On the whole then I conclude as follows: If there is a form of Christianity now in the world which is accused of gross superstition, of borrowing its rites and customs from the heathen . . . .
Today’s installment concludes Christianity Appears
the name of our combined selection from J. Ernest Renan, Isaac M. Wise, and John Henry Newman. The concluding installment is by John Henry Newman. The combined selection is serialized in twenty six installments for daily reading.
Previously in Christianity Appears.
Libanius, Julian’s preceptor in rhetoric, delivers the same testimony, as far as it goes. He addressed his Oration for the Temples to a Christian emperor, and would in consequence be guarded in his language; however it runs in one direction. He speaks of “those black-habited men,” meaning the monks, “who eat more than elephants, and by the number of their potations trouble those who send them drink in their chantings, and conceal this by paleness artificially acquired.” They “are in good condition out of the misfortunes of others, while they pretend to serve God by hunger.” Those whom they attack “are like bees, they like drones.” I do not quote this passage to prove that there were monks in Libanius’ days, which no one doubts, but to show his impression of Christianity, as far as his works betray it.
Numantian in the same century describes in verse his voyage from Rome to Gaul: one book of the poem is extant; he falls in with Christianity on two of the islands which lie in his course. He thus describes them as found on one of these: “The island is in a squalid state, being full of light-haters. They call themselves monks, because they wish to live alone without witness. They dread the gifts, from fearing the reverses, of fortune.” He meets on the other island a Christian, whom he had known, of good family and fortune, and happy in his marriage, who “impelled by the Furies had left men and gods, and, credulous exile, was living in base concealment. Is not this herd,” he continues, “worse than Circean poison? then bodies were changed, now minds.”
In the Philopatris, which is the work of an author of the fourth century, Critias is introduced pale and wild. His friend asks him if he has seen Cerberus or Hecate; and he answers that he has heard a rigmarole from certain “thrice-cursed sophists”; which he thinks would drive him mad if he heard it again, and was nearly sending him headlong over some cliff as it was. He retires for relief with his inquirer to a pleasant place, shadowed by planes, where swallows and nightingales are singing, and a quiet brook is purling. Triephon, his friend, expresses a fear lest he has heard some incantation, and is led by the course of the dialogue, before his friend tells his tale, to give some account of Christianity, being himself a Christian. After speaking of the creation, as described by Moses, he falls at once upon that doctrine of a particular providence which is so distasteful to Plutarch, Velleius in Cicero, and Caecilius, and generally to unbelievers. “He is in heaven,” he says, “looking at just and unjust, and causing actions to be entered in books; and he will recompense all on a day which he has appointed.” Critias objects that he cannot make this consistent with the received doctrine about the Fates, “even though he has perhaps been carried aloft with his master, and initiated in unspeakable mysteries.” He also asks if the deeds of the Scythians are written in heaven for if so there must be many scribes there.
Such was the language of paganism after Christianity had for fifty years been exposed to the public gaze; after it had been before the world for fifty more, St. Augustine had still to defend it against the charge of being the cause of the calamities of the empire. And for the charge of magic, when the Arian bishops were in formal disputations with the Catholic, before Gungebald, Burgundian king of France, at the end of the fifth century, we find still that they charged the Catholics with being “praestigiatores,” and worshipping a number of gods; and when the Catholics proposed that the King should repair to the shrine of St. Justus, where both parties might ask him concerning their respective faiths, the Arians cried out that “they would not seek enchantments like Saul, for Scripture was enough for them, which was more powerful than all bewitchments.” This was said, not against strangers of whom they knew nothing, as Ethelbert might be suspicious of St. Augustine and his brother missionaries, but against a body of men who lived among them.
I do not think it can be doubted then that, had Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny, Celsus, Porphyry, and the other opponents of Christianity lived in the fourth century, their evidence concerning Christianity would be very much the same as it has come down to us from the centuries before it. In either case, a man of the world and a philosopher would have been disgusted at the gloom and sadness of its profession, its mysteriousness, its claim of miracles, the want of good sense imputable to its rule of life, and the unsettlement and discord it was introducing into the social and political world.
On the whole then I conclude as follows: If there is a form of Christianity now in the world which is accused of gross superstition, of borrowing its rites and customs from the heathen, and of ascribing to forms and ceremonies an occult virtue; a religion which is considered to burden and enslave the mind by its requisitions, to address itself to the weak-minded and ignorant, to be supported by sophistry and imposture, and to contradict reason and exalt mere irrational faith; a religion which impresses on the serious mind very distressing views of the guilt and consequences of sin, sets upon the minute acts of the day, one by one, their definite value for praise or blame, and thus casts a grave shadow over the future; a religion which holds up to admiration the surrender of wealth, and disables serious persons from enjoying it if they would; a religion, the doctrines of which, be they good or bad, are to the generality of men unknown; which is considered to bear on its very surface signs of folly and falsehood so distinct that a glance suffices to judge of it, and that careful examination is preposterous; which is felt to be so simply bad that it may be calumniated at hazard and at pleasure, it being nothing but absurdity to stand upon the accurate distribution of its guilt among its particular acts, or painfully to determine how far this or that story concerning it is literally true, or what has to be allowed in candor, or what is improbable, or what cuts two ways, or what is not proved, or what may be plausibly defended; a religion such that men look at a convert to it with a feeling which no other denomination raises except Judaism, socialism, or Mormonism — namely, with curiosity, suspicion, fear, disgust, as the case may be, as if something strange had befallen him, as if he had had an initiation into a mystery, and had come into communion with dreadful influences, as if he were now one of a confederacy which claimed him, absorbed him, stripped him of his personality, reduced him to a mere organ or instrument of a whole; a religion which men hate as proselytizing, anti-social, revolutionary, as dividing families, separating chief friends, corrupting the maxims of government, making a mock at law, dissolving the empire, the enemy of human nature, and a “conspirator against its rights and privileges”; a religion which they consider the champion and instrument of darkness, and a pollution calling down upon the land the anger of heaven; a religion which they associate with intrigue and conspiracy, which they speak about in whispers, which they detect by anticipation in whatever goes wrong, and to which they impute whatever is unaccountable; a religion, the very name of which they cast out as evil, and use simply as a bad epithet, and which from the impulse of self-preservation they would persecute if they could–if there be such a religion now in the world, it is not unlike Christianity as that same world viewed it when first it came forth from its divine Author.
This ends our selections on Christianity Appears by three of the most important authorities of this topic:
- Histoire des Origines du Christianisme by J. Ernest Renan published in 1881.
- The Origin of Christianity, and a Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles by Isaac M. Wise published in 1868.
- by John Henry Newman.
This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history