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Title: History as past ethics; an introduction to the history of morals

Author: P. V. N. Myers

Release date: April 19, 2024 [eBook #73430]

Language: English

Original publication: Boston: Ginn & Co, 1913

Credits: WebRover, Tim Lindell, Turgut Dincer and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/Canadian Libraries)






Formerly Professor of History and Political Economy in the University of Cincinnati. Author of “Ancient History,” “Mediæval and Modern History,” and “A General History”





The Athenæum Press

I. C. M.

My conviction gains infinitely
the moment another soul will
believe in it.—Novalis



This work completes the series of historical textbooks which I began more than thirty years ago. It is an expansion of a course of lectures given for several years to my advanced classes in history, and is designed as a brief introduction to the history of morals. In treating the science of morals as a branch of history my thought is, without trenching in the least upon the domain of the philosophy of morals, to make the work of the department of history more helpfully introductory than it has hitherto been to that of the department of moral philosophy. The book is the outgrowth of a conviction that the philosophy of ethics, if it shall become a stimulus and guide to social service and humanitarian effort,—especially if it shall bring reënforcement to that ethical idealism which so largely motives the present-day movement for world peace,—must be based on a knowledge of the facts of the moral life of the race in all the various stages of the historic evolution, and that to gather and systematize these facts is a part of the task of the historian, indeed the most important part of his task. It is my hope that teachers of both history and ethics may find the book helpful, whether made the basis of classroom discussion or of lecture comment.

P. V. N. M.

  College Hill
Cincinnati, Ohio


Ethics gives to History its rational goal; and all morality has the perfect shaping of universal history as its ultimate end. A real understanding of history is not possible without ethics; universal history is the realization of the moral ... within humanity.—Adolf Wuttke.

The real advance made by Thucydides consists, perhaps, in this, that he perceived the motive forces of human history to be in the moral constitution of human nature.—Leopold von Ranke.

Ethics, if it is to become truly a science, must shun the path of speculation and follow closely the historical method.... Range in fancy over the whole circle of the sciences, and you will find there no place for ethics save as a branch of human history.... Given the earliest morality of which we have any written record, to trace from it through progressive stages the morality of to-day; that is the problem, and the only problem which can fall to a truly scientific ethics.... Ethics as the comparative history of universal morality is the vestibule to the temple of moral philosophy.—Jacob Gould Schurman.



I. Institutions, Ideas, and Conditions of Life determining the Rules of Conduct 12
II. Essential Facts of Kinship or Intratribal Morality 15
III. The Beginnings of Intertribal Morality 22
I. Circumstances and Ideas which molded and motived Morality 30
II. The Ideal 33
I. Ideas, Institutions, and Historical Circumstances determining the Cast of the Moral Ideal 53
II. The Ideal 60
III. Effects of the Ideal upon Chinese Life and History 69
I. Formative and Modifying Influences 77
II. The Ideal 80
III. Some Significant Facts in the Moral History of Japan 87x
I. Historical and Speculative Basis of the System 95
II. The Various Moral Standards 101
I. The Philosophical Basis of the System 106
II. The Ideal 110
III. Some Expressions of the Ethical Spirit of Buddhism 115
I. Philosophical and Religious Ideas which created the Ethical Type 123
II. The Ideal 126
III. The Practice 131
I. The Religious Basis of Hebrew Morality 135
II. The Evolution of the Moral Ideal 140
1. The Development up to the Exile 140
2. The Morality of the Prophets of the Exile 157
3. The Moral Life in the Postexilic Age 162
I. Institutions and Ideas determining the Moral Type 169
II. The Ideal 174
III. Limitations and Defects of the Ideal 179
IV. The Moral Evolution 185xi
I. Institutions and Conditions of Life determining the Early Moral Type 212
II. The Primitive Moral Type 214
III. The Moral Evolution under the Republic 218
IV. The Moral Evolution under the Pagan Empire 231
I. Religious Ideas and Theological Dogmas molding the Ideal 256
II. The Moral Ideal 261
I. Conceptions of Life and Historical Circumstances that produced the Ascetic Ideal 267
II. The Ideal and its Chief Types 270
III. The Chief Moral Facts of the Period 272
I. Religious Basis of the Moral System 288
II. The Moral Code 289
III. The Moral Life 293
I. The Church consecrates the Martial Ideal of Knighthood 300
II. The Composite Ideal of Knighthood 306
III. The Chief Moral Phenomena of the Period 309
I. Determining Influences 320
II. Some Essential Facts in the Moral History of the Age 322xii
I. Principles of the Reformation of Ethical Import 333
II. Some Important Moral Outcomes of the Sixteenth-Century Religious Reform 334
I. Forces determining the Trend of the Ethical Movement 340
II. Expressions of the New Moral Consciousness in Different Domains of Life and Thought 344
1. The Ethics of Democracy 344
2. The Ethics of Industrialism 347
3. The Ethics of Modern Science 353
4. The Ethics of Theology 360
5. Social Ethics: the New Social Conscience 364
6. International Ethics: the New International Conscience 371




The ethical interpretation of history

Professor Freeman defined history as “past politics.” Mr. Buckle argued that the essence of the historical evolution consists in intellectual progress.1 Many present-day economists hold that the dominant forces in the historical development are economic.2 Churchmen consistently make the chief factor in history to be religion.

Whether the upholders of these several interpretations of history would have us understand them as speaking of the ultimate goal of the historic evolution, or merely of the dominant motive under which men and society act, none of these interpretations can be accepted by the student of the facts of the moral life of the race as a true reading of history. To him not only does moral progress constitute the very essence of the historic movement, but the ethical motive presents itself as the most constant and regulative force in the evolution of humanity. His chief interest in all the other factors of the historical evolution is in noting in what way and in what measure they have contributed to the growth and enrichment of the moral life of mankind.


Thus the historian of morals is deeply interested in the growth of political institutions among men, but chiefly in observing in what way these institutions have affected for good or for evil the moral life of the nation. Particularly is the progress of the world toward political unity a matter of profound concern to him, not because he regards the establishment of the world state as an end in itself, but because the universal state alone can furnish those conditions under which the moral life of humanity can most freely expatiate and find its noblest and truest expression.

It is the same with intellectual progress. The student of morals recognizes the fact that the progress of the race in morality is normally dependent upon its progress in knowledge—that conscience waits upon the intellect. But in opposition to Buckle and those of his school, he maintains that, so far from an advance in knowledge constituting the essence of a progressive civilization, this mental advance constitutes merely the condition precedent of real civilization, the distinctive characteristic of which must be a true morality. A civilization or culture which does not include this is doomed to quick retrogression and decay. As Benjamin Kidd truly observes, “When the intellectual development of any section of the race, for the time being, outruns the ethical development, natural selection has apparently weeded it out like any other unsuitable product.”3

As with the political and intellectual elements of civilization so is it with the economic. The outward forms of the moral life are, it is true, largely determined by the industry of a people; but the informing spirit of morality is the expression of an implanted faculty. It is elicited but not created by environment. No industrial order from which it is lacking can long endure. Natural selection condemns it as unfit. And this we are beginning to recognize—that economics and ethics cannot be divorced, that every great industrial3 problem is at bottom a moral problem. To the student of the ethical phase of history all social reformers from the old Hebrew prophets down to Karl Marx and Henry George are primarily moralists pleading for social justice, equity, and righteousness.

And preëminently the same is it with religion. Religion has been a great part of the life of man, and the historian of morals must be a diligent student of the religious systems of the world, but mainly because religion has been in general such a potent agency in the moral education of mankind. For it is the ethical factor in the great world religions which constitutes their universal and permanent element. “It is the function of religion to kindle moral enthusiasm in society at large.”4 “Christianity has no other function or value than as an aid to morality.”5 All the great religions of the world—Buddhism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism (reckoning historic Judaism as beginning with the great prophets of the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.), Christianity, and Islam—began as moral reforms.6

In short, in the words of Wellhausen, “Morality is that for the sake of which all other things exist; it is the alone essential thing in the world.”7 The really constructive and regulative forces in history are in truth moral ideas and convictions. And there is vast significance in this—that the ethical motive, never absent and always active, is constantly becoming more and more dominant in the processes of the historical evolution. As the ages pass there enters into history—we shall see this to be so later—an ever larger ethical4 element. Conscience becomes ever more and more involved in the personal, national, and international affairs of the world.

The history of morals in the main a record of the expansion of the circle covered by the moral feelings

Moral progress consists not so much in changes in the quality or intensity of the moral emotions, although these gain in diversity, purity, and refinement as time passes, as in the successive enlargements of the circle of persons embraced by the moral feelings.8 “It is not the sense of duty to a neighbor, but the practical answer to the question, Who is my neighbor? that has varied.”9 As we shall see when we come to examine the morality of primitive man, the moral feelings embrace at first only kinsmen, that is, the members of one’s own family, clan, or social group. All others are outside the moral pale. But gradually this circle grows larger and embraces in successive expansions the tribe, the city, the nation, and lastly humanity.

This expansion of the area covered by the moral feelings is the dominant fact in the moral history of mankind. It is the overlooking of this fact that has caused writers like Buckle to make their strange misreading of history and to maintain that though man during historic times has made immense progress on material and intellectual lines, he has made little or no progress in morality. The truth is, as we shall learn, that in no domain has progress been greater, the gains larger or more precious, than in the moral. From clan morality, based on physical kinship, mankind has advanced or is advancing to world morality, based on the ethical kinship of men. This is the one increasing purpose running through all history—the creation of a moral order embracing the whole human race.

Sources for the history of morals

The facts for a history of morals must be sought chiefly outside the literature of ethical theory and speculation. They5 must be looked for in the customs, laws, institutions, mythologies, literatures, maxims, and religions of the different races, peoples, and ages of history.10 In all these there is always an ethical element; often this forms their very essence. “In every sentence of the penal code,” as the moralist Wilhelm Wundt remarks, “there speaks the voice of an objective moral conscience.” In truth all law codes, whether civil or criminal, are essentially nothing more nor less than the embodiment of man’s conceptions of what is just and unjust. Mythologies, literatures, and philosophies are charged with moral sentiment. In religion there struggle for utterance the deepest moral feelings and convictions of the human soul.

The moral ideal

The moral life fulfills itself in many ways. Every age and every race has its own moral type or ideal.11 This, as we shall use the term, may be defined as a group of virtues held in esteem by a given people or a given age. It is the accepted standard of conduct, of excellence, of character. This ideal may be a very simple thing, embracing only a few rudimentary virtues, as in the case of peoples on the lower levels of culture; or it may be a very complex thing, embracing many and refined virtues, as in the case of civilized societies in which the mutual relationships of the members are many and various.


The history of morals is in the main an account of moral ideals or types.12 Indeed so large is the part that these have played in the growth and decay of races and civilizations that universal history may be defined quite accurately as “the paleontology of moral ideals.”13

There is one thing about a moral ideal which sets it apart from all other ideals. It possesses a unique dynamic force. All ideals, it is true, have in them the impulsion to their embodiment in reality. But in a moral ideal there is the added imperative of conscience. There speaks from it the majestic voice of duty, demanding that the ideal be made actual in the life of the individual and of society. It is this that has made moral ideals such molding and constructive forces in history.

Composite moral ideals or types

There is a striking analogy between the different types of moral character and the different types of human beauty. Thus corresponding to the great types of masculine and feminine beauty there are masculine and feminine types of moral excellence. And then, just as the elements of the two chief types of feminine beauty, the blond and the brunette, combine to form a great variety of mixed or composite types, so do the elements of the chief types of goodness blend into many composite types of character.14

There is no more instructive chapter in the history of morals than that which has to do with the formation of these composite ethical types, since these are often the most significant results of those great race collisions and comminglings7 which make up so much of the history of the past; for when races meet and mingle they blend not only their blood but also their consciences. There appears not only a new physical man but also a new moral man.

Thus the fusion of races in Europe has resulted in a great fusion of moralities. The conscience of Europe is a very composite one, including Greek, Roman, Hebraic, Celtic, Gothic, and Slavonic elements. This heterogeneous conscience, so different, for instance, from the comparatively homogeneous conscience of ancient Egypt and of China, has been the most important factor in the life and civilization of the European people. It is largely because Europe has been constantly getting a new conscience that its history has been so disturbed and so progressive, just as it is largely because China has had the same Confucian conscience for two thousand years and more, that her history has been so uneventful and unchanging.

Causes which determine and which modify the moral type

Though every race and every age, since man is by nature a moral being, must have some type or standard of moral goodness, still the cast and content of this type is determined by a great variety of circumstances, such as the stage of intellectual development, the physical environment, social and political institutions, occupation, and speculative and religious ideas.15

The stage of intellectual development of a given society determines in general whether the moral standard shall be high or low. Peoples still on the level of savagery must necessarily have a very simple moral code, embracing only a few rudimentary virtues. As a people or race progresses in intelligence and the mental horizon widens, the moral sense becomes clarified and the moral standard comes to embrace new and refined virtues, corresponding to the larger and truer8 mental life; for, speaking broadly, there is a general coincidence between intellectual and moral growth. To create a new intellectual life is to create a new moral life.16

Physical environment is also a potent agency in determining the cast of the moral type. Thus the hot depressing climate and the prodigality of nature in the tropics foster the passive, quietistic virtues; while the harsher and more grudging nature of the temperate regions favors the development of the active, industrial virtues. The strongly contrasted moral types of the peoples of the tropic regions of the earth and those of the temperate lands may without reasonable doubt be ascribed, in part at least, to differences in the climatic and other physical influences to which these peoples have been subjected through long periods of time.

More positively influential in the formation of moral ideas and feelings are social institutions. Thus the place which a whole group of moral qualities that we designate as domestic virtues are assigned in the ethical standard is determined by the place which circumstances may have given the family in the social organism. In ancient Sparta, for example, where certain influences subordinated the family in an unusual degree to the state, the family virtues held a very low place, indeed scarcely any place at all, in the moral ideal; while in China, where certain notions of the relation of the spirits of the dead members of the family to its living members created a remarkable solidarity of the family group, the domestic virtues, and among them preëminently the virtue of filial piety, came to determine the entire cast of the general ideal of goodness.

Government is another potent agency in molding the moral type. Patriarchal monarchy and popular government tend each to nourish a distinct morality, so that we speak of the9 ethics of monarchy and the ethics of democracy. As time passes, governments, speaking broadly, become constantly more and more ethical in aim and purpose, and hence act more and more dynamically upon the moral evolution. The greatest force making for a truer and higher morality in the world to-day is political democracy.17

More effective than any of the agencies thus far mentioned in determining the moral code of a people is occupation. “Man’s character,” as the economist Alfred Marshall truly affirms, “has been molded by his everyday work ... more than by any other influence unless it be that of his religious ideals.”18 Every occupation develops a characteristic group of virtues. This is especially true of agriculture. “The cultivation of the soil,” says Wedgwood, “cultivates much besides—it molds ideals, implants aspirations, creates permanent tendencies. It gives, where it is the predominant industry, to the character of a people its moral stamp.”19

Finally we mention religion as the most potent of all agencies in the molding of the moral type.20 Religion has been the great schoolmaster in the moral education of the race. It is true that religion has to go to school itself in morals before it10 can become a schoolmaster. That is to say, religion in its beginnings is in the main unethical. In its lower manifestations it is hardly more than a system of incantations and sorcery. One of the most important facts of the moral history of the race is the gradual moralization of man’s at first unethical conception of the gods, and the rise out of the unethical religions of primitive times of the great ethical world religions.

In what virtue or moral goodness consists

Having defined ethical ideals and noted the agencies determining their cast and content, we may now seek an answer, in terms of the ethical ideal, to the question, In what does moral goodness consist? All the truly great seers and moral teachers of the race have here the same word for us, and it is this: Do the thing thou seest to be good; realize thy ideal. In the words of Sabatier, “The essential thing in the world is not to serve this ideal or that, but with all one’s soul to serve the ideal which one has chosen.” Such loyalty to one’s ideal is moral goodness.21 This imperative of conscience that one be true and loyal to the best one knows is the only thing absolute and categorical in the utterance of the moral faculty.

Every age must be judged by its own moral standard

“A man must learn a great deal,” says Marcus Aurelius, “to enable him to pass a correct judgment on another man’s acts.”22 And among the things which he must first learn is this—that the men of every age have their own standard of excellence and that they can be judged fairly only by their own code of morals.23 It is largely because of the general ignorance11 of the history of moral ideals that there is so much uncharitableness in the world, so much intolerance, so much race prejudice and hatred. As one’s intellectual outlook broadens, as he becomes acquainted with the various types of goodness of different peoples and different ages, he becomes more liberal and charitable in his moral judgments, since he comes to understand that moral character is determined not by the ideal of conduct but by the way in which this ideal is lived up to. “There may be as genuine self-devotion,” declares the moralist Professor Green, “in the act of the barbarian warrior who gives his life that his tribe may win a piece of land from its neighbors, as in that of the missionary who dies in carrying the gospel to the heathen.”24

Studying the ideals of races and epochs in the spirit of these words, we shall make some fruitful discoveries. We shall learn for one thing that since the beginning of the truly ethical age there has ever been about the same degree of conscientiousness in the world; that the different ages, viewed in respect to their moral life, have differed chiefly in the degree of light they have enjoyed, and consequently in their conceptions of what is noblest in conduct, of what constitutes duty, not in their fealty or lack of fealty to their chosen standard of excellence. That is to say, speaking broadly, the majority of men in every age and in every land have ever followed loyally the right as they have been given to see the right.25 “If men and times were really understood,” the historian Von Holst truly observes, “the moral fault of their follies and crimes will almost always appear diminished by one half.”



The kinship group

The most important social product of the human evolution on the lower levels of civilization was the patriarchal family or clan. This community of kinsfolk is the great history-making group. It was the seed plot and nursery not only of almost every social and political institution of the historic peoples, but of their morality as well. In the bosom of this group were born and nurtured the chief of those affections and sentiments into which enters an ethical element and which form the basis of the moral life.26

The fundamental bond uniting this group was the bond of blood. The members of the group were, or believed themselves to be, the actual descendants of a common ancestor. It was this tie of blood, this physical relationship real or assumed, that rendered the clan such a closely knit body and created its feeling of corporate oneness. “The members of one kindred,” says W. Robertson Smith in describing this characteristic of the Semitic clan, “looked on themselves as one living whole, a single animated mass of blood, flesh, and bones, of which no member could be touched without all the members suffering.... If one of the clan has been murdered,13 they say ‘Our blood has been shed.’”27 Compared with this sense of solidarity as it is found among certain of the negro clans in Africa, the feeling of solidarity of the family among European peoples “is thin and feeble.”28

It was this corporate consciousness of the primitive clan that created its moral solidarity. It naturally called into existence those altruistic sentiments that formed the ground out of which grew man’s earliest feelings of moral obligation.

The religious bond​— ​ancestor worship

There was a second bond uniting the members of the kinship group. They were united not only by the ties of physical kinship but also by the bonds of a common cult. This was the worship of ancestors. To realize the ethical educative value of this worship we must recall the remarkable constitution of the clan. This group of kinsmen has a visible and an invisible side. There are the earthly members of the group and the spirit members—the souls of the dead. These spirit members are the protectors of the little group, the punishers of wrongdoing, the conservators of morals. Among the most sacred duties of the earthly members are the duties they owe to these spirit members; for these spirits have need of many things, especially of meat and drink at the grave, and it is the duty of their earthly kinsmen to supply all these wants. The earth group is thus enveloped in a sort of sacred atmosphere, and in this atmosphere are nurtured those ethical sentiments which form the most precious product of history.

As an agency in the moralizing of the life of the race it would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of ancestor worship. To no other form of religion, save ethical monotheism, does morality owe so large a debt. In this cult religion and morality are at one almost at the outset,29 whereas in14 nature cults, or the cults of nature gods, it is generally only at a late period that these elements are united. It was this cult of ancestors which formed the basis of an essential part of the morality of the Greeks and Romans, particularly the latter, at the first appearance of these peoples in history, and which to-day, as the chief religion of the Chinese, Japanese, and other peoples of the Far East, fosters the best virtues of a third of the human race.

Conceptions of the god world

Another influence determining the moral code of primitive man is his ideas of the god world. It is true that the conceptions formed of the gods by the untutored mind are for the most part crude and unethical. But man ever makes and remakes his gods in his own image; therefore as soon as an ethical element begins to enter into his own life he begins to moralize the character of his gods. At this stage the god world begins to react favorably upon the moral life of man. The gods are now conceived as taking notice of the conduct of men and as approving certain acts as right and disapproving certain other acts as wrong. Especially are they believed to punish atrocious crimes, such as the slaying of a kinsman and the breaking of the word sworn by the oath-god. In this way primitive man’s ideas of deity react favorably upon his morality.

The gods further advance morality by being invoked as the witnesses and guardians of treaties between clans and tribes. By thus giving an added sanctity to solemn engagements mutually entered into by communities they widen the moral domain and become the promoters of intertribal morality.30

The fact that competition is between communities and not between individuals

In nothing perhaps does primitive society differ more widely from modern than in the fact that the competition15 or struggle for existence is between communities and not between individuals. Within the kinship group life is almost wholly communistic. There is practically no competition between the individuals of the community such as characterizes societies advanced in civilization. The only real competition is that between communities. And here the struggle for existence or for superiority is generally habitual and ruthless, often being carried to the point of the complete destruction of one of the competing communities.

These conditions of existence have vast significance for morality. Just as the individual competition in cultured societies molds an essential part of their moral code, so does the group competition of races still in the clan or tribal stage of civilization determine what qualities of character shall be developed among them. As we shall see in a moment, it makes them strong in the clan virtues.

The life of primitive peoples largely unmoral

As students of morals our chief interest in primeval man as he emerges from the obscurity of prehistoric times is not concerning the degree of skill he has developed in making his weapons or in constructing for himself a shelter, nor concerning what advance he has made in the arts of weaving and pottery, nor yet concerning what kind of social arrangements he has worked out; our main interest in this primeval man as he appears on the threshold of the historic day is not concerning these or any like things, but rather respecting what kind of a conscience has grown up within him during those long prehistoric ages of struggle, privation, watch and ward.

The first fact that compels our notice here is that the life of the savage is largely unmoral.31 His activities to secure16 food, shelter, and clothing arise from purely animal impulses, such as hunger and cold. Into all of these activities, however, there enters as time passes an ethical element.32 The economic life, in a word, comes more and more under the dominance of moral feelings and motives.33 Conscience becomes more and more involved in all these matters. This gradual moralization of these at first nonmoral activities of primitive man constitutes one of the most important phases of the moral evolution of the race.

The “goodness” of uncivilized races largely a negative goodness

A second fact in the moral life of savages that claims our attention is that much that is counted unto them for “goodness” is a purely negative goodness. Failure in discrimination here often results in a wrong estimate of their morality as compared with that of advanced communities. Thus in portraying the manners and customs of primitive peoples, some writers, like Tacitus in his account of the early German folk, laud their morals as superior to those of civilized men. This opinion is based rather on the absence among such peoples of the usual vices and crimes of civilized societies than on the practice by them of the higher positive virtues.34 But the absence of the vices which characterize civilization is to be explained, of course, by the simpler organization of society and the fewer temptations to wrongdoing.17 Thus the single circumstance that the institution of individual property has not yet come into existence, or at least has not as yet received any great extension, accounts for the comparative absence of crimes against property, which constitute probably the greater number of criminal acts in civilized society.

The true starting point of the historic ethical development

But notwithstanding that so much of the life of primitive man is lived on the nonmoral plane, and that much which is reckoned unto him for goodness is merely negative goodness, still in certain of his activities growing out of his clan relationships we discover the beginnings of all human morality. For as we have already said, the true starting point of the moral evolution of mankind is to be sought in the altruistic sentiments nourished in the atmosphere of the kinship group. There is scarcely an ethical sentiment which does not appear here at least in a rudimentary form. Out of the most sacred and intimate relationships of the group we find springing up the maternal virtues of patience, tenderness, and self-denial,35 and the filial virtues of love, obedience, and reverence; out of the fellowship of the men in hunting and in war36 we see developing the manly virtues of courage, fortitude, self-control, and, above all, self-devotion to the common good; out of the hearth worship of ancestors37 we observe springing up many of those religious-ethical feelings and sentiments which form one of the chief moral forces in civilization; out of the sacrificial meal shared with the gods and the spirits of the dead through offerings of portions of the food and drink, we see18 forming customs of incalculable moral value in the ethical training of the race.38 A great part of the history of morals consists in the record of how these earliest forms of social virtues, first nourished by the customs, habits, and practices of the kinship group, have been gradually refined and developed into wider and richer forms of ethical sentiment and feeling.

Custom as the maker of group morality

There is one special feature of this germinal morality to which our attention must now be directed. It is what is often called customary morality. That is to say, the standard of right and wrong in the kinship community is custom. Custom is the lawgiver, and morality consists in following custom. The individual, in a word, follows the tribal or group conscience rather than the dictates of his own conscience. Indeed there is practically no such thing here as a private conscience. Individualism has not yet arisen. No one ordinarily has private notions of right and wrong which he feels impelled to set up against the immemorial customs and usages of the community.39

But there is really nothing in this fact which sets this nascent morality apart from our own. It differs from ours not in kind but only in degree. The morality of the masses is still largely customary morality. Most persons in their social relations, in business, and in religion, follow unthinkingly the tribal conscience, that is, the conventional morality of the society of which they are members, rather than their own individual sense of right and wrong. “Reflective morality” is still the morality of the few. The ever-renewed moral task of man is to change the customary tribal conscience into a reflective individual conscience.

Collective responsibility

There is still another phase of the incipient morality of the kinship group which claims our attention because of its19 significance for the history of the evolution of morals. It is a group morality, that is, a morality based on the idea of collective responsibility.

This conception presents one of the most striking phenomena in the history of the moral evolution of mankind. Among peoples in the earlier stages of moral development the family or clan group rather than the individual is regarded as the ethical unit, and the act of any member of this group, when such act concerns a member or members of another social group, is looked upon as the act of the whole body to which he belongs.40 For the wrongdoing of one all are held responsible.41

This group morality, with which the true history of the unfolding moral consciousness of the race begins, we shall meet with as a sort of survival in every stage of the moral progress of humanity from the lowest to the highest level of culture. “It is,” in the words of Hobhouse, “one of the dominant facts, if not the dominant fact, ethically considered, in the evolution of human society.”42 The account of that slow change in the moral consciousness of man which has gradually caused group morality, in most spheres of life and thought, to give place to individual morality, that is, to that conception of moral responsibility which holds every man responsible for his own act, and only for his own act, makes up one of the most instructive chapters in the moral history of the world.4320 We shall find significant survivals of this idea of collective responsibility, particularly in the religious domain. In truth, a large part of religious history is nothing more nor less than an account of the influence and outworkings of this notion. Men making their gods like unto themselves have imagined them as acting on this principle of communal responsibility, and as bringing upon a whole people pestilence, famine, war, or other calamity in revenge or punishment for some neglect in worship or act of sacrilege on the part of perhaps a single member of the tribe or nation.

By the early Fathers of the Church this idea of collective responsibility, embodied in the doctrine of the imputation of the guilt of the transgression of the first man Adam to all his descendants to the end of the world, was given a prominent place in Christian theology and has been a great force in molding the morality of the Western world.

Again, we find this idea of group morality embodied in the war ethics of the modern nations, which, regarded from one point of view, is largely group ethics, that is to say, the survival in the domain of international relations of ethical ideas that had their birth on the low intellectual and moral levels of barbarism.

As we follow the upward trend of the lines of the moral evolution of the race we shall hear louder and louder protests against this notion of communal responsibility, especially when this form of human morality has been transferred to the heavens and made a fundamental principle of the divine government.

The duty of revenge; the blood feud

In primitive society if a man slay a kinsman, he is punished by outlawry, that is, by expulsion from the family or clan.44 The story of Cain, the first murderer of a kinsman in21 Hebrew legend, is typical.45 If, however, a member of a clan is slain by an outsider, it is the duty of the nearest kinsman of the person killed, or of the collective body of his kinsfolk, to kill in revenge the slayer or some relative of his.46 To ignore this obligation or to forgive the slayer of one’s kinsman is regarded as base and cowardly.

As, through the advance of society, the ties of the clan become relaxed and this group becomes more and more perfectly merged with the larger group of the tribe or state of which it has become a part, and justice comes to be administered by the tribal head or by regular tribunals, then blood revenge on the part of the kinsmen of the slain gradually ceases to be a duty and private vengeance becomes a crime. But this is a slow evolution, and within societies far advanced in civilization we often find belated groups still following with good conscience the ancient custom of blood revenge. The vendetta in Italy and the feud in some sections of our Southern states47 are survivals or degenerate forms of this primitive virtue.

The Lex talionis

Closely related to the punishment of homicide in primitive society is punishment of lesser offenses, especially the infliction of bodily injury, within the social group. Here, too, private vengeance rules. The person wronged or injured inflicts such punishment upon the offender as passion or resentment may dictate. As time passes, however, and the sense of justice grows more discriminating, there are limits set to this private vengeance. There is established what is called the rule of equivalence. The avenger is not allowed to wreak upon the offender indiscriminate and unmeasured punishment, but22 is restricted to the infliction upon him of exactly such injury and pain as he has inflicted upon his victim. Hence arose the Lex talionis, limb for limb, eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.48 This regulation thus registers an advance in moral feeling, and may be regarded as probably the first rule of the criminal code of the nations.

The virtue of courage; its altruistic element

In early society those virtues are most highly esteemed which are of service to the clan or tribe. Thus courage comes to hold a first place among the virtues. What is especially important to be noted here is that under courage is hidden the virtue of self-sacrifice, which we give the highest place in our ideal of character. It is this altruistic element in courage which lends to it its real ethical quality. In primitive society this virtue finds expression chiefly in the ready self-devotion of the individual in battle for the common good.

Throughout pagan antiquity this virtue held a central place in practically every ideal of excellence. In the words of Robertson Smith, “This devotion to the common weal was, as every one knows, the mainspring of ancient morality and the source of all the heroic virtues of which ancient history presents so many illustrious examples.”49

Primitive man’s double standard of morality

The accounts given by travelers and observers of the morals of savages often present a perplexing contrariety of opinion. Some writers represent such people as absolutely without a moral sense, while others, as has already been remarked, hold them up as models for imitation by ourselves.

This contrariety in view results in part from an overlooking of the fact, just pointed out, that the moral goodness of23 the savage is largely a negative goodness, but chiefly from a failure to observe that the shield has two sides, that is to say, that savages have a double standard of morality—one standard regulating conduct within the social group, and another regulating conduct toward outsiders. Thus the command, “Thou shalt not kill,” means to the savage merely that he shall not kill a kinsman. It has in his mind no application to strangers, just as in our minds it has no application to animals.

It is the same in regard to lying. Savages in general have a high regard for truthfulness, as they understand this virtue. The plighted word among them is probably as sacredly kept as by the average of civilized men.50 The repute of many savage folk for untruthfulness comes about from the fact that they do not think that a stranger has any right to the truth. “Among themselves,” writes Professor Starr of certain Congo tribes, “lying is not commended and truth is appreciated; but to deceive a stranger or a white man is commendable.”51

And so it is with stealing. Many uncivilized peoples are charged, and in a certain sense rightly, with making of theft a virtue. But it must be borne in mind that to the savage all persons not members of his own group are strangers and enemies. To steal from such is looked upon as a most praiseworthy exploit, while to steal from the members of one’s own group is regarded as a crime.52

This dual morality a survival in civilization

Now the important thing to note here is that this double morality is not something peculiar to the ethics of savages.24 This dualism runs through the whole moral history of the race, from the beginning to the present day, and constitutes one of the most important facts in the moral evolution of humanity. We too, like the savage, have our double standard of morality. The chief difference between us and the savage is this: he puts his double standard in practice all the time, we only occasionally. On occasion we fling aside our ordinary standard of morality, lift the savage’s war standard, and then like the savage lie and steal and kill—outside the tribe. To deceive the stranger now is commendable; to steal from him proper and right; to kill him a glorious exploit.

The great task of this century is to put an end to this scandal of civilization, to teach men the oneness and universality of the moral law, to get them to understand that right and wrong are right and wrong everywhere—outside the tribe as well as within.

The history of intertribal or international morality, then, is the record of its gradual assimilation to intratribal morality.53 It is a record of how the stranger, the outsider, has come, or is coming, to be regarded as a kinsman, as a neighbor.

Hospitality, or the guest right; the first step beyond kinship morality54

The duty of hospitality, to which a high place is assigned in the code of primitive peoples, shows morality taking a step, the first step, beyond the narrow circle of the original group of kinsmen. As we have seen, in the beginning the feeling of duty and obligation is restricted to the little group of fellow clansmen or tribesmen. Every one outside this social circle is an enemy, and is without rights. But necessity forces men to go beyond the limits of their own clan or tribe, and in time there grows up a rule that the defenseless stranger shall be kindly received, entertained for a certain period, and then allowed to depart unharmed. It is easy to see how among25 clans scattered thinly over a wide territory, and where the earlier isolation is beginning to be broken by trade relations, this duty of hospitality should come to be regarded as a very sacred one, and the person of the stranger guest as inviolable.55

Thus in the development of the guest right we see morality broadening, the circle of moral obligation enlarged, and the stranger, ordinarily counted as an enemy and as rightless, brought for a moment within the sacred pale of ethical sentiment and duty.56 A new ground of moral obligation other than that of kinship has been established. Morality is now something more than clan morality. We witness the rise of intertribal morality. The first step in the moral unification of the human race has been taken.

Beginnings of the ethics of war

Even in the domain of war we discover traces of the awakening of an intertribal conscience in races that are still in what we may regard as the kinship stage of culture. Speaking broadly, primitive man, whose chief occupations are hunting and fighting,57 makes no distinction between war and the hunt. All persons not belonging to his own group are regarded by him just as he regards wild game. In his efforts to kill or capture them, all means are right. Once in his power, he may do with them as he likes; he may make26 slaves of them, he may torture them, or he may eat their flesh as he would that of animals taken in the chase. Conscience lays upon him not the least restraint. Only slowly do the moral feelings make conquests in this province.

One of the earliest mitigations of the barbarities of primitive warfare is probably to be found in the discontinuance of the practice of eating the bodies of the slain.58 It is this practice of cannibalism as a concomitant of war by peoples in the earlier stages of their development that perhaps more than any other circumstance gives such a repellent aspect to human life on the lower levels of culture. But as Montaigne observes, the wrong consists in killing men, not in eating them after they are dead59—a very just observation, and one which should awaken reflection in us who, while piously abstaining from eating our enemies, still persist in killing them.

The discontinuance of the practice of cannibalism—the practice seems invariably to be left behind by all peoples as soon as they have made any considerable advance in civilization60—may with little hesitation be attributed in part at least27 to the growth and refinement of the moral feelings. In one case at least we have historical evidence that among a wide reach of savage tribes the custom was abolished by the action of a more civilized people, who did just what the more advanced European nations, under the impulsion of moral feeling, are doing in regard to the slave trade and cannibalism in Africa to-day. The Incas of Peru, before granting to conquered tribes terms of peace, forced them to abandon the practice of cannibalism.61

The disuse of poisoned arrows marks another significant mitigation of a common barbarity of early warfare. We know that in the Greek world by the opening of the historic period there were communities that had come to look on the use of poisoned weapons with abhorrence, and to regard the practice as a crime that aroused the anger of the gods. Thus Homer represents Ilus of Ephyra, when asked by Odysseus for the fatal poison wherewith to smear the tips of his arrows, as refusing his request because he feared the immortal gods.62

In these mitigations and prohibitions of the barbarities of war on the lower levels of savagery we have probably the earliest articles of the war code of the nations. They mark the first steps taken in the humanization of war. They indicate the birth of those sympathetic and moral feelings which, though of painfully slow growth and of intermittent action, have during the course of the historic ages effected great ameliorations of the cruelties of primitive warfare, and foreshadow a time when war between civilized nations shall have become an inconceivable thing.

The reaction of intertribal upon intratribal morality

There is a heart of good in things evil. Even the habitual intertribal wars of primitive communities contain a germ of28 good. The pressure exerted by these life-and-death struggles upon the clan or tribe has a good effect upon the inner relationships of the group. Many of the social virtues, such as loyalty to comrades and self-devotion to the common weal, are called into constant and keen activity. For this reason we usually find these social virtues well developed among peoples in the clan or tribal stage of civilization. Such peoples may even be stronger in these special virtues than civilized peoples.

But there is another side to this. Intertribal wars, though they may in the very earliest stages of human culture be positively promotive of some of the social virtues, in later and more advanced stages exert a decidedly unfavorable influence upon the moral development. The low backward standard of intertribal ethics, reacting upon the higher and more advanced intratribal standard, tends to make it like unto itself. As Spencer expresses it, the life of internal amity is assimilated to the life of external enmity. “Taken in the mass the evidence shows,” he says, “as we might expect, that in proportion as intertribal and international antagonisms are great and constant, the ideas and feelings belonging to the ethics of enmity predominate; and conflicting as they do with the ideas and feelings belonging to the ethics of amity proper to the internal life of a society, they in greater or less degree suppress these, or fill with aggressions the conduct of man to man.”63 Thus tribes engaged habitually in war are characterized by the frequency of homicide within the group. Tribes that regard the robbery of strangers as honorable come to regard stealing within the tribe as irreproachable.64 Revengefulness, inhumanity, and untruthfulness within each tribe characterize warlike communities.65 On the other hand, peaceful tribes are characterized by their superior intratribal morality. Tribes among whom war is29 infrequent or unknown are scrupulously honest.66 Among such people crimes of violence are rare.67

Thus war, a heritage (as a phase of the “struggle for existence”) of the human from the lower animal world, becomes early in the human stage of the cosmic evolution a drag upon the moral progress of the race.68



A homogeneous population and a comparatively static civilization

Egypt was the China of the ancient Mediterranean world. Like the Chinese, the Egyptians were a comparatively unmixed people. During the historic period no new elements of importance were incorporated with the native population. Again, like the civilization of China, that of Egypt throughout a great part of the historic age was singularly static. After having made wonderful advance in early times the Egyptians ceased to make further noteworthy progress.

Both these fundamental facts of Egyptian history had great significance for Egyptian morals; for since when races mingle their blood they mingle also their moralities, it is a matter of supreme importance to the moral life of a people whether on the one hand it has, as the centuries have passed, undergone a change in physical type through the incorporation of new racial elements, or on the other hand has preserved unchanged its racial type and physical characteristics.

Equally important for the moral ideal is it whether the civilization of which it forms one element is progressive or unprogressive; for changes in the moral standard are largely dependent on changes in the other elements of civilization. Where the intellectual life and the religious ideas remain unmodified, and where all political, social, and industrial institutions remain essentially unchanged, we need not look for fundamental changes in ethical ideas and convictions. How31 the history of conscience in ancient Egypt illustrates these truths we shall see a little further on.

The teaching that immortality is conditioned on righteousness

We have seen how potent an influence the notion of a life beyond the tomb exercised upon the conduct of the members of the primitive kinship group, giving birth to some of the noblest virtues of their simple code of morals. Now this idea of continued existence after death dominated the life of no other civilized people of antiquity so completely as it dominated the life of the Egyptians; and probably in the case of no other people ancient or modern has the belief exerted so profound an influence upon conduct. This was so for the reason that the conception was here early moralized and represented the blessed life in the hereafter as dependent upon rightdoing in the present life. No soul that had done evil was admitted to the bark of the ferryman at the Egyptian Styx. In this discrimination we find “the earliest traces in the history of man of an ethical test at the close of life.”69

The ethical qualities of the sun-god Ra

It is the sun-god Ra who in the remotest times is most intimately associated with these moral requirements for participation in the felicities of the celestial hereafter. The latest reading and analysis of the texts of the Pyramid Age has thrown new light upon the relations of the rival divinities Ra and Osiris to the development of the moral consciousness in ancient Egypt. In his latest work Professor Breasted says: “The later rapid growth of ethical teaching in the Osiris faith and the assumption of the rôle of judge by Osiris is not yet discernible in the Pyramid Age, and the development which made these elements so prominent in the Middle Kingdom took place in the obscure period after the development of the Pyramid Age. Contrary to the conclusions generally accepted at present, it was the sun-god ... who was the earliest champion of moral worthiness and the great judge in the hereafter.”70


The conception of Ra as the righteous judge, as the father and protector of the reigning Pharaoh, and as the guardian divinity of the Egyptian state, influenced profoundly the moral development in prefeudal Egypt, and was seemingly the inspiration of the great social reform movement which marked the history of the Eleventh and Twelfth Dynasties. In the words of Professor Breasted, “The moral obligations emerging in the Solar theology thus wrought the earliest social regeneration and won the earliest battle for social justice of which we know anything in history.”71

Religious dualism

In our introductory chapter we spoke of the influence of physical environment upon the moral life of a people. The history of the formation of the ethical type of ancient Egypt affords an excellent illustration of this; for it was probably out of the striking physical dualism of the Egyptian lands—the antagonism between the life-giving Nile and the ever-encroaching desert—that grew Egyptian religious dualism, embodied in the myth of the struggle between Osiris and Set.72 At first the tale was a pure nature myth reflecting simply the conflict between two physical elements; but as the moral consciousness of the people who recited the story deepened, there was gradually read into it an ethical meaning. The conflict was now conceived as a mighty struggle between the powers of good and evil, between the beneficent Osiris (and his son and avenger, Horus) and the malignant Set.73

This world philosophy reacted powerfully upon Egyptian morality, keeping as it did in the foreground of the moral consciousness the truth that the moral life is a battle against evil. “The triumph of right over wrong ... is the burden of nine tenths of the Egyptian texts which have come down to us.”74


The Osirian myth in its special development

Acted upon by the moral feelings, the Osirian myth underwent a special development. It came to represent not simply the eternal opposition between good and evil, but the whole moral order of the present and the future world. It told of the beneficent life of Osiris as king of Egypt, his death and resurrection, and of his office as king and judge in the realms of the dead.

After having been given this rich moral content, the myth reacted powerfully upon the moral consciousness and became a chief agency in the formation of the moral character of the Egyptian race. Osiris, as reflected in the Osirian myth, became the incarnation of the ethical ideal. It is a great advantage to morality when the ideal of goodness is thus embodied in a divine exemplar. Osiris held some such relation to the moral life of ancient Egypt as Christ holds to the moral life of the Christian world.

A homogeneous and unchanging conscience

By the dawn of history there had been developed in ancient Egypt an enlightened and discriminating conscience.75 There are two aspects of this conscience which we need to note. First, it was a comparatively homogeneous conscience; that is, the morality of the ancient Egyptians was not a mixture of moralities like that of the modern European nations whose morality is a blend of the moralities of different races—Greek, Roman, Celtic, and Teutonic; of different religions—pagan and Christian; and of different civilizations—Greek, Latin, Celtic, and German.

Second, it was a comparatively unchanging conscience. The moral consciousness which we find in pre-Christian Roman Egypt is fundamentally the same as that which emerged in the Pyramid Age more than three thousand years34 before. During this long period the Egyptian conscience, although it gained in depth and sensitiveness as the millenniums passed, underwent less change in its essential qualities than the moral consciousness underwent in less than ten centuries in all the other great nations, save China, of the ancient world.

Evidences of moral progress during early times

But though the moral development, like the development of all other phases of Egyptian civilization, was early checked and thereafter made but slow progress, the essential refinement and clarification of the moral sense during prehistoric times, or in the obscure period of the earliest dynasties, is shown by various testimonies, as, for instance, in the moralization of the Osirian myth, to which we have already referred, in the abandonment of the practice of human sacrifices at the tomb, and in the transition, concerning the conception of the life after death, from the continuance to the retribution theory.

Substitution of ka-statues for human sacrifices

The early Egyptians, after the manner of savages, killed and buried with the dead master a number of his slaves, that their souls might attend him in the spirit land. But after a time the growing humanitarian and ethical feelings of the Egyptians forbade human sacrifices, and then merely the portrait-statues of the slaves were placed in the tomb.76 These, it was thought,—in consonance with the belief which led to the substitution of pictures or of clay and wood models for the real articles at first buried with the dead,—would take the place of the actual bodies of the servants.

But as time passed, the deepening moral feelings of the Egyptians would not permit them to do even this thing. It did not now seem right to them that because a man was a slave in the earthly Egypt he should be a slave forever in the Osirian fields.77 So they ceased to place in the tomb of the35 master these portrait-statues of his servants, and in their stead put in statuettes of nobody in particular. The doubles of these, it was conceived, would appear as newly created souls in the underworld, and, being indebted for life itself to the master of the tomb, would, it was naïvely assumed, gratefully labor for him through all eternity.78

The history of the ka-statues, as these substitutes are called, thus bears testimony similar to that of the Osirian myth as to the upward trend of ethical thought and humanitarian feeling in prehistoric Egypt.79

Transition from the continuance to the retribution theory

Still further evidence of the advance on moral lines in early Egypt is afforded by the character of the belief held by the Egyptians at the beginning of the second millennium B.C. and perhaps earlier respecting the fate of souls in the world beyond the tomb. To understand this we need to cast our glance a little aside and observe how the world of shades, in its social and ethical classifications, has ever been a register of the changing moral feelings of men. As Oscar Peschel finely says, “The other world has ever answered to this as spectrum to the source of light.”

Edward B. Tylor happily names the two chief theories which have been held in regard to the state of souls in the hereafter as the continuance and the retribution theory. The first theory is that of primitive man while his moral sense is yet undeveloped. According to this theory the same fate is allotted to all who go down to death. There is no such thing as rewards and punishments. This is the conception of the after-life which is held by all races on the lower levels of36 culture, and it is a view which often lingers on as a survival among peoples far advanced in civilization. But as the moral judgment becomes more discriminating, then this view of the other world is very certain to undergo a change. The quickened sense of justice demands that the allotments after death shall be in accordance with merit and demerit. This ethical feeling gradually transforms the topography of the underworld and organizes the as yet undivided community of shades. The hitherto common abode of the dead is usually divided into two distinct compartments or regions, heaven and hell, and souls are separated, according to their deeds on earth, into two classes, the good and the bad, those to be welcomed to the abode of the blessed and these consigned to the place of torment. Sometimes, however, the lot conceived for the wicked is simply annihilation.

The incoming of this theory of rewards and punishments after death constitutes a great landmark in the moral evolution of mankind. In the words of Tylor, this transition from the continuance to the retribution theory “for deep import to human life has scarcely its rival in the history of religion.”80 The sanctions of morality are doubled.

Now in ancient Egypt by the beginning of the second millennium B.C. the transition from the continuance to the retribution theory had already been effected, as will appear in the following account of the Egyptian Judgment of the Dead. Thus here, as in the change of practices at the tomb, we have indisputable evidence of the progress of moral ideas in early Egypt.

The Judgment of the Dead

The Judgment of the Dead was the trial which every soul had to undergo before Osiris and his forty-two assessors in the great tribunal hall of the underworld. The astonishing thing about this tribunal, as we have just intimated, is that at a time when the oldest monuments raised in Egypt were yet recent this whole conception of the moral order in all its details37 was already fully matured.81 Osiris had been raised to the judgment seat in the other world, and the moral standard in some departments of life, particularly in the relations of man to man in the everyday social and business spheres, was as high and true as is the standard in many of the civilized nations of to-day. This admirable code of social morals points unmistakably to long periods of organized society and moral training in prefeudal Egypt.

The Negative Confession

This early standard of goodness is embodied in the so-called Negative Confession, in which the soul before the Osirian tribunal pleaded his innocence of the forty-two sins condemned by the Egyptian code of morality. This confession, previous to the discovery of the Babylonian code of Hammurabi, constituted the oldest known code of morality of the ancient world. These are some of the declarations of the soul: “I did not steal”; “I did not get any man treacherously killed”; “I did not utter any lie”;82 “I did not make any one weep”; “I did not kill any sacred animals”; “I did not damage any cultivated land”; “I was angry only when there was reason [for being angry]”; “I did not turn a deaf ear to the words of truth”; “I did not commit any act of rebellion”; “I did not do any witchcraft”; “I did not blaspheme a god”; “I did not make the slave to be misused by his master”; “I was not imperious”; “I did not strip the mummies of their stuff.”83

After this confession to the forty-two assessors in the hall of judgment, the soul made the following affirmative declaration, which makes a singularly close approach to Christian38 morality: “I gave bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, garments to the naked, a bark to the one who was without one [that is, a boat to the detained traveler], offerings to the gods, and funeral conservations to the shades.”84

After this confession and declaration the heart of the man was placed in one scale of a balance and the image of Truth in the other. If the heart was not found wanting, but weighed just equal to the image, Osiris pronounced the soul justified, and it was welcomed to the company of the blessed. The punishment meted out to the soul found lacking seems to have been of a negative nature—a denial of immortality.85

Comparison of the morality of the Negative Confession with that of the Hebrew Decalogue and other codes

It is instructive to compare this ancient code, both in its contents and in its omissions, with the moral codes of other peoples and other ages. The similarity of the morality of the Negative Confession to that of the Hebrew Decalogue forces itself at once upon the attention.86 The Egyptian code, however, lays less emphasis than the Hebrew upon religious duties. In the forty-two duties named only seven are duties toward the gods, while of the Ten Commandments five concern religious duties. As we have already observed, the duties of the Egyptian code are those due from man to man; that is, they are social as opposed to religious duties.

In striking contrast to the Confucian code of the Chinese, the Egyptian code gives very little place to the duties of children to their parents. These duties are noticed, it is true, by the Egyptian moralists, but no emphasis is laid upon39 them. They are mentioned only once in the Negative Confession before Osiris. As the stress laid by Chinese moralists upon filial piety came about largely through the supposed need of the spirits of the dead for regular offerings at the grave, so it may be that the neglect of this virtue by the Egyptian teachers is to be explained, as Flinders Petrie suggests, by the circumstance that “the provision of offerings in semblance by the Egyptians in the tomb left little place for the urgency of filial duties in maintaining continual supplies for the deceased.”87

Another defect of Egyptian morality is its lack of depth and seriousness. There is no hungering and thirsting after righteousness, no passionate yearning for holiness. There is no call to lofty self-sacrifice. It is a calm, prudent, worldly-wise, practical morality. Its spirit and temper are well set forth by Petrie when, in speaking of its virtues and vices, he says that “these belong far more to the tone of Chesterfield and Gibbon than to that of Kingsley and Carlyle.”88

But in spite of the limitations and defects of the code, it was one of the purest and loftiest framed by the moral consciousness of the races of antiquity. The Negative Confession shows that Egypt had early learned the lesson that blessedness in the hereafter is conditioned on the practice of justice, truth, and righteousness in the present life on earth.89


The moral precepts of Ptah-hotep; an ethical conception of kinship

After the Negative Confession the most valuable memorial of the character of the Egyptian conscience is found in the precepts of the moralist Ptah-hotep,90 who lived probably in the time of the Twelfth Dynasty. This moralist laid particular emphasis upon the duties of rulers and of the rich and great. His maxims are intended as a sort of “Manual of the Perfect Official.” “If, having been of no account, thou hast become great, and if, having been poor, thou hast become rich, and if thou hast become governor of the city, be not hard-hearted on account of thy advancement, because thou hast become merely the guardian of the things which God has provided.”91 In like words emphasis is laid upon the duties of gentleness and considerateness on the part of the administrator and the judge. In truth the doctrine of trusteeship of wealth and of office has never been more zealously taught than in these precepts of the early Egyptian moralist.92

The teachings of Ptah-hotep respecting the duties of rulers would seem to have made effective appeal to the heart and conscience of even the holders of the royal office. In any event we find these lofty conceptions of the duties of kingship incarnated in the lives and deeds of several of the Pharaohs of the Old Kingdom. The view held by these monarchs respecting the nature of the royal office was almost exactly like that entertained by the so-called benevolent despots of the eighteenth century of our era. The inscriptions on the royal41 tomb boast not alone of exploits and triumphs in war, but the prince vaunts himself for having put no ward in mourning, for having made no distinction between the great and the humble, for having been the protector of the widow and the asylum of the orphan, and for having laid no unjust taxes.93

Slavery approved by the Egyptian conscience

The Egyptian conscience, like the conscience of the ancient world in general, did not condemn the institution of slavery. The relation of master and slave was looked upon by the Egyptians as perfectly natural and legitimate.

The slave class, which included both whites and blacks, was recruited not only from the prisoners of war brought back by the Pharaohs from their numerous foreign conquests, but also from captives secured on regular man-hunting expeditions into the negro regions of the Upper Nile.

The treatment of the slave was usually mild, and the development of the moral feelings had already in early times placed him under the protection of the gods. Thus in the judgment hall of Osiris the soul repudiates the sin of oppression by affirming, “I did not cause the slave to be misused by his master.”94

Respecting the moral side, in general, of the slave system of antiquity, which we encounter now for the first time here among the Egyptians, the following observation may be made. If we except the Hebrews, we shall not find among the peoples of the ancient world whose ethical standards we shall pass in review any fundamental change throughout their history in the common conscience regarding the rightfulness of slavery. Indeed any radical and permanent change in the42 moral feelings of men on this subject was hardly possible till after the incoming of Christianity with its teachings of a common Father-God and the brotherhood of man.

The ethics of war

One of the most striking phenomena of the moral evolution of mankind is the unequal rate of movement on different lines. Thus while morality has made great progress in some departments of life, in the domain of war it has remained comparatively stationary from the dawn of history down almost to the present day. The war code of the modern nations, notwithstanding improvements and ameliorations to which our attention will be drawn later in our study, is still in large part an unchanged heritage from the ages of primitive savagery.

Bearing this in mind, it will not be a matter of surprise to us that the laws of war of the Egyptians showed little advance the practices of the negro savages of Africa; indeed it seems probable that this part of the moral code of Egypt was actually of African origin.95 There is not a word in Egyptian literature in reprobation of war.96

While in their relations to their own people the Pharaohs observed a comparatively enlightened code of ethics, being in general humane, considerate, and clement, still in their treatment of the vanquished they seem to have been wholly insensible to all humanitarian feelings. Like the Assyrian kings they “immortalized their cruelty in their art.” Numerous scenes upon the monuments celebrate the Pharaoh’s43 inhumanity; not one celebrates his compassion or mercy. He is constantly represented in the act of slaying in heaps with his own hands his bound and suppliant captives.97

Influence of the moral ideal upon Egyptian life and history

Taken altogether, the moral standard of ancient Egypt, as disclosed in the foregoing brief account of what the Egyptian conscience condemned and what it approved, was not a high one, but it was, in so far as it concerned the everyday life of the people, wholly practical, and probably was as well lived up to by the masses as our higher ideal of character is lived up to by ourselves. We have a right to infer this from the persistence of Egyptian institutions through two thirds of the historic millenniums; for no nation or society can long endure where the relations of man to man and of subject to ruler are not in substantial agreement with the real convictions of the age as to what constitutes essential justice and righteousness.

The moral standard of the Egyptians has been compared to that of the Romans after it had felt the influence of Stoicism and Christianity. Like the Roman ideal of excellence at its best, the Egyptian ideal tended to develop a strong and manly type of character, particularly in the ruling class. We think it not an illusion which causes us to see the influence of the ideal in the face of Rameses the Great. This face bears the stamp of strength, resolution, indomitable energy. We may believe that it was the moral ideal which had something to do in creating such a type of character as we see here, just as it was the primitive Roman ideal which helped to create that admirable type of character which lives in the legends of early Rome.

Further, the moral ideal tended to ameliorate the autocratic government of the Pharaohs by holding constantly before the44 ruler the example of the righteous and beneficent king-gods Ra and Osiris. The influence of the ideal in this relation may be likened to the influence of the moral ideal of Christianity upon the government of the later Cæsars.

Again, the practical moral ideal of Egypt, laying its emphasis upon the fundamental social virtues, helped to establish and maintain relations of justice and equity between man and man, and thus contributed to the general well-being of Egyptian society and to the stability of Egyptian institutions.

Nor was the influence of the moral ideal of Egypt confined to the Egyptian land. For, as Amélineau truly says, the wonderful edifice of morality is the collective work of all peoples and all ages.98 In the uprearing of this edifice Egypt played a great rôle. Her contributions to the morality of the first nations were as helpful, we may believe, as were those she made to the other domains—material, artistic, and intellectual—of the civilization of the early world.

Later she made a rich bequest to European morality, a bequest only less important perhaps than that made by Judea. Her ideas of the future life, her meditations on death and the final judgment, reënforced the teachings of Christianity and thus contributed to create that deep conviction of a life hereafter and a coming retribution which for eighteen hundred years and more has furnished sanction and stimulus to the moral life of Christendom.99 It is not without significance that Christian monasticism, with all its otherworldliness, had its beginnings in Egypt. “The first Christian monk [Pachomius] had been a pagan monk of Serapis.”100



The importance of Babylonian-Assyrian morality for the history of comparative morals

The information which the cuneiform texts have yielded concerning the moral life of the Babylonian and Assyrian peoples, though scanty, is of the greatest value to the student of comparative morals, not only because it casts light upon a moral development in some important respects like the moral evolution of the kindred Semitic people of Israel, but also because that later evolution was probably deeply influenced by it. Therefore, though nothing like a connected account of the moral evolution in the Euphratean lands can be attempted till the thousands of cuneiform tablets recovered from the ancient libraries of the Babylonian-Assyrian cities have been deciphered, and the ethical character and value of their contents determined, we shall devote a few pages to the portrayal of such manifestations of conscience as are disclosed in the religious, literary, historical, and law tablets whose contents are already known to us.

The general nonethical character of the Babylonian-Assyrian religion

Religion filled a large place in the life of the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians, especially in that of the former; but religion with them had at first little or nothing to do with morality. Like the religion of savage and barbarian folk, it lacked wholly or almost wholly the ethical spirit. Throughout the early period it was in the main simply a system of incantations and magical rites. Scarcely any moral element entered into the system until the later centuries of Babylonian-Assyrian history.

This religion was in truth simply a survival from primitive savage times when religion was merely a belief in the46 existence of evil spirits, and in their disposition and power to do harm to men.101 In this stage of the religious evolution sickness, death, misadventure of every kind are believed to be caused by some malignant demon or by some offended and revengeful god. The evil spirits are supposed to act from pure malignancy, while the great gods are conceived to be angered especially by the nonobservance of some religious rite, by the violation of some taboo forbidding the use of certain kinds of food, or by some other like act.

To ward off the attacks of the evil demons, or to appease the offended gods, recourse was had to the recital of magical formulas and incantations. This was Shamanism in its lowest and crudest form, in which there was at work as a motive on the part of the suppliant only cringing fear or a desire to get rid of some present pain, without the least trace of moral emotions, such as remorse and repentance.

Ethical tendencies in the religion

But as time passed, this earlier nonethical religion, as is evidenced by the texts recovered from the long-buried temple libraries,102 became in a measure moralized. A moral character was given to the great gods, and they became the inspirers and guardians of a true morality. This ethicalizing process was the same in character as that which went on in the religion of the ancient Hebrews, gradually moralizing the primitive conceptions and cult of Yahweh until among that people religion and morality became wholly at one. The ethical development, however, never went as far as this in Babylonia and Assyria, but the movement was such as to lift these peoples far above the low moral plane of primitive47 society. “In the seventh century before Christ, if not earlier, the Babylonians and Assyrians possessed a system of morality which in many respects resembled that of the descendants of Abraham.”103

Evidence afforded by the penitential psalms of the growth in moral feeling

The ethical movement found its truest expression in the so-called penitential hymns,104 which are in spirit altogether like the penitential psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures.105 They exhibit the same intense yearning of the penitent soul for reconciliation and union with a god conceived as just and holy and piteous.

In one hymn is found the new moral conception that disease is the work of a good spirit. This is a very lofty ethical idea, and approaches the Hebrew conception of afflictions as the visitation in disguise of love. But this idea seems never to have become a permanent part of the Babylonian moral consciousness.

In these psalms and prayers we have evidence that at times the worshipers of Marduk and Ashur attained to almost as lofty a conception of deity as that reached by the teachers and prophets of Israel. The great gods were conceived as the creators, the sustainers of man; as loving, compassionate,48 merciful, and forgiving. The religious-moral ideal was here verging toward the highest that man has ever been able to form, and could this standard have been steadily upheld and the lower abandoned, then Babylonia and Assyria like Judea might have made precious contributions to the moral life of humanity. But this was not done. The tablets holding magical formulas and incantations, wholly devoid of all ethical character, outnumber a thousand to one those exhaling the spiritual perfume of genuine moral feeling and aspiration.

Ethical significance of the conception of the after life

Respecting the lot of the dead, the Babylonians held views like those of the early Hebrews. This was the continuance as opposed to the retribution theory.106 Arallu, “the land of no return,” was a vast underground region where were gathered all, without distinction, who went down to the grave. It was a sad, dolorous life that the drowsing shades lived in this dark underworld, where the bats flitted in the twilight and the dust gathered on the lintels of the doors. An undiscriminating fate allotted the same destiny to all. In so far as the moral consciousness of the Babylonians demanded that a distinction be made between the good and the bad, this demand was met by the assumption—which was also that of the Hebrews so long as they held the Babylonian view of the life after death—that the evil man is punished in this life, and the good man rewarded here on earth with numerous flocks, reputation, many children, and long life.

For four thousand years the masses in Babylonia seem to have remained satisfied with this view of the moral government of the world. In the later periods of Babylonian history, however, we find in the literature traces of a protest against this nonethical conception of life in the afterworld—a protest which shows that, in the case of the more spiritually minded at least, the moral consciousness was deepening and the ethical judgment becoming clearer and truer.


The ethical spirit of the laws; the code of Hammurabi

Since the law code of a people embraces all those duties the performance of which the state or public authority attempts to enforce, the ethical spirit of an age or people finds one of its truest embodiments in its laws. It is this fact which renders of such extraordinary interest to the student of the history of morals the recent discovery of the code of the Babylonian king Hammurabi,107 the oldest known code of public and private morality. This law system exhibits in some departments of life an enlightened and advanced morality, yet one with serious limitations and defects, a morality in many respects like that of the Mosaic code of the kindred Semitic nation of Israel.

The code informs us that the Babylonian feeling as to what is right and wrong, just and unjust, in the ordinary business relations of life was much like the average conscience of to-day. In some matters the Babylonian law held ground morally in advance of that held by modern codes, as, for instance, in providing that in case of misfortune the debtor should have both his rent and the interest on his debt remitted.108

But in its provisions touching the family relations the code reveals ethical conceptions very different from our own. As in other Oriental law systems, ancient and modern, polygamy was regarded as a moral institution. A man in debt could bind his wife and children out to service or sell them as slaves, but not for a longer period than three years.

The punishments meted out to offenders were harsh and cruel, yet not much more atrociously cruel than those provided by the English laws of three hundred years ago. Impaling,50 burning, cutting out the tongue, gouging out the eyes, cutting off the fingers, breaking the bones of the hands were common penalties.

Sometimes the punishment was measured by the primitive principle of the Lex talionis; it was eye for eye, bone for bone, tooth for tooth.109 This law of retaliation was carried out so rigorously as to result in the punishment of the innocent for the guilty. Thus if a man caused the death of another man’s daughter, the law required that his own daughter should be put to death.110 If a builder, through the faulty construction of a house, caused the death of the son of the owner through the falling of the house, the son of the builder was to be put to death.111 It is in these provisions of the code that we find the greatest divergence between the Babylonian feeling and our own as to what is right and just. Yet this Babylonian conscience which sanctioned the visiting of the iniquity of the father upon the children is a conscience which we shall meet with in societies much more advanced than that for which the Hammurabi code was formulated.

The Babylonian conscience in regard to slavery as embodied in the code was about like our own conscience respecting negro slavery of a generation or two ago. The slave was viewed as a mere chattel, and the master possessed over him the power of life and death. Kind treatment, however, was enjoined by the law. There was a fugitive-slave law which reads curiously like our negro-slave laws of two generations ago, in which the aiding and harboring of a fugitive slave is made a crime punishable with death.112


The slave class was recruited, as in other lands of the ancient world, from prisoners of war, foundlings, debtors, criminals, and through the sale by fathers and husbands of their children and wives. The system seems to have undergone no essential changes or ameliorations, such as we shall see effected in the Hebrew system, by growth in ethical feeling during the four thousand years of Babylonian history. It is true that enfranchisement of slaves was not uncommon, the freed man becoming the dependent of his old master, but it does not appear that moral sentiment afforded the motive for manumission.113

International morality; war ethics

The international ethics of the Babylonians and Assyrians was in every essential respect the international ethics of their age in the Semitic world. It was the character of the religion of these peoples which determined in large measure international relations in the Mesopotamian lands throughout the period of Semitic ascendancy. “The conception of religion as an alliance between God and man against other peoples and their gods never ceased in Mesopotamia.”114 This conception was essentially the same as that held by the Hebrews down to the time of the great prophets. “Let us go up against them, for our god is greater than their god,” is the war cry of four thousand years of history of the Semitic world.

The Assyrians far surpassed the Babylonians in their ferocious cruelty in the treatment of war captives. Notwithstanding their advanced morality in some departments of life, in this domain they stood, if we except the practice of cannibalism, on practically the same level as savages. Witness the following inscription of Assur-natsir-pal, in which he tells of his treatment of certain prisoners of war: “The nobles, as many as had revolted, I flayed; with their skins I covered52 the pyramid. Some [of these] I immured in the midst of the pyramid; others above the pyramid I impaled on stakes.... Three thousand of their captives I burned with fire. I left not one alive among them to become a hostage.... I cut off the hands [and] feet of some; I cut off the noses, the ears [and] the fingers of others; the eyes of the numerous soldiers I put out. In the middle [of them] I suspended their heads on vine stems in the neighborhood of their city. Their young men [and] their maidens I burned as a holocaust.”115

The significant thing here is not so much the fact that these things were done, as the fact that the king exults in having done them and thinks to immortalize himself by portraying them upon imperishable stone. The careful way in which to-day all reference to atrocities of this character, when in the fury of battle they are inflicted upon a savage enemy, are suppressed by those responsible for them, and the indignant condemnation of them by the public opinion of the civilized world, measures the moral progress humanity has made even along those lines on which progress has been so painfully slow and halting.116




With the exception of the teachers of the ancient Hebrews, the leaders of thought of no people have so insistently interpreted life and history in terms of ethics as have the sages of the Chinese race. And, excepting the Hebrew teachers, no moralists have so emphasized duties while leaving rights—upon which the Western world in modern times has laid such stress—to take care of themselves.117

It cannot fail to enhance our interest in a study of the ideal upheld by these teachers of morality, if we recall that this ideal of character has for upwards of three thousand years exercised an incalculable influence upon the moral life of probably a fourth of the human race and is the cement of a social structure that has outlasted all others of the ancient world.

The cast of this moral ideal affords a good illustration of the way in which the moral type of a people is molded by religious and philosophical ideas, social institutions, race experiences, and physical environment. Following our usual method of exposition we shall begin our examination of Chinese morality by first casting a glance at some of the agencies which have been especially influential in the creation of the ethical standard.

Confucianism: the state worship of Heaven and the popular worship of ancestors

There are two religious elements in Confucianism which have special significance for Chinese morality. These are, first, the state worship of Heaven and of the lesser gods of the sky and earth; and second, the popular cult of ancestral spirits.


The worship of Heaven, the supreme deity, is a state function; that is, it is a matter which is left entirely to the Emperor and the magistrates. Consequently those duties to God, that is, to a being looked upon as Creator and Father,—duties of reverence, love, and worship, which fill so large a place in the moral ideals of Judaism and Christianity,—find scarcely any place among the duties enjoined upon the multitude by Confucianism.118

The worship of ancestors is the essential and popular element of Confucianism. Commenting on the ethical value of this cult, Dr. Martin affirms that “in respect to moral efficiency, it would appear to be only second to that of faith in the presence of an all-seeing Deity.”119 The constant and reverent dwelling upon the virtues of their ancestors has exalted the virtue of filial piety among the Chinese to the highest place in their ideal of character and has helped to make respect for what is old, for what has been handed down from ancestral ages, a highly prized virtue and a distinguishing trait of the race character.

In an indirect way also ancestor worship has exerted a great influence upon the moral life of the Chinese people, for this worship is necessarily a family cult and must be cared for by the head of the family. This has prevented the growth of a priestly caste in Confucian China. The absence of a powerful national priesthood has been a great boon to Chinese morality. The place thus left vacant has been filled by the literati, or learned class,120 whose influence upon the55 ethical life of the people has, without question, been more beneficent than that of a priestly class would have been.121

Demonism: evil spirits the ministers of retributive justice

Besides peopling the invisible world with beneficent ancestral spirits, the Chinese have filled heaven and earth with innumerable demons or evil spirits. Even the souls of dead men, if they have been wronged on earth or if their wants since death have been undutifully neglected, may become malignant, revengeful spirits. These demons are believed to be the cause of all kinds of diseases, of blight and famine, and of every misfortune befalling men.122

The thing about this Chinese demonism which is of interest to the student of morals is that, unlike the demonism of Babylonia (p. 46), or that of the Middle Ages in Europe, it contains a distinct ethical element. There was little or nothing ethical in the Babylonian or the medieval belief in the existence of evil spirits because the good man and the bad were indifferently the victims of their malignant activity. But the Chinese have moralized their demonism and conceive these spirits as under the control of Heaven and without power to do harm without Heaven’s commission or consent. They thus represent retributive justice and become the ministers of the Supreme Power to punish evildoers, like Nemesis and the Erinyes of the Greeks. It is this ethical side of the Chinese belief in evil spirits which causes De Groot, in emphasizing the import of this demonism for Chinese morality, to say that “it occupies the rank of moral educator56 of the people, and has fulfilled a great mission to many thousands of millions who have lived and died on Asiatic soil. Demonism, the lowest form of religion, in China a source of ethics and moral education—this certainly may be called a singular phenomenon, perhaps the only one of its kind to be found on this terrestrial globe.” 123

Taoism: nature the exemplar

Next to Confucianism and demonism, Taoism has been the most important moral force in the life of the Chinese people. Taoism was originally a lofty philosophical ethical system out of which was developed later a religion.124 The philosophy, however, has always remained something quite distinct from the religious system.

The essence of Taoism is the pantheistic doctrine that the universe, or nature, is God. The ethical character of the universe is revealed in its way or method, which is Tao. Now the characteristics of nature as disclosed in its method of operation are constancy—“heaven never diverges from its course”; unselfishness—“the earth nourishes all things”; impartiality—“the earth brings forth its fruits for all alike”; placidity—“heaven is calm, serene, passionless”; humility—the sun which “after shining sets,” the moon which “after fullness, wanes,” the warmth of summer which “when it has finished its work retires,” water which “seeks the lowest place,” all these are symbols of “nature’s humility.”125

What gives these interpretations of the ethical qualities of nature their importance for human morality is that man’s highest duty is to imitate the universe, to behave as nature behaves.126 “Taoism is the exhibition of a way or method of57 living which men should cultivate as the brightest and purest development of their nature.”127 “The true Taoist then is the man who unites in himself [the] virtues or qualities of the universe, including the constant virtues.”128 Man’s way must be nature’s way (Tao). The perfect man must cultivate constancy, unselfishness, impartiality, benevolence, impassibility, serenity, humility, and quietness, for these are the characteristics of the universe.129

This Taoist code is designed especially for rulers.130 He who has assimilated all his virtues to the virtues of nature is qualified to administer government.131 It is in the qualities of character cultivated by the highest-minded ministers and mandarins, and in the state worship and official customs that we are to look for the main ethical influence of the doctrines of Taoism.132

The conception of human nature as good

“The tendency of man’s nature to good,” says Mencius, “is like the tendency of water to flow downwards.”133 Just as the theological dogma that man’s nature is hereditarily corrupt, with a proneness to evil, has shaped and colored a large part of Christian ethics, so has this opposing conception of human nature as good exercised a tremendous influence upon58 the ethical ideal of the Chinese race.134 For if man’s nature is good, then for him to live conformably to his nature is to live rationally, that is, morally. “To nourish one’s nature,” declared Mencius, “is the way to secure heaven.”135

Objections to this view of human nature, based on the fact that men are actually very different in moral character, are met by saying that this difference is the effect of environment, just as the inequalities in the yield of barley seed are due not to a difference in the nature of the grain but to the different qualities of the soil.136 In a word, it is the social environment—instruction and example—which determines the character of men. “By nature,” says Confucius, “men are nearly alike; by practice they get to be far apart.”137

As we shall see, it makes a vast difference in a man’s conception as to what he ought to do,—as to how he should regulate his life,—whether he believes his nature to be inclined to virtue and all his instincts, impulses, and appetites to be good, or believes his nature to be corrupt and all his instincts and appetencies to be evil.

Conception of the past as perfect

Another conception that has had a molding influence upon the moral ideal of China is the conception of the past as perfect without any historic lapse from this perfection. To understand the import of this in the ethical history of China we59 must compare it with the theological conception of the fall of man. This conception determined what should be the saving virtues of the historic ethical ideal of the Western world, making them to be theological in character and having to do with man’s restoration from an hereditary fallen state.

Now the Chinese, instead of believing in the lapse of man from a state of original innocence, conceive the past as perfect. This interpretation of history has had the effect of making reverence for the past, for the customs, institutions, and teachings of the fathers, a chief virtue of the moral ideal.138 The far-reaching consequences for Chinese life and history which the emphasis laid upon this virtue has had will be the subject of remark a little further on.

Geographical and intellectual isolation

Again, the moral development of the Chinese people has been profoundly influenced by the geographical isolation of China. From the earliest times down almost to the present day China was shut out from intercourse with the civilized and progressive nations of the West, and was surrounded by neighbors greatly her inferior in intellectual, social, and moral culture. The effect of this isolation upon the Chinese was to foster in them an exaggerated self-esteem and a feeling of contempt for foreigners. In this respect the masses are still ethically in that stage of development that the Greeks were in when they looked contemptuously upon all non-Greeks as “barbarians.”

In still another way has the physical and intellectual isolation of the Chinese people reacted upon their ethical life. This isolation has prevented progress beyond a certain stage, and where there is no progress or very slow progress there is likely to grow up an undue attachment to ways and customs that are old. This is what has happened in China, and this60 has worked together with the worship of ancestors to create one of the main requirements of the ideal of character, namely, reverence for the past.

The appearance of great men: Confucius and Mencius

Besides the various agencies already passed under review, the teachings of two great moralists, Confucius and Mencius, have been a vital force in the shaping of the moral ideal of China. The greater of these sages was Confucius (551–478 B.C.) He was unimaginative and practical. He was not an original thinker. His mission was not to found a new religion or hold up a new ideal of character, but to give new force and effectiveness to the already existing moral code of his time and people.139 His teachings were especially effective in giving filial piety the fixed place it holds in the moral ideal of his countrymen.

The influence of Mencius (371–288 B.C.), whose teachings are characterized by an emphatic denunciation of the wickedness of war, is to be traced particularly in the low place which is assigned in the Chinese standard of character to the martial virtues, and the general disesteem in which the military life is held.

The four cardinal virtues

Chiefly under the molding influence of the agencies noticed in the preceding sections, there was shaped in early times in China one of the most remarkable moral ideals of history, an ideal which has been a guiding and controlling force in the moral life of probably more of the human race than any other of the ethical ideals of mankind.

The duties given the highest place in this standard of character are filial obedience, reverence for superiors, a conforming to ancient custom, and the maintenance of the just medium. The man who is carefully observant of these duties61 is looked upon in China as a man of superior excellence. In the following pages we shall speak with some detail of each of these requirements of the ethical ideal.

Filial obedience or piety

In an analysis of the symbols used in the Chinese system of writing Dr. Legge points out the significant fact that one of the oldest of these characters, the one standing for filial piety, was originally the picture of a youth upholding on his shoulders an old man.140 In this worn-down symbol is embodied the fundamental fact in the moral life of the Chinese people. It tells us that the first of family virtues, filial piety, the virtue that formed the basis of the strength and greatness of early Rome, constituted also the firm foundation upon which the enduring fabric of Chinese society was raised. The whole framework of the social structure is modeled on the family, and all relations and duties are assimilated, in so far as possible, to those of the domestic circle.

In no other of the moral ideals of history do we find a more prominent place given the duties of children toward their parents. It was ancestor worship, doubtless, as we have already said, which gave these duties this foremost place in the moral code, and which through all the millenniums of Chinese history has maintained for them the highest place in the Chinese standard of moral excellence.141 The Classic of Filial Piety declares: “The services of love and reverence to parents when alive, and those of grief and sorrow to them when dead—these completely discharge the fundamental duty of living men.”142 “The Master said: ‘There are three thousand offenses against which the five punishments are directed, and there is not one of them greater than being unfilial.’”143


The punishments which the Chinese laws enjoin for unfilial conduct bear witness to the high estimation in which the Chinese moralists and rulers hold the virtue of filial obedience and reverence. Thus a parent may, with the consent of the maternal uncle, require a magistrate to whip to death an unfilial son.144 A parricide is beheaded, his body cut in pieces, his house torn down, his neighbors are punished, his chief teacher is put to death, and the magistrates of the district in which he lived are degraded or deposed.145

Reverence toward superiors

Filial piety is regarded by Chinese moralists as the root out of which grow all other virtues. Immediately out of this root springs the duty of obedience and reverence toward all superiors. This is the corner stone of the Chinese system of political ethics. “In the family life,” in the words of Jernigan, “may be seen the larger life of the empire.”146

A conforming to ancient custom

We have here the third of the cardinal duties, the duty which in practice constitutes the heart and core of Chinese morality.147 The commandment is, Follow the ancients; walk in the trodden paths; let to-day be like yesterday. This duty, as we have already noticed, springs from the Chinese conception of the past as perfect. If that past be perfect, then of course it becomes the duty of living men to make the present like unto it, and in no case to depart from the customs and practices of the fathers.

We can easily make the Chinese view in this matter intelligible to ourselves by recalling how we have been wont to regard the religious past of that Hebrew world of which we are the heirs. Sanctity in our minds has attached to it all, and we regard any departure from the teachings and commandments of that past to be a fault, even a species of wickedness deserving eternal punishment.


Now in China this idea of sanctity, which among ourselves attaches only to the religious side of life, has attached to all phases of life, to government, to society, to art, to science, to trade and commerce—to all of the ideas, ways, and customs of antiquity. As their fathers did, so must the children do. They must deem worthy what their fathers deemed worthy and love what their fathers loved.148 He who departs from the beliefs and practices of the ancients is regarded as irreverent and immoral, just as he who with us departs from the beliefs and customs of the fathers in religion is looked upon as presumptuous and irreligious.

The maintenance of the just medium

The virtue with which we here have to do is akin to the Greek virtue of moderation. It consists in never going to extremes, in avoiding excess in everything, in being always well balanced, standing in the middle, and leaning not to either side; “to go beyond is as wrong as to fall short.”149 One of the sacred books of the Chinese, called Chung Yung, which is ascribed to a grandson of Confucius, and in which is portrayed an ideally perfect character, The Princely Man, celebrates this virtue of the just medium.150 This portraiture of the perfect man, held up as a pattern for imitation to the successive generations of Chinese youth, has been a molding force in the moral life of the Chinese race.151


The duty of intellectual self-culture

Having now spoken of the four cardinal virtues of the Chinese standard of excellence, we shall next proceed to speak more briefly of several other virtues, which, though not given the most prominent place in the ideal, are nevertheless assigned a high place among the virtues exemplified by the perfect man.

First among these we note that of intellectual self-culture. Concerning this virtue and duty the Chinese sages have thoughts like those of the Greek teachers. Confucius taught that true morality is practically dependent upon learning. “It is not easy,” he says, “to find a man who has learned for three years without coming to be good.”152 Here we have, as in the teachings of the Greek philosophers, knowledge made almost identical with goodness. Intellectual culture and good morals run together. Again the Master, speaking of the ancients, says: “Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere; their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified.”153 “How would it be possible,” asks Lao-tsze, “to go forward in one’s knowledge and go backward in one’s morals?”154

This commendation of learning by the sages, as we shall see further on, gave a great impulse to the educational system of China.

The duties of rulers

The teachings of Chinese moralists are especially marked by the emphasis laid upon the duties of rulers. In the times of Confucius there was lack of union between the different provinces, and China was in a state bordering on political anarchy. A chief aim of the teachings of the Master was to correct this condition of things by laying stress upon the duties of those in authority. Never have the duties of rulers been more insistently inculcated.

In the first place Confucius set a high aim for the state, an aim altogether like that set by Plato for the ideal Greek65 city. He makes the end of government to be virtue and not wealth. Its aim should be to promote goodness and not merely material prosperity: “In a state, pecuniary gain is not to be considered to be prosperity, but prosperity will be found in righteousness.”155

The indispensable qualification in the ruler is goodness. “The love of what is good,” declares Mencius, “is more than a sufficient qualification for the government of the empire.”156 The ruler should be a father to his people, kind and benevolent, should instruct them, should follow the laws of the ancient kings, should be a model for his subjects, should leave a good example to future ages.

Much is said by the Master respecting the influence of the example set by the ruler: “When the ruler as a father, a son, a brother, is a model, then the people imitate him.”157 The relation between superior and inferior is like that between the wind and the grass: “The grass must bend when the wind blows across it.”158 “Never has there been a case of the sovereign loving benevolence and the people not loving righteousness.”159 “If good men were to govern a country in succession for a hundred years, they would be able to transform the violently bad and dispense with capital punishment.”160

But there has never been such a succession of good rulers in China. Respecting the influences and circumstances which have brought about a great discrepancy between the ideal and practice we shall have something to say in the last division of this chapter.

Disesteem of the heroic or martial virtues

The Chinese ideal of goodness and nobility allows no place among its virtues to the qualities of the warrior, which have66 in general been given such a prominent place in the moral ideals of almost all other peoples throughout all periods of history. Soldiers hold a very low place in the social scale; they are looked upon as a “pariah class,” and their life is regarded as degrading. The Emperor of China, “alone among the great secular rulers of the world, never wears a sword.”161

This spirit of opposition to militarism is embodied in the teachings of the great moralist Mencius. “The warlike Western world has scarcely known a more vigorous and sweeping protest against warfare and everything connected with it and every principle upon which it is based.”162 To gain territory by the slaughter of men Mencius declared to be contrary to the principles of benevolence and righteousness.163 He speaks as follows of the military profession: “There are men who say, I am skillful at marshaling troops. I am skillful in conducting a battle. They are great criminals.”164 In Spring and Autumn, a chronicle of early Chinese history, he declares, “There are no righteous wars,” though he admits that one might be better than another.165

Confucius also, though he did not lay the stress upon the inherent wickedness of war that was placed upon it by Mencius, maintained that the same rules of morality apply in the relations of nations as in those of individuals, and taught that differences between nations should be settled by arbitration and by considerations of equity and justice, not by brute force.

Principles and inner disposition

It is often affirmed that the teachings of Chinese moralists are defective in that they consist in moral precepts rather67 than in moral principles, that they lay stress upon the observance of minute rules of conduct rather than upon the inner disposition. There is, however, in the body of ethical teachings of the sages no lack of insistence upon principles of conduct and upon states and dispositions of mind and heart. All must be right within the heart, says Confucius, for “what truly is within will be manifested without.”166 “Let the prince be benevolent,” says Mencius, “and all his acts will be benevolent; let the prince be righteous and all his acts will be righteous.”167 Have no depraved thoughts, sums up the contents of the three hundred pieces in the Book of Poetry. “In the ceremony of mourning,” says Confucius again, “it is better that there be deep sorrow than a minute attention to observances.”168

And it is the same teaching as to what constitutes true morality which we find in such sayings as these: “The doctrine of our Master is to be true to the principles of our nature.”169 “Man is born for uprightness,”170 and he should love virtue as he loves beauty,171 for its own sake.

In reciprocity Confucius found that same comprehensive rule of conduct which is rightly regarded as one of the noblest principles of Christian morality. Being asked if there was one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life, the Master said: “Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”172

And surely nothing could be farther from mere preceptorial teaching than these words of Mencius: “Let a man not do what his own sense of righteousness tells him not to do;...68 To act thus is all he has to do.”173 And in the following utterances the sages of China speak with an accent strangely like that of the Great Prophet of Israel: “The great man is he who does not lose his child heart.”174 Again, “I like life; I also like righteousness. If I cannot keep the two together, I will let life go and choose righteousness.”175 Still again: “With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and my bended arm for a pillow—I have still joy in the midst of these things.”176

In the following Mencius shows that he understood the moral use of dark things: “When Heaven is about to confer a great office on any man, it first exercises his mind with suffering and his sinews and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings. By all these methods it stimulates his mind, hardens his nature, and supplies his incompetencies.”177 And again: “Life springs from sorrow and calamity, and death from ease and pleasure.”178 “Men who are possessed of intelligent virtue and prudence in affairs will generally be found to have been in sickness and trouble.”179

Defects of the ideal: no duties to God, and the duties of parents to children not emphasized

Regarded from our point of view the Confucian ideal of moral character has serious limitations and defects. First, it omits practically all duties to God. In the words of Dr. Legge, “man’s duty to God is left to take care of itself.” God or Heaven was a subject of which Confucius seldom spoke, and the Chinese have in this matter followed the example of the Master. Heaven is not in all their thoughts.

If we recall what an influence the conception of a supreme being as Creator and Father has exerted upon the morality of all the races that have accepted as their creed the ethical69 monotheism of the Hebrew teachers, we shall realize how fundamentally the Chinese ideal of excellence has been modified by the omission of all those duties which have entered into our own moral code as duties owed to God.180

Second, while laying such stress upon the duties of children to their parents, Confucianism is almost silent regarding the duty of parents to their children. At this point there is a wide divergence between the Christian and the Chinese conception of duty. Commenting upon this matter, Dr. Legge says: “I never quoted in a circle of Chinese friends the words of Paul in Corinthians—‘The children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children’—without their encountering a storm of opposition. When I tried to show that the sentiment was favorable to the progress of society, and would enable each generation to start from a higher standpoint, I found it difficult to obtain a hearing.”181

The effects of the family ethics of Confucianism upon the moral practice of the Chinese in the domestic sphere will be noted in the following division of this chapter.

Degree of accordance between theory and practice; mandarin morality

No people have ever lived up to their ideal of moral excellence. The Chinese like others have obviously fallen far short of embodying in actual practice the high standard of their sages. But it is certainly a gross misjudgment of Chinese morality to say, as some writers on things Chinese have said, that the ideal and the standard maintained are wholly disconnected.182 This depreciatory opinion, however, admits of little dispute if its application be confined to the mandarin class. In70 public or official morality there is a deplorable divergence between theory and practice. Probably the Chinese official class, in spite of the stress which is laid by moralists upon the duties of magistrates and rulers, is the most corrupt in the world. Peculation in office is universal. Bribery is as rife as it was in Rome under the later Republic. Justice is almost universally bought and sold. This very general lack of integrity in office is attributable in part at least to the inadequate salaries. This inevitably calls into existence a system of fees and presents, which as inevitably grows into a system of extortion, oppression, and corruption. But, as a well-informed writer affirms, “Whatever laxity Chinese morality may permit in official relations, from the workingman, the tradesman, and the servant it exacts most scrupulous honesty.”183 The average man in China, it may be confidently affirmed, is as moral—defining morality as loyalty to an ideal—as the average man in any other country of the world.

Favorable effects of the ideal

But this general loyalty to the ideal, since this has serious defects, has brought it about that the ideal has been an efficient force for evil as well as for good. In some respects it has promoted a true morality, while in others it has marred and cramped the moral life of the Chinese people.

Prominent among the favorable effects of the ideal is its exaltation of the family life. Through the emphasis laid upon special domestic virtues, particularly that of filial piety, the ideal has given the family such a place in the fabric of Chinese society as has probably been given it in no other society ancient or modern, except in that of early Rome. As the family is the connecting link between the generations, and consequently as a true family life must characterize every society that shall live long on the earth, we may without71 reserve accept that interpretation of Chinese history which finds in the exaltation of filial virtue by the sages of China one secret of that longevity of the Chinese nation which makes it the sole survivor among the nations from the ancient world of culture.

Like the maxim of filial piety, the Confucian teaching which makes virtue and not material prosperity the aim and end of government has been a conservative force in Chinese life and society. “It would be hard to overestimate,” says Dr. Martin, “the influence which has been exerted by this little schedule of political ethics [the Great Study], occupying, as it has, so prominent a place in the Chinese mind for four and twenty centuries, teaching the people to regard the Empire as a vast family, and the Emperor to rule by moral influence, making the goal of his ambition not the wealth but the virtue of his subjects. It is certain that the doctrines which it embodies have been largely efficient in rendering China what she is, the most ancient and the most populous of existing nations.”184

In still another way has the moral ideal reacted favorably upon Chinese civilization. We have noted the high place in the standard of excellence assigned by the Chinese sages to the duty of intellectual self-culture. It is scarcely to be doubted that this emphasis laid upon learning as an important factor in the formation of moral character has greatly fostered learning and has been a chief agency in the creation of the Chinese educational system with its competitive literary examinations, which from the earliest times down almost to the present day formed the sole gateway to public office.

Unfavorable effects of the ideal

But Confucius, while inculcating the duty of seeking wisdom, taught his people to look for it in the past. He enjoined them to seek the moral ideal in the life and deeds of the ancients.


Never in the moral history of the world has the inculcation of a specific duty had a profounder influence upon the destinies of a people than this requirement of conformity to the ways of the fathers has had upon the destinies of the Chinese race. It has been one of the chief causes of the unchanging, stereotyped character of Chinese civilization. In obedience to the requirements of this ideal of goodness the Chinese for two millenniums and more have made to-day like yesterday. Hence the cycling, goalless movement of Chinese history.

Just as the undue emphasis laid by the Chinese moralists upon the duty of conforming to the ways of the ancients has reacted in some respects unfavorably upon Chinese life, so has the exaggerated stress laid by them upon the doctrine of the just medium exerted a similar unfavorable influence. This has tended to produce a dull uniformity in Chinese life and thought. The lack of lofty ideal aims has caused Chinese history to be singularly barren in chivalric and heroic elements. The everlasting round of routine makes life a treadmill. It is “the prose of existence.”

Again, the Confucian system tends to produce a formal morality. While it is not true, as we have seen, that Confucianism neglects to deal with general principles, right feelings, and motives of action, still it is true that instead of relying upon these there is an immense multitude of precepts and minute rules covering the smallest details of conduct. There are three thousand rules of deportment. This has resulted, and naturally, in the substitution of the letter for the spirit. Even the Master has come to serve as a pattern rather in the outer form of his life than in its informing spirit.185


Never was there a better illustration of how the letter killeth; for a reliance on exact rules and instructions as to conduct in all conceivable relations and situations has made much of Chinese morality a formal and lifeless thing. The Chinese are governed by a sense of propriety rather than by a sense of duty. Their morality is largely etiquette.186 It has justly been likened to the morality of the ancient Romans in that it makes manners and morals to be almost interchangeable terms. Especially have the hundreds of rules prescribed for the expression of reverence for superiors tended to empty this part of Chinese morality of reality and sincerity, and to make Chinese official ceremonialism one of the most curious phases of Chinese life.

It would seem, further, that the very great emphasis laid by the Chinese moralists upon the duties of children toward their parents has prevented the normal development among the Chinese of that ethical sentiment which among ourselves assigns the duties of parents to infant children an important place in the code of domestic morality. This lack among the Chinese of any deep feeling of parental obligation results in a widespread practice condemned by the conscience of Christian nations. The exposure or destruction of infants prevails in almost every province of the Republic. It is the girl babies that are the victims of this practice.187 They are often drowned or buried alive.

In this practice the subsistence motive of course is active. It is in general the extreme poverty of the people which causes them thus to destroy their offspring. But what renders74 this practice significant for the student of morality is the fact that these things are done with little or no scruple of conscience,188 showing that acts respecting which the conscience of Christian nations has become very sensitive have not yet among the Chinese been brought generally within the circle covered by the moral feelings.

Impending changes in the moral ideal

We have seen how the moral ideal of a people is modified by all the changing circumstances of their life and history. The moral ideal of the Chinese has undergone little modification for upward of two millenniums, such, for instance, as the ideal of the European peoples has undergone in a like period, because throughout this long term the influences acting upon the national life have been practically unchanged. There have been in Chinese history no such interminglings of races, revivals in learning, religious reformations, and political and industrial revolutions as mark the history of the Western nations, and responding to which the moral evolution of these peoples has gone on apace.

But now that the long-continued isolation of China has been broken, and she is being subjected to all the potent influences of the civilization of the West, it is certain that her social and mental life will be remolded and cast in new forms. Sooner or later constitutional government must supersede, has already superseded, the patriarchal government of the past; the whole social fabric must necessarily be reconstructed and the individual instead of the family or clan be made the social and ethical unit;189 the science of the Western nations will75 displace, is already displacing, the obsolete learning of the Four Classics; Christianity will quicken the atrophied religious consciousness of the race; and in place of the isolation of the past there will be established those international relations and intellectual exchanges which perhaps more than all other agencies combined have been the motive force of European civilization and progress.

This new environment, these new influences molding afresh Chinese social, intellectual, and religious life and institutions, cannot fail to react powerfully upon the moral ideal of the nation. It too must inevitably undergo a great change. There will be a shifting in the standard of character of the different virtues, for the moral ideal of a simple patriarchal community cannot serve as the model for a complex modern society, and doubtless some of those virtues—as, for instance, reverence for the past—which now hold the highest rank in the code will exchange places with others at present held in little esteem. Changes in the feelings and beliefs of the people in regard to ancestor worship, which changes are inevitable, will effect important modifications in family ethics. The substitution of Western science for the lore of the classics will introduce evolutionary ethics and the philosophical virtues of the Western world; while the substitution of popular government for the patriarchal autocracy will necessarily bring in the ethics of democracy.

These certain changes in the form and content of the ancestral ideal of goodness will not only assimilate it to the76 ethical standard of the Western world, but, correcting some of its obvious shortcomings, will render it a still more effective force in the guidance and control of the moral life of a great and ancient people, whose day apparently is still in the future.190



Introductory: a practically independent evolution in morals

In their moral evolution the Japanese people have developed a system of morals which, notwithstanding certain defects and limitations, is one of the noblest created by any of the great races. A study of this system is especially interesting and instructive for the reason that it shows how a very admirable moral ideal may be created by a people in comparative isolation and under influences wholly different from those which have shaped and molded our own ideal of moral goodness. This compels a recognition of the fact that the historian of morals can no longer overlook or ignore the moral phenomena of the Far East.

A second reason that a study of the Japanese code of morals is important and interesting is because this ideal of worthiness and duty has been indubitably a main factor in lifting the Japanese nation to the high place it holds to-day among the great nations of the earth.

In our examination of this system of morality we must first note the nature of the agencies which lent to the moral ideal its characteristic cast. Among the various forces molding and modifying the ethical type we shall find the most important to have been the family and clan system, ancestor worship, the monarchy of supposed divine origin, feudalism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Western civilization.

The family and clan system

As in China, so in Old Japan the family rather than the individual was the social unit. Through the expansion of the family arose the clan, which in the sentiments and feelings78 which governed its members was simply a large patriarchal household. This organization of early Japanese society, with the family and its outgrowth, the clan, forming the basis of the fabric, was, as we shall learn, a potent force in the creation of the moral type of the nation. The relationships of the kinship group determined the duties and virtues of its members and constituted the chief sphere of their moral activity. Here was the nursery of Japanese morality.

Shinto, or ancestor worship

The influence of religion has mingled with that of the family sentiment. Throughout all the past the vital religious element in the life of the Japanese peoples has been the Shinto cult, and this is now the established religion of the state. The system in its essence is ancestor and hero worship, the spirits of the dead being revered as guardian divinities. This cult has created moral feelings and family duties like those called into existence by the same cult in China. Out of these rudimentary family virtues, as from a central root, have sprung many of those virtues of wider relationships which have helped to give to the Japanese type of moral excellence its essential features.

The monarchy of divine origin

The central teaching of Shinto is that the Emperor is of divine descent and that his person is sacred and inviolate.191 This doctrine of the divine nature of the monarchy192 has exerted a profound influence upon the moral ideal of Japan and has had consequences of great moment. It has made unquestioning obedience and absolute loyalty to the Emperor the religious duties and preëminent virtues of the subject.



In times preceding the twelfth century there grew up in Japan a feudal system which in many respects was remarkably like the feudal system of medieval Europe. The unit of the system was the clan, the members of which, forming a close brotherhood, were bound to their lord by ties of affection and fidelity like those which in Europe theoretically bound the retainer to his lord.193 This system exerted a great influence upon the moral type. It developed a martial ideal of character known as Bushido, many of the virtues of which are almost identical with corresponding virtues in the European ideal of chivalry. Probably this system has had more to do with creating in Japan a moral consciousness in many respects like our own than has any other single agency. To the lack in the Chinese social system of any institution like Japanese feudalism may be ascribed in part at least the wide difference which exists between the moral ideals of the two peoples, especially in regard to the rank assigned the military virtues.


Along with the Chinese classics Confucianism was introduced into Japan about the middle of the sixth century of our era, and being in perfect accord with the native system of Shinto and with the Japanese ways of thinking, this cult of ancestors tended to reënforce native ethical tendencies and thus contributed essentially to make the virtues of filial obedience and reverence for superiors prominent in the growing type of character.


Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the sixth century of our era. Its incoming had deep import for the moral life of the Japanese people. It inculcated the gentler virtues, exerting here in this respect, as elsewhere in the Far East,—save in China, where it too quickly became shockingly degenerate,—an influence like that exerted by Christianity in80 the Western world. It helped to make gentleness, courtesy, and tenderness distinctive traits of the Japanese character. Through the regard which it instilled for dumb animals it placed the whole lower world of animal life under the protection of the moral sentiment.194

Western civilization

A little more than a generation ago the civilization of Japan came into vital contact with the civilization of the West. Almost every element of the old Japanese culture has felt the modifying effect of this contact. The political, the economic, the social, the domestic, and the religious institutions have undergone or are undergoing great changes. These changes in these departments of life and thought have caused, as such changes always do, important modifications in ethical sentiments and convictions. Of all the influences which for more than two thousand years have been at work shaping and molding the moral ideal of the Japanese nation, those now entering from the Occidental world will doubtless leave the deepest impress upon the ethical type.

In a still more direct way is this contact of Japan with Western civilization resulting in important consequences for Japanese morality. Christian ethics, like Buddhist ethics, is making a strong appeal to certain classes of Japanese society. The result is what in an earlier chapter was designated as a “mingling of moralities” and the creation of a new composite conscience.


The heart of Japanese morality is to be sought in Bushido,195 the ethics of the samurai. We shall best understand this moral code by thinking of it as the Japanese ideal of chivalry81 or, perhaps better, as a blending of the Western chivalric, Spartan, and Stoic ideals of goodness and nobility, since in the list of virtues making up the Bushido ideal we find several of the cardinal virtues entering into each of these three distinct types of character.

As we have already intimated, Bushido is an ideal of excellence which grew up out of the root of Japanese feudalism, just as the Western ideal of chivalry developed out of European feudalism. It was essentially an ideal of knighthood, the prime virtue of which was personal loyalty to one’s superior. Fealty to one’s chief was made so dominant a virtue that it overshadowed all other virtues. In the defense or in the service of his lord a samurai might commit, without offense to his sense of moral right, practically any crime, such as blackmailing, lying, treachery, or even murder.

Grouped about this cardinal virtue of loyalty were the other knightly virtues of courage, fidelity to the plighted word, liberality, self-sacrifice, gratitude, courtesy, and benevolence. Liberality, or free-handedness, was carried to such an extreme as to become a defect of character. The true samurai must have no thought of economy and money-making. “Ignorance of the value of different coins was a token of good breeding.”196 To handle money was thought degrading.

In one respect the code of honor of the Japanese knight was wholly unlike that of the Western knight. It did not include any special duty to woman. “Neither God nor the ladies inspired any enthusiasm in the samurai’s breast.”

The Spartan element in the samurai code appears particularly in the training of the youth. The boy was taught always to act from motives of duty. He was denied every comfort. His clothing and his diet were coarse. He was allowed no fire in the winter. “If his feet were numbed by frost, he82 would be told to run about in the snow to make them warm.” To accustom him to the sight of blood, he was taken to see the execution of criminals; and to banish foolish fear from his mind, he was forced to visit alone at night the place of execution.197

The Stoic element in the ideal appears in the high place assigned to the virtue of self-control. The samurai, like the Stoic, must suppress all signs of his emotions. Like the Stoic, too, he must have courage to live or courage to die, as enjoined by duty. And his code of honor taught him what true courage is: “It is true courage to live when it is right to live, and to die only when it is right to die.”198

This samurai ideal of character constitutes, as we shall see, a molding force in the moral life of Japan. Bushido, it is true, died with the passing of feudalism,199 but the spirit of Bushido lived on. The samurai’s sense of honor and of duty became the inheritance of the Japanese people. This great bequest of honor and valor and of all samurai virtues is, in the words of the author of the Soul of Japan, but “a trust to the nation, and the summons of the present is to guard this heritage, nor to bate one jot of the ancient spirit; the summons of the future will be so to widen its scope as to apply it in all walks and relations of life.”200

The virtue of loyalty to the Emperor, or patriotism

The belief in the divine origin of the imperial house of Japan makes loyalty to the Emperor the supreme duty.201 During the ascendancy of feudalism this duty, in so far as the samurai class was concerned, was, it is true, overshadowed by the duty of loyalty to one’s immediate feudal superior. The sentiment due the Emperor was intercepted by the daimyos.83 But in theory loyalty to the imperial house has ever been the paramount virtue of the Japanese. The Emperor’s command is to his subjects as the command of God to us, and obedience must be perfect and unquestioning. So dominant is the place assigned this virtue of loyalty to the head of the nation that the Japanese moralist seems almost to make morality consist in this single virtue, as if “to fear the Emperor and to keep his commandments” were the full duty of man.202

This sentiment of the people toward the imperial family renders the government a sort of theocracy. Hence patriotism with the Japanese is in large measure a religious feeling. Indeed, patriotism has been called the religion of the Japanese. It is this virtue, exalted to a degree which the world has never seen surpassed, which has contributed more than any other quality of the Japanese character to make Japan a great nation and to give her the victory over a powerful foe in one of the most gigantic wars of modern times.

Family ethics

If the first duty of the Japanese is to his Emperor, his second is to his parents. In Japanese phrase, the two virtues of loyalty and filial piety are “the two wheels of the chariot of Japanese ethics.”203 Shinto and Confucianism, as we have seen, have both contributed to the fostering in children of the moral sentiments of grateful love, reverence, and obedience toward parents and all ancestors living and dead. The Japanese regard the high place assigned to these filial duties in the standard of character as a mark of the vast superiority of their morality to ours.204 The sentiments of filial affection and reverence, coloring as they do the whole moral life, lend84 to Japanese society an ethical cast which places it in many respects in strong contrast to the social order of the Western nations, and makes it difficult for the Japanese to understand us and for us to understand them.205

Woman as wife and as mother

As respects the position of woman the family ethics of Japan are the family ethics of the East. In a work from every page of which breathes the spirit of the Orient, a Japanese writer, dwelling upon the difference between the ethical sentiments respecting family relationships which have been evoked by the different social environments of the East and the West, says: “In the East woman has always been worshiped as the mother, and all those honors which the Christian knight brought in homage to his ladylove, the samurai laid at his mother’s feet.”206

Lafcadio Hearn, touching upon this same feature of the family ethics of the Japanese, declares that the Bible text, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife,” is, to their way of thinking and feeling, “one of the most immoral sentences ever written.”207

In another important respect does the domestic morality of the Japanese differ essentially from that of the Christian West. The family is not strictly monogamous, as with us.85 The moral sense of the Japanese discerns nothing wrong in polygamy or concubinage.208 As respects the whole relation of marriage, the Japanese appear to be in about the same stage of evolution as had been reached by the Hebrews at the time of Abraham.

A chief virtue of the Japanese women in all their relations is obedience to the one—whether father, or husband, or son—to whom obedience is due. It is the setting of this duty before all other duties that causes the Japanese women sometimes to do what appears to us immoral, but which seems to them truest piety and noblest self-sacrifice.209 In loyalty to duty, as they interpret duty, they maintain a standard rarely surpassed by the women of any land.210

Suicide regarded as a virtuous act

Suicide is infrequent among savage and barbarian races, but is common among all peoples in an advanced stage of civilization. It is not so much the fact itself of self-destruction that claims the attention of the historian of morals, as the light in which the act is viewed; that is, whether it is considered a virtuous or a reprehensible deed.

Now the Japanese regard suicide, if prompted by a good motive, as a justifiable and noble act. The motives with them for the deed are various, as in the case of other peoples, but among these motives is one which discloses the existence among the Japanese of a sentiment unknown or almost unknown among ourselves. The deed is often committed in the way of making a solemn protest against something disapproved of in the conduct or acts of others. Thus when the86 Japanese government after war with China in 1898 acceded to the demands of Russia, France, and Germany respecting the recession to China of certain territories on the Continent, forty men in the Japanese army, by way of protest, committed suicide “in the ancient way.”211

Tyrannicide is also looked upon by the Japanese as an heroic and praiseworthy deed, provided the person committing the act makes clear the self-sacrificing and patriotic character of his motives by at once taking his own life.

Low estimation of the virtue of truthfulness

A marked defect of the moral standard of the Japanese is the low place assigned to the virtue of truthfulness. Among the Japanese, to call a person a liar is not to apply to him a term of reproach, but rather to pay him a pleasant compliment as a person of tact and shrewdness.

This lack of reverence for truth probably springs in part from the virtue of politeness as a root. The extreme emphasis laid upon courtesy as the sign and expression of reverence and loyalty toward superiors fosters the general habit of saying things which are pleasant and agreeable whether they are true or not. This complacent disregard of truth in social intercourse would seem to have dulled the sense of obligation of truth-speaking in other relations.


General influence of the ideal of Bushido

The Japanese knightly ideal, which, as we have said, constitutes the heart and core of theoretical Japanese morality, has a history somewhat like that of the ideal of European knighthood. It was a lofty ideal very imperfectly realized, yet realized to such a degree as to make it a chief motive force in the political and social life of Japan for several centuries.212 It left a permanent impress upon the moral consciousness of the Japanese nation, an impress certainly deeper and more enduring than that left by the ideal of European chivalry upon the moral consciousness of the peoples of Western Europe. New Japan is directly or indirectly the creation of Japanese knighthood.

We have seen that loyalty to his chief was the preëminent virtue of the samurai. Upon the downfall of feudalism this loyalty was transferred to the Emperor. The spirit of the samurai came to inspire the Japanese nation. Since the time when the loyalty of Scottish clansmen to their chief was transferred to Scottish royalty, there has not been seen a more remarkable example of the absolute devotion of a people to their sovereign than that exhibited to-day by the people of Japan.

The samurai were taught to despise the love of gain, and thus these knights of Japan were strangers to those vices which spring from the love of money. To this circumstance may be ascribed the fact that the statesmen of Japan, who almost invariably are of the samurai class, have been so notably free from venality and corruption.213

Finally, Bushido held aloft a high standard of truthfulness. The true samurai regarded an oath as a derogation of his honor. It cannot be affirmed that this Bushido virtue of88 veracity has yet become the inheritance of the mercantile and peasant classes of Japan, but it has at least been retained by the samurai as a class, and is working to-day like leaven in the mass of Japanese society.

The Bushido code in action

There are two remarkable passages in recent Japanese history which well illustrate in what way and to what degree the spirit of the samurai, “the spirit of not living unto one’s self,” has become an inspiration to the whole Japanese nation. The first passage has to do with the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, which on the part of Japan was a struggle for national existence. It was the samurai morality, a morality of loyalty, of valor, of selflessness, of fidelity to duty, that formed a chief element of the strength of Japan in that critical juncture of the nation’s life. The Bushido code of honor showed itself equal to the Spartan code in creating a race of invincible warriors. Since the Spartan Leonidas and his companions died for Greece in the pass of Thermopylæ there has been no sublimer exhibition of fortitude and self-devotion in a great cause than that shown by Japanese soldiers in the trenches before Port Arthur and on the battlefields of Manchuria.

This war for national independence also afforded proof of how the gentle virtue of Japanese knighthood, courteous generosity to the vanquished, has passed as a noble legacy to the nation at large; for as an eminent Japanese statesman affirms, “In the tender care bestowed upon our stricken adversary of the battlefield will be found the ancient courtesy of the samurai.”214


The moral standard of the samurai in competition with that of the plebeian trader

The second passage shows the morality of the samurai in competition with the morality of the common Japanese shopman. Now the morality of the plebeian Japanese trader is about on a level with that of the ancient Greek shopkeeper.215 And a chief cause of his low moral standard is the same, namely, the general disesteem in which the trader’s business has been held. This social stigma has resulted in the mercantile business being left in the hands of the lowest class socially, intellectually, and morally.216 The great mass of the people have from time immemorial been engaged in the honorable business of agriculture; while the samurai class, as we have seen, regarded it as degrading to engage in trade or even to handle money. In these circumstances it was inevitable that the mercantile class should evolve a very low code of business ethics; for, as the author of Bushido very justly observes, “put a stigma on a calling and its followers adjust their morals to it.”

The strictly class character of this loose commercial morality is shown by the experience of the samurai after the abolition of feudalism in 1868. Upon that event many of them engaged in mercantile business, carrying with them their high moral standard, with results pathetically depicted by Nitobé in these words: “Those who had eyes to see could not weep enough, those who had hearts to feel could not sympathize enough, with the fate of many a noble and honest samurai who signally and irrevocably failed in his new and unfamiliar field of trade and industry, through sheer lack of shrewdness in coping with his artful plebeian rival.... It90 will be long before it will be recognized how many fortunes were wrecked in the attempt to apply Bushido ethics to business methods, but it was soon apparent to every observing mind that the ways of wealth were not the ways of honor.”217 About ninety-nine out of every hundred samurai who ventured into business are said to have failed.

This passage out of the history of New Japan carries with it various lessons, but particularly does it teach how unjust it is to judge the morality of a people by the morality of a class.218


Notwithstanding the disastrous outcome of their first venture into the mercantile field, the samurai still remain in business, so that there is going on to-day in Japan in the commercial domain a competition between two moral standards. The triumph of the standard of the samurai over that of the plebeian trader would mean the development in Japan of a matchless business morality, which, in the increasing closeness of commercial relations between the East and the West, might well act cleansingly on our own business ethics.219

Moral education in the schools; the Imperial Rescript

The rapid transformation in the institutions and ideas of Old Japan after the revolution of 1868 created a crisis in the moral life of the Japanese people. The old basis of the national morality was destroyed. Reverence for the Confucian teachings was lost. Respect for ancestral customs was seriously impaired. Moral anarchy impended. In this critical juncture some proposed that Buddhism, others that Christianity, should be made the basis of the moral code.

Especially in the schools was the urgency of the need of some new sanction for morality felt, because moral instruction and training have always formed an essential part of the education of the youth of Japan. The Japanese have ever believed that it is possible to mold the character of the nation by education. “With us,” says a native writer, “education has meant moral education more than anything else for centuries.”220 “The object of teaching,” says the official regulations for teaching in elementary schools, “is to cultivate the moral92 nature of children and to guide them in the practice of virtues.”221 Because of this central place assigned moral education in the work of the schools, the necessity for removing all uncertainty as to what should be inculcated was all the more exigent.

To meet the crisis the following imperial rescript was issued—certainly one of the most remarkable state papers ever promulgated:

“Know ye, our subjects:

“Our imperial ancestors have founded our Empire on a basis broad and everlasting and have deeply and firmly implanted virtue; our subjects, ever united in loyalty and filial piety, have from generation to generation illustrated the beauty thereof. This is the glory and the fundamental character of our Empire, and herein also lies the source of our education. Ye, our subjects, be filial to your parents, affectionate to your brothers and sisters; as husbands and wives be harmonious; as friends true; bear yourselves in modesty and moderation; extend your benevolence to all; pursue learning and cultivate arts, and thereby develop intellectual faculties and perfect moral powers; furthermore, advance public good and promote common interests; always respect the Constitution and observe the laws; should emergency arise, offer yourselves courageously to the state; and thus guard and maintain the prosperity of our imperial throne coeval with heaven and earth. So shall ye not only be our good and faithful subjects, but render illustrious the best traditions of your forefathers.

“The way here set forth is indeed the teaching bequeathed by our imperial ancestors, to be observed alike by their descendants and the subjects, infallible for all ages and true in all places. It is our wish to lay it to heart in all reverence, in common with you, our subjects, that we may all thus attain to the same virtue.

“The 30th day of the 10th month of the 23d year of Meiji” [1890].222

It would be almost impossible to exaggerate the influence of this imperial edict. “Our whole moral education,” affirms Baron Kikuchi, “consists in instilling into the minds of our children the proper appreciation of the spirit of this rescript.”22393 The children learn it by heart just as the Roman children committed to memory the Twelve Tables of the laws.

Japanese believe that the effect of this instruction upon the national character, reënforcing the ancestral virtues of loyalty and devotion to duty, was exhibited in the recent war with Russia.224

A noteworthy feature of the rescript is that it is simply a reaffirmation of the teachings of the ancient moralists and the ethical traditions of the fathers—an inculcation of those virtues of loyalty and filial piety which the Japanese people have held in esteem and practiced from generation to generation.

A second feature of the edict which arrests attention is the universalistic and secular character of the morality inculcated. The virtues enjoined are universal benevolence, loyalty to duty, and self-devotion to the common good—a morality of the universal human heart and conscience, a morality, as the edict declares, good for all ages and for all places.

Japanese morals and Western civilization

The foregoing anticipates and gives answer to the questions: What will be the effect upon Japanese morality of those changes now going on in the life and thought of Japan through contact with the civilization of the West? What will be the effect upon Japanese public morality when the common belief in the divine descent of the Emperor, which is the root from which springs the primal duty of loyalty, is undermined, as modern science is certain to undermine it? What will be the effect upon Japanese domestic morality when Occidental conceptions of the family and of woman’s place in it come to modify, as they seem likely to do, those ideas and sentiments which from time immemorial have formed the basis of the family ethics of the East? What will be the94 ethical consequences when Western science renders obsolete the Shinto learning and the Confucian classics, which have hitherto formed the basis of so large a part of Japanese morality? What will be the effect upon the ancient ideal of character of the adoption of Christian ideas and teachings in place of those which have so long nourished the ethical feelings and sentiments of the Japanese people?

That the intrusion into the ancient culture of Japan of these various elements of Western civilization has deep import for Japanese morality cannot be made a matter of doubt. In the new environment, so different from that in the midst of which the ancient ideal of goodness was developed, this ideal must inevitably undergo important changes. Some of those qualities of character which have so long held high places in the ideal of excellence will cease to evoke the old-time homage, while other qualities at present assigned low places in the standard will be exalted. Virtues now practically unrecognized by the Japanese as virtues, but which among us are highly esteemed moral qualities, will certainly be incorporated in the modified ideal, giving it a new cast, yet probably without changing fundamentally the type; for the moral life of the Japanese people is too virile and too essentially sound to permit us to think that the new influences now coming in will produce such radical changes in the ethical feelings and convictions of the race as to result in a repetition of what happened upon the entrance of Christianity into the morally decadent Greco-Roman world—the displacement of the old ideal of character by a new and essentially different ideal.



The conception of the First Cause​— ​Brahma

As in Judea so in India the conception formed of the Supreme Being reacted potently upon morality. Hence in naming the influences under which the moral ideal of Brahmanism was molded we must speak first of the Indian conception of the First Cause.

The Aryan conquerors of India originally held notions of the gods in general like those held by their kinsmen, the early Greeks and Romans. When they entered India they were ancestor worshipers and polytheists. They had earth gods and sky gods. The gods of the celestial phenomena gradually acquired ascendancy. Then, as in Egypt, there came a tendency toward unity. The various gods came to be looked upon by the loftier minds as merely different manifestations of one primal being.225

It is right at this point that we find the great antithesis between Indian modes of thought and those of all or almost96 all other peoples. When the thinkers of Egypt, of the Semitic lands, of Persia, of Greece and Rome, had at last through reflection evolved the lofty conception of a single great First Cause, they endowed this cause with conscious personal life. This mode of thought is our heritage from the past. It is to us almost or quite impossible to conceive of conscious personal life as springing from an unconscious impersonal cause. Hence we place behind the manifold phenomena of the universe a conscious personal being as the origin and source of all things and all life.226

It is wholly different with the thinkers of India. They seem to be able to postulate as the beginning of things an impersonal cause, a cause without perception, thought, or consciousness. They affirm that out of unconsciousness consciousness arises. They teach that out of Brahma, the unconscious, impersonal, passionless One, emanate all material worlds and sentient beings, gods as well as men.

How profoundly this conception of the First Cause has reacted on the ethical speculations of the Hindu sages and on the moral life of India will appear a little further on.

The god Brahma (Brahman)

But this incomprehensible, unconscious, passionless Brahma is not the Brahma of the popular faith. The masses and even the philosophers themselves must have something more concrete. So this impersonal, neuter Brahma is conceived as giving existence to the personal, masculine God Brahma (Brahman), “the progenitor of all worlds, the first-born among beings.”227

It is very necessary for the student of Brahmanic ethics to keep in mind the distinction between the uncreated, unconditioned, impersonal Brahma and the created, conditioned,97 personal Brahma, since there is here laid the foundation of a double goal for rational moral striving: the goal of the ascetic whose ultimate aim is deliverance from individual existence and absorption into the absolute, unchangeable, impersonal Brahma, which means a state of eternal unconsciousness—dreamless sleep; and the goal of the multitude, whose hope and aim is blissful, though temporary, union with the personal Brahma in the heaven of the mortal, conditioned gods.228

The system of castes

The ethical evolution in India was also profoundly influenced by a prehistoric event, namely, the subjection of the original non-Aryan population of the land by an intruding Aryan people. As a result of the long and bitter struggle the two races became separated by a sharp line of race prejudice and hatred. The dark-skinned natives were reduced to a state of servitude or dependence upon their conquerors. Intermarriages between the two races were strictly prohibited, and thus the population of the conquered districts of the peninsula became divided into two sharply defined classes. These constituted a model upon which Indian society was framed. Other classes were formed, and these gradually hardened into castes, that is, into classes between which marriages were prohibited. Four great castes arose: namely, priests or Brahmans, warriors and rulers, peasants and merchants, and sudras. Below these castes were the pariahs, or outcasts, made up of the most degraded of the natives. As time passed, still other divisions were formed, every occupation coming to constitute the basis of a new caste, till society was stratified like a geologic deposit.

Religion came in to consecrate this division of the people into privileged and nonprivileged classes.229 The sacred scriptures declare that the Brahmans sprang from the mouth of98 Brahma, the warriors from his arms, the peasants and traders from his thighs, and the sudras from his feet.230

No institution known among men ever exercised a more fateful and sinister influence upon morality than this caste system has exercised upon the morality of the peoples of India. The rooted belief and dogma of the natural inequality of men has made Brahmanic ethics a thing of grades and classes, and has thus rendered impossible the evolution of a true morality, which requires for its basis genuine sentiments of equality and brotherhood.

The doctrine of transmigration

We easily realize the importance for morality of a belief in a life after death. But a belief in preëxistence may exert an even greater influence upon the moral code of a people than a belief in post-existence.231 Now the morality of the Hindus has been molded by both these doctrines, for according to the teachings of Brahmanism a man has lived through many lives before his “birth,” and may wander through “ten thousand millions of existences” after death has freed him from his present body.232 The class and the condition into which he is born here on earth is believed to be determined by the sum total of his merits or demerits earned in preceding existences. As a result of sin he may in his next birth be reborn in a lower caste, or may be imprisoned in some animal or vegetable form. He may pass a thousand times through the bodies of spiders, snakes, and lizards, and hundreds of times through the forms of grasses, shrubs, and creepers. And all this experience may come after the soul has passed through dreadful and innumerable hells for vast cycles of years.233


This transmigration theory was framed by the thinkers of India to explain among other things the seemingly unjust inequalities of human life.234 It afforded an explanation why one man should be born a Brahman and another a sudra, one born in a hovel and another in a palace, by conceiving the place of every person born into the world as being determined by the manner of his life in former existences.235

It is unnecessary to dwell upon the profound influence which this doctrine of transmigration, or round of births, has exerted upon the moral life of India. The tendency of this theory, as soon as elaborated, was to render still more intolerable the position of the lower castes, particularly that of the sudras, since it made their low place and hard lot to be the merited punishment of crimes and misdoings in previous lives; while at the same time it fed the pride and enhanced the arrogance of the Brahmans, since their superior lot was, according to the theory, attributable to merit acquired in other existences. Thus did the theory tend to give a more sinister aspect to the baneful caste system, to make it appear a part of the unchangeable order of things, and to render impossible the growth of any other than a class morality.

Indian pessimism

Hardly less important than the doctrine of transmigration for Hindu morality is the Indian conception of life—of all individual, conscious existence whether here on earth or in other worlds—as inseparable from misery, pain, decay, and death.

The Aryan immigrants into India seem to have been, like their kinsmen the Greeks, a light-hearted folk, filled with a strong joy in life. But as in their journeyings they pressed100 southward into the valleys of the Indus and the Ganges and came under the influences of the hot, depressing climate, and of an oppressive social and political system,236 they appeared to have lost their buoyant spirits. The skies seemed less bright and life less worth living, and, weary of it all, they at last came to regard eternal death, annihilation, as the greatest of boons.

This pessimistic view of the world and of life, as we shall see a little further on, forms the basis of large sections of Indian ethics, since it makes the ultimate goal of rational or moral effort to be the getting rid of conscious existence.

The conception of sacrifice

Another conception which has exerted a profound influence upon the religious ethics of Brahmanism is that respecting sacrifice. This conception is that the gods need sustenance, and can only exist through the gifts and offerings made to them by men.237 “The gods live by sacrifice” say the sacred scriptures; “the sun would not rise if the priests did not make sacrifice.”

To understand this teaching we must connect it with the belief of primitive man that the spirits of the dead have absolute need of meat and drink offerings at the hands of the living, and remember that in India there is no sharp distinction drawn between the gods and the souls of men. The gods, like the spirits of the dead, are dependent for life and strength upon the offerings laid on their altars. Without these gifts they would die or pine away, and all the movements of the universe controlled by them would cease.238


From this conception of the gods came the emphasis laid by Brahmanism upon sacrifice, and the prominence given the religious duty of bringing rich gifts to the priests and keeping the altars of the gods heaped with food.239

A class morality

The fundamental fact of Brahmanic morality is that as a result of the caste system it is a class morality; that is, there is a different moral standard or code for each of the different castes.

In the account given in the Laws of Manu of the origin of the four chief castes, the occupation and the duties of each class are carefully prescribed. To the Brahman was assigned teaching and offering sacrifice; to the warriors and rulers the protection of the people; to the peasants and merchants the tilling of the ground and trading; and to the sudras—“One occupation only,” reads the sacred law, “is prescribed to the sudra, to serve meekly the other three castes.”240

The Brahman is by right the lord of the whole creation.241 His name must express something auspicious, but the first part of the sudra’s name must express something contemptible, and the second part must be a word denoting service.242


For a man of a lower caste to affect equality with a person of a higher caste is a crime: “If a man of an inferior caste, proudly affecting an equality with a man of superior caste, should travel by his side on the road, or sit or sleep upon the same carpet with him, the magistrate shall take a fine from the man of inferior caste to the extent of his ability.”243

For a Brahman to explain to a sudra the sacred Vedas is a sin: “Let him [the Brahman] not give to a sudra advice nor the remnants of his meal ...; nor let him explain the sacred law to such a man; ... for he who explains the sacred law to such ... will sink together with that man into hell.”244

In the matter of punishments for crimes the laws are grossly unequal, the punishment of a person of inferior caste being always more severe than that of a person of a superior caste for the same offense. Thus for a crime punishable with death if committed by a person of an inferior caste, tonsure only is ordained if committed by a Brahman;245 for a Brahman must never be slain, “though he have committed all horrible crimes.”246 There is no crime in all the world as great as that of slaying a Brahman.247

A knowledge of the inequality of these sacred laws of the Brahmans and the burdensomeness of this caste morality as it pressed upon the lower classes is necessary to an understanding of the rise and rapid spread of Buddhism, and the fervor with which its teachings of equality and brotherhood were embraced by the masses of Brahmanic India.

The highest moral excellence attainable in general only by Brahmans

Of the different standards of morality of the several castes that of the Brahman is of course the highest. The study of the sacred books is for him the chief duty. “Let him,” says the sacred law, “without tiring daily mutter the Veda at the proper time; for that is one’s highest duty; all other observances are secondary duties.”248 Knowledge of the Veda103 destroys guilt as fire consumes fuel.249 Among the secondary duties are observance of the rules of purification, the practice of austerities, and doing no injury to created beings.250

By austerities, that is, by ascetic practices, by hideous self-torture, the Brahman may atone for all sins of whatsoever kind and may become so holy that at death, having conquered all desires, save only the desire for union with the Universal One, he may hope to fall away into unawakening unconsciousness and be absorbed into the absolute, impersonal Brahma, and thus escape forever from the weary round of births. This way of full salvation, and it is the only one, is open only to Brahmans and to the chosen few from other castes who, having gone forth “from home into homelessness,” as mendicants or forest hermits, follow this life of complete renunciation of all that is earthly.

The moral code for inferior castes

The duties, the faithful performance of which avail most for persons of inferior castes, are those that have to do with religion, and chiefly with sacrifice. These duties are the bringing of gifts and offerings for the sacrifices and the giving of generous fees to the priests. Through the faithful performance of his assigned duties the man of inferior caste can make sure of salvation—not the full and perfect salvation attained by the Brahman through his austerities, but a qualified salvation. He may hope for rebirth in some higher caste or in some better state either on earth or in some other world.251

Animal ethics

Duty to animals seems to have formed no part of the moral code of the early Indian Aryans. But chiefly through the influence of the doctrine of transmigration respect for every living thing became a high moral requirement. To take life wantonly became a crime. To kill a kine, a horse, a camel,104 a deer, an elephant, a goat, a sheep, a fish, a snake, a buffalo, insects, or birds is an offense which must be expiated by penances.252

In order that he may not harm any living creature, the ascetic is enjoined “always by day and by night, even with pain to his body, to walk carefully, scanning the ground.”253 Should he unintentionally injure any creature he must expiate its death by penitent austerities.254

Animals may, however, be slain for food255 and for sacrifices, since they were created for these special purposes. And then there is compensation for the victims of the altars: “Herbs, trees, cattle, birds, and all animals that have been destroyed for sacrifices receive, being reborn, higher existences.”256

The killing of animals for sport is an inexpiable sin: “He who injures innoxious beings from a wish to (give) himself pleasure never finds happiness, neither living nor dead.”257

Under the influence of Buddhism we shall see this consideration for animal life deepening into a genuine tenderness for every living creature, and duties toward the inferior animals becoming one of the most beautiful and characteristic features of the ethical ideal.

War ethics

In Brahmanic as in Confucian ethics the military virtues are assigned a low place. Brahmanism, however, concedes the legitimacy of war and permits the employment of force by the king in augmenting his possessions,258 even enjoining upon him to be ever ready to strike; for “of him who is always ready to strike, the whole world stands in awe.”259


But the genuine spirit of Brahmanism is opposed to the fierce war spirit of the Aryan conquerors of India, and the sacred law attempts to ameliorate the cruelties and atrocities of primeval warfare, instilling in the warrior a spirit of magnanimity and chivalry. Thus the “blameless law for the warrior” forbids to him the use of barbed or poisoned weapons; he must spare the suppliant for mercy; he must not strike an enemy who has lost his armor or whose weapons are broken, or who has received a wound, or who has turned in flight. He must do no harm to the onlooker. The king must conduct war without guile or treachery.260

Natural morality versus ritualism

At the heart of Brahmanism, as at the heart of every other great religion of the world, there is a core of lofty spiritual teachings and true morality. The sacred scriptures of the Brahmans declare, “The soul itself is the witness of the soul, and the soul is the refuge of the soul; despise not thy own soul, the supreme witness of men.”261

The sacred law teaches that he is pure who is pure in thought and in deed: “Among all modes of purification, purity in (the acquisition of) wealth is declared to be the best; for he is pure who gains wealth with clean hands, not he who purifies himself with earth and water.”262

Repentance and resolutions of amendment free the soul from its transgressions: “He who has committed a sin and has repented, is freed from that sin, but he is purified only by the resolution of ceasing to sin and thinking I will do so no more.”263

Brahmanism teaches the duty of forgiving injuries and of returning blessings for curses: “Against an angry man let him [the ascetic] not in return show anger; let him bless when he is cursed.”264 “A king must always forgive litigants, infants, aged and sick men, who inveigh against him.”265 “He who,106 being abused by men in pain, pardons them, will in reward of that act be exalted in heaven.”266

Here is a morality as pure and lofty as any taught by Hebrew prophets. But as in Judaism, so in Brahmanism, such was the stress laid by the priests upon sacrifice, upon the observance of the rites and ceremonies of the temple, and upon the performance of a thousand and one morally indifferent acts, that as time passed there resulted an almost complete overshadowing of natural by ritual morality. It was such a triumph of ritualism as marked the postexilic period in the history of Israel. As there came a protest and reaction in Judea issuing in Christianity, so did there come a protest and reaction in Brahmanic India issuing in Buddhism.

The four great truths

Four tenets or principles, called the four truths, sum up the essentials of Buddhism.267 These are the truth of pain, the origin of pain, the destruction of pain, and the eightfold way that “leads to the quieting of pain.”268

The first three of these truths form the philosophical basis of Buddhist ethics, and to a brief exposition of these tenets we shall devote the immediately following sections. The fourth truth is a summary of the ethics of Buddhism,269 and therefore107 what we shall have to say about it will appropriately find a place under the next subdivision of this chapter when we come to speak of the moral ideal of Buddhism.

The truth of pain

The truth of pain, in the language of the sacred scriptures, is this: “Birth is pain, death is pain, clinging to earthly things is pain.”

This is simply an expression, with added emphasis, of that world-weariness, of that despair of life, which we have seen pressing like an incubus upon the spirit of Brahmanic India. Buddhism teaches that life is an evil, that misery and sorrow and pain are inseparable from all modes of existence. We shall be able to get the Buddhist’s point of view if we bear in mind how we ourselves sometimes look upon this earthly life. In despondent moods we ask, “Is life worth living?” and make answer ourselves by declaring that if this earthly life is all, then there is in it nothing worth while. If now we extend this gloomy view so as to make it embrace the life to come as well as the life that now is, we shall have the viewpoint of the true Buddhist. To him life not only in this world but in all other possible worlds is transitory, illusive, and painful, and in utter despair and weariness he longs to be through with it all and to lay down forever the intolerable burden of existence.270 “As the glow of the Indian sun causes rest in cool shades to appear to the wearied body the good of goods, so also with the wearied soul, rest, eternal rest, is the only thing for which it craves.”271

The origin of pain

The truth of the origin of pain is this: “It is the thirst for life, together with lust and desire, which causes birth and rebirth.”

It should be noted here that there are different interpretations given to this tenet. Some understand by it not that all desires, but simply evil desires, cause and feed the flame of108 life; others interpret it as teaching that desires or longings of every kind whatsoever possess this sinister potency of recreating life and keeping one entangled in the meshes of the net of existence.

The truth of the destruction of pain

The truth of the destruction of pain is this: “Pain can be ended only by the complete extinction of desire.” Desire being the root which feeds life and causes the round of births, existence can be ended only by getting rid of desire.

Here again there are different acceptations of the dogma. To most it means simply the getting rid of all unholy passions and desires, while to the thoroughgoing Buddhist it means freedom from every desire of whatsoever kind: “Not a few trees but the whole forest” of desires must be cut down, together with all “the undergrowth.”272

The doctrine of karma

Besides these three philosophical principles,—the truth of pain, the origin of pain, and the extinction of pain,—there are two other speculative doctrines of orthodox Buddhism, a comprehension of which is necessary to an understanding of the ethics of the system. The first of these is the doctrine of karma. This is a denial of the soul theory. Orthodox Buddhism denies that man has a soul separable from the body. It teaches that when a person dies there does not go out of his body a spirit which lives elsewhere a conscious life, a continuation of the life just ended, but that all that goes out is karma, that is, something which is the net product of all the good and evil acts of the person in all his various existences—a sort of seed or germ from which will spring up here on earth or in some heaven or hell another being.273 There is109 no conscious identity, however, between the two beings. They stand related to each other as father to son.

Some illustrations will help us to seize the thought. The Buddhist teacher likens the relation of the life going out here to the new life beginning elsewhere, to the relation of two candle flames, the second of which has been lighted from the first. Through the transmission of karma the flame of life is passed on from one being to another; but all these life flames are different. No abiding self-consciousness binds them together and makes them one. Again, this succession of lives is likened to the undulations of a wave in the ocean. The successive undulations are not the same, yet the first causes the second, the second the third, and so on.

Notwithstanding the important place this doctrine holds in Buddhist speculative philosophy and theoretical ethics, it was neither understood nor adopted by the masses. It was developed in the schools, but the people in general held to their old Brahmanic belief in the soul and its transmigrations, so that in most Buddhist lands to-day belief in a conscious personal existence after death is the prevailing one.274

Nirvana and the different senses in which the term is used

The other philosophical doctrine of which we have to speak is that of Nirvana. This term is used with many different meanings. Often it denotes merely the extinguishment in the soul of lust and hate and ignorance, and the state of quiet contentment and blissful repose which results from such self-mastery. Buddha himself, says Rhys Davids, meant by the110 term just what Christ meant by the kingdom of God, that kingdom within the soul of calm and abiding peace.275

Again, it is used to express a state of eternal, unchanging, blissful rest and ineffable peace beyond all the realms—heavens and hells—of transmigration.

Still again the term is used to denote the absolute extinction of existence, annihilation. This is the view of Nirvana held to-day by the Buddhists of Ceylon, Siam, and Burma who claim to hold the ancient faith in its primitive purity.276

The truth of the eightfold path

The ethics of Buddhism is summed up in the formula of the truth of the eightfold path.277 The truth of the eight-membered way is this: the only path which leads to the quieting of pain is the eightfold holy path—right belief, right resolve, right speech, right behavior, right occupation, right effort, right thought, right concentration.278

The essence of all this expressed in familiar ethical phrase is that the demands of morality are right thoughts, right words, and right deeds. As the eight requirements are interpreted and expounded by Buddhist teachers, they demand111 a mind free from all evil passions and unholy desires (and, according to the thoroughgoing Buddhist, of every desire whatsoever)279 and “a heart of love far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure.” This is the path leading to deliverance from transmigration, this the path leading to the quieting of pain, this the path leading to the sweet rest and peace of Nirvana.

It will be worth our while to note with some attention some of the special primary duties and virtues which are included in these general demands of self-conquest and unmeasured love.

Particular virtues and duties of the ideal

One of the primary duties of the true Buddhist is to seek knowledge, for true knowledge, insight, is the cure for desire. This knowledge which quenches all craving thirst is best attained, so Buddha taught, through meditation.280 One must meditate on the transitoriness of life, on pain, on death, on truth, on gentleness, on love. It was through profound meditation under the Bo tree that Gautama became the Buddha, “The Enlightened.”

Another cardinal virtue of the Buddhist ideal of character is universal benevolence. By no other ethical system has such stress been laid upon the duty of gentleness to everything that has life. The animal world is here brought within112 the sanctuary of morality and safeguarded by ethical sentiment. It is of course the doctrine of transmigration, which Buddhism inherits from Brahmanism, which gives animal ethics the prominent place it holds in Buddhist morality.281

Still a third requirement of the true Buddhist is toleration, which follows as a corollary from the virtue of universal benevolence. In the prominent place assigned this virtue in the ideal of character, Buddhism stands alone among the great world religions.

A fourth cardinal duty of the ideal is to make known to all men the eightfold way to salvation. Buddha’s command to his disciples was, “Go ye now and preach the most excellent Law, explaining every point thereof, unfolding it with diligence and care.” This is a duty which brings its own reward; for the exercise of compassion and charity produces that serenity of spirit which is the aim of moral striving; and hence nothing advances one more rapidly on the way to salvation than preaching the good tidings and laboring to lessen the sorrows and lighten the burdens of one’s fellow creatures. The moral requirement to preach to all the most excellent way made of Buddhism a missionary religion. In a few centuries after the death of Buddha devoted missionaries had spread the new faith throughout the Far East.

The different degrees of moral attainment

There are in Buddhism three grades of moral attainment. The lowest is that which may be reached by any one in the ordinary life. Through purity of thought and word and deed, through the exercise of universal kindliness, and by the fulfillment of every duty pertaining to his station in life, one attains such a degree of moral excellence that he may at least hope at death to avoid painful rebirth.

The second degree of moral excellence is that attained by the monk of Gautama’s Order. The idea of the Buddhist113 here is like that of the Christian respecting the monastic life. For centuries in the West the ascetic life was looked upon as more perfect than the ordinary life, and as the better and surer way to salvation. It is the same in Buddhist lands. The goal striven after, the extinction of unholy desires, the Buddhist believes is most quickly and surely reached by him who has rid himself of the cares and worries of domestic life, and withdrawn from all the distractions of the world.

The prime duty of the Buddhist monk is meditation, which takes the place of prayer in the code of the Christian recluse. Through following faithfully and patiently all the rules of the Order he may hope to attain such comparative perfection that at his death he will be reborn in some better state.

The third and highest degree of moral attainment can be reached only in the Arhatship. The Arhat is what we would call the perfect man. He is one who, like the Buddha, reaches a state of perfect insight or mental illumination and of perfect freedom from all desires282 save the desire for Nirvana. This state is reached only through absolute renunciation of the world. He who would be perfect must leave all earthly pleasures behind, and calling nothing his own, with all appetites stilled, passionless and desireless, go out from home into homelessness.283 In such a one karma becomes extinct, and for him there are no new births. “The living, moving body of the perfect man is visible still,” says Rhys Davids in explaining this state, ... “but it will decay and die and pass away, and as no new body will be formed, where life was, will be nothing.”284


The genuine altruism of Buddhist ethics

It is impossible to conceive a higher altruism than that inculcated by the higher thoroughgoing Buddhism. Since it denies the existence of the soul,—nothing save the seed (karma) of another but different life remaining at death,—when one strives to break the chain of existence, to make an end of the weary cycle of births, such a one is seeking good not for himself but for another. In the words of Dr. Hopkins, “It is to save from sorrow this son of one’s acts that one should seek to find the end.”285 Thus orthodox Buddhism alone, of all the great ethical systems of history, refuses to sully virtue with promises of reward. Its morality stands absolutely alone, unsupported by the hope of recompense either in this world or in the world to come. “Buddhism alone teaches that to live on earth is weariness, that there is no bliss beyond, and that one should yet be calm, pure, loving, and wise.”286

Another thing especially noteworthy regarding the ethics of Buddhism is that it is the ethics of naturalism. “For the first time in the history of the world,” in the words of Rhys Davids, “Buddhism proclaimed a salvation which each man could gain for himself and by himself in this world, during this life, without the least reference to God or the gods, either great or small.” In this respect Buddhism is somewhat like the present-day socialism of the materialistic school, which ardently proclaims justice, equity, and universal brotherhood, but says nothing about God.



Buddhism has been called the Christianity of the Orient. Like Christianity, it has been a great moralizing force in history. Its ethical ideal has been just such a factor in the moral life of the East as the ethical ideal of Christianity has been in the moral life of the West.

To portray even in scantiest outline the influence of this ideal upon the different peoples who have accepted it as their standard of goodness, or whose moral codes have felt its modifying effects, would lead us far beyond the limits of our work. In what follows we shall aim at nothing more—after having first remarked the ethical kinship of the Buddhist reform with other contemporary reform movements—than to note briefly the practical outworkings of the ideal in three or four departments of the moral domain.

The ethical relationships of the Buddhist reform

We shall understand best the import for the moral evolution of humanity of that remarkable revolution in Brahmanic India which resulted in the establishment of Buddhism throughout the peninsula and in other countries of the Far East, if we first notice its ethical kinship with other reform movements which, about the close of the sixth pre-Christian century, make a dividing line in the inner histories of so many of the progressive societies and cultures of that age.287

In Greece Pythagoreanism was rising. This movement was in its essential spirit a social and moral reform. It was an attempt to introduce a true ethics in Greek city life, and to find a basis for morality in the deep intuitions of the human soul.288


In Israel the Isaiah of the Exile was proclaiming the loftiest ethical doctrines ever taught by Hebrew prophet, and in his interpretation of the moral government of Yahweh was scattering the seed from which was to spring up a new ethical life among men.

In Persia the great teacher Zarathustra (Zoroaster), with like vision of moral things, was declaring to the followers of Ahura Mazda that what God requires of men is purity of purpose, truthfulness in word and act, and unceasing warfare against evil within and without.

In China the Master, Confucius, reaffirming the teachings of antiquity, was inculcating essentially the same truth—that the sum of true morality is reverence, obedience, and right living.

It probably would be unhistorical to suppose that there was any actual connection between these several ethical or religious reform movements in these widely separated lands. They are brought together here merely that they may be used to interpret one another in terms of ethical progress, and that they may bear witness to the substantial oneness of the expressions of the moral faculty of man in response to the same or similar intellectual and social stimulus.

The ethical content for the masses of Buddha’s message

The question naturally arises, How could Buddha’s dismal doctrine of annihilation as the ultimate aim and end of moral striving—for this dogma was undoubtedly one of the fundamental principles of primitive Buddhism—ever have been received by the multitude as a word of consolation and hope? What is there of ethical authority or appeal in such a doctrine to constitute it the motive force in a great popular moral reform? The answer is that although Buddha himself probably believed that death for the perfect man meant absolute extinction of being, nevertheless he lay no emphasis upon117 this part of his world philosophy. He knew very well that it would be a hard doctrine for many to receive, and when questioned about it he was reticent. It was his other doctrine, the way in which one may escape painful rebirths, upon which Buddha laid the stress of his teaching. And here his simple word to the people was this: Be gentle and merciful and just; get rid of all impure and craving desires, and then at death, instead of suffering some painful rebirth, you will be reborn into a happier condition here on earth or in some other world. In a word, he said, Follow after goodness and it will be well with you.

To be able to understand how this simple word should be received with such enthusiasm by the multitude, we need to bear in mind how hard the way of escape from painful rebirths had been made by the Brahmans. They had taught the people that salvation was possible only through ritual and ceremony, through costly offerings to the gods, through the payment of liberal fees to the priests, through penances and ascetic practices.289 Thus the way of deliverance had been made so hard that few could follow it, and so unethical that it left the heart cold and the conscience unsatisfied.

The situation was like that in Judea when the greatest of the prophets, in opposition to the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees who were laying upon men’s shoulders a burden of ritualism too heavy to be borne, declared that man finds salvation not through ritual or sacrifice, but through humility, obedience, and love—and the people heard him gladly and followed him, because his yoke was easy and his burden light.

So was it in India. Buddha interprets anew to men the divine message that all which is required of them is purity and justice and tenderness toward all creatures. The spirit118 of the heavy-burdened multitude witnesseth with the spirit of the Prophet that this is indeed a true and divine Word; and Buddhism, with its ethical enthusiasms and fresh hopes, marks a new era in the moral evolution of the peoples of the Eastern world.

Monasticism as an ethical expression of Buddhism

In explaining the different degrees of moral attainment possible to the Buddhist, we spoke of the monastic ideal of virtue. This part of Buddhist ethical theory has left a deep impress upon practical morality in all those lands into which the faith of the Buddha has spread. Monasticism has been, and is still to-day, just such a dominant factor in the moral life of all Buddhist communities of eastern Asia as it was in the moral life of medieval Christian Europe.

The causes that fostered the upgrowth of the system in the East were essentially the same as those that fostered its development in the West. Among these causes a prominent place must be assigned that feeling of world-weariness to which we have already more than once referred, a feeling evoked by the burden and ache of existence. It was this predisposition of spirit that caused the doctrine of renunciation of the world preached by the disciples of Buddha to appeal with such persuasion to multitudes throughout all the Eastern lands.

We may stop to note but one of various points of difference between Buddhist and Christian monasticism. The latter, in general, recognized the ethical value of labor. This feeling found expression in various forms of activity among the monks, particularly in agricultural labor and in the work of the scriptorium. It was this which not only helped to keep life in the Western monasteries morally wholesome for a period, but which also made the monastic system such an efficient force in the conquest and redemption of the waste lands of Europe and in the upbuilding of Western civilization in the early medieval age. Now Buddhist monasticism never recognized119 the moral value of work.290 Useful labor had no place among the requirements of the monastic ideal. Here doubtless is to be sought one cause of that lamentable moral degeneracy into which the monastic communities soon fell in almost all the lands whither Buddhism was carried by the missionary zeal of its early converts.

Practical effects of the animal ethics of Buddhism

We have seen that under the Buddhist system the whole animal and insect world is brought within the domain of ethics. Buddhist morality has gone to a greater extreme here than any other ethical system, excepting that of Jainism. The inculcating of this sympathy with all living creatures has developed one of the most attractive traits of the Hindu character.291 But the extreme emphasis laid upon this branch of ethics by Buddhism, Jainism, and modern Brahmanism or Hinduism has had practical consequences of a very serious nature. The scruple in regard to killing animals, even harmful creatures, has cost India millions of human lives. It has been a contributory cause of the country being overrun with dangerous animals, such as tigers and venomous snakes, which destroy many thousands of human beings annually, and has even fostered the propagation of forms of life which are now known to be effective agents in the spread of infectious diseases like the bubonic plague.292 Nothing is surer than that at this point the ethics of Buddhism must sooner or later feel the modifying influence of Western science.


The Buddhist spirit of toleration

As an efficient force in promoting a spirit of the broadest toleration, Buddhism holds a unique place among the great religious and ethical systems of the world.293 An edict of the Buddhist Emperor Asoka, dating from the third century B.C., inculcates the practice of toleration in these words: “A man must not do reverence to his own sect by disparaging that of another man for trivial reasons. Depreciation should be for adequate reasons only, because the sects of other people deserve reverence for one reason or another.”

The spirit of this imperial edict has been obeyed wherever the word of the Buddha has prevailed. “There is no record known to me,” writes Rhys Davids, “in the whole long history of Buddhism, throughout the many centuries where its followers have been for such lengthened periods supreme, of any persecution by the Buddhists of the followers of any other faith.”294

Disesteem of the military life

Like Confucianism, Buddhism in its spirit and its ethical teachings is, as we have seen, absolutely opposed to the spirit of militarism in every form. Doubtless it has been a potent force in fostering among the peoples of eastern Asia an anti-military spirit and in creating a disesteem for the warlike qualities of character.295 From one land—the Tartar land of Thibet—it has banished absolutely the war spirit and practically war itself.296 “It has taken all the fierceness out of the Mongols,” and thus rendered useless the Great Wall built to check their raids into China.297


Softening effects on national character of Buddhist teachings

Buddhism has been well characterized as the incarnation of sympathy with suffering. Inculcating a morality of gentleness, instilling tenderness toward every living thing, it has exercised a softening influence upon the spirit and temper of every race that has received its teachings. We have in the preceding chapter noted its humanizing effects upon Japanese morality.298 Even in India, where after a comparatively short period of supremacy it yielded sway again to Brahmanism, it left significant traces of its brief dominance in the deepened humanitarianism of the restored creed of the Brahmans, and in certain of those traits and dispositions of the native races which render truthfully descriptive the term “gentle Hindu.” “The land of meekness and gentleness,” were the words used by a native Hindu299 at a recent Lake Mohonk Conference to express the ethical character of India.

Historical significance of the ethical unity created by Buddhism

There is deep significance for the moral evolution of the human race in this ethical propaganda of Buddhism. For just as Christianity has created an ethical unity among the nations of the Western world, so has Buddhism created a certain ethical unity among the races of the Eastern world. The historical importance of this lies in the fact that these two ethical systems, though differing in form and content, are in spirit essentially the same: both are moralities of universalism; both teach the brotherhood of man; both exalt the gentle300 and self-denying virtues; both enjoin self-conquest; both inculcate the duty of universal benevolence.

Because of this moral kinship, the ethical conquests of Buddhism—and there is not a land in the Far East that has not felt its influence—are in a degree supplemental to those122 of Christianity in the West, and are thus an important step in the creation of the ethical unity of the world. India and Japan are both nearer to us ethically to-day than they would be, were it not for the modifying influence of Buddhist teachings upon the ethical spirit and temper of their peoples.301



Religious dualism

In view of the mixed good and evil in the world, thinkers of antiquity, outside of Israel and before the rise of the Stoic philosophy in Greece, could not conceive the universe as being set in motion and directed by one God infinite at once in power and goodness. Even the most penetrating intellect of Greece faltered in his search for unity: “We cannot suppose,” says Plato, “that the universe is ordered by one soul; there must be more than one, probably not less than two—one the author of good, and the other of evil.”302 The seers of Israel alone reached with perfect conviction the height of the great argument, and announced confidently that He who is the author of the good in the world is the author likewise of the evil: “I form the light and create the darkness; I make peace and create evil,” are the words which the prophet Isaiah puts in the mouth of Yahweh.303

The religious thinkers of Persia never reached this lofty viewpoint. It seemed to them, as it seemed to the Greek philosopher, that at least two deities must have been concerned in the creation and ordering of the universe. They believed in the existence of two great powers: a good being,124 Ahura Mazda, the creator of light and of all beneficent things; and an evil being, Ahriman, the author of darkness and of all baneful creatures. Between these two powers they conceived to be going on a fierce struggle for the mastery, in which ultimate victory was assured to the good Ahura.304

This Persian world philosophy reacted favorably upon the moral character, and, as we shall see further on, contributed to create in ancient Persia a deep consciousness of the eternal distinction between good and evil, a profound sentiment of duty, and an active, strenuous morality.305 It is when contrasted with the world philosophy of Brahmanism and Buddhism that the ethical value of this dualistic philosophy of the old Persian thinkers is best disclosed.

Conception of the character of the supreme god, Ahura Mazda

While it is true that the moral qualities attributed by a people to their gods are nothing more nor less than the moral qualities possessed or revered by this people themselves, still it is also true that the moral nature thus given to the gods reacts powerfully upon the ethical life of their worshipers and tends to mold their moral character after the heavenly type. In a word, celestial morality is at once effect and cause.


In the case of no other people of antiquity, except the people of Israel, did the conception of deity exercise a greater influence upon morality than in that of the ancient Persians. The supreme being, Ahura Mazda, was conceived, as we have already noted, as the creator of the light and of all good things, as the god of righteous order and benevolence. He was the lover of truth. Truth was the innermost essence of his being, as love is the innermost essence of the God of Christianity. Farther on we shall see how this conception of deity formed the mold in which was cast the Persian ideal of moral excellence.

The ethical character of Mithra

Ahura Mazda was the god of the sky. As time passed, Mithra, the god of the sun, gradually came into greater prominence and finally quite eclipsed the at first supreme deity, Ahura. As the solar god he appropriated the ethical attributes of the sky god and became preëeminently the god of light, the champion of truth, and the avenger of lies. He it is who, when not deceived, establisheth nations in victory and strength.306

It was from this solar deity that Zoroastrianism in the later pre-Christian centuries was called Mithraism, under which name, as we shall see, it entered the Greco-Roman world and there became a chief competitor with Christianity for the control and guidance of the moral life of the European nations.

Doctrine of the sacredness of the elements​— ​fire, earth, and water

The principle of Persian world philosophy which, next after that of the divided government of the universe, had probably the greatest consequences, and those not wholly favorable, for Persian morality, was the principle of the purity and sacredness of the elements—fire, earth, and water. From this principle or belief were deduced endless ritual requirements whose aim was to preserve these elements from pollution, or to restore their purity after defilement, and thus one large126 division of the moral code embraced mainly artificial duties, duties which had no vital relation to natural morality, that is, to conduct deriving its sanction from the natural feelings of moral right and wrong.

The personality of a great reformer, Zarathustra

As the great moral systems of Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism bear each the impress of the moral consciousness of some great teacher, so is it with Zoroastrianism. For the moral ideal of Persia, while doubtless largely the creation of the ethical feelings and convictions of the Iranian race, developed through many centuries of race experiences, nevertheless bears the unmistakable imprint of a unique personality. That the Zarathustra of tradition represents a real historical personage, there can hardly be longer a reasonable doubt.307

The time of Zarathustra’s mission probably falls in the first half of the sixth century B.C. He thus belongs to that era in the history of antiquity when, at various centers of culture, reform movements announced the opening of a new epoch in the moral evolution of the human race.308 The sum of what we may believe to have been his moral teachings was that man’s full duty is purity and sincerity in thought, word, and deed, and an untiring warfare against evil.

The essence of the moral life

The distinctive character of the Persian moral ideal was determined by the Persian dualistic world philosophy. The essence of the moral life is a struggle against evil. The good man is the strong fighter with Ahura against Ahriman and all his creations. There was no place in the ideal for those ascetic virtues—celibacy, fasting, self-mortification—which conferred sainthood in India.309


The married state was regarded as superior to the unmarried: “He who has children,” says the Zend-Avesta, “is far above the childless man.”310 Fasting was condemned as ungodly, for “no one who does not eat has strength to do heavy work of holiness”;311 the well-fed man can fight better than the one who lessens his vitality by fasting, can withstand the cold better, “can strive against the wicked tyrant and smite him on the head.”312 The Zoroastrians regarded Christianity, in the form in which they knew it, with disapproval, because it exalted celibacy and made fasting a virtue.

This moral ideal which made life a strenuous battling for the right was, after the ideal of the Hebrew prophets, the loftiest developed by the ancient world. As we shall see immediately, it tended to make the morality of the ancient Persians “a morality of vigor and manliness.”

Truthfulness the paramount virtue

Among the special virtues making up the moral ideal, the highest place was assigned the virtue of veracity. It is noteworthy how this virtue was, if not created, at least fostered by the Persian conception of the supreme god, Ahura Mazda, whose symbol was the light.313 As Ahriman was the god of deceit and lies, so was Ahura the god of sincerity and truth. This thought of deity made truthfulness a supreme virtue, for man must in all things take for his model the good spirit on whose side he battles.

Various testimonies bear witness to the high place assigned in the scale of virtues to veracity. There was to be no liar among those persons whom the Persian Noah (Yima) was commanded to bring into the great underground abode, that128 the earth might be repeopled with a superior race after the deadly cold of the long winter.314 The punishment provided in the Zend-Avesta for false swearing was terrible. The very first time one knowingly tells a lie unto Mithra (the god adjured in taking an oath), “without waiting until it is done again,” he shall be beaten on earth with twice seven hundred stripes, and below in hell shall receive punishment harder than the pain from the cutting off of limbs, from falling down a precipice, from impalement.315

What is especially noteworthy here is that Zoroastrian morals recognize the universality of the law of truthfulness and require that contracts made even with the unfaithful be faithfully kept: “Break not the contract,” says the sacred law; ... “for Mithra stands for both the faithful and the unfaithful.”316 Even more sacred than the engagements of kinsman with kinsman are the engagements between nations, for while a contract between members of the same group is thirtyfold more binding than one between two strangers, a contract between two nations is a thousandfold more binding.317 Here is raised a standard of international morality to which modern statesmen and diplomatists have not yet attained.

The duty of industry; the ethics of labor

Industry was another cardinal virtue of the Zoroastrian ideal of character. Labor was enjoined not only as honorable but as a sacred duty. Wedgwood endeavors to show how this virtue was the outgrowth of the Persian conception of the origin of the universe. In Indian thought the world is not a creation, the work of a divine Creator; it is an emanation from an impersonal, unconscious, primal principle. But in the Persian world-view the universe is conceived as the work of a deity who labors to give it form and shape. This conception of God as a worker reacted powerfully upon the ideal of human excellence. Man must imitate this divine virtue of129 labor. He must become a co-worker with the good Ahura Mazda. Thus was labor idealized, and all work, even the most lowly, made a sacred thing.318

There is in this view doubtless an element of truth, but it is probable that this duty of industry and thrift upon which such emphasis is laid in the Zend-Avesta was in the beginning taught and enforced by the limited area of fruitful soil and the necessity of careful irrigation and tillage, and that only later the virtue thus engendered received the sanction and support of religion. We may infer this from the fact that agriculture was the most sacred of occupations. “He who sows corn,” says the Zend-Avesta, “sows righteousness.”319 To sow corn, grass, and fruit; to water dry ground and to drain ground that is too wet—this is the duty of man.320

Animal ethics

The Zoroastrian code, like the Laws of Manu, gives a large place to man’s duties toward the lower animal creation. But the animal ethics of the Iranian lawgiver are much more reasonable than those of the Hindu legislator. The Buddhist, as we have seen, is enjoined to spare every living thing; there is no distinction made between useful animals and dangerous beasts and noxious reptiles. To such an extreme is this regard for all life carried that agriculture, though a permissible because a necessary occupation, still is looked upon with disfavor for the reason that the plow injures the beings living in the earth.321

On the other hand, the Zoroastrian code distinguishes between beneficent and baneful creatures, declares the first to have been created by the good Ahura and the latter by the evil Ahriman, and makes it the duty of the good man to protect and treat kindly all useful animals, and to destroy all baneful creatures, including noxious plants, such as weeds and130 brambles. Hence tilling the soil is praised as an especially holy occupation, since the plow destroys the thistles and weeds sown by the evil-disposed Ahriman.

Duty of protecting the purity of the elements

Another important department of Persian ethics was based on the idea of the holiness of the elements—fire, earth, and water. Any defilement of these was a sin, in some cases an unpardonable sin. For instance, burying the corpse of a man or of an animal in the earth, and not disinterring it within two years—“for that deed there is nothing that can pay; ... it is a trespass for which there is no atonement for ever and ever.”322 Equally stringent were the prohibitions against the pollution of the holy elements fire and water, through casting into them any unclean matter.323

We shall perhaps best understand the moral value of such duties as we have to do with in this division of Persian ethics, if we compare them with those duties of the Christian code—Sabbath observances—which are based on the idea of the holiness of a certain portion of time. The ethical feelings evoked in the one case are akin to those evoked in the other.

The judgment of the dead; the soul the judge of the soul

In the Persian judgment of the soul after death we have the most profound and spiritual conception of the rewards and punishments of the hereafter that has found expression in the ethical teachings of any people. The soul is conceived as being judged by itself. Upon its departure from this life the soul of the faithful is met by a beautiful maiden, “fair as131 the fairest thing,” who says to him: “I am thy own conscience; I was lovely and thou madest me still lovelier; I was fair and thou madest me still fairer, through thy good thought, thy good speech, and thy good deed.” And then the soul is led into the paradise of endless light. But the soul of the wicked one is met by a hideous old woman, “uglier than the ugliest thing,” who is his own conscience. She says to him: “I am thy bad actions, O youth of evil thoughts, of evil words, of evil deeds, of evil religion. It is on account of thy will and actions that I am hideous and vile.” And then the soul is led down into the hell of endless darkness.324

The remarkable thing about all this is that this profound and spiritual conception of “a mental heaven and hell with which we are now familiar as the only future state recognized by intelligent people” should have found expression at the early period when the faith of the Zend-Avesta was formulated. “While mankind were delivered up to the childish terrors of a future replete with horrors visited upon them from without, the early Iranian sage announced the eternal truth that the rewards of Heaven and the punishments of Hell can only be from within. He gave us, we may fairly say, through the systems which he has influenced, that great doctrine of subjective recompense, which must work an essential change in the mental habits of every one who receives it.”325

Effects of the moral ideal upon the Persian character

In setting for man as his chief moral task a courageous warfare against evil, the Zoroastrian ethics produced a certain exaltation of character, and inspired strenuous activity motived by a deep sense of duty. It created, or concurred with other causes in creating, “a race of zealous Puritans,”132 a strong, self-reliant people, who disdained all asceticism and indolence.326 Fasting, as we have seen, was regarded as a crime because it weakens the body and unfits one for active exertion.

It is instructive to place the masculine ideal of Persia alongside the feminine ideal of Buddhist India and note the different effects of these strongly contrasted standards of goodness upon the races accepting them as the measure and rule of rational conduct and duty. The Buddhist ideal, as we have seen, is made up largely of the gentler, contemplative, passive virtues, the virtues of the recluse and the ascetic. Its issue in character is quietism. In opposition to this, the Zoroastrian ideal inspires sturdy, virile, active virtues, the moral qualities of the reformer, of the toiler and the fighter. The natural effect of the ideal was to confirm in the Persians all the seemingly original strong ethical qualities of the Iranic race.

Persian veneration for the truth

We have seen that one of the chief requirements of the Zoroastrian code was truthfulness; man must be veracious even as Ahura Mazda is veracious. Various testimonies assure us that in respect to this virtue there was in ancient Persia a commendable conformity of practice to theory. The feeling for the beauty and nobility of truthfulness was much more fully developed among the Persians than among any other people of ancient or modern times. They were a truth-revering and a truth-speaking people. Lying was the great crime. To lie, to deceive, was to be a follower of Ahriman, the god of lies and deceit. Hence lying was regarded as a species of treason against Ahura Mazda. “The most disgraceful thing in the world,” affirms Herodotus, in his account of the Persians, “they think, is to tell a lie; the next worse is to owe a debt, because, among other reasons, the debtor is obliged to tell lies.”327 In his report of the Persian system of133 education he says, “The boys are taught to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth.”328 I was not wicked, nor a liar, is the substance and purport of many a record of the ancient kings. Rawlinson adduces this as evidence of their veneration for truthfulness. “The special estimation in which truth was held among the Persians,” he says, “is evidenced in a remarkable manner by the inscriptions of Darius, where lying is taken as the representative of all evil. It is the great calamity of the usurpation of the pseudo-Smerdis, that ‘then the lie became abounding in the land.’ ‘The Evil One (?) invented lies that they should deceive the state.’ Darius is favored by Ormazd, ‘because he was not a heretic, nor a liar, nor a tyrant.’ His successors are exhorted not to cherish, but to cast into utter perdition, ‘the man who may be a liar, or who may be an evildoer.’ His great fear is lest it may be thought that any part of the record which he has set up has been ‘falsely related,’ and he even abstains from relating certain events of his reign ‘lest to him who may hereafter peruse the tablet, the many deeds that have been done by him may seem to be ‘falsely recorded.’”329

The Persian kings, shaming in this all other nations ancient and modern, kept sacredly their pledged word;330 only once were they ever even charged with having broken a treaty with a foreign power.331

That truthfulness was a national virtue of the Persians is further attested by the fact that Herodotus represents them as always relying implicitly upon every tale told them by the lying Greeks whom they had taken captive. It never seemed to occur to them that even an enemy could be guilty of so awful a blasphemy as lying. It was this trait which134 led to their undoing at Salamis by the unscrupulous and mendacious Themistocles.332

Influence of the ideal upon Persian history

That exaltation of character which we have remarked as springing naturally from the moral dignity with which man was invested by being made an associate of the good Ahura in his struggle with the wicked Ahriman may be noticed especially in the aims and undertakings of the Persian monarchs in the period before the moral decadence of the Iranian civilization set in, and while the strength of the ethical appeal of the Zoroastrian ideal was yet unimpaired. This appears in all their records, which make the aim of their conquests to be the overthrow of the powers of evil and disorder and the setting up of a kingdom of righteousness in the world. The inscriptions of Darius I read like the letters of the Puritan Cromwell. Indeed, just as it was the masculine moral ideal of English Puritanism which helped to make England great, and strong to play her part in the transactions of modern times, so we may believe it was the strenuous moral ideal of Zoroastrianism that helped to make Persia great, and strong to play her great rôle in the affairs of the ancient world. In truth, the ideal is still an unexpended force in history. It seems to have given immortality to the people that it inspired; for it can hardly be doubted that it is largely owing to their active practical morality that the Parsees in India, the representatives to-day of the old Zoroastrian faith, constitute such a dominant element in the Indian communities of which they form a part.333



Introductory: Israel’s historic task a moral one

To the pious Hebrew the rainbow, which to the esthetic Greek was merely the beautiful pathway of Iris, the messenger of Olympus, was Yahweh’s bow hung out from the dark retreating thundercloud as a sign of righteous anger spent and the pledge of a divine covenant and promise. In this ethical interpretation by the Hebrew spirit of this portent is foretokened the history and mission of ancient Israel. It was her allotted task to interpret in ethical terms the phenomena of the world of nature and the drama of human life and history. And it was her happy lot to become the teacher to mankind of the truth of an alone and righteous God, and to be the creator of a moral ideal which is to-day the highest ethical standard of all the races of the Western world, and the most vital moral force at work in universal history.

In the short account which we shall give of Hebrew morality we shall adopt a mode of treatment somewhat different from that followed in describing the moral systems of the peoples already passed in review, for the reason that in the case of the ancient Hebrews the historical material is sufficiently abundant to enable us to trace step by step the development of the ethical ideal and to watch the gradual clarification of the moral consciousness of the race.334 Hence,136 after speaking of the religious ideas which formed the basis of the moral code, we shall sketch briefly the evolution of the rudimentary morality of the tribal age of the nation into the high ideal of the prophets of the later time.

The conception of deity; monolatry and monotheism

We have seen how the Persian view of deity molded Persian morality. In a still more decisive way did the Hebrew idea of God, of his character and his relation to Israel and the world, shape and mold the moral ideal of the race.335

When the Hebrews in the second millennium before Christ appeared in history, they were in possession of a stock of ideas concerning the gods which was, in all essentials save one, altogether like that held by their Semitic kinsmen of the various lands of southwestern Asia. The single essential point of difference between their religious belief and that of their neighbors was this: the nations about them were polytheists; they were monolatrists; that is, the Hebrews, while they believed in many gods, worshiped only one god, their tribal god Yahweh. As Stade expresses it, “the old Israelite was a theoretical polytheist, but a practical monotheist.”336

There is scarcely need that we add in qualification of this, that when the Hebrews first appeared in history they were not all monolatrists. The multitude were then, and for a long time thereafter, polytheists. All that can be affirmed is that in the earliest times of their history there were among them teachers of monolatrism, teachers who inculcated the duty of worshiping a single god, the patron and champion of the nation.

Through what experiences and under what tuition these teachers of Israel made the passage in thought from polytheism to monolatrism we need not now inquire. For our purpose137 we need simply note the fact and emphasize its supreme historical importance. It marks the beginning of a divergent evolution in religious belief and ethical conviction which in the lapse of time was to lead Israel far apart from her Semitic kinsmen, and make her the standard bearer of a universal religion and a universal morality. For monolatry was with the prophets and seers of Israel only the first step toward monotheism, the doctrine that there is only one God, the Universal Father. This idea of deity was not reached much before the time of the Second Isaiah. Along with this later view of Yahweh there came the thought and conviction that he is a God of absolute righteousness. This conception of God and of his character was, as we shall see, an idea charged with the deepest significance not only for the ethical development in Israel but for the moral life of all mankind.

The belief in a supernaturally revealed law

After this conception of Yahweh, first as a jealous tribal deity and later as the sole God and Universal Father, the belief in a supernaturally revealed law wherein all the duties of man were made known was the most potent force in molding the moral ideal of Israel. It was this belief which made the chief duty of man to be unquestioning obedience to the divine commandments; for the revealed law was the measure of duty—what it enjoined was right, what it forbade was wrong.

This investiture of an outer law, conceived to be of supernatural origin, with sovereign authority over man’s every act, and the subordination to it of the inner law of the individual conscience, had consequences of vast importance for the ethical evolution not only in ancient Israel but also among all the peoples whose moral ideal was essentially an inheritance from her. For where the full duty of man is made to consist in obedience to the minute requirements of an external law there is inevitably created a morality made up largely of artificial ritual duties, and as intelligence grows and the138 moral consciousness deepens and clarifies, there necessarily arises a conflict between this conventional morality and the natural morality of the human reason and conscience. In such a conflict, in this way created, within the moral life of Israel centers the dramatic interest of her moral history.

Special ground of the Israelites’ feeling that obedience to the law was their highest duty

There was a special reason why the Israelites felt that their first duty was absolute obedience to the revealed will of Yahweh. They possessed a tradition which told how their fathers were serfs in the land of Egypt; how Yahweh, through his servant Moses, had intervened in their behalf, and with a strong arm and with mighty signs had brought them up out of the land of bondage; and how at Mt. Sinai he had entered into a covenant with them in which he pledged to them his powerful protection on condition of their fidelity in his worship and obedience to all his commandments.

This belief was the germ out of which grew most of what was unique in the ethical development of Israel.337 It played exactly the same part in creating and molding the religious conscience of Israel that the Christian’s belief in the descent of the Son of God into the world and his voluntary death to effect man’s deliverance has had in molding the religious conscience of Christendom. As we advance in our study we shall see how largely the moral consciousness of the Israelites was a creation of this belief in a most sacred covenant between Yahweh and their fathers at the “Terrible Mount” in the wilderness.

The rite of sacrifice

We have seen that religion on the lower levels of culture consists largely in sacrifice; that is, in gifts or offerings either to the spirits of the dead or to the gods. The religion of the ancient Hebrews did not differ in this respect from the139 religion of other peoples in the same stage of culture.338 But the evolution of the rite of sacrifice among the Israelites differs from its development among all other peoples in that, under the influence of the Hebrew spirit, the rite was gradually reduced to symbolism and spiritualized. In this process it underwent the most remarkable metamorphoses. Beginning with meat and drink offerings from man to God, it ends with God giving himself a sacrifice for man. The system thus transformed became the great inspirer of ethical sentiment and a unique vehicle of moral instruction.

The vagueness of the belief in an after life

The Israelite’s thought of death and of the after life also reacted powerfully upon his moral feelings and colored all his ethical speculations; for, like the conceptions held of God, the notions entertained of man’s lot after death, as we have seen in the case of the ancient Egyptians, has far-reaching consequences for the moral life.

Now the Hebrew conception of the future state was the same as the Babylonian. Sheol, like the Babylonian Arallu, was a vague and shadowy region beneath the earth, a sad and dismal place which received without distinction the good and the bad. The same fate was allotted all who went down to the grave: “The small and the great are there; and the servant is free from his master.”339 There was no return there for good, or for evil: “But the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward.”340 Memory and hope were there dead: “For in death there is no remembrance of thee.... They that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.”341


We shall see later how this vague and feebly held idea of the future life reacted upon the evolution of the moral consciousness in Israel, how deeply it influenced the troubled ethical speculations of the more thoughtful minds of the nation, and how it inspired theories of the moral order of the world which have not yet lost their power over the thoughts and the conduct of men.342 We need in this place merely to point out how it was the absence of a clearly defined belief in a life of rewards and punishments in another world that created, or helped to create, the Messianic ideal, one of the most fruitful conceptions, in its ethical outcomes, that ever entered into the mind of man.

The primitive moral code

The history of Hebrew morals is the record of a long and slow evolution. The primitive code with which the development began was the code of Semitic nomadism. It was essentially the same as that which to-day governs the conduct of the practically unchanged kinsmen of the Hebrews, the Bedouin of Arabia and neighboring lands. It was the morality of the kinship group.343 The principle of communal responsibility, which affords the key to a large part of the moral history of Israel, had not yet been challenged as unethical, and blood revenge was a most sacred duty. The circle covered by the moral feelings was still narrow; there was practically no sentiment of duty or obligation toward tribes or nations outside the group of tribes constituting the people of Israel. The conception of Yahweh as a jealous national god prevented the growth of feelings which might have formed the basis of a true international morality. The wars which the Israelites waged against their enemies were wars of ruthless slaughter and rapine.


This rudimentary morality is summarized in the Decalogue,344 for the Ten Commandments are indisputably of a high antiquity. One mark of the primitive character of this legislation is the negative form of the commandments.345 Where there is need of the “thou shalt not,” the moral life is still on a low plane. The aim and purpose of the law thus worded are restraint and repression. There is a wide interval in moral chronology between the morality of the Ten Words and that of the Sermon on the Mount. In this earlier code there is only the slightest recognition of the truth that the truly moral life consists not in refraining from evil but in doing good. The nomads of the desert for whom these negative commands were framed, forbidding mostly crude, coarse crimes, were evidently a long way yet from that level of moral attainment where the only law is the law of love and liberty.

The moral anarchy of the age of the Judges

That period of transition which marks the passage of the Israelite tribes from the nomadic pastoral life of the desert to a settled agricultural life in Palestine may be instructively compared with that transition period in the history of Europe which followed the migration of the German tribes and their settlement in the provinces of the disrupted Roman Empire. It was an epoch characterized by the rapid decay of the clan and tribal organization, with an accompanying loss of the rude virtues of the nomadic and pastoral life, and the acquisition of the vices of the civilized or semicivilized communities among which they had thrust themselves and whose lands they had forcibly seized.

Especially upon the religious system, which in Israel was ever closely bound up with morality, was felt the reaction of the new environment. Many foreign elements adopted from142 the Canaanite peoples were incorporated with it, while the national god Yahweh, as conceived by the popular imagination, tended to become sanguinary, capricious, and unjust. He became eminently a god of war, and is for his people right or wrong. Thus a chief bulwark of morality was impaired. The result was a moral interregnum. The old standards and rules of conduct lost their sanction. Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.346

Prophetism: its different elements

The necessities of the situation called into existence the monarchy (about 1050 B.C.). Then followed the disruption of the kingdom (about 953 B.C.). The significant matter in the moral domain during the period of the united and the divided kingdom347 was the appearance of teachers called prophets or seers, men who were believed to speak the word given them by Yahweh. This emergence of prophetism in Israel is beyond controversy one of the most important phenomena in the moral history of the world.

There were in this prophetism various elements.348 First, it contained a nomadic element; that is, some of the prophets were men who looked backward to the simple pastoral life of the desert as the ideal moral life. They regarded civilization as the sum of all evils. Their reading of history was, in the words of Wellhausen, that “as the human race goes forward in civilization, it goes backward in the fear of God.” Second, there was in it a socialistic element. These prophets were the first socialists. Theirs was the first passionate plea for the poor, the wretched, and the heavy-burdened. Third, it contained143 a predictive element. The prophets were regarded as seers, as foretellers of future events. Fourth, there was in this prophetism an element of pure intuitional morality which was in irreconcilable antagonism to all legal ritual morality. Fifth, it contained a monotheistic element. The later prophets were distinctively teachers of the doctrine that there is only one God, beside whom there is no other.

Of these several elements the predictive, or prophetic in the popular sense, has been given such undue prominence that Hebrew prophetism in the minds of many stands for little else than a supernatural forecasting of future events. But, in truth, this is the element of least importance. In the words of Kuenen, the business of the prophets was “not to communicate what shall happen, but to insist upon what ought to happen.”349 They were preachers of individual and social righteousness. It is this ethical element, forming the very heart and core of their message, which makes the appearance of prophetism in Israel a matter of such transcendent importance for universal history. Our main task in the following pages of this chapter will be to point out this moral element in the message of the prophets, to show how the conception of Yahweh was by them moralized, and how the morality they inculcated became purer and more elevated as the centuries passed, till the evolution culminated in the lofty teachings of the Prophet of Nazareth.

The beginnings of historical prophetism: Elijah and Elisha

The real history of Hebrew prophetism opens with the appearance in the northern kingdom, about the beginning of the ninth century B.C., of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha. It was the moral degeneracy of the times of the monarchy, the inrush of the hateful vices of civilization,—the greed of land350 and of wealth, the cruel inequalities of the new society, the selfish luxury of the rich, the harsh oppression of the poor,144 the forgetting of men’s kinship, the substitution of the worship of other gods for the sole worship of Yahweh,—it was all this which called out the vehement protest of these teachers of social justice and national righteousness.

It was, however, a very different prophetism from that of the later seers of Israel which was represented by these early teachers. There was in it a large nomadic element. Its representatives looked back to the times of the simple pastoral life of the fathers as the Golden Age of Israel. They hated civilization, that grossly material civilization which Israel, under the lead of an idolatrous and luxurious court, was now adopting from the surrounding nations, and looked upon it as “the sum of all evils.” They were, furthermore, monolatrists rather than monotheists. They believed in sacrifice; but sacrifices must not be offered to strange gods—only to Yahweh. They were fanatical in their zeal for the worship of Israel’s patron God; but even here there was an ethical element, for in their view the triumph of the worship of Yahweh over that of the Baals meant a triumph of the simple, severe, desert morality over the voluptuousness and the nameless vices of the Canaanite civilization.

This early prophetism, in a word, was a sort of Puritanism. Renan calls it “this terrible prophetism.” It was fierce, cruel, fanatical, intolerant, like English Puritanism. Indeed, it can best be studied in this modern seventeenth-century prophetism, which was essentially a revival of it. But notwithstanding the imperfect character of this early prophetism, because of the true ethical element it contained,351 its appearance in Israel and its successful fight against a sensuous idolatry was145 a matter of vast moral import, for here in this narrow, intolerant monolatry is the real historical beginning of that long religious-ethical development which lends chief significance to the story of Israel, and constitutes a main interest of the history of European civilization. In the words of Renan, “The prophetism which struggled under Ahab and triumphed under Jehu is ... upon the whole the most decisive event in the history of Israel. It forms the commencement of the chain which, after nine hundred years, found the last link in Jesus.”352

The moral advance represented by Amos (760 B.C.) and Hosea (738–735 B.C.)

The second link in this chain was formed by the prophets Amos and Hosea, who delivered their message about the middle of the eighth century. Amos was the earlier. There is in his message the note of true prophetism. His thought of Yahweh is that he is a God who hates iniquity and loves righteousness. What angers him is not idolatry or the worship of other gods, but social wrongs and injustice—wickedness in every form. He is angry with Israel353 because there has been stored up violence and robbery in the palace;354 because of the luxury and self-indulgence of the rich; because of the treading upon the poor and the taking from him burdens of wheat; because of the taking of bribes and the turning aside of the poor in the gate from their right;355 because of the falsifying of the balances by deceit that the poor may be bought for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes.356 And what pleases Yahweh is not fast days and sacrifices, but justice and righteousness: “I hate, ... I despise your fast days,”357 declares Yahweh. “Though ye offer me burnt offerings and meat offerings, I will not accept.”358 “But let judgment run down as water and righteousness as a mighty stream.”359


A generation later the prophet Hosea repeats the same message; namely, that what angers Yahweh is moral evil—lying, swearing, stealing, and killing. He puts in the mouth of Yahweh these words: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”360

There is here a notable ethical advance over the word to Israel of the prophets of the preceding century. The thought of Amos and Hosea that it is social wrongdoing that angers Yahweh is indeed no new thought, for we meet with this conception of the moral character of God in the teachings of the earlier prophets; what is new is the emphasis which is laid upon it. Here we reach ethical monolatry;361 ethical monotheism lies not far in the future.

The ideal of the brotherhood of nations and universal peace

The morality of Amos and Hosea infolded the germ of ethical cosmopolitanism. The conviction that the government of Yahweh is founded on absolute justice and righteousness led to the conviction of its ultimate universality, “for right is everywhere right, and wrong is everywhere wrong.” The political situation in the Semitic world at this time fostered the thought thus awakened. The predominant fact in international relations in the latter half of the eighth century was the growth of the Assyrian Empire. In its expansion it had already engulfed many of the smaller states of western Asia, and Assyria had become a world power. Political unity suggested now, as it did when Rome had established a world empire, religious and ethical unity. Yahweh, Israel’s God of justice and right, is the suzerain of all other gods and peoples. He will establish a world-wide kingdom, and all nations shall acknowledge his righteous rule.

As representatives of this broadening vision we have the great prophets Isaiah and Micah, who, proclaiming the universal147 reach of the law of right and justice, held aloft a noble ethical ideal of the brotherhood of nations and universal peace. Seers by virtue of their conviction of the absoluteness, the oneness and sovereignty, of the moral law, they foretold the coming of a time in the last days when all the nations of the earth should form a federation under the suzerainty of Israel with Jerusalem as the world capital: “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, and he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”362

This is the first distinct expression in Hebrew literature, or in that of any race, of the idea of the brotherhood of man and a federated world. The lofty ideal has never faded from the eyes of men. It has inspired all the noblest visions of world unity and peace through the war-troubled ages, and is in the world of to-day the source and spring of much of that ethical idealism which with prophetic faith and conviction proclaims a federated world, with the nations dwelling together in peace and amity, as the one divine event toward which all history moves.

With this lofty ethical universalism in the teachings of Isaiah and Micah was joined a simple personal and social morality of the human heart and reason. These prophets were at one with Amos and Hosea in proclaiming that what Yahweh delights in is not sacrifices and the observance of new moons and Sabbaths, but cleanliness of life and services of love. Hear Isaiah as he repeats the words of the Lord: “I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.... Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth.... Cease to do evil; learn to do well;148 seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”363 And listen to Micah: “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams and with ten thousands of rivers of oil?... He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”364

The prophetic spirit creates a unique ethical literature

The prophets of the eighth century were the first of the literary prophets; that is, the first of those who employed literature as the vehicle of their message to Israel. Hence here our attention is called to a matter of supreme significance for universal morality—the ethicalizing of the mythology and traditional history of the Hebrew people.

It was during the age of the kings that the mass of cosmological myths and legends borrowed from Babylonia,—doubtless largely through contact with Assyria,—the traditions of the patriarchs, and the story of the sojourn in Egypt and the Exodus, all of which had been transmitted from the foretime orally or in writing, was worked over and edited afresh, in which process it received the indelible stamp of the deeper and truer moral consciousness of this later age. For though probably little of this work was done by the prophets themselves, it was done by men who wrote under the inspiration of the new thoughts of God and of his moral government which had been awakened in the souls of the great teachers of Israel. The polytheistic elements of these myths and traditions and their grosser and more archaic immoralities were pruned away, while at the same time they were given a monotheistic cast and a truer morality was breathed into them. In a word, all this literary material was censored by the growing moral consciousness of Israel. The149 outcome was the creation of a literature absolutely unique in its moral educative worth.

Thus the remolded and moralized Chaldean account of the creation of the world and the beginnings of human history came to form the basis of the opening chapters of Genesis, whose influence upon Hebrew morality, through molding Israel’s idea of the character of Yahweh and of his relations to man, it would hardly be possible to exaggerate. Also the tradition of the Exodus, given now its final form and received by the later generations of Israel as an historically true account of the experiences of their fathers, left an ineffaceable impress upon the mind and heart of the Hebrew nation, determining largely their ideas as to their chief moral obligations as the chosen and covenanted people of Yahweh. It was this tradition of their heroic past which was the inspiration of the moral strivings of the nation. Furthermore, all this literary material, thus reshaped and colored by the growing monotheistic ideas of the teachers of Israel and bearing the stamp of their gradually deepening moral consciousness, and in this form transmitted to the Aryan nations of the West, was destined to become one of the most important factors not merely in the religious but especially in the moral life of the European peoples.

The ethicalizing of pagan festivals and cults

Just as the myths and traditions, in part borrowed from neighboring peoples and in part transmitted from Israel’s own foretime, were transformed and moralized by the ethical genius of the Hebrew spirit, so were the institutions and festivals borrowed by the Israelites from kindred Semitic peoples, and particularly from the Canaanites, transmuted and moralized.365 Permeated by the ethical spirit of Israel’s great teachers and transformed into moral symbols, these originally nonethical agricultural cults and festivals were given a distinct educative value.


Among these pagan institutions thus moralized was the festival or rest day of the Sabbath.366 Filled with ethical meaning and consecrated to a religious-moral purpose, this originally pagan lunar festival was made a most important means of moral instruction and discipline.367 This borrowing and moralizing by Israel of this festival has an almost exact parallel in the later borrowing and moralizing by the Christian Church of the pagan festival of the winter solstice, which has given Christendom one of its most beautiful anniversaries, one which takes precedence of all others in its power to evoke the tenderest altruistic sentiments.

As with the Sabbath, so was it with all the festivals which the Israelites, after their settlement in Palestine and during the period when they were passing from the nomadic to the agricultural life, adopted from the Canaanite peoples among whom they were dwelling. All of these in the course of time were turned from their original purpose, were cleansed of immoral and sensuous elements, and were thus made the means of awakening moral feelings and developing moral character.

This transforming power of the ethical genius of Israel finds a true historical parallel in the esthetic genius of ancient Hellas, which, receiving from every side elements of art and general culture, inspired them all with the beauty and energy of her own spirit.368 “Israel,” as Cornill finely says, “resembles in spiritual things the fabulous King Midas, who turned everything he touched into gold.”


The dual morality of the Deuteronomic code

The effect of the capture of Samaria by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and the carrying away into captivity of the flower of the Ten Tribes was to put an end to prophetism in the North and to make Judah in the South the center of the movement which had such significance for the moral life of the world.

During the century and a half that passed between the fall of the northern kingdom and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, only one great prophet appeared in Judah. This was Jeremiah, who prophesied in the reign of King Josiah, just a little time before the Captivity.

It was during the reign of this king that there appeared a book which, excepting the Gospels of the New Testament, has had a greater influence upon the general evolution of morality than any other book ever written. This was a work known as the Book of Deuteronomy, that is, the repetition of the law. Before the discovery of the Laws of Hammurabi this was the oldest known code of laws.

The book contains much archaic material—traditions, customs, judicial decisions, laws, and rituals—manifestly handed down from the earliest times in Israel, with additions made at the moment of its appearance, and all bearing plainly the stamp of the spirit and temper of these later times. Hence it comes that there are two moralities embodied in the work—an atavistic ritual morality and a progressive social morality.

The ritual ethics of the code

In that part of the code which has to do with the ethics of ritualism the dominant motive of the editors or compilers springs from a dread and abhorrence of idolatry, like the dread and abhorrence of heresy in medieval Christendom. Yahweh will divide his worship with no other god. Israel had gone after other gods and Yahweh had given her into the hands of the Assyrians. A like fate awaited Judah if she served any other than him: “Ye shall not go after other gods, or the gods of the people which are round about you, lest the anger152 of the Lord be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth,”369 is the first commandment with threatening.

Fear that Yahweh would do unto Judah as he had done unto Israel awakened the conscience of the nation. Idolatry was suppressed; the high places on which incense was burned unto the Baals were defiled, and the altars and the images of the strange gods were broken down and ground into dust.

This reform movement practically ended the long struggle which had gone on now for six hundred years and more between polytheism and the rising monotheism of the people of Israel. But unfortunately while the monotheistic element of the religion of Yahweh was brought out by the reform in sharper outline, the ethical element was obscured. The religion that was now made the exclusive worship was really little more than a pagan cult. It consisted in the careful keeping of feast days and the observance of the rites and sacrifices of the Temple—an inheritance largely from the heathen nations around about Israel. Nothing could have been more opposed to true prophetism. It was the triumph of reactionary ritualism.

This victory of ritualism has exerted an almost incalculable influence upon the development of morality from the time of King Josiah down to the present day. The immediate effect upon prophetism in Judah was most lamentable. “Deuteronomy simply confirmed the belief that religion was concerned with ritual rather than with morality.”370 And so the outcome of the promulgation of a written revealed law was, in the words of Wellhausen, “the death of prophecy.”371


But this fatal effect was not felt at once. In the dark days of the Exile, now just at hand, there was a revival of true prophetism; but after the return from the Captivity, as we shall see, the prophetic spirit was almost stifled by the rigid legalism of the Temple cult. And it was this same Deuteronomic law which, in the hands of medieval inquisitors, stifled awakening prophetism in Europe and delayed for generations true moral reform after the stirring of the European mind by the Renaissance.372

The intolerant spirit of this narrow, rigid religion of ritualism found specially sinister expression in Israel’s war ethics. Instead of promoting international amity and good will, it deepened intertribal prejudices and hatreds and intensified the barbarities of war. “Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth;”373 “thou shalt smite them and utterly destroy them, thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them,”374 were the commands to Israel regarding the nations round about her who were the worshipers of other gods than Yahweh.

Thus religion was made an active principle of international savagery. It made it, in the words of Cheyne, “difficult, if not impossible, ... to love God fervently without hating a large section of God’s creatures.”375 Under the influence of the fierce ordinances of the Deuteronomic code the war practices of the Israelites became more ferocious and savage than those of any other nation of antiquity, unless it be those of the Assyrian kings. Their enemies, who were also154 the enemies of Yahweh, they smote with the utmost fury, putting to the edge of the sword men, women, and the little ones, and taking as booty the cattle and the spoils.

The social ethics of the code

But, as we have said, there were two spirits striving together in this strange Deuteronomic code. In opposition to this spirit of stern fanatical intolerance there was a spirit of tender sympathy for the unfortunate, the poor, and the oppressed.376 Along with this priestly morality, based on a certain conception of Yahweh and of his relations to Israel, there was another wholly different morality—a social morality whose chief sanctions were the natural impulses and sentiments of the human heart and conscience.

This code of social ethics bears witness to a progressive development of the moral consciousness in Israel. The ethical advance is unmistakably registered in various ameliorations effected in the crude customary law of earlier times. One of the most noteworthy of these mitigations concerned the primitive blood revenge. In common with other peoples in the kinship stage of culture, the early Hebrews in their pursuit of blood vengeance made no distinction between intentional and unintentional homicide. The regulations of the Deuteronomic code regarding the so-called cities of refuge377 bear witness to a growing power of moral discrimination; for these cities are made inviolable sanctuaries whither might flee the manslayer who had slain his neighbor unawares and hated him not in time past.378

Especially is the humanitarian advance shown in the provisions of the code which relate to the poor, the debtor, and155 the bondsman. We meet here some of the most humane regulations to be found in any of the codes of antiquity. Social morality is almost made to consist in consideration for the poor: “If there be among you a poor man ... thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him”—so the law enjoins—“and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need.”379 Things that were necessities to the poor man were not to be taken as security for a loan: “No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge.”380 If a garment be taken as security, this must be returned before night, in order that the man may sleep in his own raiment.381 The widow’s raiment must not be taken in pledge at all.382 The wages of the poor and needy must be promptly paid: “At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it.”383

The law goes even further in its humane endeavor to prevent the oppression of the needy. The loaning of money in ancient times was in general a very different thing from similar money transactions in this commercial and industrial age of ours. Those seeking loans were the very poor, who were forced to borrow to meet domestic necessities. Under such conditions the taking of interest would naturally be denounced, and those who did so would come to be regarded as extortioners, and robbers of the poor. Hence the prohibition, “Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; ... unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury.”384

This legislation, well adapted to the times and the conditions of the society for which it was enacted, became centuries later, through its adoption and attempted enforcement by the medieval Church, a source of grave mischief. It constituted156 a heavy drag for centuries upon the industrial development of European civilization.

The same spirit of tenderness toward the portionless and needy is shown in the provision concerning the ingathering of the harvest: “When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.”385 This tender consideration for the poor speaks from one of the most beautiful of Bible pictures—that of the Moabitess Ruth gleaning in the fields after the reapers, who “let fall some of the handfuls of purpose for her.”386

The social conscience awakening in Israel, to which the above regulations and commandments bear witness, finds further expression in the provisions of the code effecting ameliorations in the lot of the unfortunate bondsman. The master is enjoined to see that the Sabbath is observed by his slave as well as by himself and his family, and the reason assigned is the humanitarian one—“that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.”387 And a limitation was set to the time that a person could be held in bondage: “And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.”388 Furthermore, the law is solicitous respecting the welfare of the bondsman even after emancipation: “And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty. Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy threshing floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him.”389

To these ameliorative measures effect is sought to be given through a revival of memories of the past. The masters are157 enjoined to be compassionate to their bondsmen because they themselves had been worn and bruised in bondage: “Remember,” says the lawgiver, “that ye were bondsmen in the land of Egypt.”390

The effects of the Captivity upon the moral evolution in Israel

We have reached now a turning point in the moral history of Israel. Speaking of the effects of the Exile upon the inner life of Israel, Renan uses these words: “Twice it was the fate of Israel to owe its salvation to that which is the ruin of others, and to be recalled by the crushing of its earthly hopes to a sense of its great duties toward humanity.”

The mission of Israel, her duty toward humanity, was, as we have said, to interpret life in ethical terms. As the story of the exilic and the postexilic period unfolds, we shall see how the sad experiences of the Exile purified and deepened the moral consciousness of Israel, and prepared her for the great part she was destined to play in the moral education of mankind.

It was the great unknown prophet of the Exile, the so-called Second Isaiah, who wrote just after the capture of Babylon by the Persian king Cyrus (539 B.C.), who was the representative of the essentially new conceptions of Yahweh and of the requirements of the moral law which characterize this ethical development.391

Ethical monotheism at last; religion and morality at one

Shut out from participation in political affairs, the best energies of the exiled community seem to have been turned to the things of the inner life, and consequently the development in the religious and moral spheres went on apace. The158 conception of God—of what is pleasing to him and what he requires of man—was elevated and purified.

We meet now for the first time monotheism pure and absolute. Yahweh is conceived as the only God; the gods of the other nations are no gods at all. Some of the earlier prophets had, it is true, caught sight of this lofty truth; but the multitude of the people certainly had no such idea of their patron god. The prophets of the Exile are the first to proclaim this doctrine with such emphasis as to cause it to become a part of the indestructible religious consciousness of Israel.392

One cannot read the declarations which the unknown prophet puts in the mouth of Yahweh—“Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me;”393 “I am the first and I am the last; and besides me there is no God;”394 “I am Yahweh who wrought everything, who stretched forth the heavens above, who spread forth the earth—who was with me;”395 “I am Yahweh and there is none beside me;”396 “I am God, and there is none else, I am God, and there is none like me”397—one cannot read these declarations without being convinced that they were not phrased by one to whom the idea of the unity of God had become a commonplace, but rather by one to whom the thought was something in the nature of a discovery.398

But it was not merely the idea of the oneness of deity, of Yahweh as the sole God, that was the element of supreme significance in this practically new thought of God. There is nothing unethical in the belief in many gods; nor, on the159 other hand, is there anything ethical in the belief that there is only one God. The historically important thing about the monotheism of Israel is that it was ethical monotheism. Up to the time of the Exile the multitude in Israel, notwithstanding the teachings of the prophets Amos and Hosea, Isaiah and Micah, had never thought of Yahweh as an absolutely just god, but rather as one who would favor his people under all circumstances. Put in the language of to-day, they conceived Yahweh as a partisan, who would be for his people right or wrong. But under the discipline of the Exile the more spiritual-minded of the nation came to accept the teaching that Yahweh’s favor “is conditioned by a law of absolute righteousness.”399

This conception of God marks a turning point in the moral evolution of humanity. It lifted a new ethical standard. It effected a union of religion and morality. This, it is true, was not a wholly new thing in history. In the worship of the good Osiris in Egypt these elements had been united; in the Zoroastrian worship of Ahura Mazda they had also been brought together; and at this very time in Greece there was an effort being made to unite them in the worship of the Delphian Apollo. But the union effected by the prophets of Israel was the only one destined to have large and permanent historical consequences. Because of the ethical content given the god idea by them, their conception of deity constituted the most precious part of the spiritual heritage bequeathed by Judaism to Christianity.

Repudiation of the doctrine of collective responsibility

The progressive clarification of the moral consciousness in Israel disclosed by this truer conception of the divine character is further shown by the definite and emphatic repudiation by the prophets of the Exile of the doctrine of collective responsibility.400


There was an ironical proverb current in Israel, which, expressing bitter protest against the unequal ways of Yahweh in visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children,401 ran thus: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”402 The prophet Ezekiel says to the people that they shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb.403 With clear moral vision he sees how impossible it is that the moral government of Yahweh should rest upon the principle of collective responsibility, and that the innocent should be punished for the guilty. Declaring that the ways of God are just and equal, he annuls all earlier provisions of the law by boldly proclaiming that the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son.404

It marks a great moral advance when guilt comes thus to be viewed as a personal and not a communal thing. But unfortunately the ground here gained for morality was lost when the theologians of the early Christian Church, reviving the outgrown conception of collective responsibility, formulated the dogma that all the generations of men—such being the solidarity of the human race—are partakers in the sin of the first parents and under condemnation therefor.405

The doctrine of the sufferings of the righteous as vicarious and expiatory

But the decisive rejection by the deepening moral consciousness in Israel of the doctrine that under the moral government of Yahweh the innocent are punished for the guilty left still unsolved the problem of the sufferings of the righteous—that problem which had at all times so troubled the pious Israelite, and for the solution of which so many different theories had been framed. The new teaching, or161 the implication of the new teaching, that such sufferings are not penal in character, that they are no sign of God’s displeasure with the sufferer, while a teaching of consolation, contributed nothing to the actual solution of the problem. But a new theory now offers a new interpretation. This theory assumes that all transgression must be atoned for by suffering, but teaches that this suffering may be borne vicariously by one not the transgressor, and the guilt thereby expiated.

This idea worked itself out in the sorrow-burdened souls of the pious exiles in Babylon. Never did acquaintance with bitter sorrow yield sweeter fruit. The thought finds expression in Chapters LII and LIII of Isaiah.406 The righteous Servant of Yahweh, who is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief, is the personified community of the pious Israelites, who are wounded for the transgressions and bruised for the iniquities of the nation.407

Of all the ethical products of the troublous life of Israel, this idea that under the moral government of the world one may vicariously bear the burden of another’s fault and thus atone for it was the most important in its historical consequences. Six hundred years after the utterance of this message of consolation to the pious Israelite exiles, the ideal of the suffering Servant of Yahweh, thus held aloft by the Great Unknown, was incarnated, so it was believed, in Jesus of Nazareth. Clothed in actual flesh and blood, the sweet persuasiveness of the ideal—the nobility and divineness of suffering voluntarily borne in the stead of another—made unwonted appeal to the heart of humanity, and for eighteen hundred years and more, accepted as a true symbol and interpretation of the moral order, it has been a chief molding force in the moral life of the Western world.


A ritual morality

The chief moral fact in the postexilic period408 was the putting into strict practice of the Levitical and Deuteronomic law, and the consequent triumph of ritual morality. From the establishment of this law till the rise of Christianity, orthodox morality in Judah consisted in the careful observance of the thousand and one minute rules and requirements of this Temple code. The good man was he who kept the law of the Lord.409 All duties were in a sense religious duties; they were acts performed simply because of the supposed divine command that they should be performed.410

Such dependence as this on rules and forms and rites is of course disastrous to all true morality. It fosters the idea that morality consists in the performance of certain outer acts, instead of being the attitude of the soul toward the good and the right inwardly discerned. It substitutes an outer standard for the individual conscience. Conscience disused loses its power of discrimination and becomes atrophied. The ethically indifferent is made the all-important, and thus all moral values are confused.

What confusion resulted in Israel is revealed in the denunciations of this rigid, mechanical legalism by the Prophet of163 Nazareth: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”411 “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth.... To eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”412

The Sermon on the Mount announces the awakening of the true prophetic spirit in Israel after a sleep of five hundred years.

An intolerant nationalism

A sinister phase of the orthodox religious-ethical system of the postexilic age was its narrow, intolerant nationalism. To be an enemy of Israel was what was believed to constitute wickedness, and to excite the wrath of Yahweh, just as later in the ethics of certain systems of Christian theology the unbeliever or pagan, merely because of his unbelief or paganism, was regarded as wicked and as deserving of eternal punishment. In psalms which date from this period these enemies of Yahweh are cursed with a fierce hatred which spares not even the children, but pronounces happy him who shall take up and dash the little ones against the stones.413 Nowhere in history do we meet with a more fanatically intolerant nationalism.

The relation of the synagogue to the moral evolution

It was only a comparatively small part of the Jewish nation whose home was the city of Jerusalem in the later postexilic period. The Israelite community was now widely scattered in the cities of the East and the West. One important outcome of this, in its bearings upon the moral life of Israel and of the nations that were to receive ethical instruction from her, was164 the establishment of the synagogue.414 For the Deuteronomic code had made religion to be something connected with the Temple, something separate and apart from true morality, whose root is in human relationships. Now the Dispersion, tearing the Israelites away from the Temple, tended to bring into prominence those religious exercises and those duties which had nothing to do with the Temple service. This was favorable to the religion and morality of the prophets, as opposed to the religion and morality of the priests. The services of the synagogue took the place of the ceremonies and sacrifices of the Temple.415 These services consisted in the reading and translation of a portion of the Scriptures with comments thereupon.416 This meant the incoming of a new and powerful agency in the promotion not only of the religious but also of the moral education of humanity, for this custom “was the origin of the homily and sermon.”417 The synagogue was the prototype and precursor of the Christian basilica and the Puritan meetinghouse.

The new doctrine of immortality: its ethical import

The reëstablishment of the Law we have pronounced the chief ethical fact in the history of Judaism after the return from the Babylonian Captivity. And this is true if it is the history of the Jews alone that we have in mind; but regarding the moral evolution in the world at large there is another fact belonging to this period of even greater importance. This was the incoming of the doctrine of immortality.418

We have seen that from the first the Hebrews, like the Babylonians, held a belief in a sort of shadowy existence after death;419 but of a belief in personal immortality in our165 sense of the word, of a life of rewards and punishments beyond the grave, there is no certain trace in Hebrew literature until about the third or second century B.C.420

Different influences had concurred to create this new conception of the hereafter and to secure for it by the end of the Greek period a wide acceptance. First, there was what has been called the subjective sense of fellowship with God. During this period of Israelite history there was engendered in select souls a passionate outreaching after divine companionship. This feeling is revealed in many a postexilic psalm, as where the psalmist exclaims, “For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one [beloved] to see corruption.”421 This was the divination of love like that of the old mystic who exclaimed, “O God, if I should die, Thou couldst not live.”422 It was such filial love and trust as this, which found its divinest expression in the life of “the Sublime Mystic of Galilee,” that created in many a devout soul in Israel that larger hope which gave birth to the doctrine of personal immortality.

But while it was probably deep religious feeling, the soul’s recognition of its sonship to God, that called into existence the idea of personal immortality, it was the ethical necessity created by a profound faith in God’s absolute justice, an irrefragable conviction that under the moral government of the world well-doing will be rewarded and evildoing punished, that gained for the doctrine its wide acceptance. That good men should be afflicted and wicked men should enjoy prosperity, has in all ages of reflection caused questionings and murmurings. But this ethical problem filled with peculiar unrest the souls of the Israelites, first, because more than any166 other people they felt the need of a just God; and second, because of their lack of belief in a future life of rewards and punishments in which the wrongs and inequalities of this life might be righted. Hence the many different solutions of the problem which they thought out, and through which they sought to justify the ways of God to man. So long, however, as life practically ended at the grave, the problem remained insolvable. But the doctrine of another existence in which the righteous man should receive compensation for his sufferings here, and the evil man just retribution for his deeds, offered a reasonable solution of the problem that had so troubled the conscience of Israel. It was this undoubtedly that caused the teaching to gain popular currency.

The doctrine, however, was not wholly the product of the religious and ethical development within Israel. Its growth was fostered by various outside influences. Among these was the Persian doctrine of the resurrection and a future life of retributive justice, with which the Jews became familiar at the time of the Exile in Babylon or later in the Persian period. Then again the development of the idea was stimulated, after the third century B.C., by Greek philosophy, particularly the Platonic.

But far more influential than either Zoroastrian teachings or Greek philosophy must have been the thought and conviction of ancient Egypt. After the founding of Alexandria, toward the end of the fourth century B.C., a vast number of Jews were settled in that capital; and though the positive evidence here is very meager, still we have a right to something more than a conjecture that in that city Judaism was deeply influenced by the ancient Egyptian doctrine of immortality.423

Under these various influences this doctrine rooted itself firmly among the Jews, and by the time of the appearance of167 Christ had become a distinctive tenet of a large and influential party among them.424

After the conception of a just God and the ideal of the suffering Servant of Yahweh, this doctrine of immortality, with its correlate teaching of future rewards and punishments, was perhaps the most important product, in its moral consequences, of the life and ethical experiences of ancient Israel. It exercised little or no influence, at least no decisive influence, upon the moral evolution in Judaism, but, adopted by Christianity, it was given new force and currency, and for eighteen hundred years and more has been one of the great bulwarks and sanctions of morality in the Western world.

The expansion of the moral sympathies in the Hellenistic Age

We have spoken of the rigid legalism and the narrow nationalistic spirit of orthodox postexilic Judaism. But it must not be thought that in these last days the spirit of prophetism was dead. Hidden beneath this hard rind of legalism there pulsed a true moral life. This life found expression in a movement toward ethical universalism. To understand this movement we must recall the great political revolution of this epoch.

Almost exactly two centuries after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Captivity, all the political relations of the Semitic East were abruptly ended and new relations established by the conquests of Alexander the Great. Hellenism, the most powerful solvent of history, now came in contact with Hebrew life and thought both in Palestine and in Egypt. The effect upon the ethical development in Judaism was profound. With the expansion of the political and mental horizons the moral sympathies of men were widened. The wall of separation between Jew and Gentile was thrown down. In Alexandria and in the many new Hellenistic cities in Asia, the nobler spirits of dispersed Israel, casting aside their narrow racial prejudices, with enlarged mental vision and widened168 moral sympathies, came to read with new understanding their great prophets who had preached the universality of the moral law and the brotherhood of nations.425 Hebrew literature registers the change. This new spirit of internationalism, of kindness and justice even to enemies, breathes from many of the later psalms426 and speaks from many a passage of the so-called “wisdom books” of the period. The allegory of Jonah embodies the liberal spirit of this new Judaism. The great lawyers Hillel and Shammai,427 who laid emphasis upon social duties and human service, represented the humanitarian phase of the age movement. Philo, the Alexandrian Jew, represented its philosophical side. The way was being prepared for the incoming of the ethical universalism of Christianity.




The Greek ethical ideal, a creation of the natural feelings and impulses of the human mind and heart uninfluenced by theological doctrines, was one of the most imperishable products of Greek life and thought. This conception of what constitutes good life became a part of the Greek bequest to civilization. The modern world is thus indebted to Greece not only for priceless elements of its intellectual and art life, but for precious elements of its moral life as well. Throughout the medieval age, it is true, it was the ethical heritage from Judea that shaped and colored the moral ideal of the European peoples, but even during that period this Semitic ideal bore the deep impress of Greek ethics, while ever since the Renaissance it is the ethical bequest of Hellas which has steadily become an ever more and more dominant factor in the moral life of the Western nations. The conscience of the modern world of science is Hellenic rather than Hebraic.

The city state the mold of Greek morality and the chief sphere of Greek moral activity

The Greek city state was the creator of the Greek conscience; that is to say, the relationships and activities of the Greek as a citizen, and not his relationships and activities as a husband or father or business man, determined his chief duties. Conscience was very little involved in that part of his life which lay outside the civic sphere. It was solely as a member of a city community, which was to the Greek what170 the Church was to the man of medieval times, that he could live the truly moral life and attain the highest virtue.

The Greek view of man’s nature as good

The common Greek view of man’s nature was like that of the Chinese moralists; that is, it conceived human nature as being essentially good.428 And this conception included the whole of man’s nature, his body as well as his spirit. As we shall learn, this doctrine influenced profoundly the Greek conception of what is permissible and right in conduct. It made it seem right to give full, though regulated and reasonable, indulgence to the bodily impulses and instincts. It made the fundamental maxim of Greek morality to be, Live according to nature. It left no place in Greek thought for the Oriental notion of an antagonism between the flesh and the spirit. Hence asceticism with its repressions of the bodily instincts and appetites, which is so common an expression of the moral sentiment among the Oriental races, found no place in Greek morality till after Greek culture had come in contact with the religious and ethical systems of Asia.

The idea of harmony in the god world

Closely connected with this idea of the essential goodness and oneness of man’s nature was the conception of unity and harmony in the god world. In passing from the Orient to Greece we leave behind not only Indian pessimism, but Egyptian and Persian dualism. We leave behind that conception of disharmony and conflict in the invisible world which is such a characteristic phase of much of Oriental thought. We hear, indeed, the faint echo of a prehistoric struggle between the earth gods and the sky gods. But all now is peace. The Titans are chained, and the gods that are the friends of men reign supreme.429


Just as that Oriental dualistic world philosophy exercised a vast influence upon the moral ideals of the East and of the later Christian world that inherited that system of thought, making the moral life serious and strenuous, a fight against evil, so did the opposing Greek conception of unity and harmony in the god world exert a profound influence upon Greek morality, emptying the moral life of everything like strenuousness and battle. It made Greek morality to be like the morality of sensuous, joyous youth.

The character of the Greek gods

In strong contrast to Hebrew morality, which, as we have seen, was almost exclusively a religious one, springing, that is to say, from certain conceptions of God’s character and of his relations to man, Greek morality was in the main a lay or secular one. Aristotle, who gave scientific form to Greek ethics, allowed hardly any place in the moral code to religious duties. Yet, though the Greek moral ideal was not based upon religion, it was influenced by it; for there cannot be an entire separation of religion and morality. Religious beliefs, like beliefs of every other kind, help to shape men’s ideas of what is right and what is wrong in conduct.

The influence of the Greek religion upon Greek morality was not wholly favorable. The attribution by the Greeks of human frailties and vices to their gods tended to depress human morality, since men are never better than their gods. It is true that the moral character of the gods of any people is a creation of the moral consciousness of that people; still, after once called into existence and enthroned, these divinities react upon their creators and shape in a greater or less degree the moral character of their worshipers.

But though there were elements in some of the Greek cults, particularly in those of Dionysus430 and Aphrodite in the172 later period,431 that were harmful to morality, still in general Greek morality found in religion at once a restraining and a stimulating influence.

Even as early as the Homeric Age religion had become a moral force. It is the fear of the gods even more than the fear of men which is the motive force for rightdoing.432 Odysseus’ request of Ilus of Ephyra for poison with which to smear the points of his arrows is refused through fear of the divine anger, and Priam in praying Achilles for the body of Hector admonishes him to have reverence for the gods.

And throughout later times the gods are the guardians of morality. They are the avengers of perjury. They are the punishers of him who breaks the law of hospitality. Especially does Zeus, as the god of hospitality, “take note of those who welcome and those who maltreat the stranger.”433 The shrines of all the gods are places of refuge and sanctuary. The suppliant at the altar is sacrosanct. Here the hand of the avenger of injury is stayed. “Mercy,” says Sophocles, “shares the judgment seat of Zeus.” As the god of the suppliant, Zeus not only protects but purifies and delivers. Thus were the high moral qualities of mercy and forgiveness thrown into relief, and men, while taught self-restraint, were imbued with reverence for these attributes of character.

This high morality of the Greek religion reached its culmination in the worship of the Delphian Apollo. In truth,173 the history of Delphi is a large part of the history of Greek morality. It reflected from age to age the deepening moral perceptions of the race. The oracle thus stood in close relation with the great teachers of Greece. The ethical impulse of Pythagoreanism seems to have gone forth from Delphi. Apollo gave a religious sanction to the emancipation of the slave, and thus promoted social morality. The slave given his freedom by his master at Delphi became, as a freedman, sacrosanct.434 Apollo stimulated also political morality. Through the Delphic Amphictyony his influence was exerted in mitigating the barbarities of war between Greek and Greek, and in creating an Hellenic fraternity. Thus through religion was the narrow sphere embraced by the ordinary moral feelings of the Greeks broadened and brought to cover wide federations of cities and tribes.

Greek religion also exercised a stimulating influence upon morality through the Mysteries, especially through those of Eleusis. The greater number of these religious fraternities had an ethical aim—“the aim of worshiping a pure god, the aim of living a pure life, and the aim of cultivating a spirit of brotherhood.”435

Significance for Greek morality of the absence of a priestly caste

But the most noteworthy fact concerning Greek religion in its relations to Greek morality is this—that it was a religion practically without a priesthood. For there never arose in Greece a priestly class like that in Egypt, in Persia, in India, and in Judea. This is a fact of supreme importance in the history of Greek morals. It prevented the growth of a theocratic morality, with its artificial ritual duties and its conservative tendencies.

It is interesting to note that it was the early rise of philosophy in the Greek cities of Ionia that saved Hellas from the174 domination of a sacerdotal caste. For at the time this philosophy arose the Orphic doctrines were overspreading Greece. Now this was a priestly religion, that is, a religion interpreted and administered by priests. Its triumph in Greece would have meant the establishment of a powerful national priesthood. This misfortune was prevented by the intellectual and philosophical movement in Ionia. It is this fact which leads Professor Bury to pronounce the rise of the study of philosophy in the Ionian cities one of the most important facts in the history of Hellas; for “it meant the triumph of reason over mystery; it led to the discrediting of the Orphic movement; it insured the free political and social progress of Hellas.”436 And all this meant the keeping of the ground clear for the upgrowth and development of an essentially lay or secular morality, a morality that found its sanctions alone in the human reason and conscience.

The doctrine of race election; Hellenes and Barbarians

There was one conception common to both Greek and Jew which reacted powerfully upon the moral system of each. This was what has been called the doctrine of race election. The Jews believed themselves to be the “chosen people.” The Greeks believed the same concerning themselves. They were the intellectually elect people. All other peoples were “barbarians.” Just as the Jewish doctrine of election excluded the Gentile world from the pale of Jewish moral sympathies, so did the Greek doctrine of separateness cause the Greek to shut out from his moral sympathies the entire non-Greek world. We shall see a little further on how this race egotism dictated large sections of the Greek code of morals.

Patriotism the cardinal virtue; civic and military duties

As we have already noticed, it was out of his relations as a citizen that the primary duties of the Greek arose. His supreme duty was patriotism, devotion to his city. “Good175 citizen” and “good man” were interchangeable terms. And since a state of war rather than of peace was the normal relation of the Greek cities, the military virtues held the highest place in the ideal of excellence. “Their bodies,”—thus Thucydides makes one of his characters speak of the citizen soldiers of a typical Greek city—“their bodies they devote to their country as though they belonged to other men.”437 Thus the preëminent Greek virtue, courage, was almost synonymous with valor in war. To throw away one’s shield was the last infamy with the Greeks as with the Romans.

This type of character, blending the civic and the military virtues, is presented to us with incomparable charm in Plutarch’s Lives. Here we see the ideal in actual flesh and blood. It is the altruistic element in this type of character which renders it so morally attractive.

The Greek virtue of courage a form of our virtue of self-sacrifice

For we should not fail to note that in the Greek enumeration of the virtues, the virtue of self-sacrifice, which we give the first place in our own moral ideal, is hidden under courage or fortitude.438 With us this virtue expresses itself in a great variety of forms; with the Greeks, in one form chiefly—self-devotion on the battlefield. This altruism, it is true, was narrow; it did not look beyond one’s own city; but notwithstanding this limitation it was genuine altruism, for facing death in battle, as Aristotle says, is “the greatest and noblest of perils.”439 This ready self-devotion of the individual to the common interests of his city was the most attractive feature of Greek morality. It formed the basis of Greek civilization. When this virtue was lost the Greek city perished, and with it Greek civilization passed away.

Among all the cities of Greece, Sparta realized most perfectly the military virtues of the Greek ideal. The great place176 so long held by her in the ancient world she won through the loyalty of her citizens to the soldier’s ideal of obedience, courage, and self-devotion. The conduct of Leonidas and his companions in the pass of Thermopylæ not only had a bracing effect upon Greek character for generations, but has never ceased, through the inspiration of example, to add to the sum total in the world of loyalty to duty.

The virtues of temperance and justice

To the virtue of self-sacrifice, under the guise of fortitude, or the facing of danger or the endurance of pain in a worthy cause, the Greeks added temperance, justice, and wisdom.

The Greek virtue of temperance or moderation was essentially the same as our virtue of self-control or self-denial. It meant measure in all things, the avoidance of the too much and the too little.440 Everything must be in fair proportion. In building a house one should not go “beyond bounds in size, magnificence, and expense.” In conduct likewise the mean must always be the aim. Restraint must be laid upon one’s appetites and desires. Excessive ambition was a grave fault, as was an undue lack of ambition.

The Greek conception of justice was this: Do no wrong, and suffer no wrong to self or to others—with the emphasis on the latter part of the injunction.441 Christianity shifted the emphasis to the first part of the commandment.

The virtue of wisdom; mental self-culture a duty

By the term “wisdom” the Greeks covered very nearly what we mean by mental self-culture. Now there has been a wide divergence of opinion among different peoples respecting this matter. Primitive races can of course have no feeling of obligation as to intellectual self-culture; but even a people177 as advanced in civilization as the Romans may have little or no conscience concerning it. Throughout a great part of the medieval age in Europe mental culture was looked upon with suspicion. Very few regarded it as a duty. But since the Renaissance, that is, since the rebirth in the European world of the Greek spirit, intellectual culture has been coming to be regarded more and more as an urgent and imperious duty. It is to the ancient Greeks, as implied in what we have just said, that we are largely indebted for this ethical feeling. To the truly representative Greek the ethical imperative to seek self-realization called especially for the development of the mind, “his true self.” Mere intellectual curiosity, love of knowledge for its own sake, was, it is true, one of the creative forces of Greek intellectualism; but the ethical motive was ever near. In the Socratic philosophy indeed it is made the dominant motive for the reason that virtuous conduct is by Socrates held to be dependent upon knowledge, the knowledge of things as they really are, things human and divine. With the philosopher the gaining of this knowledge is the aim and end of life.

The development of the body a duty; the ethical element in Greek athleticism

Asceticism, a chief characteristic of which is the conception that there is something meritorious in the illtreatment or neglect of the body, is one of the most striking phenomena in the moral history of mankind. The Oriental peoples especially have ever been easily persuaded, under the influence of religious ideas, that the body should be illtreated in the interest of the spirit.

In passing from Asia to Greece we seem to enter a new ethical atmosphere. We leave behind every trace of asceticism. We are no longer surrounded by unkempt, gaunt, hollow-eyed fakirs, anchorites, and monks. In Greek thought, as we have seen, there was no trace of that Oriental idea of a warring between body and spirit. This happy consciousness of the Greek of harmony in his own being had most178 important consequences for Greek morality. It made the development of the body, equally with that of the soul, an ethical requirement. The outcome was Greek athleticism, one of the most attractive phases of Hellenic civilization.

We do not mean to say that moral feeling was to the same degree active in calling into existence Greek athleticism that religious-ethical feeling was active in the creation of Oriental asceticism, but simply that the ethical motive held a place among the various motives and sentiments at work. Without this motive the Olympian games and the other sacred festivals into which athletic exercises and competitions entered, would never have won the place they held in Greek life and culture. When in later times these festivals, subjected to commercial and mercenary influences, lost wholly or in part this religious-ethical element, then they lost also their distinctive character, and that morally wholesome and uplifting influence which they had exercised upon the Greek world throughout the best days of Hellas.

Identification of moral goodness with beauty

Just as the cultured Greek brought the intellectual domain of life within the province of morals, so likewise did he with the æsthetic. It was not merely his æsthetic sense which was offended by ugliness in form, but also his moral sense. To the Greek mind, to love beauty, sensuous and spiritual, and to be beautiful was synonymous with being good. “He who is beautiful to look upon,” says Sappho, “is good; and who is good will soon be beautiful.”442 “The beautiful,” comments Wuttke in speaking of this phase of Greek ethics, “is per se the good; in enjoying and creating the beautiful man is moral.”443 “The ‘good’ and the ‘beautiful’”—thus G. Lowes Dickinson sums up the Greek view—“were one and the same thing; that is the first and the last word of the Greek ideal.”444


This identification by the Greeks of goodness with beauty is one of the most important matters in Greek ethics. For the conception was not with them an inert thing. Greek civilization in all its phases was in a great measure the expression of this conviction. The Greeks filled the world with beautiful things because to create beauty was with them an ethical as well as an æsthetic impulse and necessity. They felt the holiness of beauty.

Live according to nature sums up all moral requirements

All the particular requirements of Greek morality, some of the most important of which we have now briefly commented upon, are summed up in the formula, Live conformably to nature. The idea here embodied of what constitutes man’s full duty springs naturally from the doctrine that man’s nature is essentially good. If that nature be good, then virtuousness will consist in the well-rounded symmetrical development of all the capacities of body and mind. Pindar’s profound injunction, “Be what you are,” embodies the essence of the teachings of the Greek moralists. They taught that man fulfills his destiny by becoming what he is in his innermost being—by complete self-realization.445

Its aristocratic character

A chief defect of Greek ethics was its aristocratic spirit. So many were the classes excluded in whole or in part from the moral field that Greek morality was almost as much a180 class morality as that of Brahmanic India. Entire races and classes were as completely outside the moral pale as is the Indian pariah. It was only the higher cultured classes of citizens who, the moral philosophers taught, were capable of attaining the noblest virtues and living the truly moral life. All others were regarded as living on a semimoral or nonmoral animal plane of existence.

The exclusion of non-Greek races from the moral sphere

Thus throughout a great part of the historic period the Greeks virtually excluded all non-Greek peoples from the moral domain.446 They regarded these non-Hellenic folk about as we regard animals, or as many a few generations ago looked upon the black race. They thought it right for them to make unprovoked war upon such people and to make slaves of those they might capture. Aristotle taught that to hunt barbarians for the purpose of getting slaves was just as right and proper as to hunt animals for food or sacrifice.447 In a word, non-Greeks were regarded as being practically outside the pale of humanity.

The exclusion of slaves

The moral status of the slave in ancient Greece was determined by the fact that slaves were usually barbarians.448 Since as non-Greeks they were already outside the moral pale, it followed naturally that as slaves they had no standing in the court of morals. Their status was almost the same as that of domestic animals. The Greek master never felt that he owed any moral duties to his slaves, though kind and merciful treatment of them was enjoined by the philosophers and moralists. According to Aristotle, the relation of slave and master is a purely natural one, like that of body and soul. He calls slaves “living instruments.”


The exclusion of the domestic sphere

Out of the family relationships arise a large part of the duties making up the moral code of the modern Western world, while in the atmosphere of the domestic circle are nourished many of what we regard as the most sacred and attractive of the virtues. Now these family virtues, which we esteem so highly, found only a very subordinate place in the Greek ideal of character, for the reason that the family, like the clan and the tribe, was almost absorbed by the city. In Sparta the family and family life practically disappeared. In Plato’s ideal republic the family is sacrificed to the state.

The status of the wife in most of the Greek cities was a low one. She was practically one of the slaves. Ethical sentiment, as was true of the sentiment of romantic love, seems to have been almost wholly lacking in the marriage relation.

Infancy, in its earliest stages, was in general never brought beneath the protecting ægis of the moral sentiment.449 In the practice of the exposure of ill-formed, weak, defective, or unpromising newborn infants the Greeks, like the Romans, never advanced much beyond the standpoint of barbarians. This abandonment or destruction by parents of their offspring did not offend the common conscience. Even the philosophers and moralists saw nothing in the practice to censure. Evidence of how general the custom was, is afforded by various tales and dramas which turn on the rescue of the hero in his infancy after having been cast out to die.450 The story of King Œdipus is typical.451

In this connection a word must be said regarding chastity. We find here one of the most serious defects of Greek182 morality. The virtue of chastity was given a very low place, hardly any place at all, in the Greek ideal of character. It was the undervaluing of this virtue that without doubt was one of the contributing causes of the decline and early decay of Greek civilization.

Another equally grave defect in the Greek moral character was lack of respect for the aged. Save at Sparta and Athens, age was not reverenced in ancient Greece.452 In this respect the Greeks stood almost on a level with most primitive races.

The disesteem of industrial virtues

A marked characteristic of Greek ethical feeling was a deep prejudice against manual and commercial occupations as unworthy of freemen. Aristotle taught that there was “no room for moral excellence” in the trades and employments of artisans, traders, and laborers.453 Even artists like Phidias and Polyclitus were looked upon as “miserable handicraftsmen.”454 Plato in his Laws says: “He who in any way shares in the illiberality of retail trade may be indicted by any one who likes for dishonoring his race, before those who are judged to be first in virtue; and if he appear to throw dirt upon his father’s house,—by an unworthy occupation,—let him be imprisoned for a year and abstain from that sort of thing.”455 In some cities the person who engaged in trade was disqualified for citizenship, and in others no mechanic or field laborer could enter the place where the freemen met.

This feeling that labor is degrading came in after the Homeric Age, with the rule of the oligarchs, and was183 the natural and inevitable outcome of slavery. The effect of slavery is to make work seem ignoble and servile, and to cause the industrial virtues to assume a low place in the moral ideal, or to drop out of it entirely. The high place assigned the industrial virtues in the moral ideals of ancient Persia and Israel was due probably as largely to the subordinate place which slavery held in those countries as to the influence of religious doctrines and physical environment.

Another ground for the feeling was that hard, coarse work destroys the suppleness and mars the beauty and symmetry of the body; and this to the Greek way of thinking was sufficient reason why the freeman—to use Plato’s phrase—“should abstain from that sort of thing.”

Still another reason for the feeling that the retail trades were unworthy of citizens was the conviction that this kind of business had “a strong tendency to make men bad.” The small merchants and traders in Greece certainly bore a very bad reputation,456 and it is probable that the public disesteem of their occupation and the contempt in which they themselves were held had the same sinister influence upon them that the similar feeling in Old Japan had upon the petty trader there.457

Revenge reckoned as a virtue

In nothing did the ordinary Greek moral consciousness differ more widely from the Christian than in the matter of forgiving injuries. This was one of the virtues brought in by Christianity which to the Greek mind was foolishness. To the Greek the taking of revenge upon an enemy was a duty. A man should render himself useful to his friends and dangerous to his enemies. The Greek orator, in order to justify his resentment toward any one, always took pains to show that he had been injured in some way by the person, and184 hence had good ground for wishing to do him evil. Indeed, one who neglected to take revenge upon his personal enemy was looked upon as a weak, pusillanimous creature.458

But out of this virtue of revenge, paradoxically enough, arose the virtue of forgiveness; for revenge was limited by the requirements of the virtue of moderation or self-restraint. The person seeking revenge for an injury must set reasonable bounds to his thirst for vengeance. Hence when the age of reflection came there were teachers of spiritual insight who, regarding the matter from this point of view, saw forgiveness to be a virtue because it required in the one forgiving great self-conquest and self-control.459

Low estimation of truthfulness

Another serious defect in the ordinary Greek moral standard was the low place assigned to the virtue of veracity. The Greeks, in marked contrast to the ancient Persians, had only a very feeble sense of the sanctity of the plighted word. Untruthfulness was ingrained in the nation. The Homeric heroes were full of guile and deceit, and the historic Greeks were little better. They had throughout the ancient world a well-earned reputation for disregard of promises and oaths. When it seemed to them necessary to lie in order to gain a desired end, then lying appeared to them justifiable. Scythas, tyrant of Zancle, if we may judge from a story told by Herodotus, was the only Greek who kept his word to Darius. This man was in exile at Susa. He obtained from the king permission, presumably on parole, to visit Sicily, and honorably returned to Persia. The conduct of Scythas in this matter must have been exceptional, for, in the words of Herodotus, “him Darius regarded the most upright of all the Greeks to whom he afforded a refuge.”460


The great moral teachers of Greece recognized this defect in the moral character of their countrymen and sought to correct it by extolling the virtue of truthfulness. After the Persian war a class of men arose, historians and philosophers, whom Schmidt, because of their reverence for truth, calls the ancestors of the modern men of science.461 Thucydides had the same sense of the sanctity of exactness in statement of fact as has the historian of to-day. Socrates died rather than cloak the truth before his judges. Aristotle said, “Friends and truth are both dear to us, but it is a sacred duty to prefer the truth.”462

The morality of the Homeric Age

The historical starting point of the moral evolution in Greece is the morality of the Homeric Age. This morality we find incarnated in the heroes of the time, Achilles and Odysseus, for, as Wundt observes, “the inmost moral convictions of a people are shown far more plainly in the character of its heroes than in its gods.”463

The qualities of character with which, as worthy of admiration, the poet invests his heroes show that, notwithstanding the great advance already achieved in many of the arts of life, in morality the Greeks of this age were still in some respects on a level with savages. Thus the poet extols the “good Autolycus” for his skill in thievery and perjury.464 But stealing and lying, as with uncivilized people generally, to be proper and right, must be adroit and “for the good of friends and the harm of enemies.” Piracy was an honorable occupation.465 The bodies of enemies slain in battle were maltreated, as is the wont of savages.466 Conceptions of deity were crude and unethical, the gods being represented as capricious, profligate, partial, and unjust.


But there was a sound core in this morality. Clan virtues were firmly inwrought in character. The virtue of loyalty to comrades was strong; the ethical qualities of courage and self-devotion for the common good, and of hospitality to strangers were well developed; and the domestic virtues of chastity and constancy in woman are portrayed in such a way as to show that, if not common, they were at least held in high esteem and reverence.

Reprobation by the philosophers and later poets of the Homeric tales of the gods

From the Homeric Age onward there was a progressive purification of the moral feelings. One evidence of this ethical progress is found in the repudiation by the later moral consciousness of the primitive myths of the gods. These tales, as we have just noted, were coarse, sensual, and immoral. The philosophers of the sixth and following centuries, and the poets of this later time, denounced these stories as unworthy and unethical conceptions of deity. Pythagoras is said, upon his return from Hades, to have reported seeing there the souls of Homer and Hesiod undergoing punishment for what they had said of the gods. Pindar purges the tales of their grosser immoral elements. Others sought to relieve the poets of the charge of impiety by reading the myths as allegories. The Sophists and Stoics moralized them, giving them an ethical aim and purpose.467 Plato, in reprobating what Hesiod says of Uranus, declared it “the greatest of all lies in high places.” He would strike out from the poets all passages in which they told these lies about the gods and heroes, before allowing the boys and men to read them.468 In the hands of the later Attic tragedians the whole traditionary religious mythology was spiritualized and given a deeper ethical content and meaning.

This purifying of the Greek moral consciousness finds an exact parallel in what is taking place in the modern Christian187 world respecting the conceptions of deity found in the early chronicles of the Hebrew Bible and transmitted as a religious bequest to the European peoples. These ideas of God are rejected by the truer moral consciousness of to-day as the crude notions of a gross and morally immature age. Just as this modern rejection of these unworthy primitive conceptions of the divine character register our own moral advance, so does the rejection, by the later Greek thinkers and teachers, of the Homeric and Hesiodic conceptions of the gods register the advance in ethical thought in Greece during the interval that separates the era of these poets from the Solonian and Platonic Ages.

Ethical significance of the transition from the continuance to the retribution theory

In an earlier chapter we spoke of the continuance theory of life after death, and of the retribution theory as marking an advance upon this in ethical feeling.469 At the opening of the historical period in Greece we find the primitive unethical continuance theory in existence, but in a state of transition into the retribution theory. The early Greek Hades, like the Babylonian Arallu and the Hebrew Sheol, was a place where moral distinctions were not recognized. The same phantom life was the lot of all alike who went down to the world of shadows. The Elysian Fields, it is true, had already been created, but these were simply a sort of aristocratic heaven, a “Greek Valhalla,” the abode of the great heroes of the race;470 and Tartarus also had been called into existence, but this was a prison house only for those who had incurred the special enmity of the gods. The fables of Tantalus, Ixion, and the Danaïdes show that the belief in an after life had no ethical significance for the masses.471


But already in Pindar these ideas of the after life, through virtue of an ethical necessity, have undergone great changes.472 Just as the poet moralizes the Homeric conception of the gods, so does he moralize the Homeric conception of the underworld. Alongside the continuance theory we find now the retribution theory. The life beyond the grave is conceived as a life of rewards and punishments. The Elysian Fields have been “opened to moral worth,” and a tribunal, called into existence by a growing moral consciousness like that which created the Egyptian Judgment of the Dead, has been set up, and Rhadamanthus apportions the destiny of souls according to their merit and demerit.473 From the Persian war on, the life after death had ethical significance for all men, and not simply for exceptional cases. In the literature there are allusions in growing numbers to the retribution awaiting the wicked and the blessedness in store for those “unstained with vice.”

In Plato this moral evolution attains a stage almost identical with that reached by medieval Christian ethics. We find in the Republic a threefold division of the realm of the dead corresponding closely to the Schoolmen’s purgatory, heaven, and hell.474 Punishment is conceived as having for aim and end, in all save cases of abominable and incurable wickedness, the purification of earth-stained souls.

All these modifications in the topography, the classifications, and the arrangements of the underworld, like the similar changes effected by the modern spirit in the medieval189 conception of hell, were the work of a gradually clarifying moral sense, and bear witness to the progressive development of Greek ethical thought between the Homeric and the Alexandrian Age.

The evolution of the doctrine of divine envy into that of Nemesis

The early Greeks held a doctrine known as the Envy of the Gods. They imagined that the gods were envious of the great and prosperous. Hence they thought it was the envy of the gods which brought about the undoing of the great and powerful. Their prayer for a friend enjoying an unusual run of good fortune was, “May the gods not become envious.” We find this doctrine embodied in the Herodotean story of Crœsus, king of Lydia, whose long career of unbroken and dazzling prosperity ends at last in dreadful reverses and sudden downfall.475 The same belief colors the advice which Herodotus represents Artabanus, the uncle of Xerxes, as giving the king, who was meditating an attack on the Greek cities. The immoderate ambition of the king, in view of the envious nature of the gods, had awakened the apprehension of the old and experienced counselor, and he labored to dissuade the king from engaging in so vast a project. “Dost thou not notice,” said he, “how the lightning smites always the highest buildings and the tallest trees. Thus often the mighty host is overthrown by lightning sent by the jealous gods; for the gods are jealous of mortals, and will allow no one unduly to exalt himself.”476 There is here no suggestion of an ethical element. The envious gods overthrow things simply and solely because they are big and tall and cast them into the shade.

At a still later period the Athenian general Nicias gives memorable expression to this belief in his speech to his190 disheartened troops before Syracuse. He bade them take cheer from their wretched plight because the envious gods must certainly be disarmed by the sight of their woeful condition and would now pity and help.477

But alongside this unethical doctrine of the Envy of the Gods the Greeks held another, which seems to have been simply a modification and outgrowth of the earlier crude conception of deity. This was the doctrine of Nemesis. There was here full recognition of the vicissitudes of human life. The great and the overpowerful are indeed destroyed by the gods,—there was no denying the fact,—but not merely because they are great, but because their greatness and their prosperity has made them self-confident, insolent, overbearing. In their blind arrogance they have overstepped the limits of moderation; hence their downfall wrought by the gods.

It was under the spell of this belief that Herodotus wrote his history of the Persian wars, although, as we have seen, he loved to rehearse stories which illustrated the doctrine of the envious nature of the gods. His narrative is in truth a great historical drama illustrating the moral order of the world and teaching the impressive lesson of how the gods punish presumptuous pride and overvaulting ambition. The historian prepares his pious readers for the final catastrophe by showing in vivid portrayal the transactions at the Hellespont. The swift current of the strait has broken the bridge of boats laid upon the waters by Xerxes. The all-powerful and audacious king orders that the sacred Hellespont be scourged with three hundred lashes, that fetters be cast into the rebellious waters, and that they be branded as a slave is marked with branding irons. All this is done, and the treacherous waters are cursed with blasphemous words.

Now follows quickly the tragic issue at Salamis of the vast undertaking, and the return passage of the Hellespont a few months later by the humbled and fugitive king. All this is191 the work of Nemesis, the punisher of those who have lifted up their hearts in insufferable pride and arrogance.

It is not alone in the dramatized history of Herodotus that we are able to trace the moral effects of the Persian wars in bringing into the foreground of the Greek consciousness the conception of Nemesis as the vindicator of the moral government of the world. “After the battle of Salamis,” in the words of the historian Abbott, “the instability of human greatness and the punishment of ‘insolence’ echoes as an undertone through all Greek thought.”478

This deepened moral feeling of the nation found expression both in art and in the drama. The order given by the Athenians to Phidias to carve a statue of Nemesis as a memorial of the war was a sanction of that interpretation of the Persian overthrow which made it the work of the avenging goddess. But the fullest expression of this new ethical sentiment is found in Athenian tragedy.479 Æschylus was the representative of this moral awakening and advance. The doctrine of Nemesis colors all his dramas. He was the first to give to the legend of Niobe, originally merely a tale of the envy of Apollo, an ethical meaning as an instance of “retribution for presumptuous sin.”480 His imperishable tragedy Prometheus Bound makes the sufferings of the Titan to be but the just penalty of his presumption and self-will. His Agamemnon depicts with tragic intensity the awful vengeance with which the implacable goddess punishes unnatural crime. His Persians teaches how Nemesis humbles insolent pride and “Zeus tames excessive lifting up of heart.”


In the later Thucydides we meet with the same teaching concerning the moral government of the world. In a memorable passage of his History of the Peloponnesian War the historian becomes the moralist and gives his reader a tragic illustration of the workings of the law of Nemesis. Thucydides is approaching the chapter in his history which depicts the terrible catastrophe which befell the Athenians in Sicily. He skillfully foreshadows the coming tragedy by preluding his narrative of the Sicilian Expedition with an account of the arrogant and wicked conduct of the Athenians in driving the Melians from their island home and adding the stolen land to their own empire.481 This high-handed crime, like the impiety of the presumptuous Mede at the Hellespont, arouses the avenging Nemesis. The reader forecasts the future, and in the cruel fate of the Melians reads the doom of the Athenian army before Syracuse.

This moralizing of the primitive unethical conception of the gods as envious and unjust, and the evolving therefrom of the morally advanced doctrine of Nemesis, is an instructive illustration of how, as time passed, Greek ethical feeling was deepened and Greek ethical thought was purified and elevated through intellectual progress and the teachings of experience.482

Further moralization of the doctrine of Nemesis

There was a still further evolution of Greek ethical thought along the line traced above. The mutations and tragedies of life,—terrible reverses of fortune, sudden loss of reputation and friends, irremediable ruin following great prosperity,—these things are by a truer moral insight recognized as the sign neither of the envy nor of the righteous anger of the gods, but of the divine pity and love.483 “The wholesomeness193 of punishment for the wrongdoer himself is the crown of Æschylean ethics.”484 Phidias taught the same lofty truth through carving the myth of Prometheus Unbound on the throne of his Olympian Zeus. It spoke, as no other scene wrought there, of the moral significance of suffering, of divine mercy and deliverance.485 And Plato’s philosophy accords with the Æschylean teaching that “Zeus has put in suffering sovereign instruction.” “Then this must be our notion of the just man,” he says, “that even when he is in poverty or sickness or any other seeming misfortune, all things will in the end work together for good to him in life and death.”486

In this ethical interpretation of the vicissitudes of human life, of the miscarriage of ambitious plans, the wrecking of high hopes, the Greek thinkers reached at last the same elevated point of view that was attained by the great prophets of the Hebrew race.487

The amelioration of war rules and practices

In the ethics of war a similar though less marked development in moral feeling is traceable. Aside from the relapse into the practices of savagery under the malign influence of the Peloponnesian War, there was throughout Greek history a slow but steady amelioration of the primitive barbarities of warfare. In the Homeric Age moral feeling had hardly begun to exercise its influence in humanizing war and in setting limits to the rights of the conqueror. The Greeks of Homer were in some respects almost on the level of savages in their war practices. The life of the captive was in the hands of his captor, and he might be slain without offense to the common conscience. Women and children were, as a matter of194 course, appropriated by the conqueror or sold into slavery. Homer relates as something to be gloried in, how his hero Achilles dragged the body of Hector around the walls of Troy. Such an act of savagery evidently stirred in the poet’s listeners no feelings of reprobation.488

In the historical period the mitigation of the barbarities of war was, after the protection of the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, a chief object of the celebrated Amphictyonic League. The oath taken by the members of the league included the following engagement: “We will not destroy any Amphictyonic town, nor cut it off from running water, in war or in peace.” This was one of the most noteworthy efforts in antiquity to lay restraint upon the primitive license of war. Limits are set to the rights of the conqueror. War begins to have rules.

From the words which Thucydides puts into the mouth of the Platæans at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, we gather that at that time the common sentiment of Hellas condemned the slaughter of prisoners of war.489 At Athens this sentiment had found embodiment in the laws, which forbade the slaying of war captives. But under the demoralizing influences of the long and bitter struggle between Sparta and Athens, the little gain which had been made in the humanizing of war during the preceding centuries was lost. Prisoners of war were sold into slavery or killed without the least offense being given to the numbed conscience of Hellas.490 Even the terrible massacre, toward the end of the war, of the four thousand Athenian prisoners at Ægospotami, by the Spartan Lysander, awakened no protest in Greece at large.491195 Never has “the moral damage of war” had a more tragic illustration.492

During the century following the Peloponnesian War, however, there seems to have been a positive advance in this domain. In this period the grosser atrocities of war were in a measure mitigated by a growing humanitarian sentiment. But all efforts to humanize war seem to have been limited to wars between Greek and Greek. From first to last in Greek history war against barbarians was waged practically without the least mitigation of its primitive barbarities. It was the practice of Alexander the Great in his campaigns in Asia to massacre the men of non-Greek cities taken by assault, and to sell the women and children as slaves. We hear no protest, even on the part of the philosophers, against these atrocities so long as it is non-Greeks who are the victims of them.

But though the efforts of the Greeks to regulate and limit the rights of the conqueror were confined to wars of Greek against Greek, still these efforts are significant as a sign of an awakening ethical sentiment in this domain. This is a prophecy of a future day, distant though it be, when the growing conscience of mankind shall have rendered wars between civilized nations an impossible crime.

Efforts to prevent war by arbitration

The common Greek conscience never condemned war in itself. There never sprang up in Greece an agitation like the Peace Movement of to-day in Christendom. How deeply ingrained in the Greek mind was the conviction that war is a part of the established order of things is shown by the fact that their treaties ending open hostilities were ordinarily drawn for a limited term of years. They were merely truces, as though peace were only an incident in international relations.


Even the philosophers regarded a state of war as the normal and natural relation of Hellenes and barbarians. Aristotle, as we have seen, taught that barbarians might, without moral scruple, be hunted like wild animals.493 Plato had no word of condemnation of war by Greek against non-Greek. But the Greeks had an uneasy feeling respecting the rightfulness of war between Greek and Greek; and there came a time when the best-instructed conscience of Greece positively denounced wars of this kind. Plato condemned wars between Hellenes and Hellenes as unnatural.494 This feeling had a kind of restraining influence upon the Greek cities, and there are many instances of arbitration in Greek history. Sometimes a single person of eminence acted as mediator; but oftener some city or league like the Delphian Amphictyony was chosen as the arbitrator. In the Hellenistic Age the Roman Senate frequently undertook the commission of arbitrating quarrels. The cities concerned were sometimes bound by oath or by a deposit of money to abide by the decision. Oftener, however, the decisions rendered, like those by the Hague Tribunal of to-day, depended for their execution upon the good will and honor of the states concerned. There are instances recorded where one or both of the parties refused to abide by the judgment of the arbitrator.495

Various motives, it is true, were at work in these arbitration treaties, but the ethical motive was certainly operative to a greater or less degree. There was not lacking the feeling, vague though it may have been, which was later given explicit expression by Plato, that war between Greek and Greek was wrong and a crime against Hellenic civilization.

But the most interesting and instructive of all the measures taken by the Greeks to limit wars among themselves or to fence them away from a given district was the consecration,197 by common consent and agreement, of the land of Elis—wherein was situated the sacred Olympia—to perpetual peace and the establishment of a truce of forty days, embracing the festival period of the Olympian games, during which it was sacrilegious for one Greek city to make war upon another. With true vision the philosopher-historian Laurent sees in the little land of Elis, inviolable as a temple, a prophecy of the time when the whole earth shall be consecrated to perpetual peace—an ideal toward which humanity unceasingly advances.496

Socrates and his relation to the moral movement

From no other personage in history, aside from the founders of universal religions, has there flowed such a stream of moral influence as issued from the life and teachings of Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus. All the chief ethical systems of the Greco-Roman world were the development of germs found in his doctrines. The Cyrenaic and Eleatic, the Cynic, Stoic, and Epicurean, the Platonic, Neoplatonic, and Aristotelian systems had their sources here. The Stoic and Neoplatonic systems contributed important elements to early Christian ethics, while the Aristotelian system exercised a profound influence upon the scholastic ethics of medieval times. In the contribution which these various systems, especially the Stoic, have made to the world’s common fund of ethical thought and feeling is found in large part the measure of the ethical debt which modern civilization owes to Hellenism.


Socrates’ aim was to replace the artificial conventional conscience of his contemporaries by a natural rational conscience; in other words, to replace customary communal morality by reflective individual morality.497 His fundamental doctrine was that virtue is dependent upon knowledge; indeed he almost or quite made knowledge and virtue one and the same thing. He maintained that one can no more see the right without doing it than one can see a proposition to be true without believing it. Therefore without knowledge—insight—there can be no true virtue.498

But clearness of vision requires the purification of the intellect, the getting rid of all false intellectual and moral notions; hence the aim and purpose of Socrates’ unique method of cross-examination was to show his interlocutor the baseless and mutually contradictory character of his inherited chance-acquired ideas and beliefs, and to bring him to that self-knowledge which is the beginning of real knowledge.499

This practical identification by Socrates of knowledge and virtue, this doctrine of his that it is impossible that one should not will to do that which he sees to be good and199 right, overlooks the saddest and yet most certain fact of human experience, namely, that perversity of the human will which causes man though seeing the good to choose the evil. But it is a theory of human nature which, in the case of such happily constituted souls as Socrates, in whom the authority of conscience is sacrosanct and inviolable, is nearly or quite accordant with fact. With such persons to see an act to be right is to do it. With them dissonance between knowledge and volition is a moral impossibility.

Right here, however, a just criticism may be made of the Socratic philosophy. It is true that without self-knowledge, without the fulfilling of the Delphian requirement, “Know thyself,” one cannot be truly moral. But neither Socrates nor the Greek philosophers in general recognized that this self-knowledge comes through right living rather than through right thinking. As Goethe discerningly observes, man comes to know himself not through reflection but through conduct: “Do your duty and thou wilt know what thou art.”500

And for the common moral life of the world there is a profound teaching in this Socratic doctrine which makes knowledge the spring of virtue.501 There is in knowledge, in insight, in the clear recognition of the relation of man’s highest good to virtue, an impelling force and authority. As the world advances in true knowledge, it will advance in true morality. The Renaissance is ever the precursor of the Reformation. It is this fact which should make optimists of us all, for the unceasing advance of the world in knowledge is well assured.

In the ethical system of Socrates we have a good illustration of the truth that great men are the product of their age. With all his originality and profound spiritual insight,200 Socrates could not and did not rise much above the plane of the common moral consciousness of his contemporaries. He stood on essentially Greek ground. His morality was the morality of his time and place. In his practical code of morals he made the Greek virtue of self-control or moderation a cardinal virtue; he laid the Greek emphasis upon the civic virtues, dying rather than disobey or evade the decree of his city; he entertained the common Greek ideas respecting the family and the domestic virtues; he saw nothing to disapprove in the life of the hetæra; he viewed the beautiful from a standpoint wholly Greek, almost identifying beauty with goodness; he was thoroughly Greek in the aristocratic tendency of his ethical teachings, making the practice of true virtue the prerogative of the cultured class alone; he had the ordinary Greek conscience in regard to slavery; and he never detached himself from that narrow Greek prejudice which saw in the Hellenes the elect race. He never proclaimed, as did many a later Greek and Roman moralist, the essential unity of the human race.

Plato and his ethical system

Socrates made virtue and man’s moral nature the subject of philosophic reflection. His pupil, Plato, systematized his master’s teachings, and, reducing these and the common ethical notions of his time to scientific form laid the basis of the science of ethics.

Plato agreed with Socrates in teaching that to know the good is necessarily to seek it. He accordingly makes wisdom the first of the virtues, by wisdom meaning insight, the clear recognition of what constitutes the highest good. Issuing from this primary virtue of wisdom, like a stream from a fountain, are the virtues of courage, temperance, and justice.

From wisdom comes courage, for perfect knowledge of good and evil casts out fear; and moderation, for knowledge of higher and lower, of the penalty that awaits all excess, leads to prudence and self-control; and justice, for knowledge201 of one’s relations to one’s fellows creates consideration for the rights of others. Plato here simply systematizes and reduces to scientific form those various virtues which the common Greek conscience recognized as constituting moral excellence.

Particularly noteworthy is Plato’s doctrine that virtue in the state is the same as virtue in the individual. There is need of emphasis being laid anew upon this teaching at the present time, when the disciples of Machiavelli would give fresh vogue to the doctrine of a double standard of morality, one for the individual and another for the state. The modern world might well sit at Plato’s feet and learn that virtue is ever one and the same, and that the moral law can no more be traversed with impunity by a nation than by a single individual.

In many of his ethical teachings Plato anticipated and deeply influenced Christian doctrines. He has been called the precursor of the Fathers of the Church. “His ideas on virtue,” as Denis observes, “take us far from Greece and antiquity; they seem addressed rather to the saints and anchorites than to the citizens of Sparta and Athens.”502 His doctrines that the way of approach to God is through contemplation; that withdrawal from the turmoil of public life is a furtherance of the true life; that the body is a “prison house” of the soul; that the soul is immortal and that there awaits it in the after life recompense for deeds done in the flesh; that expiation for sin is an ethical necessity; that punishment is not a deterrent and restraint but a remedy that restores to health the sin-diseased soul503—all these ideas and principles were in exact accord with the Christian moral consciousness, and through St. Augustine and other Fathers of the Church came to enrich and reënforce the ethical system of the monastic and the papal Church of the medieval age.


Perhaps what is the most admirable of Plato’s teachings is embodied in this petition: “And may I, being of sound mind, do to others as I would that they should do to me.”504 The significance of this lies in the fact that it is a prayer, and that the petitioner asks that he may be of sound mind when he reflects on what he would like to have others do to him.

Yet notwithstanding the loftiness and nobility of much of Plato’s ethical thought, still, like Socrates, he stood almost wholly on Greek ground. His ethics is scarcely more than a justification of the common Greek morality of his time. He destroys the family in the interest of the state; he approves of the exposition of ill-formed, unpromising infants; he makes morality to be a class thing—only select and cultured souls are with him capable of genuine virtue. He accepts slavery as a necessary institution of the state; he practically shuts out the non-Greek world from the sphere of morality;505 and with the common Greek he believes that to do evil to one’s enemies is an imperative duty.506 Nor does Plato, like Hebrew seer, rise high enough above the general Greek viewpoint to discern the great law of moral progress, and to prevision the historical goal—ethical world unity.

Aristotle and his ethics

Aristotle makes Plato’s classification of the virtues the basis of his well-rounded system of ethics. In one important respect, however, he differs from Plato; he did not believe that knowledge of the right necessarily leads to its practice. He recognized the fact that man though knowing the good often perversely follows evil.

The great defect of Aristotelian ethics is its failure to rise to the ethical conception of collective humanity. In the203 moral inequality of men, which he assumes as the presupposition of his ethics, he even exaggerated the common Greek view. He divided men so rigorously into classes with varying grades of moral capacity that his moral system was ethically like the caste system of the Indian Brahmans. To affirm the moral equality of men seemed to him to be a species of treason against the true humanity, a crime against Greek civilization.

According to Aristotle the slave was a being so morally different from the freeman as to constitute practically another species. He was not wholly incapable of virtue, but could practice only such servile virtues as obedience and humility. The last, though a virtue in a slave, was in a freeman an unworthy weakness.

Barbarians were slaves by nature. Hence it was right for the Greeks to make war on them and reduce them to slavery, because “for that end they were born.”507 Plato had in his Laws accepted slavery as a political necessity; Aristotle proclaimed it as a part of the natural order of things. This doctrine had far-reaching historical consequences. Aristotle’s declaration that slaves are merely animated instruments, are men incapable of virtue, worked as powerfully in destroying ancient slavery as the obiter dictum of Chief Justice Taney of the Supreme Court of the United States, in the Dred Scott case, that negro slaves have no rights which the white man is bound to respect, worked for the destruction of negro slavery in the Southern states. For, as Professor Denis says, by pushing too far the argument, by founding slavery on natural right, Aristotle provoked thought and protest, and led the Stoics to reject with indignation his theories and to proclaim the moral equality of master and slave, of Greek and barbarian.508


Aristotle’s ethics exercised very little influence either upon the actual moral life or the ethical speculations of antiquity; but in the medieval time it came to exert a profound influence upon Christian ethics.509 The schoolmen made it the trunk into which they grafted Christian morals—with incongruous results, as we shall see later.

Decay of the Greek city state and the accompanying decay of the Greek ideal of character

The political revolution in Hellas in the fourth century B.C. had deep import for Greek morality. That century saw the triumph of Macedonia over the Greek cities. This meant the triumph of despotic monarchy over city democracy. This revolution in the political realm meant a great revolution in the realm of morals, for the reason that, as we have seen, the old Greek ideal of excellence was largely based upon the relation of the individual to the state. With the loss of Greek liberty the very basis of the Greek ideal of character was removed, and the virtues of the type tended to disappear.510

In the despotic monarchies of the successors of Alexander there was little room for the growth and exercise of those virtues of citizenship which had been nourished in the free air of the ancient city. The virtues now in vogue and fostered by the new monarchical régime were no longer those of the patriot citizen and the patriot warrior, but those of the pliant subject, the servile courtier, and the mercenary soldier. In Plutarch’s Lives, out of the twenty heroes and worthies whom the biographer selected as the noblest representatives of the virtues most highly esteemed by the Greeks, we find only two who lived after the general loss of Greek freedom,205 and these511 were men whose characters were formed in the cities of the Achæan League, in which the ancient liberties of Hellas were maintained till the rise of the Roman power. It could not be otherwise, so completely were the fortunes of the Greek moral ideal bound up with the fortunes of the Greek city state.

But besides the decay of the free city there were other causes contributing to the moral decadence which marked Hellenism in the Alexandrian Age. The close contact of Greek culture with the corrupt society of the Orient had disastrous consequences for Greek morality. The principal courts of the Hellenistic East were plague spots of moral contagion. The virus of gross sensual immorality was communicated to Greece, and Greek society was fatally infected. The Orontes emptied into the Ilissus and the Eurotas, as later it emptied into the Tiber.

And still another contributing cause of the moral decline in Hellas was the sudden acquisition of vast individual and social wealth through the conquest and exploitation of the East. The morals of no age or people have been proof against suddenly acquired riches. One explanation of this is that new and untried sources of pleasure, most often illicit sensuous pleasure, are opened up, and the temptation to selfish indulgence is irresistible, coming as it does before self-restraint, in the face of these unaccustomed solicitations, has become a habit.

Still another cause of the moral degeneracy of the age, one which we shall have occasion to speak of more at length a little further on, is to be sought in the fact that the period was one of transition in religion as well as in politics and social relations. Greek morality was, it is true, based in the main upon the old system of independent city life. Yet Greek morality was in a way braced by religion and even in part based upon it. Now in the Alexandrian Age the religious206 system of Hellas was undergoing a process of disintegration. Men were losing faith in their ancestral gods. Philosophic skepticism was widespread. Inevitably this movement in the religious realm caused all that part of the moral system dependent in any degree upon the old religious doctrines and teachings to weaken and crumble away.

Ethical products of the Hellenistic Age: Stoicism and Epicureanism

There were, however, two ethical products of the Hellenistic Age which render that period one of the most important of all epochs in the moral evolution of humanity. These were Stoicism and Epicureanism. At first blush it may seem strange that out of the same environment there should arise two systems of life and thought so strongly contrasted. But both of these systems are perfectly natural, indeed inevitable, products of an epoch, such as the Alexandrian Age was, of transition and moral decadence. In such times strong, self-reliant, deeply moral natures ever seek refuge in the philosophy and creed of Zeno, while those of less sturdy faith in the moral order of the world, of a less strong sense of duty, turn to the philosophy and creed of Epicurus.

Springing up in Greece as an offshoot of the Socratic philosophy just after the death of Alexander, Stoicism became the creed of the select spirits of the age. The crowning virtues of the moral ideal it held aloft were self-control, imperturbability, the patient endurance of the ills of life. Amidst the wreck of worlds one must stand unmoved and erect.

In the very rigid restraint it placed upon the appetites, passions, and emotions the Stoic ideal of character differed widely from the ordinary Greek ideal. It approached here the ascetic type.512 However, in general the Stoic type of character was closely related to the historic ideal of the Greek race. The Stoics adopted the fundamental maxim of classical Greek morality, namely, that man should live conformably207 to nature. They possessed the common Greek consciousness in the light esteem in which they held the family relations and duties. They were aristocratic in their moral sympathies and looked upon the multitude with disdain. They regarded the gentler virtues, compassion and forgiveness, as weaknesses, and ranked humility as a virtue only in the slave.

Because of the weak sense of duty possessed in general by the Greeks, the Stoic ideal of character did not become a really important factor in the ethical life of the ancient world till after its adoption by the finer spirits, like Marcus Aurelius, among the Romans, to whose sense of “the majesty of duty” the ideal made strong and effective appeal. It never influenced the masses, but for several centuries it gave moral support and guidance to the best men of the Roman race.

Alongside Stoicism grew up Epicureanism, which made pleasure, not gross sensuous pleasure, but rational refined enjoyment, the chief good, and hence the pursuit of pleasure “the highest wisdom and morality.” But this philosophy made pleasurable feeling dependent upon tranquillity of mind. To secure this mental repose, one must get rid of fear of the gods and of death. These ignoble and disquieting fears Epicurus and his disciples sought to banish by teaching that the gods do not concern themselves with human affairs, and that death ends all for man.

Epicureanism in its moral code was at one with the common Greek consciousness in making moderation or prudence a cardinal virtue;513 but it differed radically from the ordinary Greek mode of thought in its depreciation and neglect of the civic virtues. Hence the system was at once a symptom and a cause of the decay of the Greek city state and of the old moral ideal which was based so largely upon it.


The philosophy of Epicurus, as we have already said, is the natural product of an age of transition and social dislocation. It offers an ideal of life which is eagerly adopted by those unable to combat trouble, by those to whom duty does not appeal as something dignified and majestic. Hence in the decadent and unsettled age of the Roman Empire it became the rule of life of large numbers of the cultured classes of society, and must be regarded as one of the disintegrating agencies of Greco-Roman civilization.

Advance in humanitarian feelings and growth in ethical cosmopolitanism

A general view of the society of the Hellenistic world toward the opening of the Christian era discloses the fact that the moral evolution so long in progress has effected such changes in the Greek moral consciousness as to render this ethical movement an important preparation for the incoming of the moral ideal of Christianity. These changes are especially to be observed in the growth of humanitarian sentiment and in a broadening of the moral sympathies.

The Greeks, compared with the Romans, were naturally a humane folk. When it was proposed to introduce at Athens the gladiatorial games, the orator Demonax told the people that they should first tear down the ancestral altar to Pity, a shrine which, in the words of Lecky, “was venerated throughout the ancient world as the first great assertion among mankind of the supreme sanctity of mercy.”514 One of the motives of Pythagoras in forbidding the use of meat as food was, seemingly, to inspire a horror of shedding blood, even that of an animal. The laws of Athens permitted no punishment more severe than a painless death.515

This natural humaneness of the Greek spirit deepened as the centuries passed. Contrasted with the Periclean Age the209 Platonic Age shows, Professor Mahaffy affirms, “a greater gentleness and softness, ... a nearer approach to the greater humanity of Christian teaching.”516 We have already noted this movement in the domain of war practices and customs, where it found expression in the amelioration of the gross, archaic barbarities of primitive warfare. In the social sphere the progressive evolution is evidenced by the growing mildness of slavery and the frequency of the manumission of slaves.517

The broadening movement ran parallel with the humanitarian. Classical Greek morality, as we have seen, was narrow and racial. Now one of the most important facts in the moral evolution of Hellas was the broadening of the moral sympathies, especially during the three centuries immediately preceding our era. This development is connected closely with the great expansion movement which followed the conquests of Alexander and which resulted in the Hellenization of the East. Everywhere the Greeks came in close contact with various peoples upon whom they had been accustomed to look with aversion or disdain. Ancient prejudices were dispelled, race barriers were leveled, and the moral sympathies overspread wide areas from which they had hitherto been excluded by ignorance and race egotism.

It would doubtless be unhistorical to represent this movement as anything more than a tendency—a dawning recognition by select spirits of the ethical kinship of all men, and the coextension of the moral law with the human race. It may, however, rightly be compared with that broadening of the moral feelings which we have traced among the people of Israel, and which resulted in a morality at first as narrow and exclusive as that of the Greeks, widening at last into the ethical universalism of the great teachers of the nation.

The widening movement was represented, and was given its chief impetus, by the Stoics. The Stoic ideal of character210 differed from the ordinary Greek ideal especially in its cosmopolitanism. Influenced by the spirit of the age in which it had birth, it ignored the old distinction between Greek and non-Greek and proclaimed the essential brotherhood of man.518 The Stoic regarded the world and not his native city as his fatherland. The Cynics, whom we may regard as extreme Stoics, looked upon city patriotism as a narrow prejudice and refused to give love of one’s city a place among the virtues. Just as the Greek age was merging into the Greco-Roman the broadening movement found its noblest representative in Plutarch, “the last of the Greeks.”519 His chief characteristics were his broad interests and his universal moral sympathies. He had moved far away from the common Greek standpoint. He had emancipated himself from the tyranny of the common Greek prejudices. Under the influences of his time he had become a cosmopolitan. To him the Greek was no longer an elect race. His moral sympathies embraced all mankind. His was almost a Christian conscience, save as to the purely theological virtues.

This enlargement of the intellectual and moral outlook of the Greek world presaged the dawn of a new epoch in the moral evolution of humanity. It made easier for many the acceptance of the Gospel teachings of human brotherhood and universal love. Christian ethics was largely debtor to the cosmopolitan spirit of Greek culture, especially as embodied in the Stoic ideal of moral excellence.520


To trace further this moral development in the ancient world we must now turn from following its course among the Greeks to follow it among that kindred people, the Romans, who, through the political unification of the world, reënforced this growing universalism in the moral domain, and thereby reached that ethical conception of collective humanity which Israel had reached through spiritual intuition, and Hellas through philosophical reflection and widening culture.521



The Roman family: ancestor worship and the patria potestas

The family in early Rome may more unreservedly be pronounced a seed plot of morals than in the case of any other ancient people save the Chinese. It was ancestor worship which made it such a nursery of morality, for the cult of ancestors made the family a group of co-worshipers about the domestic hearth. This worship purified and braced morality, since the tutelary spirits were believed to watch over the morals of the family and to punish wrongdoing. No impure act could be committed in the presence of the chaste hearth fire, and no one guilty of unexpiated crime dared to come into its presence.522

But it was in constituting the father the high priest of the family group that this domestic worship exercised its greatest influence upon early Roman morality. It gave a religious sanction to the father’s authority and made the patria potestas for many centuries a molding force in the moral life of the Roman people.523 A little further on we shall see how, in the atmosphere of the home thus constituted, was fostered in the youth the virtues of submission to rightful authority,213 respect for law, and obedience to magistrates—virtues which were one secret of the strength and triumphs of early Rome.

The city state

Next after the family the state was the most important agency in the creation of the Roman type of virtue. We have to do here, as in Greece, with the city state. This was the chief sphere of duty of the Roman during his mature and active life. Consequently, just as it was the nature of the city state which in Greece determined in large measure what should constitute the supreme virtues and duties of the Greek ideal of character, so was it the constitution of Rome as a city state that, as we shall see a little later, determined what should be the leading virtues and duties entering into the Roman ideal of goodness. This made that ideal to be preëminently an ideal of civic duty. “Never since the fall of paganism have the civic virtues shone out so brilliantly.”524

The occupations of farming and war

Alongside domestic and political institutions stands, as we have seen, occupation as a creator and molder of the moral type of a people. The two occupations of the early Latins were farming and war, and thus it came about that in the primitive ethical type were united the sturdy moral qualities of the peasant farmer and the heroic virtues of the warrior. This blend produced one of the most admirable moral types of the ancient world.

The religion

Aside from the cult of ancestors, religion among the Romans exercised but little direct influence upon morality, for the reason that it was mainly a method of obtaining prosperity, of averting calamity, and of reading the future. There was in truth an almost complete separation of religion and morality. It was only in later times that the Roman philosophers sought in the moral character of the gods models for human imitation. But though religion had so little to do in creating the salient virtues of the moral type,214 it did reënforce the sentiment of patriotism, since the temple was a state institution, and in various other ways—as, for instance, in lending sanctity to oaths—quickened and strengthened the sense of obligation and duty.

The ethics of the family; the virtue of obedience

In the bosom of the family was nourished what we may regard as the primal virtue of the Latin race—submission to authority.525 The son’s subjection to the father’s authority was complete throughout his whole existence. He could not disobey his father’s command. More than seven centuries after the founding of Rome the Emperor Tiberius absolved a certain person from guilt in participating in a revolt, because it was shown that he had acted under the orders of his father.526

This virtue of submission to rightful authority, of obedience to superiors, contributed much to the military efficiency of the Roman people. Indeed, it lay at the basis of their greatness in war. The consul’s authority in the field was like that of the father in the family, and obedience in the soldier was a habit, almost a religious instinct. Thus did this virtue, which had its starting point in the family, help largely to give the Romans the rule of the world.527


Civic and military virtues

Patriotism, meaning submission, obedience, devotion to the state, was the saving virtue in the Roman ideal of excellence. “Patriot” and “good man” were identical terms. “Dear to us are our parents,” says Cicero, “dear our children, our kindred and our friends; but one’s country alone includes all our loves, for what good man would hesitate to die if he could promote her welfare.”528

Since war was the normal status of society in ancient times, the moral qualities of the Roman as of the Greek patriot were the virtues of the soldier—obedience, courage, and self-devotion in battle. And by no people, save perhaps the Japanese as shown in their recent history, has the soldierly virtue of self-renunciation for the fatherland been more exalted or more finely exemplified than by the Romans in early times.

In this ready self-devotion of the Roman hero to public interests we have an exhibition of the altruistic sentiment in its loftiest form, for of all forms of disinterested action, as Lecky maintains, the self-abnegation of the ancient warrior for his city was the most unselfish, for the reason that he made the sacrifice without any hope of reward in another life.529

The industrial virtues

In early Rome there was no such prejudice against labor as unworthy and morally degrading as we meet with at a later period. The fact that a large body of the citizens in primitive Rome were peasant farmers determined that the traditional virtues of this class should find a high place in the early national ideal of character. The moral or semi-moral qualities of the peasant, namely, simplicity, frugality, industry, and conservatism or respect for the past, formed the substratum of early Roman morality. It was from the primitive citizen peasantry that came the strong, tough, moral fiber of the old Roman character.


Religious duties

In dealing with the subject of the relation of the Roman religion to morality we may speak of religious duties but hardly of religious virtues, and for the reason that the aim of religion was the safety and welfare of the state. Neglect of the temple rites and sacrifices was believed to anger the gods, who would in their resentment bring terrible trouble and misfortune upon the nation—for the Romans never outgrew the conception of collective responsibility. Hence the careful performance of religious duties was a phase of patriotism. Neglect of these duties was antisocial conduct.530

In the performance of his religious duties the Roman conceived that all that was necessary was to do the right thing, to perform the right act, or repeat correctly the right formula; the disposition of mind and state of heart made no difference with the result. Man’s relations to deity were assimilated to his relations to nature. To secure a given result in the physical world, man needs only to do the right thing, as, for instance, to drop the seed into the ground at the right season and the harvest follows without any regard to the state of mind or heart of the person performing the act. This was the Roman’s conception of his relation to the gods. Hence religion and morality were practically separated. Religion failed to supply motives for moral action, except in so far as it reënforced the sentiment of patriotism.

Defects of the type: (a) its aristocratic character

From the foregoing brief notice of some of the chief expressions of the moral consciousness of the early Romans we cannot fail to recognize that their ideal of character was in many respects a very admirable one. Its realization in actual flesh and blood gives us those heroic characters which will live forever in Roman legend, and alongside the Greek heroes in the pages of Plutarch. It molded men grave, earnest, and austere, reverent toward superiors, patriotic and self-devoted to the common good.


But the ideal had great defects. One of the most conspicuous of these was its aristocratic character. Rome, writes Wedgwood, “accepts consistently and logically the aristocratic theory on which ancient society is based, and carries out the ideal of the Old World in all its naked impressiveness.”531 Though advancing far during a thousand years of eventful history toward ethical universalism, pagan Rome never actually reached this moral goal. She never recognized in practice the moral equality of all men. There were to the very last in the pagan Empire, classes, such as slaves and gladiators, who were practically outside the moral sphere. Even Roman Stoicism, which was the latest and noblest expression of the moral life of Rome, notwithstanding its cosmopolitan tendencies, was essentially aristocratic.

(b) Its omission of the gentler and the intellectual virtues

Another defect of the old Roman type of excellence was its exclusion of the gentler virtues—humility, tenderness, and sympathy with suffering. The type of character fostered by the ideal was hard and severe, even callous and cruel, proud and self-assertive. It was a type somewhat like the Spartan, one which, when the age of reflection came, naturally developed into the Stoic. The old Romans lacked the quality of mercy and compassion for weakness. They seemed almost destitute of the sentiment of pity for misfortune. Their treatment of prisoners of war and of their slaves in the later period was marked by a repellent brutality. The place in their amusements which the gladiatorial combats assumed evidences their callous insensibility to suffering.

Still another defect of this ideal was that it gave little or no place to the intellectual virtues. These ethical qualities which were assigned so prominent a place in the Greek type of excellence, and which since the Renaissance the Western world has come to esteem so highly, were never greatly valued by the Romans until they came under the influence of Greek218 culture, and then only by the few; hence their intellectual life was, in general, lacking in moral impulse. Mental self-culture was not with them, as it was with the Greeks and is coming to be with ourselves, a moral requirement.

The maintenance of the standard in early times

The four essential facts in the moral life of Rome as a republic are: first, the high standard maintained in the early period; second, the gradual widening of the moral sympathies through the influence of conquest and advance in civilization; third, the general decline in morals during the two centuries preceding the establishment of the Empire; and fourth, the modification of the moral type through contact with Greece and the Orient.

Through the legendary haze which envelops all the earlier centuries of Rome, the one fact which stands out with comparative clearness is the Spartan-like loyalty of the old Roman to the ideal of character which he had conceived as the noblest and best. The legends of this period, invented or repeated by the men of a later age, celebrate qualities of character which we may believe really marked early Roman life and thought. Among these virtues were patriotic altruism, absolute self-abnegation for the common good, as illustrated by such tales as those of the self-devotion for the Roman people of Curtius and of the Elder and Younger Publius Decius Mus; reverence for law, as shown by the consul Lucius Junius Brutus in the condemnation of his sons to death for taking part in a conspiracy; and incorruptible integrity, as illustrated by the tales of Fabricius.

Even though all these stories of the heroic age of Rome be the invention of a later time, they at least show what at this later (though still comparatively early) period were highly esteemed qualities of character, just as the stories celebrating the filial piety of Chinese heroes of the olden time show how219 high a place this moral trait held in the ideal of the age that invented or repeated these tales with a didactic purpose.

The widening of the moral sympathies

The gradual broadening of the moral sympathies was a very important phase of the moral evolution in Roman society up to the end of the Republic. These sympathies embraced at first hardly more than the patrician class, which formed the nucleus of the early Roman community. The enlarging of the area covered by the ethical feelings was simply one phase, and, from the viewpoint of the student of morals, the most important phase of that political evolution which in the course of centuries brought within the sacred pale of Roman citizenship first the Plebeians, then the Latins, next the Italians, and finally all the freemen of the extended Roman dominions. That is to say, this central fact in Roman history, the expansion of the city into the world state, was in its deepest significance, in its remote consequences, as much a moral as a political movement. Conquest, it is true, prepared the way for the revolution, and the concessions made by the ruling class to the demands of the disfranchised classes and peoples were motived in the main by political prudence and expediency. But it is equally true that ethical sentiment worked with these other causes in determining the course and progress of the revolution, and that one of its most important results was the imparting of a great impulse to the widening moral movement going on in the ancient world, and the bringing to recognition of the principles of the moral equality and brotherhood of men.

This great all-embracing movement in the Roman world can, we believe, best be understood in its significance for the moral evolution of mankind only when translated into terms of the similar movement in modern times. We recognize the moral character, in a final analysis, of the revolution which, during the past century, has by successive enfranchisements admitted to a share in government and to the enjoyment of220 political rights the masses in modern civilized states. The movement has been largely ethical in its causes and still more largely ethical in its effects. The struggle of the people has had for aim to do away with unjust privilege and to establish equality and justice. The most important permanent effects of the revolution are indisputably to be looked for in the moral sphere. The incoming of democracy, meaning as it does the investing of the individual with dignity and worth, means the ennobling of the moral life of the world. It is this that constitutes the real significance of the democratic revolution and which gives it its important place in the moral history of humanity.532

The same is true of that phase of the modern movement which looks toward the formation of the world state. The forces at work here are admittedly varied and complex, but prominent among these agencies are the ethical. It is the broadening of the moral sympathies, the development of a true cosmopolitanism, a deepening consciousness of the brotherhood of men, the growth of a new social and international conscience—it is this slow evolution in the moral realm that has laid or is laying the true basis of the future world union. The universal state, once created,—this need not be argued,—would inevitably react powerfully and favorably upon the moral feelings and sympathies of men.

It was the same in the ancient world. The admission to full Roman citizenship, through successive enfranchisements, of all the freemen of the Roman dominions was at once the sign and the cause of a vast moral development. As fellow citizens with equal rights and privileges, men came to know and feel their ethical kinship. Likewise the establishment of the world state registered a great moral advance and supplied the conditions of a still greater progress. Had not the moral forces worked with the Roman legions, the world union could never have been formed, or, at least, if once formed, could221 never have been maintained for the long period that it was. It is probably true that the bringing by Rome of such a wide reach of lands under her rule did as much to awaken the sense of the brotherhood of man as did the teachings of Hebrew prophet or the culture and philosophy of Greece. It was certainly the political union of the civilized world that helped to awaken in Cicero and in the later philosophers of the Empire the conviction that the reach of the moral sympathies should be as extended as the human race. Thus the wide empire created by Rome was a potent influence making for ethical universalism. Never since the unification of the ancient world by Rome have the moral feelings of men been quite so narrow as before; never since has the conception of human brotherhood, the ideal of a united world, seemed so entirely a dream.

Causes of the decline in morals under the later Republic: (a) the passing of the city state

Notwithstanding this broadening movement in the moral domain, the last century of the Republic was marked by a great lowering of the earlier high moral standard and by a loss of some of the chief virtues of the primitive Roman type. There were many causes contributing to this moral degeneracy. Among these was the decay of institutions that had created or fostered the primitive moral type, and the growth of others, such as slavery and the gladiatorial games, which exercised a pernicious influence upon morality. Besides causes of this nature there were others which were the natural outcome of the career of conquest the Romans had led. The conquest of the world had imported into the Roman political and social system many alien elements unfavorable to morality, and had brought Roman civilization, on one side, into hurtful contact with the older and morally corrupt cultures of the Orient. In what follows we shall speak in some detail of the more important of these agencies, which in the later preimperial period undermined the originally sound morality of the Roman people.


A first cause of the moral deterioration was the decay of the city constitution. We have seen that the free city state was the chief nursery of those patriotic virtues which constituted the cardinal moral qualities of the Roman ideal of character. But by the beginning of the last century preceding the Christian era various causes, chiefly, however, the mere widening of the Roman territory through conquest, had undermined the political institutions of Rome and had converted into mobs of the proletariat the public assemblies of citizens. The original constitution of the city had become an empty form, and the way had been paved for the setting up of monarchical government.

With the passing of the city state those civic patriotic virtues which the discipline of the democratic city constitution had trained and developed, disappeared.533 As the Christian Church, which was destined in the fullness of time to take the place of the city in the minds and hearts of men and become the object and inspirer of moral enthusiasm, had not yet come in with its new ideal of virtue, there ensued a sort of moral interregnum, such as usually marks transition periods in the history of states and races.

(b) The economic decay of the rural class

A second cause of the moral decline is to be found in the decay of the Italian peasantry. This economic revolution had its real starting point in the Hannibalic War. That protracted struggle, carried on largely in Italy itself, practically ruined the peasant class in many districts, and their little farms were absorbed by the growing estates of the great landholders—those latifundia which Pliny later declared to have been the ruin of Italy.

The practical disappearance of the Italian peasant farmer meant the disappearance of those simple robust virtues, bred223 in thousands of homes of the countryside, like the little Sabine farm of the Elder Cato, which had contributed so largely to determine the type of Roman character.

(c) Growth of the slave system

The decay of the Italian peasantry was accompanied by the development of the slave system, so that at the same time that the peasant home, a nursery of sterling if crude virtues, was being destroyed, the slave estate with its chain gangs and its ergastula, a very hotbed of degrading vices, was being created. Of all the institutions that contributed to the moral degradation of the later Republic, slavery as it developed here must be assigned the first place of evil preëminence. Its effects were equally debasing upon the master, the slave, and the poor farmer. It tended to render more callous and cruel the spirit of the master,534 to destroy the moral character of the slave, to undermine family morals,535 and, by placing a stigma upon labor, to degrade the free laborer. Thus did the institution tend to develop in different classes of the population feelings, sentiments, and a disposition of mind wholly unfavorable to the existence or the development of a sound moral life in society at large.

(d) The disesteem of the industrial virtues

In placing a stigma upon labor, slavery did not create a new prejudice, but merely intensified and made more inclusive a prejudice already existing. As we have seen, there existed in classical antiquity a deep-rooted feeling against manual labor as morally unworthy of a freeman. Agriculture was the only occupation which escaped this general condemnation, and which was regarded as becoming a gentleman.536224 Cicero declares all mechanical laborers to be by virtue of their profession mean, the gains of hired workmen to be ungenteel, and says that all retailers of merchandise should be despised.537 Even buying and selling on a large scale did not entirely escape the taint of retail merchandizing; it was merely a little less despicable.

This general contempt for the occupations of the artisan and merchant rendered impossible the development of industrial virtues in the Roman masses. Torn from the soil and swept into the cities by the movement cityward in this period, the free poor, too proud to engage in occupations which were looked upon as degrading, were stranded in idleness and exposed to all the demoralizing influences of city life. Crowds of them became the dependents of the rich and formed that despicable client class of the later Republic and the early Empire whose abominable vices roused the anger and provoked the scorn of the satirists and moralists of the time.

(e) Free distribution of corn

A direct outgrowth of the presence in Rome of this great multitude of the idle free poor was the evil of the corn laws. The indiscriminate public free distribution of corn to the poorer citizens—prompted, for the most part, not by genuine humanitarian feelings but by unworthy political and personal motives—had a most debauching effect upon morals. It intensified the very evil it was supposed to ameliorate. It attracted still greater crowds of the idle to the capital, depressed to a still greater degree agriculture in Italy,—grain for distribution being imported in the main from Egypt and North Africa,—and checked every tendency toward the formation of habits of industry, self-reliance, and thrift in the lower classes. The evil attained its climax when the largesses became an undisguised bid by the corrupt demagogue for popular favor—the naked price paid by rich plotters against the commonwealth for the support of the morally debauched and fickle proletariat.


(f) Gladiatorial games

The idle population of Rome had not only to be fed but to be amused. The same motives that had led to the enormous increase in the largesses of grain to the free poor contributed also to the multiplication of the spectacles of the circus and the amphitheater, particularly of the gladiatorial games, which, introduced at Rome in the third century B.C., had now become the favorite amusement of the Roman populace. “That not only men, but women in an advanced period of civilization,—men and women who not only professed but very frequently acted upon a high code of morals,—should have made the carnage of men their habitual amusement, that all this should have continued for centuries, with scarcely a protest, is one of the most startling facts in moral history.”538

But this fact is by no means an isolated or unique one in the ethical history of mankind. The student of the history of morals is often brought face to face with similar facts in the annals of every race and of every age. The fact with which the moralist is here confronted is hardly more startling than the hideously barbarous treatment of their enemies by the deeply pious Jews; the heartless massacre at times of their prisoners by the naturally humane Greeks; the savage severity of the medieval inquisitors toward heretics, while in general showing the greatest compassion and sympathy for those in pain and distress; the atrocious cruelty of the punishments meted out to offenders against society by the Christian governments of Europe down almost to the last century; the callous insensibility, until just now, of modern society to “the bitter cry of the children” of its city slums; and, above all, the glorification of war by the professed followers of Him whose most distinctive title is the Prince of Peace.

But just as all these startling inconsistencies and aberrations in moral conduct may be explained, in part at least, by reference to the effect upon the moral sympathies of tribal226 religion, of political rancor and fanaticism, of false theological dogmas, and of bad bequests of practices and conventions unreflectingly adopted by an advanced civilization from ages of barbarism and savagery, so is it possible in the same way to explain and render in a measure comprehensible to ourselves the existence without protest among the comparatively cultured Romans of such an institution as that of the gladiatorial combats. The system was fostered by slavery and the Romans’ occupation of war. The Roman people were originally stern and just; slavery and war tended to make them hard and callous. Slavery created a sort of caste morality, which excluded from the moral sphere large classes as completely as though they belonged to the dumb-animal creation. It was these pariah classes that contributed a large portion of the victims of the cruel sport. The enormous quantities of human flesh and blood required to nourish the system could have been found in no society except in one where a considerable part of the population had been degraded to a mere animal plane of existence and thus put practically beyond the range and reach of the moral feelings.

Like slavery, the constant wars in which the Romans were engaged tended to indurate their feelings and to destroy all sense of the sanctity of human life. In what way the military life of the Romans reacted upon their feelings and sentiments and molded even their ethical theories is shown by the fact that the Roman moral philosophers in general defended and approved the combats of the amphitheater on the ground that they inured the soldier to the sight of blood and taught him contempt of death.539

The effect of these inhuman spectacles upon morality was most lamentable. They hindered the growth of humane feelings in the men, deadened every tender sensibility of the227 women, habituated the young to scenes of cruelty,540 and developed finally the normal impassiveness of the Roman temperament into a fierce delight in human suffering.541

(g) Decay of religious faith

The influence of religion upon Roman morality was never great; still, as we have seen, the Roman’s sense of duty was in some degree strengthened by his belief in the gods and in their general watch over the conduct of men. Hence that growth of philosophic doubt among the learned class which characterized the later period of the Republic, and the transformation of religion into gross superstition among the debased population of the cities, contributed to hasten and render more decisive the moral decline we are tracing.

(h) Extremes of wealth and poverty

The apparent teaching of history is that there is an antithesis between wealth and morality. It is a commonplace of the records of civilization that as a community has advanced in material prosperity and waxed rich it has gone backward in morals. The growth in great riches of a people has usually been the prelude to their moral degeneracy and loss of place in the competition of races and cultures.

There ought certainly to be no antithesis between riches and morality, any more than between intellectual culture and morality. To suppose that there is any natural and necessary incompatibility between these two elements of civilization is to suppose that there exists a fatal antinomy at the very heart of the cosmic evolution.


That moral degeneracy should be the common accompaniment of a community’s growth in wealth, springs not from the mere possession of wealth, but in the main from its inequitable distribution. Thus far in history, as a society has grown in riches it has become divided into two sharply contrasted classes, the very rich and the very poor. Now each of these extremes is unfavorable to morality. Excessive fortune gives birth to luxury, to gross, extravagant, and unethical uses of wealth. Particularly is this likely to be true if the elevation to affluence has been sudden and from comparative poverty. The reason of this is, as was long ago pointed out, that men before they have learned self-control have placed in their hands means for the unlimited satisfaction of every appetite and desire, and generally the desire of such men is for indulgence in gross sensuous and sensual forms of pleasure. On the other hand, extreme poverty is equally disastrous to morals; for poverty means almost inevitably undue nutrition of body and soul, and generally squalid and insanitary conditions of life that destroy at once physical and moral health, and breed in the young and old alike the most repellent and contagious forms of vice.

Now while at every period of Roman history we find two classes, the rich and the poor, the extremes of wealth and poverty do not appear until about a century before the establishment of the Empire.542 And unfortunately all the conditions which tend to render such inequality of fortune especially pernicious to morals were existent at this time in Roman society. The men into whose control came the great fortunes of the period were generally men of servile origin, because law and public sentiment prevented the senatorial order from engaging in trade or commerce. These men, who had not yet outgrown the grossness and vices of the slave class from which they had sprung, with unlimited229 wealth at their command, and “without the restraint of traditions or ideals,” were naturally prone to indulge in vulgar luxury, in ostentatious extravagance, and in orgies of sensuality.

At the same time at the other end of the social scale were the very poor, subjected to the debasing influences of idleness, of a grossly immoral stage, and of the brutalizing spectacles of the amphitheater. The relations of the large number of propertyless clients to their wealthy patrons bred in this class the hateful vices of servility and hypocrisy.543

Thus the division of Roman society into two classes, the overrich and the very poor,—a division which is always the sign and register of social maladjustment and injustice,—became one of the most potent causes of that moral degeneracy which relaxed the fiber of the Roman race and preluded the downfall of the Republic.

(i) Demoralizing influence of Eastern luxury and vice

After the conquest of the East the national character of the Romans was subjected to a great variety of influences from Greece and the half-Hellenized countries of the Orient. Many of these influences, as we shall notice a little later, had a strengthening and uplifting effect upon Roman life, especially in the upper circles of society, but in general the new elements now imported into Roman civilization from the Hellenistic East were hurtful to morals. Rome “sucked poison from the Attic bloom decayed.”

It is a commonplace of history that at the time of the Roman conquest of the East the great semi-Hellenized cities of the Orient were sinks of moral corruption. Brought into close contact with these morally debased communities, Roman civilization was at once infected with the fatal virus. Streams of impurity overflowed every country of the once moral West.230 The Orontes emptied into the Tiber. Oriental vices and luxury came in as a flood. The primitive Roman virtues of frugality and simplicity disappeared. Greek cooks, we are told, brought a higher price than Greek philosophers.

Almost every element of the Greco-Oriental culture seemed to bear within it the seeds of moral deterioration and decay. Greek philosophy, pervaded in general by a spirit of skepticism, tended to unsettle still more positively the already shaken faith of the Romans in their ancestral gods. Roman morality, in so far as it was supported by religious belief, was thus fatally impaired. The Epicurean philosophy, if not—as taught by most of the Sophists—a direct incentive to vice, afforded at least a ready apology for indulgence in coarse and gluttonous pleasures.

The plays presented on the Roman comic stage were mostly pieces of the Greek drama, which, in the process of adaptation to a Roman audience, had been made coarse and dissolute. Thus the theater became one of the most effective agencies of social corruption. In the words of Mommsen, it was “the great school at once of Hellenism and of vice.”544

Modifications in the moral type itself

A much more important fact in the moral history of the later Republic than this lowering of the standard of conduct is the change which was being effected in the moral ideal itself. While certain causes were at work depressing the moral standard to the lowest point, perhaps, that it ever touched in the long history of Rome, there were other causes in operation which were slowly modifying the old Roman type of character and creating a new type made up largely of new virtues. We speak of this change in the ideal as a fact of greater significance than that of moral degeneracy, for the reason that a decline in actual morality, the failure of a people to live up to the best they know, is always a superficial and transient phenomenon compared with the changes effected231 by different influences in the moral type itself, since these changes constitute the very essence of the ethical evolution.

The causes at work modifying the old Roman ideal of character were various; but more vital than all other influences were those that came through the contact of Rome with Greek culture and the civilizations of the Orient. At the heart of these ancient cultures were ethical elements of inestimable value. Among these were the Greek humanitarian spirit and the various intellectual virtues which characterized the Greek type of excellence; and, in the Oriental theosophic cultures, a deeply religious spirit and the religious virtues which marked the moral ideals of the Eastern nations, particularly the Egyptian, the Persian, and the Hebrew. We recognize the supreme importance for the later moral history of Rome, as well as for that of the whole Western world, of the ethical products of the religious culture of Judea, but we do not recognize as fully the importance of the ethical elements of the secular culture of Greece and of the theosophic civilizations of Egypt and Persia. But Rome’s ethical debt to these older cultures was also indisputably great.

But since these Greco-Oriental influences which were at work modifying the old Roman type of character had not wrought their full effects before the close of the third century of the imperial period, we shall reserve further comment on them, and on the new composite type they were contributing to create, for the next division of this chapter, in which we shall follow the trend of the moral evolution under the pagan Empire.

The bad bequest

Roman society throughout the first century of the pagan Empire, as mirrored in the literature of the period, presents a picture of frightful moral degeneracy. This state of things was largely an inheritance from the Republic. It was the232 continuation of that moral decline which began in the second century B.C., and some of the contributing causes of which, such as slavery, the spectacles of the amphitheater, the free distribution of corn, together with contact with the dissolute civilizations of the Orient, were considered briefly in the preceding pages. Since all these causes of moral degradation were still at work in the society of the early Empire, and as fresh agencies of malign influence were added to them, it was inevitable that the moral anarchy should not only continue but should grow worse.

The definitive establishment of the Empire and the passing of the liberal institutions of the Republic changed wholly the atmosphere in which had been nourished the virtues of Republican Rome. Political liberty was dead, and all true civic activity, which had been the very breath of life to the citizen of the ancient city, had come to an end. In the new world that was forming there was no room for the exercise of those patriotic virtues which had made the early history of Rome so great, and had given her the rule of the world.545

One wholly fresh cause of moral debasement was the personal character of several of the occupants of the imperial throne during the first century of the Empire. The Oriental extravagancies and coarse debaucheries which disgraced the court of a Claudius, a Caligula, or a Nero, communicated their virus to every part of the social body. Never did the proverb, “As court, so people,” have such justification. At the same time the tyranny which marked the rule of more than one of the emperors instituted a demoralizing terror like that of the proscriptions of the Civil Wars. Under the influence of the frightful persecutions of their order, the senatorial aristocracy, with moral fiber now relaxed and corroded by effeminate luxury, lost seemingly all those virtues which earlier had233 characterized their class, and was transformed into a body at times sycophantic, cringing, and base almost beyond belief. But it is doubtful if any other aristocracy which history has known would have stood the test any better. The French nobility of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, excluded from participation in political affairs by the divine-right monarchy, and made servile dependents of the court, exhibited almost as depressing a spectacle of moral degeneracy as did the higher Roman classes under the more frightful tyranny of the early Cæsars.

The old and the new

But we may here profitably call to mind the words of Wedgwood to the effect that the phenomenon of moral decay, although the most striking, is not the most significant fact in the moral history of a race or of an age. “The fact that an old ideal is perishing,” remarks this writer, “must always be a stronger or at least a more obvious moral influence than the fact that a new one is coming into life.... A death is more impressive than a birth.”546

What in this reflection claims our attention here is the implied truth that the passing of the old means the coming of the new. At the base of the falling leaf there is always a new-forming bud. It is not otherwise in the moral world. Unless the forces of the moral life have become fatally impaired, the decay of an old ideal of excellence is ever accompanied by the growth of a new and better one. And it was so in the Rome of the early Cæsars. The Roman ancestral ideal of character, with its attractive civic and heroic virtues, was indeed falling into decay and passing away, but a new and better ideal of goodness was slowly forming and winning the allegiance of the select spirits of the age.

The three periods in the moral history of Rome

Lecky distinguishes in the moral history of pagan Rome three periods characterized “by the successive ascendancy of the Roman, the Greek, and the Egyptian spirit.” Up to near234 the end of the Republic the moral ideal was essentially Roman; during the first and second centuries of the Empire it was characterized by the dominance of the humanitarian and cosmopolitan spirit of Greece; while in the third and last century of the pagan Empire it was marked by the ascendency of the Egyptian spirit of religious reverence.547 In the immediately following pages we shall consider the second of these periods.

Modifying influence on the Roman ideal of the Greek spirit

Already at the time of the establishment of the Empire the two great civilizations of classical antiquity had been in close contact for a hundred years and more. The elements of Greek culture which reacted most powerfully upon Roman society were the purely intellectual and the ethical. History has fully recognized the debt of Rome to Greek intellectualism, but it has not so fully recognized her ethical debt to Hellenism. Yet it was the contribution made by Greece to the new-forming moral ideal of the Roman world which was probably the most historically important element of the Hellenic bequest. This ethical inheritance of Rome from Greece was second only to her ethical heritage from Judea.

It was largely through the medium of Greek literature and Greek philosophy, particularly the Platonic and the Stoic, that the ethical Greek spirit, characterized by its humanitarian and cosmopolitan sympathies, exerted its modifying influence upon the Roman moral consciousness and gradually changed it into something very different from what it was at first. This influence can best be traced in Roman literature and the imperial legislation.

Evidences in literature of the softening of the moral feelings

The two great changes in the moral type consisted, as Lecky observes, in the greater prominence accorded the benevolent or amiable virtues, and in the broadening of the moral sympathies.548 The effect of the action of the humanitarian Greek spirit upon the old Roman ideal of character was to soften its harsher235 features and to cause the heroic virtues to yield place, in a measure, to the benevolent qualities, that is to say, to those virtues which in the course of three centuries or more, largely under Hebrew-Christian influences, were destined to assume a dominant place in the accepted ideal of moral excellence.549

Cicero, Vergil, Juvenal, and Seneca may be considered the truest representatives of this new-forming social conscience. Cicero, writing just at the end of the Republic and after Rome for more than three generations had been under the influence of Greek culture and philosophy, exhibits unmistakably the effect upon the Roman character of the comparatively humane and gentle spirit of Hellas. In his treatise De Officiis, “concerning duties,” in which he interprets and enlarges for the benefit of his son Marcus the ethical work of the Greek philosopher Panætius, he gives his sanction to moral doctrines which could hardly have been approved by a Roman moralist before Rome had felt the influence of the ethical spirit of Greece. The work is a glorification of the virtues of pity, gentleness, and benevolence.

The softening movement finds another representative in Vergil. His great poem is in its ethical spirit more Greek than Roman. In the “transformation of the goddess of lawless self-pleasing love into a goddess of a maternal compassionate love,” Wedgwood would have us see summed up the change in moral feeling of the classical world during the centuries that separated the age of the Iliad from that of the Æneid.550

Juvenal,551 too, applauds the moral qualities of pity and tenderness. “His moral tone appears to unite the spirit of two different ages.”552 Seneca denounced the gladiatorial games as inhuman and degrading. He constantly lays emphasis upon236 those amiable virtues which belong rather to the Greek than to the Roman ideal of moral excellence.

Ethical theory finds embodiment in practice

Nor was this moral evolution confined to ethical theory; these precepts of the moralists found generous embodiment in practice. Especially was the age of the Antonines a benevolent age, one in which all kinds of charities abounded. Respecting private benefactions in this period Professor Samuel Dill asserts that we may well doubt whether they were less numerous and generous than at the present day, and that “there has probably seldom been a time when wealth was more generally regarded as a trust, a possession in which the community at large has a right to share.”553 These numerous gifts and legacies assumed the form of baths, theaters, libraries, markets, colonnades, aqueducts, fountains, temples, basilicas, and other monuments of utility or adornment.

The motives which led to all this public giving were of course mixed, just as are the motives of givers of to-day, but we may without much hesitation assume with the historian Dill that they sprang largely from genuine altruistic feeling, from a recognition of the true uses of wealth, and from a sense of the duty of the rich to the poor and dependent—from the same motives, in a word, that a century or two later were to cover these same lands with churches and monasteries and oratories.554

The broadening movement: ethical universalism as the outcome of the world empire and of Stoicism

The second important ethical movement in the pre-Christian Roman world consisted, as we have seen, in the widening of the moral sympathies. The two most efficient causes of this movement were the establishment of the world empire and the ascendancy at Rome of Greek philosophy, particularly the philosophy of the Stoics.

Never before in the history of the world down to our own day were there so many forces and circumstances making for237 cosmopolitanism in life and thought as in the age of the early Cæsars. The growth of the little city state of Rome into a world state had made all freemen actually or potentially citizens of the world. The political unity of the world had awakened the consciousness of a moral unity. In thought and feeling many select souls recognized themselves as brothers of all other men. It was not merely the world-wide reach of the Roman rule that promoted the growth of this cosmopolitanism, but contributing largely to it were the policies of the imperial government, many of whose agencies and institutions made directly and powerfully for the development of a sentiment of universal human kinship. The unification of the world on its physical side, by the creation of the splendid Roman roads and the facilities thus provided for world-wide trade and travel, had the same broadening effect upon the moral feelings that modern railways, steamboats, and telegraphs have upon the ethical sympathies of our own day. Furthermore, the practically autocratic authority of the Emperor tended to destroy class distinctions by reducing all to the same level of servitude, to obliterate national boundaries, and to weaken race prejudices. Then also, as the capital of the world, Rome had become, as a center and creator of cosmopolitan life, a second Alexandria. The character, too, of the slaves, drawn now largely from the East, and often superior in culture to their masters, tended to blur the distinctions between classes based on outer conditions, and to suggest the doctrine of equality in the sphere of the spirit. The army, also, recruited from every race and land in the Empire, and from the outside barbarian world as well, with the legions raised in one country serving in another, was a liberalizing agency, and a most effective one in breaking down race barriers and in widening the mental outlook and the moral sympathies of the traveled legionaries.

The second great cause of the enlarging of the moral feelings was the influence of the Greek spirit. Indeed, this238 broadening movement was in large measure the effect of the action of the cosmopolitan spirit of the Stoic philosophy upon the originally narrow spirit of Rome.555 Evidences in literature of this widening of the moral horizon multiply from Terence in the second century B.C. to the age of the Antonines. The familiar sentiment of the poet, “I am a man and nothing human is alien to me,”556 although we know nothing as to the response this evoked in the readers of Terence, may fairly be accepted as evidence that the new spirit of cosmopolitanism was already at work in Roman society. But the first clear sustained note of universalistic morality comes from Cicero in his treatise De Officiis,557 to which we have already referred. The author says much about the Law of Nature and of the society and community of the human race. One should, in imitation of Hercules, even at the cost of great labor and pain, give succor and aid to every one, whoever he may be, for this is consonant with nature.558 In destroying Corinth Rome was guilty of a great crime.559 The human race forms a universal society, by virtue of the bond of reason and speech; therefore we are to do good to all men—but liberality should begin at home.560 “The love of humanity,” he says, “which has its beginnings in the love of parents for their offspring, binds together first the members of the family; then, gradually reaching out beyond the domestic circle, embraces successively relatives, friends, neighbors, fellow citizens;239 next broadens to include allied nations; and finally comes to embrace the whole human race.”561

Two generations later, in the reign of Nero, Seneca enjoined the same cosmopolitan morality. He declared all men to be citizens of a universal commonwealth, and inculcated the lofty sentiment, “Man should be sacred to his fellow man.” Epictetus in the same age preached a like doctrine of human fraternity, and taught that a man should regard himself not as a citizen of this or of that city, but as a citizen of the world.

But it is in the Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius that we find the most emphatic declaration of this Stoic doctrine of the unity of mankind and the universal reach of the moral law. As envisioned by the emperor-philosopher the whole world is a single state and all men are fellow citizens. “My city and country,” he says, “so far as I am Antoninus, is Rome, but so far as I am a man, it is the world.”562 Again he muses: “The poet says, Dear city of Cecrops; and wilt not thou say, Dear city of Zeus?”563 Every man, he declares, should remember that every rational being is his kinsman, and that “to care for all men is according to man’s nature;”564 for “men exist for the sake of one another.”565

In what measure these moralists and philosophers whom we have quoted really represented their times it is of course impossible to say; but probably we would not be wrong in assuming that they appealed to a certain public sentiment, and that the doctrines they taught evoked consenting response240 from the moral consciousness of more than a few in every rank of Roman society.

The Stoic doctrine of the Law of Nature and its ethical influence

The doctrine of the Law of Nature, upon which such emphasis was laid by the Stoic philosophers, had such consequences for the evolution of Roman morals and so great an influence upon the moral philosophers of later times, particularly upon the speculations of the philosophers of the eighteenth century, that we must in the present connection endeavor to gain some idea of what the Stoics meant by this phrase, and the ethical value of the conception.566

The Law of Nature is merely the Stoic designation of a law which, under other names, all the ages have revered as the supreme law of the universe. It is practically the law of conscience, the inner law written on the hearts of men.567 It is that law which is in the background of our consciousness when we say, “We must obey God rather than man.” It is that holy law which came to Hebrew prophet as the word of Jehovah. It is that inviolable law which Antigone feared to break, “a law not proclaimed by men, and which lives not for to-day nor yesterday, but evermore.”568 It is what the Supreme Court of the United States in a recent decision calls “the rule of reason,” that inborn sense of what is reasonable and just.

This Law of Nature being thus the expression of what is most constituent and essential in man as man, it necessarily results that there is a large common element in the customs and the rules of conduct of all peoples who are in the same or nearly the same stage of culture; hence the substantial conformity between the Law of Nature and the Laws of Nations. The conformity, however, is not perfect. The moral task of humanity is to make it perfect.


It is of course the ethical imperative of the Law of Nature which has rendered it such a revolutionary and reconstructive force in history. During the medieval period it was seldom invoked because the Church and not the normal human reason was regarded as the supreme authority in the domain of morals. But after the Renaissance and the Reformation had proclaimed the autonomy of the individual spirit and the ultimate authority of the individual conscience in the realm of moral right and wrong, then came naturally an appeal from the rules and conventions of society to the unwritten Law of Nature; hence the prominence it assumed in the writings of the philosophers of the eighteenth century, who prepared the way for the French Revolution.

But what it concerns us now to notice is merely the influence of this conception of a Law of Nature on the moral development in the later period of the Roman Empire. A fundamental principle of the law, as apprehended by the Stoics, is that men are born free and equal. If this teaching be received as axiomatic, it is easy to understand its importance for morality. Tried by this touchstone, many social institutions, such for instance as slavery, are shown at once to be contrary to nature, and hence opposed to natural justice. The acceptance of this Stoic doctrine by the Roman jurists caused the Roman law, as we shall see immediately, to be molded in opposition to servitude and in the interest of freedom.569

Influence of Stoicism as an ethical force on Roman government and law

In its moral influence Stoicism worked in the Roman world more like a religion than a philosophy. In truth it was a missionary philosophy. It created in a remarkable measure242 moral enthusiasm. “In the Roman Empire,” declares Lecky, “almost every great character, almost every effort in the cause of liberty, emanated from the ranks of Stoicism.”570

In the first place it presented an ideal of monarchy which powerfully influenced Roman imperialism.571 It made the prince “the shepherd of his people.” It taught that the sole aim of the ruler should be “the good of his subjects.” The effects of these teachings were evident in the rule of more than one of the pagan emperors. The blessings which the reigns of Pius and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and others of the “good emperors” brought to the Roman world are to be attributed in large measure to the influence upon these rulers of the doctrines and ideals of Stoicism. In the beneficent rule of these Stoic emperors the ideal of Plato and Dion was realized; the philosopher was upon the throne. Only in the effects of the teachings of the philosophers of the eighteenth century upon the Enlightened Despots of that period do we find a like illustration of the influence of philosophy upon the possessors of absolute power.

The enlightened and humane spirit of Stoicism was felt especially in the law.572 It was the Stoic doctrine of the natural equality of all men that worked most effectively in this domain. Many of the disabilities placed upon woman by the earlier law were removed; children were emancipated in a measure from the now unreasonable authority of the father;573 and the slave was placed under the protection of243 the law and safeguarded against the worst brutalities of a cruel master.

Amelioration of slavery under the pagan emperors

The mitigation of the lot of the slave constitutes so important a phase of the moral evolution of the pre-Christian period that we must consider it here apart and in some detail. The causes of this moral reform were various. Among the most efficient agencies were Stoicism and the other Greek philosophies.574 Then the character of many of the slaves themselves, the equal or superior often of their master in intelligence and culture, won for the class respect and consideration. Furthermore, the great number of freedmen, who constituted a very large element of the free population of the Empire,575 tended to create a public sentiment favorable to the slave. Having had, like Epictetus the Stoic, acquaintance with the bitterness of bondage, they knew how to pity the bondsman.

Already in the first century of the Empire all the chief leaders of moral reform taught that the slave is the equal of his master in capacity for virtue.576 Dion Chrysostom condemned hereditary slavery as contrary to the Law of Nature and hence wrong. He is thought to have been the earliest writer in the Roman Empire to take this advanced moral ground.577 Seneca proclaimed the obligations of the higher law: “Although our laws,” he says, “permit a master to treat his slave with every degree of cruelty, still there are some things that the common law of life forbids being done to a human being.”578 Cruel masters, he adds, are hated and detested.


The growing sentiment of tenderness for the slave found significant popular expression in the reign of Nero. A certain prefect of the city having been murdered by a slave, the Senate, in accordance with ancient usage, adjudged to death the entire household of slaves, four hundred in number. Sentiment in the Senate itself was divided, some of the senators voting against the proposal, while the people gathering in seditious crowds threatened to prevent by force the carrying out of the edict. A body of soldiers was necessary to overawe the populace and secure the execution of the slaves.579

A little later we see these growing humanitarian feelings reflected in the imperial legislation. Hadrian took away from masters the ancient right willfully to kill their slaves; and Antoninus Pius made the killing of a slave, sine causa, murder. The edicts of other emperors effected further mitigations of the law, so that the slave code of the later pagan Empire is characterized by a humaneness of spirit that places it in strong contrast with the callousness of the code of earlier times.

Additional evidence of the increased humanity of the age is afforded by the numerous manumissions of slaves.580 The motives that prompted such action were undoubtedly mixed, one self-regarding motive being the ambition to have a great retinue of clients;581 but the dominant motive is unquestionably to be sought in the growing humanity of the age.

It is noteworthy that the greatest alleviations of slavery were effected before the influence of Christianity was felt. The Christian emperors added almost nothing to the laws of the pagan Empire ameliorating the lot of the slave, and the Christian bishops in general fell behind Seneca in advocacy of the cause of the bondsman. The emphasis laid by the245 Church upon a future life where the poor and the oppressed of this world should receive compensation for their wrongs and sufferings here, caused the Christian teachers to regard earthly rank and outer conditions of life as of little moment.582

Ethics of the persecution of the Christians by the pagan emperors

While considering the steady expansion of the moral sympathies and the growth of humanitarian sentiment in the pagan Empire, we are confronted by the startling fact that the best of the emperors, those most closely identified with the legislation embodying the new spirit of humanity and justice, were among the most severe and persistent persecutors of the Christians.

This apparent moral paradox is the same as will again confront us in the medieval age in connection with the Inquisition and the cruel persecution of heretics and dissenters by a Church which was based on the principle of universal love, and which exalted to the highest place in its ideal of goodness the qualities of gentleness and pity.

The paradox in each case is, however, such only in seeming. The persecution of Christians by pagans, and of heretics by Christians, was practically the inevitable issue of certain ideas and beliefs which became the premises of moral conclusions. In neither case does the act of the persecutor necessarily imply moral turpitude.583 The persecution of the Christians by the pagan emperors sprang in the main from the belief—in connection with the idea of corporate responsibility—that246 the welfare of the state was bound up with the careful observance of the rites of the temple.584 It was thought that the neglect of the temple service by any single member of the community awakened the resentment of the gods toward all the members alike. If the Tiber overflowed its banks, the people were ready to believe that the calamity had been brought upon the city by the neglect of the new sect to offer the customary sacrifices to the gods, and the cry arose, “The Christians to the lions!” In a word, the refusal of the Christians to participate in the common worship was looked upon as a crime, as a species of treason against the state, and was punished as such.585

Stoic teachings Christian in tone and sentiment

As we are now approaching the time when a new moral ideal, that of Christianity, is to displace the old classical ideal of character, it will be both instructive and interesting to note to what degree this ideal which was passing away had, in theory if not in practice, under the varied influences to which it had been subjected through the centuries, become assimilated to this new ideal of excellence.586

The nobility of forgiveness was taught by many of the pagan philosophers with Christian insistence. Cicero regarded247 repentance as perhaps sufficient to stay the hand of chastisement, and declares that nothing is more laudable than clemency and willingness to forgive.587 Marcus Aurelius would repress even the first risings of resentment for injury: “When one is trying to do thee harm, continue to be of a kind disposition toward him, gently admonish him, and calmly correct his error, saying, ‘Not so, my child; we are constituted by nature for something else; I shall certainly not be injured, but thou art injuring thyself, my child,’—and show him by gentle tact and by general principles that this is so.”588

And again: “It is royal to do good and to be abused”589; “be gentle toward those who try to hinder or otherwise trouble thee.”590 “The best way of avenging thyself is not to become like [the wrongdoer].”591 Epictetus quotes with approval Pittacus, one of the Seven Wise Men, in these words: “Forgiveness is better than revenge, for forgiveness is the sign of a gentle nature, but revenge the sign of a savage nature.”592

Purity and sincerity of thought is inculcated by Marcus Aurelius. “A man should,” he says, “accustom himself to think of those things only about which if one should suddenly ask, What hast thou now in thy thought? with perfect openness thou mightest immediately answer, This or that; so that from thy word it should be plain that everything in thee is simple and benevolent.”593

Seneca taught that adversity has moral uses: “God does not pamper the good man; he puts him to the test to prove him, he hardens him, and thus prepares him for himself.”594 Trust in Providence and resignation is inculcated by Marcus Aurelius in many passages in which he teaches that one should accept with all his soul everything which happens to him as his248 portion assigned by God. He trusts in Him who governs; he says to the universe, “I love as thou lovest.”595 He accepts death with perfect resignation whether it be extinction, or birth into another life: “To go away from among men is not a thing to be afraid of, for the gods, if there be gods, will not involve thee in evil.”596 But death may be extinction. If so, well; for “if it ought to have been otherwise, the gods would have ordered it so.”597

Strangely Christian in tone are the reflections of Marcus Aurelius on the transitoriness of earthly life: “What belongs to the soul is a dream and vapor, and life is a warfare and a stranger’s sojourn.”598

The duty of godlikeness is enjoined by Epictetus: “He who seeks to please the gods must labor as far as in him lies to resemble them. He must be faithful as God is faithful, free as He is free, beneficent as He is beneficent, magnanimous as He is magnanimous.”599 Marcus Aurelius sums up the duty of man in love to his fellows and in following God;600 and Plutarch declares that “man can enjoy no greater blessing from God than to attain to virtue by the earnest imitation of the noblest qualities of the divine nature.”601

Some divergences between Roman and Christian ethics

But while in many of the teachings of the leaders of moral thought in the later Roman Empire, as shown by the above quotations, we find a near approach to Christian ethics, or a perfect accordance therewith, still it is a fact that must not be overlooked or minimized that in other of their teachings in which they represented more truly the popular conceptions of right and wrong, they as conspicuously diverged from the Christian ideal.


We have heard some of the moralists, particularly the Stoic Marcus Aurelius, condemning the spirit of revenge and extolling forgiveness as a virtue; but in general the Stoics as well as the followers of other schools had not advanced beyond the common conscience of the time in regard to the permissibility and even duty of returning injury for injury. Cicero unequivocally approved the taking of revenge for injuries received;602 only the person injured should avenge himself equitably and humanely.603 Again he says that justice requires that no one should do harm to another, “unless in requital of some injury received.”604 Even the gentle Plutarch, who may be regarded as representing the composite ideal of character which was forming in the first century of the Empire through the union of Greek and Roman ethical ideas and feelings, declares it to be a virtue to make one’s self disagreeable to one’s enemies.

Tyrannicide, which in general is condemned by the modern conscience, was given by the Roman moralist, as by the Greek teachers, a place among the greatest of the virtues. Cicero deems it a meritorious act to slay a tyrant on the ground that he is but a “ferocious beast in the guise of a man,”605 and declares that of all illustrious deeds the Roman people regard tyrannicide the most laudable.606 Consistently he extols the killing of the Gracchi.607

Pity or compassion for suffering, which is assigned such a high place in the Christian type of character, was regarded by the Roman moralists as a weakness, even a vice; not but that they extolled clemency in the ruler, but they distinguished between this sentiment and that of pity. Seneca declared pity to be a vice incident to weak minds. “The wise man,” he said, “will dry the tears of others but will250 not add his to theirs. He will not pity those in distress, but will relieve and aid them.”608

Suicide, which to the modern conscience appears a censurable act, was by most of the Roman moralists regarded with unqualified approval,609 provided the person committing the act had a strong motive for doing so. Epictetus said, “The door is open”; but added this admonition, “Do not depart without a reason.”610 But almost any circumstance which made life hard or a burden would justify the act; “The house is smoky, and I quit it,” calmly remarks the Stoic Emperor Aurelius.611 Seneca says, “The eternal law has decreed nothing better than this, that life should have but one entrance and many exits.”612 He thinks the gods must have looked on with great joy when Cato, with the world fallen into Cæsar’s power, drove the sword into his own breast. That in his view was “a glorious and memorable departure.” By such an act a man raises himself to the level of the gods.613

Suicide was at its height in the early Empire. This is to be explained by the teachings of the Stoics—among whom suicides were numerous614—and the unbearable tyranny of the imperial régime. Not till Christianity came with its teachings regarding the sacredness of human life and the duty of resignation was there any essential change in the general attitude of the ancient world toward the act of self-destruction.615


The insufficiency of Stoicism as a moral guide for the masses

The composite Greco-Roman ideal, in which Stoicism had united the best elements of the Greek and the Roman type of character, while it did serve as a guide to the moral strivings of select souls, was wholly unfitted to give support to the moral life of the masses or to awaken in them moral enthusiasm. There were in Stoicism two serious defects which made it impossible for it to become the guide and rule of life for the multitude. First, it was too intellectually exalted and cold to make appeal to the common people. The Stoics, in the suppression of the feelings and emotions,—“they made solitude in the heart and called it peace,”616—cut themselves off from all sympathy with the masses, with whom feeling is ever the larger part of life. Second, Stoicism failed to give due place to the religious sentiment. Belief in the ancestral Roman gods had, it is true, been undermined, but the religious feeling of awe and mystery in the presence of the Unseen was deeper and more universal than ever before. Man, in the fine phrase of Sabatier, is incurably religious.

The ideal of character which shall appeal to the masses must be an ideal whose requirements make full recognition of the rightful claims of human affections and of the religious instinct of mankind. The mystical and religious East contributes to the ideal created by the interaction of the Greek and the Roman spirit those elements which neither of the classical cultures could supply.

The Orient contributes new elements to the moral life of the West

From the first century of our era, Rome was in close contact with the Orient, as long before she had been in contact with Greece. And just as the Greek spirit had profoundly influenced the moral ideal of Rome, so now was the spirit of the Orient to effect even greater changes in her ancestral standard of character.

As philosophy mediated between Rome and Greece, so did religion mediate between Rome and the Orient. It was252 through the religions or cults of Egypt, Persia, and Judea that the ethical forces of the ancient cultures of the East were brought to bear on Roman life and thought and conduct. In the present connection we shall speak only of the influences which went forth from Egypt and Persia, and point out in what way they gave an added impulse to that ethical movement going on in the Roman world which finally culminated in the triumph of the creed and moral ideal of Judea.

The contribution of Egypt; the worship of Isis

And first we note the relation to this ethical evolution of the worship of Isis and Serapis, the chief imported and modified cults of the ancient civilization of the Valley of the Nile. In this worship religion and morality were joined in a way practically unknown to the priestly colleges of Rome. “The Egyptian,” says Lecky, “... bowed low before the divine presence. He veiled his eyes, he humbled his reason, he represented the introduction of a new element into the moral life of Europe, the spirit of religious reverence and awe.”617

Forming an important part of the body of ideas which constituted the basis of this religious feeling, was the doctrine of a life after death. This was a doctrine which was common to all the Oriental religions with which we have here to do,—the Isiac, the Mithraic, and the Christian,—but a doctrine which, aside from the initiates of the Orphic, the Eleusinian, and like Mysteries, was practically new to the classical world. It was this doctrine which helped greatly to secure for these religions or cults such wide acceptance in the Roman world,—for the Roman world, old, worn, and weary, was yearning for assurance of another and better life,—and which largely explains the moral influence they exerted upon the nations of the West.618

For more than five hundred years the worship of Isis particularly found ardent devotees in the West. The general253 effect of the cult upon its followers was to cause the active, heroic qualities in the old Roman ideal of character to be overshadowed by the passive contemplative virtues, and to impart a religious, ritual character to the moral code. Expiatory and purification rites formed a large part of the duties of the worshiper of the Egyptian goddess.619

The contribution of Persia: Mithraism

The influence of Egypt upon the religious-ethical life of the West was reënforced by a like influence from Persia, which came through the cult of Mithra.620 This worship came into Europe by the way of Asia Minor. Its missionaries were seemingly Oriental recruits in the Roman legions. It came bearing many accretions gathered in its passage through the west Asian lands, and yet with all the characteristics which marked the old Persian religion as a religion of combat and strenuousness, of moral striving and moral achievement.621 During the last three centuries of the Empire the cult spread widely in the Western lands, taking deep root especially in the frontier regions of the Danube and the Rhine, and in the remote province of Britain.

This incoming of Mithraism had special significance for the reason that Mithra, as the god of light, was invested with certain moral qualities symbolized by his physical attributes.254 He was the god of truth and purity. It was this moral element in the cult, in connection with its doctrine of a future life,—the promise and hope of which was dependent upon purification, inward as well as ceremonial, from all earthly stains and impurities,—which in a measure met and satisfied the yearnings of the age, and which, in the great religious and ethical propaganda that marked the later centuries of the Roman Empire, rendered the religion of Mithra the most formidable rival of Christianity in its great competition with the various Oriental religions and cults for supremacy in the hearts and consciences of men.622

Relation of the Egyptian and Persian propaganda to that of Christianity

But the pagan priest no more than the pagan philosopher could effect the moral renovation of ancient society. Like the moral propaganda carried on by Cynic, Stoic, and Neoplatonist missionaries and preachers, these efforts of paganism to effect its own moral regeneration failed, perhaps because these pagan cults lacked what Christianity possessed—“the dynamic of a great personality.” Yet these efforts were not without influence upon the ethical development of the Western nations. In two ways the Egyptian and Persian propaganda was a preparation for the moral revolution effected by Christianity: first, it helped to give morality a religious basis, which it did not have in classical antiquity; and second, it taught men to seek in deity and not in themselves the pattern of moral excellence.623 Thus did Egypt and Persia, through the mediation of religion, contribute important ethical elements to Greco-Roman civilization, and thereby help to give a fresh impulse and a new trend to the moral evolution of the Western world.



Ethical import of the Christianization of Rome

The establishment of Christianity, in its Greco-Judaic form, as the favored religion of the Roman Empire by the edict of the Emperor Constantine is rightly regarded as one of the most important events not only in the history of the Empire but also in that of the Western world. What made this act, or rather the religious revolution it registered, of such transcendent importance was the fact that the ascendancy of the new religion meant the ascendancy of a new moral ideal; for Christianity, unlike Stoicism, did not merely act upon the old classical ideal of excellence to modify and remold it, but superseded it by another made up largely of a wholly different set of virtues.

It was this new ethical element thus introduced into Greco-Roman civilization which was the most dynamic of the forces active in the transformation of the ancient into the medieval world. The new ideal re-created ethically the Roman world and made Europe for a thousand years and more—until the Renaissance of the fifteenth century called forth again the ethical thought and feeling of classical antiquity—in moral conviction and striving an extension of Asia.

A prerequisite to an intelligent study of the history of this new moral ideal is a knowledge of the beliefs and theological doctrines out of which it arose; for this ideal has through the centuries followed the fortune of these beliefs and teachings. In the immediately following pages we shall indicate what were some of the most influential of these ideas and doctrines.


The doctrine of a moral law supernaturally revealed

Among the doctrines of Christian theology freighted heavily with ethical consequences was that of a moral law supernaturally promulgated. This was essentially an Oriental conception, a heritage of Christianity from the Hebrew past, and a conception quite alien in general to the manner of thinking of the Greeks and Romans, with whom morality, as we have seen, was a civic and secular and human thing, an expression of man’s essential nature, that is, an outcome of the human reason and conscience.

This doctrine exercised an immense influence upon the moral evolution in the Western world. First, it displaced naturalism with supernaturalism in ethics. The whole history of morals records no revolution more momentous than this. Second, it made rigid large sections of the moral code and thus tended to impart for an historical epoch a certain immobility to the religious-ethical side of European civilization.

The teaching of the unity of God and of his universal fatherhood

Another idea found in this body of religious doctrines, an idea rich in ethical consequences, was the conception of God as one and as the Universal Father. We have seen that the great defect in primitive morality was the limited range of the moral feelings. The circle of moral obligation was bounded by the clan, the tribe, the city. This resulted in large part from the notion that each kin group had an origin and ancestry different from that of every other. One group thought themselves to be the offspring of Zeus; another proclaimed themselves to be the descendants of Heracles; and still another believed themselves to be the children of Mars. So long as this view of men’s origin and descent prevailed there could arise no conception of their spiritual relationship and ethical oneness. Tacitus merely expressed the common opinion of the ancient world when he declared absurd the doctrine that all men are brothers.


But from the doctrine of the common fatherhood of God there arises naturally the conception of the essential brotherhood of men. The apostle’s declaration, “We are the offspring of God,”624—phrasing the teachings of the Master in terms understood by the men to whom he spoke,—announced the opening of a new era in the moral development of the race. The proclamation of this practically new thought625 meant, at once in ethical theory and sooner or later in actual practice, the widening of the narrow class and race circle of moral obligation to include all tribes and peoples.

The doctrine of a future life of rewards and punishments

Greco-Roman morality was influenced but slightly by a belief in a life after death. The vision of the other world was in general too indistinct for it to exert any decided influence upon the conduct of men.626 The conception of Hades, though it did undergo with the lapse of time a process of moralization, was never so far ethicalized as to have a positive moral value.

But by Christianity the other world was lifted into such prominence as it had had in the life and thought of no people of antiquity except the Egyptians, and immortality was declared to be the destiny of every human soul. With the classical peoples it was the city which had been conceived as eternal. This transference of immortality from the city to the individual had vast import for morality.627 What contributed to render it of such ethical importance was the fact258 that the after life was conceived as a life of rewards and punishments. A heaven of ineffable and everlasting bliss and a hell of unutterable and everlasting torment were laid open to the eyes of men, and became the tremendous sanctions of the new moral code promulgated by Christianity. It would be difficult to exaggerate the influence of this teaching upon the moral life of the European peoples, especially during the medieval centuries of faith. To make this life transitory, vain, and worthless, and life in another world the only real life, is to cause the transvaluation of all moral values, and to change fundamentally conceptions of what is rational and right in conduct.

The teaching of the sanctity of human life

Springing naturally from the foregoing conceptions of man’s origin and eternal destiny is the Christian doctrine of the sanctity of human life. In no respect do Christian teachings contrast more sharply with pagan conceptions than in this regard. In the Greco-Roman view value did not attach to man as man. To the Greek way of thinking it was the Greek freeman alone who possessed the full capacity for virtue and the rights of manhood. In the common Roman view only the Roman citizen was regarded as dowered with the full faculties and rights of a human being. The slave was looked upon and treated as belonging to an inferior order of existence.

The Christian doctrine of man’s divine sonship and of his eternal destiny gave infinite worth to every human life, and, investing man as man with an inviolable sanctity, worked effectively in widening the range of the moral sympathies and in bringing within the scope of the moral law all classes and conditions of men. It checked infanticide, which in the259 pre-Christian world had been very generally practiced without the least moral scruple; it suppressed the gladiatorial games in which the lives of men were placed on a level with those of the wild beasts with which they fought; it helped to make suicide, which the Romans looked upon as a noble mode of departure from life, a crime; and contributed to mitigate the lot of the slave and finally to help lift him into freedom.

The dogma of the fall of man and hereditary guilt

The view of man’s moral nature taught by the Founder of Christianity was simple and natural. It is embodied in the parable of the prodigal son. Man may go wrong, but he has ever the capacity, and, when he comes to himself, the desire, to return to the right way.

In direct opposition to this view of man’s nature and deepest preferences as being essentially good, we find elaborated in early Christian theology the dogma that the first man, though created upright, fell through disobedience and transmitted to all his descendants a nature wholly evil and a total incapacity for doing good or even desiring the good. And not only was man thus attainted by the primal disobedience, but all nature became accursed.

This dogma of the fall of man is one of the most influential conceptions in the moral domain ever entertained by the human mind. It was the germ from which was developed the larger part of Christian theological ethics.628 For out of the dogma of ancestral sin and total depravity sprang naturally and logically the doctrines of the atonement, imputed righteousness, and salvation through faith. The moral history of the Christian centuries we shall find to be largely the history of the influence of this doctrine upon men’s conceptions of their religious obligations and duties. As with the passage of time and the incoming of evolutionary science the belief in260 this teaching decays, we shall find men’s idea of what constitutes duty in the religious sphere undergoing a great change, and shall see acts, observances, and states of mind once regarded as supremely virtuous and indispensable to salvation now looked upon as morally indifferent or even positively wrong.

The doctrine of the sacredness of the Sabbath

Christianity inherited from Judaism the belief in the sacred character of the Sabbath day. This belief created one of the most important of the religious duties of the Christian. It determined how one seventh of all his time should be spent. The history of the observance of this Sabbath as holy time, and the changed moral value attached to such observance as times and beliefs have changed, forms a chapter of the greatest suggestiveness to the student of the evolution of morals, since this chapter epitomizes and repeats the entire history of ceremonial or ritual morality.

The personality of the Prophet of Nazareth629

But far more influential than all these inherited Jewish beliefs and doctrines of speculative theology in molding the moral ideal of Christianity, in all that renders it superior to the moral ideals of the other great religions of the world, as well as in all that it possesses of permanent ethical value for humanity, has been the simple appealing story of the words and deeds of the Prophet of Nazareth.630 Those elements of the ideal which are based on speculative theological doctrines have changed as these doctrines have changed with the world’s advance in general intelligence and with the deepening and clarifying of the moral consciousness of men; while those elements derived from that wonderful personality, from that life of unbounded tenderness and love and self-forgetting service, have been given an ever higher and more dominant place in the world’s ideal of goodness. In the eloquent words261 of the historian Lecky: “It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has been not only the highest pattern of virtue but the strongest incentive to its practice; and has exercised so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and the exhortations of moralists. This has indeed been the well-spring of whatever is best and purest in Christian life.”631

Orthodoxy, or correct religious opinion, the indispensable saving virtue632

Before the end of the third century, under the influence largely of the speculative Greek spirit, what was to be essentially the historical creed of the Church had been practically formulated and the corresponding moral code brought into existence.633 In the creation of this standard of goodness which was to give guidance for an epoch to the moral life of the European peoples, it was the theological doctrine of the moral value of faith, which came practically to be defined as “the acceptance of the dogma of the Trinity and the main articles of the creed,” that determined the precedence and subordination of virtues and duties.634 Correct belief was made an262 indispensable virtue. Without this there could be no salvation.635 On the other hand, unbelief, doubt, error, even honest error, in religious matters was declared to be in the highest degree sinful. This conception that belief is a virtue and doubt a sin was destined, since it imperils freedom of thought, to have momentous and sinister consequences for the intellectual and moral history of Europe.

The virtue of charity or love

Just as the theological dogma of the ethical value of religious opinions has made correct belief theoretically the saving virtue in Church ethics, so has the personality of Jesus, his teachings and his self-sacrificing life as mirrored in the gospel records, made love and service of others, in multitudes of souls, practically the supreme and controlling motive of life. It was the emphasis placed by primitive Christianity on this virtue, and the persuasion to its practice afforded by the example of the Master, that for the first two centuries of the new era—until the emphasis became changed from right living to right opinion—lent to the moral life in the Christian communities of the Empire such sincerity, purity, and elevation as have marked no other period in the history of the Church.

But orthodox theology has never allowed that charity, though combined with perfect uprightness of life and expressed in noblest acts of self-abnegating service of humanity, is a saving virtue unless associated with correctness of religious belief and the outgrowth of it. This opposition in the bosom of the Church itself between theological and natural morality has263 created a great dualism in the moral history of all the Christian centuries, like the dualism in ancient Hebrew history caused by the opposition between the morality of ritualism and the morality of prophetism.

The body of secondary virtues

Alongside the primary Christian virtue, whether this be regarded as correct belief or as charity, were grouped a cluster of secondary virtues, such as humility, meekness, gentleness, compassion for weakness, resignation, and renunciation of the world. What is especially noteworthy respecting this body of moral qualities making up the Christian ideal of excellence is that all these were virtues which in general were undervalued or held in positive disesteem by the Greeks and Romans.636 Indeed it was made a matter of reproach to the early Christians by the pagan opponents of Christianity, that its virtues were all servile virtues—the virtues of the slave.

It was undoubtedly this character of the new ideal which caused it, in the primal age of Christianity, to make such strong appeal to the common people, to the despised and lowly, to the broken and humble in spirit, in the aristocratically graded society of the ancient world.

Creation of specific types through modifications of the general ideal

The Christian ideal of excellence has fulfilled itself in many ways; that is, different types have arisen through the shifting in rank of the virtues constituting the ideal, through the incorporation of pagan elements, through racial influence, and through the reaction upon the ideal of the changing intellectual, political, and economic environment.

Generally these specific forms of the ideal have been created by an exaggerated enthusiasm for one or another particular virtue of the standard, which has caused this special virtue so to overshadow all the others, save the indispensable one of correct belief, as to bring into existence a distinctive Christian type. Thus through the exaltation of the virtue of chastity there arose in the early Church the ascetic type264 of excellence, which for several centuries inspired unbounded moral enthusiasm and drew away into the desert and into the seclusion of the cloister great multitudes of both men and women; later, through the reaction upon the Church of the pagan and barbarian world it had nominally converted, and through the incorporation into the ideal of a number of heathen virtues, there came into existence a composite type of character—a combination of the virtues of the saint and the virtues of the hero—known as the chivalric ideal, which colored the events of European history from the ninth to the fourteenth century; and still later, through the suppression of some of the distinctive virtues of the Roman Catholic type of excellence and a fresh emphasis laid upon others, there was created the Protestant type of moral character, which has given a special cast to the theological morality of a large section of modern Christendom.

Limitations and defects of the ideal

That we may better be prepared to follow intelligently the various phases of the moral history of the Christian centuries, to the tracing of which the remaining chapters of this volume will be devoted, there is need that to the brief description we have now given of the chief virtues making up the ideal which was to give guidance to the moral life of the European peoples, we add a word concerning its limitations and defects, since these negative qualities of the ideal have exercised an influence scarcely less decisive than its positive qualities in making the history of the Christian world what it has been—a history, on the whole, of inspiring moral progress, yet a history of moral losses as well as of moral gains.

The first limitation of the ideal which we notice is its practical exclusion of those civic, patriotic duties and virtues which had been so highly esteemed by both the Greeks and the Romans. Man was henceforth to be the citizen of no earthly city, but of a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God. We can easily understand how this new conception265 of life, which transferred all its chief interests to another world, which substituted the Church—symbolized in accordance with the modes of thought of the time as “the city of God”—for the ancient city state as the object of moral enthusiasm and self-devotion, should leave no place for those civic, military, and heroic virtues that had constituted the very soul of the morality of classical antiquity.

A second limitation of the ideal is its neglect of the intellectual virtues, which by the Greeks had been assigned such a high place in their ethical standard.637 The slighting of this important domain of ethics by Christian theology arose naturally from its exaltation of faith above reason, and from its assumption that in the revealed word the Church was already in possession of all knowledge really essential to man’s welfare and salvation.638

But the chief defect of the ideal, the lamentable historical consequences of which we shall witness later, is, as we have already pointed out, in its making the acceptance of all the articles of a given creed an indispensable virtue. In assigning orthodox belief this place in the ideal of moral goodness, theological ethics has marred Christian morality by fostering the faults of intolerance and intellectual insincerity. This dogma inspired in the Church, as soon as it became powerful, a persecuting spirit, and made Christianity for centuries something altogether alien to its real genius and spirit—one of the most intolerant of the world’s religions. At the same time this dogma, by making religious unbelief and nonconformity a sin so heinous as to be worthy of death by the most exquisite torture, and of everlasting punishment in the hereafter, discouraged intellectual veracity and open-mindedness, and266 fostered the vice of insincere conformity, which, more than any other fault, has marred Church morality from the end of the early age of the martyrs to the present day.


In the following pages we shall follow the fortunes of this ethical ideal through medieval and modern times. We shall trace the modifying influence upon it of the different and changing elements of the civilization of which it has formed a part, and shall note the reaction of the ideal, in its successive types, upon the history of the passing centuries.



General fostering causes of asceticism

Before the close of the third century the development in the Christian communities of the East of asceticism, the germs of which were immanent from the first in Christianity, had given a remarkable trend to the moral movement inaugurated by the new religion. We shall gain a sympathetic understanding of this phase of Christian ethics only as we bear in mind the conceptions of life and of the world, and the historical conditions which in general tend to foster the development of the ascetic ideal of goodness.

Asceticism, a definitive characteristic of which is renunciation of the world and all earthly pleasures, springs from various roots. Sometimes it grows out of a dualistic world philosophy, which, holding matter to be an evil creation and “the corruptible body a load upon the soul,” teaches the meritoriousness of the suppression, in the interest of the spirit, of all bodily impulses and appetites.

Sometimes it arises from inequitable and oppressive conditions of society, which have made life for the enslaved and impoverished masses so joyless and wretched as to create an inappeasable yearning for deliverance from its intolerable burdens.

Again, it springs from a world philosophy, which, because of its vivid vision of another world of eternal realities, undervalues and reduces to nothingness this earthly life and all its relationships.


Still again, it may spring from the soil of a morally decadent civilization, for, unless the sources of spiritual life have been wholly destroyed, from a debasing sensuality and dissoluteness that rob life of worth and dignity there is ever sure to come a reaction—a reaction expressing itself in an extreme emphasis laid upon the worth and meritoriousness of world renunciation.

Fostering causes of Christian asceticism: (a) certain Christian teachings

Now in the case of Christianity there was, in the early Christian centuries, an unusual concurrence of causes and conditions conducive to the growth of asceticism. First, there were virile germs of asceticism in the teachings of the new religion. It taught that the things of the spirit are the only abiding realities. It caused this earthly life to shrink into insignificance and to disappear as it opened to the eyes of faith the infinite perspectives of another world. The Master said: “He that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.... Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” And to the young man who asked him what he should do to inherit eternal life, he replied, “Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” He seemed to set the relationships of the spiritual life above the most intimate of earthly relationships when he declared, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” He taught the worthlessness of earthly riches compared with the treasures of the spirit, and declared that the rich should hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

The disciples and near followers of the Master spoke in like manner. These teachings tended directly and powerfully to cause men to regard this earthly life as fleeting and valueless, and to esteem those as choosing the better and worthier part who, breaking all earthly ties and suppressing269 all natural affections and desires, sought in the solitude of the desert or the quiet of the cloister to win the life eternal.

(b) The social and moral state of the Greco-Roman world

These seeds of Asian asceticism fell into a soil well fitted to nourish them into a vigorous growth. The doctrine of world renunciation was one easy of acceptance by the age in which Christianity arose,639 for the world into which primitive Christianity entered was a senile, disillusioned, morally corrupt, and life-weary world.

It was an aged and disillusioned world. The great races of the East and the West, which had been the pioneers in human culture, were now old. They had lost the youthful zest of life. It was the disillusionment of age that predisposed the minds of men to an acceptance of the doctrine of deliverance through self-denial and renunciation of the world.

And this old world was morally corrupt. The vice of ancient civilization in its senility was sensuality. Christian asceticism was in part a recoil from this dissoluteness which denied the worth and majesty of life.640

And because it was a sensual world it was a life-weary world. The prevailing mood of society of the Greco-Roman Empire at the time of the great propaganda of Christianity was one of satiety and weariness. It was a favorable moment to preach contempt of the world and all earthly things.

Thus did the state of decrepitude and moral decadence into which the cultured communities of the ancient world had fallen, help to develop into a spirit of absolute world renunciation the spirit of unworldliness which characterized primitive Christianity.


(c) The Platonic philosophy

Still another influence which contributed to give direction and force to the ethical movement of the age was the Platonic philosophy. There is in this philosophy an ascetic element. Plato taught that a life of contemplation aloof from society is the highest and the truly blessed life. This teaching was one of the formative forces in the creation of the monastic ideal.

The two types of the ascetic ideal: (a) the anchoretic; (b) the monastic

The moral ideal of Christian asceticism is, in its essential elements, the same as the ascetic ideal of other religions. Its leading requirement, after that of right belief, is, in comprehensive terms, world renunciation. In the early Christian period with which we have here to do, the ideal presented two types, the anchoretic and the monastic. The anchoretic or eremite conception of the perfect life was complete renunciation of the world with all its domestic, social, business, and political ties, and a life in the desert, apart from all human companionship, spent in ceaseless vigils, prayer, and meditation. He who followed this mode of life with the utmost rigor, who suppressed every natural desire,—desire of family and wealth and reputation and pleasure,—and tamed his body by fasting, scourging, and other austerities was looked upon as a saint and was regarded with peculiar homage and veneration.

Throughout the third and much of the fourth century in all the countries of the Orient where Christianity had spread, the anchoretic ideal was regarded as the highest and most meritorious type of the Christian life. But as the ascetic enthusiasm overspread the lands of the West, various influences, such as climate and race temperament, caused the ascetics in general to avoid the solitary life, and, gathering in communities, to subject themselves to rules and the oversight of superiors. After the legislation of St. Benedict (480–543 A.D.) this quickly became the prevailing mode of life for ascetics. Thus came into existence the monastic system with its271 distinctive ideal of character, which added to the virtues of the eremite ideal the virtue of obedience or humility and abated somewhat its bodily austerities. This ideal was destined to exercise for centuries a profound influence upon the religious ethical evolution of the European peoples.

Both types are mirrored in The Lives of the Saints,641 the characteristic literary product of the earlier medieval time. This species of literature, a creation of the pious inventiveness of the monks, was steeped in the spirit that pervaded hermitage and cloister. The tales illustrate many sides of the life of the recluses, but are chiefly valuable in showing what acts and practices were regarded as constituting the most meritorious and morally excellent life.

The moral standard for the ordinary life

The ascetic life was not binding upon all. It could not, of course, become the universal mode of life. It was a sort of extra service, which secured extra merit for him who rendered it.642 It is true that the ascetic ideal absorbed a vast amount of the moral enthusiasm of the age, nevertheless it was a standard of moral attainment for the lesser number; for the larger body of Christians there was the less exacting ideal of excellence which could be realized in the ordinary life in the world. He who practiced the common domestic, social, and business virtues, who accepted the creed of the Church, paid tithes to the priest, and was faithful in the performance of all required religious duties, was accounted a good man, and had the approval of his fellow men and the approbation of his own conscience.



In the present division of this chapter it will be our aim merely to indicate the essential facts in the moral history of the earlier medieval centuries. Some of these facts will serve to show in how remarkable a manner the age was dominated by the monastic conception of good life, while others will simply reveal the historical outworkings, in its more general manifestations, of the new conscience brought into the world by Christianity.

The ideal of the saint and that of the hero: “Dialogue between Oisin and St. Patrick”

As a prelude to the brief review proposed we shall do well to consider for a moment the contrariety between the new ideal of the Christian monk and the old ideal of the pagan hero as this oppositeness emerges in the so-called “Dialogue between Oisin and St. Patrick.”643 This poem discloses most impressively the vast revolution which the incoming of Christianity effected in the moral feelings and judgments of men.

Oisin, “the blind Homer of Erin,” is represented as in his old age entering into a controversy with the saint respecting the relative merits of the monk’s and the hero’s conception of worthiness. The dialogue runs as follows:

St. Patrick. Oisin, long is thy slumber, arise and listen to the psalm; forsaken is thy activity, forsaken thy strength, yet wouldst thou delight in battle and wild uproar.

Oisin. My swiftness and my strength have deserted me since the Fenii, with Fionn their chief, are no longer alive; for clerks I have no attachment, and their melodies are not sweet to me.

* * * * *

O Patrick, hard is thy service, and shameful is it for you to reproach me for my appearance; if Fionn lived, and the Fenii, I would forsake the clergy of the cross.

* * * * *

Patrick, pray thou to the God of heaven for Fionn of the Fenii and for his children, making entreaty of the prince, whose equal I have never heard of.


St. Patrick. O learned man, I desire not strife with thee, but I will not make request to heaven for Fionn, for all the actions of his life were to be in love and to urge the sounding chase.

Oisin. If you were to be in company with the Fenii, O clerk of clergy and of bells, not for long wouldst thou be able to give heed to the God of truth, and serve the clergy.

St. Patrick. ... Oisin, the remainder of your life is short, and badly will you fare if you despise the clergy.

Oisin. Small is my esteem for thyself and clergy, O holy Patrick of the crozier: I have greater regard for Fionn, the white-handed king of the Fenii, but he is not near me now.

Mournful I am without his hounds bounding, and his dogs all around me; if they and their agile hero were alive, Patrick, you would have to fear rebuke from me.

St. Patrick. In that way did you and the Fenii of Erin forsake heaven: you never submitted to religion, but ever put confidence in strength of limbs, and in battles.

Oisin. Were Fionn alive, and the Fenii comely and warlike, with their hounds running propitiously, they would seem to me more majestic than those who dwell in heaven.

St. Patrick. Desolate are the Fenii, without slumber or liberty in the house of torment, for never in any way did they render service to the Holy Father.

* * * * *

Oisin. Fionn delighted in strokes upon shields, in conquering heroes, and hunting on hills; the sound of his dogs in toil was more melodious to me than the preaching of clerks in church of bells.

* * * * *

St. Patrick. It is because his time and delight were taken up by pleasures of the chase, and the array of warlike hosts; and because he never thought about God, that Fionn of the Fenii is in thralldom.

He is now shut up in torment; all his generosity and wealth do not avail him now, for lack of piety toward God, for this he is in sorrow, in the mansion of pain.

Oisin. Little do I believe in thy speech, thou man from Rome with white books, that Fionn the generous hero is now with demons and devils.

* * * * *

O Patrick, doleful is the story: Fionn the hospitable to be under locks! heart without malice and without aversion, heart stern in defense of battle.

St. Patrick. However great the number of troops fighting for Fionn, he did not act the will of God above: his crimes are above him in pains of fire, forever in anguish.


Oisin. It is plain that your God does not delight in giving gold and food to others: Fionn never refused strong or weak, and shall he receive hell for his abode!!!

St. Patrick. However much he may have divided gold and venison, hard are his bonds in the den of pains: no glimpse of light for him, no sight of brightness such as he first received from God.

* * * * *

Oisin. Patrick, inquire of God if He remembers the Fenii when alive: ask if, east or west, He ever saw men better in conflict.

Or did He observe in His own country, although it is high above us, for sense, for conflict, or for strength, any man good in comparison with Fionn?

* * * * *

Patrick, I am wretched, a poor bard, ever changing residence, without power, without activity, without force, journeying to mass and altars.

Without good food, without getting wealth and booty, without play in athletic games; without going a-wooing and hunting, two objects for which I always longed.

Without reciting deeds of champions, without bearing spear; alas! I have lost Osgur and Fionn, and I am left standing like a withered tree, out under injury.

St. Patrick. Cease, O Bard! Leave off thy folly; you have as yet said but little in favour of yourself: think of the torments that await you; the Fenii are departed, and ere long you will go likewise.

* * * * *

Oisin. I will not obey you, O Patrick, though great your creed and faith. I own without lie that firm is my belief that the devil will be your portion.

* * * * *

I would rather return to the Fenii once more, O Patrick, if they were alive, than go to the heaven of Jesus Christ, to be forever under tribute to Him.

St. Patrick. O withered Bard, thou art foolish; thou wouldst not pay tribute to any one if thou wast in the heaven of Jesus Christ, nor wouldst thou witness battle and uproar.

Oisin. I would rather be in Fionn’s court harkening to the voices of hounds every morning, and meditating on hard-fought battles, than in the court of Jesus Christ; that is certain.

* * * * *

It was easier for me to obtain without fail both meat and drink in Fionn’s court than in thy mansion, and in the dwelling of the Son of God, O Patrick, not generous in dividing.


* * * * *

St. Patrick. It is better for thee to be with me and the clergy, as thou art, than to be with Fionn and the Fenii, for they are in hell without order of release.

Oisin. By thy book and its meaning, by thy crozier and by thy image, better were it for me to share their torments, rather than be among the clergy continually talking.

* * * * *

Ah! Patrick, your religion may be great; but I have not, up to this day, witnessed among ye dinner nor banquet like banquet of the Fenii.

St. Patrick. Although Fionn spent generously all he obtained by strength, fleetness, and plunder, he is now sorrowful in the mansion of a lord who furnishes no dinner, and demons torment him forever.

Oisin. It would be pitiful and mournful, if thy story were true, ah Patrick! for all the saints who are in heaven, if they were to strive with Fionn in contest of liberality, could not obtain the victory over him.

* * * * *

Tell to me without controversy what is the reason of the custom you have to be ever beating your breasts, and each evening kneeling under gloom?

St. Patrick. I tell thee that it is not because we have scarcity of food and of drink that we are under armour (watching), but because we desire to be perpetually on our guard against gluttony.

Oisin. It is not fear of gluttony, nor in dread of king of saints that I receive for myself scarcity of bread, but because I am not able to obtain it from the clergy.

Astonishment is upon me to witness the greatness of your love for the man you call Christ, if hereafter he will perpetually upbraid you for the abundance of your portions and of your drink!

Farewell to Fionn of the noble Fenii; with him was ample banquet and division; he was not like the man who is called God; and moreover he gave without waiting for remuneration.... Never at any time did I witness him asking for kneeling and bitter weeping.644

But vain was the lament of the blind bard. The ideal of the pagan hero, whose fame he vaunted, had lost its primal appeal. It was the ideal of the cloister, incarnate in the276 “saint of many prayers and many vigils,” that was now enthralling the affections and shaping the consciences of men.

The monasteries as the cradle of the modern social conscience

In the course of a few generations the vast enthusiasm awakened for the ascetic life covered all Christian lands with convents and monasteries, which in their ethical influence constituted one of the most important of the institutions of the Church. In truth, the monasteries stand in closer and more vital relation than does any other ecclesiastical institution to the ethical evolution of the Western world. The service they rendered to civilization in preserving and transmitting to the modern world various elements of the intellectual and material cultures of antiquity has been fully recognized and gratefully acknowledged; but not so full justice has been rendered them for their contribution to the moral life of modern times. Yet it is probably true that the most precious thing conserved by the monasteries from the wreck of ancient civilization was that social conscience which was generated in the heart of old Judaism and bequeathed to Christianity. Professor Nash, in his work entitled The Genesis of the New Social Conscience, maintains, and we think with right, that the distinctive qualities of the modern conscience—tenderness for the unfortunate, a lofty altruism, a noble capacity for self-sacrifice—were qualities conserved and cradled in the medieval monasteries.

This view of the relation of the monasteries to the moral evolution in Western civilization may be accepted by the student of morals as a correct interpretation of medieval monastic history, while at the same time he admits the truth of Lecky’s contention that there was a self-regarding motive in Christian asceticism—it was personal salvation, he says, that the monk was primarily seeking—which made the morality of the Christian saints inferior to the morality of the heroes of Greece and Rome. It is undoubtedly true that many entered upon the monastic life from self-regarding277 motives; but it is also true that constant meditation upon religious themes, and especially the holding ever before the imagination the ideal of the Master, who for love of man made the supreme self-sacrifice of the Cross, had as a natural result the deepening of the altruistic feelings, the sensitizing of the conscience, and the moving of the will to self-denying service for others. As a consequence the spirit of true self-renunciation was often exalted among the recluses of the cloister to an unwonted degree, and thus it came about in the course of time that many who out of solicitude for their own salvation had sought the solitude of the cloister are later found in the outside world, going about, in imitation of their Master, doing good, ministering in the spirit of absolute self-forgetfulness to the needs, temporal as well as spiritual, of the poor, the afflicted, the heavy-laden, and the life-weary. A large part of the philanthropic work of the Church during the Middle Ages was carried on by the monks.

This humanitarian spirit, this cloister conscience of monasticism, was bequeathed to society at large. Thus may the direct line of descent of the modern social conscience be traced through the medieval monasteries.

The new conscience condemns and finally suppresses the gladiatorial games

One of the earliest and the most important of the moral reforms effected by the new conscience in the institutions of pagan Rome was the suppression of the gladiatorial games. For almost seven hundred years preceding the triumph of Christianity in the Roman world, these spectacles had formed the favorite amusement of the Roman people without having awakened any special moral protest. Some of the pagan philosophers and moralists, particularly Seneca and Plutarch, had denounced them as opposed to the sentiment of humanity, but their protest had found no echo in the common conscience of the age. As a rule the pagan moralists saw nothing in them to condemn.


It was reserved for the Christian moralists to awaken the conscience to a recognition of the criminality of these cruel spectacles. It was particularly the Christian teaching of the sacredness of human life that contributed powerfully to create the new ethical feeling as to the immoral character of these amusements, and prepared the way for their final abolition (404 A.D.) through the protest made by the monk Telemachus and sealed by his martyr death.

Speaking of the significance of the abolition of the gladiatorial games, Lecky declares that “there is scarcely any other reform so important in the moral history of mankind.”645 One thing which enhanced greatly the importance of the reform was its timeliness. Just at the moment of the suppression of these spectacles the Germanic tribes were passing the frontiers of the Empire and adopting the customs and institutions of the Romans. Had not these amusements been abolished or put under the ban of the moral feelings before the final catastrophe to the Empire, the barbarian tastes and fighting instincts of this new race would have led to the eager introduction of these sports into all the northern countries, just as certainly as the humane spirit of the Greeks prevented their general introduction into Grecian lands. When we recall the indurating and dehumanizing effects of these amusements upon the Roman populace, we realize the importance and timeliness of the reform which kept the barbarian nations free from their brutalizing and deadening influence.

The new conscience condemns infanticide and self-destruction

Equally emphatic was the condemnation which the new conscience pronounced on infanticide and self-destruction. We have seen in our review of the morality of the classical peoples how almost universal was the practice of the exposition of infants, and how slight was the moral condemnation which the custom evoked even from philosophers and moralists. When the practice was prohibited, usually the279 prohibition sprang from considerations of a prudential or economic character rather than from scruples of conscience.

But the Christian teachers, proclaiming the sacredness of human life and the immortal destiny of every human soul, declared the destruction of the infant as sinful as the taking of the life of the adult. It is to this teaching doubtless that is, in large measure, due the existence in Christian lands of a conscience which condemns the destruction of the newborn babe as an act of deep moral turpitude.

It was the same Christian doctrine of the sacredness of human life, along with the teaching of the duty of resignation, that created also a new moral feeling in regard to suicide. We have seen how the conscience of the classical peoples in general passed no condemnation upon the act of self-destruction if life had in any way become a burden; but the Church taught that suicide is the same as murder, indeed a greater sin because it destroys not only the body but also the soul. Some Christian moralists maintained that “Judas committed a greater sin in killing himself than in betraying his master Christ.”646

Throughout the Middle Ages, under the influence of the Church, the act of self-destruction was regarded with the greatest abhorrence,647 and without that commingling of tenderness and pity which with us has come to temper the feeling of condemnation.

The great missionary propaganda as an expression of Christian altruism

But the new conscience found most characteristic expression not in its restraints and prohibitions but in its impulsions to altruistic activity and endeavor. In our account of the primitive ethical ideals of Greece and Rome we noticed how the virtue of altruism or self-abnegation for the common good was hidden under the guise of courage.648 It was therefore no new virtue which Christianity brought into the world when it280 proclaimed the supreme moral excellence of self-renunciation for others. What it did was to widen the circle of those for whom the supreme sacrifice should be made, and to give the virtue fuller and richer content. It thus imparted fresh impulse to that altruistic movement which we have seen to characterize the last centuries of the civilization of Greco-Roman antiquity. The deepened ethical sentiment found various forms of expression, but the most important of these was the great missionary propaganda which, during the centuries from the sixth to the ninth, carried the new gospel to the pagan German tribes of Europe. Lecky regards this as the chief altruistic movement of the medieval period.

This conquest of the continent for Christianity was effected in large part by men whose fervid zeal for social service had been kindled in the quiet and holy atmosphere of the cloister.649 The movement was inspired and maintained by that same spirit of self-devotion which animated the missionaries of the apostolic age of Christianity. The declaration of the first great apostle to the gentiles, St. Paul, that he would himself willingly be a castaway if thereby he might secure the salvation of others, could have been made by many a self-devoted monk-apostle who won a like crown of martyrdom. In the romance of Christian missions the monastic chronicles of Iona and Lindisfarne and St. Gall, and the tales of the labors and martyrdom of Saints Columba, Wilfrid, Boniface, and a great company of others will never cease to enthrall the imagination so long as the virtue of self-renunciation is esteemed and reverenced among men.

This great missionary movement which brought within the pale of the Church the northern peoples is of transcendent interest to the student of the history of morals, not merely because it is such a splendid exhibition of the altruistic spirit281 of Christianity, but also because the success of these medieval missions meant, besides the winning of the barbarians to a new religion, the winning of them to a new moral life; for to give a people a new religion is to give them also a new conscience.

Almsgiving and the founding of charitable institutions

The altruistic spirit of the new religion found a second expression in charity, in the sense of almsgiving to the poor and the wretched. This was not a new virtue any more than that of general benevolence. It was never, it is true, a prominent virtue with the Greeks and Romans, but it had always been given a place among the cardinal virtues by all the great ethical religions of the East. Judaism laid special stress upon the duty of open-handedness to the poor, while Buddhism made it a rudimentary virtue.650 Christianity inherited from Judaism this attractive virtue and laid a fresh emphasis upon it. Since the incoming of Christianity the poor and the afflicted have been cared for in a spirit of compassion and tenderness never before known in the history of the Western races. Asylums and hospitals and charitable institutions of every kind have multiplied in number and have been increased in effectiveness in relieving want and distress as the centuries have passed, until these endowments and provisions have become a distinctive feature of Christian civilization. In the period we are here reviewing, and throughout the later medieval ages, gifts to the monasteries were especially numerous and large, one reason for this being that the monks were looked upon as the almoners of society and “trustees for the poor.” The founding of hospitals and the endowing of infirmaries afforded another outlet for the unbounded charity of the age. The first Christian hospital was founded at Rome in the fourth century by a Roman lady named Fabiola, a widow of282 the ancient house of the Fabii, who also established a hospice for pilgrims at the mouth of the Tiber.651

The spirit of charity found further expression in the emancipation of slaves, and in the ransoming of prisoners of war, especially, after the rise of Islam, of Christian captives. Unfortunately the teaching of the Church respecting the possibility of possession by demons caused insanity to be regarded as obsession by an evil spirit, and for more than a thousand years this belief not only put the unhappy class of the insane outside the pale of Christian charity, but subjected them to the most cruel treatment that fear and superstition could devise.652

Mitigations of slavery

A religion or a philosophy which has for aim the reform and improvement of human society may act directly either upon the individual or upon institutions. Thus modern socialism ignores the individual, maintaining that the individual is the product of environment, and makes its direct proximate end and aim the reform of social and economic institutions. Through the improvement and perfection of these it would bring about the improvement and perfection of the individual, and thus usher in the era of equality, justice, and brotherhood among men.

Now the method of Christianity is exactly the reverse of this. Its appeal is made to the individual; it does not concern itself directly with social and industrial systems, or with governmental institutions and arrangements. It would reform society by reforming the individual. When Christianity entered the world Cæsarism had just established itself upon the ruins of republican and national freedom, but the Christian preachers said nothing about political liberty; the Master had said, “Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s.” The war system was in full vigor; after a period of Quakerism the Church first condoned, then accepted, and finally283 consecrated this heritage of barbarism as one of the necessary institutions of human society. The gladiatorial games were the sole important institution of antiquity which the Christian teachers absolutely condemned as an institution, and the abolition of which they persistently demanded and finally effected.

It was the same with slavery as with other social institutions. It existed everywhere when Christianity appeared, but the Christian teachers never preached abolition. The Christian emperors adopted, and for two centuries maintained practically unchanged, the pagan slave code. There were under these rulers, it is true, some ameliorations in the laws, due to Christian influence; thus cruel forms of punishment, as branding on the forehead or throwing from a precipice, were prohibited. With the exception of these minor isolated mitigations of the lot of the slave, slavery passed over into Christian civilization as an unchanged heritage from the ancient world, and continued to exist as a Christian institution until, through the action of various agencies, political and economic as well as moral, it was gradually transformed into serfdom. During the later centuries of its prevalence, however, Christian teachings softened many of the cruelties of the system, and caused, speaking generally, the individual slave to be treated with greater consideration and humanity.

The broadening moral movement in progress in the ancient world is checked

Unfortunately there were large offsets to the moral gains of which we have been speaking. Christianity had entered a world in which the most important ethical movement in progress was the broadening of the moral sympathies. The genius of the new religion, a genius inherited from the great prophets of Judaism, was well calculated to impart, as for a period it did, a fresh impulse to this cosmopolitan movement, and to foster and strengthen this growing sentiment of philanthropy and universal brotherhood. Its mission seemed to be to consummate the work of Greek philosophy and of Roman world conquest, to complete the obliteration of national boundaries,284 to throw down the partition wall between Greek and barbarian, Jew and gentile, patrician and plebeian, bond and free, and to make each man’s neighbor to be every fellow being of whatsoever race or class or creed.

But this spirit of genuine Christianity was soon obscured and the world movement toward ethical universalism obstructed and checked by the theological teaching which made moral merit and salvation dependent upon the acceptance of a prescribed creed. In place of the tribal and racial walls of division which had originally separated the communities of men and which the progress of events had thrown down, it raised a new partition wall which divided mankind into two great ethically artificial classes, believers and unbelievers, Christians and pagans. In place of the doctrine of race election it substituted the doctrine of individual election. Throughout a large part of the Christian period “infidels” and “heathen” have too often been to Christians what “gentiles” were to the “chosen people,” and “barbarians” to the intellectually elect Greeks.

Thus was the broadening and leveling movement which marked the later centuries of antiquity checked, while a new division as inimical to universal charity as the old divisions of race and cult was created.

St. Augustine as the representative of the narrowing movement

The representative and promoter of this retrograde movement in the moral domain was the African bishop St. Augustine. His “City of God,” viewed from one side, is altogether like unto the old city of man. It is simply the ancient classical city in its early period of aristocratic pride and exclusiveness before it had felt the broadening influence of a thousand years of varied experience and growing culture. Only a few can acquire citizenship in the new city. Its privileges are only for “the elect.” A great multitude, the nonelect, are left outside the city gates. Thus, in the words of Wedgwood, “all the arrogance, all the exclusiveness, all the love of privilege, for285 which the city of man no longer afforded any escape, found a refuge in the city of God.”653

The narrowing and hampering influence upon the moral development of the European peoples of this unethical system of Augustinian theology and metaphysics it would be difficult to exaggerate.

Loss of the virtue of toleration

The new division was even more of a hindrance in some respects than the old to the moral progress of the world; for there was not merely created a tendency to the limitation of Christian charity to the community of believers, but there was fostered an intolerant and persecuting spirit. The world into which Christianity entered was, speaking generally, a tolerant world. There were, it is true, persecutions for opinion’s sake in the pre-Christian age, but these were comparatively infrequent. In general, persecution in classical antiquity sprang from some other motive than dislike or fear of religious dissent, as we have seen to have been the case in the persecution of the Christians by the pagan emperors of Rome.654

But after the promulgation of the moral code of the Church, which made wrong belief or denial of the orthodox creed a fault of unmeasured criminality, toleration ceased to be a virtue and became a vice. Thus the virtue of toleration, which Lecky pronounces “the supreme attainment of Roman civilization,” was lost. Intolerance became a duty, and remained such for more than a thousand years, making a tragedy of centuries of European history. Wars of annihilation or subjection against pagans and infidels were waged, and the persecution of heretics was carried on with a hatred and ferocity in strange contrast to the unbounded charity and infinite tenderness of the Founder of the religion in the name of which these things were done.

This spirit of intolerance thus called into existence led, during the period under review, to the suppression, first, in286 the fourth century by the Christian emperors, of freedom of religious worship; and then quickly to the suppression of liberty of thought throughout Christendom.655 By the opening of the sixth century no one in any Christian land could freely think or freely express his thought, even on philosophical themes. This retrograde movement in its ultimate consequences was one of the most far-reaching revolutions in the moral history of the Western world.

“Between moralities”; the new-forming ideal

Aside from the broad ethical movements traced above, induced by the Christian conception of life and its new valuation of particular virtues and duties, there was in this epoch a moral phenomenon of another sort which we must now notice, namely, the moral anarchy which characterized the later centuries of the period under review.

In an earlier chapter we spoke of the fusion of moral ideals which ultimately takes place when two races meet and unite to form a new race and a new culture.656 But as Bagehot has pointed out, such a commingling of races is always attended by a special danger. It is likely for a time to produce “something not only between races, but between moralities.”657

In the fact here stated we must doubtless look for the explanation in part of the turbulent, anarchical character, ethically viewed, of the period which immediately followed the downfall of ancient civilization, and which saw the creation, out of Roman and barbarian elements, of the new Romano-German world. In the migrations and settlements of the German conquerors in the Roman provinces, and in the mixture of races which there took place, there resulted necessarily, on the one side, a break-up of all the old tribal relations287 which formed the basis of the morality of the barbarians, and, on the other side, the destruction of all the restraints and conventions which had formed the bulwark and stay of the more refined, if less simple and pure, morality of the Romans. With the old moral codes discredited, with ancestral ethical ideals disintegrated,658 men stood, to use Bagehot’s phrase, not between races only but also between moralities, and the historical ethical evolution was broken by what has been aptly called a moral interregnum. The epoch covering the interval between the destruction of the Roman governmental system in the West in the fifth century and the establishment of a semblance of social order by Charlemagne toward the end of the eighth century, presents, according to the concurrent view of all chroniclers and historians of the period, one of the most appalling spectacles of moral anarchy afforded by the records of human history.

In the midst of this moral chaos, however, a new moral world was forming. Gradually, under various influences, racial, cultural, and religious, there was taking shape and form, through a fusion of different ethical elements, a new moral ideal, the ideal of knighthood, which for an epoch—throughout the crusading centuries—was to absorb a large part of the moral enthusiasm of Christendom, and to determine in great measure the character of the enterprises of the age.

Since one of the influences which produced this great transformation in the Christian ideal was the creed and moral code of Islam, we shall in our next chapter turn aside from following the ethical evolution among the European peoples to watch for a space the rise and progress of this new faith whose martial ethics was destined to leave so deep an impress upon the moral ideal of Christianity.



Introduction: Islam creates a new conscience in the Arab race

The great revolution which in the seventh century of the Christian era agitated all Arabia and gave a new trend to vast currents of world history was essentially a moral revolution. It was the moral degradation of the Arab tribes, still clinging to an outgrown, idolatrous worship incapable longer of giving moral guidance to its followers, that stirred the soul and inspired the message of Mohammed. The Prophet’s real appeal was to the conscience of the Arab race. The chief aim and purpose of his preaching was to effect a moral reform. He gave the Arabs, it is true, a new religion, but the religion was to give impulse and sanction to the new morality. The transformation which the new faith wrought in the moral consciousness of the Arabian nation was probably not less profound than that effected by Christianity in the moral consciousness of the European peoples. It is this which makes the rise of Islam a matter as important in the moral as in the religious history of mankind.

The doctrine of the unity of God

Islam may, with strict historical accuracy, be said to be essentially a republication of Judaism. Its morality, like the old Hebrew morality, is largely derived from its conception of deity. It teaches that God is one, and that he is all-powerful, compassionate, forgiving, and righteous. Allah is great and merciful and just, is the burden of the Prophet’s message respecting deity. This ethical monotheism has been a governing force in the moral life of the Mohammedan289 world, just as a like ethical monotheism has been a molding influence in the moral life of the Jews and of all those nations that have received their religion from them.

The dogma of salvation by belief

Another religious doctrine which has contributed largely to shape the morality of Islam is that of salvation by belief. Only the true believer can be saved. The tendency, indeed the logical and inevitable consequence of this doctrine, has been to make Islam one of the most intolerant of the great religions. It has tended to restrict the moral sympathies of Moslems to coreligionists and to make propagandism by violence seem a virtue.

An unchangeable moral law

Islam claims to be a divine revelation to man. This doctrine of the supernatural origin of the religion makes the moral code, which is bound up with it, a rigid, unchangeable law, for it is only a human code that can be changed without irreverence and sacrilege. The blighting effects upon Mohammedan morality of this dogma of a moral law supernaturally given for all time will be noted a little later, when we come to speak of the actual moral life in Mohammedan lands.

General nature of the code

Like all the other ethical systems of Asia, save those of genuine Christianity and Buddhism, the Islamic system lays special emphasis upon the performance of particular prescribed acts. It is by no means silent respecting the necessity of right states and dispositions of mind. But instead of relying upon general principles for the guidance of the moral life, it lays its emphasis upon specific outer observances, such as almsgiving, fasting, pilgrimages, and stated prayers.659 The tendency of such a code of precise rules and commands, as was pointed out in connection with Chinese morality and again290 in connection with the postexilic morality of the Jews, is to externalize morality and render the moral life conventional and mechanical.

The duty and virtue of right belief

In correspondence with the dogma of salvation through belief, the paramount duty and virtue in the ethical-religious code of Islam is unquestioning belief in Allah as the only true God and in Mohammed as his prophet. Without this virtue of correct belief there can be, according to the teachings of Islam, no salvation.

Fighting for the true religion a cardinal duty

One effect of thus making right belief an indispensable virtue was to make intolerance practically a virtuous disposition of mind, and the conquest of infidels a paramount duty. It is here that we find one of the fundamental differences between the ethical teachings of Christ and those of Mohammed. The Founder of Christianity, through his teaching of nonresistance, condemned war. He commanded his followers to put up the sword. The founder of Islam, on the other hand, frankly and without scruple adopted the war system of his time and consecrated it to a religious end and purpose. His followers were commanded to fight for the extension of the religion of Allah.660 Those who fell in battle for the faith were promised immediate entrance into the joys of Paradise.661

Never was there a more fateful provision given a place in a code of morals. It determined in large measure the character of Islam and foreshadowed its history. It made it a martial religion. This martial religion, through reaction upon Christianity, helped to make it like unto itself. Thus was prepared the way for the Holy Wars.

Provisions of the code respecting slavery

Just as Mohammed adopted the war system he found in existence, so did he adopt that of slavery. But while accepting the system, he did much to improve the status of the291 bondsman. The legislation of the Koran in this department of ethics follows the humane regulations of the old Hebrew code. In its specific provisions favorable to the slave it goes beyond the requirements of the New Testament. It not only enjoins the kind treatment of slaves but provides that converts to Islam shall be set free, and in general encourages manumission.662

Family morals: polygamy recognized as ethical

In no department of ethics is the contrast between Christian and Mohammedan morals sharper than in the sphere of domestic morality. Sex relations which the Christian Church condemns as sin, and which the Christian civil law makes a crime, are by the Mohammedan moral consciousness pronounced natural and right, or at least ethically indifferent. The New Testament absolutely prohibited polygamy, although from primitive times the moralists of the East had had in general no condemnation for the custom; but the Koran accepted the system without scruple. In doing so, however, it placed salutary restraints upon the unregulated license which had hitherto characterized the institution. It limited the number of wives of the faithful to four,663 and surrounded divorce with wholesome restrictions.

Family ethics were further lifted to a higher level by the positive prohibition of infanticide,664 a practice which constituted one of the worst evils of Arab society in pre-Islamic times. The positive enactments of the Koranic code in this department of morals accomplished what was effected indirectly in the same domain by Christianity through its teachings of the sanctity of human life.

The prohibition of gambling and the use of intoxicating liquors

Among the other prohibitions of the moral code of Islam are two worthy of special notice for the reason that, being made largely effective by the sanctions of religion, they have292 exercised an incalculable influence upon the Mohammedan world. These are the provisions of the Koran forbidding in the most positive terms gambling and the use of alcoholic drinks.665 These prohibitions have had a great and undeniable influence in preserving Mohammedan civilization, in the extended reach of lands over which it has spread, from those inveterate twin evils of gambling and drunkenness which constitute one of the deepest stains on Christian civilization.

Animal ethics

It has been maintained that the place given duties to lower animals is a crucial test of a moral code.666 Tried by this standard, the code of Islam must be accorded a high place among the ethical systems of the world. In the department of animal ethics it is on a level with that of the old Hebrew Testament. Indeed, the tender solicitude of the code for dumb animals is one of its most admirable features. The whole animal creation is here brought within the pale of ethics. Thus at the outset Islam took up a position respecting man’s duty toward the animal world which Christianity is only just now tardily assuming.

A concrete and practical morality

Taken as a whole the ethical rules and commands of the Koran constitute an admirable code, one which has been an efficient force in the moral improvement and uplift of the peoples of vast regions of the earth. The morality inculcated has been succinctly characterized as a concrete and practical one. It is particularly well adapted to races in a low stage of culture. The very fact that, notwithstanding some serious defects and limitations, the code has been accepted by so large a part of the human race, and has, for over a thousand years, given moral guidance and inspiration to such vast multitudes, goes to prove that the great body of its rules and prescriptions of conduct are in general in line with the elemental laws of the moral world.


Mohammedan morality depressed by racial influences

In any comparison instituted between Christianity and Islam as moral regenerators of society there is need that the difference in the fields entered by these rival creeds be kept carefully in mind. Islam was placed at a disadvantage in that it went among the morally degenerate and dissolute peoples of the Orient, while Christianity had for its field the classical peoples and particularly the fresh German race. In those same Eastern lands and among those same Oriental or semi-Hellenized races Christianity had not only signally failed morally to reform and uplift society, but in that unfavorable environment had itself become lamentably degenerate and corrupt. In pointing out this disadvantage to which Islam has been subjected, a discerning Moslem writer says, “Like rivers flowing through varied tracts, both these creeds have produced results in accordance with the nature of the soil through which they have found their course.”667 There is here the necessary recognition of the influence which the historical environment exercises upon the moral standard. The prerequisite of a good harvest in the field of morals, as in the physical world, is not only good seed but also a good soil.

Consequence of giving a religious sanction to war

The whole history of Islam, as already remarked, has been molded by the fact that fighting for the extension of the true religion was made by Mohammed a chief duty of the faithful. Islam’s wonderful career of conquest during the first century after its rise was in large measure the result of the Prophet having made war against infidels a pious duty. Hitherto war among the Arabs had been for the most part merely a raid or hunt. Now it was given an ethical-religious motive and thus made a crusade. In the space of a single century a large part of the countries which had formed the historic lands of294 antiquity had been brought by the Arabian warriors under the sway of Islam.

But this was not all. These conquests brought Islam in contact with Christendom along all its extended frontier from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Bosporus, and thus created the conditions which led to the Holy Wars between Moslem and Christian, which filled the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Such were the momentous and far-reaching consequences of the giving by the Arabian Prophet of a religious sanction to war, and the reënforcing of the war spirit among a martial race by making warfare a duty and death in battle a sure passport to the bliss of paradise.

Mitigation of Oriental barbarities in war

While adopting and sanctifying the war system, Islam did something in the way of mitigating its savagery. Up to this time the war code of the Asian peoples had lost little or none of its primitive barbarity. The indiscriminate slaughter of the vanquished, without regard to age or sex, had been a common practice. But when the second Arabian caliph, Omar, sent out his warriors to effect the conquest of the world for the true religion, he strictly enjoined them to spare the women and children and the old men. This injunction became a part of the Mohammedan war code, and, though not always observed, it did much to make the earlier wars waged for the spread of Islam, compared with most of the recorded wars among the Oriental races, merciful and humane.

Intolerance as a corollary of religious principles

Intimately related to the subject of the Mohammedan ethics of war is the subject of toleration. As we have seen, the natural tendency of the teaching that right religious belief is necessary to salvation, and that fighting for the spread of the true religion is a paramount duty, is to foster intolerance, indeed, is to make intolerance a virtue. These doctrines of Islam have in the main restricted to the faithful the outgoings of the moral sympathies. To the moral consciousness of the Moslem masses tolerance has not presented itself as a virtue295 at all, but rather as a reprehensible disposition of mind, since it argues lack of zeal for the true faith. There is to-day more religious intolerance in Moslem lands than in any other regions of the earth. In this respect the Mohammedan world is about at the standpoint held by Christendom in the Middle Ages.

But fortunately it is the same with a bad principle as with a good one—it never produces its full logical consequences. There is that in the constitution of things and in human nature which prevents this. Hence there has been in Mohammedan lands a larger measure of toleration than, in view of the teachings of Islam, we should have looked for. But the toleration enjoyed by non-Moslems under Mohammedan rule has been at best precarious. With lamentable frequency, in lands where large sections of the population are ignorant and debased, outbursts of fanaticism have resulted in terrible massacres of “unbelievers.”

Not until Moslem civilization has felt the broadening effect of those material, intellectual, and moral revolutions which have finally brought in toleration in a once intolerant Christendom, will this virtue, without which a true and progressive moral life is impossible, find a place in the ethical code of Islam.

The slave trade under Islam

The slave trade in Mohammedan lands has been fostered through the consecration of the war system by Mohammed and his recognition of slavery as a part of the established social order. Throughout the first century of the career of Islam the propaganda of the faith by the sword provided an unfailing source of slaves, such as had not been opened up since the completion of the conquest of the world by the Roman legions.668 This religious legitimatizing of the slave trade filled Moslem lands with slave markets, and, when the wars of the religious propaganda had ceased, tended to give296 a fresh impulse to the African slave traffic, which had been in existence from time immemorial. This trade by Mohammedans has been just such a curse to eastern and central Africa as the European Christian slave traffic—which, beginning in the fifteenth century, continued till its final suppression in the nineteenth—was to the west African coast and the hinterland. The Moslem trade is still carried on clandestinely,669 since there has as yet been little or no moral disapprobation of the traffic awakened in Mohammedan lands.

Drunkenness in Mohammedan countries

The absolute prohibition in the Koran of the use of all intoxicating liquors has been wonderfully effective in preserving Mohammedan lands from the great evil of drunkenness. This vice, so common in Christian lands, is almost unknown in countries where the faith of the Koran is really dominant and the influence of Europeans has not been felt.

In Afghanistan the penalty inflicted for drunkenness is death. So rigorously is the law of Islam in this matter enforced that persons in a state of intoxication are almost never seen. Nor is the evil simply driven under cover; there is practically very little drinking going on in the privacy of the home.

Moslem charity

Islam has been only less effective than Buddhism and Christianity in fostering the attractive virtue of charity. The precepts of the Koran respecting almsgiving and other deeds of benevolence have greatly promoted the habit of giving among the followers of the Prophet. The giving of direct relief to the poor in the form of alms is probably quite as general as among Christians, though much of this charity is indiscriminate and tends to foster that mendicity which is such an ever-present evil in Mohammedan lands. The building of caravansaries, the construction of aqueducts, the opening297 of fountains along the routes of travel, and the founding of asylums are forms of benevolence which recall similar works of philanthropy in the later period of the pagan Roman Empire.

Respecting this charity, however, it must be said that much of it has the taint of self-interest. Many of these good works are performed not so much from genuine philanthropy as from self-regarding motives, the dominant thought of the doer being to gain religious merit for himself.

Moral influence of Islam on races low in civilization

The spread of Islam has been almost from the first largely among tribes and peoples low in the scale of civilization. In the earlier centuries of its career, besides its conquests among the peoples of ancient culture, it won over a great part of the uncivilized clans and tribes of Asia, and to-day is making constant and rapid progress among the negro tribes of central Africa. What renders this fact of significance to the historian of morals is that Islam has shown itself to be one of the most potent forces at work in the world to-day for the moral elevation of peoples still on or near the level of savagery. Canon Isaac Taylor affirms that it “causes the negro tribes of Africa to renounce paganism, devil worship, fetishism, cannibalism, human sacrifices, infanticide, witchcraft, gambling, drunkenness, unchastity, cruelty, and personal uncleanliness.”670

That the moral code of Islam should be even more effective than the Christian in lifting savages to a higher moral level is attributed by Canon Taylor to the fact that the moral standard of Christianity is so high that “its virtues are only vaguely understood and not generally practiced, while the lower virtues which Islam enforces are understood and generally practiced.”

In a word, it is with Islam’s morality the same as with its theology. Its doctrine of one God is simple, concrete, and298 easily understood, and for this reason Islam is admittedly more readily accepted by races low in culture than Christianity with its metaphysical doctrine of the Trinity. As the simplicity and concreteness of its teachings respecting deity adapt its creed to the savage mind, so do the lower concrete practical virtues of its moral code adapt it to the rudimentary moral sense of the primitive man.

Effects upon Mohammedan morality of an unpliant law

One of the most striking and instructive phenomena of universal history is the contrasted fortunes of Mohammedan and Christian civilization. In the eighth century of our era Mohammedan culture was in many respects superior to that of Christendom. It held forth great promises for the future. But these promises were not kept. Stagnation quickly followed the period of brilliant achievement, and a blight fell upon the Moslem world, while the history of Christendom has been a record of wonderful development and progress, until to-day the two worlds cannot be placed in comparison with one another, but only in contrast.

Beyond question many agencies, such as race, religion, and government, have concurred to produce this contrast in history and fortune, but equally certain is it that a potent contributory cause is the difference in the moral systems which the two civilizations respectively inherited. The moral life of the Christian world, happily freed from the bondage of the rigid Mosaic law, an outer law of positive minute commands, has expatiated under the comprehensive, flexible law of the Gospel, a law of love and liberty. As a result the moral life of Christendom has been, on the whole, notwithstanding certain Mohammedanizing tendencies, an expansive growth under the guidance of a moral consciousness gradually purified and refined by experience and advancing culture. On the other hand, the moral life of the Mohammedan world has been subjected to the authority of an external, unchanging law, a law conceived to have been given for all time, a republication299 practically of that rigid Mosaic law from the bondage of which the Christian world had fortunately escaped. But the moral life cannot be thus subjected to a rigid external authority without resulting inanition and death. “The blight that has fallen on the Moslem nations,” declares a well-informed and thoughtful Mohammedan writer, “is due to the patristic doctrine which has prohibited the exercise of individual judgment.”671 The ethical code of a people, like its civil code, must be elastic and responsive to the ever-changing needs and demands of the growing moral life.




From the third to the ninth century the ideal of asceticism absorbed a great part of the moral enthusiasm of Christendom. During the later part of this period, however, as we have noted, there was growing up alongside the ascetic ideal another of a very different character—the martial ideal of knighthood. In the present chapter we shall first make a brief survey of the various causes that gave this new trend to the moral feelings and convictions of the age, and then shall glance at some of the more important historical outcomes of the vast enthusiasm evoked by this new ideal of character.

The ideal of knighthood, a product in the main of feudalism, grew up outside the Church, and only later was recognized by ecclesiastical authority and approved as compatible with the ethical spirit of Christianity. Had not the ideal been thus approved by ecclesiastical authority, and advantage taken of the enthusiasm it evoked to promote through it the cause of the Church, it would never have become the significant force it did in European history. Therefore we must first inquire what were the influences that engendered a military spirit in the Church and led it to approve the martial ideal of the knight and give the consecration of religion to the institution of chivalry which was its embodiment.


The genius of Christianity opposed to the war spirit

If at the advent of Christianity one reflecting upon the genius of the new religion and the teachings of its Founder had ventured to forecast the influence of the new faith upon the different departments of morality, he would almost certainly have predicted that this influence would be felt most decisively upon the ethics of war. The attitude assumed by the early Christians toward the military life would have justified this forecast, for Christianity brought into the world the new principle of nonresistance.672 This teaching made the primitive Christian community almost a Quaker body; but barely three centuries had passed before this religion which had entered the world as a gospel of peace and good will had become a martial creed and its emblem been made a battle standard.

Causes which fostered the war spirit in the Church: (a) the heritage of the war ethics of the ancient world of culture

The causes that produced this amazing transformation in the Christian Church were various and so interrelated as to make it difficult to determine just what influence was exercised by each. Yet it is possible to note the character of the different agencies at work, and to form at least some general idea of the way in which the transformation was wrought.

First, there was the inheritance from the past. War had always been one of the leading occupations of men. It had scarcely ever occurred to any one to question its legitimacy. It was looked upon as a part of the constitution of things. The ideas, feelings, habits, engendered by its practice through uncounted millenniums of history had become ingrained in302 every tissue and fiber of man’s being. Set in the midst of the world, the Church yielded to the influence of this baneful pagan heritage. It incorporated with its own moral code, wholly alien to the essential spirit of Christianity as these elements were, the war ethics of the pre-Christian world, and thus made this pagan international morality a permanent part of Christian ethics.673 It will be instructive for us to follow somewhat closely this reaction upon the ethics of the Church, first of the war code of the civilized world of the south, and then later of the war spirit of the barbarian world of the north.

The early Fathers of the Church in general condemned the military service as incompatible with the Christian life.674 Not till the second century of the Empire do we find any record of Christian soldiers serving in the Roman armies. By this time the early rule of the Church forbidding a member to serve in the army had become relaxed; but members of the Christian body who entered the Roman legions were required to undertake a prescribed penance and to seek absolution before partaking of the Eucharist. By the time of Diocletian Christians appear to have entered with little or no scruple upon the military life.675 A significant waymark of this gradual transformation is the great victory won by the Emperor Constantine over his rival Maxentius at the battle of Milvian Bridge, 312 A.D. Upon that field the soldiers of Constantine fought beneath the Labarum, a standard which bore as an emblem the Christian cross. The fortunate issue of the battle for Constantine seems to have greatly confirmed the feeling in the Christian community as to the legitimacy of war. The Church conformed303 more and more positively its teachings and discipline to the requirements of the military service. Saints Augustine (354–430 A.D.) and Ambrose (340–397 A.D.), in opposition to most of the earlier Fathers, were open apologists and defenders of war and of the military life.

Thus during the very period when the Church was putting under its ban the cruel and sanguinary amusements of the Romans by the suppression of the gladiatorial games,676 and thus lifting domestic morality to a new and higher plane, through a strange inconsistency it was first condoning and then finally consecrating the international pagan war system of which these sports were only a mild imitation.

(b) The war spirit of the German race

After the fifth century the influence upon the ethics of the Church of the war system of the civilized world of the south was reënforced by the martial spirit of the barbarian world of the north. That world was now, largely through the missions of the monastic Church, being rapidly brought within the pale of Christianity. But all these northern peoples were the very incarnation of the war spirit. Their favorite deities were gods who delighted in battle and bloodshed. Fighters these men were, and fighters they remained even after conversion and baptism. The mingling of moralities which followed their conversion is well illustrated by the passionate outburst of the Frankish chieftain Clovis as he listened to the story of the Crucifixion: “Oh,” he exclaimed, “if only I could have been there with my trusty warriors!” The soul of Clovis lived on in his race. Four centuries later these Frankish warriors, as knight crusaders, were on the spot of the Crucifixion, redeeming with lance and sword the tomb of the slain Christ from the hands of infidels. It was this ineradicable war spirit of the northern barbarians to which was due, perhaps more than to any other agency, the infusion of a military spirit into that church of which the Founder was the Prince of Peace.


Among the customs of the early Germans there was one which had such a positive influence upon the evolution we are tracing in Church morality that we must here make special note of it. This was the ordeal by fire, by water, or by wager of battle to determine the guilt or innocence of an accused person. The prominent place held by this institution among savage or semicivilized peoples is familiar to the student of primitive society. Now the German folk brought with them this institution, and with it the belief which made the ordeal, and particularly the ordeal by combat, a solemn judicial matter in which God rendered decision and gave victory to the one whose cause was just. This barbarian conception of the wager of battle between individuals became incorporated with the common body of Christian ideas and beliefs. The same manner of thinking was perforce applied to war. A conflict between great armies was conceived as a wager of battle in which God gave victory to the right. Thus was war consecrated and made an agency whereby God executes judgment among the nations.

(c) The war records of the Old Hebrew Testament

This interpretation of the nature and mission of war was reënforced by a like unfortunate interpretation of the records of the Old Testament. The good bishop Ulfilas was right when, in translating the Hebrew Bible into the Gothic tongue, he omitted the war chronicles through fear that these records of wars and massacres would fan into too fierce a flame the martial zeal of his Gothic neophytes. To these terrible chronicles, which represent God as commanding the Israelites to wage war against his enemies, and even as ordering the most horrid atrocities upon war captives, is due in large part the idea so dominant even to-day among Christian nations that God is a God of War, and that through the ordeal of battle he gives judgment on the earth.677


(d) The armed propaganda of Islam

The transformation taking place in the ethical standard of the Church under the various influences we have named was hastened and completed by the reaction upon Christian ethics of the martial ethics of Islam.678 This new influence began to be exerted in the seventh century. By infection the crusading spirit of the Mohammedan zealots was communicated to the Christian Church. Toward the close of the eleventh century the spiritual head of Christendom, Pope Urban II, summoned the Christian nations of Europe to arms for the recovery of the Holy Sepulcher from the hands of the unbelievers.

Feudalism by this time had flowered in chivalry. The Christian lands were filled with brave young knights, especially knights of Norman descent, aflame with martial enthusiasm and eager for warlike adventure. It was the ancestors of these very men, instinct with the military spirit, that Rome had once enlisted in her legions to fight the battles of the Empire; it is the children of those legionaries that the Christian Church now summons in the name of Christ to her standard to fight the battles of the Cross.

The transformation of that Church was now complete. The age of the Crusades had opened. Christ and Mars were306 co-sovereigns in Christian Europe. The teachings of the Prince of Peace and the war spirit of the civilization of antiquity and of the German barbarians were reconciled.679 As Lecky finely portrays it, “At the hour of sunset when the Christian soldier knelt down to pray before his cross, that cross was the handle of his sword.”680

The composite character of the ideal: its pagan-Christian virtues

The foregoing brief account of the reconciliation and commingling in later Roman and early medieval times of the pagan ethics of war and the Christian ethics of peace has already acquainted us with what was the distinctive characteristic of the ethical ideal of knighthood, the ideal which resulted from this mingling of these two strongly contrasted moralities. It was a composite ideal, a combination of pagan and Christian virtues. The true knight, who was the incarnation of the ideal, must possess all the admired moral qualities of the pagan hero, and, together with these, all the essential virtues of the Christian saint. Among the pagan virtues we find a set of moral qualities that are attributes of character which, with possibly one or two exceptions, were assigned a high place either in the barbarian German or in the classical ideal of excellence. Chief among these qualities are personal loyalty, courage, truthfulness, justice, magnanimity, courtesy, and self-respect.

The first duty and virtue of the true knight was absolute loyalty to his superior, to his comrades in arms, and to the cause espoused. This virtue of loyalty is the virtue which307 Professor Royce makes the root from which all other virtues spring.681 Without doubt it is, if not the central virtue of every true moral system, one of the most attractive of all ethical traits, and one most sacredly held from taint by every person with a nice sense of what constitutes true nobility of character.

A second and indispensable virtue was courage. The knight must be brave as well as loyal. Cowardice and knighthood were wholly incompatible things.

Another moral quality was veracity, absolute fidelity to a promise. The pledged word of the true knight was sacrosanct and inviolable.682

Still another indispensable trait in the character of the ideal knight was love of justice. The true knight must be just; an unjust knight could not be a true knight any more than an unjust judge can be a true judge.

Again, the knight who would be loyal to the ideal of knighthood must be magnanimous. One of the elements of this virtue is unwillingness to take an unfair advantage of another, especially of an enemy. It was a disgraceful thing for a knight to attack his foe when at a disadvantage, as when disarmed or fallen. He must always meet his enemy in fair and open fight.

Furthermore, the true knight must be courteous. It was as much his duty to be courteous as to be truthful. Now courtesy is not a trait or feeling which inspires lofty action, but one which induces gentleness, kind consideration, and gracious deference toward all alike—rich and poor, high and low.

Lastly, the knight must possess dignity or self-respect. The age of chivalry interpreted this virtue or duty as requiring308 the knight to stand on his rights as a man. He must not let an injury to himself or to a friend go unpunished. He must resent every insult and return blow for blow. Not to do so argued cowardice and pusillanimity. All this was of course directly opposed to the Christian requirements of humility, meekness, nonresistance, and forgiveness of injuries, and was distinctly a part of the moral code of chivalry which was borrowed from pre-Christian or non-Christian morality.

To these essentially pagan virtues the knight, after the institution of chivalry had been approved and consecrated by the Church, must add all the distinctly Christian virtues, particularly the virtue of right religious belief. Only the true believer could be a true knight.

A striking illustration of the mixture of moralities with which we have to do in the period of chivalry is afforded by the celebrated religious military orders of the Hospitalers and Templars, which were formed just before the Second Crusade, when the enthusiasm for the chivalric ideal was at its height, while that for the ascetic had not yet sensibly abated. The Hospitalers were monks who, to their monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience or humility, added the martial obligations of knighthood; the Templars were knights who to their military vows added those of the monk. Thus in these remarkable orders of knight-monks we see incongruously united the monastic and military ideals, two of the most sharply contrasted conceptions of worthy life that it is possible to find in the whole history of ethical ideals.

Defects of the ideal

The ideal of chivalry had serious defects. First, the military spirit, borrowed from paganism, which the ideal apotheosized, was in absolute opposition to the spirit of Christianity, so that the perfect reconciliation and fusion of the different moral qualities entering into the ideal was impossible.

Second, from feudalism, with its sharply defined social classes, the ideal received an aristocratic stamp. In this309 respect it was the direct opposite of the monastic ideal. Any person, freeman or slave, king or peasant, could become a monk, and by following the more excellent way gain the homage of men and win the crown of sainthood. But the chivalric ideal was one to which no plebeian might aspire. Only a person of noble birth could become a knight. This exclusive aristocratic character of the ideal constituted one of its most serious defects. Yet in spite of this and other defects it was a noble and attractive ideal, and one which not only left a deep stamp upon medieval history, but contributed precious elements to the ethical heritage which the modern world received from the Middle Ages.

Influence of the ideal of chivalry upon the history of the epoch

Just as the moral enthusiasm awakened by the monastic ideal gave a special character and trend to much of the history of the age of its ascendancy,—inspiring or helping to inspire the missionary propaganda among the barbarian tribes of Europe, giving birth to a special literature (the Lives of the Saints), and fostering the spirit of benevolence and self-renunciation,—so did the unmeasured enthusiasm created by the chivalric ideal give a distinctive character to much of the history of the age of its predominance—lending a romantic cast to the Crusades, creating a new form of literature, and giving a more assured place in the growing European ideal of character to several attractive traits and virtues. Respecting each of these matters we shall offer some observations in the immediately following pages, and then shall proceed to speak briefly of some reform movements which belong to the general moral history of the epoch under review.

Chivalry and the Crusades

The Crusades of the eleventh and twelfth centuries against the Moslems of the East, in so far as those enterprises were inspired by moral feeling,—and religious-ethical feeling was310 the chief motive force behind them,—were largely the translation into action of the ideal of chivalry now commended and consecrated by the Church. The oath of the Knights of Malta, who were a perfect incarnation of the spirit of chivalry, was “to make eternal war upon the Turks; to recognize no cessation of hostilities with the infidel, on any pretext whatsoever.”

It is an amazing change that, in the course of a few generations, has come over the ethical spirit and temper of the peoples of Christendom. In the earlier medieval time the best conscience of the age was embodied in the monk-saints Augustine, Columba, Winfrid, and a great company of other unarmed missionary apostles to the pagan Celts and Germans; in this later time the best conscience of the age is incarnated in the armor-clad warriors Godfrey of Bouillon, Raymond, Bohemond, Tancred, and a multitude of other knightly leaders of the hosts of Crusaders who go forth to redeem with blood and slaughter the tomb of their martyred Lord.

Romance literature as an expression of the ethical spirit of the age

No element of civilization responds more quickly to the changing ethical ideal of a people than its literature. The change that passed over the popular literature of Christendom in the transition of Europe from the age of asceticism to the age of chivalry is finely summarized by Lecky in these words: “When the popular imagination [in the earlier age] embodied in legends its conception of humanity in its noblest and most attractive form, it instinctively painted some hermit-saint of many penances and many miracles.... In the romances of Charlemagne and Arthur we may trace the dawning of a new type of greatness. The hero of the imagination of Europe is no longer the hermit but a knight.”683

An interesting monument of this new species of literature, in what we may view as a transition stage, is the Gesta311 Romanorum,684 a collection of moral stories invented by the monks in their idle hours. These tales are a curious mixture of things Roman, monastic, and knightly.

But for a true expression of this romance literature we must turn to the legends of the Holy Grail, in which a lofty imagination blends, in so far as they can be blended, all the varied elements of the knightly ideal in a consistent whole. No age save the age of Christian knighthood could have produced this wonderful cycle of tales.

Contribution of chivalry to the moral heritage of the Christian world

But it is neither in the crusading enterprises nor in the literary products of the age of chivalry that we are to look for the real historical significance of the ideal of chivalry. Its chief import for the moral evolution of the European nations lies in the fact that it helped to give fuller and richer content to the Christian ideal by contributing to it, or by giving a surer place in it, certain nontheological virtues, some of which the Church had laid little emphasis upon or had entirely neglected.

Thus the enthusiasm for the ideal of chivalry, like the Church’s veneration of the Holy Virgin,685 tended to elevate and refine the ideal of woman, and thus to counteract certain tendencies of the ascetic ideal. It helped to give a high valuation to the moral qualities of loyalty, truthfulness, magnanimity, self-reliance, and courtesy. We designate these attractive traits of character as chivalrous virtues for the312 reason that we recognize that knighthood made precious contributions to these elements of the moral inheritance which the modern received from the medieval world.

Restrictions on the right of private war: the Truce of God

Very closely connected ethically and historically with chivalry is the movement during the later medieval time for the abolition of the right of private war.686 In the tenth century, as feudalism developed and the military spirit of knighthood came more and more to dominate society, the right of waging war, with which privilege every feudal lord of high rank was invested, resulted in a state of intolerable anarchy in all those lands where the feudal system had become established. Respecting this right, claimed and exercised by the feudal prince, of waging war against any and every other chieftain, even though this one were a member of the same state as that to which he himself belonged, there was in these medieval centuries precisely the same moral feeling, or rather lack of moral feeling, that exists to-day in regard to the right claimed and exercised by the different independent nations of waging war against one another.

As a result of this practice of private war, Europe reverted to a condition of primitive barbarism. Every land was filled with fightings and violence. “Every hill,” as one pictures it, “was a stronghold, every plain a battlefield. The trader was robbed on the highway, the peasant was killed at his plow, the priest was slain at the altar. Neighbor fought against neighbor, baron against baron, city against city.”

In the midst of this universal anarchy the Church lifted a protesting voice. Toward the end of the tenth century there was started in France a movement which aimed at the complete abolition of private war. The Church aspired to do what had been done by pagan Rome. It proclaimed what was called the Peace of God. It commanded all men everywhere313 to refrain from fighting and robbery and violence of every kind as contrary to the spirit and teachings of Christianity.

But it was found utterly impossible to make the great feudal barons refrain from fighting one another even though they were threatened with the eternal torments of hell. They were just as unwilling to surrender this highly prized privilege and right of waging private war as the nations of to-day are to surrender their prized privilege and right to wage public war.

Then the leaders of the clergy of France, seeing that they could not suppress the evil entirely, resolved to attempt to regulate it. This led to the proclamation of what was called the Truce of God. The first certain trace of this movement dates from the year 1041.687 In that year the abbot of the monastery of Cluny and the other French abbots and bishops issued an edict commanding all men to maintain a holy and unbroken peace during four days of every week, from Wednesday evening till Monday morning.688 Every man was required to take an oath to observe this Truce of God. The oath was renewed every three years, and was administered to boys on their reaching their twelfth year.

This movement to redeem at least a part of the days from fighting and violence came gradually to embrace all the countries of Western Europe. The details of the various edicts issued by Church councils and popes vary greatly, but all embody the principle of the edict of 1041. Holydays, and especially consecrated periods, as Easter time and Christmas week, came to be covered by the Truce. The Council of Clermont, which inaugurated the First Crusade, extended greatly the terms of the Truce, forbidding absolutely private wars while the Crusade lasted, and placing under the ægis of the Church the person and property of every crusader.


The Truce of God was never well observed, yet it did something during the eleventh and twelfth centuries to mitigate the evils of private war and to render life more secure and tolerable. After the twelfth century the kings of Europe, who were now strengthening their authority and consolidating their dominions, took the place of the Church in maintaining peace among their feudal vassals. They came to regard themselves as responsible for the “peace of the land,” which phrase now superseded those of the “Peace of God” and the “Truce of God.” Thus the movement to which moral forces had given the first impulse was carried to its consummation by political motives. To the Church, however, history will ever accord the honor of having begun this great reform which enforced peace upon the members of the same state, and which has made private wars in civilized lands a thing of the past.

The abolition of private warfare was the first decisive step marking the advance of Europe toward universal peace. Public war, that is, war between nations, is still an established and approved institution of international law; but in the moral evolution of humanity a time approaches when public war shall also, like private war, be placed under the ban of civilization, and will have passed upon it by the truer conscience of that better age the same judgment that the conscience of to-day pronounces on that private warfare upon which the Truce of God laid the first arresting hand.

Progress in the ethics of war: sale into slavery of Christian captives condemned

Although the Church has done little in a direct way to abolish public war, or even directly to create in society at large a new conscience in regard to the wickedness of war in itself as an established method of settling international differences, its influence has been felt from early Christian times in the alleviation of its barbarities and cruelties. One of the first ameliorations in the rules of war effected through Christian influence concerned the treatment of war captives.

Among the ancient Greeks, as we have seen, under the influence of the sentiment of Panhellenism, there was developed315 a vague feeling that Greeks should not enslave Greeks. But aside from this Panhellenic sentiment, which had very little influence upon actual practice, there was in the pre-Christian period seemingly little or no moral feeling on the subject, and the custom of reducing prisoners of war to slavery was practically universal.

But the custom, in so far as it concerned Christian prisoners, was condemned by the Christian conscience as incompatible with the spirit of Christianity, and the rule was established that such captives should not be enslaved.689 We observe the first clear workings of this new war conscience in Britain after the conversion of the Saxon invaders. The Celts of Britain were Christians, and the Saxons, after they themselves had been won over to Christianity, ceased to sell into slavery their Celtic captives. Gradually this new rule was adopted by all Christian nations. No other advance of equal importance marks the moral history of public war during the medieval period.

This humane rule, however, did not, as we have intimated, embrace non-Christians. Our word “slave” bears witness to this fact. This term came to designate a person in servitude from the circumstance that up to the eleventh century, which saw the evangelization of Russia, the slave class in Europe was made up largely of Slavs, who, as pagans, were without scruple reduced to slavery by their Christian captors.

But the earlier rights which the immemorial laws of war conferred upon the captor were not wholly annulled in the case of Christian captives. The practice of holding for ransom took the place of sale into slavery. This custom prevailed throughout the feudal period, but gradually during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries this practice finally yielded to the more humanitarian custom of exchange of prisoners.690316 Thus in this department of ethics there is to be traced a gradual humanization of the code, which, beginning in savagery with gross cannibalism and torture, advances through killing in cold blood, sale into slavery, and holding for ransom, to equal exchange.

Morality in the monasteries: moral significance of the rise of the Mendicant Orders

During the age of chivalry the ideal of the knight overshadowed the ideal of the monk. Nevertheless throughout the whole period the monastic ideal inspired a great deal of moral enthusiasm. The founding and endowment of monasteries divided with the equipping of knightly expeditions for the Crusades the zeal and efforts and sacrifices of the European peoples.

In the old orders of monks, however, zeal for the ascetic ideal would often grow cold, and the high moral standard of the earlier time would be lowered. Then some select soul, set aflame by a fresh vision of the ideal, would draw together a group of devoted followers, and thus would come into existence a new order of monks, among whom the flame of a holy enthusiasm would burn brightly for a time.691

Among the numerous new orders called into existence by these reform movements there were two which, in the ideal of duty which they followed, stand quite apart from the ordinary monastic orders. This new ideal had its incarnation in St. Francis692 and St. Dominic, the founders respectively of the Franciscan and the Dominican order of friars.

In this new conception of what constitutes the worthiest and most meritorious life, the quietistic virtues of the earlier ascetic ideal, which had developed during the period of terror and suffering which followed the subversion of classical civilization by the northern barbarians, gave place to the active, benevolent virtues. In the earlier monastic movement there was a317 self-regarding element. The monk fled from the world in order to make sure of his own salvation. The world was left to care for itself. In the new orders, the brother, in imitation of the Master who went about among men teaching and healing, left the cloister and went out into the world to rescue and save others. In its lofty call to absolute self-forgetfulness and complete consecration to the service of humanity, the early ideal of the Mendicants was one of the noblest and most attractive that had grown up under Christian influence. The loftiness of the ideal attracted the select spirits of the age—for noble souls love self-sacrifice. “Whenever in the thirteenth century,” says the historian Lea, “we find a man towering above his fellows, we are almost sure to trace him to one of the Mendicant Orders.”693

It is in the exaltation of this virtue of self-renunciation that we find one of the chief services rendered by the Mendicant Orders, especially by the Franciscan, to European morality. Just as the early monks, through the emphasis laid on the virtue of chastity, made a needed protest against the sensuality of a senile and decadent civilization, so did the friars, through the stress laid on the virtue of self-denial for others, make a needed protest against the selfishness and hardness of an age that seemed to have forgotten the claims of the poor and the lowly.694 It can hardly be made a matter of reasonable doubt that the slowly growing fund of altruistic feeling in Christendom was greatly enriched by the self-devoted lives and labors of the followers of Saints Francis and Dominic.

But the value of the ideal of the friars as an ethical force in the evolution of European civilization was seriously318 impaired by certain theological elements it contained. It was an ideal in which, as in the ordinary monastic ideal, the duty of correct opinion came to be exalted above all others. The ethics of belief took precedence of the ethics of service. Thus the friars, particularly the Dominicans, through their zeal for orthodoxy, fostered the grave moral fault of intolerance. The growth of this conception of Christian duty, concurring with other causes of which we shall speak in the next chapter, ushered in the age of the Inquisition.

The ethics of Scholasticism

The ethical history of the friars or the preaching orders mingles with the ethical history of Scholasticism. The ethics of the Schoolmen was a syncretism of two moral systems, the pagan-classical or Aristotelian and the Christian. With the four classical virtues of wisdom, prudence, temperance, and justice were combined the three Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love. But these two moral types, the classical and the theological, each being taken in its entirety, were mutually inconsistent ideals of virtue. The pagan code was a morality based on the autonomy of the individual reason; the Church code was based on an external authority. The one was inner and natural, the other outer and supernatural. The scholastic system was thus an incongruous combination of naturalism and supernaturalism in ethics, of native virtues and “virtues of grace.” This dualism is the essential fact in the history of the ethics of Scholasticism.

As it was the great effort of the Schoolmen in the domain of dogma to justify the doctrines of the Church, to show their reasonableness and consistency, so was it their great effort in the domain of ethics to justify the Church’s composite moral ideal, to show all its duties and virtues to form a reasonable and consistent system. The best representative of this effort of reconciliation was the great Schoolman Thomas Aquinas. But a perfect fusion of the diverse elements was impossible. There were ever striving in the system319 two spirits—the spirit of Greek naturalism and the spirit of Hebrew-Christian supernaturalism.

But there was another line of cleavage in the system which was still more fateful in its historical consequences than the cleavage between the Aristotelian and the Church morality. This cleavage was created by the twofold ethics of the Church, for the ecclesiastical morality, considered apart from the Aristotelian element, was itself made up of two mutually inconsistent ethics, namely, Gospel ethics and Augustinian ethics.695 The saving virtue of the first was loving, self-abnegating service; the saving virtue of the second was faith, which was practically defined as “the acceptance as true of the dogma of the Trinity and the main articles of the creed.” Such was the emphasis laid by certain of the Schoolmen upon the metaphysical side of this dual system that there was in their ethics more of the mind of Augustine than of the mind of Christ. This making of an external authority the basis of morality, this emphasizing of the theological virtues, especially the virtue of right belief, had two results of incalculable consequences for the moral evolution in Christendom. First, it led naturally and inevitably to that system of casuistry696 which was one of the most striking phenomena of the moral history of the later medieval and earlier modern centuries; and second, it laid the basis of the tribunal of the Inquisition. Thus does the theological ethics of Scholasticism stand in intimate and significant relation to these two important matters in the moral history of Europe.



The Renaissance: the new intellectual life

Toward the close of the medieval ages came that important movement in European society known as the Renaissance, a main feature of which was the restoration of classical culture. Since the incoming of the northern barbarians with their racial traits and martial moral code there had been no such modifying force brought to bear upon the moral evolution of the European peoples, nor was there to appear a greater till the rise of modern evolutionary science.

The Renaissance exerted its transforming influence on the moral life of the West chiefly through the new intellectual life it awakened by bringing the European mind in vital contact with the culture of the ancient world; for intellectual progress means normally moral progress. Hence as the Renaissance meant a new birth of the European intellect, so did it mean also a new birth of the European conscience. Just as the conscience of the medieval age had its genesis in the new religion which superseded the paganism of the ancient world, so did the common conscience of to-day have its genesis in the new science, the new culture, which in the Renaissance superseded medieval ideas and theological modes of thought. A chief part of our remaining task will be to make plain how the new intellectual life born in the revival of the fifteenth century, and expressing itself since in every department of human life, thought, and activity, has reacted upon the moral feelings and judgments of men and taught321 them to seek the ultimate sanctions of a true morality in the deep universal intuitions of the human heart and conscience.

The decay of feudalism and the rise of monarchy: court life

Running parallel throughout the later medieval time with the classical revival, whose significance was so great for European morality, there was going on a political and social revolution which exerted an influence on the ethical evolution only less potent and far-reaching than that of the intellectual movement. During this period the petty feudal states in the different countries of Europe were being gathered up into larger political units. The principle of monarchy was everywhere triumphing over that of feudalism. The multitude of feudal castles, in which had been cradled the knightly ideal of manhood, were replaced by the palaces and courts of rich princes and powerful kings. This meant a great change in the social and political environment of the higher classes.

In the first place, in these later courts there was a brilliancy of life, a culture and a refinement rarely found in the earlier feudal castles. In the next place, the relation which every member of the court sustained to the prince or sovereign was fundamentally different from that which the vassal had sustained to his lord under the feudal régime. This relation, it is true, was still a personal one; but independence was gone, and with this were gone the pride and self-sufficiency which it engendered. In these princely courts the knight became a courtier.

The effect of these changes in surroundings and relationships upon the standard of conduct was profound, as we shall see when, a little farther on, we come to inquire what were the ethical feelings and judgments awakened in this new environment.

The growth of the towns: the workshop and the market as molders of morals

Three institutions—the monastery, the castle, and the town—dominated successively the life of the Middle Ages. Each developed a distinct ethical ideal. The monastery cradled the conscience of the monk; the castle, the conscience of the knight; and the town, the conscience of the burgher.


What particular virtues were approved by the moral sense of the town dweller we shall note a little farther on. We here merely observe that in the atmosphere of the town, in the relationships of the workshop and the market, were nourished the lowly lay virtues of the artisan and the trader, virtues which, though disesteemed by classical antiquity, regarded as of subordinate worth by the monk, and held in positive contempt by the knight, were yet to constitute the heart and core of the ethical ideal of the modern world.

Revival of the classical conception of life: the new birth of the European conscience

When Christianity entered the Greco-Roman world with its new moral ideal, the old classical ideal of character, as we have seen, was practically superseded. There were, it is true, certain elements of this pagan morality which were consciously or unconsciously absorbed by Christianity; but the classical ideal as a whole was rejected, just as the greater part of the cultural elements of Greco-Roman civilization were cast aside. For a thousand years Hebrew-Christian conceptions of the world and of life shaped the thought and conduct of men. Then came the Renaissance.697

In the study of this movement the attention of the historian has ordinarily been centered on the literary, artistic, and intellectual phases of the revival, while the ethical phase has been given but slight attention or has been dismissed with the facile observation that the movement induced a revival of pagan immorality. This is true. But the really significant thing was not the revival of pagan immorality but the revival of pagan morality. For just as this classical revival meant a323 new enthusiasm for the artistic, literary, and cultural elements of the earlier Greco-Roman civilization, so did it also mean a new enthusiasm for the Greco-Roman ideal of character. To many it was no longer the Church ideal but the classical that seemed the embodiment of what is ethically most noble and worthy. Such persons gave up the practice of the distinctively Christian theological virtues, or, if they still outwardly observed the Church code, this was merely insincere conformity suggested by prudence or policy; the code of morals which their minds and hearts approved and which they observed, if they observed any at all, was the code of pagan antiquity. It is in this secularization of the ethical ideal, in this divorce of morality from theology, in this announcement of the freedom and autonomy of the individual spirit, that is to be sought the real significance of the classical revival of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries for the moral history of the Western world.

In two ways chiefly did the Renaissance exert its transforming influence upon European morals: first, by awakening a new intellectual life, for, as we have had repeatedly shown us, a new mental life means a new moral life; and second, by the direct introduction of various elements of Greco-Roman morals into the Christian ideal of character. Thus at the same time that the cultural life of Europe was being enlarged and enriched by the incorporation of those literary and art elements of classical civilization which had been rejected or underestimated by the Middle Ages, the moral life of Christendom was being profoundly modified by the incorporation of those ethical elements which constituted the precious product of the moral aspirations and achievements of the best generations of the ancient world. The conscience of those persons in the modern world who are imbued with the true scientific spirit, that is to say, with the humanistic spirit of the Renaissance, is quite as largely Greek as Hebraic. A recent writer reviewing the life of a distinguished personage324 (Julia Ward Howe) recognized this mingling in modern culture of these diverse elements in these words: “She has blended and lived, as no other eminent American woman, the humanistic and the Christian ideals of life. She has preached love and self-sacrifice, and she has loved beauty and self-realization.”

Theological morality: the ethics of persecution

In the domain of theological morality the history of the Renaissance affords one of the most painful chapters in European history. This chapter has to do with the establishment of the Inquisition to maintain uniformity of religious belief.

It is not an accident that this chapter should form an integral part of the history of the Renaissance. The spread of heresy, which threatened the unity of the medieval Church, was largely the outgrowth of the new intellectual life awakened by the revival of learning.698 Hence it was inevitable that the age of the Renaissance should be also the age of persecution. It is not a recital of the history of the Holy Office during the period under review which is our concern in this place, but only a consideration of the motives of Christian persecution. That intolerance should ever have been regarded by the followers of the tolerant Nazarene as a virtue and persecution of misbelievers as a pious duty, challenges the attention of the historian of morals and incites earnest inquiry into the causes of such an aberration of the moral sentiment.

It cannot be made a matter of reasonable doubt that one of the chief causes of Christian intolerance is the theological doctrine that salvation is dependent upon right belief in religious matters, and that error in belief, even though honest, is a crime that merits and receives eternal punishment.699 This325 dogma leads logically and inevitably to intolerance and persecution;700 for if wrong belief is a crime of so heinous a nature as justly to subject the misbeliever to everlasting and horrible torments, and if the misbeliever is likely to bring others into the same fatal way of thinking, then it follows that heresy should be extirpated, just as the germs of a dreaded contagion are stamped out, by any and every means however seemingly harsh and cruel. Thus St. Thomas Aquinas and other theologians logically “argued that if the death penalty could be rightly inflicted on thieves and forgers, who rob us only of worldly goods, how much more righteously on those who cheat us out of supernatural goods—out of faith, the sacraments, the life of the soul.”701

It was this theological teaching that heresy is a fault of unmeasured sinfulness, an “insidious preventable contagion,” which was the main root that fostered Christian intolerance and persecution.702 The activities of the Holy Office were maintained not by bad men but by good men. “With such men it was not hope of gain, or lust of blood, or pride of opinion, or wanton exercise of power [that moved them], but sense of duty, and they but represented what was universal public opinion from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century.”703


Reflecting on these facts, we readily give assent to the charitable judgment of the historian Von Holst in commenting on the acts of the Terrorists in the French Revolution, that “wrongdoing to others lies not so much in the will as in the understanding.” The greatest crime of history was committed by men who knew not what they did.704 It was a theological doctrine which is to-day rejected by the reason and conscience of a large section of the Church itself, that caused the loss for centuries of the virtue of toleration, which in the ethical systems of the classical world had been assigned a prominent place among the virtues, and which, could it have found a place in the standard of goodness of the Church, would have saved Christendom the horrors of the Albigensian crusades, the pious cruelties of the Inquisition, and the mutual persecutions of Catholics and Protestants throughout the age of the Reformation.

Political morality: Machiavellian ethics

The matter of dominant importance in the sphere of political morality during the Renaissance was the creation of a code of morals for princes. This was a system formulated by the Italian philosopher Machiavelli, who wrote under the secularizing influences of the classical revival and of the paganized courts of the Italian princes of his time.705 It was a code which the ruling class, for whom it was designed, eagerly adopted, for the reason that it harmonized with their desires, ambitions, and practices, and sanctioned as not only morally permissible, but even as obligatory and meritorious, policies and327 acts which, without such sanction, might have awakened in some at least inconvenient and hampering scruples of conscience.

This princely ideal, notwithstanding that the conduct of the prince who acted in accordance with it was generally condoned, was not one which, like the ascetic or the knightly ideal, awakened moral enthusiasm. It was a standard of conduct never approved by the best conscience of Christendom. On the contrary, the work in which Machiavelli embodied this ideal for princes was, on its first appearance, fiercely assailed as grossly immoral, and ever since has called forth the severest condemnation of moralists.

The fundamental principle of Machiavelli’s system is that the moral code binding on the subject is not binding on the ruler; or rather that ethics has nothing to do with politics.706 With the prince the end justifies the means. He is at liberty to lie, defraud, steal, and kill, in fine, to employ all and every form of deception, injustice, cruelty, and unrighteousness in dealing with his enemies and with other princes or states.

This moral standard set for princes by Machiavelli was the dominant force in international affairs from the middle of the sixteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century. During this period it debased the public morals not only of Italy but of every other land in Christendom. Its vicious principles328 were acted upon by every court of Europe.707 Even to-day Machiavellism, though condemned in theory, is still too often followed in practice. It would not be an exaggeration to say that The Prince has exercised a more baneful influence over the political morals of Europe than any other book ever written.

It is instructive to contrast the influence of Machiavellism with that of Stoicism. Among the good effects of Roman Stoicism was its ennobling influence upon the imperial government. It gave the Roman Empire such a succession of high-minded and conscientious rulers as scarce is shown by the history of any other state ancient or modern. In contrast to the influence of this noble philosophy which apotheosized duty and exalted in rulers the virtues of clemency, truthfulness, magnanimity, and justice, Machiavellism filled, or contributed to fill, the thrones of Christendom with rulers whose moral sense was so blunted by its sinister doctrines that for generations truth speaking, sincerity, regard for the obligations of treaties, and respect for the rights of sister states were almost unknown in the diplomacy and mutual dealings of the governments of Europe. It is only after the lapse of more than three centuries that Christendom is freeing itself from the evil influence of Machiavelli’s teachings, and that there has been generated a new public conscience which recognizes that states like individuals are subjects of the moral law, and that the code which is binding on individuals is binding likewise on governments and communities.

The ethical value of the ideal of the courtier

We have already mentioned the ideal of the courtier as one of the ethical or semi-ethical products of the age of the Renaissance. This was a conception of perfect manhood which was nurtured in the socially brilliant and refined courts of the Italian princes of this period. It was a fusion and329 modification of selected virtues and qualities of the knight and of the scholar. The Christian theological virtues had no necessary place in it.

It was the distinctive virtues of the knight, elevated and refined, which formed the heart and core of the ideal. Like the ideal of knighthood, the courtly ideal was an aristocratic one; the courtier, like the knight, must be “nobly born and of gentle race.”708 Martial exploits were accounted to him as virtues; “his principal and true profession ought to be that of arms.”709 As loyalty to his superior was a supreme virtue in the knight, so was absolute loyalty to his prince the pre-eminent virtue of the courtier. Not less prominent was the place accorded in the ideal to the knightly virtues of courage and courtesy.710

But to these qualities and virtues of the knight the courtier must needs add those of the scholar. The ordinary knight despised learning and held the virtues of the scholar in contempt. But the ideal of courtliness grew up in a land where humanistic studies had become a ruling passion, and in an age when the highest ambition of many an Italian prince was to be known as a patron of learning. It was natural that, developing in the atmosphere of these courts, the new standard of perfect manhood should give a prominent place to the qualifications and virtues of the scholar.

This ideal of the courtier was never such a moral force in history as that of the monk or of the knight, but there were in it ethical elements of positive value to the moral life of the world. It was the inspiration of many of the finest spirits of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.711 Of the330 noble-minded Sir Philip Sidney a biographer says, “He conscientiously molded his life on the model of the perfect courtier of Cortelliani.” Nor has the ideal ever ceased to appeal to the imagination, or lost its power to soften and refine manners and ennoble conduct. It inspires gentle consideration for others of whatsoever estate, incites to unselfish service, and induces absolute good faith and self-forgetting loyalty to friends and to the cause espoused, all of which are moral qualities of high value, and all of which have entered or are entering as permanent elements into the growing world ideal of perfect manhood.

The ethics of industry: the medieval towns the cradle of the modern business conscience

In the medieval town was developed a moral ideal as distinct and individual as that of the monastery or of the castle. Central in this type of goodness were the homely virtues of industry, carefulness in workmanship, punctuality, honesty, faithful observance of engagements, and general fair dealing. To these lay virtues were added all those which made up the Church ideal for the ordinary life, for there had not yet been effected that divorce of business from theology which had been effected in the case of politics.

The development of this ideal of goodness was a matter of immense importance for the moral life of the West, because, acted upon by the practical ethical spirit of Protestantism and other agencies, it was destined to supersede the ascetic and chivalric ideals of life, which for more than a thousand years had been the ruling moral forces in the life of Christendom, for neither of these ideals of goodness could be more than a partial and passing form of the moral life. The ascetic ideal, having for its distinctive qualities such virtues as celibacy, poverty, solitary contemplation, vigils, fastings, and mortifications of the body, could not possibly become the standard for all men. It was confessedly a standard of perfection for the few only.

As to the knightly ideal, this was too exclusively a martial one to become the supreme rule of life and conduct for the331 multitude. Furthermore, it was an aristocratic ideal, an ideal for the noble born alone. This precluded the possibility of its becoming, as a distinct type, a permanent force in civilization.

But the ethical type of the towns, embracing those native human virtues which spring up everywhere out of the usual and universal relationships of everyday life and occupations, was sure of a permanent place among the ethical types of the classes and professions of modern society. In the same sense that the medieval towns (as the birthplace of the third estate) were the cradle of modern democracy, were they the cradle of modern business morality. Just as through the medieval monastery passes the direct line of descent of the present-day social conscience of Christendom,712 just so through the medieval town passes the direct line of descent of the present-day business conscience of the Western world.

Disuse of trial by wager of battle

The influence of the spirit generated in the medieval towns is seen in that important reform, the abolition of the judicial duel, which was one of the most noteworthy matters in the moral history of the Middle Ages.713

It was the military spirit of the German barbarians which, as we have seen, was a chief agency in the introduction of the wager of battle or trial by combat in the jurisprudence of the European peoples.714 Besides the influence of the towns, a number of other causes concurred in gradually effecting the abrogation of this method of settling disputes, among which the most efficient were the opposition of the Church, the revival of the Roman law in the eleventh century, and the advance in general intelligence. Into every one of these agencies there entered an ethical element, so that we may regard this great reform, in its causes as well as in its effects, as distinctively a moral reform. Thus the influence of the towns332 was essentially ethical, for the rise of these communities, as we have just seen, meant the superseding of the ethics of aristocracy and war by the ethics of democracy and industry. Consequently the influence exerted by the towns was largely that of a new ideal of character.

The opposition of the Church was motived chiefly by moral feeling, the pontiffs and the bishops who opposed the practice doing so on the ground that the ordeal by battle was “brutal, unchristian, and unrighteous.”

The advocates of the civil law opposed the practice not only because it interfered with the royal and imperial administration of justice, but because it was a practice based on ignorance and superstition and “incompatible with every notion of equity and justice,” since brutal force was allowed to usurp the place of testimony and reason. Thus the Roman law, as the embodiment of right reason, was here as everywhere else a moral force making for what is reasonable and just.

The influence of the general progress in enlightenment was also profoundly ethical, since this movement resulted, as intellectual advance always normally does, in a growing refinement of the moral feelings, in progress in moral ideas, and in truer ethical judgments.

By the opening of the modern age trial by combat, acted on by these various influences, had become obsolete or obsolescent in most of the countries of Europe.715 Strangely enough, the international duel or public war, resting on substantially the same basis as the private judicial duel, has held its place as the instituted and legalized method of settling controversies between nations down to the present time, without, till just yesterday, being seriously challenged by the awakening conscience of the world as equally repugnant to the moral law and incompatible with every principle of reason, humanity, and justice.



Principle of the self-sovereignty of the individual as the ultimate authority in morals

In its essential principle the Protestant Reformation was a protest against the principle of authority in the realm of the spirit. It proclaimed the right of individual judgment in matters of religion and morals. There was in this proclamation an ethical implication of revolutionary significance. It was a recognition of the truth “that duty in the last analysis is imposed upon the individual ... by himself; that there is no authority in moral matters more ultimate than a man’s rational conviction of what is best.”716

Of all the agencies which during recent times have been at work moralizing morality and creating for the moral life a permanent and indestructible basis in reason and conscience, this Protestant principle of the autonomy of the individual soul in the spiritual domain has been one of the most efficient and pervasive.

The principle of salvation by right belief

Though the chief significance of the Protestant revolution and its ultimate import for morality lay in this assertion of the self-sovereignty of the individual, still the full ethical consequences of this revolutionary principle did not become clearly manifest till after the lapse of more than three centuries.

Throughout the earlier periods of the Reformation era the moral evolution in Protestant lands was influenced less by334 the announcement of this principle than by that of certain other principles less fundamentally important, or by certain minor modifications effected by the reformers in the body of doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.

Among these principles was that of salvation by faith, which meant practically salvation by right belief. This was no new principle in Christian theology. The Church had always insisted upon acceptance of the main articles of its creed as necessary to salvation. But by reason of the emphasis which had been placed upon the doctrine of the meritoriousness of works, many had come to believe, and to act upon the belief, that a man is justified by what he does. The assertion of the doctrine of justification through faith alone had important consequences for morality, since it implied the denial of the ethical value of works, which meant specifically the repudiation of the principles of asceticism, on which the monastic system rested, as well as the rejection of the doctrine of purgatory, which afforded basis and sanction for a considerable part of the moral code of the medieval Church.

The reform movement reënforces the ethical tendencies of the Renaissance

Though the immediate results of the Reformation were disastrous to Humanism, the ultimate effect of the religious movement was to reënforce the true ethical tendencies of the intellectual revival. As we have seen, the thing of deepest import for morals in the Renaissance of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was the announcement of the freedom and self-dependence of the individual spirit, since such self-sovereignty is the prerequisite of a true and vital morality. Likewise the essential proclamation of the Reformation was the autonomy of the individual in matters religious and moral. It is true that the reformers, though proclaiming liberty of conscience, the right of individual judgment, did not, as has335 already been said, at once recognize all the ethical implications of this principle. “The Reformation,” as Dr. Arnold truly observes, “was weak in that it never consciously grasped or applied the central idea of the Renaissance—the Hellenic idea of pursuing, in all lines of activity, the law and science, to use Plato’s words, of things as they really are.”717

But the assertion of the right of individual judgment in matters religious and moral was bound sooner or later to lead to the recognition of the duty of inquiry, of investigation of the law and science of things as they really are, and of absolute loyalty to the truth when found. The final outcome within the Church of this new mental attitude has been the “Higher Criticism,” which is simply the continuation by modern scholars within the reformed denominations of the scientific criticism of the Bible begun by the distinguished humanist Erasmus. In this remoter issue of the Reformation the essential oneness of its spirit with that of the Renaissance is revealed, and the ground for the assertion that the ultimate moral results of the religious reform were a reënforcement of the deepest ethical tendencies of the intellectual revival is disclosed.

Substitution of an inerrant Book for an inerrant Church

Had all the implications of the principle of the right of individual judgment in matters of religion and morals been seen and frankly accepted by the reformers of the sixteenth century, the Protestant revolution would have effected at once the transfer of morality from a supernatural to a natural basis. But for an inerrant Church the reformers substituted an inerrant Book, which every one should accept as an infallible guide and rule of conduct. The ultimate sanctions of morality were still looked for in the historic past, in an outer revelation and an outer authority. Consequently the moral ideal of Protestantism retained the essentially theological, supernatural character of the ideal of Roman Catholicism.


New ranking of virtues in the moral type

But the changes effected by the reformers in the body of the teachings of the old Church resulted necessarily in a certain displacement and shifting of the virtues in the moral type, and in a new estimation of ethical values. Various virtues or duties hitherto regarded as essential to excellence of character were assigned a lower place in the rank of virtues or were excluded altogether from the ideal, while new moral qualities or attributes were added, the outcome being what we must regard as a new moral type. In the following pages we shall comment briefly upon the more important of the changes effected in several domains of the religious-ethical life.

Protestantism brings into disesteem the monastic ideal

We proceed now to notice some of the immediate and special moral effects of the Reformation. In the first place Protestantism discredited the monastic type of goodness. The meritoriousness of celibacy was denied. The austerities of the ascetic were declared to be not only useless but positively wrong. Instead of being an object of profound veneration and homage, the saint of medieval times became to the Protestant reformers an object of the deepest moral detestation.

The immediate consequences of this change in men’s conceptions of what constitutes the highest moral excellence was that throughout one half of Europe the monasteries, which the religious-moral enthusiasm of the earlier centuries of Christianity had created, were dismantled and razed to the ground, and an institution which had dominated Christian Europe for a thousand years was suppressed in all the northern lands.

This revolution, we believe, effected on the whole a great gain for morality and marked a forward movement in the moral evolution of the Western world; but at the same time it must be recognized that the destruction of this system, which throughout a full historical period had fostered some of the most admirable of Christian virtues and nurtured unnumbered saintly lives, resulted in the exclusion of valuable337 ethical elements from the moral life of Protestant communities. There are types of character nourished by the conventual system that society can ill afford to spare. Very few will dissent from Lecky’s view that “in the Sisters of Charity the religious orders of Catholicism have produced one of the most perfect of all types of womanhood.”718

Effects upon industrial morals of the dissolution of the monasteries

In destroying monasticism the Protestant reformers destroyed an anti-industrial type of character, and thus helped to clear the ground for the great industrial development which during the last three centuries has given a new aspect and outlook to civilization. The reformed Church gave prominence to the active masculine virtues as opposed to the passive feminine virtues exalted by the conventual system. Hence it was more favorable than the old Church to the development of civilization on its material side. It hardly admits of doubt that in these opposed tendencies of the ethical ideals of the two churches is to be sought one cause of the amazing contrast, industrially viewed, long observed between the distinctively Protestant and the distinctively Catholic countries of Europe. It is true that the line of demarcation once so observable is now becoming blurred, and that modern industrialism with its ideal of industrial virtues is fast becoming equally characteristic of all lands of advancing culture, whether Protestant, Catholic, or pagan.

Effects upon morals of the abolition of purgatory

The Protestant denial of the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, which followed as a direct logical result of the reformers’ doctrine of justification by faith, had consequences for morality no less positive than those that followed the denial of the Catholic teaching of the meritoriousness of the ascetic life.

It is undoubtedly true that the doctrine of purgatory, conceived as part of a system of future rewards and punishments, has exerted on the whole an influence favorable to morality. But the institution lends itself easily to misuse. In the338 Middle Ages the doctrine of indulgences was applied to souls in purgatory, and the shortening of the period of their suffering there made dependent not alone upon the prayers of their friends on earth, but often practically upon the payment of sums of money, designated as alms to the poor or gifts to the Church. The forgiveness of sins was thus too often made a commercial transaction. Thus the doctrine of purgatory, beyond controversy, contributed essentially to that despiritualizing of religion and that deadening in wide circles of the moral sense which characterized the later medieval period and which, through inevitable reaction, helped to provoke the Protestant revolt.

The effect upon morals of the abolition of purgatory by the reformers was immediate and far-reaching. Many specific duties were at once dropped from the moral code. Prayers for the dead ceased to be a pious duty; they were not even morally permissible. Furthermore, the performance of such good works as the making of pilgrimages and the giving of alms for the benefit of souls in purgatory not only ceased to be regarded as meritorious, but came to be looked upon as positively wrong. Besides these direct ethical consequences of the abolition of purgatory there were indirect ethical results which we shall notice in another connection.719

Effects of the religious reform upon the virtue of toleration720

Ultimately the Reformation, largely through the outworkings of the principle of the right of private judgment in matters of conscience, was destined to foster the growth of the important virtue of toleration. But throughout the first three centuries of Protestantism, owing mainly to the great emphasis laid by the reformers on the doctrine of the supreme ethical value of correctness of religious belief, this principle of the right of private judgment exerted little appreciable influence upon the moral evolution. Holding fast to the doctrine339 of the criminality of wrong belief, the new Church like the old was necessarily intolerant. It regarded heresy with dread, looked upon toleration as a fault, and, whenever circumstances favored, engaged in persistent and unrelenting persecution to maintain uniformity of religious belief. It was not till late in the modern period that religious toleration came generally to be recognized by the Protestant conscience as a virtuous disposition of supreme worth.



The incoming of democracy

Of all the forces which since the rise of Christianity have given fresh impulse to the ethical movement inaugurated by the new religion, none has exerted a greater influence than modern democracy. This is so because in its essential spirit democracy is at one with Christianity. It is merely “a principle which continues ... over a wider range of institutions the same principle as Christianity introduced.”721 It extends the Christian principle of equality from the spiritual to the political, the social, and the economic domain. It makes all men equal before Cæsar as well as before God.

And like Christianity, democracy extends the range of persons who are brothers until not only all classes within the same state but all peoples and races are included. “In the democratic union of nations,” in the words of Lecky, “we find the last and highest expression of the Christian ideal of the brotherhood of mankind.”722

It is this identity of the essential spirit of democracy with the essential spirit of Christianity which makes the incoming of democracy a revolution of such supreme importance in the moral history of the world. To truly democratize society, as to truly christianize it, is to moralize it.


Modern inventions and the new industrialism

“The causes,” observes Lecky, “which most disturbed or accelerated the moral progress of society in antiquity were the appearance of great men; in modern times they have been the appearance of great inventions.”723

In no department of morals, save the international, have modern inventions exerted a greater influence than in the department of industrial ethics. In this sphere these inventions have reacted on morals in two ways: first, they have changed fundamentally for the masses in all civilized lands the economic conditions of life, which conditions, as we have seen, are the great molders of morals; and second, through the changes they have wrought in the processes of production, and through the immense development they have given to the whole industrial system, they have caused principles and institutions once just and beneficent in their outworkings to become instruments of inequity and oppression, and have thus awakened new moral judgments respecting these maxims and conventions. The growth of these new ethical feelings and convictions constitute an important part, perhaps the most important part, of the moral history of recent times. They are the motive force in several of the most significant moral movements of to-day in the industrial world. Preëminently true is this of the present-day labor movement. “Its form,” as Professor Peabody says, “is economic, but its motives are moral. It is an effort—often blind and groping, sometimes pitifully misdirected, yet none the less proceeding from the conscience of the time—to shape economic life into an instrument of social justice and peace.”724 Socialism, too, with all its ethical aspirations and enthusiasms, is in large part a product of the new industrialism.

The doctrine of evolution

Not less disturbing to morals than the political and industrial revolutions has been the revolution in scientific thought342 effected by the doctrine of evolution. This theory has been not only a powerful dissolvent of a large part of the body of medieval theology and hence of that part of morality dependent upon this system of thought, but, through the dominant place which this interpretation of the cosmic process assigns to the self-regarding motives, it has exercised in wide circles of society an unfavorable influence upon morals by seeming to give nature’s sanction to self-assertive, antisocial conduct. There are drifts in both the public and the private morality of the last half century which, as we shall see, find their explanation in the disturbance of ethical values created by the general acceptance of the Darwinian theory of progress through “the survival of the fittest.” But we shall also see this same theory, better interpreted in its profoundest intimations, giving strong support to the best ethical instincts of humanity and supplying new incentives and encouragement to humanitarian endeavor.

General intellectual progress

The moral history of the Western world since the Renaissance affords a striking illustration of the dependence of progress in morals upon progress in general intelligence. It is undoubtedly true that, fostered by a free press, by the public-school system, and by various other agencies, the average of intelligence in the modern democratic state is higher than it was in any of the states—save possibly in some of the small city states of Greece—of ancient or medieval times. This new intellectual life, speaking broadly, has reacted favorably upon the moral life. It has dispelled superstition, destroyed prejudices, widened the outlook of men, and broadened their moral sympathies. In a word, the seeing of life and things as they really are has tended to clarify the moral sense and to render clearer and truer the vision of the ethical ideal.

The decline of dogmatic theology

The body of hereditary ethical convictions and judgments upon which modern influences have been especially at work was, as has been seen, shaped and molded largely by theology.343 Hence nothing has influenced more positively the moral evolution in recent times than the profound modification which, during the period, has taken place in men’s religious beliefs. Under the influence of advancing intelligence, of evolutionary science, of ever closer relations between the different races and nations, and the resulting contact and comparison of different religions, there has gone on a rapid disintegration of old creeds. The effect of this upon many has been the elimination from their moral code of all purely theological elements, the erection of a new standard of moral values, and the adoption of an ideal of character which may best be described as being in the main a composite of Greek and gospel ethics.

Growing intimacy of international relations

The dependence of moral progress in modern times upon inventions, as Lecky observes, is shown perhaps even more strikingly in the domain of international than in that of industrial ethics. As in antiquity it was the world-wide extension of the Roman rule through conquest which broke the primal isolation of the Mediterranean peoples and created that cosmopolitanism in life and thought from which arose the ethical universalism characterizing the cultured circles of Roman society in the later centuries of the Empire, so in this modern age it is the great inventions of the steamship, the steam railway, the electric telegraph, the ocean cable, the telephone, wireless telegraphy, and the rest, which have broken the isolation of the nations, bound them together by a thousand commercial, social, and intellectual ties, and created that cosmopolitanism in life and thought from which have naturally sprung those ethical feelings and convictions which form the growing international conscience of to-day.

Thus it is that inventions, whose aims were primarily to promote civilization on its material side, have become the most efficient agencies in creating a sense of ethical oneness among the nations, and thus in opening a new epoch in the moral evolution of mankind.


The democratic revolution a moral movement

The great history-making upheavals and readjustments in human society are moral in their causes as well as in their effects. They arise from a divergence between what is and what ought to be. The democratic revolution which began in France in 1789 affirms with emphasis the correctness of this ethical interpretation of the great passages of human history. What superficially viewed appears to have been primarily a political or economic revolution was in truth, in its deepest motives and impulses, a moral revolution. “It was moral enthusiasm for the rights of man ... and not the breakdown of an economic system, which created modern democracy.”725 The watchwords of the Revolution—Liberty, Equality, Fraternity—are all words of moral import. They are tremulous with righteous wrath at age-long oppression, contempt, and abuse; and they are instinct with the living forces of a noble moral ideal. They express the essential spirit of the Revolution, which each day, where it has free course, finds fuller embodiment in political, social, and moral reforms, in humanitarian institutions and altruistic effort.

The ethics of democracy rejects class morality

Democracy tends in various ways to purify and ennoble morality, but especially by destroying all invidious class distinctions, and thereby destroying that class morality which through all periods of history has hampered the moral progress of the race. All the civilizations known to history before the incoming of modern democracy had their superior class, including only the few, who alone were regarded as possessing capacity for the highest virtues; and their inferior classes, embracing the many,—sudras, slaves, or serfs,—persons345 regarded as created for the use of others and capable of nothing more than a qualified or servile morality.

Now democracy, recognizing “human capacities in all and not merely in a few,” throws down the partition walls between classes and puts all on the same level of opportunity and privilege. It thus establishes the conditions of a common moral life and of a progressive moral evolution; for if history teaches any truth, it teaches that a civilization dominated by a privileged class that uses the masses selfishly or thoughtlessly for the enhancement of its own interests and pleasures is foredoomed to moral stagnation and decadence—so true is it that society is an organic body and that if one member suffers the whole body suffers with it.

The ethical import of education by the state

Again, democracy has deep significance for morality on account of its relation to education. Despotic bureaucratic monarchy is indifferent or positively opposed to the education of the masses because the safest basis of such a government is sodden ignorance. On the other hand, general intelligence is the very breath of life of a democracy. Hence the education of the masses is the foremost task of the modern free state. The public-school system of the modern world is the outcome of this imperious demand of democracy.

Now this relation of the democratic state to popular education has immense importance for the moral life, first, for the reason that advance in general intelligence means a better maintenance of the moral standard. To increase the number of schools in a community is to lessen the need of prisons and reformatories. More than a century ago Beccaria previsioned this relation of popular education to crime. “The most certain method of preventing crime,” he maintained, “is to perfect the system of education.”726

And second, education in the modern democratic state has special significance for the moral development going on in346 Western civilization, for the reason that it means not merely a better maintenance of the moral standard, but also an essential modification of the moral type itself. For in the establishment of its system of education the state has assumed what formerly was one of the chief functions of the Church. This transference of the business of education from the Church to the state has rightly been pronounced “one of the most important movements in the history of education since the Dark Ages.” What renders it of such importance in the view of the historian of morals is that, in the hands of the state, education has become or is becoming wholly secularized. In some countries even the reading of the Bible in the schools or the giving of any religious instruction whatsoever is prohibited.

Now this secularization of education results inevitably in the secularization of morality. That portion of the moral code which derives its sanction from theological or special religious doctrines is neglected. Thus one outcome of the transfer of the function of education from the Church to the state has been the imparting of a fresh impulse to that naturalistic movement in morals whose point of departure was the classical revival of the fifteenth century. And thus the three dominant movements in modern European civilization—the Renaissance, the Reformation (in its ultimate effects), and the democratic revolution—have all worked together in determining the general trend of the moral evolution in the Western world.

The democratic state assumes the social-ethical functions of the Church

The ethical import of the incoming of democracy is shown again in the assumption by the democratic state of the philanthropic work of society. Throughout the Middle Ages the Church was the almoner of society, the builder of hospitals, asylums, and poorhouses. Since the advent of democracy much of this humanitarian work has, like education, been taken over by the state. This assumption by the state of these former functions of the Church is one of the most noteworthy347 ethical movements in modern history.727 What makes it significant is, first, the fact that the work is undertaken by modern governments largely from purely philanthropic motives. This means that with the coming to political power of the people a new spirit has entered into government, which means, further, that those altruistic sentiments which it has been a chief function of religion to foster have come to inspire society at large.

And second, this assumption by the state of the philanthropic functions of the Church is significant because of what has made its undertaking of these tasks necessary. This necessity has arisen not merely by reason of the possession by the state of the taxing power and hence of the means needed for carrying on this humanitarian work, but also because of its relation to modern science. Much of this work of rescue and cure is dependent for its successful administration upon scientific knowledge and skill. It is largely because the state is in closer alliance than the Church with modern science, and therefore is the more efficient agent for carrying on this humanitarian work, that society makes it, instead of the Church, its chief almoner and trustee.

The alliance of modern industry and science

A distinctive characteristic of modern industry is its alliance with science. This union dates from the French Revolution. One aim of the revolutionists was to put exact knowledge at the service of the industrial arts, and, by thus increasing the productive forces of society, to create an abundance for all, banish poverty from the earth, and advance civilization to a higher point than ever before reached.

And this alliance of industry and science has, in so far as mere production is concerned, more than met every expectation. Through the application of inventions and scientific348 knowledge to the various industrial processes, society’s powers of production have been increased threefold, tenfold, fifty-fold, in some arts even a thousandfold. Surely now all will be fed and clothed and sheltered.

But this vision of a millennium of well-being for all as the result of the union of science and industry has not come true. The great mass of the world’s toilers are underfed, ill-clad, and improperly housed. From the slums, from the dark and noisome tenements of our great cities, arises the bitter cry of children, ragged, wan, and hungry, robbed through the parents’ poverty of every delight and right of childhood. “The poverty of the workers,” cries Henry Demarest Lloyd in passionate protest, “is the sin of our age.”728

The divorce of modern industry and ethics: economic Machiavellism

The causes of this pitiful failure of the new industrialism, notwithstanding its capacity for enormous production, to provide for the wants of all is not far to seek. Our age, while uniting science and business, has divorced ethics and business, just as in the time of the Renaissance in Italy there was effected a divorce of ethics and politics. Political economists have taught that ethics has nothing to do with economics. And this economic Machiavellism of the schools has not been merely an academic thing; it has probably exerted as sinister an influence upon the modern industrial order as the political doctrines of Machiavelli exerted upon the diplomacy and governmental policies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Dominated by this philosophy our business life has become frankly unmoral—large sections of it grossly immoral.

The breakdown of the system

But economics and ethics can no more be divorced than politics and ethics. Machiavellism has succeeded no better in economics than in politics. “The system based on [this349 philosophy] is breaking down all over, in strikes, riots, panics, gluts, unemployed idleness, and class murder. It is breaking down not because the task of getting plenty for the body—and the soul—for every one out of the fruitful earth and the fellowship of man is an impossible task, but because the task is an impossible one of accomplishment—that or anything else in human affairs—by the devil’s code of selfishness instead of love, of solitary advantage instead of the good of all. By such a philosophy there could be no government, no family; and if it continues, there will ere long be no business. But it cannot continue.”729

Reforms whose aims are the moralization of the industrial order: (a) socialization of the unearned increment in land values

It cannot continue because there is a fast-growing conviction of the falsity of the philosophy of economic Machiavellism—an ever-growing recognition of the truth that the relationships of men in business, like all other human relationships, are conditioned by the moral law of human brotherhood. There are profound changes taking place in the moral feelings and judgments of men respecting many of the customs, principles, and institutions of the modern industrial order. There is a growing recognition of the fact that though these conventions and arrangements may in past periods of history have been promotive of human welfare and therefore moral, they are, as applied to the more complex social and economic relations of modern society, the very embodiment of unreason and injustice.

Among the economic institutions respecting which there is taking place such a change in moral judgment is that of absolute private property in land. Although this is an institution unknown to primitive peoples, in all the great civilizations of the past we find society based upon it. That the system, since it inevitably results in private monopoly, has contributed largely to the creation of that gross inequality in wealth which has characterized every advanced civilization350 known to history, and which has helped to prepare its downfall, does not admit of reasonable doubt. The monopolization of land by a class has been one source, and probably a main source, of the phenomenon in modern society of deepening poverty in the midst of growing wealth, of dehumanizing want for the many along with demoralizing luxury for the few. That in countries of large and thickening population a private monopoly in the arable land is the embodiment of a colossal and cruel wrong is incontrovertible. That a single class should be allowed to become the absolute owners of the soil and thereby acquire the legal right to exclude all others from it save on the condition that practically all that can be got from it by the hardest toil, save just enough for the bare subsistence of the laborer, shall be given over as rent to the holder of the land, is as great a moral wrong as to take directly from the worker the product of his toil by reducing him to bodily slavery. It is this gross inequity which has made the history of many countries, like much of the history of Ireland, a harrowing tragedy. The wrong, if not greater, is at least more obvious when the land thus monopolized is the site of a great city where the enormous ground values have been created not by any labor or expenditure on the part of the owners, but by the growth and enterprise of the community as a whole.

Just as the world has got a new conscience in regard to the wrong of slavery, so is it getting a new conscience in regard to this “great iniquity,” as Tolstoy calls it, of private monopoly in land. This growing ethical conviction will ultimately destroy the illusion that the earth and its resources may, without moral wrong, be monopolized by a fortunate or favored few and the great masses be dispossessed.730 The new351 conscience will decree that all of nature’s gifts in land and all increments in its value created by society shall belong to society and shall be the common heritage of the successive generations of men.

(b) Limitation of inheritance

Another of the conventions of our industrial system in which the moral sense of mankind is beginning to recognize an element of inequity is the right of unlimited inheritance. So long as land remains the common property of the community, or so long as there exists substantial equality in wealth among the members or families of a social group, the injustice of this is not apparent. But after great extremes of poverty and wealth have appeared, as in present-day civilization, then the essential injustice of the institution is disclosed; for there is thus created an idle class living on the labor of others. When a single child through the accident of birth becomes the heir of millions, while hundreds of other children come into the world absolutely portionless and at the same time shut out from the use of any bit of the earth even as standing room, then the system becomes a crass denial of human solidarity and brotherhood. And there is in this law of unlimited bequest a double wrong. The child of over-great wealth is wronged as well as the child of poverty. One is born to a life of luxurious leisure, and the other to a life of unremitting toil. Now, as Professor Dewey observes, there is moral value in work and there is moral value in leisure, but “it is beginning to be seen that their values cannot be divided so352 that one social class shall perform the labor and the other enjoy the freedom.”731

Therefore the ethical demand for the modification of our laws of inheritance in such a way that they shall recognize the social as well as the individual element in wealth must be heeded as much out of regard for the children of the overrich as out of regard for the children of the very poor.

(c) Socialism: the democratization of industry

Still another institution of modern industrialism which has come or is coming under the reprobation of the present-day conscience of a rapidly growing number is private capitalism, that is, private ownership of the instruments of production, together with competition and the wage system, the necessary concomitants of this capitalistic régime. These new ethical feelings and convictions form the real motive force in the propaganda of modern socialism. The presupposition of socialism is that not merely ground rents but all returns (interest, dividends, profits) on every form of private capital embody an unearned increment, and that this element should determine the ownership and control of capital. Hence socialists demand that all the material instruments of production now owned by individuals or by a class shall be held in common; that there shall be common, democratic management of production; that competition, as inherently unethical,732 shall be replaced by coöperation; and that the wage system shall be replaced by a system of distribution by public authority which shall give the manual workers of the world a more equitable share of the products of industry.

Socialism embodies one of the largest funds of ethical feeling that have become active in Western civilization since the incoming of Christianity. In truth, in its real essence and purified form it is the spirit of primitive Christianity at353 work in the industrial domain. It is a recognition of human fraternity. It is an effort to unite economics and ethics, to make business life a realization of the moral ideal. The aim of true socialists is to make the benefits of science, invention, and civilization a common heritage. They recognize that society can continuously progress only as these benefits become the possession not merely of a few but of all. In the disregard of this immutable law of human progress they discern the main cause of the retrogression, decay, and failure of every great civilization of the past; in its solicitous fulfillment they find the only ground of hope for the constant improvement of human society as a whole and the uninterrupted moral progress of the world.

Science and the virtue of intellectual sincerity

We have already referred to the influence of modern science upon morals. This influence has been felt in the fostering of specific virtues and in the creation of a certain attitude of mind toward life and its ethical problems.

Among the particular virtues which science has fostered is philosophical veracity or love of truth. This virtue of intellectual sincerity is to the scientist what the virtue of faith or belief is to the churchman. Without it there is no salvation in the world of science. The man of science must be a truth-lover, a truth-seeker, and a truth-teller. He must take every pains to find out what is the exact fact, and then make a scrupulously veracious report of what he has found. He must be loyal to the truth at all hazards.

This reverent regard for the truth, this intellectual sincerity, which is the cardinal virtue of the man of science, is fostered in him partly by the recognition of the supreme importance of exactness when it comes to the application of scientific knowledge to the arts of life. The least departure here from the truth of the matter means dire disaster and354 loss. Then also the veraciousness of nature reacts upon the student of her laws. Nature is not only infinitely exact in all her movements, but punctual in the fulfillment of all her engagements. She keeps her word with us, as Emerson says. She is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. The careless, unveracious man can enter into no partnership with her.

Open-mindedness and impartiality are elements of this virtue of intellectual veracity. The wide divergence between philosophical and theological morality is here impressed upon the student of moral ideals and standards. In the ethics of theology doubt, even sincere doubt, is reckoned as an unfortunate infirmity, or often as positive and fatal sin. Science, on the other hand, reckons it a cardinal duty. Hardening oneself in belief when there are circumstances calculated to awaken doubt, even the slightest conceivable doubt, is justly regarded by the man of science as treachery to truth and an unpardonable sin.

It is in the creation of this scientific conscience, which pronounces the habit of accuracy, open-mindedness, impartiality of judgment, love of truth for truth’s sake a supreme virtue, that science has rendered one of its greatest services to morality.

Egotistic tendencies of the doctrine of evolution: the philosophy of Nietzsche

The scientific doctrine of evolution, which teaches that life has advanced from lower to higher forms through struggle and competition, resulting in the survival of the fittest, has exercised a profound influence upon all the sciences relating to man, but upon none has it left a deeper impress than upon the science of ethics.733 Nor have its effects here355 been confined to ethical speculation; it has largely shaped and molded actual conduct.

In some respects this influence has been harmful to both ethical theory and practice. In the domain of philosophy it may best be traced in the teachings of Nietzsche. Nietzsche insists that man must follow the lead of nature; that the struggle for existence must be kept up on the human plane just as it goes on in the lower realms of life; that the strong should use for their own advancement the weak; that the nurture and care of the defective and weak is a crime against humanity734—for “the hope of the future lies in perfecting the strong, not in strengthening the weak”; that only through the struggle for existence has nature produced her highest type, man, and that it is only through obedience to this great cosmic law, in accordance with which the higher prey upon the lower, that “the superman,” the highest possible type of mankind, can be brought into existence.

This teaching tends to steel the heart against human sympathy and to blunt all the finer sensibilities. It seems to justify and excuse all kinds of antisocial action. And, indeed, the doctrine has been used as a justification and excuse not only of individual self-assertion and egotism but of national and race self-assertion and egotism as well. Modern imperialism has sought to justify aggression upon weaker and so-called “inferior races” by an appeal to this law of evolution356 as it works on the lower levels of life. Thus the doctrine has in a certain measure fostered national egotism, and has stood right in the way of the development of a true international morality.

Altruism versus egotism in the cosmic process

But these drifts toward egotism in modern philosophy and life induced by evolutionary science are more than compensated by opposing movements of ethical thought created by a truer interpretation of the facts of evolution and a deeper insight into the cosmic process.735

The philosophy of Nietzsche is a strange misreading of nature. To say that self-sacrifice is “in open defiance of nature,” is to overlook the dominant fact in evolution, namely, maternity; for maternity, motherhood, is only another name for self-sacrifice. And it is further to overlook the fact that the principle of coöperation is even more dominant and controlling in the cosmic process than the principle of competition. Social animals, those in which the altruistic instincts are most strongly developed, greatly outnumber the unsocial, solitary animals.736 The Carnivora, those animals that live by preying upon others, are becoming extinct. On the plane of human life this principle of coöperation, of mutual helpfulness, has supplanted, or is gradually supplanting, the lower principle of competition. In the struggle for existence between tribes and peoples those groups have gained supremacy that have developed the strongest social instincts; that is, those within which the principle of coöperation and the virtue of the self-devotion of the individual to the welfare of the whole have been dominant forces in the life of the community. From these facts we are justified in assuming that it is the altruistic and not the egoistic instincts and357 motives that nature aims to make the permanent and controlling factors in the cosmic evolution.

Again, that nature is ethical in her aim is disclosed by the fact that she has brought forth such a being as man. Her preferences are shown in the preferences of the being she has produced.737 Man prefers good to evil; he loves justice and hates injustice; he reveres the truth and detests falsehood; he recognizes that self-sacrifice is nobler than selfishness; he divines the final triumph of his ethical ideals. In man—at his best—nature reveals her preferences. Man is the answer to the question, “Is Nature good?”738

Viewed thus from a higher standpoint the cosmic process of evolution has reënforced faith in a moral order of the universe and has been an inspiration and an incentive to humanitarian effort.739

Evolution and animal ethics740

In Brahmanic India and in all Buddhist lands religious beliefs have, as we have seen, placed the whole animal creation under the protection of the moral feelings. In ancient358 Persia it was religious ideas which caused one half of the lower animal world to be regarded as sacred and thus to be brought within the protective pale of morals.

Dogmatic Christianity, falling far short of the ethics of Judaism in this domain, created a vast rift in the organic world between man and the lower animals. The dumb creatures were declared to be made solely for man’s use and enjoyment. Psychical relationship between them and man was denied, though the ancient world had very generally assumed this. Indeed, this attitude of the Christian dogmatists toward the animal creation was made a matter of reproach by their pagan critics.

These teachings were not without their influence on practice. Humanity to animals became a less prominent virtue than it had been in pre-Christian times. The closeness to nature of the lives of the medieval hermits and monks often caused, it is true, a feeling of tenderness to be awakened in them for their “brothers,” the birds and animals, which found expression in many beautiful legends. But in general the attitude of the Christian world toward the lower animals has been unsympathetic.

The doctrine of evolution, however, teaching the kinship of all life, has bridged the gulf between man and the lower animal world, and has brought all dumb creatures more positively than ever before in the Western world under the protection of the moral sentiment. Societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals have sprung up and increased in number as in no other epoch of the Christian era. The new moral feeling condemns all inhumanity to dumb creatures, and looks with disapproval upon such sports as cockfighting, bear baiting, and bullfights, which were favorite amusements only a few generations ago.741 Hunting for pastime is also coming359 under the condemnation of this growing moral sentiment. Thus “through the portals of spiritual kinship,” in the words of Professor Evans, ... “our elder brothers enter into the temple of justice, and enjoy the privilege of sanctuary against the wanton or unwitting cruelty hitherto authorized by the assumptions and usurpations of man.”742

Import for morals of psychical research

It is undeniable that the earlier tendency of modern science was agnostic and materialistic. It caused in many minds an attenuation or an absolute destruction of the belief in a supersensuous world and a life after death. The practical effect of this fading from the eyes of men of the vision of another world was, upon certain temperaments, a loss of faith in the ethical character of the cosmic process and a consequent lessening of moral enthusiasm.

This attitude of mind, which is still that of a large class, can be changed only by the reaffirmation by science of the assumptions and teachings of all the great world religions respecting the existence of a supersensuous world and a future life. It is therefore a matter of immeasurable import to morality that these assumptions of religion are coming to be regarded by an ever-growing number of scientists as well founded in reality. Psychical research has given a new trend to large sections of scientific speculation.743 It is no longer360 crassly materialistic. It even assumes the existence of a supersensuous world. Thus at the conclusion of a careful survey of the evidence of man’s survival gathered by the English Society for Psychical Research, the distinguished physicist Sir Oliver Lodge writes: “The boundary between the two states—the known and the unknown—is still substantial, but it is wearing thin in places; and like excavators engaged in boring a tunnel from opposite ends, amid the roar of water and other noises, we are beginning to hear now and again the strokes of the pickaxes of our comrades on the other side.”744

Incontrovertible proof of man’s survival after bodily death would mark the opening of a new era in the moral life of humanity; for, in the minds of many, “ethics can be rendered ethical only on the assumption that there is a reality deeper than the phenomenal world of sense, truer than the world we know and better.”745 It was doubtless a conviction that the future of both religion and morality is in large measure dependent upon a firm belief in a future life which led William Ewart Gladstone to say of psychical research that it is “the most important work which is being done in the world—by far the most important.” Indisputably, the reaction of another world lying clear and distinct in the light of science beyond the frontiers of earth would give new meaning to life and a fresh impulse to the moral progress of the race. The effect upon the moral life of the modern world would be not less profound than that produced upon the moral life of the ancient world by the incoming of Christianity with its glad affirmation of a life beyond the tomb.

The progressive moralization of the idea of God

In an admirable chapter entitled “Ethics and Theology” the author of Moral Evolution, after noting how religious361 ideas and beliefs exert an influence on moral ideas and conduct, remarks: “Now we are to observe that moral ideals have, in their turn, modified and clarified doctrine, or, in other words, that there has been an ethical development of theology, and that contempt of creed is really the substitution of a moral for an immoral or a nonmoral theology.”746 The same truth is expressed by Newman Smyth in these words: “Reformations have grown out of the ethical protest of the Christian mind against inherited dogmas. Old theology is always becoming new in the vitalizing influence of ethics.”747

As a result of the growth and refinement of the moral feelings, there has been going on in wide circles in Western Christendom just such a change in men’s conception of the character of God as marked the best Hebrew thought during the later centuries of the history of the people of Israel. The idea of God inherited by the modern from the medieval age was an incongruous blending of ideas derived from three different sources. There was, first, the crude archaic notion of deity derived from the Old Testament records of what conduct in his chosen people Yahweh approved; second, the dogmas of Augustinian theology respecting imputed sin, election, everlasting punishment, and other supposed principles of the divine government; and third, conceptions wholly inconsistent with these drawn from the New Testament narratives of the life and teachings of the Prophet of Nazareth.

Gradually, through the growth of the moral feelings, this conception of the divine character has been purged of its grosser, archaic, and immoral elements. The early Hebrew ideas have been rejected as the immature and unworthy362 notions of deity of a race still on a low plane of religious development; the Calvinistic idea of God has become “the supreme incredibility”; while the Gospel teaching of deity has been received by the instructed reason and conscience as the only credible ideal of the divine.748

Since, as we have repeatedly had brought to our attention, religious ideas exert a profound influence on moral ideas and on conduct, this moralization of the conception of the divine character has deep significance for the progressive purification and refinement of the moral life of man.

The moralization of the conception of future punishment

Closely connected with these changes in men’s idea of God, indeed forming a part of that conception, are the changes which have taken place in their ideas of the divine government in the hereafter.

At different stages of our study we have noted how the classifications and arrangements of the invisible world are the work of the moral faculty, and how the developing moral feelings of the historic peoples have, with the lapse of time, ever modified anew the topography and moralized afresh the government of the world of spirits.749

Now one of the most important modifications ever effected in man’s conceptions of the other world was brought about by the Protestant Reformation. The reformers abolished purgatory, and thus left only two separate realms, heaven and hell, in the world of souls. But in abolishing purgatory and thereby making all suffering in the hereafter punitive and eternal, and in failing to recognize gradations of guilt in human sin by consigning all evildoers, unbelievers, and misbelievers to the363 same awful and everlasting torments, the reformers made still more unethical the government which the popular medieval imagination had created for the unseen world.

The gradual clarification and growing sensitiveness of the moral feelings could not long leave unchallenged such a grossly immoral notion of the divine government. During the last two generations a notable change has passed over men’s conceptions of the netherworld of spirits. The hell of the reformers’ imagination has become, like much else in the Augustinian theology, “the supreme incredibility.” The blurring of that awful vision is one of the most significant changes which, during the Christian era, have passed over that world which is at once the creation and the creator of human morality.

Exchange in rank of the theological and the natural Gospel virtues

The advance in religious ethics during the last few decades is registered again in the exchange in rank of the theological and the natural gospel virtues in the moral ideal of Protestant Christendom. During this period there has taken place here a genuine “transvaluation of moral values.” Many representative religious teachers have come to assign a dominant place in the ethical standard to the natural social virtues, and have relegated to a lower place the purely theological virtues, such as right religious belief and ritual observances. In the case of many the rejection of that part of the moral code resting upon theological dogmas is as complete as was the rejection by Christianity of the morality based on the ceremonial laws of the Jews. With these the saving virtue is no longer acceptance of a prescribed creed, but loving, self-denying service of humanity.750

This transvaluation of moral values within the Church itself is one of the most important movements going on in the moral life of the modern world.


Extension to theological ethics of the principle of individual responsibility

Further illustration of progress in Church ethics in recent times is found in the extension of the principle of individual responsibility to the domain of religion.751 It will be recalled how completely the law of collective responsibility dominates the morality of primitive peoples.752 With the growth and clearing of the moral sense the injustice of this is perceived, and the principle of individual responsibility comes to be established.

This moral movement is consummated earlier in the civil than in the religious domain; that is, the civil-law codes are first modified in accordance with the demands of the truer ethical feeling, and not until later does the religious code, more conservative, undergo a like change. Thus gradually during the medieval time the civil law of the more advanced nations of Western Christendom abrogated the principle of collective responsibility, while the ecclesiastical code retained it far into the nineteenth century. During the last fifty years, however, the best conscience of the Church has rejected the principle as the embodiment of a gross inequity. The doctrine that all the generations of men sinned in the first parent and justly suffer for his transgression has been repudiated by the modern instructed conscience as incredible, untrue, and immoral.

This repudiation of the principle of collective responsibility by the ethics of religion harmonizes in this respect Church morality with the morality of the civil codes of the civilized world, and marks the consummation of an ethical evolution which, commencing in the dawn of civilization, covers all the millenniums of human history.

(a) As manifested in the history of the African slave trade

By the phrase “social conscience,” as we shall use it here, we mean those ethical feelings and judgments which cover the relations of master and slave and the relations of society to its unfortunate and erring members.


In the entire history of the moral evolution of humanity there is no chapter which reveals so plainly the upward trend of the ethical movement in civilization as that which tells the story of the beginnings and the final suppression of the African slave trade, and of the rise and fall of the institution of negro slavery among Christian peoples.753 Restricting our survey for the moment to the slave trade as distinct from slavery, the amazing fact which meets us here at the outset is that until late in the modern period the peoples of Western Christendom had practically no conscience whatsoever in regard to the African slave trade, and this notwithstanding that the conscience of the age was in many other matters true and sensitive. The whole subject lay practically outside the realm of morals. The slave trade was looked upon as a perfectly legitimate business.754 Practically no one thought it wrong to go to Africa, kidnap or purchase a shipload of the natives, bring them in stifling holds—where sometimes half the unhappy victims died on the passage—to the West Indies or to the Spanish and English mainland of the Americas and sell them as slaves.755 What little opposition to the traffic existed, arose in general from other than feelings of moral disapproval.756


The movement for the abolition of the trade constitutes an important phase of the social and moral life, particularly of England and of the English colonies in America, during the latter part of the eighteenth century and the earlier part of the nineteenth. In England the wave of humanitarian feeling which swept away the obstacles set in the way of the abolition of the traffic by selfish interests was raised by the great religious revival led by Whitefield and the Wesleys. The leaders of the reform were Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce. After twenty years of agitation a bill was passed abolishing the trade (1807). This marked as great a moral victory as ever was won in the English Parliament, for it was the aroused moral sentiment of the nation which was the main force that carried the reform measure through the Houses.

In America there had arisen among the Quakers of Pennsylvania, even before the Revolution, a protest against the trade on purely moral grounds. By the time the Federal Convention met in 1787 sufficient sentiment had been developed in the matter to secure the adoption of a provision in the Constitution to the effect that the importation of slaves should cease in 1808. From that year on, the slave trade, as distinct from slavery, was under the ban both of the law and of the public conscience; but it continued to be carried on clandestinely until the Civil War.

(b) As manifested in the antislavery movement

Even before the consummation of the movement for the suppression of the negro slave trade there had sprung up an agitation for the suppression of the negro-slave system itself. England abolished slavery in her colonies in 1833, paying £20,000,000 for the emancipation of 800,000 slaves in her West India possessions. In the United States there was very little antislavery feeling prior to 1830.757 At that time367 the great majority of the peoples of the Northern as well as of the Southern states, if they did not look upon negro slavery as wholly proper and right, at least regarded as reprehensible any interference with the institution where established. Even the Church in general denounced the abolitionists as infidels and pronounced their conduct fanatical and wicked.758 But notwithstanding this opposition the abolition movement and the movement for the restriction of slavery to the states where already established gained impetus steadily, and the heated debate led up quickly to the Civil War.

The most significant thing in that passage of our history is not the revolt of the South, but the revolt of the conscience of the North. Had there been no moral revolt in the North, there would have been no slaveholders’ revolt in the South.

The development of moral feeling respecting the wrongfulness of slavery did not cease with the emancipation of the slaves as a result of the Civil War. Indeed, with the reform an accomplished fact, the clarification of the moral sense of the people has gone on uninterruptedly until a gulf has come to separate the present-day conscience of the great majority of the instructed and thinking classes in both sections of the Union from the conscience of the same classes one or two generations ago.


(c) As manifested in society’s treatment of its unfortunate and delinquent members

The record of society’s treatment of its dependent and erring members forms another inspiring chapter in the history of the growth of the new social conscience. In a little over one hundred years the Christian world has advanced from harsh vagrant laws to associated charities; from the burning of witches to asylums for the insane; from noisome dungeons to penitentiaries and institutions of rescue and correction.759 The numerous and costly private and public institutions established and maintained by the new humanitarian sentiment is one of the most distinctive characteristics, ethically viewed, of modern civilization. So multiform are the expressions of this new spirit that it is impossible in so brief a survey as the present to exhibit in more than barest outline this phase of the ethical evolution.

The recent history of charity, taken in the sense of relief given to the poor, is a record of change both in motive and method. There has always been a great deal of almsgiving in the world, since this has been a duty especially enjoined by religion. But because charity has had this religious motive, it has often been sullied by self-love, alms being given not so much for the sake of the poor as for the benefit of the soul of the donor. In recent times this religious motive has become less operative, but the amount of almsgiving has undoubtedly increased, and we are justified in the conclusion that it is motived as never before by genuine altruistic feeling. It is probably true, however, that there is less indiscriminate, emotional almsgiving now than formerly. But there is greater “social compunction,” a deeper sense of society’s responsibility for the existence of poverty, and an earnest inquiry respecting the primary social causes of it. Hence effort is directed not merely to the immediate relief of want and misery through organized charity, but to the cure of poverty through the removal of the causes of destitution. At this369 point the investigations and labors of the philanthropist merge with those of the sociologist, the economist, and the statesman.

In society’s treatment of the defective and the insane, as compared with its treatment of these same classes scarcely more than a century ago, is registered an ethical progress truly remarkable. A hundred years or less ago in England and in all the European countries the idiot and the oddly formed human prodigy were exhibited to afford amusement to the people. The growth in humanitarian feeling has rendered all this a thing of the past. “The passing of the freak is not a casual incident in the history of the circus, but a striking illustration of the tendency which has been in progress for centuries toward the humanizing of our amusements.... To spend a merry afternoon at the madhouse watching the antics of the maniacs in their chains seemed natural and reasonable to civilized Englishmen not so many generations ago. It has become absolutely unthinkable.”760 The history of the stage offers like testimony. “Not so very long ago,” writes David Belasco, in giving advice to the amateur playwright, “the entrance of a cripple or a hunchback was sufficient to get a laugh from the audience. In these humanitarian times there is no fun to be made out of physical deformity.”761

But it is in society’s treatment of the criminal class that there is to be traced the greatest progress in humanitarianism. In the pre-Norman period in England the punishments for crime were characterized by a barbarity incredibly callous. “Men branded on the forehead, without hands, without feet, without tongues, lived as an example of the danger which attended the commission of petty crimes, and as a warning to all who had the misfortune of holding no higher position than that of a churl.... The eyes were plucked out; the nose,370 the ears, and the upper lips were cut off; the scalp was torn away; and sometimes even, there is reason to believe, the whole body was flayed alive.”762

What was true of English law was true of the laws of every other European country. And there was little or no essential amelioration of these savage law systems before the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Seventy thousand executions took place in England during the reign of Henry VIII.763 “In the reign of William III there does not appear to have been any consciousness that the penal laws were, in many respects, disgraceful to any community but a tribe of savages.”764

If a definite point of departure of the movement for the humanizing of the criminal laws of Europe and the putting of the treatment of criminals on an ethical basis be sought, it will be found in the life and writings of the Italian jurist Beccaria,765 who maintained that the effect of cruel punishments is to increase crime by indurating the sensibilities of the people.766

A great impulse to the humanitarian movement initiated by Beccaria was given by the devoted labors of the great philanthropist John Howard (1726–1790), who, with his eyes opened to the awful conditions of prison life through official connection with Bedford jail, where Bunyan dreamed, spent his life in visiting all lands inspecting prisons and jails and dungeons and lazar houses, and “taking the gauge and dimension of misery, depression, and contempt.”


The crusade of John Howard marks the real beginning of practical prison reform, which has “transformed prisons from hells into hospitals for recovery,” and revolutionized the entire theory and administration of judicial punishment.767 The aim and purpose of the modern penitentiary system is to develop self-respect and manhood.768 To this end the lock-step and striped clothing have been abolished in many prisons, and along with them all cruel and humiliating punishments. The establishment of reform schools, reformatories, and penitentiaries, the introduction of the indeterminate sentence, the proposed creation of courts of rehabilitation, and the founding of the juvenile court,769 mark the ethical advance which the last century has witnessed in this domain.770

The development of international morality foreshadowed by the earlier development of intranational morality

One of the most significant of phylogenetic laws is formulated by Haeckel in these words: “The short, quick history of an individual organism is a compressed story of the long, slow history of the species to which the organism372 belongs.” Now this law holds good for the history of the human species as well as for that of the lower tribes of life. And here it embraces not only the history of the bodily but also that of the psychical development. Consequently the law under which the moral evolution of man is going on may be stated in this way: The history of the development of conscience within a social group (clan, tribe, nation) is a compressed story of the long, slow history of the development of conscience in humanity at large, that is to say, between the groups composing the human race. And since law codes, private and public, are essentially embodiments of the growing and clarifying conscience, this mode of the ethical evolution may be expressed in strictly juristic terms as follows: “The development of international law follows step by step the earlier development of municipal law.”771

With this law in mind we may define moral progress in the international domain as the gradual assimilation of international to intranational ethics, or, in other words, the growing conformity of the standard of public morality to that of private morality.

The gradual moralizing of the relations of the advanced to the backward races: The White Man’s Burden

As thus defined, a special expression of progress in international morality is found in the growing recognition by governments that the obligations of the strong toward the weak are the same for nations as for individuals. A public conscience that is like the best private conscience is constantly becoming more and more a regulative force in the relations of the superior to the inferior races.772 Unhappily that exploitation of the weaker by the stronger races, which makes up so373 large a part of the history of the past ages, still goes on; but it is, in general, less grossly unethical than ever before, while with each succeeding generation the protest of the common conscience of the civilized world against all unfair and oppressive treatment of the backward by the more advanced races grows more earnest and insistent.

Good illustrations of this quickening of the public conscience are found in England’s dealings with India and China. In the year 1813 a resolution declaring that England’s first duty in legislating for India was to promote the interests of the people of India was proposed in Parliament, but was defeated. Twenty years later (in 1833) this principle was definitely embodied in a Government of India Act.773 In 1841–1842 England, at the end of what has been justly characterized as “one of the most dishonorable and detestable wars that ever stained her annals,” compelled China to keep her ports open to the iniquitous opium traffic. Two generations later (in 1906) the House of Commons by resolution unanimously declared the Indian opium trade with China to be “morally indefensible,” and requested the Government to bring it to a speedy end.774 Five years later England entered into an agreement with China, according to the terms of which the importation of Indian opium into China will cease on or before 1917. This is a notable triumph of the new international conscience.

Our dealings with the island of Cuba since its liberation—opinions may differ in regard to the rightness of our original act of intervention—affords another encouraging illustration of the progress the world has made in international morality. And the same is true of our dealings with the Filipinos, notwithstanding the utterly painful character of the earlier chapters of the story. There has been no responsible official374 utterance on this subject that has represented our task in our acquired dependency as other than a public trust, as a guardianship to be exercised solely in the interest of the Filipinos as the nation’s wards. The better moral feeling of the nation, intensified in many by deep compunction, has indignantly repudiated all those unofficial utterances which have cynically represented the islands as an inviting field for selfish exploitation by American capitalists, and has demanded that our government in the islands should be inspired and controlled by the spirit of unselfish service. And this ethical spirit has in general marked our administration of the affairs of the islanders. “I believe that I am speaking with historic accuracy and impartiality,” declares ex-President Roosevelt, “when I say that the American treatment of and attitude toward the Filipino people, in its combination of disinterested ethical purpose and sound common sense, marks a new and long stride forward in advance of all steps that have hitherto been taken along the path of wise and proper treatment of weaker by stronger races.” This ethical purpose is especially manifested in the sending out, in the early period of our rule, of five hundred young American teachers to carry to this deeply wronged people the best we have to give—a national act without a parallel in all the history of the past.

It inspires hope in the future to note how far this last step forward carries us away from the starting point on this line of ethical advance. At first the fate of the weaker race was extermination or slavery; then its fate was to be reduced to the condition of a tributary; still later, to be subjected to commercial and industrial exploitation by the conquering people; and lastly, to be made, in theory if not yet in actual practice, the beneficiaries of a benevolent self-sacrificing service, which finds lofty expression in Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden:

Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need.


This sentiment would scarcely have found any such response in the common heart and conscience of any past age of human history as it finds in the heart and conscience of our own. But, it must be admitted, the sentiment embodies an ideal yet to be realized, rather than something already attained.

Progress in war ethics: Hugo Grotius

But it is in the changes effected in men’s feelings respecting what is morally permissible in warfare that is to be observed the most encouraging progress in international ethics in modern times. This progressive clarification of the moral consciousness may be distinctly traced from the close of the Thirty Years’ War in Germany. In no period of Christian history had war been waged with greater ferocity or with greater contempt of moral rules than during the so-called religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. What little gains had been made in the humanization of war during preceding eras seem to have been lost.

This barbarizing of war, however, produced, as all retrogressions in morality do if the moral life is still on the whole virile and sound, a reaction which found expression in the epoch-making work, De Jure Belli et Pacis, by the distinguished Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius775—a work that has been pronounced “the most beneficent of all volumes ever written not claiming divine inspiration.”776 The aim of Grotius was not to abolish war,—he did not think universal peace an attainable ideal,—but simply to moderate its excesses and lessen its atrocities, to set limits to the rights of the victor. The age of nationalism had come, and an ethics for nations in their mutual relations must be formulated. Grotius sought a law that all would recognize as binding. The law to which376 he appealed was the Stoic Law of Nature.777 As the Stoics had made this law the instrument for the reform of the Roman civil law, so now would Grotius make it the instrument for the reform of the laws of war.778

The influence of the work of Grotius was profound and widespread. From the time of its appearance dates a new departure in the humanization of war, and a fresh moral advance in international law.779 “His ideas,” says Dr. Andrew D. White, “found their way into current discussion, into systems of law, into treaties; and as generations rolled by, the world began to find itself, it hardly knew how, less and less cruel, until men looked back on war as practiced in his time as upon a hideous dream—doubtless much as men in future generations will look back upon the wars of our times.”780

The humane provisions of the Geneva Convention of 1864 and the establishment of the Red Cross Society, which on the field of battle cares without discrimination for the stricken, are inspiring illustrations of the growth of this new humanitarianism.

Movement for the abolition of war​— ​a moral issue

Now this growing sensitiveness of the public conscience which has effected so many mitigations of the barbarities of war has resulted in a widespread and insistent demand that war between civilized nations shall not merely be humanized but that it shall be abolished, that disputes between nations shall be settled as disputes between individuals are settled—by courts of justice.

Without doubt many influences, political, social, and economic,781 have concurred in creating this great world-wide movement, and in calling into existence the Hague Conferences377 and the international and national peace congresses of the last decade or two; but among all these forces and motives the one of greatest potency is the awakened and instructed conscience of the world in regard to the criminality of war as an established and legalized method of settling controversies between civilized nations. It is this new conscience and not the new dreadnought to which we must look to abolish war and to keep it abolished. For, like the question of slavery two generations ago, this question of war has become a moral issue, and, like the slavery question, it will give the world no rest until settled in accordance with the demands of the new conscience.

War an abrogation of the ordinary moral code

Especially intolerable to the more sensitive conscience of to-day is the assumption that nations may at will suspend or abrogate the ordinary moral code. For, as Lord Morley truly says, “To declare war is to suspend not merely habeas corpus but the Ten Commandments, and some other good commandments besides.”782 That is to say, war is a suspension of a great part of those rules of morality which, slowly and painfully formulated by the growing moral consciousness of man, have become the guide and standard of ordinary conduct. In war the conscience of the commander is inhibited. “The commander who lost a battle through the activity of his moral nature,” once cynically declared United States Senator Ingalls, “would be the derision and jest of history.” And that is so. The world has not yet ceased to deride those Jews who lost their city to the Romans because their consciences forsooth would not let them fight on the Sabbath day. War cannot be conducted by the rules of ordinary morality.


With a great part of the ordinary moral code suspended, there is substituted for it a war code every maxim of which reveals its archaic, vestigial character, stamps it as a survival from an early savage stage of human development, as a legacy from a long-past age of the historical evolution when morality was as yet only an intratribal thing, that is, when men felt that they owed duties only to members of their own tribe or social group.783

Unfavorable reaction of the ethics of war upon the ethics of peace

In many ways, some obvious and others subtle and hidden, war works “moral damage” to society, but we here confine ourselves to emphasizing merely the moral loss and hurt resulting from the reaction of its low archaic code upon the more advanced peace code. For, as Professor J. Neville Figgis justly observes, “It is impossible to remove the very notion of morality from international affairs without in the long run undermining it in private life.”784 What is regarded as right and proper in war will come to be regarded as right and proper in peace. That is to say, the maintenance of a double standard in morals is just as impossible as the maintenance of a double standard in money. By a sort of Gresham’s Law the lower standard will drive out the higher or drag it down to its own low level.

This reaction of the war code upon the ordinary moral code is well illustrated by what takes place when society metes out to persons convicted of crime ferocious and barbarous punishments. In the medieval centuries in Europe when the penalties for offenses were often fiendishly cruel mutilations of the379 body, such as cutting off the ears, the hands, the lips, or the nose, this judicial procedure was imitated to such a degree by individuals seeking private vengeance that mayhem, that is, the mutilation of an enemy by depriving him of a member, became a crime of such frequent occurrence that it was necessary to make special and severe enactments against it.785 After society stopped mutilating the bodies of offenders against its laws, this offense of mayhem virtually dropped out of the calendar of private crimes.

In a similar way does the war ethics of the nations react disastrously upon private morality. The slow moral progress of European civilization during the last two or three centuries, compared with its wonderful intellectual and material progress, may with little hesitation be attributed in large part to the unfavorable influence of its war ethics upon its everyday moral code. The war code is applied to politics, to ordinary business, and to the relations of industrial classes. The politician as a politician does a hundred things he would not think of doing as a man, and justifies his acts by appealing to the adage, “Politics is war.” The business man, citing the like maxim, “Business is business,” which means that competition is a species of war and must be conducted on war principles, flings his Christian code to the winds and, pitilessly pushing his competitor to the wall, compasses his financial ruin. It is the same in the struggle between labor and capital. In this struggle acts of violence, like those of the McNamaras, are committed, and the persons who do these things absolve themselves in the forum of their own consciences on the plea that a state of war exists between capital and labor and that this justifies the adoption of war methods. Here doubtless we have the moral psychology of the suffragette movement in England. Indeed, the leaders of this startling propaganda tell us frankly that they are waging war, and that this justifies their suspension of the ordinary rules of conduct. In the light380 of this avowal the alleged inscrutability of their acts disappears. The movement is simply another illustration of the truth that so long as nations act under the illusion that they may without moral wrong employ violence to obtain justice, just so long will there be individuals who with good conscience will seek justice through violence.

At the same time, however, these same classes and persons who thus in various important spheres of activity adopt the lower standard of war ethics, in all other domains and relationships—in the family, in the Church, and in social intercourse—act in accordance with the higher moral code. The result is a loose synthesis of the two systems, the establishment of a sort of bi-moral code made up of rules and practices mutually inconsistent and irreconcilable. The moral damage resulting from such moral confusion is beyond estimate. It is the inconsistencies and hypocrisies involved in such a bi-moral code that is one ground of Nietzsche’s bitter attack on the ethics of Christendom. Yet, as Professor Figgis says, “Nietzsche deserves the gratitude of all friends of humanity for the service he has done in ... showing that the whole sphere of private life cannot in the long run be different from the ideals accepted in public affairs.”786

Obsolescence of war as a school of morals: the war system an anachronism in modern civilization

The arraignment of the war system by the awakening conscience of the civilized world has led its advocates to lay the stress of their argument on the moral uses of war. They eulogize war as the nurse of the sturdy, heroic virtues, and hence as an indispensable agency in the moral education of the race. War has, it is true, in past ages been “the supreme theater of human strenuousness,” and it may be true, as is assumed by Professor William James in his Moral Equivalent of War, that the qualities of courage, fortitude, and self-devotion to common interests were in the beginning evoked and fostered in the race by war; but whatever may have been the moral381 uses of war in the past stages of human development, the time is past when the war system can serve the highest ends of civilization. It is an anachronism in the modern world. It has become a drag upon the moral progress of the race. By an ethical necessity the day of its abolition approaches. At a time not remote, as history reckons time, the common conscience of the world will brand war between civilized nations as the greatest of crimes, and will regard the nation that assaults another with intent to commit general slaughter as a criminal nation—as a common enemy of the human race. In that coming and better age men will look with the same incredulous amazement upon our infernal engines and devices for wholesale man-killing that we of this age look upon “the iron virgin of Nuremberg” and the other medieval instruments of torture in the museums of Europe.

To many this optimistic forecast, in the face of the prevailing war spirit and the ever-growing armaments of the nations, may seem oversanguine and incredible. But to think despairingly of the future argues a failure to discern what is really most significant in the international situation to-day. The most significant thing in the ongoings of life at Rome on that memorable day of the year 404 of our era which saw the last gladiatorial combat in the Colosseum was not that, four hundred years after the incoming of Christianity with its teachings of the sanctity of human life, gladiators fought on the arena to make a holiday for Rome; the significant thing was the protest made by the Christian monk Telemachus and sealed by his martyr death,787 for that announced the birth into the382 Roman world of a new conscience, and that, through an ethical necessity, meant the speedy abolition of “the human sacrifices of the amphitheater.”

And so to-day the significant thing is not that nineteen hundred years after the advent of a religion of peace and good will among men, gladiator nations still wet the earth with fratricidal blood; the significant thing is the constantly growing protest against it all, for that announces the birth into the modern world of a new international conscience, and that, through an ethical necessity like that which abolished forever the bloody sacrifices of the Colosseum, means the certain and speedy abolition of war as a crass negation of human solidarity and brotherhood, and a venturous denial of a moral order of the world and the sovereignty of conscience.


1 Henry T. Buckle, History of Civilization in England (1891), vol. i, chap. iv. For a trenchant criticism of Buckle’s contention that there has been no progress in morals during historic times, see article entitled “The Natural History of Morals,” North British Review for December, 1867.

2 For a discussion of the economic theory, see Edwin R. A. Seligman, The Economic Interpretation of History, 2d ed.

3 Social Evolution (1894), p. 307.

4 Ralph Barton Perry, The Moral Economy (1909), p. 254.

5 Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Practical Reason; cited by Fisher, History of the Christian Church (1888), p. 623.

6 “It is probable indeed that every movement of religious reform has originated in some clearer conception of the ideal of human conduct, arrived at by some person or persons.”—T. H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, 5th ed., p. 361.

7 Prolegomena to the History of Israel, tr. Black and Menzies (1885), p. 472; summing up the moral teachings of the prophet Amos.

8 Wake, The Evolution of Morality (1878), vol. ii, p. 4; Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1906), vol. ii, p. 743; T. H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, 5th ed., p. 237; George Harris, Moral Evolution (1896), p. 79.

9 T. H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, 5th ed., p. 240.

10 “We cannot explain morality without going to objective morality, which is expressed in the customs and laws, in the moral commands and judgments, conceptions and ideals of the race” (Frank Thilly, “Friedrich Paulsen’s Ethical Work and Influence,” The International Journal of Ethics for January, 1909, p. 150). And so Wundt: “The original source of ethical knowledge is the moral consciousness of man, as it finds objective expression in the universal perceptions of right and wrong, and further, in religious ideas and in customs. The most direct method for the discovery of ethical principles is, therefore, the anthropological method. We use this term in a wider sense than is customary, to include ethnic psychology, the history of primitive man and the history of civilization, as well as the natural history of mankind” (Ethics: the Facts of the Moral Life, tr. Gulliver and Titchener (1908), p. 19). Cf. also Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1906), vol. i, pp. 158 ff.

11 “An ideal is essential to the very existence of morality.”—George Harris, Moral Evolution (1896), p. 54.

12 “The history of moral ideals and institutions, though hitherto ignored by moralists, seems to me the most important topic in the whole realm of ethics.”—Schurman, The Ethical Import of Darwinism (1887), p. 201.

13 S. Alexander, Moral Order and Progress (1889), p. 354. The same thought is expressed by the writer of “The Natural History of Morals,” North British Review for December, 1867: “The earth is a moral graveyard ... and our virtues and vices will, in turn, be but fossils which the eye of science shall curiously scan, and they will finally crumble into dust, from which the moral harvests of the future shall spring.”

14 Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 154.

15 “Effective ideals are elicited by circumstances. But they are not created by them. It is a prejudice of modern sociology, a prejudice which sociology has taken over from biology, to try to explain the inner by the outer.”—G. Lowes Dickinson, “Ideals and Facts,” Hibbert Journal for January, 1911, p. 266.

16 “The growth of intellectuality, considered as breadth of view and competence of personal judgment, carries with it normally growth in sensitiveness of feeling and rightness of ethical attitude.”—Baldwin, Social and Ethical Interpretation in Mental Development (1897), p. 397.

17 See Chapter XVIII. “The activity of a free people creates a great number of social relations from which arise new duties and new rights; so that liberty is not less favorable to the development of morality than to that of letters, arts, and sciences, of all the noble interests and high faculties of our nature.”—Denis, Histoire des théories et des idées morales dans l’antiquité (1879), t. i, p. 10.

18 Principles of Economics, 2d ed., p. 1. “It is not Christianity but industrialism that has brought into the world that strong sense of the moral value of thrift, steady industry, punctuality in observing engagements, constant forethought with a view to providing for the contingencies of the future, which is now so characteristic of the moral type of the most civilized nations.”—Lecky, The Map of Life (1900), pp. 53 f.

19 The Moral Ideal, new and revised edition, p. 19.

20 “Doubtless the ethical life of the world has suffered much from religion, but it owes to religion immeasurably more than it has suffered from it. Faulty enough indeed the influence has been, but the ethical life of the world has on the whole been greatly reënforced and purified by its religions.”—William Newton Clarke, The Christian Doctrine of God (1909), p. 13.

21 “Morality is the endeavor to realize an ideal” (George Harris, Moral Evolution (1896), p. 54). Not to miss the import of this dictum emphasis must be laid on the word “endeavor”; for, in the words of Professor Green, morality must be regarded “as an effort, not an attainment” (Prolegomena to Ethics, 5th ed., p. 301).

22 Meditations, tr. Long, xi, 18.

23 “There is nothing more modern than the critical spirit which dwells upon the difference between the minds of men in one age and in another; which endeavors to make each age its own interpreter, and judge what it did or produced by a relative standard.”—James Bryce, The Holy Roman Empire, 8th ed., p. 261.

24 Prolegomena to Ethics, 5th ed., p. 291.

25 After long observation of the life of the uncivilized races of Polynesia, Alfred Russel Wallace records as his opinion that “savages act up to their simple code at least as well as we act up to ours” (The Malay Archipelago, vol. i, p. 139). “Many strange customs and laws obtain in Zululand, but there is no moral code in all the world more rigidly observed than that of the Zulus” (Russell Hastings Millward in National Geographic Magazine for March, 1909, p. 287).

26 “The larger morality which embraces all mankind has its basis in habits of loyalty, love, and self-sacrifice which were originally formed and grew strong in the narrow circle of the family or the clan.”—W. Robertson Smith, The Religion of the Semites, 2d ed., p. 54.

27 The Religion of the Semites, 2d ed., p. 274. Cf. Judges ix. 2; 2 Sam. v. 1.

28 Dudley Kidd, Savage Childhood (1906), p. 74. See also Clifford, Lectures and Essays (1901), vol. ii, p. 79, on the “tribal self.”

29 W. Robertson Smith, The Religion of the Semites, 2d ed., p. 267. See also Coulanges, The Ancient City, bk. ii, chap. ix.

30 Before this stage in civilization has been reached, religion is a hindrance to the widening of the moral sympathies; for in earlier stages “a man is held answerable to his god [only] for wrong done to a member of his own kindred or political community; ... he may deceive, rob, or kill an alien without offense to religion; the deity cares only for his own kinsfolk” (W. Robertson Smith, The Religion of the Semites, 2d ed., pp. 53 f.).

31 It should be carefully noted that this is very different from saying that his life is immoral. To pronounce it immoral would be like pronouncing immoral the life of the child, in whom the sense of right and wrong has not yet arisen. The savage is a child not only in intellect but also in moral feeling. As Bagehot says, “We may be certain that the morality of prehistoric man was as imperfect and as rudimentary as his reason” (Physics and Politics (1873), p. 115).

32 “At the beginning of the developmental series stands the bare animal impulse, stripped of all moral motives; at the end we have the complete interpenetration of organic requirement and moral idea.”—Wundt, Ethics: the Facts of the Moral Life (1908), p. 191.

33 See II, The Ethics of Industrialism, Chapter XVIII.

34 Respecting certain Brazilian tribes the naturalist Bates remarks: “The goodness of these Indians, like that of most others amongst whom I lived, consisted perhaps more in the absence of active bad qualities than in the possession of good ones; in a word, it was negative rather than positive” (The Naturalist on the River Amazon). Cf. Edward Howard Griggs, The New Humanism, 6th ed., pp. 103 f.

35 For the relation of motherhood and infancy to the beginnings of morality, see Fiske, Cosmic Philosophy (1875), vol. ii, pp. 340 ff.

36 “The spring of virtuous action is the social instinct, which is set to work by the practice of comradeship.”—Clifford, Lectures and Essays (1901), vol. ii, p. 253. Cf. Peabody, The Approach to the Social Question (1909), p. 149.

37 “This family worship (long-forgotten precursor of our modern family prayers) was always offered to the ancestors at the domestic hearth.”—Helen Bosanquet, The Family (1906), p. 18. Cf. Wundt, Ethics: the Facts of the Moral Life (1908), p. 171.

38 The blessing offered at the daily family meal is presumptively a survival from the consecrated communal meal of the primitive kinship group.

39 When such an individual arises he becomes, if circumstances favor, a lawgiver, and the age of law supersedes the age of custom. Morality now consists in obedience to the law.

40 Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1906), vol. i, chap. ii, and passim.

41 “In early times the solidarity of the kinship is such that it does not occur to the individual to regard as unjust a suffering which he endures in behalf of, or along with, his people.”—Edward Caird, The Evolution of Religion (1894), p. 37.

42 Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution (1906), vol. i, p. 283.

43 The system of collective responsibility arises in part, it is true, from the belief that sin is contagious and infects all persons related to the transgressor. Therefore the innocent members of the family or group of the transgressor may be put out of the way as a merely preventive measure—not as a measure of justice or punishment. But the ethical element is seldom or never absent and it is this which gives the conception its importance for the student of morals.

44 “Outlawry from the clan is the most effective of all weapons, because in primitive society the exclusion of a man from his kinsfolk means he is delivered over to the first comer absolutely without protection.”—Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution (1906), vol. i, p. 90.

45 Gen. iv. 13, 14.

46 “Blood atonement ... was one of the very earliest cases we can find in which there was a notion of duty and social obligation.”—Sumner, Folkways (1907), p. 506.

47 “It [the feud] is the Southern sense of the solidarity of the family in opposition to extreme Northern individualism.”—Wines, Punishment and Reformation (1895), p. 33.

48 On the Lex talionis consult Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1906), vol. i, pp. 177 ff.; Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution (1906), vol. i, pp. 84 ff.; Spencer, Principles of Ethics (1892), vol. i, pp. 369 ff. The principle embodied in the Lex talionis has played a large part in the jurisprudence of all peoples.

49 The Religion of the Semites (1894), p. 267.

50 Seeck (Geschichte des Untergangs der antiken Welt (1901), Bd. i, S. 200) reminds us how the ancient German player when he had lost in a game where the stake was his own liberty, honorably gave himself up as the slave of the winner.

51 The Truth about the Congo (1907), p. 29.

52 “Throughout tribal life the stranger is a menace; he is a being to be plundered because he is a being who plunders.... Native houses are often left for days or weeks, and it would be easy for any one to enter and rob them. Yet robbery among themselves is not common. To steal, however, from a white employer ... is no sin.”—Starr, The Truth about the Congo (1907), pp. 28 f.

53 See VI, International Ethics: the New International Conscience, in Chapter XVIII.

54 On this subject see Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1906), vol. i, chap. xxiv, “Hospitality.”

55 Speaking of the duty of hospitality among the early Greeks, Farnell says, “The sanctity of the stranger guest ... was almost as great as the sanctity of the kinsman’s life” (The Cults of the Greek States (1896), vol. i, p. 73).

56 Without doubt other feelings and conceptions than purely ethical ones are sometimes operative in the case of the guest right. The stranger may be kindly treated because of superstitious fears. Thus the primitive man’s notions of magic and sorcery may cause him to be hospitable to the stranger through fear of the consequences of a refusal, since untutored people are apt to attribute magical powers to the stranger. See Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1906), vol. i, chap. xxiv.

57 Among some uncivilized peoples, however, where the population is thin and there is little competition wars are unknown. “To the Greenlander ... war is incomprehensible and repulsive, a thing for which their language has no word” (Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1906), vol. i, p. 334).

58 Cannibalism springs from several roots. Sometimes savages eat the body of the enemy slain in battle because they believe that thereby they destroy the soul or double and thus secure themselves against its vengeance. Again the custom grows out of the belief that the virtues of the victim pass into him who eats the flesh. But the most common motive is the subsistence motive. Indeed, many of the incessant wars waged by primitive tribes are nothing more nor less than man-hunting expeditions for securing food. Later these expeditions became raids for securing slaves.

59 Quoted by Letourneau, La guerre dans les diverses races humaines (1895), p. vi.

60 Often we find vestiges of the abandoned practice in what may be called celestial cannibalism (see W. Robertson Smith, The Religion of the Semites (1894), p. 224). Thus the god of war of the Mexican Aztecs and the gods of many Polynesian tribes were cannibals, for human sacrifices must be regarded as a sort of celestial cannibalism, when the offering is made in the belief that the god actually repasts on the blood and the finer essences of the sacrificial victim. Where men have thus made their gods like unto themselves, and the practice of cannibalism has been consecrated by religion, the gods, because religion is always conservative, are certain to remain anthropophagi much longer than their worshipers. Consequently we find human sacrifices still lingering on as a kind of survival among peoples, as, for instance, the Mexicans, who have themselves left far behind the practice of eating human flesh.

61 Letourneau, La guerre dans les diverses races humaines (1895), p. 185.

62 Od. i. 260.

63 Spencer, Principles of Ethics (1892), vol. i, p. 350.

64 Ibid. vol. i, pp. 355 f.

65 Ibid. vol. i, pp. 368, 398, 401.

66 Spencer, Principles of Ethics (1892), vol. i, pp. 359 f.

67 Ibid. vol. i, p. 349.

68 For the influence of the war ethics of the modern nations upon their peace ethics, see VI, International Ethics: the New International Conscience, in Chapter XVIII.

69 Breasted, A History of Egypt (1905), p. 65.

70 Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (1912), p. 176.

71 Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (1912), p. 250.

72 Maspero, The Dawn of Civilization, p. 172.

73 This moralization of pure physical myths marks the advance of all races in culture and morality. As we shall see, Greek and Hebrew mythologies underwent just such an ethicalizing process.

74 Renouf, The Religion of Ancient Egypt (1884), p. 73.

75 “It has long been recognized that the Egyptians had a much more highly organized conscience than that of most other nations of early times.”—Petrie, Religion and Conscience in Ancient Egypt (1898), p. 86.

76 Maspero, The Dawn of Civilization, pp. 193 f.

77 Wiedemann, The Ancient Egyptian Doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul (1895), pp. 62 f.

78 Wiedemann, The Ancient Egyptian Doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul (1895), p. 64.

79 The same evolution is to be traced in China. “Imitations made of wood, clay, straw, paper, and of other material have been substituted for the real things.... Slaves and servants, wives and concubines are also burned, i.e., in paper imitations. They point back to the time when actual human sacrifices were the custom” (De Groot, The Religion of the Chinese (1910), p. 71).

80 Primitive Culture (1874), vol. ii, p. 85.

81 Maspero, The Dawn of Civilization, pp. 187 ff.

82 Truthfulness was one of the cardinal virtues of the Egyptian ideal. The requirements here were very exact: “I have not altered a story in the telling of it; I have repeated what I have heard just as it was told to me,” are the words of one in the judgment hall of Osiris. Cf. Renouf, The Religion of Ancient Egypt (1884), pp. 76 f.

83 The Egyptian Book of the Dead, tr. Davis, chap. cxxv.

84 The Egyptian Book of the Dead, tr. Davis, chap. cxxv.

85 Annihilation appears to have been the lot of the very wicked; but the texts are not perfectly clear on this point. Consult Wiedemann, The Ancient Egyptian Doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul (1895), p. 55.

86 Here are six declarations of the confession which correspond almost exactly with six of the Ten Commandments: (1) I have not blasphemed; (2) I have not stolen; (3) I have not slain any one treacherously; (4) I have not slandered any one, or made false accusations; (5) I have not reviled the face of my father; (6) I have not eaten my heart through with envy. See Rawlinson, History of Ancient Egypt, 2d ed., vol. i, p. 142.

87 Petrie, Religion and Conscience in Ancient Egypt (1898), p. 135.

88 Ibid. p. 162.

89 “In this judgment the Egyptian introduced for the first time in the history of man the fully developed idea that the future destiny of the dead must be dependent entirely upon the ethical quality of the earthly life, the idea of future responsibility,—of which we found the first traces in the Old Kingdom” (Breasted, A History of Egypt (1905), p. 173). Professor Breasted suggests a connection between the growth of the ideal of an ethical ordeal in the hereafter with the discontinuance of the building of immense pyramids. He says: “It is impossible to contemplate the colossal tombs of the Fourth Dynasty, so well known as the pyramids of Gizeh, and to contrast them with the comparatively diminutive royal tombs which follow in the next two dynasties, without ... discerning more than exclusively political causes behind this sudden and startling change.... The recognition of a judgment and the requirement of moral worthiness in the hereafter ... marked a transition from reliance on agencies external to the personality of the dead to dependence on inner values. Immortality began to make its appeal as a thing achieved in a man’s own soul” (Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (1912), pp. 178 f.).

90 Records of the Past, New Series, vol. iii. For extended comments on the maxims of Ptah-hotep, see Amélineau, Essai sur l’évolution historique et philosophique des idées morales dans l’Egypt ancienne (1895), pp. 93 ff.

91 Budge, Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life (1899), p. ii.

92 For other documents of this age which embody the same spirit of social justice as the precepts of Ptah-hotep, see Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (1912), lect. vii.

93 Amélineau, Essai, pp. 140 f.

94 Alongside slavery proper there existed the system of serfdom, the nature of which is revealed by the history of the Children of Israel in Lower Egypt. The status of the Egyptian serf appears to have been somewhat like that of the Helots of Laconia in Greece. If we rightly interpret the Biblical account of the servitude of the Children of Israel, the number of serfs, if their increase seemed dangerous, was kept down by enforced infanticide (Ex. i. 7–22).

95 Laurent, Études sur l’histoire de l’humanité, t. i, p. 321.

96 Amélineau, Essai, p. 344. The monotheist Ikhnaton (Amenhotep IV), the reform Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, it is true, pursued throughout his reign a peace policy, but this policy manifestly was dictated by temperament, or the king’s preoccupation with religious affairs, and not by moral scruples. His reform was essentially a religious and not a social or moral one. Not one of the historical documents of the age contains a word in condemnation of war as inherently wrong (see Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt (1906), vol. ii, pp. 382–419), though in these “the customary glorying in war has almost disappeared” (Petrie, A History of Egypt (1896), vol. ii, p. 218).

97 This, however, must not be regarded as wholly an act of wanton savagery. The killing of his prisoners by the king was probably a sort of sacrifice in honor of the god who had given him victory over his enemies. See Amélineau, Essai, p. 12.

98 Essai, p. ix; see also p. 252, n. 1.

99 For the influence of the moral ideas of Egypt on Greece, see Amélineau, Essai, chap. xii, pp. 359–399; Wiedemann, The Ancient Egyptian Doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul (1895), p. x; and Toy, Judaism and Christianity (1891), p. 387.

100 Petrie, Egypt and Israel (1911), p. 133.

101 Demonism here was not, as it was and is in China (p. 55), a moral educator of the people, for the reason that the spirits were not conceived as the avengers of wrongdoing, but were thought to molest indifferently the good and the bad.

102 It is not possible, however, to draw a definite chronological line between the nonethical and the ethical texts. Cf. Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (1898), p. 297.

103 King, Babylonian Religion and Mythology (1899), p. 220.

104 The nature myths constituting the epic literature of the Babylonians, which consisted largely of elaborate tales of the struggle between the gods of light and the powers of darkness, were never moralized like the Egyptian myth of Osiris and Set, or the Iranian myth of Ahura Mazda and Ahriman.

105 Here are a few lines of a penitential prayer or psalm:

O my god who art angry with me, accept my prayer;
* * * * *
May my sins be forgiven, my transgressions be wiped out.
May the ban be loosened, the chain broken,
May the seven winds carry off my sighs.
Let me tear away my iniquity, let the birds carry it to heaven;
* * * * *
May the beasts of the field take it away from me,
The flowing waters of the stream wash me clean.
Let me be pure like the sheen of gold.
Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (1898), p. 323.

106 Cf. above, p. 35.

107 The stele which bore this code of laws was discovered at Susa in 1901–1902. The reign of Hammurabi is placed at about the end of the third millennium B.C. There are translations of the code by C. H. W. Johns (1903) and Robert Francis Harper (1904).

108 “If a man owe a debt and Adad [god of storms] inundate his field and carry away the produce, or, through lack of water, grain have not grown in the field, in that year he shall not make any return of grain to the creditor, he shall alter his contract-tablet and he shall not pay the interest for that year.”—Code, sec. 48. [We have used throughout Harper’s translation.]

109 Code, secs. 196, 197, 200. Cf. similar provisions of the Mosaic code: Ex. xxi. 23–25; Deut. xix. 21.

110 Ibid. secs. 209, 210.

111 Ibid. secs. 229, 230.

112 The provisions read: “If a man aid a male or female slave of the palace, or a male or female slave of a freeman to escape from the city gate, he shall be put to death.”

“If a man harbor in his home a male or female slave who has fled from the palace or from a freeman, and do not bring him [the slave] forth at the call of the commandant, the owner of that house shall be put to death” (Code, secs. 15, 16).

113 Maspero, The Dawn of Civilization, p. 744.

114 Taylor, Ancient Ideals (1896), vol. i, p. 41.

115 Records of the Past, New Series, vol. ii, pp. 143 ff.

116 “The white man has no doubt committed great barbarities upon the savage, but he does not like to speak of them, and when necessity compels a reference he has always something to say of manifest destiny, the advance of civilization and the duty of shouldering the white man’s burden in which he pays tribute to a higher ethical conscience” (Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution (1906), vol. i, p. 27). King Leopold may have been responsible for barbarities committed against the natives of the Kongo as atrocious as those of the Assyrians, but he paid tribute to the modern conscience by refraining from portraying them in imperishable marble at The Hague.

117 Cf. Martin, The Lore of Cathay (1901), p. 226.

118 Though the people are shut out from participation in the state worship, they have set up for themselves a multitude of local shrines where they worship the spirits of almost every earthly thing, such as mountains, rivers, trees, and rocks. “Men debarred from communion with the Great Spirit resorted more eagerly to inferior spirits, to spirits of the fathers, and to spirits generally.... The accredited worship of ancestors, with that of the departed great added to it, was not enough to satisfy the cravings of men’s minds.” (Legge, The Religions of China (1881), p. 176).

119 The Lore of Cathay (1901), p. 274.

120 Williams, The Middle Kingdom (1883), vol. ii, p. 239.

121 We do not mention Buddhism in this connection for the reason that it is not possible to trace any decisive influence, save in the promotion of toleration, that this system has exercised upon Chinese morality. Buddhism enjoins celibacy, and this, like Christian asceticism, is in radical opposition to the genius of Confucianism. For this reason, in conjunction with others,—among these its early degeneracy,—Buddhism has remained practically inert as an ethical force in Chinese society. What little influence it has exerted has been confined almost wholly to the monasteries.

122 “The dread of spirits is the nightmare of the Chinaman’s life.”—Legge, The Religions of China (1881), p. 197.

123 The Religion of the Chinese (1910), p. 34.

124 The Taoist doctrines are contained in the Tao-teh-king, supposed to have been written by Lao-tsze, a sage who lived in the fifth century B.C. The religion which grew out of his philosophy became in time degenerate, absorbed the worst elements of Buddhism, and is to-day a system of gross superstitions, magic, and sorcery, which has undeniably a blighting effect upon morality.

125 De Groot, The Religion of the Chinese (1910), pp. 139 ff.

126 Ibid. 138.

127 Legge, The Religions of China (1881), p. 229.

128 De Groot, The Religion of the Chinese (1910), p. 143.

129 Nietzscheism is in essence at one with Taoism. Nietzsche insists that man should behave as Nature behaves; for instance, that the strong should prey upon the weak. The difference between Lao-tsze and Nietzsche lies in their different readings of the essential qualities of the universe. See below, p. 355.

130 Taoism is too lofty a doctrine for the multitude. They are enjoined to imitate the ancient sages, and as these imitated the way of heaven and earth, in imitating them they are really imitating the universe.

131 De Groot, The Religion of the Chinese (1910), p. 143.

132 The imitation of the qualities of nature “have given existence to important state institutions, considered to be for the nation and rulers matters of life and death.” (De Groot, The Religion of the Chinese (1910), p. 139).

133 The Works of Mencius (The Chinese Classics, 2d ed., vol. ii), bk. vi, pt. i, chap. ii, 2.

134 “This inference [that man is naturally good] comes into prominence in the classics as a dogma, and therefore has been the principal basis of all Taoistic and Confucian ethics to this day” (De Groot, The Religion of the Chinese (1910), p. 137). Every schoolboy is taught this doctrine: “Man commences life with a virtuous nature” (Martin, The Lore of Cathay (1901), p. 217).

135 The Works of Mencius, bk. vii, pt. i, chap. ii, 2. And so Confucius: “An accordance with this nature [man’s] is called the Path of Duty” (The Doctrine of the Mean, chap. i; The Chinese Classics, 2d ed., vol. i).

136 The Works of Mencius, bk. vi, pt. i, chap. vii, 2, 3.

137 Confucian Analects (The Chinese Classics, 2d ed., vol. i), bk. xvii, chap. ii. The student of biology will see in this view an anticipation of the latest teaching of modern science in respect to the relative importance of heredity and education in the determining of character.

138 “There is nothing in this world so dangerous for the national safety, public health and welfare as heterodoxy, which means acts, institutions, doctrines not based upon the classics.”—De Groot, The Religion of the Chinese (1910), p. 48.

139 Confucius thus describes himself: “A transmitter and not a maker, believing in and loving the ancients” (Confucian Analects, bk. vii, chap. i).

140 The Religions of China (1881), p. 255.

141 Chinese literature bears unique testimony to the high consideration in which the virtue of filial devotion and reverence is held. It abounds in anecdotes exalting this virtue, holding up great exemplars of it for imitation by the Chinese youth. See Doolittle, Social Life of the Chinese.

142 The Hsiao King (Sacred Books of the East, vol. iii), chap. xviii.

143 Ibid. chap. xi.

144 Doolittle, Social Life of the Chinese (1868), p. 103.

145 Ibid. p. 103.

146 China in Law and Commerce (1905), p. 34.

147 “The chief characteristic of Chinese society and the essence of Chinese morality is reverence for the past.”—Reinsch, World Politics (1900), p. 90.

148 The Great Learning (The Chinese Classics, 2d ed., vol. i), chap. iii, 5.

149 Confucian Analects, bk. xi, chap. xv, 3.

150 It is interesting to compare the portraiture of The Princely Man, as depicted by the pagan Chinese moralist, with that of The Prince, as portrayed by Machiavelli.

151 “The standard of excellence [in The Princely Man] is placed so high as to be absolutely unattainable by unaided human nature; and though [the author] probably intended to elevate the character of his grandfather [Confucius] to this height, and thus hand him down to future ages as a shing jin, or ‘perfect and holy man,’ he has in the providence of God done his countrymen great service in setting before them such a character as is here given in the Chung Yung. By being made a text-book in the schools it has been constantly studied and memorized by generations of students to their great benefit.”—Williams, The Middle Kingdom (1883), vol. i, pp. 655 f.

152 Confucian Analects, bk. viii, chap. xii.

153 The Great Learning (text), par. 5.

154 Quoted by Pfleiderer, Religions and Historic Faiths, p. 96.

155 The Great Learning, chap. x, 22.

156 The Works of Mencius, bk. vi, pt. ii, chap. xiii, 6.

157 The Great Learning, chap. ix, 8.

158 Confucian Analects, bk. xii, chap. xix.

159 The Great Learning, chap. x, 21.

160 Confucian Analects, bk. xiii, chap. xi.

161 Okakura-Kakuzo, The Ideals of the East (1905), p. 239.

162 Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution (1906), vol. i, p. 265.

163 The Works of Mencius, bk. vi, pt. ii, chap. viii, 8.

164 Ibid. bk. vii, pt. ii, chap. iv, 1.

165 Ibid. bk. vii, pt. ii, chap. ii, 1. While denouncing the essential wickedness of war, Mencius sanctioned rebellion against a tyrannical and wicked ruler.

166 The Great Learning, chap. vi, 2.

167 The Works of Mencius, bk. iv, pt. i, chap. xx.

168 Confucian Analects, bk. iii, chap. iv, 3.

169 Ibid. bk. iv, chap. xv, 2.

170 Ibid. bk. vi, chap. xvii.

171 Ibid. bk. ix, chap. xvii.

172 Ibid. bk. xv, chap. xxiii. The same precept is found in bk. xii, chap. ii, of the Analects, and also in The Doctrine of the Mean, chap. xiii, 3.

173 The Works of Mencius, bk. vii, pt. i, chap. xvii.

174 Ibid. bk. iv, pt. ii, chap. xii.

175 Ibid. bk. vi, pt. i, chap. x, 1.

176 Confucian Analects, bk. vii, chap. xv.

177 The Works of Mencius, bk. vi, pt. ii, chap. xv, 2.

178 Ibid. bk. vi, pt. ii, chap. xv, 5.

179 Ibid. bk. vii, pt. i, chap. xviii, 1.

180 The Chinese pay worship, it is true, to the multitude of inferior gods of Buddhism, but there is little in these cults calculated to awaken and discipline the moral feelings.

181 The Religions of China (1881), p. 256.

182 See Colquhuon, China in Transformation (1898), p. 189.

183 Reinsch, World Politics (1900), p. 98. In their relations with foreigners the Chinese bankers have won an enviable reputation for integrity and the scrupulous observance of engagements. The word of a Chinaman in financial matters is his bond.

184 The Lore of Cathay (1901), p. 214.

185 Froebel has an illuminating comment on the danger to true morality that lurks here: “A life whose ideal value has been perfectly established in experience never aims to serve as a model in its form, but only in its essence, in its spirit. It is the greatest mistake to suppose that spiritual, human perfection can serve as a model in its form. This accounts for the common experience that the taking of such external manifestations of perfection as examples, instead of elevating mankind, checks, nay, represses, its development” (The Education of Man, pt. i, sec. 10).

186 Etiquette has been well defined as “the formal expression of courtesy,” and courtesy as “morality in trifles.” In Japan, as Kikuchi informs us, etiquette forms a part of the moral instruction in the schools. See Sadler, Moral Instruction and Training in Schools, vol. ii, p. 342.

187 Edward A. Ross (The Changing Chinese (1911), p. 193) says native authorities admit that from one tenth to one twentieth of the girl infants are abandoned or made away with.

188 “Female infanticide in some parts is openly confessed and divested of all disgrace and penalties everywhere” (Williams, The Middle Kingdom (1883), vol. i, p. 836). Jernigan, however, says, “When carried to the extreme there is a public sentiment in China which condemns it, and there are official proclamations against infanticide” (China in Law and Commerce (1905), p. 123).

189 The primitive kinship group is a characteristic feature of Chinese society. “Thousands of Chinese villages comprise exclusively persons having the same surname and the same ancestors” (A. H. Smith, Chinese Characteristics (1894), p. 226). “I have seen a town of 25,000 people, all belonging to the same clan and bearing the same family name” (Martin, The Lore of Cathay (1901), p. 272). Along with this clan constitution of society goes the principle of collective responsibility. The group is to a great degree held responsible for the conduct of each of its members. In case of serious crime, as, for instance, treason, all the male adult members of the criminal’s family are punished along with the offender (Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1906), vol. i, p. 45). Recently the punishment of relatives of the offender has been abolished in certain cases.

190 The efforts of the Chinese government to put an end to the use of opium among its subjects—the anti-opium decree was issued in 1906—is the most noteworthy matter in the recent moral history of China. This movement is motived by moral feeling as truly as is the movement among ourselves for the suppression of the liquor traffic. It is, in the words of Professor Edward A. Ross, “the most extensive warfare on a vicious private habit that the world has ever known” (The Changing Chinese (1911), p. 146).

191 “The Emperor is sacred and inviolable.”—Japanese Constitution, art. iii.

192 The state in Japan occupies the place of the Church with us. “To look up to the state as a sacred institution has always been characteristic of the people, and from the great work of the recent reformation onward there has not been a single event of national consequence which has not originated in this peculiar turn of mind” (Count Okuma, Fifty Years of New Japan (1909), vol. ii, p. 559).

193 Corresponding to the knights in European feudalism were the samurai, above them the daimios, and at the head of the system the Shogun.

194 Japanese boys and men, Dr. William Elliot Griffis affirms, are “more tender and careful with all living creatures than are those of Christendom” (The Religions of Japan (1895), p. 294). Buddhism caused in large measure the disuse of flesh for food.

195 This word means “the way of the warrior,” or “the rule of knighthood.”

196 Nitobé, Bushido: the Soul of Japan, p. 98. The edition cited throughout this chapter is that of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905. The Introduction is by William Elliot Griffis.

197 Nitobé, Bushido, p. 32.

198 Ibid. p. 30.

199 For the subject of the downfall of feudalism and the Restoration, see Count Okuma, Fifty Years of New Japan (1909), vol. i, chap. ii.

200 Nitobé, Bushido, p. 189.

201 Baron Kikuchi, in Sadler, Moral Instruction and Training in Schools (1908), vol. ii, p. 323.

202 Scherer, What is Japanese Morality? (1906), p. 10.

203 Nitobé, Bushido, p. vi.

204 The works of Molière, it is said, have been put under the ban of the censor in Japan and their circulation forbidden, for the reason that Molière ridicules old age, and constantly, like the comic supplement of the newspapers, “makes some father the butt of jokes and gross wit by his child or children.”

205 “Any social system of which filial piety is not the moral cement; any social system in which children leave their parents in order to establish families of their own; any social system in which it is considered not only natural but right to love wife and child more than the author of one’s being; any social system in which marriage can be decided independently of the will of parents, by the mutual inclination of the young people themselves; any social system in which the mother-in-law is not entitled to the obedient service of the daughter-in-law, appears to him [the Japanese] of necessity a state of life scarcely better than that of the birds of the air and the beasts of the field, or at best a sort of moral chaos.”—Lafcadio Hearn, Out of the East (1895), p. 89.

206 Okakura-Kakuzo, The Awakening of Japan (1904), p. 179. Romantic love is almost unknown in Japan. B. H. Chamberlain affirms that in a residence of twenty-eight years he heard of only one love match, and then the young people had been brought up in America.

207 Out of the East (1985), p. 80.

208 Five per cent of the men have concubines.

209 “The central idea in Japanese life is obedience to parents and reverence for ancestors. Should a Japanese father have misfortunes, his daughter would think it her filial duty to sell her body. She would not be regarded as fallen and disgraced, but as having done a right and noble deed, and might afterwards be restored to her place in society. But, though it is hard to explain, the Japanese woman is as chaste and pure and exalted in her ideas of womanhood as any woman on the globe.”—Sir Edwin Arnold (in an interview).

210 Bacon, Japanese Girls and Women (1891), p. 121.

211 Chamberlain, Things Japanese, 4th ed., p. 220. By “the ancient way” is meant hara-kiri, or disemboweling. The death by his own hand of General Nogi, the hero of Port Arthur, during the funeral of his departed sovereign Mutsuhito (September 13, 1912), reveals another motive for suicide which is wholly foreign to our modes of thought and feeling. “In very early, almost prehistoric, times the custom of jun-shi, or dying with the master, led to the interment of living Japanese retainers with their dead lord. The custom gradually died out, but voluntary suicide as a means of showing personal devotion or attachment to a master or superior persisted for many centuries” (George Kennan, “The Death of General Nogi,” New York Outlook for October 5, 1912). It was this ancient custom that Count Nogi followed. “When all was over”—such is Mr. Kennan’s interpretation of his act—“he ended his own life as an expression of his boundless devotion to the man whom he had loved. It was in the spirit of Old Japan, but Nogi was a man of that era, and lived in the mental and moral atmosphere of that time.”

212 Japanese feudalism began about the eleventh century. The year 1868 saw its final downfall.

213 Nitobé, Bushido, p. 99.

214 Okakura-Kakuzo, The Awakening of Japan (1904), p. 175. Count Okuma makes a similar assertion: “The humanitarian efforts which in the course of the recent war were so much in evidence, and which so much surprised Western nations, were not, as might have been thought, the products of the new civilization, but survivals of our ancient feudal chivalry” (Fifty Years of New Japan (1909), vol. i, p. 124). By no people has the Red Cross movement been taken up with greater enthusiasm than by the Japanese.

215 Consult Count Okuma, Fifty Years of New Japan (1909), vol. ii, pp. 566 f.

216 “The obloquy attached to the calling brought within its pale such as cared little for social repute” (Nitobé, Bushido, p. 66). “The trades-people,” writes Chamberlain, “stood at the very bottom of the scale. The hucksters or traders were a degraded class in old Japan, and degraded their business morals remain, which is the principal cause of the difficulties experienced by European merchants in dealing with them” (Things Japanese, 4th ed., p. 93).

217 Nitobé, Bushido, p. 67.

218 The statement has obtained wide currency that all the banks in Japan employ only Chinese as cashiers because they cannot find honest Japanese for these positions of trust. Chinese are sometimes employed in Japanese banks, but the true reason for their employment is not the one here assigned. One well qualified to speak authoritatively on this subject says:

Chinese bankers and cashiers are largely Shansi men, that is, men from the province of Shansi, where the profession of banking has become hereditary in a large number of families. They are all, or nearly all, members of the powerful organization known as the Bankers’ Guild, which has branches in every part of the Empire. The Bankers’ Guild has discovered that it is practically impossible to conduct large financial operations without honesty; and it therefore enforces honesty by means of a discipline that is as rigorous ... as that of the New York Stock Exchange.... If a Chinese banker breaks faith, violates a contract, or betrays a trust, he is expelled from his guild and the doors of banks are closed against him for all time. In the first place, therefore, the Chinese cashier is honest because honesty is a condition of his business existence. He may not be honest in other respects,—often he is not,—but he is absolutely honest in the handling of money. In the second place, he is probably the most expert man living in the rapid calculation of exchanges. The monetary system of his country is the most confused, chaotic, and complicated system in the world. There are fifteen or twenty different kinds of taels, no one of which bears a fixed relation to any other, or to any established monetary standard.... The necessity of dealing in some way with this great mass of unstable and fluctuating currency and of earning a subsistence from it has made the Chinese cashier one of the most expert of living accountants. He will solve difficult monetary problems by short cuts of mental arithmetic, and he calculates exchanges to eight points of decimals. In the third place, the Chinese cashier counts and manipulates bank bills and coins with extraordinary skill and accuracy. I have had dealings with him in many parts of the Far East, but I cannot remember ever to have seen him count a sum of money twice, and I have never caught him in an error....

Now, when you get a man whose honesty is guaranteed by his guild, whose manipulation of money is phenomenally dexterous, and who can calculate exchanges to eight points of decimals, you have an ideal cashier; and if Japanese bankers employ him, it shows their good business sense rather than their distrust of their own people. But all Japanese bankers do not employ him. In some of the largest banks in Tokyo, Kioto, and Osaka there are no Chinese at all—or at least I have never seen any. This explanation would not be worth, perhaps, the space that I have given to it, if the story of the Chinese cashier had not been so widely circulated, and if it were not typical of a whole class of cases in which the Japanese are misjudged on the basis of a single incident or a solitary fact.—George Kennan, “Are the Japanese Honest?” the New York Outlook for August 31, 1912.

219 “If the descendants of the samurai can erect a standard of commercial integrity at all comparable to their fine record for courage and loyalty, we shall be their debtors, not they ours.”—The New York Nation for July 30, 1908, p. 90.

220 Baron Kikuchi, in Sadler, Moral Instruction and Training in Schools (1908), vol. ii, p. 343.

221 Baron Kikuchi, in Sadler, Moral Instruction and Training in Schools (1908), vol. ii, p. 331.

222 Ibid. vol. ii, p. 319.

223 Ibid. vol. ii, p. 230.

224 “I certainly consider that the courage and devotion of the Japanese soldiers during the late war was to a great extent the result of this systematic moral instruction and training in schools.”—Baron Kikuchi, in Sadler, Moral Instruction and Training in Schools (1908), vol. ii, p. 344.

225 Wedgwood (The Moral Ideal, 3d ed., p. 22) suggestively likens the reduction to unity of the various gods of polytheism to the correlation of the physical forces—light, heat, electricity, and magnetism. Just as all these are found to be merely different manifestations of a single force or energy, so are all the deified phenomena of nature at last discovered to be but different manifestations of a single primal power—the One, the Supreme, the Eternal. This correlation of the gods, this reduction of polytheism to monotheism, holds the same place in the records of the religious and moral evolution of the race that the correlation of the physical forces holds in the records of the progress of science.

226 There may be some philosophers and scientists who profess materialism, and who make an infinite and eternal unconscious energy the primal cause of all things. But this is a philosophy of the universe which has never secured a wide acceptance in the West.

227 Oldenberg, Buddha (1882), p. 59.

228 Hopkins, The Religions of India (1895), p. 356.

229 This was the work of the Brahmans, who, to secure the ascendancy of their own class, falsified and misinterpreted the sacred books.

230 Laws of Manu (Sacred Books of the East, vol. xxv), i. 31, 87.

231 Cf. Hearn, Kokora, chap. xii.

232 Laws of Manu, vi. 63.

233 Ibid. xii. 9, 53–58. The germs out of which this system was developed by the Brahmans formed a part of the animistic conception of the world held by the conquered natives. By the sixth century B.C. the system had been fully elaborated. See Rhys Davids, Hibbert Lectures (1881), pp. 16 f.

234 The theory was also undoubtedly in part the creation of the same ethical necessity that called into existence the purgatory of the medieval Church. The reincarnations have for aim and purpose not merely retribution, but expiation and purification.

235 The reader of Edward Beecher’s The Conflict of Ages, wherein the author attempts to explain the inequalities of earthly life by the theory of preëxistence, will be able to appreciate this effort of Indian philosophers to solve the same problem.

236 Indian pessimism is doubtless to be attributed in part to the hot, depressing climate, but more largely to the burdensome caste system and an oppressive government, which made free and joyous life impossible to the masses, shutting them up, without hope, to an existence of ache and pain and wretchedness. “Politics and society, in our opinion,” says Dr. Hopkins, “had more to do with altering the religion of India than had a higher temperature and miasma” (The Religions of India (1895), p. 199). But cf. Bloomfield, The Religion of the Veda (1908), pp. 263 ff.

237 Hopkins, The Religions of India (1895), p. 149.

238 Ibid. p. 187.

239 This Brahmanic notion of sacrifice, that the gods need food, is the underlying notion in all religions of which sacrifices form a part. “That the purpose of sacrifice was simply to feed the gods was admitted on all sides in the controversy which accompanied the diffusion of Christianity in the ancient world.... The altar, in the words of Dean Spenser, was merely the table on which food and drink were set before the languishing deity” (Payne, History of the New World called America (1892), vol. i, pp. xi f.). “It is on precisely the same principle that the Mexicans kept their great war-gods ... alive and vigorous by the blood of young human victims selected from their tributaries, and the Peruvians maintained the Creator, Sun, Moon, and Thunder, on whose favor their crops depended, in youth and vigor by the continual smoke of burnt llamas” (Ibid. vol. i, p. 484). Consult also Frazer, Adonis, Attis, and Osiris. All these were divinities of vegetation, which were believed to die and to come to life again, as with the revolution of the seasons vegetation died and was renewed. Along with this belief went the notion that by magical ceremonies the worshipers of the gods could aid them in recovering their wasted energies.

240 Laws of Manu, i. 88–91.

241 Ibid. i. 93.

242 Ibid. ii. 32, 35.

243 The Gentoo Code (1776), xvi. 1.

244 Laws of Manu, iv. 80, 81.

245 Ibid. viii. 379.

246 Ibid. viii. 380.

247 Ibid. viii. 381.

248 Ibid. iv. 147.

249 Laws of Manu, xi. 247.

250 Ibid. iv. 148.

251 Even the sudra is not shut out from this hope. If he be pure, the faithful servant of his betters, gentle in his speech and free from pride, he will at death be reborn into a higher caste (Laws of Manu, ix. 335).

252 Laws of Manu, xi. 60, 69, 71, 72, 132–138, 140–142, 144. Especially severe is the penance imposed for killing a cow. See Ibid. xi. 109–117.

253 Ibid. vi. 68.

254 Ibid. vi. 69.

255 It is better, however, to abstain wholly from the use of meat, since this can be obtained only through pain to sentient beings (Laws of Manu, v. 48). There is no sin in eating meat, “but abstention brings great rewards” (Ibid. v. 56).

256 Laws of Manu, v. 40.

257 Ibid. v. 45.

258 Ibid. vii. 101.

259 Ibid. vii. 103.

260 Laws of Manu, vii. 90–93, 104.

261 Ibid. viii. 84.

262 Ibid. v. 106.

263 Ibid. xi. 231.

264 Ibid. vi. 48.

265 Ibid. viii. 312.

266 Laws of Manu, viii. 313.

267 Gautama or Buddha, “The Enlightened,” the founder of Buddhism, died about B.C. 480. Long before he began his teachings moral reform was in the air in India. Many reforming sects came into existence. The most important of these was the sect of the Jains. The central teaching of Jainism is the sacredness of all life, and its first and chief commandment, Do no harm to any living thing. Its spirit of universal benevolence left a deep impress not only upon Buddhism but also upon later Hinduism.

268 Dhammapada (Sacred Books of the East, 2d ed., vol. x), xiv. 190, 191. Cf. Oldenberg, Buddha (1882), p. 209.

269 Oldenberg, Buddha, p. 286.

270 Cf. Rhys Davids, Hibbert Lectures (1881), p. 21; Hopkins, The Religions of India (1895), pp. 316 f.

271 Oldenberg, Buddha (1882), p. 220.

272 Dhammapada, xx. 283. This doctrine that peace and contentment of mind come through suppression of desire was also the teaching of the Greek Cynics.

273 “No sentient being can tell in what state the karma that he possesses will appoint his next birth, though he may be now, and continue to be until death, one of the most meritorious of men. In that karma may be the crime of murder, committed many ages ago, but not yet expiated; and in the next existence its punishment may have to be endured. There will ultimately be a reward for that which is good, but it may be long delayed. It acts like an hereditary disease.”—Hardy, Manual of Buddhism (1880), p. 411.

274 “The difficulties attendant upon this peculiar dogma [karma] may be seen in the fact that it is almost universally repudiated.... In historical composition, in narrative, and in conversation, the common idea of transmigration is continually presented” (Hardy, Manual of Buddhism (1880), p. 412). By 250 B.C. “in the North and also in the South the old heresy of the soul-theory had crept back by side issue into the doctrine from which it had been categorically and explicitly excluded by Gautama and his earlier followers” (Rhys Davids, Buddhism (1896), p. 198).

275 Hibbert Lectures (1881), pp. 31, 206. Cf. Hopkins, The Religions of India (1895), p. 321.

276 But this, as we have just seen, is not the Buddhism of the Buddhist world in general. The masses in Buddhist lands have never accepted the doctrine of Nirvana in the sense of extinction of existence. The following conversation between Moncure Conway and a Singhalese priest discloses the meaning of the term to an orthodox Buddhist of Ceylon: “I asked, ‘Have those who are in Nirvana any consciousness?’ I was then informed that there is no Singhalese word for consciousness. Sumangala said, ‘To reach Nirvana is to be no more.’ I pointed to a stone step and said, ‘One is there only as that stone is here?’ ‘Not so much,’ answered the priest; ‘for the stone is actually here, but in Nirvana there is no existence at all’” (My Pilgrimage to the Wise Men of the East (1906), p. 134).

277 These eight requirements are often condensed into four, and then the formula is called the fourfold path to deliverance.

278 Cf. Oldenberg, Buddha (1882), p. 211; Hopkins, The Religions of India (1895), p. 305.

279 There is in this teaching respecting desirelessness an apparent inconsistency, for with all other desires suppressed, there remains the desire for Nirvana. But the difficulty here is only apparent. A Buddhist priest, questioned respecting this, replied as follows: “The desire for Nirvana escapes from the mesh that entangles all other desires, because it is not desire for any object at all” (Conway, My Pilgrimage to the Wise Men of the East (1906), p. 134). But all other desires aside from this desire for Nirvana are in a sense sins of covetousness. And this is the cardinal sin in the view of the true Buddhist, for covetousness “is a strong desire for something, and all desire is a hindrance in one’s way to Nirvana.”

280 This teaching that mental illumination comes through contemplation is the doctrine in general of the religious and moral teachers of the East, and of all mystics. It differs fundamentally from the scientific view, which makes observation and study the means of enlightenment.

281 Buddhism limits transmigration to the animal creation; Brahmanism, it will be recalled, supposes the soul to transmigrate into vegetable as well as into animal forms.

282 “To be a true Buddhist, one must renounce, as lust, all desire of evil, which brings evil; and must live without other hope than that of extinguishing all desire and passion, believing that in so doing he will at death be annihilated.”—Hopkins, The Religions of India (1895), p. 564.

283 Dhammapada, vii. 90–99.

284 But—and differing in this from Dr. Hopkins—Professor Rhys Davids makes this perfection which results in annihilation to consist not in the extinction of every desire, but only of craving desire and evil passions.

285 The Religions of India (1895), p. 322.

286 Hopkins, The Religions of India (1895), p. 317. Stoicism indeed approaches Buddhism in this respect; but its attitude toward the doctrine of a future life was in general merely agnostic—it made no positive denial of immortality.

287 Cf. Rhys Davids, Hibbert Lectures (1881), p. 123.

288 Zeller represents Pythagoreanism as springing from an effort to give an ethical content to life. “We may consider it proved,” he says, “that the school of Pythagoras, believing in the almighty favor of the gods, and in future retribution, enforced purity of life, moderation and justice, minute self-examination and discretion in all actions, and especially discouraged self-conceit” (History of Philosophy (1881), vol. i, p. 496). Oldenberg (Ancient India (1896), p. 87) conceives Pythagoreanism—together with the Orphic worship—as “a bit of Buddhism in the midst of Greek civilization.”

289 Gautama’s attitude toward ascetic practices is shown by the following: “Not nakedness, not platted hair, not dirt, not fasting, or lying on the earth, not rubbing with dust, not sitting motionless, can purify a mortal who has not overcome desires” (Dhammapada, x. 141).

290 Oldenberg, Buddha (1882), p. 366.

291 This is well illustrated in the following incident related by Moncure Conway. In the island of Ceylon he was visited by an aged Buddhist priest, who came in a sedan borne by men. Asked why he did not use a carriage drawn by horses, the priest replied that “he was afraid a horse might be vitally injured by carrying him.” “But,” said Mr. Conway, “might it not be the same with one of those men while he is carrying you?” After a moment’s silence the priest answered, “But a man can tell me if he is suffering” (My Pilgrimage to the Wise Men of the East (1906), pp. 116 f.).

292 Thousands of rats were formerly kept at public expense in a hospital at the Indian town of Kutel.

293 Toleration is not even recognized as a virtue in the moral codes of ancient Judaism, dogmatic Christianity, and Islam.

294 Hibbert Lectures (1881), p. 231.

295 Under Asoka, it is true, Buddhism, like Christianity under Constantine the Great, became militant. But Asoka was a gentle warrior and made war gently. He neither killed his prisoners nor tortured them, a common practice with Oriental conquerors, nor did he sell them as slaves.

296 “Les paisibles sujets du Grand-Lama thibetain ont cessé d’aimer la guerre et presque de la faire” (Letourneau, La guerre dans les diverses races humaines (1895), p. 213).

297 Edward A. Ross, The Changing Chinese (1911), p. 29.

298 See above, p. 79.

299 Mozoomdar, a leader of the Brahmo-Somaj.

300 Buddhism, like Christianity, teaches that hatred must be overcome by love: “Let a man overcome anger by love, let him overcome evil by good” (Dhammapada, xvii. 223). “For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule” (Ibid. i. 5).

301 For the influence of Buddhism on the Japanese character, see Count Okuma, Fifty Years of New Japan (1909), vol. ii, chap. iv, “Japanese Religious Beliefs: Buddhism.”

302 Laws, tr. Jowett, x. 896. And the thought is near even in the latest philosophy: “But it feels like a real fight,” says Professor William James, “as if there were something really wild in the universe which we, with all our idealities and faithfulness, are needed to reform.”

303 Is. xlv. 7.

304 This dualistic world philosophy is regarded by some students of the Zend-Avesta as being in the nature of a protest against “the inert asceticism of Buddhism and the ethical indifference of Brahmanism” (Darmesteter, “Introduction,” Sacred Books of the East, 2d ed., vol. iv, p. lxviii). Ranke views it as the product of environment: “If we keep well in view the contrasts between the various districts and nations included within the limits of Persia and her provinces, the incessant struggle between the settled populations and the inhabitants of the steppes, between the cultivated regions and the desolation of the desert, thrust back, indeed, yet ever resuming its encroachments, the ideas of the Zend-Avesta will appear to us natural and, as we may term it, autochthonic” (Universal History, vol. i (1885), p. 105).

305 The way in which such a conception acts upon the moral life is well illustrated in the history of English Puritanism. The ethical strenuousness of the Puritan was the outcome of his deeply felt consciousness of the ineradicable antagonism between good and evil. It is all brought vividly before us in Bunyan’s Holy War, in the struggle between Immanuel and Diabolus—of which the myth of Ahura and Ahriman was the prototype.

306 Mihir Yasht (Sacred Books of the East, vol. xxiii), vii. 26.

307 See Jackson, Zoroaster, the Prophet of Ancient Iran.

308 See above, p. 115.

309 Zoroastrian ethics, as Wedgwood says, is best understood when viewed as a protest against the Hindu conception of the universe and life. “The injunction to industry, the elaborate provisions for agriculture, the constant stimulus to exertion of every kind, are most intelligible when we see in them a recoil from the faith which appeared to this active race [the Iranian] a confusion of good and evil” (The Moral Ideal, 3d ed., p. 59).

310 Vendîdâd (Sacred Books of the East, 2d ed., vol. iv), Farg. iv. 47.

311 Ibid. Farg. iii. 33.

312 Ibid. Farg. iv. 49.

313 “Aryan morality came down from the heavens in a ray of light” (Selected Essays of James Darmesteter, ed. Morris Jastrow, p. 304).

314 Vendîdâd, Farg. ii. 29.

315 Ibid. Farg. iv. 49 (bis)-55.

316 Mihir Yasht, i. 2.

317 Ibid. xxix. 116, 117.

318 The Moral Ideal, 3d ed., pp. 71 ff. It is significant that the sacred standard of the early Persians was the apron of a blacksmith.

319 Vendîdâd, Farg. iii. 31.

320 Ibid. Farg. iii. 4.

321 Laws of Manu, x. 84.

322 Vendîdâd, Farg. iii. 38, 39.

323 The king who reigned in Persia at the time of Nero, going from Asia to Italy, traveled by land along the shore instead of going by ship, “because the Magi are forbidden to defile the sea” (James Darmesteter, Sacred Books of the East, vol. iv, p. xl). But the anxious observance by the Persians of the requirements of the code is best disclosed in the disposition which they made of their dead. Since corpses could neither be burned nor buried nor thrown into the water without defiling a sacred element, they were exposed on the summits of mountains or on the top of low towers (dakhmas), the so-called “Towers of Silence,” that the flesh might be eaten by birds of prey.

324 Zend-Avesta, pt. ii, Yasht xxii (Sacred Books of the East, vol. xxiii, pp. 314 ff.).

325 Sacred Books of the East, vol. xxxi, “Introduction,” p. xx.

326 “Their [the servitors of Mithra] dualistic system was particularly adapted to fostering individual effort and to developing human energy.”—Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra (1903), p. 141.

327 Herod. i. 139. We quote Rawlinson’s version.

328 Herod. i. 136.

329 Rawlinson’s Herodotus, vol. i, p. 214, n. 10. We omit the references.

330 Cf. Herod. ix. 109.

331 Rawlinson, The Five Great Monarchies (1871), vol. iii, p. 170. The exception was the case of the Barcæans. Cf. Herod. iv. 201.

332 The modern Persians, who have exchanged the truth-impelling creed of Zoroaster for that of Mohammed, seem to have lost this ancestral virtue. It is noteworthy, however, that the Indian Parsees, the inheritors and preservers of the faith of ancient Persia, are noted for their uprightness and veracity.

333 “They [the Parsees] form one of the most esteemed, wealthy, and philanthropic communities on the west coast of India, notably in the city of Bombay.”—Bloomfield, The Religion of the Veda (1908), p. 15.

334 “The whole history of the religion of Israel is a history of the development of the moral consciousness, and consequently of the deepening and widening of the opposition between that which ought to be and that which is.”—Edward Caird, The Evolution of Religion (1894), vol. ii, p. 92.

335 It may be urged that the moral character given to Yahweh was the creation of the moral consciousness of his worshipers; but even so, this conception of deity once formed would inevitably react upon the moral sense to deepen and purify the feelings that gave it birth.

336 Geschichte des Volkes Israel (1889), Bd. i, S. 429.

337 Budde, Religion of Israel to the Exile (1899), pp. 35 ff.; Toy, Judaism and Christianity (1891), p. 307; W. Robertson Smith, The Religion of the Semites (1894), pp. 75 ff.

338 W. Robertson Smith urges that sacrifice among the Hebrews had its origin in the sacramental communal idea. According to this belief the clansmen and their god are of the same stock, and the bond of kinship is renewed and strengthened through the human and the divine members of the community partaking together of the flesh and blood of an animal slain.

339 Job iii. 19.

340 Eccl. ix. 5; and so ix. 10: “For there is no work, nor desire, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in Sheol, whither thou goeth.”

341 Is. xxxviii. 18.

342 See below, pp. 165 f.

343 Cf. Chapter II.

344 The oldest form of the Decalogue is found in Ex. xxxiv; cf. Ex. xxxiii.

345 If we compare the morality of this Hebrew Decalogue with that of the Egyptian Negative Confession, we shall find it to belong to about the same stage of ethical development.

346 In the Book of Judges are preserved some traditions which are illustrative of the moral state of society at this time; for though all the details of these stories may not be historical, still they doubtless reflect the general condition of things during this period. There is a striking similarity between these traditions of gross and incredible crimes and the traditions of the atrocious immoralities of the Merovingian Age in European history.

347 The kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian power 722 B.C.; the kingdom of Judah fell before Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, 586 B.C.

348 Cf. Kuenen, The Prophets and Prophecy in Israel.

349 The Prophets and Prophecy in Israel (1877), p. 344.

350 Cf. 1 Kings xxi—the story of Naboth’s vineyard.

351 “The life-work of Elijah was a turning-point in the history of the religion of Israel, similar in its consequences to those which followed the appearance of Zarathustra in Iran.... It was the ethical idea of God matured in the soul of the prophet by the need of his time which broke through with irresistible power to the demand for a final choice between Jehovah, the holy God, and the unholy nature gods of the heathen.”—Pfleiderer, Religions and Historic Faiths (1907), pp. 225 f.

352 History of the People of Israel (1892), vol. ii, p. 275.

353 Calamities were at this time befalling Israel. “The national distress served to awaken Israel’s conscience. The obligation covenanted at Sinai knocked again at the door of their hearts” (Budde, Religion of Israel to the Exile (1899), p. 93).

354 Amos iii. 10.

355 Ibid. v. 11, 12.

356 Ibid. viii. 5, 6.

357 Ibid. v. 21.

358 Ibid. v. 22.

359 Ibid. v. 24.

360 Hosea vi. 6.

361 To Amos and Hosea, Yahweh is simply the supreme god, the suzerain of all other gods.

362 Is. ii. 3, 4; cf. Micah iv. 1–3. See Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (1897), p. 229, for the opinion of different commentators on the possible exilic or postexilic date of these passages.

363 Is. i. 11–17.

364 Micah vi. 6–8.

365 Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel (1885), p. 414.

366 This festival was probably of Babylonian origin. It was associated with astronomical phenomena—with the seven planets of ancient astronomy and with the phases of the moon.

367 The feast of Purim is another transformed festival; “Babylonian in origin, it was given a Jewish dress and became incorporated into the system of Jewish observances” (David Philipson, The Reform Movement in Judaism (1907), p. 3).

368 Thus the festival of Dionysus, which “in its origin was a mere burst of primitive animal spirits, is transmuted into a complex and beautiful work of art” (Dickinson, The Greek View of Life, p. 14).

369 Deut. vi. 14.

370 Montefiori, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion (1892), p. 197.

371 Prolegomena to the History of Israel (1885), p. 402. Renan speaks of Deuteronomy in the same strain: “This Thora was the worst enemy of the universal religion which the prophets of the eighth century had in their dreams” (History of the People of Israel (1891), vol. iii, p. 175).

372 Cf. Chapter XVI. The persecutions of the medieval Church were largely the outcome of this legislation which made the extermination of God’s enemies, that is, idolators and misbelievers, a pious duty. “The terrible Directorium Inquisitorum of Nicholas Eymeric follows Deuteronomy word for word” (Renan, History of the people of Israel (1891), vol. iii, p. 179).

373 Deut. xx. 16.

374 Ibid. vii. 2.

375 Jewish Religious Life after the Exile (1898), p. 45. The teachings of this same intolerant monolatry has, down to the present day, exerted a retarding influence upon the development of international morality, especially upon the war ethics of the Christian nations.

376 We meet with the same phenomenon in medieval times. The Christian Church, which was so harsh in its dealings with misbelievers, was a tender mother toward the poor and the afflicted of the faith.

377 The origin of these cities may date from a much earlier time than the reform under King Josiah. The code may simply register changes already effected in the customary law. See Nathaniel Schmidt, The Prophet of Nazareth (1905), p. 61.

378 Deut. iv. 41, 42; xix. 1–13.

379 Deut. xv. 7, 8.

380 Ibid. xxiv. 6.

381 Ibid. xxiv. 12, 13.

382 Ibid. xxiv. 17.

383 Ibid. xxiv. 14, 15.

384 Ibid. xxiii. 19, 20. Cf. Maspero, The Dawn of Civilization, p. 760. The poor in these early times were, in all the lands advancing in civilization, literally devoured by the money lenders.

385 Deut. xxiv. 19.

386 Ruth ii. 4–17.

387 Deut. v. 14, 15.

388 Ibid. xv. 12.

389 Ibid. xv. 13, 14.

390 All these regulations respecting slaves, however, lack universalism. It is compassion for the slave not as a man, but as a Hebrew, that moves the legislator. The laws are in general for the benefit of Hebrew slaves alone. Gentiles or foreigners are not included in these humane provisions. See Lev. xxv and Ex. xxi. 2.

391 See Is. xl-lxvi.

392 “Deutero-Isaiah was the first to emphasize and make use of this plenary and unconditional monotheism.”—Montefiori, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion (1892), p. 269.

393 Is. xliii. 10.

394 Ibid. xliv. 6.

395 Ibid. xliv. 24.

396 Ibid. xlv. 5.

397 Ibid. xlvi. 9.

398 There is a repetition of this in the Koran, where the Prophet of Arabia speaks as one to whom the idea of the unity of deity had come as a new thought.

399 W. Robertson Smith, The Religion of the Semites (1894), p. 81.

400 See above, pp. 18–20.

401 “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”—Deut. v. 9.

402 Ezek. xviii. 2.

403 Ibid. xviii. 3.

404 Ezek. xviii. 20. The entire chapter is devoted to this single subject. This truer view had dawned upon the compilers of the Deuteronomic code. Cf. Deut. xxiv. 16 and Jer. xxxi. 29, 30.

405 See below, p. 364.

406 See lii. 13-liii. 12.

407 Cf. Bennett, The Religion of the Post-Exilic Prophets (1907), pp. 326 ff.

408 In the year 539 B.C. Cyrus, king of Persia, having captured Babylon, issued a decree giving the Jewish exiles in Babylonia permission to return to their own land and to rebuild the Temple destroyed fifty years before by Nebuchadnezzar. A band returned and set themselves to the task of restoring their houses and rebuilding the Temple. After many interruptions and long delay the building was finished and dedicated anew to the worship of Yahweh (516 B.C.).

409 “The growth of Judaism and the Judaic veneration for the law, after Ezra’s reformation, shows some marked resemblances to the growth in post-Reformation Protestant theology of the legal conception of salvation, and particularly the tendency to formalize and almost to deify the literal inspiration and authority of the Scriptures.”—Newman Smyth, Christian Ethics (1892), p. 95.

410 For life under the law consult Schürer, History of the Jewish People, division ii, vol. ii, pp. 90 ff.

411 Matt. xxiii. 23.

412 Ibid. xv. 11, 20. “The identification of morality with ritual in his [Jesus’] day had confused the issue before human life much as that issue is now confused by the identification of morality with opinion” (Hall, History of Ethics within Organized Christianity (1910), p. 62).

413 Ps. cxxxvii. 9; see Ps. cix.

414 On this subject see Toy, Judaism and Christianity (1891), pp. 246 ff.

415 “The people had learned to draw nigh to God without the aid of sacrifice.”—W. Robertson Smith, The Religion of the Semites (1894), p. 215.

416 Cf. Mark i. 21; vi. 2.

417 Renan, History of the People of Israel (1895), vol. iv, p. 195.

418 Consult on this subject Charles, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life (1898–1899).

419 See above, pp. 139 f.

420 See Cheyne, Jewish Religious Life after the Exile (1898), p. 229; and Toy, Judaism and Christianity (1891), pp. 378, 386.

421 Ps. xvi. 10, Rev. Ver.


“I know without me God cannot a moment live;
If I to death should go, He, too, would death receive.”
Quoted by Blow, A Study of Dante (1887), p. 102.

423 Cf. above, p. 44; see also Toy, Judaism and Christianity (1891), p. 387; Hall, History of Ethics within Organized Christianity (1910), p. 216.

424 The Pharisees; cf. Acts xxiii. 6–8.

425 We see a repetition of all this in what is going on to-day among the Jews in the great cities of the New World. Liberal Judaism is largely the outcome of just such influences as brought forth Christianity out of the narrow ritual Judaism of the Alexandrian Age. See David Philipson, The Reform Movement in Judaism (1907), chap. xii.

426 “Those psalms into which a sense of something like the brotherhood of nations begins to penetrate are for various reasons later than 382 B.C.... Not till the coming of the Macedonian reconciler of East and West could there be a presentiment of the truth of the divine education, not only of Israel, but of the human race.”—Cheyne, Jewish Religious Life after the Exile (1898), pp. 134 f.

427 To Hillel is credited the maxim, “What thou wouldst not have another do to thee, do not thou to another.”

428 The teaching of the Orphic sects that there are two elements, one good and another bad, in man’s nature, was an esoteric doctrine which had no influence on the popular mind and conscience. Cf. G. Lowes Dickinson, The Greek View of Life, 6th ed., pp. 31 f.

429 There are, it is true, gods of the lower world unfriendly to man, but there is nothing in the Greek world-view corresponding to the Egyptian conception of the struggle between the good Osiris and the wicked Set, or of the Persian idea of the conflict between the beneficent Ahura Mazda and the evil-working Ahriman. Nor was there anything in this view like the Babylonian or Persian notion of malicious spirits.

430 The Dionysian cult fostered art, but not directly morality. In so far as the Attic drama was an elevating moral influence, the cult may be said to have indirectly promoted morals. But the foreign orgiastic god had to be thoroughly converted before he could strengthen others.

431 The pre-Hellenic Oriental cult of Aphrodite had undoubtedly an unfavorable influence on morality. “Some part of this evil character [was] transplanted into Greek legend, but very little into Greek worship.... What we know is that until the declining period of Greek history the cult of Aphrodite, so far as it appears in written or monumental record, was as pure and austere as that of Zeus and Athena” (Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States (1896), vol. ii, pp. 657, 663).

432 Cf. Schmidt, Die Ethik der alten Griechen (1882), Bd. i, S. 165.

433 Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States (1896), vol. i, p. 74, quoting Charondas, the Sicilian legislator.

434 Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States (1896), vol. iv, pp. 177 ff.

435 Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, 2d ed., p. 292.

436 History of Greece (1900), pp. 320 f.

437 Thucyd. i. 70.

438 For an illuminating comparison of the Greek virtues of fortitude and temperance with the corresponding Christian virtues, see T. H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, 5th ed., pp. 304 ff.

439 Ethics, iii. 10.

440 “But let [each man] know,” says Plato, “how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as in him lies, not only in this life but in all that which is to come. For this is the way of happiness” (Republic, tr. Jowett, x. 619).

441 Socrates, it is true, taught that it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong, but he was here far in advance of the common Greek conscience.

442 Quoted by Taylor, Ancient Ideals (1896), vol. i, p. 247.

443 Christian Ethics (1873), vol. i, p. 63.

444 The Greek View of Life (1909), p. 205.

445 If we contrast the Greek conception of man’s nature with that of certain systems of Christian theology, we shall better understand the ethical value of such ideas and beliefs. On the occasion of a college commencement one of the speakers, a stout upholder of the doctrines of the fall of man, original sin, and the utter depravity of the natural man, roundly denounced this injunction of Pindar’s. He said to the young people who had chosen as their class motto, “Be what you are,” that that was just what they ought not to be. He then went on to show them that their nature was wholly corrupt, that all their natural inclinations were toward evil continually, and that if they ever hoped for salvation they must become what they were not.

446 “Aristotle may be almost said to have made the difference between Greek and barbarian the basis of his moral code.”—Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 200.

447 Politics, i. 7, sec. 5; 8, sec. 12; vii. 14, sec. 21.

448 For the ethics of Greek slavery consult Schmidt, Die Ethik der alten Griechen (1882), Bd. ii, S. 203–219.

449 Thebes, but not from moral scruples seemingly, prohibited under the penalty of death the destruction of healthy infants.

450 The reader of Plato will recall how Socrates uses this practice of the exposition of infants to illustrate his art of bringing to birth true and false ideas (“lies and shadows”) in the minds of his pupils, and exposing to die those that are vain shadows. See his Dialogues, tr. Jowett, vol. iii, pp. 350 f.

451 The practice of the exposition of female infants in the Hellenistic Age, when luxury increased and children became a burden, seems to have been more common than in earlier times.

452 Mahaffy, Social Life in Greece (1888), p. 120.

453 Politics, vi. 4, sec. 12. This contempt for tradesmen and laborers, generally speaking, continued through all periods of Greek history. In some states, however, particularly in Athens, it underwent modification. “The later Athenians began to consider trade an honorable road to riches, and aristocrats like Nicias were known as careful trade masters.” In Rhodes, also, trade became honorable.

454 Paulsen, System of Ethics, tr. Thilly, p. 62 n.

455 Laws, tr. Jowett, xi. 919.

456 They were charged with adulteration of foods, cheating in measure, etc. Demosthenes declares that a man honest in commercial transactions was a prodigy. Cf. Mahaffy, Social Life in Greece (1888), p. 419.

457 See above, p. 89.

458 This ethical feeling is to be reckoned with in dealing with Asiatics—until there is a change in their ideal of manliness. The overlooking of an injury is apt to be regarded by them as an indication of weakness and cowardice.

459 Schmidt, Die Ethik der alten Griechen (1882), Bd. ii, S. 312.

460 Herod. vi. 24. The Delphian oracle tried to cure this defect in the national character. See the story of Glaucus, Herod. vi. 86.

461 Die Ethik der alten Griechen (1882), Bd. ii, S. 413.

462 Ethics, tr. Welldon, i. 4.

463 Ethics: the Facts of the Moral Life (1908), p. 95.

464 Od. xix. 396–398.

465 Thucyd. i. 5.

466 Il. xxii. 485–499.

467 See Xen. Mem. ii. 1, 21, for the parable, by the Sophist Prodicus, of the choice of Heracles at the parting of the ways.

468 The Republic, iii. 386–392.

469 See above, p. 35.

470 “The blessed islands of the West were indeed even then [in the Homeric Age] a home for the dead, but they had not yet been opened to moral worth, as in the days of Pindar.”—Mahaffy, Social Life in Greece (1888), p. 26.

471 See Zeller, History of Philosophy (1881), vol. i, p. 125, and Schmidt, Die Ethik der alten Griechen (1882), Bd. i, S. 99. “Strictly speaking,” says Professor Seymour, “Homer knows of no instance of rewards, and of only one case of punishment after death” (Life in the Homeric Age (1908), p. 469).

472 For the Greek view of the underworld, and the incoming of the idea of rewards and punishments in the after life, see Schmidt, Die Ethik der alten Griechen (1882), Bd. i, S. 97 ff., and Rhode, Psyche: Seelencult und Unsterblichkeits Glaube der Griechen, 4te Auflage, Bd. i, S. 301–319.

473 This moralization of Hades is carried still further by Vergil. It is instructive to compare his vision of Hades with Homer’s.

474 Republic, x. 614–616; see also Gorgias, 523–527.

475 Herod. i. 30–32. But Nemesis appears later in the story, and Crœsus is represented as being punished for the crime of an ancestor.

476 Ibid. vii. 10. The views which the historian here attributes to the Persian Artabanus were of course a reflection of Greek belief. For further instances in Greek literature of the conception of the envy of the gods, consult Schmidt, Die Ethik der alten Griechen (1882), Bd. i, S. 78–84.

477 Thucyd. vii. 77.

478 Pericles (1890), p. 312.

479 “The very event [the Persian war] which determined the sudden splendor of the drama gave a sublime and terrific sanction to the already existing morality.”—Symonds, Studies of the Greek Poets (1880), vol. ii, p. 17.

480 Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States (1896), vol. i, p. 129. After the tale had been moralized by Æschylus, Phidias carved the story on the great Zeus throne at Olympia, using it to give emphasis to the conception of the god as the guardian of the moral order of the world.

481 Thucyd. v. 84–116.

482 The attitude of the later philosophers toward the notion that the gods are envious is fairly represented by Plato’s protest: “He [the Creator] is good, and no goodness can have any jealousy of anything” (Timæus, tr. Jowett, 29).

483 “The dispensation which takes the aspect of divine envy to mortals might, it seems, from a higher point of view, be discerned as the very opposite; human vicissitude is the result of a divine love anxious to share the true blessedness which comes in the form of sorrow.”—Wedgwood, The Moral Ideal, 3d ed., p. 112.

484 Taylor, Ancient Ideals (1896), vol. i, p. 227.

485 Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States (1891), vol. i, p. 129.

486 Republic, tr. Jowett, x. 613.

487 See James Adam, The Vitality of Platonism (1911), chap. v, “Ancient Greek Views of Suffering and Evil.”

488 When we contrast with this Sophocles’ treatment of the same theme in Antigone we realize how great an advance during the interval the Greeks had made in humanitarian feeling.

489 See Thucyd. iii. 53–59.

490 The Spartan admiral Callicratides (the successor of Lysander, 406 B.C.) refused to sell his Greek prisoners of war as slaves, but he stood almost or quite alone in this. See Xen. Hellen. i. 6, 14.

491 Mahaffy, Social Life in Greece (1888), p. 235.

492 The war brought into fearful exaggeration the salient weakness of Greek morality. The most reprehensible moral faults of the Greeks were the outgrowth of political factions and cabals, of party jealousies and rivalries in the close quarters of city walls. These faults were lifted into the most savage passions by the war. Thucydides in a memorable passage (iii. 82) draws a striking picture of the disastrous moral effects of the prolonged quarrel.

493 See above, p. 180.

494 Republic, v. 469–471.

495 Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution (1906), vol. i, p. 267; see also A. Ræder, L’Arbitrage international chez les Hellenes (1912).

496 Études sur l’histoire de humanité (1880), t. ii, p. 105. Because of its long exemption from the ravages of war, Elis was more populous and wealthy than any other district of the Peloponnesus (Polyb. iv. 73, 74). The contrast presented by Greece in general constituted an impressive commentary on the fatal consequences for Greek civilization of the war system. Speaking of the depopulation which incessant wars had caused over almost all the world he knew, Plutarch says of Greece, a land once “strong in cities,” that the whole country could raise barely three thousand men, the same number that the single city of Megara sent to Platæa at the time of the Persian war (Philosophical Essays, “On the Cessation of Oracles,” sec. viii).

497 See above, p. 18.

498 “Really to see the good and to know it as such, yet not to love and pursue it, is impossible; the vision carries with it its own persuasion and authority.”—Martineau, Types of Ethical Theory, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 74. “Mere school and word knowledge, of course, is powerless, but real knowledge, knowledge that represents real personal conviction, cannot fail to influence life.”—Paulsen, System of Ethics, tr. Thilly (1906), p. 62.

499 “There are few men whose minds are not more or less in that state of sham knowledge against which Socrates made war; there is no man whose notions have not been first got together by spontaneous, unexamined, unconscious, uncertified association—resting upon forgotten particulars, blending together disparities or inconsistencies, and leaving in his mind old and familiar phrases and oracular propositions, of which he has never rendered to himself account; there is no man, who, if he be destined for vigorous and profitable scientific effort, has not found it a necessary branch of self-education to break up, disentangle, analyse, and reconstruct this ancient mental compound, and who has not been driven to it by his own lame and solitary efforts, since the giant of the colloquial Elenchus no longer stands in the market place to lend him help and stimulus.”—Grote, History of Greece (1888), vol. vii, pp. 168 f.

500 Quoted by Schmidt, Die Ethik der alten Griechen (1882), Bd. ii, S. 396.

501 “His [Socrates’] significancy for moral philosophy lies in his calling attention to rational knowledge as the source of the moral.”—Wuttke, Christian Ethics (1873), vol. i, p. 69.

502 Histoire des théories et des idées morales dans l’antiquité (1879), t. i, pp. 125 f.

503 Cf. Gorgias, 478, 479.

504 Laws, tr. Jowett, xi. 913. Plato saw what the socialist-philosopher Lloyd saw when he wrote, “More searching ... than the Golden Rule is that which commands us to inquire if what we desire for ourselves and others is a right desire” (Man the Social Creator (1906), p. 147).

505 In the Republic Plato reaches the conception of a Greek brotherhood, but beyond this he never advanced.

506 Xen. Mem. ii. 6, 35.

507 Politics, i. 7, sec. 5; 8, sec. 12; vii. 2, sec. 15; 14, sec. 21.

508 Histoire des théories et des idées morales dans l’antiquité (1879), t. i, p. 228.

509 “A moral ideal which was not coextensive with the whole spiritual nature of man was taken by the schoolmen from the Aristotelian ethics, and then the so-called religious virtues were more or less cumbrously and precariously built upon it. Supernaturalism in morals was added to the classic naturalism as a divine appendix to ethics.”—Newman Smyth, Christian Ethics (1892), p. 133.

510 The downfall of the institutions of the free city state was to Greek morality what the downfall of the papal Church would have been to the morality of the medieval ages.

511 Philopœman and Aratus.

512 This ascetic tendency in Stoicism is doubtless to be attributed to the influence of the Orient upon Greek life and thought.

513 Consistently so, since only through self-control and the avoidance of all excesses of passion, appetite, and desires can one maintain that tranquillity of mind which is the condition precedent of happiness.

514 Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 228.

515 Mahaffy, Social Life in Greece, p. 264. The author contrasts this humaneness of the laws of the Athenian democracy four centuries before Christ with the atrocious cruelty of the criminal laws of Christian Europe down almost to the nineteenth century.

516 Social Life in Greece (1888), p. 269.

517 Ibid. p. 554.

518 The Apostle Paul at Athens, seeking common ground with his hearers for the doctrine he preached that God hath made of one blood all nations of men, finds it in the familiar line of the Stoic Cleanthes—“We are the offspring of God.”

519 Plutarch died about 40 A.D.

520 “From contact with the Greeks, therefore, Christianity obtained this support, that an ideal long known to the Western world, the Stoic ideal, was found to correspond with it, so that the preaching of the Apostles was in this respect not out of harmony with the wants and aspirations of the higher and better minds of the age.”—Mahaffy, Progress of Hellenism in Alexander’s Empire (1905), p. 146.

521 “The essential oneness of human moral experience has shown itself in the ethical results achieved by these various peoples.”—Toy, Judaism and Christianity (1891), p. 337.

522 Coulanges, The Ancient City, ii, 9.

523 The authority of the father over each and every member of the family was legally absolute, extending to life and death. Not until late in the Empire did the law forbid fathers to kill their grown-up children or to sell them as slaves. Cf. McKenzie, Studies in Roman Law, 6th ed., p. 141; and Sohm, Institutes (1901), p. 53.

524 Inge, Society in Rome under the Cæsars (1888), p. 8.

525 This Roman virtue of obedience to the state has been just such an enduring force in the moral life of the Christian world as has the Jewish virtue of obedience to a revealed law (see Chapter IX). Historically regarded, the Protestant Church, which makes obedience to a written revealed law a necessary virtue, is the inheritor of the ethical feeling and conviction of ancient Israel; while the Roman Catholic Church, which makes submission to ecclesiastical authority an indispensable virtue, is the inheritor of the ethical tradition and spirit of ancient Rome. See H. M. Gwatkin (co-author), Early Ideals of Righteousness (1910), pp. 71 ff.

526 Tacitus, Annals, iii. 16, 17.

527 This legal subjection of the son to the father, while it developed and strengthened the virtue of obedience, seemed to deaden filial affection. “Of all the forms of virtue,” says Lecky, “filial affection is perhaps that which appears most rarely in Roman history” (History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 299).

528 De Off. i. 17.

529 History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, pp. 177 f.

530 See p. 245, on the ethics of persecution.

531 The Moral Ideal, 3d ed., p. 148.

532 Cf. Chapter XVIII.

533 The citizen army, which had been the seed plot of those heroic virtues that cast such a halo around the earlier history of Rome, had been replaced by a mercenary force in which only the coarser military virtues could find sphere for exercise.

534 “The unchecked power of the master ... produced those cold hearts which gloated over the agony of gallant men in the arena.”—Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius (1904), p. 12.

535 Friedlander, Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms (1888), Bd. i, S. 479–481; English ed., Roman Life and Manners under the Early Empire, vol. i, pp. 243 f.

536 “The senator was forbidden down to the last age of the empire, both by law and sentiment, to increase his fortune by commerce.”—Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, p. 102.

537 De Off. i. 42.

538 Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 271.

539 Friedlander, Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms (1889), Bd. ii, S. 414; English ed., Roman Life and Manners under the Early Empire, vol. ii, p. 77.

540 “The unusual enthusiasm for the shows is expressed in many a rude sketch which has been traced by boyish hands upon the walls.”—Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, p. 238.

541 In an eloquent passage Lecky thus sums up the demoralizing effects of the spectacles: “Those hateful games, which made the spectacle of human suffering and death the delight of all classes, had spread their brutalising influence wherever the Roman name was known, had rendered millions absolutely indifferent to the sight of human suffering, had produced in many, in the very centre of an advanced civilization, a relish and a passion for torture, a rapture and an exultation in watching the spasms of extreme agony, such as an African or an American savage alone can equal”. (History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 467).

542 The period which witnessed the greatest inequality of fortunes was the last century of the Republic and the first of the Empire.

543 It should be borne in mind that the clients of this period were wholly different from the clients of the earlier times. The relations of the early clients to their patrons were those of clansmen to their chief; the relations of these later clients to their patrons were the degrading relations of idle, needy dependents to newly rich men without family traditions and socially and morally wholly unfit for their elevation.

544 The History of Rome (1888), vol. ii, p. 524.

545 “The deepest feeling of Tacitus about the early Empire seems to have been that it was fatal to character both in prince and subject.”—Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, p. 29.

546 The Moral Ideal, 3d ed., p. 204.

547 History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, pp. 332 ff.

548 Ibid. 3d ed., vol. i, p. 227.

549 “Men ceased to be adventurous, patriotic, just, magnanimous; but in exchange they became chaste, tender-hearted, loyal, religious, and capable of infinite endurance in a good cause.”—Seeley, Roman Imperialism (1889), p. 33.

550 The Moral Ideal, 3d ed., p. 187.

551 About 40–120 A.D.

552 Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, p. 64.

553 Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, pp. 231 f.

554 Cf. Ibid. p. 232.

555 Stoicism is second only to Christianity as a moral force in European civilization. “One of the most important expressions of the moral sense for all time,” affirms Professor Clifford, “is that of the Stoic philosophy, especially after its reception among the Romans” (Lectures and Essays (1901), vol. ii, p. 108). Mahaffy declares that the Stoic philosophy, “above all the human influences we know, purified and ennobled the world” (The Silver Age (1906), p. 103). Denis thinks that it was through Stoicism that Rome did most for civilization (Histoire des théories et des idées morales dans l’antiquité (1879), t. ii, p. 5).

556 Taken from Menander.

557 “One of the most emphatic as well as one of the earliest extant assertions of the duty of charity to the human race occurs in the treatise of Cicero upon duties.”—Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 240.

558 De Off. iii. 5.

559 Ibid. iii. xi.

560 Ibid. i. 16.

561 De Finibus, v. 23.

562 Meditations, vi. 44. This and the following citations are from Long’s translation, 2d ed.

563 Ibid. iv. 23. The moral element in the conception of the universal city must not be overlooked. There was implied in it the idea of universal brotherhood, of the ethical oneness of mankind. The creation and promulgation of this conception was one of the great services which Stoicism rendered to civilization.

564 Ibid. iii. 4.

565 Ibid. viii. 59.

566 This subject is dealt with by Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, pp. 295 ff.; Bryce, Studies in History and Jurisprudence, vol. ii, essay xi, “The Law of Nature.”

567 Bryce, Studies in History and Jurisprudence (1901), vol. ii, p. 143.

568 Sophocles, Antigone.

569 Commenting on the consequences of the inspiration of Roman law by this doctrine of Stoicism, Lecky says: “To the Stoics and the Roman lawyers is mainly due the clear recognition of the existence of a law of nature above and beyond all human enactments, which has been the basis of the best moral and of the most influential, though most chimerical, political speculations of later ages, and the renewed study of Roman law was an important element in the revival that preceded the Reformation” (History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 297).

570 History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 129. Lecky instances (vol. i, p. 292) three ways in which Stoicism worked for good in the Empire: (1) it raised up good emperors; (2) it led men to engage in the public service; and (3) it rendered the law more catholic and humane.

571 Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius (1904), p. 376.

572 “In the Stoic emperors ... we find probably the earliest example of great moral principles applied to legislation on a large scale.”—Clifford, Lectures and Essays, vol. ii, p. 108.

573 Public feeling in regard to the exercise of the patria potestas had been slowly changing during the centuries. Seneca relates (De Clem. i. 14) how within his memory the people furiously assaulted in the Forum a certain knight because he had whipped his son to death.

574 “The alleviations of slavery by the imperial law are essentially traceable to the influence of the Greek view.”—Mommsen, Roman Provinces (1887), vol. i, p. 296.

575 “The majority of the free population had probably either themselves been slaves, or were descended from slaves.”—Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 237.

576 Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius (1904), p. 3.

577 Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 312.

578 De Clem. i. 18.

579 Tacitus, Annals, xiv. 42–45.

580 Manumissions were frequent even in Seneca’s time. Pliny the Elder was a kind master, regarded his slaves as “humble friends,” and manumitted many of them.

581 The client class of the imperial period was made up almost wholly of freedmen.

582 It is surprising that while in the Stoic and other schools there was, during these centuries, great advance in theoretical ethics in various domains, in that of war there was no essential modification of the views and feelings of the teachers and leaders of moral reforms. In the whole range of Roman literature and philosophy there are to be found scarcely any expressions of disapproval of war. The attitude of the Roman moralists in this matter appears to have been altogether like that of the Greek philosophers. The right to wage war for empire and for glory was taught even by Cicero, only such wars, he insisted, should be waged more gently than wars to recover property, to punish insult, or to avenge a wrong (De Off. i. 12).

583 For the ethics of Christian persecution, see below, p. 324.

584 See on this subject Fiske, Excursions of an Evolutionist (1883), pp. 238 ff.; Hardy, Christianity and the Roman Government (1894), p. 17; Pollock, Essays in Jurisprudence and Ethics (1882), p. 147.

585 Besides this main motive of the persecutions there were these minor ones: (1) The teachings and practices of the new sect offended the prevailing spirit of luxury and sensuality; (2) families were divided; (3) the business of many, as that of the silversmiths of Ephesus, was threatened (Acts xix. 24–41); and (4) fear on the part of the government of the danger from the growth of such a strong semi-secret organization as the Church was becoming within the Empire (Hardy, Christianity and the Roman Government (1894), p. 165).

586 “Upon the approach of Christianity humanity took a consciousness more alert and sensitive, and during the first three centuries of our era all the ideas, all the sentiments which constitute morality developed on parallel lines and with remarkable force in the growing Church and in expiring paganism.”—Denis, Histoire des théories et des idées morales dans l’antiquité (1879), t. ii, p. 145.

587 De Off. i. 25.

588 Meditations, xi. 18.

589 Ibid. vii. 36.

590 Ibid. ix. 9; cf. vi. 47.

591 Ibid. vi. 6.

592 Fragments, tr. Long, lxviii; cf. lxvii.

593 Meditations, iii. 4.

594 De Prov. i. 1.

595 Meditations, x. 21.

596 Ibid. ii. 11.

597 Ibid. xii. 5.

598 Ibid. ii. 17.

599 Arrian, Epict. ii. 14; quoted by Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 246.

600 Meditations, vii. 31.

601 Ethical Essays, v, “On those who are punished by the Deity late.”

602 De Off. ii. 14.

603 Ibid. ii. 5.

604 Ibid. i. 7.

605 Ibid. iii. 6.

606 Ibid. iii. 4. Compare this expression of the ancient Greek and Roman moral consciousness with that of the modern Japanese (see p. 86).

607 Ibid. ii. 12.

608 De Clem. ii. 6. The trouble with this philosophy, as has been said, is that if one does not feel pity for the sufferings of others he will not be likely to help them.

609 Cicero, however, denied the right of self-destruction, and Vergil mildly censured the act. See Æneid, vi. 434.

610 Discourses, i. 9.

611 Meditations, v. 29.

612 Ep. lxx; quoted by Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 218.

613 De Prov. i. 2.

614 Zeno, the founder of the school, and Cato, its exemplifier in active life, both committed suicide.

615 Compare the views on this subject of the ancient classical peoples with those of the modern Japanese (see p. 85 and p. 86 n. 1.).

616 Glover, The Conflict of Religions in the Early Roman Empire, 3d ed. (1909), p. 67.

617 History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 324.

618 Paulsen, A System of Ethics, tr. Thilly (1906), pp. 111 f.

619 The cult of Isis when introduced into the Western lands favored illicit love, but by the second century of our era it had, in its new environment, become so far transformed as to be a true moral force in society. “Sacrament and mystery lent their aid to fortify the worshiper [of Isis] in the face of death, but, to derive their full virtue, he must exercise himself in temperance, abjure the pleasures of the senses, and purify himself for the vision of God” (Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius (1904), p. 583).

620 On this subject see Franz Cumont, Les Mystères de Mithra (1892); English ed., The Mysteries of Mithra, tr. McCormack.

621 “It [Mithraism] is perhaps the highest and most striking example of the last efforts of paganism to reconcile itself to the great moral and spiritual movement which was settling steadily, and with growing momentum, toward purer conceptions of God, of man’s relations to Him, and of the life to come.”—Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, p. 585.

622 “On peut dire que, si le christianisme eût été arrêté dans sa croissance par quelque maladie mortelle, le monde eût été Mithriaste.”—Renan, Marc-Aurèle, 5me ed., p. 579.

623 “Isis and Serapis and Mithra were preparing the Western world for the religion which was to approve the long travail of humanity by a more perfect vision of the divine.”—Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius (1904), p. 574.

624 Acts xvii. 29.

625 New to the multitude. Some of the Stoic philosophers, as we have seen, held and taught this doctrine.

626 The Eleusinian Mysteries in Greece, and some Oriental cults, particularly that of Mithra, imported into the Roman Empire, made the participation in a blessed life beyond the grave dependent upon moral purity of life on earth and through this doctrine exercised a favorable influence upon morality (see p. 254).

627 This thought and conviction of the immortality of the individual was, it is possible, in part the outcome of the decay of the ancient city, whose fancied eternity had satisfied for a time the instinct of immortality. But when some centuries had passed, the “Romans sailed round the Mediterranean and recognized that the cities of the past were not eternal, and with the same waft of conviction came a compensating belief that eternity was the heritage of every son of man. Immortality arose on the horizon of the man, as its last glow faded from the city” (Wedgwood, The Moral Ideal, 3d ed., p. 341). It was the same in Judea; as immortality faded from the political horizon of Israel, it arose on that of the individual soul.

628 Though the account of the fall of man forms the prelude of the Hebrew Scriptures, the conception never influenced to an appreciable degree pre-Christian ethics.

629 See Schmidt, The Prophet of Nazareth (1905), p. 322.

630 “L’humanité cherche l’idéal; mais elle veut que l’idéal soit une personne; elle n’aime pas une abstraction.”—Renan, Marc-Aurèle, 5me ed., p. 582.

631 History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. ii, p. 8.

632 On this subject consult Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church (1888), lect. xii, “The Transformation of the Basis of Christian Union: Doctrine in the Place of Conduct.”

633 “After the middle of the third century, ... Christianity may be just as truly called a Hellenic religion as an Oriental.”—Harnack, The Expansion of Christianity (1904), vol. i, pp. 393 f.

634 The change of emphasis from moral life to correct doctrine took place during the last half of the second and the first half of the third century. “Under the influence of contemporary Greek thought, the word faith came to be transferred from simple trust in God to mean the acceptance of a series of propositions, and these propositions, propositions in abstract metaphysics” (Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church (1888), p. 310).

635 The Athanasian Creed, which by the end of the ninth century was in use in the churches of the West as an authoritative symbol and exposition of the Roman Catholic faith, says, “Whosoever will be saved, before all things, it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith, which faith, except every one who do keep entire and unviolated, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly” (Philip Schaff, Bibliotheca Symbolica Ecclesiae Universalis, vol. ii, p. 66).

636 Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. ii, p. 68.

637 “The virtues of the intellect, freedom and boldness of thought and the power to doubt, the vital principle of scientific research, are, in the eyes of primitive Christianity, worthless and dangerous.”—Paulsen, A System of Ethics, tr. Thilly (1906), p. 68.

638 Cf. Harnack, The Expansion of Christianity (1904), vol. i, chap. v, “The Religion of Authority and Reason.”

639 See Paulsen, System of Ethics, tr. Thilly (1906), bk. i, chap. iii.

640 The ascetic movement was a reaction not only against the moral dissoluteness of pagan society, but also against the moral degeneracy which, before the end of the third century, had set in within the Christian community itself. The Church had become to a lamentable degree conformed unto the world, and had lost much of that moral fervor which characterized it during the first two centuries.

641 Alban Butler, The Lives of the Saints (the Fathers, Martyrs, and other Principal Saints, compiled from monuments and other authentic sources), 12 vols. (1854). Orig. ed. pub. 1754–1760.

642 “If you do any good beyond what is commanded by God, you will gain for yourself more abundant glory, and will be more honored by God than you would otherwise be,” was the teaching of the Church respecting the meritoriousness of ascetic practices. Cf. Newman Smyth, Christian Ethics (1892), p. 313.

643 The “Dialogue” is of course a purely literary creation of some monk. Oisin was not a contemporary of St. Patrick.

644 J. H. Simpson, Poems of Oisin (1857), pp. 42 ff. We have reproduced only a small part of the poem.

645 History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. ii, p. 34.

646 Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1908), vol. ii, p. 252.

647 Cf. Dante, Inf. xiii.

648 See above, pp. 175, 215.

649 Ireland was foremost in this missionary movement because she was so given over to the monastic spirit. See Montalembert, The Monks of the West (1861), vol. ii, p. 397.

650 According to Westermarck (The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1906), vol. i, pp. 565–569) charity took the place of sacrifice in the primitive cults, and for this reason became such a prominent religious duty in all the higher faiths.

651 Montalembert, The Monks of the West (1861), vol. i, pp. 397 f.

652 Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. ii, pp. 86 ff.

653 The Moral Ideal, 3d ed., p. 369.

654 See above, p. 245.

655 “The suppression of all religions but one by Theodosius, the murder of Hypatia by the monks of Cyril, and the closing by Justinian of the schools of Athens, are the three events which mark the decisive overthrow of intellectual freedom.”—Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 428.

656 See above, p. 6.

657 Physics and Politics (1873), pp. 70 f.

658 “One may find ... the chief characteristic of the period of the migrations in a complete uprooting of public morality, a universal overturning of inherited conceptions of right and wrong.”—Francke, Social Forces in German Literature, 2d ed., p. 12.

659 Parliament of Religions (1893), vol. i, pp. 574 f.; consult also Bryce, Studies in History and Jurisprudence (1901), vol. ii, p. 237.

660 Qur’ân, tr. Palmer (Sacred Books of the East, vols. vi, ix), suras ii. 184–189, 212–215; iv. 90; viii. 40; ix. 5–14, 29; xlvii. 4, and many others.

661 Ibid. suras ii. 149; iii. 151; ix. 113.

662 Sura xxiv. 33. The New Testament nowhere inculcates the manumission of slaves, but the spirit of its teachings is opposed to slavery, and the early Fathers of the Church encouraged the emancipation of slaves.

663 Sura iv. 3.

664 Suras vi. 138, 141, 152; xvii. 33.

665 Suras ii. 216; v. 93.

666 R. Bosworth Smith, Mohammed and Mohammedanism (1875), p. 204.

667 Ameer Ali, The Spirit of Islam, 2d ed., p. 283.

668 According to the principles of the Koran, though no Moslem captive might be reduced to servitude, all non-Moslem prisoners could, as spoils of war, be enslaved: “We make lawful for ye ... what thy right hand possesses [slaves] out of the booty God has granted thee” (sura xxxiii. 49).

669 “The recognition of the slave traffic by Mohammedanism has been, and is to this day, a curse to Africa and a source of disturbance to the world’s politics.”—Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution (1906), vol. i, p. 307.

670 In an address. Cf. R. Bosworth Smith, Mohammed and Mohammedanism (1875), pp. 59 ff.

671 Ameer Ali, The Spirit of Islam, 2d ed., p. 328. The author maintains that Mohammed himself did not intend that his rules should be binding for all time.

672 This teaching is one which does not show itself as a generally recognized principle in the pre-Christian centuries, as does the principle of love, or self-devotion to the common good, or universal benevolence. “Christianity at its inception did not take over this moral principle, ready-made, from any of the older cults or cultures from which the Christian movement was in a position to draw. It is not found, at least in appreciable force, in the received Judaism; nor can it be derived from the classical (Greco-Roman) cultures, which had none of it” (Thorstein B. Veblen, “Christian Morals and the Competitive System,” The International Journal of Ethics for January, 1910).

673 “Christian mores in the Western Empire were formed by syncretism of Jewish and pagan mores. Christian mores therefore contain war, slavery, concubinage, demonism, and base amusements, together with some abstract ascetic doctrines with which these things are inconsistent.”—Sumner, Folkways (1907), p. 116.

674 For opinions of early Christian writers and the attitude of the Church on the soldier’s profession and the rightfulness of war, see Grotius, Rights of War and Peace, tr. Whewell, pp. 49 ff.

675 Harnack, The Expansion of Christianity (1904), vol. ii, p. 205.

676 See above, p. 277.

677 Throughout the medieval ages and down almost to our own day these Old Testament records, misread, were used to justify many of the cruelties of war, and other atrocities:

Plunder and pillage were supported by reference to the divinely approved “spoiling of the Egyptians” by the Israelites. The right to massacre unresisting enemies was based upon the command of the Almighty to the Jews in the twentieth chapter of Deuteronomy. The indiscriminate slaughter of whole populations was justified by a reference to the divine command to slaughter the nations round about Israel. Torture and mutilation of enemies was sanctioned by the conduct of Samuel against Agag, of King David against the Philistines, of the men of Judah against Adonibezek. Even the slaughter of babes in arms was supported by a passage from the Psalms, “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” Treachery and assassination were supported by a reference to the divinely approved Phinehas, Ehud, Judith, and Jael; and murdering the ministers of unapproved religions, by Elijah’s slaughter of the priests of Baal.—Andrew D. White, Seven Great Statesmen (1910), pp. 85 f.

678 Lecky believes this to have been the main cause of the transformation in the Church. “The transition,” he says, “from the almost Quaker tenets of the primitive Church to the essentially military Christianity of the Crusades was due chiefly ... to the terror and the example of Mohammedanism” (History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. ii, p. 252). But, as we have seen, the transition was already nearly complete before the rise of Islam.

679 In a portrayal of the character of the Scandinavians, the Church historian Schaff observes: “Their only enthusiasm was the feeling of duty; but the direction which had been given to this feeling was so absolutely opposed to that pointed out by the Christian morality, that no reconciliation was possible” (History of the Christian Church, vol. iv, p. 110). Yet in the important domain of ethics which we are here examining this is exactly what did happen.

680 History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. ii, p. 253.

681 Josiah Royce, The Philosophy of Loyalty (1908).

682 “So great, it is said, was the knights’ respect for an oath, a promise, or a vow, that when they lay under any of these restrictions, they appeared everywhere with little chains attached to their arms or habits to show all the world they were slaves to their word; nor were these chains taken off till their promise had been performed, which sometimes extended to a term of four or five years. It cannot be expected, of course, that reality should have always come up to the ideal.”—Westermarck, The Origin and Development of Moral Ideas (1908), vol. ii, p. 102.

683 History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. ii, p. 272.

684 First printed in 1873, from MSS. compiled probably as early as the twelfth or thirteenth century. There is an English translation by Charles Swan (1877).

685 “There can be little doubt,” says Lecky, “that the Catholic reverence for the Virgin has done much to elevate and purify the ideal of woman and soften the manners of men” (History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. ii, p. 367). And so Professor Nathaniel Schmidt: “The chivalry of the medieval knight from which our modern treatment of woman so largely is derived cannot be regarded as solely a product of Christianity, for it has a deep root in the dreamy reverence for woman characteristic of our pagan ancestors. Yet it would not have become what it was but for the veneration accorded to the Virgin Mary” (The Prophet of Nazareth (1905), p. 324).

686 See Curtis M. Geer, The Beginning of the Peace Movement (1912).

687 Kluckhohn, Geschichte des Gottesfriedens (1857), p. 38.

688 This part of the week was chosen because these days had been consecrated by Christ’s passion, burial, resurrection, and ascension.

689 Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution (1906), vol. i, p. 314.

690 The last instance of an arrangement for ransom of prisoners was an agreement between England and France in 1780. See Hall, International Law, 5th ed., p. 414, n. 1.

691 One center of these reform movements was the celebrated French monastery of Cluny. The influences which radiated from the cloisters of this convent had a profound effect for centuries upon the moral life of Christendom.

692 See Sabatier, Life of St. Francis of Assisi.

693 History of the Inquisition (1887), vol. i, p. 266.

694 “There was need of the exaggeration of self-sacrifice taught by Francis to recall humanity to a sense of its obligations.... The value of such an ideal on an age hard and cruel can scarce be exaggerated” (Lea, History of the Inquisition (1887), vol. i, pp. 260 f.). See also Nathaniel Schmidt, The Prophet of Nazareth (1905), p. 325.

695 See above, p. 262.

696 “Ethics on the basis of authority becomes a mere legal casuistry.”—Hall, The History of Ethics within Organized Christianity (1910), pp. 296, 326.

697 “But meanwhile by alternations of Hebraism and Hellenism, of a man’s intellectual and moral impulses, of the effort to see things as they really are, and the effort to win peace by self-conquest, the human spirit proceeds; and each of these two forces has its appointed hours of culmination and seasons of rule.”—Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy (1875), p. 143.

698 It must be borne in mind that the spirit of the Renaissance was at work long before the Renaissance.

699 In this there is substantial agreement among historians of the Inquisition: consult Lea, The Inquisition of the Middle Ages (1887), vol. i, pp. 236 ff.; Lecky, History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, pp. 98, 395 f.; Pollock, Essays in Jurisprudence and Ethics (1882), essay vi, “The Theory of Persecution”; Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. viii, article on “Inquisition.”

700 “The case for theological persecution is unanswerable if we admit the fundamental supposition that one faith is known to be true and necessary for salvation.”—Pollock, Essays in Jurisprudence and Ethics (1882), p. 155.

701 Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. viii, under “Inquisition.”

702 Besides the doctrine of the criminality of misbelief, Lecky finds a secondary cause of Christian persecution in the medieval teaching respecting hell. That vision of the awful and eternal torments prepared for misbelievers, he says, “chilled and deadened the sympathies and predisposed men to inflict suffering” (Rationalism in Europe, new ed. (1890), vol. i, p. 347).

703 Lea, History of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages (1887), vol. i, p. 234. “The representatives of the Church were children of their own age.... Theologians and canonists, the highest and the saintliest, stood by the code of their day and sought to explain and justify it” (Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. viii, under “Inquisition”).

704 “It was strange that one almost swooning with pain should have said the gentlest-hearted and truest thing about human nature that has ever been said since the world began.”—Gerald Stanley Lee, “Business, Goodness, and Imagination,” Hibbert Journal for April, 1912, p. 651.

705 On Machiavellism see The Prince, and introductions to different editions by Macaulay, Lord Acton, and Henry Morley; Figgis, Studies of Political Thought from Gerson to Grotius (1907), pp. 81–107; John Morley, Machiavelli (Romanes Lecture for 1897).

706 It should be borne in mind that in Machiavelli’s age politics had been secularized, that is, divorced from theology, and this with the approval of most men. Machiavelli would now go farther and separate politics and morality. This is Lord Morley’s interpretation of The Prince. He thinks we shall best understand Machiavelli, yet without for a moment approving his teaching, “if we take him as following up the divorce of politics from theology, by a divorce from ethics also. He was laying down certain maxims of government as an art; the end of that art is the security and permanence of the ruling power; and the fundamental principle from which he silently started, without shadow of doubt or misgiving as to its soundness, was that the application of moral standards to this business is as little to the point as it would be in the navigation of a ship. The effect was fatal even for his own purpose, for what he put aside, whether for the sake of argument or because he thought them in substance irrelevant, were nothing less than the living forces by which societies subsist and governments are strong” (Machiavelli, Romanes Lecture for 1897).

707 “Catherine de Medici, Philip II, Alva, Des Adrets, Tilly, Wallenstein were simply incarnations of the Machiavellian theories which ruled this period.”—Andrew D. White, Seven Great Statesmen (1910), pp. 86 f.

708 Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier (1903), p. 22.

709 Ibid. p. 25.

710 Special emphasis was laid upon this virtue of courtesy in the ideal of courtliness. And rightly so, for, as has been well said, “To be courteous is just as much a duty as to be honest, for rudeness rouses more hatred and bitterness than good honest cheating.”

711 In many lives of this period there was a combination of the ideal of the courtier and that of the monk. There is a fine portrayal of such a character in Shorthouse’s John Inglesant.

712 See above, p. 276.

713 The best authority on this subject is Lea, Superstition and Force, 4th ed., pp. 101–247.

714 See above, p. 304.

715 The last judicial duel in England was fought in 1492, but the practice was not abrogated in Russia till 1649.

716 Ralph Barton Perry, The Moral Economy (1909), p. 34. And so Thomas Cuming Hall: “The glory of Protestant ethics as founded by Luther and developed by Kant is the autonomous, democratic, unpriestly character stamped upon it” (History of Ethics within Organized Christianity (1910), p. 527).

717 Culture and Anarchy (1875), p. 145.

718 History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. ii, p. 370.

719 See below, p. 362.

720 On this subject see Andrew D. White, Seven Great Statesmen (1910), chapter on Thomasius.

721 S. Alexander, Moral Order and Progress (1889), p. 391.

722 History of Rationalism in Europe (1890), vol. ii, p. 220.

723 History of European Morals, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 126.

724 The Approach to the Social Question (1909), p. 84.

725 Muirhead, The Elements of Ethics (1909), p. 232.

726 An Essay on Crimes and Punishments, tr. Voltaire (1793), p. 157.

727 See Sisson, “The State absorbing the Functions of the Church,” International Journal of Ethics for April, 1907, p. 341.

728 “It won’t do any longer to lay the blame for poverty wholly upon its victims. These cruel theories cannot face a growing suspicion that poverty is somehow involved in the ethics of distribution.”—Louis F. Post, in address; see The Public for June 21, 1912, p. 593.

729 Lloyd, Man the Social Creator (1906), p. 135.

730 The most practicable proposal for the undoing of this ancient and ever-augmenting wrong of private monopoly in land is that presented with singular force and clarity by Henry George in his epochal work, Progress and Poverty. His proposal is to exempt from taxation industry and all forms of property save land, and to lay upon land values, or, in other words, upon actual or potential ground rents, a tax that would reclaim practically the whole of these for society, and secure to the public all future increments in land values created by communal growth and enterprise. Since this tax is to take the place of all other forms of taxation it has become known as “the single tax.” Such a change in the tax system would inevitably create a hardship in a few cases, but a hardship almost infinitesimal as compared with that now inflicted upon the many by the preëmption of the earth by a class. The reform would undoubtedly, as claimed by its advocates, destroy private monopoly in land, the root which nourishes most other monopolies, and secure to all equal right of access to the earth and its resources.

731 Dewey and Tufts, Ethics (1908), p. 162.

732 See Ira Woods Howerth, “Competition, Natural and Industrial,” The International Journal of Ethics for July, 1912.

733 “We may fairly ask whether there is a single moral question of any magnitude which intelligent and educated men would answer to-day in precisely the same fashion as they would have done before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species” (Taylor, The Problem of Conduct (1901), pp. 57 f.). See also Huxley, Evolution and Ethics (1899). Huxley maintains that the “cosmic process” is nonethical and in direct opposition to the ethical evolution going on in human society.

734 “The best is wanting when selfishness begins to be deficient” (“The Twilight of the Gods,” The Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. Alexander Tille, vol. xi, p. 191). “The weak and ill-constituted shall perish.... What is more injurious than any crime? Practical sympathy for all the ill-constituted and weak—Christianity” (“The Antichrist,” ibid. vol. xi, p. 238). This way of thinking and talking is by no means exclusively modern. Callicles, in Plato’s Gorgias, says to Socrates: “And therefore this seeking to have more than the many is conventionally said to be shameful and unjust, and is called injustice, whereas nature herself intimates that it is just for the better to have more than the worse, the more powerful than the weaker; and in many ways, among men as well as among animals, and indeed among whole cities and races, that justice consists in the superior ruling over and having more than the inferior” (Jowett’s Dialogues of Plato, vol. iii, p. 72).

735 See Kropotkin, Mutual Aid.

736 “The animal species in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress” (Kropotkin, Mutual Aid (1909), p. 293). See also Bixby, The Crisis in Morals (1891), p. 235.

737 See Dewey, “Is Nature Good,” Hibbert Journal for July, 1909.

738 “‘Ye have compassion on one another’: this struck me much: Allah might have made you having no compassion on one another,—how had it been then? This is a great direct thought, a glance at first hand into the very fact of things” (Carlyle, Heroes and Hero Worship, “The Hero as Prophet”). The Gâthas have the same thought: “Who, O Great Creator! is the inspirer of the good thoughts (within our souls)? Who ... hath made the son revering the father?” (Yasna xliv. 4, 7, Sacred Books of the East, vol. xxxi).

739 “In the new way of looking at things, which came to the world from Darwin, there is hope and cheer, if we but take the matter aright. Only consider what his doctrine of the shaping power of environment is leading us to do in bettering the conditions of the poor, the defective, the prone to crime. His demonstration that circumstances may make or break a man, is a clarion call to humanitarian zeal. And his teaching of the infinite variability of species, and of the indefinite progress which man may make in the cultivation of humane and moral qualities, is one that looks distinctly to the perfectibility of the race.”—The New York Nation for January 7, 1909, p. 7.

740 On this subject see Evans, Evolutional Ethics and Animal Psychology (1898).

741 When in 1654 matches for cockfighting were forbidden in England the reason for the prohibition was not that it was cruel to the birds, but for the reason that the matches were “commonly accompanied with gaming, drinking, swearing, quarreling, and other dissolute practices” (Pike, A History of Crime in England (1873), vol. ii, p. 186). Consult further, Lecky, Rationalism in Europe (1890), vol. i, pp. 307 f.

742 Evolutional Ethics and Animal Psychology (1898), p. 18. Darwinism has without doubt also aided the vegetarians in their crusade against the use of animal flesh for food, and in conjunction with the influence of Eastern ideas and convictions may cause ultimately a great change in the ethical feelings of the Western peoples respecting this practice. They may come to regard it with the same deep moral reprobation as is now felt by Eastern moralists. “For my part,” says the Japanese writer Nitobé, “the surprising thing is that European ethics can be so atavistic as to stoop to a sort of cannibalism” (Fifty Years of New Japan (1909), vol. ii, p. 462).

743 See Frederic W. H. Myers, Human Personality (1903), 2 vols.; Sir Oliver Lodge, The Survival of Man (1909); James H. Hyslop, Enigmas of Psychical Research (1906); W. F. Barrett, Psychical Research (1912).

744 The Survival of Man (1909), p. 341.

745 George William Knox, “Religion and Ethics,” International Journal of Ethics for April, 1902.

746 George Harris, Moral Evolution (1896), p. 392.

747 Christian Ethics (1892), p. 11. Lecky makes a similar observation: “Generation after generation the power of the moral faculty becomes more absolute, the doctrines that oppose it wane and vanish, and the various elements of theology are absorbed and recast by its influence” (History of Rationalism in Europe (1890), vol. i, pp. 351 f.).

748 “It is because the ethical ideals of Christendom have become so wonderfully enlarged and perfected within the last half century that the character of God has taken on such new and glorious forms. The God whom Christian people generally believe in and worship is a very different being from the one they were thinking about and praying to when I began my ministry.”—Washington Gladden (in report of address).

749 See above, pp. 35, 164 and 187.

750 Cf. Borden Parker Bowne, The Essence of Religion (1910), chap. iv, “Righteousness the Essence of Religion.”

751 Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1908), vol. i, p. 72.

752 See above, p. 18.

753 “Along with the gloomy record of the two hundred fifty years of negro slavery we find the history of its abolition; perhaps the most impressive history on record of the origin and completion of a purification of the moral consciousness of peoples.”—Caldecott, English Colonization and Empire (1891), p. 196.

754 “In Elizabeth’s time Sir John Hawkins initiated the slave trade, and in commemoration of the achievement was allowed to put in his coat of arms ‘a demi-moor, proper bound with a cord’; the honorableness of his action being thus assumed by himself and recognized by Queen and public.”—Spencer, Principles of Ethics (1892), vol. i, p. 468.

755 By a provision of the Peace of Utrecht (1714) England secured the contract known as the Assiento, which gave English subjects the sole right for thirty years of shipping annually 4800 African slaves to the Spanish colonies in America.

756 In the Southern colonies the opposition to the further importation of negroes sprang in general from the fear of the insurrection of the slaves, should they become too numerous. The little opposition that existed in some of the Middle States was based almost wholly on economic grounds.

757 The first abolition paper was established in 1821, but the movement it represented soon died out. The movement started anew with the appearance of The Liberator in 1831. See Albert Bushnell Hart, Slavery and Abolition (1906), pp. 173 ff.

758 “When Garrison began his work, he thought nothing was more like the spirit of Christ ... than to bring a whole race of people out of sin and debasement, ... but he soon found that neither minister nor church anywhere in the lower South continued to protest against slavery; that the cloth in the North was arrayed against him, and that many northern divines entered the lists against abolition, especially Moses Stuart, Professor of Hebrew in Andover Theological Seminary, who justified slavery from the New Testament; President Lord of Dartmouth College, who held that slavery was an institution of God, according to natural law; and Hopkins, Episcopal bishop of Vermont, who came forward as a thick and thin defender of slavery. The positive opposition of churches soon followed” (Albert Bushnell Hart, Slavery and Abolition (1906), p. 211). In 1832 took place the secession of students from Lane Seminary, Cincinnati, because the trustees and Dr. Lyman Beecher had forbidden them to discuss the slavery question. Four fifths of the student body withdrew.

759 Cf. Henderson, Dependents, Defectives, and Delinquents (1893); Zebulon R. Brockway, Fifty Years of Prison Service (1912).

760 The New York Nation of March 19, 1908, p. 254.

761 The Century Magazine for September, 1912, p. 886.

762 Pike, A History of Crime in England (1876), vol. i, p. 50.

763 Wines, Punishment and Reformation, 6th ed., p. 103.