Saturday, May 28, 2011

From the Resurrection of Rome

What is to be done with the dingy and inky little people who laboriously prove to us that Christianity (if they are atheists) or Catholicism (if they are Protestants) is “only” a rehash of Paganism or borrowed its ideas from the Pagans? A man standing here in Rome is reduced to silence; he can only answer that such stupidity is stupefying. It is rather as if somebody said that Science may pretend to be independent, but it has really stolen all its facts from Nature; or that Protestants professed to be Christians, and yet filched things from the sacred books of the Jews. Science boasts of being based on Nature; and Protestants, when they were Protestants, boasted of being based on the Bible. Christian Rome boasts of being based on Pagan Rome; of surmounting and transcending, but also of preserving it. From the thousand carven throats of the city, from the hollow wreathing horns of the Tritons, from the golden mouths of the trumpets, from the jaws of flamboyant lions and the lips of rhetorical attitudinising statues, from everything that can be imagined to speak or testify, there is as it were one solid silent roar of exultation and victory: “We have saved Old Rome; we have resurrected Old Rome; we have resurrected Pagan Rome;, save that it is more Roman for not being Pagan”. There is no question of hiding the connection between the two epochs; the new epoch emphasises every point at which it touches the old. Nearly every Christian Church is carefully built on the site of a Pagan temple. In one place it distinguishes a particular church by combining the name of Maria with that of Minerva. In another place it preserves the seven niches of the Pagan Planets for seven corresponding Christian Saints. Up on the rock of the Ara Coeli the little broken altar of the temple of Augustus is carefully preserved, like a relic, inside the larger Christian building; that men may remember how even a heathen looked in that place for an altar of heaven. There is no question of the Church disguising Pagan ideas as Christian ideas, for there never was any disguise about the matter.

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