Page images

joy of this world; he sought to make life a harmony of the soul and the body, each life being only one note in a wider harmony of many different lives. As long as the Greek spirit sought instinctively to express itself thus, the great problem of the duty and destiny of the individual man, or the “salvation of the soul,” could hardly arise. Philosophy pondered its problems and sought to understand things, but this was just for the sake of understanding them, and not expressly “for all men's good,” which Epicurus afterwards supposed to be the chief aim of philosophic thought. On the contrary, it was pure scientific speculation, dealing with such subjects as the basis of certainty, the laws of thought, the laws of Nature, the meaning of the world. Thus the spirit of the community expressed itself, practically, in making human life free and beautiful, and yet reasonable ; and theoretically, in an intellectual interpretation of this life which was complete enough to prevent any serious discord between the speculations of the greatest thinkers and the general feeling of the time.

In a few generations more, this harmony, both on its theoretical and practical sides, was destined to be utterly broken up, and all its elements scattered abroad like dust; and the causes of this were partly external, partly internal. Turning our attention first to the latter, we notice that the free harmonious social life had in itself defects and limitations which prepared the way for its approaching fate. We observe that it was limited to the one community. The Greek could not conceive it as realised otherwise than in a small self-contained commonwealth like the one in which he lived. We observe also that even within the single State the highest life was attainable only by citizens who had leisure, and the means and opportunity of self-cultivation. The multitude of slaves, menials, and dependents had no share in it at all; and they formed the larger part of the population. Indeed, if we include these in our idea of the community, then such a State as Athens, for example, the most enlightened of Greek States, deserves to be called an “oligarchy” rather than a “republic.” We observe, finally, that the


Ideal itself, the Greek conception of the highest life as it was theoretically expressed by the philosophers, was defective. It was a combination of two ideals, an intellectual and a moral; and there is a significant difference in the places assigned to them, which may be illustrated well by reference to the teaching of Aristotle. First is placed the Ideal of Truth or the rational comprehension of things, the Ideal of man's intellectual consciousness as such. This is made of supreme worth; the life of ordinary virtue has value only as facilitating the development of Reason.

In Professor William Wallace's words, the Divine Life for Aristotle is a “ life of mental self-realisation, of philosophical truth-seeking and truth-seeing, ever successful, yet perennially interesting; justice and virtue, holiness and mercy, have no meaning here.” This intellectual Ideal is one which a man can pursue for himself alone ; it is “individualistic” in the modern sense of the word. The moral Ideal, as we have seen, could hardly be thought of by the Greek as being other than social. Plato and Aristotle are as

emphatic as St Paul in teaching that we are members one of another, that man cannot live to himself alone. Yet the idea of applying this, outside the limits of the State, was far from their thought; and within, it had little effect on the moral and religious imagination of the common people.

Bearing in mind these defects in the Greek Ideal of life, we can see the meaning of the great political changes that were to come. The conquest of the small Greek States by the Macedonian kings broke up the exclusive feeling which each community had possessed before; then, the conquest of the powerful Persian empire by the Macedonian Alexander the Great brought Greece under one government with the East; and, finally, the increasing conquests of the Roman power brought Greece and the East under one government with the West. The Greek city-states were dissipated, so to speak, as the rock-pools are by the rising tide. The bonds which had held the citizen to the small environment of his own commonwealth were cut through, and he was transplanted into an environment indefinitely



wide. The old willing, self-satisfying interest in public life could no longer exist. The new means of travel and intercourse between different lands broke up old associations and weakened patriotic ties. Man had somehow to make himself, not a citizen of a State whose territory covered a few square miles, but a citizen of the world. It could not be done. There was nothing to replace the lost feeling of brotherhood, of unity and mutual responsibility, which had prevailed among all who “ counted for something” in the life of the State; while the condition of the populace remained as before, or grew worse.

The most striking sign of the times was not the immorality and brutality which existed in parts of the Roman Empire, and of which we read so much ; for, terrible as this was, there were already forces at work tending to destroy it. What was most characteristic of the age was the breaking up of old bonds of connection which had held men together. Hence the deepest need of the age was a conception of the Divine Kingdom which would be of universal ap

« PreviousContinue »