James Bryce Bryce.

The book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 9) online

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Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceThe book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 9) → online text (page 4 of 55)
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THE roaring waves of the great migra-
tions beat upon a twofold wall ; the
Roman Empire collapsed before their
onslaught, but the Christian Church,
though severely damaged, was able to
survive the catastrophe. Even while
the Teutonic nations in the vigour of
their youth were dividing the empire as
the spoil of victory, the Teutons were
learning to bow the knee in reverence
before the Church. It was no longer the
Church of a fe'w, a small community of
simple-hearted men and women, but was
already a widespread organisation. More-
over, it had received into itself the heathen
masses, and these had in many places re-
tained much of the spirit of heathenism.
Creeds, too, had been formulated, and the
early ties of brotherhood had become canon-
ical obedience to the authority of the Church.
But by reason of its very modifications,
Christianity was probably more capable of
appeal to these rough nations,
- wag j egs > n con t ra diction

. with their modes of thought and
y their natural sympathies. The
strength of that antagonism in which every
heathen stood to Christianity was further
broken in the case of these Teutonic nations
by the fact that the migration had torn them
from their native soil. The figures of their
own gods grew pale when they found
themselves surrounded by other mountains,
streams and groves than those in which
their native gods had hitherto lived.
There was a third fact that facilitated the
reception of Christianity by the Teutons,
notwithstanding their entire hostility to
the Roman Empire. When they came
into contact with the Christian Church in
larger numbers, there existed two abso-
lutely opposed forms of Christianity, the
Catholic and the Arian creeds. In the
imperial church orthodoxy won the day,
and the Arians were regarded as enemies.
Hence it was possible for the Teutonic
nationalities to accept Christianity and
yet to retain their hostility to the Roman


Empire ; it was thus Arian Christianity
which they accepted.

So early as the third century Christianity

had been preached even among the Goths,

who dwelt on the shores of the Black Sea,

by Christian prisoners. A Gothic bishop

, was present at the Council of

Plunder ^ Niceeain 3 2 5- About thirty- five
years later the Gothic bishop,

of Rome TTI.CI i. L j i_

Ulfilas, who had been con-
secrated in Constantinople, reduced the
language of his people to writing and
gave them a translation of the Bible. He
worked among them for decades, con-
tinuously spreading the Arian form of
Christianity. When they began their
devastating eastern march under Alaric,
they plundered and ravaged the remnants
of heathenism, but spared and reverenced
the Christian sanctuaries. The three days'
plunder of Rome in 410 was concluded
by a solemn procession in honour of the
sacred vessels of the Church, which the
victors had discovered in a hiding-place.
From the Visigoths Christianity passed in
its Arian form to the Ostrogoths, Vandals,
Burgundians, Suevi and Langobards.

The first of these wandering nationalities
to receive the Catholic faith in its pure form
was that of the Franks. Chlodwig, or
Clovis, had extended the Frankish domi-
nion from the north to the Loire. The
heathen conquerors felt that the Chris-
tianity and the civilisation of the Romans
whom they had conquered had given
them an intellectual superiority. The
king chose a Catholic Christian as his wife,
and she was allowed to have her children
baptised ; eventually she suc-
ceeded herself in converting

Becomes a , , , , , .u /- AT. i-

c . . . her husband to the Catholic
law." At the Christmas festival
of 496 he received baptism at Rheims,
together with several thousands of his
people, in great solemnity. It must be
remembered that this was the nation
which was to take a leading part in the
mediaeval world. The Bishop of Vienne



was correct in his prophecy, when, in his
congratulations to the king on his baptism,
he spoke of Clevis's action as ensuring
the triumph of Christianity over heathen-
ism, and of Catholicism over Arianism.
The fierce life and death struggle through
which the Christianity of the Graeco-
Roman world had passed would be
avoided in this instance, as Christianity
had begun by conquering the Teutonic

The question, however, remained
whether Christianity would not excite
struggles of another nature, whether these

their own property, and the bestowal of
ecclesiastical offices on the clergy as their
right ? And would the Church admit
these claims if they were advanced ?
Would the Church extend her powers
beyond her true limits, and claim supre-
macy in the political sphere in order to
make the interference of laymen in
ecclesiastical affairs an impossibility ?

For the moment the Church was so
entirely occupied by the task of inducing
these tumultuous and warlike nations to
adopt a friendly attitude towards Chris-
tianity that these high objects were left


It is believed that even before the arrival of St. Augustine in this country with the message o r the 'Gospel there ; wer^
missionaries of the Christian faith in Britain, and some historians even assert that the preaching of Christianity began
Mfer back as A.D. 60, while Nero was on the Roman throne. At that period the Druids held sway, and most of the
inhabitants of these islands were slaves to their barbarous worship. Human victims were frequently laid upon the altars.
The Druids strongly resented the introduction of Christianity, and the early missionaries were exposed to great danger.

From the picture by J. R. Herbert, R.A.

facile converts would bow to the law of
the Church ; and the Church could demand
no less, now that it had become a legalised
educational force. Above all, would the
rulers, who had opened Christianity to the
masses by their own conversion and their
appreciation of the Church, consider that
this action had given them rights superior
to the Church ? It was these rulers who
erected sacred buildings and provided
revenues for the officiating clergy. Would
they not be inclined to consider, upon
Teutonic principles, such churches as

out of sight. If we attempt to gain an
idea of the ecclesiastical conditions pre-
vailing in the west at the moment when
the migratory peoples came to a halt,
some light is thrown upon the situation by
the life and work of the most important
Roman bishop of that century. Gregory I.
belonged to a senatorial family and had
been praetor in Rome. He was, however,
persuaded that the honour and the
emoluments of his position turned his
heart to wordly things, and he therefore
decided to renounce the world. He


expended the large property which he
had inherited from his father in the
adornment of monasteries, and entered
one that he had founded in his own house.
By his zealous self-mortification he shat-
tered his health, but this was a matter
beyond his consideration.

This was the side of Christianity of those
ages which filled with reverential awe the
wild nations, who were dominated by
sensual passions. When, however, the
Roman bishop of the time summoned
Gregory from his monastery and sent him
to Constantinople as his agent, Gregory
obeyed, though with
an aching heart.
Even at that stage of
Christianity simple
obedience to the
orders of ecclesiasti-
cal superiors was
regarded as the
highest virtue. When
he was nominated
Pope, Gregory did his
best to decline this
high dignity. The
life of contemplation
seemed to him the
only life worth living,
and he shrank from
the gigantic tasks
which awaited him
as the occupant of
Peter's chair.

At that time the
political position of a
Roman bishop was
extremely difficult.
Rome was subject to
the rule of the distant
Greek emperor, who
was, however,
weak to protect

cient ; he ransomed prisoners of war and
fed the poor. His resources were provided
by the rich estates which the Roman
church possessed, not only throughout the
whole of Italy, but also in Dalmatia,
Gaul, and Northern Africa. These were
presents to St. Peter, the " patrimonium
Petri," which had enormously increased
in the course of centuries, and were largely
provided by the last representatives of
the Roman nobility, who were anxious to
know that their names would be recorded
at least in heaven, when they were near
extinction upon earth. Gregory husbanded
this rich source of
income with the
greatest care. Hence
it naturally followed
that the Popes could
not confine their
efforts to purely
spiritual activity;
they also became
politicians, and were
honoured as terri-
torial princes in Cen-
tral Italy ; this was
the beginning of the
" temporal power."

Gregory had formed
a noble conception
of his spii itual
supremacy ; he called
himself the servant
of God's servants.
The words of Christ,
" Who among you
will be the greatest,
let him be the servant
of all," were under-
POPE GREGORY THE GREAT stood by him to mean

Gregory I. did not willingly seat himself in the papal chair, that t\\Q Spiritual
for he shrank from the great tasks associated with the high /v-

3 office, and would have preferred a life of contemplation. ? UOyCC

the But he obeyed the call of duty, and did magnificent service in the Service of

city from the menaces in advancing Christianity and establishing it in England, others. He did not,

of the wild Lombards. These barbarians
appeared before the walls of Rome in 592,
and the exarch of Ravenna could send no
help. To protect the town from destruc-
tion Gregory found himself obliged to
conclude peace with the enemy. The
emperor abused him for his simplicity,
and the exarch broke the peace. Once
again the enemy appeared before the city.
From the treasures of the Church Gregory
paid a heavy ransom to avert the sack of
Rome. It was his business to see that the
troops received their pay, and that the
fortifications of the town remained effi-

however, conclude from this text that every
bishop should serve others, and that the
wanderer must follow the man who
showed him the right path ; he made
it his duty to serve all bishops, and he
then made it their duty to obey himself.
He thus retained the old theory that
the Bishop of Rome was master,
though master in service, of all other

Hence, too, his zealous efforts to bring
the quarrels of the universal Church before
his tribunal for decision. For this reason
he was greatly angered by the action of



the Bishop of Constantinople in styling
himself an " ecumenical " bishop. In Gre-
gory's opinion, only the Bishop of Rome
could have " oecumenical " importance in
the Church. When Gregory used every
leverage to abolish that title, he considered
himself the champion of a great principle
and of an ordinance of Christ that was
necessary for the maintenance of the

Equally difficult were his relations with
the Gallic Church; as the Franks had
become Christians without a struggle, they
saw no advantage in struggling to remain
Christians. Their reckless selfishness,
their aggressive nature, which drew the
sword on every occasion, their want of
control, and their
sexual immoral-
ity were faults
which neither
prince nor sub-
ject, neither
clergy nor laity,
attempted to
limit. Strong and
persevering in-
deed must be the
work that could
deepen the re-
ligious life of
this nation and
transform its
morality. The
task was, how-
ever, infinitely
more difficult for
the reason that,
in Prankish
opinion, the
Church of the
country was sub-
ject to the secular rulers of the country,
rulers whose morality was nothing less
than scandalous. Often enough they
appointed bishops at their own will and
pleasure, and sold ecclesiastical offices
as they pleased, in many cases to laymen.
The Bishop of Rome was honoured as a
successor of the Prince of the Apostles and
as the guardian of the unity of the faith ;
but he was not generally regarded as the
ruling head of all Churches, the Gallic
Church included.

At the same time this nation was not
beyond all hope of reformation ; the
Franks clearly showed a consciousness
of their religious deficiencies. Hence
the obvious policy for the Pope was


St. Augustine, the great missionary of Christianity, is here represented
explaining the doctrines of the Christian religion to Ethelbert, king ot
Kent, whom he found seated in the open air for fear of magical arts.
Later on, Ethelbert became a convert to Christianity.and was baptised.

to bear with what could not be altered, to
cherish and to extend the organisation of
the Church, in order that a comprehen-
sive influence might be exerted upon the
whole nation. It was in this way that
Gregory attempted to influence the Galli-
can Church.

He opened correspondence with the rulers
of the Prankish state and with individual
bishops, but he did not speak as lord of the
Church. He was well aware that he could
gain advantage here only by representa-
tions and advice. Many have been unable
to understand how he could send such
flattering letters to the " Prankish fury "
Brunhilde, praising her " Christian life "
and her " love of divine service " ; but this
Prankish woman
gave him many
things of which
the Prankish
Church was in
need. She built
churches and en-
dowed monas-
teries, begging
the Pope to send
her relics and
privileges for the
latter ; she was
"full of reverence
for the servants
of the Church "
and "over-
whelmed them
with honour."
With this Gre-
gory remained
satisfied when he
could secure no
more, when he
was unable to
put an end to simony and to the appoint-
ment of laymen as bishops, or, when he
could not secure the convocation of
synods, to stop abuses. It was first
necessary to build the houses in which
this rough nation was to be educated,
and not until then could the process of
education begin.

The greatest and most fruitful work
which Gregory undertook was the founda-
tion of the Anglo-Saxon Church. Wherever
these Teutonic invaders had secured the
mastery in England, they had destroyed
Roman civilisation and almost every trace
of the old British Christianity. In 596,
Gregory sent the Abbot Augustine to
England with forty Benedictine monks.




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In the following year some ten thousand
Anglo-Saxons were baptised, and King
Ethelbert of Kent a few years later. The
Pope directed this mission upon compre-
hensive principles, with a sure hand and
a set purpose ; here again he followed out
his principle of leaving to the future
all that could not be secured in the present.
. _ He contented himself for the
P. moment with the actual foun-

r ." dation of the Church. He

Established , , - .. ,

ordered his evangelists not to

outrage the feelings of the heathen by
destroying their temples, but to facilitate
the conversion of the people by changing
the temples into Christian churches, to
place relics where the images of the gods
had stood, and to transform heathen
sacrifices into Christian festivals for the
honour of God and his saints.

In his care for the monastic system,
Gregory was also looking to the future.
The monasteries had suffered severely in the
storms of the great migrations. Benedict
of Nursia had founded the monastery of
Monte Casino in Campania, and had given
the monks the famous rule known by his
name, which was framed by a wise process
of selection from several of the existing
monastic rules. In the year 580 the
monastery was destroyed by the Lombards
and the monks fled to Rome ; Gregory
then recognised that their rule was more
likely than any other to meet with general
approval. He therefore placed them
in the monasteries which he himself had
founded, and his powerful protection
secured them victory in every case. It
was clear to him that monks and nuns
could devote themselves to the life of con-
templation in peace only if the monasteries
were secured against all molestation by
secular and ecclesiastical lords. Formerly,
efforts had been made to subjugate the
monks to the bishops, that they might not
lead unspiritual lives ; but this apprehen-
sion had passed away, and Gregory there-
fore sought to make them
What Gregory ind en | ent of thfi is .
Did for i f^r

p future importance were the
changes in divine worship, and especially
in church singing, which have hitherto
been ascribed to Gregory. The mode of
singing long customary at divine worship
was popularised and subjected to strict
rules by Bishop Ambrosius of Milan, who
died in 397. Unfortunately we know too
little of the nature of this music to under-


stand the reasons which made later changes
appear desirable. Probably the supposi-
tion is correct that the earlier style of
singing was, on the one hand, too difficult
for the uneducated clergy of that age, and
was, moreover, little calculated to impress
the barbarous masses and to become
an educative force. In consequence, the
number of tones was diminished and
melodies were simplified, effeminate modu-
lations and changes of time being excluded.
In this way ecclesiastical singing acquired
a powerful solemnity and a deeply
mysterious character. The " Gregorian
chant " proved triumphant over all other
styles in the West and has survived to the
present day. Even in Milan, where the old
Ambrosian liturgy is still retained, the
style of singing has gradually conformed
to the Roman use in course of time. It
must be said that modern investigations
have at last made it doubtful whether, or
how far, these new regulations are justly
attributable to Gregory.

Gregory's writings also exercised a great

influence. His " Pastoral Rule," which

attempted to make the clergy the educators

of the people, was so highly

Writing P" 26 ^ by posterity that every
f r l" Prankish bishop on his con-

y secration bound himself to
observe the principles of this book. His
" Dialogues " were, if possible, more
popular ; but these were glorifications of
the monastic heroes of Italy, and impressed
the masses who had been converted to
the Church by their numerous stories of
miracles, dreams, and apparitions, which
would influence only uncultured and
superstitious minds. All his writings,
indeed, were composed with reference to
such minds. For this reason, no other
father of the Western world has been so
zealously studied.

Gregory laid the foundation of ecclesi-
astical teaching in the Middle Ages. He
was a pupil of the great Augustine, and in
his attempts to popularise his teaching he
breathed the whole spirit of his system.
To his example was chiefly due the
importance attached to the intercession
of saints in the mediaeval Church, to the
penances necessary to avert punishment
for sin, and to the sacrifice of the Mass,
which was also offered for souls in pur-
gatory. To his influence we may ascribe
the fact that the lower motive of fear is
so strongly seen in mediaeval Christianity,
and is but slightly modified by hope and


cheerfulness, that Christian repentance
becomes fear of punishment, and is
exerted only to escape punishment. Gre-
gory provided a bridge of transition from
the old period to the new, from Graeco-
Roman to Romano-Teutonic Christianity.
He handed on, however, only that modified
form of Christianity which was in vogue
before his time ; the deeper principles,
though they survived in his own heart,
were not emphasised in the new period.
Christianity was adapted that it might
be the more easily effectual among nations
in a low stage of civilisation, and the
possibility of its 'elevation to its former
height remained an open question.

Boniface has been called the apostle of
the Germans. This title gives him too
much credit, and also fails to express his
full importance. Others before his time
had planted Christianity in Germany,
and it is not only Germany that stands
indebted to him. When the Anglo-Saxon
Church, which Gregory had founded,
extended northwards, it came into contact
with the Keltic Church, which regarded
as its founder St. Patrick, a saint who had
left Roman Britain for Ireland
. about 432. This Irish Church

Missionary in

had remained in complete

isolation, and had retained
certain characteristics of the earlier period ;
in particular, it lacked that hierarchical
organisation which had been developed
among the newer churches. It was
entirely overpowered by the northward
advance of the Anglo-Saxon Church. But
before this date it rendered great services
to the Continent ; it sent the first preachers
of Christianity to Germany. In Ger-
many the Christian Church had already
made a beginning ; remnants of the
Christianity of the Roman period had
been preserved in the former province of
Noricum, while Arian influence had ex-
tended to Bavaria and Thuringia. Catholic
Christianity might have been introduced
here and there by Prankish immi-
grants ; but of missionaries proper the
Irish-Scots were the first. We cannot
indeed write a history of their work, for
but few are known to us by name out of
the large numbers who laboured on this
difficult soil ; and what we hear of them
is rather legend than history. Moreover,
their achievements were somewhat scanty.
The preaching of the gospel was indeed
their primary object ; they were anxious
to secure the respect of the wild heathen

for the humility and self-renunciation of
the ascetic lives which they led in their
miserable cells or in the forbidding
monasteries which they had founded, and
to induce the surrounding people to make
a similar renunciation of the world. They
suffered, too, from a defect for which
neither their fervent belief nor their

moral seriousness could corn-
Enthusiasm ,. .,
of the Great P, ensate; ^ knew nothing
Boniface organisation. Individual

converts they certainly gained,
but they were unable to found a church
which could survive and extend its
influence by organised activity.

The qualities which they lacked were
possessed in the fullest measure by the
Anglo-Saxon Church, which had been
founded directly from Rome. From this
church Winfrid, who had been named
Boniface by the Pope, started in 715 for
Friesland, whither the Anglo-Saxon Willi-
brord had set out twenty-five years pre-
viously. When Boniface met with no
success in this difficult country, he made a
pilgrimage to Rome and secured the right
of missionary work from the Pope. From
this point we trace a remarkable distrac-
tion of aims in his career. He had no
doubt that his foundations could exist
only in close connection with the Roman
papacy, but in his holy enthusiasm his
real object was to lead as many heathen
as possible to the living God, and his chief
desire was to gain a martyr's death in his

The Pope, on the other hand, con-
sidered it of supreme importance that
there should be no Christians who did not
recognise his own supremacy. Hence he
attempted to quench the fiery zeal of the
bold missionary and to make him a pioneer
of papal supremacy. After Boniface had
preached Christianity in Hesse with great
success, and had destroyed all that was
not purely Roman in Thuringia, he
returned to Rome, to be sent out by the
Pope to the heathen Saxons.
Boniface as The p howev er, desired

ofMonTsUries fil ~ St tO S6e the Bavarian and
Alamannic Churches subject

to the Roman chair. Boniface reluctantly
obeyed. In Bavaria he organised four
bishoprics, carried out the delimitation of
their dioceses and founded monasteries,

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceThe book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 9) → online text (page 4 of 55)