Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

glories of the Mother of God. They had communities, bound together by the holy spirit of love; the sweet charities of life, deepened and sanctified by their religion; the consciousness of moral purity in the midst of the darkest corruption; they had all the Christian graces, all that is lovely and of good report;' but they had no desert hermitages, no monasteries, no scourges for the rebellious flesh, no bair-shirt, no belt of iron around the loins, no solitaries on their pillars for years of self-inflicted misery, no irrevocable vows, surprised from youth, of mis-estimated celibacy. They loved one another so marvellously as to excite the jealous amazement of the heathen, but they had not those great supplementary truths which arose, according to Mr. Newman, out of heresy and strife. They had the strength to suffer persecution, but as yet had developed no theory of persecution,

There is another singular circumstance. Christianity is advancing towards its perfect development, while mankind is degenerating into the darkest barbarism and ignorance. From the beginning of the fifth to the opening, at the earliest, of the twelfth century (notwithstanding the premature apparition of Charlemagne and of our own Alfred), is the age of the most total barrenness of the human mind, of the most unbroken slumber of human thought, of the utmost cruelty, and, must we not add, licentiousness of manners. This is obviously too large a subject to be entered upon at present. Yet there is not a poet, from Claudian to Dante, not a philosopher (shall we except the rationalizing Scotus Erigena ?) from Boetius (a low point of departure) to Anselm. Even in the Church itself how many great names of writers do we encounter from the close of the fourth century to St. Bernard ?

It is strange that the clergy, that bishops, that popes, cannot escape the growing ferocity, the all-enveloping ignorance of the times; and yet they are not only faithfully watching the trembling lamp of Christian faith, but they are adding to its lustre. Their wisdom is (as we are to suppose) steadily on the increase, while every other growth of the human mind is

[graphic]

dwindling down almost to utter extinction. Even Mr. Newman pauses; he will not carry out to the full close his pregnant theory of development. Even he will not avouch the works of the Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, quoted by Popes, and contributing to Medieval theology; (in how large a degree would be a curious question, which we commend to Dr. Maitland). Even he stops short of the false Decretals, that last and crowning development of a fatal principle-pious fraud, which makes the honest writer of ecclesiastical history tremble at every step he takes; and which tended in no inconsiderable degree to complete the majestic structure of the Papal power. Will Mr. Newman pursue his principle of the development of the supreme power into the direct assertion of universal temporal supremacy, as it was boldly advanced by Innocent III.? or, in his next • Essay on Miracles,' will he develop his faith into a vindication of a certain narrative of miracles in the works of Gregory the Great, from which some writers have vainly attempted to rescue the infallibility of that good and holy pontiff? Is there nothing of superstition which has been avouched by full ecclesiastical authority ? no exaggerated hierarchical pretension advanced with papal sanction ? Will he subscribe implicitly to all? Every canon ‘and every decree, every word which, after due deliberation, has been uttered by Infallibility, is of equal authority. We cannot elude one iota of the whole unrepealed decretals, without incurring the anathema which is ever their appalling close; each is as much an eternal Christian verity, as a sentence in the Sermon on the Mount, or those uttered by St. Paul at Athens, or written by St. John at Ephesus.

Our author proceeds to adduce, and to apply to the whole course of Christian history, until he has built up the full and stately fabric of his Mediæval Christianity, seven tests of fidelity of development. These are, I. The preservation of Idea. II. Continuity of Principle. III. The power of Assimilation. IV. Early Anticipation. V. Logical Sequence. VI. Preservative Additions. VII. Chronic Continuance.

I. The first of these tests, then, is the Preservation of Idea, that is, of the essential idea of Christianity. Here at least we shall meet on some ground of mutual understanding.

Of all writers we have least sympathy with those who suppose Christianity to have been in a state of suspended animation at least, if not of utter extinction, from the fourth century to the Reformation; to have given place to a religion little better than Paganism or new Polytheism, an un-Christian idolatry; in other words, that for nearly ten out of its eighteen centuries Christianity was without Christ. But the preservation of the essential idea of Christianity, that is of Christianity itself, in all its sublimity and purity, is one thing ; its escaping all corruption, degeneracy, or obscuration, is a very different one.

If, in its long struggle with the world, Christianity did not escape worldly influences; if foreign principles seem to work into its very life—its rites to assimilate themselves to those of older religions—even its language to be impregnated with terms borrowed from other forms of belief; if from the Eastern philosophy it mainly received its monasticism; if from the rhetorical and philosophic schools of Greece, its rage for disputation; still may we aver, with unhesitating confidence, that the great vital doctrines of Christianity asserted and maintained their immortality. They leavened and quickened the accumulating mass of strange and gradually developed error. However hardened by barbarous ferocity, however overclouded by barbarous ignorance, Christianity still lived on.

The lamp of truth, which was handed down from

age age,

burned not continually with the same clear, soft, and holy light, but it never went out. Men never forgot the great secret of immortality, if not first revealed, first assured by Christ; the throne of the One Universal Father, though at more and more undiscoverable, impenetrable distance, was felt to be above them. Christ and his Cross, though crowded upon by other intercessors, who sometimes almost usurped his place, still, in theory at least, stood high and superior. Baptism received the neophyte into the Church; the Eucharist, though at length materialized into

to

transubstantiation, and separated into two parts, joined the believers in holy communion with the Redeemer. The terrors of hell, the hopes of heaven (with all the intermediate realm of Purgatory which they had spread out), were wielded by the clergy with unwarranted, arbitrary, and capricious poweryet never relaxed their hold on the moral nature of man. Human responsibility, though tampered with by indulgences, taught to rest on dead ceremonial observances, on endless repetitions of prayers not understood, on all the wild Antinomianism under which a life of crime and cruelty was cancelled by a pilgrimage to some shrine, an offering at some altar, or some much easier act of homage to a tutelary saint, still lurked in the depths of the soul, to reawaken at God's good time to the higher morality of more enlightened, more truly faithful, though perhaps less ceremonial days.

We go further; we believe the errors of the Mediæval Church to have been her strength. Monasticism, the exorbitant power of the clergy, Polytheism itself by its adaptation to the spirit of the succeeding ages, contributed to preserve, to disseminate the unperishing truths of Christianity. To the Church, to the Papacy itself, mankind owes an immense debt of gratitude; only not to be repaid at the sacrifice of a purer, a more rational Christianity, which alone can maintain Christian authority in our own later times. We glance but rapidly on this subject which would require more than a volume, or rather a complete ecclesiastical history, to elucidate with justice and with candour. We too are Mediavalists; we too can admire all the wonderful creations of that period, its cathedrals, its paintings, its sculptures, its music, its philosophers, and its poets. We too can stand in devout awe under the roof of Cologne, or before the towers of Strasburg; we can gaze on the cartoons, on the Madonnas of Raffaelle, with as untiring reverence. We too can appreciate the subtlety of an Anselm, the wonderful reason of an Aquinas; we can thrill over our Dante with as deep emotion as the most fervent believer in Rome's infallibility.

our

We turned, then, with no common solicitude to discover Mr. Newman's conception of the Essential Ideal of Christianity. Here, at length, we shall have a guide through this subtle labyrinth; we shall know what Christianity was when it emerged fresh from the hands of its divine Creator :-at least it will appear in the Church of the first three centuries. To

utter disappointment we sought in vain. Nowhere throughout this work appears the true primitive idea, as far as it may be collected by impartial examination from the few written records, the symbols or genuine monuments of the time; but instead of this the false idea, entertained of it, or supposed by Mr. Newman to have been entertained of it, by the heathen. This, we must plainly speak, seems to us a controversial artifice unworthy of Mr. Newman. We read :

There is a religious communion claiming a divine commission, and calling all other religious bodies around it heretical or infidel; it is a well-organized, well-disciplined body; it is a sort of secret society, binding together its members by influences and by engagements which it is difficult for strangers to ascertain. It is spread over the known world; it may be weak or insignificant locally, but it is strong on the whole from its continuity ; it is smaller than other religious bodies together, but larger than each separately. It is a natural enemy to governments external to itself; it is intolerant and engrossing, and tends to a new modelling of society; it breaks laws, it divides families. It is a gross superstition; it is charged with the foulest crimes; it is despised by the intellect of the day; it is frightful to the imagination of the many. And there is but one communion such.

Place this description before Pliny or Julian; place it before Frederick the Second or Guizot. 'Apparent diræ facies.' Each knows at once, without asking a question, who is meant by it. One object, and only one, absorbs each item of the detail in delineation.-Pp. 204, 205.

We find it difficult to suppress some indignation at this coupling together of the infidel Frederick and the nobleminded Christian M. Guizot. To M. Guizot, beyond all living writers, the Church, the Medieval Church, owes a deep debt of gratitude for his generous appreciation of her real services to civilization and to mankind and that announced in times

« PreviousContinue »