« EelmineJätka »
The same poet thus describes the Roman matrons :
"All glowing, all athirst
-(Sat. VI., Gifford's Trans.) No president or lady of the land,' if known to indulge in excesses so unnatural, could retain the respect of the American people.
The only teachers who might be supposed to have the capacity and authority to instruct the people and to check the current of immorality, were the philosophers. Some of them, indeed, guided by the light of reason, inculcated beautiful and sublime moral maxims; but many causes rendered their influence for good scarcely perceptible among the people.
Their audience was generally composed of a narrow circle of literary men. They shrank from proclaiming their doctrines to the masses for fear of exciting public odium against themselves.
They had no well-defined and uniform moral code, and they were often vague and contradictory in their ethical teachings. They suggested no adequate incentives to the practice of virtue. They never employed the great argument of the Apostle: “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” The chief, indeed the only motive they had to offer for rectitude of conduct, was the intrinsic excellence of virtue and the deformity of vice. But experience
1 Cicero, in his admirable moraltreatise, De Officiis, has no other inducement to offer for the practice of virtue.
proves that the beauty of virtue and the hideousness of vice, unless fortified by higher considerations, afford a weak barrier against the encroachments of passion. If love, as they say, is blind to the defects of the lawful object of its affections, wanton love will little heed the thinly veiled repulsive character of the siren charmer.
There was no sanction attached to their moral precepts. They could not say, with the Christian teacher: “The wicked shall go into everlasting punishment, but the just into life everlasting," for they were in a state of lamentable uncertainty regarding a future life. The ablest moralists among them connived at, and even sanctioned by their example, certain violations of temperance, chastity, and humanity that Christianity reprobates.
Plato, “the divine,” condemned drunkenness, but tolerated it on the feasts of Bacchus." In his ideal Republic he recommends infanticide and community of wives, and declares contempt for slaves to be the mark of a gentleman. He advocates the merging of the individual life into the public life of the state, by which personal liberty is lost and man becomes but a part of the great machinery of the state.? He congratulates the Athenians on their hatred of foreigners.
The leading philosophers were so much addicted to those unnatural crimes denounced by St. Paul, that parents generally forbade their children to
3 Rom. VIII.
1 De Leg., Lib. VI. 2 Rep. IV., V., VI.
have intercourse with them. And so low was the standard of morals that the indulgerfce of this passion was not regarded as reflecting any disgrace on the transgressor.
Aristotle was not free from this vice. He also approved abortion and infanticide. He advised the legal destruction of weak and deformed children. While denouncing obscene pictures, he makes an exception in favor of the images of such gods as wished to be honored by indelicate representations.? He taught that Greeks had no more duties to barbarians (foreigners) than to wild beasts.3
Even the wise Socrates, if he is correctly reported by his apologist Xenophon, indulges in a license of speech and conduct that would be tolerated by no Christian teacher of our day.*
The elder Cato was noted for his inhumanity to his slaves. Sallust, who advocated with eloquence an austere simplicity of life, was conspicuous for his rapacity.
Seneca uttered sentiments worthy of the Apostle to the Gentiles. But, unlike St. Paul, “His life was deeply marked by the taint of flattery, and not free from the taint of avarice; and it is unhappily certain that he lent his pen to conceal or varnish one of the worst crimes of Nero.” 7
To sum up: The standard of Pagan morals was
5 Plutarch, Cato Major. Lecky, Vol. I., p. 194.
essentially low, because the Pagans had no divine model held up to them; they had no uniform criterion of right and wrong; the motives presented to them for the practice of virtue were insufficient; no sanction was appended to their moral law; their teachers were limited in their sphere of action; they were often inconsistent in their ethical instructions, and the best of them were stained by some gross vice.
INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY UPON MORALS.
The superior excellence of Christian over Pagan morals is due, first, to the peerless life and example of the Founder of the Christian religion. Our Saviour never inculcates any duty that He does not Himself practise in an eminent degree. No matter how fast we may run on the road to perfection, He is ever before us. No matter how high we may soar, He is still above us, inviting us to ascend higher, as the eagle entices her young to fly. No matter how much we may endure in the cause of righteousness, we find Him laden with a still heavier cross and bearing deeper wounds. He sweetens the most unpalatable ordinances by the seasoning of His example. The beautiful maxims of Plato, Seneca, and Zeno lose much of their savor because their lives were not always conformable to their words. But we have no apology to offer for our Master. He alone is above reproach. He alone can say of Himself: “Which of you shall convict Me of sin?”
“It was reserved for Christianity to present to
John VII., 46.