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Legends and Records

qj the

Church and the Empire

BI3D3MS-5HS. '

ellers, 4c,











other Poems Classical and Meditative.
OF CANTERBURY, and other Poems.



(Kegan Paul, Trench and Co.)
MAY CAROLS. Third Edition, Enlarged and Illustrated.
(Burns and Oates.)

MARY TUDOR: an Historical Drama.

(G. Bell and Son.)

MERCIA. (Pickering.)
SONNETS. (Pickering.)





Aubrey de Vere




{The rights of translation and of reproduction are reserved.)


®1)E f&onourabk ittrs. Hiobcrt ©'iiJrten.


To no one could this volume be so Jilly dedicated
as to you. It will remind you of the happy days when wt
read the great poets together, in our woods and on oicr lake.
and when you welcomed my earliest poetic efforts with a sym-
pathy but for which they would never have been repeated.

Your affectionate brother,


Ci'kragh Chase,
Easter, 1887.

V 75I2


The following poems are a few illustrations, however
inadequate, of a historic period still more momentous
than either the medieval or the modern, each of which
has found such enthusiastic admirers — the period which
bridged the gulf between the ancient world and that in
which we live. It begins with the Christian era, and
extends to the coronation of Charlemagne. It prepared
the way for that of the " Middle Ages j " and though it
has till lately been less studied, it included a far greater
number of elements and interests. A few remarks re-
specting it may be acceptable to some readers of this
book. That intermediate and transitional period was
enriched by the chief results of all the preceding ages,
for it included the growth and decay of the Roman
Empire, itself the heir of all the earlier empires. It held
within it not less the germs of whatever of primary value
was subsequently developed. The medieval civiliza-

viii Preface.

tion matured those germs. It was, in its spirit, Christian

doctrine embodied in kindred usages ; while, in much

beside, it was the ancient Roman Empire, her laws and

language, widened by the moral influences derived from

the barbaric races. But it was more than this. In

it sacred antiquity as well as pagan antiquity lived

again. In it the Hebrew Theism was lifted to and

above the heights of man's intelligence and drawn closer

to his heart by the mystery of the Holy Trinity ; the

Hebrew Hope was consummated by the Incarnation ; the

Hebrew moral law received a higher sanction when its

spiritual scope had been revealed ; the Psalms of David

and the Songs of Prophets were the heritage of Christian

churches and Christian cottages ; and the great Book of

the East became the foundation of mediaeval letters.

Notwithstanding it was not in the mediaeval but in that

earlier period that this wonderful process of expansion

and assimilation first became palpable and visible. Much

had to die before the loftier Life was evolved ; the husk

of the seed had to perish before the time of flower and

fruit had arrived. It was by the shock of rival races that

the delusions of material prosperity were dispelled, crime

punished, and the sterner lessons of true wisdom enforced.

It was when Christian children faced the axe rather than

worship false Gods, and bridegroom and bride walked

side by side to the stake, that human ties came to be

Preface. ix

appreciated at once in their greatness and their littleness.
Later, when emperors nominally Christian endeavoured
to force upon the Christian Church an anti-Christian faith,
her sons awoke to the full consciousness that spiritual
freedom was a charge as sacred as the Truth which it alone
could preserve. When genius and learning enlisted them-
selves on the side of error, the champions of that Truth
took up in its defence the keenest weapons furnished by
the armouries of Greek dialectics. The Neo-Platonists
of Alexandria might imperil the philosophy of unwary
Christians ; but the Christian creeds, successively defined
in six General Councils, stood up like rock-fortresses to
ward the Christian theology.

It was not, however, a Christian philosophy only
which superseded or supplemented the earlier philo-
sophy of Greece. A new literature sprang up also, the
Patristic literature. It is thus that Mr. Allies remarks
on it in his "Throne of the Fisherman," pp. 387-390.*

" Let us consider the interval of a hundred and fifty
years between the end of the Pagan persecution, and the

* The latest volume of his "Formation of Christendom"
(Burns and Oates), a work worthy of its high title, and one which
brings before us the world's most momentous period (its history at
once and its philosophy) with an insight and a comprehensiveness
not combined in any other work with which I am acquainted. To
it these slight poetic illustrations of the same subject are much

x Preface.

overthrow of the Western empire by the Northern tribes.
... It has often been remarked that after the failure of
the Persian attempt to enthrall Greece, a great outburst
of genius took place at Athens, which became the centre,
drawing to itself the greater minds of the larger Hellas.
The period begins with the dramas of iEschylus, and
may be said to end with the death of Aristotle. Thus it
lasted from the time that the independence of Greece
was saved from destruction by the Persian invader, until
a Grecian conqueror, in subjecting Persia, destroyed also
his country's freedom. There was no time like that
before it in Grecian history, and no time after it, for the
varied productions of genius. With the two exceptions
of Homer and Pindar, every poet, and almost every
historian and philosopher, who have made Greece illus-
trious, were born and flourished in this time. Similar
in duration, similar in exuberance of intellectual life, is
that space of the Church's history which begins with
Athanasius, the peerless confessor, and ends with Leo, the
peerless ruler, both great writers, but men in whom the
greatness of character surpasses the lustre of mind. . . .
Almost the whole wealth of Patristic literature lies be-
tween these two. . . . After Leo many hundred years
intervene before a similar period can be shown. As
soon as Paganism had been conquered in the conversion
of Constantine, and before the Northern barbarism broke

Preface. xi

up the civilization of the West, and the Byzantine des-
potism quenched the genius of the East, this short time
was given by the Providence of God in which a Chrysos-
tom should use the language of Plato in its old age with
greater effect than Demosthenes in its prime : and in
which a rhetorician, of Thagaste, should take the worn-
out tongue of Cicero, and deposit in it treasures of
thought far beyond the range of Rome's ' least mortal
mind,' and mark out, almost single-handed, the ground-
work for the structure of theology and philosophy in the
Church, so that successors for fifteen centuries have
drawn upon his treasure, and sought to complete what
he had begun. ... In this interval between Heathenism
and the Western Desolation with the Eastern enslave-
ment, the Church creates a greater intellectual Hellas,
and a greater intellectual Rome, than were their heathen

Mr. Allies proceeds to show how the great literature
thus rapidly produced had been furnished, not by a
single country, but by regions as numerous as those
which the martyrs had ennobled : in the East by
Antioch, Asia Minor, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and North
Africa ; in the West by Italy, Gaul, Dalmatia, and Spain ;
and how, notwithstanding, the whole of that literature
had breathed one harmonious spirit, as it drew its nurture
from a common Truth and Love. It thus became a

xii Preface.

productive cause of that mediaeval literature which rose
up so many centuries later, to which the great scholastic
and ascetic writers belonged, and which found its
imaginative representatives in Dante, Chaucer, and the
unknown authors of the ballads, in the chivalrous
romances, and the heroic lays, like that far-famed
" Chanson de Roland," recently added — a valuable ac-
cession — to English poetry by the translation of Judge
O'Hagan. Before the literatures of " The Nations " had
risen up, with all their varied powers, but contradictory
tendencies, not all of them healthy, there had flourished
that of a united Christendom ; but its roots are to be
found amid the rocks and ruins of an earlier and half-
barbaric time, as the art of the mediaeval ages was
anticipated by the rough frescoes of the Catacombs.
The visions of Hermas, and that Patmian vision asso-
ciated with the Athenian Areopagite, were precursors
of those later sung by the great Florentine, even as
St. Athanasius and St. Augustine supplied the basis on
which St. Thomas and Scotus built their fabrics of
religious philosophy ; and a monument had been raised
to a mother. St. Monica, more touching than the love-
sonnets addressed, centuries later, to Laura.

The profound interest of that earlier period proceeds
mainly from the varying relations in which the old Roman
Empire and the barbaric races stood to each other. That

Preface. xiii

Empire represented the whole civilization of the southern
world in the East and West ; while over the North the
barbaric races roamed, exempt from its corruptions, if
without its refinements, boundless in courage, faithful to
domestic ties, loyal to kings, with a reverential habit, and
spiritual capacities extinct along the luxurious shores of
the Mediterranean. The eventual union of the southern
with the northern races resulted in the Holy Roman
Empire of Charlemagne. The memory of the earlier
empire had not only survived, but impressed the barbaric
races themselves with an awe which they could never
shake off. Those who had not feared to storm the walls
of Rome scarcely dared to look up at its monuments.
Their chiefs were less proud of their triumph than of
some titular decoration received from an emperor of the
East, whose power did not extend beyond his palace.
In spite of their wrongs at the hand of Rome, they felt
that the Roman Empire was a thing too great to die.
In Gaul, and especially along the borders of the Rhine,
rose many a stately city, built by old Roman Coloni,
which proved that the Roman civilization and the barbaric
races were not incapable of coalescing. In proportion as
the latter became Christian a disposition grew among
them to regard a universal realm under an Emperor as
the completed condition of humanity ; for such a spiritual
realm was presented to them in the Church, and such


xiv Preface.

a spiritual head in the successor of St. Peter. A civil
seemed the complement of an ecclesiastical unity to
them, as, centuries later, it seemed to St. Bernard and

Still more were those who had once lived under the
protection of the Empire reminded of their loss, while
successively harried by the aggression of rival barbaric
chiefs. They recalled to memory that wonderful " Pax
Romana," which had given rest to the world for two
centuries after Augustus, the prosperity which that peace
had produced, and the security ensured by the Roman
Law to all who were willing to worship the " Dea Roma."
Could not such an Empire be restored under Christian
conditions? The races of the South had expected to
find in their barbaric conquerors nothing but that fierce-
ness which had characterized their first invasions. But
''out of the strong came sweetness." The Barbarians
showed often that tenderness of heart which accom-
panies the spiritual nature, as hardness characterizes
the materialistic. It was this union of the milder and
the manlier qualities which enabled them, when con-
verted, to infuse into the body with which they were
incorporated that element needed in order at once to
strengthen it and render it fruitful. Alexander the Great
would have given by mandate to the whole world the
intelligence and civilization of the Greeks. Had he

Preface. xv

succeeded, he must have also communicated the Greek
levity and depraved morals to the barbaric races, and
rendered them incapable of imparting to man any good
gift ; a consideration which may qualify with hope our
regret at the present slowness of many heathen nations
to accept the Faith. It was the conquest of the South
which converted the northern conquerors — " Grecia
capta, Roman victricem cepit : "■ — -while, on the other
hand, it was the conversion of those victorious Barbarians
which completed that of the Roman Empire, long re-
calcitrant against the edicts of Constantine. It may be
remarked, also, that, if the fusion of races had taken place
when Rome was still dominant, the Roman Emperors
would have continued to claim all that despotic power
exacted by Constantine and his successors in religious
matters, a power which commonly sides with error more
readily than with Truth, because Truth is unbending.

This consideration is borne in upon us the more strongly
since, humanly speaking, several centuries before Charle-
magne, an Empire might have been erected more than
once with far higher claims both to universality and
permanence than were possessed by the pagan Roman
Empire. If Augustus, or Trajan, had not elected to
limit their empire, it could hardly have failed to include
the whole of northern Europe within a moderate period,
as it already included Gaul and Britain. Such an empire

xvi Preface.

could hardly have fallen to pieces even among the
Titanic convulsions of the barbaric invasions, and it
might have averted them ; but it was not to be : and had
it been created, however long it endured it could not
have escaped the contagion of Roman materialism.

Again, Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, when
substituting Byzantium for Rome as his capital, had
apparently resolved to render his empire a universal one;
but it had been fashioned out of materials that lacked
the solidity necessary for permanence, and in a few years
the whole royal House had perished. The next attempt
was that of Stilicho. That heroic man, although a
Vandal, was devoted to the preservation of the Roman
Empire ; and, to effect this end, his design seems to have
been that of peaceably including the barbaric races
within it, maintaining, however, the predominance of the
Roman race, and the throne of his old master, the
Emperor Theodosius. His death frustrated that design.
The enterprise of Theodoric, the Gothic King of Italy,
was essentially different. Its end was to create an empire
in which, while the Italians were to be treated with
social justice, the Goths were to constitute the pre-
dominant power, the throne remaining hereditary in
Theodoric's house. But the great Gothic race had been
converted by Arian teachers ; and, at the close of his
reign, Theodoric had entered on a war of persecution

Preface. xvii

against the Church, thus fatally alienating both the clergy
and people of Italy. His attempt failed like its pre-
decessors, notwithstanding his many great qualities ; and
in so many failures it is difficult not to recognize the
hand of a Providence which had reserved a nobler gift
for man. A Gothic Empire must have been one in which
the civil and spiritual spheres were bitterly at variance.
In the Frankish Empire they were at one, because each
respected the limits of the other. But for that empire
Christendom must, as far as we can see, have either
drifted into an anarchy of warring races, speedily sub-
jugated by the Caliphs of Islam, or else itself become an
Arian Caliphate, the religious element in which must
have waned in proportion as the despotic waxed.

Between the final fall of the Western Roman Empire
under Augustulus (a.d. 476), and the coronation of
Charlemagne (a.d. 800), three hundred and twenty-four
years had elapsed, during which the need of a restored
Imperial power had made itself more and more felt.
The Emperors of the East had lost both the power and
the will to protect the West, while they had often insulted
her weakness and plotted against her peace. They
had also for ninety years sided with the Iconoclasts.
The Roman factions had become as dangerous to religion
as the barbaric invasions. But above all a new and
portentous Power threatened the whole Christian world

xviii Preface.

with destruction— that of Islam. Its strength consisted
chiefly in its unity ; and only by unity in the Christian
body, not alone ecclesiastical unity, but political also,
could its progress be resisted. The Frankish chief,
Charles Martel, had saved Europe by his victory over
the Saracens, near Poitiers ; his son and grandson,
Pepin and Charlemagne, had equalled his renown.
Charlemagne had gone to Rome, not as a conqueror,
but as a deliverer. At his coronation he accepted pas-
sively what he had not sought. When Pope Leo III.
dropped the imperial crown on his head, he acted un-
questionably as the interpreter of the popular will at
Rome, and of the Christian desire throughout the world.*
Regarded as an ideal the Holy Roman Empire was
surely the highest of political ideals. Its aim was neither
individual exaltation, nor "the greatest good of the
greatest number," but the glory of God and peace among
men. It was a supreme " magisterium," which was
also a " ministerium ; " an authority which was an
obedience. Christianity had created a divine kingdom
on earth ; and its natural help and stay appeared to be
a political one, recognizing the same sanction, and exist-
ing for the same aim, though for civil ends also. The two

* See "The Holy Roman Empire," pp. 56-59, by Professor Bryce,
a far more candid authority on this subject than Gibbon. His work
is one of great learning and interest.

Preface. xix

kingdoms met in that principle of justice which was com-
mon to both ; since justice at once witnesses to a spiritual
law, and is the sole protection of material interests.
The earlier Empires were from below ; the new Empire
was to be from above. They were shaped from the dust
of the earth ; the last was to be taken from the side of
the Church, and to be " flesh of its flesh and bone of its
bone." Its chief duty was to protect religion from
tyranny and from anarchy ; but it was bound no less to
make Right, not Might, the arbiter among the kings of
the earth, and thus create a peace to which the " Pax
Romana" stood but in the same relation as the Roman
Law stood to the Divine Law, and as material prosperity
stands to the Beatitudes of the Gospel. Everywhere it
had been felt that nations and states, high and venerable
as they are, could not rightly be the ultimate tribunals
among mankind without the perpetuation of wars ; and
Greece had endeavoured to avert unjust wars by her
Amphyctionic Council, as Rome had, at a later time, by
her Fecial Council. In the Holy Roman Empire the
Emperor was the great arbiter ; his office was regarded
as a semi-sacred one. At his coronation he "is ordained
a sub-deacon, assists the Pope in celebrating Mass," " re-
ceives a ring as a symbol of his faith," and " is admitted
as a Canon of St. Peter's, and also of St. John Lateran."
* "The Holy Roman Empire," p. 112.

xx Preface.

His office was neither territorial, nor hereditary. It rested
on election, and that election was to be determined by
the repute of the candidate for wisdom and justice. Like
the Pope, the Emperor might be a shepherd's son.

In one respect the two Roman Empires were striking
contrasts. The ideal of the earlier one was compara-
tively low, but it was realized ; the ideal of the Holy
Roman Empire was sublime, but it was very imper-
fectly carried into effect, owing chiefly to personal ambi-
tions, such as so largely frustrated the lofty aim of the
Crusades. The comparative weakness of that empire
had, however, its compensating advantages. The light-
ness of its sway, even where that sway was recognized,
enabled the nations to develop their several energies
in freedom. On one side of that empire the Saracen
dominion, which had had nearly two centuries' start of
it, burned like a volcano ; and on another, the Byzantine
Empire mouldered like a mummy ; but the Holy Roman
Empire did a great work, though imperfectly, averting
injustice, how often we cannot know, consolidating the
European body, and assisting in the amalgamation of
the northern and southern races, and the preservation of
the ancient literature, art, and philosophy. If on many
occasions despotic Emperors waged war on religious
freedom, they never succeeded in subjugating it; nor
was it from them that the chief scandals w hich afflicted

Preface. xxi

religion proceeded, but from the feuds of Roman factions
shortly before the Empire of Charlemagne was restored
under Otho the Great.

The two Roman Empires were contrasts no less in
their bequests to mankind. As the glory of the
pagan Empire was a false glory, so its " Pax Romana "
was a false peace. It corrupted man, and necessitated
the terrible penance which followed when the judg-
ment had at last fallen, and for centuries humanity
staggered amid the barbaric irruptions. The chosen
people had escaped from the House of Bondage, but
had not reached the Promised Land. It wandered long
in the desert. When, on the other hand, the Holy
Roman Empire fell into abeyance, it left behind it a noble
bequest — the Modern Nations. They had grown mature
beneath its care ; they had grown strong as it declined ;
but between them and it a bond remained in the Christian
civilization which it had helped to extend or had pro-
tected among them. Those nations are still but frag-
ments both of the Holy Roman Empire and of that
earlier Empire, which had unwittingly aided in the
creation of one with aims so much more elevated than
its own, and done so by its persecutions.

The two periods of the ancient Roman Empire, and of
the Holy Roman Empire, were complete periods, and ran,
each, its unbroken course : that intermediate Romano-

xxii Preface.

Barbaric period was one shattered and imperfect, made
up of adverse forces and rival tendencies borne forward
with precipitous current and in a direction not easily pre-
dicted. It was Christianity which determined that direc-
tion. It had raised the old Pagan Empire into the
Christian Empire, as Michael Angelo lifted the dome
of the Pantheon to the summits of St. Peter's. It had
flashed into the blind bosom of the barbaric races a beam
that developed their vast latent capacities. An eminent
German philosopher has remarked that it was not by any
material antagonist of its own order that pagan Rome
was overthrown : it was by a power of a sort wholly
alien, and one which Rome had at once recognized as
her foe. It was Christian Love. That principle had
taught the martyrs to die while the philosophers could
only dispute ; it had made a Thecla face the lions, and
St. Jerome find a palace in his cell. A Divine Love had
added tenfold to the strength of human love (while appa-
rently restricting it) by redeeming it from the bondage
of self-love through the discipline of self-sacrifice. As
a consequence, the Family had once more asserted its
primal dignity as the unit of all social existence, and the
root of all political order : the " Kingdom of Christ," the
great representative of Divine Love, stood up thus as
the universal Family of Man ; and the only truly universal
empire revealed itself as a spiritual empire. " The Cross

Preface. xxiii

had conquered," for from it alone could have issued forth
that divine love, the principle of life in a new-created
world. The commotions of that world, while it was
gradually taking shape are, as we revert to them in
remembrance, but the storm-lights and shadows which
chase each other over a plain, while the real life works
on in the herbage beneath.* History, as written without
the insight of Faith, regards chiefly those tumultuous
apparitions, and strives to make a picture of the splendid
yet tragic pageant : but Christian philosophy has a keener
insight ; and the reverent tradition of early days dwelt

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Online LibraryAubrey de VereLegends and records of the Church and the empire → online text (page 1 of 16)