« PreviousContinue »
From Fraser's Magazine. his allegiance to the eagles ; or at the præTIE OCTAVIUS OF MINUCIUS FELIX.* tor's tribunal, when some hardy convert re
We are grateful to Mr. Holden for this new jected the oath to the Genius of Cæsar. But edition of the Octavius of Minucius Felix. amid friends and in the home-circle, where To a carefully revised text, improved by con- the new creed, as its author had foretold, sultation of the best manuscripts, he has ap- had sown division of hearts, more temperate pended a learned introduction and compendi- discussions would occur ;
kinsfolk ous scholarly notes, which really elucidate and acquaintance who really esteemed one the author without vexing the reader by theo- another, may have been conducted and conlogical crudities or prejudices. And this is cluded with as little acrimony as the dispute no mean recommendation in an age when in this elegant Dialogue of Minucius. One patristic literature is so often employed as a member of the family — we will suppose an weapon of offence in religious frays. Minu- imaginary case had attracted notice or incius Felix was, on many accounts, worth the curred reproof from his elders for omitting to pains of a new edition. If not one of the salute the Lares on his goings-out and commost powerful or original of the Christian ings-in. He had for some time absented himapologists, he is one of the most pleasant to self from the temples on holidays, and had read. More compact and graceful than the not bowed his head when the statue of Jutreatise of Arolius, Adversus Gentes, less piter or Isis was borne in procession through rhetorical and tedious than the Institutes of the streets. His singularity had been ro Lactantius, his Octavius sets before us the marked by the Flamen, and talked about at the general points of the Christian controversy prætor's table. Marcus, it was whispered, with Paganism in a fair and lucid form. had become a denier of the gods ; had even Minucius, indeed, is no Boanerges like Ter- gone frequently of late to a Jews' chapel on tullian, yet he is an abler defender of the the river's side, and had been seen standing cause which he advocates than was the soph- up to his waist in the water, while the Jewist Libanius, or his imperial pupil Julian, ish priest muttered over him some unintelligiof their decrepit Paganism.
The heathen ble words. Marcus, too, was ever and anon Cæcilius might perhaps make a better fight repeating to himself a kind of charm for his Olympian friends, and the Christian men but so far as the words of the charm Octavius might hit straighter blows. Celsus had any discoverable meaning, they referred and Origen, Faustus and Agustine, Jerome, to neither love nor war, neither resembled and Rufinus, handled their swords less like any of the hymns which were sung in the dancers. Yet Octavius and Cæcilius quarrel, temples at the calends, the ides, or the spring on the whole, with earnestness ; and their and autumn festivals. Nay, more, Marcus controversy, as recorded in this Dialogue, seemed to have taken to evil courses ; for bo may be taken as a fair sample of the discus- had been traced to an obscure house in the sions between the old law and the new which suburbs, where, in an upper chamber, some must often have occurred under the porticoes of the rabble were wont to assemble after of a Roman villa, or in the studious retire- sunset — for what purpose no respectable ment of Athens. The burden and heat of person could say ; they could only surmise it the strife were borne in other scenes - in the was for no good one, since the doors of the market-place, when some zealous neophyte chambers were opened only at a certain passdenounced the procession of the Salian priests word. With Marcus, accordingly, it had on the Martian calends ; in the fore-court of become high time to talk seriously, for the the temples, when some stern enthusiast re- credit of the family. Prying eyes were fused to throw incense upon the altar of Ju- around them; the priest of Jupiter had even piter ; in the theatre, when some outraged condescended to speak with the pricst. of Isis moralist raised his voice against the pollution on the subject, and the prefect of the nightof the games of Flora ; in the camp, when watch the præfectus vigilum - had threatsome scarred and grizzled centurion abjured ened to bring the case, on the next Nundines, * The Octavius of Minucius Felir ; with an
before the sitting ædile. Yet, when Marcus English Introduction, Commentary, Indices, and was questioned or reproved, his defence of Analysis. By the Rev. H. A. Holden, M. A., these proceedings made matters ten times Follow of Trinity College. Edited for the Syndics worse in the eyes of all right-thinking men. of the Cambridge University Press. London : Joba W. Parker and Son, West Strand. 1853. He not only neglected, but defied Jupiter.
upon the evi
He maintained his statue to be a block of metropolis for the quiet shore and marine stone, his altar an abomination, his flamen baths of Ostia. Minucius dwells upon the an impostor, his worshippers dupes, and his freshness of the morning, and the gentle onpretensions to prayers and frankincense as culations of the sea and the sand, and the hollow as the pedestal which supported him, delight of leisure and congenial company his eagle, and thunderbolts. Marcus averred“ the feast of reason and the flow of soul.” that, for his part, he adored a mysterious, He had earned his relish for these sterling and sublime, and beneficent Being, who had pleasures by assiduous attendance in the neither statue, nor altar, nor pompous tem-courts of law during a July spent in Rome. ple, but who had proved his divine authority But lawyers, even in vacations, are an arguby tokens more astounding than even the mentative race. Sir Matthew Hale used to mysteries or the oracles, and who had given “put cases ” to his children in their country to mankind a written record of himself, older walks ; Lord Keeper North would read the than the Night and Chaos of the Boeotian “ Reports” in an arbor opening on his minstrel, Hesion. And with such power, and bowling-green; and Lord Eldon is said to withal such gentleness, did Marcus explain his have drawn a case of trespass — in re Dougnovel doctrines, that before long the priest of las versus Northumberland Jupiter suffered further losses in his congre- dence afforded by “Chevy-Chase.” So long gation. The household of Marcus came no as Minucius and his learned friends converse more to the temple.
about things in general, “all goes merry as The Dialogue of Minucius represents one a marriage-bell.” But a controversy soon of these milder forms of conversion to Chris- springs up. It
that upon that tianity. Its plot is simple ; its dramatis per- Ostian shore was erected a temple, or at sonæ are three only in number — Minucius least a statue of Serapis, who, after his mihimself, the Christian Octavius, and the hea- gration from the kingdom of Pontus to Alexthen Cæcilius ; the arguments are drawn from andria, in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, the surface of the conflicting creeds, and the had moved further westward, and had belanguage in which they are canvassed would come a fashionable deity in the Italian penhave won an approving smile from Cicero, as insula. We do not know whether he had a well-intended copy of his own philosophical supplanted Neptune, or whether the Italian dialogues. The form and accessories of the mariners saluted him on leaving and returnOctavius are remarkably graceful. From ing to port, or whether those who had escaped Plato the ancient writers of imaginary con- the sirocco were wont to suspend votive tablets versations learned the art of prefixing to phil- in his chapel. But whatever his business may osophical discussions a pictorial proscenium have been, there and then Serapis was; and Cæof woodland, and running waters, and cool cilius paid his compliments, in passing, to the green valleys yielding prospect of " towered Pontic deity by kissing the tips of his own fincities.” In the Octavius, the beach of Ostia, gers. This harmless mark of respect - upon a and the “blue Mediterranean," whispering par with Madame de Sevigné's going to mass among the shingle, and the distant hum of par polittesse — stirs, however, the bile of the the port of Rome, and the measured chant Christian Octavius, and he forthwith reproves of fishermen pushing off their boats, and the Minucius for allowing his friend to continue laughter of children skimming smooth peb- in such heathen ignorance. The rebuke, albles on the surface of the waves we have though uttered half-aside, reaches the ears played at “ duck and drake " ourselves, to and wounds the pride of Cæcilius. He turns our great contentment – are the pictorial ad- sulky for a few minutes, and, “after short juncts of the scene. It is the autumn of a silence," challenges Octavius to maintain his year — early, Mr. Holden thinks, in the incivility by a formal argument in defence of reign of the good Alexander Severus, the his new-fangled creed. Cæcilius and Octacosmopolite emperor who placed statuettes of vius respectively plead the cause of the deAbraham and of Jesus in his cabinet and clining and the ascendant faith. Minucius throughout Campania, and on the sunny acts “judicious bottle-holder" to the slopes of the Falernian hills the in-gathering combatants, and the Pagan champion, as was of the grapes is proceeding busily. At this preördained by the author of the dialogue, season three Roman gentlemen of the bar “ gives in " at last, and politely thanks the beave the smoke and noise and pomp of the instrument of his conversion.
We shall not recapitulate their arguments ; | practicable breaches in the strongest forts of they are drawn from the common stock of philosophy. the Christian apologists, and many of them Most fair indeed, in the eyes of contempohad long before been stored in the quivers of raries, was the aspect of Paganism during the philosophical schools. Plato and Epi- the first two centuries of the Roman empire. curus and Lucian barbed some of the keen- War, at least upon the scale of the unceasest shafts for the Christian archers. More- ing and absorbing wars of the Commonover, the dialogue itself is short and agree- wealth, had died down. The frontiers of the able to read, and Mr. Holden's commentary Rhine and the Euphrates, indeed, bristled will increase the pleasure as well as the profit with the summer and winter camps of the of perusing it. We shall rather attempt to legions, and the Parthians and Germans ocdirect the reader's attention for a few min-casionally swept off the harvests and wheeled utes to the controversy itself, and to some of around the fortresses of the northern and the social and ethical phenomena appertaining the eastern provinces. But these calamities to it.
touched upon the verge only of the Roman The struggle between Paganism and Chris- world. Within its ample circumference the tianity, even if surveyed in its intellectual Pax Romana abode securely. The capiaspect alone, is one of absorbing interest. tals of ancient kingdoms, which the consuls As respects its general form, there can scarce- had laid in ashes, were restored by the emly be imagined a more striking contrast than perors to their original grandeur and beauty ; that between the rude vigor of the earlier the rude villages and towns of Gaul and Christian manifestoes, and the polished art Iberia were replaced by stately and flourishand erudition of the philosophical treatises ing cities ; and if Greece and Asia Minor of Cicero and Seneca. Unfortunately, we were somewhat shorn of their early splenpossess scarcely any means of nearer compar-dor, western Europe was brought within the ison, since the bigotry of their opponents pale of Hellenic civilization. Rome, indeed, has left fragments only of the Pagan apolo- for the most part, made large compensations to gists, as they chanced to be accidentally the world for the independence it suppressed, imbedded in the writings of their foes. As and for the sufferings which it had inflicted. respects their subject-matter, there can hardly In its material aspects the evening of Pabe a more marked distinction than that be- gandom was calm and even august; and to tween the impulsive earnestness of Paul of the superficial observer its moral surface preTarsus, Ignatius, or Justin Martyr, and the sented no signal tokens of decrepitude and dexterous gladiatorial fencing of the later hea- decay. then moralists. The former write
Yet the perpetuity which its poets, orators, authority,” and seldom regard the laws of and panegyrists promised to Rome — and promlogical combat; the latter build up their ar- ised probably without insincerity or misgivguments with the polished and plausible ings — rested on a hollow basis. eloquence of men who are making the best mutations had been acted. Its serenity was of their case,
without being vitally convinced the slumber of approaching dissolution. The of its truth. With the one it is a matter of only living principle throughout its inert mass life or death spiritually; with the other, a was Christianity, and that was directly stake of skill and reputation intellectually. hostile to the perpetuity of Rome. It was The one fight like men leading a forlorn hope ; hostile to the Cæsars, because they assumed the other, like men who are maintaining their in life and in death the honors due to Christ ground in a fortress planned by Vauban, and alone ; it was hostile to the established religimpregnable while assailed only by the ordi- ion as “the doctrine of devils ;" to philosnary rules of war. Until the fields of Mor- ophy as a tissue of errors, if not of fraud ; garten and Nancy had proved the contrary, to literature, as the sounding brass or the no one dreamed that the chivalry of Bur- tinkling cymbals of pride or impurity ; to gundy would bend as reeds before the pike- the arts and recreations of society, as the men of Soleure and Lucerne ; and in the sec- garnish of idolatry or the ministers of sensuond century, it seemed as incredible that the ality; to the general tenor of ethnic manners assertions of a few Galilean peasants, even and morals, as inconsistent with the precepts when backed by a pupil of Gamaliel, would of their lawgiver. It is not, indeed, easy shiver the dialectics of centuries, and make for us, whose social system presumes, even
Its great where it does not exhibit the influence of ing them such copartners in their incense the Gospel, to realize the feeling with which and oblations. Yet, even in this matter, we a Christian of the second century contem- are hardly innovators; for did not the old plated the world around him. The feat- Romans make a god of Romulus ? and the ures of Paganism, which we, standing apart Egyptians, whom in their obstinacy these froin them, regard with interest, were to Galileans much resemble, deified their Pharahim foul and hideous deformities. We pain- ohs and Ptolemies. As for our householdfully unroll the rolls of papyrus, and pre- life, it is not more lax than was that of Carserve in museums the storied urns and inuti-thage, Athens, or Syracuse, while our literalated busts; he would have flung the Æneid ture is at least as decorous as it was in the back into the flames, to which its author on time of Ovid or Martial. And yet, forsooth, his death-bed had recommended it, and these peevish puritans would persuade us would have shattered the Apollo, even as that the world is coming to an end through Josiah purged the valley of Hinnom from the the transcendent wickedness of this our genabominations of the Zidonians. As difficult eration. They would fain mend all things is it to represent to ourselves the surprise and according to their own fancies, and their indignation with which even conscientious mending would be some such work as that of heathens of the same period regarded their drunken Flaccus the tailor, who yesterday, Christian neighbors. From mere humanity, putting a new border to my prætexta, rent or sentiments of neighborhood and friendship, the whole gown from top to bottom. A murthey would not join in the cry of the multi- rain on him and them! They would distude, Christianos ad leones ; yet they might place the Cæsars, throw down the statues of fairly think that such perverse offenders the gods, shut up the theatres, stop procesagainst law and custom were legitimate ob- sions on the calends, and even put out the jects for coercion by the magistrate. Now lamp on Vesta's altar, because they have and then we read in our police reports of some picked up notions from the Jews' books that crack-brained fanatic's dashing to pieces the such observances are displeasing to the gods storied window of a cathedral, or scoring Nay, these pestilent meddlers are not even with his knife a picture of the Trinity, and content with vilifying our rites and opinions ; thinking that he is doing the Lord's work by but claim our homage for a Galilean peasant 80 much wilful damage. But such ou ges, whom one of our procurators put to death which among ourselves may not happen more than a century and a half ago. Our once a year, were of ordinary occurrence in divinities, they allege, are evil demons in the earlier ages of Christianity, and were human shape ; or if, as Euhemerus supposed not perpetrated by fanatics only. Yet they them to be, once mere men, they were men of were not the less inexplicable to heathen the worst character, who for their crimes observers because they might be frequent. merited a carnifex, rather than a pontifex, They would infer from the conduct and con- to wait upon them. Now, neither my friend versation of such neighbors — and there Sossius Senecio, the philosopher, normy have been many inferences less just — a good neighbor and kinsman Lucius, the rooted malignity, or at least a most incompre- ædile of the markets, a worthy common-place hensible perverseness of nature. “What,” person enough, yet no fool, believes that they may be supposed to have said, " would Jupiter really bestrides a ridge of Olympus, these people have? The state-machine moves or wears such ambrosial curls as Homer and smoothly; the taxes might be lighter, yet, Pheidias ascribe to him. Yet neither of at all events, they are no longer jobbed,' them scruples iinging a few grains of incense by companies or individual publicani, but col- upon his altar, or occasionally buying a kid lected regularly by Cæsar's procurators. heifer for his Flamen to kill and eat. For The conscription no longer decimates the so did our fathers five hundred years back ; people, for there are no wars, and the soldier and the gods prospered the work of their is as likely to die in his bed as by a Parthian hands, and gave them wit and valor enough arrow. It were better if the poor were em- to win this empire which we now possess in ployed ; meanwhile they are fed by the gov- security, and might with comfort, were it ernment; and if the theatre does not conduce not for these cavillers of yesterday. It was to good morals, it is not worse than it was a a good deed of the old emperor Tiberius, to hundred years ago, when none found fault pack four thousand of them off at once to Sarwith it. "As for our religion, it sufficed ourdinia, where the marsh fever gave them ancestors, and they were wise, and honest, something to grumble for.” and brave men; and he whom the oracle We have endeavored to exhibit in a some. pronounced the wisest ainong them, espec- what dramatic form the opposite views which ially enjoined his hearers to respect the a Christian and heathen respectively would creed and rituals of the state. In worship- take of the moral and social world in the age ping the Cæsars we indeed sometimes pay of Alexander Severus, and about the time but a scurvy compliment to the gods by giv- | when Minucius probably composed his diib
logue of Octavius. To our fancied interlocu- proaches; for subsequently the king of diators we have ascribed the opinions which monds has been trimmed and polished, and Minucius and the Christian apologists in has come forth from this process “much imgeneral attribute
their opponents, or adopt proved.". Now, to the metaphysicians of for themselves. We now proceed to examine the third century of the Christian era, phiother features of this memorable contest be- losophy was somewhat in the circumstances tween “old things and new.
of the Koh-i-Noor. It was not shapely To every earnest mind the contemplation enough ; it was not luminous enough; it of an outworn and decaying system of belief was Hawed; it needed " soap and water;": is unutterably painful. Man, individually, it must be ground into fair and marketable remains much the same under any system of proportions. The Koh-i-Noor, we are inbelief. His youth is actuated by similar formed, has gained, by the lithotrical treatpassions ; his manhood affected by similar ob- ment to which it has been subjected, greatly jects of desire ; and his old age consoled or in splendor, and lost next to nothing in size. embittered with similar_retrospects and re- Philosophy did not fare so well from the laxations of activity. But, in an age of so- raspings to which it was subjected. cial and moral decrepitude, the passions of commodate is a good word,” but accommoyouth are more feebly controlled by law and dation of principles leads to much bungling by opinion; the aspirations of manhood work in philosophy, and does not succeed at have fewer definite aims; and the retrospects all better in religion. By its syncretic regiof age are less fraught with satisfactions de- men philosophy was attenuated more than it rived from the past. It is too late for great was refined; it was made to sparkle in senthoughts or great deeds ; for the one there tentious epigrams rather than to emit a is no longer a proper centre – for the other, steady brilliance. It had even degenerated no possible career. In the decline of Pagan-in form. No species of composition, except ism, and before Christianity had infused new the pure drama itself, is so dramatic as Plato's vigor into the principles of action, so much of dialogues. We become as anxious for the life as was not absorbed by sensual or selfish denouement of the dialectic plot as for the cares, must have been tinged with sadness – solution of the tragic or comic fable. The with the sadness which ever attends upon interlocutors are as proper personages as uncertainty. That it was so tinged, we Agamemnon and Antigone, and Socrates is may discern in the subdued tone of the later as amusing a character as the Demus or the ethical writers, in the good-natured Plu- sausage-seller themselves. But if we except tarch, in the sterner mood of Epictetus, and a few of Lucian's dialogues, we must convict even in the sarcastic humor of Lucian—who, in the mass the ethical dissertations of the by the way, is much misrepresented, when, later Greek and Roman philosophers for their on the ground of a few, and not the best of dulness and defect of dialectic power. The his writings, he is described as a mere scoffer. inferiority arose from the want of vital interThe philosophy which at the time Minucius est in any great philosophical truth. The was writing arrayed itself against Christian- great problems of psychology had all been ity, was both in its form and purpose syncre- mooted without being solved; the great extic that is, it aimed at a species of notion- perinents in law and politics had all been al optimism, and attempted to harmonize all made, and had ended in despotism. Religion previous systems, and to extract from cach, had long been regarded as a conventional however discordant or however irreconcila- imposture, at which the very priests smiled ble, their joint or several stock of truth. in the streets, and which the inagistrate had But, unluckily for this and all subsequent alınost ceased to view as a useful auxiliary to and similar attempts, there is such a thing the police. It was to little purpose that the as over-truth, or truism ; and truisms, or four leading philosophic sects were beginning general maxims which nobody questions and to abandon, in the presence of their common which nobody acts upon, were the unavoida- foe, their separative tenets, and to merge ble results of this syncretic process of filtra- their discrepancies in a superficial uniformition.
ty. The life which had forsaken the parts Let us take a familiar illustration. In could not be transferred into the whole. For the realm of diamonds the Koh-i-Noor is organic union a new centre and principle of the acknowledged king. Yet, of the many psychological truth was requisite. thousand spectators of this prince of gems
These were found in an unexpected quarwho peered into his tabernacle of glass in ter – in a suburb which philosophy had long 1851, few went away contented with his ada- regarded with as much disdain as the burghmantine majesty. “His form is clumsy,". ers of Warsaw and the Hanse Towns felt for said one party;
" his lustre is feeble,” said the Jews' quarter in their cities. another ; a third discovered specks on his sur-good thing come out from Galilee ?" was face; a fourth suggested “ soap and water." once again superciliously asked, when the There was ground, it seems, for these re- first obscure apologists presented to Trajan
- Can any