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THE fourth and fifth centuries A.D. were marked by the rise of no new school of metaphysics and were illustrated by only one preeminent philosopher. In theology the period can boast great names, perhaps the greatest since the Apostles of Christ, but in philosophy it is singularly barren. Plotinus (AD 205-270), the chief exponent and practical founder of that reconstruction of Greek philosophy known as Neo­-Platonism, had indeed many disciples; but Proclus the Lycian (AD 412-485) is the only one of them who can be said to have advanced in any marked degree the study of pure thought. The mind of the age was inclined towards religion, or at least religious idealism, rather than towards metaphysics. Nor is this matter for surprise when we remember the spiritual revival of the centuries preceding, a movement which began under the Flavians and had by no means spent its force when Constantine came to the throne.

From an early period in the Empire, and more especially under the Severi, men were turning in disgust and disillusion to religion as a refuge from the evils of the world in which they lived, as a sphere in which they could realize dreams of better things than those begotten of their present discontent. This fact explains the quickening of the older cults and the ready adoption of new ones, which issued in a promiscuous pantheon and a bewildering medley of religious rites and practices. Then came philosophy and sought to bring order out of chaos. It tried, and with some success, to clear away superstition and to raise the believer in gods many to a living communion with the One divine of which they were but different manifestations. There is no doubt that Proclus, who unified to some extent the heterogeneous system of Plotinus, was engaged in the proper business of philosophy, viz. the contemplation of metaphysical truth; there is equally no doubt that in practice the philosophy of the age was addressed to the same human need as its religion. And that need was a better knowledge of God. It is most significant that the final rally of the old religions was under the banner of a philosophy: Julian and his supporters were Neoplatonists.

We may therefore claim that the temper of the times was on the whole religious, concerned chiefly with man’s relation to God; and the fact that the Church had recently achieved so signal a victory is in itself an indication that the best intellects had gravitated towards her. Thus the highest thought was Christian, finding expression in those systematized ideas about God which are summed up in the word theology.

It would however be a grave mistake to suppose that the age which saw the triumph of the Christian idea and the establishment of Christianity as the state religion was entirely of one mind and Christian to the core. Side by side with the great current of Christian thought and belief, that was now running free after a long subterranean course, there flowed a large volume of purely pagan opinion or preconception, such interfiltration as took place being carried on by unseen channels. Thus, while eager and courageous spirits were contending for the Faith with all kinds of weapons against all kinds of foes throughout the Empire, men (and some of them Christian men) were writing and speaking as though no such thing as Christianity had come into the world. And the age that witnessed the conversion of Constantine and inherited the benefits of that act was an age that in the East listened to the interminable hexameters of NounusDionysiaca, which contain no conscious reference to Christianity; that laughed over the epigrams of Cyrus; that delighted in many frankly pagan love-stories and saw nothing surprising in the attribution of one of them (the Aethiopica) to the Christian bishop Heliodorus; that in the West applauded the panegyrists when they compared emperor and patron to the hierarchy of gods and heroes; and that in extremity found its consolation in philosophy rather than in the Gospel.

This persistence of paganism in the face of obvious defeat was due to a number of cooperating causes. Roman patriotism, which saw in worship of the gods and the secret name of Rome the only safeguard of the eternal city; the cults of Cybele, Isis, Mithra, and Orpheus, with their dreams of immortality; the stern tradition of the Stoic emperor Marcus; the lofty ideals of the Neoplatonists—all these factors helped to delay the final triumph. But probably the strongest and most persistent conservative influence was that of the rhetoric by which European education was dominated then as it was by logic in the Middle Ages, and as it has been since the Renaissance by humane letters. Rhetoric lay in wait for the boy as he left the hands of the grammarian, and was his companion at every stage of his life. It went with hip through school and university; it formed his taste and trained or paralyzed his mind; but more than this, it opened to him the avenues of success and reward. For although by the fourth century oratory had lost its old political power, rhetoric still remained a bread-winning business. It was always lucrative, and it led to high position, even to the consulship, as in the case of Ausonius the rhetor (AD 309-392), who was Gratian's tutor and afterwards quaestor, praefect of Gaul, and finally consul. Here is cause enough to account for the long life and paramount influence of rhetoric in the schools. Now the instrument with which both schoolmaster and professor fashioned their pupils was pagan mythology and pagan history. The great literatures of the past supplied the theme for declamation and exercise. Rules of conduct were deduced from maxims that passed under the names of Pythagoras, Solon, Socrates, and Marcus Aurelius.

It was inevitable that the thoughts of the grown man should be expressed in terms of paganism when the education of the youth was upon these lines. And this education was for all, not only for the children of unbelievers. Gregory of Nyssa himself informs us that he attended the classes of heathen rhetoricians. So did Gregory of Nazianzus and his brother Caesarius, and so did Basil. John Chrysostom was taught by Libanius, the last of the Sophists, who claimed that it was what he learnt in the schools that led his friend Julian back to the worship of the gods. Even Tertullian, who would not suffer a Christian to teach rhetoric out of heathen books, could not forbid his learning it from them. They were indeed the only means to knowledge. Efforts were made to provide Christian books modelled upon them. Proba, wife of a praefect of Rome, compelled Virgil to prophesy of Christ by the simple means of reading Christianity into a cento of lines from the Aeneid. Juvencus the presbyter dared, in Jerome's phrase, to submit the majesty of the Gospel to the laws of metre, and to this end composed four books of Evangelic history. The two Apollinarii turned the O.T. into heroic and Pindaric verse, and the N.T. into Platonic dialogues; Nonnus the author of the Dionysiaca rewrote St John's Gospel in hexameters; Eudocia, consort of Theodosius II, composed a poetical paraphrase of the Law and of some of the Prophets. But as soon as Julian's edict against Christian teachers was withdrawn, grammarians and rhetors returned to the classics with renewed zest and a sense of victory gained. Jerome and Augustine, both of them students and teachers, pointed out the educational capacity of the sacred books; but some 80 years after the publication of the de doctrina christiana, in which Augustine as a teacher urged the claims of Scripture, we find Ennodius the Christian bishop speaking of rhetoric as queen of the arts and of the world. It was reserved for Cassiodorus (AD 480-575), the father of literary monasticism in the West, to attempt the realization of Augustine’s dream.

Like Ennodius his older contemporary, Cassiodorus loved and practiced rhetoric, but he had visions of a better kind of education, and in 535-6 he made an abortive attempt to found a school of Christian literature at Rome, “in which the soul might gain eternal salvation, and the tongue acquire beauty by the exercise of the chaste and pure eloquence of Christians”. His project was ill-timed; it was the moment of the invasion of Belisarius, and Rome had other business on hand than schemes of education and reform. The schools were pagan to the end, and it may be said with truth that rhetoric retarded the progress of the Faith, and that Christianity when it conquered the heathen world was captured by the system of education which it found in force. The result of rhetorical training is very plainly seen in all the literature of the period and in the characters of the writers. Even the Fathers are deeply tinged with it, and Jerome himself admits that one must always distinguish in their writings between what is said for the sake of argument and what is said as truth. Though perjury and false witness were heavily punished, lying was never an ecclesiastical offence, and rigid veracity cannot be claimed as a constant characteristic of any Christian writer of the period except Athanasius, Augustine, and (outside his panegyrics) Eusebius of Caesarea.

Reference has already been made to some of the Eastern authors who wrote in the full current of Christianity but with no sensible trace of its influence. Passing West, we find ourselves in better company than that of the novelists and epigrammatists, and among men who even more effectively illustrate the tendencies of the time. By Macrobius we are introduced to a little group of gentlemen who meet together in a friendly way for the discussion of literary, antiquarian, and philosophic matters. Most of the characters of the Saturnalia are known to us from the history of the day and from their own writings, which express opinions sufficiently similar to those which Macrobius lends them in his symposium to make it a faithful mirror of fourth century thought and conversation. There is Praetextatus, at whose house the company first assembles to keep the Saturnalia. He is a scholar and antiquary, a statesman and philosopher, the hierophant of half-a-dozen cults, formerly praefect of the city and proconsul of Achaia, his dignity and urbanity, his piety, his grave humour, his overflowing erudition, his skill in drawing out his friends, render him in all respects the proper president of the feast of reason.

There is Flavian the younger, a man of action and of greater mark in the real world than Praetextatus, who however plays but a small part on Macrobius’ stage. There is Q. Aurelius Symmachus, the wealthy senator and splendid noble, the zealous conservative and patron of letters, who opposed Ambrose in the affair of the Altar of Victory and brought Augustine to Milan as teacher of rhetoric.

There are two members of the house of Albinus, chiefly remarkable for their worship of Virgil. There is Servius, the young but erudite critic, who carries his scholarship with so much grace and modesty. There is Evangelus, whose rough manners and uncouth opinions serve as a foil to the strict correctness of the rest. There is Disarius the doctor, the friend of Ambrose, and Horus, whose name proclaims his foreign birth. These persons of the Saturnalia we know to have been living men. What are the topics of their conversation? The range is astonishing, from antiquities (the origin of the Calendar, of the Saturnalia, of the toga proetextata, linguistics (derivations and wondrous etymologies), literature (especially Cicero and Virgil), science (medicine, physiology and astronomy), religion and philosophy (a syncretism of all the cults), ethics (chiefly Stoical, e.g. the morality of slavery and suicide), down to table manners and the jokes of famous men. In a word, everything that a Roman gentleman ought to know is treated somewhat mechanically but with elaborate fullness—except Christianity, of which there is no hint. And yet one of the Albini had a Christian wife and the other was almost certainly himself a Christian.

This silence on a topic which must have touched all the characters to whom Macrobius lends utterance is equally felt when we pass to fact from fiction. Symmachus in the whole collection of his private letters refers but rarely to religion and never once to Christianity. Claudian, the poet courtier of Christian emperors, has only one passage which betrays a clear consciousness of the new faith, and that is in a lampoon upon a bibulous soldier. It is the same with the panegyrists, the same with allegorist and dramatist. Martianus Capello, whose manual of the arts, entitled The Nuptials of Mercury and Philology, represents the best culture of the epoch and enjoyed an almost unexampled popularity during the Middle Ages, passes over Christianity without a word. The anonymous Querolus, an agreeable comédie à thèse written for the entertainment of a great Gallican household and obviously reflecting the serious thought of its audience, is entirely dominated by the Stoical and heathen notion of Fate. This general silence cannot be due to ignorance. Rather it is due to Roman etiquette. The great conservative nobles, the writers who catered for their instruction and amusement, would seem to have agreed to ignore the new religion.

We must now consider in some detail the character of this persistent paganism, especially as it is presented to us by Macrobius, either in the Saturnalia or in his Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, to which last we owe our knowledge of the treatise of Cicero bearing that title.

The philosophy or religion of these two works is pure Neoplatonism, drawn straight from Plotinus. Macrobius seems to have known the Greek original; he gives actual citations from the Enneads in several places, and one passage contains as good a summary of the Plotinian Trinity as was possible in Latin.

The universe is the temple of God, eternal like Him and filled with His presence. He, the first cause, is the source and origin of all that is and all that seems to be. By the overflowing fertility of His majesty He created from himself Mind (mens). Mind retains the image of its author so long as it looks towards him; when it looks backward it creates soul (anima). Soul in its turn keeps the likeness of mind while it looks towards mind, but when its turns away its gaze it degenerates insensibly, and, although itself incorporeal, gives rise to bodies celestial (the stars) and terrestrial (men, beasts, vegetables). Between man and the stars there is real kinship, as there is between man and God. Thus all things from the highest to the lowest are held together in an intimate and unbroken connection, which is what Homer meant when he spoke of a golden chain let down by God from heaven to earth.

Then Macrobius describes the soul's descent. Tempted by the desire for a body, it falls from where it dwelt on high with the stars its brethren. It passes through the seven spheres that separate heaven from earth, and in its passage acquires the several qualities which go to make up the composite nature of man. As it descends it gradually in a sort of intoxication sheds its attributes and forgets its heavenly home, though not in all cases to the same extent. This descent into the body is a kind of temporary death, for the body is also the tomb, a tomb from which the soul can rise at the body’s death. Man is indeed immortal, the real man is the soul which dominates the things of sense. But although the body's death means life to the soul, the soul may not anticipate its bliss by voluntary act, but must purify itself and wait, for “we must not hasten the end of life while there is still possibility of improvement”. Heaven is shut against all but those who win purity, and the body is not only a tomb; it is a hell (infera). Cicero promised heaven to all true patriots; Macrobius knows a higher virtue than patriotism, viz. contemplation of the divine, for the earth is but a point in the universe and glory but a transient thing. The wise man is he who does his duty upon earth with his eyes fixed upon heaven.

If beside this pure and lofty idealism, grafted upon Roman patriotic feeling, we set the somewhat crude syncretism of the Saturnalia, we have a true reflection of all the higher thought of fourth century Paganism—except demonology and its lower accompaniment, magic. Of the former we have no direct indication beyond a doubtful etymology. The latter is present, but only in its least objectionable form, viz. divination. The omission is the more remarkable since demonology was a salient feature of the Neoplatonic system, and magic was its inevitable outcome. For the god of Neo-Platonism was a metaphysical abstraction, yet a cause, and therefore bound to act, since a cause must have an effect. Being above action Himself, there must be a secondary cause or causes. And the Platonic philosophy provided a host of intermediary beings who bridged the chasm between earth and God, and who interpreted and conveyed on high the prayers of men. The ranks of these divine agents were largely supplied by the old heroes and daemons, who in the popular imagination were omnipotent, watching over human affairs. All daemons however were not equally beneficent. At the bottom of the scale of nature lurked evil daemons, powers of darkness ceaselessly scheming man's destruction. It was to these supernatural beings, good and bad, that his mind turned in hope or fear. He dreaded the evil daemons and sought to charm them; he loved the good and addressed to them his prayers and worship. Plotinus indeed forbad but could not prevent the worship of daemons, for he admitted their real existence. With Porphyry (d. 305) the tendency towards demonological rites is clearly marked; with Proclus the habit is established.

Thus upon a monotheistic basis there arose a new polytheism, in which the Olympian deities, whose credit had been shaken by rationalistic philosophy, were largely replaced by daemons and demigods. Theology, which is presented on its purer side by Macrobius, degenerated in popular usage into theurgy; the ethical and intellectual aspirations after union with the divine were replaced by mere magic. Yet magic had the countenance of the philosophers, who, distinguishing carefully between white and black magic (to borrow later terms) repudiated the latter while they allowed the former. And although theurgy was a sharp declension from the principles of Platonism, whether old or new, it was very natural. It was extremely venerable and it was able to take the colour of science. The doctrine of the sympathy of the seen and the unseen worlds, together with the gradual recognition of the mighty power of cosmic law, even when controlled by spirits or daemons, resulted necessarily in an attempt to coerce these beings by means of material things, almost, one might say, by means of chemical reagents. So, the larger the knowledge of nature and its operations, the wider the spread of magical practices. Magic had a living force which Christianity was for ages powerless to break.

Another potent factor in keeping alive the flame of Paganism was the belief in the eternal destiny of Rome. Christian writers in the second century, like Tertullian, held that Rome would last as long as the world and that her fall would coincide with the Day of Judgment. Christian writers before whose eyes the city fell without the coming of the Day, stood bewildered and in part regretful. The news dashed the pen from the hand of Jerome in his cell at Bethlehem: “the human race is included in the ruins”, he wrote; and Augustine, while he looks for the founding of an abiding and divine city in the room of that which had disappeared, and taunts the Romans with the poor protection afforded them by their gods, declares that the whole world groaned at the fall of Rome and is himself proud of her great past and of the qualities of Roman endurance and faith that gave her so high a place among the nations. Orosius, again, who carried on the plan and thought of the de civitate Dei, to whose mind the Roman Empire was founded upon blood and sin, yet proclaims, as Augustine his master had proclaimed, that Roman peace and Roman culture were greater and would last longer than Rome herself.

If such were the sentiments of Christian writers towards the imperial city, which had been much more of a step-mother than a mother to their faith, what must pagans have felt for the home of their religion, upon which Plutarch had exhausted his store of eulogistic metaphor (cf. de fortuna Rom.), which to Julian was “dear to the gods, invincible”, whose piety might surely claim divine protection? To discover this we have but to turn the pages of Claudian and Rutilius Namatianus. Claudian (AD 400) was not a Roman born, but a Greek-speaking native of Egypt. Yet he has Juvenal’s contempt for “Greek Quirites” and an unconcealed hatred of New Rome, and he finds his true inspiration in the great city on the Tiber whom he addresses as Roma dea, consort of Jupiter, mother of arts and arms and of the world's peace. “Rise, reverend mother” he cries, “and with firm hope trust the favouring gods. Lay aside old age's craven fear. 0 city coeval with the sky, iron Fate shall never master thee till Nature changes her laws and rivers run backward”. But it is not only the city with her pomp and beauty, her hills and temples, the home of gods and Fortune, that compels his praise. The empire of which she was the visible head, an empire won by bloodshed, it is true, but kept together by the willing love of all the various races that have passed into the fabric—this is Claudian’s real theme, the mighty diapason that runs through all his utterance and redeems his panegyric of Roman noble and emperor from the charge of mere servility.

We have said that Claudian hardly ever refers directly to Christianity, and indeed echoes of spiritual language in his verse are faint and uncertain. The hostility which he must have felt against the religion that was sapping the seats of the ancient worship is to be gathered from hints rather than from direct expression. That hostility lies nearer the surface in the Return from exile (AD 416) of Rutilius Claudius Namatianus, a great Gaulish lord and friend of Roman lords, who betrays more clearly than Claudian the sentiments of the ruling class. But even in Rutilius the allusions to Christianity are veiled. As a high official (he was praefect of the city) he could not openly attack the religion of the emperor, and must content himself with fulminations against Judaism, ‘the root of superstition’, and the monks whose life is a voluntary death to life, its pleasures, and its duties.

It is almost needless to say that Rutilius the Gaul shares the belief of Claudian the Egyptian in the destiny of Rome. The sight of the temples still shining in the sun after the Gothic invasion was to him an earnest of her perennial youth. “Allia did not keep back the punishment of Brennus”. Rome will rise more glorious for her present discomfiture. Ordo renascendi est, crescere posse malis. This faith in Rome meant of course faith in the gods who had made her great, and good Romans all believed in them and were eager to maintain the national cult with which Rome's welfare was bound up. Roman worship was at all times directed mainly towards the attainment of material blessings, and the material disasters which, despite the optimism of Rutilius and his circle, lay heavy on the city, were attributed to the anger of forsaken deities. How, asked Symmachus, could Rome bring herself to abandon those under whose protection her conquests had been made and her power established? The appeal to the gods was already more than two centuries old, and now the disaster seemed to justify it. In answer to it Augustine took up his pen and wrote the City of God. It occupied the spare moments of his episcopal life for thirteen years (AD 413-426), and, with all its defects, it remains a noble example of the new philosophy of history, and sets in vivid contrast the two civilizations from whose fusion sprang the Middle Ages. He answers the heathen complaints one by one. Christianity was not responsible for Rome’s disaster. The Christian enemy even tried to mitigate it, and Christian charity saved many pagans. Had Rome been really prosperous? Her history is dark with calamity. Had the gods really protected her? Remember Cannae and the Caudine Forks. These boasted gods have ever been but broken reeds, from the fall of Troy onwards. The glory of Rome (which he admits) is due, under the Christian's God, to Roman courage and patriotism. This God has a destiny for Rome and He means her to be the eternal city of a regenerate race. Such is the main subject of the first ten books. The next twelve develop the contrast between the city of men and the city of God, the one built upon love of self to the exclusion of God, the other built upon the love of God to the exclusion of self. The history of the world is briefly sketched, but the elaboration of the historical theme, on which he set great store, was entrusted to his disciple, Orosius, a young Spanish monk who came to Hippo in A.D. 414. Orosius’ cue was this: the world, far from being more miserable than before the advent of Christianity, was really more prosperous and happy. Etna was less active than of old, the locusts consumed less, the barbarian invasions were no more than merciful warnings. Here is an optimism as false in its way as that of Rutilius; but it shows the spirit that carried Europe safe through the darkness that was coming.

Thirty years later the situation had changed; optimism was difficult; it could no longer be said with Orosius that the world was “only tickled with fleas”, and none the worse for it. Under the almost universal dominion of the barbarian, the old complaints of the heathen against heaven were now heard on the lips of the Christians. Why had a special dispensation of suffering accompanied the triumph of the Cross? Salvian the Gaul takes up the theme and in his treatise On the Government of the World compares Roman vice with barbarian virtue. His brush is too heavily charged: he protests too much; but he undoubtedly helped his contemporaries to recover tone, to bear the burdens laid upon them with resignation, and to see the guiding hand of Providence in their misfortunes.

Salvian has not the faith of Augustine and Orosius in the future of the Empire; for him the future was with the new races. But Sidonius Apollinaris (c. 430-489), who perhaps saw them closer and at any rate describes them more minutely, is very loth to allow the ascendancy of the "stinking savages" over Rome, which is still the one city where the only strangers are slaves and barbarians. Thus even when Roman citizens were bowing their heads to fate, even seeking help and an emperor from the hated Greeks, the old love of Rome was strong, the sense of her greatness hardly dimmed. It is not difficult to see how a city which could command so much affection even from Christians served as a strong support to those who for her sake strove to uphold her gods.

Meanwhile the religion which men of letters and Roman patriots passed over in silent contempt or attacked with covert hatred had been gathering notions from the very sources which fostered opposition to it. "Spoil the Egyptians" was Augustine's advice, and not a few distinctive Neoplatonist tenets were borrowed by Christian theologians and lived on through the Middle Ages. The Church indeed rejected from her authoritative teaching the Pantheism and Nihilism to which those tenets lead if held consistently, and affirmed a personal triune God, intelligent and free; a world created out of nothing and to return to nothing; mankind redeemed from evil by one sole mediator; a future life to be enjoyed without the sacrifice of the soul’s individual nature.

But the Neoplatonists supplied illustration of church doctrine and interpretation of Christian truth, and thinkers who saw danger in anthropomorphism found support for their metaphysic in the heathen school of Alexandria. The time is past when men spoke of fourth century Christianity as a mere copy of Neo-Platonism, but the object and principles of the two systems are so much alike that it is not surprising to find points of close resemblance in their presentment. The resemblance is most marked in the writings of the Greek and Syrian fathers. The Eastern element in Neoplatonism could not but appeal to Eastern theologians; this appeal and its response explain the large welcome extended to the works of two supposed disciples of St Paul, Hierotheus and Dionysius the Areopagite, whose rhapsodies were received as Pauline truth not only by their credulous contemporaries but by the mystics of the medieval Church. In these writings the personal existence of God is threatened and the direct road to Him is closed. “God is the Being of all that is”. “The Absolute Good and Beautiful is honoured by eliminating all qualities, and therefore the non-existent must participate in the Good and Beautiful”. God, who can only be described by negatives, can only be reached by the surrender of all personal distinctions and a voluntary descent into uncreated nothingness. As has been well said, the name God came to be little more than the deification of the word “not”. All this is the language of Brahmanism or Buddhism, and, but for the corrective influence of Christian experience on the one hand and of Greek love of beauty on the other, it would have led to Oriental apathy and hatred of the world which God called good. The Cappadocian fathers—Basil and the two Gregorys—who were Platonists at heart, and were driven, by the argument that God being simple must be easily intelligible, to assert in strong terms the essential mystery of the divine being, yet maintained that imperfection does not render human knowledge untrue, and that the wisdom displayed in the created universe enables the mind to grasp, by analogy, the divine wisdom and the uncreated beauty. This habit of tracing analogies between the seen and the unseen is characteristic of Platonism, Christian or heathen, and, we may remark in passing, it bears pleasant fruit in that love for natural beauty that marks the writings of the Cappadocians.

The mind of Plotinus is seen still more clearly in Synesius of Cyrene (AD 365-412), country gentleman, philosopher, and bishop, who was in every sense a Neoplatonist first and a Christian afterwards. All his serious thought is couched in the language of the schools, while his hymns are merely metrical versions of Neoplatonist doctrine. When he was chosen bishop he was reluctantly ready to give up his dogs—he was a mighty hunter—but not his wife, nor his philosophy, although it contained much that was opposed to current Christian teaching on such important points as the end of the world and the resurrection of the body. He probably represents the attitude of many at this transition period, though few possessed his clearness of mind and boldness of speech.

The influence of Neo-Platonism in the West is less marked, but it is there. Hilary’s curious psychology, according to which soul makes body, is Plotinian, though he may have taken it from Origen; and his own sketch of his spiritual progress from the darkness of philosophy to the light gives evidence that he first learnt from Neo-Platonism the desire for knowledge of God and union with Him.

Augustine was yet more deeply affected by “the philosophers”, especially in his early works. It was Plato, interpreted by Plotinus, whom he read in a Latin version, that, as he himself tells us, delivered him from materialism and pantheism. Thus the ecstatic illumination recorded in the Confessions was called forth by the perusal of the Enneads and is indeed expressed in the very words of Plotinus. Again, in more than one passage there is a distinct approach on his part to the Plotinian Trinity (one, mind, soul), or at least a statement of the Christian Trinity in terms of being, knowledge, and will, that seems to go beyond the limits of mere illustration or analogy.

Again, Augustine accepts and repeats word for word the Neo­platonic denial of the possibility of describing God. “God is not even to be called ineffable, because to say this is to make an assertion about Him”; but, like the Cappadocians, his feet are kept from the hopeless via negativa by an intense personal conviction of the abiding presence of God and by a real vision of the divine. His mind and heart taught him the real distinction between the old philosophy and the new religion, but all his deepest thoughts about God and the world, freedom and evil, bear the impress of the books which first impelled him “to enter into the inner chamber of his soul and there behold the light”. The appeal away from the illusion of things seen to the reality that belongs to God alone, the slight store set by him on institutions of time and place, in a word, the philosophic idealism that underlies and colours all Augustine's utterance on doctrinal and even practical questions and forms the real basis of his thought, is Platonic. And, considering the vast effect of his mind and writings on succeeding generations, it is no exaggeration to say with Harnack that Neo-Platonism influenced the West under the cloak of church doctrine and through the medium of Augustine. Boethius, the last of the Roman philosophers and the first scholastic, certainly imitated Augustine’s theology, and thought like him as a Neoplatonist. At the same time it must be remembered that Platonism was the philosophy that commended itself most naturally to Christian or even to heathen thinkers. Aristotle had had no attraction for Plutarch, while Macrobius deliberately set out to refute him. The influence of Aristotle is certainly seen in the treatment of particular problems by individual writers, but the only school that deliberately preferred his method to his master's is that of Antioch. To the mystical and intuitive movement of Alexandria the Antiochenes, especially Diodorus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, opposed a rationalism and a systematic treatment of theological questions which is obviously Aristotelian.

But there were two articles of the old religion that went deeper and spread further into the new than any philosophic method. These were, first the mediators between God and man that were so prominent in Neo‑platonism, and secondly the magic that was its inseparable accompaniment.

It is mere futility to find a pagan source for every Christian saint and festival, but a study of hagiographic literature reveals a very large amount of heathen reminiscence, and even of formal adoption, in the Church’s Calendar. Doubtless there were other factors in the growth of the cultus of the saints and their relics—human instinct, the Jewish theory of merit, the veneration of confessors and martyrs, and the strong confidence which from an early date was placed in the virtue of their intercessions. But the extraordinary development of the cultus between AD 325 and 450 can only be explained by the polytheistic or rather the polydemoniac tendencies of the mass of Gentile converts with the memories of hero and daemon worship in their minds. Again, Neo-Platonism involved the use of magic; the Christianity of the day admitted belief in it; for while the Bible forbade the practice, it did not deny its potency. Closely connected with magic stood divination, whether by astrology and haruspication, or by dreams and oracles. The Neoplatonists, following earlier thinkers, were committed to a theory of inward illumination, and ascribed the various phenomena of divination to the agency of spiritual forces working upon responsive souls. Christians allowed the supernatural inspiration of pagan oracles but held that it came, not from God like the inspiration of the Prophets, but from the fellowship of wicked men with evil demons, of whose real existence they had no manner of doubt.

The fact that Scripture used the word daemonion of an evil spirit was immediate evidence of his existence and his wickedness. Philosophers might plead that there were beneficent daemons. Daemonions had only one sense in the Bible, and that was enough to condemn all that bear the name. The daemons, in the worship of whom, as Eusebius said, the whole religion of the heathen world consisted, were the object of the Christian's deepest fear and hate as being the source of all material and spiritual evil, and the avowed enemies of God. To them were due all the errors and sins of men, all the cruelty of nature. Wind and storm fulfilled God's word; but when mischief followed in their train, it was the work of Satan and his angels. Intercourse with these was stringently forbidden, but no one questioned its possibility. Augustine records the various charms and rites by which daemons can be attracted; he was a firm believer in his mother's dreams and in her power to distinguish between subjective impressions and heaven-sent visions. And Synesius (writing, it is true, before his conversion) states his conviction that divination is one of the best things practiced among men. Magic had been the object of penal legislation from the early days of the Empire, but the very violence of the laws passed by Christian emperors against it points to the prevalence of the belief in it, a belief which the lawgiver shared with his subjects. Constantine and Theodosius may have really looked to their antimagical measures as a means to destroy polytheism and purify the Church, but the former emperor expressly excluded from the scope of his edict rites whose object was to save men from disease and the fields from harm, while his son Constantius, and Valens and Valentinian, were persuaded that magic might be turned against their life or power, and by way of self-defence fell to persecuting the magicians as fiercely as their predecessors had persecuted the Church. The title, enemies of the human race, formerly applied to Christians was now transferred to the adepts in magical arts.

But present punishment and future warning were powerless to check practices that were the natural results of all-prevailing credulity. What this was in heathen circles may be learnt from the pages in which Ammianus Marcellinus (A.D. 325-395) describes the Rome of his day; “many who deny that there are powers supernal will not go abroad nor breakfast nor bathe till they have consulted the calendar to find the position of a planet”. In Christian circles the credulity took also another form, that of an easy belief in miracles, not only of serious import such as the discovery of the bodies of Gervasius and Protasius—which is still a problem to the historian—but trivialities such as the winning of a horse race through the judicious use of holy water, the gift of reading without letters, and all the marvels of the Thebaid. The truth is that amid the universal ignorance of natural laws men were ready to believe anything. And it must be confessed that what greatly fostered credulity and error among educated Christians was the literal interpretation of Scripture which held the field in spite of Alexandrian allegorism. The scientific and the common sense of Augustine were alike shocked by the interminable fables of the Manichaeans concerning sky and stars, sun and moon; but it was their sacrilegious folly that finally turned him from the sect. “The authority of Scripture is higher than all the efforts of the human intelligence” he wrote, and the words exactly express the mind of churchmen whenever there was a conflict between physical theory and the faith.

The erroneous speculations of early philosophers, from whatever source derived, were taken up and readily adopted, provided that they did not contradict the Bible. There are already anticipations in the fourth century of the marvellous scheme of Cosmas Indicopleustes in the sixth, whereof the chief features were a two-storied firmament and a great northern mountain to hide the sun by night—all duly supported by scriptural quotations. The results to which Greek speculation had by a supreme intellectual effort arrived were cast aside in favour of the wildest Eastern fancies, because these latter had the apparent sanction of Genesis and the Psalms. The heliocentric theory of the universe, which although not universally admitted had at least been propounded and warmly supported, was deliberately refused, first on the authority of Aristotle, and a system adopted which led the world astray until Galileo. Genesis demanded that the earth should be the centre, and the sun and stars lights for man's convenience.

Again, the notion of a spherical earth was favoured in classical antiquity even by geocentricians. But the words of Psalmist, Prophet, and Apostle required a flat earth over which the heavens could be stretched like a tent, and the believers in a globe with antipodes were scouted with arguments borrowed from Lucretius the epicurean and materialist. Augustine denies the possibility not of a rotund earth but of human existence at the antipodes. “There was only one pair of original ancestors, and it was inconceivable that such distant regions should have been peopled by Adam's descendants”. The logic is fair enough; the false premise arises from the worship of the letter. The fact is that while as spiritual teachers the fathers are unrivalled, common sense interpretation is rare enough in our period; it is not often that we find such sober judgment as is shown by Basil. “What is meant”, he writes, “by the voice of the Lord? Are we to understand thereby a disturbance caused in the air by the vocal organs? Is it not rather a lively image, a clear and sensible vision imprinted on the mind of those to whom God wishes to communicate His thought, a vision analogous to that which is imprinted on our mind when we dream?”

In connection with the unquestioning trust in the letter of Scripture as the touchstone for all matters of knowledge some mention must be made of attempts to adjust universal history by the standard of Biblical dates, although the results, in one instance at least, bear witness to no uncritical credulity but to a singular freedom from prejudice and to love of truth.

The science of comparative chronography, so greatly developed by the Byzantines, was really founded by Sextus Julius Africanus in the early third century. The beginning which he made was carried out with far greater knowledge and with the use of much better material by Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (AD 265-338). Former critics were inclined to belittle Eusebius’ work and qualify him as a dishonest writer who perverted chronology for the sake of making synchronisms (so Niebuhr and Bunsen). It is certainly true that he manipulates the figures supplied by his authorities and employs conjecture and analogy to control the incredible length of their time-periods. But his reductions are all worked in the sight of the reader, who if he cannot allow the main contention, viz. the infallibility of the Biblical numbers, must confess the honesty of the method and the soundness of the process. In dealing with Hebrew chronology Eusebius shows candour and judgment. There was need of both, for even when the discrepancies between the Hebrew and the LXX texts were removed by claiming for the latter a higher inspiration, there remained contradictions enough between the covers of the Greek Bible. For instance, the time between the Exodus and Solomon's Temple is different in Acts and Judges from what it is in Kings. On this point Eusebius, after a fair and sensible discussion, decided boldly and to the dismay of his contemporaries against St Paul in favour of the shorter period, remarking that the Apostle’s business was to teach the way of salvation and not accurate chronology. The effect of this decision is to lessen the antiquity of Moses by 283 years. This was clean against the whole tendency of previous apologists, who desired to establish the seniority of the Hebrew over all other lawgivers and philosophers.

Eusebius, although conscious that the reversal of preconceived opinion demands some apology, is content to place Moses after Inachus. The work in which these novel conclusions were set forth consists of two parts, of which the first (Chronographia) contains the historical material—extracts from profane and sacred writers—for the synthetic treatment of the second part (Canones). Here the lists of the world's rulers are displayed in parallel columns showing at a glance with whom any given monarch is contemporary. Side-notes accompany the lists, marking the main events of history, and a separate column gives the years of the world's age, reckoned from the birth of Abraham. The choice of this event as the starting-point of the Synchronism distinguishes the work of Eusebius from that of his predecessors and does great credit to his historical sense and honesty. As a Christian he felt that his standard of measurement must be the record of the scriptures; but as a historian he saw that history really begins with Abraham, the earlier chapters of Genesis being intended for edification rather than instruction. At a time when the Jews were a despised race, it was no slight achievement to place their history on a footing with that of proud and powerful monarchies, and although Eusebius' work cannot at all points stand the test of modern science, it is of permanent value today both as a source of information and as a model of historical research. The Canons were translated by Jerome and thus obtained at once, even in the West, a position of undisputed authority. The Latin medieval chronicle is founded on Eusebius, whose name, together with his translator's, quite overshadowed all other workers in the same field whether earlier or later, such as Africanus or Sulpicius Severus.

But although the learned labours of Eusebius bear witness to a strong individual regard for truth and a vast range of secular knowledge, the solid contributions to thought on the part of Christian writers must be looked for in other directions. The period which we must admit to have been marked by so much credulity and error in matters of science is the period of the ecumenical councils, of the conciliar creeds and the consequent systematization of Christian doctrine. Councils gathered and expressed in creed and canon the common belief and practice of the churches. Their aim was, not to introduce fresh doctrine, but precisely the reverse, to protect from ruinous innovation the faith once delivered. Nor were the creeds, which served as tests of orthodoxy, intended to simplify or explain the mystery of that faith. Rather they reaffirmed in terms congenial to the age the inexplicable mystery of the revelation in Christ. It was such heretics as the Arians who tried to simplify and explain the difficulties that confronted the Christian believer. This intellectual effort was met by an appeal to experience, to man's need of redemption and the means by which that need is satisfied. The great advance made by Athanasius was really a return to the simple facts of the Gospel and the words of Scripture. “He went back from the Logos of the philosophers to the Logos of St John, from the god of the philosophers to God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself”. In a word, the great victories of the fourth and fifth centuries were the victories of soteriology over theological speculation. Into the thorny labyrinth of the Arian and Nestorian conflicts there is no need to enter in this chapter. We have only to consider what contributions to general thought were made by the victorious party.

The process of fixing the terminology in which the results of the Arian controversy were expressed and the doctrine affirmed of One God in three Persons of equal and coeternal majesty and Godhead could not be carried through without a serious attempt to deal with the problem of personality. Pre-Christian thinkers had no clear understanding, or at least had not formulated a clear view, of human personality in its two most essential features, viz. universality and unity. These were necessarily brought out by Christianity, first in the historic figure of its founder and His unexampled life, and then in the development of the doctrine of His person. In that development the Cappadocian fathers were pioneers. The formula in which they declared the eternal relations existing within the Godhead marks a great advance in scientific precision of thought and language. Up to AD 362 ousía and hipostasis were interchangeable terms. Athanasius in one of his latest writings says that they both mean Being. Misunderstanding and confusion inevitably followed. But after the Synod of Alexandria in A.D. 362 ousía in Christian documents means the Being which is shared by several individuals and hipostasis the special character of the individual. For this happy settlement Basil of Caesarea was largely responsible. He distinguishes between the terms and defines ousía the general, hipostasis as the particular, in application to both human and divine existence. "Every one of us both shares in existence by the general term of ousía and by his own properties in such and such a one. Similarly the term ousía is common, like goodness or Godhead, while hipostasis is contemplated in the special quality of Fatherhood, Sonship, or the power to sanctify."

The way was thus prepared for Boethius’ great definition of person as the individual substance of a rational nature (persona est naturae rationalis individua substantia, contra Eut. et Nest. III) which was accepted by Thomas Aquinas and held good throughout the Middle Ages. But between the times of Basil and Boethius a great controversy had arisen which carried forward the recognition of the facts of human personality—the controversy concerning the will and its freedom.

To understand this we must know what were the current opinions concerning the origin of the soul. The Platonic doctrine of pre-existence, as taught by Origen, had had its day; the only traces of it within the period are to be found in the pages of Nemesius the philosophic bishop of Emesa, and, less certainly, in those of Prudentius the Spanish poet. Thus the field was divided between Creationism and Traducianism. The former view, according to which each soul is a new creation, the body alone being naturally begotten, emphasized the essential purity of the spiritual principle, the evilness of matter, and the unity of man's physical nature. Traducianism, on the other hand, maintained the transmission from the first parents through all succeeding generations of both soul and body, and sin therewith. Creationism left room for the exercise of a free will, enfeebled but not destroyed by the Fall; Traducianism seemed to exclude free will and to posit a total corruption of soul and body. Creationism was held by most of the Eastern fathers, and by Jerome and Hilary in the West: Traducianism, by the Westerns generally and by Gregory of Nyssa. Augustine, without definitely declaring himself on either side, was so far traducianist that he regarded the Fall as an historical act resulting in such a complete disablement of man's will that a special divine operation was required to start him again on the Godward path from which Adam's sin had driven him. Without Grace man can only will and do evil. To this conclusion Augustine was led in large measure by his own experience. He had undergone a twofold conversion, first intellectual and then moral. The former brought him a conviction of divine truth and beauty; the latter, a recognition of human weakness. He had seen God, but the cloud of sin obscured the vision, the power of the world still enthralled his will; for the surrender to which he felt himself called meant surrender of all his habits, hopes, and desires. The conflict between his will and his reluctance was terrific. The world must have won, had not God come to his aid and set his will free to serve. Looking back at his life, the long enslavement of his will and the final victory, he is compelled to confess that he himself contributed nothing towards the restoration of his will and the recovery of peace. He had always believed in God's Grace, but once he held that man's own Faith, fruit of Free Will, went forth to meet it. Now he felt, and St Paul confirmed the conviction, that the whole movement was from God, that Faith as much as Grace is His gift, and That both are determined by the inscrutable decree of His predestinating counsel. Henceforth (this conversion took place in AD 386) the sense of God's guidance colours all his thought—a guidance unseen at the time but recognizable in a retrospect. What was true for him must be true for all. Augustine's character and circumstances are the clue to his later doctrine and his controversies. Thus it was the passionate cry of the Confessions for help against self, da quod jubes et jube quod vis, that evoked the Pelagian controversy. Pelagius, quiet inmate of the cloister, hardly knew what temptation is, and protested against words that discouraged moral effort and fostered fatalism. “Grace was good and a help; sin was widespread; but the latter was due not to an inherited taint but to the influence of Adam’s bad example. Man can overcome temptation, if he sets his will to it”. Augustine met the charge of fatalism by a scornful repudiation of the superstitions that attend the system, and of the impiety which confuses blind and undis­criminating Fate with Grace working with infinite wisdom on vessels of choice. But God’s Predestination involves necessity, and this he coordinates with man’s Free Will in a scheme that clearly betrays the influence of Roman jurisprudence. The synthesis is incomplete, the facts are stated scientifically and empirically, but the legal cast given to a purely metaphysical conception clouds rather than clears the issue.

Here was material for debate. The fight began in AD 411 and lasted with varying fortune until A.D. 418 when Pelagianism was condemned by Councils in Africa and at Rome, the infirmity of the Will and the vital need of Grace for the fulfilment of God’s purposes being affirmed against all compromise. But a strong body of Christian sympathy, due partly to the prevalence of the monastic ideal and partly to a confusion between sin and atrocious sin, remained and still remains on the side of the Pelagians. Attempts were made to mediate between the two extremes by Cassian and Faustus of Riez, both of them monks, who were in great fear of fatalism and who, whilst condemning Pelagius as a heretic, urged the need of man's co-operation in the work of Grace. The predestination of a few they regarded as simple impiety, though they could not deny God's foreknowledge as to who are to be saved. It is plain that Foreknowledge raises more difficulties than it answers. A further and a bold attempt at explanation is offered by Boethius, who saw very clearly the danger of measuring the arm of God by the finger of man. He starts with the thesis, “all things are foreseen but all do not happen by necessity”. But how can human freedom be really free if it is already foreseen by God? The answer lies in a recognition of the difference between the divine and human faculties of knowledge. “God’s knowledge is a present consciousness of all things, past, present, and to come. Human knowledge as regards things future is called prescience. The divine knowledge of things future is rather called providence than prescience, because, transcending time, it looks down as from a lofty height upon a time-conditioned world. Such knowledge is no more incompatible with human freedom, than human knowledge is incompatible with present free acts”.

The thought of man’s fallen nature and consequent alienation from God, which is the starting-point of the Free Will controversy, leads naturally to the thought of Atonement through the death of Christ, and Atonement involves the theory of the Church and its sacraments, whereby the benefits of the Atonement are secured. On all these topics our period throws fresh light.

Two of the main aspects under which the earliest Christian writers regarded the Atonement were those of a sacrifice to God and of a ransom from evil. They did not specify to whom the price was paid. The third century had tried to remedy their indefiniteness by the unfortunate addition of the words “to Satan”, and the proposition thus enlarged held its own for nearly 1000 years until it was discredited by Anselm. The notion that the arch-enemy had overreached himself, and, while receiving the ransom, found no advantage in it (inasmuch as Christ's death saved more souls than His life), appealed to the mind of the age, and Gregory of Nyssa’s grotesque image of the devil caught by the hook of the Deity, baited with the Humanity, was taken up and repeated with applause. But not by all. The “harrowing of Hell”, in the form current in the fourth century, describes deliverance of souls by the triumphant Christ without a word of ransom. Gregory of Nazianzus rejects with scorn the notion of ransom paid to Satan or to God; the views of Athanasius and Augustine are entirely free from bad taste and extravagance. They start from the thought of God's goodness and justice. Goodness required that man should be delivered from the bondage of misery; justice required something more than mere repentance in order to effect that deliverance, nothing less than the offering up of the human nature which contained the sinful principle. This was achieved by Him who assumed human nature and represented man. Thus far Athanasius. Augustine, who is equally insistent on the fact of the sacrifice of Christ, goes deeper than Athanasius into the reason for the particular form that it took and the effects that it wrought. He shares Athanasius’ admiration of the divine goodness exhibited in the long-suffering of God and the voluntary humility of the God-man; he is even more jealous for the divine justice. It was just that Satan who had acquired right over the race should be satisfied in respect of his claims. But Satan took more than his due, slaying the innocent. It was therefore just that he should be forced to relinquish the sinners in behalf of whom the sinless suffered.

The controversy concerning Free Will and Grace also affected the idea of the Church and sacraments. Until the rise of Pelagianism a very wide scope was allowed here to Free Will. The Grace conveyed by the sacraments, which were not to be had outside the Church, was considered to be conditioned by the faith and life of the recipient. It was tacitly assumed that these factors were within the control of the will. That is to say, Grace preceded Election. This, according to Augustine's mind matured by reflection and controversy, was an inversion of the truth. His theory of Predestination demanded that Election should precede Grace. And thus side by side with his practical belief in an external society in which good and bad, wheat and tares, were growing together, partaking of the means of grace, i.e. the visible church, he conceived the novel idea of a spiritual society of elect, the communion of saints, the invisible church, whose members were known to God alone, whether they were within the fold of the external society or not. Of this body it might be affirmed without a trace of bigotry, extra ecclesiam nulla salus. The two conceptions are not kept strictly apart, and the characteristics of the invisible church are constantly transferred by Augustine to the visible church. This body, whose growing nucleus is thus supplied by the invisible church, is the civitas Dei on earth. Over against it stands the civitas terrena, the earthly polity. The two states, separate in idea, origin, purpose, and practice, are yet dependent the one on the other, giving and taking influence. The civitas Dei needs the practical support of the civitas terrena in order to be a visible state. The civitas terrena needs the moral support of the civitas Dei in order to be a real state, for a civitas only exists on a basis of love and justice and by participation in the sole source of existence, which is God. The city of God is the only real civitas, gradually absorbing the civitas terrena and borrowing its authority and power in order to carry out the divine purpose. Magistrate and legislator become the sons and servants of the church, bound to execute the church's objects. We have here the germ of the medieval theory of the church as the kingdom of God on earth, but it must be noted that Augustine does not start with the assumption of identity, does not use church and kingdom of God as interchangeable terms, despite the assertion ecclesia iam nunc est regnum, which he is the first of Christian writers to make. Even in this phrase he does not mean that the church is actually the kingdom, but only that it is so potentially. The full and perfect realisation he reserves until the consummation of all things.

From the earliest days of Christianity the words sacrament and mystery were borrowed to denote any sacred secret thing, and especially the means of grace. The number of these was not distinctly specified, for Christians, believing that the Church was the store-house of unlimited grace, were not careful to count the means. Two however stood out preeminent, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. With regard to the doctrine underlying these two, it may be said that it was in the fourth and fifth centuries essentially what it had been before. No doubt Christian experience and the struggle with paganism and heresy tended to produce explanations, but the main thought was always simply that of life bestowed and life maintained. The early believers had not asked how, but the question could not but arise, and that rather in connection with the Eucharist than with Baptism. For the water of Baptism did not invite speculation to the same degree as did the bread and wine, and their relation to the Body and Blood of Christ. Not that Baptism was ever regarded merely as a ceremony of initiation; it was the fear of losing, through post-baptismal sin, the grace conveyed by Baptism that in our period kept many from the font. Other causes such as negligence, reluctance to forgo the world, and various fancies and superstitions, combined to render Baptism, as in Constantine’s case, the completion rather than the commencement of Christian life. Such delay was not the intention of the Church, and the necessity of checking slackness, together with the Western doctrine of prevenient grace helping the first step Godward, brought about a strict insistence on the necessity of Baptism and a readiness, in the West at least, to allow the Baptism of heretics, provided the right form of words was used. But both wisdom and generosity were shown by the refusal to tie down the operation of the Holy Spirit to ritual action, and by the admission of faith, repentance, or martyrdom, as substitutes for formal Baptism when this could not be had. It must not be forgotten however that Augustine, when he found the Donatists proof against persuasion, advocated a resort to violence —coge intrare.

The Eucharist was more obviously mysterious, and at a time when the rite was attended by many who were more conscious of its mysterious experience than of any effect it might have upon life, speculation was active, and teachers laboured to assist inquiry by analogy and illustration which often grew to something more. Thus from Gregory of Nyssa came an impulse which finally developed into the doctrine of transubstantiation. Not that Gregory means to teach this; the passage in his works containing the germ is not a definition. His style is highly imaginative and the Oratio catechetica is full of similes. One of these is borrowed, but without hesitation, from physiology. Gregory draws a parallel between the change of bread and wine, by digestion, into the human body, and the change of the sacramental elements, by consecration, into Christ's immortal body. Using Aristotelian terms, he says that in each case the constituents are arranged under a fresh form.

This is not transubstantiation but trans-elementation. The image commended itself, and it was repeated and elaborated by other writers until at length the complete identification of the bread and wine with the Body and Blood of Christ became the authoritative doctrine of the Eastern Church. The Roman doctrine of transubstantiation has points of resemblance with Gregory’s illustration, but it is expressed in terms of a different and later philosophy. Gregory teaches a change of form; the schoolmen, a change of both material and form, which they explain by the help of the distinction between substantia and accidentia. The great contribution of the age to the doctrine of the Sacraments is the view that in a real sense they continue the process of the Incarnation. Human nature first became divine in the person of Christ by union with the divine Word, and subsequently and repeatedly in the person of the individual believer through union with Christ in the Sacraments. This is the teaching of both East and West as represented by Hilary and Gregory of Nyssa. As in Baptism the soul is joined to Christ through faith, so in the Eucharist is the body, being transformed by the Eucharistic food, joined with the Body of the Lord. Thus the special purpose of the Incarnation, viz. the deification of man, is being constantly fulfilled. The language in which this noble conception is expressed, especially in the East, tends to encourage a superstitious reverence for the outward symbols, which the Greek fathers frequently have occasion to correct.

Augustine earnestly desired that the civitas terrena should help to establish the civitas Dei, and that the civitas Dei should leaven with moral influence the civitas terrena. It remains for us to see how far his dream was realized, in other words how far the Christian Empire affected the Church and was in turn affected by it.

The influence of the Empire upon the internal and external structure of the Church had been felt from the first. Thus, the development of the monarchical episcopate was doubtless due in great measure to the example of Roman law, which required all corporate bodies to have a representative. The mark of Roman law is also seen in the Western doctrines of Free Will, Sin and its transmission, and Atonement. The language in which these problems are stated is the phraseology of the courts, and recalls the Roman penal code, theory of contract and delict, debt, universal succession, etc.

The effect of civil order is seen in certain pieces of church administration which though themselves practical are the expression of underlying theory, and therefore call for notice here.

(1) The Church was organized in ‘dioceses’ (with exarchs or patriarchs), provinces (with metropolitans or primates), and cities (with bishops), much in the manner of the Empire. This arrangement was not directly imposed upon the Church by the Empire nor did it exactly correspond to the imperial distribution. But the sudden rise of the see of Byzantium from a subordinate position into the next place of honour after Rome proves that civil importance was a factor in determining ecclesiastical precedence.

(2) The bargain proposed by Nestorius to Theodosius II, “Give me the world free from heretics and I will give thee heaven”, was in a fair way of fulfilment. The emperors from being foes became powerful friends to the Church, able to give the material support that Augustine desired. Constantine would no doubt gladly have enjoyed the same controlling relation towards his adopted religion as he held towards the religion of which he and his successors till Valens remained chief pontiffs. But the Church was too strong for that, and the rescript of AD 314, in which he declared that the sentence of the bishops must be regarded as that of Christ Himself, shows what their power was, and hints what they might have done with it. Still, he was allowed to style himself (perhaps in jest), and he set the example of convoking general councils, the decrees of which were published under imperial authority and thus acquired a political importance. Those only who accepted their rulings could enjoy the rights of state favour, and civil penalties were presently threatened in the interest of civic peace against all who declined to acknowledge them.

(3) Pagan teachers, priests, and doctors were already exempt from certain civil charges on the ground of professional usefulness. To this list Constantine added first the African, and later all Christian, clergy; and them he allowed to engage in trade untaxed because they could give their profits to the poor. Clerical families and property were likewise excused all the ordinary responsibilities of curiales. Many citizens sought this immunity from taxation, even after the State, fearing the loss of useful service, had forbidden the ordination of curials; and the Church came to welcome the exclusion of the well-to-do from her ministry as a protection against unworthy ministers, as she also did the removal of exemption from trade-taxes, for the age was averse from any interference with the spiritual duties of the clergy. But the fact that privileges were withdrawn from the heathen priesthood and bestowed on the clergy enhanced the position of the latter as a favoured class.

(4) The Church was distinguished as a corporation capable of receiving donations and bequests. Earlier confiscations and restorations prove that the Church had held property long before the time of Constantine. But Constantine bestowed upon it a more extensive privilege than was known to any heathen religious foundation. Whereas the latter could only be endowed under special circumstances, and, with few exceptions, never acquired the right to receive bequests, “the sacred and venerable Christian churches” might be left anything by anybody. Abuse of the privilege gradually led to its withdrawal under Valentinian III, and Christian writers deplore the cause more keenly than the result; but the growing wealth was as a rule generously applied to philanthropic work started by the Church, and Augustine was justified in calling upon churchmen to remember Christ as well as their sons. They were the more likely to listen, since the old Jewish belief that alms win heaven had taken root and sprung up in the doctrine of merit.

(5) The Church secured another prerogative, which was fraught with serious consequences, in the establishment of episcopal courts as an integral part of the secular judicial system with final jurisdiction in civil cases. But it had analogy with the Roman institution of recepti arbitri, an extrajudicial arrangement allowing the civil authority to step in and enforce the decision of the arbitrator. At a time when, as we learn from Salvian and Ammianus, the courts were monuments of justice delayed and of chicanery, it was no small boon to be allowed to carry a civil suit to the arbitration of a bishop whose equitable decision had the force of law. The early history of this remarkable legislation is obscure and complicated, but it clearly contained in germ the clerical exemption from criminal procedure which formed one of the most difficult problems in medieval politics. The episcopal jurisdiction underwent considerable limitations and bishops lost their position of privilege before the law; but appeal to the episcopal court became a tradition in the Church.

(6) There are other indications of the great influence acquired by bishops in the administration of justice. Into their hands passed the right of intercession formerly exercised in behalf of clients by wealthy patrons or hired rhetoricians. One of their duties, according to Ambrose, was to rescue the condemned from death, and he himself was active in its discharge. So Basil interceded for the unfortunate inhabitants of Cappadocia at the partition of the province in AD 371. So Flavian of Antioch, with better success, stood between his flock and the emperor, not unjustly irritated by the riot of 387.

(7) Closely connected with episcopal intercession was the right of asylum, transferred from heathen temples to Christian churches, which afforded protection to fugitives, pending the interference of the bishops. One out of many instances, and that the most romantic, is the case of the miserable Eutropius (AD 399), who benefited by the privilege which he had himself in the previous year sought to circumscribe.

Such are some of the points at which the Empire touched the Church. The effect of the Church upon the Empire may be summed up in the word ‘freedom’. Obedience to authority was indeed required in every department of public and private life, provided that it did not conflict with religious duty. But the old despotic attributes were gradually removed, the Roman patria potestas suffered notable relaxation, and children were regarded no longer as a peculium but as “a sacred charge upon which great care must be bestowed”. In a word, authority was seen to be a form of service, according to God's will, and such service was freedom. This great principle found expression in many ways, and first in respect of literal bondage. The better feeling of the age was certainly already in favour of kindness towards the slave. Stoicism, like Christianity, accepted slavery as a necessary institution, but no one ever more clearly discerned its baneful results than Seneca. And Seneca was still listened to. It is in his words that Praetextatus in Macrobius’ Saturnalia pleads the slave's common humanity, faithfulness, and goodness, against the old feeling of contempt of which there were still traces in Christian and pagan writers. It was, however, not from Seneca but from Christ and St Paul that the fathers took their constant theme of the essential equality of men, before which slavery cannot stand. Not only do they establish the primitive unity and dignity of man, but, seeing in slavery a result of the Fall, they find in the sacrifice of Christ a road to freedom that was closed to Stoicism. They offered a more effective consolation than the philosophers, for they pointed the slave upward by recognizing his right to kneel beside his master in the Lord’s Supper.

Close upon the Church's victory follows legislation more favourable to the slave than any that had gone before. Constantine did not attempt sudden or wholesale emancipation, which would have been unwise and impossible. Nor is there any sign that he recognised the slave's moral, intellectual, or religious needs. But he sought to lessen his hardships by measures which with all their inequalities are unique in the statute-book of Rome. He tried to prevent the exposing of children, though he could not stop the enslavement of foundlings; he forbade cruelty towards slaves in terms which are themselves an indictment of existing practice; he forbade the breaking up of servile families; he declared emancipation to be ‘most desirable’; he transferred the process of manumission from pagan to Christian places of worship in a way and with words that testify to his view of it as a work of love belonging properly to the Church. But the Church was not content to influence the lawgiver and preach to master and slave the brotherhood of man and the duties of forbearance and patience. She struck at all the bad conditions that encouraged slavery.

The stage and the arena had always been the objects of her hate as hotbeds of immorality and nurseries of unbelief. Attendance there was forbidden to Christians as an act of apostasy. Julian caught the feeling and forbade his priests to enter theatres or taverns. Yet Libanius, Julian's friend and mentor, defends not only comedy and tragedy but even the dance, exalting it above sculpture as a school of beauty and a lawful recreation. But dancing, as Chrysostom points out, was inseparable from indecency and, far from giving the mind repose, only excites it to base passions. The ban of the Church accordingly was proclaimed against the ministers of these arts upon the public stage; it followed them into private houses when they went to enliven wedding or banquet, forbidding them baptism so long as they remained players. This apparent harshness, which can be matched from civil legislation, was in reality a kindness. The actor's state was at this time incompatible with purity, and the Church sought to deliver a class enslaved to vice. A notable victory was won when it was ruled that an actress who asked for and received the last sacraments should not, if she recovered, be dragged back to her hateful calling. The only way of escape from it in any case lay in the acceptance of Christianity. As the theatre gratified low tastes, so the arena stimulated tigerish instincts. Both Pliny and Cicero apologized for it as being the proper playground of a warrior race; it certainly held the Roman imagination. The story of Alypius (a friend of Augustine) is well known, whom one reluctant look during a gladiatorial show enslaved completely to the lust for blood.

Attempts to suppress the shows were made, doubtless under Christian influence. They met with little response, except in the East, where the better spirits (like Libanius) repudiated them as a Roman barbarity, unworthy of a Greek. But the action of Constantine in forbidding soldiers to take part in gladiatorial shows, and of Valentinian in exempting Christians from suffering punishment in the arena, prove that earlier regulations were a dead letter. The show which Alypius attended was at Rome in AD 385. Symmachus as urban praefect speaks with pride of the games he gave, and when the Saxon captives with whom he had hoped to make a Roman holiday committed suicide in prison he had to turn to Socrates and his example for consolation. The sums spent on these games is an index to the wealth of noble Romans. The same Symmachus spent £80,000 on the occasion of his son’s praetorship; a festival given in the reign of Honorius lasted a week and cost £100,000. Ammianus Marcellinus and Jerome paint the same picture, and even when their charges have been discounted by the more sober pages of Macrobius, it is still clear that the dying Roman civilization was marked by general luxury and self-indulgence. The Church could not stop this waste; sumptuary laws lay outside her competence; but leaders practiced and encouraged simplicity and frugality and reproved the tendency towards ecclesiastical display. Jerome meets the argument that lavish hospitality would strengthen the hand of clerical intercessors by answering that judges will honour holiness above wealth, and simple clergy more than luxurious ones. “Golden mediocrity” doubtless had its devotees. There were many Christian men of the world to whom monasticism was a riddle, as it was to Ausonius, whose prayer was, “give me neither poverty nor riches”. But better than moderation was renunciation of the world, and the ascetic element of early Christianity, reinforced by the example of all exponents of high thought, led many to turn their faces from the luxury around them and flee to the desert. To those who remained behind the Christian writers tried to teach the view of poverty as a probation and of wealth as a trust, the mutual dependence of rich and poor, and the lesson that men should be one in heart as they are one in origin. They frequently recall the communion recorded in the Acts, and now that change of conditions had rendered community of goods impossible, a new means of applying the principle was sought, first in feasts of charity and regular collections for the poor, in the private munificence of the bishop, or in a proportionate and elaborately organized distribution, under the bishop, of church revenues. These by dint of careful administration and continual accessions grew to an immense property, till by the fifth century the Church had become the greatest landowner in the Empire. In general, promotion to a bishop’s stool meant merely entry into a large fortune. “Make me Bishop of Rome and I will become a Christian”, was Praetextatus’ reply to Damasus, and it reflects the public opinion.

Ammianus Marcellinus waxes scornful over the episcopal splendour and extravagance at Rome, but he qualifies or points his sarcasm by the admission that there were bishops in the provinces who, “moderate in eating and drinking, simple in dress, show themselves worthy priests of the Deity”. Instances of fine and unselfish philanthropy are equally common in the theory held by great churchmen and in their practice.

Perhaps the most striking justification of the common claim that bishops are the proper and recognised helpers and guardians of the poor, the widow, and the orphan, is found in their readiness to convert the communion plate into money for the distressed. “It is better to save living souls than lifeless metals ... the ornament of the sacraments is the redemption of captives”, are the words with which Ambrose defended himself against the charge of sacrilege. Refuge from the tax-burdened world was afforded by the monasteries, which are too often judged, not by the circumstances which called them into being, but by the abuses which attended their decay. And side by side with the strictly religious houses there sprang up innumerable charitable institutions: orphanotrophia, ptochotrophia, nosocomia, gerontocomia, brephotrophia, intended to relieve the wants of every class and every age and not merely those of citizens, as had been the case in heathen Rome and Athens. Not the least of the debts which the world owes to fourth century Christianity is this invention of open hospitals. Julian felt its power and summoned his followers to imitate in this respect the hated Galilaeans. But with superior organization the old spirit of voluntary charity waned. Individual effort disappeared; a steward discharged the philanthropic activities of the bishops; deaconesses waited less on the poor and more on the worship of the Church. Charity became less discriminating and aped the pagan largesses. Begging now finds a place in the statute-book, and the first law against mendicancy was issued by a Christian Emperor (Valentinian II). Yet the Church sought to meet this evil also by restoring labour to honour. Slavery had degraded it, and commerce had always been despised at Rome. Before the eyes of an idle and unprofitable multitude was now displayed the example of Christ and his apostles, workmen all, an example which was actually followed in the monasteries where the "perfect" life joined prayer with work, both to charitable purposes. The Pachomian houses, as self-sufficing communities, provided regular work, not merely as a penitential exercise, but as an integral part of the life. Basil would have his ascetics despise no form of labour; Augustine reproved African monks who were deserting work for prayer. Sloth was assuredly no inmate of the cloister then, though the work done cannot be described as always useful or rational.

But the efforts of Christianity in behalf of the weak are nowhere seen more clearly than in the uplifting of women. The Church gave them a place of consideration in her ministry, not however the privilege of preaching or administering the sacraments, though a deaconess was allowed to assist in the baptism of women. Besides the carefully regulated orders of deaconesses, virgins, and widows, there arose towards the end of the fourth century classes of widows and virgins of higher rank who gave themselves to voluntary work under church auspices, without taking regular vows or living in communities. Such were Jerome's friends and correspondents, Paula and Eustochium. In the East, where this class attained a position of greater prominence than in the West (the Roman spirit was averse from the public ministry of women), they approximated to an order and were finally assimilated to the deaconesses.

Outside the ministry of the Church women were made the subject of special legislation. Constantine was austere in morals. The age was loose. The antique ideal of the Roman nation had long since disappeared. Constantine determined to restore it. The severity of his measures against adultery and rape shows his zeal in the cause of morality, while the terms of those which regulate the relations of women to the courts exhibit his care for their good fame and the matris familiae majestas. Thus to spare their modesty wives were forbidden to appear in court at all. His tenderness is also seen in his forbidding a son to disinherit his mother, and in the exemption of widows from the penalties visited on coiners. On the other hand there are signs, both in contemporary legislation and literature, of unchristian and brutal contempt for the women who had most need of protection. Tavern-keepers and barmaids are set free from the operation of the laws against adultery, “since chaste conduct is only expected of those who are restrained by the bonds of law, and immunity must be extended to those whose worthless life has set them beyond the pale of the laws”. Again, it is difficult to understand the mind of Augustine, who loves his natural son Adeodatus as David loved the child of Bathsheba, and who yet has regret, but no word of pity, for the mother whom he cast off. So Sidonius Apollinaris, the aristocratic bishop of Auvergne, is very lenient towards the irregularities of a young noble, and quite heartless towards the victim. But in the latter case it must be remembered that the Christianity of Sidonius was not very deep, that the girl was a slave, and that for all their good intentions and growing instincts of humanity the Church and churchmen did not yet regard slaves as free; and in the former, that concubinage, i.e. the association of one man with one woman, was recognised by Roman law and by the Council of Toledo (AD 400) and hardly differed from wedlock except in name. What is astonishing to modern notions in the case of Augustine and his mistresses is not so much his own conduct as the line taken by his friends and the saintly Monnica, and too readily adopted by himself. Something like a mariage de convenance was projected for him while he was still attached to a woman whom there is no reason to suppose unworthy to become his wife, in the hope that as soon as he was married he might be washed clean in saving baptism. Monnica was indeed more concerned by his Manichaeism than by his irregular life. The incident reveals a flaw in a great character. But if that were all it would have no place here. It is of value to our purpose as illustrating the view of the relation between the sexes held at this time, and as a witness to the vastness of the task that lay before the Church in purifying and uplifting society.