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The words Homer puts into the mouth of Achilles are but an expression of a despair as widespread as the mythologies themselves: "Better to be the most wretched slave on earth than among the dead to be the King of all. Violence, covetousness, treachery, injustice and an anarchy of sex morality played their part in the life of the divine patron as habitually, as unashamedly and as unremorsefully as in the lives of the worst of his earthly clients.

With any development of intellectual life the growth of reaction against such a religion could only be a matter of time. The mythology, thanks to the gifted race's imagination and to its literary genius, became at once the source and inspiration of all that was most characteristic in the national life, and, accepted in its main lines wherever the race spread, the basis of whatever unity it possessed.

But the effect of imaginative and artistic development was to humanise the gods until they became indistinguishable from creatures, and presently, for the intellectuals, little more than the playthings of the race's brilliant fantasy. When to the early poets there succeeded the first philosophers, and the later critical dramatic poetry, the inevitable antagonism between Greek religion and the Greek intelligence began to show rapidly. Zeus, Hera, Artemis, Apollo and Aphrodite; Furies, Nymphs, Pan and the Satyrs could not forever dominate any human intelligence; and the Greek intelligence was soon to show itself in a strength and acuteness never since surpassed.

The first product of the reaction was the spread, side by side with the ancient public religions, of new secret cults, open only to the initiated, in which the dissatisfaction with the older cults' puerilities and the newly-aroused intellectual speculation found something of satisfaction. These were the Mystery Religions and the Orphic cults. The Mysteries were magnificently organised dramatic spectacles, dramas in which were represented the most primitive of the myths, through which -- and not through any dogmatic teaching or special esoteric revelation -- the candidate was initiated into a new assurance of his present acceptability to the god and of his future.

He prepared himself for the event by ritual purification in the sea or in the appointed river, by fasts and special abstinences. He was sworn to secrecy; he offered the appointed sacrifices; he was fed with the mysterious sacred food; and then, in the night that followed, spectator of the sacred mysterious drama, he became one with the blessed body of the elect. The Orphic cults all developed about the same time: roughly, it is in the sixth century before Christ that their first historical traces can be found. Orphic religion is at once a mystery and a philosophy.

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Man is a being in whom there works a dual principle. From the Titans, from whose ashes he partly derives, he inherits a principle of evil. From the god Dionysos, slain and devoured by the Titans -- the crime for which they merited destruction-he inherits a principle that is good. Whence the necessity for man to free himself from the evil element of his nature, so that what is divine in him may triumph.

This emancipation is the object of the Orphic rites. They include repeated purifications; sacrifices where no blood is shed; the dramatic representation of the myth of the slaying of Dionysos, in which the candidates devour the raw flesh of the bull in whose form he is presented as being slain; and, finally, the revelation to the newly-initiated of the infallible, sacred, saving formula which will secure him safe passage through the nether world.

The natural anxiety for a happy future life finds an assurance; and with these theories of man as a fallen god and of the saving rites of purification, the idea of morality for the first time enters Greek religion. These teachings, and the ceremonial effect of the mysteries' setting, made of the new movement a formidable rival to the futile formalism which preceded. A more direct blow to its life was the criticism of the new moral philosophy.

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Cumont; and the culture was about to destroy that religion for ever, as a force in the lives of that elite whose leisure for thought makes it the arbiter of a people's destiny. In the wake of this new religious movement, then, there followed a moralist criticism of the old cults which mocked at the domestic absurdities of Olympus and heaped on the Olympians the reproach of all the misery of the world they were conceived as ruling. Belief in such gods is futile, a waste of life, the greatest of follies.

Such is the inevitable conclusion, and if in Sophocles and Aeschylus the genius of poetry remained conservatively loyal, in the plays of Euripides the new criticism found an exponent as powerful and profound as his appeal was popular. The moral problems of personal responsibility for which Orphic religion offered a solution passed into the philosophical discussion of the day, and became for a long time one of its most popular topics. Through the personality of Socrates, and the art of Plato, moral philosophy bred a new notion of righteous living and a noble idealism of life which, owing nothing to the older religion's inspiration, could not, from its very superiority to that religion's ideals, be anything else than a force making for its destruction.


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The new philosophy offered to men a better way; and if it led to an imitation in life of the divine, it did so without the aid of the old beliefs, using the rites, where they were used, simply as symbols of civic duty. Speculative Philosophy completed the work of destruction. Where the moral theorists laid bare the inferiority and uselessness of the ancient cults, the rationalists who accompanied and followed them broke up, with the acid critique of their direct attack, whatever hold they might have on reason.

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This movement reached its perfection in the work of Aristotle whose genius built up a vast encyclopaedia of knowledge in which religion and morality found their place, based this time on critical reasoning from observed facts. Greek Thought and the official Greek religion henceforth went their separate ways. At its best the Thought was immensely superior to the Cults, and even though in the centuries that followed the golden age Philosophy declined and decayed, the cults never recovered their one-time uncontested supremacy.

The conquests of Alexander the Great, which opened new spheres of influence to Greek culture, spread its medley of religions and philosophies throughout the East. Oriental religions in turn affected the religion of the conquerors, and with the political revolutions brought about the last stage of religious transformation. The old official religion had been too intimately associated with the local city-state not to lose some if its importance when the city-state fell.

Alexander, on his death, was ranked among the gods -- an example only too quickly followed in the case of his multitude of successors in all the countries into which his vast Empire was partitioned. The myths ceased to have any meaning other than mythical; and slowly Greek religion took its place as one element among many in the great movement which, throughout the Empire, was slowly fusing all beliefs and cults into one amorphous unmeaning thing.

As with the Greeks of Homeric times, so it was with the Romans; their earliest religion was animist in its basis. Natural forces, air, fire, water, the sky, the lightning and the storm -- these manifestations of superhuman power, won a reverence from that association, and were envisaged as the manifestations of the divine personalities who dwelt in them.

More peculiarly Roman, and more in keeping with the Roman character, was the notion of the divinity as the guardian of life, the patron of all its actions.

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From this notion sprang a whole host of minor deities; for every act of life had its appropriate deity, under whose invocation and with whose aid, the life was lived, the action performed. So in infancy it was Educa that taught the child to eat, and Potina to drink. Cuba watched over his cradle, and while Ossipago strengthened his bones and Carna his flesh, Statanus secured that he stood upright and Abeona that he walked. Fabulinus, Farinus and Locutius initiated him in the art of speech, Terduca cared for him as he went to school and Domiduca as he returned.

A second particularity of this early Roman religion was its domestic character. The Roman family was itself a sacred thing. Each member had his guardian deity; the Lar Familiaris guarded the field in which the house was built, and in the house itself the shrine of the Penates, with its daily ritual of oblations, was the very centre of family life. The strength of the domestic religion was shown perhaps most of all in the cult of the dead -- a cult designed to placate the shades of the departed, to supply their wants in the life to which they had gone, and, in the last development, to establish a communion and intercourse between them and the worshippers.

But the gods of the Romans -- even, originally, the major gods Jupiter, Juno and the rest -- were powers rather than persons. The practical, unimaginative character of the people coloured its religion.

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There was no speculation as to the nature of the gods, no imaginative mythology, no artistic representation, no temples even. Religion, like the world of fact, was something to be used, not a theme for meditation. The Roman, in whom the notion of contract was instinctive, dealt with his gods accordingly.

The appointed ritual produced the ordained effect; and all his service of the gods was wholly legalist, wholly formalist, the careful execution of man's share of the bilateral agreement. Mysticism, love of the gods, devotion -- in the usual sense of the --; word - - could have no place in such a religion; and Cicero was never truer to tradition than when he defined sanctity as the science of ritual. With this legalist spirit, there went the kindred notion of authority.

Not that there was any priestly caste. The priest is no more than a master of ceremonies, seeing to the exact observance of the rite. In the domestic cults it was the head of the house who officiated, and in the public cults it was the magistrates or the colleges of priests assimilated to them. But Roman religion was a political thing. The city was the family developed, and was itself a sacred thing, a holy place.

Hence not only was the supervision of domestic cults a duty of its magistrates, but as the city developed, as it conquered its weaker neighbours, the victory had a religious character and it was in the imposition and acceptance of the Roman religion that the new political gains were consolidated. Thus by a development very different from that which followed the Greek conquest of the East under Alexander, the Roman gods entered as victors into the pantheon of whatever people the Romans overcame.

It was a trait in their religious mentality in which the later cult of the State, or of the emperor, was to find a strong foundation. Civic Authority and Religion went ever together, but with the State in unquestioned primacy. The priesthood had no influence in political life. Rather it was the politician who usurped the priesthood. As the Roman city grew in importance, other forces began slowly to influence its religious development, of which by far the most important were from Greece. From the sixth century B. Greek rites too were introduced despite repeated prohibitions, and presently, in the usual way, the new foreign deities were adapted to and identified with the ancient gods of the fatherland.

With the Greek religions came, too, the Greek scepticism; and in Rome, as in Greece, the mythology reacted unfavourably on the religion that bred it, once philosophical criticism was free to deal with the mythology.

Against all the hundred religions of antiquity the religion of the Jews stands out a thing unique. Alone of them all it has survived. Zeus and Minerva, Osiris, Astarte, gods of the East and of the West are long since merely names; but to this day the Jews survive and the God Whom they worshipped in the far off centuries when these other cults too had their millions of devotees is still their God, worshipped now not only by Jews but by hundreds of millions of every race and nation.


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  7. By its subsequent history, then, the religion of ancient Jewry is a thing apart. It is no less clearly distinguished from the rest by the doctrine which is its core, and by the historic character of its origin. Judaism was the revelation made by God to a particular people; the revelation of a doctrine concerning Himself, of a moral teaching, and of the fact of their own special relation to Him with the promise to them of a special role in all subsequent ages. The history of the Jewish people is the development of the tradition of this revelation.

    By that revelation, which from the beginning is consistently presented as the free act of the Divine goodwill, the race is constituted a sanctuary wherein lie safeguarded the true belief in the only God, the true principles of moral conduct and the tradition of God's promise. Within this sanctuary of the chosen race the divinely revealed religion lives, and develops as from an internal principle; its implications brought out, its detail defined, in later revelations through nearly two thousand years.

    There is only one God, who is master of the world and the source of law, just, moral.