Olinthus the Nazarene, the narrator tells us,

was one of those hardy, vigorous, and enthusiastic men, by whom God in all times has worked the revolutions of earth, and those, above all, in the establishment and in the reformation of His own religion—men who were formed to convert, because formed to endure. It is men of this mould whom nothing discourages, nothing dismays; in the fervor of belief they are inspired and they inspire. Their reason first kindles their passion, but the passion is the instrument they use; they force themselves into men's hearts, while they appear only to appeal to their judgment. Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm; it is the real allegory of the tale of Orpheus—it moves stones, it charms brutes. Enthusiasm is the genius of sincerity, and truth accomplishes no victories without it.

Because he senses that the young, newly disillusioned priest of Isis is ripe for conversion, Olinthus pursues him when the young man tries to leave and then demonstrates his knowledge of the human heart and mind, admitting how distressing must be the first encounter with new ideas of religion "'I do not wonder, Apæcides, that I distress you," he tells him, but he points out "that you are lost in doubt; that you drift here and there in the vast ocean of uncertain and benighted thought. I wonder not at this, but bear with me a little; watch and pray—the darkness shall vanish, the storm sleep, and God Himself, as He came of yore on the seas of Samaria, shall walk over the lulled billows, to the delivery of your soul." Christianity, he claims, "troubles you for an hour, it repays you by immortality.'

When Apæcides "sullenly" responds that the same kind of promises first lead him to Isis, the Christian evangelist counters with exactly the kind of argument best suited to convince the idealistic young man — that the old gods populate a religion that " outrages all morality":

Are they not all represented to you as the blackest of criminals? yet you are asked to serve them as the holiest of divinities. Jupiter himself is a parricide and an adulterer. What are the meaner deities but imitators of his vices? You are told not to murder, but you worship murderers; you are told not to commit adultery, and you make your prayers to an adulterer! Oh! what is this but a mockery of the holiest part of man's nature, which is faith? [Book I, Chapter VIII]

Olinthus ends by urging Apæcides, "Turn now to the God, the one, the true God" in whom unite "the austerest morals with the tenderest affections." If you honor Socrates, he argues (much like Tennyson in In Memoriam [1850], then you must see that Jesus came as "the pattern of future ages, to show us the form of virtue which Plato thirsted to see embodied. This was the true sacrifice that He made for man; but the halo that encircled His dying hour not only brightened earth, but opened to us the sight of heaven!" Disturbed, still unwilling to give allegiance to a new religion, Apæcides flees, but he has already be hooked by this fisher of men and will soon convert to Christianity and receive baptism.


Victorian Overview Sir Edward G. D. Bulwer-Lytton Sir Edward G. D. Bulwer-Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii

Last modified 5 March 2007