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Naaman's practice-not formally prohibited, if not specially sanctioned either, in the valedictory “Go in peace”-reminds one of a verse in a later chapter of the same book (xvii. 41): “So these nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images, both their children and their children's children: as did their fathers, so do they until this day.” Not indeed that Naaman actually and believingly “served ” Rimmon; but he bowed down to him. He not merely accompanied his royal master to the house of Rimmon, for that he might have done in the merest routine of ceremonial state service; but, arrived there, he bowed down himself, and this in a way that he felt needed absolution from the one true God; and therefore he craved absolution beforehand, and having craved it—not to say, having received it—he departed in peace.
Worth notice again in the like connection is what we are told of Asa, king of Judah (1 Kings xv. 14): “But the high places were not removed : nevertheless Asa's heart was perfect with the Lord all his days.”
When Corneille's Pauline counsels the Christian warrior to worship his God in secret, and be a good pagan in public“Adorez-le dans l'âme, et n'en témoignez rien"—the answer of Polyeucte is prompt in generous indignation at the compromise:
“Que je sois tout ensemble idolâtre et chrétien !” Gibbon has, almost of course, his polite sneer of pity for the trembling Christians” of Tertullian's time, who, when persuaded on the occasion of solemn festivals of the state to comply with the fashion of their country and the commands of the magistrate, laboured under the most gloomy apprehensions, from the reproaches of their own conscience, the censures of the church, and the denunciations of Divine vengeance. “The philosopher, who considered the system of polytheism as a composition of human fraud and error, could disguise a smile of contempt under the mask of devotion without apprehending that either the mockery or the compliance would expose him to the resentment of any invisible, or, as he conceived them,
imaginary powers.... But the belief of the Christian was accompanied with horror. The most trifling mark of respect to the national worship he considered as an act of homage yielded to the demon, and as an act of rebellion against the majesty of God.”l
The question has been put, Was it settled policy or more mature reflection which led Pope Gregory the Great to devolve on a barbarian king the odious duty of totally abolishing idolatry ; while it permitted to the clergy a milder and more winning course, the protection of the hallowed places and usages of the heathen from insult by consecrating them to holier uses ? To Ethelbert the Pope writes, enjoining him, in the most solemn manner, to use every means of force as well as persuasion to convert his subjects; utterly to destroy their temples, to show no toleration to those who adhere to their religious rites. To Mellitus, bishop of London, on the other hand, he enjoins great respect for the sacred places of the
1 The knights of chivalry were expected to maintain, at every risk however imminent, what Scott, in his Essay on Chivalry, calls an “intemperate zeal for religion.” Like the early Christians, they were, as he says, prohibited from acquiescing, even by silence, in the rites of idolatry, although death should be the consequence of their interrupting them.
Mr. de Quincey, in his learned and eloquent dissertation on the pagan oracles, insists on the fact, often overlooked by historians, that paganism for Rome, after the Cæsars became Christianised, was, to a considerable extent, a mere necessity of her pagan origin. Rome could not forget or forego the indispensable office or the indefeasible privileges of the Pontifex Maximus, which actually availed, “historically and medalically can be demonstrated to have availed, for the temptation of Christian Cæsars into collusive adulteries with heathenism.” Now there might be an emperor who timidly recorded his scruples, who feebly protested, but gave way at once to an ugly necessity. Anon there would come another, more deeply religious or constitutionally more bold, who fought long and strenuously against the compromise. “What ! should he, the delegate of God, and the standard bearer of the true religion, proclaim himself officially head of the false? No; that was too much for his conscience." But the fatal meshes of prescription, of superstitions ancient and gloomy, gathered around him; he heard that he was no perfect Cæsar without this office. “The pious Theodosius found himself literally compelled to become a pagan pontiff.” Reluctantly, as Mr. de Quincey describes the process of constraint and concession, this emperor gave way, soothing perhaps his fretting conscience by offering to Heaven, as a penitential litany, that same petition which Naaman the Syrian offered to the prophet Elisha as a reason for a personal dispensation. heathen, forbids their demolition; he only commands them to be cleared of their idols, to be purified by holy water for the services of Christianity. Whatever popular customs of heathenism were found to be not absolutely incompatible with Christianity were retained, some of them to a very late period. “Nothing could have been more prudent than these regulations,” says Edmund Burke, who regards them as indeed formed from a perfect understanding of human nature. He would have applauded to the echo, one may infer, in principle if not in detail, the moderation of Zwingle as a reformer, who called God to witness how much rather disposed he was to build up (edify) than to pull down. “I know some timid souls,” the Swiss reformer tells the council, “that deserve to be dealt with tenderly ; let the mass therefore be still read for some time on Sunday in all the churches, and on no account let those who celebrate it be insulted.” Quite otherwise minded in the main was John Knox, when, on his arrival in Scotland in 1555, he found that the friends of the Reformed doctrine continued to attend mass ; principally, says Dr. McCrie, with the view of avoiding the scandal which they would otherwise incur. “Highly disapproving of this practice, he (Knox) laboured, in his conversation and sermons, to convince them of the great impiety of that part of the popish service, and the criminality of countenancing it by their presence." Doubts being still entertained on the subject by some, a meeting of the protestants in Edinburgh was held for the express purpose of discussing the subject. Maitland defended the practice with all the ingenuity and learning for which he was distinguished ; but “his arguments were so satisfactorily answered by Knox," adds Knox's biographer, “that he yielded the point as indefensible, and agreed, with the rest of his brethren, to abstain for the future from such temporising conduct.” He would have shaken his head at the counsel of the Lutheran ministers touching the refusal of the elector of Saxony, as grand marshal, to attend with the sword of state at the “mass of the Holy Ghost,” with which the Diet of Augsburg was to open. They overcame the elector's scruples by representing the duty as a civil, not a religious, ceremony, and justified their permission by that ceded to Naaman by Elisha.
1 “New altars are to be set up, and relics enshrined in the precincts. Even the sacrifices were to be continued under another name.”-Hist. Lat. Christ., bk. iv., chap. iii.
Among other gossip recorded of James I. with Sully, when that statesman was envoy to the English court in 1603, is this—that the king asked if, when speaking with the nuncius, he (De Rosny) called the Pope his holiness, as by so doing he would greatly offend God, in whom alone was holiness. Rosny replied that he commonly used the style prevalent at court, governing himself according to the rules adopted in regard to pretenders to crowns and kingdoms which they thought belonged to them, but the possession of which was in other hands, conceding to them, in order not to offend them, the titles which they claimed." James shook his head portentously, and changed the subject.” It is observable in regard to a treaty with his Catholic majesty in the following year, that on religious matters it was agreed that English residents in Spain should not be compelled to go to mass, but that they should kneel in the street to the host unless they could get out of the way.
That we are neither to “worship or cringe to anything under the Deity," South calls “a truth too strict for a Naaman ;? he can be content to worship the one true God, but then it must be in the house of Rimmon. The reason was implied in his condition : he was captain of the host, and therefore he thought it reason good to bow to Rimmon rather than endanger his place; better bow than break."
1 “But although the elector was persuaded to appear at the mass, yet he refused to bow before the idol, as the Lutherans termed the consecrated host, and both he and the landgrave of Hesse Cassel remained standing when the whole congregation prostrated themselves at the elevation.”— Coxe, House of Austria, chap. xxix.
2 In at least two of his best fictions, Sir Walter Scott makes telling reference to the casuistry of the captain of the host of Syria. Captain Dugald Dalgetty makes a vexed question of being required, when in garrison, in the service of Spain, to go to mass with his regiment. Accordingly, he applies to a Dutch pastor of the Reformed Church, who tells him he thinks he may lawfully go to mass, "in respect that the prophet permitted Naaman, a mighty man of valour and an honourable cavalier of Syria, to follow his master into the house of Rimmon, a false god or idol, to whom he had vowed service, and to bow down when the king was leaning upon his hand.” Again : Jeanie Deans finds herself involuntarily
Hobbes is held to have adapted the Bible to his theory of civil government (in the Leviathan) with considerable ingenuity. How could the civil ruler be supreme, as Hobbes declared him to be, if God had established a Divine society and a Divine system of morality? Under Christian powers, indeed, no difficulty would arise. But how with infidel powers ? In their case, on Hobbes' showing, the precedent of Naaman, who bowed down to Rimmon but worshipped the true God in his heart, might safely be followed. Just as with the sanction of the Jesuits in India and China, as charged against them by Pascal in the Lettres à un Provincial : “Où ils ont permis aux chrétiens l'idolatrie même, par cette subtile invention de leur faire cacher sous leurs habits une image de Jésus-Christ à laquelle ils leur enseignent de rapporter mentalement les adorations publiques qu'ils rendent à l'idole Cachinchoam et à leur Keum-fucum.” The philosopher of Malmesbury would own to as little sympathy as a recent writer with
within the walls of a church of the English establishment, and is too faithful to the directory of the presbyterian kirk to have entered wittingly a prelatic place of worship. “But notwithstanding these prejudices it was her prudent resolution, in this dilemma, to imitate as nearly as she could what was done around her," as regards change of posture adopted in different parts of the ritual,' etc. The prophet, she thought, permitted Naaman the Syrian to bow even in the house of Rimmon. Surely, if I, in this strait, worship the God of my fathers in mine own language, although the manner thereof be strange to me, the Lord will pardon me in this thing."
1 “Rimmon, whose delightful seat
Paradise Lost, bk. i.