S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
I do find, therefore, in this enchanted glass, four idols, or false appearances, of several distinct sorts, every sort comprehending many divisions. The first sort I call idols of the nation or tribe; the second, idols of the den or cave; the third, idols of the forum; and the fourth, idols of the theatre.
The deities of a thousand groves and a thousand streams possessed in peace their local and respective influence; nor could the Roman, who deprecated the wrath of the Tiber, deride the Egyptian, who presented his offering to the beneficent genius of the Nile. Every virtue, and even vice, acquired its divine representative; every art and profession its patron, whose attributes, even in the most distant ages and nations, were uniformly derived from the character of their peculiar votaries. It was the custom [of the Romans] to tempt the protectors of besieged cities by the promise of more distinguished honours than they possessed in their native country. Rome gradually became the common temple of her subjects, and the freedom of the city was bestowed on all the gods of mankind.
The religion of the nations was not merely a speculative doctrine, professed in the schools or preached in the temples. The innumerable deities and rites of polytheism were closely interwoven with every circumstance of business or pleasure, of public or of private life; and it seemed impossible to escape the observance of them without, at the same time, renouncing the commerce of mankind. The important transactions of peace and war were prepared or concluded by solemn sacrifices, in which the magistrate, the senator, and the soldier were obliged to participate.
Idolatry is not to be looked upon as a mere speculative error respecting the object of worship, of little or no practical efficacy. Its hold upon the mind of a fallen creature is most tenacious, its operation most extensive. It is a corrupt practical institution, involving a whole system of sentiments and manners which perfectly moulds and transforms its votaries. It modifies human nature under every aspect under which it can be contemplated, being intimately blended and incorporated with all its perceptions of good and evil, with all its infirmities, passions, and fears.
Idolatry is not only an accounting or worshipping that for God which is not God, but it is also a worshipping the true God in a way unsuitable to his nature, and particularly by the mediation of images and corporal resemblances.
In this mania for foreign gods the nobles and the emperors themselves set the most corrupting examples. Germanicus and Agrippina devoted themselves especially to Egyptian gods. So also Vespasian. Nero served all gods, with the exception of the Dea Syra. Marcus Aurelius caused the priests of all foreign gods and nations to be assembled in order to implore aid for the Roman empire against the incursions of the Marcomanni. Commodus caused himself to be initiated into the mysteries of the Egyptian Isis and the Persian Mithras. Severus worshipped especially the Egyptian Serapis; Caracalla chiefly the Egyptian Isis; and Heliogabalus the Syrian deities; though he was desirous of becoming a priest of the Jewish, Samaritan, and Christian religions.