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The Ethical Quest Among The Romans

( Originally Published 1916 )

ALEXANDER'S conquests had, as we have seen, an important influence on the social and political life of fourth century Greece. His successes further enlarged the conception of individual significance and, by destroying the old city-state, made man a citizen of the world. By undermining ancient traditions concerning politics and religion these momentous changes brought the question of safe conduct to the front as the paramount need of the times. The age was impatient with arguments and too much in a hurry to concern itself with speculative systems. It desired something positive, concrete and simple, and was willing to believe in dogma and listen to prophecy. It was an era of popular preaching and ethical propaganda. Under these circumstances Epicureanism and Stoicism arose. And it was due to the fact that the moral situation of the Roman world immediately preceding the Christian era resembled in many important particulars that of fourth century Greece, that these philosophies had such a wide influence on the period. In this lecture we shall consider the ethical quest among the Romans as reflected in the opinions of four great men. We shall study it in the scepticism of Lucretius, the opportunism of Cicero, the humanism of Virgil and the resignation of Seneca. These men earnestly endeavoured to adjust the human spirit to the requirements of the moral nature, but if we are to understand why they believed this to be such an important problem we must seek the reason in the history of those times.

The last century of the Roman Republic has fittingly been called "the terrible century." It stands almost alone among the ensanguined pages of history. "That period in Italy," says Prof. Conway, "had seen twelve separate civil wars, six of which had involved many of the provinces ; a long series of political murders, beginning with the Gracchi, and ending with Caesar and Cicero; five deliberate legalised massacres, from the drum head court martial which sentenced to death 3000 supposed followers of Gaius Gracchus, to the second proscription dictated by Marc Antony. Men still spoke with a shudder of the butchery of 7000 Samnite prisoners in the hearing of the assembled senate, and the boy Virgil would meet many men who had seen the last act of the struggle with Spartacus and his army of escaped gladiators—6000 prisoners nailed on crosses along the whole length of the busiest road in Italy, from Rome to Capua."

The causes of these grave political disorders were various, but they may be reduced to one : to the fell disease which the Greeks called "stasis," that attacks political organisms at certain periods of their history. Stasis, as Prof. Fowler defines it, is "to take up a distinctive position in the state, with malicious intent towards another party." 2 This is illustrated by the oligarchic oath quoted by Aristotle: "I will hate the Demos, and do it all the harm in my power." Of course, such an attitude was fatal to patriotism, for it developed into an exaggerated form of partisanship, or what socialists call "class consciousness." Stasis usually began with friction between the few and the many and was always intensified by War, for war in-creased the burden of taxation, engendered animosity between rivals and developed selfish ambitions.

This malignant disease of stasis, which destroyed the Greek city-state, was epidemic in the last century of the Roman Republic. I is necessary to consider the development of a tendency hitherto foreign to the Roman temperament.

The misfortunes of a nation often rise from its conspicuous successes. The final victory of Rome over Carthage was from many points of view a vast misfortune. By that victory she won her peace, but she also discovered her fatal power for conquest. It was the beginning of the end of Roman simplicity. The old Romans were farmers. If they went to war, as they often did, it was in defence of their homes, but with the conquest of Carthage Rome became a nation of aggressors. Victory over a foreign foe developed the passion for world dominion. As conquests followed with relentless precision, restlessness attacked the body politic, and the country was soon overrun with foreign soldiers, without a shred of patriotism and utterly indifferent to the control of the civil power. Factions developed around great leaders, political jealousies ripened into fratricidal strife and civil war, social disorder and a riot of irresponsible passion destroyed the peace of the state.

Stasis set in with the agrarian disputes of the Gracchi, and became epidemic in the next century. All the evils which Thucydides predicted would fall on the Greek city-state had fallen on Rome. Internal strife was the price she paid for world power.

In addition to this, Rome was exposed to what Cumont calls "the peaceful infiltration of the Orient into the Occident." We are just beginning to realise the enormous influence of the Orient on the early Roman empire. The distinctive achievement of the Romans has been their conception of law. Almost everything else in art, science and religion came to them from the Orient. Even her form of government was eventually orientalised and most of the evils which resulted in her decline and fall came from her contact with foreign peoples.'

In the last century of The republic the passion for wealth, luxury and extravagance; the adoption of foreign fashions, manners and customs and the pernicious influence of foreign superstitions destroyed her old simplicity so that it could no longer be said that "the Roman Common-wealth stood on ancient character and on men." It was an age of profound disillusion, when ancient traditions were questioned, and when men of thoughtful mind looked to the future with fore-boding. Such an age as this could not but make a deep impression on sensitive and earnest natures, and its melancholy is reflected in its great literature.

But eras of political disenchantment often occasion religious revivals. Prolonged unrest begets a passion for peace, and men begin to desire safe conduct and moral direction. They are inclined to look for compensation for material losses to some form of intellectual or spiritual experience.

The political disorders of the last century of the republic made the quest for safe conduct very acute. The old religion was in a manner of speaking dead. It was influential in rural districts, but had little vital significance for the thoughtful cosmopolite. Rome was filling up with new cults, coming for the most part from the East. Cybele and Isis were there with their splendid promises and ornate ritual performances ; other conceptions were current, such as astrology, Syrian nature cults, and foreign fashions in divination. Judaism was not without influence, and many gentile minds were in sympathy with its ethical monotheism.

But none of these cults satisfied the cultivated man. He sought peace in some form of philosophy. The speculative systems of Plato and Aristotle had less influence, however, than the concrete conceptions of Stoic and Epicurean. These philosophies had been developed by influences with which the Roman was familiar. The break up of the city-state and the intensified sense of individual importance resulting therefrom, had made the question of moral direction paramount. Men wanted peace and quiet in an age of trouble, and the reflective Roman found in the moral passion and slender speculative structures of these practical systems la tranquillity which nothing else could afford. Stoicism had a far wider influence than Epicureanism, since it was congenial to the Roman temperament; still the latter philosophy had powerful advocates, and in the person of Lucretius, one of the most earnest men of the time, it attained a moral grandeur that commended it even to that strenuous age.

The advantage of these systems over more speculative types lay in the fact that they were intensely dogmatic, professedly ethical in their aims, and their teaching could be expressed in easily remembered maxims. It naturally found its way into popular preaching and was a frequent subject for discussion in the schools of declamation.

The tendency to philosophic discussion is strikingly shown in the writings of Cicero, but it was the signal achievement of Lucretius that he trans-formed a series of loosely related speculations into a rigid dogma, characterised by scientific consistency, poetic fire and spiritual enthusiasm.'

The great poem of Lucretius, on the "Nature of Things," is a religious phenomena. It probably had little influence on his generation, but as an expression of opinion on the urgent question of moral direction it is of the first importance. This poem reveals a mighty intellect of melancholy temperament and spiritual sensibility, trying to ad-just itself to the eternal issues of life in the face of a most discouraging outlook. "Some men," says Henry Osborn Taylor, "live in the eternities, and must at their peril keep in tune with them. The need of adjustment belongs to them peculiarly." This was the inspiration of "De Rerum Natura."

According to Lucretius the evil of the time had a body and a soul. The body consisted of political disorders which could be cured by no known prescription. The soul of evil he finds in a tyranny of fear; chiefly the fear of gods, and the fear of what might happen after death. "This terror, therefore, and darkness of mind must be dispelled not by the rays of the sun and glittering shafts of day, but by the aspect and law of nature." 8 Like all Epicureans he believed in the existence of gods, but he held that they took no interest in human affairs. They dwell "in their tranquil abodes, which neither winds do shake nor clouds drench with rains, nor snow congealed by sharp frosts harms with hoary fall; an ever cloudless ether o'er canopies them, and they laugh with light shed largely round. Nature, too, supplies all their wants and nothing ever impairs their peace of mind." 9 Religious ceremonies designed to propitiate the gods were groundless and irrational. The fear of what might happen after death was equally false, since the soul was mortal and perished with the body. He developed the Epicurean theory of atoms into a rigid dogma in order to prove the truth of these contentions. It was best, he thought, to know the truth. His aim, you see, was not to make men at home in the world, but to get them through it with credit. He had no remedy for political disorders, and little social passion. He does not expect any change for the better. His single aim is to provide safe conduct through an intolerable world. Perhaps his point of view was that of many cultivated men of the time. The paramount need was an estimate of life that could quiet the mind. Lucretius believed he had found this in the atomic theory of Epicurus. With invincible dogmatism and prophetic fervour he preached salvation through the study of the nature of things. Since religion and immortality were delusions, it were best to rid one's self of such fancies and face the future with a tranquil mind.

No man of that period more truly represents the urgent need for safe conduct than Lucretius. In him we see a spirit stripped bare of all ancient sup-ports, devoid of consolations save such as might be found within itself, calmly facing a future, than which one more hopeless or melancholy could hardly be conceived.

The important thing to remember is that Lucretius hated religion. His powerful ethical spirit turned round upon the religious observances of the time with relentless scorn, and his earnest scepticism cleared the threshing floor of a nick of superstitions, and made it easier in the following century to believe in religion as a moral dynamic-But what did Lucretius mean by religion? Whef,, we think of religion we think of churches, and spiritual relationships based upon a divine revelation. But of religion such as this, Lucretius knew nothing. By "religio" he meant two things first a nervous fear of gods, and secondly, rites and ceremonies devised to rid man of this fear. In other words "religio" meant nervousness, dread, superstition. "Religio" manifested itself in rites and sacrifices designed to propitiate the gods, and while the poet had an instinctive reverence for the traditional observances of his race, he regarded everything that went by the name of cult or worship as an expression of superstition.

There was much in those days to justify this notion of religion. The notion of an Absolute and Infinite God has always been a painful one to a mind unassisted by a revelation instinct with a noble ethic. Too vast for the comprehension of a finite intelligence, it has always been easy to break it up into a number of parts and associate them with what is visible, familiar and human. But so soon as man had made the gods in his own likeness, he became dissatisfied with them, and the sense of the eternal passing beyond these visible and inadequate forms peopled the universe with nameless terrors. The Greeks were most successful in humanising the gods; and yet the altar that Paul saw in Athens was significant of the fact that men realised the impossibility of expressing the Infinite through finite forms, and had underwritten the uncomprehended elements of divinity and worshipped them under the comprehensive designation of "unknown gods."

The consequence of such a tendency has always been disastrous. For man began to think of gods as dwelling everywhere. They dwelt on the earth in birds, and beasts and creeping things ; in trees and stones and running brooks. They dwelt in the heavens, in the sun and the moon and the silent stars. All these deities assume the character and participate in the passions of men. The tyranny of elemental spirits was common in the time of Lucretius. The nervousness of life which fear of the gods inspired was transferred to the gods themselves. They, too, were nervous, capricious and irritable. You never could tell what a god would do; you never could tell what he wanted; what would please one might offend another. Be-sides you never could be sure where the gods lived, and you had to be careful, how you moved about the world. You might step on a god, or eat him or offend him some way ; and although nothing happened in this life, yet in the dread Acherusian quarters in the under-world the angry god would await you with a long-cherished vengeance.

A layman was helpless before this dread, and it delivered him, body and soul, into the hands of the professional religionist. A man could not marry, go on a journey or make a purchase without professional advice. Armies and fleets were held up because the auspices were unfavourable. The soothsayer, diviner and religious quack flourished on this weakness. The rich had many diviners, but the poor had to take their chance.

The Romans of the last century of the Republic were as dependent on the priest as moderns are upon the physician. The fear of gods was analogous to the present-day fear of germs. Disease in those times was regarded as due to a dæmon; "if you could drive him out you could cure the disease. The same sort of thing is now said of bacilli, which, however, have the advantage that they can be seen under the microscope."

This nervous dread was what Lucretius meant by "religion." His age was priest-ridden, ignorant and superstitious. He was convinced that the only way to peace lay through a scientific study of the nature of things. At one blow he would destroy the fear of gods and the fear of death. It was a sorrowful time at best. The world was full of disorder, injustice, slavery and misery; why, then, carry a needless burden, when the great book of nature lay open, and beside it stood the portentous figure of Epicurus—glory of the Greek race—ready to interpret it so that a wayfaring man though a fool need not err therein?

We know that the poet's estimate of religion was a mistaken one. His was not the only view that could be taken of it even in his day; but in so far as "religio" meant superstition Lucretius was right. Although he had no moral dynamic and lacked positive assurance that he could remedy the situation he had diagnosed, still he performed a great service in clearing the ground of alien growths and prepared the way for a view of religion more in accord with moral and spiritual ideals.

A word in passing must be said of Cicero. If Lucretius represented the scepticism of the age, Cicero stood for its opportunism. Prof. Fowler calls him "the last-born son of the old city-state." He was fond of philosophic speculation, and especially interested in the syncretic movement which combined Oriental mysticism with Greek ethics. He was also fairly well acquainted with Stoic and Epicurean teaching, and at one time in his life had been a disciple of the great Syrian Posidonius. Posidonius was the most learned man of his time, and his aim according to Mr. Bevan was nothing less than "to make men at home in the universe." Cicero had long been under his influence, and traces of it appear in many of the great politician's writings. It can hardly be said, however, that Cicero was interested in a personal religion, but he thought highly of religious sanctions as aids to good government. Towards the close of life, under accumulating afflictions, he turned to Stoicism for consolation : and by many treatises on the nature of the gods, divination, moral questions and the like, indicated that he was a seeker after God. Fowler thinks that had he lived in an Oriental city rather than in the metropolis he might have been a "God-fearer."" I have often felt that under favourable circumstances the same might have been said of Lucretius. Both men represent attitudes towards the question of safe conduct : one the sceptical, the other the opportunist, yet neither indicates the highest tendency of the age. For this we must turn to Virgil.

Virgil has exercised a powerful influence over the world's imagination, not only because of his poetic genius but also on account of his religious sensibility. He was the most spiritual man of the heathen world: a representative of a religious tendency that commends itself because it is rooted in the homely soil of humanism.

It is interesting to compare him with Lucretius. Both men felt that the evils of the time had reached a climax. Both had a healthy dislike for the crowded life of cities, and a passionate love for the open country, but they differed widely in their outlook. Virgil believed that the world was young, a mighty faith in that age of gloom. He stood in the darkness, it was true, but he was waiting for the dawn. The golden age was returning upon the world : that is why his poetry is so animated, why its most sombre passages are full of charm. It is the charm of an eternally youthful nature. He preached the worth of ordinary man, the glory of the great past, and the lasting significance of ancient mythologies. He is looking for a better era: a time of brotherly intercourse, an epoch of universal kindliness and political stability which will be ushered in through some personal agency.

It was far otherwise with Lucretius. He, too, stood in the darkness but he looked for no dawn. The world was in its decrepitude, and the sun of life had set forever. The universe was about to break up. What was the meaning of the strange mistakes of nature and premature old age ; of the collapse of ancient states and the passing of old simplicities, and this oncoming tumult of riot and disturbance and unrestrained passion, but that soon the mighty atomic forces which rage and storm beyond the flaming walls of the world will invade our domain, and all things vanish away, leaving not a rack behind. The peace of Lucretius is the peace of hopeless abandon and heroic endurance; the peace of Virgil is the peace of restful confidence and serene faith in the future. He was as earnest as Lucretius, and as catholic in his tastes as Cicero; but he lacked the scepticism of the one as he escaped the opportunism of the other. What was the secret of his optimism? I find it in three things : his spiritual sensibility, his tempered Stoicism, and his splendid faith in the power of personality.

His spiritual sensibility is revealed by his faith in the native religion. The ancient mythologies, which to Cicero were useful only as political expedients, were to the sensitive spirit of Virgil instinct with reality, all the more impressive because tempered by racial relationships and glorified by a splendid tradition. He believed that these old ritual performances embodied the religious experience of his people, a spirit of devotion that still lived in rural communities, and kept the altar fires burning in many a lowly dwelling. The ancient religion had united the gods and men in a living bond, and in spite of the collapse of the city-state and the oncoming tide of cosmopolitanism, the poet believed in the vitality of the native faith, and, like a captive Jew, waited for its restoration.

The Stoicism of Virgil was tempered by his humanity. The Stoic consecrated the new experience of cosmopolitanism by a doctrine of universal brotherhood. This sense of human solidarity had been steadily growing, and had come into Roman life in union with certain Semitic elements which had tempered and humanised the hard old creed.

This tempered Stoicism, for which Posidonius was largely responsible, was peculiarly acceptable to Virgil He had the rare gift of making and de-serving friends. A winsome spirit, he moved through his age, gathering the finest and best in his environment, and ever giving expression to his faith in man as man. Living in the metropolis, sought after by the great and powerful, the friend of Augustus and frequently moving amid the splendid wickedness of the age, he remained to the end unspotted and unspoiled, a frank, open-hearted humanist. His genius embodied the Stoic strength without its hardness, and his cleanness of heart kept him unsoiled in the midst of evil without loss of social passion or public efficiency.

Because of his faith in human nature, he felt that a time was coming when the goodness of God would be brought in sympathetic touch with the pathetic needs of the age through some powerful personal agency. The last century of the Republic was distinguished by nothing so much as a loss of faith in its political institutions. What could hold society together and impart stability to government? The old notions did not suit the new needs. The age wanted a strong man to set it right. The career of Julius Ca sar brought the notion of personal dominion to full consciousness ; and when his death renewed the strife of civil war the age eagerly turned to Augustus and invested him with imperial power. Augustus filled the imagination of the time, notably that of Virgil. There was a feeling abroad that something more than right principles was needed to safeguard the age from moral anarchy; this feeling passing over into religion developed into the cult of Emperor worship. Virgil keenly felt the need of personal leadership. His great Roman AEneas might appear in some strong man. We need not insist that his fourth eclogue is a prophecy of Christ, but in this poem he predicts the return of the golden age, which, under the leadership of a child about to be born, shall exceed other ages in peace and good will. In some respects this conception resembles Isaiah's Messianic predictions, so much so in fact that some scholars have maintained that Virgil was influenced by Jewish prophecy. Whether this be true or not is unimportant; what is of moment here is the great confession of faith in the power of personality, a confidence in a leadership that should stabilise government and give peace to the individual. Virgil's great service to his age consisted in shaping up its instinctive desire for personal direction, in arousing hopeful anticipations concerning a change in the political and spiritual situation, and from this point of view he may be regarded as a forerunner of Christianity. It is extremely difficult to resist the conviction that had he been more favourably situated, he, too, might have been a "God-fearer." At any rate he well deserves the praise of Dante:

"Thou didst like him, who goes by night, and carries the light behind him, and profits not himself, but makes the persons following him wise, when thou saidst : `The world is renewed, Justice returns, and the primeval time of man, and a new progeny descends from heaven.' Through thee I became a poet, and through thee a Christian."

We now pass to consider a great figure of the following century : a man whose teaching illustrates the strength and weakness of Stoicism in contact with practical life—I mean Seneca.

Naturally it may be asked : Why prefer Seneca to Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius? The answer is that Epictetus represents Stoicism in detachment, a Stoicism of contemplation rather than action. His theory is worthy of high consideration, but the range of his activities was so limited as to be of little value for our purpose. On the other hand Marcus Aurelius was a public character of large capacity. He realised Plato's dream of "a philosopher on the throne;" but his teachings illustrate the decrepitude of a system that was a weary old creed in the Antonine Age. His attitude is that of a judge rather than of an advocate; more over he is too introspective for our purpose. Dr. Gildersleeve aptly calls him "a keeper of a pathological peepshow."

What we wish to know is how will a Stoic meet the trials and temptations of such a period as the Neronian reign of terror? We know what the Stoic professed; but we should like to know how he behaved as a member of society and man of affairs. Such considerations make the career of Seneca of immense importance, because it exhibits better than that of his contemporaries the strength and weakness of the Stoic position.

Seneca was born in Spain and brought to Rome in the last years of the great Augustus. He grew up in the reign of the gloomy Tiberius and barely escaped with his life during the frantic reign of Caligula. He attained a high position in the state during the Claudian régime, but falling the victim of a plot was banished to Corsica, from whence after eight weary years he was recalled to become the tutor of Nero. He diligently tried to form the character of his royal disciple on a noble model; his treatise on "Clemency" written for Nero's guidance is a mirror for princes, and is one of his finest productions. For a period he was one of Nero's chief ministers, but his influence on his capricious master was slight and always dangerous. His relation to Nero was represented in caricatures of the time as that of a butterfly acting as charioteer to a dragon." Eventually the unnatural relation was broken off, and Seneca retired to his villa and gave himself to philosophic contemplation, the society of friends and the preparation for death. He died, finally, by his own hand at the command of Nero during the Pisonan conspiracy.

The character of Seneca is full of violent contrasts and these often appear in his writings. Perhaps there never was a man of such intellectual force and moral sensibility so entangled in a world that he despised, yet lacked strength of character to forsake. Rich beyond the dreams of avarice, he is constantly preaching the glory of poverty. He knew the burden and the danger of wealth. "A great fortune is a great slavery," he writes to Polybius.18. It was his wealth rather than his supposed complicity in the conspiracy of Piso that made him an object of Nero's vengeance. While professing Stoic principles he often lived in Epicurean surroundings. Obliged by public duty to mingle in corrupt society, he vainly longed for quiet and seclusion. Graver things have been said of him. There are tales of shameless intrigue and possibly he was implicated in the murder of Agrippina. As a youth it is likely he had a fair share in the vices and follies of his time. The truth is, Seneca was naturally disinclined towards 'corrupt society and under favourable circumstances would have more thoroughly realised the Stoic ideal; but situated as he was, his strength and weakness are alike revealed in almost every action. During his Corsican exile the brother of Polybius died. Polybius was the rich and influential freedman of the Emperor; and to him on that occasion the exile wrote a letter of consolation, ostensibly to offer his sympathy, but in reality to enlist the powerful henchman's services in securing his recall. In this letter he indulges in outrageous flattery of Claudius, when at heart we know he thoroughly despised the man. If we desire to know his real opinion of the Emperor we should read the "Ludes de Morte Claudii," a pitiless satire on the supposed efforts of Claudius to enter into heaven. In fact Seneca was something of a sycophant and timeserver, and it is easy to hold the opinion that has prevailed from Dion Cassius to Carlyle that he was a trimmer and a hypocrite. In some respects he is very like Bunyan's By-Ends. But there is something more to be said. If through weakness he often descends into the sink of iniquity, which in those days yawned at the feet of public men, he rises frequently to sublime heights of moral aspiration and spiritual contemplation. In his last days the man was penitent, contrite, and passionately interested in moral reformation. At heart he wished to do right, but found him-self often obliged to make concessions that he knew to be wrong. He lacked power to break away from an evil environment ; he sought in Stoicism something that would give him strength to check inherent weakness, and he probably succeeded as well as any well-meaning man of his age. It was easy for Epictetus to lay down the law in his state of detachment; it was pleasant for Marcus Aurelius to indulge in introspective speculations during the leisure of his military campaigns ; but it was altogether another matter to live like a Stoic in the circles of society where Seneca's interests lay; and the man's inconsistencies make him all the more interesting as showing the strength and weakness of Stoic principles in contact with real life.

Stoicism was Seneca's religion. Many of his precepts are very like those of Holy Writ, and an interesting parallel might be drawn between his teaching and that of Paul. This indicates that in his powerful intellect the ethical significance of life was being sharpened by an intensified sense of God.

He had, as Prof. Dill has indicated, to an unusual degree the power of moral diagnosis. He had the fatal gift of insight, and looked deeply into the heart of the age. He saw its sins and weaknesses, its sullen hates and vain ambitions, its keen desires and abortive remedies. More than all else he was aware of its profound melancholy. "Look round you, I pray you, upon all mortals," he writes to Polybius ; "everywhere there is ample and constant reason for weeping. Tears will fail us sooner than causes for shedding them. Do you not see what sort of life it must be that Nature has promised us men when she makes us weep as soon as we are born?"

Seneca's insight was due to his perception of moral reality; he seemed to feel as if the drab life of the age was overlooked by an unattainable Purity. He had no adequate remedy for evil save to fall back on the familiar principle of Stoicism that what could not be cured must be endured. And his chief aim was to temper this endurance with sympathetic understanding. He was a good diagnostician, but a poor healer, and he knew it. He is not willing to preach the hard old creed of self-sufficiency, because his own sad experience had made him realise the need of a dynamic. But he tempered his Stoicism with humanism. He was full of pity and compassion for the over-wrought age, and so he became, to use a phrase of Prof. Dill, "a spiritual director." Philosophy became a quest for consolation and a meditation on death. He shows us better than any contemporary writer how philosophy was ready to abandon the effort to set things right, and accommodate itself to immediate human necessity. The prime need of the time was for consolation, and so Seneca became a consoler, a lay-pastor who was among the people as one:

"Who most has suffered, takes dejectedly
His seat upon the intellectual throne,
And all his store of sad experiences he
Lays bare of wretched days;
Tells his misery's birth and growth and signs,
And how the dying spark was fed,
And how the breast was soothed, and how the head
And all his hourly anodynes."

We have now traced the ethical quest for safe conduct from its inception in the age of enlighten-ment among the Greeks to its culmination in the resignation and sadness of the Roman Stoic Seneca. The real test of the religious status of a people is not what is manifest in the lowest expression of life, but what is missing from the highest reaches of aspiration. As M. Denis remarks : "When one wishes to find the conscience of a people, it is not always in their actual behaviour that it should be sought for: it is often entirely present in their prayers and in their regrets." And this is the impression such a review of ethical opinion makes upon the mind of the impartial reader. The moral passion of that age was running far in advance of its moral power. Its main problem was how to translate "gnosis" into "dwnamis." It had great ideals, but was keenly aware of their impotence. What it wanted was a virtue-making power that could transform precept into practice and ideals into character. The distinctive service of the ethical thinkers of the period was in making the problem explicit ; in de-fining its limits, in sifting out the various methods of accommodating the human spirit to the imperious need for adjustment, and finally, by their confessions of futility, showing the utter inadequacy of any scheme of reform based on human nature.

These great men could draw near and hear what God would say, but few there were who could hear for others. Not one of them, unless it be Virgil, had any message of encouragement for the masses of the people. They have nothing to say for the plain man. Their ways of adjustment were open only to certain highly endowed classes; and eventually within these favoured groups the pessimism, sadness, and resignation serve better than anything in that age to show that what the world needed was not a diagnostician but a healer, not a reformer but a Saviour.

Even then, had they been aware of it, there were some who were looking for adjustment in another direction. Another teaching was abroad in the land. You would not find it in the temples of the mystery religions nor in the lecture halls of the philosophers, but you could hear it proclaimed in the humble synagogue of the Jew of the dispersion. Many gentiles had broken away from the native religion; they were still less inclined to adopt one of the Oriental cults then epidemic in the empire; neither were they looking for adjustment in the direction of philosophy. Their keenest wish was for a dynamic personality functioning in human history. They were waiting for a deliverer, a redeemer; and while waiting for him had grouped themselves, "a fringe of devout heathenism," round the Jewish synagogue. They were attracted by the ethical monotheism of Judaism and inspired with its Messianic hopes. This brings us to the Jew, and opens the way for a study of a third phase of the quest for safe conduct, that manifestation of religious experience which seeks adjustment with God by means of legal obedience to a revealed law.



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