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NRLF





THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY
OF CALIFORNIA



THE CONVERSION



THE ROMAN EMPIRE.



THE



OF



THE ROMAN EMPIRE.

TOE

BOYLE LECTUEES

FOR THE YEAR 1864,
DELIVERED AT THE CHAPEL ROYAL, WHITEHALL.



BY

CHAKLES MEEIYALE, B.D.,
i

&ECTOB OF LAWFORD : CHAPLAIN TO THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
ATTTHOB OF " A HISTOBY OP THE ROMANS TTNDEK TOE EMPIRE."



NEW YOEK:
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY,

549 & 551 BROADWAY.
1879.



CONTENTS.



LECTURE I. (Page IT.)

CHRISTIAN BELIEF CONTRASTED WITH HEATHEN UNBELIEF.

ACTS xvn. 32.

And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and
others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.



LECTURE II. (Page 37.)

HEATHEN BELIEF DIRECTED TOWARDS A TEMPORAL PROVIDENCE

ACTS xvn. 22.

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' 1 hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I
perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.



LECTURE III. (Page 56.)

EXPANSION OF HEATHEN BELIEF BY THE TEACHING OF THE
PHILOSOPHERS.

ACTS XVII. 26.

God hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the fact
of the earth.



LECTURE IV. (Page 81.)

EXPANSION OF HEATHEN BELIEF BY THE IDEAS OF ROMAN
JURISPRUDENCE.

GALATIAXS in. 24.
The law was our schoolmaster to briny us unto Christ.



353



VI CONTENTS.

LECTURE V. (Page 102.)

THE HEATHEN AWAKENED TO A SENSE OF HIS SPIEITUAL DANGEB.

1 JOHN IY. 21.

And this commandment have we from Him, That 7ie wlio loveth God love his
brother also.



LECTURE VI. (Page 123.)

EFFORTS OF THE HEATHEN TO AVEET SPIEITUAL ETJIN.

ST. MARK ix. 24.

And straightway t/ie father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord,
I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.



LECTURE VII. (Page 147.)

THE DOCTEINES OF CHEISTIANITY RESPOND TO THE QUESTIONS
OF THE HEATHENS.

ST. MATTHEW xxvm. 19.
The name of the FatJier, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.



LECTURE VIII. (Page 167.)

THE GODLY EXAMPLE OF THE CHEISTIANS COMPLETES THE CON-
VEESION OF THE EMPIEE.

ACTS XYII. 6.
These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.



PREFACE.



THE conversion of the Roman Empire to
Christianity is a very comprehensive subject of
inquiry. It is a subject not for a dissertation but
for a history, for it involves a progressive change
extending over three or more centuries, and is
marked by a series not only of moral and intel-
lectual, but of political revolutions. It embraces
a multitude of events, and presents to us a long
gallery of individual characters. It points back-
ward to the origin and progress of thought and
feeling on religious questions ; and forward almost
to the farthest expansion that they have hitherto
attained. It is in itself the history of religion
brought into one focus, for there is little probably
in the later course of human speculation on the
most interesting of all questions, of which the germ
and often the fall development may not be traced in



8 PREFACE.

tlie controversies of primitive Christianity with
Paganism. In undertaking to give a sketch of
this subject within the limits of eight lectures de-
livered from a pulpit to a mixed and fluctuating
congregation, I have not supposed that I could do
more than indicate a few of its most salient points,
and suggest topics of reflection and possibly of
inquiry that might lead some of my hearers or
readers to a farther and more fruitful considera-
tion of it. With this view, in printing these
Lectures according to the terms of the foundation
on which they were delivered, I have appended
to them some explanatory and illustrative notes
which seemed to be required for the better un-
derstanding of my remarks ; but still the volume
which I lay before the reader does not pretend to
be a formal disquisition on the subject still less,
I need hardly say, to be a history of the great
transformation of opinion of which it treats.

It may be well to observe, however, that the
conversion of the Empire seems, under God's prov-
idence, to have been affected principally in foui
ways :

1 . By the force of the external evidence to the



PREFACE. 9

truth of Christianity, that is, by the apparent
fulfilment of recorded prophecy, and by the his-
torical testimony to the miracles by which it
claims on its first promulgation to have been ac-
companied.

The age indeed was uncritical, and little com-
petent to weigh such external testimony with the
accuracy which is now demanded. There was
great proneness to accept the claim of miracles ;
but at the same time, and in consequence of this
very proneness, very little weight was attached to
it as an argument of Divine power. Great stress
was laid on the fulfilment of prophecy, but in this
respect also the age was liable to be grossly im-
posed upon ; and it must be allowed that the
preaching of Christianity owes some portion, how-
ever trifling, of its success to the false pretensions
of the so-called Sibylline Oracles, which form no
part of its genuine credentials.

On these accounts, and because a discussion on
this branch of the subject would have been ill
suited to discourses from the pulpit, I have re
framed from dwelling upon the effect of the ex-



10 PREFACE.

terna] evidence of Christianity in the conversion
of the Empire.

2. By internal evidence, from the sense of
spiritual destitution, the consciousness of sin,
the acknowledged need of a sanctifier and a re-
deemer.

This in the primitive, as in later ages, was un-
doubtedly the most effectual testimony to the
Truth in Christ Jesus. It appeals to all men
without distinction of class and nation. But it
addresses itself more especially to men of intelli-
gence and moral sensibility. It is the highest and
the worthiest testimony, the most distinctive of
the true religion, the most foreign to the charac-
ter of the false religions of the heathen, yet "bear-
ing a mysterious affinity to some of the highest
and worthiest aspirations of the heathen philoso-
phy. It addresses itself with equal power to
mankind in all ages, and establishes most vividly,
by its applicability to ourselves, the moral con
nection which subsists between the men of the
first century and the men of the nineteenth.

This is the branch of Christian evidences on



PE



EFACE. 11



which I have most emphatically insisted; for by
this, I believe, the most refined and intelligent of
the heathen were actually converted, and there is
none to the action of which we can point so rea-
sonably and justly as this.

And with this may be combined the results
which flowed from the recognised want of a sys-
tem of positive belief. The Greeks and Romans
had generally discarded the dogmas of their old
mythology. They had rejected tradition, and pre-
tended to shake off authority in matters of faith.
Swayed for a time each by his own conscience or
sensibility only, they had yielded eventually, more
or less implicitly, to the guidance of the Sophists,
the perplexed and dubious inheritors of the sci-
ence of the great masters of antiquity ; and by a
slow but inevitable decline, they had fallen once
more under the dominion of newer and stranger
formulas. The traditions of the East, of Syria,
Persia, and Egypt, the worship of Belus and
Mithras, of Isis and Serapis, had popularly re-
placed the traditions and the worship of Jupiter
and Juno, of Hercules and Quirinus. Christian-
ity, it should be clearly understood, did not suc-
ceed at once to the vacant inheritance of Olympus.



PEEFACE.



Another religion had interposed : an exotic family
of superstitions had demanded and received, for
at least two centuries, the devotion of the pious,
and been in its turn rejected as a mockery and a
delusion. Christianity, in fact, was not simply
the resource of a dissatisfied philosophy ; it was
not accepted as the only refuge from the blank
negation of a creed. It was the tried and ap-
proved of several claimants to the sovereignty of
the religious instinct among men tried by rea-
son and argument, and approved from its own
manifest adaptation to human requirements. The
world, I conceive, had long resolved, in spite of
the philosophers, that a positive creed was neces-
sary to its moral being ; it had endeavoured in
vain to satisfy itself with systems of its own in-
vention ; it yielded at last, under a divine impulse,
to that which God Himself had revealed and rec-
ommended to it.

3. There is, however, a third kind of testimo-
ny, the character of which I would not be suppos-
ed to disparage ; a testimony which worked pow-
erfully upon large numbers among the heathen,
among persons perhaps of less critical acumen,
but eminently susceptible of impressions from the



PREFACE. 13

contemplation of goodness and holiness the tes-
timony to the truth of Christianity from the lives
and deaths of the primitive believers, from the
practical effect of Christian teaching upon those
who embraced it in faith. The godly examples
of the Christians throughout the trials of life, and
especially in the crowning trial of martyrdom,
were, as we may be assured from history, produc-
tive of thousands, nay of millions, of conversions.
On this subject I have been naturally led to
touch, and would willingly have expatiated, but
my limits and the scope of my Lectures did not
allow of my dwelling upon it.

4. But further, among the multitude there was
probably, after all, no argument so effectual, no
testimony to the divine authority of the Gospel
so convincing, as that from the temporal success
with which Christianity was eventually crowned.
The decline of the Empire, the discredit and over-
throw of Paganism, the fall of Koine itself, did
actually turn the mass of mankind, as with a
sweeping revolution, to the rising sun of revealed
Truth in Christ Jesus. Men of earnest thought
and men of ardent feeling had already been con-
verted by the evidence before adduced ; but the



14 PREFACE.

great inert mass of the thoughtless, the gross-
minded, and the carnal, upon whom no legiti-
mate arguments could make any impression, were
startled, arrested, and convinced by the last over-
ruling argument of success.

The success, 'however, was not assured till the
time of Constantine, and up to the fourth century,
at least, the multitude still continued to cling to
the false gods whose overthrow was not yet man-
ifestly apparent. The conversion of the more in-
telligent among the heathen, which encouraged
the coup d'etat of the first Christian Emperor,
had been, I conceive, actually effected before the
proved inefficacy of the heathen religions had
caused them to be abandoned by the herd of time-
servers. The Empire, as a political machine, was
now transferred to the rule of Christ : its laws and
institutions were placed upon a Christian founda
tion : the conversion of the Empire was substan-
tially completed, whatever doubt or repugnance
might long linger among some classes of its sub-
jects. Accordingly, while I have pointed out the
effect of the growing distrust of their own systems
among the heathens, I have not thought it neces-
sary to dwell upon a cause of conversion which,



PREFACE. 15

however ultimately effectual, had not yet begun
to operate very powerfully within the limits of
time to which these sketches are confined. Had
my treatment of my thesis extended far into the
fourth century, it would have been important to
estimate the effect of the Imperial example, which
in the Roman Empire, no doubt, as elsewhere,
must have determined in innumerable instances
the conversion or conformity of the people. To
the Romans, as long as they retained a spark of
ancient sentiment, the Emperor, in his capacity
of Chief Pontiff a title with which Constantine
and Valentinian dared not dispense seemed still
the appointed minister of the national religion,
still the intercessor for divine favour, the channel
of covenanted mercies to the State, whatever form
of ministration he might employ, to whatever
Name he might address himself in behalf of the
Empire. He was still on a large scale, and, in the
public behoof, what the Eomans had been wont
to consider the head of each private family to be
in his domestic sphere. Cato the Censor directed
the paterfamilias to offer prayers and sacrifices to
Jupiter, Mars, and Janus, that they might be
propitious to " himself, to his house, to his whole
family ; " and throughout the bounds of the Ro-



16 PREFACE.

man's farm, there was no bailiff, hind, or bond-
man who would have ventured probably to offer
a prayer or a sacrifice on his own account, still
less to question the authority of his master to of-
fer for himself and for them all whatever prayers,
and whatever sacrifices, and address himself to
whatever deity he might choose. 1 Nevertheless,
the struggle of the Pagan conscience against the
authority of the Emperor in religious matters is
a marked feature in the history of the fourth cen-
tury ; and the effect of the Imperial example in
the final conversion of the Empire was subject un-
doubtedly to important modifications. M. Beug-
not's i History of the Destruction of Paganism in
the West,' published about thirty years ago, is
still, I believe, the best and completest work we
possess upon the later phases of the great trans-
formation of religion ; but the subject admits of
profounder examination and a more extended sur-
vey.

1 Gate's injunction to the Villicus, De Re rust. c. 143, may be taken as
an epitome of the ecclesiastical theory of the Romans : Scito dominion pro
tota familia rem divinam facere.



LECTUEE I.

CHRISTIAN BELIEF CONTRASTED WITH HEATHEN UNBELIEF.

ACTS xvii. 32. *

And, when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked:
and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.

To men of education, to men of academic training
and accomplishments, to all who pretend to ground their
religious faith on reasoning and argument, no study can
be more interesting than that of the process by which
Christianity has actually won its way in the minds of
the intelligent and accomplished, the reasoners and
philosophers, of ancient and modern times. The records
of Scripture disclose to us a glimpse, and no more than
a glimpse, of the form which the discussion assumed
between the preachers of the gospel and the possessors
of human wisdom, in the centre and reputed stronghold
of ancient science. The account of St. Paul's address
to the philosophers of Athens, which occupies but a
portion of a single chapter of the sacred history, suggests,
as it seems to me, more directly the fundamental ques-
tion between God's revelation and human speculation
2



18 LECTURE I.

than any of the ample apologies, or explanatory defences
of Christianity, set forth by the fathers of our faith in
the centuries next ensuing. The apologists, no doubt,
knew what they were aiming at ; they had their own
special object, which they placed clearly before them;
they met the objections or refuted the fallacies which
they knew by their own experience to be the most criti-
cal and the most harassing of their own times. But
neither their arguments in defence of Christ's revelation,
nor their arguments against the pretensions of the heathen
superstition, are generally such as to engage the interest
of our day ; their value is historical rather than critical ;
we neither go to them to confirm our own faith, nor of
course do we require their help to perceive what is false,
absurd, impossible in the creeds of heathen antiquity. Ter
tullian and Justin, who lived in the ages of persecution,
dwell with most force and fervour on the sanctity of the
Christians' lives in attestation of the truth of the gospel
message. Augustine and Lactantius, witnesses of the
triumph of the new religion, expose to scorn the vain
pretences of the priests of Jupiter and Apollo : but the
preaching of St. Paul, in the short fragment before us,
goes in one wcrd to the root of the matter, and sets be-
fore us the question of questions, which all generations
must ask and do ask of themselves in private, in their
own hearts, if not in public debate and controversy
namely, whether God has given us the assurance of His
Being, of His Providence, and of His Righteousness, by
the sure and certain promise of a Future Existence?



THE PHILOSOPHEKS AT ATHENS. 19

f

For such is the way in which the apostle states the ques-
tion of the resurrection.

' Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we
ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or
silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.'

' And the times of this ignorance God winked at
but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent : '

' Because He hath appointed a day, in which He
will judge the world in righteousness by that man
whom He hath ordained ; whereof He hath given as-
surance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from
the dead.' 1

The moral government of God, the judgment of
God, and the need of repentance to meet that judg-
ment, are all assured to us by the fact of Christ's res-
urrection, which is the type and pledge of our resurrec-
tion also.

How, then, did the philosophers of Athens meet the
arguments of St. Paul, of which no doubt a mere out-
line has been preserved to us, but which were evidently
based upon the fact, affirmed and demonstrated, of our
Lord's own resurrection? 'When they heard of the
resurrection of the dead,' says the same brief record,
( some mocked, and others said, We will hear thee again
of this matter.'

I need not say how truly this concise statement
represents the way in which the truths of religion are
very commonly received by the adepts in human wisdom

1 Acts xvii. 29-31.



20 LECTUBE I.

in all ages : some who are possessed by a prejudice,
whose minds are made up, who have been long persuad-
ed that there is no new truth to be discovered, make a
mock, courteously perhaps and blandly, of the doctrine
propounded to them ; others, touched at heart, distrust-
ing themselves, perplexed and dubious, put off the day
of conviction, and silence their uneasy doubts by prom-
ising to enquire further at some future time. But the
words of the narrative are more remarkable, as foreshad-
owing the way in which the revelation of Christianity,
the keystone of which is the doctrine of a future state,
would be received generally in the heathen world, and
more particularly by the philosophers and thinkers among
the heathen ; how many, to the last, would make a mock
of it ; how, in the midst of their own spiritual struggles
and distresses, in all the agony of their search for spirit-
ual consolation, they would still make pretence of deris-
ion or defiance at the preaching of the Christian Resur-
rection. Nevertheless others there were, many there
were, at last a majority there was, who would hear again
of the matter. The preachers of the gospel and of im-
mortality, of God's justice and the final retribution,
would never fail of listeners till the day should come when
this great doctrine should attain its triumph, when upon
this stone, upon the confession of this fundamental truth,
the Church of Christ would be established in the Roman
Empire, and the Truth as it is in Christ Jesus become
the moral law of civilized men throughout the ' inhabit-
ed world ' of the Greek or Roman.



OBJECT AND METHOD OF THE LECTURES. 21

We may take the statement of the text, then, as type
of the straggle between Paganism and Christianity, and
of that transformation of religious opinion, by which
the hopes and fears and spiritual aspirations of the Bo-
man world, at the time of our Lord's appearance in the
flesh, became absorbed in the faith of Christ modified,
purified, exalted, expanded. In the Lectures which are
to follow I propose to sketch, as far as opportunity al-
lows, the progress of this transformation, the most sig-
nal of all religious revolutions. The object of the
foundation of the Boyle Lecture is to assert the truth of
Christianity against unbelievers, and it may have been
usual to give these discourses a controversial turn, to
answer special objections against the facts of our relig-
ion, or urge direct arguments in its defence. If I take
a somewhat different course in setting forth a historical
survey of the change of religious opinion among the
ancients, I believe I shall act not less in the spirit of my
instructions. At the present day, at least, if I judge
rightly the temper of my contemporaries, I am more
likely to recommend the truth of Christianity by tracing
the progress of conviction in the minds of men, than by
combating again the old objections, or seeking weapons
with which to encounter the most recent, the offspring
generally of the old, and bearing a strong resemblance to
their parents.

Many, I think, are agreed that^ after all, the most
striking evidence for the Divine origin of our faith lies
in the patent fact of its existence, of its growth and dif



22 LECTURE I.

fusion, its proved superiority to all other forms of spirit-
ual thought, its proved adaptation to all the spiritual
wants of man. Nothing can be more interesting, noth-
ing can more conduce to a just notion of its claims on
our belief, than a critical examination of the state of
thought and opinion with which it had to deal at the
outset, and the nature of the intellectual struggle which
it carried on. It is with this conviction that I propose
to devote these Lectures to the consideration of that
spiritual resurrection, that resurrection of faith and
genuine piety, which marks the intellectual history of
the early centuries of our era ; to dash at least a few rap-
id sketches of the most salient features of the controversy
between the wisdom of this world and the Truth as it is
in Christ Jesus.

One indulgence your lecturer must crave. The line
of enquiry thus marked out cannot be profitably fol-
lowed in these discourses without the free use of the
materials of secular history, without repeated reference
to the names of men and of places of antiquity, without
occasional allusions to worldly customs and modes of
thought, without citation sometimes of secular books
in short, not except under the usual conditions of a
critical investigation. I must be allowed to make these
addresses, what they are in fact properly termed,
Lectures, rather than Sermons. I must be pardoned if
the exposition of the sacred text, or the topics of
religious exhortation or instruction which form the
usual staple of our discourses from the pulpit, give place



MEETING- OF THE KOMAN SENATE, B. C. 63. 23

for the most part, in my hands, to an examination of
human opinions on matters of religious interest. Tor
these subjects, too, I believe, < are good and profitable
unto men.' l

The transition from ancient to modern ideas of
religion to which I call your attention extends over a
period of three or four centuries: a long period, no
doubt, in the history of civilized man ; a long period,
marked with many changes of progress or decline in
arts and inventions, in intellectual interests, in literature
and science. In many respects the fourth century of
Christianity was a different world from the first century
before it, though the long interval, the wide chasm, was
spanned by the vast structure of the Roman Empire,
the bridge of ages, one pier of which rested on the con-
sulship of Caesar, the other on the despotism of Con-
stantine. But how wide was the moral space which di-
vided the worshippers of Jupiter on the Capitol from
the worshippers of Jesus Christ at the new Rome on
the Bosphorus may be appreciated from the contrast of
two historical scenes which I will now place before
you.

The Roman senators were assembled on the fifth of
December, in the year 63 before Christ, in the Temple
of Concord, the pavement of which, at the foot of the
Capitoline hill, uncovered in modern times, serves MS
even now to realize vividly the scene and the circum-
stan ces presen ted. The divinity to whom the temple wat

1 Titus iii. 8.



24 LECTURE I.

dedicated marked in itself a peculiar phase of tlie course
of religious feeling among the Romans ; for Concord a
mere moral abstraction, a mere symbol of a compact ef-
fected at an earlier period between the political orders
of the state was not an old popular creation of Italian
sentiment, but eminently the invention of the magis-
trate, introduced by law into the national ritual. The
Senate was itself the minister of the civil government,
and on this occasion it met on the spot which thus emi-
nently symbolized the civil religion of the Roman State.
JSTor less was the Senate the minister of the State relig-


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Online LibraryCharles MerivaleThe conversion of the Roman empire; the Boyle lectures for the year 1864, delivered at the Chapel Royal, Whitehall → online text (page 1 of 18)