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Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/433

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Bk. I. Ch. II.
401
BASILICAS

gradually supplying its place in the minds of men long before it was generally accepted.

There is thus no real distinction between the Emilian or Ulpian basilicas and those which Constantine erected for the use of the early Christian republic. Nor is it possible, in such a series as the Pantheon, the Temple of Minerva Medica, and the Church of San Vitale at Ravenna, to point out what part really belongs to Pagan and what to Christian art.

It is true that Constantine fixed the epoch of completed transition and gave it form and substance; but long before his time Paganism was impossible and a reform inevitable. The feeling of the world had changed—its form of utterance followed as a matter of course.

Viewed in this light, it is impossible to separate the early history of Christian art from that of Imperial Rome. The sequence is so immediate and the change so gradual, that a knowledge of the first is absolutely indispensable to a right understanding of the second.

One of the most remarkable facts connected with the early history of the Christian religion is, that neither its Founder nor any of His more immediate successors left any specific directions either as to the liturgical forms of worship to be observed by His followers, nor laid down any rules to be observed in the government of the newly established church. Under these circumstances it was left almost wholly to those to whose care the infant congregation was entrusted to frame such regulations for its guidance as the exigencies of the occasion might dictate, and gradually to appoint such forms of worship as might seem most suitable to express the purity of the new faith, but at the same time with a dignity befitting its high mission.

In Judea, these ceremonies, as might naturally be expected, were strongly tinctured with the forms of the Mosaic dispensation; but it appears to have been in Africa, and more especially in the pomp-loving and ceremonious Egypt, that fixed liturgies and rites first became an integral part of the Christian religion. In those countries far from the central seat of government, more liberty of conscience seems to have been attained at an early period than would have been tolerated in the capital. Before the time of Constantine they possessed not only churches, but a regularly established hierarchy and a form of worship similar to what afterwards obtained throughout the whole Christian world. The form of the government of the church, however, was long unsettled. At first it seems merely to have been that the most respected individuals of each isolated congregation were selected to form a council to advise and direct their fellow-Christians, to receive and dispense their alms, and, under the simple but revered title of Presbyters, to act as fathers rather than as governors to the scattered communities by which they were elected. The idea, however, of such