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CHAPTER III.: ÆSTHETIC, SCIENTIFIC, AND MORAL DEVELOPMENTS OF RATIONALISM. - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, vol. 1 
History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, vol. 1, Revised edition (New York: D. Appleton, 1919).
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ÆSTHETIC, SCIENTIFIC, AND MORAL DEVELOPMENTS OF RATIONALISM.
The preceding chapters will, I trust, have sufficiently shown that during the last three centuries the sense of the miraculous has been steadily declining in Europe, that the movement has been so universal that no church or class of miracles has altogether escaped its influence, and that its causes are to be sought much less in special arguments bearing directly upon the question than in the general intellectual condition of society. In this, as in all other great historical developments, we have two classes of influences to consider. There are certain tendencies or predispositions resulting from causes that are deeply imbedded in the civilisation of the age which create the movement, direct the stream of opinions with irresistible force in a given direction, and, if we consider only great bodies of men and long periods of time, exercise an almost absolute authority. There is also the action of special circumstances and individual genius upon this general progress, retarding or accelerating its advance, giving it in different countries and in different spheres of society a peculiar character, and for a time associating it with movements with which it has no natural connection. I have endeavoured to show, that while numerous circumstances growing out of the complications of society have more or less influenced the history of the decline of the miraculous, there are two causes which dominate over all others, and are themselves very closely connected. One of these is the increasing sense of law, produced by physical sciences, which predisposes men more and more to attribute all the phenomena that meet them in actual life or in history to normal rather than to abnormal agencies; the other is the diminution of the influence of theology, partly from causes that lie within itself, and partly from the great increase of other subjects, which inclines men to judge all matters by a secular rather than by a theological standard.
But, as we have already in some degree perceived, and as we shall hereafter see more clearly, this history of the miraculous is but a single part of aspect of a much wider movement, which is its modern phases is usually designated by the name of Rationalism. The process of thought, that makes men recoil from the miraculous, makes them modify their views on many other questions. The expectation of miracles grows out of a certain conception of the habitual government of the world, of the nature of the Supreme Being, and of the manifestations of His power, which are all more or less changed by advancing civilisation. Sometimes this change is displayed by an open rejection of old beliefs. Sometimes it appears only in a change of interpretation or of realisation; that is to say, men gradually annex new ideas to old words, or they permit old opinions to become virtually obsolete. Each different phase of civilisation has its peculiar and congenial views of the system and government of the universe, to which the men of that time will gravitate; and although a revelation or a great effort of human genius may for a time emancipate some of them from the conditions of the age, the pressure of surrounding influences will soon reassert its sway, and the truths that are unsuited to the time will remain inoperative till their appropriate civilisation has dawned.
I shall endeavour in the present chapter to trace the different phases of this development—to show how the conceptions both of the nature of the Deity and of the government of the universe are steadily modified before advancing knowledge, and to analyse the causes upon which those modifications depend.
It has been said, by a very high authority, that fetishism is the religion which men who are altogether uncivilised would naturally embrace; and, certainly, there can be no question that the general characteristic of the earlier stages of religious belief is to concentrate reverence upon matter, and to attribute to it an intrinsic efficacy. This fetishism, which in its rudest form consists of the worship of a certain portion of matter as matter, is shown also, though in a modified and less revolting manner, in the supposition that certain sacred talismans or signs possess an inherent efficacy altogether irrespective of the dispositions of men. Of this nature was the system of pagan magic, which attributed a supernatural power to particular herbs, or ceremonies, or words, and also the many rival but corresponding superstitions that were speedily introduced into Christianity. The sign of the cross was perhaps the earliest of these. It was adopted not simply as a form of recognition or as a holy recollection, or even as a mark of reverence, but as a weapon of miraculous power; and the writings of the Fathers are crowded with the prodigies it performed, and also with the many types and images that adumbrated its glory. Thus we are reminded by a writer in the beginning of the second century, that the sea could not be traversed without a mast, which is in the form of a cross. The earth becomes fertile only when it has been dug by a spade, which is a cross. The body of man is itself in the same holy form. So also is his face, for the eyes and nose together form a cross; a fact to which Jeremiah probably alluded when he said, ‘The breath of our nostrils is the anointed of the Lord.’1
Speculations no less strange and far-fetched were directed to the baptismal water. The efficacy of infant baptism, which had been introduced, if not in the Apostolic age, at least immediately after, was regarded as quite independent of any moral virtues either in the recipient or those about him; and in the opinion of some a spiritual change was effected by the water itself, without any immediate coöperation of the Deity, by a power that had been conferred upon the element at the period of the creation.2 The incomparable grandeur of its position in the universe was a theme of the most rapturous eloquence. When the earth was still buried in the night of chaos, before the lights of heaven had been called into being, or any living creature had tenanted the eternal solitude, water existed in all the plenitude of its perfection, veiling the unshapen earth, and glorified and sanctified for ever as the chosen throne of the Deity. By water God separated the heavens from the earth. Water became instinct with life when the earth was still barren and uninhabited. In the creation of man it might appear at first sight as if its position was ignored, but even here a more matured reflection dispelled the difficulty. For in order that the Almighty should mould the earth into the human form, it was obviously necessary that it should have retained something of its former moisture; in other words, that it should have been mixed with water.1
Such was the direction in which the human mind drifted, with an ever-increasing rapidity, as the ignorance and intellectual torpor became more general. The same habit of thought was soon displayed in every department of theology, and countless charms and amulets came into use, the simple possession of which was supposed to guarantee the owner against all evils, both spiritual and temporal. Indeed, it may be questioned whether this form of fetishism was ever more prominent in paganism than in mediæval Christianity.
When men pass from a state of pure fetishism, the next conception they form of the Divine nature is anthropomorphism, which is in some respects very closely connected with the preceding, and which, like it, is diffused in a more or less modified form over the belief of almost all uncivilised nations. Those who have ceased to attribute power and virtue to inert matter, regard the universe as the sphere of the operations of spiritual beings of a nature strictly analogous to their own. They consider every unusual phenomenon the direct and isolated act of an unseen agent, pointed to some isolated object and resulting from some passing emotion. The thunder, the famine, or the pestilence is the result of an ebullition of spiritual anger; great and rapid prosperity is the sign of spiritual satisfaction. But at the same time the feebleness of imagination which in this stage makes men unable to picture the Deity other than as an unseen man, makes it also impossible for them to concentrate their thoughts and emotions upon that conception without a visible representation. For while it is a matter of controversy whether or not the innate faculties of the civilised man transcend those of the savage, it is at least certain that the intellectual at mosphere of each period tells so soon and so powerfully upon all men, that long before matured age the two classes are almost as different in their capacities as in their acquirements. The civilised man not only knows more than the savage, he possesses an intellectual strength, a power of sustained and patient thought, of concentrating his mind steadily upon the unseen, of disengaging his conceptions from the images of the senses, which the other is unable even to imagine. Present to the savage the conception of an unseen Being, to be adored without the assistance of any representation, and he will be unable to grasp it. It will have no force or palpable reality to his mind, and can therefore exercise no influence over his life. Idolatry is the common religion of the savage, simply because it is the only one of which his intellectual condition will admit, and, in one form or another, it must continue until that condition has been changed.
Idolatry may be of two kinds. It is sometimes a sign of progress. When men are beginning to emerge from the pure fetishism which is probably their first stage, they carve matter into the form of an intelligent being; and it is only when it is endowed with that form, that they attribute to it a divine character. They are still worshipping matter, but their fetishism is fading into anthropomorphism. Sometimes, again, men who have once risen to a conception of a pure and spiritual Being, sink, in consequence of some convulsion of society, into a lower level of civilisation. They will then endeavour to assist their imaginations by representations of the object of their worship, and they will very soon attribute to those representations an intrinsic efficacy.
It will appear from the foregoing principles that, in the early anthropomorphic stages of society, visible images form the channels of religious devotions; and, therefore, as long as those stages continue, the true history of theology, or at least of the emotional and realising parts of theology, is to be found in the history of art. Even outside the pale of Christianity, there is scarcely any instance in which the national religion has not exercised a great and dominating influence over the national art. Thus, for example, the two ancient nations in which the æsthetic development failed most remarkably to keep pace with the general civilisation were the Persians and the Egyptians. The fire that was worshipped by the first formed a fetish, at once so simple and so sublime, that it rendered useless the productions of the chisel; while the artistic genius of Egypt was paralysed by a religion which branded all innovation as a crime, made the profession of an artist compulsory and hereditary, rendered the knowledge of anatomy impossible by its prohibition of diseection, and taught men by its elaborate symbolism to look at every natural object, not for its own sake, but as the representative of something else. Thus, again, among the nations that were especially distinguished for their keen sense of the beautiful, India and Greece are preëminent; but there is this important difference between them. The Indian religion ever soared to the terrible, the unnatural, and the prodigious; and consequently Indian art was so completely turned away from nature, that all faculty of accurately copying it seems to have vanished, and the simplest subject was interwoven with grotesque and fanciful inventions. The Greek religion, on the other hand, was an almost pure naturalism, and therefore Greek art was simply nature idealised, and as such has become the universal model.1
But it is with Christian art that we are now especially concerned, and it is also Christian art which most faithfully reflects the different stages of religious development, enabling us to trace, not merely successive phases of belief, but, what is much more important for my present purpose, successive phases of religious realisation.
The constant fall of the early Jews into idolatry, in spite of the most repeated commands and the most awful punishments, while it shows clearly how irresistible is this tendency in an early stage of society, furnished a warning which was at first not altogether lost upon the Christian Church. It is indeed true that art had so long been associated with paganism—its subjects, its symbolism, and its very tone of beauty, were so derived from the old mythology—that the Christian artists, who had probably in many cases been formerly pagan artists, introduced a considerable number of the ancient conceptions into their new sphere. But, although this fact is perfectly incontestable, and although the readiness with which pagan imagery was admitted into the symbolism of the Church forms an extremely curious and instructive contrast to the tone which most of the Fathers adopted towards the pagan deities, nearly all these instances of appropriation were singularly judicious, and the general desire to avoid anything that might lead to idolatrous worship was very manifest.
The most important and the most beneficial effect of pagan traditions upon Christian art was displayed in its general character. It had always been a strict rule among the Greeks and Romans to exclude from sepulchral decorations every image of sadness. The funerals of the ancients were, indeed, accompanied by great displays of exaggerated and artificial lamentation; but once the ashes were laid in the tomb, it was the business of the artist to employ all his skill in depriving death of its terror. Wreaths of flowers, Baoshic dances, hunts, or battles, all the exiberance of the most buoyant life, all the images of passion or of revelry, were sculptured around the tomb; while the genii of the seasons indicated the inevitable march of time, and the masks that adorned the corners showed that life was but a player's part, to be borne for a few years with honour, and cast aside without regret.
The influence of this tradition was shown in a very remarkably way in Christianity. At first all Christian art was sepulchral art. The places that were decorated were the Catacombs; the chapels were all surrounded by the dead; the altar upon which the sacred mysteries were celebrated was the tomb of a martyr.1 According to mediæval or even to modern ideas, we should have imagined that an art growing up under such circumstances would have assumed a sin gularly sombre and severe tone, and this expectation would be greatly heightened if we remembered the violence of the persecution. The very altar-tomb around which the Christian painter scattered his ornaments with most profusion was often associated with the memory of sufferings of the most horrible and varied character, and at the same time with displays of heroic constancy that might well have invited the talents of the artist. Passions, too, were roused to the highest point, and it would seem but natural that the great and terrible scenes of Christian vengeance should be depicted. Yet nothing of this kind appears in the Catacombs. With two doubtful exceptions, one at least being of the very latest period of art, there are no representations of martyrdoms.1 Daniel unharmed amid the lions, the unique complished sacrifice of Isaac, the three children unscathed amid the flames, or St. Peter led to prison, are the only images that reveal the horrible persecution that was raging. There was no disposition to perpetuate forms of suffering, no ebullition of bitterness or complaint, no thirsting for vengeance. Neither the Crucifixion, nor any of the scenes of the Passion, were ever represented; nor was the day of judgment, nor were the sufferings of the lost. The wreaths of flowers in which paganism delighted, and even some of the most joyous images of the pagan mythology, were still retained, and were mingled with all the most beautiful emblems of Christian hopes, and with representations of many of the miracles of mercy.
This systematic exclusion of all images of sorrow, suffering, and vengeance, at a time that seemed beyond all others most calculated to produce them, reveals the early Church in an aspect that is singularly touching, and it may, I think, be added, singularly sublime. The fact is also one of extreme importance in ecclesiastical history. For, as we shall hereafter have occasion to see, there existed among some of the theologians of the early Church a tendency that was diametrically opposite to this; a tendency to dilate upon such subjects as the torments of hell, the vengeance of the day of judgment, and, in a word, all the sterner portions of Christianity, which at last became dominant in the Church, and which exercised an extremely injurious influence over the affections of men. But whatever might have been the case with educated theologians, it was quite impossible for this tendency to be very general as long as art, which was then the expression of popular realisations, took a different direction. The change in art was not fully shown till late in the tenth century. I have already had occasion to notice the popularity which representations of the Passion and of the day of judgment then for the first time assumed; and it may be added that, from this period, one of the main objects of the artists was the invention of new and horrible tortures, which were presented to the constant contemplation of the faithful in countless pictures of the sufferings of the martyrs on earth, or of the lost in hell.1
The next point which especially strikes us in the art of the Catacombs is the great love of symbolism it evinced. There are, it is true, a few isolated pictures of Christ and of the Virgin, most of them of a late period; but by far the greater number of representations were obviously symbolical, and were designed exclusively as a means of instruction. Of these symbols many were taken without hesitation from paganism. Thus, one of the most common is the peacock, which in the Church, as among the heathen, was selected as the emblem of immortality. Partly, perhaps, on account of its surpassing beauty, and partly from a belief that its flesh never decayed,2 it had been adopted by the ancients as the nearest realisation of the conception of the phœnix, and at the funeral of an empress the bird was sometimes let loose from among the ashes of the deceased.1 Orpheus drawing all men to him by his music, symbolised the attractive power of Christianity.2 The masks of paganism, and especially the masks of the sun and moon, which the pagans adopted as emblems of the lapse of life, continued to adorn the Christian sarcophagi, the last being probably regarded as emblems of the resurrection. The same thing may be said of the genii of the seasons.3 Nor was this by any means the only form under which the genii were represented. The ancients regarded them as presiding over every department of nature, and many thought that a separate genius watched over the destiny of each man. This conception very naturally coa lesced with that of guardian angels,1 and the pagan representation of the genii as young winged boys, naked, and with gentle and joyous countenances, became very common in early Christian art, and passed from it into the art of later days. Even now, from the summit of the baldacchino of St. Peter's, the genii of paganism look down on the proudest ceremonies of Catholicism. Once or twice on the Christian sarcophagi Christ is represented in triumph with the sky, or perhaps more correctly ‘the waters above the firmament,’ beneath his feet, in the form of a man extending a veil above his head, the habitual pagan representation of an aquatic deity.2
In addition to these symbols, which were manifestly taken from paganism, there were others mainly or exclusively produced by the Church itself. Thus, the fish was the usual emblem of Christ, chosen because the Greek word forms the initials of His name and titles,3 and also because Christians are born by baptism in water.4 Sometimes, but much more rarely, the stag is employed for the same purpose, because it bears the cross on its forehead, and from an old notion that it was the irreconcilable enemy of serpents, which it was supposed to hunt out and destroy.5 Several subjects from the Bible of a symbolical character were constantly repeated. Such were Noah in the attitude of prayer receiving the dove into his breast, Jonah rescued from the fish's mouth, Moses striking the rock, St. Peter with the wand of power, the three children, Daniel in the lions' den, the Good Shepherd, the dove of peace, the anchor of hope, the crown of martyrdom, the palm of victory, the ship struggling through the waves to a distant haven, the horse bounding onwards to the goal. All of these were manifestly symbolical, and were in no de gree the objects of reverence or worship.
When, however, the first purity of the Christian Church was dimmed, and when the decomposition of the Roman empire and the invasion of the barbarians overcast the civilisation of Europe, the character of art was speedily changed, and though many of the symbolical representations still continued, there was manifested by the artists a constantly increasing tendency to represent directly the object of their worship, and by the people to attach a peculiar sanctity to the image.
Of all the forms of anthropomorphism that are displayed in Catholic art, there is probably none which a Protestant deems so repulsive as the portraits of the First Person of the Trinity, that are now so common. It is, however, a very remarkable fact, which has been established chiefly by the researches of some French archæologists in the present century that these portraits are all comparatively modern, and that the period in which the superstition of Europe was most profound, was precisely that in which they had no existence.1 In an age when the religious realisations of Christendom were habitually expressed by visible representations—when the nature of a spirit was so inadequately conceived that artists never for a moment shrank from representing purely spiritual beings—and when that instinctive reverence which makes men recoil from certain objects as too solemn and sublime to be treated, was almost absolutely unknown—we do not find the smallest tendency to represent God the Father. Scenes indeed in which He acted were frequently depicted, but the First Person of the Trinity was invariably superseded by the Second. Christ, in the dress and with the features appropriated to Him in the representations of scenes from the New Testament, and often with the monogram underneath his figure, is represented creating man, condemning Adam and Eve to labour, speaking with Noah, arresting the arm of Abraham, or giving the law to Moses.2 With the exception of a hand sometimes extended from the cloud, and occasionally encircled with a nimbus, we find in this period no traces in art of the Creator. At first we can easily imagine that a purely spiritualy conception of the Deity, and also the hatred that was inspired by the type of Jupiter, would have discouraged artists from attempting such a subject; and Gnosticism, which exercised a very great influence over Christian art, and which emphatically denied the divinity of the God of the Old Testament, tended in the same direction; but it is very unlikely that these reasons can have had any weight between the sixth and twelfth centuries. For the more those centuries are studied, the more evident it becomes that the universal and irresistible tendency was then to materialise every spiritual conception, to form a palpable image of everything that was reverenced, to reduce all subjects within the domain of the senses. This tendency, unchecked by any sense of grotesqueness or irreverence, was shown with equal force in sculpture, painting, and legends; and all the old landmarks and distinctions that had been made between the orthodox uses of pictures and idolatry had been virtually swept away by the resistless desire to form an image of everything that was worshipped, and to attach to that image something of the sanctity of its object. Yet amid all this no one thought of representing the Supreme Being. In that condition of society men desired a human god, and they consequently concentrated their attention exclusively upon the Second Person of the Trinity or upon the saints, and suffered the great conception of the Father to become practically obsolete. It continued of course in creeds and in theological treatises, but it was a void and sterile abstraction, which had no place among the realisations and no influence on the emotions of mankind. If men turned away from the Second Person of the Trinity, it was only to bestow their devotions upon saints or martyrs. With the exception, I believe, of a single manuscript of the ninth century,1 there was no portrait of the Father till the twelfth century; and it was only in the fourteenth century, when the revival of learning had become marked, that these portraits became common.1 From that time to the age of Raphael the steady tendency of art is to give an ever-increasing preëminence to the Father. At first His position in painting and sculpture had been a subordinate one, and He was only represented in the least attractive occupations,2 and commonly, through a desire to represent the coeternity of the Persons of the Trinity, of the same age as His Son. Gradually, however, after the fourteenth century, we find the Father represented in every painting as older, more venerable, and more prominent, until at last He became the central and commanding figure,3 exciting the highest degree of reverence, and commonly represented in different countries according to their ideal of greatness. In Italy, Spain, and the ultramontane monasteries of France, He was usually represented as a Pope; in Germany as an Emperor; in England and, for the most part, in France as a King.
In a condition of thought in which the Deity was only realised in the form of man, it was extremely natural that the number of divinities should be multiplied. The chasm between the two natures was entirely unfelt, and something of the Divine character was naturally reflected upon those who were most eminent in the Church. The most remarkable instance of this polytheistic tendency was displayed in the deification of the Virgin.
A conception of a divine person or manifestation of the female sex had been one of the notions of the old Jewish Cabalists; and in the first century Simon Magus had led about with him a woman named Helena, who, according to the Catholics, was simply his mistress, but whom he proclaimed to be the incarnation of the Divine Thought.1 This notion, under a great many different forms, was diffused through almost all the sects of the Gnostics. The Supreme Being, whom they very jealously distinguished from and usually opposed to the God of the Jews,2 they termed ‘The Unknown Father,’ and they regarded Him as directly inaccessible to human knowledge, but as revealed in part by certain Æons or emanations, of whom the two principal were Christ, and a female spirit termed the Divine Sophia or Ennoia, and sometimes known by the strange name of ‘Prounice.’1 According to some sects this Sophia was simply the human soul, which was originally an emanation or child of the Deity, but which had wandered from its parent-source had become enamoured of and at last imprisoned by matter, and was now struggling, by the assistance of the unfallen. Æon Christ, towards its pristine purity. More commonly, however, she was deemed a personification of a Divine attribute, an individual Æon, the sister or (according to others) the mother of Christ, and entitled to equal or almost equal reverence.
In this way, long before Catholic Mariolatry had acquired its full proportions, a very large section of the Christian world had been accustomed to concentrate much attention upon a female ideal as one of the two central figures of devotion. This fact alone would in some degree prepare the way for the subsequent elevation of the Virgin; and it should be added that Gnosticism exercised a very great and special influence over the modes of thought of the orthodox. As its most learned historian has forcibly contended, it should not be regarded as a Christian heresy, but rather as an independent system of eclectic philosophy in which Christian ideas occupied a prominent place. Nearly all heresies have aroused among the orthodox a spirit of repulsion which has produced views the extreme opposite of those of the heretic. Gnosticism, on the other hand, exercised an absorbing and attracting influence of the strongest kind. That Neo-Platonic philosophy which so deeply tinctured early theology passed, for the most part, through a Gnostic medium. No sect, too, appears to have estimated more highly or employed more skillfully æsthetic aids. The sweet songs of Bardesanes and Harmonius carried their distinctive doctrines into the very heart of Syrian orthodoxy, and cast such a spell over the minds of the people that, in spite of all prohibitions, they continued to be sung in the Syrian churches till the Catholic poet St. Ephrem wedded orthodox verses to the Gnostic metres.1 The apocryphal gospels, which were for the most part of Gnostic origin, long continued to furnish subjects for painters in orthodox churches.2 There is even much reason to believe that the conventional cast of features ascribed to Christ, which for so many centuries formed the real object of the worship of Christendom, is derived from the Gnostic artists.3 Besides this, Gnosticism formed the highest representation of a process of transformation or unification of religious ideas which occupied a very prominent place among the organising influences of the Church. Christianity had become the central intellectual power in the world, but it triumphed not so much by superseding rival faiths as by absorbing and transforming them. Old systems, old rites old images were grafted into the new belief, retaining much of their ancient character but assuming new names and a new complexion. Thus in the symbolism of the Gnostics innumerable conceptions culled from the different beliefs of paganism were clustered around the Divine Sophia, and at least some of them passed through paintings or traditional allegories to the Virgin. The old Egyptian conception of Night, the mother of day and of all things, with the diadem of stars, Isis, the sister of Osiris or the Saviour; Latona, the mother of Apollo; Flora, the bright goddess of returning spring, to whom was once dedicated the month of May, which is now dedicated to the Virgin; Cybele, the mother of the gods, whose feast was celebrated on what is now Lady-day, were all more or less connected with the new ideal.1
But while Gnosticism may be regarded as the pioneer or precursor of Catholic Mariolatry, the direct causes are to be found within the circle of the Church. If the first two or three centuries were essentially the ages of moral appreciation, the fourth and fifth were essentially those of dogmatic definitions, which were especially applied to the nature of the divinity of Christ, and which naturally and indeed necessarily tended to the continued exaltation of one who was soon regarded as, very literally, the Bride of God. During the Nestorian controversy the discussions on the subject assumed an almost physiological character;2 and the emphasis with which the Church condemned the doctrines of Nestorius, who was supposed to have unduly depreciated the dignity of Mary, impelled the orthodox enthusiasm in the opposite direction. The Council of Ephesus, in A.D. 431, defined the manner in which the Virgin should be represented by artists;3 and the ever-increasing importance of painting and sculpture as the organs of religious realisations brought into clearer and more vivid relief the charms of a female ideal, which acquired an irresistible fascination in the monastic life of celibacy and solitary meditation, and in the strange mixture of gallantry and devotion that accompanied the Crusades. It was in this last period that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is said first to have appeared.1 The lily, as the symbol of purity, was soon associated with pictures of the Virgin; and a notion having grown up that women by eating it became pregnant without the touch of man, a vase wreathed with lilies became the emblem of her maternity.
The world is governed by its ideals, and seldom or never has there been one which has exercised a more profound and, on the whole, a more salutary influence than the mediæval conception of the Virgin. For the first time woman was elevated to her rightful position, and the sanctity of weakness was recognised as well as the sanctity of sorrow. No longer the slave or toy of man, no longer associated only with ideas of degradation and of sensuality, woman rose, in the person of the Virgin Mother, into a new sphere, and became the object of a reverential homage of which antiquity had had no conception. Love was idealised. The moral charm and beauty of female excellence was for the first time felt. A new type of character was called into being; a new kind of admiration was fostered. Into a harsh and ignorant and benighted age this ideal type infused a conception of gentleness and of purity unknown to the proudest civilisations of the past. In the pages of living tenderness which many a monkish writer has left in honour of his celestial patron; in the millions who, in many lands and in many ages, have sought with no barren desire to mould their characters into her image; in those holy maidens who, for the love of Mary, have separated themselves from all the glories and pleasures of the world, to seek in fastings and vigils and humble charity to render themselves worthy of her benediction; in the new sense of honour, in the chivalrous respect, in the softening of manners, in the refinement of tastes displayed in all the walks of society; in these and in many other ways we detect its influence. All that was best in Europe clustered around it, and it is the origin of many of the purest elements of our civilisation.
But the price, and perhaps the necessary price, of this was the exaltation of the Virgin as an omnipresent deity of infinite power as well as infinite condescension. The legends represented her as performing every kind of prodigy, saving men from the lowest abysses of wretchedness or of vice, and proving at all times the most powerful and the most ready refuge of the afflicted. The painters depicted her invested with the divine aureole, judging man on equal terms with her Son, or even retaining her ascendancy over Him in heaven. In the devotions of the people she was addressed in terms identical with those employed to the Almighty.1 A reverence similar in kind but less in degree was soon bestowed upon the other saints, who speedily assumed the position of the minor deities of paganism, and who, though worshipped, like them, as if ubiquitous, like them had their special spheres of patronage.
While Christendom was thus reviving the polytheism which its intellectual condition required, the tendency to idolatry that always accompanies that condition was no less forcibly displayed. In theory, indeed, images were employed exclusively as aids to worship; but in practice, and with the general assent of the highest ecclesiastical authorities, they very soon became the objects. When men employ visible representations simply for the purpose of giving an increased vividness to their sense of the presence of the person who is addressed, and when the only distinction they make between different representations arises from the degree of fidelity or force with which they assist the imagination, these persons are certainly not committing idolatry. But when they proceed to attach the idea of intrinsic virtue to a particular image, when one image is said to work miracles and confer spiritual benefits that separate it from every other, when it becomes the object of long pilgrimages, and is supposed by its mere presence to defend a besieged city or to wul of pestilence and famine, the difference between this conception and idolatry is inappreciable. Everything is done to cast the devotion of the worshipper upon the image itself, to distinguish it from every other, and to attribute to it an intrinsic efficacy.
In this as in the former case the change was effected by a general tendency resulting from the intellectual condition of society, assisted by the concurrence of special circumstances. At a very early period the persecuted Christians were accustomed to collect the relics of the martyrs, which they regarded with much affection and not a little reverence, partly, perhaps, from the popular notion that the souls of the dead lingered fondly around their tombs1 , and partly from the very natural and praise worthy feeling which attaches us to the remains of the good. A similar reverence was speedily transferred to pictures, which as memorials of the dead were closely connected with relies; and the tendency to the miraculous that was then so powerful having soon associated some of them with supernatural occurrences, this was regarded as a Divine attestation of their sanctity. Two of these representations were especially prominent in the early controversies. The first was a portrait which, according to tradition, Christ had sent to Abgarus, king of Edessa,1 and which, besides several other miracles, had once destroyed all the besieging engines of a Persian army that had invested Edessa. Still more famous was a statue of Christ, said to have been erected in a small town in Phœnicia by the woman who had been healed of an issue of blood. A new kind of herb had grown up beneath it, increased till it touched the hem of the garment of the statue, and then acquired the power of healing all disease. This statue, it was added, had been broken in pieces by Julian, who placed his own image on the pedestal, from which it was speedily hurled by a thunderbolt.2
In the midst of this bias the irruption and, soon after, the conversion of the barbarians were effected. Vast tribes of savages, who had always been idolaters, who were perfectly incapable, from their low state of civilisation, of forming any but anthropomorphic conceptions of the Deity, or of concentrating their attention steadily on any invisible object, and who for the most part were converted not by individual persuasion but by the commands of their chiefs, embraced Christianity in such multitudes that their habits of mind soon became the dominating habits of the Church. From this time the tendency to idolatry was irresistible. The old images were worshipped under new names, and one of the most prominent aspects of the Apostolical teaching was in practice ignored.
All this, however, did not pass without protest. During the period of the persecution, when the dread of idolatry was still powerful, everything that tended in that direction was scrupulously avoided; and a few years before the first Council of Nice, a council held at Illiberis in Spain, in a canon which has been very frequently cited, condemned altogether the introduction of pictures into the churches, ‘lest that which is worshipped should be painted upon the walls.’1 The Greeks, among whom the last faint rays of civilisation still flickered, were in this respect somewhat superior to the Latins, for they usually discouraged the veneration of images, though admitting that of pictures.2 Early in the eighth century, when image-worship had become general, the sect of the Iconoclasts arose, whose long struggle against the prevailing evil, though stained with great tyranny and great cruelty, represents the fierce though unavailing attempts to resist the anthropomorphism of the age; and when the second Council of Nice, which the Catholics now regard as œcumenical, censured this heresy and carried the veneration of images considerably further than had before been authorised, its authority was denied and its decrees contemptuously stigmatised by Charlemagne and the Gallican Church.1 Two or three illustrious Frenchmen also made isolated efforts in the same direction.2
Of these efforts there is one upon which I may delay for a moment, because it is at once extremely remarkable and extremely little known, and also because it brings us in contact with one of the most rationalistic intellects of the middle ages. In describing the persecution that was endured by the Cabalists in the ninth century, I had occasion to observe that they found a distinguished defender in the person of an archbishop of Lyons, named St. Agobard. The very name of this prelate has now sunk into general oblivion,3 or if it is at all remembered, it is only in connection with the most discreditable act of his life—the part which he took in the deposition of Louis le Débonnaire. Yet I question whether in the whole compass of the middle ages—with, perhaps, the single exception of Scotus Erigena—it would be possible to find another man within the Christian Church who applied himself so zealously, so constantly, and so ably to dispelling the superstitions that surrounded him. To those who have appreciated the character of the ninth century, but few words will be required to show the intellectual eminence of an ecclesiastic who, in that century, devoted one work to displaying the folly of those who attributed hail and thunder to spiritual agencies, a second to in at least some degree attenuating the popular notions concerning epilepsy and other strange diseases, a third to exposing the absurdities of or deals, and a fourth to denouncing the idolatry of image worship.
At the beginning of this last work Agobard collected a long series of passages from the fathers and early councils on the legitimate use of images. As long as they were employed simply as memorials, they were unobjectionable. But the popular devotion had long since transgressed this limit. Idolatry and anthropomorphism had everywhere revived, and devotion being concentrated on visible representations, all faith in the invisible was declining. Men, with a sacrilegious folly, ventured to apply the epithet holy to certain images,1 offering to the work of their own hands the honour which should be reserved for the Deity, and attributing sanctity to what was destitute even of life. Nor was it any justification of this practice that the worshippers sometimes disclaimed the belief that a divine sanctity resided in the image itself,2 and asserted that they reverenced in it only the person who was represented; for if the image was not divine, it should not be venerated. This excuse was only one of the devices of Satan,1 who was ever seeking under the pretext of honour to the saints to draw men back to the idols they had left. No image could be entitled to the reverence of those who, as the temples of the Holy Ghost, were superior to every image, who were themselves the true images of the Deity. A picture is helpless and inanimate. It can confer no benefit and inflict no evil. Its only value is as a representation of that which is least in man—of his body, and not his mind. Its only use is as a memorial to keep alive the affection for the dead; if it is regarded as anything more, it becomes an idol, and as such should be destroyed. Very rightly then did Hezekiah grind to powder the brazen serpent in spite of its sacred associations, because it had become an object of worship. Very rightly too did the Council of Illiberis and the Christians of Alexandria2 forbid the introduction of representations into the churches, for they foresaw that such representations would at last become the objects of worship, and that a change of faith would only be a change of idols; nor could the saints themselves be more duly honoured than by destroying ignominiously their portraits, when those portraits had become the objects of superstitious reverence.3
It will I think be admitted that these sentiments are exceedingly remarkable when we consider the age in which they were expressed, and the position of the person who expressed them. No Protestant fresh from the shrines of Loretto or Saragossa ever denounced the idolatry practised under the shadow of Catholicism with a keener or more incisive eloquence than did this mediæval saint. But although it is extremely interesting to detect the isolated efforts of illustrious individuals to rise above the general conditions of their age, such efforts have usually but little result. Idolatry was so intimately connected with the modes of thought of the middle ages, it was so congruous with the prevailing conception of the government of the universe, and with the materialising habits that were displayed upon all subjects, that no process of direct reasoning could overthrow it, and it was only by a fundamental change in the intellectual condition of society that it was at last subverted.
It must, however, be acknowledged that there is one example of a great religion, reigning for the most part over men who had not yet emerged from the twilight of an early civilisation, which has nevertheless succeeded in restraining its votaries from idolatry. This phenomenon, which is the preëminent glory of Mahometanism, and the most remarkable evidence of the genius of its founder, appears so much at variance with the general laws of historic development, that it may be well to examine for a moment its causes. In the first place, then, it must be observed that the enthusiasm by which Mahometanism conquered the world, was mainly a military enthusiasm. Men were drawn to it at once, and without conditions, by the splendour of the achievements of its disciples, and it declared an absolute war against all the religions it encountered. Its history therefore exhibits nothing of the process of gradual absorption, persuasion, compromise, and assimilation, that was exhibited in the dealings of Christianity with the barbarians. In the next place, one of the great characteristics of the Koran is the extreme care and skill with which it labours to assist men in realising the unseen. Descriptions the most minutely detailed, and at the same time the most vivid, are mingled with powerful appeals to those sensual passions by which the imagination in all countries, but especially in those in which Mahometanism has taken root, is most forcibly influenced. In no other religion that prohibits idols was the strain upon the imagination so slight.1
In the last place, the prohibition of idols was extended to every representation of man and animals, no matter how completely unconnected they might be with religion.2 Mahomet perceived very clearly, that in order to prevent his disciples from worshipping images, it was absolutely necessary to prevent them from making any; and he did this by commands which were at once so stringent and so precise, that it was scarcely possible to evade them. In this way he preserved his religion from idolatry; but he made it the deadly enemy of art. How much art has lost by the antagonism it is impossible to say. Certainly the wonderful proficiency attained by the Spanish Moors in architecture, which was the only form of art that was open to them, and above all the ornamentation of the Alhambra, and the Alcazar of Seville, in which, while the representations of animal life are carefully excluded, plants and flowers and texts from the Koran and geometrical figures are woven together in a tracery of the most exquisite beauty,1 seem to imply the possession of æsthetic powers that have never been surpassed.
Mahometanism sacrificed art, but it cannot be said that Christianity during the middle ages was altogether favourable to it. The very period when representations of Christ or the saints were regarded as most sacred, was precisely that in which there was no art in the highest sense of the word, or at least none applied to the direct objects of worship. The middle ages occasionally, indeed, produced churches of great beauty; mosaic work for their adornment was cultivated with considerable zeal, and in the fifth century, and again after the establishment in the eleventh century of a school of Greek artists at Monte Cassino, with some slight success;1 similar skill was shown in gold church crnaments,2 and in the illumination of manuscripts;3 but the habitual veneration of images, pictures, and talismans, was far from giving a general impulse to art. And this fact, which may at first sight appear perplexing, was in truth perfectly natural. For the æsthetic sentiment and a devotional feeling are so entirely different, that it is impossible for both to be at the same moment predominating over the mind, and very unusual for both to be concentrated upon the same object. The sensation produced by a picture gallery is not that of religious reverence, and the favourite idols have in no religion been those which approve themselves most fully to the taste.1 They have rather been pictures that are venerable from their extreme antiquity, or from the legends attached to them, or else representations of the most coarsely realistic character. Painted wooden statues the size of life have usually been the favourite idols; but these are so opposed to the genius of true art, that—with the exception of Spain, where religious feeling has dominated over every other consideration, and where three sculptors of very great ability, named Juni, Hernandez, and Montañes, have devoted themselves to their formation—they have scarcely ever exhibited any high artistic merit, and never the very highest. The mere fact, therefore, of pictures or images being destined for worship, is likely to be rather prejudicial than otherwise to art. Besides this, in an idolatrous period the popular reverence speedily attaches to a particular type of countenance, and even to particular gestures or dresses; and all innovation, and therefore all improvement, is resisted.
These reasons apply to the art of the middle ages in common with that of all other periods of virtual or avowed idolatry. There was, however, another consideration, acting in the same direction, which was peculiar to Christianity. I mean the low estimate of physical beauty that characterised the monastic type of religion. Among the Greeks beauty of every order1 was the highest object of worship. In art especially no subject was tolerated in which deformity of any kind was manifested. Even suffering was habitually idealised. The traces of mental anguish upon the countenance were exhibited with exquisite skill, but they were never permitted so to contort the features as to disturb the prevailing beauty of the whole.2 The glory of the human body was the central conception of art, and nakedness was associated rather with dignity than with shame. The gods, it was emphatically said, were naked.1 To represent an emperor naked, was deemed the highest form of flattery, because it was to represent his apotheosis. The athletic games which occupied so large a place in ancient life, contributed greatly to foster the admiration of physical strength, and to furnish the most admirable models to the sculptors.2
It is easy to perceive how favourable such a state of feeling must have been to the development of art, and no less easy to see how contrary it was to the spirit of a religion which for many centuries made the suppression of all bodily passions the central notion of sanctity. In this respect philosophers, heretics, and saints were unanimous. Plotinus, one of the most eminent of the Neo-Platonic philosophers, was so ashamed of the possession of a body, that he refused to have his portrait taken on the ground that it would be to perpetuate his degradation. Gnosticism and Manicheism, which in their various modifications obtained a deeper and more permanent hold in the Church than any other heretical systems, maintained as their cardinal tenet the essential evil of matter; and some of the Cathari, who were among the latest Gnostics, are said to have even starved themselves to death in their efforts to subduc the propensities of the body.3 Of the orthodox saints, some made it their especial boast that for many years they had never seen their own bodies; others mutilated themselves in order more completely to restrain their passions; others laboured with the same object by scourgings and fastings, and horrible penances. All regarded the body as an unmingled evil, its passion and its beauty as the most deadly of temptations. Art, while governed by such sentiments, could not possibly arrive at perfection;1 and the passion for representations of the Crucifixion, or the deaths of the martyrs, or the sufferings of the lost, impelled it still further from the beautiful.
It appears, then, that, in addition to the generally low intellectual condition of the middle ages, the special form of religious feeling that was then dominant, exercised an exceedingly unfavourable influence upon art. This fact becomes very important when we examine the course that was taken by the European mind after the revival of learning.
Idolatry, as I have said, is the natural form of worship in an early stage of civilisation; and a gradual emancipation from material conceptions one of the most invariable results of intellectual progress. It appears therefore natural, that when nations have attained a certain point, they should discard their images. And this is what has usually occurred. Twice, however, in the history of the human mind, a different course has been adopted. Twice the weakening of the anthropomorphic conceptions has been accompanied by an extraordinary progress in the images that were their representatives, and the æsthetic feeling having dominated over the religious feeling, superstition has faded into art.
The first of these movements occurred in ancient Greece. The information we possess concerning the æsthetic history of that nation is so ample, that we can trace very clearly the successive phases of its development.1 Putting aside those changes that are interesting only in an artistic point of view, and confining ourselves to those which reflect the changes of religious realisation, Greek idolatry may be divided it to four distinct stages. The first was a period of fetishism, in which shapeless stones, which were possibly aërolites, and were, at all events, said to have fallen from heaven, were worshipped. In the second, painted wooden idols dressed in real clothes became common.2 After this, Dædalus created a higher art, but one which was, like the Egyptian and Byzantine art, at the same time strictly religious, and characterised by an intense aversion to innovation. Then came the period in which increasing intellectual culture, and the prevalence of philosophical speculations, began to tell upon the nation, in which the religious reverence was displaced, and concentrated rather on the philosophical conception of the Deity than upon the idols in the temples, and in which the keen sense of beauty, evoked by a matured civilisation, gave a new tone and aspect to all parts of religion. The images were not then broken, but they were gradually regarded simply as the embodiments of the beautiful. They began to exhibit little or no religious feeling, no spirit of reverence or self-abasement, but a sense of harmony and gracefulness, a conception of ideal perfection, which has perhaps never been equalled in other lands. The statue that had once been the object of earnest prayer was viewed with the glance of the artist or the critic. The temple was still full of gods, and those gods had never been so beautiful and so grand; but they were beautiful only through the skill of the artist, and the devotion that once hallowed them had passed away. All was allegory, poetry, and imagination. Sensual beauty was typified by naked Venus; unconscious loveliness, and untried or natural chastity, by Diana. Minerva, with her downcast eyes and somewhat stern features, represented female modesty and self-control. Ceres, with her flowing robes and her golden sheaf, was the type of the genial summer; or, occasionally with dishevelled hair, and a countenance still troubled with the thought of Proserpine, was the emblem of maternal love. Each cast of beauty, and, after a brief period of unmingled grandeur, even each form of sensual frailty, was transported into the unseen world. Bacchus nurtured by a girl, and with the soft delicate limbs of a woman, was the type of a disgraceful effeminacy. Apollo the god of music, and Adonis the lover of Diana, represented that male beauty softened into something of female loveliness by the sense of music or the first chaste love of youth, which the Christian painters long afterwards represented in St. Sebastian or St. John. Hercules was the chosen type of the dignity of labour. Sometimes he appears in the midst of his toils for man, with every nerve strained, and all the signs of intense exertion upon his countenance. Sometimes he appears as a demigod in the assembly of Olympus, and then his muscles are rounded and subdued, and his colossal frame softened and harmonised as the emblem at once of strength and of repose. In very few instances do we find any conception which can be regarded as purely religious, and even those are of a somewhat Epicurean character. Thus Jupiter, Pluto, and Minos are represented with the same cast of countenance, and the difference is chiefly in their expression. The countenance of Pluto is shadowed by the passions of a demon, the brow of Minos is bent with the inexorable sternness of a judge. Jupiter alone presents an aspect of unclouded calm: no care can darken, and no passion ruffle, the serenity of the king of heaven.1
It was in this manner that the Greek mythology passed gradually into the realm of poetry, and that the transition was effected or facilitated by the visible representations that were in the first instance the objects of worship. A somewhat similar change was effected in Christian art at the period of the revival of learning, and as an almost immediate result of the substitution of Italian for Byzantine art.
There are few more striking contrasts than are comprised in the history of the influence of Grecian intellect upon art. At an early period Greece had arrived at the highest point of æsthetic perfection to which the human intellect has yet attained. She bequeathed to us those forms of almost passionate beauty which have been the wonder and the delight of all succeeding ages, and which the sculptors of every land have recognised as the ideal of their efforts. At last, however, the fountain of genius became dry. Not only creative power, but even the very perception and love of the beautiful, seemed to have died out, and for many centuries the Greek Church, the Greek empire, and the Greek artists proved the most formidable obstacles to æsthetic development.2 It was from this quarter that the Iconoclasts issued forth to wage their fierce warfare against Christian sculpture. It was in the Greek Church that was most fostered the tradition of the deformity of Christ, which was as fatal to religious art as it was offensive to religious feeling.1 It was in Greece too that arose that essentially vicious, conventional, and unprogressive style of painting which was universal in Europe for many centuries, which trammelled even the powerful genius of Cimabue, and which it was reserved for Giotto and Masaccio to overthrow. This was the uniform tendency of modern Greece. It was the extreme opposite of that which had once been dominant, and it is a most remarkable fact that it was at last corrected mainly by the masterpieces of Greek antiquity. It is now very generally admitted that the proximate cause of that ever-increasing course of progress which was pursued by Italian art from Cimabue to Raphael, is chiefly to be found in the renewed study of ancient sculpture begun by Nicolas of Pisa towards the close of the twelfth century, and afterwards sustained by the discoveries at Rome.
The Church of Rome, with the sagacity that has usually characterised her, adopted and fostered the first efforts of revived art, and for a time she made it essentially Christian. It is impossible to look upon the pictures of Giotto and his early successors without perceiving that a religious feeling pervades and sanctifies them. They exhibit, indeed, a keen sense of beauty; but this is always subservient to the religious idea; it is always subdued and chastened and idealised. Nor does this arise simply from the character of the artists. Christian art had, indeed, in the angelic friar of Fiesole, one saint who may be compared with any in the hagiology. That gentle monk, who was never known to utter a word of anger or of bitterness, who refused without a pang the rich mitre of Florence, who had been seen with tears streaming from his eyes as he painted his crucified Lord, and who never began a picture without consecrating it by a prayer, forms one of the most attractive pictures in the whole range of ecclesiastical biography. The limpid purity of his character was reflected in his works, and he transmitted to his disciple Gozzoli something of his spirit, with (I venture to think) the full measure of his genius.
But in this, as on all other occasions, even the higher forms of genius were ultimately regulated by the law of supply and demand. There was a certain religious conception abroad in the world. That conception required a visible representation, and the painter appeared to supply the want. The revival of learning had broken upon Europe. The study of the classics had given an impulse to every department of intellect, but it had not yet so altered the condition of society as to shake the old belief. The profound ignorance that reigned until the twelfth century had been indeed dispelled. The grossness of taste, and he incapacity for appreciating true beauty, which accompanied that ignorance, had been corrected; but the development of the imagination preceded, as it always does precede, the development of the reason. Men were entranced with the chaste beauty of Greek literature before they were imbued with the spirit of abstraction, of free criticism, and of elevated philosophy, which it breathes. They learned to admire a pure style or a graceful picture before they learned to appreciate a refined creed or an untrammelled philosophy. All through Europe, the first effect of the revival of learning was to produce a general efflorescence of the beautiful. A general discontent with the existing forms of belief was1 not produced till much later. A material, sensuous, and an thropomorphic faith was still adapted to the intellectual condition of the age, and therefore painting was still the special organ of religious emotions. All the painters of that period were strictly religious, that is to say, they invariably subordinated considerations of art to considerations of religion. The form of beauty they depicted was always religious beauty, and they never hesitated to disfigure their works with loathsome or painful images if they could in that manner add to their religious effect.
To these general considerations we should add the important influence of Dante, who may be regarded as the most faithful representative of that brief moment in which the renewed study of the pagan writings served only to ennoble and refine, and not yet to weaken, the conceptions of theology. No other European poet realised so fully the sacred character antiquity attributed to the bard. In the great poems of Greece and Rome, human figures occupied the foreground; and even when supernatural machinery was introduced, it served only to enhance the power or evoke the moral grandeur of mortals. Milton, indeed, soared far beyond the range of earth; but when he wrote, religious conceptions no longer took the form of palpable and material imagery, and even the grandest representations of spiritual beings under human aspects appeared incongruous and unreal. But the poem of Dante was the last apocalypse. It exercised a supreme ascendency over the imagination at a time when religious imagery was not so much the adjunct as the essence of belief, when the natural impulse of every man was to convert intellectual conceptions into palpable forms, and when painting was in the strictest sense the normal expression of faith. Scarcely any other single influence contributed so much, by purifying and feeding the imagination, to give Christian art a grandeur and a religious perfection, and at the same time a sombre and appalling aspect. ‘Dipped in the gloom of earthquake and eclipse,’ the pencil of the great poet loved to accumulate images of terror and of suffering, which speedily passed into the works of the artists, enthralled and fascinated the imaginations of the people, and completed a transformation that had long been in progress. At first, after the period of the Catacombs, the painters expatiated for the most part upon scenes drawn from the Book of Revelation, but usually selected in such a manner as to inspire any sentiment rather than terror. The lamb, which, having been for some centuries the favourite symbol of Christ, was at last condemned by a council in 707,1 the mystic roll with its seven seals, the New Jerusalem with its jewelled battlements, or Bethlehem transfigured in its image, constantly recurred. But many circumstances, of which the panic produced by the belief that the world must end with the tenth century, and the increased influence of asceticism arising from the permission accorded to the monks of establishing their communities in the cities,2 were probably the chief, contributed to effect a profound change The churches in their ornaments, in their general aspect, and even in their forms,1 became the images of death, and painting was tending rapidly in the same direction, when the Inferno of Dante opened a new abyss of terrors to the imaginations of the artists, and became the representative, and in a measure the source, of an art that was at once singularly beautiful, purely religious, and deeply imbued with terrorism and with asceticism.
These were the characteristics of the first period of revived art, and they harmonised well with the intellectual condition of the day. After a time, however, the renewed energies of the European mind began to produce effects that were far more important. A spirit of unshackled criticism, a capacity for refined abstractions, a dislike to materialism in faith and to asceticism in practice, a disposition to treat with unceremonious ridicule imposture and ignorance in high places, an impatience of the countless ceremonies and trivial superstitions that were universal, and a growing sense of human dignity, were manifested on all sides, and they adumbrated clearly a coming change. The movement was shown in the whole tone of literature, and in the repeated and passionate efforts to attain a more spiritual creed that were made by the precursors of the Reformation. It was shown at least as forcibly in the rapid corruption of every organ of the old religion. They no longer could attract religious fervour; and as their life was gone, they degenerated and decayed. The monasteries, once the scenes of the most marvellous displays of ascetic piety, became the seats of revelry, of licentiousness, and of avarice. The sacred relics and the miraculous images, that had so long thrilled the hearts of multitudes, were made a source of unholy traffic, or of unblushing imposition. The indulgences, which were intended to assuage the agonies of a despairing conscience, or to lend an additional charm to the devotions of the pious, became a substitute for all real religion. The Papal See itself was stained with the most degrading vice, and the Vatican exhibited the spectacle of a pagan court without the redeeming virtue of pagan sincerity. Wherever the eye was turned, it encountered the signs of disorganisation, of corruption, and of decay. For the long night of mediævalism was now drawing to a close, and the chaos that precedes resurrection was supreme. The spirit of ancient Greece had arisen from the tomb, and the fabric of superstition crumbled and tottered at her touch. The human mind, starting beneath her influence from the dust of ages, cast aside the bonds that had enchained it, and, radiant in the light of recovered liberty, remoulded the structure of its faith. The love of truth, the passion for freedom, the sense of human dignity, which the great thinkers of antiquity had inspired, vivified a torpid and down-trodden people, blended with those sublime moral doctrines and with those conceptions of enlarged benevolence, which are at once the glory and the essence of Christianity, introduced a new era of human development, with new aspirations, habits of thought, and conditions of vitality, and withdrawing religious life from the shattered edifice of the past, created a purer faith, and became the promise of an eternal development.
This was the tendency of the human intellect, and it was faithfully reflected in the history of art. As the old Catholic modes of thought began to fade, the religious idea disappeared from the paintings, and they became purely secular, if not sensual, in their tone. Religion, which was once the mistress, was now the servant, of art. Formerly the painter employed his skill simply in embellishing and enhancing a religious idea. He now employed a religious subject as the pretext for the exhibition of mere worldly beauty. He commonly painted his mistress as the Virgin. He arrayed her in the richest attire, and surrounded her with all the circumstances of splendour. He crowded his pictures with nude figures with countenances of sensual loveliness, with every form and attitude that could act upon the passions, and not unfrequently with images drawn from the pagan mythology. The creation of beauty became the single object of his art. His work was a secular work, to be judged by a secular standard.
There can be no doubt that this secularisation of art was due to the general tone of thought that had been produced in Europe. The artist seeks to represent the conceptions of his time, and his popularity is the proof of his success. In an age in which strong religious belief was general, and in which it turned to painting as to the natural organ of its expression, such a style would have been impossible. The profanity of the painter would have excited universal execration, and all the genius of Titian or Angelo would have been unable to save their works from condemnation. The style became popular, because educated men ceased to look for religion in pictures, or in other words because the habits of thought that made them demand material representations of the objects of their belief had declined.
This was the ultimate cause of the entire movement. There were, however, two minor causes of great importance, which contributed largely to the altered tone of art, while they at the same time immeasurably increased its perfection—one of them relating especially to colour, and the other to form.1
The first of these causes is to be found in the moral condition of Italian society. The age was that of Bianca di Capello, and of the Borgias. All Italian literature and all Italian manners were of the laxest character, and the fact was neither concealed nor deplored. But that which especially distinguished Italian immorality is, that, growing up in the midst of all the forms of loveliness, it assumed from the first a kind of æsthetic character, united with the most passionate and yet refined sense of the beautiful, and made art the special vehicle of its expression. This is one of the peculiar characteristics of later Italian painting, and it is one of the chief causes of its artistic perfection. For sensuality has always been extremely favourable to painting,2 the object of the artist being to exhibit to the highest possible degree the beauty and the attractive power of the human body. Twice in the history of art national sensuality has thrown itself into national art, and in each case with the same result. The first occasion was in ancient Greece, at the time when Apelles derived a new inspiration from the voluptuous loveliness of Lais, and the goddess of beauty, glowing with the fresh charms of Phryne or Theodota, kindled a transport of no religious fervour in the Athenian mind. The second occasion was in the Italian art of the sixteenth century.
The rapid progress of a sensual tone in all the schools of Italian art is a fact which is too manifest to be questioned or overlooked; but there is one school which may be regarded especially as its source and representative. This school was that of the Venetian painters, and it reflected very visibly the character of its cradle. Never perhaps was any other city so plainly formed to be the home at once of passion and of art. Sleeping like Venus of old upon her parent wave, Venice, at least in the period of her glory, comprised within herself all the influences that could raise to the highest point the æsthetic sentiment, and all that could lull the moral sentiment to repose. Wherever the eye was turned, it was met by forms of strange and varied and entrancing beauty, while every sound that broke upon the ear was mellowed by the waters that were below. The thousand lights that glittered around the gilded domes of St. Mark, the palaces of matchless architecture resting on their own soft shadows in the wave, the long paths of murmuring water, where the gondola sways to the lover's song, and where dark eyes lustrons with passion gleam from the overhanging balconies, the harmony of blending beauties, and the languid and voluptuous charm that pervades the whole, had all tolo deeply and fatally on the character of the people. At every period of their history, but never more so than in the great period of Venetian art, they had been distinguished at once for their intense appreciation of beauty and for their universal, unbridled, and undisguised licentiousness.1 In the midst of such a society it was very natural that a great school of sensual art should arise, and many circumstances conspired in the same direction. Venice was so far removed from the discoveries of the ancient statues, that it was never influenced by what may be termed the learned school of art, which eventually sacrificed all sense of beauty to anatomical studies; at the same time the simultaneous appearance of a constellation of artists of the very highest order, the luxurious habits that provided these artists with abundant patrons, the discovery of oil painting,2 which attained its highest perfection under the skill of the Venetian colourists, perhaps even the rich merchandise of the East, accustoming the eye to the most gorgeous hues,3 had all in different ways their favourable influence upon art. The study of the nude figure, which had been the mainspring of Greek art, and which Christianity had so long suppressed, arose again, and a school of painting was formed, which for subtle sensuality of colouring had never been equalled, and, except by Correggio, has scarcely been approached. Titian in this as in other respects was the leader of the school, and he bears to modern much the same relation as Praxiteles bears to ancient art. Both the sculptor and the painter precipitated art into sensuality, both of them destroyed its religious character, both of them raised it to high æsthetic perfection, but in both cases that perfection was followed by a speedy decline.1 Even in Venice there was one great representative of the early religious school, but his influence was unable to stay the stream. The Virgin of Bellini was soon exchanged for the Virgin of Titian—the ideal of female piety for the ideal of female beauty.
A second influence which contributed to the secularisation, and at the same time to the perfection of art, was the discovery of many of the great works of pagan sculpture. The complete disappearance of these during the preceding centuries may be easily explained by the religious and intellectual changes that had either accompanied or speedily followed the triumph of Christianity. The priests, and especially the monks, being firmly convinced that pagan idols were all tenanted by demons, for some time made it one of their principal objects to break them in pieces, and cupidity proved scarcely less destructive than fanaticism. Among the ancient Greeks, as is well known, marble had never obtained the same ascendency in sculpture as among ourselves. Great numbers of statues were made of bronze, but the masterpieces of the most illustrious artists were of far more valuable materials, usually of ivory or of gold. No features are more wonderful in the history of the Greek states than the immense sums they consented to withdraw from all other objects, to expend upon the cultivation of beauty, and the religious care with which these precious objects were preserved unharmed amid all the vicissitudes of national fortune, amid war, rebellion, and conquest. This preservation was in part due to the intense æsthetic feeling that was so general in antiquity, but in part also to the catholicity of spirit that usually accompanied polytheism, which made men regard with reverence the objects and ceremonies even of worships that were not their own, and which was especially manifested by the Romans, who in all their conquests respected the temples of the vanquished as representing under many forms the aspiration of man to his Creator. Both of these sentiments were blotted out by Christianity. For about 1,500 years the conception that there could be anything deserving of reverence or respect, or even of tolerance, in the religions that were external to the Church, was absolutely unknown in Christendom; and at the same time the ascetic theories I have noticed destroyed all perception of beauty, or at least of that type of beauty which sculpture represented. The bronze statues were converted into coinage, the precious metals were plundered,1 the marble was mutilated or forgotten. When Christianity arose, the colossal statue of Jupiter Olympus, in gold and ivory, which was deemed the masterpiece of Phidias, and the greatest of all the achievements of art, still existed at Olympia. Our last notice of it is during the reign of Julian. At Rome, the invasion of the barbarians, the absolute decadence of taste that followed their ascendency, and those great conflagrations which more than once reduced vast districts to ruin, completed the destruction of the old traditions, while most of the statues that had been transported to Constantinople, and had survived the fury of the monks, were destroyed by the Iconoclasts, the Crusaders, or the Mahometans.
Towards the close of the twelfth century, as we have already seen, Nicolas of Pisa for the first time broke the slumber of mediæval art by the skill he had derived from the works of antiquity. There was then, however, no ancient model of the highest class known, and the principal subject of his study is said to have been a pagan sarcophagus of third or fourth rate merit, which had been employed for the burial of the mother of the famous Countess Matilda, and which was then in the Cathedral, and is now in the Campo Santo, of Pisa. Giotto, Masaccio, and their contemporaries, all pursued their triumphs without the assistance of any great ancient model. As Flaxman has noticed, Poggio, who wrote at the beginning of the fifteenth century, was only able to enumerate six statues within the walls of Rome. Rienzi and Petrarch gave some slight impulse to archæological collections, and during the latter half of the fifteenth century the exertions of the Medici, and of a long series of popes, sustained by the passionate admiration for antiquity that followed the revival of learning, produced vast works of excavation, which were rewarded by the discovery of numerous statues.1 Art immediately rose to an unparalleled perfection, and an unbounded and almost universal enthusiasm was created. Paul II. indeed, in 1468, directed a fierce persecution against the artists at Rome;2 but as a general rule his successors were warm patrons of art, and Julius II. and Leo X. may even be regarded as the most munificent of their munificent age. All the artists of Rome and Florence made the remains of pagan antiquity their models. Michael Angelo himself proclaimed the Torso Belvedere his true master.3 The distinctive type and tone of Christianity was thus almost banished from art, and replaced by the types of paganism.
Such was the movement which was general in Italian art, but it did not pass unchallenged, and it was retarded by one most remarkable reaction. Under the very palace of the Medici, and in the midst of the noblest collections of pagan art, a great preacher arose who perceived clearly the dangerous tendency, and who employed the full force of a transcendent genius to arrest it. The influence of Savonarola upon painting has been so lately and so fully described by an able living historian of art,1 that it is not necessary to dwell upon it at length. It is sufficient to say, that during the last few years of the fifteenth century a complete religious revival took place in Tuscany, and that Savonarola, who was much more than a brilliant orator, perceived very clearly that in order to make it permanent it was necessary to ally it with the tendencies of the age. He accordingly, like all successful religious revivalists of ancient and modern times, proceeded to identify religion with liberty and with democracy by his denunciations of the tyranny of the Medici, and by the creation of great lending societies, for the purpose of checking the oppressive usury that had become general. He endeavoured to secure the ascendency of his opinions over the coming generation by guiding the education of the children, and by making them the special objects of his preaching. He attempted above all to purify the very sources of Italian life, by regenerating the sacred music, and by restoring painting to its pristine purity. Week after week he launched from the pulpit the most scathing invectives against the artists who had painted prostitutes in the character of the Virgin, who under the pretext of religious art had pandered to the licentiousness of their age, and who had entirely forgotten their true dignity as the teachers of mankind. As these invectives were not inspired by the fanaticism of the old Iconoclasts, but proceeded from one who possessed to the highest degree the Tuscan perception of the beautiful, they produced an impression that was altogether unparalleled. Almost all the leading painters of Italy were collected at Florence, and almost all, under the influence of Savona rola, attempted to revive the religious character of art. The change was immediately exhibited in the painting of Italy, and the impression Savonarola made upon the artists was shown by the conduct of many of them when the great reformer had perished in the flames. Botticelli cast aside his pencil for ever. Baccio della Porta1 retired broken-hearted into a monastery. Perugino (perhaps the greatest of all the purely religious painters of Catholicism) glided rapidly into scepticism, and on his death-bed refused disdainfully the assistance of a confessor. Raphael, who had derived all the religious sentiment of his early paintings from Perugino, was the first to vindicate the orthodoxy of Savonarola by inserting his portrait among those of the doctors of the Church, in the fresco of the Dispute of the Sacrament.
After the death of Savonarola the secularisation of art was portentously rapid. Even Raphael, who exhibits the tendency less than his contemporaries, never shrank from destroying the religious character of his later works by the introduction of incongruous images. Michael Angelo, that great worshipper of physical force, probably represented the influence to the highest degree. Scarcely any other great painter so completely eliminated the religious sentiment from art, and it was reserved for him to destroy the most fearful of all the conceptions by which the early painters had thrilled the people. By making the Last Judgment a study of naked figures, and by introducing into it Charon and his boat, he most effectually destroyed all sense of its reality, and reduced it to the province of artistic criticism. This fresco may be regarded as the culmination of the movement. There were of course at a later period some great pictures, and even some religious painters, but painting never again assumed its old position as the normal and habitual expression of the religious sentiments of the educated. In the first period of mediævalism it had been exclusively religious, and æsthetic considerations were almost forgotten. In the second period the two elements coexisted. In the last period the religious sentiment disappeared, and the conception of beauty reigned alone. Art had then completed its cycle. It never afterwards assumed a prominent or commanding influence over the minds of men.
It is worthy of remark that a transition very similar to that we have traced in painting took place about the same time in architecture. The architect, it is true, does not supply actual objects of worship, and in this respect his art is less closely connected than that of the painter with the history of anthropomorphism; but on the other hand, the period in which men require a visible material object of worship, is also that in which their religious tone and sentiment are most dependent upon imposing sensuous displays. Christianity has created three things which religious poetry has ever recognised as the special types and expressions of its religious sentiment. These are the church bell, the organ, and the Gothic cathedral. The first is said to have been invented by Paulinus, a bishop of Nola in Campania, about the year 400.1 The second appears to have been first used in the Greek Church, and to have passed into the Western Empire in the seventh or eighth century.2 The third arose under the revived sense of beauty of the twelfth century, and preceded by a little the resurrection of painting. The new pictures and the new churches were both the occasions of ebullitions of the most passionate devotion. When Cimabue painted one of his famous Virgins, the people of Florence gathered around it as to a religious festival, they transported it with prayers and thanksgivings to the church, and filled the streets with hymns of joy, because a higher realisation of a religious conception had flashed upon them. Just so those majestic cathedrals that arose almost simultaneously throughout Europe became at once the channel of the enthusiasm of Christendom; the noblest efforts of self-sacrifice were made to erect them, and they were universally regarded as the purest expression of the religious feeling of the age. That this estimate was correct, that no other buildings the world has seen are so admirably calculated to produce a sensation of blended awe and tranquillity, to harmonise or assuage the qualms of passion, to lull to sleep the rebellious energies of the intellect, to create around the mind an artificial, unworldly, but most impressive atmosphere, to represent a Church which acts upon the imagination by obscurity and terrorism, and by images of solemn and entrancing beauty, will be admitted by all who have any perception of the character, or any knowledge of the history of art. Whenever these modes of feeling have been very general, Gothic architecture has been the object of rapturous admiration. Whenever ever these modes of feeling were very rare, Gothic architecture has sunk into neglect and disfavour.1
I do not intend to follow at length the vicissitudes of a chitecture, or to trace the successive phases of its secularisation. It is sufficient to observe, that about the time when the dense ignorance that had overspread Europe was dispelled, there arose a form of architecture which was exclusively and emphatically Christian, which has been universally admitted to be beyond all others the most accordant with the spirit of mediæval religion, and in which the highest sense of beauty was subordinated to the religious sentiment. At the time when the modern and intellectual chaos that preceded the Reformation was universal, and when painting had been secularised and had passed entirely into the worship of beauty, architecture exhibited a corresponding decadence. The old Gothic style was everywhere discarded, and it was supplanted under the influence of Brunelleschi1 by a style which some persons may deem more beautiful, but which is universally admitted to be entirely devoid of a religious character. The gorgeous, gay, and beautifully proportioned edifices that then rose to fashion were, in fact, avowedly formed from the model of the great temples of antiquity, and the beauty to which they aspired was purely classic. Cologne Cathedral, the last of the great mediæval works, remained unfinished while the whole energies of Europe were concentrated upon the church of St. Peter at Rome. The design of this great work was confided to Michael Angelo, who had been the chief agent in the secularisation of painting, and the spirit in which he undertook it was clearly expressed in his famous exclamation, that he would suspend the Pantheon in the air.
Of all the edifices that have been raised by the hand of man, there is none that presents to the historian of the human mind a deeper interest than St. Peter's, and there is certainly none that tells a sadder tale of the frustration of human efforts and the futility of human hopes. It owes its greatest splendour to a worldly and ambitious pontiff,1 who has not even obtained an epitaph beneath its dome. It was designed to be the eternal monument of the glory and the universality of Catholicism, and it has become the most impressive memorial of its decay. The most sublime associations that could appeal to the intellect or the religious sentiment cluster thickly around it, but an association of which none had dreamed has consecrated it, and will abide with it for ever. The most sacred relics of the Catholic faith are assembled within its walls. The genius of Michael Angelo, Raphael, Bramante, Cellini, Thorwaldsen, and Canova has adorned it. Mosaics of matchless beauty reproduce the greatest triumphs of Christian painting, and mingle their varied hues with those gorgeous marbles that might have absorbed the revenues of a kingdom. Beneath that majestic dome, which stands like the emblem of eternity, and dwarfs the proudest monuments below, rest the remains of those who were long deemed the greatest of the sons of men. There lie those mediæval pontiffs who had borne aloft the lamp of knowledge in an evil and benighted age, who had guided and controlled the march of nations, and had been almost worshipped as the representatives of the Almighty. There too the English traveller pauses amid many more splendid objects at the sculptured slab which bears the names of the last scions of a royal race, that for good or for ill had deeply influenced the destiny of his land. But inexpressibly great as are these associations in the eyes of the theologian, the recollection of Luther, and the indulgences, and the Reformation, will tower above them all; while to the philosophic historian St. Peter's possesses an interest of a still higher order. For it represents the conclusion of that imbulse, growing out of the anthropomorphic habits of an early civilisation, which had led men for so many centuries to express their religious feelings by sensuous images of grandeur, of obscurity, and of terrorism. It represents the absorption of the religious by the æsthetic element, which was the sare sign that the religious function of architecture had terminated. The age of the cathedrals had passed. The age of the printing press had begun.
I have dwelt at considerable length upon this aspect of the history of art, both because it is, I think, singularly fascinating in itself, and because it reflects with striking fidelity the religious developments of the time. When the organs of a belief are entirely changed, it may be assumed that there is some corresponding change in the modes of thought of which they are the expression; and it cannot be too often repeated, that before printing was invented, and while all conceptions were grossly anthropomorphic, the true course of ecclesiastical history is to be sought much more in the works of the artists than of the theologians. It is now admitted by most competent judges, that the true causes of the Reformation are to be found in the deep change effected in the intellectual habits of Europe by that revival of learning which began about the twelfth century in the renewed study of the Latin classics, and reached its climax after the fall of Constantinople in the diffusion of the knowledge of Greek and of the philosophy of Plato by the Greek exiles. This revival ultimately produced a condition of religious feeling which found its expression in some countries in Prot estantism, and in other countries in the prevalence among the educated classes of a diluted and rationalistic Catholicism entirely different from the gross and absorbing superstition of the middle ages. Which of these two forms was adopted in any particular country depended upon many special political or social, or even geographical considerations; but, wherever the intellectual movement was strongly felt, one or other appeared. It is surely a remarkable coincidence, that while the literature of antiquity was thus on a large scale modifying the mediæval modes of thought, the ancient sculptures should on a smaller scale have exercised a corresponding influence upon the art that was their expression. And, although the æsthetic movement was necessarily confined to the upper classes and to the countries in which civilisation was most prominent, it represented faithfully a tendency that in different forms was still more widely displayed. It represented the gradual destruction of the ascendency which the Church had once exercised over every department of intellect, the growing difference in realised belief between the educated and the ignorant, and the gradual disappearance of anthropomorphic or idolatrous conceptions among the former.
The aspect, however, of the subject which is peculiarly significant, is, I think, to be found in the nature of the transition which religious art underwent. The sense of beauty gradually encroached upon and absorbed the feeling of reverence. This is a form of religious decay which is very far from being coufined to the history of art. The religion of one age is often the poetry of the next. Around every living and operative faith there lies a region of allegory and of imagination into which opinions frequently pass, and is which they long retain a transfigured and idealised existence after their natural life has died away. They are, as it were, deflected. They no longer tell directly and forcibly upon human actions. They no longer produce terror, inspire hopes, awake passions, or mould the characters of men; yet they still exercise a kind of reflex influence, and form part of the ornamental culture of the age. They are turned into allegories. They are interpreted in a non-natural sense. They are invested with a fanciful, poetic, but most attractive garb. They follow instead of controlling the current of thought, and being transformed by far-fetched and ingenious explanations, they become the embellishments of systems of belief that are wholly irreconcilable with their original tendencies. The gods of heathenism were thus translated from the sphere of religion to the sphere of poetry. The grotesque legends and the harsh doctrines of a superstitious faith are so explained away, that they appear graceful myths foreshadowing and illustrating the conceptions of a brighter day. For a time they flicker upon the horizon with a softly beautiful light that enchants the poet, and lends a charm to the new system with which they are made to blend; but at last this too fades away. Religious ideas die like the sun; their last rays, possessing little heat, are expended in creating beauty.
There can be no question that the steady tendency of the European mind, not merely in the period that elapsed between the revival of learning in the twelfth century and the Reformation, but also in that between the Reformation and our own day, has been to disengage itself more and more from all the conceptions which are connected either with fetishism or with anthropomorphism. The evidence of this meets us on all sides. We find it among the Catholics, in the steady increase in Catholic countries of a purely rationalistic public opinion, in the vast multiplication of rationalistic writings, and also in the profound difference in the degree of reverence attached even by fervent Catholics to images and talismans, in cities like Paris, which are in the centre of the intellactual movement of the age, and in cities like Seville or Naples, which have long been excluded from it. Among the Protestants the same tendency is displayed with equal force in the rapid destruction of what is termed the sacramentarian principle. This is manifest in the steady and almost silent evanescence of that doctrine of consubstantiation which was once asserted with such extreme emphasis as the distinctive mark of the great Lutheran sect, but which is now scarcely held, or if held is scarcely insisted on;1 in the decadence of the High Church party, which in the seventeenth century comprised the overwhelming majority of the Anglican clergy, but which in the nineteenth century, notwithstanding a concurrence of favourable circumstances and the exertions of a leader of extraordinary genius, never included more than a minority;2 in the constant alteration of the proportion between Anglicans and Dissenters, to the detriment of the former; and in the rapid development of continental Protestantism into rationalism.
The dominating cause of this movement is, as I have said, to be found mainly in that process of education which is effected by the totality of the influences of education, and which produces both a capacity and a disposition to rise above material conceptions, and to sublimate all portions of belief. There is, however, one separate branch of knowledge which has exercised such a deep, and at the same time such a distinct, influence upon it, that it requires a separate notice. I mean the progress of physical science modifying our notions of the government of the universe.
In the early Church the interests of theology were too absorbing to leave any room for purely secular studies. If scientific theories were ever discussed, it was simply with a view to elucidating some theological question, and the controversy was entirely governed by the existing notions of inspiration. On this subject two doctrines prevailed, which did not by any means exclude each other, but were both somewhat different from those that are now professed—one of them being allegorical, the other intensely literal. The first, which had been extremely popular among the Jewish commentators, rested upon the belief, that besides the direct and manifest meaning of a scriptural narrative, which was to be ascertained by the ordinary modes of exegesis, there was an occult meaning, which could be discovered only by the eye of faith, or at all events by human ingenuity guided by the defined doctrines of the Church. Thus, while the historian was apparently relating a very simple narrative, or enforcing a very simple truth, his real and primary object might be to unfold some Christian mystery, of which all the natural objects he mentioned were symbols.
This notion, which in modern times has been systematised and developed with great ingenuity by Swedenborg in his ‘Doctrine of Correspondences,’ was the origin of many of those extremely far-fetched, and, as they would now appear, absurd interpretations of Scripture that are so numerous in the Fathers, and several of which I have already had occasion to notice. Supposing it to be true, a very important question arose concerning the comparative authority of the historical and the spiritual meanings.
Origen, as is well known, made the principle of allegorical interpretation the basis of a system of freethinking, sometimes of the boldest character. Manichæism having violently assailed the Mosaic cosmogony, he cordially accepted the assault as far as it was directed against the literal interpretation, turned into absolute ridicule, as palpable fables, the stories of the serpent and the trees of life and of knowledge, and contended that they could only be justified as allegories representing spiritual truths.1 Origen, however, verged far too closely upon heresy to be regared as a representative of the Church; and the prevailing though not very clearly defined opinion among the orthodox seems to have been, that the literal and the allegorical interpretations should be both retained.
Perhaps the clearest illustration of this doctrine is to be found in a short treatise of St. Augustine in defence of Genesis against the Manichæans, which is very remarkable when we remember that its author was not more distinguished for his great abilities than for the precision and logical character of his mind. In this work, St. Augustine reviews and answers at length the objections which the Manichæans had brought against each separate portion of the six days' work. Having done this, he proceeds to lay down the principle, that besides the literal meaning, there was a spiritual meaning which was veiled in the form of allegory. Thus the record of the six days' creation contained, not merely a description of the first formation of the material world, but also a prophetic sketch of the epochs into which the history of mankind was to be divided; the sixth day being the Christian dispensation, in which the man and woman, or Christ and the Church, were to appear upon earth.1 Nor did it foreshadow less clearly the successive stages of the Christian life. First of all, the light of faith streams upon the mind which is still immersed in the waves of sin; then the firmament of discipline divides things carnal from things spiritual; then the regenerated soul is raised above the things of earth, and prepared for the production of virtue; spiritual intelligences rise like the planets in their various orders in the firmament of discipline, good works spring from the waves of trial as the fish from the sea, the purified mind itself produces its own graces, till, sanctified thought being wedded to sanctified action, as Eve to Adam, the soul is prepared for its coming rest.1 In the same way, when the serpent was condemned to creep along the earth, this meant that temptation comes commonly by pride and sensuality.2 When it was condemned to eat earth, this probably signified the vice of curiosity, plunging into the unseen. When it is related that there was a time when no rain fell upon the earth, but that a mist, rising from the ground, watered its face, this means that prophets and apostles were once unnecessary, for every man bore the spring of revelation in his own breast. The literal narrative was true, and so was the spiritual signification; but if in the first anything was found which could not be literally interpreted in a manner consonant either with the doctrines of the Church or with the dignity of the Creator, the passage was to be treated as an enigma, and its true purport was to be sought in the spiritual meaning.3 Some touches of description were inserted solely with a view to that meaning. Thus, when in the summary of the creation that is said to have been effected in one day which was really effected in six, and when the ‘green herbs’ are specially singled out among created things, these expressions, which, taken literally, would be pointless or inaccurate, are intended merely to direct the mind to particular portions of the allegory.
Together with the method of interpretation laid down in this and in other works of the early Church, there was another different, though, as I have said, not necessarily antagonistic one, of an intensely literal character. Theologians were accustomed to single out any incidental expressions that might be applied in any way to scientific theories, even though they were simply the metaphors of poetry or rhetoric, or the ordinary phrases of common conversation, and to interpret them as authoritative declarations, superseding all the deductions of mere worldly science. The best known example of this is to be found in those who condemned the opinions of Galileo, because it had been said that the ‘sun runneth about from one end of heaven to the other,’ and that ‘the foundations of the earth are so firmly fixed that they cannot be moved.’ It may be well, however, to give an illustration of an earlier date of the extent to which this mode of interpretation was carried.
Among the very few scientific questions which occupied a considerable amount of attention in the early Church, one of the most remarkable was that concerning the existence of the Antipodes. The Manichæans had chanced to stumble on the correct doctrine,1 and consequently the Fathers opposed it. Although, however, the leaders of the Church were apparently unanimous in denying the existence of the Antipodes, it appears that the contrary opinion had spread to a considerable extent among the less noted Christians, and some fear was entertained lest it should prove a new heresy.
About the year A.D. 535, in the reign of Justinian, there was living in a monastery of Alexandria an old monk named Cosmas, to whom the eyes of many were then turned. He had been in his youth a merchant, and in that profession had travelled much, especially in the regions of India and of Ethiopia. He was also noticed for his keen and inquisitive mind, and for his scientific attainments, and since he had embraced a religious life he had devoted himself zealously to the relations between Scripture and science. At the earnest request of some of the theologians of his time, he determined, though now somewhat broken in health, and suffering especially, as he tells us, from ‘a certain dryness both of the eyes and of the stomach,’ to employ the remainder of his life in the composition of a great work, which was not only to refute the ‘anile fable’ of the Antipodes, but was to form a complete system of the universe, based upon the teaching of Revelation.
This book is called the ‘Topographia Christiana,’ or ‘Christian Opinion concerning the World.’1 Independently of its main interest, as probably the most elaborate work on the connection between science and the Bible which the early Church has bequeathed us, it is extremely curious on account of its many digressions concerning life and manners in the different nations Cosmas had visited. It opens with a tone of great confidence. It is ‘a Christian topography of the universe, established by demonstrations from Divine Scripture, concerning which it is not lawful for a Christian to doubt.’2 In a similar strain the writer proceeds to censure with great severity those weak-minded Christians who had allowed the subtleties of Greek fables, or the deceitful glitter of mere human science, to lead them astray, forgetting that Scripture contained intimations of the nature of the universe of far higher value and authority than any to which unassisted man could attain, and seeking to frame their conceptions simply by the deductions of their reason. Such, Cosmas assures us, is not the course he would pursue. ‘To the law and to the testimony’ was his appeal, and he doubted not that he could evolve from their pages a system far more correct than any that pagan wisdom could attain.
The system of the universe of which remarks to this effect form the prelude may be briefly stated. According to Cosmas, the world is a flat parallelogram. Its length, which should be measured from east to west, is the double of its breadth, which should be measured from north to south. In the centre is the earth we inhabit, which is surrounded by the ocean, and this again is encircled by another earth, in which men lived before the deluge, and from which Noah was transported in the ark. To the north of the world is a high conical mountain, around which the sun and moon continually revolve. When the sun is hid behind the mountain, it is night; when it is on our side of the mountain, it is day. To the edges of the outer earth the sky is glued. It consists of four high walls rising to a great height and then meeting in a vast concave roof, thus forming an immense edifice of which our world is the floor. This edifice is divided into two stories by the firmament which is placed between the earth and the roof of the sky. A great ocean is inserted in the side of the firmament remote from the earth. This is what is signified by the waters that are above the firmament. The space from these waters to the roof of the sky is allotted to the blest; that from the firmament to our earth to the angels, in their character of ministering spirits.
The reader will probably not regard these opinions as prodigies of scientific wisdom; but the point with which we are especially concerned is the manner they were arrived at. In order to show this, it will be necessary to give a few samples of the arguments of Cosmas.
In the account of the six days’ creation, it will be remembered the whole work is summed up in a single sentence, ‘This is the book of the generation of the heaven and the earth.’ These expressions are evidently intended to comprise everything that is contained in the heaven and the earth. But, as Cosmas contended, if the doctrine of the Antipodes were correct, the sky would surround and consequently contain the earth, and therefore it would only be said, ‘This is the book of the generation of the sky.’1 This very simple argument was capable of great extension, for there was scarcely any sacred writer who had not employed the phrase ‘the heaven and the earth’ to include the whole creation, and who had not thus implied that one of them did not include the other. Abraham, David, Hosea, Isaiah, Zachariah, and many others, were cited. Even Melchisedec had thus uttered his testimony against the Antipodes. If we examine the subject a little further, we are told that the earth is fixed firmly upon its foundations, from which we may at least infer that it is not suspended in the air; and we are told by St. Paul, that all men are made to live upon the ‘face of the earth,’ from which it clearly follows that they do not live upon more faces than one, or upon the back. With such a passage before his eyes, a Christian, we are told, should not ‘even speak of the Antipodes.’
Such arguments might be considered a conclusive demonstration of the falseness of the Manichæan doctrine. It remained to frame a correct theory to fill its place. The first great point of illumination that meets us in this task, consists in the fact that St. Paul more than once speaks of the earth as a tabernacle. From this comparison some theologians, and Cosmas among the number, inferred that the tabernacle of Moses was an exact image of our world. This being admitted, the paths of science were greatly simplified. The tabernacle was a parallelogram twice as long from east to west as from north to south, and covered over as a room. Two remarkable passages, mistranslated in the Septuagint, in one of which Isaiah is made to compare the heavens to a vault, and in the other of which Job speaks of the sky as glued to the earth, completed the argument,1 and enabled the writer to state it almost with the authority of an article of faith.2
It is easy to perceive how fatal such systems of interpretation must have been to scientific progress. It is indeed true that Cosmas belongs to a period when the intellectual decadence was already begun, that he was himself a writer of no very great abilities, and that some of the more eminent Fathers had treated the subject of the Antipodes with considerable good sense, contending that it was not a matter connected with salvation.3 But still, from the very beginning, the principles of which this book forms an extreme example were floating through the Church. The distinction between theology and science was entirely unfelt. The broad truth which repeated experience has now impressed on almost every unprejudiced student, that it is perfectly idle to quote a passage from the Bible as a refutation of any discovery of scientific men, or to go to the Bible for information on any scientific subject, was altogether undreamed of;1 and in exact proportion to the increase of European superstition did the doctrine of inspiration dilate, till it crushed every department of the human intellect. Thus, when in the middle of the eighth century an Irish saint, named St. Virgilius, who was one of the very few men who then cultivated profane sciences, ventured in Bavaria to assert the existence of the Antipodes, the whole religious world was thrown into a paroxysm of indignation, St. Boniface heading the attack, and Pope Zachary, at least for a time, encouraging it. At last men sailed for the Antipodes, and they then modified their theological opinions on the subject. But a precisely similar contest recurred when the Copernican system was promulgated. Although the discovery of Copernicus was at first uncensured, and his book—which was published in 1543—dedicated to Pope Paul III., as soon as its views had acquired some weight among the learned, the suspicions of the Roman theologians were aroused, and the opinion of the motion of the earth was authoritatively censured, first of all in the persons of Copernicus and two of his disciples,1 and seventeen years later in the condemnation and imprisonment of Galileo.
It is, indeed, marvellous that science should ever have revived amid the fearful obstacles theologians cast in her way. Together with a system of biblical interpretation so stringent, and at the same time so capricious, that it infallibly came into collision with every discovery that was not in accordance with the unaided judgments of the senses, and therefore with the familiar expressions of the Jewish writers, everything was done to cultivate a habit of thought the direct opposite of the habits of science. The constant exaltation of blind faith, the countless miracles, the childish legends, all produced a condition of besotted igrorance, of grovelling and trembling credulity, that can scarcely be paralleled except among the most degraded barbarians. Innovation of every kind was regarded as a crime; superior knowledge excited only terror and suspicion. If it was shown in speculation, it was called heresy. If it was shown in the study of nature, it was called magic. The dignity of the Popedom was unable to save Gerbert from the reputation of a magician,1 and the magnificent labours of Roger Bacon were repaid by fourteen years of imprisonment, and many others of less severe but unremitting persecution. Added to all this, the overwhelming importance attached to theology diverted to it all those intellects which in another condition of society would have been employed in the investigations of science. When Lord Bacon was drawing his great chart of the field of knowledge, his attention was forcibly drawn to the torpor of the middle ages. That the mind of man should so long have remained tranced and numbed, seemed, at first sight, an objection to his theories, a contradiction to his high estimate of human faculties. But his answer was prompt and decisive. A theological system had lain like an incubus upon Christendom, and to its influence, more than to any other single cause, the universal paralysis is to be ascribed.1
At last the revival of learning came, the regeneration of physical science speedily followed it, and it soon effected a series of most important revolutions in our conceptions.
The first of these was to shake the old view of the position of man in the universe. To an uncivilised man, no proposition appears more self-evident than that our world is the great central object of the universe. Around it the sun and moon appear alike to revolve, and the stars seem but inconsiderable lights destined to garnish its firmament. From this conception there naturally followed a crowd of superstitions which occupy a conspicuous place in the belief of every early civilisation. Man being the centre of all things, every startling phenomenon has some bearing upon his acts. The eclipse, the comet, the meteor, and the tempest, are all intended for him. The whole history of the universe centres upon him, and all the dislocations and perturbations it exhibits are connected with his history.2
The science which especially corrects these notions is astronomy, but for a considerable period it rather aggravated them, for it was at first inseparably blended with astrology. It is an extremely ingenious and, at least as far as the period of the revival of learning is concerned, an extremely just observation of M. Comte, that this last study marks the first systematic effort to frame a philosophy of history by reducing the apparently capricious phenomena of human actions within the domain of law.1 It may, however, I think, be no less justly regarded as one of the last struggles of human egotism against the depressing sense of insignificance which the immensity of the universe must produce. And certainly it would be difficult to imagine any conception more calculated to exalt the dignity of man than one which represents the career of each individual as linked with the march of worlds, the focus towards which the influences of the most sublime of created things continually converge.2 But, notwithstanding this temporary aberration, there can be no doubt of the eventual tendency of a science which proves that our world is but an infinitesimal fraction in creation, and which, by demonstrating its motion, shows that it is as undistinguished by its position as by its magnitude. The mental importance of such a discovery can hardly be overrated. Those who regard our earth as the centre of the material universe will always attribute to it a similar position in the moral scheme; and when the falsehood of the first position is demonstrated, the second appears incongruous or a difficulty.1
It has been reserved for the present century and for a new science to supplement the discovery of Copernicus and Galileo by another which has not yet been fully realised, but is no doubt destined to exercise a commanding influence over all future systems of belief: I mean the discoveries of geology relating to the preadamite history of the globe. To those who regard the indefinite as the highest conception of the infinite, the revelation of etornity is written on the rocks, as the revelation of immensity upon the stars. But to more scientific minds the most important effect of geology has not been that it throws back to an incalculable distance the horizon of creation, nor yet that it has renovated and transformed all the early interpretations of the Mosaic cosmogony; but that it has conclusively disproved what was once the universal belief concerning the origin of death. That this fearful calamity appeared in the universe on account of the transgression of man, that every pang that convulses the frame of any created being, every passion or instict stinct or necessity that contributes to the infliction of suffering, is but the fruit of the disobedience in Paradise, was long believed with unfaltering assurance, and is even now held by many who cannot be regarded as altogether uneducated. And this general proposition became a great arche type, a centre around which countless congenial beliefs were formed, a first principle or measure of probability guiding the predispositions of men in all their enquiries. If all death and all pain resulted from the sin of Adam, it was natural to give every particular instance of death or pain a special signification; and if these the greatest of terrestrial imperfections were connected with the history of man, it was natural to believe that all minor evils were no less so. But geology has now proved decisively that a profound error lurks in these conclusions. It has proved that countless ages before man trod this earth death raged and revelled among its occupants; that it so entered into the original constitution of things, that the agony and the infirmity it implies were known as at present when the mastodon and the dinotherium were the rulers of the world. To deny this is now impossible: to admit it is to abandon one of the root-doctrines of the past.
A second kind of influence which scientific discoveries have exercised upon belief, has been the gradual substitution of the conception of law for that of supernatural intervention. This substitution I have already had occasion to refer to more than once; but I trust the reader will pardon me for reverting to it for a moment, in order to show with more precision than I have hitherto done the extent and nature of the change. It is the especial characteristic of uncivilised men that their curiosity and, still more, their religious sentiments, are very rarely excited by those phenomena which fall obviously within the range of natural laws, while they are keenly affected by all which appear abnormal. It is indeed true that this expression ‘natural law’ has to the uncivilised man only a very vague and faint signification, that he has no conception of the close connection subsisting between dif ferent classes of phenomena, and that he frequently attrib utes each department even of those which are most regular to the action of special presiding spirits; yet still certain phenomena are recognised as taking place in regular sequences, while others appear capricious, and the latter aro associated especially with Divine intervention. Thus comets, meteors, and atmospheric phenomena were connected with religious ideas long after the sun and the stars. Thus, too, games of chance were from a very early period prohibited, not simply on account of the many evils that result from them, but as a species of blasphemy, being an appeal on trivial matters to the adjudication of the Deity.1 Man being unable to calculate how the die will fall, it was believed that this is determined by a Divine interposition, and accordingly the casting of lots became one of the favourite means of approaching the Deity.2
From this habit of associating religious feelings chiefly with the abnormal, two very important consequences ensued, one of them relating to science and the other to theology In the first place, as long as abnormal and capricious phe nomena are deemed the direct acts of the Deity, all attempts to explain them by science will be discouraged; for such attempts must appear an irreverent prying into the Divine acts, and, if successful, they diminish the sources of religious emotion.1 In the second place, it is evident that the conception of the Deity in an early period of civilisation must be essentially different from that in a later period. The consciousness of the Divine presence in an unscientific age is identified with the idea of abnormal and capricious action; in a scientific age with that of regular and unbroken law. The forms of religious emotions being wholly different, the conceptions of the Deity around which they centre must be equally so. The one conception consists mainly of the ideas of interference, of miracle, of change, and of caprice; the other of regularity, of immutability, and of prescience. The one conception predisposes most to prayer, the other to reverence and admiration.
The first science that rose to perfection at the period I am referring to was astronomy, which early attained a great prominence on account of the revival of astrology that had been produced in the fourteenth century by the renewed study of the works of pagan antiquity, and perhaps still more by the profound influence the Arabian intellect then exercised on Christendom. The great work of Copernicus, the almost simultaneous appearance of Kepler, Galileo, and Tycho Brahe, and the invention and rapid improvement of the telescope, soon introduced the conception of natural law into what had long been the special realm of superstition. The Theory of Vortices of Descartes, although it is now known to have no scientific value, had, as has been truly said, a mental value of the very highest order, for it was the first attempt to form a system of the universe by natural law and without the intervention of spiritual agents.1 Previously the different motions of the heavenly bodies had been for the most part looked upon as isolated, and the popular belief was that they as well as all atmospheric changes were effected by angels.2 In the Talmud a special angel was assigned to every star and to every element, and similar notions were general throughout the middle ages.3 The belief in the existence of a multitude of isolated and capricious phenomena naturally suggested the belief in angels to account for them; and on the other hand, the association of angels with phenomena that obtruded themselves constantly on the attention produced a vivid sense of angelic presence, which was shown in countless legends of angellic manifestations. All this passed away before the genius of Descartes and of Newton. The reign of law was recognised as supreme, and the conceptions that grew out of the earlier notion of the celestial system waned and vanished.
For a long time, however, comets continued to be the refuge of the dying superstition. Their rarity, the eccen tricity of their course, the difficulty of ascertaining their nature, and the grandeur and terror of their aspect, had all contributed to impress men with an extraordinary sense of their supernatural character. From the earliest ages they had been regarded as the precursors of calamity, and men being accustomed to regard them in that light, a vast mass of evidence was soon accumulated in support of the belief. It was shown that comets had preceded the death of such rulers as Cæsar, or Constantine the Great, or Charles V. Comets were known to have appeared before the invasion of Greece by Xerxes, before the Peloponnesian war, before the civil wars of Cæsar and Pompey, before the fall of Jerusalem, before the invasion of Attila, and before a vast number of the greatest famines and pestilences that have afflicted mankind.1 Many hundreds of cases of this kind were collected, and they furnished an amount of evidence which was quite sufficient to convince even somewhat sceptical minds, at a time when the supernatural character of comets, harmonising with the prevailing notions of the government of the universe, appeared antecedently probable. Some theologians indeed, while fully acknowledging the ominous character of these apparitions, attempted to explain them in a somewhat rationalistic manner. According to their view, comets were masses of noxious vapour exhaled—some said from the earth, and others from the sky, which by tainting the atmosphere produced pestilence. Kings were indeed especially liable to succumb beneath this influence, but this was only because their labours and their luxurious habits rendered them weaker than other men.1 Usually, however, comets were simply regarded as supernatural warnings sent to prognosticate calamity. Two or three great men made vain efforts to shake the belief. Thus, during one of the panics occasioned by a great comet, Paracelsus wrote forcibly against the popular notions,2 which he assailed on theological grounds as forming a species of fatalism, and as being inconsistent with the belief in Providence. In the midst of a similar panic in 1680, Bayle made a similar effort, but, in obedience to the spirit of the age, he adopted not a theological but a philosophical point of view. He displayed with consummate skill the weakness of a process of reasoning which rested on an arbitrary selection of chance coincidences, and he made the subject the text for one of the very best books that have ever been written on the gradual consolidadation of superstitions.3 But theology and philosophy were alike impotent till science appeared to assist them. Halley predicted the revolution of comets, and they were at once removed to the domain of law, and one of the most ancient of human superstitions was destroyed.
The process which took place in astronomy furnishes but a single though perhaps an extreme example of that which, in the seventeenth century, took place in every field of science. Everywhere the rapid conquests of the new spirit were substituting the idea of natural law for that of super natural interference, and persuading men that there must be a natural solution even where they were unable to discover it. The writings of Bacon, although their influence has, I think, been considerably exaggerated, partly through national pride, and partly because men have accepted too readily the very unfair judgments Bacon expressed of his contemporaries,1 probably contributed more than any other single cause to guide the movement, and have, in England at least, become almost supreme. Chemistry disengaged itself from alchemy, as astronomy had done from astrology. The Academy del Cimento was established in Tuscany in 1657, the Royal Society in London in 1660, and the Academy of Sciences in Paris in 1666. The many different sciences that were simultaneously cultivated not merely rescued many distinct departments of nature from superstition, but also by their continual convergence produced the conception of one all-embracing scheme of law, taught men habitually to associate the Divine presence with order rather than with miracle, and accustomed them to contemplete with admiring reverence the evidence of design displayed in the minutest animalcule and in the most shortlived ephemera, and also the evidence of that superintending care which adapts a sphere of happiness for the weakest of created beings.
A very important consequence of this change was that theological systems lost much of their harsh and gloomy character. As long as men drew their notions of the Deity from what they regarded as the abnormal, their attention was chiefly concentrated upon disasters, for these are for the most part exceptional, while the principal sources of happiness are those which are most common. Besides, it is one of the most unamiable characteristics of human nature that it is always more impressed by terror than by gratitude. Accordingly, the devotion of our ancestors was chiefly connected with storms and pestilences and famine and death, which were regarded as penal inflictions, and consequently created an almost maddening terror. All parts of belief assumed a cougenial hue, till the miserable condition of man and the frightful future that awaited him became the central ideas of theology. But this, which in an early phase of civilisation was perfectly natural, soon passed away when modern science acquired an ascendency over theological developments; for the attention of men was then directed chiefly to those multitudinous contrivances which are designed for the wellbeing of all created things, while the terrorism once produced by the calamities of life was at least greatly diminished when they were shown to be the result of general laws interwoven with the whole system of the globe, and many of which had been in operation before the creation of man.
Another branch of scientific progress which I may notice on account of its influence upon speculative opinions, is the apid growth of a morphological conception of the universe. According to the great philosophers of the seventeenth century, our world was a vast and complicated mechanism called into existence and elaborated instantaneously in all its parts by the creative fiat of the Deity. In the last century, however, and still more in the present century, the progress of chemistry, the doctrine of the interchange and indestructibility of forces, and the discoveries of geology, have greatly altered this conception. Without entering into such questions as that of the mutability of species, which is still pending, and which the present writer would be altogether incompetent to discuss, it will be admitted that in at least a large proportion of the departments of science, the notion of constant transformation, constant progress under the influence of natural law from simple to elaborate forms, has become dominant. The world itself, there is much reason to believe, was once merely a vapour, which was gradually condensed and consolidated, and its present condition represents the successive evolutions of countless ages. This conception, which exhibits the universe rather as an organism than a mechanism, and regards the complexities and adaptations it displays rather as the results of gradual development from within than of an interference from without, is so novel, and at first sight so startling, that many are now shrinking from it with alarm, under the impression that it destroys the argument from design, and almost amounts to the negation of a Supreme Intelligence. But there can, I think, be little doubt that such fears are, for the most part, unfounded.1 That matter is governed by mind, that the contrivances and elaborations of the universe are the products of intelligence, are propositions which are quite unshaken, whether we regard these contrivances as the results of a single momentary exercise of will, or of a slow, consistent, and regulated evolution. The proofs of a pervading and developing intelligence, and the proofs of a coördinating and combining intelligence, are both untouched, nor can any conceivable progress of science in this direction destroy them. If the famous suggestion, that all animal and vegetable life results from a single vital germ, and that all the different animals and plants now existent were developed by a natural process of evolution from that germ, were a demonstiated truth, we should still be able to point to the evidences of intelligence displayed in the measured and progressive development, in those exquisite forms so different from what blind chance could produce, and in the manifest adaptation of surrounding circumstances to the living creature, and of the living creature to surrounding circumstances. The argument from design would indeed be changed, it would require to be stated in a new form, but it would be fully as cogent as before. Indeed it is, perhaps, not too much to say, that the more fully this conception of universal evolution is grasped, the more firmly a scientific doctrine of Providence will be established, and the stronger will be the presumption of a future progress.
The effects of this process which physical science is now undergoing are manifested very clearly in the adjacent field of history, in what may be termed the morphological conception of opinions—that is to say, in the belief that there is a law of orderly and progressive transformation to which our speculative opinions are subject, and the causes of which are to be sought in the general intellectual condition of society. As the main object of this whole book is to illustrate the nature and progress of this conception, it is not necessary to dwell upon it at present, and I advert to it simply for the purpose of showing its connection with the discoveries of science.
It will be remarked, that in this as in most other cases the influence physical sciences have exercised over speculative opinions has not been of the nature of a direct logical proof displacing an old belief, but rather the attracting in fluence of a new analogy. As I have already had occasions to observe, an impartial examination of great transitions of opinions will show that they have been effected not by the force of direct arguments, not by such reasons as those which are alleged by controversialists and recorded in creeds, but by a sense of the incongruity or discordance of the old doctrines with other parts of our knowledge. Each man assimilates the different orders of his ideas. There must always be a certain keeping or congruity or analogy between them. The general measure of probability determines belief and it is derived from many departments of knowledge. Hence it is that whenever the progress of enquiry introduces a new series of conceptions into physical science, which represents one aspect of the relations of the Deity to man, these conceptions, or at least something like them, are speedily transferred to theology, which represents another.
It must, however, be acknowledged, that there are some influences resulting from physical science which are deeply to be deplored, for they spring neither from logical arguments nor from legitimate analogies, but from misconceptions that are profoundly imbedded in our belief, or from fallacies into which our minds are too easily betrayed. The increased evidence of natural religion furnished by the innumerable marks of creative or coördinating wisdom which science reveals, can hardly be over-estimated,1 nor can it be reasonably questioned that a world governed in all its parts by the interaction of fixed natural laws implies a higher degree of designing skill than a chaos of fortuitous influences irradiated from time to time by isolated acts of spiritual intervention. Yet still so generally is the idea of Divine action restricted to that of miracle, that every discovery assigning strange phenomena their place in the symmetry of nature has to many minds an irreligious appearance; which is still further strengthened by the fact, that while physical science acquiesces in the study of laws as the limit of its research, even scientific men sometimes forget that the discovery of law is not an adequate solution of the problem of causes. When all the motions of the heavenly bodies have been reduced to the dominion of gravitation, gravitation itself still remains an insoluble problem. Why it is that matter attracts matter, we do not know—we perhaps never shall know. Science can throw much light upon the laws that preside over the development of life; but what life is, and what is its ultimate cause, we are utterly unable to say. The mind of man, which can track the course of the comet and measure the velocity of light, has hitherto proved incapable of explaining the existence of the minutest insect or the growth of the most humble plant. In grouping phenomena, in ascertaining their sequences and their analogies, its achievements have been marvellous; in discovering ultimate causes it has absolutely failed. An impenetrable mystery lies at the root of every existing thing. The first principle, the dynamic force, the vivifying power, the efficient causes of those successions which we term natural laws, elude the utmost efforts of our research. The scalpel of the anatomist and the analysis of the chemist are here at fault. The microscope, which reveals the traces of all-pervading, all-ordaining intelligence in the minutest globule, and displays a world of organised and living beings in a grain of dust, supplies no solution of the problem. We know nothing or next to nothing of the relations of mind to matter, either in our own persons or in the world that is around us; and to suppose that the progress of natural science eliminates the conception of a first cause from creation, by supplying natural explanations, is completely to ignore the sphere and limits to which it is confined.
It must be acknowledged also, that as the increasing sense of law appears to many the negation of the reality or at all events of the continuity of the Divine action, so an in creased sense of the multiplicity of the effects of matter not unfrequently leads to a negation of the existence of mind. The mathematician ridiculed by Berkeley who maintained that the soul must be extension, and the fiddler who was convinced that it must be harmony, are scarcely exaggerated representatives of the tendency manifested by almost every one who is much addicted to a single study to explain by it all the phencmena of existence. Nearly every science when it has first arisen has had to contend with two great obstacles —with the unreasoning incredulity of those who regard novelty as necessarily a synonyme for falsehood, and with the unrestrained enthusiasm of those who, perceiving vaguely and dimly a new series of yet undefined discoveries opening upon mankind, imagine that they will prove a universal solvent. It is said that when, after long years of obstinate disbelief, the reality of the great discovery of Harvey dawned upon the medical world, the first result was a school of medicine which regarded man simply as an hydraulic machine, and found the principle of every malady in imperfections of circulation.1 The same history has been continually reproduced. That love of symmetry which makes men impatient to reduce all phenomena to a single cause, has been the parent of some of the noblest discoveries, but it has also, by the imperfect classifications it has produced, been one of the most prolific sources of human error. In the present day, when the study of the laws of matter has assumed an extraordinary development, and when the relations between the mind and the body are chiefly investigated with a primary view to the functions of the latter, it is neither surprising nor alarming that a strong movement towards materialism should be the consequence.
But putting aside these illegitimate consequences, it appears that in addition to the general effects of intellectual development upon theological opinions in enabling men more readily to conceive the invisible, and thus rescuing them from idolatry, and in enabling them to spiritualise and elevate their ideal, and thus emancipating them from anthropomorphism, that particular branch of intellectual progress which is comprised under the name of physical science has exercised a distinct and special influence, which has been partly logical, but more generally the assinilating influence of analogy. It has displaced man's early conception of the position of his world in the universe, and of the relation of the catastrophes it exhibits to his history. It has substituted a sense of law for a predisposition to the miraculous, and taught men to associate the Deity with the normal rather than with the abnormal. It has in a great degree divested calamity of its penal character, multiplied to an incalculable extent the evidences of the Divine beneficence, and at the same time fostered a notion of ordered growth which has extended from the world of matter to the world of mind.
These have been its chief effects upon belief. It has also exercised a considerable influence upon the systems of Biblical interpretation by which that belief is expressed. The first great impulse to Rationalistic Biblical criticism was probably given by the antagonism that was manifested between the discovery of Galileo and Scripture as it was interpreted by the host of theologians who argued after the fashion of Cosmas. New facts were discovered and therefore a new system of interpretation was required, and men began to apply their critical powers to the sacred writings for the purpose of bringing them into conformity with opinions that had been arrived at independently by the reason. Each new discovery of science that bore upon any Scriptural question, each new order of tendencies evoked by the advance of civilisation, produced a repetition of the same process.
Probably the earliest very elaborate example of this kind of interpretation was furnished by a French Protestant, named La Peyrère, in a book which was published in 1655.1 The author, who fully admitted though he endeavoured to restrict the sphere of the miraculous, had been struck by some difficulties connected with the ordinary doctrine of Original Sin, and by some points in which science seemed to clash with the assertions of the Old Testament; and he endeavoured to meet them by altogether isolating the Bibl: al history from the general current of human affairs. Adam, he maintained, was not the father of the human race, but simply the progenitor of the Jews, and the whole antediluvian history is only that of a single people. Thus the antiquity which the Eastern nations claimed might be admitted, and the principal difficulties attending the Deluge were dissolved. It was altogether a mistake to suppose that death and sickness and suffering were the consequences of the transgression. Adam had by this act simply incurred spiritual penalties, which descended upon the Jews. ‘In the day thoueatest thou shalt die’ could not have been meant literally, because it was not literally fulfilled; nor could the curse upon the serpent, because the motion of the serpent along the ground is precisely that which its conformation implies. The existence of men who were not of the family of Adam is shadowed obscurely in many passages, but appears decisively in the history of Cain, who feared to wander forth lest men should kill him, and who built a city at a time when, according to the common view, he was almost alone in the world.1 The mingling of the sons of God and the daughters of men means the intermarriage between the two races. The Deluge is an absolute impossibility if regarded as universal, but not at all surprising if regarded as a partial inundation.
Proceeding to the history of a later period, La Peyrère in the first place denies the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. In defence of this position he urges the account of the death of Moses, and he anticipates several of those minute criticisms which in our own day have acquired so great a prominence. The phrase ‘These are the words which Moses spake beyond Jordan,’ the notice of the city which is called ‘Jair to the present day,’ the iron bedstead of Og still shown in Rabbath, the difficulties about the conquest of the Idumeans, and a few other passages, seem to show that the compilation of these books was long posterior to the time of Moses; while certain signs of chronological confusion which they evince render it probable that they are not homogeneous, but are formed by the fusion of several distinct documents. It should be observed, too, that they employ a language of metaphor and of hyperbole which has occasionally given rise to misapprehensions, special instances of providential guidance being interpreted as absolute miracles. Thus, for example, the wool of the Jewish flocks was quite sufficient to furnish materials for clothing in the desert, and the assertion that the clothes of the Jews waxed not old is simply an emphatic expression of that extraordinary providence which preserved them from all want for forty years in the wilderness. At the same time La Peyrère does not deny that the Jewish history is full of miracles, but he maintains very strongly that these were only local, and that the general course of the universe was never disturbed to effect them. The prolongation of the day at the command of Joshua was not produced by any alteration in the course of the earth or sun, but was simply an atmospheric phenomenon such as is sometimes exhibited in the Aretic regions. The darkness at the Crueifixion was also local; the retrogression of the shadow on the sun-dial in the reign of Hezekiah did not result from a disturbance of the order of the heavenly bodies; the light that stood over the oradle of Christ was a meteor, for a star could not possibly mark out with precision a house.
The author of this curious book soon after its publication became a Roman Catholic, and in consequence recanted his opinions, but the school of Biblical interpretation of which he was perhaps the first founder continues actively to the present day. To trace its history in detail does not fall within the plan of the present work. It will be sufficient to say that there are two natural theories by which men have endeavoured to explain the rise of religions, and that each of these theories has in particular ages or countries or conditions of thought exercised a supreme ascendency.1 The first method, which attributes religions to special and isolated causes, found its principal ancient representative in Euhemerus, who maintained that the pagan gods were originally illustrious kings, deified after death either by the spontaneous reverence of the people or by the cunning of the rulers.2 The work of Euhemerus, being translated by Ennius, is said to have contributed largely to that diffusion of scepticism in Rome which preceded the rise of Christianity; and its theory was generally adopted by the Fathers, who, however, added that devils liad assumed the names of the dead.3 To this class of criticism belong also all attempts to explain miracles by imposture, or by optical delusions, or by the misconception of some natural phenomenon, or by any other isolated circumstance. The other method, which is called mythical, and which was adopted among the ancients by the Pythagoreans, the Neo-Platonists, and the Gnostics, regards different dogmatic systoms as embodying religious sentiments or great moral conceptions that are generally diffused among mankind, or as giving a palpable and (so to speak) material form to the aspirations of the societies in which they spring. Thus, while fully admitting that special circumstances have an important influence over the rise of opinions, the interpreters of this school seek the true efficient cause in the general intellectual atmosphere that is prevalent. They do not pretend to explain in detail how different miracles came to be believed, but they assert that in a certain intellectual condition phenomena which are deemed miraculous will always appear, and that the general character of those phenomena will be determined by the prevailing predisposition. The first of these schools of interpretation was general in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and has been especially favoured by nations like the ancient Romans, or like the modern English and French, who are distinguished for a love of precise and definite conclusions; while the second has been most prominent in the present century, and in Germany.
It must, however, be admitted that the energy displayed in framing natural explanations of miraculous phenomena bears no proportion to that which has been exhibited in a sriticism that is purely disintegrating and destructive Spinoza, whose profound knowledge not only of the Hebrew language but also of Rabbinical traditions and of Jewish modes of thought and expression made him peculiarly competent for the task, set the example in his ‘Tractatus Theolo-gico-Politicus,’1 and Germany soon after plunged into the bottomless abyss from which she has not emerged. But the fact which must, I think, especially strike the impartial ob-server, is that these criticisms, in at least the great majority of cases, are carried on with a scarcely disguised purpose of wresting the Bible into conformity with notions that have been independently formed. The two writers who have done most to supply the principles of the movement are Lessing and Kant. The first emphatically asserts that no doctrine should be accepted as part of Scripture which is not in accordance with ‘reason,’ an expression which in the writings of modern German critics may be not unfairly regarded as equivalent to the general scope and tendency of modern thought.2 The doctrine of Kant is still more explicit. According to him3 every dogmatic system, or, as he expresses it, every ‘ecclesiastical belief,’ should be regarded as the vehicle or envelope of ‘pure religion,’ or in other words of those modes of feeling which constitute natural religion. The ecclesiastical belief is necessary, because most men are unable to accept a purely moral belief unless it is as it were materialised and embodied by grosser conceptions. But the ecclesiastical belief being entirely subordinate to pure religion, it followed that it should be interpreted simply with a view to the latter—that is to say, all doctrines and all passages of Scripture should be regarded as intended to convey some moral lesson, and no interpretation, however natural, should be accepted as correct which collides with cur sense of right.
The statement of this doctrine of Kant may remind the reader that in tracing the laws of the religious development of societies I have hitherto dwelt only on one aspect of the subject. I have examined several important intellectual agencies which have effected intellectual changes, but have as yet altogether omitted the laws of moral development. In endeavouring to supply this omission, we are at first met by a school which admits, indeed, that the true essence of all religion is moral, but at the same time denies that there can be in this respect any principle of progress. Nothing, it is said, is so immutable as morals. The difference between right and wrong was always known, and on this subject our conceptions can never be enlarged. But if by the term moral be included not simply the broad difference between acts which are positively virtuous and those which are positively vicious, but also the prevailing ideal or standard of excellence, it is quite certain that morals exhibit as constant a development as intellect, and it is probable that this development has exercised as important an influence upon society. It is one of the most familiar facts that there are certain virtues that are higher than others, and that many of these belong exclusively to a highly developed civilisation.1 Thus, that the love of truth is a virtue is a proposition which, stated simply, would have been probably accepted with equal alacrity in any age; but if we examine the extent to which it is realised, we find a profound difference. We find that in an early period, while all the virtues of an uncompromising partisan are cordially recognised, the higher virtue, which binds men through a love of conscientious enquiry to endeavour to pursue an eclectic course when party and sectarian passions rage fiercely around them, is not only entirely unappreciated, but is almost impossible; that it is even now only recognised by a very few who occupy the eminences of thought; and that it must therefore be recognised by the multitude in proportion as they approach the condition of those few. Thus, the pursuit of virtue for its own sake is undoubtedly a higher excellence than the pursuit of virtue for the sake of attaining reward or avoiding punishment; yet the notion of disinterested virtue belongs almost exclusively to the higher ranks of the most civilised ages, and exactly in proportion as we descend the intellectual scale is it necessary to elaborate the system of rewards and punishments.
Humanity again, in theory, appears to be an unchangeable virtue; but if we examine its applications, we find it constantly changing. Bull-baiting, and bear-baiting, and cock-fighting, and countless amusements of a similar kind, were once the favourite pastimes of Europe, were pursued by all classes, even the most refined and the most humane, and were universally regarded as perfectly legitimate.2 Men of the most distinguished excellence are known to have de lighted in them. Had anyone challenged them as barbarous, his sentiments would have been regarded not simply as absurd but as incomprehensible. There was, no doubt, no Controversy upon the subject.1 Gradually, however, by the silent pressure of civilisation, a profound change passed over public opinion. It was effected, not by any increase of knowledge, or by any process of definite reasoning, but simply by the gradual elevation of the moral standard. Amusements that were once universal passed from the women to the men, from the upper to the lower classes, from the virtuous to the vicious, till at last the Legislature interposed to suppress them, and a thrill of indignation is felt whenever it is discovered that any of them have been practised. The history of the abolition of torture, the history of punishments, the history of the treatment of the conquered in war, the history of slavery—all present us with examples of practices which in one age were accepted as perfectly right and natural, and which in another age were repudiated as palpably and atrociously inhuman. In each case the change was effected much less by any intellectual process than by a certain quickening of the emotions, and consequently of the moral judgments; and if in any country we find practices at all resembling those which existed in England a century ago, we infer with certainty that that country has not received the full amount of civilisation. The code of honour which first represents and afterwards reacts upon the moral standard of each age is profoundly different. The whole type of virtue in a rude warlike people is distinct from that of a refined and peaceful people, and the character which the latter would admire the former would despise. So true is this, that each successive stratum of civilisation brings with it a distinctive variation of the moral type. In the words of one of the very greatest historians of the nineteenth century, ‘If the archaeologist can determine the date of a monument by the form of its capital, with much greater certainty can the psychological historian assign to a specific period a moral act, a predominating passion, or a mode of thought, and can pronounce it to have been impossible in the ages that preceded or that followed. In the chronology of art the same forms have sometimes been reproduced, but in the moral life such a recurrence is impossible: its conceptions are fixed in their eternal place in the fatality of time.’1
There is, however, one striking exception to this law in the occasional appearance of a phenomenon which may be termed moral genius. There arise from time to time men who bear to the moral condition of their age much the same relations as men of genius bear to its intellectual condition. They anticipate the moral standard of a later age, cast abroad conceptions of disinterested virtue, of philanthropy, or of self-denial that seem to have no relation to the spirit of their time, inculcate duties and suggest motives of action that appear to most men altogether chimerical. Yet the magnetism of their perfections tells powerfully upon their contemporaries. An enthusiasm is kindled, a group of adherents is formed, and many are emancipated from the moral condition of their age. Yet the full effects of such a movement are but transient. The first enthusiasm dies away, surrounding circumstances resume their ascendency, the pure faith is materialised, encrusted with conceptions that are alien to its nature, dislocated, and distorted, till its first features have almost disappeared. The moral teaching, being unsuited to the time, becomes inoperative until its appropriate civilisation has dawned; or at most it faintly and imperfectly filters through an accumulation of dogmas, and thus accelerates in some measure the arrival of the condition it requires.
From the foregoing considerations it is not difficult to infer the relations of dogmatic systems to moral principles. In a semi-barbarous period, when the moral faculty or the sense of right is far too weak to be a guide of conduct, dogmatic systems interpose and supply men with motives of action that are suited to their condition, and are sufficient to sustain among them a rectitude of conduct that would otherwise be unknown. But the formation of a moral philosophy is usually the first step of the decadence of religions. Theology, then ceasing to be the groundwork of morals, sinks into a secondary position, and the main source of its power is destroyed. In the religions of Greece and Rome this separation between the two parts of religious systems was carried so far, that the inculcation of morality at last devolved avowedly and exclusively upon the philosophers, while the priests were wholly occupied with soothsaying and expiations.
In the next place, any historical faith, as it is interpreted by fallible men, will contain some legends or doctrines that are contrary to our sense of right. For our highest conception of the Deity is moral excellence, and consequently men always embody their standard of perfection in their religious doctrines; and as that standard is at first extremely imperfect and confused, the early doctrines will exhibit a corresponding imperfection. These doctrines being stereotyped in received formularies for a time seriously obstruct the moral development of society, but at last the opposition to them becomes so strong that they must give way: they are then either violently subverted or permitted to become gradually obsolete.
There is but one example of a religion which is not naturally weakened by civilisation, and that example is Christianity. In all other cases the decay of dogmatic conceptions is tantamount to a complete annihilation of religion; for although there may be imperishable elements of moral truth mingled with those conceptions, they have nothing distinctive or peculiar. The moral truths coalesce with new systems, the men who uttered them take their place with many others in the great pantheon of history, and the religion having discharged its functions is spent and withered. But the great characteristic of Christianity, and the great moral vroof of its divinity, is that it has been the main source of the moral development of Europe, and that it has discharged this office not so much by the inculcation of a system of ethics, however pure, as by the assimilating and attractive influence of a perfect ideal. The moral progress of mankind can never cease to be distinctively and intensely Christian as long as it consists of a gradual approximation to the character of the Christian Founder. There is, indeed, nothing more wonderful in the history of the human race than the way in which that ideal has traversed the lapse of ages, acquiring a new strength and beauty with each advance of civilisation, and infusing its beneficent influence into every sphere of thought and action. At first men sought to grasp by minute dogmatic definitions the divinity they felt. The controversies of the Homoousians or Monophysites or Nestorians or Patripassians, and many others whose very names now sound strange and remote, then filled the Church. Then came the period of visible representations. The handkerchief of Veronica, the portrait of Edessa, the crucifix of Nicodemus, the paintings of St. Luke,1 the image traced by in angel's hand which is still venerated at the Lateran, the countless visions narrated by the saints, show the eagerness with which men sought to realise as a palpable and living image their ideal. This age was followed by that of historical evidences, the age of Sebonde and his followers. Yet more and more with advancing years the moral idea stood out from all dogmatic conceptions; its divinity was recognised by its perfection; and it is no exaggeration to say, that at no former period was it so powerful or so universally acknowledged as at present. This is a phenomenon altogether unique in history; and to those who recognise in the highest type of excellence the highest revelation of the Deity, its importance is too manifest to be overlooked.
I trust the reader will pardon the tedious length to which this examination, which I would gladly have abridged, has extended. For the history of rationalism is quite as much a history of moral as of intellectual development, and any conception of it that ignores the former must necessarily be mutilated and false. Nothing, too, can, as I conceive, be more erroneous or superficial than the reasonings of those who maintain that the moral element of Christianity has in it nothing distinctive or peculiar. The method of this school, of which Bolingbroke may be regarded as the type, is to collect from the writings of different heathen writers certain isolated passages embodying precepts that are inculcated by Christianity; and when the collection had become very large, the task was supposed to be accomplished. But the true originality of a system of moral teaching depends not so much upon the elements of which it is composed, as upon the manner in which they are fused into a symmetrical whole, upon the proportionate value that is attached to different qualities, or, to state the same thing by a single word, upon the type of character that is formed. Now it is quite certain that the Christian type differs not only in degree, but in kind, from the Pagan one.
In applying the foregoing principles to the history of Christian transformations, we should naturally expect three distinct classes of change. The first is the gradual evanes-sence of doctrines that collide with our moral sense. The second is the decline of the influence of those ceremonies, or purely speculative doctrines, which, without being opposed to conscience, are at least wholly beyond its sphere. The third is the substitution of the sense of right for the fear of punishment as the main motive to virtue.
I reserve the consideration of the first of these three changes for the ensuing chapter, in which I shall examine the causes of religious persecution, and shall endeavour to trace the history of a long series of moral anomalies in speculation which prepared the way for that great moral anomaly in practice. The second change is so evident, that it is not necessary to dwell upon it. No candid person who is acquainted with history can fail to perceive the difference between the amount of reverence bestowed in the present day, by the great majority of men, upon mere speculative doctrines or ritualistic observances, and that which was once general. If we examine the Church in the fourth and fifth centuries, we find it almost exclusively occupied with minute questions concerning the manner of the co-existence of the two natures in Christ. If we examine it in the middle ages, we find it absorbed in ritualism and pilgrimages. If we examine it at the Reformation, we find it just emerging beneath the pressure of civilisation from this condition; yet still the main speculative test was the doctrine concerning the Sacrament, which had no relation to morals; and the main practical test on the Continent, at least, was the eating of meat on Fridays.1 In the present day, with the great body of laymen at least, such matters appear simply puerile, because they have no relation to morals.
The third change is one which requires more attention, for it involves the history of religious terrorism—a history of the deepest but most painful interest to all who study the intellectual and moral development of Europe.
It would be difficult, and perhaps not altogether desira-ble, to attain in the present day to any realised conception of the doctrine of future punishment as it was taught by the early Fathers, and elaborated and developed by the mediæval priests. That doctrine has now been thrown so much into the background, it has been so modified and softened and explained away, that it scarcely retains a shadow of its ancient repulsiveness. It is sufficient to say, that it was generally maintained that eternal damnation was the lot which the Almighty had reserved for an immense proportion of his creatures; and that that damnation consisted not simply of the privation of certain extraordinary blessings, but also of the endurance of the most excruciating agonies. Perhaps the most acute pain the human body can undergo is that of fire; and this, the early Fathers assure us, is the eternal destiny of the mass of mankind. The doctrine was stated with the utmost literalism and precision. In the two first apologies for the Christian faith it was distinctly asserted. Philosophy, it was said, had sometimes enabled men to look with contempt upon torments, as upon a transient evil; but Christianity presented a prospect before which the stoutest heart must quail, for its punishments were as eternal as they were excruciating.1 Origen, it is true, and his disciple Gregory of Nyssa, in a somewhat hesitating manner, diverged from the prevailing opinion, and strongly inclined to a figurative interpretation, and to the belief in the ultimate salvation of all;2 but they were alone in their opinion. With these two exceptions, all the Fathers proclaimed the eternity of torments, and all defined those torments as the action of a literal fire upon a sensitive body.3 When the pagans argued that a body could not remain for ever unconsumed in a material flame, they were answered by the analogies of the salamander, the asbestus, and the volcano; and by appeals to the Divine Omnipotence, which was supposed to be continually exerted to prolong the tor-lnres of the dead.1
We may be quite sure that neither in the early Church, nor in any other period, was this doctrine universally realised. There must have been thousands who, believing, or at least professing, that there was no salvation except in the Church, and that to be excluded from salvation meant to be precipitated into an abyss of flames, looked back nevertheless to the memory of a pagan mother, who had passed away, if not with a feeling of vague hope, at least without the poignancy of despair. There must have been thousands who, though they would perhaps have admitted with a Father that the noblest actions of the heathen were but ‘splendid vices,’ read nevertheless the pages of the great historians of their country with emotions that were very little in conformity with such a theory. Nor, it may be added, were these persons those whose moral perceptions had been least developed by contemplating the gentle and tolerant character of the Christian Founder. Yet still the doctrine was stamped upon the theology of the age, and though it had not yet been introduced into art, it was realised to a degree which we at least can never reproduce; for it was taught in the midst of persecution and conflict, and it flashed upon the mind with all the vividness of novelty. Judaism had had nothing like it. It seems now to be generally admitted that the doctrine of a future life, which is often spoken of as a central conception of religion, was not included in the Levitical revelation, or at least was so faintly intimated that the people were unable to perceive it.1 During the captivity, indeed, the Jews obtained from their masters some notions on the subject, but even these were very vague; and the Sadducees, who rejected the new doctrine as an innovation, were entirely uncondemned. Indeed, it is probable that the chosen people had less clear and correct knowledge of a future world than any other tolerably civilised nation of antiquity. Among the early popular traditions of the pagans, there were, it is true, some faint traces of a doctrine of hell, which are said to have been elaborated by Pythagoras,2 and especially by Plato, who did more then any other ancient philosopher to develop the notion of expiation;3 but these, at the period of the rise of Christianity, had little or no influence upon the minds of men; nor had they ever pre sented the same characteristics as the doctrine of the Church. For among the pagans future torture was supposed to be reserved exclusively for guilt, and for guilt of the most extreme and exceptional character. It was such culprits as Tantalus, or Sisyphus, or Ixion, that were selected as examples, and, excepting in the mysteries,1 the subject never seems to have been brought very prominently forward. It was the distinctive doctrine of the Christian theologians, that sufferings more excruciating than any the imagination could conceive were reserved for millions, and might be the lot of the most benevolent and heroic of mankind. That religious error was itself the worst of crimes, was before the Reformation the universal teaching of the Christian Church. Can we wonder that there were some who refused to regard it as an Evangel?
If we pursue this painful subject into the middle ages, we find the conception of punishment by literal fire elaborated with more detail. The doctrine, too, of a purgatory even for the saved had grown up. Without examining at length the origin of this last tenet, it may be sufficient to say that it was a natural continuation of the doctrine of penance; that the pagan poets had had a somewhat similar conception, which Virgil introduced into his famous description of the regions of the dead; that the Manichæans looked forward to a strange process of purification after death;2 and that some of the Fathers appear to have held that at the day of judgment all men must pass through a fire, though apparently rather for trial than for purification, as the virtuous and orthodox were to pass unscathed, while bad people and people with erroneous theological opinions were to be burnt.1 Besides this, the doctrine perhaps softened a little the terror ism of eternal punishment, by diminishing the number of those who were to endure it; though, on the other hand, it represented extreme suffering as reserved for almost all men after death. It may be added, that its financial advantages are obvious and undeniable.
There was in the tenth century one striking example of a theologian following in the traces of Origen, and, as far as I know, alone in the middle ages, maintaining the figurative interpretation of the fire of hell. This was John Scotus Erigena, a very remarkable man, who, as his name imports,2 and as his contemporaries inform us, was an Irishman, and who appears to have led, for the most part, that life of a wandering scholar for which his countrymen have always been famous. His keen wit, his great and varied genius, and his knowledge of Greek, soon gained him an immense reputation. This last acquirement was then extremely rare, but it had been kept up in the Irish monasteries some time after it had disappeared from the other seminaries of Europe. Scotus threw himself with such ardour into both of the great systems of Greek philosophy, that some have regarded him principally as the last representative of Neoplatonism, and others as the founder of Scholasticism.1 He displayed on all questions a singular disdain for authority, and a spirit of the boldest free thought, which, like Origen, with whose works he was probably much imbued, he defended by a lavish employment of allegories. Among the doctrines he disbelieved, and therefore treated as allegorical, was that of the fire of hell.2
Scotus, however, was not of his age. The material conceptions of mediævalism harmonised admirably with the material doctrine; and after the religious terrorism that followed the twelfth century, that doctrine attained its full elaboration. The agonies of hell seemed then the central fact of religion, and the perpetual subject of the thoughts of men. The whole intellect of Europe was employed in illustrating them. All literature, all painting, all eloquence, was concentrated upon the same dreadful theme. By the pen of Dante and by the pencil of Orcagna, by the pictures that crowded every church, and the sermons that rang from every pulpit, the maddening terror was sustained. The saint was often permitted in visions to behold the agonies of the lost, and to recount the spectacle he had witnessed. He loved to tell how by the lurid glare of the eternal flames he had seen millions writhing in every form of ghastly suffering, their eyeballs rolling with unspeakable anguish, their limbs gashed and mutilated and quivering with pain, tortured by pangs that seemed ever keener by the recurrence, and shrieking in vain for mercy to an unpitying heaven. Hideous beings of dreadful aspect and of fantastic forms hovered around, mocking them amid their torments, casting them into cauldrons of boiling brimstone, or inventing new tortures more subtle and more refined. Amid all this a sulphur stream was ever seething, feeding and intensifying the waves of fire. There was no respite, no alleviation, no hope. The tortures were ever varied in their character, and they never palled for a moment upon the sense. Sometimes, it was said, the flames while retaining their intensity withheld their light. A shroud of darkness covered the scene, but a ceaseless shriek of anguish attested the agonies that were below.1
It is useless to follow the subject into detail. We may reproduce the ghastly imagery that is accumulated in the sermons and in the legends of the age. We may estimate the untiring assiduity with which the Catholic priests sought in the worst acts of human tyranny, and in the dark recesses of their own imaginations, new forms of torture, to ascribe them to the Creator. We can never conceive the intense vividness with which these conceptions were realised, or the madness and the misery they produced. For those were ages of implicit and unfaltering credulity; they were ages when none of the distractions of the present day divided the intellect, and when theology was the single focus upon which the imagination was concentrated. They were ages, too, when the modern tendency to soften or avoid repulsive images was altogether unknown, and when, in the general paralysis of the reason, every influence was exerted to stimulate the imagination. Wherever the worshipper turned, he was met by new forms of torture, elaborated with such minute detail, and enforced with such a vigour and distinctness, that they must have clung for ever to the mind, and chilled every natural impulse towards the Creator. How, indeed, could it be otherwise? Men were told that the Almighty, by the fiat of his uncontrolled power, had called into being countless millions whom He knew to be destined to eternal, excruciating, unspeakable agony; that He had placed millions in such a position that such agony was inevitable; that He had prepared their place of torment, and had kindled its undying flame; and that, prolonging their lives for ever, in order that they might be for ever wretched, He would make the contemplation of those sufferings an essential element of the happiness of the redeemed.1 No other religious teachers had ever proclaimed such tenets, and as long as they were realised intensely, the benevolent precepts and the mild and gentle ideal of the New Testament could not possibly be influential. The two things were hopelessly incongruous. The sense of the Divine goodness being destroyed, the whole fabric of natural religion crumbled in the dust. From that time religion was necessarily diverted from the moral to the dogmatic, and became an artificial thing of relics and ceremonies, of credulity and persecution, of asceticism and terrorism. It centred entirely upon the priests, who supported it mainly by intimidation.
I have already, when examining the phenomena of witch craft noticed the influence of this doctrine upon the imagination, which it has probably done more to disease than almost all other moral and intellectual agencies combined. I shall hereafter touch upon its effects upon the intellectual history of Europe—upon the timidity and disingenuousness of en quiry, the distrust and even hatred of intellectual honesty, it encouraged. There is, however, a still more painful effect to be noticed. That the constant contemplation of suffering, especially when that contemplation is devoid of passion, has a tendency to blunt the affections, and thus destroy the emotional part of humanity, is one of the most familiar facts of common observation. The law holds good even in men, like surgical operators, who contemplate pain solely for the benefit of others. The first repulsion is soon exchanged for indifference, the indifference speedily becomes interest, and the interest is occasionally heightened to positive enjoyment. Hence the anecdotes related of surgeons who have derived the most exquisite pleasure from the operations of their profession, and of persons who, being unable to suppress a morbid delight in the contemplation of suffering, have determined to utilise their defect, and have become the most unflinching operators in the hospitals. Now it is sufficiently manifest that upon this emotional part of humanity depends by far the greater number of kind acts that are done in the world, and especially the prevailing ideal and standard of humanity. There are, no doubt, persons who are exceedingly benevolent through a sense of duty, while their temperament remains entirely callous. There are even cases in which the callousness of temperament increases in proportion to the active benevolence, for it is acquired in contemplating suffering for the purpose of relieving it, and, as Bishop Butler reminds us, ‘active habits are strengthened, while passive impressions are weakened, by repetition.’ But the overwhelming majority are in these matters governed by their emotions. Their standard and their acts depend upon the liveliness of their feelings. If this be so, it is easy to conceive what must have been the result of the contemplations of mediævalism. There is a fresco in the great monastery of Pavia which might be regarded as the emblem of the age. It represents a monk with clasped hands, and an expression of agonising terror upon his countenance, straining over the valley of vision where the sufferings of the lost were displayed, while the inscription above reveals his one harrowing thought, ‘Quis sustinebit ne descendam moriens?’
In such a state of thought, we should naturally expect that the direct and powerful tendency of this doctrine would be to produce a general indifference to human sufferings, or even a bias towards acts of barbarity. Yet this only gives an inadequate conception of its effects. For not only were men constantly expatiating on these ghastly pictures, they were also constantly associating them with gratitude and with joy. They believed that the truth of Christianity implied the eternal torture of a vast proportion of their fellow-creatures, and they believed that it would be a gross impiety to wish that Christianity was untrue. They had collected with such assiduity, and had interpreted with such a revolting literalism, every rhetorical passage in the Bible that could be associated with their doctrine, that they had firmly persuaded themselves that a material and eternal fire formed a central truth of their faith, and that, in the words of an Anglican clergyman, ‘the hell described in the Gospel is not with the same particularity to be met with in any other religion that is or hath been in the whole world.’1 Habitually treating the language of parable as if it was the language of history, they came to regard it as very truly their ideal of happiness, to rest for ever on Abraham's bosom, and to contemplate for ever the torments of their brother in hell. They felt with St. Augustine that ‘the end of religion is to become like the object of worship,’ and they represented the Deity as confining his affection to a small section of his creatures, and inflicting on all others the most horrible and eternal suffering.
Now it is undoubtedly true, that when doctrines of this kind are intensely realised, they will prove most efficacious in dispelling the apathy on religious subjects which is the common condition of mankind. They will produce great earnestness, great self-sacrifice, great singleness of purpose. Loyola, who had studied with profound sagacity the springs of enthusiasm, assigned in his spiritual exercises an entire day to be spent in meditating upon eternal damnation, and in most great religious revivals the doctrine has occupied a prominent place. It is also undoubtedly true, that in a few splendid instances the effect of this realisation has been to raise up missionary teachers of such heroic and disinterested zeal, that their lives are among the grandest pages in the whole range of biography. But although this may be its effect upon some singularly noble natures, there can be little question that in the vast majority of cases its tendency will be to indurate the character, to diffuse abroad a callousness and insensibility to the suffering of others that will profoundly debase humanity. If you make the detailed and exquisite torments of multitudes the habitual object of the thoughts and imaginations of men, you will necessarily produce in most of them a gradual indifference to human suffering, and in some of them a disposition to regard it with positive delight. If you further assure men that these sufferings form an integral part of a revelation which they are bound to regard as a message of good tidings, you will induce them to stifle every feeling of pity, and almost to encourage their insensibility as a virtue. If you end your teaching by telling them that the Being who is the ideal of their lives confines His affection to the members of a single Church, that He will torture for ever all who are not found within its pale, and that His children will for ever contemplate those tortures in a state of unalloyed felicity, you will prepare the way for every form of persecution that can be directed against those who are without. He who most fully realised these doctrines, would be the most unhappy or the most unfeeling of mankind. No possible prospect of individual bliss could reconcile a truly humane man, who followed the impulse of his humanity, to the thought that those who were external to his faith were destined to eternal fire. No truly humane man could avoid wishing, that rather than this should be the case, he and all others should sleep the sleep of annihilation. When the doctrine was intensely realised and implicitly believed, it must, therefore, have had one or other of two effects. It must have produced an intensity of compassion that would involve an extreme unhappiness and would stimulate to extreme heroism, or it must have produced an absolute callousness and a positive inclination to inflict suffering upon the heretic. It does not require much knowledge of human nature to perceive that the spirit of Torquemada must be more common than that of Xavier.
That this was actually the case must be evident to any one who is not wilfully blind to the history of Christendom. I have mentioned that writer who in the second century dilated most emphatically on the doctrine of eternal punishment by fire as a means of intimidation. In another of his works he showed very clearly the influence it exercised upon his own character. He had written a treatise dissuading the Christians of his day from frequenting the public spectacles. He had collected on the subject many arguments, some of them very powerful, and others extremely grotesque; but he perceived that to make his exhortations forcible to the majority of his readers, he must point them to some counter-attraction. He accordingly proceeded—and his style assumed a richer glow and a more impetuous eloquence as he rose to the congenial theme—to tell them that a spectacle was reserved for them, so fascinating and so attractive that the most joyous festivals of earth faded into insignificance by the comparison. That spectacle was the agonies of their fellow-countrymen, as they writhe amid the torments of hell. ‘What,’ he exclaimed, ‘shall be the magnitude of that scene! How shall I wonder! How shall I laugh! How shall I rejoice! How shall I triumph when I behold so many and such illustrious kings, who were said to have mounted into heaven, groaning with Jupiter their god in the lowest darkness of hell! Then shall the soldiers who had persecuted the name of Christ burn in more cruel fire than any they had kindled for the saints…. Then shall the tragedians pour forth in their own misfortune more piteous cries than those with which they had made the theatre to resound, while the comedian's powers shall be better seen as he becomes more flexible by the heat. Then shall the driver of the circus stand forth to view all blushing in his flaming chariot, and the gladiators pierced, not by spears, but by darts of fire…. Compared with such spectacles, with such subjects of triumph as there, what can prætor or consul, quæstor or pontiff, afford? And even now faith can bring them near imagination can depict them as present.’1
I have quoted this very painful passage not so much as an instance of the excesses of a morbid disposition embittered by persecution, as because it furnishes a striking illustration of the influence of a certain class of realisations on the affections. For in tracing what may be called the psychological history of Europe, we are constantly met by a great contradiction, which can only be explained by such considerations. By the confession of all parties, the Christian religion was designed to be a religion of philanthropy, and love was represented as the distinctive test or characteristic of its true members. As a matter of fact, it has probably done more to quicken the affections of mankind, to promote pity, to create a pure and merciful ideal, than any other influence that has ever acted on the world. But while the marvellous influence of Christianity in this respect has been acknowledged by all who have mastered the teachings of history, while the religious minds of every land and of every opinion have recognised in its Founder the highest conceivable ideal and embodiment of compassion as of purity, it is a no less incontestable truth that for many centuries the Christian priesthood pursued a policy, at least towards those who differed from their opinions, implying a callousness and absence of the emotional part of humanity which has seldom been paralleled, and perhaps never surpassed. From Julian, who observed that no wild beasts were so ferocious as angry theologians, to Montesquieu, who discussed as a psychological phenomenon the inhumanity of monks, the fact has been constantly recognised. The monks, the Inquisitors, and in general the mediæval clergy, present a type that is singularly well defined, and is in many respects exceedingly noble, but which is continually marked by a total absence of mere natural affection In zeal, in courage, in perseverance, in self-sacrifice, they towered far above the average of mankind; but they were always as ready to inflict as to endure suffering. These were the men who chanted their Te Deums over the massacre of the Albigenses or of St. Bartholomew, who fanned and stimulated the Crusades and the religious wars, who exulted over the carnage, and strained every nerve to prolong the struggle,—and, when the zeal of the warrior had begun to flag, mourned over the languor of faith, and contemplated the sufferings they had caused with a satisfaction that was as pitiless as it was unselfish. These were the men who were at once the instigators and the agents of that horrible detailed persecution that stained almost every province of Europe with the blood of Jews and heretics, and which exhibits an amount of cold, passionless, studied, and deliberate barbarity unrivalled in the history of mankind.1
Now, when a tendency of this kind is habitually exhibited among men who are unquestionably actuated by the strongest sense of duty, it may be assamed that it is connected with some principle they have adopted, or with the moral atmosphere they breathe. It must have an intellectual or logical antecedent, and it must have what may be termed an emotional antecedent. By the first I understand certain principles or trains of reasoning which induce men to believe that it is their duty to persecute. By the second I understand a tendency or disposition of feeling that harmonises with persecution, removes the natural reluctance on the subject, and predisposes men to accept any reasoning of which persecution is the conclusion. The logical antecedents of persecution I shall examine in the next chapter. The most important emotional antecedent is, I believe, to be found in the teaching concerning the future world. It was the natural result of that teaching, that men whose lives present in many respects examples of the noblest virtue, were nevertheless conspicuous for ages as prodigies of barbarity, and proved absolutely indifferent to the sufferings of all who dissented from their doctrines. Nor was it only towards the heretic that this inhumanity was displayed; it was reflected more or less in the whole penal system of the time. We have a striking example of this in the history of torture. In ancicnt Greece, torture was never employed except in cases of treason. In the best days of ancient Rome, notwithstanding the notorious inhumanity of the people, it was exclusively confined to the slaves. In mediæval Christendom it was made use of to an extent that was probably unexampled in any earlier period, and in cases that fell under the cognisance of the clergy it was applied to every class of the community.1 And what strikes us most in considering the mediæval tortures, is not so much their diabolical barbarity, which it is indeed impossible to exaggerate, as the extraordinary variety, and what may be termed the artistic skill, they displayed. They represent a condition of thought in which men had pondered long and carefully on all the forms of suffering, had compared and combined the different kinds of torture, till they had become the most consummate masters of their art, had expended on the subject all the resources of the utmost ingenuity, and had pursued it with the ardour of a passion. The system was matured under the mediæval habit of thought, it was adopted by the inquisitors, and it received its finishing touches from their ingenuity.2 In every prison the crucifix and the rack stood side by side, and in almost every country the abolition of torture was at last effected by a movement which the Church opposed, and by men whom she had cursed. In England, it is true, torture had always been illegal, though it had often been employed, especially in ecclesiastical cases;1 but almost every other country illustrates the position I have stated. In France, probably the first illustrious opponent of torture was Montaigne, the first of the French sceptics; the cause was soon afterwards taken up by Charron and by Bayle; it was then adopted by Voltaire, Montesquieu, and the Encyclopædists; and it finally triumphed when the Church had been shattered by the Revolution.2 In Spain, torture began to fall into disuse under Charles III., on one of the few occasions when the Government was in direct opposition to the Church.1 In Italy the great opponent of torture was Beccaria, the friend of Helvetius and of Holbach, and the avowed exponent of the principles of Rousseau.2 Translated by Morellet, commented on by Voltaire and Diderot, and supported by the whole weight of the French philosophers, the work of Beccaria flew triumphantly over Europe, and vastly accelerated the movement that produced it. Under the influence of that movement, the Empress of Russia abolished torture in her dominions, and accompanied the abolition by an edict of toleration. Under the same influence Frederick of Prussia, whose adherence to the philosophical principles was notorious, took the same step, and his example was speedily followed by Duke Leopold of Tuscany. Nor is there, upon reflection, anything surprising in this. The movement that destroyed torture was much less an intellectual than an emotional movement. It represented much less a discovery of the reason than an increased in tensity of sympathy. If we asked what positive arguments can be adduced on the subject, it would be difficult to cite any that was not perfectly familiar to all classes at every period of the middle ages.1 That brave criminals sometimes escaped, and that timid persons sometimes falsely declared themselves guilty; that the guiltless frequently underwent a horrible punishment, and that the moral influence of legal decisions was seriously weakened;2 —these arguments, and such as these, were as much truisms in the eleventh and twelfth centuries as they are at present. Nor was it by such means that the change was effected. Torture was abolished because in the progress of civilisation the sympathies of men became more expansive, their perceptions of the sufferings of others more acute, their judgments more indulgent, their actions more gentle. To subject even a guilty man to the horrors of the rack seemed atrocious and barbarous, and therefore the rack was destroyed. It was part of the great movement which abolished barbarous amusements, mitigated the asperities and refined the manners of all classes. Now it is quite certain that those who seriously regarded eternal suffering as the just punishment of the fretfulness of a child, could not possibly look upon torture with the same degree and kind of repulsion as their less orthodox neighbours. It is also certain, that a period in which religion, by dwelling incessantly on the legends of the martyrs, or on the agonies of the lost, made the combination of new and horrible forms of suffering the habitual employment of the imagination, was of all others that in which the system of torture was likely to be most atrocious. It may be added, that the very frame of mind that made men assail the practice of torture, made them also assail the mediæval doctrine of future punishment. The two things grew out of the same condition of society. They flourished together, and they declined together.
The truth is, that in every age the penal code will in a great degree vary with the popular estimate of guilt. Philosophers have written much on the purely preventive character of legal punishments; but it requires but little knowledge of history, or even of human nature, to show that a code constructed altogether on such a principle is impossible. It is indeed true, that all acts morality condemns do not fall within the province of the legislator, and that this fact is more fully appreciated as civilisation advances.1 It is true, too, that in an early stage, the severity of punishment results in a great measure from the prevailing indifference to the infliction of suffering. It is even true that the especial prominence or danger of some crime will cause men to visit it for a time with penalties that seem to bear no proportion to its moral enormity. Yet it is, I think, impossible to examine penal systems without perceiving that they can only be efficient during a long period of time, when they accord substantially with the popular estimate of the enormity of guilt. Every system, by admitting extenuating circumstances and graduated punishments, implies this, and every judgment that is passed by the public is virtually an appeal to an ideal standard. When a punishment is pronounced excessive, it is meant that it is greater than was deserved. When it is pronounced inadequate, it is meant that it is less than was deserved. Even regarding the law simply as a preventive measure, it is necessary that it should thus reflect the prevailing estimate of guilt, for otherwise it would come into collision with that public opinion which is essential to its operation. Thus, towards the close of the last century, both murder and horse-stealing were punished by death. In the first case, juries readily brought in verdicts, the public sanctioned those verdicts, and the law was efficacious. In the second case, the criminals were almost usually acquitted; and when they were executed, public opinion was shocked and scandalised. The reason of this was, that men looked upon death as a punishment not incommensurate with the guilt of murder, but exceedingly disproportionate to that of theft. In the advance of civilisation, there is a constant tendency to mitigate the severity of penal codes, for men learn to realise more intensely the suffering they are inflicting; and they at the same time become more sensible of the palliations of guilt. When, however, such a doctrine concerning the just reward of crime as I have noticed is believed and realised, it must inevitably have the effect of regarding the progress.
Such, then, were the natural effects of the popular teaching on the subject of future punishment which was universal during the middle ages, and during the sixteenth and the greater part of the seventeenth century. How completely that teaching has passed away must be evident to any one who will take the pains of comparing old theological literature with modern teaching. The hideous pictures of material fire and of endless torture which were once so carefully elaborated and so constantly enforced, have been replaced by a few vague sentences on the subject of ‘perdition,’ or by the general assertion of a future adjustment of the inequalities of life; and a doctrine which grows out of the moral faculty, and is an element in every truly moral religion, has been thus silently substituted for a doctrine which was the greatest of all moral difficulties. The eternity of punishment is, indeed, still strenuously defended by many; but the nature of that punishment, which had been one of the most prominent points in every previous discussion on the subject, has now completely disappeared from controversy. The ablest theologians once regarded their doctrine as one that might be defended, but could not possibly be so stated as not at first sight to shock the feelings. Liebnitz argued that offences against an infinite Being acquired an infinite guilt, and therefore deserved an infinite punishment. Butler argued that the analogy of nature gave much reason to suspect that the punishment of crimes may be out of all proportion with our conceptions of their guilt. Both, by their very defences, implied that the doctrine was a grievous difficulty. As, however, it is commonly stated at present, the doctrine is so far from being a difficulty, that any system that was without it would be manifestly imperfect, and it has accordingly long since taken its place as one of the moral evidences of Christianity.
This gradual and silent transformation of the popular conceptions is doubtless chiefly due to the habit of educing moral and intellectual truths from our own sense of right, rather than from traditional teaching, which has accompanied the decline of dogmatic theology, and which first became conspicuous in the seventeenth century. Descartes, who was the chief reviver of moral philosophy, may be regarded as its leading originator; for the method which he applied to metaphysical enquiries was soon applied (consciously or unconsciously) to moral subjects. Men, when seeking for just ideas of right and wrong, began to interrogate their moral sense much more than the books of theologians, and they soon proceeded to make that sense or faculty a supreme arbiter, and to mould all theology into conformity with its dictates. At the same time the great increase of similar influences, and the rapid succession of innovations, made theologians yield with comparative facility to the pressure of their age.
But besides this general rationalistic movement, there was another tendency which exercised, I think, a real though minor influence on the movement, and which is also associated with the name of Descartes. I mean the development of a purely spiritual conception of the soul. The different effects which a spiritual or a material philosophy has exercised on all departments of speculation, form one of the most interesting pages in history. The ancients—at least the most spiritual schools—seem to have generally regarded the essence of the soul as an extremely subtle fluid, or substance quite distinct from the body; and, according to their view, and according to the views that were long afterwards prevalent, this excessive subtlety of essence constituted immateriality. For the soul was supposed to be of a nature totally different from surrounding objects, simple, incapable of disintegration, and emancipated from the conditions of matter. Some of the Platonists verged very closely upon, and perhaps attained, the modern idea of a soul whose essence is purely intellectual; but the general opinion was, I think, that which I have described. The distinct and, as it was called, immaterial nature of the soul was insisted on by the ancients with great emphasis as the chief proof of its immortality. If mind be but a function of matter, if thought be but ‘a material product of the brain,’ it seems natural that the dissolution of the body should be the annihilation of the individual. There is, indeed, an instinct in man pointing to a future sphere, where the injustices of life shall be rectified, and where the chain of love that death has severed shall be linked anew, which is so closely connected with our moral nature that it would perhaps survive the rudest shocks of a material philosophy; but to minds in which the logical element is most prominent, the psychological argument will always appear the most satisfactory. That there exists in man an indivisible being connected with, but essentially distinct from the body, was the position which Socrates dwelt upon as one of the chief foundations of his hopes in the last hours of his life, and Cicero in the shadow of age; and the whole moral system of the school of Plato was based upon the distinction. Man, in their noble imagery, is the horizon line where the world of spirit and the world of matter touch. It is in his power to rise by the wings of the soul to communion with the gods, or to sink by the gravitation of the body to the level of the brute. It is the destiny of the soul to pass from state to state; all its knowledge is but remembrance, and its future condition must be determined by its present tendency. The soul of that man who aspires only to virtue, and who despises the luxury and the passions of earth, will be emancipated at last from the thraldom of matter, and, invisible and unshackled, will drink in perfect bliss in the full fruition of wisdom. The soul of that man who seeks his chief gratification in the body, will after death be imprisoned in a new body, will be punished by physical suffering, or, visible to the human eye, will appear upon earth in the form of a ghost to scare the survivors amid their pleasure.1
Such were the opinions that were held by the school of Plato, the most spiritual of all the philosophers of antiquity. When Christianity appeared in the world, its first tendency was very favourable to these conceptions, for it is the effect of every great moral enthusiasm to raise men above the appetites of the body, to present to the mind a supersensual ideal, and to accentuate strongly the antagonism by which human nature is convulsed. We accordingly find that in its earlier and better days the Church assimilated especially with the philosophy of Plato, while in the middle ages Aristotle was supreme; and we also find that the revival of Platonism accompanied the spiritualising movement that preceded the Reformation. Yet there were two doctrines that produced an opposite tendency. The pagans asserted the immateriality of the soul, because they believed that the body must perish for ever; and some of the Christians, in denying this latter position, were inclined to reject the distinction that was based upon it. But above all, the firm belief in punishment by fire, and the great prominence the doctrine soon obtained, became the foundation of the material view. The Fathers were early divided upon the subject.2 One section, comprising the ablest and the best, maintained that there existed in man an immaterial soul, but that that soul was invariably associated with a thin, flexible, but sensitive body, visible to the eye. Origen added that the Deity alone could exist as a pure spirit unallied with matter.1 The other school, of which Tertullian may be regarded as the chief, utterly denied the existence in man of any incorporeal element, maintained that the soul was simply a second body, and based this doctrine chiefly on the conception of future punishment.2 Apparitions were at that time regarded as frequent. Tertullian mentions a woman who had seen a soul, which she described as ‘a transparent and lucid figure in the perfect form of a man.’3 St. Antony saw the soul of Ammon carried up to heaven. The soul of a Libyan hermit named Marc was borne to heaven in a napkin. Angels also were not unfrequently seen, and were universally believed to have cohabited with the daughters of the antediluvians.
Under the influence of mediaeval habits of thought, every spiritual conception was materialised; and what at an carlier and a later period was generally deemed the language of metaphor, was universally regarded as the language of fact. The realisations of the people were all derived from painting, sculpture, or ceremonies that appealed to the senses, and all subjects were therefore reduced to palpable images.1 The angel in the Last Judgment was constantly represented weighing the souls in a literal balance, while devils clinging to the scales endeavoured to disturb the equilibrium. Sometimes the soul was portrayed as a sexless child, rising out of the mouth of the corpse.2 But above all, the doctrine of purgatory arrested and enchained the imagination. Every church was crowded with pictures representing the souls of those who had just died as literal bodies writhing with horrible contortions in a literal fire. The two doctrines were strictly congruous, and each supported the other. Men who believed in a ‘physical soul,’ readily believed in a physical punishment. Men who materialised their view of the punishment, materialised their view of the sufferers.
We find, however, some time before the Reformation, evident signs of a desire on the part of a few writers to rise to a purer conception of the soul. The pantheistic writings that flowed from the school of Averroes, reviving the old Stoical notion of a soul of nature, directed attention to the great problem of the connection between the worlds of matter and of mind. The conception of an all-pervading spirit, which sleeps in the stone, dreams in the animal, and wakes in the man;’1 the belief that the hidden vital principle which produces the varied forms of organisation, is but the thrill of the Divine essence that is present in them all—this belief, which had occupied so noble a place among the speculations of antiquity, reappeared, and was, perhaps, strengthened by the rapid progress of mysticism, which may be regarded as the Christian form of pantheism. Coalescing at first with some lingering traditions of Gnosticism, mysticism appeared in the thirteenth century in the sect of the Bégards, and especially in the teachings of David de Dianant, Ortlieb, and Amuary de Bène; and in the following century, under the guidance of Eckart, Tauler, Suso, and Ruysbroek, it acquired in Germany an extraordinary popularity, to which the strong religious feeling elicited by the black death, and the reaction that had begun against the excessive aridity of scholasticism, both contributed.2 The writings ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, which have always been the Bible of mysticism, and which had been in part translated by Scotus Erigena, and also some of the works of Scotus himself, rose to sudden favour, and a new tone was given to almost all classes of theological reasoners. As the philosophical aspect of this tone of thought, an order of investigation was produced, which was shown in curious enquiries about how life is first generated in matter. The theory of spontaneous generation, which Lucretius had made the basis of a great portion of his system, and on which the philosophers of the eighteenth century laid so great stress, was strongly asserted,3 and all the mysteries of generation treated with a confidence that elicits a smile,1 not unmixed with melancholy when we think how completely these great questions of the nature and origin of life, which may be almost said to form the basis of all real knowledge, have eluded our investigations, and how absolutely the fair promise of the last century has in this respect been unfulfilled. From enquiries about the genesis of the soul, it was natural to proceed to examine its nature. Such enquiries were accordingly earnestly pursued, with the assistance of the pagan writers; and the conclusions arrived at on this point by different schools exercised, as is always the case, a very wide influence upon their theological conceptions. I cannot doubt, that when at last Descartes maintained that thought is the essence of the soul, and that the thinking substance is therefore so wholly and generically different from the body, that none of the forms or properties of matter can afford the faintest image of its nature, he contributed much to that frame of mind which made men naturally turn with contempt from ghosts, visible demons, and purgatorial fires.1 It is true that the Cartesian doctrine was soon in a measure eclipsed, but it at least destroyed for ever the old notion of an inner body.2
From the time of Descartes, the doctrine of a material fire may indeed be said to have steadily declined.3 The sceptics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries treated it with great contempt, and in England, at least, the last great controversy on the subject in the Church seems to have taken place during the first half of the eighteenth century. Swinden, Whiston, Horberry, Dodwell, and in America Jonathan Edwards, discussed it from different points of view,4 and attested the rapid progress of the scepticism. Towards the close of the century the doctrine had passed away, for though there was no formal recantation or change of dogmas, it was virtually excluded from the popular teaching, though it even now lingers among the least educated Dissenters, and in the Roman Catholic manuals for the poor.
I have dwelt at length upon this very revolting doctrine, because it exercised, I believe, an extremely important influence on the modes of thought and types of character of the past. I have endeavoured to show how its necessary effect was to chill and deaden the sympathies, to predispose men to inflict suffering, and seriously to retard the march of civilisation. It has now virtually passed away, and with it the type of character that it did so much to form. Instead of the old stern Inquisitor, so unflinching in his asceticism, so heroic in his enterprises, so remorseless in his persecution—instead of the men who multiplied and elaborated the most hideous tortures, who wrote long cold treatises on their application, who stimulated and embittered the most ferocious wars, and who watered every land with the blood of the innocent—instead of this ecclesiastical type of character, we meet with an almost feminine sensibility, and an almost morbid indisposition to inflict punishment. The preëminent characteristic of modern Christianity is the boundless philanthropy it displays. Philanthropy is to our age what asceticism was to the middle ages, and what polemical discussion was to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The emotional part of humanity, the humanity of impulse, was never so developed, and its development, in Protestantism at least, where the movement has been most strikingly evineed, has always been guided and represented by the clergy. Indeed, this fact is recognised quite as much by their opponents as by their admirers. A certain weak and effeminate sentimentality, both intellectual and moral, is the quality which every satirist of the clergy dwells upon as the most prominent feature of their character. Whether this quality, when duly analysed, is as despicable as is sometimes supposed, may be questioned; at all events, no one would think of ascribing it to the ecclesiasties of the school of Torquemada, of Calvin, or of Knox.
The changes that take place from age to age in the types of character in different professions, though they are often very evident, and though they form one of the most suggestive branches of history, are of course not susceptible of direct logical proof. A writer can only lay the general impressions he has derived from the study of the two periods before the judgments of those whose studies have resembled his own It is more, therefore, as an illustration than as a proof, that I may notice in conclusion the striking contrast which the history of punishments exhibits in the two periods of theological development. We have seen that the popular estimate of the adequacy of the penalties that are affixed to different crimes must in a great measure vary with the popular realisations of guilt. We have seen, too, that the abolition of torture was a movement almost entirely due to the opponents of the Church, and that it was effected much less by any process of reasoning than by the influence of certain modes of feeling which civilisation produced. Soon, however, we find that the impulse which was communicated by Voltaire, Beccaria, and the Revolution, passed on to the orthodox, and it was only then it acquired its full intensity. The doctrine of a literal fire having almost ceased to be a realised conception, a growing sense of the undue severity of punishments was everywhere manifested; and in most countries, but more especially in England, there was no single subject on which more earnestness was shown. The first step was taken by Howard. Nowhere perhaps in the annals of philanthropy do we meet a picture of more unsullied and fruitful beneficence than is presented by the life of that great dissenter, who, having travelled over more than 40,000 miles in works of mercy, at last died on a foreign soil a martyr to his cause. Not only in England, but over the whole of Eurone, his exertions directed public opinion to the condition of prisons, and effected a revolution the results of which can never be estimated. Soon after followed the mitigation of the penal code. In England the severity of that code had long been unexampled; and as crimes of violence were especially numerous, the number of executions was probably quite unparalleled in Europe. Indeed, Fortescue, who was chief justice under Henry VI., notices the fact with curious complacency, as a plain proof of the superiority of his countrymen. ‘More men,’ he tells us, ‘are hanged in Englonde in one year than in Fraunce in seven, because the English have better hartes. The Scotchmenne, likewise, never dare rob, but only commit larcenies.’1 In the reign of Henry VIII, when an attempt was made to convert the greater part of England into pasture land,2 and when the suppression of the monasteries had destroyed the main source of charity and had cast multitudes helplessly upon the world, Holinshed estimates the executions at the amazing number of 72,000, or 2,000 a year.1 The poor law of Elizabeth to a certain extent mitigated the evil, yet at the end of her reign the annual executions were still about 400.2 In the middle of the eighteenth century, however, though the population had greatly increased, they had fallen to less than one hundred.3 A little before this time Bishop Berkeley, following in the steps that had been traced by More in his ‘Utopia,’ and by Cromwell in one of his speeches, raised his voice in favour of substituting other punishments for death.4 But all through the reign of George III. the code was aggravated, and its severity was carried to such a point, that when Romilly began his career, the number of capital offences was no less than 230.5 It was only at the close of the last and in the beginning of the present century, that this state of things was changed. The reform in England, as over the rest of Europe, may be ultimately traced to that Voltairian school of which Beccaria was the representative, for the impulse created by the treatise ‘On Crimes and Punishments’ was universal, and it was the first great effort to infuse a spirit of philanthropy into the penal code, making it a main object of legislation to inflict the smallest possible amount of suffering. Beccaria is especially identified with that great cause of the abolition of capital punishment, which is slowly but steadily advancing towards its inevitable triumph. In England the philosophical element of the movement was nobly represented by Bentham, who in genius was certainly superior to Beccaria, and whose influence, though perhaps not so great, was also European. But while conceding the fullest merit to these great thinkers, there can be little doubt that the enthusiasm and the support that enabled Romilly, Mackintosh, Wilberforce, and Brougham to carry their long series of reforms through Parliament, was in a very great degree owing to the untiring exertions of the Evangelicals, who, with a benevolence that no disappointment could damp, and with an indulgence towards crime that sometimes amounted even to a fault, cast their whole weight into the cause of philanthropy. The contrast between the position of these religionists in the destruction of the worst features of the ancient codes, and the precisely opposite position of the mediæval clergy, is very remarkable. Sectarians will only see in it the difference between rival churches, but the candid historian will, I think, be able to detect the changed types of character that civilisation has produced; while in the difference that does undoubtedly in this respect exist between Protestantism and Catholicism, he will find one of the results of the very different degrees of intensity with which those religions direct the mind to the debasing and indurating conceptions I have reviewed.
It has been said that the tendency of religious thought in the present day ‘is all in one direction—towards the iden tification of the Bible and conscience.’ It is a movement that may be deplored, but can scarcely be overlooked or denied. Generation after generation the power of the moral faculty becomes more absolute, the doctrines that oppose it wane and vanish, and the various elements of theology are absorbed and recast by its influence. The indifference of most men to dogmatic theology is now so marked, and the fear of tampering with formularies that are no longer based on general conviction is with some men so intense, that general revisions of creeds have become extremely rare; but the change of belief is not the less profound. The old words are indeed retained, but they no longer present the old images to the mind, or exercise the old influence upon the life. The modes of thought, and the types of character which those modes produce, are essentially and universally transformed. The whole intellectual atmosphere, the whole tenor of life, the prevailing enthusiasms, the conceptions of the imagination, are all changed. The intellect of man moves onward under the influence of regular laws in a given direction; and the opinions that in any age are realised and operative, are those which harmonise with its intellectual condition. I have endeavoured in the present chapter to exhibit the nature of some of these laws, the direction in which some of these successive modifications are tending. If the prospect of constant change such an enquiry exhibits should appear to some minds to remove all the landmarks of the past, there is one consideration that may serve in a measure to reassure them. That Christianity was designed to produce benevolence, affection, and sympathy, being a fact of universal admission, is indefinitely more certain than that any particular dogma is essential to it; and in the increase of these moral qualities we have therefore the strongest evidence of the triumph of the conceptions of its Founder.
Justyn Martyr, Apol. i. Augustine thought the wooden ark floating on the Deluge a type of the cross consecrating the baptismal waters; and Bede found a similar type in the rod of Moses stretched over the Red Sea. Another wise commentator suggested that Isaac had been saved from death, because, when ascending the mountain, he bore the ‘wood of sacrifice’ on his shoulder. The cross, however, seldom or never appears in art before the vision of Constantine. At first it was frequently represented richly ornamented with gems or flowers. As St. Fortunatus writes:—
The letter Tan, as representing the cross, was specially reverenced as opposed to Theta, the unlucky letter—the initial of θάνατoζ.
See the curious argument in Tertullian, De Rapt. c. 5, 6, 7, 8.
‘Non enim ipsius quoque hominis figurandi opus sociantibus aquis absolutum est; de terra materia convenit, non tamen habilis nisi humecta et succida, quam scilicet ante quartum diem segregatæ aquæ in stationem suam superstite humore, limo temperant.’ (Tertullian, De Baptismo, c. iii.) From this notion of the sanctity of water grew the custom of swimming witches—for it was believed that everything tainted with diabolical presence was repelled by it and unable to sink into its depths (Binsfeldius, De Confess. Mal. p. 315)—and also probably the many legends of transformed men restored to their natural condition by crossing a stream. Among the ancient philosophers, Thales had esteemed water the origin of all things, which more than one Father regarded as a kind of inspiration. Thus Minucius Felix: ‘Minucius Thales rerum initium aquam dixit: Deum autem eam mentem quæ ex aqua cuncta formaverit. Vides philosophi principalis nobiscum penitus opinionem consonare.’ (Octasius, c. xix.) The belief in the expiatory power of water was forcibly rebuked by Ovid:—
Fast. lib. ii.)
See Winckelmann, Hist. of Art; Raoul-Rochette, Cours d'Archéologie; and the lectures of Barry and Fuseli. This particular characteristic of Indian art has been forcibly noticed by Mr. Ruskin in one of his Edinburgh lectures. Lessing ascribes the imperfections of Persian art to its almost exclusive employment for military subjects; but this was itself a consequence of the small encouragement religion gave to art. On the great difference of the ideal of beauty in different nations, which has also exercised a great influence on the development of art, see some curious evidence collected by Ch. Comte, Trati de Législation, liv. iii. ch. 4.
This is the origin of the custom in the Catholic Church of placing relics of the martyrs beneath the altars of the churches. It was also connected with the passage in the Revelations about the souls that were beneath the altar of God. In most early churches there was a subterranean chapel below the high altar, as a memorial of the Catacombs. A decree of the Second Council of Nice (A.D. 787) forbade the consecration of any church without relics.
M. Raoul-Rochette thinks that there is but one direct and positive representation of a martyrdom—that of the Virgin Salome, and this is of a very late period of decadence (Tableau des Catacombes, p. 187). The same writer has collected (pp. 191, 192) a few instances from the Fathers in which representations of martyrdoms in the early basilicas are mentioned; but they are very few, and there can be no doubt whatever of the broad contrast early Christian art in this respect bears to that of the tenth and following centuries.
See Raoul-Rochette, Tableau des Catacombes, pp. 192–195; Didron, Iconographic Chrétienne.
Which St Augustine said he had ascertained by experiment to be a fact, and which he seemed to regard as a miracle. (De Civ. Dei lib. xxxi. c. 4.)
See Ciampini, Vetera Monumenta, pars i. p. 115; and Maitland, On the Catacombs. Raoul-Rochette, however, seems to regard the peacock rather as the symbol, first of all of the apotheosis of an empress, and then generally of apotheosis, the peacock having been the bird of Juno, the empress of heaven.
Orpheus is spoken of by Eusebius as in this respect symbolising Christ. The reverence that attached to him probably resulted in a great measure from the fact that among the many apocryphal prophecies of Christ that circulated in the Church, some of the most conspicuous were ascribed to Orpheus. See on this symbol, Maitland, On the Catacombs, p. 110; Raoul-Rochette, Tab. des Cat. p. 138; and, for a full examination of the subject, the great work of Boldetti, Osservazions sopra i Cimiteri de' Santi Martyri (Romæ, 1720), tom. i. pp. 27–29. M. Rio (Art Chrétien, introd. p. 36), I think rather fancifully, connects it with the descent of Orpheus to hell to save a soul. As other examples of the introduction of pagan gods into Christian art, I may mention that there is an obscure picture in the catacomb of St. Calixtus, which R. Rochette supposes to represent Mercury leading the souls of the dead to judgment (Tab. des Cat. pp. 148–151); and also that Hercules, though never, I believe, represented in the Catacombs, appears more than once in the old churches, St. Augustine having identified him with Samson. (See on this representation, and generally on the connection between pagan and Christian art, that very curious and learned work, Marangoni, Delle Cose Gentilesche e Profane Transportate ad uso delle Chiese (Romæ, 1744), pp. 50, 51.) The sphinx also was believed by some of the early Christians (e. g. Clement of Alexandria) to be in some degree connected with their faith; for they supposed it to be copied from the Jewish image of the Cherubim, but they never reproduced it. Some later antiquarians have attributed this curious combination of the Virgin and the Lion to the advantages Egypt derives from these signs, through which the sun passes at the period of the inundation of the Nile (Caylus, Recoil d'Antiquités, t.i. p. 45).
Marangoni, Delle Cose Gentilesche, p. 45.
All this is fully discussed in Marangoni.
Ibid. p. 45; Raoul-Rochette, Tab. des Cat.
Ίχθὑζ. Ίησoὑζ χρiστòζ Θ∊oὑ νíòζ Σωτήρ. The initial letters of the prophetic verses of the Sibyl of Erythra (St. Aug. De Civ. Dei, lib. xviii. cap. 23). The dolphin was especially selected because of its tenderness to its young
‘Nos pisciculi secundum Iχθὑν nostrum Jesum Christum in aquâ nascimur.’ (Tertullian, De Baptismo, c. i.)
Maury, Legendes Pieuses, pp. 173–178. This notion was, I imagine, pagan. There is a bas-relief in the Vatican which seems to represent a stag In the act of attacking a serpent. The passage in the Psalms, about the hart panting for the waters,’ was mixed up with this symbol. In the middle ages, stags were invested with a kind of prophetic power. See also Ciampini, De bacris Ædificiis (Romæ), p. 44; and the very curious chapter in Arringhi, Roma Subterranea, tom. ii. pp. 602–606. The stag was supposed to dread the thunder so much, that through terror it often brought forth its young prematurely; and this was associated with the passage, ‘The voice of thy thunder has made me afraid.’
This subject has been briefly noticed by Raoul-Rochette in his Discours sur l'Art du Christianisme (1834), p. 7; and by Maury, Légendes Pieuses; but the full examination of it was reserved for M. Didron, in his great work, Iconographie Chrétienne, Hist. de Dieu (Paris, 1843), one of the most important contributions ever made to Christian archæology See, too, Emeric David, Hist. de la Peinture au Moyen Age, pp. 19–21.
Didron, pp. 177–182.
Raoul-Rochette, Discours sur les Types de l' Art Chréstion, p. 71.
Didron, pp. 227–230.
See this fact worked out in detail in Didron.
‘On peut done relativement à Dieu le Père partager le moyen age en deux périodes. Dans la première, qui est antérieure au XIV siècle, la figure du Père se confond avec celle du Fils; c'est le Fils qui est tout-puissant et qui fat son Père à son image et ressemblance. Dans la seconde période, après la XIII siècle, jusqu'au XVI, Jésus-Christ perd sa force d'assimilation iconographiique et se laisse vaincre par son Père. C'est au tour du Fils à se revêtir des traits du Père, à vieillir et rider comme lui…. Enfin, depuis les premiers siècles du Christianisme jusqu’ à nos jours nous voyons le Père croitre en importance. Son portrait, d'abord interdit par les Gnostiques, se montre timidement ensuite et comme déguisé sous la figure de son Fils. Puis il rejette tout accoutrement étranger et prend une figure spéciale; puis par Raphaël et enfin par l'Anglais Martin, il gagne une grave et une admirable physionomie qui n'appartient qu'à lui.’ (Didron, p. 226.)
See on this subject Franck, Sur la Kabbale; Maury, Croyances et Légendes d'Antiquité (1863), p. 338; and especially Beausobre, Hist. du Manichéisme (1734), tom. i. pp. 35–37. Justyn Martyr, Tertullian, Irenæus, Epiphanius, and several other Fathers, notice the worship of Helena. According to them, Simon proclaimed that the angels in heaven made war on account of her beauty, and that the Evil One had made her prisoner to prevent her return to heaven, from which she had strayed. There is some reason to think that all this was an allegory of the soul.
Most of the Gnostics regarded the God of the Jews or the Demiurge as an imperfect spirit presiding over an imperfect moral system. Many, however, regarded the Jewish religion as the work of the principle of Evil—the god of matter; and the Cainites made everyone who had opposed it the object of reverence, while the Ophites actually worshipped the serpent. We have, perhaps, a partial explanation of the reverence many of the Gnostics had for the serpent in the fact that this animal, which in Christianity represents the principle of Evil, had a very different position in ancient symbolism. It was the general emblem of healing (because it changes its skin), and as such appears in the statues of Æsculapius and Isis, and it was also constantly adopted as a representative animal. Thus in the Mithraic groups, that are so common in later Roman sculpture, the serpent and the dog represent all living creaturs A serpent with a hawk's head was an old Egyptian symbol of a good genius.
Prounice properly signifies lasciviousness. It seems to have been applied to the Sophia considered in her fallen condition, as imprisoned in matter; but there is an extreme obscurity, which has I think never been cleared up, hanging over the subject. Prounice seems to have been confounded with Beronice, the name which a very early Christian tradition gave to the woman who had been healed of an issue of blood. This woman formed one of the principal types among the Gnostics. According to the Valentinians, the twelve years of her affliction represented the twelve Æons, while the flowing blood was the force of the Sophia passing to the inferior world. See on this subject, Maury, Croyances et Légendes, art. Veronica; and on the Sophia generally, Matter, Hist. du Gnosticisme, tom. i. pp. 275–278. M. Franck says (La Kabbale, p. 43) that some of the Gnostics painted the Holy Ghost as a roman, but this I suppose only refers to the Sophia.
Matter, Hist. du Gnosticisme, tom. i. pp. 360–362.
Didron, pp. 197, 198. The apocryphal gospel, however, which exercised most influence over art, was probably that of Nicodemus, which is apparently of orthodox origin, and was probably written (or at least the second part of it) against the Apollinarians. We owe to it the pictures of the Descent into Limbo that are so common in early Byzantine art. The same subject, derived from the same source, was also prominent in the mediâval sacred plays (Malone, History of the English Stage, p. 19).
For a full discussion of this point, see Raoul-Rochette's Types de l' Art, pp. 9–26, and his Tableau des Catacombes, p. 265. The opinion that the type of Christ is derived from the Gnostics (which Raoul-Rochette says has been embraced by most of the Roman antiquarians) rests chiefly on the following positions:—1. That in the earliest stage of Christianity all painting and sculpture was looked upon with great aversion in the Church, and that as late as the time of Constantine portraits of Christ were very rare. 2. That the Gnostics from the beginning cultivated art, and that small images of Christ were among the most common objects of their reverence. 3. That the Gnostics were very numerous at Rome. 4. That Gnosticism exercised a great influence upon the Church, and especially upon her æsthetic development. It may be added that the Christians carefully abstained from deriving from paganism the cast of features they ascribed to Christ; and Theodoret relates (Hist., lib. i. cap. 15) that a painter having taken Jupiter as a model in a portrait of Christ, his hand was withered, but was restored miraculously by St. Gennadius, Arch bishop of Constantinople. At a later period pagan statues were frequently turned into saints. St. Augustine mentions that in his time there was no authentic portrait of Christ, and that the type of features was still undetermined, so that we have absolutely no knowledge of His appearance. ‘Que fuerit ille (Christus) facie nos penitus ignoramus…. Nam et ipsius Dominicas facies carnis innumerabilium cogitationum diversitate variatur et fingitur, que tamen una erat, quæcumque erat.’ (De Trinitate, lib. viii. c. 4, 5.) The type, however, was soon after formed.
On the relation of this to Gnosticism, see Matter, Hist, du Gnosticisme. tom. i. pp. 88, 89–98.
The strong desire natural to the middle ages to give a palpable form to the mystery of the Incarnation was shown curiously in the notion of a conception by the ear. In a hymn, ascribed to St. Thomas à Becket, occur the lines—
And in an old glass window, now I believe in one of the museums of Paris, the Holy Ghost is represented hovering over the Virgin in the form of a dove, while a ray of light passes from his beak to her ear, along which ray an infant Christ is descending.—Langlois, Peinture sur Verre, p. 157.
St. Augustine notices (De Trinitate) that in his time there was no authentic portrait of Mary. The Council of Ephesus wished her to be painted with the Infant Child, and this was the general representation in the early Church. Some of the Byzantine pictures are said to have been influenced by the favourite Egyptian representations of Isis giving suck to Horus. It has been observed that in the case of Mary, as in the case of Christ, suffering and deep melancholy became more and more the prevailing expression as the dark ages rolled on, which was still further increased by the black tint the mediæval artists frequently gave her, in allusion to the description in the Song of Solomon. The first notice in writing of the resemblance of Christ to His mother is. I believe, in Nicephorus.—See Raoul-Rochette, Types de l'Art Chrétien, pp. 30–39; Pascal, Institutions de l' Art Chrétien.
Heeren, Influences des Croisades, pp. 204, 205. However, St. Augustine says:—‘Excepta itaque Sancta Virgine Maria, de qua, propter honorem Domini, nullam prorsus cum de peccatis agitur habere volo quæstionem: Unde enim scimus, quid ei plus gratiæ collatum fuerit ad vincendum omnl ex parte peccatum, quæ concipere ac parere meruit eum quem constat nullum habuisse peccatum.’ (De Naturâ et Gratiâ.) Gibbon notices that the notion acquired consistency among the Mahometans some centuries before it was adopted by the Christians. St. Bernard rejected it as a noveltv. (Decline and Fall, ch. l. note.)
Even at the present day the Psalter of St. Bonaventura—an edition of the Psalms adapted to the worship of the Virgin, chiefly by the substitution of the word domina for the word dominus—is a popular book of devotion at Rome. In a famous fresco of Orcagna at Pisa the Virgin is represented, with precisely the same dignity as Christ, judging mankind; and everyone who is acquainted with mediæval art has met with similar examples. An old bishop named Gilbert Massius had his own portrait painted between the Virgin giving suck to Christ and a Crucifixion. Underneath were the lines—
Pascal, Art Chrétien, tom. i. p. 250.
Thus the Council of Illiberts in its 34th canon forbade men to light candles by day in the cemeteries for fear of “disquieting the souls of the saints.” See, too, a curious passage of Vigilantius cited by St. Jerome, Ep. in. 13. To be buried near the tomb of a martyr was one of the most coveted privileges in the early Church. See a very remarkable dissertation of Le Blaut, “Inscriptions Chrétiennes de Gaule,” tom. ii., p. 219–229.
With a letter, which is still extant, and which Addison, in his work on Christian Evidences, quoted as genuine. Of course it is now generally admitted to be apocryphal. This portrait was supposed to be miraculously impressed (like that obtained by St. Veronica) on a handkerchief. It was for a long time at Constantinople, but was brought to Rome probably about A.D. 1198, and deposited in the Church of St. Sylvester in Capite, where it now is. See Marangoni, Istoria della Cappella di Sancta Sanctorum di Roma (Romæ, 1747), pp. 235–239; a book which, though ostensibly simply a history of the Acheropita, or sacred image at the Lateran, contains a fuller account of the history of the early miraculous pictures of Christ than any other I have met with.
On these representations, the miracles they wrought, and the great importance they assumed in the Iconoclastic controversies, see Maimbourg Histoire des Iconoclastes (1686), pp. 44–47; and on other early miracles attributed to images, Spanheim, Historia Imaginum (1686), pp. 417–420. The first of these books is Catholic, and the second the Protestant reply. See, too, Marangoni, Sancia Sanctorum; and Arringhi, Roma Subterranea, tom. ii. pp. 452–460.
‘Ne quod colitur et adoratur in parietibus depingatur.’ The Catholics maintain that this was a decree elicited by the persecution, and that its object was to prevent the profanation of Christian images by the pagans.
Probably because there is no reason to believe that pictures had ever been employed as idols by the ancient Greeks or Romans.
On the discussions connected with this Council, see Natalis Alexander, Historia Eccl. Sœculi viii.
The most celebrated being Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims. Baronius inveighed violently against this prelate for terming the sacred images ‘dolls,’ but Maimbourg contends (introduction to the Hist. des Iconocl.) that the expression is not to be found in any of the works of Hincmar.
There is an edition of his works in one volume (Paris, 1605), and another in two volumes (Paris, 1616). I have quoted from the former.
‘Multo autem his deteriora esse quæ humana et carnalis præsumptio fingit etiam stult consentiunt. In quo genere istæ quoque inveniuntur quas sanctas appellant imagines, non solum sacrilegi ex eo quod divinum cultum operibus manuum suarum exhibent, sed et insipientes sanctitatem eis quæ sine anima sunt imaginibus tribuendo.’—p. 233.
‘Dicit forsitan aliquis non se putare imagini quam adorat aliquid inesse Divinum, sed tantummodo pro honore ejus cujus effigies est, tali eam veneratione donure. Cui facile respondetur, quia si imago quam adorat Deus non esl nequaquam veneranda est.’—p. 237.
‘Agit hoc nimirum versuius et callidus humani generis inimicus, ut, sub prætextu honoris sanctorum, rursus idola introducat, rursus per diversas effigies adoretur.’—p. 252.
Speaking of the conduct of some Alexandrian Christians, who only admitted the sign of the cross into their churches, he says:—‘O quam sincera religio! crucis vexillum ubique pingebatur non aliqua vultus humani similitudo. (Deo scilicet hæc mirabiliter etiam ipsis forsitan nescientibus disponente) si euim sanctorum imagines hi qui dæmonum cultum reliquerant venerari juberentur, puto quod videretur eis non tam idola reliquisse quam simulacra mutasse.’—p. 237.
‘Quia si serpentem æeum quem Deus fieri præcepit, quoniam errans populus tanquam idolum colere cœpit, Ezechias religiosus rex, cum magpietatis laude contrivit: multo religiosius sanctorum imagines (ipsis quoqus sanctis faventibus, qui ob sui honorem cum divinæ religionis contemptu eas adorari more idolorum indignantissime ferunt) omni genere conterendæ et beque ad pulverem sunt eradendæ; præsertim cum non illas fieri Deus jusserit, and humanus sensus excogitaverit.’—p. 244. ‘Nec iterum ad sua latibuls fi andulenta recurrat astutia, ut dicat se non imagines sanctorum adorare sed sanctos; clamat enim Deus, ‘Gloriam meam alteri non dabo, nec laudem meam sculptilibus.” ’—pp. 254, 255. See too the noble concluding passage on the exclusive worship of Christ, breathing a spirit of the purest Protestantism.
Some curious instances of the way in which the early fanaticism of Mahometanism was thus sustained, have been collected by Helvétius, De l' Esprit. It is quite true, as Sale contends, that Mahomet did not introduce polygamy, and therefore that the fact of his permitting it could not have been one of the motives urging Asiatics to embrace the new religion; but it is also true that Mahomet and his disciples, more skilfully than any other religionists, blended sensual passions with religion, associated them with future rewards, and converted them into stimulants of devotion.
Some of the early Christians appear to have wished to adopt this course, which would have been the only effectual means of repressing idolatry. In an apocryphal work, called The Voyages of St. John, which was circulated in the Church, there was a legend that St. John once found his own portrait in the house of a Christian, that he thought at first it was an idol, and, even when told its true character, severely blamed the painter. (Beausobre, Hist. du Manichéisme.) A passage in the invective of Tertullian against Hermogencs has been quoted as to the same effect: ‘Pingit illicite, nubit assidue, legem Dei in libidinem defendit, in artem contemnit, bis falsarius et cauteric et stylo.’ Clemens Alexandrinus was of opinion that ladies broke the second commandment by using looking-glasses, as they thereby made images of themselves.—Barbeyrac, Morale des Pères. c. v. § 18.
See on this subject a striking passage from Owen Jones, quoted in Ford's Spain, vol. i. p. 304. It is remarkable that, while the ornamentation derived from the vegetable world in the Alhambra is unrivalled in beauty, the lions which support one of the fountains, and which form, I bèlieve, the solitary instance of a deviation from the command of the Prophet, might rank with the worst productions of the time of Nicolas of Pisa.
According to tradition, the earliest specimen of Christian mosaic work is a portrait of Christ, preserved in the church of St. Praxede of Rome, which St. Peter is said to have worn round his neck, and to have given at Rome to Pudens, his host, the father of St. Praxede. The finest specimens of the mosaics of the fifth and sixth centuries are at Ravenna, especially in the church of St. Vitale, which was built by the Greeks, who were the great masters of this art. Ciampini, who is the chief authority on this subject, thinks (Vetera Monumenta, pars i. (Romæ, 1690), p. 84) that the art was wholly forgotten in Rome for the three hundred years preceding the establishment of the Monte Cassino school in 1066; but Marangoni assigns a few wretched mosaics to that period (Ist. Sanct. pp. 180–182). A descriptive catalogue of those at Rome has lately been published by Barbet de Jouy, and a singularly interesting examination of their history by M. Vitet (Études sur l'Histoire de l'Art, tom. i.). For a general review of the decline of art, see the great history of D'Agin court.
The art of delicate carving on gold and silver was chiefly preserved in the middle ages by the reverence of relics, for the preservation of which the most beautiful works were designed. Rouen was long famed for its manufacture of church ornaments, but these were plundered, and for the most part destroyed, by the Protestants, when they captured the city in 1562. The luxurious habits of the Italian states were favourable to the goldsmiths, and those of Venice were very celebrated. A large proportion of them are said to have been Jews. Francia, Verocchio, Perugino, Donatello, Brunelleschi, and Ghiberti were all originally goldsmiths. M. Didron has published a manual of this art. The goldsmiths of Limoges had the honour of producing a saint, St. Eloi, who became the patron of the art. Carved ivory diptychs were also very common through the middle ages, and especially after the eighth century.
Much curious information on the history of illumination and miniature painting is given in Cibrario, Economia Politica del Medio Evo, vol. ii. pp. 337–346. Peignot says that from the fifth to the tenth century the miniatures in manuscripts exhibited an extremely high perfection, both in drawing and in colouring, and that from the tenth to the fourteenth the drawing detoriated, but revived with the revival of painting (Essai sur l'Histoire du Parchemin, p. 76). Glass painting and miniature painting were both common long before Cimabue, and probably exercised a great influence over the early artists.
See on this subject, and generally on the influence of mediæval modes of thought upon art, Raoul-Rochette, Cours d'Archéologie, one of the very best books ever written on art. (It has been translated by Mr. Westropp.) The history of miracles strikingly confirms the position in the text. As Marangoni says: ‘Anzi ella è cosa degna di osservazione che l'Altissimo per ordinario opera molto più prodigi nelle immagini sagre nelle quali non spicca l' eccellenza dell' arte o alcuna cosa superiore all' umana.’—Istoriti della Capella di Sancta Sanctorum, p. 77.
Even animal beauty. It is one of the most subtle, and, at the same time, most profoundly just, criticisms of Winckelmann, that it was the custom of the Greeks to enhance the perfection of their ideal faces by transfusing into them some of the higher forms of animal beauty. This was especially the case with Jupiter, the upper part of whose countenance is manifestly taken from that of a lion, while the hair is almost always so arranged as to increase the resemblance. There are many busts of Jupiter, which, if all but the forehead and hair were covered, would be unhesitatingly pronounced to be images of lions. Something of the bull appears in like manner in Hercules; while in Pan (though not so much with a view to beauty as to harmony) the human features always approach as near as human features can to the characteristics of the brute. As M. Raoul-Rochette has well observed, this is one of the great distinctive marks of Greek sculpture. The Egyptians often joined the head of an animal to the body of a man without making any effort to soften the incongruity; but beauty being the main object of the Greeks, in all their composite statues—Pan, Centaurs, hermaphrodites—the two natures that are conjoined are fused and blended into one harmonious whole.
See the Laocoön of Lessing. It is to this that Lessing ascribes the famous device of Timanthes in his sacrifice of Iphigenia—drawing the veil over the face of Agamemnon—which Pliny so poetically explains.
‘Deus nudus est.’—Seneca, Ep. xxxi.
Raoul-Rochette, Cours d'Archéologie, pp. 269, 270. See also Fortoul, Études d'Archéologie.
Matter, Hist. du Gnosticisme, tom. iii. p. 264.
The period in which the ascetic ideal of ugliness was most supreme in art was between the sixth and twelfth centuries. Many of the Roman mosaics during that period exhibit a hideousness which the inexpertness of the artists was quite insufficient to account for, and which was evidently imitated from the emaciation of extreme asceticism.—See Vitet, Études sur l'Histoire de l'Art, tom. i. pp. 268–279. Concerning the art of the middle ages, besides the works that have come down to us, we have a good deal of evidence in a book by a bishop of the thirteenth century, named Durandus, called Rationale Divinorum Officiorum. A great deal of curious learning on mediæval art is collected by the Abbé Pascal in his Institutions de l'Art Chrétien; but, above all, in the Iconographic Chrétienne of Didron.
See an extremely clever sketch of the movement in Raoul-Rochette, Cours d'Archéologie; and Winckelmann, Hist. of Art.
According to Winckelmann, wooden statues with marble heads, called ༀκρογεθοι, continued as late as the time of Phidias. From the painted wooden statues was derived the custom of painting those in marble and bronze. Heyne, who has devoted a very learned essay to Greek sculpture, thinks the statues of Dædalus were in wood (Opuscula Academica, tom. v. p. 389); but this appears very doubtful. Pausanias says he saw a statue ascribed to Dæda les which was of stone.
See Winckelmann and Ottfried Müller.
This influence is well noticed by M. Rio, in a book called The Poetry of Christian Art. An exception, however, should be made in favour of Greek architects, to whom Italy owed its first great ecclesiastical structure, the church of St. Vitale at Ravenna (which Charlemagne copied at Aix-la-Chapelle), and at a later period St. Mark's at Venice, and several other beautiful edifices. The exile of the Greek artists during the Iconoclast persecution, and the commercial relations of Venice, Pisa, and Genoa, account for the constant action of Greece on Italy through the middle ages. I have already noticed the skill of the Byzantine artists in mosaic work.
Of which Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Cyril of Alexandria were the principal advocates. The last declared that Christ had been ‘the ugliest of the sons of men.’ This theory furnished Celsus with one of his arguments against Christianity. The opposite view was taken by Jerome, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and John Damascene. With a view of supporting the latter opinion, there was forged a singularly beautiful letter, alleged to have been written to the Roman Senate by Lentulus, who was proconsul in Judæa before Herod, and in which the following passage occurs: ‘At this period there appeared a man, who is still living—a man endowed with wonderful power—his name is Jesus Christ. Men say that He is a mighty prophet; but his disciples call Him the Son of God. He calls the dead to life, and frees the sick from every form of disease. He is tall of stature, and his aspect is sweet and full of power, so that they who look upon Him may at once love and fear Him. The hair of his head is of the colour of wine; as far as the ears it is straight and without glitter, from the ears to the shoulders it is curled and glossy, and from the shoulders it descends over the back, divided into two parts after the manner of the Nazarenes. His brow is pure and even; his countenance without a spot, but adorned with a gentle glow; his expression bland and open; his nose and mouth are of perfect beauty; his beard is copious, forked, and of the colour of his hair; his eyes are blue and very bright. In reproving and threatening He is terrible; in teaching and exhorting, gentle and loving. The grace and majesty of his appearance are marvellous. No one has ever seen Him laugh, but rather weeping. His carriage is erect; his hands well formed and straight; his arms of passing beauty. Weighty and grave in speech, He is sparing of words. He is the most beautiful of the sons of men.’ Nearly all archæologists have inferred from the representations of the fourth century that this description was then in existence. Dean Milman, however, argues from the silence of St. John Damascene, and of the disputants at the Second Council of Nice, that it is of a much later date. See on this whole subject, Emeric David, Hist. de la Peinture, pp. 24–26; and Didron, Iconographie Chrétienie, pp. 251–276. I may add, that as late as 1649 a curious book (De Formâ Christi) was published on this subject at Paris by a Jesuit, named Vavassor, which represents the controversy as still continuing.
The same thing is related of the Spanish sculptor Hernandez, and of the Spanish painter Juanes.—Ford's Spain, vol. ii. p. 271.
Or, according to others, 692. The object of this council (which was held at Constantinople, and is known under the title ‘In Trullo’) was to repress the love of allegory that was general; and a very learned historian of art thinks that it first produced pictures of the Crucifixion. (Emeric David, Hist. de la Peinture, pp. 59–61.) Its decree was afterwards either withdrawn or neglected, for lambs soon reappeared, though they never regained their former ascendency in art. As far as I remember, there is no instance of them in the Catacombs; but after Constantine they for nearly three centuries had superseded every other symbol. (Rio, Art Chrétien, Introd. p. 49.) Ciampini says that the council which condemned them was a pseudo-council—not sanctioned by the Pope. (Vetera Monumenta, pars i. p. 28. See, too, Marangoni, Istoria della Cappella di Sancta Sanctorum, p. 159.)
At first they were strictly forbidden to remain in the towns. Even the priest-ridden Theodosius made a law commanding all who had embraced profession of monks to betake themselves to ‘vast solitudes’ and ‘desert places.’ (Cod. Theod. lib. xvi. tit. 3, c. 1.)
That is, by the introduction of the cross, which was the first innovation on the old basilica architecture, and in many of the churches by a slight inclination of the extremity from the straight line, it is said, to represent the verse, ‘Jesus bowed his head and gave up the ghost.’
German pictures are often indecent, but never sensual. It is all the difference between Swift and Don Juan. The nude figure as painted by Van den Werff is ivory—as painted by Titian or Correggio, it is life. Spanish art tried much to be religious and respectable; and, like the Vergognosa at Pisa, pst her hands before her eyes in the midst of the wickedness that surrounded her. But I am afraid she sometimes looked through her fingers. This aspect of Italian art has been most vividly exhibited in the writings of Stendhal (H. Beyle).
It is perhaps true, as modern critics say, that the transition of Greek art from Phidias to Praxiteles was a declension. It is certainly true that that transition was from the representation of manly strength, and the form of beauty that is most allied to it, to the representation of beauty of a sensual cast—from an art of which Minerva was the central figure, to an art of which Venus was the type—or (as the German critics say) from the ascendency of the Doric to the ascendency of the Ionic element. But this decadence, if it really took place, is not, I think, inconsistent with what I have stated in the text; for sculpture and painting have each their special perfections, and the success of the artist will in a great degree depend upon his appreciation of the peculiar genius of the art he pursues. Now sculpture is as far superior to painting in its capacity for expressing strength and masculine beauty, as painting is superior to sculpture in expressing warmth and passionate beauty. All the efforts of a Grecian chisel never equalled the voluptuous power of the brush of Titian; and, on the other hand, painting has tried in vain to rival the majesty and the force of sculpture. If there be an exception to this last proposition, it is one which proves the rule, for it is furnished by Michael Angelo, the greatest modern sculptor, in the most sculpture-like frescoes in the world. It should be added, however, that landscape painting is in no sense the creature of sensuality, and Mr. Ruskin has with some force claimed it as a special fruit of Christianity.
On the amazing vice of Venice, and on the violent but unsuccessful efforts of the magistrates to arrest it, see much curious evidence in Sabatier, Hist de la Législation sur les Femmes Publiques (Paris, 1828).
It is generally said to have been invented in the beginning of the fifteenth century by Van Eyck, who died in 1440; but the claim of Van Eyck is not undisputed. It was introduced into Italy about 1452 by a Sicilian painter named Antonello. (Rio, Art Chrétien, tom. i. p. 354.)
At an earlier period, oriental robes exercised an influence of a different kind upon art. In the thirteenth century, when they began to pour into France, the ornamentation, and especially the tracery, of the windows of many of the French cathedrals is said to have been copied accurately from these patterns. See a very curious essay on painted glass by Thèvenot (Paris, 1837). I may add that, at the time of Augustus, the importation of Indian dresses had told powerfully on Roman art, producing the paintings known as arabesque, and (as Vitruvius complains) diverting the artists from the study of the Greek model. In the middle ages both Venice and Florence were famous for their dyers.
Praxiteles is said to have definitively given the character of sensuality to Venus, who had previously floated between several ideals of beauty, and also to have been the especial author of the effeminate type of Apollo. Phryne, who was then the great model of voluptuous beauty—she who, having been condemned to death, was absolved on account of her exceeding loveliness—was his mistress. His contemporary Polycles greatly strengthened the sensual movement by introducing into art the hermaphrodite. See Rio, Art Chrétien, Introd. pp. 17–21; O. Müller, Manuel d' Archéologie, tom. i. pp. 156, 157.
Constantine himself set the example in this respect. See the admiring remarks of Eusebius, Vita Const. lib. iii. caps. 5, 6.
When this impulse had ceased in Italy, it was still in some degree continued by the explorations of the French in Greece, where a French consulate was formed about 1630. See Vitet, Études sur l' Histoire de l' Art, tom. i. p. 94.
See the description in Platins.
And was accordingly in sculpture (as in painting) singularly unfortunate in catching the moral expression of Scripture subjects. His Moses—half prize-fighter, half Jupiter Tonans—is certainly the extreme antithesis to ‘the meekest man in all the world.’ His colossal statue of David after his victory over Goliath (it would be as rational to make a colossal statue of a Lilliputian) would be perfect as an Achilles.
Rio—I think the best part of his book.
Better known as Fra Bartolommeo.
Anderson, Hist. of Commerce, vol. ii. p. 36. There is a very curious collection of passages from the Acts of the Saints, in which bells are alluded to (but none of them apparently earlier than the beginning of the seventh century) in an out-of-the-way quarter. (Suarez, De Fide, lib. ii. c. 16.) See, too, Colgan's Acta Sanctorum Hiberniœ, tom. i. p. 149.
Anderson, vol. i. p. 80. There had before been known a water organ, called an hydraulicon. There was also a wind instrument which some have placed among the antecedents of the organ, but which seems to have been almost exactly the same as a Scotch bagpipe. I am sorry to say Julian had the bad taste to praise it in one of his epigrams. (See Burney, Hist. of Music, vol. ii. pp. 65–67.) There is a curious series of papers on the musical instruments in the middle ages, by Coussemaker, in the Annales Archéologiques (edited by Didron), tom. iv. They have since, I believe, been published separately.
We have a very striking example of this in both the buildings and the eriticisms of the eighteenth century. What (e. g.) should we now say to an imaginative writer who, speaking of York Minster, assured us, as Smollett does, ‘that the external appearance of an old cathedral cannot but be displeasing to the eye of every man who has any idea of propriety and proportion;’ who could only describe Durham Cathedral as ‘a huge gloomy pile;’ and who acknowledged that he associated the idea of a church with a spire especially with that of a man impaled (see Humphrey Clinker)? Every one, I should think, who was well acquainted with the literature of the eighteenth century, must have been struck with the contempt for Gothic architecture pervading it; but the extent to which this was carried was never fully shown till the publication, a few years ago, of an exceedingly curious book by the Abbé Corblet, called L'Architecture du Moyen Age jugée par les Écrivains des doux derniers Siècles (Paris, 1859). The learned antiquarian has shown that, during the last half of the seventeenth century, and during the whole of the eighteenth century there was scarcely a single writer, no matter what may have been his religious opinions, who did not speak of Gothic architecture not merely without appreciation, but with the most supreme and unqualified contempt. The list includes, among others, Fénelon, Bossuet, Molière, Fleury, Rollin, Montesquieu, La Bruyère, Helvétius, Rousseau, Mengs, and Voltaire. Goethe as one time opposed, but afterwards yielded to, the stream. Milan Cathedral was the special object of ridicule. Gothic architecture was then almost universally ascribed to the Goths of the fifth century, and Bishop Warburton suggested that they had derived the idea from the overarching boughs of their native forests. Some, however (and among others Barry), regarded it as an imperfect imitation of Greek architecture. Many of the criticisms were very curious. Thus, Dupuis thought the zodiacs on the cathedrals were a remnant of the worship of Mithra. Another critic found a connection between the shape of the ogive and the eggs of Isis. A third, named Montluisant, explained all the sculptures on the fronts of Notre Dame de Paris by the science of the philosopher's stone: God the Father, holding an angel in each hand, is the Deity calling into existence the incombustible sulphur and the mercury of life. The flying dragon biting its tail is the philosopher's stone, composed of the fixed and the volatile substances, the former of which devours the latter, &c., &c. (Œuvres de St. Foix, tom. iii. pp. 245, 246.) It is to the Catholic revival of the present century that we mainly owe the revival of Goths architecture.
It is true that the Greek traditions had always lingered in Italy, and that pure Gothic never succeeded in gaining an ascendency there as in other countries. The little church of St. Maria della Spina, at Pisa, which was designed by Nicolas of Pisa, is probably the best specimen of purely Italian origin, for Milan Cathedral is said to be due to German architects; but this fact, while it accounts for Italy having been the great assailant of the Gothic, did not prevent its influence from being cosmopolitan.
Indeed in Prussia, and some other parts of Germany, the Calvinists and Lutherans have actually coalesced. The tendency to assimilation appears to have been strongly felt as early as the middle of the seventeenth century, and Bishop Bedell exerted himself strongly to promote it. (See some interesting particulars in his Life, by Usher.) On the recent amalgamation of the Lutherans and Calvinists in Germany, and on its relation to rationalism, there are some remarks worth reading in Amand Saintes' Hist. de Rationalisme en Allemagne.
The principles of parties change so much more than their names, that it is not easy to get an accurate notion of their strength at different periods. Shortly after the accession of William III., the Low Church clergy, according to Macaulay (History of England, vol. iii. p. 741), scarcely numbered a tenth part of he priesthood. On their strength in the present controversy, see some curious statistics in Conybeare's Essay on Church Parties. The failure of the movement was very candidly confessed by the leader, in his Ang'ican Difficulties.
See Beausobre, Hist. du Manichéisme, tom. i. pp. 286–288. Barbeyrac, Morale des Pères, ch. vii., has collected a number of wonderful extravagances of interpretation into which the love of allegory led Origen. One of the most curious writings of the ancient Church bearing on this subject has been lately printed in the Spicilegium Solesmense (curante Dom. J. B. Pitra). It is the Clavis of St. Melito, who was bishop of Sardis, it is said, in the beginning of the second century, and consists of a catalogue of many hundreds of birds, beasts, plants, and minerals, that were symbolical of Christian virtues, doctrines, and personages.
The Church being wedded to Christ, ‘bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh,’ that is to say, participating alike of his strength and of his purity (De Genesi, contra Manichœos, lib. i. c. 23.)
Lib. v cap. 25. This notion of marriage representing the union of the two main elements of life, is very beautifully developed by Swedenborg, in a book on Conjugal Affection.
The chest signifying pride, and the stomach sensual'ty.
Lib. ii. cap. 2.
Beansobre, Hist. du Manichéisme, tom. i. p. 246.
This work is published in the Benedictine edition of the Greek Fathers (Paris, 1706), tom. ii. I have quoted the Benedictine Latin translation. In his preface, Montfaucon has collected a long chain of passages from the Fathers denying the existence of the Antipodes.
Lib. i. prologus 2.
‘Ait, “Hic est liber generationis cœli et terræ,” quasi omnia iis contincantur, et universa quæ in eis sunt cum illis significentur. Nam si secundum fucatos illos Christianos cœlum tantummodo universa continest, terram cum cœlo non nominasset, sed dixisset “Hic est liber generationis cœli.”’ (P. 126.)
These were Isaish xl. 22, and Job xxxviii. 38. The first was translated ‘Qui statuit cœlum sicut fornicem.’ The second, ‘Cœlum autem in terram Inclinavit, effusa est vero sicut terra, calx, conglutinavi autem ipsum quasi lapidem quadrum.’
‘Sic igitur et nos quemadmodum Hesaias figuram primi cœli prima die conditi cum terra facti, cum terra universum complectentis ad fornicis figuram adornati statuimus esse. Ac quemadmodum in Job dictum est cœlum conglutinatum esse teæ, its quoque nos dicimus. Itemque cum ex Moyse didicerimus terram magis quoad longitudinem extendi, id nos quod fatemur gnari, scilicet Scripturæ divinæ credendum.’ (P. 129.)
This very liberal opinion had been expressed by Basil and Ambrose.
This doctrine began to dawn upon a few minds during the Copernican controversy. Those who desire to trace its history may read with interest some opinions on the subject that were collected and answered by a contemporary writer on the question between Galileo and the Church (bertus Fromundus, Vesta, sive Anti-Aristarchi Vindex: Antverpiæ, 1634). As I shall have occasion again to quote Fromundus, I may mention that he was a professor and doctor of theology at Louvain; that he was the author of a work on meteorology, in which he combated very forcibly the notion that atmospheric changes were the results of spiritual intervention, which Bodin had lately been defending; and that he was on the whole by no means a superstitious man, except on the subject of comets, of the prophetic character of which he was, I believe, a strenuous advocate. He wrote, in conjunction with a theologian named Fieni, a book about comets, which I have never been fortunate enough to meet with. He was one of the principal defenders of the immobility of the earth, and his works are full of curious information on the theological aspect of the subject. He died in 1653.
The first condemnation was in 1616, and was provoked by the book of a Carmelite, named Foscarini, in defence of the Copernican view. The cardinals of the Congregation of the Index, whose function it is to pronounce authoritatively in the name of the Church on the orthodoxy of new books, then issued a decree, of which the following is the principal part:—‘Quia ad notitiam Sanctæ Congregationis pervenit falsam illam doctrinam Pythagoricam, divinæque Scripturæ omnino adversantem, de mobilitate terræ et immobilitate solis, quam Nicolaus Copernicus Revolutionibus orbium cœlestium, et Didacus Astunica in Job, etiam docent, jam divulgari et multis recipi, sicuti videre est ex quâdam epistolâ impressâ cujusdam P. Carmelitæ, cujus titulus Lettera del R. P. Maestro Paolo Foscarini sopra l'Opinione d'i Pythagorici e del Copernico, &c., in quâ dictus pater ostendere conatur præfatam doctrinam de immobilitate solis in centro mundi et mobilitate terræ consonam esse veritati, et non adversari Sacræ Scripturæ: ideo, ne ulterius hujusmodi opinio in perniciem Catholicæ veritatis serpat, censuit dictos hic Copernicum de Revolut. Orbium et Didacum Astunicam in Job suspendendos esse donec corrigantur. Librum vero P. Paulli Foscarini Carmelitæ omnino prohibendum, atque omnes alios ambros pariter idem docentes prohibendos.’—Fromundus, Anti-Aristarchus, sive Orbis Terrœ immobilis. In quo Decretum S. Congregationis S. R. E. Cardinal. 1616 adversus Pythagorico-Copernicanos editum defenditur (Antverpiæ, 1631), p. 18.
Sylvester II. He was the first Frenchman who sat on the throne of Peter, the reputed author of Gallican opinions, and it is said the ablest mathematician and mechanician of his time. He died 1003. Among other things, he invented a kind of clock. He had also a statue, like that of Roger Bacon, which answered all his questions. According to the popular legend, he was in communion with the devil, who raised him successively to the sees of Rheims, Ravenns, and Rome; and promised that he should never die till he had been at Jerusalem, which Gerbert construed as a promise of immortality. But, like that made to Henry IV. of England, it proved to be a cheat, and the Pope felt the hand of death upon him while officiating in the Chapel of Jerusalem, in the Basilica of St. Croce. The legend goes on to say that, struck by remorse, he ordered his body to be cut in pieces, to be placed on a car drawn by oxen, and to be buried wherever they stopped of themselves, he being unworthy to rest in the church of God. But, to show that pardon may be extended even to the most guilty, the oxen stopped at the door of the Lateran. Whenever, it is said, a pope is about to die, the tomb of Sylvester grows moist, and the bones of the old magician clatter below. (See Gregorovius, On the Tombs of the Popes, and the original account in Matthew of Westminster anno 998.)
Even the sun and stars were supposed to shine with a feebler light since the Fall (St. Isidore, De Ordine Creaturarum, cap. v.). On the effects of man's sin on the vegetable world, see St. Augustine, De Genesi, lib. i. cap. 13.
I have already mentioned the bold attempt of Peter of Apono, in the beginning of the fourteenth century, to construct, by the aid of astrology, a philosophy of religions. Cardan, too, cast the horoscope of Christ, and declared that all the fortunes of Christianity were predicted by the stars. Vanini adopted a somewhat similar view. (Durand, Vie de Vanini, pp. 93–99.) Pomponazzi attempted to explain the phenomena of magic by the influence of the stars (Biog. Univ., art. Pomponazvi); and Bodin, in the very greatest political work of the sixteenth century, having raised the question whether it is possible to discover any principle of order presiding over the development of societies, maintains that such a principle can only be revealed by astrology. (République, liv. iv. c. 2.)
As a poet expresses it:—
Whatever may be thought of its justice, there cannot be two opinions about the exquisite beauty of the suggestion by which Dr. Chalmers sought to meet this difficulty—that the parable of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep to seek that which had gone astray, is but a description of the act of the Deity soeking to reclaim the single world that had revolted against Him, as though it were of more importance than all that remained faithful. It may be added that astronomy itself furnishes a striking illustration of the danger of trusting too implicitly to our notions of the fitness of things. The ancient astronomers unanimously maintained that the motions of the celestial bodies must necessarily be circular and uniform, because they regarded that as the most perfect kind of movement; and the persistence with which this notion was held, till it was overthrown by Kepler, was one of the chief obstacles to astronomical progress.
See a clear view of the old opinions on this subject in Barbeyrac, De le Noture du Sort (Amsterdam, 1714), who sustained an ardent controversy on the subject with a Dutch divine. The first writer, I believe, who clearly and systematically maintained that lots were governed by purely natural laws, was an English Puritan minister named Gataker, in a work On the Nature and Use of Different Kinds of Lots (London, 1619)—a well-reasoned and curious book, teeming with quaint learning.
Hence the term ‘sortes’ was applied to oracles. Hence, too, such words as ‘sorteligi,’ ‘sorcerera.’
Thus De Maistre, speaking of the ancients, says:—‘Leur physique est à peu près nulle. Car non seulement ils n'attachaient aucun prix aux expériences physiques, mais ils les méprisaient, et meme ils attachaient je ne sais quel légère idée d'impiété; et ce sentiment confus venait de bien haut.’ (Soirées de St. Pétersbourg, 5me entretien.) This is the true spirit of superstition. Speaking of earthquakes, Cosmas says:—‘Quod vero terra moveatur id non a vento fleri dicimus; non enim fabulas comminiscimur ut illi, sed illud jussu Dei fieri pronuntiamus, nuc curiose rem perquirimus, ait quippe Scripture per Davidem, “Qui respicit terram et facit eam tremere,” &c.’—p. 115.
This was originally a remark of St. Simon, but it has been adopted and made great use of by M. Comte and some of his disciples. See that very able book, Littré, Vie de Conte.
Roccamora, De Cometis, p. 17; St. Isidore, De Ordine Creaturarum.
Maury, Légendes Picuses, pp. 17–18. Angels were sometimes represented in old Christian painting and sculpture bearing along the stars (and especially the Star of Bethlehem) in their hands. See, e. g., a very curious old bas relief round the choir of Norte Dame at Paris.
The fullest statement of the evidence of the prophetic character of comets I have met with, is in Raxo, De Cometis (1578). The author was a Spanist physician.
Roccamora, De Cometis (Romæ, 1670), pp. 238, 239.
In a letter to Zwinglius.
And, flying off at a tangent from his main subject, for one of the very oest dissertations on the relation between religion and morals. With the greatest possible admiration for the Critical Dictionary, which will be always regarded as one of the most stupendous monuments of erudition and of critical acumen ever bequeathed by a single scholar, I cannot but think that the original genius of Bayle shines still more brightly in the Corurains-les d'Entrer, m some of the Pensées diveraes sur les Comètes, and in two or three of his Nouvelles Lettres
The age of Bacon was certainly not as benighted and ignorant on scientific matters as he always represented it. On the contrary, when we remember that it was the age of Copernicus, Galileo, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, and Gilbert, it would be difficult to name one that was more distinguished. A large portion of the scientific revival in Europe may be justly ascribed to these great men; and the only apology that can be offered for the representations of Bacon is that, notwithstanding his great genius, he was totally unable to graep their discoveries. The Copernican system—the greatest discovery of the age—he rejected to the last. The important discoveries of Gilbert about the magnet he treated not only with incredulity, but with the most arrogant contempt. In measuring his influence, we have to remember that it was certainly not dominant outside England till that union between the English and French intellects that immediately preceded the French Revolution. Then, indeed, his philosophy exercised an immense and salutary influence upon the Continent; but Europe had not been sleeping till then. In Great Britain itself, Bacon produced no perceptible effect upon the great school of literature and science that grew up beyond the Tweed; and even in England, where he has been almost omnipotent, two of the very greatest men stood apart from his disciples. The whole method and mental character of Newton was opposed to that of Bacon, and, as his biographer, Sir David Brewster, very forcibly contenda, there is not the slightest reason to believe that Newton owed anything to his predecessor; while Harvey avowedly owed his great discovery to that doctrine of final canses which Bacon stigmatised as ‘barren, like a virgin consecrated to God that car bear no fruit.’
See the remarks on the consistence of morphological conceptions with the doctrine of final causes in Whewell's History of Scientific Ideas.
Laplace, who has done more than any one else to systematise arguments from probability, and who will certainly not be accused of any desire to subordinate science to theology, states the argument for design derived from the motions of the planetary bodies in the following almost bewildering terms: ‘Des phénomènes aussi extraordinaires ne sont point dûs à des causes irrégulières. En soumettant au calcul leur probabilité, on trouve qu'il y a plus de deux cents mille milliards à parier contre un qu'ils ne sont point l'effet du asard’—Syatéme du Monde, liv. v. c. 6
Lemoine, Le Vitalinne de Stahl, p. 6.
Systema Theologicum ex Preœ-Adamitarum Hypothesi, pars i. The second part never appeared.
Some of La Peyrère's arguments on this point are curiously far-fetched. Thus he asks why Abel should have kept sheep if there were no robbers to the feared, and where Cain got the weapon with which he killed his brother. The existence of a race of men not descended from Adam was very strenuously maintained, towards the close of the last century, by an eccentric member of the Irish Parliament named Dobbs, in a very strange book called A Short Vieus of Prophecy. It has also been advocated in America, with a view to the defence of Negro Slavery. Mr. Dobbs thought there was a race resulting from an intrigue of Eve with the Devil.
See Denis's Hist. des Idées Morales dans l'Antiquits.
Locke, in his Treatise on Government, adopts very fully the theory of Buhmerus about the origin of the pagan divinities.
The first Christian writer who maintained that the pagan oracles were simply impositions, unconnected with dæmons, is said to have been a Dutch Anabaptist physician named Van Dale; and the same position was afterwards maintained by Fontenelle, in his Histoire des Oracles, which was answered by a Jesuit named Baltus. (Durand, Vie de Vanini, pp. 170–172.)
Spinoza was, as far as I know, the first writer who dwelt much on the possible or probable falsification of some portions of the Old Testament by the insertion of wrong vowel-points, a subject which was a few years since invcs tigated in a work on Hebrew Interpolations, by Dr. Wall, of Dublin University. Some of the remarks of Spinoza about the Jewish habit of speaking of the saggestions of their own minds as inspirations are still worth reading, but with these exceptions the value of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus seems to me to be chiefly historical.
See, on Lessing's views, a clear statement in Amand Sainte's Hist. Critiqus du Rationalisms en Allemagns. Strauss, in the Introduction to his Life of Jesus, gives a vivid sketch of the progress of German Rationalism; and the manner in which he there treats the subject of miracles illustrates very dearly the wide use made of the term ‘ reason’ in German criticism.
See his Religion within the Limits of the Reason.
This has been well noticed by Archbishop Whately—I think in his Annotations to Bacon.
For a full view of the extent to which these amusements were carried or and diversified in England, see Strutt's Sports and Pastimes of the English People. Sir Thomas More was accustomed to boast of his skill in throwing the ‘cock stele;’ and, to the very last, bull-baiting was defended warmly by Canning, and with an almost passionate earnestness by Windham.
As Macaulay, with characteristic antithesis, says: ‘If the Puritans suppressed bull-baiting, it was not because it gave pain to the bull, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.’ The long unsuccessful warfare waged by the Popes against Spanish bull-fighting forms a very curious episode in ecclesiastical history; but its origin is to be found in the number of men who had been killed. An old theologian mentions that, in the town of Concha, a bull that had killed seven men became the object of the highest reverence, and the people were so gratified that a painting representing the achievement was immediately executed for the public square (Concina, De Speciaculis, p. 288). The writers who denounced Spanish bull-fighting contrasted it specially with that of Italy, in which the bull was bound bv a rope, and which was therefore innocent (Ibid. p. 285). Bull-fighting was prohibited under pain of excommunication by Pius V., in 1567. In 1575 Gregory XIII. removed the prohibition except as regards ecclesiastics, who were still forbidden to frequent bull-fights, and as regards festal days, on which they were not to be celebrated. Some Spanish theologians having agitated much on this subject, Sixtus V., in 1586, confirmed the preceding bull. At last, in 1596, Clement VIII., moved by the remonstrance of the Spanish king and the discontent of the Spanisl people, removed all prohibitions (in Spain) except those which rested on the monks, only enjoining caution. At present bull-fights are usually performed on festal days, and form part of most great religious festivals, especially those in honour of the Virgin! On this curious subject full details are given in Thesauro, De Panis Ecclesiasticis (Romse, 1640), and in Concina, De Spectaculis (Roms, 1752). Among the Spanish opponents of bull-fighting was the great Jesuit Mariana. It is curious enough that perhaps the most sanguinary of all bull-fights was in the Coliseum of Rome, in 1333, when the Roman nobles descended into the arena and eighteen were killed (Gibrario, Economis Politica, vol. i. pp. 196, 197); but the Pope was then at Avignon. Michelet has noticed that while bull-fighting was long extremely popular in Rome, the Romagna, and Spoleto, it never took root in Naples, notwithstanding the long domination of the Spaniards.
As Lami and Lanzi have shown, this legend probably resulted from a confusion of names; a Florentine monk, named Luca, of the eleventh century, being, there is much reason to believe, the chief author of the ‘portraits by St. Luke.’ They are not, however, all by the same hand, or of exactly the same age, though evidently copied from the same type. Othes think they are Byzantine pictures brought to Italy during the time of the Iconoclasts and of the Crusades
In France especially the persecution on this ground was frightful. Thus, Bodin tell us that in 1539 the magistrates of Angers burnt alive those who were proved to have eaten meat on Friday if they remained impenitent, and hung them if they repented. (Demon. des Sorciers, p. 216.) In England the subject was regarded in a very peculiar light. Partly because Anglicanism clung closely to the Fathers, and partly because England was a maritime country, fasting was not only encouraged, but strictly enjoined; and a long series of laws and proclamations were accordingly issued between 1548 and the Restoration enjoining abstinence on Wednesdays and Fridays, and throughout Lent; ‘considering that due and godly abstinence is a mean to virtue, and to subdue men's bodies of their souls and spirits; and considering, also, especially that fishers, and men using the trade of fishing in the sea, may thereby the rather be set on work.’ See a list of these laws in Hallam's Const. Hist. vol. i. A homily also enjoins fasting on the same complex ground. There are some very good remarks on the tendency of theologians to condemn more severely error than immorality, and in condemning different errors to dwell most severely on those which are purely speculative, in Bayle, Pensées Diverses, excix. He says: ‘Si un docteur de Sorbonne avoit la hardiesse de chanceler sant soit pea sur le mystàre de I'Incarnation, … il couroit risque du feu Je la Grêve; mala s'il se contentoit d'avancer quelques propositions de morale reiâchée, comme le fameux Escobar, on se contenteroit de dire que cela n'est pus bien, et peut-être on verroit la censure de son livre.’
‘Sic et Epicurus omnem cruciatum doloremque depretiat modicum qui-dem contemptibilem pronuutiando magnum vero non diuturnum. Enimvero nos qui sub Deo omnium speculatore dispungimur, quique æternam ab eo pænam providemus merito soli innocentiæ occurrimus et pro scientiæ plenitu dine et pro magnitudine cruciatus non diuturni verum sempiterni.’(Tertullian, Apol., cap. xlv.)
The opinions of this last Father on the subject, which are very little known, are clearly stated in that learned book, Dallæus, De Pænu at Satis-factionibus (Amsterdam, 1649), lib. iv. c. 7. For Origen's well-known opinions, see Ibid. lib. iv. c. 6.
A long chain of quotations establishing this will be found in Swinden, On the Fire of Hell (London, 1727); and in Horberry's Enquiry conoernine Fature Punishment (London, 1744).
See the long argument based on these grounds in St. Aug. De Civ. Des, lib. xxi. cc. 1–9. Minutius Felix treats the same subject in a somewhat fero cious passage: ‘Ipse rex Jupiter per torrentes ripas et atram voraginem jurat religiose: destinatam enim sibi cum suis cultoribus pænam præscius perhor tescit: nec tormentis aut modus ullus aut terminus. Illic sapiens ignis membra urit et reficit: carpit et nutrit sicut ignes fulminum corpora tangunt næabsumunt: sicut ignes Etnæ et Vesuvii et ardentium ubique terrarum flagrant næ erogantur: ita pænale illud incendium non damnis ardentium pascitur sed inexesa corporum laceratione nutritur. (Octavius, cap. xxxv.)
This fact had been noticed by several early English divines (Barrow and Berkeley among the number); but it was brought into especial relief by War-burton, who, as is well known, in his Divine Legation, based a curious argument in favour of the divine origin of the Levitical religion upon the fact that it contained no revelation of a future world. Archbishop Whately, who strongly took up the view of Warburton concerning the fact, has, in one of his Essays on the Peculiarities of the Christian Religion, applied it very skilfully to establishing the divine origin, not indeed of Judaism, but of Christianity, because Christianity does contain a revelation of the future world. Both these writers contend that the well-known passage in Job does not refer to the resurrection. The subject has been dwelt on from another point of view by Chubb, Voltaire, Strauss, and several other writers. On the growth of the doctrine among the Jews, see Mackay's Religious Development of the Greeks and Hebreavs, vol. ii. pp. 286–297.
Denis, Histoire des Idées Morales dans V Antiquité, torn. i. pp. 18, 19.
Ibid. pp. 104 106.
On the place representations of Tartarus had in the mysteries, see Ma guin, Origines du Théâire, torn. i. pp. 81–84.
The Manichæans are said to have believed that the souls of the dead were porifled in the sun; that they were then borne in the moor to the angels; and that the phases of the moon were caused by the increase or diminution of freight. (Beausobre, Hist. Critique du Manichæisme. torn. i. pp. 243, 2x.
Dallæus, De Panis et Satisfactionibus, lib. iv. c. 9. Some of the ancients had a notion about fire being the portal of the unseen world. Herodotus (lib. 92) tells a curious story about Periander, a tyrant of Corinth, who invoked the shade of his wife; but she refused to answer Ms questions, alleging that she was too cold; for though dresses had been placed in her tomb, they were of no use to her, as they had not been burnt.
Scoti was at first the name of the Irish; it was afterwards shared and finally monopolised by the inhabitants of Scotland. Erigena means, born in Erin—the distinctive name of Ireland. There is an amusing notice of Scotus Erigeua in Matthew of Westminster (An. 880).
He is regarded in the first light by M. Guizot in his History of Civilisation; and in the second by M. St. René Taillandier, in his able and learned treatise on Scotus.
On the doctrines of Scotus, and especially on that about hell, see Tail-utandier, Scot Erigàne, pp. 176–180; Ampàre, Hist. Littèraire de la France, tom. iü. p. 95; Alexandri, Hist. Eccles., tom. vi. pp. 361–363. Acording to this last writer, Scotus admitted literal torments for the devil, but not for man
The details of many of these visions are given in their full force in Swinden; and in Plancy, Dictionnaire Infernale, art. Enfer. Dean Milman, in his Hist. of Latin Christianity, has noticed this passion for detailed pictures of hell (which seems to date from St. Gregory the (great) with his usual force and justice.
St. Thomas Aquinas says, ‘Beati in regno coelesti videbunt pœnas damna torum, UT BEATITUDO ILLIS MAGIS COMPLACKAT.’ (Summa Suppl., quæ, xciv art 1.)
Swinden, p. 129.
‘Quæ tunc spectaculi latitudo! Quid admirer! Quid rideam! ubi gandeam! ubi exultem, spectans tot et tantos reges, qui in cœlum recepnuntiadantur, cum ipso Jove et ipsis suis testibus in imis tenebris congemescentes! Item præsides persecutores dominici nominis sævioribus quam ipsi flammis sævierunt insultantibus contra Christianos liquescentes! quos præterea sapientes illos philosophos coram discipulis suis una conflagrationibus erubescentes, quibus nihil ad Deum pertinere suadebant, quibus animas aut nullas aut non in pristina corpora redituras affirmabant! Etiam poetas non ad Rhadamanti nec ad Minois, sed ad inopinati Christi tribunal palpitantes. Tunc magis tragœdi audiendi magis scilicet vocales in sua propria calamitate. Tune histriones cognoscendi solutiores multo per ignem. Tunc spectandus auriga in flammea rota totus rubens; tunc xystici contemplandi non in gymnasiis sed in igne jaculati; nisi quod ne tunc quidem illos velim visos, ut qui malim ad eos potius conspectum insatiabilem conferre qui in dominum desævierunt. Hie est ille dicam fabri aut quæstuariæ filius, sabbati destructor, Samarites et démonium habens. Hic est quem a Juda redemistis, hic est ille arundine et colaphis diverberatus, sputamentis dedecoratus, felle et aceto potatus. Hic est quem clam discentes subripuerunt ut resurrexisse dicatur, vel hortulanus detraxit ne lactucæ suæ frequentia commeantium léderentur. Ut talia spectes, ut talibus exultes quis tibi prætor, aut consul, aut quæstor, aut sacerdos de sua liberalitate præstabit? Et tamen hæc jam quodammodo habemus per fidem spiritu imaginante repræsentats.’ (Tertullian, De Spectac., cap. xxx.)
We shall have ample evidence of this in the next chapter. At present it is sufficient to say that the use of the slow fire in burning heretics was in many districts habitual. In that curious book, the Scaligerana (a record of the conversation of Joseph Scaliger, by an intimate friend who lived in his house), we have a horrible description of one of these executions in Guienne: ‘J'avois environ seize ans que je vis brusler un Jacobin qui fermoit la bouche aux Papistes: on le dégrada et on le brusla à petit feu, le liant avec des cordes mouillées par les aisselles près la potence, et là on mettoit le feu dessous tellement qu'il estoit demy consumé avant qu'il fut mort.’ (Art. Heretici. See, too, art. Sorciers.) See, too, Cousin's account of the execution of Vanini.
In cases of heresy and treason, but the first were of course by far the most common. As one of the old authorities on the subject says: ‘In crimine hæresis omnes illi torquendi sunt qui in crimine læsæ majestatis humanæ torqueri possunt; quia longe gravius est divinum quam temporalem lædere majestatem, ac proinde nobiles, milites, decuriones, doctores, et omnes qui quantâlibet prærogativâ præfulgent in crimine hæresis et in crimine læsæ majestatis humanæ torqueri possunt … quo fit quod minores viginti quinque annis propter suspicionem hæresis et læsæ majestatis torqueri possunt, minores etiam quatuordecem annis terreri et habenâ vel ferulâ cædi.’ (Suares de Paz, Praxis Ecclesiastica et Sœcularis , p. 158.)
The extraordinary ingenuity of the mediæval tortures, and the extent to which they were elaborated by the clergy, is well shown in an article on torture by Villegille, in Lacroix, Le Moyen Age et la Renaissance (Paris, 1848). tom. iii. The original works on the subject are very numerous, and possess a great but painful interest. Perhaps the fullest is Marsilius’ (a lawyer of Bologna) Tractatus de Quœtionibus (1529 and 1537—both editions in black letter). Marsilius boasted that he was the inventor of the torture that consisted of depriving the prisoner of all sleep—a torture which was especially used in the States of the Church: ‘In Statu Ecclesiastico hi duo modi magis in usu sunt, ut et tormentum taxillorum, et vigiliæ per somni subtractionem, quem modum invenisse asserit Marsilius.’ (Chartario Praxis Interrogandum Reorum [Romæ, 1618], p. 198.) Besides these works, there are full accounts of the nature of the tortures in Simancas’ De Catholicis Institutionibus, Eymericus’ Directorium Inquisitorum, and many other works to which they refer.
On the extent to which it was employed by the Catholics, under Mary, in the trials of Protestants, see Strutt's Manners of the English People, vol. iii. p. 46; and on the extent to which it was employed by Protestants in the trials of Catholic priests, see Hallam, Const. Hist. (ed. 1827), vol. i. p. 159; and the evidence collected in Milner's Letters to a Prebendary. Bishops Grindal and Coxe suggested the application of torture to the Catholic priests. (Froude, Hist., vol. vii. pp. 418, 419.) See, too, Barrington On the Statutes, pp. 80, and 440, 441.
The suppression of one department of torture was effected in France as sarly as 1780, and was one of the measures of reform conceded to the revolutionary party. All torture, however, was not abolished till the Revolution was actually triumphant, and the abolition was one of the first acts of the democrats. (See Loiseleur, Sur les Peines.) Besides the essays of Montaigns, torture was denounced in the Sagesse of Charron, in the Contrains-les Entrer of Bayle, and in many parts of the writings of Voltaire (see, e. g., art. Torture, in Phil. Dict.) and his contemporaries.
Buckle's Hist., vol. ii. p. 140, note. Luis Vives, a rather famous Spanish philosopher, in his Annotations to St. Augustine, had protested against torture as early as the first half of the sixteenth century. His opinions on this subject were vehemently denounced by a bishop named Simancas, in a very remarkable book called De Catholicis Institutionibus ad prœcavendas et extirpandas Hœreses (1569), to which I shall have occasion hereafter to refer. Simancas observes that ‘Inquisitores Apostolici sæpissime reos torquere so lent;’ he defends the practice with great energy, on the authority of theolc gians; and he gives a very vivid description of different modes of torture the Inqursitors employed in their dealings with heretics (pp. 297–309.) See also, on this horrible subject, Llorente, Hist. of the Inquisition. Simanacas notices that, in other countries, criminals were in his day tortured in public, but in Spain in secret (p. 305).
On the influence of Beccaria, see Loiseleur, pp. 335–338. Morellet's translation passed through seven editions in six months.
There is, perhaps, one exception to this. Beccaria grounded much of his reasoning on the doctrine of the social compact. I cannot, however, think that this argument had much influence in producing the change.
It is worthy of notice that St. Augustine perceived very clearly the evil of torture, and stated the case against it with his usual force and terseness: ‘Cum quæritur utrum sit nocens cruciatur et innocens luit pro incerto scelere certissimas pœnas’ (De Civ. Dei, lib. xix. cap. 6); but he concluded that it was necessary.
The tendency of all penal systems constructed under the influence of the clergy to make the legal code coextensive with the moral code, and to make punishments as much as possible of the nature of expiation, is well known. As a modern instance of this, Sweden is perhaps the most remarkable. See the striking book of Mr. Laing, upon its present condition.
This theory is developed in the Phœdon. The Greeks had an extreme fear of the dead, and consequently a strong predisposition to see ghosts.
‘Not one of them (the early Fathers) entertained the same opinion as the majority of Christians do at the present day, that the soul is perfectly simple, and entirely destitute of all body, figure, form, and extension. On the contrary, they all acknowledge it to contain something corporeal, although of a different kind and nature from the bodies of this mortal sphers. But yet they are divided into two opinions. For some contend that there are two things in the soul—spirit, and a very thin and subtle body in which this spirit is clothed…. Those who follow Plato and the Platonists (i. e. Clement, Origen, and their disciples), adopt the Platonic doctrine respecting the soul also, and pronounce it to be most simple in itself, but yet always invested with a subtle body. But the others, who keep far aloof from Plato, and consider his philosophy to be prejudicial to Christian principles, repudiate this doctrine of his as well, and maintain that the soul altogether is nothing more than a most subtle body…. They very frequently assail the Platonists with bitter invectives, for inculcating that the soul is of a nature most simple, and devoid of all concretion.’—Note by Mosheim to Cudworth's Intell. System (Harrison's ed.), vol. iii. p. 325. Mr. Hallam says: ‘The Fathers, with the exception, perhaps the single one, of Augustine, had taught the corporeity of the thinking substance.’ (Hist, of Lit.)
Cudworth, vol. iii. p. 318. The same Father based his doctrine of the soal in a great measure on apparitions. (Ibid. p. 330.)
‘Corporalitas animae in ipso evangelio relucebit. Dolet apud inferos auima cujusdam, et punitur in flamma et cruciatur in lingua et de digito animae felicioris implorat solatium roris.’—Tertullian, De Anima, cap. vii.
Ibid. cap. ix. I should mention that this book was written after Tertullian had become a Montanist, but there is no reason to believe that this had anything to say to his psychology
See on this subject Maury, Légendes Pieuses, pp. 125–127.
Maury, Légendes Pieuses, p. 124. There is an example of this in the Triumph of Death, by Orcagna, at Pisa. In the Greek churches the souls of the blessed were sometimes represented as little children clasped in the mighty hand of God. (Didron, Iconographie, p. 216.)
See Sci midt, Études sur le Mysticisme Allemand du XIV’ Siède, in the Mémgires des Sciences Morales et Politiques de l'Instut de France, tom. ii.
The following passage from Vives is interesting both as giving a concise view of the sotions prevailing about spontaneous generation, and on account of the very curious notion in it about mice: ‘De viventibus alia generationem habent spontaneum, ut muscæ, culices, formicæ, apes: quae nec sexum ullum habent. Alia ex commixtione sexuum prodeunt, ut homo, equus, canis, leo. Sunt quæ ambiguam habent procreationem, ut mures; nam eorum alii ex sordi-bus sine concubitu, alii ex concubitu proveniunt.’ (De Anima, lib. i.) Van Helmont, as is well known, gave a receipt for producing mice. St. Augustine, after taking great pains to solve different objections to the goodness of Providence, oddly enough selects the existence of mice as an impenetrable one which faith alone can grasp: ‘Ego vero fateor me nescire mures et ranæ quare creati sunt, aut muscae, aut vermiculæ.’ (De Genesi contra Manichoeos, c. xvi.)
Thus, Melanchthon deals, in a tone of the most absolute assurance, with the great question of the cause of the difference of sex: ‘Mares nascuntur magis in dext â parte matricis, et a semine quod magis a dextro testiculo oritur. Foemellae in sinistrâ matriois parte nascuntur.’ Melanchthon, De Anima, p. 420.
The sharp line Descartes tried to draw between the body and the soul explains his doctrine of animals, which has often been grossly misunderstood. Thought, he contended, is the essence of the soul, and all that is not thought (as life and sensibility) is of the body. In denying that brutes had souls, he denied them the power of thought, but left them all besides. This distinction in its full rigidity would now be maintained by very few; and Stahl gave psychology an impulse in quite another direction by his doctrine (which seems to have been that of Aristotle), that the soul includes the vital principle—all that separates living from dead bodies. He thus founded the psychology of animals, and in a great measure fused psychology and medicine. There is a clear statement on this point in Maine de Biran, Nouveaux Rapports Physiques et Morales. There is at present a remarkable revival of the doctrine of Stahl in France in the writings of Tissot, Boullier, Charles, and Lemoine.
A doctrine, however, something like that of the old Fathers, but applied to the bodies of the blessed, has been lately advocated in two very ingenious American books—Hitchcock's Religion of Geology, and Lectures on the Seasons. The author has availed himself of Reichenbach's theories of ‘odic light,’ &c.
Descartes himself gives us the opinion of his contemporaries on the subject: ‘Bien que la commune opinion des théologiens soit que les damnés sont tourmentés par le feu des enfers, néanmoins leur sentiment n'est pas pour cela qu'ils sont decus par une fausse idée que Dieu leur a imprimée, d'un feu qui les consume, mais plutôt qu'ils sont véritablement tourmentée par le feu; parceque “comme l'esprit d'un homme vivant, bien qu'il ne soit pas corporel, est néanmoins détenu dans le corps, ainsi Dieu par sa toute-puissance peut aisément faire qu'il souffre les atteintes du feu corporel après la mort.’” (Réponses aux Sixième Objections.)
This was, as far as I know, the last of the great controversies concerning the locality of hell—a question which had once excited great attention. The common opinion, which St. Thomas had sanctioned, was that it was in the centre of the earth. Whiston, however, who denied the eternity of punishment, contended that it was the tail of a comet; while Swinden (whose book seems to have made a considerable sensation, and was translated into French) strenuously contended that it was the sun. According to Plancy (Dict. Infernal, art. Enfer), some early theologians not only held this, but explained the spots in the sun by the multitude of the souls.
Barrington, On the Statutes (London, 1769), p. 461.
Sir Thomas More, in his Utopia (book i.), gives a frightful description of the misery and the crimes resulting from the ejectments necessitated by this change. He speaks of twenty men hung on one gibbet.
Barrington, pp. 461, 462.
Barrington says this was the case when he wrote, which was in 1766.
He asks ‘whether we may not, as well as other nations, contrive employment for our criminals; and whether servitude, chains, and hard labour for a term of years, would not be a more discouraging as well as a more adequste punishment for felons than even death itself.’ (Querist, No. 54.)
See Romilly's Life for many statistics on the subject.