In its terror and hatred, Paganism essayed a triple resistance. First, it tried the experiment of an eclectic revival. But the revival, with all its paraphernalia of mathematicians and jugglers, lustrations and oracles, weird exorcisms and ghastly taurobolia, was all in vain; it never succeeded in galvanising into even the semblance of life the corrupting corpse of the old religion. Great Pan was dead.
Then, secondly, they tried the experiment of argument. But on this field, too, Christianity matched them. It repelled argument with argument; it repaid scorn with scorn. But far better and nobler than these were the lofty Apologies of the Alexandrian Fathers, who by their breadth and profundity wrought for the Church an imperishable service. It was well indeed that a Celsus and a Porphyry could be matched with such noble specimens of spiritual intuition and exhaustive learning as the Protrepiikon of a Clemens, and the eight books of an Origen. Models for the best and most Christian school of controversy, they refute indeed the calumnies of their opponents; but, better than this, for each refuted error they offer a beautiful and convincing truth; and, recognising the Divine spark which glimmered even in the white embers of heathen wisdom, summon their adversaries to drink with them of the living fountain, and share with them the Eternal Light. Man was to them no " warped slip of wilderness," but " a heavenly plant ;" and in every heathen inscription their enlightened eye read a prayer to the Unknown God. Neither Stoicism, with its unnatural apathy and utter hopelessness, nor Neoplatonism, with its cold Pantheism and esoteric pride, had a chance against these living and loving truths. The Enchiridion of Epictetus, the Meditations of Aurelius are full of beautiful counsel, yet they are too sad and too weak to reach the multitude or even to sway the few ; and as for the Enneads of Plotinus, and the Commentaries of Proclus, with all their gorgeous invocations and voluminous mysticism, they have ever been to mankind but as the small dust of the balance compared to one verse of the Sermon on the Mount.
But, though argument and philosophy failed, though revivals and eclecticism failed, Pagans might always rely for victory upon brute force and crushing violence. Even Nero had driven through the gardens of his Golden House between lines of torches of which each one was a martyr in his shirt of fire; but Nero's assault was as nothing in extent or virulence compared with those of a Decius or a Diocletian. Christianity spent her first three centuries in one long, legalised, almost unbroken persecution. Some of her holiest bishops—an Ignatius, a Polycarp, an Hippolytus; some of her greatest writers— a Justin, an Athanasius, an Origen; even her poor female slaves—a Blandina, a Felicitas, a Potamiaena, endured the rack or the prison, perished by the sword or flame. " Yet they stood safe," said Cyprian, "stronger than their conquerors; the beaten and lacerated members conquered the beating and lacerating hooks." " The nearer I am to the sword," said Ignatius, "the nearer to God." Such was their " tremendous spirit;" and when the very executioners were weary, when vast holocausts had been offered to the expiring divinities, then finding, as has been finely said, that she had to deal with "a host of Scae-volas," " the proudest of earthly powers, arrayed in the plenitude of material resources, humbled herself before a power founded on a mere sense of the unseen".
Yes, it was of God, and they could not overthrow it: the catacomb triumphed over the Grecian temple; the Cross of shame over the wine-cup of the Salian banquet, the song of the siren and the wreath of rose. These obscure sectaries —barbarians, Orientals, Jews as they were — fought against the indignant world and won. " Not by power, nor by might, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts; " by heroic endurance, by stainless innocence, by burning zeal, by inviolable truthfulness, by boundless love. The world's seductive ideals and intoxicating joys, the world's enchanting mythologies and dissolute religions, all fled before a Cross of wood! Yes, because that Cross was held by the bleeding hands of the world's true King, who perfected the strength of His followers in weakness; and, having been lifted up, drew all men unto Him.
But worse trials remained. It was a Divine Providence which ordained that, not till after three centuries of unaided struggle, victorious not because of princes, but in spite of them, that the terrified world flung itself at the feet of the oppressed, and Christianity mounted the imperial throne. It did not succeed because Constan-tine became a Christian, but Constantine became a Christian because it had succeeded. Long before the battles of Adrianople or the Milvian bridge, Christianity had carried the day. " We are but of yesterday," said Tertullian, " and we have filled all that belongs to you— the cities, the fortresses, the free towns, the very camps, the palace, the senate, the forum; we leave to you the temples only." Little, indeed, did Christianity owe to that trimming Emperor and unbaptised catechumen,— that strange Christian indeed ! — who placed his own bust on the statues of Apollo, who thought the nails of the true Cross a fitting ornament for the bridle of his charger, and on whose extraordinary figure the robes so besmeared with gold and crusted with jewels could not conceal the Neronian stains of a son's and a consort's blood. But it was in this the supreme hour of her external triumph that the Church was attacked in a new form, by the growth of heresies which threatened more effectually than any persecution to sap her very existence. But it is now that we hear for the first time that fatal name of Arianism, which for centuries kindled the most unquenchable hatred in the Church's bosom. There is no more humiliating period in Christian history. Even an orthodox Christian historian, Socrates, compares these frenzied controversies about the Homoousion to a night battle, in which the combatants could neither see each other nor understand. Yet, even in this dark period, we may admire the venerable charity of Hosius of Cordova, the splendid faithfulness of Athanasius the Great. Arianism might infect the court, and invade the camp, but it was never true, except in semblance, that Athanasius was alone against the world. There were thousands of knees that had not bowed to Baal, and mouths that had not kissed him. The great heart of the Christian multitude was sound. Amid the unintelligible precision of theological technicalities, which professed to define the indefinable, their instinct told them that the various heresiarchs were taking away their Lord. And meanwhile the defeat of Arianism shows that the Divinity of Christ was no new dogma which had crept unchallenged into the Christian faith; but that, although denied by men of powerful intellects in the highest places, it was yet by the Catholic Church deliberately accepted, solemnly affirmed. At four great councils, against four great heresies, the Church promulgated her four great formulae on the existence of her Lord—truly, perfectly, indivisibly, distinctly—truly God, perfectly man, indi-visibly God and man, distinctly God and man.