Catholic philosophy, in the sense in which I shall use the term, is that which dominated European thought from Augustine to the Renaissance. There have been philosophers, before and after this period of ten centuries, who belonged to the same general school. Before Augustine there were the early Fathers, especially Origen; after the Renaissance there are many, including, at the present day, all orthodox Catholic teachers of philosophy, who adhere to some medieval system, especially that of Thomas Aquinas. But it is only from Augustine to the Renaissance that the greatest philosophers of the age are concerned in building up or perfecting the Catholic synthesis. In the Christian centuries before Augustine, Stoics and Neoplatonists outshine the Fathers in philosophic ability; after the Renaissance, none of the outstanding philosophers, even among those who were orthodox Catholics, were concerned to carry on the Scholastic or the Augustinian tradition.
The period with which we shall be concerned in this book differs from earlier and later times not only in philosophy, but in many other ways. The most notable of these is the power of the Church. The Church brought philosophic beliefs into a closer relation to social and political circumstances than they have ever had before or since the medieval period, which we may reckon from about A.D. 400 to about A.D. 1400. The Church is a social institution built upon a creed, partly philosophic, partly concerned with sacred history. It achieved power and wealth by means of its creed. The lay rulers, who were in frequent conflict with it, were defeated because the great majority of the population, including most of the lay rulers themselves, were profoundly convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith. There were traditions, Roman and Germanic, against which the Church had to fight. The Roman tradition was strongest in Italy, especially among lawyers; the German tradition was strongest in the feudal aristocracy that arose out of the barbarian conquest. But for many centuries neither of these traditions proved strong enough to generate a successful opposition to the Church; and this was largely due to the fact that they were not embodied in any adequate philosophy.
A history of thought, such as that upon which we are engaged, is unavoidably one-sided in dealing with the Middle Ages. With very few exceptions, all the men of this period who contributed to the intellectual life of their time were churchmen. The laity in the Middle Ages slowly built up a vigorous political and economic system, but their activities were in a sense blind. There was in the later Middle Ages an important lay literature, very different from that of the Church; in a general history, this literature would demand more consideration than is called for in a history of philosophic thought. It is not until we come to Dante that we find a layman writing with full knowledge of the ecclesiastical philosophy of his time. Until the fourteenth century, ecclesiastics have a virtual monopoly of philosophy, and philosophy, accordingly, is written from the standpoint of the Church. For this reason, medieval thought cannot be made intelligible without a fairly extensive account of the growth of ecclesiastical institutions, and especially of the papacy.
The medieval world, as contrasted with the world of antiquity, is characterized by various forms of dualism. There is the dualism of clergy and laity, the dualism of Latin and Teuton, the dualism of the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world, the dualism of the spirit and the flesh. All these are exemplified in the dualism of Pope and Emperor. The dualism of Latin and Teuton is an outcome of the barbarian invasion, but the others have older sources. The relations of clergy and laity, for the Middle Ages, were to be modelled on the relations of Samuel and Saul; the demand for the supremacy of the clergy arose out of the period of Arian or semi-Arian emperors and kings. The dualism of the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world is found in the New Testament, but was systematized in Saint Augustine's City of God. The dualism of the spirit and the flesh is to be found in Plato, and was emphasized by the Neoplatonists; it is important in the teaching of St Paul; and it dominated the Christian asceticism of the fourth and fifth centuries.
Catholic philosophy is divided into two periods by the dark ages, during which, in Western Europe, intellectual activity was almost non-existent. From the conversion of Constantine to the death of Boethius, the thoughts of Christian philosophers are still dominated by the Roman Empire, either as an actuality or as a recent memory. The barbarians, in this period, are regarded merely as a nuisance, not as an independent part of Christendom. There is still a civilized community, in which all well-to-do people can read and write, and a philosopher has to appeal to the laity as well as to the clergy. Between this period and the dark ages, at the end of the sixth century, stands Gregory the Great, who regards himself as a subject of the Byzantine emperor, but is lordly in his attitude to barbarian kings. After his time, throughout Western Christendom, the separation of clergy and laity becomes more and more marked. The lay aristocracy creates the feudal system, which slightly tempers the prevailing turbulent anarchy; Christian humility is preached by the clergy, but practised only by the lower classes; pagan pride is embodied in the duel, trial by battle, tournaments, and private revenge, all of which the Church dislikes but cannot prevent. With great difficulty, beginning in the eleventh century, the Church succeeds in emancipating itself from the feudal aristocracy, and this emancipation is one of the causes of the emergence of Europe from the dark ages.
The first great period of Catholic philosophy was dominated by St Augustine, and by Plato among the pagans. The second period culminates in St Thomas Aquinas, for whom, and for his successors, Aristotle far outweighs Plato. The dualism of The City of God, however, survives in full force. The Church represents the City of God, and politically philosophers stand for the interests of the Church. Philosophy was concerned to defend the faith, and invoked reason to enable it to argue with those who, like the Mohammedans, did not accept the validity of the Christian revelation. By this invocation of reason the philosophers challenged criticism, not merely as theologians, but as inventors of systems designed to appeal to men of no matter what creed. In the long run, the appeal to reason was perhaps a mistake, but in the thirteenth century it seemed highly successful.
The thirteenth-century synthesis, which had an air of completeness and finality, was destroyed by a variety of causes. Perhaps the most important of these was the growth of a rich commercial class, first in Italy, and then elsewhere. The feudal aristocracy, in the main, had been ignorant, stupid, and barbaric; the common people had sided with the Church as superior to the nobles in intelligence, in morality, and in capacity to combat anarchy. But the new commercial class were as intelligent as the clergy, as well-informed in mundane matters, more capable of coping with the nobles, and more acceptable to the urban lower classes as champions of civic liberty. Democratic tendencies came to the fore, and after helping the Pope to defeat the Emperor, set to work to emancipate economic life from ecclesiastical control.
Another cause of the end of the Middle Ages was the rise of strong national monarchies in France, England, and Spain. Having suppressed internal anarchy, and allied themselves with the rich merchants against the aristocracy, the kings, after the middle of the fifteenth century, were strong enough to fight the Pope in the national interest.
The papacy, meanwhile, had lost the moral prestige which it had enjoyed, and on the whole deserved, in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. First by subservience to France during the period when the popes lived at Avignon, then by the Great Schism, they had unintentionally persuaded the Western world that an unchecked papal autocracy was neither possible nor desirable. In the fifteenth century, their position as rulers of Christendom became subordinate, in practice, to their position as Italian princes, involved in the complex and unscrupulous game of Italian power politics.
And so the Renaissance and the Reformation disrupted the medieval synthesis, which has not yet been succeeded by anything so tidy and so apparently complete. The growth and decay of this synthesis is the subject of Book II.
The mood of thoughtful men, throughout the whole period, was one of deep unhappiness in regard to the affairs of this world, only rendered endurable by the hope of a better world hereafter. This unhappiness was a reflection of what was happening throughout Western Europe. The third century was a period of disaster, when the general level of well-being was sharply lowered. After a lull during the fourth century, the fifth brought the extinction of the Western Empire and the establishment of barbarians throughout its former territory. The cultivated urban rich, upon whom late Roman civilization depended, were largely reduced to the condition of destitute refugees; the remainder took to living on their rural estates. Fresh shocks continued until about A.D. 1000, without any sufficient breathing space to allow of recovery. The wars of Byzantines and Lombards destroyed most of what remained of the civilization of Italy. The Arabs conquered most of the territory of the Eastern Empire, established themselves in Africa and Spain, threatened France, and even, on one occasion, sacked Rome. The Danes and Normans caused havoc in France and England, in Sicily and Southern Italy. Life, throughout these centuries, was precarious and full of hardship. Bad as it was in reality, gloomy superstitions made it even worse. It was thought that the great majority even of Christians would go to hell. At every moment, men felt themselves encompassed by evil spirits, and exposed to the machinations of sorcerers and witches. No joy of life was possible, except, in fortunate moments, to those who retained the thoughtlessness of children. The general misery heightened the intensity of religious feeling. The life of the good here below was a pilgrimage to the heavenly city; nothing of value was possible in the sublunary world except the steadfast virtue that would lead, in the end, to eternal bliss. The Greeks, in their great days, had found joy and beauty in the everyday world. Empedocles, apostrophizing his fellow-citizens, says: 'Friends, that inhabit the great city looking down on the yellow rock of Acragas, up by the citadel, busy in goodly works, harbour of honour for the stranger, men unskilled in meanness, all hail.' In later times, until the Renaissance, men had no such simple happiness in the visible world, but turned their hopes to the unseen. Acragas is replaced in their love by Jerusalem the Golden. When earthly happiness at last returned, the intensity of longing for the other world grew gradually less. Men used the same words, but with a less profound sincerity.
In the attempt to make the genesis and significance of Catholic philosophy intelligible, I have found it necessary to devote more space to general history than is demanded in connection with either ancient or modern philosophy. Catholic philosophy is essentially the philosophy of an institution, namely the Catholic Church; modern philosophy, even when it is far from orthodox, is largely concerned with problems, especially in ethics and political theory, which are derived from Christian views of the moral law and from Catholic doctrines as to the relations of Church and State. In Graeco-Roman paganism there is no such dual loyalty as the Christian, from the very beginning, has owed to God and Caesar, or, in political terms, to Church and State.
The problems raised by this dual loyalty were, for the most part, worked out in practice before the philosophers supplied the necessary theory. In this process there were two very distinct stages: one before the fall of the Western Empire, and one after it. The practice of a long line of bishops, culminating in St Ambrose, supplied the basis for St Augustine's political philosophy. Then came the barbarian invasion, followed by a long time of confusion and increasing ignorance. Between Boethius and St Anselm, a period of over five centuries, there is only one eminent philosopher, John the Scot, and he, as an Irishman, had largely escaped the various processes that were moulding the rest of the Western world. But this period, in spite of the absence of philosophers, was not one during which there was no intellectual development. Chaos raised urgent practical problems, which were dealt with by means of institutions and modes of thought that dominated scholastic philosophy, and are, to a great extent, still important at the present day. These institutions and modes of thought were not introduced to the world by theorists but by practical men in the stress of conflict. The moral reform of the Church in the eleventh century, which was the immediate prelude to the scholastic philosophy, was a reaction against the increasing absorption of the Church into the feudal system. To understand the scholastics we must understand Hildebrand, and to understand Hildebrand we must know something of the evils against which he contended. Nor can we ignore the foundation of the Holy Roman Empire and its effect upon European thought.
For these reasons, the reader will find in the following pages much ecclesiastical and political history of which the relevance to the development of philosophic thought may not be immediately evident. It is the more necessary to relate something of this history as the period concerned is obscure, and is unfamiliar to many who are at home with both ancient and modern history. Few technical philosophers have had as much influence on philosophic thought as St Ambrose, Charlemagne, and Hildebrand. To relate what is essential concerning these men and their times is therefore indispensable in any adequate treatment of our subject.
The Christian religion, as it was handed over by the late Roman Empire to the barbarians, consisted of three elements: first, certain philosophical beliefs, derived mainly from Plato and the Neoplatonists, but also in part from the Stoics; second, a conception of morals and history derived from the Jews; and third, certain theories, more especially as to salvation, which were on the whole new in Christianity, though in part traceable to Orphism, and to kindred cults of the Near East.
The most important Jewish elements in Christianity appear to me to be the following:
1. A sacred history, beginning with the Creation, leading to a consummation in the future, and justifying the ways of God to man.
2. The existence of a small section of mankind whom God specially loves. For Jews, this section was the Chosen People; for Christians, the elect.
3. A new conception of 'righteousness'. The virtue of almsgiving, for example, was taken over by Christianity from later Judaism. The importance attached to baptism might be derived from Orphism or from oriental pagan mystery religions, but practical philanthropy, as an element in the Christian conception of virtue, seems to have come from the Jews.
4. The Law. Christians kept part of the Hebrew Law, for instance the Decalogue, while they rejected its ceremonial and ritual parts. But in practice they attached to the Creed much the same feelings that the Jews attached to the Law. This involved the doctrine that correct belief is at least as important as virtuous action, a doctrine which is essentially Hellenic. What is Jewish in origin is the exclusiveness of the elect.
5. The Messiah. The Jews believed that the Messiah would bring them temporal prosperity, and victory over their enemies here on earth; moreover, he remained in the future. For Christians, the Messiah was the historical Jesus, who was also identified with the Logos of Greek philosophy; and it was not on earth, but in heaven, that the Messiah was to enable his followers to triumph over their enemies.
6. The Kingdom of Heaven. Other-worldliness is a conception which Jews and Christians, in a sense, share with later Platonism, but it takes, with them, a much more concrete form than with Greek philosophers. The Greek doctrine—which is to be found in much Christian philosophy, but not in popular Christianity—was that the sensible world, in space and time, is an illusion, and that, by intellectual and moral discipline, a man can learn to live in the eternal world, which alone is real. The Jewish and Christian doctrine, on the other hand, conceived the Other World as not metaphysically different from this world, but as in the future, when the virtuous would enjoy everlasting bliss and the wicked would suffer everlasting torment. This belief embodied revenge psychology, and was intelligible to all and sundry, as the doctrines of Greek philosophers were not.
To understand the origin of these beliefs, we must take account of certain facts in Jewish history, to which we will now turn our attention.
The early history of the Israelites cannot be confirmed from any source outside the Old Testament, and it is impossible to know at what point it ceases to be purely legendary. David and Solomon may be accepted as kings who probably had a real existence, but at the earliest points at which we come to something certainly historical there are already two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The first person mentioned in the Old Testament of whom there is an independent record is Ahab, King of Israel, who is spoken of in an Assyrian letter of 853 B.C. The Assyrians finally conquered the Northern kingdom in 722 B.C., and removed a great part of the population. After this time, the kingdom of Judah alone preserved the Israelite religion and tradition. The kingdom of Judah just survived the Assyrians, whose power came to an end with the capture of Nineveh by the Babylonians and Medes in 606 B.C. But in 586 B.C. Nebuchadrezzar captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and removed a large part of the population to Babylon. The Babylonian kingdom fell in 538 B.C., when Babylon was taken by Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians. Cyrus, in 537 B.C. issued an edict allowing the Jews to return to Palestine. Many of them did so, under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra; the Temple was rebuilt, and Jewish orthodoxy began to be crystallized.
In the period of the captivity, and for some time before and after this period, Jewish religion went through a very important development. Originally, there appears to have been not very much difference, from a religious point of view, between the Israelites and surrounding tribes. Yahweh was, at first, only a tribal god who favoured the children of Israel, but it was not denied that there were other gods, and their worship was habitual. When the first Commandment says 'Thou shalt have none other gods but me,' it is saying something which was an innovation in the time immediately preceding the captivity. This is made evident by various texts in the earlier prophets. It was the prophets at this time who first taught that the worship of heathen gods was sin. To win the victory in the constant wars of that time, they proclaimed, the favour of Yahweh was essential; and Yahweh would withdraw his favour if other gods were also honoured. Jeremiah and Ezekiel, especially, seem to have invented the idea that all religions except one are false, and that the Lord punishes idolatry.
Some quotations will illustrate their teachings, and the prevalence of the heathen practices against which they protested. 'Seest Thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven [Ishtar], and pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.'1 The Lord is angry about it. 'And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart.'2
There is a very interesting passage in Jeremiah in which he denounces the Jews in Egypt for their idolatry. He himself had lived among them for a time. The prophet tells the Jewish refugees in Egypt that Yahweh will destroy them all because their wives have burnt incense to other gods. But they refuse to listen to him, saying: 'We will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil.' But Jeremiah assures them that Yahweh noticed these idolatrous practices, and that misfortune has come because of them. 'Behold, I have sworn by my great name, saith the Lord, that my name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt…. I will watch over them for evil, and not for good; and all the men of Judah that are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by the famine, until there be an end of them.'3
Ezekiel is equally shocked by the idolatrous practices of the Jews. The Lord in a vision shows him women at the north gate of the temple weeping for Tammuz (a Babylonian deity); then He shows him 'greater abominations', five and twenty men at the door of the temple worshipping the sun. The Lord declares: 'Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them.'4
The idea that all religions but one are wicked, and that the Lord punishes idolatry, was apparently invented by these prophets. The prophets, on the whole, were fiercely nationalistic, and looked forward to the day when the Lord would utterly destroy the gentiles.
The captivity was taken to justify the denunciations of the prophets. If Yahweh was all-powerful, and the Jews were his Chosen People, their sufferings could only be explained by their wickedness. The psychology is that of paternal correction: the Jews are to be purified by punishment. Under the influence of this belief, they developed, in exile, an orthodoxy much more rigid and much more nationally exclusive than that which had prevailed while they were independent. The Jews who remained behind and were not transplanted to Babylon did not undergo this development to anything like the same extent. When Ezra and Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem after the captivity, they were shocked to find that mixed marriages had been common, and they dissolved all such marriages.5
The Jews were distinguished from the other nations of antiquity by their stubborn national pride. All the others, when conquered, acquiesced inwardly as well as outwardly; the Jews alone retained the belief in their own pre-eminence, and the conviction that their misfortunes were due to God's anger, because they had failed to preserve the purity of their faith and ritual. The historical books of the Old Testament, which were mostly compiled after the captivity, give a misleading impression, since they suggest that the idolatrous practices against which the prophets protested were a falling-off from earlier strictness, whereas in fact the earlier strictness had never existed. The prophets were innovators to a much greater extent than appears in the Bible when read unhistorically.
Some things which were afterwards characteristic of Jewish religion were developed, though in part from previously existing sources, during the captivity. Owing to the destruction of the Temple, where alone sacrifices could be offered, the Jewish ritual perforce became non-sacrificial. Synagogues began at this time, with readings from such portions of the Scriptures as already existed. The importance of the Sabbath was first emphasized at this
time, and so was circumcision as the mark of the Jew. As we have already seen, it was only during the exile that marriage with gentiles came to be forbidden. There was a growth of every form of exclusiveness, 'I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people.'6 'Ye shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.'7 The Law is a product of this period. It was one of the chief forces in preserving national unity.
What we have as the Book of Isaiah is the work of two different prophets, one before the exile and one after. The second of these, who is called by Biblical students Deutero-Isaiah, is the most remarkable of the prophets. He is the first who reports the Lord as saying 'There is no God but I.' He believes in the resurrection of the body, perhaps as a result of Persian influence. His prophecies of the Messiah were, later, the chief Old Testament texts used to show that the prophets foresaw the coming of Christ.
In Christian arguments with both pagans and Jews, these texts from Deutero-Isaiah played a very important part, and for this reason I shall quote the most noteworthy of them. All nations are to be converted in the end: 'They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more' (Is. ii, 4): 'Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.'8 (As to this text there was a controversy between Jews and Christians; the Jews said that the correct translation is 'a young woman shall conceive', but the Christians thought the Jews were lying.) 'The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. … For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.'9 The most apparently prophetic of these passages is the fifty-third chapter, which contains the familiar texts: 'He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed…. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.' The inclusion of the gentiles in the ultimate salvation is explicit: 'And the gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.'10
After Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jews for a while disappear from history. The Jewish State survived as a theocracy, but its territory was very small—only the region of ten to fifteen miles around Jerusalem, according to E. Bevan.11 After Alexander, it became a disputed territory between the Ptolemies and Seleucids. This, however, seldom involved fighting in actual Jewish territory, and left the Jews, for a long time, to the free exercise of their religion.
Their moral maxims, at this time, are set forth in Ecclesiasticus, probably written about 200 B.C. Until recently, this book was only known in a Greek version; this is the reason for its being banished to the Apocrypha. But a Hebrew manuscript has lately been discovered, in some respects different from the Greek text translated in our version of the Apocrypha. The morality taught is very mundane. Reputation among neighbours is highly prized. Honesty is the best policy, because it is useful to have Yahweh on your side. Almsgiving is recommended. The only sign of Greek influence is in the praise of medicine.
Slaves must not be treated too kindly. 'Fodder, a wand, and burdens, are for the ass: and bread, correction, and work, for a servant…. Set him to work, as is fit for him: if he be not obedient, put on more heavy fetters' (xxiii, 24, 28). At the same time, remember that you have paid a price for him, and that if he runs away you will lose your money; this sets a limit to profitable severity (ibid., 30, 31). Daughters are a great source of anxiety; apparently in the writer's day they were much addicted to immorality (xlii, 9–11). He has a low opinion of women: 'From garments cometh a moth, and from women wickedness' (ibid., 13). It is a mistake to be cheerful with your children; the right course is to 'bow down their neck from their youth' (vii, 23, 24).
Altogether, like the elder Cato, he represents the morality of the virtuous business man in a very unattractive light.
This tranquil existence of comfortable self-righteousness was rudely interrupted by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV, who was determined to hellenize all his dominions. In 175 B.C. he established a gymnasium in Jerusalem, and taught young men to wear Greek hats and practise athletics. In this he was helped by a hellenizing Jew named Jason, whom he made high priest. The priestly aristocracy had become lax, and had felt the attraction of Greek civilization; but they were vehemently opposed by a party called the 'Hasidim' (meaning 'Holy'), who were strong among the rural population.12 When, in 170 B.C., Antiochus became involved in war with Egypt, the Jews rebelled. Thereupon Antiochus took the holy vessels from the Temple, and
placed in it the image of the God. He identified Yahweh with Zeus, following a practice which had been successful everywhere else.13 He resolves to extirpate the Jewish religion, and to stop circumcision and the observance of the laws relating to food. To all this Jerusalem submitted, but outside Jerusalem the Jews resisted with the utmost stubbornness.
The history of this period is told in the first Book of Maccabees. The first chapter tells how Antiochus decreed that all the inhabitants of his kingdom should be one people, and abandon their separate laws. All the heathen obeyed, and many of the Israelites, although the king commanded that they should profane the sabbath, sacrifice swine's flesh, and leave their children uncircumcised. All who disobeyed were to suffer death. Many, nevertheless, resisted. 'They put to death certain women, that had caused their children to be circumcised. And they hanged the infants about their necks, and rifled their houses, and slew them that had circumcised them. Howbeit many in Israel were fully resolved and confirmed in themselves not to eat any unclean thing. Wherefore they chose rather to die, that they might not be defiled with meats, and that they might not profane the holy covenant: so then they died.'14
It was at this time that the doctrine of immortality came to be widely believed among the Jews. It had been thought that virtue would be rewarded here on earth; but persecution, which fell upon the most virtuous, made it evident that this was not the case. In order to safeguard divine justice, therefore, it was necessary to believe in rewards and punishments hereafter. This doctrine was not universally accepted among the Jews; in the time of Christ, the Sadducees still rejected it. But by that time they were a small party, and in later times all Jews believed in immortality.
The revolt against Antiochus was led by Judas Maccabæus, an able military commander, who first recaptured Jerusalem (164 B.C.), and then embarked upon aggression. Sometimes he killed all the males, sometimes he circumcised them by force. His brother Jonathan was made high priest, was allowed to occupy Jerusalem with a garrison, and conquered part of Samaria, acquiring Joppa and Akra. He negotiated with Rome, and was successful in securing complete autonomy. His family were high priests until Herod, and are known as the Hasmonean dynasts.
In enduring and resisting persecution the Jews of this time showed immense heroism, although in defence of things that do not strike us as important, such as circumcision and the wickedness of eating pork.
The time of the persecution by Antiochus IV was crucial in Jewish history. The Jews of the Dispersion were, at this time, becoming more and more
hellenized; the Jews of Judea were few; and even among them the rich and powerful were inclined to acquiesce in Greek innovations. But for the heroic resistance of the Hasidim, the Jewish religion might easily have died out. If this had happened, neither Christianity nor Islam could have existed in anything like the form they actually took. Townsend, in his introduction to the translation of the Fourth Book of Maccabees, says:
'It has been finely said that if Judaism as a religion had perished under Antiochus, the seed-bed of Christianity would have been lacking; and thus the blood of the Maccabean martyrs, who saved Judaism, ultimately became the seed of the Church. Therefore as not only Christendom but also Islam derive their monotheism from a Jewish source, it may well be that the world to-day owes the very existence of monotheism both in the East and in the West to the Maccabees.'15
The Maccabees themselves, however, were not admired by later Jews, because their family, as high priests, adopted, after their successes, a worldly and temporizing policy. Admiration was for the martyrs. The Fourth Book of Maccabees, written probably in Alexandria about the time of Christ, illustrates this as well as some other interesting points. In spite of its title, it nowhere mentions the Maccabees, but relates the amazing fortitude, first of an old man, and then of seven young brothers, all of whom were first tortured and then burnt by Antiochus, while their mother, who was present, exhorted them to stand firm. The king, at first, tried to win them by friendliness, telling them that, if they would only consent to eat pork, he would take them into his favour, and secure successful careers for them. When they refused, he showed them the instruments of torture. But they remained unshakable, telling him that he would suffer eternal torment after death, while they would inherit everlasting bliss. One by one, in each other's presence, and in that of their mother, they were first exhorted to eat pork, then, when they refused, tortured and killed. At the end, the king turned round to his soldiers and told them he hoped they would profit by such an example of courage. The account is of course embellished by legend, but it is historically true that the persecution was severe and was endured heroically; also that the main points at issue were circumcision and eating pork.
This book is interesting in another respect. Although the writer is obviously an orthodox Jew, he uses the language of the Stoic philosophy, and is concerned to prove that the Jews live most completely in accordance with its precepts. The book opens with the sentence:
'Philosophical in the highest degree is the question I propose to discuss, namely whether the Inspired Reason is supreme ruler over the passions; and to the philosophy of it I would seriously entreat your earnest attention.'
Alexandrian Jews were willing, in philosophy, to learn from the Greeks, but they adhered with extraordinary tenacity to the Law, especially circumcision, observance of the Sabbath, and abstinence from pork and other unclean meats. From the time of Nehemiah till after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the importance that they attached to the Law steadily increased. They no longer tolerated prophets who had anything new to say. Those among them who felt impelled to write in the style of the prophets pretended that they had discovered an old book, by Daniel or Solomon or some other ancient of impeccable respectability. Their ritual peculiarities held them together as a nation, but emphasis on the Law gradually destroyed originality and made them intensely conservative. This rigidity makes the revolt of St Paul against the domination of the Law very remarkable.
The New Testament, however, is not such a completely new beginning as it is apt to seem to those who know nothing of Jewish literature in the times just before the birth of Christ. Prophetic fervour was by no means dead, though it had to adopt the device of pseudonymity, in order to obtain a hearing. Of the greatest interest, in this respect, is the Book of Enoch,16 a composite work, due to various authors, the earliest being slightly before the time of the Maccabees, and the latest about 64 B.C. Most of it professes to relate apocalyptic visions of the patriarch Enoch. It is very important for the side of Judaism which turned to Christianity. The New Testament writers are familiar with it; St Jude considers it to be actually by Enoch. Early Christian Fathers, for instance Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, treated it as canonical, but Jerome and Augustine rejected it. It fell, consequently, into oblivion, and was lost until, early in the nineteenth century, three manuscripts of it, in Ethiopic, were found in Abyssinia. Since then, manuscripts of parts of it have been found in Greek and Latin versions. It appears to have been originally written partly in Hebrew, partly in Aramaic. Its authors were members of the Hasidim, and their successors the Pharisees. It denounces kings and princes, meaning the Hasmonean dynasty and the Sadducees. It influenced New Testament doctrine, particularly as regards the Messiah, Sheol (hell), and demonology.
The book consists mainly of 'parables', which are more cosmic than those of the New Testament. There are visions of heaven and hell, of the Last Judgment, and so on; one is reminded of the first two Books of Paradise Lost where the literary quality is good, and of Blake's Prophetic Books where it is inferior.
There is an expansion of Genesis vi. 2, 4, which is curious and Promethean. The angels taught men metallurgy, and were punished for revealing 'eternal
secrets'. They were also cannibals. The angels that had sinned became pagan gods, and their women became sirens; but at the last, they were punished with everlasting torments.
There are descriptions of heaven and hell which have considerable literary merit. The Last Judgment is performed by 'the Son of Man, who hath righteousness' and who sits on the throne of His glory. Some of the gentiles, at the last, will repent and be forgiven; but most gentiles, and all hellenizing Jews, will suffer eternal damnation, for the righteous will pray for vengeance, and their prayer will be granted.
There is a section on astronomy, where we learn that the sun and moon have chariots driven by the wind, that the year consists of 364 days, that human sin causes the heavenly bodies to depart from their courses, and that only the virtuous can know astronomy. Falling stars are falling angels, and are punished by the seven archangels.
Next comes sacred history. Up to the Maccabees, this pursues the course known from the Bible in its earlier portions, and from history in the later parts. Then the author goes on into the future: the New Jerusalem, the conversion of the remnant of the gentiles, the resurrection of the righteous, and the Messiah.
There is a great deal about the punishment of sinners and the reward of the righteous, who never display an attitude of Christian forgiveness towards sinners. 'What will ye do, ye sinners, and whither will ye flee on that day of judgment, when ye hear the voice of the prayer of the righteous?' 'Sin has not been sent upon the earth, but man of himself has created it.' Sins are recorded in heaven. 'Ye sinners shall be cursed for ever, and ye shall have no peace.' Sinners may be happy all their lives, and even in dying, but their souls descend into Sheol, where they shall suffer 'darkness and chains and a burning flame'. But as for the righteous, 'I and my Son will be united with them for ever.'
The last words of the book are: 'To the faithful he will give faithfulness in the habitation of upright paths. And they shall see those who were born in darkness led into darkness, while the righteous shall be resplendent. And the sinners shall cry aloud and see them resplendent, and they indeed will go where days and seasons are prescribed for them.'
Jews, like Christians, thought much about sin, but few of them thought of themselves as sinners. This was, in the main, a Christian innovation, introduced by the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, and taught as a virtue in Christ's denunciations of the Scribes and Pharisees. The Christians endeavoured to practise Christian humility; the Jews, in general, did not.
There are, however, important exceptions among orthodox Jews just before the time of Christ. Take, for instance, 'The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,' written between 109 and 107 B.C. by a Pharisee who admired John Hyrcanus, a high priest of the Hasmonean dynasty. This book, in the form in which we have it, contains Christian interpolations, but these are all concerned with dogma. When they are excised, the ethical teaching remains closely similar to that of the Gospels. As the Rev. Dr R. H. Charles says: 'The Sermon on the Mount reflects in several instances the spirit and even reproduces the very phrases of our text: many passages in the Gospels exhibit traces of the same, and St Paul seems to have used the book as a vade mecum' (op. cit., pp. 291–2). We find in this book such precepts as the following:
'Love ye one another from the heart; and if a man sin against thee, speak peaceably to him, and in thy soul hold not guile; and if he repent and confess, forgive him. But if he deny it, do not get into a passion with him, lest catching the poison from thee he take to swearing, and so then sin doubly. … And if he be shameless and persist in wrong-doing, even so forgive him from the heart, and leave to God the avenging.'
Dr Charles is of opinion that Christ must have been acquainted with this passage. Again we find:
'Love the Lord and your neighbour.'
'Love the Lord through all your life, and one another with a true heart.'
'I love the Lord; likewise also every man with all my heart.' These are to be compared with Matthew xxii, 37–39. There is a reprobation of all hatred in 'The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs'; for instance:
'Anger is blindness, and does not suffer one to see the face of any man with truth.'
'Hatred, therefore, is evil; for it constantly mateth with lying.' The author of this book, as might be expected, holds that not only the Jews, but all the gentiles, will be saved.
Christians have learnt from the Gospels to think ill of Pharisees, yet the author of this book was a Pharisee, and he taught, as we have seen, those very ethical maxims which we think of as most distinctive of Christ's preaching. The explanation, however, is not difficult. In the first place, he must have been, even in his own day, an exceptional Pharisee; the more usual doctrine was, no doubt, that of the Book of Enoch. In the second place, we know that all movements tend to ossify; who could infer the principles of Jefferson from those of the Daughters of the American Revolution? In the third place, we know, as regards the Pharisees in particular, that their devotion to the Law, as the absolute and final truth, soon put an end to all fresh and living thought and feeling among them. As Dr Charles says:
'When Pharisaism, breaking with the ancient ideals of its party, committed itself to political interests and movements, and concurrently therewith surrendered itself more and more wholly to the study of the letter of the Law, it soon ceased to offer scope for the development of such a lofty system of ethics as the Testaments [of the Patriarchs] attest, and so the true successors of the early Hasids and their teaching quitted Judaism and found their natural home in the bosom of primitive Christianity.'
After a period of rule by the High Priests, Mark Antony made his friend Herod King of the Jews. Herod was a gay adventurer, often on the verge of bankruptcy, accustomed to Roman society, and very far removed from Jewish piety. His wife was of the family of the high priests, but he was an Idumæan, which alone would suffice to make him an object of suspicion to the Jews. He was a skilful time-server, and deserted Antony promptly when it became evident that Octavius was going to be victorious. However, he made strenuous attempts to reconcile the Jews to his rule. He rebuilt the Temple, though in a hellenistic style, with rows of Corinthian pillars; but he placed over the main gate a large golden eagle, thereby infringing the second Commandment. When it was rumoured that he was dying, the Pharisees pulled down the eagle, but he, in revenge, caused a number of them to be put to death. He died in 4 B.C., and soon after his death the Romans abolished the kingship, putting Judea under a procurator. Pontius Pilate, who became procurator in A.D. 26, was tactless, and was soon retired.
In A.D. 66, the Jews, led by the party of the Zealots, rebelled against Rome. They were defeated, and Jerusalem was captured in A.D. 70. The Temple was destroyed, and few Jews were left in Judea.
The Jews of the Dispersion had become important centuries before this time. The Jews had been originally an almost wholly agricultural people, but they learnt trading from the Babylonians during the captivity. Many of them remained in Babylon after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, and among these some were very rich. After the foundation of Alexandria, great numbers of Jews settled in that city; they had a special quarter assigned to them, not as a ghetto, but to keep them from danger of pollution by contact with gentiles. The Alexandrian Jews became much more hellenized than those of Judea, and forgot Hebrew. For this reason it became necessary to translate the Old Testament into Greek; the result was the Septuagint. The Pentateuch was translated in the middle of the third century B.C.; the other parts somewhat later.
Legends arose about the Septuagint, so called because it was the work of seventy translators. It was said that each of the seventy translated the whole independently, and that when the versions were compared they were found to be identical down to the smallest detail, having all been divinely inspired. Nevertheless, later scholarship showed that the Septuagint was gravely defective. The Jews, after the rise of Christianity, made little use of it, but reverted to reading the Old Testament in Hebrew. The early Christians, on the contrary, few of whom knew Hebrew, depended upon the Septuagint, or upon translations from it into Latin. A better text was produced by the labours of Origen in the third century, but those who only knew Latin had very defective versions until Jerome, in the fifth century, produced the Vulgate. This was, at first, received with much criticism, because he had been helped by Jews in establishing the text, and many Christians thought that Jews had deliberately falsified the prophets in order that they should not seem to foretell Christ. Gradually, however, the work of St Jerome was accepted, and it remains to this day authoritative in the Catholic Church.
The philosopher Philo, who was a contemporary of Christ, is the best illustration of Greek influence on the Jews in the sphere of thought. While orthodox in religion, Philo is, in philosophy, primarily a Platonist; other important influences are those of the Stoics and Neo-pythagoreans. While his influence among the Jews ceased after the fall of Jerusalem, the Christian Fathers found that he had shown the way to reconcile Greek philosophy with acceptance of the Hebrew Scriptures.
In every important city of antiquity there came to be considerable colonies of Jews, who shared with the representatives of other Eastern religions an influence upon those who were not content either with scepticism or with the official religions of Greece and Rome. Many converts were made to Judaism, not only in the Empire, but also in South Russia. It was probably to Jewish and semi-Jewish circles that Christianity first appealed. Orthodox Judaism, however, became more orthodox and more narrow after the fall of Jerusalem, just as it had done after the earlier fall due to Nebuchadrezzar. After the first century, Christianity also crystallized, and the relations of Judaism and Christianity were wholly hostile and external; as we shall see, Christianity powerfully stimulated anti-Semitism. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews had no part in the culture of Christian countries, and were too severely persecuted to be able to make contributions to civilization, beyond supplying capital for the building of cathedrals and such enterprises. It was only among the Mohammedans, at that period, that Jews were treated humanely, and were able to pursue philosophy and enlightened speculation.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Mohammedans were more civilized and more humane than the Christians. Christians persecuted Jews, especially at times of religious excitement; the Crusades were associated with appalling pogroms. In Mohammedan countries, on the contrary, Jews at most times were not in any way ill treated. Especially in Moorish Spain, they contributed to learning; Maimonides (1135–1204), who was born at Cordova, is regarded by some as the source of much of Spinoza's philosophy. When the Christians reconquered Spain, it was largely the Jews who transmitted to them the learning of the Moors. Learned Jews, who knew Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic, and were acquainted with the philosophy of Aristotle, imparted their knowledge to less learned schoolmen. They transmitted also less desirable things, such as alchemy and astrology.
After the Middle Ages, the Jews still contributed largely to civilization as individuals, but no longer as a race.