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The Submerged Centuries.
The mass of submerged centuries lying in our Christian era is not definitely marked. No natural phenomenon comes with sharply defined borders. The earthquake at New Madrid, which drew down fifty miles of farms along the bank of our great river, made other hundreds of miles tremble. The convulsion which was so terrific at Krakatoa made the sleeping citizens awake at night six hundred miles away. Thus, the sunken spiritual period in our era cannot be marked out with any precision. By some students of history it is said to reach from the fifth century to the fifteenth. By the law of sympathy and gradation the trembling that was so loud and heavy around the wild King Clovis was not very slight around Julius Cæsar; and the jar of the houses that was so marked around Christopher Columbus was felt by the common people around Luther and Calvin. If seven centuries are said to be sunken, there is a long dragging down process visible on both sides of the gulf. If we assume the ninth century to be the bottom of this intellectual abyss, we may make the circumference of this crater to sweep around near Carthage in the times of Cleopatra, and near Geneva, in the times of Calvin. In the moral world there are no perpendicular walls of upheaval or subsidence. All borders gently slope and go slowly from flint to grass.
About three hundred years before our era, Greek statesmen began to complain that their army was composed of hired soldiers; that patriotism was a languid sentiment; that statesmen and generals could be bribed. The orator who made these charges delivered the last great speech ever made in Athens and in the Greek tongue—the speech of Demosthenes for a
Under the Latin flag, the Greek decline was somewhat arrested and literature and all wisdom reached such a height that popular poets like Virgil began to sing of a golden age. The subsequent satires of Martial and Juvenal expose the brass or cheap gilt of the Augustan period. Cicero and Cæsar and hundreds of great men had been assassinated, and slowly but surely had come the sentiment of Tacitus that it was dangerous for a man to be honorable. The Judean Star was still only a poor Jewish candle, not visible far from Nazareth. What Roman virtue and religion remained in men like the Antonines existed in the form of a gloomy stoicism. It was unable to keep alive learning and taste and enthusiasm. The young Christianity was too weak and too full of terrific days of persecution to admit of its floating the world. All the civilization of the past slowly settled, and by the fifth or sixth century the great historic races had become submerged. There had been schools of Latin and Greek. They were closed one by one for want of students and want of sympathy; and in the sixth century the last Athenian school-house closed its doors.
thinker, uttered at the end of the first century words which might have foretold such a result. He declared the army to be ruined by the theaters and the circus; that the people were a mob which stood ready to yell over any new thing, regardless of any principles the despot might represent. By the close of the fifth century that mental realm which had been powerful and beautiful from Homer to Tacitus had passed beneath the surface. A spiritual Atlantis had disappeared.
It used to be taught us in college, and afterward from the various pulpits, that Christianity came at the most opportune moment after the fall of Adam; that the Roman flag and the Roman language stood ready to carry the new religion to a hundred millions of educated people. From these popular estimates there seems now to have been too much omitted. It would have been better to make them less rosy and more true. Some facts seem overlooked ; that Christ came just in time to find a Herod who would put to death all the babes in Bethlehem, so as to be sure of
killing the right one; Christ came just in time to need an escape into Egypt; he came just in time to have his friend John beheaded to please the dancing girl of a Roman official; he came just in time to prepare young converts for the wild beasts in the amphitheatres; just in time to see noble persons made into pitch-torches for the night-shows of Nero. The prevalence of the Roman language was of little value to St. Paul, for having made his orations in the Greek tongue his head was cut off by the men who spoke Latin.
To add to the embarrassment of the new religion the existing thinkers and writers had become almost wholly transcendental and abstract. There had recently come a new charm in what was called deep thought. It was generally assumed that learning must be something much deeper than ordinary forms of thinking, and into this error ran almost the entire flock of intellectual men in Egypt, Arabia, Asia, and afterward Greece. Aristotle and Plato were injured not a little by the old custom. In Arabia, and before the Christian era, arose a delightful exercise