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full sunshine of Imperial partiality, and coming into official and effective contact with every class of citizens alike; for the lower orders beheld in them teachers of a religion without respect of persons, and looked to them alone for support and protection ; while it could hardly be considered degrading to the proudest upholder of ancestral rank to submit to the authority of men before whom the majesty of the Emperor himself did not scruple to bow. There are several remarkable points in the constitution assigned to clerical power by Constantine and his successors, which if we examine minutely, we shall find that however much and however justly they have been made the subject of objections by succeeding generations, they were yet in more respects than one singularly adapted to render the Gospel truths acceptable to the men among whom they were planted.
For example, it has been made matter of regret that the principle of an Established Church was not more fully carried out by Constantine ; that, by omitting all systematic provision for the clergy, and at the same time throwing open to them channels of vast wealth from other sources, he exposed the piety of a scarcely organized Church to all the dangers and unavoidable evils of the voluntary system, as well as to the temptations of an enlarged revenue and of extended intercourse with a semi-pagan court and aristocracy. Yet from our investigation of the political conditions of the Roman world we may perhaps find less cause to mourn his having followed a course so much and so reasonably at variance with all our modern ideas. For, as we have already mentioned, the Imperial exchequer was recruited by the contribution of the “curiales” alone; the highest order enjoyed a full immunity; while the lowest of all, the slaves, were looked upon by the law merely as goods in the possession of their masters. Now, had the burden of clerical revenues been so adjusted as to fall, like the other rates, exclusively on the "curiales”, we could hardly have expected to find the Christian religion reverenced by an oppressed class who found it accompanied by additions to an already intolerable load. Few and paltry must have been the converts drawn from among men to whom the ministers of spiritual salvation would have been the harbingers of temporal ruin. If, on the other hand, the necessary support had been demanded alike from the privileged and the unprivileged, the burden would no doubt have fallen with less severity on the latter, but the former, pampered by long indulgence, would doubtless have regarded with an evil eye an institution which so rudely broke in upon all their cherished immunities, and which must have seemed to them the sure forerunner of a thorough social revolution. Either of these results would unquestionably have been fatal to the successful progress of Christianity, and it appears to us that one or other would have as unquestionably followed from the organization, by the central government, of a complete tithe-system. It is true that, as we have previously mentioned, such a mode of clerical support was already in operation, but it was owing, not to any Impe
rial edict, but solely to the private influence and expostulations of the priesthood, who thus drew their support in this respect mainly from voluntary contributions.
The concentration, moreover, of power in episcopal hands was, in the strange political condition of the Roman world, peculiarly adapted to further the influences of Christianity in the provinces, for it corresponded to an important change in their social relations,—the extermination of population in the country, and its accumulation within the shelter of the towns.
In the manner, again, of episcopal elections, although we may regret its uncertainty and irregularity, we shall nevertheless find much that was suited to the vague administration, partly municipal and partly centralized, which prevailed in the cities of the Western Empire previous to its final dissolution. An interesting illustration of the growing clerical power in such elections, as well as of the relations in which the clergy stood to their flocks, may be derived from a letter of Sidonius Apollinaris *, who in writing to his friend Domnulus relates how, on the vacancy of the see of Châlons, the clergy and people of that city, unable to decide between the not very legitimate claims and promises of the candidates, entrusted the selection to the neighbouring prelates of Lyons and Autun?; and from which it appears that the "oppidani” had not yet been deprived of that share in the nomination of their bishops, which had undoubtedly been a privilege of the faithful from the very earliest days. A more accurate examination of the effects produced by the suddenly increased episcopal authority will convince us that, however pernicious to the religious progress of Europe it may have been, and however numerous may have been the germs of future corruption laid during the period of its progress, it was notwithstanding, politically speaking, eminently suited to the age in which it took its rise. The municipal administration of the Roman provinces, which had for so many years, even while the Empire yet stood and flourished unbroken, been connected by a but slender link with the central power, fell at once into the most complete and incurable disorganization when that central power ceased to be worthy of its name. The prospect which opened upon Europe when Italy was finally occupied by the barbarians received
* Ep. iv. 25.
1“Quod ubi viderunt sanctus Patiens et sanctus Euphronius, qui rigorem firmitatemque sententiæ sanioris præter odium gratiamque primi tenebant, consilio cum coepiscopis prius clam communicato quam palam prodito strepituque furentis turbæ despecto,
jactis repente manibus arreptum * sanctum Joannem * *, dissonas inter partium voces, * stupentibus factiosis, erubescentibus malis, acclamantibus bonis, reclamantibus nullis, collegam sibi consecravere.” The nature of episcopal elections in Gaul at this period is illustrated by other letters of Sidonius: in one (vii. 5) he describes the difficulties in the election of a bishop of Bourges, and calls for the assistance of Agræcius Bishop of Sens to reconcile the conflicting parties; in another (vii. 8) he consults Euphronius Bishop of Autun as to whether or not he should appoint Simplicius to the vacant office, in accordance with the wishes of the people; and in a third (vii. 9) he encloses to Perpetuus Bishop of Tours the speech which he had delivered before the clergy and people at Bourges, in electing Simplicius.
additional gloom from the circumstance that the whole policy of Rome had for centuries tended to weaken all public spirit and administrative capacity elsewhere, and to widen the field of Imperial patronage by concentrating in the capital such poor remnants of ancient talent as yet lingered on the earth. Accordingly, when the reins of civil sway were dropping from the weak hands of Roman deputies to subside into the yet more enervate grasp of provincial aristocracy, it was of inestimable importance for the preservation even of the very elements of the old civilization, that men not wholly unfitted for such a task discovered themselves in a very different quarter. The Christian clergy, already accustomed by ecclesiastical tradition, as well as by the impulses of a fervent and politic piety, to look upon themselves as the dispensers of moral truth in matters secular as well as in matters spiritual, succeeded, not unwillingly, to the decaying civil authority: and we find in the chronicles of the fifth and sixth centuries many instances in which the Bishop of a provincial town wielded over his flock a sway far more absolute than could have been dreamt of by the most ambitious of decemvirs or proconsuls. This intimate bond of union between the Bishops and the Roman municipalities will fall more directly under our glance when we come to speak of their relations to the Teutonic conquerors of Europe, but it deserves our attention in a very marked manner now, inasmuch as the period immediately before us seems to have been that which exposed the Roman civilization to the most pressing