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another celestial bull, the source of life and felicity, whose
blood shall revive the flagging energies of earth and
restore a life of happiness to all who have believed on
Mithra.

It is obvious that the creed of Mithra had many
elements in common with Christianity. There must also
have been others of which we have no cognisance ; for
Tertullian, writing about the year 200, attributed the
resemblance — a dangerous one to simple souls — to an
artifice of the devil. Apart from points of doctrine, there
were equally striking analogies in the domains of cult
and ritual. ' The Mithraists,' says M. Reville, * met in
little sanctuaries hewn out of rock or under ground,
where the number of worshippers was necessarily limited
— precisely as was the case in the catacombs. At the
entrance of the nave, or central aisle, were receptacles for
the holy water used in lustrations. A multitude of
lamps, arranged along the side galleries, or hung from the
vault, threw a brilliant light on the centre of the shrine.
Decorations in painted stucco or mosaic, vivid colours,
images and statues of gods, were about in great profusion ;
while before the central effigy of all, which represented a
bull in act to be slain by Mithra, a lamp burned per-
petually.' Initiation into the mysteries of the god
involved tests of a severely ascetic character ; and



THE MORALITY OF MITHRAISM 189

these preliminary rites were called sacramenta — sacra-
ments. One of them was baptism by blood — the blood
of a bull ; and there was also a baptism by pure water, as
well as anointings of the forehead with honey. Further,
it was the custom to consecrate bread and wine by certain
formulae, and then to distribute the elements among
the faithful. Members of the Mithraic communities
took the name of Brethren, and at their head was a chief
whose title was Father. These coincidences — which
deserve to be better known — could easily be multiplied.
The Fathers of the Church were not less struck by them
than the pagans themselves. Saint Augustine relates that
one day he had a conversation with a priest of Mithra,
who told him they adored the same god. Now, it is
noticeable that, although Tertullian had to bring in the
malignity of the devil in order to explain the resemblance
between Mithraism and Christianity, no Christian writer
ever thought of claiming that Mithraism was borrowed
from Christianity. The reason must have been that
they knew the legend and ritual of Mithra to be chrono-
logically anterior to the preaching of Christianity. This
fact may be taken as certain. It cannot, indeed, be
established from the documentary evidence we possess,
but the argument from the silence of the Church Fathers
is conclusive enough. On the other hand, the Emperor
Julian, who was initiated into the mysteries of Mithra,
and whose aversion to Christianity is well known, never
accused Christianity of having borrowed its doctrine or
sacred traditions from Mithraism. We should do well,
I think, to imitate this discretion, leave the word plagiar-
ism alone, and attribute the startling likeness between
the two religions to one influence operating identically on
both — the influence of those old conceptions which, dating



igo CULTS, MYTHS, AND RELIGIONS

from a period undoubtedly earlier than the literary legends
of paganism, yet retained their hold on the masses
throughout the ancient world, and constituted a mystic
environment which conditioned the form of Christianity
and Mithraism alike.

It has often been said that, if Mithraism had not found
its path blocked by Christianity, it would have become the
sole religion of the ancient world. This is true enough ;
but in speaking of the struggle between Christianity
and paganism, we are apt to make two great mistakes.
The first lies in believing that Christianity, in the days
of travail when it strove for the dominion of souls, had
for its principal or only adversary the paganism of Homer
and Virgil — the gods of Olympus. The gods of Olympus
were dead, or practically dead ; and in that condition
they had languished since the end of the republic.
Temples still rose in their honour, sacrifices were still paid
them ; but man had ceased to believe in them, for he had
ceased to love them. The residuum of piety which
clung to them still was purely intellectual. On the other
hand, by the time when Juvenal complained that Orontes
was flowing into Tiber, the gods of Asia and Egypt had
found numerous devotees in Rome ; and it may be said
that, at the close of the second century, these Oriental cults,
with Mithraism at their head, were the only serious rivals
of Christianity. If the latter conquered, it was un-
doubtedly because it was infinitely freer than they from
all taint of dead or dying polytheism. Christianity was
grafted upon the old trunk of Judaism, but it refused
all solidarity, all connection, with the deities of those
nations upon whom the light of the true God had not been
shed. Its exclusiveness, the cause of the persecutions
which it endured, was also the cause of its triumph.



THE MORALITY OF MITHRAISM 191

Whereas Mithraism reconciled Helios with Mithra,
identified Jupiter with the supreme god of the Persians,
and made room for Diana, Eros, and others of the old
Olympic hierarchy, Christianity disdained all syncretism,
proudly rejected all compromise, and gave to the world
what the world most needed — an Oriental religion disen-
gaged from all ties with the ancient cults, sullied as they
were by their long alliance with paganism.

The second widespread error is the belief that the
battle between Christianity and paganism was a battle
of morality against immorality, of chastity against
lust, of humanity and affection against cruelty and sel-
fishness. The Fathers of the Church have unquestionably
made the claim at times ; but, in the heat of conflict,
men do not always measure their words. Political
warfare is often unscrupulous enough, but a religious
controversy breeds every form of calumny. By way of
example, one significant fact may be mentioned. In
the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when the Church
was engaged in a merciless struggle with the Manichaeans of
France — the heretics known under the name of Catharists
or Albigenses — it was everywhere said that the luckless
wretches, whose flesh was feeding the flames, were given
to nameless debaucheries, and examples of the blackest
profligacy. Now, in the instructions drawn up by the
inquisitors of the day for the benefit of their young
pupils — and some copies have fortunately survived — it
is formally stated that these accusations were unfounded
and that no evidence of them had ever been forthcoming.
Still, this did not prevent the Church from using them
in order to excite the popular conscience against the
heretics. As a matter of fact, it is not necessary to look
very closely to see that the charges of licentiousness.



192 CULTS, MYTHS, AND RELIGIONS

human sacrifice, and general turpitude, levelled by sect
against sect, or by orthodoxy against heresy, are totally
valueless. They are weapons in an unfair campaign, not
historical documents.

With regard to Mithraism, it is remarkable that the
Christian polemists who mention it bring no definite
accusation against its morality. They only say that,
as initiation into the Mithraic mysteries took place in the
gloom of a cavern, it was probable the rite contained
obscene elements ; for people who love darkness
better than light usually have good reason for their
preference.

The argument is feeble and unconvincing. Moreover,
it is exactly what the pagans were bound to say when
they saw the Christians gathering together in the cata-
combs ; and it is what the Church says to-day of the
Knights Templar and Freemasons, who exclude the
public from their ceremonies.

Christianity could hardly have had occasion to combat
the immorality of Mithraism ; for we may take it that
the two religions had virtually the same moral code, and
in this point resembled each other even more closely than
in tradition, liturgy, and ritual.

Mithraism, according to Porphyry, imposed con-
tinence — and sometimes, as in Christianity, absolute
continence. After observing that Mithraism, like
Christianity, celebrated the oblation of bread, — that is
to say, the communion, — professed the doctrine of
resurrection, crowned its followers with the same crown
wherewith the martyrs for the faith were crowned, Ter-
tullian adds : ' Further, Mithraism prohibits its supreme
pontiff from marrying more than once ; it has virgins and
men vowed to continence.' Hahet et virgincs, hahet et



THE MORALITY OF MTTHRAISM 193

continentes. This statement, coming from an enemy of
the creed, is definitive.

For the ideas of brotherhood prevailing among the
Mithraists we have certain proof in the names which they
gave themselves : fratres, consacranei. The very cere-
monies of initiation, from the sHght knowledge we possess
of them, seem to have aimed at emphasising and testing
the submission of the initiates to their spiritual head, the
Father ; as well as their self-restraint ; their fortitude in
enduring fasts, physical suffering and inclemency of
weather ; and their courage, when confronted with
apparently imminent and threatening dangers. Here
again we may draw our own conclusion from the silence of
Tertullian. If the Mithraic doctrine had contained impure
elements, if the teaching given to the initiates had not
been inspired by a high moral ideal, would he have
neglected the opportunity of insisting on the intrinsic
superiority of Christianity, when he had already drawn
attention to the part played by the devil in the outward
similarity of the two religions ?

But more remains : we know from the most competent
of all authorities, Julian the Apostate, that Mithraism
had a dogmatic and imperative morality, such as the
Graeco-Roman paganism never had. At the end of that
beautiful work, ' The Caesars,' which shows us the Roman
Emperors passing before the judgment-seat of the gods
and concludes with the glorification of Marcus Aurelius,
the Philosopher-Emperor writes as follows : * " As to
thee," said Mercury, addressing himself to me, " I have
caused thee to know Mithra thy father. It is for thee
to observe his commandments [evroXai), that so thou
mayest have in him an assured port and refuge in
this life, and that, when thy time is come to quit



194 CULTS. MYTHS, AND RELIGIONS

the world, thou may est, with a sweet hope, take this
god for guide." '

This is evidently an allusion to Julian's initiation into
Mithraism ; but it is something else, and something more.
Mithra has become the father of Julian, who obeys his
commandments. What are these commandments, if not
a moral law ? And obedience to them is to have a double
effect. On the one hand, while life lasts, Julian, by
conforming to the behests of Mithra, will achieve happi-
ness by the way of wisdom ; on the other, death will deal
gently with him and a glorious immortality be assured
him as a recompense for his virtues. Are we not here
in the full current of Christian thought ?

The feeling is more pronounced than ever when we
study Julian's short and beautiful life by the light of
those many documents that tell the tale. We must
have the grace to forget for a moment his struggle
against Christianity, a struggle which was never violent.
We must have the candour to realise how much was truly
Christian (I use the word in its highest and — if I may
venture to say so — its most philosophic sense) in a life
which from beginning to end was consecrated to the love
of wisdom, the love of country, and the love of humanity.
In the long list of Christian kings and keysars there is none,
with the exception perhaps of St. Louis, who has shown
on the steps of the throne, and on the throne itself, more
constancy, more abnegation, or more clemency, than
Julian. He loved to repeat the saying of the ancient sage
Pittacus : ' Forgiveness is better than vengeance,' and he
was not slow to act on the precept. Writing against the
false philosopher, Heraclius, Julian asks him with emotion :
' What hast thou done great in thy life ? Whom hast
thou aided in his struggle for justice ? Whose tears didst



THE MORALITY OF MITHRAISM 195

thou dry when he wept ? teaching him that death is
not an evil either for him who dies or for the loved ones
that outUve him.' An hour would soon be gone, if I
tried to collect all the passages in Julian's writings that
do honour to his character and his heart. Now this man
was a worshipper of the Sun-god, an adept in the mysteries
of Mithra ; and the moral law which governed his thought
and action was not simply that of ancient ethics, but
primarily the code taught him by his initiator into
Mithraism. On that point the unequivocal terms of the
passage I have quoted leave no doubt.

I had intended to draw a natural enough conclusion
from the preceding remarks : that morahty is independent
of religion, but that every religion, at some moment of
its evolution, adopts and assimilates the current morality
of its day. I remembered, however, reading something
similar in one of Anatole France's delightful — and pro-
found — books, ' Le Mannequin d'Osier.' 1 My search
was rewarded by the following passage, which seemed
infinitely preferable to anything I could say :

' Every period has its ruling morality, which is the
outcome neither of religion nor of philosophy, but of
custom — the only force capable of producing unity of
sentiment among men. Everything that is arguable
divides them ; and humanity exists on the one condition
that it shall abstain from thought on matters essential to
its existence. And precisely because morality is the sum
total of the prejudices of the community, it is impossible
for two rival moralities to exist at the same time, and
in the same place. I could illustrate this truth by a
great many examples ; but there is none more significant

^ A. France, Le Mannequin d'Osier, pp. 31S sq.

O 2



196 CULTS, MYTHS, AND RELIGIONS

than that of the Emperor Juhan, to whose works I have
given some attention of late. Julian, who fought for his
gods with so stout a heart and so great a soul, Julian,
the Sun-worshipper, professed every article of Christian
morals. Like the Christians he contemned the pleasures
of the flesh and extolled the efficacy of fasting, which
brings the human into touch with the divine. Like them,
he upheld the doctrine of an atonement, believed in the
suffering which purifies, and was himself initiated into
mysteries which answered, no less than those of the
Christians, to a burning desire for purity, renunciation,
and the love of God. In fine, his neo-paganism was
morally as like primitive Christianity as two brothers
are like each other. What is there surprising in this ?
The two cults were twin children of Rome and the East.
Both corresponded to the same humane customs, the
same deep-seated instincts of the ancient Latin world.
Their souls were identical. But they were distinct in
name and language ; and the difference was enough to
make them mortal enemies. Men quarrel oftenest for
words. It is for words they are readiest to slay and be
slain. Consider the great revolutionaries. Is there one
who has shown the slightest originality in point of morals ?
Robespierre's ideas on virtue were always those of the
priests of Arras who had pronounced his excommunication.'



CHAPTER XIV

THE PROGRESS OF HUMANITY

If, after considering the various forms of human activity
in the infancy of civilisation, I try to determine the
essential character of that civilisation as a whole, the
conception of it which presents itself to my mind is that
of a continual progress, facilitated by the perpetual
transformation of voluntary and considered act.-, into
secondary instincts. Thus, the modem man learns to
write : to do so, he is bound to apply his will and reflective
power to a useful end. But, once he knows how to wTite,
he writes without effort, almost 'without thinking ; the
conscious act has been transformed into a mechanical act,
and his energies find themselves free to proceed to a new
conquest. At the end of this development what shall we
find ? A multitude of secondary instincts, all con-
formable to man's high nature and social character ; in
a word, the individual adapted to his environment, and,
for that very reason, economising all efforts, intellectual
or physical, which do not contribute to the perfection
either of the individual or of society.

This economy of useless or injurious effort is one of
the most obvious characteristics of civilisation. Man is
not, and should not tend to become, a machine ; but the

197



198 CULTS, MYTHS, AND RELIGIONS

work of his creative and inventive personality ought to
rest on a certain substratum of regulated and rational
activity, which, by eliminating superfluous fatigue, would
make it all the easier for his intelligence to reach the
proper goal by the quickest road.

Emile Augier has somewhere said : ' How many people
could be made happy with the happiness that runs to
waste ! ' Maxime du Camp called one of his erstwhile
famous novels ' Forces Perdues.' An uncivilised com-
munity expends not a whit less physical energy than a
civilised community ; in fact, it expends more, but the
expenditure is ill-regulated. The effort is there, but it
is a capricious effort, void of definite purpose : there is
production, employment, but, above everything, waste of
energy. Unconsciousness of effort is at once the ideal
and the hall-mark of organised society — a rule which is
equally valid in the intellectual world. Herbert Spencer
has remarked that the savage has as well-furnished a
memory as the civilised man ; the difference being that
he overstocks it with lumber — especially, with notions
that are now fixed by Writing and considered a needless
charge on the recollection. The vexed problem of educa-
tion might find a rational solution along the same lines.
It is the general lament to-day that there are too many
things to know — that it is becoming more and more
difficult to form the youthful mind without disastrously
overtaxing it. The reason is that educational systems
are conservative to the very marrow, and look askance on
any attempt to substitute the locomotive for the stage-
coach. For instance, it is absurd to teach children the
minutiae of geography, as though there were no maps to
which they could turn for information : instead of a
bewildering mass of names, they should be taught the use



THE PROGRESS OF HUMANITY 199

of an atlas. Above all, every child, from the elementary
schools upward, should have an idea of the proper books
to consult upon any subject which interests him. Valcke-
naer, whose scholarship was beyond dispute, used to say :
' There are too many subjects nowadays for any man to
know them all ; but every man may know where know-
ledge is to be found.' It is a faithful saying, but it still
waits for the acceptance of which it is worthy. I am
firmly convinced that in a six or seven years' course of
study I could teach an intelligent child what it has taken
me thirty years to learn ; and it is with bitter regret that
I think of all the gropings in the dark — all the lost hours —
to which I have been damned since childhood, simply
because among my successive teachers — and some of
them bore illustrious names — I failed to find that method-
ical and economical guidance of effort which should be
the inspiring principle of modern education.

In the domain of religion, the tendency towards
economy of effort is not less obvious. The savage is a
being literally paralysed by superstition, and groaning
under the tyranny of the countless spirits — all more or
less malevolent — by which he beUeves himself surrounded.
The first step in advance is the institution of a sacerdotal
caste, to safeguard the religious traditions common to a
group of men or tribes. The imaginary terrors on which
the religious sentiment feeds are then reduced in number,
because they are classified and labelled ; they are reduced
in intensity, not only because they are now more clearly
defined, but because the primitive priest invariably
acts as a mediator between timorous humanity and
irascible divinity. Among the Australians, with whom
the priesthood exists barely or not at all, the greater
part of the savage's hfe is passed in the observance of



200 CULTS, MYTHS, AND RELIGIONS

rites, ceremonies, initiations, and purifications, which
demand a vast expenditure of attention, memory, and
muscular force — in other words, so much useless effort.
With the Greek and Roman, the Assyrian and Egyptian,
this activity was diverted into set channels ; that is to
say, there were days and hours reserved for communion
with the gods, while for the rest of his time man was free
and could devote his energies to more practical purposes,
For Europe, the great religious emancipation dates from
the triumph of Christianity. Unquestionably, the Roman
Empire, and even the barbarous nations on its European
frontier, contained a little knot of men whose free-thinking
had liberated them from the crushing yoke of religious
observance ; but the immense majority of the popu-
lation was still under the heel of a superstition, not only
degrading but all-absorbing. Ninety-nine per cent, of
the subjects of the Roman Empire — devotees of Eastern
deities or of the old pagan Pantheon — frittered away in
feast, prayer, sacrifice, and the thousand frivolities of
ritual, an appreciable part of what energy and intelligence
they possessed. St. Paul came and broke with ritualism.
True, a new ritualism replaced the old : the dread of
the undiscovered country beyond the grave, the vague
idea of evil spirits abroad in the earth, still lay heavy on
the minds of men. But how much freer in all his doings
was the Christian of the Middle Ages than the pagan of
ten centuries earlier ! The bloody sacrifices were gone ;
religious festivals no longer entailed the absolute sus-
pension of civic life ; the teaching was now that God
desired to be worshipped in spirit and in truth ; super-
stition and all her works were — theoretically, at least —
condemned ; and, finally, the cruelly oppressive ali-
mentary prohibitions of Oriental cults had vanished



THE PROGRESS OF HUMANITY 201

forever. Beyond and above all this, the idea of priest-
hood, an apphcation of the great law of the division of
labour, made new progress under the influence of Chris-
tianity. In classical antiquity the citizen was priest :
a professional hierarchy scarcely existed, for life-
priestesses of the Vestal type were an exception to the
rule. On the other hand, in Christianity, the priestly
functions were severely restricted to a specially trained
class, which alone bore the burden of man's relations to
God. Everything was the province of the clergy — even
religious speculation, which, after all, is sterile as far as
the good of the community is concerned. The medieval
Christian had no necessity to form an opinion on
things divine : he was supposed neither to understand
them nor to discuss them — the priest taught him both
what he should believe and what he should do. Initia-
tive in religious matters, so far from being encouraged,
was actually penalised. The heretic, says Bossuet, is he
who has an opinion — and the Church does not desire
individual opinions. At this distance of time, the whole
system seems a tyranny. Undoubtedly, in imposing
this discipline of faith, the great pontiffs of the medieval
Church conceived they were working for the salvation of
souls, not for the progress of humanity by the economy
of useless efforts. But it is a characteristic of the great
events of civilisation, that the actors in them are hardly
ever conscious of the part they play and the services they
render. While the Church was thinking for the faithful
— sounding on their behalf the unfathomable problems
of theology — humanity, working in the shadow of the
Church, was ensuing its material emancipation and
organising itself for a less unequal struggle with the un-
disciplined forces of nature. The tyrannical domination



202 CULTS, MYTHS, AND RELIGIONS

of souls prepared the way for the freedom of souls :
for by it alone was the progress of science and industry
rendered possible.

That progress was most active from the sixteenth
to the nineteenth centuries, at a period when secular
society was strictly distinct — or supposed to be strictly


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