|« Prev||Chapter I. Hadrian.||Next »|
THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
Trajan’s health was daily growing worse, and so he set out for Rome, leaving the command of the army at Antioch to Hadrian, his second cousin, and grand-nephew by marriage. He was forced to stop at Selinus, on the coast of Cilicia, by inflammation of the bowels, and there he died August 11, 117, at the age of sixty-four. The condition of affairs was very unfortunate: the East was in a state of insurrection; the Moors, the Bretons, the Sarmatians were becoming menacing, and Judea, subjugated but still in a state of suppressed agitation, appeared to be threatening a fresh outbreak. A somewhat obscure intrigue, which appears to have been directed by Plotina and Matidias, bestowed the Empire on Hadrian, under these critical circumstances.
It was an excellent choice, for though he was a man of equivocal morals, he was a great ruler. Intellectual, 2intelligent, and eager to learn, he had more greatness of mind than any of the Cæsars, and from Augustus down to Diocletian, no other Emperor did so much for the constitution as he did. His administrative capacities were extraordinary, as, although he administered too much, according to our ideas, he nevertheless administered well. He was the first to give the Imperial Government a definite organisation, and his reign marked a principal epoch in the history of Roman law.
Up till his time, the house of the sovereign had been the house of the highest personage in the land,—an establishment composed like any other of servants, freemen, and private secretaries. Hadrian organised the palace, and for the future it was necessary to be a knight in order to arrive at any office in the household, and the servants in Cæsar’s palace became public functionaries. A permanent council of the prince, composed chiefly of jurisconsults, undertook all definite public powers; those senators who were specially attached to the government already were made comtes (counts); everything was done through regular offices, in the constitution of which the senate took its proper share, and not through the direct will of the prince. It was still a state of despotism, but of despotism which was analogous to that of the old French royalty, kept in check by independent councils, law courts, and magistrates.
The social ameliorations which took place were still more important, for everywhere a really good and great spirit of liberalism was manifested; the position of slaves was guaranteed, the condition of women was raised, paternal authority was restricted within certain limits, and every remaining vestige of human sacrifices was abolished. The Emperor’s personal character responded to the excellence of these reforms, for he was most affable towards those of 3lowly station, and never would allow himself to be deprived of his greatest pleasure—that of being amiable—under the pretext of his imperial greatness.
In spite of all his failings, he was a man of a quick, unbiassed, original intellect. He admired Epictetus and understood him, without, however, feeling obliged to follow out his maxims. Nothing escaped him, and he wished to know everything; and as he did not possess that insolent pride and that fixed determination which altogether excluded the true Roman from all knowledge of the rest of the world, Hadrian had a strong inclination for everything that was strange, and would wittily make fun of it. The East, above all, had strong attractions for him, for he saw through Eastern impostures and charlatanism, and they amused him. He was initiated into all their absurd rites, fabricated oracles, compounded antidotes, and made fun of the medicine; and, like Nero, he was a royal man of letters and an artist, while the ease with which he learnt painting, sculpture, and architecture was surprising. Besides this, he also wrote tolerable poetry, but his taste was not pure, and he had his favourite authors and singular preferences; in a word, he was a literary smatterer, and a theatrical architect. He adopted no system of religion or of philosophy, but neither did he deny any of them, and his distinguished mind was like a weather-cock, which moves its position with every wind; his elegant farewell to life, which he murmured a few moments before his death,
“Animula, vagula, blandula,”
gives us his measure exactly. For him, whatever he examined into ended in a joke, and he had a smile for everything that was an object of his curiosity. The sovereign power itself could not make him more than half serious, and his bearing always had that easy grace and negligence of the 4most fluctuating and changeable man that ever existed.
All that naturally made him tolerant. He did not indeed abrogate the laws which indirectly struck at Christianity, and so put it continually in the wrong, and he even allowed them to be applied more than once, but he personally very much modified the effect of them. In this respect he was superior to Trajan, who, without being a philosopher, had very fixed ideas about State affairs, and to Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius, who were men of high principle, but who thought that they did right in persecuting the Christians. In this respect Hadrian’s laxity of morals was not without a good effect, for it is the peculiarity of a monarchy that the defects of sovereigns serve the public good even more than their better qualities. The immorality of a really witty man, of a crowned Lucian, who looks upon the whole world as some frivolous game, was more favourable to liberty than the serious gravity and lofty morality of the most perfect Emperors.
Hadrian’s first care was to settle the difficulties of the accession which Trajan had left him. He was a distinguished military writer, but no great general. He clearly saw how impossible it would be to keep the newly conquered provinces of Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Assyria, and so he gave them up. That must have been a very solemn hour, when, for the first time, the Roman eagles retreated, and when the Empire was obliged to acknowledge that it had exceeded its programme of conquest, but it was an act of wisdom. Persia was as inaccessible for Rome as Germany, and the mighty expeditions which Crassus, Trajan, and Julian had led into that part of the world failed, whilst less ambitious expeditions—those of Lucius Verus and of' Septimus Severus, whose object was not to attack the very foundations of the Parthian Empire, but to detach the feudatory provinces 5which bordered on the Roman Empire, from it—succeeded. The difficulty of relinquishing conquests, which was so humiliating to the Roman mind, was increased by the uncertainty of Hadrian’s adoption by Trajan. Lucius Quietus and Marcus Turbo had an almost equal right to adoption with him, from the importance of the last commission that they had carried out. Quiltus was killed, and it may be supposed that, eager as they were to find out the deaths of their enemies, in order to discover in them a token of celestial vengeance, the Jews saw in this tragic death a punishment for the new evils which the fierce Berber had inflicted on them.
Hadrian was a year on his return journey to Rome, thus at once beginning those roaming habits which were to make his reign one continual rush through the provinces of the Empire. After another year devoted to the gravest cares of government administration, which was fertile in constitutional reforms, he started on an official progress (tour) and successively visited Gaul, the banks of the Rhine, Britain, Spain, Mauritania and Carthage, and his vanity and antiquarian tastes made him dream of becoming the founder of cities, and the restorer of ancient monuments. Moreover, he did not approve of the idleness of garrison life for soldiers, and he found a means of occupying them in great public works, and that is the reason for these innumerable constructions—roads, ports, theatres—temples which date from Hadrian’s reign. He was surrounded by a crowd of architects, engineers, and artists, who were enrolled like a legion. In each province where he set his foot, everything seemed to be restored and to spring up afresh. At the Emperor’s suggestion, enormous public companies were formed to carry out great public works, and generally the State appeared as a shareholder. If any city had the smallest title to celebrity, or was mentioned in classical authors, it 6was sure to be restored by this archæological Cæsar; thus he beautified Carthage and added a new quarter to it; and in all directions towns which had fallen into decay rose up from their ruins, and took the name of Colonia Ælia Hadriana.
After a short stay in Rome, during which he extended the circumference of the pomœsium (the symbolical, not actual wall of the city), he started, during the course of the year 121, on another journey, which lasted nearly four years and a half, and during which he visited nearly the whole of the East. This journey was even more brilliant than the former, and it might have been said that the ancient world was coming to life again beneath the footsteps of a beneficent deity. Thoroughly acquainted with ancient history, Hadrian wished to see everything, was interested in everything, and wished to have everything restored that had existed formerly. Men sought to revive the lost arts, in order to please him, and a neo-Egyptian style became the fashion, as did also a neo-Phœnician. Philosophers, rhetoricians, critics, swarmed about him, and he was another Nero without his follies. A number of ancient civilisations which had disappeared, aspired after their resuscitation, not actually, but in the writings of historians and archæologists. Thus Herennius, Philo of Byblos, tried—very likely under the direct inspiration of the Emperor himself—to discover ancient Phœnicia. New fêtes, the Hadrianian Games, which the Greeks introduced—recalled for the last time the splendour of Hellenic life; it was like a universal restoration to life of the ancient world, a brilliant restoration indeed, but it was hardly sincere, and rather theatrical, and each country found, in Rome’s comprehensive bosom, its former titles of nobility again, and became attached to them. Whilst studying that singular spectacle, one cannot help thinking of that and of resurrection from the dead which our own 7century has witnessed, when, in a moment of universal goodwill, it began to restore all things, to rebuild Gothic churches, to re-establish pilgrimages which had fallen into neglect, and to reintroduce fêtes and ancient customs.
Hadrian, the turn of whose mind was more Greek than Roman, favoured this ecclectic movement, and contributed powerfully towards it, and what he did in Asia Minor was really prodigious. Cyzicus, Nicaea, Nicomedia, sprang up again, and everywhere temples of the most splendid works of architecture, immortalised the memory of that learned sovereign, who seemed to wish that another world, in all the freshness of its youth, should date from him. Syria was no less favoured. Antioch and Daphne became the most delightful places of abode in the world, and the combinations of picturesque architecture, the imagination of the landscape painter, and the forces of hydraulic power, were exhausted there. Even Palmyra was partially restored by the great imperial architect, and, like a number of other towns, took the name of Hadrianople from him.
Never had the world had so much enjoyment or so much hope. The Barbarians beyond the Rhine and the Danube were hardly thought about, for the liberal spirit of the Emperor caused a sort of feeling of universal contentment; and the Jews themselves were divided into two parties. Those who were massed at Bether, and in the villages south of Jerusalem, seemed to be possessed by a sort of sombre rage. Their one idea was to take the city, to which access was denied them, by force, and to restore to the hill which God had chosen for his own, its former honours. Hadrian had not at first been obnoxious to the more moderate party, especially to the half-Christian, half-Essenian survivors of the Egyptian catastrophe under Trojan. They could imagine that he had ordered the death of Quietus to punish him 8for his cruelty towards the Jews, and perhaps for a moment they conceived the hope that the ecclectic Emperor would undertake the restoration of Israel, as another caprice amongst so many. In order to inculcate these ideas, a pious Alexandrian took a form of thought that had already been consecrated by success. In his poem he supposed that a Sybil, sister of Isis, had had a disordered vision of the trials which were reserved for the latter centuries.
Hatred for Rome bursts out at the very beginning:—
O Virgin, enervated and wealthy daughter of Latin Rome, who hast joined the ranks of slavery whilst drunk with wine, for what nuptials hast thou reserved thyself! How often will a cruel mistress tear these delicate locks!
The author, who is a Jew and a Christian at the same time, looks upon Rome as the natural enemy of the saints, and to Hadrian alone he pays the homage of admiring him thoroughly. After enumerating the Roman Emperors, from Julius Cæsar to Trajan, by the nonsensical process of ghematria, the Sybil sees a man ascend the throne—
Who has a skull of silver, who will give his name to a sea. He will be unequalled in every way and know everything. Under thy reign O excellent, O eminent and brilliant sovereign, and under thy offspring, the events which I am about to mention shall take place.
According to custom, the Sybil now unfolds the most gloomy pictures; every scourge is let loose at the same time, and mankind becomes altogether corrupt. These are the throes of the Messianic child-birth. Nero, who had been dead for more than fifty years, was still the author’s nightmare. That destructive dragon, that actor, that murderer of his own relations, and assassin of the chosen people, that kindler of numberless wars, will return to put himself on an equality with God. He weaves the darkest plots 9amongst the Medes and Persians who have received him; and, borne through the air by the Fates, he will soon arrive to be once more the scourge of the West. The author vomits forth an invective, fiercer still than that with which he began:—
Unstable, corrupted, reserved for the very lowest destinies, the beginning and end of all suffering, because in thy bosom creation perishes and is born again continually, source of all evil, scourge, the point where everything ends for mortal men, who has ever loved thee? who does not detest thee internally? what dethroned king has ended his life in peace within thy walls? By thee the whole world has been changed in its innermost recesses. Formerly there existed in the human breast a splendour like a brilliant sun; it was the rays of the unanimous spirits of the prophets, which brought to all the nourishment of life, and thou hast destroyed these good gifts. Therefore, O imperious mistress, origin and cause of all these great evils, sword and disaster shall fall on thee . . . Listen, O scourge of humanity, to the harsh voice which announces thy misfortunes.
A divine race of blessed Jews, come down from heaven, shall inhabit Jerusalem, which shall extend as far as Jaffa, and rise to the clouds. There shall be no more trumpets or war, but on every side eternal trophies shall rise, trophies consecrating victories over evil.
Then there shall come down from heaven once more an extraordinary man, who has stretched out his hands over a fruitful wood, the best of the Hebrews, who formerly stopped the sun in his course by his beautiful words and his holy lips.
This is doubtlessly Jesus, Jesus, in an allegorical manner, by his crucifixion, playing the part of Moses stretching out his arms, and of Joshua the saviour of the people.
Cease at length to break thy heart, O daughter of divine race, O treasure, O only lovely flower, delightful brightness, exquisite plant, cherished germ, gracious and beautiful city of Judea, always filled with the sound of inspired hymns. The impure feet of the Greeks, their hearts filled with plots, shall not tread thy soil under them, but thou shalt be surrounded by the respect of thy illustrious children, who shall deck thy table 10in accord with the sacred muses, with sacrifices of all kinds, and with pious prayers. Then the just who have suffered pain and anguish will find more pleasure than they have suffered ills. These, on the contrary, who have hurled their sacrilegious blasphemies towards heaven will be reduced to silence and to hide themselves till the face of the world changes. A rain of burning fire shall descend from heaven, and men shall no longer gather in the sweet fruits of the earth; there shall be no more sowing, no more labour, till mortals recognise the supreme, immortal, eternal God, and till they leave off honouring mortals, dogs, and vultures, to which Egypt wishes men to offer the homage of profane mouths and foolish lips. Only the sacred soil of the Hebrews will bear those things that are refused to other men; brooks of honey shall burst from the rocks and springs, and milk like ambrosia shall flow for the just, because they have hoped, with ardent piety and lively faith, in one only God, the Father of all things, One and Supreme.
At last the runaway parricide, who has been announced three times, enters upon the scene again. The monster inundates the earth with blood, and captures Rome, causing such a conflagration as has never been seen. There is a universal overturning of everything in the world; all kings and aristocrats perish, in order to prepare peace for just men—that is to say, for Jews and Christians, and the author’s joy at the destruction of Rome breaks out a third time.:—
Parricides, leave your pride and your culpable haughtiness, for you have reserved your shameful embraces for children and placed young girls, who were pure up till that time, in houses of ill-fame where they have been subjected to the vilest outrages . . . Keep silence, wicked and unhappy city, thou that wast formerly full of laughter. In thy bosom the sacred virgins will no longer find again the holy fire that they kept alive, for that fire, which was so preciously preserved, went out of its own accord, when I saw for the second time another temple fall to the ground, given up to the flames by impure hands, a temple which flourishes still, a permanent sanctuary of God, built by the saints, and incorruptible throughout eternity . . . It is not, indeed, a god made of common clay that this race adores; amongst them the skilful workman does not shape marble; and gold, which is so often employed to seduce men’s souls, is no object of their worship, but by their sacrifices and their holy hecatombs they honour the great God whose breath animates every living thing.11
A chosen man, the Messiah, descends from heaven, carries off the victory over the Pagans, builds the city beloved of God, which springs up again more brilliant than the sun, and founds within it an incarnate temple, a tower with a frontage of several stadii, which reaches up to the clouds, so that all the faithful may see the glory of God. The seats of ancient civilisation—Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome—disappear one after the other; above all, the giant monuments of Egypt fall over and cover the earth; but a linen-clad priest converts his compatriots, persuades them to abandon their ancient rites, and to build a temple to the true God. That, however, does not arrest the destruction of the ancient world, for the constellations come in contact with each other, the celestial bodies fall to the earth, and the heavens remain starless.
Thus we see that under Hadrian there existed in Egypt a body of pious monotheists for whom the Jews were still pre-eminently the just and holy people, in whose eyes the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem was an unpardonable crime, and the real cause of the fall of the Roman Empire; who entertained a cause for hatred and calumny against Flavius; who hoped for the restoration of the Temple and of Jerusalem; who looked on the Messiah as a man chosen of God; who saw that Messiah in Jesus, and who read the Apocalypse of St John. Since then, Egypt has for a long time made us grow accustomed to great singularities in all that concerns Jewish and Christian history, and its religious development did not proceed pari passu with that of the rest of the world. Accents such as we have just beard could hardly find an echo either in pure Judaism or in the Churches of St Paul. Judea, above all, would never have consented, even for an hour, either to regard Hadrian as the best of men, or to found such hopes upon him.12
|« Prev||Chapter I. Hadrian.||Next »|