In the second century BC, while the Roman Empire was stocking its legions and perfecting its drills, the outlook of Greek philosophers was becoming more and more individualistic. They began to abandon ideas that no longer had a place in the chaos and uncertainty of the Hellenistic world Alexander the Great had leagued. Alexander had left no heir, and the generals that had succeeded him would be no match for Roman military might. Soon Greece would fall to Rome, beginning with Corinth, which became a Roman province in 146 BC. Alexandria soon followed, and by the second century AD the Roman Empire stretched from northern Britain to present day Iraq, bringing the whole of the Mediterranean under Roman control.
As Greek philosophy became more and more focussed on mathematics and less on changing a world over which it no longer had authority, fatalism became the new mode of thinking, fuelled by the recent popularity of Chaldean astrology. The concept of virtue became important; the decline of the old Greek city-states meant that Greek thinking turned inwards. Individual behaviour must show the path to wisdom, and virtue must be its roadmap. This school of thought was called Stoicism, and it rose to prominence in both Greek and Roman philosophical circles. The modern adjective, ‘stoic’, has come to mean self restraint, but to the Greeks and the Romans Stoicism was more than just restraint; it was based on the idea that humankind possessed a power for good or evil, and that unless it exercised its capacity to reason logically, to use logos, evil would dominate and all hope of virtue would be lost. Proper use of logos was therefore essential for virtue. The divine spark in humankind arose from reason, and was expressed in its purest form as logic. Virtue became an ideal to which every wise man or woman must aspire, even though the chances of actually being governed by the virtuous seemed less and less likely.
Nevertheless, the Romans made virtue a Roman ideal, until the day they would finally be tested against its yardstick and found lacking. When Rome fell some five centuries later, it was mainly because self-interest proved stronger than virtue. The Roman ideal was, in the end, nothing but a ghost of the Greek. If the Romans excelled at anything, it was law, order and military might, not virtue. Nevertheless, the concept of logos was saved by Rome in a way that the old Roman Caesars would never have anticipated.
The Roman Empire had battled against the growing threat of Christianity for more than two centuries for before it finally embraced the Christian ideal. By then, logos had acquired a new champion. Humankind had reached its limitations in matters of virtue, and someone had to rescue it. The time was right for a Saviour; all that was needed was the right man. And the Gospels of the Christian Church, in their wisdom, would produce him.
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