« AnteriorContinuar »
This division, which may seem to have reference rather to secular than to ecclesiastical events, is yet on the whole more adapted for our purpose than any other ; for although the internal conditions of Church government and doctrine may have undergone considerable fluctuations, yet during these three centuries the clergy found themselves in contact with the same leading principles of government, and occupied a similar position relatively to the other members of the social body. The traditions of Imperial Rome were preserved, and its mere name had weight with tribes long accustomed to set at nought its sway. The rude lineaments of barbaric society remained for the most part unchanged, encompassing without extinguishing the ruins of Italian institutions?; while among them all the clergy, protected by the statutes of Constantine or Theodosius, and maintaining, or professing to maintain, unaltered the whole purity of patristic disci. pline, seemed by their own immobility only to show the
1“Cum jam Protadius genere Romanus vehementer ab omnibus in palatio veneraretur,... patricius ordinatur instigatione Brunichildis” (Fredegarii Chronicon, c. 24, printed by Ruinart in his ed. of Gregory of Tours. col. 605): so Protadius is succeeded by one Claudius “genere Romanus” (c. 28), and Vulfus by one Richomeris “ Romanus genere" (c. 29): and the language used of Carloman and Pepin, when they quell a revolt of the Gascons, is “Romanos proterunt” (ibid. 3rd continuat. c. 111).
As a proof how distinctly the nationalities were preserved in the reign of Dagobert, we have among a list of 10 army-leaders or dukes, " Chairaardus ex genere Francorum, Chramnelinus ex genere Romanorum, Willibadus patricius ex genere Burgundionum, Aigyna ex genere Saxonum” (ibid. c. 78).
velocity of the uncertain eddies by which all secular things were whirled along. The reign of Charlemagne, on the other hand, forms the beginning of a new era; for the unwieldy extension of his empire, and the hereditary transmission of provincial jurisdictions, first apparent under him, were among the principal causes of that gradual amalgamation of Roman and Teutonic customs ultimately productive of the feudal system.
This section of our subject, then, may be said to embrace the interval between ancient and mediæval history. We shall have to view the society of European nations during the momentous transition from Imperialism to feudalism: and, though the striking examples of clerical power may be less frequent than during either of the two adjacent periods, though we may have neither an Ambrose nor a Hildebrand, yet the moral and social workings of the priesthood will at no time appear in a more interesting form than in this the most critical passage of European history.
We turn, then, in the first place, to the moral influence of the clergy. This portion of our task, facilitated during the Roman period by the more or less impartial compilations of so many contemporary historians and theologians, presents itself to us now under a very different aspect. We are no longer guided by the voluminous writings of the Church Fathers, from whose inexhaustible resources have been, and will be, drawn such abundant information concerning the government, discipline, and doctrine of the Church of the first five centuries. The historians and antiquaries whose works throw light upon the period now before us are mere sapless chroniclers, either cursed with the narrowmindedness of the cloister, or too intent upon secular vanities to have given any serious thoughts to the hidden causes of the events they record. In this emergency, however, very considerable support may be derived from the somewhat miscellaneous collections of statutes, which, under the titles of the Salic, Alemannic, Lombard, Burgundian, and Visigothic Codes, display a strange but instructive medley of the legal traditions of Rome and Germany, of the Forum and the Mallum. And the information we derive from such sources as these may be said to be both direct and indirect; direct, in so far as we learn from the special enactments what must have been the state of public feeling and morality in which they originated and resulted; indirect, in so far as the general tone of each entire code affords a clue to ascertain the enlightenment or ignorance of the tribe which made use of it.
In treating of the exaltation of the Christian clergy under Constantine, we have alluded to the more remote consequences of his measures on the minds of the Teutonic invaders. We then saw that many a deviation from primitive simplicity, dangerous though it might justly seem to the integrity of the Roman faith, was productive of consequences the most momentous on tribes who reverenced principally the pomp and mysterious ceremony attendant on the faith which they embraced, and would have scorned to bow down before priests or altars whose faultless humility merely recalled the rude shrines of their native forests. It is true that in many cases their nominal conversion had taken place before they had been made acquainted with the majesty of the Italian clergy; that, owing to the exertions of an Ulphilas, Christianity had been diffused among the Gothic hordes long before they were tempted by the promised spoils of the South: but we are justified by all the records of the barbarian inroads in asserting that such conversions added rather to the glory of the Christian missionaries than to the security of the conquered lands; and that the truth was often preached to and received by the monarchs long before it had any effect on their people. The piety of Origen* had anticipated the period when the barbarians were universally to yield to the advance of the word of God, and to acknowledge the civilizing influences of Christianity; but he little foresaw that his vows were to be realized in the very centre of ancient cultivation, and that the barbarians and Scythians in whom he hoped to see the fruit of foreign missions were to be converted by the home exertions of the Italian clergy. We may, however, be persuaded that some faint respect for the faith of the conquered lurked in the breasts of the conquerors, from the vivid picture which Augustinet has
drawn of the reverence with which the followers of Alaric drew back from the Christian shrines, and extended an unwonted clemency to all, believers and unbelievers alike, who clustered round the sacred altars.
In order fully to appreciate the effects produced on those rude tribes by the efforts of the propagators of the Gospel, we must compare their customs and statutes, not with the civilization of Imperial Rome, but with the habits of the same tribes in their native wilds, as far as we can be made acquainted with them by means of the scanty allusions or sketches of the Latin writers : or we may arrive •at the same result by contrasting the first great flood of invaders, after they had undergone for a few years the operation of Christianity, with those who subsequently were urged on in the same direction and by similar causes. Adopting the former of these methods, we shall have on the one hand the lawlessness, carelessness of human life, and idolatry which, in spite of all declamation on the nobleness of unfettered man, are ever indicative of a state in which all the worst passions of our nature have unlimited scope; on the other hand, though it may be that some rude virtues have perished with their kindred defects, yet reverence for law and a higher tone of public and private morality attest the continuance of an intercourse with ancient civilization and the softening influence of a pure religion. And let it not be imagined that the progress of the barbarian tribes in the arts and ideas of a higher life is to be attributed to the action of secular teachers, or to any tradi