Murals (2008) by PHANTAST - Graffiti - Cultural Music & Art Association inc. - 98 Milne St. Benleigh

augustusTHE EXPECTANT WORLD : "When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons"( Galatians 4,4).

 In the fullness of the time our Lord was born and the Gospel entered the world. It was in part a weary word : the civil war of Rome had wearied the nations of the Mediteranean. But  there was vigour in the East, and a fresh, rude life growing, and perhaps threatening in the North. And there was a widespread yearning for a true religion.

ciceroThe days of Cicero (106 - 43B.C.) The Republic was loosing its ancient virtue. Greed, party-spirit, corrupt government were almost forcing, as inevitable, a revolutionary reform. The wolf in patrician Roman blood was reverting to his cruel nature, and the beggarly character in the plebeian was petted, thwarted and dangerous. Such nobility as the house of Scipio had charished was dissolving. A few names stand out respectably, and among these Cicero is conspicuous, and in a peculiar fashion.  His ability as a statesman may still be disputed; but we may appreciate Merivale's paradox : we judge him harshly because we think of him as a Christian. But had Cicero any religion?  In his defence of Archias the poet made this confession of faith:  "Assuredly, if the spirit of man reached not beyond the horizon of this little life, he would not toil and watch, take  noble thought, and put life itself upon the hazard. Nay, in every good man conscience is awake, impelling and testifying that name and fame are not for private brief enjoyment, but a vital debt to all generations, and memory is a mode of eternal life. It may be that after death our separate consciousness is finished. It may be, as philosophers have supposed, that some essence of selfhood survives. I know not; but I muse and hope and am content". Cicero represents the polite society of his day, to whom religion was of no account. There were state prayers and a ritual of government, patriotic in a measure but nothing more.

And yet, just at that very time Lucretius composed the most passionate religious poem in ancient literature "De rerum natura - Concept of Nature", with truly religious passion which ingenuous minds must sometimes recognize in devotees of science today. But its plain intention is negative, to clear  away the superstition of the time, the fables of the gods and their cruelties. Such denials are from time to time a necessary prelude to a revival of pure faith.

Lucretius' denial and Cicero's good example led the way to the attempt of Augustus (30B.C.- A.D. 14) to inaugurate a revival of sincere religion, enlisting Horace and Virgil in the service.

In the "Carmen Saeculare"  Horace celebrates the divine patrons of the Roman state  with a fresh enthusiasm for the Olympian cult. The Romans had borrowed that cult from the Greeks and adapted it to their own ends. It had never been very real to them,  more a set of names and symbols for duty to the state; and as the old Republican virtue waned the Olympians lost their deity. Now Horace links them with Romulus and the heroes of Roman history. But neither Olympians nor heroes filled the religious heart of Italy. There had been a 'silvan Etruria and an Italy yet innocent of Rome'. Mysterious forests, unseen guardians of farms and herds, oak trees and sacred wells, the wide sky; gods of the countryman, only half defined, with no builded temples, with sometimes hardly an individual name -  that  was the religion of the countyside, vague and gross in part malignant, but natural, reverent and real.

virgilAnd that was the religion which Virgil understood. His Aeneid did not satisfy him; when he was dying he wished it destroyed. 'Hands are outstretched with yearning for a far shore'. 'Light among the vanish'd ages... Golden branch amid the shadows... Majestic in the sadness at the doubtful doom of human kind' And Virgil was the poet of Augustus, and in the reign of Augustus, Jesus Christ the Saviour was born in Bethleem.

In the East some ancient nations were still great, so great that their pomp exercised a charm upon some Roman ambitions. Most Romans thought it a sinister charm, and a vague fear of oriental influence affected the course of imperial politics. In the Scipionic period the worship of the Great Mother of the gods, long resisted, was publicly adopted by the state. As nation after nation entered the comity of the empire its gods were patronized, and the soldiers and the multitude of Rome seem to have found in obscurer beliefs and ceremonies of the half barbarian people in Asia Minor, satisfaction for that craving for salvation which disturbed the untutored soul of the wide world in this era.

Out of the East salvation, was an oracle then in vogue.It brings to mind the Hymn of Zacharias:"Whereby the dayspring - Anatole, the Orient - shall visit us". (Every Man's Story of The New Testament, A. Nairne, London,1930) 

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