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early Church of our own island appears, as well from the legends of its early saints as from its more authentic records, to have been peculiarly connected with the remoter countries of the East. The same results we may with justice attribute to the frequency of oecumenical or provincial councils; for we may readily believe that the Bishops of Spain, Gaul, or Egypt, after joining the multitude of Church dignitaries who flocked to the shores of the Bosphorus or the Adriatic, returned to diffuse not merely the dry speculations of abstruse metaphysics but some remembrance of old Imperial splendour, and of the inspiriting traditions which yet lingered amid the ruins of ancient institutions. In the preceding pages, while examining the political benefits conferred upon Christendom by an educated and united clergy, we have bestowed the greater share of our attention on the Western Empire, both because to us the steps of that process by which Roman civilization and Christianity were amalgamated with the Germanic spirit present one of the most instructive of historical problems, and because the Eastern world early supplied more frequent instances of the perversions of our faith than of its legitimate action. Such, moreover, is the inherent changelessness of Oriental life, and such the uninteresting repose of social and political forms under the Byzantine sovereigns, that the terms in which we have characterized clerical action during the earlier centuries may be applied, though with diminished force, to those which succeeded; whereas, in the lands of the West, as we shall see, the case was a very different one.
In investigating the progress of clerical influence, we have now reached that era, with which, as far as the modern history of Europe is concerned, it may in a certain sense be said to begin. Viewing, as we most naturally do, the ecclesiastical history of the Roman Empire with a more especial reference to the barbarian monarchies founded on its ruins, we may discover in every step, in every change of Church government or relations throughout the south of Europe, a providential preparation for the new position in which the clergy were to be placed amidst the invading bands of the North. Such considerations we have introduced into the preceding section of our subject, though they would perhaps have been more peculiarly adapted for the present one. For if, judging from the results which have attended the advance of the Christian faith, we were to ask ourselves what during the first ten centuries of its history had been the great mission entrusted to its teachers, the answer would discover itself, not amid the decay of an ever corrupt polity, but among the free and healthy societies under which the Roman Empire sank. Christian organization, indeed, seems to have been destined to effect during the first four centuries a work principally preparatory. The efforts of the most systematically disciplined priesthood the world ever saw were never directed towards the political reformation of a state so rapidly verging to CH. IV.] THE BENEFICIAL INFLUENCE, &C. 10~)
complete dissolution; and the fall of the Empire continued not the less steadily or the less surely that it contained within itself an element whose destined work was the amelioration of the human race. Private, and to a certain extent public, morality had, as we have seen, progressively improved under the influence of the ministers of religion, but no share of the activity and integrity which animated the Church had gone to alter the traditional principles of a corrupt administration: and, even when surrounded by a favouring court and people, the clergy, as if conscious that their full powers were displayed to greatest perfection in the day of adversity, seemed to be awaiting the universal revolution which was to call them into a new and wider sphere of action.
In the preceding portion of this essay, we have traced the varying relations of the priesthood to a people old in cultivation, and long hardened by its attendant vices; we have seen them bring the great truths of the religion which is by faith into collision with the multiform theories of human ingenuity: for the future we shall observe their intercourse with the rough but athletic society which, bursting from the forests of Germany, was interfused among the fragments of the Empire it subverted; we shall see them conquering the lingering resistance of Paganism, and accustoming the unschooled barbarian intellects to the laws and literature as well as to the systematic hierarchy of Rome. As they had not passed uninjured through the temptations of their first prosperity, so neither can we expect to find them uncorrupted by a still greater elevation. They had long been the sole religious guides of the world, while they had possessed but in part the glories of political, legal, and moral science; but the sixth and seventh centuries beheld them the undisputed dispensers of every branch of knowledge alike. Exposed as they were to the greatest of all dangers, the temptation of intellectual pride, what wonder if they forgot that they were ministers of a kingdom which is invisible, and if, neglecting their more legitimate influence on the destinies of individuals, they sought to exercise an intriguing sway over the fate of nations 2 It is unquestionably true that, while in the age of persecution we can discern the first tokens of many a failing, the most fatal period of clerical corruption was that when the kingdoms of modern Europe were founded. The mighty poet of republican Florence has seen the first germ of the calamities of Papal ambition in the endowment of the Roman See by Constantine*, but he might have found a more historical origin for them than this in the lavish piety of barbarian sovereigns. They, animated by one of the noblest tendencies of our nature, prostrated themselves with all their victories and spoils before the religious principle they had learnt from their subjects; and, willing to acknowledge a supreme Imperial head in spiritual as well as in temporal matters, they humbled
* Ahi, Constantin, di quanto mal fu matre, Non la tua conversion, ma quella dote, Che da te prese il primo ricco patre!
Dante, Inferno, xix. 115.
themselves readily before all the assumptions of Papal domination. Even the monarchs of the Lombards, whom proximity might have taught, as it did their republican successors, to despise the thunders of the Vatican, manifested the sincerity of their conversion from Arianism, by exalting the Bishop of Rome as the supreme Head of all Churches and the wielder of the Canon Law*.
But without straying beyond our more immediate province to notice such inevitable abuses, we shall assuredly find no lack of facts to convince us that, while fertile lands were devoted to unsparing desolation, and ancient nations seemed to have vanished amid the conflicting floods of barbarism, one power yet remained, immoveable amid material shocks, because resting on no material foundation. While we contemplate during these ages of gloom change after change throughout the whole Roman Empire, and mourn over the disappearance of venerable names, the mind must ever repose with peculiar pleasure on the constant grandeur of the ecclesiastical edifice, and be led, as it always is in the hour of greatest peril, to acknowledge the supremacy, in the affairs of nations, of the spiritual over the temporal.
The period on which we are about to enter is, as we have already stated, comprised between the fall of the Western Empire (a.d. 476) and the accession of Charlemagne to the undivided Frankish throne (a.d. 771).
• See a letter in the Laws of Liutprand, King of the Lombards, lib. v. c . 4. ap. Canciani Leges Barbarorum, t. i. p. 110.