Read CHAPTER IX - THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE of The Jesus of History, free online book, by T. R. Glover, on ReadCentral.com.

Imperial Rome governed the whole of the Mediterranean world, a larger proportion and a greater variety of the human race than has ever been under one government. So far as numbers go, the Russian Empire to-day, the Chinese and the British, each far exceed it; for the population of the world is vastly larger than it was in Rome’s days. But there was a peculiar unity about the Roman Empire, for it embraced, as men thought, all civilized mankind. It was known that, far away in the East, there were people called Indians, who had fought with Alexander the Great, but there was little real knowledge of them. Beyond India, there were vague rumours of a land where silk grew on the leaves of the trees. But civilized mankind was under the control of Rome. It was one rule of many races, many kingdoms, princedoms, cities, cantons, and tribes a wise rule, a rule that allowed the maximum of local government and traditional usage: Rome not merely conquered but captured men all over the world; ruled them, as a poet said, like a mother, not a queen, and bound them to herself. Men were eager, not so much to shake off her yoke, as to be Romans; and from the Atlantic to the Euphrates men, not of Roman blood, were proud to bear Roman names and to be Roman citizens. “I was free born,” said St. Paul, not without a touch of satisfaction (Acts 22:25-28). A general peace prevailed through the Roman world a peace that was new to mankind. There was freedom of intercourse; one of the boasts made by the writers of the Roman Empire is of this new freedom to travel, to go anywhere one pleased. Piracy on the sea, brigandage on the land, had been put down, and there was a very great deal of travel. The Roman became an inveterate tourist. He went to the famous scenes of Asia Minor, to Troy above all to “sunny Rhodes and Mitylene” to Egypt. Merchants went everywhere. And there was a fusing of cultures, traditions, and creeds, all over the Mediterranean world. Centuries before, Alexander the Great had struck out the splendid idea of the marriage of East and West. He secured it by breaking down the Persian Empire, and making one Empire from the Adriatic to this side of the Sutlej or Bias. He desired to cement this marriage of East and West in a way of his own. He took three hundred captive princesses and ladies, and married them in a batch to Macedonian officers a very characteristic piece of symbolism. But his idea was greater and truer than the symbol.

The Roman marriage of the East and West was a more real thing, for behind it lay three centuries of growing intercourse and knowledge along Alexander’s lines. In the sphere of religion we find it most clearly. There rises a resultant world-religion a religion that embraces all the cults, all the creeds, and at last all the philosophies, in one great system. That religion held the world. It is true, there were exceptions. There was a small and objectionable race called Jews; there were possibly some Druids in Southern Britain; and here and there was a solitary atheist who represented no one but himself. These few exceptions were the freaks amongst mankind. Apart from them mankind was united in its general beliefs about the gods. The world had one religion.

First of all, let us try to estimate the strength of this old Mediterranean Paganism. It was strong in its great traditions. Plutarch, who lived from about 50 A.D. to 117 or so, is our great exponent of this old religion. To him I shall have to refer constantly. He was a writer of charm, a man with many gifts. Plutarch’s Lives was the great staple of education in the Renaissance and as good a one, perhaps, as we have yet discovered, even in this age when there are so many theories of education with foreign names. Plutarch, then, writing about Delphi, the shrine and oracle of the god Apollo, said that men had been “in anguish and fear lest Delphi should lose its glory of three thousand years” and Delphi has not lost it. For ninety generations the god has been giving oracles to the Greek world, to private people, to kings, to cities, to nations and on all sorts of subjects, on the foundation of colonies, the declaration of wars, personal guidance and the hope of heirs. You may test the god where you will, Plutarch claimed, you will not find an instance of a false oracle. Readers of Greek history will remember another great writer of as much charm, five hundred years before, Herodotus, who was not so sure about all the oracles. But let us think what it means, to look back over three thousand years of one faith, unbroken. Egyptian religion had been unchallenged for longer still, even if we allow Plutarch’s three thousand years. The oldest remains in Egypt antedate, we are told, 4000 B.C., and all through history, with the exception of the solitary reign of Amen-Hotep III., Egypt worshipped the same gods, with additions, as time went on. Again an unbroken tradition. And how long, under various names, had Cybele, Mother of Gods, been worshipped in Asia? By our era all these religions were fused into one religion, of many cults and rites and ancient traditions; and the incredible weight of old tradition in that world is hard to overestimate.

The old religion was strong in the splendour of its art and its architecture. The severe, beautiful lines of the Greek temple are familiar to us still; and, until I saw the Taj, I think I should have doubted whether there could be anything more beautiful. Architecture was consecrated to the gods, and so was art. You go to Delphi, said Plutarch, and see those wonderful works of the ancient artists and sculptors, as fresh still as if they had left the chisel yesterday, and they had stood there for hundreds of years, wonderful in their beauty. Think of some of the remains of the Greek art of that Victory, for instance, which the Messenians set on the temple at Olympia in 421 B.C. She stood on a block of stone on the temple, but the block was painted blue, so that, as the spectator came up, he saw the temple and the angle of its roof, and then a gap of blue sky and the goddess just alighting on the summit of the temple. From what is left of her, broken and headless, but still beautiful, we can picture her flying through the air the wind has blown her dress back against her, and you see its folds freshly caught by the breeze. And all this the artist had disentangled from a rough block of stone so vivid was his conception of the goddess, and so sure his hand. There are those who say that the conventional picture of God of the great artists is moulded after the Zeus of Pheidias. Egypt again had other portrayals of the gods on a pattern of her own, strange and massive and huge, far older. About six hundred years before Christ the Egyptian King, Psammetichos (Psem Tek), hired Greek soldiers and marched them hundreds of miles up the Nile. The Greek soldiers, one idle day, carved their names on the legs of the colossal gods seated at Abu Symbel. Their names are found there to-day. So old are these gods.

The religion was strong in the splendour of its ceremony. Every year the Athenian people went to Eleusis in splendid procession to worship, to be initiated into the rites of the Earth-Mother and her virgin daughter, who had taught men the use of grain and the arts of farming-rites linked with an immemorial past, awful rites that gave men a new hope of eternal life. The Mother of the Gods, from Phrygia in Asia Minor, had her rites, too; and her cult spread all over the world. When the Roman poet, Lucretius, wants to describe the wonder and magic of the pageant of Nature in the spring-time he goes to the pomp of Cybele. The nearest thing to it which we can imagine is Botticelli’s picture of the Triumph of Spring. Lucretius was a poet to whom the gods were idle and irrelevant; yet to that pageant he goes for a picture of the miraculous life of nature. More splendid still were the rites of the Egyptian Isis, celebrated all over the world. Her priests, shaven and linen-clad, carried symbols of an unguessed antiquity and magical power. They launched a boat with a flame upon it on the river in Egypt, on the sea in Greece. All these cults made deep impressions on the worshippers, as our records tell us. The appeal of religious emotion was noticed by Aristotle, who remarked, however, that it was rather feeling than intellect that was touched a shrewd criticism that deserves to be remembered still.

The gods were strong in their actual manifestations of themselves. Apollo for ninety generations had spoken in Delphi. At Epidauros there was a shrine of Asclepias. Its monuments have been collected and edited by Dr. Caton of Liverpool. There sick men and women came, lived a quiet life of diet and religious ceremony, preparing for the night on which they should sleep in the temple. On that night the god came to them, they said, in that mood or state where they lay “between asleep and awake, sometimes as in a dream and then as in a waking vision one’s hair stood on end, but one shed tears of joy and felt light-hearted.” Others said they definitely saw him. He came and told them what to do; on waking they did it and were healed; or he touched them then and there, and cured them as they lay. Some of the cures recorded on the monuments are perhaps strange to our ideas of medicine. One records how the god came to man dreadfully afflicted with dropsy, cut off his head, turned him upside down and let the fluid run out, and then replaced his head with a neat join. Some modern readers may doubt this story; but that the god did heal people, men firmly believed. We, too, may believe that people were healed, perhaps by living a healthy life in a quiet place, a life of regimen and diet; and perhaps faith-healing or suggestion played as strong a part as anything else. Even the Christians believed that these gods had a certain power; they were evil spirits.

Not only the gods of the temples would manifest themselves of their grace. Every man had a guardian spirit, a “genius”; and by proper means he could be “compelled” to show himself visibly. The pupils of Plotinus conjured up his “genius”, and it came not a daemon, but a god. The right formula ("mantram”) and the right stone in the hand and a man had a wonderful power over the gods themselves. This was called “theurgy”.

But the great strength of this old religion was its infinite adaptability. It made peace with every god and goddess that it met. It adopted them all. As a French scholar has said, where there is polytheism there are no false gods. All the religions were fused and the gods were blended. The Roman went to Greece and identified Jupiter with Zeus; he went to Egypt and found him in Amun (Ammon); he went to Syria and found him in Baal. If the Jew had not been so foolish and awkward, there might have been a Jupiter Jéhovah as well. It was a catholic faith, embracing everything cult and creed and philosophy strong in all the ways we have surveyed and in many more, above all because it was unchallenged.

And yet, where is that religion to-day? That, to me, is one of the most significant questions in history more so, the longer I stay in India. Men knew that that religion of Greece and Rome was eternal; yet it is utterly gone. Why? How could it go? What conceivable power was there, I do not say, to bring it down, but to abolish it so thoroughly, that not a soul in Egypt worships Isis how many even know her name? not a soul in Italy thinks of Jove but as a fancy, and Pallas Athene in Athens itself is a mere memory? That is the problem, the historical problem, with which we have now to deal.

First of all, let us look again, and more closely, at that old religion we shall find in it at least four cardinal weaknesses.

First, it stands for “the unexamined life,” as Plato called it. “The unexamined life,” he says, “is not liveable for a human being.” A man, who is a man, must cross-examine life, must make life face up to him and yield its secrets. He must know what it means, the significance of every relation of life father and child, man and wife, citizen and city, subject and king, man and the world above all, man and God. We must examine and know. But this old religion stood by tradition and not reflection. There was no deep sense of truth. Plutarch admired his father, and he describes, with warm approval, how his father once said to a man: “That is a dangerous question, not to be discussed at all when you question the opinion we hold about the gods, and ask reason and demonstration for everything.” Such an attitude means mistrust, it means at bottom a fundamental unfaith. The house is beautiful; do not touch it; it is riddled by white ants, by dry rot, and it would fall. That is not faith; it is a strange confession; but all who hesitate at changes, I think, make that confession sooner or later. There is a line of Kabir which puts the essence of this: “Penance is not equal to truth, nor is there any sin like untruth.” This was one of the essential weaknesses of that old religion its fear, and the absence of a deep sense of truth.

In the next place, there is no real association of morals with religion. The old stories were full of the adventures of Jupiter, or Zeus, with the heroines, mortal women, whom he loved. Of some 1900 wall paintings at Pompeii, examined by a German scholar and antiquary, some 1400 represent mythological subjects, largely the stories of the loves of Jupiter. The Latin dramatist Terence pictures the young man looking at one of these paintings and saying to himself, “If Jupiter did it, why should not I?” Centuries later we find Augustine quoting that sentence. It has been said that few things tended more strongly against morality than the stories of the gods preserved by Homer and Hesiod. Plato loved Homer; so much the more striking is his resolve that in his “Republic” there should be no Homer. Men said: “Ah, but you don’t understand; those stories are allegories. They do not mean what they say; they mean something deeper.” But Plato said we must speak of God always as he is; we must in no case tell lies about God “whether they are allegories or whether they are not allegories.” Plato, like every real thinker, sees that this pretence of allegory is a sham. The story did its mischief whether it was allegory or not; it stood between man and God, and headed men on to wrong lines, turned men away from the moral standard.

There was more. Every year, as we saw, men went to be initiated into the rites of Demeter at Eleusis, a few miles from Athens. And we read how one of the great Athenian orators, Lysias, went there and took with him to be initiated a harlot, with whom he was living, and the woman’s proprietress a squalid party; and they were initiated. Their morals made no difference; the priests and the goddesses offered no objection. In the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth there were women slaves dedicated to the goddess, who owned them, and who received the wages of their shame. With what voice could religion speak for morality in Corinth? At Comana in Syria (we read in Strabo the geographer, about the time of Christ) there was a temple where there were six thousand of these temple slaves. I say again, that is the unexamined life. God and goddess have nothing to say about some of the most sacred relations in life. God, goddess, priest, worshipper, never gave a thought to these poor creatures, dedicated, not by themselves, to this awful life human natures with the craving of the real woman for husband and child, for the love of home, but never to know it. That was associated with religion; that was religion. There was always a minimum of protest from the Greek temples against wrong or for right. It is remarked, again and again, that all the great lessons came, not from the temples, not from the priests, but from the poets and philosophers, from the thinkers in revolt against the religion of their people. Curiously enough, even in Homer himself, it is plain that the heroes, the men, are on a higher moral plane than the gods; and all through Greek history the gods are a drag on morality. What a weakness in religion! The sense of wrong and right is innate in man; it may be undeveloped, or it may be deadened, but it is instinctive; and a religion which does not know it, or which finds the difference between right and wrong to lie in matters of taboo or ceremonial defilement, cannot speak to one of the deepest needs of the human heart, the need of forgiveness. There is no righteousness, in the long run, about these gods.

In the third place, the religion has the common weakness of all polytheism. Men were afraid of the gods; there were thousands and thousands, hosts of them. At every turn you ran into one, a new one; you could never be certain that you would not offend some unknown god or goddess. Superstition was the curse of the day. You had to make peace with all these gods and goddesses and not with them alone. For there was another class of supernatural beings, dangerous if unpropitiated, the daemons, the spirits that inhabited the air, that presided over life and its stages, that helped or hated the human soul, spiteful and evil half-divine beings, that sent illness, bad luck, madness, that stole the honours of the gods themselves and insisted on rituals and worship, often unclean, often cruel, but inevitable. A man must watch himself closely if he was to be safe from them all, if he was to keep wife and child and home safe.

Superstition, men said, was the one curse of life that made no truce with sleep. A famous Christian writer of the second century, Tatian, speaks of the enormous relief that he found in getting away from the tyranny of ten thousand gods to be under a monarchy of One. A modern Japanese, Uchimura, said the same thing: “One God, not eight millions; that was joyful news to me.”

Fourthly, this religion took from the grave none of its terrors. There might be a world beyond, and there might not. At any rate, “be initiated,” said the priests; “you will have to pay us something, but it is worth it.” Prophets and quacks, said Plato, came to rich men’s doors and made them believe that they could rid them of all alarm for the next world, by incantations and charms and other things, by a series of feasts and jollifications. So they said, and men did what they were told; but it did not take away the fear of death.

From the first century onwards men began systematically to defend this old paganism. Plutarch wrote a series of books in its behalf. He brings in something like love of god for man. He speaks of “the friendly Apollo.” But the weakness of Plutarch as an apologist is his weakness as biographer he never really gets at the bottom of anything. In biography he gives us the characteristic rather than the character. Here he never faces the real issue. It is all defence, apology, ingenuity; but he defends far too much. He admits there are obscene rites; there had been human sacrifices; but the gods cannot have ordained them; daemons, who stole the names of gods, imposed these on men not the gods; men practised them to avert the anger of daemons. The gods are good. Waiving the fact that he had not much evidence for this in the mythology, how was a man to distinguish god from daemon, to know which is which? He does not tell us. Again he speaks of the image of Osiris with three “lingams”. He apologizes for it; he defends it; for the triplicity is a symbol of godhead, and it means that God is the origin of all life. Yes, but what that religion needed was a great reformer, who should have cut the religion clear adrift from idols of every kind, from the old mythology, from obscenity. It may very well be that such a reformer was unthinkable; even if he had appeared, he would have been foredoomed to fail, as the compromise of the Stoics shows. Plutarch and his kind did not attempt this. They loved the past and the old ways. At heart they were afraid of the gods and were afraid of tradition. Culture and charm will do a great deal, but they do not suffice for a religion either to make one or to redeem it.

The Stoics reached, I think, the highest moral level in that Roman world great men, great teachers of morals, great characters; but as for the crowd, they said, let them go on in the religions of their own cities; what they had learnt from their fathers, let them do. So much for the ignorant; for us, of course, something else. That seems to be a fundamentally wrong defence of religion. It gets the proportions wrong. It means that we, who are people of culture, are a great deal nearer to God than the crowd. But if we realize God at all, we feel that we are none of us very far apart down here. The most brilliant men are amenable to the temptations of the savage and of the dock labourer. There was a further danger, little noticed at first, that life is apt to be overborne by the vulgar, the ignorant, if there is not a steady campaign to enlighten every man. The Roman house was full of slaves; they taught the children taught them about gods and goddesses, from Syria, from Egypt, and kept thought and life and morals on a low plane. An ignorant public is, an unspeakable danger everywhere, but especially in religion.

The last great system of defence was the New Platonism. It had not very much to do with Plato, except that it read him and quoted him as a great authority. The Neo-Platonists did not face facts as Plato did. They lived on quotations, on authority and fancy, great thinkers as some of them were. They pictured the universe as one vast unity. Far beyond all things is God. Of God man can form no conception. Think, they would say, of all the exalted and wonderful and beautiful concepts you can imagine; then deny them. God is beyond. God is beyond being; you can conceive of being, and therefore to predicate being of God is to limit him. You cannot think of God; for, if you could think of God, God would be in relation with you; God is insusceptible of relation with man. He neither wills, nor thinks of man, nor can man think of him. A modern philosopher has summed up their God as the deification of the word “not.” This God, then, who is not, willed no! not “willed”; he could not will; but whether he willed or did not will, in some way or other there was an emanation; not God, but very much of God; very divine, but not all God; from this another and another in a descending series, down to the daemons, and down to men. All that is, is God; evil is not-being. One of the great features of the system was that it guaranteed all the old religions for the crowd; while for the initiated, for the esoteric, it had something more it had mystic trance, mystic vision, mystic comprehension. Twice or three times, Plotinus, by a great leap away from all mortal things, saw God. In the meantime, the philosophy justified all the old rites.

Side by side with this great defence were what are known as the Christian hérésies. They are not exactly Christian. Groups of people endeavoured to combine Christianity with the old thought, with philosophy, theosophy, theurgy, and magic. They were eclectics; they compromised. The German thinker, Novalis, said very justly that all eclectics are sceptics, and the more eclectic the more sceptic. These mixtures could not prevail.

But religions have, historically, a wonderful way of living in spite of their weaknesses yes, and in spite of their apologetics. A religion may be stained with all sorts of evil, and may communicate it; and yet it will survive, until there is an alternative with more truth and more dynamic. The old paganism outlived Plato’s criticisms and Plutarch’s defences. For the great masses of people neither might have written.

Into this world came the Christian Church. I have tried to draw the picture of the great pagan religion, with its enormous strength, its universal acceptance, its great traditions, its splendours of art and ceremony, its manifest proofs of its gods everything that, to the ordinary mind, could make for reality and for power; to show how absolutely inconceivable it was that it could ever pass away. Then comes the Christian Church a ludicrous collection of trivial people, very ignorant and very common; fishermen and publicans, as the Gospels show us, “the baker and the fuller,” as Celsus said with a sneer. Yes, and every kind of unclean and disreputable person they urged to join them, quite unlike all decent and established religions. And they took the children and women of the family away into a corner, and whispered to them and misled them “Only believe!” was their one great word. The whole thing was incredibly silly. Paul went to Athens, and they asked him there about his religion; and when he spoke to them about Jesus rising from the dead, they sniggered, and the more polite suggested “another day.” Everybody knew that dead men do not rise. It was a silly religion. Celsus pictured the frogs in symposium round a swamp, croaking to one another how God forsakes the whole universe, the spheres of heaven, to dwell with us; we frogs are so like God; he never ceases to seek how we may dwell with him for ever; but some of us are sinners, so God will come or send his son and burn them up; and the rest of us will live with him for eternity. Is not that very like the Christian religion? Celsus asked. It has been replied that, if the frogs really could say this and did say this, then their statement might be quite reasonable. But our main purpose for the moment is to realize the utterly inconceivable absurdity of this bunch of Galilean fishermen and fools and rascals and maniacs setting out to capture the world. One of them wrote an Apocalypse. He was in a penal settlement on Patmos, when he wrote it. The sect was in a fair way of being stamped out in blood, as a matter of fact; but this dreamer saw a triumphant Church of ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands there were hardly as many people in the world at that time; the great Rome had fallen and the “Lamb” ruled. Imagine the amusement of a Roman pagan of 100 A.D. who read the absurd book. Yet the dream has come true; that Church has triumphed. Where is the old religion? Christ has conquered, and all the gods have gone, utterly gone they are memories now, and nothing more. Why did they go? The Christian Church refused to compromise. A pagan could have seen no real reason why Jesus should not be a demi-god like Herakles or Dionysos; no reason, either, why a man should not worship Jesus as well as these. One of the Roman Emperors, a little after 200 A.D., had in his private sanctuary four or five statues of gods, and one of them was Jesus. Why not? The Roman world had open arms for Jesus as well as any other god or demi-god, if people would be sensible; but the Christian said, No. He would not allow Jesus to be put into that pantheon, nor would he worship the gods himself, not even the “genius” of the Emperor, his guardian spirit. The Christian proclaimed a war of religion in which there shall be no compromise and no peace, till Christ is lord of all; the thing shall be fought out to the bitter end. And it has been. He was resolved that the old gods should go; and they have gone. How was it done?

Here we touch what I think one of the greatest wonders that history has to show. How did the Church do it? If I may invent or adapt three words, the Christian “out-lived” the pagan, “out-died” him, and “out-thought” him. He came into the world and lived a great deal better than the pagan; he beat him hollow in living. Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians do not indicate a high standard of life at Corinth. The Corinthians were a very poor sort of Christians. But another Epistle, written to the Corinthians a generation later, speaks of their passion for being kind to men, and of a broadened and deeper life, in spite of their weaknesses. Here and there one recognizes failure all along the line yes, but the line advances. The old world had had morals, plenty of morals the Stoics overflowed with morals. But the Christian came into the world, not with a system of morality he had rules, indeed “which,” asks Tertullian, “is the ampler rule, Thou shalt not commit adultery, or the rule that forbids a single lustful look?” but it was not rules so much that he brought into the world as a great passion. “The Son of God,” he said, “loved me and gave himself for me. That man Jesus Christ loved him, gave himself for him. He is the friend of my best Friend. My best Friend loves that man, gave himself for him, died for him.” How it alters all the relations of life! Who can kill or rob another man, when he remembers whose hands were nailed to the Cross for that man? See how it bears on another side of morality. Tertullian strikes out a great phrase, a new idea altogether, when he speaks of “the victim of the common lust.” Christ died for her how it safeguards her and uplifts her! Men came into the world full of this passion for Jesus Christ. They went to the slave and to the temple-woman and told them: “The Son of God loved you and gave himself for you”; and they believed it, and rose into a new life. To be redeemed by the Son of God gave the slave a new self-respect, a new manhood. He astonished people by his truth, his honesty, his cleanness; and there was a new brightness and gaiety about him. So there was about the woman. They sang, they overflowed with good temper. It seemed as if they had been born again. As Clement of Rome wrote, the Holy Spirit was a glad spirit. The word used both by him and by St. Augustine is that which gives us the English word “hilarious.” There was a new gladness and happiness about these people. “It befits Truth to laugh, because she is glad to play with her rivals because she is free from fear,” so said Tertullian. Of course, there were those who broke down, but Julian the Apostate, in his letters to his heathen priests, is a reluctant witness to the higher character of Christian life. And it was Jesus who was the secret of it.

The pagan noticed the new fortitude in the face of death. Tertullian himself was immensely impressed with it. He had never troubled to look at the Gospels. Nobody bothered to read them unless they were converted already, he said. But he seems to have seen these Christian martyrs die. “Every man,” he said, “who sees it, is moved with some misgiving, and is set on fire to learn the reason; he inquires and he is taught; and when he has learnt the truth, he instantly follows it himself as well.” “No one would have wished to be killed, unless he was in possession of the truth.” I think that is autobiography. The intellectual energy of the man is worth noting his insistence on understanding, his instant resolution; such qualities, we saw, had won the admiration of Jesus. Here is a man who sacrifices a great career his genius, his wit, his humour, fire, power, learning, philosophy, everything thrown at Christ’s feet, and Christ uses them all. Then came a day when persecution was breaking out again. Some Christians were for “fleeing to the next city” it was the one text in their Bible, he said. He said: “I stay here.” Any day the mob might get excited and shout: “The Christians to the lions.” They knew the street in which he lived, and they would drag him the scholar, the man of letters and of imagination naked through the streets; torn and bleeding, they would tie him to the stake in the middle of the amphitheatre and pile faggots round him, and there he would stand waiting to be burnt alive; or, it might be, to be killed by the beasts. Any hour, any day. “I stay here,” he said. What does it cost a man to do that? People asked what was the magic of it. The magic of it was just this on the other side of the fire was the same Friend; “if he wants me to be burnt alive, I am here.” Jesus Christ was the secret of it.

The Christians out-thought the pagan world. How could they fail to? “We have peace with God,” said Paul. They moved about in a new world, which was their Father’s world. They would go to the shrines and ask uncomfortable questions. Lucian, who was a pagan and a scoffer, said that on one side of the shrines the notice was posted: “Christians outside.” The Christians saw too much. The living god in that shrine was a big snake with a mask tied on good enough for the pagan; but the Christian would see the strings. Even the daemons they dismissed to irrelevance and non-entity. The essence of magic was to be able to link the name of a daemon with the name of one’s enemy, to set the daemon on the man. “Very well,” said the Christian, “link my name with your daemons. Use my name in any magic you like. There is a name that is above every name; I am not afraid.” That put the daemons into their right place, and by and by they vanished, dropped out, died of sheer inanition and neglect. Wherever Jesus Christ has been, the daemons have gone. “There used to be fairies,” said an old woman in the Highlands of Scotland to a friend of mine, “but the Gospel came and drove them away.” I do not know what is going to keep them away yet but Jesus Christ. The Christian read the ancient literature with the same freedom of mind, and was not in bondage to it; he had a new outlook; he could criticize more freely. One great principle is given by Clement of Alexandria: “The beautiful, wherever it is, is ours, because it came from our God.” The Christian read the best books, assimilated them, and lived the freest intellectual life that the world had. Jesus had set him to be true to fact. Why had Christian churches to be so much larger than pagan temples? Why are they so still? Because the sermon is in the very centre of all Christian worship clear, definite Christian teaching about Jesus Christ. There is no place for an ignorant Christian. From the very start every Christian had to know and to understand, and he had to read the Gospels; he had to be able to give the reason for his faith. He was committed to a great propaganda, to the preaching of Jesus, and he had to preach with penetration and appeal. There they were loyal to the essential idea of Jesus they were “sons of fact.” They read about Jesus, and they knew him, and they knew where they stood. This has been the essence of the Christian religion. Put that alongside of the pitiful defence which Plutarch makes of obscene rites, filthy images, foolish traditions. Who did the thinking in that ancient world? Again and again it was the Christian. He out-thought the world.

The old religion crumbled and fell, beaten in thought, in morals, in life, in death. And by and by the only name for it was paganism, the religion of the back-country village, of the out-of-the-way places. Christ had conquered. “Dic tropoeum passionis, dic triumphalem Crucem”, sang Prudentius “Sing the trophy of the Passion; sing the all-triumphant Cross.” The ancients thought that God repeated the whole history of the universe over and over again, like a cinema show. Some of them thought the kingdoms rise and fall by pure chance. No, said Prudentius, God planned; God developed the history of mankind; he made Rome for his own purposes, for Christ.

What is the explanation of it? We who live in a rational universe, where real results come from real causes, must ask what is the power that has carried the Christian Church to victory over that great old religion. And there is another question: is this story going to be repeated? What is there about Shiva, Kali, or Shri Krishna that essentially differentiates them from the gods of Greece and Rome and Egypt? Tradition, legend, philosophy point by point, we find the same thing; and we find the same Christian Church, with the same ideals, facing the same conflict. What will be the result? The result will be the same. We have seen in China, in the last two decades, how the Christian Church is true to its traditions; how men can die for Jesus Christ. In the Greek Church a suffering Church on the round sacramental wafer there is a cross, and in the four corners there are the eight letters, IE, XE, NI, KA, “Jesus Christ conquers.” That is the story of the Christian Church in the Roman Empire. That is the story which, please God, we shall see again in India. “Jesus Christ conquers.”