« AnteriorContinuar »
THE EUROPEAN AGE OF INQUIRY.
MIL PROGRESSIVE VARIATION OF OPINIONS CLOSED BY THE INSTITUTION
OF COUNCILS AND THE CONCENTRATION OF POWER IN A PONTIFF. RISE, EARLY VARIATIONS, CONFLICTS. AND FINAL ESTABLISHMENT OF
Rise of Christianity.-Distinguished from ecclesiastical Organization.
It is demanded by the deplorable Condition of the Empire.-Its brief
Its Antagonism to Imperialism ; their Conflicts.—Position of Affairs under Diocletian.-The Policy of
Constantine.—He avails himself of the Christian Party, and through it attains supreme Power.-His personal Relations to it. The Trinitarian Controversy.—Story of Arius.—The Council of Nicea. The Progress of the Bishop of Rome to Supremacy.
The Roman Church ; its primitive subordinate Position.—Causes of its increasing Wealth, Influence, and Corruptions. — Stages of its Advancement through the Pelagian, Nestorian, and Eutychian Disputes.— Rivalry of the Bishops of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Rome. Necessity of a Pontif in the West and ecclesiastical Councils in the East.
-Nature of those Councils and of pontifical Power. The Period closes at the Capture and Sack of Rome by Alaric.—Defence
of that Event by St. Augustine.-Criticism on his Writings. Character of the Progress of Thought through this Period.-Destiny of
the three great Bishops. · From the decay of Polytheism and the decline of Subject of the philosophy, from the moral and social dischapter.
organization of the Roman empire, I have now to turn to the most important of all events, the rise of
Christianity. I have to show how a variation of opinion proceeded and reached its culmination; how it was closed by the establishment of a criterion of truth, under the form of ecclesiastical councils, and a system developed which supplied the intellectual wants of Europe for nearly a thousand years.
The reader, to whom I have thus offered a representation of the state of Roman affairs, must now prepare to look at the consequences thereof. Together we must trace out the progress of Christianity, examine the adaptation of its cardinal principles to the to the study of wants of the empire, and the variations it Christianity. exhibited--a task supremely difficult, for even sincerity and truth will sometimes offend. For my part, it is my intention to speak with veneration on this great topic, and yet with liberty, for freedom of thought and expression is to me the first of all earthly things.
But, that I may not be misunderstood, I here, at the outset, emphatically distinguish between Christianity and ecclesiastical organizations. The between former is the gift of God; the latter are the Christianity product of human exigencies and human tical organiza invention, and therefore open to criticism, or, if need be, to condemnation.
From the condition of the Roman empire may be indicated the principles of any new system adapted to its amelioration. In the reign of Augustus, Moral state of violence paused only because it had finished its the world at
this period. work. Faith was dead ; morality had disappeared. Around the shores of the Mediterranean the conquered nations looked at one another-partakers of a common misfortune, associates in a common lot. Not one of them had found a god to help her in her day of need. Europe, Asia, and Africa were tranquil, but it was the silence of despair.
Rome never considered man as an individual, but only as a thing. Her way to political greatness was
Unpitying pursued utterly regardless of human suffering. tyranny of If advantages accrued to the conquered under Rome. her dominion, they arose altogether from incident, and never from her purposed intent. She was no self-conscious,
way for the
of all men.
deliberate civilizer. Conquest and rapine, the uniform aim of her actions, never permitted her, even at her utmost intellectual development, to comprehend the equal rights of all men in the eye of the law. Unpitying in her stern policy, few were the occasions when, for high state reasons, she stayed her uplifted hand. She might in the wantonness of her power, stoop to mercy; she never rose to benevolence.
When Syria was paying one third of its annual produce in taxes, is it surprising that the Jewish peasant sighed for a deliverer, and eagerly listened to the traditions of Prepares the his nation that a temporal Messiah, “a king
of the Jews" would soon come? When there recognition of the equality was announced the equality of all men before
God, “who maketh his sun to shine on the good and the evil, and sendeth his rain on the just and the unjust,” is it surprising that men looked for equal rights before the law? L'niversal equality means uni. versal benevolence; it substitutes for the impersonal and easily-eluded commands of the state the dictates of an ever-present conscience; it accepts the injunction, “Do unto others as you would they should do to you.”
In the spread of a doctrine two things are concernedits own intrinsic nature, and the condition of him on whom it is intended to act. The spread of Christianity is
not difficult to be understood. Its antagonist, Paganism. Paganism, presented inherent weakness, infidelity, and a cheerless prospect; a system, if that can be cilled so, which had no ruling idea, no principles, no organization ; caring nothing for proselytes ; its rival pontiffs devoted to many gods, but forming no political combination : occupying themselves with directing public worship and foretelling future events, but not interfering in domestic life; giving itself no concern for the lowly and unfortunate; not recognizing, or, at the best, doubtfully admitting a future life; limiting the hopes and destiny of man to this world ; teaching that temporal prosperity may be selfishly gained at any cost, and looking to suicide as the relief of the brave from misfortune.
On the other side was Christianity, with its enthu siasm and burning faith ; its rewards in this life, and
everlasting happiness or damnation in the next; the precise doctrines it by degrees gathered of sin, repentance, pardon; the efficacy of the blood of the Son of God; its proselytizing spirit; its vivid dogmas Attitude of of a resurrection from the dead, the approach- Christianity. ing end of the world, the judgment-day. Above all, in a worldly point of view, the incomparable organization it soon attained, and its preaching in season and out of season. To the needy Christian the charities of the faithful were freely given; to the desolate, sympathy. In every congregation there were prayers to God that he would listen to the sighing of the prisoner and captive, and have mercy on those who were ready to die. For the slave and his master there was one law and one hope, one baptism, one Saviour, one Judge. In times of domestic bereavement the Christian slave doubtless often consoled his pagan mistress with the suggestion that our present separations are only for a little while, and revealed to her willing ear that there is another world--a land in which we rejoin our dead. How is it possible to arrest the spread of a faith which can make the broken heart leap with joy?
At its first organization Christianity embodied itself in a form of communism, the merging of the property of the disciples into a common stock, from which the necessary provision for the needy was made. Such a Its first system, carried out rigorously, is, however, organization. only suited to small numbers and a brief period. In its very nature it is impracticable on a great scale. Scarcely had it been resorted to before such troubles as that connected with the question of the Hebrew and Greek widows showed that it must be modified. By this relief or maintenance out of the funds of the Church, the spread of the faith among the humbler classes was greatly facilitated. In warm climates, where the necessities of life are small, an apparently insignificant sum will accomplish much in this way. But, as wealth accumulated, besides this inducement for the poor, there were temptations for the ambitious : luxurious appointments and a splendid maintenance, the ecclesiastical dignitaries becoming more than rivals to those of the state.
From the modification which the primitive organization thus underwent, we may draw the instructive conclusion that the special forms of embodiment which the Christian
principle from time to time has assumed, and
of which many might be mentioned, were, in divergences. reality, of only secondary importance. The sects of the early ages have so totally died away that we hardly recall the meaning of their names, or determine their essential dogmas. From fasting, penance, and the gift of money, things which are of precise measurement, and therefore well suited to intellectual infancy, there may be perceived an advancing orthodoxy up to tho highest metaphysical ideas. Yet it must not be supposed that new observances and doctrines, as they energed, were the disconnected inventions of ambitious men. If rightly considered, they are, in the aggregate, the product of the uniform progression of human opinions.
Authors who have treated of the sects of earlier times will point out to the curious reader how, in the beginEarly variation ning, the Church was agitated by a lingering of opinions. attachment to the Hebrew rites, and with difficulty tore itself away from Judaism, which for the first ten years was paramount in it; how then, for several centuries, it became engrossed with disputes respecting the nature of Christ, and creed after creed arose therefrom; to the Ebionites he was a mere man; to the Docetes, a phantasm ; to the Jewish Gnostic, Cerinthus, possessed of a twofold nature; how, after the spread of Christianity, in succeeding ages, all over the empire, the intellectual peculiarites of the East and West were visibly impressed upon it-the East filled with speculative doctrines, of which the most important were
those brought forward by the Platonists of . logy tends to Alexandria, for the Platonists, of all Philoso
phical sects, furnished most converts; the West, in accordance with its utilitarian genius, which esteems the practical and disparages the intellectual, singularly aided by propitious opportunity, occupying itself with material aggrandizement and territorial power. The vanishing point of all Christian sectarian ideas of the East was in God, of those of the West in Man. Herein