« ZurückWeiter »
The Roman patriarch and emperor stood equally in need of each other, as was clearly manifest in the next century, when the unity of Europe was chiefly established. The former, forsaken on the Grecian side, stript of his dignity in Illyria and Dalmatia, and with his position shaken by factions even in Rome itself, looked all the more earnestly towards the West and North. On the other hand, the new dynasty of the Franks, and the conquests in the North, could only be maintained by a religious consecration in the former case, and the adoption by the Franks of the orthodoxy of Rome, and in the latter by the mission of the Anglo-Saxon preachers of Christianity, who either preceded or immediately followed in the steps of the conquerors.
Again, when we find the union thus established between the German tribes and those which were pervaded by a German leaven followed by the growth of civilization, the question arises, What was the peculiar nature of this civilization ? how did it arise ? whence did it derive its impulse ? by what means and institutions was it sustained ? It was certainly of no little importance that certain Christians, learned men and bishops, in Italy and Spain, made extracts from classical literature, and circulated them, together with the works of Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory; and that Italy remained generally open to the Germans. But whoever opens a history of the schools, and collects all the testimonies to the earnest demand for education which characterised the monasteries and the court of Charles, and spread from these to others, will not fail to discover that this excitement, by which all ages and both sexes were urged on to learn to read and write, and to the study of Latin, arose from a strong desire to read the source of the knowledge of salvation. It was because the Bible, the words of redemption, were to be read in the Latin tongue, that Latin was so eagerly learned.
In the cultivation of the field and the clearing of the forest, the example was set by the monastery, as much as in the cultivation of learning and the clearing of souls. And this lasted for centuries. Through the first half of the middle ages, to live according to the rules of an order, or under an abbot, was synonymous with leading a religious life; outside the cloister lay the world. Christianity, as essentially supernatural, had still to manifest itself in the renunciation of the world. According to the original rules of St. Benedict, one portion of the monks devoted their attention to books, another to handicraft and gardening. The beneficial results of this were not confined within the walls. Out of monasticism, undoubtedly in itself a dangerous and presumptuous form of Christianity, two other forms, more ancient and more genuine, proceeded, the missionary who did not shrink from being a martyr of his faith and love. The missionary scattered seed, in every sense, in a fruitful soil already prepared. The strongest impulse from within, of which true religion was the soul, urged them on to diligence and care, without which it would have been impossible to secure such prosperity as was indispensable to the permanent establishment of religion.
The civilization of antiquity, which was founded upon natural VOL. VII.
religion, but had outgrown it, had been secretary for true religion; and the Christian religion could not take root in the mind of the Germanic race without sending forth new shoots, and giving a new impulse to learning, art, and morals.
Allow me to well for a moment upon a few of the distinctive marks of the culture which ensued. Reflect, in the first place, upon the great work which i eligion had to accomplish, before peace and order were sufficiently established for the first elements of trne culture to thrive. The hard, paternal authority which characterised the laws of the Germanic race, would not have yielded so readily to the requirements of a commonwealth, had it not been softened down by belief in the kingdom and mercy of God. The protection and comfort afforded by the spiritual power to those who were oppressed with worldly fetters, became in its turn the source of a voluntary submission to natural authority. Where the natural temperance of the home-life of the Germans had not been corrupted by contact with a Roman element, Christianity had no conflict to dread with refined immorality or wickedness; but, on the other hand, it met with the more fearful opposition from the lawless, rude, and cruel sensuality of the great ; and had not the sacrament of penance developed itself with the greatest energy, and eventually received the protection of the kingdom, the fermentation and confusion of the Carlovingian era would scarcely have left a remnant of the seeds of civilization.
As far as the learning of the West is concerned, religion saved even those centuries which are distinguished as the dark' ages from being unproductive. Ancient philosophy had been occupied with the universe, and with certain practical problems of government. The monk, whose studies embraced the whole of the scholastic culture of the times, had before him his liturgy, some homilies, and his creed. This Latin he had to learn and to teach. At first he was concerned with the meaning of words. In this research he was supported by tolerable aids, but the soul of all his exertions was an ardent longing to investigate the great matter, the foundation of all sacraments. One was urged on by the desire to comprehend and demonstrate every part of his faith ; another had greater reverence for mysteries, and restrained his thoughts and fancies that he might at length know the truth, and proceed from step to step of self-denial as the only way to make room for the entrance of light from God. Both of these tendencies could, to a certain extent, be reconciled. But the sacred tradition itself presented discrepancies. Yet as the discrepancies between the one and the triune in God, the duality of natures and unity of person in man, had been solved by peculiar distinctions, so did the faith which they possessed provide for every question or doubt that might arise a similar solution, until the whole collection of solutions to inquiries could be built up into one complete system. Now and then fresh sources of ancient learning were opened up, and former errors had to be adjusted. Classical philosophy presented, it is true, a miserable appearance; but, as the handmaid of theology, it was honoured for the sake of the mistress. An effort was next made to trace all human knowledge to its organic connexion with the divine. The soul which had been banished from the paradise of God, sought, as soon as it had found redemption, to return home through the stages and regions of different sciences to the divine source of all knowledge. And this was the origin of the learning, mysticism, and scholasticism, of those times, which in all their phases were associated with religion.
It was the same with art. At the foundation, there lay the principle, thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image,' and in these words, which seem to proscribe every species of art, there was contained the mainspring of art-creations of every kind. The tender, heartfelt lyric of the Psalms was the first proof of this. It is true that Christianity follows this first negation by others; the historical character of the life of Christ destroys the power of fable—the crucified One is opposed to a sensuous repose in the enjoyment of art-and Christianity could not allow of an artistic celebration of salvation, till, by witnessing unto death, it had overcome the world. Moreover, the degeneracy or unconquered worldliness of European Christians opened the way for a renewal of heathen art, and that the more readily, on account of the points of contact offered by the mythological character of the worship of saints, and the sensuous manner in which the sacraments were celebrated. Yet, at the same time, the way was first opened which is leading on from childish commencements to complete perfection. The first attempts at drawing, painting, or poetry, as found in the simple matin and vesper hymn, were the early indications of subsequent completeness. The event set forth by the simple cross was in itself too grave to need anything to represent it to the eye. But this was not the case with the deep feelings which it enkindled, and which strove for utterance, and attained it in those Latin songs that have furnished the measure and the classic forms of the national poetry of the West. But most of all do we see the influence of religion upon art when we look upon the achievements of architecture, the queen of the ecelesiastical arts in the middle ages.
III. When the Church forgot her office to minister to the Christian culture of the people, and selfishly regarded her own supremacy as the great object to be aimed at, she soon suffered the consequences of the reaction. After the fourteenth century, the scales fell more and more from the eyes of kingdom, nation, and school, and their own divine rights were seen. Hence religion was still far from losing its power in the history of the world. Not only did the Papacy still continue a symbol of the catholic unity of Christendom, but faith, religion, the gospel itself, was the rock on which the overbearing power of the Church foundered. Various attempts to effect a revolution in the Church were successfully resisted; but after the religious earnestness of German mystics, especially, had learned, instead of breaking down the institutions of the Church, to use them only as aids and defences to inward growth in Christ, and after the weapons of an inquisition, which had been directed against a series of witnesses for the truth, had been blunted, there grew up in the heart of Europe a reformation, which originated entirely in personal Christianity, and thus a new era began.
The Reformation, which began in Wittenberg, and proceeded from the strong testimony to the truth which was borne in Worms and Augsburg, overran the whole of Europe, and passed from the Germanic tribes into the very heart of the Roman and Sclavonic nations also. The different results of this agitation—the success of counter-reformations in some cases--the victory of the Romish or Protestant party in others-and the conclusion of a public treaty in others altered and moulded the condition of kingdoms and peoples. What a space in history is occupied by the religious civil wars of France, Germany, and England ! W! U the reformation of the Church was entirely suppressed, the most bloody revolutions broke out afterwards; and the injuries they inflicted have not yet been healed. The origin of a great maritime power of the seventeenth century is to be traced to the guccessful struggles of a German tribe upon the coast in the cause of religious liberty. The independence of the states and nations of Europe has, with few exceptions, been sustained. Monarchies built on conquest have been of short duration. The enterprise of Charles V. completely failed. On the other hand, the ecclesiastical cosmopolitan plans of the Jesuits met with great success; and through their aid Ferdinand II. and Louis XIV, were able to threaten most powerfully the liberty of Germany and Europe. But the men and the nations by whom the most strenuous opposition was offered, were all of them such as were sustained by the energy of evangelical faith; e.g., Gustavus Adolphus, the great elector, Holland and England.
In the course of modern history, with many divisions, there has always been a certain European Christian unity. And whilst the Germanic element has mixed with the Roman and the Sclavonic on the borders, the separation has always resulted chiefly and inevitably from the fact that these three elements have been the representatives of three different churches. Thus, in all the great events, and in the general condition of Europe, religion has continued to the present day the most passive, and yet the most active, of all co-operating causes. We have not space to follow this sketch much further. But there are two points to which I must refer—the relation of Europe to the other quarters of the globe since the Reformation, and the peculiar impulse given by the Reformation to the progress of civilization. The force of religion in both respects is discernible enough, though not properly appreciated.
No doubt exists in the minds of Christians that the course of the world's history will issue in a more perfect union among the different portions of the earth, and the people inhabiting each separate portion, and that those who have been made of one blood’ will be brought into close association, and formed into one family, by the spread of that name which is above every name. This task has fallen to the Europeans since the time when the passage to the Indies was opened and traversed. The Pope had allotted new-discovered worlds the sun never set on the empire of Charles V.—when Erasmus called upon the clergy to forget their petty disputes, and go forth in crowds as erangelists, and enlighten the darkness of the heathen. Fifty years afterwards, the impulse to this was much greater, for the Romish Church hoped to make up for its losses in Europe, and take possession of a fresh territory by means of the naval power and settlements of the Spanish and Portuguese. The name of St. Xavier stands first in these enterprises. The gold fever had almost exhausted the West Indies-Aztecs and Caribs were nearly exterminated by the severity of their oppressors—when a few monks began to resist these proceed. ings in the spirit of Christian kindness; and their efforts were not without success. Step by step, too, the Romish powers were forced from their supremacy over the sea; the Germanic and Protestant powers deprived them, to some extent, of their Indian possessions, and considerably widened the circle of European settlements; whilst Dutch, English, and Danish trading companies introduced the religion of their homes into the conquered islands or cities in which they fixed their abode. The eighteenth century witnessed the circumnavigation of the globe, and discoveries in the Southern Seas. These enterprises were scientific, but how were the discoveries completed ? To what do we owe our thorough acquaintance with the ethnography of Southern India ? How has it come to pass that European civilization converses with the heathen of every quarter of the globe in their own tongue, and that the heathen can read and write his own language? By what channel did Europe send them, not only something better than gunpowder, spirits, vices, and epidemics, or mere toys, but the best of all gifts? Who taught the Esquimaux to sing psalms ? put an end to war and murder among the New Zealanders? inoculated the most depraved races with the germ of true civilization ? covered the Antilles with congregations of Christian negroes ? and introduced the customs, the temperance, the marriage, the education, the church, and the citizenship, of Europe, into so many of the islands of the sea ? This was never the work of trading companies. On the contrary, they often opposed it most strenuously, till even they were at length compelled to admit the beneficial results. Nor was it accomplished by the Cooks, the Bougainvilles, the Lapeyrouses, in the spots at which they landed. But every one knows that at first the Moravians, and, during the period of the French revolution, the English, were imbued with an evangelical missionary spirit, and that these are the fruits. Thus we are brought back to movements within the invisible church. And if we ask for the origin of these, we find it in the earnest inquiry of minds newly touched by Christ. How can I show my gratitude to thee who hast done so much for me? In a church life, which looks not at numbers, but regards it as a great reward to save one immortal soul; in faith in the works of the Messiah, the blind see,' &c.; and in a renewal of the acts of the apostles. Here we may grasp with our hands, as it were, the fact that the course of the world's history is associated with religion in both its origin and ultimate aims.