ROMAN OR MODERN CHRISTIANITY.
Having presented the evidences that the Jewish, or ancient Christianity, originated at the University of Alexandria, under Greek rule, we now propose to show that its modern form emanated from the same source, under Roman rule; but, before entering upon this investigation, it is important to become conversant with the sentiments manifested towards religion by the cultured element of Roman society in that enlightened era, which, designated as the golden age of literature, was adorned by such distinguished orators, philosophers, historians, poets and naturalists as Cicero, Tacitus, Pliny, Horace and Virgil. In reference to this subject, Gibbon, in his history of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. I., chapter 2, says: "The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false and by the magistrate as equally useful. Both the interests of the priests and the credulity of the people were sufficiently respected. In their writings and conversation the philosophers of antiquity asserted the independent dignity of reason, but they resigned their actions to the commands of law and custom. Viewing with a smile of pity and indulgence the various errors of the vulgar, they diligently practiced the ceremonies of their fathers, devoutly frequented the temples of the gods, and sometimes condescending to act a part on the theatre of superstition, they concealed the sentiments of an atheist under the sacerdotal robe. Reasoners of such a temper were scarcely inclined to wrangle about their respective modes of faith or of worship. It was indifferent to them what shape the folly of the multitude might choose to assume, and they approached with the same inward contempt and the same external reverence to the altars of the Lybian, the Olympian or the Capitoline Jupiter." Upon the same subject Mosheim, in his church history, Book I., chapter 1, says that "The wiser part of mankind, about the time of Christ's birth, looked upon the whole system of religion as a just object of contempt and ridicule."
In determining why such adverse sentiments were entertained towards religion by "the wiser part of mankind," about the time referred to in the foregoing quotations, it will be found to have been owing to the extensive spread of the Esoteric philosophy, which taught, as previously stated, that the gods were mythical and the scriptures allegorical. While attainable only through initiation, it was necessarily confined to a limited number, but, ultimately getting beyond the control of the priests and vast numbers acquiring the knowledge of its secrets without initiation, it became evident that it was but a question of time when there would be no respectable element left to sustain religion. At this juncture our attention is directed to the University of Alexandria, which, at that time, was in a flourishing condition. Having ceased to be an exclusively Jewish school, students from all parts of the Roman Empire, without regard to nationality, were attending it, and its professors were drawn from the ranks of both Jewish and Gentile scholars. Realizing the hopelessness of reviving the ancient faith among the enlightened clement of society, and the impossibility of proselyting them to a new form of superstition, these professors resolved to institute a system of worship exclusively for the Jews and the lower and neglected classes of Gentiles, including the slaves and criminals. To that end they rewrote the scriptures of the Jewish or ancient Christianity, which had been preserved among the secret archives of the University. Retaining their teachings relative to the finale of the plan of redemption, and its monasticism; also the land of Judea as the scene of its version of the Gospel story, and the name of its saviour, to which they added the Latin terminal "us," thus making it Iesus or Jesus, they perpetuated the Greek name of Bacchus—the same that was ultimately perverted into the monogram which, consisting of the Roman letters I. H. S., is found in all Catholic churches, and in some Protestant ones, is falsely supposed to stand for Jesus Hominum Salvator, or Jesus, Saviour of Men. Conforming their version of the Gospel story to the lowly condition of its expected votaries, they attached to the saviour the characteristics of poverty, and made it teach that he was born in a manger, that his disciples were but humble fishermen and that the poor would be the only elect in the kingdom of heaven. Dropping the name of Essenes or Therapeutae, and retaining that of Christian, they incorporated a thread of real history corresponding to the reign of Augustus, and arbitrarily made the Christian era begin at that time. Having thus completed their scheme, they prudently destroyed the original from which they compiled their scriptures, and sending out missionaries to all parts of the Empire commissioned them to preach salvation only to the Gentile rabblement and to the Jews.
That the sacred records of the ancient Essenes or Therapeutae constituted the basis of the scriptures of modern Christianity we have the authority of Eusebius, the church historian of the fourth century, from whom we learn nearly all that is reliable of its history during the first three centuries. In his Ecclesiastical History, Book II. chapter 17, he makes the important admission that "Those ancient Therapeutae were Christians, and that their writtings are our Gospels and Epistles." As further evidence that modern Christianity is but a survival of the Eclectic philosophy of the ancient Therapeutae, we have another important admission by the same historian, who, in quoting from an apology addressed to the Roman Emperor, Marcus Antoninus, in the year 171, by Melito, Bishop of Sardis, in Lydia, a province of Asia Minor, makes that apologist say, in reference to certain grievances to which the Christians were subjected, that "the philosophy which we profess truly flourished aforetime among the barbarous nations; but having blossomed again in the great reign of thy ancestor, Augustus, it proved to be, above all things, ominous of good fortune to thy kingdom." Thus we have indubitable evidence that it was the Eclectic philosophy of the Jewish, or ancient Christianity, which "blossomed again," in its modern form, during the reign of Augustus.
From the testimony of Philo, as referred to by Eusebius, and from the writings of Josephus, the Jewish historian, we learn that, at the beginning of our era, the descendants of the ancient Essenes were still observing the practices and customs of monasticism. But as Josephus refers to them only as descendants of the ancient Essenes, and makes no mention of Christ or Christians—except in one paragraph which has been conceded by the best authorities to be an interpolation it is evident that, at that time, they had no connection with the University of Alexandria, and nothing whatever to do with the institution of modern Christianity. It is also apparent that the Jews of Judea had no hand in its organization, for, if they had instituted it, they would not have attached to the Messiah the Greek title signifying the Christ, but, writing their version of the Gospel story in their own dialect, would have used the Hebrew word signifying the Shiloh (see Gen. xlix. 10); and furthermore, having conceived the idea that he would manifest himself as a great temporal prince, who would re-establish the throne of David, and deliver them from the oppression of foreign rulers, they would not have attached to him the humble characteristics of the Christ of the new Testament. Again, if they had been the authors of modern Christianity, it would have been a most surprising inconsistency for them to turn right about and reject its conceptions of a savior, especially when that rejection resulted in the dire persecutions to which their race has ever been subjected by the Christians. But the Gentile riffraff, attracted by the gracious promises of enjoying in the world to come the felicities denied them in this, eagerly attached themselves to the new sect, which rapidly increased in numbers, and its votaries, glorying in the opprobrious epithet of Ebionites, or needy ones, made themselves so obnoxious by their aggression and turbulent dispositions that, barely tolerated by the Government and condemned by the cultured adherents to the established religion, many of them, courting the crown of martyrdom, suffered death at the hands of the civil authorities; and thus was engendered that spirit of hatred against their fancied oppressors which only awaited the opportunity to manifest itself in deeds of rapine and-bloodshed.
The fanacticism which prevailed among the earlier Christians was the direct result of their dense ignorance, and to this sole cause we may ascribe all the trouble which the Roman Government had with them, and to become convinced of this fact we have but to study church history. In reference to this subject Mosheim, in his Ecclesiastical History; Vol. 4, part 2, chap. 1, says: "It is certain that the greatest part both of the bishops and presbyters were men entirely destitute of learning and education. Besides, that savage and illiterate party, who looked upon all sorts of erudition, particularly that of a philosophicalkind, as pernicious, and even destructive of true piety and religion, increased both in number and authority. The ascetics, monks and hermits augmented the strength of this barbarous faction, and not only the women, but also all who took solemn looks, sordid garments, and a love of solitude, for real piety, were vehemently prepossessed in their favor." In almost any history of England we will find it recorded that, even in the ninth century, King Alfred lamented that there was at that time not a priest in his dominions who understood Latin; and even for some centuries after the bishops and prelates of the whole Christian community were marksmen, i. e., they supplied by the sign of the cross the inability to write their own names. If the bishops and priests were so supremely ignorant what can be said in reference to the literary attainments of the laity?
The Christians were alternately persecuted and tolerated by the Roman Emperors until the first quarter of the fourth century, when certain events occurred through which the Church of Rome became the recipient of Imperial Patronage. Constantine I., called the Great, having made himself sole Emperor by destroying all other claimants to the throne, applied to Sopater, one of the priests of the established religion, for absolution, and was informed that his crimes were of such an atrocious character that there was no absolution for him. Believing that the Phlegethon, or lake of fire and brimstone, awaited him in the future life, unless he could obtain absolution, he became very much distressed when one of his courtiers, learning the cause and referring him to the Church of Rome, he at once applied to her Bishop, Silvester, who, readily granting the desired absolution, he added another victim to his butcher bill by ordering the death of the honest priest who had refused to grant him absolution. The Christian sect having become a powerful and dangerous faction, Constantine conceived the idea of strengthening his usurped and precarious position by attaching it to his interest, and to that end he professed himself a convert to its tenets, and, taking the Church of Rome under his especial patronage, elevated her Bishop to the rank of a prince of the Empire and gave him one of his palaces for a residence.
The Christian hierarchy, knowing that it would be a potent means of confirming the faith of the laity in the Gospel story as a literal history to have a tomb of the Saviour to which pilgrimages could be made, and appealing to Constantine to provide one, he sent his mother, Helena, to Judea to find the place and, of course, discovering what she went to look for, he had erected, under her supervision, over the designated spot, that splendid edifice which, known as the church of the Holy Sepulchre, remains to this day. Helena, good at finding lost things, also claimed to have discovered the veritable cross upon which the Saviour had been crucified; and her son, worthy of such a mother, claimed, as recorded by Eusebius, that he had seen with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, bearing the inscription: "In Hoc Signo Vinces," signifying "Under this sign, conquer." Those were times of remarkable and supernatural occurrences.
At the time Constantine became the patron of Christianity the bishops and presbyters of the several churches, seemingly ignorant of the teachings of the Esoteric philosophy relative to the origin of the Trinity, were divided into two factions in discussing the relation between the Father and the Son. One party, headed by Athanasius, a presbyter of Alexandria, and afterwards bishop of that see, advocated the ancient belief that the three persons in the godhead of Father, Son and Holy Ghost is but one God, that Christ is consubstantial or co-eternal with the Father, and that he became man to perform his mission of redemption. Such, in brief, is what is known as the Athanasian or Trinitarian Creed. The other party, headed, by Arius, another presbyter of Alexandria, advocated the belief in one God alone and that Christ, having no existence until begotten of the Father, is not consubstantial or co-eternal with him. Such, in substance, constitutes what is known to the Trinitarian or Orthodox Christians as the Arian or Unitarian heresy. Could stronger evidence be adduced that this controversy was the result of ignorantly making a distinction where there is no difference, for whether Trinitarian or Unitarian the mythical genius of the sun is the God to whom they all paid supreme adoration, although the Christians of to-day would deny it most emphatically.
The faction, advocating the Trinitarian creed having converted the Emperor to their belief, and influencing him to enforce it as a fundamental doctrine of the Christian theology, he, in the year 325, summoned, at his own expense, a general council of bishops and priests to meet at Nice, in Bithynia, a province of Asia Minor. When they had assembled he appeared among them, clad in gorgeous attire, with a jewel-studded diadem upon his royal brow, and, seated upon a gilded chair, presided over their deliberations. A minority of them, holding "most contumaciously" to the Arian heresy, and refusing to change their views at the bidding of the Emperor, he banished them from their respective bishoprics, while the majority adopted the Trinitarian creed, and appealing to Constantine to suppress the writings of Arius he issued an edict for that purpose, which we present as follows: "Moreover we thought that if there can be found extant any work or book compiled by Arius the same should be burned to ashes, so that not only his damnable doctrine may thereby be wholly rooted out, but also that no relic thereof may remain unto posterity. This we also straightway command and charge, that if any man be found to hide or conceal any book made by Arius, and not immediately bring forth such book, and deliver it up to be burned, that the said offender for so doing shall die the death. For as soon as he is taken our pleasure is that his head shall be stricken off from his shoulders." Rather a blood-thirsty, edict to be issued by the "puissant, the mighty and noble Emperor," and a very inconsistent one, considering that he soon afterwards readopted the Unitarian faith and restored the banished bishops to their respective sees; but, regardless of his action, the Church of Rome sustained the Trinitarian creed and enforced the dogma of the supreme divinity of Christ.
Thus we see that the history of Christianity, in the first half of the fourth century, cannot be written without incorporating considerable from the life of Constantine, whose ensanguined record before his pretended conversion marks him as the most brutal tyrant that ever disgraced the imperial purple; but the appalling crimes he perpetrated afterwards, among which were the scalding his inoffending wife to death in a bath of boiling water, and the murdering, without cause, of six members of his family, one of which was his own son, justify what a learned writer said of him, that "The most unfortunate event that ever befell the human race was the adoption of Christianity by the crimson-handed cut-throat in the possession of unlimited power," and yet Constantine was canonized by the Eastern church.
During the first three centuries, when Christianity was but a weak sect, her bishops addressed numerous apologies to the Roman Emperors, in which they claimed tolerance from the government on the ground that their form of worship was virtually the same as the established religion. But after Constantine's pretended conversion its hierarchy began to labor for the recognition of Christianity as the state religion, and to give to their demand some show of consistency they insisted that their scriptures were really historical, and that there was no resemblance whatever between the two forms of worship; while theirs was of Divine authenticity the Pagans was purely a human institution.
For centuries after the convocation of the council of Nice the peace and harmony of the several churches were disturbed by the rancorous discussion of the same old questions of Trintarianism and Unitarianism, the Western church adhering to the former while a majority of the Eastern congregations maintained their faith in the latter; but ultimately the Trinitarian party, gaining the ascendency, and persecuting the adherents of the Unitarian faith, the greater part of them retired into northern Arabia where they founded numerous monasteries; and from history we learn that, having impressed their Unitarian faith upon the populace of that country, it was ultimately incorporated into the Koran, the sacred book of Mohammedanism; and, while becoming votaries of that form of worship, still retained the belief that Christ was but one of the prophets.
The cultured adherents to the established form of worship, becoming alarmed at the growing power and influence of the Christians and at the prospect of such an ignorant and vicious rabble obtaining control of the government, regardless of their pledge to keep the Gnosis secret, publicly announced that the Gods were mythical and the scriptures allegorical, and engaged in a heated controversy with the Christians upon the subjects. The character of their discussions is well, although supposititiously, expressed by Gerald Massey, in his work entitled, "The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ;" page 179, American edition, where he makes the Gnostics say to the Christians, "You poor ignorant idiots; you have mistaken the mysteries of old for modern history, and accepted literally all that was only meant mystically." To which the Christians responded, "You spawn of Satan, you are making the mystery by converting our accomplished facts into your miserable fables; you are dissipating and dispersing into thin air our only bit of solid foothold in the world, stained with the red drops of Calvary. You are giving a satanic interpretation of the word of revelation and falsifying the oracles of God. You are converting the solid facts of our history into your newfangled allegories;" to which the Gnostics replied, "Nay, it is you who have taken the allegories of Mythology for historical facts."
But it was impossible to stem the rising tide; the lessons which the priesthood had taught the ignorant masses had been too well learned. They were sure that their scriptures were historical; that Jesus Christ was truly the incarnate saviour who had died and rose again for the salvation of the elect, and that being the elect it would be pre-eminently just and proper that the old Pagan form of worship should be abrogated and theirs recognized as the state religion. Thus the conflict raged until the year 381, when, under the reign of the Emperor Theodosius the Great, this demand having been formally made, and the Senate, fearing the tumult a refusal would excite, with a show of fair dealing ordered the presentation, before that body, of the respective merits of the two forms of worship. In that memorable discussion, which lasted a whole week, Symmachus, a senator, advocated the old system, and Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, the new, which resulting, as a foregone conclusion, in the triumph of Christianity, a decree to that effect was promulgated.
Then the long deferred opportunity having arrived, the vengeful bishops, hounding on a no less vengeful laity, ruthlessly murdered the priests of the old religion, and, appropriating its emoluments to their own use, they seized upon its temples, and demolishing some, converted others into churches. With iconoclastic hands they destroyed some of the statues representing the ancient divinities, or after mutilation exposed others in public places to the derision of the populace. Subjecting the adherents to the older form of worship, whom they designated as infidels, to the most diabolical indignities and persecutions, they destroyed their works of art, burned their libraries, suppressed their schools of learning, and either killed or exiled their professors. Among the atrocious acts perpetrated by these fiends in human shape none was more barbarous than the one committed in Alexandria, in the year 415, when Hypatia, the beautiful and accomplished daughter of Theon, who had succeeded her father as professor of mathematics and philosophy in the Alexandrian University, while on her way to deliver a lecture, was, by order of Bishop Cyril, dragged from her chariot and murdered in a most revolting manner.
One of the successors of Theodosius justified himself in decreeing the spoliation of the old religion upon the grounds that "It was unbecoming a Christian government to supply the infidels with the means of persevering in their errors." Another one of the Emperors, more zealous than his predecessors, decreed the death penalty against all persons discovered practicing any of the rites and ceremonies of the old religion. Thus the onslaught of Christian savagery obliterated the civilization of Greece and Rome, and inaugurated that long reign of intellectual night known as the Dark Ages, which, materially aiding in effecting the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, made it possible to erect upon its ruins that Italian Oligarchy, which, since then, has ruled the greater part of Christendom.
The dogmatic element of the ancient astrolatry, as incorporated into the Christian creed, underwent no material change until the inauguration of the dark ages, when the bishops of the several churches, in the delirium of metaphysical speculation, concocted the previously unheard of doctrine of pre-existence of spirit, in conformity to which God was declared to be purely a spiritual deity, who, existing before matter, created the universe of nothing. Being the sole custodians of the scriptures; and changing the six periods of a thousand years each to the six days of creation, they altered Gen. i, 1, to read, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," which in the original read: "In the beginning, when the Gods (Elohim or Alehim) had made (shaped or formed) this heaven and this earth." These radical changes necessitating others, they made two distinct and independent beings of the principles of Good and Evil personified in the God Sol; the former they embodied in Jesus the Christ and the latter in the Christian Devil, thus supplanting old Pluto; the presiding genius of the under world.
Rejecting the ancient doctrines relative to the soul, and teaching that, having proceeded from a purely spiritual deity, it would exist eternally as an independent spiritual entity, they substituted for the ancient system of limited rewards and punishments the one inculcating their endless duration. These changes in the creed, which were confirmed at the general council of Constantinople, in the year 553, necessitating further alterations of the scriptures, the righteous were promised "eternal life" in the Paradise of God beyond the stars; and, While consigning great sinners to "everlasting punishment" in the Tartarian fires of the under world, the less venial were to expiate their crimes in the same old Purgatory. Thus, having invented an endless heaven and an endless hell for purely spiritual souls, and neglecting to expunge the doctrines of the resurrection of the body, the setting up of the kingdom of heaven upon a reorganized earth and other materialistic teachings of the ancient religion, they made of the creed and scriptures such a conglomeration of "things new and old" that, without the Astrological key, it would be impossible to determine what they originally taught.
At the Reformation in the 16th century Luther and his coadjutors, while projecting into the Protestant creed all the cardinal tenets of Catholicism, excepting that of Purgatory, made no change in the verbiage of the scriptures. Thus retaining the awful doctrine of endless hell, the reformers constructed a creed which they intended for the government of Protestants for all time; but, doing what had never been done before in the history of the world, they gave the scriptures to the laity, and, whether or not they secured the right of private judgment or individual interpretation, it has been taken all the same; and thus opening the door to investigation, it must ultimately result not only in the abrogation of hell, but in the relegation to the limbo of oblivion of the whole dogmatic element of religion.
As a fitting conclusion to this article, we again direct the attention of our readers to the subject of the primary source of religious dogmas. Prior to the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, the philosophers who wrote against it invariably made the charge that its theology was derived from the ancient Paganism. After its establishment as the state religion of the Empire, the hierarchy of the church, knowing that this charge was unanswerable, instigated the Emperor Theodosius I. to promulgate an edict decreeing the destruction of all books antagonistic to Christianity. This edict, directed more particularly against the writings of Celsus, was carried out so effectually that we know nothing of what he wrote, only as quoted by Origen, the distinguished church father of the third century, who attempted to answer in eight books what Celsus had written in one, entitled "The True Discourse." In one of his quotations from Celsus' work he makes that philosopher say "that the Christian religion contains nothing but what Christians held in common with heathens, nothing that was new or truly great." See Bellamy's translation, chapter 4. During the earlier centuries the Christians were divided into numerous sects, entertaining very divergent views, and each faction, holding all others to be heretical, charged them with having derived their doctrines from the Pagan religion. Upon this subject we find that Epiphanius, a celebrated church father of the 4th century, freely admits that all that differed from his own were derived from the heathen mythology. Such was the position of all orthodox writers during the Middle Ages, and since the Reformation the Protestant clergy have uniformly made the same charge against the Catholic; a few quotations from their writings we present for the edification of our readers.
Jean Daille, a French Protestant minister of the 17th century, in his treatise entitled La Religion Catholique Romaine Institute par Nama Pompile, demonstrates that "the Papists took their idolatrous worship of images, as well as all their ceremonies, from the old heathen religion." Bishop Stillingfleet of the English church and a writer of considerable eminence in the 17th century, said, in reference to the complaisant spirit of the early church towards the Pagans, that "it was attended by very bad consequences, since Christianity became at last, by that means, nothing else but reformed Paganism, as to its divine worship." See Stillingfleet's defense of the charge of idolatry against the Romanists, vol. 5, page 459. M. Turrentin, of Geneva, Switzerland, a learned Protestant writer of the 17th century, in one of his orations describing the state of Christianity in the 4th century, says "that it was not so much the Empire that was brought over to the faith, as the faith that was brought over to the Empire; not the Pagans who were converted to Christianity, but the Christians who were converted to Paganism." Thus, having shown that the Catholics derived all their cardinal tenets from the Pagan mythology, the Protestants must surely have obtained theirs from the Catholics, for they teach all of them except that of Purgatory.