The Old Roman World
by John Lord
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like Madame de Stael, becomes beautiful and impressive. But in the pulpit, when the sacred orator is moving a congregation with the fears and hopes of another world, there is a majesty in his beauty which is nowhere else so fully seen. There is no eloquence like that of the pulpit, when the preacher is gifted and in earnest. Greece had her Pericles and Demosthenes, and Rome her Hortensius and Cicero. Many other great orators we could mention. But when Greece and Rome had an intellectual existence such as that to which our modern times furnish no parallel, in our absorbing pursuit of pleasure and gain, and amid the wealth of mechanical inventions, there were, even in those classic lands, but few orators whose names have descended to our times; while, in the church, in a degenerated period, when literature and science were nearly extinct, there were a greater number of Christian orators than what classic antiquity furnished. Yea, in those dark and miserable ages which succeeded the fall of the Roman empire, there were in every land remarkable pulpit orators, like those who fanned the Crusades. There was no eloquence in the Middle Ages outside the church. Bernard exercised a far greater moral power than Cicero in the fullness of his fame. And in our modern times, what orators have arisen like those whom the Reformation produced, both in the Roman Catholic church, and among the numerous sects which protested against her? What orator has Germany given birth to equal in fame to Luther? What orator in France has reached the celebrity of Bossuet, or Bourdaloue, or Massillon? Even amid all the excitements attending the change of government, who have had power on the people like a Lacordaire or Monod? In England, the great orators have been preachers, with a very few exceptions; and these men would have been still greater in the arts of public speaking had they been trained in the church. In our day, we have seen great orators in secular life, but they yield in fascination either to those who are accustomed to speak from the sacred desk, or to those whose training has been clerical, like many of our popular lecturers. Nothing ever opened such an arena of eloquence as the preaching of the Gospel, either in the ancient, the mediaeval, or the modern world, not merely from the grandeur and importance of the themes discussed, but also from the number of the speakers. In a legislative assembly, where all are supposed to be able to address an audience, and some are expected to be eloquent, only two or three can be heard in a day. Only some twenty or thirty able speeches are delivered in Congress or Parliament in a whole session; but in England, or the United States, some thirty thousand preachers are speaking at the same time, many of whom are far more gifted, learned, and brilliant than any found in the great councils of the nation. Nor is this eloquence confined to the Protestant church; it exists also in the Roman Catholic in every land. There are no more earnest and inspiring orators than in Italy or France. Even in rude and unlettered and remote districts, we often hear specimens of eloquence which would be wonderful in capitals. What chance has the bar, in a large city, compared with the pulpit, for the display of eloquence? Probably there are more eloquent addresses delivered every Sunday from the various pulpits of Christendom than were pronounced by all the orators of Greece during the whole period of her political existence. Doubtless there are more touching and effective appeals made to the popular heart every Sunday in every Christian land, than are made during the whole year beside on subjects essentially secular. Then what an impulse has pulpit oratory given to objects of a strictly philanthropic character! The church has been the nurse and mother of all schemes of benevolence since it was organized. It is itself a great philanthropic institution, binding up the wounds of the prisoner, relieving the distressed, and stimulating great enterprises. For all of this the pulpit has been called upon, and has lent its aid; so that the world has been more indebted to the eloquence of divines than to any other source. Who can calculate the moral force of one hundred and fifty thousand to two hundred thousand Christian preachers in a world like ours, most of whom are arrayed on the side of morality and learning. It may be said that these benefits may more properly be considered to flow from Christianity as revealed in the Bible; that the Bible is the cause of all this great impulse to civilization. We do not object to such an interpretation; nevertheless, in specifying the influence of the church, even before the empire fell, the creation of pulpit eloquence should be mentioned, since this has contributed so much to the moral elevation of Christendom. Christianity would be shorn of half her triumphs were it not for the public preaching of her truths. Paganism had no public teachers who regularly taught the people and stimulated their noblest energies. It was a new institution, these Sabbath-day exercises, and has had an inconceivable influence on the progress and condition of the race. The power of the Gospel was indeed the main and primary cause; but the church must have the credit of appropriating what was most prized in the intellectual centres of antiquity, and giving to it a new direction. Christian oratory is also an interesting subject to present in merely its artistical relations. Its vast influence no one can question.

Again, who can estimate the debt which civilization, in its largest and most comprehensive sense, owes to the fathers of the early church, in the elaboration of Christian doctrine. They found the heathen world enslaved by a certain class of most degrading notions of God, of deity, of goodness, of the future, of rewards and punishments. Indeed, its opinions were wrong and demoralizing in almost every point pertaining to the spiritual relations of man. They met the wants of their times by seizing on the great radical principles of Christianity, which most directly opposed these demoralizing ideas, and by giving them the prominence which was needed. Moreover, in the church itself, opinions were from time to time broached, so intimately allied with pagan philosophies and oriental theogonies, that the faith of Christians was in danger of being subverted. The Scriptures were indeed recognized to contain all that is essential in Christian truth to know; but they still allowed great latitude of belief, and contradictory creeds were drawn from the same great authority. If the Bible was to be the salvation of man, or the great thesaurus of religious truth, it was necessary to systematize and generalize its great doctrines, both to oppose dangerous heathen customs and heretical opinions in the church itself. And more even than this, to set forth a standard of faith for all the ages which were to come; not an arbitrary system of dogmas, but those which the Scriptures most directly and emphatically recognized. Christian life had been set forth by the martyrs in the various forms of teaching, in the worship of God, in the exercise of those virtues and graces which Christ had enjoined, in benevolence, in charity, in faith, in prayer, in patience, in the different relations of social life, in the sacraments, in the fasts and festivals, in the occupations which might be profitably and honorably carried on. But Christianity influenced thought and knowledge as well as external relations. It did not declare a rigid system of doctrines when first promulgated. This was to be developed when the necessity required it. For two centuries there were but few creeds, and these very simple and comprehensive. Speculation had not then entered the ranks, nor the pagan spirit of philosophy. There was great unity of belief, and this centered around Christ as the Redeemer and Saviour of the world. But, in process of time, Christianity was forced to contend with Judaism, with Orientalism, and with Greek speculation, as these entered into the church itself, and were more or less embraced by its members. With downright Paganism there was a constant battle; but in this battle all ranks of Christians were united together. They were not distracted by any controversies whether idolatry should be or should not be tolerated. But when Gnostic principles were embraced by good men, those which, for instance, entered into monastic or ascetic life, it was necessary that some great genius should arise and expose their oriental origin, and lay down the Christian law definitely on that point. So when Manichaeism, and Arianism, and other heretical opinions, were defended and embraced by the Christians themselves, the fathers who took the side of orthodoxy in the great controversies which arose, rendered important services to all subsequent generations, since never, probably, were those subtle questions pertaining to the Trinity, and the human nature of Christ, and predestination, and other kindred topics, discussed with so much acumen and breadth. They occupied the thoughts of the whole age, and emperors entered into the debates on theological questions with an interest exceeding that of the worldly matters which claimed their peculiar attention. It is not easy for Christians of this age, when all the great doctrines of faith are settled, to appreciate the prodigious excitement which their discussion called forth in the times of Athanasius and Augustine. The whole intellect of the age was devoted to theological inquiries. Everybody talked about them, and they were the common theme on all public occasions. If discussions of subjects which once had such universal fascination can never return again, if they are passed like Olympic games, or the discussions of Athenian schools of philosophy, or the sports of the Colosseum, or the oracles of Dodona, or the bulls of mediaeval popes, or the contests of the tournament, or the "field of the cloth of gold," they still have a historical charm, and point to the great stepping-stones of human progress. If they are really grand and important ideas, which they claimed to be, they will continue to move the most distant generations. If they are merely dialectical deductions, they are among the profoundest efforts of reason in the Christian schools of philosophy.

We cannot, of course, enter into the controversies through which the church elaborated the system of doctrines now generally received, nor describe those great men who gave such dignity to theological inquiries. Clement was raised up to combat the Gnostics, Athanasius to head off the alarming spread of Arianism, and Augustine to proclaim the efficacy of divine grace against the Pelagians. The treatises of these men and of other great lights on the Trinity, on the incarnation, and on original sin, had as great an influence on the thinking of the age and of succeeding ages, as the speculations of Plato, or the syllogisms of Thomas Aquinas, or the theories of Kepler, or the expositions of Bacon, or the deductions of Newton, or the dissertations of Burke, or the severe irony of Pascal. They did not create revolutions, since they did not labor to overturn, but they stimulated the human faculties, and conserved the most valued knowledge. Their definite opinions became the standard of faith among the eastern Christians, and were handed down to the Germanic barbarians. They were adopted by the Catholic church, and preserved unity of belief in ages of turbulence and superstition. One of the great recognized causes of modern civilization was the establishment of universities. In these the great questions which the fathers started and elaborated were discussed with renewed acumen. Had there been no Origen, or Tertullian, or Augustine, there would have been no Anselm, or Abelard, or Erigena. The speculations and inquiries of the Alexandrian divines controlled the thinking of Europe for one thousand years, and gave that intensely theological character to the literature of the Middle Ages, directing the genius of Dante as well as that of Bernard. Their influence on Calvin was as marked as on Bossuet. Pagan philosophy had no charm like the great verities of the Christian faith. Augustine and Athanasius threw Plato and Aristotle into the shade. Nothing more preeminently marked the great divines whom the Reformation produced, than the discussion of the questions which the fathers had systematized and taught. Nor was the interest confined to divines. Louis XIV. discussed free will and predestination with Racine and Fenelon, even as the courtiers of Louis XV. discussed probabilities and mental reservations. And in New England, at Puritan firesides, the passing stranger in the olden times, when religion was a life, entered into theological discussions with as much zest as he now would describe the fluctuations of stocks or passing vanities of crinoline and hair dyes. Nor is it one of the best signs of this material age that the interest in the great questions which tasked the intellects of our fathers is passing away. But there is a mighty permanence in great ideas, and the time, we trust, will come again when indestructible certitudes will receive more attention than either politics or fashions.

The influence of the fathers is equally seen in the music and poetry which have come down from their times. The church succeeded to an inheritance of religious lyrics unrivaled in the history of literature. The Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis were sung from the earliest Christian ages. The streets of the eastern cities echoed to the seductive strains of Arius and Chrysostom. Flavian and Diodorus introduced at Antioch the antiphonal chant, which, improved by Ambrose, and still more by Gregory, became the joy of blessed saints in those turbulent ages, when singing in the choir was the amusement as well as the duty of a large portion of religious people. So numerous were the hymns of Ambrose, Hilary, Augustine, and others, that they became the popular literature of centuries, and still form the most beautiful part of the service of the Catholic church. Who can estimate the influence of hymns which have been sung for fifty successive generations? What a charm is still attached to the mediaeval chants! The poetry of the early church is preserved in those sacred anthems. They inspired the barbarians with enthusiasm, even as they had kindled the rapture of earlier Christians in the church of Milan. The lyrical poets are immortal, and exert a wide-spread influence. The fervent stanzas of Watts, of Steele, of Wesley, of Heber, are sung from generation to generation. The hymns of Luther are among the most valued of his various works. "From Greenland's icy mountains"—that sacred lyric—shall live as long as the "Elegy in a Country Church-yard," or the "Cotter's Saturday Night," yea, shall survive the "Night Thoughts," and the "Course of Time." There is nothing in Grecian or Roman poetry that fills the place of the psalmody of the early church. The songs of Ambrose were his richest legacy to triumphant barbarians, consoling the monk in his dreary cell and the peasant on his vine-clad hills, speaking the sentiment of a universal creed, and consecrating the most tender recollections. So that Christian literature, in its varied aspects, its exegesis, its sermons, its creeds, and its psalmody, if not equal in artistic merit to the classical productions of antiquity, have had an immeasurable influence on human thought and life, not in the Roman world merely, but in all subsequent ages.

But the great truths which the fathers proclaimed in reference to the moral and social relations of society are still more remarkable in their subsequent influence.

The great idea of Christian equality struck at the root of that great system of slavery which was one of the main causes of the ruin of the empire. Christianity did not break up slavery; it might never have annihilated it under a Roman rule, but it protested against it so soon as it was clothed with secular power. As in the sight of heaven there is no distinction of persons, so the idea of social equality gained ground as the relations of Christianity to practical life were understood. The abolition of slavery, and the general amelioration of the other social evils of life, are all a logical sequence from the doctrine of Christian equality,—that God made of one blood all the nations of the earth, that they are equally precious in his sight, and have equal claims to the happiness of heaven. All theories of human rights radiate from, and centre around, this consoling doctrine. That we are born free and equal may not, practically, be strictly true; but that the relations of society ought to be viewed as they are regarded in the Scriptures, which reveal the dignity of the soul and its glorious destinies, cannot be questioned; so that oppression of man by man, and injustice, and unequal laws militate with one of the great fundamental revelations of God. Impress Christian equality on the mind of man, and social equality follows as a matter of course. The slave was recognized to be a man, a person, and not a thing. Whenever he sat down, as he did once a week, beside his master, in the adoration of a common Lord, the ignominy of his hard condition was removed, even if his obligations to obedience were not abrogated. As a future citizen of heaven, his importance on the earth was more and more recognized, until his fetters were gradually removed.

From the day when Christian equality was declared, the foundations of slavery were assailed, and the progress of freedom has kept pace with Christian civilization, although the Apostles did not directly denounce the bondage that disgraced the ancient world. It was something to declare the principles which, logically carried out, would ultimately subvert the evil, for no evil can stand forever which is in opposition to logical deductions from the truths of Christianity. Moral philosophy is as much a series of logical deductions from the doctrine of loving our neighbor as ourself as that great network of theological systems which Augustine and Calvin elaborated from the majesty and sovereignty of God. Those distinctions which Christ removed by his Gospel of universal brotherhood can never return or coexist with the progress of the truth. A vast social revolution began when the eternal destinies of the slave were announced. It will not end with the mere annihilation of slavery as an institution; it will affect the relations of the poor and the rich, the unlucky and the prosperous, in every Christian country until justice and love become dominant principles. What a stride from Roman slavery to mediaeval serfdom! How benignant the attitude of the church, in all ages, to the poor man! The son of a peasant becomes a priest, and rises, in the Christian hierarchy, to become a ruler of the world. There was no way for a poor peasant boy to rise in the Middle Ages, except in the church. He attracts the notice of some beneficent monk; he is educated in the cloister; he becomes a venerated brother, an abbot, perhaps a bishop or a pope. Had he remained in service to a feudal lord, he never could have risen above his original rank. The church raises him from slavery, and puts upon his brow her seal and in his hands the thunderbolts of spiritual power, thus giving him dignity and consideration and independence. Rising, as the clergy did in the Middle Ages, in all ages, from the lower and middle classes, they became as much opposed to slavery as they were to war. It was thus in the bosom of the church that liberty was sheltered and nourished. Nor has the church ever forgotten her mission to the poor, or sympathized, as a whole, with the usurpations of kings. She may have aimed at dominion, like Hildebrand and Innocent III., but it was spiritual domination, control of the mind of the world. But she ever sympathized with oppressed classes, like Becket, even as he defied the temporal weapons of Henry II. The Jesuits, even, respected the dignity of the poor. Their errors were trust in machinery and unbounded ambition, but they labored in their best ages for the good of the people. And in our times, the most consistent and uncompromising foes of despotism and slavery are in the ranks of the church. The clergy have been made, it is true, occasionally, the tools of despotism, and have been absurdly conservative of their own privileges, but on the whole, have ever lifted up their voices in defense of those who are ground down.

The elevation of woman, too, has been caused by the doctrine of the equality of the sexes which Christianity revealed; not "woman's rights" as interpreted by infidels; not the ignoring of woman's destiny of subservience to man, as declared in the Garden of Eden and by St. Paul, but her glorious nature which fits her for the companionship of man. Heathendom reduces her to slavery, dependence, and vanity. Christianity elevates her by developing her social and moral excellences, her more delicate nature, her elevation of soul, her sympathy with sorrow, her tender and gracious aid. The elevation of woman did not come from the natural traits of Germanic barbarians, but from Christianity. Chivalry owes its bewitching graces to the influence of Christian ideas. Clemency and magnanimity, gentleness and sympathy, did not spring from German forests, but the teachings of the clergy. Veneration for woman was the work of the church, not of pagan civilization or Teutonic simplicity. The equality of the sexes was acknowledged by Jerome when he devoted himself to the education of Roman matrons, and received from the hand of Paula the means of support while he, labored in his cell at Bethlehem. How much more influential was Fabiola or Marcella than Aspasia or Phryne! It was woman who converted barbaric kings, and reigned, not by personal charms, like Eastern beauties, but by the solid virtues of the heart. Woman never occupied so proud a position in an ancient palace as in a feudal castle. When Paula visited the East, she was welcomed by Christian bishops, and the proconsul of Palestine surrendered his own palace for her reception, not because she was high in rank, but because her virtues had gone forth to all the world; and when she died, a great number of the most noted people followed her body to the grave with sighs and sobs. The sufferings of the female martyrs are the most pathetic exhibitions of moral greatness in the history of the early church. And in the Middle Ages, whatever is most truly glorious or beautiful can be traced to the agency of woman. Is a town to be spared for a revolt, or a grievous tax remitted, it is a Godiva who intercedes and prevails. Is an imperious priest to be opposed, it is an Ethelgiva who alone dares to confront him even in the king's palace. It is Ethelburga, not Ina, who reigns among the Saxons—not because the king is weak, but his wife is wiser than he. A mere peasant-girl, inspired with the sentiment of patriotism, delivers a whole nation, dejected and disheartened, for such was Joan of Arc. Bertha, the slighted wife of Henry, crosses the Alps in the dead of winter, with her excommunicated lord, to remove the curse which deprived him of the allegiance of his subjects. Anne, Countess of Warwick, dresses herself like a cook-maid to elude the visits of a royal duke, and Ebba, abbess of Coldingham, cuts off her nose, to render herself unattractive to the soldiers who ravage her lands. Philippa, the wife of the great Edward, intercedes for the inhabitants of Calais, and the town is spared.

The feudal woman gained respect and veneration because she had the moral qualities which Christianity developed. If she entered with eagerness into the pleasures of the chase or the honor of the banquet, if she listened with enthusiasm to the minstrel's lay and the crusader's tale, her real glory was her purity of character and unsullied fame. In ancient Rome men were driven to the circus and the theatre for amusement and for solace, but among the Teutonic races, when converted to Christianity, rough warriors associated with woman without seductive pleasures to disarm her. It was not riches, nor elegance of manners, nor luxurious habits, nor exemption from stern and laborious duties which gave fascination to the Christian woman of the Middle Ages. It was her sympathy, her fidelity, her courage, her simplicity, her virtues, her noble self-respect, which made her a helpmeet and a guide. She was always found to intercede for the unfortunate, and willing to endure suffering. She bound up the wounds of prisoners, and never turned the hungry from her door. And then how lofty and beautiful her religious life. History points with pride to the religious transports and spiritual elevation of Catharine of Sienna, of Margaret of Anjou, of Gertrude of Saxony, of Theresa of Spain, of Elizabeth of Hungary, of Isabel of France, of Edith of England. How consecrated were the labors of woman amid feudal strife and violence. Whence could have arisen such a general worship of the Virgin Mary had not her beatific loveliness been reflected in the lives of the women whom Christianity had elevated? In the French language she was worshiped under the feudal title of Notre Dame, and chivalrous devotion to the female sex culminated in the reverence which belongs to the Queen of Heaven. And hence the qualities ascribed to her, of Virgo Fidelis, Mater Castissima, Consolatrix Afflictorum, were those to which all lofty women were exhorted to aspire. The elevation of woman kept pace with the extension of Christianity. Veneration for her did not arise until she showed the virtues of a Monica and a Nonna, but these virtues were the fruit of Christian ideas alone.

We might mention other ideas which have entered into our modern institutions, such as pertain to education, philanthropy, and missionary zeal. The idea of the church itself, of an esoteric band of Christians amid the temptations of the world, bound together by rules of discipline as well as communion of soul, is full of grandeur and beauty. And the unity of this church is a sublime conception, on which the whole spiritual power of the popes rested when they attempted to rule in peace and on the principles of eternal love. However perverted the idea of the unity of the church became in the Middle Ages, still who can deny that it was the mission of the church to create a spiritual power based on the hopes and fears of a future life? The idea of a theocracy forms a prominent part of the polity of Calvin, as of Hildebrand himself. It is the basis of his legislation. He maintained it was long concealed in the bosom of the primitive church, and was gradually unfolded, though in a corrupt form, by the popes, the worthiest of whom kept the idea of a divine government continually in view, and pursued it with a clear knowledge of its consequences. And those familiar with the lofty schemes of Leo and Gregory, will appreciate their efforts in raising up a power which should be supreme in barbarous ages, and preserve what was most to be valued of the old civilization. The autocrat of Geneva clung to the necessity of a spiritual religion, and aimed to realize that which the Middle Ages sought, and sought in vain, that the church must always remain the mother of spiritual principles, while the state should be the arm by which those principles should be enforced. Like Hildebrand, he would, if possible, have hurled the terrible weapon of excommunication. In cutting men off from the fold, he would also have cut them off from the higher privileges of society. He may have carried his views too far, but they were founded on the idea of a church against which the gates of hell could not prevail. Who can estimate the immeasurable influence of such an idea, which, however perverted, will ever be recognized as one of the great agencies of the world? A church without a spiritual power, is inconceivable; nor can it pass away, even before the material tendencies of a proud and rationalistic civilization. It will assert its dignity when thrones and principalities shall crumble in the dust.

Such are among the chief ideas which the fathers taught, and which have entered even into the modern institutions of society, and form the peculiar glory of our civilization. When we remember this, we feel that the church has performed no mean mission, even if it did not save the Roman empire. The glory of warriors, of statesmen, of artists, of philosophers, of legislators, and of men of science and literature in the ancient world, still shines, and no one would dim it, or hide it from the admiration of mankind. But the purer effulgence of the great lights of the church eclipses it all, and will shine brighter and brighter, until the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head. This is the true sun which shall dissipate the shadows of superstition and ignorance that cover so great a portion of the earth, and this shall bring society into a healthful glow of unity and love.

* * * * *

In another volume I shall present, more in detail, the labors of the Christian Fathers in founding the new civilization which still reigns among the nations. And in the creation which succeeded destruction we shall be additionally impressed with the wisdom and beneficence of the Great First Cause, through whose providences our fallen race is led to the new Eden, where truth and justice and love reign in perpetual beauty and glory.


[Transcriber's Note: The spellings "panygeric," "beauitful," and "sytematically" occurred as such on lines 2285, 2473, and 10763, respectively, and were corrected.]

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