It was on this very Areopagus, where we are now standing, that these philosophers of fashion came into contact with the thorough earnestness, the profound convictions, the red-hot zeal of the Apostle Paul. The memory of that great scene still lingers about the place, and every guide will show you the exact place where the Apostle stood, and in what direction he addrest his audience. There are, I believe, even some respectable commentators who transfer their own estimate of St. Paul’s importance to the Athenian public, and hold that it was before the court of the Areopagus that he was asked to expound his views. This is more than doubtful. The “blases” philosophers, who probably yawned over their own lectures, hearing of a new lay preacher, eager to teach and apparently convinced of the truth of what he said, thought the novelty too delicious to be neglected, and brought him forth-with out of the chatter and bustle of the crowd, probably past the very orchestra where Anaxagoras’ books had been proselytizing before him, and where the stiff old heroes of Athenian history stood, a monument of the escape from political slavery.
It is even possible that the curious knot of idlers did not bring him higher than this platform, which might well be called part of Mars Hill. But if they chose to bring him to the top, there was no hindrance, for the venerable court held its sittings in the open air, on stone seats; and when not thus occupied, the top of the rock may well have been a convenient place of retirement for people who did not want to be disturbed by new acquaintances, and the constant eddies of new gossip in the market-place.
It is, however, of far less import to know on what spot of the Areopagus Paul stood, than to understand clearly what he said, and how he sought to conciliate as well as to refute the philosophers who, no doubt, looked down upon him as an intellectual inferior. He starts naturally enough from the extraordinary crowd of votive statues and offerings, for which Athens was remarkable above all other cities of Greece. He says, with a slight touch of irony, that he finds them very religious indeed, so religious that he even found an altar to a God professedly unknown, or perhaps unknowable.
Thus ended, to all appearance ignominiously, the first heralding of the faith which was to supplant all the temples and altars and statues with which Athens had earned renown as a beautiful city, which was to overthrow the schools of the sneering philosophers, and even to remodel all the society and the policy of the world. And yet, in spite of this great and decisive triumph of Christianity, there was some-thing curiously prophetic in the contemptuous rejection of its apostle at Athens. Was it not the first expression of the feeling which still possesses the visitor who wanders through its ruins, and which still dominates the educated worldthe feeling that while other cities owe to the triumph of Christianity all their beauty and their interest, Athens has to this day resisted this influence; and that while the Christian monuments of Athens would elsewhere excite no small attention, here they are passed by as of no import compared with its heathen splendor?
There are very old and very beautiful little churches in Athens, “delicious little Byzantine churches,” as Renan calls them. They are very peculiar, and unlike what one generally sees in Europe. They strike the observer with their quaintness and smallness, and he fancies he here sees the tiny model of that unique and splendid building, the cathedral of St. Mark at Venice. But yet it is surprizing how little we notice them at Athens. I was even toldI sincerely hope it was falsethat public opinion at Athens was gravitating toward the total removal of one, and that the most perfect, of these churches, which stands in the middle of a main street, and so breaks the regularity of the modern boulevard!