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dangers. It appears to us that the political influence of the clergy performed no more signal service to humanity than when, by consolidating within themselves the innumerable separate municipal societies forming, as it were, the skeleton of Roman majesty, it armed them against the first and most critical shock of barbarian invasion. Much as we must ever attribute to the inherent vigour and practical spirit of the Italian institutions, we may not unjustly doubt whether we should be, as we are, living on the ruins of the Roman Empire, had not Christianity supplied in the hour of need both a motive for union and leaders who knew how to make the most of the spirit they had fostered.
And let it not be imagined that, in the establishment of what may seem to us an excess of priestly authority, violence was offered to any general aspirations after a fuller liberty, or that the clergy of the fifth century had learnt what their successors practised with only too much success, the association of the exaltation of their order with religious and political oppression. On the contrary, civilized man had long been prepared for the introduction of a purer faith by the excesses of a debased materialism, and had been made willing to accept the authority of ecclesiastical rulers by a conviction of the increasing separation between the principles which ruled the world and those of moral rectitude. The inhabitants, for example, of remote districts of Spain, Gaul, or Africa, long deprived of all voice in the election of their civil rulers, and made aware of the frequent changes in Imperial despotism only by the civil bloodshed which preceded them, had every reason to rejoice in the rise of episcopal authority. Instead of the hard rule of strangers, they lived under the less imposing but gentler influence of their clerical fellow-citizens; instead of suffering by the caprice of each successive aspirant to the Imperial throne, they paid a willing obedience to the paternal counsels of men whom they could not but reverence, since they had themselves participated in their election. The most abject fraction of the population, the agricultural serfs, looked for their only protection from the clergy, and learnt to cling to the inviolable sanctity of the altar and the intrepid zeal of its ministers: while the “curiales,” crushed as they were by repeated extortions, found some relief in the consciousness that they might rise above all human tyranny, by enrolling themselves among the spiritual lords of the earth. The oppressed, if any consolation could be for them below, might find it in looking forward to the assured triumph of nobler principles of morality and government; while the oppressors were constrained to look with awe on men, who like themselves had long enjoyed every immunity, and were establishing their claims to the guidance of the flock in more serious contests than the doubtful wranglings of theological councils. Another point seems to be worthy of our notice, in which the beneficial influence of Churchmen in some measure compensated for the effects of civil misgovernment. The annihilation of the old rural inhabitants had led to an utter isolation of the towns and
circumscribing of the political horizon throughout the Empire, which we, in these days of rapid interchange of ideas, can with difficulty picture to ourselves. This defect, fatal to anything like a truly national feeling, and which threatened, more than any other political calamity of the time, to check all intellectual progress, inasmuch as it lay beyond all help from the enervate civil constitution, was in some degree remedied by the frequency of ecclesiastical intercourse between politically remote localities. Politics, in our sense of the word, had long ceased to occupy the popular mind; patriotism was no more; nations, as such, had no existence. It was becoming evident that this extinction of all the nobler ends of being, this practical materialism, must ultimately involve a total loss of all the old energetic discipline which the traditions of many generations had handed down from Athens and Alexandria to Bordeaux, Treves, and Seville. Indeed we cannot conceal from ourselves that if perilled civilization had not found in the unity and spirited action of the clergy a substitute for political motives long forgotten, Europe would have relapsed into utter and hopeless barbarism. The only connecting link between severed nations and cities was that of religion, because the only active ideas they possessed in common were such as they embodied in their creed. The nations of the West had long ceased to turn with any interest to the civil affairs of Rome or Constantinople; but the former city was rapidly raising itself to be the central point of theological discussion, as it had been of political sway. Indeed, every one of the Western lands resounded with scarcely any other excitement than what was raised by the conflicts of orthodox and heterodox divines; and so great was the impetus imparted to intellectual pursuits, and the logical acumen derived from such metaphysical speculations as the great Pelagian controversy, or from such more purely theological discussions as suited the minds of Oriental Churchmen, that we are almost tempted to forget the evil consequences of such misdirected powers as those of Pelagius and his followers, and the perils of the true faith in the conflict with heresy, in our rejoicing that the European nations were preserved in theological subjects from that stagnant carelessness which had befallen them in those of politics. • The whole history of the intellectual progress of man scarcely presents to us a more remarkable proof of the superiority possessed by spiritual over material agencies in the minds of individuals and nations, than we discover by comparing the religious with the secular life during the fifth and sixth centuries. In the latter, every bond tending to combine country with country, and city with city, had been loosened; in the former, new connections were perpetually established, by which the opinions of Central Asia were brought into contact and conflict with those of Western Europe. No land, however remote it might be from all other excitement, could be silent in the great theological debates; a voice from the deserts of the Upper Nile might be heard by the zealous priesthood of the British Church, and the slopes of extreme Atlas might not unwillingly be aroused by the challenge echoing from the dwellers by primitive Ararat. The most convincing testimony of the extent to which theological questions were made the means of communication, from one extremity of the Empire to the other, is to be derived from the extant correspondences of such mien as Augustine, Jerome, and Basil. They reveal to us all the vast erudition of their authors, the interest excited throughout the Roman world by the great theological questions of the age, and the decisive authority possessed by the leading Fathers of the Church among the faithful of every land. The Bishop of Hippo, in particular, acquired a moral influence over the Churches of the West scarcely inferior to the more recognized authority of a Roman pontiff; he was referred to, not only to settle disputed points of metaphysical or exegetical speculation, but to support by the weight of his name and the gravity of his judgment ecclesiastical discipline and ministerial purity,
But we must consider these frequent communications, which united the faithful of lands so remote, in a political as well as in a theological and moral light. The consequences they produced on the fifth century were analogous to what the frequent pilgrimages to Rome, and the universal excitement of the Crusades, undoubtedly effected for ensuing ages. The clergy in secluded districts of Gaul* traversed inhospitable lands to lay their difficulties before Jerome at Bethlehem or Paulinus at Nola; and the
* See the remarks of Guizot, Civilisation en France, lib. iv. vol. i. p. 108.