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In a word, religion is anterior to society and more enduring than governments; it is the focus of all social virtues, the basis of public morals, the most powerful instrument in the hands of legislators; it is stronger than self-interest, more awe-inspiring than civil threats, more universal than honor, more active than love of country,—the surest guarantee that rulers can have of the fidelity of their subjects, and that subjects can have of the justice of their rulers; it is the curb of the mighty, the defence of the weak, the consolation of the afflicted, the covenant of God with man; and, in the language of Homer, it is "the golden chain which suspends the earth from the throne of the eternal."
Every philosopher and statesman who has discussed the subject of human governments, has acknowledged that there can be no stable society * without justice, no justice without morality, no morality without religion, no religion without God. "It is an incontrovertible truth," observes Plato, "that if God presides not over the establishment of a city, and if it has only a human foundation, it cannot escape the greatest calamities. . . . If a State is founded on impiety and governed by men who trample on justice, it has no means of security."
The Royal Prophet, long before Plato, had uttered the same sentiment: "Unless the Lord built the house, they labor in vain that build it. Unless the
1 De Leg., tom. VIII.
Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it." And Isaiah says: "The nation and the kingdom that will not serve Thee shall perish.""
Xenophon declares that "those cities and nations which are the most devoted to divine worship have always been the most durable and the most wisely governed, as the most religious ages have been the most distinguished for genius." "I know not," says Cicero, "whether the destruction of piety toward the gods would not be the destruction also of good faith, of human society, and of the most excellent of virtues, justice.'
"If you find a people without religion," says Hume, "rest assured that they do not differ much from the brute beasts."5
"Never," says Rousseau, who had his lucid intervals of strong sense, 66 never was a state founded that did not have religion for its basis.""
Machiavel, who was not an extremist in piety, avows that good order is inseparable from religion. He brands the enemies of religion as "infamous and detestable men, destroyers of kingdoms and republics, enemies of letters and of all the arts that do honor to the human race and contribute to its prosperity."
1 Ps. CXXVI.,
2 Isaiah LX., 12.
5 Natural History of Religion.
3 Memor. Socrat.
4 De Nat. Deor. I., 2.
(Not having the original at
hand, I quote from a French translation.)
6 Contrat Social, L. IV., ch. VIII.
"L. I., De' Discorsi.
Even Voltaire admits that "it is absolutely necessary for princes and people, that the idea of a Supreme Being, Creator, Governor, Rewarder, and Avenger, should be deeply engraved on the mind."
Legislators and founders of empires have been so profoundly impressed with the necessity of religion as the only enduring basis of social order, that they have always built upon it the framework of their constitution. This truth must be affirmed of Pagan as well as of Jewish and Christian legislators. Solon of Athens, Lycurgus of Lacedæmon, and Numa of ancient Rome, made religion the corner-stone of the social fabric which they raised in their respective
So long as the old Romans adhered to the religious policy of Numa, their commonwealth flourished, the laws were observed, their rulers governed with moderation and justice, and the people were distinguished by a simplicity of manners, a loyalty to their sovereign, a patient industry, a quiet contentment, a spirit of patriotism, courage, and sobriety which have com- manded the admiration of posterity. "The vessel of state was held in the storm by two anchors, religion and morality."2
It must be observed, however, that these virtues were too often marred by harshness, cruelty, ambition, and other vices, which were grave defects when weighed by the standard of the Gospel. But a righteous God, who judges nations by the light that is given
1 Diction. Philos., art. Athéisme.
2 Esprit des Lois, L. VIII.
them, did not fail to requite the Romans for the civic virtues which they practised, guided solely by the light of reason. The natural virtues they exhibited were rewarded by temporal blessings, and especially by the great endurance of their republic.1
Montesquieu traces the downfall of Rome to the doctrines of Epicurianism, which broke down the barrier of religion and gave free scope to the sea of human passions.
Lust of power and of wealth, unbridled licentiousness, and the obscenities of the plays, corrupted the morals of the people. The master had unlimited power over his slaves. The debtor was at the mercy of his creditors. The father had the power of life and death over his children. The female sex was degraded, and the sanctuary of home desecrated by divorce. The poison that infected the individual invaded the family, and soon spread through every artery of the social body.
Toward the close of the last century, an attempt was made by atheists in France to establish a government on the ruins of religion, and it is well known how signally they failed. The Christian Sabbath and festivals were abolished, and the churches closed. The only tolerated temple of worship was the criminal court, from which justice and mercy were inexorably banished, and where the judge sat only to condemn. The only divinity recognized by the apostles of anarchy was the goddess of reason; their
1Cfr. St. Augustin's City of God, Bk. V., ch. 15.
high priests were the executioners; the victims for sacrifice were unoffending citizens; the altar was the scaffold; their hymns were ribald songs; and their worship was lust, rapine, and bloodshed.
The more exalted the rank, the more sacred the profession, the more innocent the accused, the more eagerly did the despots of the hour thirst for their blood. They recognized no liberty but their own license, no law but their own wanton and capricious humor, no conscience but their own insatiate malice, no justice but the guillotine. At last, when the country was soaked with blood, suspicion and terror seized the tyrants themselves, and the executioner of to-day became the victim of to-morrow.
In a few months, as De Lamennais says: "They accumulated more ruin than an army of Tartars could have left after a six years' invasion." They succeeded in a few weeks in demolishing the social fabric which had existed for thirteen centuries.
1 Essai sur l'Indifférence, p. 431.