A King Devotes Himself And His Nation To Religion
( Originally Published 1902 )
AFTER the death of Romulus, the first King of Rome, the government was administered by the Senate, but as it was more despotic than under the former rule, the people demanded a king. There was great difficulty in making a selection. At last it was agreed that the Roman faction should choose the ruler, but that he should be taken from among the Sabines. The eyes of the people turned instinctively toward Numa Pompilius. He was wise, affection-ate and honorable, but he was noted, above everything else, for his piety. He claimed that in his individual life the gods guided him, to the minutest degree, in every step and plan ; and it was largely because the people believed that the gods were with him and would help him rule that they wanted him to be their king. But he, true man that he was, considering the realities of life of more value than its incidents; that the enjoyment of a well-earned competency, rest. study, communion with the deities, were more desirable than the sound of brazen trumpets, the splendid equipages, the spectacular displays and the distressing perplexities of royalty, did not feel like listening to the call of the people to become their king. And when the deputation called upon him with the offer of the crown, he made the following answer :
" Every change of human life has its dangers, but when a man has a sufficiency of everything, and there is nothing in his present situation to be complained of, what but madness can lead him from his usual track of life, which, if it has no other advantage, has that of certainty, to experience another as yet doubtful and unknown? But the dangers that attend this government are beyond an uncertainty, if we may form a judgment from the fortunes of Romulus, who labored under the suspicion of taking off Tatius, his colleague, and was supposed to have lost his own life with equal injustice. Yet Romulus is celebrated as a person of divine origin, as supernaturally nourished when an infant, and most wonderfully preserved. For my part, I am only of mortal race, and you are sensible my nursing and education boast of nothing extra-ordinary. As to my character, if it has any distinction, it has been gained in a way not likely to qualify me for a king, in scenes of repose and in employments by no means arduous. My genius is inclined to peace, my love has long been fixed upon it, and I have studiously avoided the confusion of war; I have also drawn others, as far as my influence extended, to the worship of the gods, to mutual offices of friendship, and to spend the rest of their time in tilling the ground and feeding cattle. The Romans may have unavoidable wars left on their hands by their late king, for the maintaining of which you have need of another more active and enterprising. Besides, the people are of a warlike disposition, spirited with success, and plainly enough discover their inclination to extend their conquests. Of course, therefore, a person who has set his heart upon the promoting of religion and justice, and drawing men off from the love of violence and war, would soon become ridiculous and contemptible to a city that has more occasion for a general than a king."
But his father and his particular friend, Marcius, urged him to accept the honor, in the following words : " If contented with a competence, you desire not riches nor aspire after the honor of sovereignty, having a higher and better distinction in virtue, then consider that a king is the minister of God, who now awakes and puts in action your native wisdom and justice. Decline not, therefore, an authority which, to a wise man, is a field for great and good actions ; where dignity may be added to religion, and men may be brought over to piety in the easiest and readiest way by the influence of the prince."
This suggestion, that it might be his religious duty to accept the honor, led him to change his mind, and he started for the city of Rome. The members of the Senate came out to meet him, and the people were wild with enthusiasm over him. The citizens, without a dissenting vote, elected him as their king. They were in the act of inducting him into the royal office when he called a halt in the ceremonies, and said he was not sure that the gods would sanction the step ; and taking the priests, he went to the Tarpeian rock to consult them. As the chief priest offered prayer the birds of good omen flew to the right. Then Numa, taking the royal robe, went down the mountains, where the people met him with loud applause, and entered upon his reign. During his administration he did many important things—he turned the attention of the people to farming and religion, and in so doing gave to Rome one of the most successful periods in its history. He had such a high idea of the deities that he would not allow any image of them to be made or be used. He said the gods were intellect, affection, spirituality, and that it was unbecoming and wrong to worship images of them ; and, while he multiplied temples, he permitted no idols in them.
An ancient writer thus speaks of Numa's successful reign : " In Numa's reign the door of Janus was not opened for one day, but stood constantly shut during the space of forty-three years, while uninterrupted peace reigned in every quarter. Not only the people of Rome were softened and humanized by the justice and mildness of the king, but even the circumjacent cities, breathing, as it were, the same salutary and delightful air, began to change their behavior. Like the Romans, they became desirous of peace and good laws, of cultivating the ground, educating their children in tranquillity, and paying homage to the gods. Italy then was taken up with festivals and sacrifices, games and entertainments ; the people, without any apprehension of danger, mixed in a friendly manner and treated each other with mutual hospitality ; the love of virtue and justice as from the source of Numa's wisdom, gently flowing upon all and moving with the composure of his heart. Even the hyperbolical expressions of the poets fall short of describing the happiness of those days. We have no account of war or insurrection in Numa's reign. Nay, he experienced neither enmity nor envy ; nor did ambition dictate either open or private attempts against his crown. Whether it were the fear of the gods who took so pious a man under their protection, or reverence of his virtue, or the singular good fortune of his times, that kept the manners of men pure and unsullied, he was an illustrious instance of that truth which Plato, several ages after, ventured to deliver concerning government, ` That the only sure prospect of deliverance from the evils of life will be when the Divine Providence shall so order it, that the regal power so invested in a prince who has the sentiments of a philosopher shall render virtue triumphant over vice.' A man of such wisdom is not only happy in himself, but contributes, by his instructions, to the happiness of others. There is in truth no need either of force or menaces to direct the multitude; for when they see virtue exemplified in so glorious a pattern as the life of their prince they become wise themselves and endeavor, by friendship and unanimity, by a strict regard to justice and temperance, to form themselves to a happy life. This is the noblest end of government, and he is most worthy of the royal seat who can regulate the lives and dispositions of his subjects in such a manner. No one was more sensible of this than Numa."
The deep piety of Numa gave him perfect contentment in private life, and also prompted him, when he was certain that it was the Divine will, to assume the responsibilities of office. There ought to be more persons to-day who would copy his example in entering public life; they are contented in private life, but they could accomplish untold good by holding office, and by their example and labors lift up the standard of public morals. They complain of corruption in politics, but are unwilling to make the personal sacrifice to purify that corruption.
Numa was wise in turning the attention of his people to farming; it was a good step from an economical and from a moral point of view. Agriculture is the base of all other industries; men must wear clothing and eat food before they can do anything else. Farming is also helpful to the morals of the country; there is something about the industry—the solitude and the contact with nature—which encourages meditation and reverence. With the rush of people to the cities in the settlement of their sociological questions, and even the question of self-government, rustic virtue and religion are helpful factors.
The king showed his greatest wisdom in the estimate he put upon the relation between religion and the prosperity and happiness of a nation, and his administration furnished one of the most splendid specimens of the value of religion to politics in the history of the world. It is a wonder that people in that far-off time, with so little light, should have had so good a religion—one that would produce such an exalted patriotism, correct habits and unalloyed happiness. The most prosperous and happy nations to-day are those that have em-braced and express in their lives the Christian religion ; and there is no such lofty patriotism, sound morals, pure spirituality and supreme happiness as in the nations that are dominated by the spirit and teachings of Christ.
Daniel Webster, at the close of one of his great orations, makes the following reference to the relation of religion to national life : " Finally, let us not forget the religious character of our origin. Our fathers were brought hither by their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of their society, and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political or literary. Let us cherish these sentiments and extend their influence still more widely, in the full conviction that it is the happiest society which partakes in the highest degree of the mild and peaceful spirit of Christianity."