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to observe all things whatsoever he had commanded them.
The Roman empire then filled the world,-"the sublimest incarnation of power, and a monument the mightiest of greatness built by human hands, which has upon this planet been suffered to appear." That empire, proud of its conquests, and exceedingly jealous of its claims, asserted its right to rule in all things, human and divine. As in those times all gods were viewed as national gods, and as Rome had conquered all nations, it was demonstrated by this to the Romans that their gods were superior to all others. And although Rome allowed conquered nations to maintain the worship of their national gods, these, as well as the conquered people, were yet considered only as servants of the Roman States. Every religion, therefore, was held subordinate to the religion of Rome, and though "all forms of religion might come to Rome and take their places in its Pantheon, they must come as the servants of the State." The Roman religion itself was but the servant of the State; and of all the gods of Rome there were none so great as the genius of Rome itself. The chief distinction of the Roman gods was that they belonged to the Roman State. Instead of the State deriving any honor from the Roman gods, the gods derived their principle dignity from the fact that they were the gods of Rome. This being so with Rome's own gods, it was counted by Rome an act of exceeding condescension to recognize legally any foreign god, or the right of any Roman subject to worship any other gods than those of Rome. Neander quotes Cicero as laying down a fundamental maxim of legislation as follows:
"No man shall have for himself particular gods of his own; no man shall worship by himself any new or foreign gods, unless they are recognized by the public laws."Neander's Church History, vol. 1, pp. 86, 87. Torrey's translation, Boston, 1852.
Thus it is seen that in the Roman view, the State took precedence of everything. The State was the highest idea of good. As expressed by Neander :
"The idea of the State was the highest idea of ethics; and within that was included all actual realization of the highest good; hence the development of all other goods pertaining to humanity, was made dependent on this."Id. p. 86.
Man with all that he had was subordinated to the State; he must have no higher aim; he must seek no higher good. Thus every Roman citizen was a subject, and every Roman subject was a slave. Says Mommsen : —
"The more distinguished a Roman became, the less was he a free man. The omnipotence of the law, the despotism of the rule, drove him into a narrow circle of thought and action, and his credit and influence depended on the sad austerity of his life. The whole duty of man, with the humblest and greatest of the Romans, was to keep his house in order, and be the obedient servant of the State."
It will be seen at once that for any man to profess the principles and the name of Christ, was virtually to set himself against the Roman empire; for him to recognize God as revealed in Jesus Christ as the highest good, was but treason against the Roman State. It would not be looked upon by Rome as anything else than high treason, because the Roman State representing to the Roman the highest idea of good, for any man to assert that there was a higher good, and thus make Rome itself subordinate, would not be looked upon in any other light by Roman pride than that such an assertion was a direct blow at the dignity of Rome, and subversive of the Roman State. Consequently the Christians were not only called "atheists," because they denied the gods, but the accusation against them before the tribunals was for the crime of "high treason," because they denied the right of the State to interfere with men's relations to God. The accusation was that they
were "irreverent to the Cæsars, and enemies of the Cæsars and of the Roman people."
To the Christian, the word of God asserted with absolute authority: "Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man." Eccl. 12:13. To him, obedience to this word through faith in Christ, was eternal life. This to him was the conduct which showed his allegiance to God as the highest good, a good as much higher than that of the Roman State as the government of God is greater than was the government of Rome, as God is greater than man, as heaven is higher than earth, as eternity is more than time, and as eternal interests are of more value than temporal.
The Romans considered themselves not only the greatest of all nations and the one to whom belonged power over all, but they prided themselves upon being the most religious of all nations. Cicero commended the Romans as the most religious of all nations, because they carried their religion into all the details of life.
"The Roman ceremonial worship was very elaborate and minute, applying to every part of daily life. It consisted in sacrifices, prayers, festivals, and the investigations, by auguries and haruspices, of the will of the gods and the course of future events. The Romans accounted themselves an exceedingly religious people, because their religion was so intimately connected with the affairs of home and State. . . . Thus religion everywhere met the public life of the Roman by its festivals, and laid an equal yoke on his private life by its requisition of sacrifices, prayers, and auguries. All pursuits must be conducted according to a system carefully laid down by the College of Pontiffs. . . . If a man went out to walk, there was a form to be recited; if he mounted his chariot, another." - Ten Great Religions, chap. 8.
The following extract from Gibbon will give a clear view of the all-pervading character of the Roman relig
ious rites and ceremonies, and it also shows how absolutely the profession of the Christian religion made a separation between the one who professed it and all things pertaining to the affairs of Rome :
"The religion of the nations was not merely a speculative doctrine professed in the schools or preached in the temples. The innumerable deities and rites of Polytheism were closely interwoven with every circumstance of business or pleasure, of public or of private life; and it seemed impossible to escape the observance of them, without, at the same time, renouncing the commerce of mankind and all the offices and amusements of society. . . . The public spectacles were an essential part of the cheerful devotion of the pagans, and the gods were supposed to accept, as the most grateful offering, the games that the prince and people celebrated in honor of their peculiar customs. The Christian, who with pious horror avoided the abomination of the circus or the theater, found himself encompassed with infernal snares in every convivial entertainment, as often as his friends, invoking the hospitable deities, poured out libations to each others' happiness. When the bride, struggling with well-affected reluctance, was forced in hymenial pomp over the threshold of her new habitation, or when the sad procession of the dead slowly moved toward the funeral pile, the Christian, on these interesting occasions, was compelled to desert the persons who were dearest to him, rather than contract the guilt inherent to those impious ceremonies. Every art and every trade that was in the least concerned in the framing or adorning of idols, was polluted by the stain of idolatry.
"The dangerous temptations which on every side lurked in ambush to surprise the unguarded believer, assailed him with redoubled violence on the day of solemn festivals. So artfully were they framed and disposed throughout the year, that superstition always wore the appearance of pleasure, and often of virtue. . . . On the days of general festivity, it was the custom of the ancients to adorn their doors with lamps and with branches of laurel, and to crown their heads with garlands of flow
ers. This innocent and elegant practice might have been tolerated as a mere civil institution. But it most unluckily happened that the doors were under the protection of the household gods, that the laurel was sacred to the lover of Daphne, and that garlands of flowers, though frequently worn as a symbol either of joy or mourning, had been dedicated in their first origin to the service of superstition. The trembling Christians who were persuaded in this instance to comply with the fashions of their country and the commands of the magistrates, labored under the most gloomy apprehensions from the reproaches of their own conscience, the censures of the church, and the denunciations of divine vengeance."
All this clearly shows that to profess the name of Christ, a person was compelled to renounce every other relationship in life. He could not attend a wedding or a funeral of his nearest relatives, because every ceremony was performed with reference to the gods. He could not attend the public festival, for the same reason. More than this, he could not escape by not attending the public festival; because on days of public festivity, the doors of the houses, and the lamps about them, and the heads of the dwellers therein, must all be adorned with laurel and garlands of flowers, in honor of the licentious gods and godesses of Rome. If the Christian took part in these services, he paid honor to the gods as did the other heathen. If he refused to do so, which he must do if he would obey God and honor Christ, he made himself conspicuous before the eyes of all the people, all of whom were intensely jealous of the respect they thought due to the gods; and also in so doing, the Christian disobeyed the Roman law, which commanded these things to be done. He thus became subject to persecution, and that meant death, because the law said:
"Worship the gods in all respects according to the laws of your country, and compel all others to do the