratic republic, like the Roman state, afterwards became, like the Roman state, a disguised despotism. The Papal Church is therefore a legacy of ancient Rome.
And just as the Roman state was first a help and then a hindrance to the progress of humanity, so it has been with the Roman Catholic Church. Ancient Rome gradually bound together into a vast political unity the divided tribes and states of Europe, and so infused into them the civilization which she had developed or received. And so the Papal Church united Europe again, and once more permeated it with the elements of law, of order, of Christian faith. All intelligent Protestants admit the good done in this way by the mediaeval church.
For example, Milman says, speaking of Gregory the Great and his work, that it was necessary that there should be some central power like the Papacy to resist the dissolution of society at the downfall of the Roman Empire. "The life and death of Christianity" depended, he says, "on the rise of such a power." "It is impossible to conceive what had been the confusion, the lawlessness, the chaotic state of the Middle Ages, without the mediaeval Papacy."
The whole history of Rome had infused into the minds of Western nations a conviction of the importance of centralization in order to union. From Rome, as a centre, had proceeded government, law, civilization. Christianity therefore seemed to need a like centre, in order to retain its unity. Hence the supremacy early yielded to the Bishop of Rome. His primacy was accepted, because it was useful. The Papal Church would never have existed, if Rome and its organizing ideas had not existed before Christianity was born.
In like manner the ideas developed in the Roman mind determined the course of Western theology, as differing from that of the East. It is well known that Eastern theological speculation was occupied with the nature of God and the person of Christ, but that Western theology discussed sin and salvation. Mr. Maine, in his work on "Ancient Law," considers this difference to have been occasioned by habits of thought produced by Roman jurisprudence. I quote his language at some length:—
"What has to be determined is whether jurisprudence has ever served as the medium through which theological principles have been viewed; whether, by supplying a peculiar language, a peculiar mode of reasoning, and a peculiar solution of many of the problems of life, it has ever opened new channels in which theological speculation could flow out and expand itself."
"On all questions," continues Mr. Maine, quoting Dean Milman, "which concerned the person of Christ and the nature of the Trinity, the Western world accepted passively the dogmatic system of the East." "But as soon as the Latin-speaking empire began to live an intellectual life of its own, its deference to the East was at once exchanged for the agitation of a number of questions entirely foreign to Eastern speculation." "The nature of sin and its transmission by inheritance, the debt owed by man and its vicarious satisfaction, and like theological problems, relating not to the divinity but to human nature, immediately began to be agitated." "I affirm," says Mr. Maine, "without hesitation, that the difference between the two theological systems is accounted for by the fact that, in passing from the East to the West, theological speculation had passed from a climate of Greek metaphysics to a climate of Roman law. For some centuries before these controversies rose into overwhelming importance, all the intellectual activity of the Western Romans had been expended on jurisprudence exclusively. They had been occupied in applying a peculiar set of principles to all combinations in which the circumstances of life are capable of being arranged. No foreign pursuit or taste called off their attention from this engrossing occupation, and for carrying it on they possessed a vocabulary as accurate as it was copious, a strict method of reasoning, a stock of general propositions on conduct more or less verified by experience, and a rigid moral philosophy. It was impossible that they should not select from the questions indicated by the Christian records those which had some affinity with the order of speculations to which they were accustomed, and that their manner of dealing with them should not borrow something from their forensic habits. Almost every one who has knowledge enough of Roman law to appreciate the Roman penal system, the Roman theory of the obligations established by contract or delict, the Roman view of debts, etc., the Roman notion of the continuance of individual existence by universal succession, may be trusted to say whence arose the frame of mind to which the problems of Western theology proved so congenial, whence came the phraseology in which these problems were stated, and whence the description of reasoning employed in their solution." "As soon as they (the Western Church) ceased to sit at the feet of the Greeks and began to ponder out a theology of their own, the theology proved to be permeated with forensic ideas and couched in a forensic phraseology. It is certain that this substratum of law in Western theology lies exceedingly deep."
The theory of the atonement, developed by the scholastic writers, illustrates this view. In the East, for a thousand years, the atoning work of Christ had been viewed mainly as redemption, as a ransom paid to obtain the freedom of mankind, enslaved by the Devil in consequence of their sins. It was not a legal theory, or one based on notions of jurisprudence, but it was founded on warlike notions. Men were captives taken in war, and, like all captives in those times, destined to slavery. Their captor was Satan, and the ransom must be paid to him, as he held them prisoners by the law of battle. Now as Christ had committed no sin, the Devil had no just power over him; in putting Christ to death he had lost his rights over his other captives, and Christ could justly claim their freedom as a compensation for this injury. Christ, therefore, strictly and literally, according to the ancient view, "gave his life a ransom for many."
But the mind of Anselm, educated by notions derived from Roman jurisprudence, substituted for this original theory of the atonement one based upon legal ideas. All, in this theory, turns on the law of debt and penalty. Sin he defines as "not paying to God what we owe him." But we owe God constant and entire obedience, and every sin deserves either penalty or satisfaction. We are unable to make it good, for at every moment we owe God all that we can do. Christ, as God-man, can satisfy God for our omissions; his death, as offered freely, when he did not deserve death on account of any sin of his own, is sufficient satisfaction. It will easily be seen how entirely this argument has substituted a legal basis for the atonement in place of the old warlike foundation.
This, therefore, has been the legacy of ancient Rome to Christianity: firstly, the organization of the Latin Church; secondly, the scholastic theology, founded on notions of jurisprudence introduced into man's relations to God. In turn, Christianity has bestowed on Western Europe what the old Romans never knew,—a religion of love and inspiration. In place of the hard and cold Roman life, modern Europe has sentiment and heart united with thought and force. With Roman strength it has joined a Christian tenderness, romance, and personal freedom. Humanity now is greater than the social organization; the state, according to our view, is made for man, not man for the state. We are outgrowing the hard and dry theology which we have inherited from Roman law through the scholastic teachers; but we shall not outgrow our inheritance from Rome of unity in the Church, definite thought in our theology, and society organized by law.
The Teutonic and Scandinavian Religion.
Sec. 1. The Land and the Race. Sec. 2. Idea of the Scandinavian Religion. Sec. 3. The Eddas and their Contents. Sec. 4. The Gods of Scandinavia. Sec. 5. Resemblance of the Scandinavian Mythology to that of Zoroaster. Sec. 6. Scandinavian Worship. Sec. 7. Social Character, Maritime Discoveries, and Political Institutions of the Scandinavians. Sec. 8. Relation of this System to Christianity.
Sec. 1. The Land and the Race.
The great Teutonic or German division of the Indo-European family entered Europe subsequently to the Keltic tribes, and before the Slavic immigration. This people overspread and occupied a large part of Northern Central Europe, from which the attempts of the Romans to dispossess them proved futile. Of their early history we know very little. Bishop Percy contrasts their love of making records, as shown by the Runic inscriptions, with the Keltic law of secrecy. The Druids forbade any communication of their mysteries by writing; but the German Scalds put all their belief into popular songs, and reverenced literature as a gift of the gods. Yet we have received very little information concerning these tribes before the days of Caesar and Tacitus. Caesar describes them as warlike, huge in stature; having reverence for women, who were their augurs and diviners; worshipping the Sun, the Moon, and Fire; having no regular priests, and paying little regard to sacrifices. He says that they occupied their lives in hunting and war, devoting themselves from childhood to severe labors. They reverenced chastity, and considered it as conducive to health and strength. They were rather a pastoral than agricultural people; no one owning land, but each having it assigned to him temporarily. The object of this provision was said to be to prevent accumulation of wealth and the loss of warlike habits. They fought with cavalry supported by infantry. In the time of Augustus all attempts at conquering Germany were relinquished, and war was maintained only in the hope of revenging the destruction of Varus and his three legions by the famous German chief Arminius, or Herrman.
Tacitus freely admits that the Germans were as warlike as the Romans, and were only inferior in weapons and discipline. He pays a generous tribute to Arminius, whom he declares to have been "beyond all question the liberator of Germany," dying at thirty-seven, unconquered in war. Tacitus quotes from some ancient German ballads or hymns ("the only historic monuments," says he, "that they possess") the names of Tuisto, a god born from the earth, and Mannus, his son. Tacitus was much struck with the physical characteristics of the race, as being so uniform. There was a family likeness, he says, among them all,—stern blue eyes, yellow hair, large bodies. Their wealth was in their flocks and herds. "Gold and silver are kept from them by the anger, or perhaps by the favor, of Heaven." Their rulers were elective, and their power was limited. Their judges were the priests. They saw something divine in woman, and her judgments were accepted as oracles. Such women as Veleda and Aurinia were reverenced as prophets; "but not adored or made into goddesses," says Tacitus, with a side-glance at some events at home. Their gods, Tacitus chooses to call Mercury, Hercules, and Mars; but he distinctly says that the Germans had neither idols nor temples, but worshipped in sacred groves. He also says that the Germans divined future events by pieces of sticks, by the duel, and by the movements of sacred horses. Their leaders might decide the less important matters, but the principal questions were settled at public meetings. These assemblies were held at regular intervals, were opened by the priest, were presided over by the chief, and decided all public affairs. Tacitus remarks that the spirit of liberty goes to such an extreme among the Germans as to destroy regularity and order. They will not be punctual at their meetings, lest it should seem as if they attended because commanded to come. Marriage was sacred, and, unlike other heathen nations, they were contented with one wife. They were affectionate and constant to the marriage vow, which meant to the pure German woman one husband, one life, one body, and one soul. The ancient Germans, like their modern descendants, drank beer and Rhenish wine, and were divided into numerous tribes, who afterward reappeared for the destruction of the Roman Empire, as the Goths, Vandals, Lombards, and Franks.
The Scandinavians were a branch of the great German family. Their language, the old Norse, was distinguished from the Alemannic, or High German tongue, and from the Saxonic, or Low German tongue. From the Norse have been derived the languages of Iceland, of the Ferroe Isles, of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. From the Germanic branch have come German, Dutch, Anglo-Saxon, Maeso-Gothic, and English. It was in Scandinavia that the Teutonic race developed its special civilization and religion. Cut off from the rest of the world by stormy seas, the people could there unfold their ideas, and become themselves. It is therefore to Scandinavia that we must go to study the German religion, and to find the influence exercised on modern civilization and the present character of Europe. This influence has been freely acknowledged by great historians.
"The great prerogative of Scandinavia is, that it afforded the great resource to the liberty of Europe, that is, to almost all of liberty there is among men. The Goth Jornandes calls the North of Europe the forge of mankind. I would rather call it the forge of those instruments which broke the fetters manufactured in the South."
Geijer, in his Swedish History, tells us:—
"The recollections which Scandinavia has to add to those of the Germanic race are yet the most antique in character and comparatively the most original. They offer the completest remaining example of a social state existing previously to the reception of influences from Rome, and in duration stretching onward so as to come within the sphere of historical light."
We do not know how much of those old Northern ideas may be still mingled with our ways of thought. The names of their gods we retain in those of our weekdays,—Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Their popular assemblies, or Things, were the origin of our Parliament, our Congress, and our general assemblies. If from the South came the romantic admiration of woman, from the North came a better respect for her rights and the sense of her equality. Our trial by jury was immediately derived from Scandinavia; and, according to Montesquieu, as we have seen, we owe to the North, as the greatest inheritance of all, that desire for freedom which is so chief an element in Christian civilization.
Scandinavia proper consists of those regions now occupied by the kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The geographical peculiarity of this country is its proximity everywhere to the sea, and the great extent of its coast line. The great peninsula of Sweden and Norway, with the Northern Ocean on its west, the Baltic and Gulf of Bothnia on its east, penetrated everywhere by creeks, friths, and arms of the sea, surrounded with innumerable islands, studded with lakes, and cleft with rivers, is also unrivalled, except by Switzerland, in the sublime and picturesque beauty of its mountains. The other peninsula, that of Denmark, surrounded and penetrated also everywhere by the sea, differs in being almost level; rising nowhere, at its highest point, more than a thousand feet above the ocean. Containing an area of only twenty-two thousand square miles, it is so penetrated with bays and creeks as to have four thousand miles of coast. Like the northern peninsula, it is also surrounded with a multitude of islands, which are so crowded together, especially on its eastern coast, as to make an archipelago. It is impossible to look at the map of Europe, and not be struck with the resemblance in these particulars between its northern and southern geography. The Baltic Sea is the Mediterranean of Northern Europe. The peninsula of Denmark, with its multitudinous bays and islands, corresponds to Greece, the Morea, and its archipelago. We have shown in our chapter on Greece that modern geography teaches that the extent of coast line, when compared with the superficial area of a country, is one of the essential conditions of civilization. Who can fail to see the hand of Providence in the adaptation of races to the countries they are to inhabit? The great tide of human life, flowing westward from Central Asia, was divided into currents by the Caspian and Black Seas, and by the lofty range of mountains which, under the name of the Caucasus, Carpathian Mountains, and Alps, extends almost in an unbroken line from the western coast of the Caspian to the northern limits of Germany. The Teutonic races, Germans, Saxons, Franks, and Northmen, were thus determined to the north, and spread themselves along the coast and peninsulas of the Northern Mediterranean. The other branch of the great Indo-European variety was distributed through Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Southern France, Italy, and Spain. Each of these vast European families, stimulated to mental and moral activity by its proximity to water, developed its own peculiar forms of national character, which were afterwards united in modern European society. The North developed individual freedom, the South social organization. The North gave force, the South culture. From Southern Europe came literature, philosophy, laws, arts; from the North, that respect for individual rights, that sense of personal dignity, that energy of the single soul, which is the essential equipoise of a high social culture. These two elements, of freedom and civilization, always antagonist, have been in most ages hostile. The individual freedom of the North has been equivalent to barbarism, and from time to time has rolled down a destroying deluge over the South, almost sweeping away its civilization, and overwhelming in a common ruin arts, literature, and laws. On the other hand, civilization at the South has passed into luxury, has produced effeminacy, till individual freedom has been lost under grinding despotism. But in modern civilization a third element has been added, which has brought these two powers of Northern freedom and Southern culture into equipoise and harmony. This new element is Christianity, which develops, at the same time, the sense of personal responsibility, by teaching the individual destiny and worth of every soul, and also the mutual dependence and interlacing brotherhood of all human society. This Christian element in modern civilization saves it from the double danger of a relapse into barbarism on the one hand, and a too refined luxury on the other. The nations of Europe, to-day, which are the most advanced in civilization, literature, and art, are also the most deeply pervaded with the love of freedom; and the most civilized nations on the globe, instead of being the most effeminate, are also the most powerful.
The Scandinavian people, destined to play so important a part in the history of the world, were, as we have said, a branch of the great Indo-European variety. We have seen that modern ethnology teaches that all the races which inhabit Europe, with some trifling exceptions, belong to one family, which originated in Central Asia. This has appeared and is proved by means of glossology, or the science of language. The closest resemblance exists between the seven linguistic families of Hindostan, Persia, Greece, Rome, Germany, the Kelts, and the Slavi; and it is a most striking fact of human history, that from the earliest period of recorded time down to the present day a powerful people, speaking a language belonging to one or other of these races, should have in a great measure swayed the destinies of the world.
Before the birth of Christ the peninsula of Denmark was called by the Romans the Cimbric Chersonesus, or Cimbric peninsula. This name came from the Cimbri, a people who, one hundred and eleven years before Christ, almost overthrew the Roman Republic, exciting more terror than any event since the days of Hannibal. More than three hundred thousand men, issuing from the peninsula of Denmark and the adjacent regions, poured like a torrent over Gaul and Southern Germany. They met and overthrew in succession four Roman armies; until, finally, they were conquered by the military skill and genius of Marius. After this eruption was checked, the great northern volcano slumbered for centuries. Other tribes from Asia—Goths, Vandals, Huns—combined in the overthrow of the Roman Empire. At last the inhabitants of Scandinavia appear again under the name of Northmen, invading and conquering England in the fifth century as Saxons, in the ninth century as Danes, and in the eleventh as Normans again overrunning England and France. But the peculiarity of the Scandinavian invasions was their maritime character. Daring and skilful navigators, they encountered the tempests of the Northern Ocean and the heavy roll of the Atlantic in vessels so small and slight that they floated like eggshells on the surface of the waves, and ran up the rivers of France and England, hundreds of miles, without check from shallows or rocks. In these fragile barks they made also the most extraordinary maritime discoveries. The sea-kings of Norway discovered Iceland, and settled it A.D. 860 and A.D. 874. They discovered and settled Greenland A.D. 982 and A.D. 986. On the western coast of Greenland they planted colonies, where churches were built, and diocesan bishoprics established, which lasted between four and five hundred years. Finally, in A.D. 1000, they discovered, by sailing from Greenland, the coast of Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Massachusetts Bay; and, five hundred years before the discovery of Columbus, gathered grapes and built houses on the southern side of Cape Cod. These facts, long considered mythical, have been established, to the satisfaction of European scholars, by the publication of Icelandic contemporaneous annals. This remarkable people have furnished nearly the whole population of England by means of the successive conquests of Saxon, Danes, and Normans, driving the Keltic races into the mountainous regions of Wales and North Scotland, where their descendants still remain. Colonizing themselves also everywhere in Northern Europe, and even in Italy and Greece, they have left the familiar stamp of their ideas and habits in all our modern civilization.
Sec. 2. Idea of the Scandinavian Religion.
The central idea of the Scandinavian belief was the free struggle of soul against material obstacles, the freedom of the Divine will in its conflict with the opposing forces of nature. The gods of the Scandinavians were always at war. It was a system of dualism, in which sunshine, summer, and growth were waging perpetual battle with storm, snow, winter, ocean, and terrestrial fire. As the gods, so the people. War was their business, courage their duty, fortitude their virtue. The conflict of life with death, of freedom with fate, of choice with necessity, of good with evil, made up their history and destiny.
This conflict in the natural world was especially apparent in the struggle, annually renewed, between summer and winter. Therefore the light and heat gods were their friends, those of darkness and cold their enemies. For the same reason that the burning heat of summer, Typhon, was the Satan of Egypt; so in the North the Jotuns, ice-giants, were the Scandinavian devils.
There are some virtues which are naturally associated together, such as the love of truth, the sense of justice, courage, and personal independence. There is an opposite class of virtues in like manner naturally grouped together,—sympathy, mutual helpfulness, and a tendency to social organization. The serious antagonism in the moral world is that of truth and love. Most cases of conscience which present a real difficulty resolve themselves into a conflict of truth and love. It is hard to be true without hurting the feelings of others; it is hard to sympathize with others and not yield a little of our inward truth. The same antagonism is found in the religions of the world. The religions in which truth, justice, freedom, are developed tend to isolation, coldness, and hardness. On the other hand, the religions of brotherhood and human sympathy tend to weakness, luxury, and slavery.
The religion of the German races, which was the natural growth of their organization and moral character, belonged to the first class. It was a religion in which truth, justice, self-respect, courage, freedom, were the essential elements. The gods were human, as in the Hellenic system, with moral attributes. They were finite beings and limited in their powers. They carried on a warfare with hostile and destructive agents, in which at last they were to be vanquished and destroyed, though a restoration of the world and the gods would follow that destruction.
Such was the idea in all the faith of the Teutonic race. The chief virtue of man was courage, his unpardonable sin was cowardice. "To fight a good fight," this was the way to Valhalla. Odin sent his Choosers to every battlefield to select the brave dead to become his companions in the joys of heaven.
Sec. 3. The Eddas and their Contents.
We have observed that Iceland was settled from Norway in the ninth century. A remarkable social life grew up there, which preserved the ideas, manners, and religion of the Teutonic people in their purity for many hundred years, and whose Eddas and Sagas are the chief source of our knowledge of the race. In this ultimate and barren region of the earth, where seas of ice make thousands of square miles desolate and impenetrable, where icy masses, elsewhere glaciers, are here mountains, where volcanoes with terrible eruptions destroy whole regions of inhabited country in a few days with lava, volcanic sand, and boiling water, was developed to its highest degree the purest form of Scandinavian life.
The religion of the Scandinavians is contained in the Eddas, which are two,—the poetic, or elder Edda, consisting of thirty-seven poems, first collected and published at the end of the eleventh century; and the younger, or prose Edda, ascribed to the celebrated Snorro Sturleson, born of a distinguished Icelandic family in the twelfth century, who, after leading a turbulent and ambitious life, and being twice chosen supreme magistrate, was killed A.D. 1241. The principal part of the prose Edda is a complete synopsis of Scandinavian mythology.
The elder Edda, which is the fountain of the mythology, consists of old songs and ballads, which had come down from an immemorial past in the mouths of the people, but were first collected and committed to writing by Saemund, a Christian priest of Iceland in the eleventh century. He was a Bard, or Scald, as well as a priest, and one of his own poems, "The Sun-Song," is in his Edda. This word "Edda" means "great-grandmother," the ancient mother of Scandinavian knowledge. Or perhaps this name was given to the legends, repeated by grandmothers to their grandchildren by the vast firesides of the old farm-houses in Iceland.
This rhythmical Edda consists of thirty-seven poems. It is in two parts,—the first containing mythical poems concerning the gods and the creation; the second, the legends of the heroes of Scandinavian history. This latter portion of the Edda has the original and ancient fragments from which the German Nibelungen-lied was afterward derived. These songs are to the German poem what the ante-Homeric ballad literature of Greece about Troy and Ulysses was to the Iliad and Odyssey as reduced to unity by Homer.