Edward Gibbon
General
Re: History, which is

...little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.

Re: Roman attitudes toward religion

They knew and valued the advantages of religion, as it is connected with civil government. They encouraged the public festivals which humanize the manners of the people. They managed the arts of divination as a convenient instrument of policy; and they respected, as the firmest bond of society, the useful persuasion that, either in this or in a future life, the crime of perjury is most assuredly punished by the avenging gods. But, whilst they acknowledged the general advantages of religion, they were convinced that the various modes of worship contributed alike to the same salutary purposes; and that, in every country, the form of superstition which had received the sanction of time and experience was the best adapted to the climate and its inhabitants. Avarice and taste very frequently despoiled the vanquished nations of the elegant statues of their gods and the rich ornaments of their temples; but, in the exercise of the religion which they derived from their ancestors, they uniformly experienced the indulgence, and even protection, of the Roman conquerors.

The grandsons of the Gauls who had besieged Julius Caesar in Alesia commanded legions, governed provinces, and were admitted into the senate of Rome. Their ambition, instead of disturbing the tranquility of the state, was intimately connected with its safety and greatness.

Re: perceptions of the Romans by the 8th century

Their scanty remnant, the offspring of slaves and strangers, was despicable in the eyes of the victorious barbarians. As often as the Franks or Lombards expressed their most bitter contempt of a foe, they called him a Roman; “and in this name,” says the bishop Liutprand, “we include whatever is base, whatever is cowardly, whatever is perfidious, the extremes of avarice and luxury, and every vice that can prostitute the dignity of human nature.”

Re: the trade with China and Persia to obtain silk, which “became of indispensable use”

I am not insensible of the benefits of elegant luxury; yet I reflect with some pain that, if the importers of silk had introduced the art of printing, already practised by the Chinese, the comedies of Menander and the entire decads of Livy would have been perpetuated in the editions of the sixth century. A larger view of the globe might at least have promoted the improvement of speculative science, but the Christian geography was forcibly extracted from texts of scripture, and the study of nature was the surest symptom of an unbelieving mind. The orthodox faith confined the habitable world to one temperate zone, and represented the earth as an oblong surface, four hundred days’ journey in length, two hundred in breadth, encompassed by the ocean, and covered by the solid crystal of the firmament.

Re: Odoacer’s death at the table, and possibly at the hand, of Theodoric, king of the Visigoths

...the hostile kings consented, under the sanction of an oath, to rule with equal and divided authority the provinces of Italy. The event of such an agreement may be easily foreseen. [ Odoacer was killed. ] The design of a conspiracy was imputed, according to the usual forms, to the prostrate tyrant; but his innocence and the guilt of his conqueror are sufficiently proved by the advantageous treaty which force would not sincerely have granted nor weakness have rashly infringed. The jealousy of power and the mischiefs of discord may suggest a more decent apology, and a sentence less rigorous may be pronounced against a crime which was necessary to introduce into Italy a regeneration of public felicity.

Examples of genius or virtue must be rare in the annals of the oldest families; and, in a remote age, their pride will embrace a deed of rapine and violence; such, however, could not be perpetrated without some superiority of courage, or at least of power.

Re: the German emperors from Charlemagne forward for about 4 centuries, and their intent to expand southward, but also relevant to England’s situation in Gibbon’s time; this being Vol. 5 of 7, it was probably published in the early 1780’s

There is nothing perhaps more adverse to nature and reason than to hold in obedience remote countries and foreign nations, in opposition to their inclination and interest. A torrent of barbarians may pass over the earth, but an extensive empire must be supported by a refined system of policy and oppression; in the centre, an absolute power, prompt in action and rich in resources; a swift and easy communication with the extreme parts; fortifications to check the first effort of rebellion; a regular administration to protect and punish; and a well-disciplined army to inspire fear, without provoking discontent and despair.

Re: descendants of Charlemagne, the “Carlovingian” kings

The dregs of the Carlovingian race no longer exhibited any symptoms of virtue or power, and the ridiculous epithets of the bald, the stammerer, the fat, and the simple, distinguished the tame and uniform features of a crowd of kings alike deserving of oblivion.

Re: the German invasion of Gaul 400 years after Julius Caesar subdued it

With that conscious pride which the pre-eminence of knowledge and luxury seldom fails to inspire, they derided the hairy and gigantic savages of the north,—their rustic manners, dissonant joy, voracious appetite, and their horrid appearance, equally disgusting to the sight and to the smell. The Gauls were endowed with all the advantages of art and nature; but, as they wanted courage to defend them, they were justly condemned to obey, and even to flatter, the victorious Barbarians, by whose clemency they held their precarious fortunes and their lives.

Re: the conquest of Aquitaine by the Franks

Such is the empire of Fortune (if we may still disguise our ignorance under that popular name), that it is almost equally difficult to foresee the events of war or to explain their various consequences. A bloody and complete victory has sometimes yielded no more than possession of the field; and the loss of ten thousand men has sometimes been sufficient to destroy, in a single day, the work of ages.

Re: the German practice of judicial duels

At the end of ten centuries, the reign of legal violence was not totally extinguished; and the ineffectual censures of saints, of popes, and of synods may seem to prove that the influence of superstition is weakened by its unnatural alliance with reason and humanity.

Re: the legal Code of Justinian

It is the first care of a reformer to prevent any future reformation.

Re: the schools of Athens

The Latin conquerors respectfully listened to the instructions of their subjects and captives; the names of Cicero and Horace were enrolled in the schools of Athens; and, after the perfect settlement of the Roman empire, the natives of Italy, of Africa, and of Britain, conversed in the groves of the academy with their fellow-students of the East. The studies of philosophy and eloquence are congenial to a popular state, which encourages the freedom of inquiry and submits only to the force of persuasion.

Re: the suppression of the schools of Athens by Justinian

In the suburbs of the city, the academy of the Platonists, the lycaeum of the Peripatetics, the portico of the Stoics, and the garden of the Epicureans, were planted with trees and decorated with statues; and the philosophers, instead of being immured in a cloister, delivered their instructions in spacious and pleasant walks, which at different hours were consecrated to the exercises of the mind and body.

Re: the huge increase in the number of laws in the five centuries following the Twelve Tables of the Decemvirs

The Decemvirs had neglected to import the sanction of Zaleucus, which so long maintained the integrity of his republic. A Locrian who proposed any new law stood forth in the assembly of the people with a cord round his neck, and, if the law was rejected, the innovator was instantly strangled.

Re: the separation of Britain from Rome, 409-449

But the desire of obtaining the advantages, and of escaping the burdens, of political society is a perpetual and inexhaustible source of discord...

Re: the Scythian practice of bringing many extra horses on marches, which they rode or ate as necessary

Many are the resources of courage and poverty.

Re: the massacre of Gothic youth throughout the Empire during a war with the Goths

The urgent consideration of the public safety may undoubtedly authorize the violation of every positive law. How far that, or any other, consideration may operate to dissolve the natural obligations of humanity and justice is a doctrine of which I still desire to remain ignorant.

Re: Julian’s severity in dismissing huge numbers of servants and useless officials

Such indeed was the temper of Julian, who seldom recollected the fundamental maxim of Aristotle that true virtue is placed at an equal distance between the opposite vices.

The venerable age of Greece excited the most tender compassion in the mind of Julian; which kindled into rapture when he recollected the gods, the heroes, and the men, superior to heroes and to gods, who had bequeathed to the latest posterity the monuments of their genius or the example of their virtues.

Comparing Julian to the average monarch

The generality of princes, if they were stripped of their purple and cast naked into the world, would immediately sink to the lowest rank of society without a hope of emerging from their obscurity.

Re: the use of assassination as an act of public policy

The use of the dagger is seldom adopted in public councils, as long as they retain any confidence in the power of the sword.

Re: the position of the son of Constantine on the Arian controversy

The mind of Constantius, which could neither be moderated by reason nor fixed by faith, was blindly impelled to either side of the dark and empty abyss by his horror of the opposite extreme...

Re: Julian’s (probably) affected attempts to avoid his troops’ acclamation of him as emperor

The conduct which disclaims the ordinary maxims of reason excites our suspicion and eludes our inquiry. Whenever the spirit of fanatacism, at once so credulous and so crafty, has insinuated itself into a noble mind, it insensibly corrodes the vital principles of virtue and veracity.

Re: the persecution of Christians by Diocletian, prompted by his Caesar Galerius, and the resulting tales of martyrdom

But I cannot determine what I ought to transcribe, till I am satisfied how much I ought to believe.

Re: the increasing power of the Praefect of Rome

As the sense of liberty became less exquisite, the advantages of order were more clearly understood.

Re: problems caused by Constantine’s division of armed forces, which left lower-paid and less-honored troops in the front lines, causing dissension

The mischiefs which flow from injudicious counsels are seldom removed by the application of partial severities...

Re: the enormous tax burden of citizens, especially the “coronary gold”, in the times of Constantine, Constantius, and Julian

The oppressed subjects celebrated their own felicity, that their sovereign should graciously consent to accept this feeble but voluntary testimony of their loyalty and gratitude.

Re: the sons and nephews of Constantine (after the execution of Crispus, so 3 sons and 2 nephews)

His destined successors had the misfortune of being born and educated in the Imperial purple. Incessantly surrounded with a train of flatterers, they passed their youth in the enjoyment of luxury and the expectation of a throne; nor would the dignity of their rank permit them to descend from that elevated station from which the various characters of human nature appear to wear a smooth and uniform aspect.

Christianity and the Roman Empire

I have somewhere heard or read the frank confession of a Benedictine abbot: “My vow of poverty has given me an hundred thousand crowns a year; my vow of obedience has raised me to the rank of a sovereign prince.” — I forget the consequences of his vow of chastity.

Re: the monastic life

Study is the resource of solitude; but education had not prepared and qualified for any liberal studies the mechanics and peasants, who filled the monastic communities. They might work; but the vanity of spiritual perfection was tempted to disdain the exercise of manual labor, and the industry must be faint and languid which is not excited by the sense of personal interest.

Re: the visions of the monks

See the seventh and eight Collations of Cassian, who gravely examines why the daemons were grown less active and numerous since the time of St. Antony. Rosweyde’s copious index to the Vitae Patrum will point out a variety of infernal scenes. The devils were most formidable in a female shape.

Re: Christians in a monastic and miracle-obsessed age

Their credulity debased and vitiated the faculties of the mind; they corrupted the evidence of history; and superstition gradually extinguished the hostile light of philosophy and science.

Re: Vandal persecution of Athanasians, the “official” Roman Catholics; the Vandals were adherents of the Arian sect, declared heretical by Rome

In the original law, which is still extant, Hunneric expressly declares, and the declaration appears to be correct, that he had faithfully transcribed the regulations and penalties of the Imperial edicts against the heretical congregations, the clergy, and the people, who dissented from the established religion. If the rights of conscience had been understood, the Catholics must have condemned their past conduct, or acquiesced in their actual sufferings. But they still persisted to refuse the indulgence which they claimed. While they trembled under the lash of persecution, they praised the laudable severity of Hunneric himself, who burnt or banished great numbers of Manicheans; and they rejected, with horror, the ignominious compromise that the disciples of Arius and of Athanasius should enjoy a reciprocal and similar toleration in the territories of the Romans and in those of the Vandals.

Re: the evolution in methods of electing the Pope

Ambition is a weed of quick and early vegetation in the vineyard of Christ. Under the first Christian princes, the chair of St. Peter was disputed by the votes, the venality, the violence, of a popular election; the sanctuaries of Rome were polluted with blood; and, from the third to the twelfth century, the church was distracted by the mischief of frequent schisms. As long as the final appeal was determined by the civil magistrate, these mischiefs were transient and local; the merits were tried by equity or favour; nor could the unsuccessful competitor long disturb the triumph of his rival. But, after the emperors had been divested of their prerogatives, after a maxim had been established that the vicar of Christ is amenable to no earthly tribunal, each vacancy of the holy see might involve Christendom in controversy and war. [...] The emperors were often the authors of the schism, from the political motive of opposing a friendly to an hostile pontiff; and each of the competitors was reduced to suffer the insults of his enemies, who were not awed by conscience, and to purchase the support of his adherents, who were instigated by avarice or ambition. [Pope Alexander III established, in 1179, the method of electing the pope on the votes of two-thirds of the college of cardinals. The two-thirds requirement generated delays, in one case of three years; and in 1274 Gregory X issued a bull designed to prevent such prolonged elections.] Nine days are allowed for the obsequies of the deceased pope and the arrival of the absent cardinals. On the tenth, they are imprisoned, each with one domestic, in a common apartment, or conclave, without any separation of walls or curtains; a small window is reserved for the introduction of necessaries; but the door is locked on both sides, and guarded by the magistrates of the city, to seclude them from all correspondence with the world. If the election be not consummated in three days, the luxury of their tables is contracted to a single dish at dinner and supper; and after the eighth day they are reduced to a scanty allowance of bread, water, and wine.

Re: Constantine’s conversion of the Empire to Christianity

...the ecclesiastical institutions of his reign are still connected, by an indissoluble chain, with the opinions, the passions, and the interests of the present generation.

...the nerves of the mind, curiosity and scepticism, were benumbed by the habits of obedience and belief.

Re: the charge, mitigated by Gibbon, that Constantine “used the altars of the Church as a convenient footstool to the throne”

In an age of religious fervour, the most artful statesmen are observed to feel some of the enthusiasm which they inspire; and the most orthodox saints assume the dangerous privilege of defending the cause of truth by the arms of deceit and falsehood. Personal interest is often the standard of our belief, as well as of our practice...

Re: Constantine

He was accustomed to say that, whether Christ was preached in pretense or in truth, he should still rejoice.

Re: theological controversies in the reign of Justinian, into which he entered

Toleration was not the virtue of the times, and indulgence to rebels has seldom been the virtue of princes. But, when the prince descends to the narrow and peevish character of a disputant, he is easily provoked to supply the defect of argument by the plenitude of power, and to chastise without mercy the perverse blindness of those who willfully shut their eyes against the light of demonstration.

Re: the “Donation of Constantine”, a fraudulent claim made by the Vatican, and supported with documentation, that Constantine had willed the entire Western Empire to the Pope

Fraud is the resource of weakness and cunning; and the strong, though ignorant, barbarian was often entangled in the net of sacerdotal policy. The Vatican and Lateran were an arsenal and manufacture, which, according to the occasion, have produced or concealed a various collection of false or genuine, of corrupt or suspicious acts, as they tended to promote the interest of the Roman church.

The popes themselves have indulged a smile at the credulity of the vulgar...

Re: the Roman-Persian war of 422

...the charity of a bishop, Acacius of Amida, whose name might have dignified the saintly calendar, shall not be lost in oblivion. Boldly declaring that vases of gold and silver are useless to a God who neither eats nor drinks, the generous prelate sold the plate of the church of Amida; employed the price in the redemption of seven thousand Persian captives; supplied their wants with affectionate liberality; and dismissed them to their native country, to inform the king of the true spirit of the religion which he persecuted.

Re: John Chrysostom (“the Golden Mouth”), appointed by Eutropius

The pastoral labours of the archbishop of Constantinople provoked, and gradually united against him, two sorts of enemies: the aspiring clergy, who envied his success, and the obstinate sinners, who were offended by his reproofs.

Speaking of St. Augustine

His learning is too often borrowed, and his arguments are too often his own...

A footnote to a description of the vast number of miracles attributed to the relics of St. Stephen

Freculphus has preserved a Gallic or Spanish proverb, “Whoever pretends to have read all the miracles of St. Stephen, he lies.”

Discussing the Roman attitude toward the thousands of religions in their empire before the time of Christianity

The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.

In every age a principle of toleration has been fortified by a sense of interest...

Speaking of the Arian controversy (318-381) over the nature of Christ, which brought about the first Council of Nicea

The metaphysical opinions of the Athanasians and the Arians could not influence their moral character; and they were alike actuated by the intolerant spirit which has been extracted from the pure and simple maxims of the Gospel.

The passive and unresisting obedience which bows under the yoke of authority, or even of oppression, must have appeared in the eyes of an absolute monarch the most conspicuous and useful of the evangelic virtues. [...] The reigning emperor, though he had usurped the sceptre by treason and murder, immediately assumed the sacred character of vicegerent of the Deity. [...] The Christians might add that the throne of the emperors would be established on a fixed and permanent basis if all their subjects, embracing the Christian doctrine, should learn to suffer and to obey.

For the first two or three centuries AD, Christian churches were organized as small republics, with the members voting for the bishop. Discussing, with some irony, the rise of the “monarchistic episcopate”

But the most perfect equality of freedom requires the directing hand of a superior magistrate: and the order of public deliberations soon introduces the office of a president, invested at least with the authority of collecting the sentiments, and of executing the resolutions, of the assembly.

Discussing the Iconoclastic religious/political disputes of the eighth century

...each of the Oriental sects was eager to confess that all, except themselves, deserved the reproach of idolatry and polytheism.

Referring to Constantine I (the Great) and Constantine VI

For the honor of orthodoxy, at least the orthodoxy of the Roman church, it is somewhat unfortunate that the two princes who convened the two councils of Nice[a] are both stained with the blood of their sons.

Discussing the pre-Christian view of the immortality of the soul, as represented in Cicero’s writings

A doctrine thus removed beyond the senses and the experience of mankind might serve to amuse the leisure of a philosophic mind; or, in the silence of solitude, it might sometimes impart a ray of comfort to desponding virtue; but the faint impression which had been received in the schools was soon obliterated by the commerce and business of active life. We are sufficiently acquainted with the eminent persons who flourished in the age of Cicero, and of the first Caesars, with their actions, their characters, and their motives, to be assured that their conduct in this life was never regulated by any serious conviction of the rewards or punishments of a future state. At the bar and in the senate of Rome the ablest orators were not apprehensive of giving offense by exposing that doctrine as an idle and extravagant opinion, which was rejected with contempt by every man of a liberal education and understanding.

General Religion and State
Speaking of the traditional Roman religion (Numa Pompilius was the second of the legendary kings of Rome, following Romulus)

The title, the ensigns, the prerogatives, of SOVEREIGN PONTIFF, which had been instituted by Numa, and assumed by Augustus, were accepted, without hesitation, by seven Christian emperors; who were invested with more absolute authority over the religion they deserted than over that which they had professed.

The most lofty titles, and the most humble postures, which devotion has applied to the Supreme Being, have been prostituted by flattery and fear to creatures of the same nature with ourselves.

Benevolence is the foundation of justice, since we are forbid to injure those whom we are bound to assist. A prophet may reveal the secrets of heaven and of futurity; but in his moral precepts he can only repeat the lessons of our own hearts.

Describing the Zoroastrian religion

Every mode of religion, to make a deep and lasting impression on the human mind, must exercise our obedience by enjoining practices of devotion, for which we can assign no reason; and must acquire our esteem, by inculcating moral duties analogous to the dictates of our own hearts.

But there are some remarkable instances in which Zoroaster lays aside the prophet, assumes the legislator, and discovers a liberal concern for private and public happiness, seldom to be found among the grovelling or visionary schemes of superstition. Fasting and celibacy, the common means of purchasing the divine favor, he condemns with abhorrence, as a criminal rejection of the best gifts of providence. The saint, in the Magian religion, is obliged to beget children, to plant useful trees, to destroy noxious animals, to convey water to the dry lands of Persia, and to work out his salvation by pursuing all the labours of agriculture. We may quote from the Zend Avesta a wise and benevolent maxim, which compensates for many an absurdity. “He who sows the ground with care and diligence acquires a greater stock of religious merit than he could gain by the repetition of ten thousand prayers.”

Historic Points and Issues
Re: public officials sent to Africa after Belisarius retook it from the Vandals

These magistrates might be oppressive, but they were not idle; and the subtle questions of justice and revenue were infinitely propagated under the new government, which professed to revive the freedom and equity of the Roman republic.

Re: Gelimer, the Vandal king deposed by Belisarius

...in this mournful state unseasonable mirth insinuated to more intelligent observers that the vain and transitory scenes of human greatness are unworthy of a serious thought.

Their contempt was soon justified by a new example of a vulgar truth; that flattery adheres to power, and envy to superior merit.

Re: the fables of the Indian writer Pilpay

In their present form the peculiar character, the manners and religion of the Hindoos, are completely obliterated; and the intrinsic merit of the fables of Pilpay is far inferior to the concise elegance of Phaedrus and the native graces of La Fontaine. Fifteen moral and political sentences are illustrated in a series of apologues; but the composition is intricate, the narrative prolix, and the precept obvious and barren. Yet the Brachman may assume the merit of inventing a pleasing fiction, which adorns the nakedness of truth, and alleviates, perhaps, to a royal ear the harshness of instruction. With a similar design to admonish kings that they are strong only in the strength of their subjects, the same Indians invented the game of chess, which was likewise introduced into Persia under the reign of Nushirvan. [Nushirvan == Chosroes]

Re: envy of Belisarius

The hero had escaped the sword of the barbarians, but the dagger of conspiracy awaited his return.

...the master of the sea will always acquire the dominion of the land.

The ascent to greatness, however steep and dangerous, may entertain an active spirit with the consciousness and exercise of its own powers; but the possession of a throne could never yet afford a lasting satisfaction to an ambitious mind.

Speaking of the gradual assumption of imperial power by Augustus and his successors

...whenever the senate empowered the first magistrate to consult the safety of the commonwealth, he was raised by that decree above the laws, and exercised, in the defence of liberty, a temporary despotism.

In the establishment and restoration of the Turkish empire the first merit must doubtless be assigned to the personal qualities of the sultans; since, in human life, the most important scenes will depend on the character of a single actor.

...the first lessons of Epicurus so strangely scandalized the pious ears of the Athenians, that by his exile, and that of his antagonists, they silenced all vain disputes about the nature of the gods. But in the ensuing year they recalled the hasty decree, restored the liberty of the schools, and were convinced by the experience of ages that the moral character of philosophers is not affected by the diversity of their theological speculations.

Speaking of Julian, called “the Apostate”

Superior to the last temptation of virtuous minds, an indiscreet and intemperate zeal for justice, he restrained, with calmness and dignity, the warmth of an advocate who prosecuted, for extortion, the president of the Narbonnese province. “Who will ever be found guilty,” exclaimed the vehement Delphidius, “if it is enough to deny?” “And who,” replied Julian, “will ever be innocent, if it is sufficient to affirm?”

At the Council of Nicea in 325, which sealed the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of Rome, Constantine allowed Christian bishops the unique privilege of a right to trial by their peers.

Such a tribunal, unless it was inflamed by personal resentment of religious discord, might be favorable, or even partial, to the sacerdotal order: but Constantine was satisfied that secret impunity would be less pernicious than public scandal, and the Nicene council was edified by his public declaration, that, if he surprised a bishop in the act of adultery, he should cast his Imperial mantle over the episcopal sinner.

The military force was a blind and irresistible instrument of oppression; and the corruption of Roman manners would always supply flatterers eager to applaud, and ministers prepared to serve, the fear or the avarice, the lust or the cruelty, of their masters.

Genius may anticipate the season of maturity; but in the education of a people, as in that of an individual, memory must be exercised before the powers of reason and fancy can be expanded: nor may the artist hope to equal or surpass, till he has learned to imitate, the works of his predecessors.

Describing the Greek language

...a golden key that could unlock the treasures of antiquity, of a musical and prolific language that gives a soul to the objects of sense, and a body to the abstractions of philosophy.

The dialogues of Plato are a dramatic picture of the life and death of a sage; and as often as he descends from the clouds, his moral system inculcates the love of truth, of our country, and of mankind.

So equal, yet so opposite, are the merits of Plato and Aristotle, that they may be balanced in endless controversy; but some spark of freedom may be produced by the collision of adverse servitude.

...the monuments of art may be annihilated by a single blow, but the immortal mind is renewed and multiplied by the copies of the pen.

Flattery is a foolish suicide: she destroys herself with her own hands.

Discussing Hatem, the model of Arabian virtue

The freedom of his countrymen disdained the law of justice; they proudly indulged the spontaneous impulse of pity and benevolence.

In a description of Mohammed

Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius...

Beautiful Sentences
Re: Constantine VII (reigned 944-963) and his wife’s administration

...each minister was regretted in the promotion of a more worthless successor.

Re: Emperor Nicephorus I, 802-811

His character was stained with the three odious vices of hypocrisy, ingratitude, and avarice; his want of virtue was not redeemed by any superior talents, nor his want of talents by any pleasing qualifications. Unskillful and unfortunate in war, Nicephorus was vanquished by the Saracens, and slain by the Bulgarians; and the advantages of his death overbalanced, in the public opinion, the destruction of a Roman army.

Opening sentences of Chapter XV

A candid but rational inquiry into the progress and establishment of Christianity may be considered as a very essential part of the history of the Roman empire. While that great body was invaded by open violence, or undermined by slow decay, a pure and humble religion gently insinuated itself into the minds of men, grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new vigour from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner of the cross on the ruins of the Capitol.

Speaking of a late Byzantine emperor who supposedly sent his son and heir as security for a debt he contracted

Thirst, hunger, and nakedness are positive evils: but wealth is relative; and a prince, who would be rich in a private station, may be exposed by the increase of his wants to all the anxiety and bitterness of poverty.

Re: the Iconoclastic controversy over images

A single question yet remained, whether they are endowed with any proper and inherent sanctity; it was agitated by the Greeks of the eleventh century; and as this opinion has the strongest recommendation of absurdity, I am surprised that it was not more explicitly decided in the affirmative.

Re: Irene, wife of Leo IV and mother of Constantine VI

But, as soon as she reigned in her own name and that of her son, Irene more seriously undertook the ruin of the Iconoclasts; and the first step of her future persecution was a general edict for liberty of conscience.

But the scandal of the pious Christian, and the fallacious triumph of the Infidel, should cease as soon as they recollect not only by whom, but likewise to whom, the Divine Revelation was given.

Summarizing a discussion of the spread of the knowledge of gunpowder and cannons in the fifteenth century

If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind.

The philosopher, who with calm suspicion examines the dreams and omens, the miracles and prodigies, of profane or even of ecclesiastical history, will probably conclude that, if the eyes of the spectators have sometimes been deceived by fraud, the understanding of the readers has much more frequently been insulted by fiction.

Speaking of a plan that failed to produce the expected results

...but the omnipotence which is guided by infinite wisdom and goodness cannot fail of choosing the same means for the accomplishment of the same ends.

...as long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters.

Discussing the miracles of the early days of the Christian church

Our different sentiments on this subject will be much less influenced by any particular arguments than by our habits of study and reflection; and, above all, by the degree of the evidence which we have accustomed ourselves to require for the proof of a miraculous event. The duty of an historian does not call upon him to interpose his private judgment in this nice and important controversy; but he ought not to dissemble the difficulty of adopting such a theory as may reconcile the interest of religion with that of reason, of making a proper application of that theory, and of defining with precision the limits of that happy period, exempt from error and from deceit, to which we might be disposed to extend the gift of supernatural powers. [A footnote says that most Protestants take the conversion of Constantine as the end of the period of miracles.]

Describing the conversions to Christianity of “the most atrocious criminals, who, as soon as they were touched by a sense of remorse, were easily persuaded to wash away, in the water of baptism, the guilt of their past conduct, for which the temples of the gods refused to grant them any expiation”

The desire of perfection became the ruling passion of their soul; and it is well known that, while reason embraces a cold mediocrity, our passions hurry us, with rapid violence, over the space which lies between the most opposite extremes.

The Crusades

The principle of the crusades was a savage fanaticism; and the most important effects were analogous to the cause. Each pilgrim was ambitious to return with his sacred spoils, the relics of Greece and Palestine; and each relic was preceded and followed by a train of miracles and visions. The belief of the Catholics was corrupted by new legends, their practice by new superstitions; and the establishment of the inquisition, the mendicant orders of monks and friars, the last abuse of indulgences, and the final progress of idolatry, flowed from the baleful fountain of the holy war. The active spirit of the Latins preyed on the vitals of their reason and religion; and, if the ninth and tenth centuries were the times of darkness, the thirteenth and fourteenth were the age of absurdity and fable.

[...] Great was the increase, and rapid the progress, during the two hundred years of the crusades; and some philosophers have applauded the propitious influence of these holy wars, which appear to me to have checked rather than forwarded the maturity of Europe. The lives and labours of millions, which were buried in the East, would have been more profitably employed in the improvement of their native country: the accumulated stock of industry and wealth would have overflowed in navigation and trade; and the Latins would have been enriched and enlightened by a pure and friendly correspondence with the climates of the East. In one respect I can indeed perceive the accidental operation of the crusades, not so much in producing a benefit, as in removing an evil. The larger portion of the inhabitants of Europe was chained to the soil, without freedom, or property, or knowledge; and the two orders of ecclesiastics and nobles, whose numbers were comparatively small, alone deserved the name of citizens and men. This oppressive system was supported by the arts of the clergy and the swords of the barons. The authority of the priests operated in the darker ages as a salutary antidote: they prevented the total extinction of letters, mitigated the fierceness of the times, sheltered the poor and defenceless, and preserved or revived the peace and order of society. But the independence, rapine, and discord of the feudal lords were unmixed with any semblance of good; and every hope of industry and improvement was crushed by the iron weight of the martial aristocracy. Among the causes that undermined the Gothic edifice, a conspicuous place must be allowed to the crusades. The estates of the barons were dissipated, and their race was often extinguished, in these costly and perilous expeditions. Their poverty extorted from their pride those charters of freedom which unlocked the fetters of the slave, secured the farm of the peasant and the shop of the artificer, and gradually restored a substance and a soul to the most numerous and useful part of the community. The conflagration which destroyed the tall and barren trees of the forest gave air and scope to the vegetation of the smaller and nutritive plants of the soil.

Re: a conflict between the Frankish crusaders under Richard Coeur-de-Lion and the Moslem defenders under Saladin

Some acts of royal courtesy, the gift of snow and fruit, the exchange of Norway hawks and Arabian horses, softened the asperity of religious war: from the vicissitude of success the monarchs might learn to suspect that Heaven was neutral in the quarrel; nor, after the trial of each other, could either hope for a decisive victory.

Re: possible motivation for Charlemagne’s conquests in Germany vs. Spain and Italy, both weaker

But it has been wisely declared that, in a light of precaution, all conquest must be ineffectual, unless it could be universal; since the increasing circle must be involved in a larger sphere of hostility. [Apparently it was Galliard who made this declaration.]

But the north of Germany, from the Rhine and beyond the Elbe, was still hostile and Pagan; nor was it till after a war of thirty-three years that the Saxons bowed under the yoke of Christ and of Charlemagne. [Eight new bishoprics marked the boundaries of Saxony;] these episcopal seats were the first schools and cities of that savage land; and the religion and humanity of the children atoned, in some degree, for the massacre of the parents.

Re: Pope John XI

...his rapes of virgins and widows had deterred the female pilgrims from visiting the tomb of St. Peter, lest, in the devout act, they should be violated by his successor. The Protestants have dwelt with malicious pleasure on these characters of antichrist; but to a philosophic eye the vices of the clergy are far less dangerous than their virtues.

Re: the death of Frederic II

A crowd of princes and prelates disputed the ruins of the empire; the lords of innumerable castles were less prone to obey than to imitate their superiors; and, according the the measure of their strength, their incessant hostilities received the names of conquest or of robbery. Such anarchy was the inevitable consequence of the laws and manners of Europe; and the kingdoms of France and Italy were shivered into fragments by the violence of the same tempest.

Re: the Iconoclastic heresy

The scandal of an abstract heresy can only be proclaimed to the people by the blast of the ecclesiatical trumpet; but the most ignorant can perceive, the most torpid must feel, the profanation and downfall of their visible deities.

Re: Mohammed’s teachings

The God of nature has written his existence on all his works, and his law in the heart of man. To restore the knowledge of the one, and the practice of the other, has been the real or pretended aim of the prophets of every age...

Re: divine inspiration, especially Mohammed’s

The communication of ideas requires a similitude of thought and language; the discourse of a philosopher would vibrate, without effect, on the ear of a peasant; yet how minute is the distance of their understandings, if it be compared with the contact of an infinite and a finite mind, with the word of God expressed by the tongue and pen of a mortal?

Re: Mohammed’s congress with the wife of Zeid, his (consenting) freedman and adopted son

But, as the filial relation has excited some doubt and scandal, the angel Gabriel descended from heaven to ratify the deed, to annul the adoption, and gently to reprove the apostle for distrusting the indulgence of his God.

Re: the revolution that placed Ali on the throne

The temptation was indeed of such magnitude as might stagger and corrupt the most obdurate virtue.

The mask of patriotism is allowed to cover the most glaring inconsistencies; and the enemies, perhaps the assassins, of Othman now demanded vengeance for his blood.

Re: the final judgement, according to Islam

After the greater part of mankind has been condemned for their opinions, the true believers only will be judged by their actions.

Re: the Ommayid Caliph Abd ar-Rahman (Abdalrahman III)

In a private condition, our desires are perpetually repressed by poverty and subordination; but the lives and labors of millions are devoted to the service of a despotic prince, whose laws are blindly obeyed, and whose wishes are instantly gratified. Our imagination is dazzled by the splendid picture; and, whatever may be the cool dictates of reason, there are few among us who would obstinately refuse a trial of the comforts and the cares of royalty.

Re: Roger, great count of Sicily, nephew of Robert Guiscard

Had Roger been content with his fruitful patrimony, an happy and grateful people might have blessed their benefactor; and, if a wise administration could have restored the prosperous times of the Greek colonies, the opulence and power of Sicily alone might have equalled the widest scope that could be acquired and desolated by the sword of war. But the ambition of the great count was ignorant of these noble pursuits; it was gratified by the vulgar means of violence and artifice.

But the contemptuous treatment of his ambassadors exasperated the vanity of the new monarch; and the insolence of the Byzantine court was expiated, according to the laws of nations, by the sufferings of a guiltless people.

Re: Mahmoud the Gaznevide

From the paths of blood, and such is the history of nations, I cannot refuse to turn aside to gather some flowers of science or virtue.

Re: Pope Urban II opening the crusade to shouts from the crowd of Deus vult! (“God wills it”)

“It is indeed the will of God,” replied the pope; “and let this memorable word, the inspiration surely of the Holy Spirit, be forever adopted as your cry of battle, to animate the devotion and courage of the champions of Christ. His cross is the symbol of your salvation; wear it, a red, a bloody cross, as a pledge of your sacred and irrevocable engagement.”

So familiar, and as it were so natural, to man is the practice of violence that our indulgence allows the slightest provocation, the most disputable right, as a sufficient ground of national hostility. But the name and nature of an holy war demands a more rigorous scrutiny; nor can we hastily believe that the servants of the Prince of Peace would unsheath the sword of destruction, unless the motives were pure, the quarrel legitimate, and the necessity inevitable. The policy of an action may be determined from the tardy lessons of experience; but before we act, our conscience should be satisfied of the justice and propriety of our enterprise.

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