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Augustine does not hesitate to say (Retract., I, xiii, 3): "What we now call the Christian religion existed amongst the ancients, and was from the beginning of the human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh; from which time the already existing true religion began to be styled Christian".And thus it has been remarked that Israel alone amongst the nations of antiquity looked forward to glories to come.
But a much more marked predisposition to Christianity may be noticed in certain prominent features of the Roman religion after the downfall of the republic. In their stead Greek philosophy occupied the minds of the cultured, whilst the populace were attracted by a variety of strange cults imported from Egypt and the East.
Mistaken national pride, accentuated by their galling subject to Rome led them to read a material significance into the predictions of the triumph of the Messias, and hence to love their privilege of being God's chosen people. Paul's metaphor ( Romans ) was then grafted upon the stock of the patriarchs in place of those rejected branches, and entered upon their spiritual inheritance.
We may trace, too, in the world at large, apart from the Jewish people, a similar though less direct preparation.
"If Christ is not risen again, your faith is vain", declares the Apostle Paul ( 1 Corinthians ), who says no word of the other wonders Christ performed.
By His death, therefore, and His return from the dead, Christ, as the event proved, furnished the strongest means for the effective preaching of the religion He came to found.
Thus much may be said with regard to the remote preparation of the world for the reception of Christianity.