Eastern Philosophy Conquers Rome
We have seen that the new Romans brought with them eastern religions which, to the early Latins would have been repugnant to their nature. But, there was a race change in Italy. The new race was mainly of easterners who felt right at home in the old Babylonian Sun-cults and mystery religions. It is hardly any wonder that Rome went over to Babylonianism. As Dr. Frank says:
"The Mystery cults permeated the city, Italy and the western provinces only to such an extent as the city, Italy and the provinces were permeated by the stock that had created those religions."
Frank, "Race Mixture in the Roman Empire," p.707
Understanding that these new Romans readily accepted those beliefs which appealed to their temperaments, it will pay us to review the philosophies which those eastern Romans accepted. The origin of the later Roman philosophies were directly from the east. They were mainly from Syria. Indeed, the one philosophical belief which gained practically universal approval and acceptance by Roman society in the first and second centuries was the Stoic philosophy.
Stoicism is one of the most interesting philosophies that ever came out of the east. It has been compared as the most "Christian" of all philosophies. Many books have been written endeavoring to show the remarkable parallels between Stoicism and Christianity (especially Roman Catholicism). There is some definite agreement between Catholicism and this philosophy. The philosophy taught the universal brotherhood of man, the doing away with national barriers, the encouragement of intermarriage and having one law over all. They called the ideal state as one governed by a central city, the city of God. When the Roman Empire came along, the Stoic philosophers saw in the Empire the ideal physical state if it were only administered humanely and for the public benefit. Because of this, and other reasons, the Stoic philosophy was taught in profusion over the Empire, and nowhere was it accepted more, and with a type of religious crusading spirit, than in Italy.
In the first and second centuries, Platonic teachings in their primitive state were not as popular as they had been. The system of Aristotle was not altogether accepted because his teaching was not universal enough. Epicureanism, the only possible rival of Stoicism, was too selfish, anti-religious and not conducive to universal brotherhood. Only one philosophy suited the Roman temperament in the early Empire — that was Stoicism. It was the one philosophy that did not, in one way or another, repudiate the pagan gods. It agreed that they should definitely be retained for man, for his happiness and man’s need for religion.
The Stoic philosophers encouraged to a great degree the teachings of paganism. The religion that the later Stoics promoted was generally the Roman variety because their utopian city of world rule was Rome. Only by acknowledging Rome could they hope to achieve their universal state. And they gained their world-state to a remarkable degree through the Empire. It is little wonder why most of the noble Romans accepted the doctrines of Stoicism and not the other philosophies. No philosophy suited the temperaments of the later Romans more than this one of eastern origination.
Stoicism Was Not a Greek Creation
It has often been believed by most ordinary people that Greece was the home of philosophy, and to a certain extent that is true. Primal philosophies which the west admired are basically Grecian in origin with the exception of Stoicism. Dr. Lightfoot, writing about the two philosophies which gained more adherents after the time of Aristotle (Epicureanism and Stoicism) says:
[Epicureanism] was strictly Hellenic, the other [Stoicism] was derived from an eastern stock. Epicurus was a Greek of the Greeks, a child of Athenian parents. Zeno [the founder of Stoicism] on the other hand, a native of Citium, a Phoenician colony in Crete, and probably of Semitic race, for he is commonly called ‘the Phoenician.’ Babylon, Tyre, Sidon, Carthage, reared some of his most illustrious of his successors. Not a single Stoic of any name was a native of Greece proper."
"These two later developments of Greek philosophy both took root and grew to maturity in Greek soil. But while the seed of the one
Lightfoot, Philippians, p.273
The Stoic philosophy was foreign to the pure Greek. Not a single important Greek of pure stock joined its ranks.
"The principal Stoic teachers all came from the east, and therefore their language and thought must in a greater or less degree have borne the stamp of their eastern origin. We advance a step further towards the object of our search, if we remember that the most famous of them were not only eastern but Semitic Babylonia, Phoenicia, Syria, Palestine, are their homes."
Lightfoot, Philippians, p.299
"It was not however among the Greeks, to whose national temper the genius of Stoicism was alien, that this school achieved its proudest triumphs. ... The Romans offered a more congenial sphere for its influence. And here again it is worth observing, that their principal instructors were almost all easterners. Posidonius for instance, the familiar friend of many famous Romans and the most influential missionary of Stoic doctrine in Rome, was a native of Syrian Apamea."
Lightfoot, Philippians, p.310
The truth is, the Chaldeans could not be outdone in the field of philosophy. When, during the Greek period, the religions in Greece took a back seat to the study of philosophy, and many influential people were abandoning their ancient religious allegiances, the Chaldeans entered the new field by creating a philosophy of their own, a philosophy which would retain the gods and at the same time be attractive to intellectuals. Thus, Stoicism was born. Said Dr. Cumont,
"Stoicism readily agreed also with the determinism of the Chaldeans, founded, as it was, upon the regularity of the sidereal movements. Thus it was that this philosophy made remarkable conquests not only in Syria but as far as Mesopotamia. I recall only the fact that one of the masters of Stoicism, the successor of Zeno of Tarsus at Athens, was Diogenes of Babylon and that, later on, another distinguished Stoic, Archidemus, founded a famous school at Babylon itself."
Cumont, Astrology and Religion, p.70
"In the empire of the Seleucids alongside ‘Chaldeanism,’ Hellenism had established itself in a commanding position. Above the old native beliefs the doctrines of Stoicism in particular exercised dominion over men’s minds. It has been often observed that the masters of the Stoic school are for the most part easterns. The leading representatives of these doctrines — were all Syrians. It may be said that Stoicism was a Semitic philosophy."
Cumont, Astrology and Religion, pp.81–82
And indeed it was. Stoicism was the Babylonian reaction to Greek philosophy. Stoicism was the philosophy designed for the eastern peoples who were mainly of Semitic stock (though there were some Persian mixtures). It was the philosophy designed to maintain Chaldeanism in an age which looked like Greek secular philosophy might take the place of religion. Thus, Stoic philosophy was invented to retain Chaldeanism amongst the intellectuals, and it succeeded remarkably. The whole Roman world virtually succumbed to it. Dr. Cumont says:
"We shall be struck with the power of this sidereal theology, founded on ancient beliefs of Chaldean astrologers, transformed in the Hellenistic age under the two fold influence of astronomic discoveries and Stoic thought, and promoted, after becoming a pantheistic Sun-worship, to rank of official religion of the Roman Empire."
Cumont, Astrology and Religion, p.99
Babylonian doctrines and religion came to be the official Roman religion, and one of the big helps in bringing it into existence was Stoicism. This was the philosophy that did not ridicule the pagan gods, but felt they were always necessary for the true philosopher. In fact, Stoicism can be said to be the savior of Babylonian paganism among the intellectual classes.
"The Chaldeans were the first to conceive the idea of necessity dominating the universe. This is also one of the ruling ideas of the Stoics."
Cumont, Astrology and Religion, p.153
"Certain profound affinities reconciled Stoicism with Chaldean doctrines."
Cumont, Astrology and Religion, p.69
The Cambridge Ancient History noted the agreement between Stoicism and Babylonianism.
[Stoicism] with the Syro- Babylonian temples. Later there were many Syrians among the leading savants who initiated the Romans into the precepts of the various schools"
"As early as the Seleucids, Zeno of Citium and many of his chief disciples, such as Diogenes of Babylon and Antipater of Tarsus, had been easterns, and it may be said that Stoicism was largely a Semitic philosophy not only in respect of its teachers but of its doctrines also. Its pantheism which defies all the elements of Nature, and its acceptance of the fatalism of astrology side by side with the retention of belief in the active intervention of God in earthly matters, link the Porch
- Vol.Xl, p.641
Cambridge Ancient History,
It is clear that Stoicism is Babylonian philosophy. Its teachings and doctrines were accepted with open arms in Italy. The new Romans brought their religions with them, and they were religions which suited their temperaments. They also brought their philosophical beliefs with them. Stoicism made no head way among the secular minded Greeks, and the ancient Roman would have laughed it to scorn, but the new peoples coming from the east (where Stoicism was created) found this philosophy an ideal one for perpetuating a type of universal (Catholic) world religion and society.
[Roman] Christian Church. The fundamental ideas, derived from eastern parentage, were reduced to a system and placed on an intellectual basis by the instrumentality of Greek thought."
"Though the germ of Stoicism was derived from the East, its systematic development and its practical successes were attained by its transplantation into western soil. In this respect its career, as it traveled westward, presents a rough but instructive parallel to the progress of the
Lightfoot, Philippians, p.276
One of the famous Stoics of the Roman world was Seneca, a Semite himself. The Roman Catholic fathers call him "our Seneca" and greatly praise his work, even though he was a firm advocate of paganism. Indeed, most famous Romans were Stoics.
"Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Plutarch could not think or speak otherwise than as they did because the philanthropic ideas of Stoicism have become an integral and essential part of their nature."
Williams, Historians’ History, vol.6, p.311
Stoicism, thus, was the philosophy of easterners who became the later Romans. The wide spread acceptance of this normally alien philosophy is a strong indication that the Romans who grasped onto it were also the people who invented it. As the Syro-Phoenicians and Samaritans progressively migrated westward into Rome and Italy, they simply carried their religious and philosophical beliefs with them. And because those beliefs proved to be far superior to what the people in the west had formerly believed about the old Republican gods and goddesses of Rome, they promoted these eastern deities to the highest pantheon within the Roman Empire of the third and fourth centuries. These were the pagan religions that Constantine and his successors were imbued with at the time they began to see in Christianity the vehicle with which to preserve and to transform Rome into a new and dynamic state. And they were successful.
Indeed, there was nothing inferior about these eastern religions and philosophical beliefs nor the people who brought them to the west. They were the very teachings that Constantine and his followers adopted. True, they changed their names and the doctrines which they advocated into names that were derived from the New Testament. In effect, the later emperors retained pagan idolatrous worship which had come from ancient Babylon and began to call it the religion of Christianity. Constantine struck coins in honor of Helios the Sun-god long after he claimed to be a Christian. These idolatrous teachings and practices, however, were as different as daylight and dark from those taught by Jesus and his apostles. Of this there can be no doubt.
The primary person who was responsible for establishing the syncretic development of mixing paganism into Christianity, so the New Testament and the early Christian scholars inform us, was Simon Magus. It took about 300 years for the syncretic principles of Simon Magus to make an impact on orthodox Christianity. But with Constantine the Great, the seeds of the syncretism fell on fertile ground. From then on, idolatry and pagan doctrines and customs began to enter mainline Christianity.
An observer during the time of Constantine was the great Christian historian Eusebius. He mentioned that Simon Magus was indeed the originator of all heresy in the Christian community and that even in his day there were people who were feigning Christianity but at the same time were bringing into vogue the use of idolatrous images. Note what Eusebius said.
[the Simonians] have embraced again the superstitions of idols, which they seemed to have renounced; and they fall down before pictures and images of Simon himself and of the above mentioned Helena who was with him [the images were those of Jupiter and Minerva as I have shown in previous quotes]; and they venture to worship them with incense and sacrifices and libations."
"Simon was the author of all heresy. From his time down to the present those who have followed his heresy have feigned the sober philosophy of the Christians, which is celebrated among all on account of its purity of life. But they
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, II.13.5–6, emphasis mine
Recall that Eusebius was upset with Constantia, the emperor’s sister, that even she had wanted to have pictures and images of Christ and the apostles but that Eusebius displayed great abhorrence of such a request. He said,
[S]uch practices are illegal for us. ... Are not such things [as pictures and images] excluded and banished from churches all over the world. [Eusebius thought such pictures should be destroyed] lest we appear, like idol worshipers, to carry our God around in an image."
Eusebius, Letter to Constantia
To Eusebius, the use of pictures, images or icons of Jesus and the apostles by Christians was a forbidden thing, though he admitted that some were beginning to use them. He said that the use of such depictions was like those who followed Simon Magus. Though Eusebius had a watchful eye and said that most followers of Simon were banished from active participation in church services at his time, he nonetheless understood that they were a pestilence that were still a menace that people should be aware of.
[faking conversion] is done to this day by those who follow his [Simon Magus’] most impure heresy. For they, after the manner of their forefather, slipping into the church, like a pestilential and leprous disease greatly affect those into who they are able to infuse the deadly and terrible poison concealed in themselves"
"And what is more surprising, the same thing
Eusebius, Letter to Constantia, II.1.12
Eusebius could see what was beginning to occur in the Christian Church at the time of Constantine. But it took about 50 years for the tide to be turned from abhorring the use of pictures, images and icons unto their full use in most orthodox Catholic churches. The very thing that Eusebius, Epiphanius and others decried against (and warned people not to adopt such usages) became fully acceptable and favored within a short 50 years from the time of Constantine. The teachings of Simon Magus in regard to such things finally prevailed in the Christian churches as a whole. During that 50 years, it became common (in a step-by-step manner) for Christian authorities to allow the blending of old pagan ways with the teachings of the Gospel. The pagan teachings, in many cases, simply had their names changed from their heathen nomenclature associated with them into new Christian names for the pagan images, pictures, customs, doctrines, etc. It was a blending of religious practices that brought about the Christian Church of the 5th century, which was about as far away in teaching from the early teachings of the apostles as one could get.
The very principles that Simon Magus and his successors were trying to perform in their time in order to bring in a one world, universal religion, were adopted after the time of Constantine by the Christian authorities to bring about the universal church. In this regard, note what Hasting’s Dictionary of the Apostolic Church has to say about this matter.
"The amalgam of paganism and Christianity which was characteristic of Gnosticism, and which was especially obvious in the Simonian system, is readily explicable in the teaching of Simon Magus, who, according to the story in Acts, was brought into intimate contact with Christian teaching without becoming a genuine member."
Hasting’s, Dictionary, Vol.II, p.496
Schaff’s History of the Church has a reference to Simon Magus and his blending of paganism with Christian teaching,
"The author, or first representative of this baptized heathenism, according to the uniform testimony of Christian antiquity, is Simon Magus, who unquestionably adulterated Christianity with pagan ideas and practices."
Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol.II, p.566
Mainline Christians did hold out against the philosophies of Simon Magus until the time of Constantine. But the 50 years after Constantine saw the doors open wide for the blending of pagan doctrines, customs, images, pictures, etc. with the mainstream teachings of the visible Christian Church. And we have been saddled with them ever since.
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