« AnteriorContinuar »
THE SUBJECT CONTINUED.
The peculiarity of the Roman religion does not lie in its identification with State interests; this is an attribute which it shares in general with the whole ancient world.1 What distinguishes the religion of Rome from surrounding and from past religions, is its effort to construct a universal Church by the formation of a universal State. Of course, in the old régime, the former was inevitably involved in the latter ; if State and Church were one, the securing of a universal dominion was the securing of a universal Church. The peculiarity of the Roman worship lies in the fact that it did secure an absolute dominion by becoming the worship of an absolute State. And it is out of this fact that the great problem arises, Why has it failed ? If it had not succeeded in its aim, there would be no
Canon Westcott points out that the history of the Gentile world exhibits a gradual process of the secularising of religion (Gospel of the Resurrection,' 2d edit , chap. is, xxxiv.).
room for wonder; but having succeeded, why has it proved abortive ? The idea at which Rome aimed is by no means an obsolete idea; on the contrary, it is one of the most modern things in ancient history. The conception of a civic Church, of a Church which shall regulate its membership not by creed but by character, not by services done for the sanctuary but by duties done for man, is one that, with the advance of civilisation, has more and more been coming to the front. In countries holding the Protestant principle, it has been especially and increasingly powerful, and it finds in modern England a growing number of advocates.1 It is, distinctively a Western conception, and it had its home and origin in the West - in that great empire which sought to embrace the world. What is the reason that, as devised and promulgated by this empire, the scheme has proved so illusory? Why has the most gigantic effort to promote it been the most conspicuous for its failure ?
In inquiring into a subject of this kind, the first question ought to be a consideration of the formula under which it is proposed to compass religious union. All religious union must be on the ground of some formula. Rome's formula I would express thus, “ Whatever gods exist, exist for the sake of the Roman State.” It mattered not whether they actually existed, provided that those who believed in them would recognise them as patrons of the government. Now, I concede at the outset that this formula has an advantage over most other formulas, both ancient and modern; it is based not on the recognition of a fact but on the expression of a desire. The Roman creed is virtually a prayer; it unites men by the subscription to one articlethe obligation to aspire towards the wellbeing of the republic. I have always felt that if ever a creed shall be formed which shall obtain universal suffrage, it shall be on such a basis— the basis of a common prayer. I have sometimes imagined that a subscription to the Lord's Prayer would constitute a point of union not only for all Christians, but for some who are popularly regarded as outside the pale of Christianity. It seems to me that the Roman formula constitutes the only deliberate attempt which has been made in the direction of a creed based on aspiration, and it is probably to this that it owes what measure of success it has attained. The question remains why it has not been successful throughout. The principle of the formula is good and makes for union; why has it not achieved union ? Clearly there must be something defective in the formula itself, something which has nullified or weakened the force of the aspiration. A moment's consideration will show us that it is here where the vitiating element lies.
1 I find, for example, this view advocated by Mr W. T. Stead in an article entitled “The Civic Church,” in a periodical styled
Help,' supplement to the 'Review of Reviews,' March 1892, vol. ii., No. 3.
The object contemplated by Roman religion is the identification of the Church with the State. It aspires to make the religious duty of man coincident with his political duty. The question is, If such a union were perfected in all the members of the body politic, would it amount to a religion of humanity ? And the answer must be, No; it is exactly here that the religion of Rome has failed in its design. It would have been a very different matter if Rome had conteniplated the identification of the State with the Church, if she had said that every man, by reason of the act of worship, was entitled to political privileges. But when she said that the Church was to be identified with the State, she really limited the Church. The State as understood by Rome was not coextensive with the Church as understood by Christianity. The Church as understood by Christianity comprehends every man who is willing to recognise his own weakness; the State as understood by Rome comprehended only those men who were able to exercise certain political powers. Accordingly, when Rome made the Church identical with the State, she really cut off from religious membership a vast section of humanity. There were in the Roman empire, there are in every empire under heaven, a multitude of human beings who have no relation to the State except that of hindrance - who are simply a blot and a barrier upon the constitution and the progress of the body politic. In modern life it is generally conceded that it is the duty of the State to care for these; but the very statement implies that they are a drag upon the wheels of the social fabric, that they constitute one of the elements which prevent any State from being a perfect government. There are those who are so defective in body as to be incapable of bearing their part in the conflict of life. There are those who are so defective in intellect as to be incapable of realising what it is to be in conflict. There are those who are so defective in morality that they are led to the commission of crime with an instinct seemingly as unerring as that by which the bee is led to the construction of its hive. No one will maintain that these are members of a State as such; no one will contend that they are anything less than a retardation of the political mechanism. If, therefore, the Church be identified with the State, it logically follows that the Church is to be barricaded from a large section, and that the most needy section, of humanity.