ADDITION 27


from: Freethought in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, Gordon Stein, Greenwood, 1981.

             "THE FORCES OF CHRISTIANITY WERE DEALT A SEVERE BLOW BY THE PUBLICATION OF EDWARD GIBBON'S THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (166), the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of which carefully documented that much of what had been taught as the history of early Christianity was badly in need of a revision. The work first appeared in 1776 [volume I] [volumes II, III, 1781], with the last volume [volumes IV, V, VI] of the first edition being published in 1788." ["21"].

from: History of Christianity: Comprising all that Relates to the Progress of the Christian Religion in "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," and

A Vindication of some Passages in the 15th and 16th Chapters, by Edward Gibbon, Esq., with A Life of the Author, Preface and Notes by the Editor, Including Variorum Notes by Guizot, Wenck, Milman, "An English Churchman," and Other Scholars. New York: Peter Eckler, No. 35 Fulton Street. 1883.

"History of Christianity. [Edward Gibbon 1737 - 1794]


I.


Universal Spirit of Toleration.


           The firm edifice of Roman power was raised and preserved by the wisdom of ages. The obedient provinces of Trajan and the Antonines were united by laws, and adorned by arts. They might occasionally suffer from the partial abuse of delegated authority; but the general principle of government was wise, simple, and beneficent. They enjoyed the religion of their ancestors, whilst in civil honors and advantages they were exalted, by just degrees, to an equality with their conquerors...." ["97"].
"The People."


[footnote] "1There is not any writer who describes, in so lively a manner as Herodotus [c. 485 - c. 425 B.C.E.], the true genius of polytheism. The best commentary may be found in Mr. Hume's [David Hume 1711 - 1776] Natural History of Religion; and the best contrast in Bossuet's [Jacques Benigne Bossuet 1627 - 1704] Universal History. Some obscure traces of an intolerant spirit appear in the conduct of the Egyptians (see Juvenal [c. 55 - c. 140], Sat. 15), and the Christians, as well as Jews, who lived under the Roman empire formed a very important exception; so important, indeed, that the discussion will require a distinct chapter of this work." [98].

 

PAGE 1249



"Such was the mild spirit of antiquity, that the nations were less attentive to the difference, than to the resemblance, of their religious worship. The Greek, the Roman, and the Barbarian, as they met before their respective altars, easily persuaded themselves, that under various names, and with various ceremonies, they adored the same deities.3" [99].

"The Philosophers."


"The philosophers of Greece deduced their morals from the nature of man, rather than from that of God. They meditated, however on the divine nature, as a very curious and important speculation; and in the profound inquiry, they displayed the strength and weakness of the human understanding.4 [see footnote, below] Of the four most celebrated schools, the Stoics and the Platonists endeavored to reconcile the jarring interests of reason and piety....

How, indeed, was it possible that a philosopher should accept, as divine truths, the idle tales of the poets, and the incoherent traditions of antiquity; or, that he should adore, as gods, those imperfect beings whom he must have despised as men! Against such unworthy adversaries, Cicero [106 - 43 B.C.E.] condescended to employ the arms of reason and eloquence; but the satire of Lucian [c. 117 - c. 180] was a much more adequate, as well as more efficacious weapon." [100].

[footnote] "4The admirable work of Cicero, de Natura Deorum [see #23, 479], is the best clue we have to guide us through the dark and profound abyss. He represents with candor, and confutes with subtlety, the opinions of the philosophers." [100].

[the foregoing (1249-1250), from: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon, Chapter II, first 3 pages (Penguin Press (edition), 1994, Vol. I [published 1776], 56-58)]. 


PAGE 1250





"A Vindication." [published 1779] [Edward Gibbon]

"....The Pagans had so long and so contemptuously neglected the rising greatness of the Church, that the Bishop of Caesarea [Eusebius c. 260 - c. 340] had little either to hope or to fear from the writers of the opposite party; ALMOST ALL OF THAT LITTLE WHICH DID EXIST, HAS BEEN ACCIDENTALLY LOST, OR PURPOSELY DESTROYED [see #2, 27-28, 29, 170.; etc.]; and the candid inquirer may vainly wish to compare with the History ["Ecclesiastical History"] of Eusebius, some Heathen narrative of the persecutions of Decius [Emperor 249 - 251 (c. 201 - 251)] and Diocletian [Emperor 284 - 305 (245 or 248 - 313 or 316)]...." [73].

"....the Bishop of Caesarea [Eusebius] seems to have claimed a privilege of a still more dangerous and extensive nature. In one of the most learned and elaborate works that antiquity has left us, the Thirty-second Chapter of the Twelfth Book of his Evangelical Preparation bears for its title this scandalous Proposition, "HOW IT MAY BE LAWFUL AND FITTING TO USE FALSEHOOD AS A MEDICINE, AND FOR THE BENEFIT OF THOSE WHO WANT TO BE DECEIVED [see #2, 36, 37 (complicity); etc.]." ...[15 Greek words] (P. 356, Edit. Graec. Rob. Stephani, Paris 1544.) In this passage he [Eusebius] alleges a passage of Plato [c. 428 - c. 348 B.C.E.], which approves the occasional practice of pious and salutary frauds; nor is Eusebius ashamed to justify the sentiments of the Athenian philosopher [Plato] by the example of the sacred writers of the Old Testament...." [76].

 

PAGE 1251


from: Gibbon and His Roman Empire, David P. Jordan, U. Illinois, c1971.

[See: 51, 74 (D'Holbach), 77, 79, 112, 114, 117, 119, 134, 147, 150, 157, 158, 160 (Tacitus), 164-165, 186-187 (Montesquieu), 195 (Constantine), 200 (Augustus), 201-202 (Constantine), 211 (Christian emperor), 218 (possessed of arms), 224 (Boswell), etc.]. [a Classic! ("Must Study"!)]. [found 1/9/2000].



'Only in recent years has Gibbon's [Edward Gibbon 1737 - 1794] accuracy or memory been questioned. And rightly [I (LS) disagree!] so, for there are several difficulties in accepting the master's account. Gibbon left, in his autobiographical manuscripts, three versions of this decisive moment ["that he first conceived The Decline and Fall" (17)], and it is useful here to provide the texts for analysis.

[1] In my Journal the place and moment of conception are recorded; the fifteenth of October 1764, in the close of evening, as I sat musing in the Church ["Santa Maria in Aracoeli" (see 1253)] of the Zoccolanti [Zoccolanti = Franciscan Friars] or Franciscan fryars, while they were singing Vespers in the Temple of Jupiter

[Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus [in the "temple of the Capitoline Triad", with Juno Regina, and Minerva]. An error of the times (see 1254 (Temple of Juno Moneta))]

on the ruins of the Capitol [Capitoline Hill (has 2 peaks, about 200 yards apart) (see: Dict. Roman Religion, c1996, 38-39)].25

Excursus: from:

www.personal.psu.edu/users/e/g/egv102/RoyalMint.htm

'The temple Juno Moneta became the 1st Roman mint in 280 BC. The word "money" is derived from Juno Moneta because her temple mass-produced the early ["bronze and silver"] Roman coinage. Juno Moneta was placed on a coin in 45 BC Image [click, to see: "Head of the goddess Juno Moneta...on a silver coin... c. 45 BC"]. Before the 6th century AD, the site of the mint of Rome became the church of St. Maria d'Aracoleli, which is what remains on the site today.

As mentioned, the Temple of Juno Moneta was situated on Capitoline Hill in Rome. The Rome Mint was built close to her temple, and from there the words money and mint were derived. The word money originated from the Latin word moneo, which means "to warn." Juno, known as Juno Moneta was the...goddess of warning and guardian of finances....'

PAGE 1252





Excursus: from: Central Italy and Rome, Handbook for Travellers, Karl Baedeker, 1909.

 

"Santa Maria in Aracoeli (Pl. II, 20), a very ancient church, is mentioned in the 8th cent. [see #6, 176)] as Sancta Maria de Capitolio. It occupies the site of the Capitoline temple of Juno [Juno Moneta] (p. 269)....--It was in this church [1764] that Gibbon first conceived the idea of writing his history of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." [270].

Excursus: from: A Traveller in Rome, H.V. Morton, Methuen, 1957. [note: the author is attracted, of course, to Christian stories].

"It is pleasant, as one looks down at the Forum, to think of the plump figure of Edward Gibbon treading its stones 'with a lofty step,' during his brief visit to Rome in 1764, when he first conceived the idea of writing The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 'After a sleepless night,' he wrote, 'I trod with a lofty step the ruins of the Forum; each memorable spot, where Romulus stood, or Tully [Marcus Tullius Cicero 106 - 43 B.C.E.] spoke, or Caesar fell (how strange that Gibbon of all men should have made this error! [Julius Caesar was assassinated (stabbed: 23 wounds (Suetonius)) in the temporary [renovations were being made to the Senate House in the Forum (112 (source?)) (Insight Guide Rome, 1998 (source?)] Senate House, Curia Pompeia ["half a mile", from the Senate House in the Forum (112)], March 15, 44 B.C.E. This author (H.V. Morton), 114, states the present location, is the steps "of the Teatro Argentina")]), was at once present to my eye.' I think that perhaps his step might have been even loftier could he have seen the excavated Forum as it is today." [60].


PAGE 1253



"When I first entered the church of S. Maria in Aracoeli, I felt that I had stepped back into ancient Rome. Surely I was standing in the great columned hall of a law court or a public building. There were hundreds of such buildings in ancient Rome, of which the early churches are not only a reflection but also sometimes an actual survival. Under the open sky it is not always easy to imagine the ancient scene, but the old churches give one an immediate visual impression.

S. Maria in Aracoeli remains my favorite early Roman church. It is dim, and the marble pavement is vast. The twenty-two columns which support the roof were taken from all sorts of Roman halls and temples, for they are not uniform, and one has the words scratched on it 'a cubiculo Augustorum,' which proclaims its origin. No doubt these columns were drawn up the hill about 590, in the time of Gregory the Great [c. 540 - 604 (Pope 590 - 604)], when the first church on this site was consecrated. While St. Augustine [St. Augustine of Canterbury, (Roman) d. 604 (not to be confused with the famous St. Augustine of Hippo 354 - 430)] was converting the people of Kent, Greek monks were saying mass here; four hundred years later it was served by Benedictines, but since 1280 the church has been tended by the Franciscans.

I wondered where Gibbon had sat, for it was in this church

["S. Maria in Aracoeli"] that he dedicated himself to his life's work.

[Gibbon] 'It was at Rome, on the 15th of October, 1764,' he wrote, 'as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.'

In his [Gibbon] time S. Maria in Aracoeli was believed to be standing on the site of the Temple of Jupiter, and Gibbon would have been even more impressed by the sequence of events had he known that he was really on the site of Juno's [Juno Moneta] Temple, listening to the priests as they sang hymns to the Virgin Mary on the spot where the Roman Queen of Heaven had been worshipped for two thousand [c. 400 BC - c. 400 AD (Encyc. Gods, Jordan)] years. I fancied him sitting there, a plump little man probably in a bag-wig, a snuff-brown coat, knee breeches and snowy ruffles. Boswell thought him an 'ugly, affected, disgusting fellow,' which is rather what other people thought of Boswell! Gibbon was twenty-seven when the idea came to him in the church, and he was fifty when the last volume of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire appeared [volumes IV, V, VI, published 1788]. The last volumes were written in Lausanne, and he [Gibbon] described 'the final hour of my deliverance.' It was the day, or rather night, of June 27, 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that 'I wrote the last lines of the last page in a summerhouse of my garden. After laying down my pen, I took several turns in a berceau, or covered walk of acacias, which commands a prospect of the country, the lake and mountains. The air was temperate, the sky

 

PAGE 1254


 

was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the waters, and all nature was silent. I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on recovery of my freedom, and perhaps the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind, by the idea that I had taken leave of an old and agreeable companion....'

Gibbon [1737 - 1794], like Byron [Lord (George Gordon) Byron 1788 - 1824], made no more than a tourist's visit to Rome, and it seems that he had no desire to return in his triumphant middle-age to visit the place where the idea first came to him that was to occupy his life and give him lasting fame." [63-64].

[an aside] "Nemi [Lago di Nemi, 15 miles SE of Rome (Encyc. Brit.)]--I was drinking the wine of Nemi, that sinister spot where once murderers had lived, sword in hand, waiting to be slain. It was that tragic lake which had inspired Frazer's Golden Bough....

In primitive times, and even until well into the second century after Christ, Diana was worshipped here with strange and barbarous rites which had survived from the childhood of the human race...." [219].

[an aside] "The Mausoleum of Augustus stands near the Tiber and is one of those miserable ruins which refuses to disintegrate. It has been a stronghold, a bull-ring, a circus, and a concert hall. Now it is a locked-up ruin where lame cats seek refuge from small boys. The ashes of five Caesars once reposed there: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nerva, as well as two Empresses, Livia and Agrippina, and other members of the royal family. No one knows what happened to the ashes, but it is not difficult to guess: the urn which contained the ashes of Agrippina was used as a grain measure in the Middle Ages.

The emperors were cremated a few paces away, near the [present] church of S. Carlo in Corso, and I think that perhaps of all the ceremonies of ancient Rome, an imperial funeral might have surprised us most....

Members of the family, slaves freed under the emperor's Will, with shaven heads and wearing caps of freedom, the Senate, members of the aristocracy, lictors with lowered fasces, and the Praetorian Guard, all had their place in the procession. In a silence broken only by the wailing of the mourners, the body was lifted to the pyre in the Ostrinum, or burning-place. On top of the pyre was an eagle in a cage. As the waxen ancestors grouped themselves round the pyre, a man with averted eyes applied a torch to the wood, and at the same [?] moment the door of the cage was opened and the eagle flew up out of the smoke, symbolic of the emperor's soul winging its way to the other world." [304-305].

 

PAGE 1255


 

End of Excursuses


[2] It was on the fifteenth of October, in the gloom of evening, as I sat musing on the Capitol, while the barefooted fryars were chanting their litanies in the temple of Jupiter, that I conceived the first thought of my history.26

[3] It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol while the barefooted fryars were singing Vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.27



These three versions of the same event, written over a period of several months, raise a number of questions and introduce an important problem in all Gibbon's work: the tensions between the historian and the literary artist. ....

From a literary point of view the final version [3] is certainly superior to the other two. This is the version Lord Sheffield [John Baker Holroyd 1735 - 1821] selected for his "official" edition of the Memoirs. It is consequently the most familiar of the three. Yet the process of refinement leads one to question the entire episode. The urge of the artist to make this important passage as dramatic and significant as possible may have led him to disregard facts, or even to create a memory which did not exist. Georges Bonnard [1886 - ], Gibbon's most recent and best editor, thus questions the episode:

"Where did G really sit musing on that fateful evening? The 'ruins of the Capitol' he [Gibbon] had only seen in his imagination, for, in 1764, the Capitol [Capitoline Hill] was already what it now is" [see #6, 166, 170, etc.]. [note: Of course, "new" constructions in Rome, are commonly on "ruins"]

To what extent is the famous sentence fact, to what extent imagination."29 ["29 Memoirs, p. 305." (reference to Edward Gibbon Memoirs of My Life, Georges A. Bonnard, 1966 (see also: p. 136, 304))]

The evidence seems to tip the scales in favor of more imagination than fact

[I (LS) disagree! Facts, and, necessary imagination]. ....' [18, 20].

'Part of Gibbon's definition of a philosophic historian was his ability to live "in distant ages and remote countries [compare the above 2 lines]." "By reading and reflection," Gibbon believed, the historian "multiplies his own experience." WORKING ALONE in his study, in the comfort of a Reynold's portrait and a tasteful collection of Wedgwood plaques, and SURROUNDED BY HIS BOOKS,45 [see footnote, 1257] GIBBON LIVED "IN DISTANT AGES AND REMOTE COUNTRIES." Through his books

PAGE 1256


Gibbon traveled through the ancient world. Much of his impressive empathy with Rome was made possible through the works of travelers. These products of the lay scholarship of the Enlightenment are among the most attractive books of the age. Gibbon used two distinct categories of travel literature: the memoirs of individual travelers and the elaborate (and expensive) books of archaeological scholarship then appearing. He devoured travel literature. His appetite was never sated, and this passion lasted a lifetime.46' [51-52].

[footnote] '45Gibbon owned about 7,000 volumes. He says he never bought a book for ostentation and that every book "was either read or sufficiently examined" before being shelved. The catalog of his library has been ingeniously compiled by the doyen of British bibliographers, Geoffrey Keynes, The Library of Edward Gibbon [see 1272] (London, 1940). A shorter and less reliable survey is James W. Thompson, "The Library of Gibbon the Historian," Library Quarterly, VII (1937), 343-353.' [51].



'Chapter II


Gibbon the Scholar


"...in the ardour of my enquiries I embraced a large circle of historical and critical erudition."



Gibbon was proud of his learning. His conversation became, as he advanced through the Roman empire, a magnificent monologue of erudition and anecdote. In his History he cast his immense learning into the text, and threw into the notes that excess of erudition which would have hopelessly clogged the narrative. The notes, which occupy about a forth of the Decline and Fall, became for Gibbon almost as important as his narrative. At the bottom of the page, in what one biographer has called his "table talk,"1 Gibbon carries on, with himself and his readers, a dialogue on the materials for Roman history. He also indulges his considerable vanity about his vast learning. In literary and scholarly virtuosity, in pungency, in mordant criticism, the notes for the Decline and Fall are unique in English literature. Gibbon knew more about Roman history than any of his contemporaries and most of his predecessors, and he ostentatiously displayed this fact at the bottom of every page. He made very clear, to his readers and himself, the scholarship which supported his Roman empire.

That Gibbon's learning was extraordinary was recognized in his own day. William Robertson [1721 - 1793], himself a respectable scholar, took the trouble to check many of Gibbon's citations: "I have traced Mr. Gibbon in many of his quotations (for experience has taught me to suspect the accuracy of my brother penmen), and I find that he refers to no passage but what he has seen with his own eyes."2 Robertson's praise was matched by Richard Porson's [1759 - 1808] [see Dict. Nat. Bio (fascinating, extensive, entry)],3 and there were not in the eighteenth century two men better qualified to judge such matters. J.B. Bury [1861 - 1927], Gibbon's most respected modern editor, has stamped Gibbon's accuracy with the imprimatur of a later and better informed generation of scholarship.4 There is no need

PAGE 1257


to defend Gibbon the scholar. He prepared his own defense in the Decline and Fall: in the notes the serried ranks of folios and authorities march along with "the historian of the Roman empire." The foundation of the Decline and Fall is as impressive as the superstructure. It is, however, useful to describe the state of classical scholarship in Gibbon's day, to notice his attitude toward this scholarship, and to explain the remarkable accuracy of his History.

There are nearly 3,000 references to secondary authorities in the Decline and Fall:5 if Gibbon's references to works such as Muratori's [Lodovico Antonio Muratori 1672 - 1750] Rerum Italicarum scriptores ["28 vols., 1723-51" (Webster's Bio. Dict.)] are included the number exceeds 4,000. These figures are meaningless in themselves, but when compared to the total number of references in the Decline and Fall a distinct picture of Gibbon's reliance on secondary authorities is obtained. There are approximately 8,0006 notes [see 1272 (The Footnote)] in Gibbon's History. Thus more than 50 percent of Gibbon's notes make reference to secondary authorities.' [40-41].

"....It is unfortunate that the most important numismatic work of the age, Joseph-Hilar Echkel's [Joseph Hilarius Eckhel 1737 - 1798] work on imperial coinage, which appeared in 1792-98, was not available to Gibbon. After Spanheim [Ezechiel Spanheim 1629 - 1710], Echkel was the most important name in the new science. Familiar only with the work of Spanheim, and the books of several lesser men, Gibbon tended to be conservative in his use of numismatic evidence. Had the science been more sophisticated in the eighteenth century Gibbon might have been bolder; but numismatic evidence occupies a secondary place in the Decline and Fall. Gibbon preferred to create the past from literary evidence. There are about thirty specific instances where Gibbon uses numismatic evidence,79 and he was sufficiently interested to write two occasional essays on the subject.80 ...." [61].

[See (numismatics): #2, 21-22; etc.].

"Gibbon's humanism, his profound respect for literature and especially the classics, and his equally profound faith in man's ability to make sense of his experiences and to order, through thought, his life, forms the basis of his philosophy of history. He valued intelligence and insisted that the urge toward order, rationality, and creativity was a part of human nature. Despite his Pascalian despair about the power of the passions and the potential wickedness of amour-propre [self-love, etc.], Gibbon believed that the gifted few might rise above their own human sordidness and the circumstances of their times. He believed not in the progress of the race or the human mind, but rather in the rational and creative powers of a few individuals in every age. Amidst the barren sketches of Roman history, or the history of the Middle Ages, he found, and celebrated, these remarkable men. Alexander Severus, St. Athanasius, St. Bernard, Erasmus: these are the heroes of his History, for these men managed to escape the gloom and evil of their times. They managed to make sense of their own lives and to pursue, with pathological tenacity, their own values. They managed to think clearly and somehow to leave a record of their struggles against their times." [79-80].

PAGE 1258




"Gibbon's heroes are not the men who yield to the historical pressures of their age, or whose decisions complement the movement of events. His heroes are always men spiritually outside their age. It is the enemies of Alexander Severus [Emperor 222 - 235 (208 - 235 (murdered))], of Athanasius [St. Athanasius c. 296 - 373], of Bernard [St. Bernard 1090 - 1153], of Erasmus [1466? - 1536], who represent for Gibbon their respective ages. But these great men are different. The force of their characters, their talent, sets them apart.

This is not to argue that Gibbon saw the lives of great men as the essence of history, or even as exempla to be imitated. He never advocated that a man model his life on some historical predecessor. Gibbon had no use for those historians or theorists, like Bolingbroke [1678 - 1751], who treated the past as a collection of exempla, or wrote history as character sketches. Gibbon's view is more subtle. The movement of history, the passage of time, is an overwhelming process. MOST MEN ARE FATALISTICALLY TRAPPED BY HISTORY AND LIVE LIVES DETERMINED BY EVENTS WHICH THEY CANNOT EVEN UNDERSTAND, LET ALONE CONTROL. This is the meaning of his remark that HISTORY IS BUT A CATALOG OF THE CRIMES AND FOLLIES OF MANKIND. This aspect of Gibbon's historical thought is melancholy, and he is saved from utter despair only by his taste for irony. There is nothing to be learned from a study of history precisely because the only lesson is despair. Yet Gibbon avoids the fatalistic implications of his theory by focusing on individuals. Ultimately, he believes, men--however few--can impose an order on their lives, and can escape history. THE ROMAN EMPIRE WAS DESTROYED BY OVERMIGHTY GREATNESS, BY TIME, BY THE FURY OF THE BARBARIANS AND THE ZEAL OF THE CHRISTIANS, but Roman civilization--her books, her art, her ideals--have survived. And they have survived because individual men preserved them. The philosopher, for Gibbon, is a man able to see the inevitable movement of time, the inevitable force of historical circumstances, and yet impose on these things the imprint of his rationalism and creativity. Gibbon took delight in the morbid and sardonic periods of Tacitus

[c. 55 - c. 120 C.E. (Roman historian)]. The very fact that there existed a man named Tacitus, who recorded the wickedness of his times, is for Gibbon sufficient reason for optimism." [80-81].

PAGE 1259


"The savage mentality, illuminated by Bayle [Pierre Bayle 1647 - 1706], Fontenelle [1657 - 1757], and Hume [David Hume 1711 - 1776], is the prisoner of fear. Feeble and ignorant, the savage fears not only his surroundings, but himself. His self-contempt leads him to invest the terrors of nature with divinity. He hopes to ease his fears by worshiping them. The oak tree and the electric storm were both beyond his powers of comprehension: both became objects of worship. These first polytheistic gods were created not out of reason--as the Deists argued--but out of fear...." [109].

'BARDS AND MONKS, Gibbon argued, are the "two orders of men who EQUALLY ABUSED THE PRIVILEGE OF FICTION."78

Underlying Gibbon's hostility to allegory is a basic assumption about the nature of truth. GIBBON WAS PRIMARILY A LITERARY MAN, AND HE LOVED FICTION AS ENTERTAINMENT. But he made a rigid distinction between fact and fiction. One turned to poetry, and mythology, and fable, to enjoy its imagery and to stimulate the imagination. The Arabian Nights was a favorite book, and Gibbon loved Homer. Yet for truth one must turn to prosaic history: "The Cyropaedia ["historical novel" (Encyc. Brit.)] [see 1201] is vague and languid: the Anabasis is circumstantial and animated. Such is the eternal difference between fiction [Cyropaedia] and truth [Anabasis]."79 Indeed, Gibbon would probably have subscribed to Fielding's [Henry Fielding 1707 - 1754] radical statement of the problem:

I am far from supposing that Homer, Hesiod, and the other ancient poets and mythologists, had any settled design to pervert and confuse the records of antiquity; but it is certain they have effected it; and for my part I must confess I should have honoured and loved Homer more had he written a true history of his own times in humble prose, than all those noble poems that have so justly collected the praise of all ages; for, though I read these with more admiration and astonishment, I still read Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon with more amusement and more satisfaction.80

The truth is not to be found in allegories or mythmaking, and when such things cease to be mere literary entertainments--as they often do in religion--they become positively dangerous. POETS AND THE CHURCH FATHERS ARE MUCH "ADDICTED TO FICTIONS" AND THE LATTER ["CHURCH FATHERS"] ARE DANGEROUS BECAUSE THEY HAVE POLITICAL POWER THROUGH THE CHURCH.

 

PAGE 1260


When Gibbon comes to consider Christianity he uses the assumptions and ideas adumbrated in the Essai. He BELIEVES FEAR TO LIE AT THE BASE OF ALL RELIGIOUS SCHEMES, he believes priestly deceit to be a real and present danger, and he believes that a religion is to be judged by its usefulness and not the cleverness of its myths. When he [Gibbon] compares Christianity to Roman paganism he finds Christianity lacking. The absurdities of paganism are not minimized, but at least paganism was not intolerant. The intolerant zeal of the Christians, which they inherited from the Jews, made Christianity a persecuting religion, and the importance of doctrine and theology vanished when men were destroyed in the name of religion. Paganism might be superstitious, it might be false, it might be riddled with priestly deceit, but it was not intolerant: "The various modes of worship which prevailed in the ancient world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrates as equally useful."81 [see footnote, below] Gibbon's hostility to Christianity is not that it is more irrational than other religions, that it is more priest-ridden than other religions, but rather that it [CHRISTIANITY] IS BOTH MORE INTOLERANT AND MORE ANTISOCIAL THAN OTHER RELIGIONS. When Christianity comes to dominate, indeed replace, the Roman empire [see #16, 351 (Hobbes)], it becomes powerful enough to enforce its fanaticism.

Gibbon is antagonistic to the priests and monks of Christianity in direct proportion to their power....' [110-111].

[footnote] '81II, 28. The source of this clever sentence might be St Augustine [354 - 430]. In the City of God he records an aphorism of Scaevola [Quintus Mucius Scaevola, pontifex maximus, c. 89 B.C.E. Died (murdered) 82 B.C.E. Author, "founder of the scientific study of Roman law." (Webster's Bio. Dict.)], that there are three kinds of gods: those established by philosophers, those established by poets, and those established by magistrates. Both Bayle [Pierre Bayle 1647 - 1706] and Montesquieu [1689 - 1755] made use of this distinction.' [111].

 

PAGE 1261


'At times Gibbon alters his tactics. Instead of hammering away at the irrationality of miracles, he uses the stories as the vehicles for wit. In these instances there is no attempt made at argument: Gibbon is satisfied with sneering and having fun. On the night before he went into battle in A.D. 394, the great emperor Theodosius [Theodosius I, the Great, c. 346 - 395] reportedly experienced a miraculous vision: "Theodoret [c. 393 - 458] affirms that St. John and St. Philip appeared to the waking or sleeping emperor, on horseback, &c."97 "This is," Gibbon says, "the first instance of apostolic chivalry, which afterwards became so popular in Spain and in the Crusades." Boethius [c. 480 - 524], after his execution by Theodoric [Theodoric, the Great, 455 - 526], passed into popular legend as a martyr and a saint. He was "styled a magician by the ignorance of the times." He was reported to have "carried his head in his hands a considerable way [see 1211]"98 after it was chopped off. Gibbon apparently told this anecdote in Madame du Deffand's salon, and he adds: "a lady [Mme. du Deffand] of my acquaintance once observed, 'La distance n'y fait rein [apparently, rien]; il n'y a que le premier pas qui coûte ["Distance doesn't matter at all, it is only the first step that costs."].'"99 [see footnote, below] There is here a genuine flavor of the polite and witty conversation of Enlightenment society. Martin of Tours [(Bishop of Tours) c. 316 - c. 400], Gibbon relates, set out to destroy the idols, the temples, and the consecrated trees of his dioceses, "and in the execution of this arduous task, the prudent reader will judge whether Martin was supported by the aid of miraculous powers or of carnal weapons."100 And Gibbon adds, in his best salon manner: "The saint once mistook (as Don Quixote might have done) an harmless funeral for an idolatrous procession, and imprudently committed a miracle."101

Behind this erudite and elegant mockery, Gibbon is deadly serious....'

[115-116].

[footnote] '99XXXIX, 216, n. 113. It might be questioned whether or not Gibbon's quotation from Mme. du Deffand [1697 - 1780] is true. The "mot" was famous in eighteenth-century French society, but had been created not in response to Gibbon and Boethius [also: Boece, Hector. 1465? - 1536]. See Lytton Strachey [1880 - 1932], "Madame du Deffand," Books and Characters (London, 1922), p. 91: "Her famous 'mot de Saint Denis,' so dear to the heart of Voltaire, deserves to be once more recorded. A garrulous and credulous Cardinal was describing the martyrdom of Saint Denis the Areopagite: when his head was cut off he took it up and carried it in his hands. That, said the Cardinal, was well known; what was not well known was the extraordinary fact that he [Saint Denis] walked with his head under his arm all the way from Montmartre to the Church of Saint Denis--a distance of six miles. 'Ah, Monseigneur!' said Madame du Deffand, 'dans une telle situation, il n'y a que le premier pas qui coûte ["Ah, Monsignor, in such a situation, it is only the first step that costs." [translation, plus, now, the statement seems lacking]].'"'

[115-116].

 

PAGE 1262





'Although he worked alone, THERE IS A CORPORATE [see (Ecclesiastical Corporation) #4, 123, 534., etc.] ASPECT TO TILLEMONT'S WORK.25 His reliance on the advice of others, especially the scattered Jansenist community, was excessive. Part of the explanation is his timidity, which constantly drove him to seek advice and occasionally a necessary "push" from friends. Part of the explanation is his childlike temperament, which reduced him to a pathetic reliance on his family and friends for almost every decision.26 If his personality drew him to consult friends and family on every important point, it also gave to his historical work the imprimatur of the Jansenists.' [131-132].

'The pious men of Tillemont's [1637 - 1698] day who brought to history precision, clarity, and accuracy, also did much of the spadework for the attack on Christianity to be launched by the Enlightenment. Their labors cleared the ground of ecclesiastical history of the rubbish of centuries. The example was not lost on the enlighteners. The step from the rejection of some legends to the rejection of all legends was very short. Tillemont carefully--and perhaps sadly--pruned from the history of the primitive church some of the most colorful, but spurious, legends. With a sigh (Gibbon imagines) he rejected the Acts of Artemius, "a veteran and a martyr who attests as an eye-witness the vision of Constantine."31 IT IS NOT UNUSUAL FOR THE SINCERE EFFORTS OF ONE GENERATION TO PROVIDE THE NEXT WITH THE PRECONDITIONS FOR DESTROYING AN OLD IDEOLOGY. In the case of Tillemont the case is very clear: it is Edward Gibbon who inherits these labors.' [133-134].

'Tillemont's myopia about Roman civilization arises directly from his religious views. The Romans were pagans, and paganism was anathema. His Christian charity did not extend to paganism. He delighted in the horrible deaths of the fourth-century emperors who had persecuted Christianity: they provided wonderful proof of a vengeful God.36 He was deeply disturbed that God had permitted the pagan emperors Marcus Aurelius and Trajan to escape an excruciating death: "Suffer me, O Lord, to ask if You always destroyed those who did not understand the work of Your hands...? You ["Lord"] have visibly destroyed Nero, Domitian, and others. But did you destroy Trajan and Marcus in the same way? They certainly deserved destruction, for they failed to apprehend the miracles of Your grace when they had these miracles before their eyes. In addition, they persecuted Your servants. Yet, they died in their beds, honored, revered, loved, and esteemed by all men."37 He [Tillemont] despised pagan Rome, and "he never dismisses a virtuous emperor without pronouncing his damnation."38' [137].

["Tillemont, Louis Sébastien Le Nain de (1637-98), French Church historian....

His fame rests on the Memoires pour servir a l'histoire ecclesiastique des six premiers siecles (16 vols., 1693-1712), a work of enormous erudition, covering the development of the Church from the beginning of Christianity to the year 513....

For comprehensiveness the work has not been surpassed, though it lacks elegance of style. It was much used by E. Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire...." (Ox. Dict. C.C., 1997, p. 1622)].

PAGE 1263


'It is not Gibbon's want of accuracy that makes his treatment of Christianity so distasteful to devout men. Gibbon would never play fast and loose with the facts. What makes his classic account so Gibbonian is the withering irony with which he treats the subject. And as is well known, Gibbon says he learned to handle the weapon of irony, "even on subjects of Ecclesiastical solemnity,"73 from Pascal

[Blaise Pascal 1623 - 1662].

It is possible to argue that Gibbon's reliance on Tillemont has nothing to do with Jansenism. Tillemont was a great historian and a superb source for a historian of Gibbon's interests and temperament. With magisterial ease he swept away the pious foundations and assumptions of Tillemont's work, and used him merely as an exceptionally reliable guide. That Tillemont was a Jansenist fanatic is merely coincidental so far as Gibbon is concerned. This would be a perfectly adequate explanation of Gibbon's numerous references to Tillemont and his respect for the work of his predecessor. It would be a perfectly adequate explanation, that is, were it not for the fact that Gibbon was fascinated with Jansenism throughout his life, and that another Jansenist fanatic, Blaise Pascal, was singled out by Gibbon himself as central to his intellectual development.' [145].

"Whatever the initial impact of Pascal, his influence was continuous. This is precisely the problem: why did Gibbon find the Jansenists in general, and Pascal in particular, so fascinating? Gibbon had long been interested in religious problems, and in the Memoirs he sketches that slightly ludicrous sense of the young boy, with an oversized head, disputing earnestly on the mysteries of the trinity, or reincarnation, with his kind, loving, and limited Aunt Porten. This fascination lasted a lifetime, and besides the classics, the two species of books best represented in Gibbon's library are travel books and books on religion and theology. He was forever reading tracts and treatises on the most arcane and arid subjects of theology and church history. His careful and detailed histories of Arians, Monophysites, Gnostics, Armenians, and a dozen other Christian splinter groups, are ample proof of his interest. Perhaps no other man outside holy orders, indeed almost outside the church, knew as much of these things as did GIBBON. And WHAT MOST FASCINATED HIM WAS FANATICISM. THE PATHOLOGICAL SIDE OF RELIGION PROVIDED AN ENDLESS SOURCE OF STUDY for this sceptical rationalist." [147].

'In a sense the Decline and Fall may be considered the first answer to St. Augustine's [354 - 430] City of God. From the vantage point of the high Enlightenment Gibbon is looking back across the centuries to that giant, and is attacking Augustine's explanation of why Rome fell. It is not, Gibbon argues, God's providence that brought Rome down. It is the very real, earthly enemy, the early Christians, that canker in the breast of an already decaying empire. Gibbon's Rome is the work of men, and its fall is the work of men. Gibbon is in many ways a pagan gentleman of the late empire, surveying with sadness and passion the accumulated crimes of lese-majeste against his beloved Rome. His [Gibbon] is the first extensive and comprehensive response to St. Augustine; and as the Decline and Fall recapitulates many of the arguments used by Pagan apologists in the fifth century, so, too, does it plead [1637 - 1698] for an earthly cause for Rome's fall.

PAGE 1264


Tillemont [1637 - 1698] and the Jansenists are, for Gibbon [1737 - 1794], the modern-day representatives of Augustine's [354 - 430] views. As such they are the enemy. Tillemont accepts, without apparent question or modification, Augustine's explanation for Rome's fall. His compilation of the sources, especially from the age of Constantine to the invasions, rests on an assumption of providential action. It might legitimately be argued that Tillemont's work is the scholarly gloss to the City of God. And there is in this perhaps an additional irony, Gibbon, the pagan champion of Rome, took as his guide a modern Augustinian; and through a mastery of irony, learned from Pascal, he used one Augustinian to confound another. Gibbon's "sure-footed mule" is not only the most important of Gibbon's many guides; he is also the incarnation of the Augustinian view. The Jansenists are opponents of genius and stature. IT IS THROUGH TILLEMONT AND PASCAL THAT GIBBON REACHES BACK THROUGH THE CENTURIES TO CONFRONT ST. AUGUSTINE, AND TO ATTEMPT TO TOPPLE THE CITY OF GOD AND REPLACE IT WITH THE DECLINE AND FALL.' [157-158].

"Constantine [Emperor 306 (312) - 337 (280? - 337)] absorbed Gibbon's attention as did few other men in Roman history. He is not one of the emperors Gibbon admired: he is one of the villains of the piece. But Gibbon saw in the career of Constantine a microcosm of the decline and fall of the Roman empire. In his treatment of Constantine Gibbon sought to paint the fate of Rome in miniature. The analysis of Constantine's character is one of the most ambitious in the Decline and Fall. For Gibbon Constantine's early career recapitulates the history of the empire before the fourth century: his later career is a study in the decay and degeneracy which would eventually destroy Rome. The young Constantine was a model prince: vital, talented, full of promise. His young manhood represents the partial fulfillment of this promise. But in his old age--an old age disgraced by religious fanaticism and dark and bloody deeds--Constantine reveals his true character, sacrifices his brilliant reputation, and fatally weakens the empire in a mad rush after personal glory.

Gibbon heightens the tragedy of Constantine's career by painting his early exploits in growing colors. But after the defeat of Licinius (A.D. 324) Constantine sinks rapidly into degeneracy, and the decline of the empire quickens with each successive reign. THE LEGACY OF CONSTANTINE IS THE SLOW BUT EFFECTIVE POISON OF MORAL CORRUPTION, INSTITUTIONALIZED IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH AND THE NEW CONSTITUTIONS OF THE STATE. So well did he [Constantine] do his work that even Julian [Emperor 361 - 363 (331 - 363)] the Apostate, one of Gibbon's heroes and a noble Roman, could not save Rome by attempting to return her to the good old ways." [196]. 

PAGE 1265




'"PERSONAL INTEREST IS OFTEN THE STANDARD OF OUR BELIEF, AS WELL AS OF OUR PRACTICE; and the same motives of temporal advantage which might influence the public conduct and professions of Constantine would insensibly dispose his mind to embrace a religion so propitious to his fame and fortune."57 The emperor was flattered to consider himself the chosen representative of the Christian God, and his advisers did nothing to discourage this view. Whatever happened on the night before the battle of the Milvian Bridge [312, Constantine defeated Maxentius]--and it certainly was not a miracle--Constantine decided to fight as the representative of the Christian God against his pagan rival. This was the first tentative step. Victory under the banner of Christianity convinced Constantine that the new religion might be not only politically expedient, but potent as well: "His vanity was gratified by the flattering assurance that he had been chosen by Heaven to reign over the earth; success had justified his divine title to the throne, and that title was founded on the truth of the Christian revelation."58

THE POLITICAL USES TO WHICH CHRISTIANITY MIGHT BE PUT PRESENTED NO PROBLEM TO CONSTANTINE. At least since Augustus' establishment of the empire, and probably earlier, religion had been considered an integral part of state policy. The emperor himself was, traditionally, the head of the state religion. It was clear to Constantine that paganism was everywhere in decay, and "the cause of virtue derived very feeble support from the influence of the Pagan superstition."59 Under these circumstances "a prudent magistrate might observe with pleasure the progress of a religion which diffused among the people a pure, benevolent, and universal system of ethics, adapted to every duty and every condition of life; recommended as the will and reason of the Supreme Deity, and ENFORCED BY THE SANCTION OF ETERNAL REWARDS OR PUNISHMENTS [CLASSIC CHRISTIAN CONTROL!]."60

CHRISTIANITY PROVED IRRESISTIBLE TO CONSTANTINE. HIS VANITY WAS FLATTERED, HIS POLITICAL PURPOSES WERE FURTHERED, AND HE HAD NO DOUBT THAT HE COULD CONTROL CHRISTIANITY ONCE IT BECAME THE STATE RELIGION. He was well aware "that the care of religion was the right as well as the duty of the civil magistrate."61 In fact, the control of the new religion would doubtless prove easier than the regulation of a moribund paganism. CHRISTIANITY EMPHASIZED OBEDIENCE....' [207-208]. 

PAGE 1266





'....WHY, ASKS GIBBON, DID CONSTANTINE RECEIVE BAPTISM ONLY ON HIS DEATHBED? BECAUSE, HE ANSWERS, HE WAS NOT A RELIGIOUS ENTHUSIAST BUT A CRAFTY POLITICIAN and a man terrified about the fate of his soul. Despite the outraged cries of the church fathers, BAPTISM JUST BEFORE DEATH WAS COMMON IN THE EARLY CHURCH: "BY THE DELAY OF THEIR BAPTISM, THEY COULD VENTURE FREELY TO INDULGE THEIR PASSIONS IN THE ENJOYMENTS OF THIS WORLD, WHILE THEY STILL RETAINED IN THEIR HANDS THE MEANS OF A SURE AND EASY ABSOLUTION [FORGIVENESS!]."65

Imagine the appeal this expedient had for an emperor consumed by ambition and willing to pursue his goals "through the dark and bloody paths of war and policy." For Constantine baptism in extremis was more than an attraction: it was a necessity. After his victory over Licinius [324: defeated by Constantine, surrendered, executed] "he abandoned himself, without moderation, to the abuse of his fortune."66 Success had removed the need for dissimulation and the emperor's true character stood nakedly exposed. In 326 he [Constantine] murdered his son, Crispus [d. 326], and soon afterwards, his wife, Fausta [289 - 326]: "he could no longer be ignorant that the church was possessed of an infallible remedy,"67 Constantine's Christianity was a rough-and-ready, pragmatic faith. "The sublime theory of the gospel had made a much fainter impression on the heart than on the understanding of Constantine himself."68 Whatever political advantages conversion to Christianity offered, the crimes and tyranny of his last years finally decided the issue. Constantine was baptized on his deathbed to "remove the temptation and the danger of a relapse" and in this act he declared to the public and to posterity the true and insidious nature of his conversion to Christianity....

Gibbon does not set a precise date for the conversion, but he rejects any date prior to 324. He favors 324-326, with a definitive public declaration coming only on his deathbed. Around this time the pagan symbolism disappears, or begins to disappear, from imperial coins; this is the period of Constantine's famous circular letter exhorting his subjects to "imitate, without delay, the example of their sovereign, and to embrace the divine truth of Christianity."71 In 325 the emperor [Constantine] presided over the first ecumenical council; he proscribed the pagan gods in his new capital [Constantinople] soon afterwards, and he secured Christian tutors for his sons. These facts, coupled with the political and personal reasons for Constantine's conversion, satisfy Gibbon, and he rests his case. He [Gibbon] has achieved his purpose: he [GIBBON] has REDUCED THE CONVERSION [OF CONSTANTINE] TO POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY aided by seduction and moral corruption; he has blackened the name of the first Christian emperor [Constantine]; and he [Gibbon] has suggested that Constantine's crimes and political reforms, both of which hastened the fall of Rome, OCCURRED AFTER he [CONSTANTINE] WAS A CHRISTIAN....' [209-211]. 

PAGE 1267




'Gibbon comes to believe that, within limits, man can make what he will of his life. In writing the history of himself [Memoirs] Gibbon attributed much to chance, but certainly not all [the preceding 2 sentences are unexpected. The chronic optimism of teachers!, but, the following quotation concerns chance, and "the lucky chance of an unit against millions"]:


[Gibbon] When I contemplate the common lot of mortality, I must acknowledge that I have drawn a high prize in the lottery of life. The far greater part of the globe is overspread with barbarism or slavery: in the civilized world the most numerous class is condemned to ignorance and poverty; and the double fortune of my birth in a free and enlightened country in an honourable and wealthy family is the lucky chance of an unit against millions.45

Such are the impersonal forces of history. The vast majority of men in the world, now and in the past, are almost from birth trapped by their circumstances and forced to live according to the dictates of historical necessity. The majority of men are fatalistically trapped by history, and fail to realize their humanity. Even among the minority, who are fortunate enough, like Gibbon himself, to be free of material want and to have the option of intellectual development, there are few who rise above their historical situation. It is these few who interest "the historian of the Roman empire [Edward Gibbon 1737 - 1794]." ....' [229].

PAGE 1268




from: Against the Faith, Essays on Deists, Skeptics and Atheists, Jim Herrick, Prometheus, 1985. [restudying, 1/1/2000].



"7


Gibbon:


The decline of God's historic role


Gibbon [Edward Gibbon 1737 - 1794] and Hume [David Hume 1711 - 1776], two intellectual giants of the eighteenth century, admired each other and were both influenced by European, especially French, ideas in a way unusual for British thinkers. They were both conservative rather than radical in politics and men of learning rather than action. Their writings were widely respected, and although Christian defenders launched attacks upon them, they escaped the censure of the law (but Dr Bowdler [Thomas Bowdler 1754 - 1825, famous expurgator, hence, the verb: bowdlerize] snipped away at The Decline and Fall). Unlike the pamphleteer, they wrote with scholarship and elegance for an educated audience. The full impact of their blows against Christianity was softened in the case of Gibbon by irony and of Hume by presenting ideas in veiled literary form.

Macaulay [Thomas Babington Macaulay 1800 - 1859] said that Gibbon wrote of Christianity like a man who had received a personal injury: his comment echoed the words of Gibbon's contemporary adversary [and, supporter], Porson [Richard Porson 1759 - 1808 (see 1257)], a divine [?] who wrote that Gibbon sought to insult 'our religion, which he hates so cordially that he might seem to revenge some personal injury [these two comments (by Macaulay, and, Porson), are classic Christian effrontery--and, ignorance (and/or--negation!)]'. This was not the motivation that lay behind Gibbon's masterpiece, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He was moved by his desire to be a great historian and by his admiration for the peaks of Roman civilization. As the tale of the decline of the Roman Empire unfurled in his mind it became apparent that he would simultaneously describe the rise of Christianity, and he determined to treat it as a historian, not a theologian. Chapters XV and XVI, in which he describes 'The Progress of the Christian Religion and the Sentiments, Manners, Numbers and Condition of the primitive Christian' and the 'Conduct of Romans towards Christians', became notorious and were much admired by later freethinkers, but in rescuing Christianity from the hands of the theologians on behalf of the historians his [Gibbon] perspective was the olympian [lofty (?)] prospect of slow historical change, not the battlefield of freethought." [106]. 

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"Following the successful publication of the first volume [of The Decline and Fall, 1776], Gibbon [Edward Gibbon] enjoyed a very sociable six months in Paris, where he was lionized, re-established contact with Mme Necker (Suzanne Curchod [1739 - 1794]) and met people such as the Austrian Emperor Joseph II and Buffon....

Back in England his continuous financial problems were eased by a position at the Board of Trade and Plantations. The Fox circle, with which he was briefly associated, accused him of being bought by the government. He was equable in the face of political mudslinging and at the loss of office after Lord North's fall.

The second and third volumes of his history were published in 1781 with steady success. He gave himself a year's break, which he spent reading much Greek literature, before continuing with the fourth volume. His financial problems, his loss of office, and his decision not to stand for Parliament again all led to a plan to return to Lausanne, which he had known so well as a young man. In 1783, he moved to set up house with Deyverdun [Georges Deyverdun 1735 - 1789] in Lausanne. In Lausanne the two bachelors established a comfortable regime, which included much company, food and wine, and gave Gibbon the peace to conclude The Decline and Fall.

He [Edward Gibbon] approached completion [volumes IV, V, VI, published 1788]: 'But let no man who builds a house, or writes a book, presume to say when he has finished. When he imagines that he is drawing near to his journey's end, Alps rise on Alps and he continually finds something to add and something to correct.' Eventually he reached the moment recorded in his Autobiography: 'It was on the day, or rather the night, of the 27th of June 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page in a summer-house in my garden....I will not dissemble the first moments of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and perhaps the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind by the idea that I had taken my everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion [see 1255 ("same" quotation from Gibbon)], and that, whatever might be the future fate of my history, the life of the historian must be short and precarious.'

GIBBON'S REMOVAL OF GOD FROM AN ACTIVE ROLE IN HISTORY WAS OF LASTING IMPORTANCE FOR ALL HISTORIANS, AND ALSO THEOLOGIANS who have long adopted his rigorous study of the facts and assumed that THE SPREAD OF CHRISTIANITY IS BEST OBSERVED THROUGH WHAT GIBBON DESCRIBED AS 'SECONDARY CAUSES'. ...." [111-112].

PAGE 1270


 

from: The Thinker's Library, No. II Gibbon On Christianity Being the 15th and 16th Chapters of Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", Watts, n.d. [Introduction by J.M. Robertson [1856 - 1933], 1929].

'when Professor Bury [John Bagnell Bury 1861 - 1927 (editor of "The best edition" (see 1272) of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)] writes of "a thousand reserves," and adds that "no discreet inquirer would go there for his ecclesiastical history," the question arises, Where then should the inquirer, not himself a historical or ecclesiastical specialist, go for a sound conspectus of that history, framed in a veridical ["truthful", etc.] spirit? Certainly the more he reads the better; and he may very usefully pass from Gibbon [Edward Gibbon 1737 - 1794] to Hatch [Edwin Hatch 1835 - 1889]. But who is the scientific historian who covers the ground with such breadth of view and grasp and sanity, even in a much larger space? It was J.H. Newman [1801 - 1890 (see 1245)] who REGRETFULLY AVOWED THAT GIBBON WAS THE ONLY GOOD ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORIAN ENGLAND HAD PRODUCED. There must have been a comprehensive virtue in him [Gibbon] to win that encomium.' [xvii].

'The lamented Bury [died 1927 (2 years previous)] has himself authoritatively declared that, "if we take into account the vast range of his work, his [Gibbon's [this bracketed entry, is by Robertson]] accuracy is amazing." It is a remarkable fact, further, that on these two chapters the vigilant editor ["Professor Bury"] has hardly any corrections to make, and none that is serious. In his scholarly Appendices, with their valuable study of the authorities, he [Bury] broadly bears out Gibbon's statistics, and nowhere impugns his general drift.' [xviii].

'The contrast in sheer mental capacity between Gibbon and his antagonists stands out for posterity as a fact in culture history. In his raw youth, at Oxford, a discerning senior told some supercilious gentlemen commoners that, "if their heads were entirely scooped, Gibbon had brains sufficient to supply them all." That holds of his later life....' [xxii].

"Thus the two famous chapters ["15th and 16th Chapters"] still hold their own as a masterly record of what appears actually to have happened in a period which only rare clerical students, like Gieseler [Johann Karl Ludwig Gieseler 1792 - 1854] and Edwin Hatch [1835 - 1889], can present with critical detachment; and THE GIBBONIAN PICTURE, like the rest of the work, masses the evolution in a masterly picture of total movement which, for its combination of analytic science and constructive art, HAS NEVER YET BEEN SURPASSED...." [xxiii]. 

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ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ["The best edition" (Jordan, 231 (see 1252))], J.B. Bury, Editor, Fifth Edition, Edward Gibbon [1737 - 1794], 7 vols., London, 1909 (1776-1788 (6 vols.)).

Gibbon's Antagonism to Christianity, Shelby T. McCloy, Burt Franklin Research & Source Works Series #144 (Selected Essays in History and Social Science Series #3), Burt Franklin, n.d. ("originally published London: 1933").

[Superb Bibliography].

The Library of Edward Gibbon, A Catalogue edited and introduced by Geoffrey Keynes, Second Edition, St Paul's Bibliographies, 1980 (1940).

Roman Civilization Selected Readings, Edited by Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Third Edition, [2 Volumes], Columbia U., c1990 (1951, 1955).

["Primary" sources. (Volume II: much on Christians)]. [Must See!].

Gibbon The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Other Selections from the Writings of Edward Gibbon, Edited and Abridged with an Introduction by Hugh R. Trevor-Roper, Washington Square Press, Pb., 1963.

"THE DECLINE AND FALL--the monumental achievement of an enlightened mind, together with the AUTOBIOGRAPHY and personal VINDICATION of his attack on Church history". [front cover].

Edward Gibbon and the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edited by G.W. Bowersock, John Clive, Stephen R. Graubard, Harvard U., 1977.

Edward Gibbon, A Reference Guide, Patricia B. Craddock, Indexed by Patricia B. Craddock and Margaret Craddock Huff, G.K. Hall & Co., 1987.

[See: "Index of Authors and Other Sources": "Jordan, David P.", et al.] [See: "Index of Topics and Allusions": "Religion", etc.].

[Note: I found this book, 8/12/2000, at the completion, of Addition 27].

The Footnote, A Curious History, Anthony Grafton, Harvard, 1997 (1995 German).

[found 1/7/2000, while researching in another book by Anthony Grafton (Forgers and Critics)]. [See: Edward Gibbon; Pierre Bayle; Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (210); Leo X (Donation of Constantine, 159); Chapter Six: "Ecclesiastical Historians and Antiquaries" ("148"-189); Harry Belafonte

(234-235 (poignant, etc.)); etc.].

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