1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Church History
CHURCH HISTORY. The sketch given below of the evolution of the Christian Church (see Church) may well be prefaced by a summary of the history of the great Church historians, concerning whom fuller details are given in separate articles. Hegesippus wrote in the 2nd century a collection of memoirs containing accounts of the early days ofChurch historians. the church, only fragments of which are extant. The first real church history was written by Eusebius of Caesarea in the early part of the 4th century. His work was continued in the 5th century by Philostorgius, Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret, and in later centuries by Theodorus Lector, Evagrius, Theophanes and others. In the 14th century Nicephorus Callisti undertook a complete church history which covers in its extant form the first six centuries. In the West Eusebius’ History was translated into Latin by Rufinus, and continued down to the end of the 4th century. Augustine’s City of God, published in 426, was an apologetic, not an historical work, but it had great influence in our field, for in it he undertook to answer the common heathen accusation that the growing misfortunes of the empire were due to the prevalence of Christianity and the forsaking of the gods of Rome. It was to sustain Augustine’s thesis that Orosius produced in 417 his Historiarum libri septem, which remained the standard text-book on world history during the middle ages. About the same time Sulpicius Severus wrote his Historia Sacra, covering both biblical and Christian history. In the 6th century Cassiodorus had a translation made of the histories of Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret, which were woven into one continuous narrative and brought down to 518. The work was known as the Historia Ecclesiastica Tripartita, and constituted during the middle ages the principal text-book of church history in the West. Before writing his history Eusebius produced a world chronicle which was based upon a similar work by Julius Africanus and is now extant only in part. It was continued by Jerome, and became the basis of the model for many similar works of the 5th and following centuries by Prosper, Idatius, Marcellinus Comes, Victor Tununensis and others. Local histories containing more or less ecclesiastical material were written in the 6th and following centuries by Jordanes (History of the Goths), Gregory of Tours (History of the Franks), Isidore of Seville (History of the Goths, Vandals and Suevi), Bede (Ecclesiastical History of England), Paulus Diaconus (History of the Lombards), and others. Of the many historians of the middle ages, besides the authors of biographies, chronicles, cloister annals, &c., may be mentioned Haymo, Anastasius, Adam of Bremen, Ordericus Vitalis, Honorius of Autun, Otto of Freising, Vincent of Beauvais and Antoninus of Florence.
The Protestant reformation resulted in a new development of historical writing. Polemic interest led a number of Lutheran scholars of the 16th century to publish the Magdeburg Centuries (1559 ff.), in which they undertook to show the primitive character of the Protestant faith in contrast with the alleged corruptions of Roman Catholicism. In this design they were followed by many other writers. The opposite thesis was maintained by Baronius (Annales Ecclesiastici, 1588 ff.), whose work was continued by a number of Roman Catholic scholars. Other notable Roman Catholic historians of the 17th and 18th centuries were Natalis Alexander, Bossuet, Tillemont, Fleury, Dupin and Ceillier.
Church history began to be written in a genuinely scientific spirit only in the 18th century under the leadership of Mosheim, who is commonly called the father of modern church history. With wide learning and keen critical insight he wrote a number of historical works of which the most important is his Institutiones Hist. Eccles. (1755; best English trans. by Murdock). He was followed by many disciples, among them Schroeckh (Christliche Kirchengeschichte, 1772 ff. in 45 vols.). Other notable names of the 18th century are Semler, Spittler, Henke and Planck.
The new historical spirit of the 19th century did much for church history. Among the greatest works produced were those of J. C. L. Gieseler (Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte, 1824 ff., best Eng. tr. revised and edited by H. B. Smith), exceedingly objective in character and still valuable, particularly on account of its copious citations from the sources; Neander (Allgemeine Geschichte der christlichen Religion und Kirche, 1825 ff., Eng. tr. by Torrey), who wrote in a sympathetic spirit and with special stress upon the religious side of the subject, and has been followed by many disciples, for instance, Hagenbach, Schaff and Herzog; and Baur (Das Christenthum und die christliche Kirche, 1853 ff.), the most brilliant of all, whose many historical works were dominated by the principles of the Hegelian philosophy and evinced both the merits and defects of that school. Baur has had tremendous influence, even though many of his positions have been generally discredited. The problems particularly of the primitive history were first brought into clear light by him, and all subsequent work upon the subject must acknowledge its indebtedness to him.
A new era was opened by the publication in 1857 of the second edition of Ritschl’s Entstehung der altkatholischen Kirche, in which he broke away from the Tubingen school and introduced new points of view that have revolutionized the interpretation of the early church. Of recent works the most important are the Kirchengeschichte of Carl Müller (1892 ff.) and that of W. Möller (1889 ff., second edition by von Schuberth, 1898 ff., greatly enlarged and improved), the translation of the latter (1892 ff.) being the most useful text-book in English. Of modern Roman Catholic works may be mentioned those by J. A. Möhler, T. B. Alzog, F. X. Kraus, Cardinal Joseph von Hergenröther and C. J. von Hefele (edited by Knöpfler.)
In addition to these general works on church history should be named the histories of doctrine by Harnack, Loofs, Seeberg and Fisher; and on the early Church the works on the apostolic age by Weizsäcker (1886, English translation 1894), McGiffert (1897), and Bartlet (1899); Renan’s Histoire des origines du christianisme (1867 ff., in 7 vols., translated in part); Pfleiderer’s Urchristenthum (1887); S. Cheetham’s History of the Christian Church during the first Six Centuries (1894); Wernle’s Anfänge unserer Religion (1901; Eng. tr. 1902 ff.); Rainy’s Ancient Catholic Church (1902); Knopf’s Nachapostolisches Zeitalter (1905); Duchesne’s Histoire ancienne de l’Église (vol. i., 1906). (A. C. McG.)
In the following account of the historical evolution of the Church, the subject will be treated in three sections:—(A) The ancient Church to the beginning of the pontificate of Gregory the Great (A.D. 590); (B) The Church in the middle ages; (C) The modern History of the Christian Church.Church.
A. The Ancient Church
1. Origin and Growth.—The crucifixion of Jesus Christ resulted in the scattering of his followers, but within a short time they became convinced that he had risen from the dead, and would soon return to set up the expected Messianic kingdom, and so to accomplish the true work of the Messiah (cf. Acts i. 6 ff.). They were thus enabled to retain the belief in his Messiahship which his death had threatened to destroy permanently. This belief laid upon them the responsibility of bringing as many of their countrymen as possible to recognize him as Messiah, and to prepare themselves by repentance and righteousness for the coming kingdom (cf. Acts ii. 21, 38, iii. 19 sq.). It was with the sense of this responsibility that they gathered again in Jerusalem, the political and religious metropolis of Judaism. In Jerusalem the new movement had its centre, and the church established there is rightly known as the mother church of Christendom. The life of the early Jewish disciples, so far as we are able to judge from our meagre sources, was very much the same as that of their fellows. They continued faithful to the established synagogue and temple worship (cf. Acts iii. 1), and did not think of founding a new sect, or of separating from the household of Israel (cf. Acts x. 14, xv. 5, xxi. 21 sq.). There is no evidence that their religious or ethical ideals differed in any marked degree from those of the more serious-minded among their countrymen, for the emphasis which they laid upon the need of righteousness was not at all uncommon. In their belief, however, in the Messiahship of Jesus, and their consequent assurance of the speedy establishment by him of the Messianic kingdom, they stood alone. The first need of the hour, therefore, was to show that Jesus was the promised Messiah in spite of his crucifixion, a need that was met chiefly by testimony to the resurrection, which became the burden of the message of the early disciples to their fellow-countrymen (cf. Acts ii. 24 ff., iii. 15 ff., v. 31). It was this need which led also to the development of Messianic prophecy and the ultimate interpretation of the Jewish Bible as a Christian book (see Bible). The second need of the hour was to bring the nation to repentance and righteousness in order that the kingdom might come (cf. Acts iii. 19). The specific gospel of Jesus, the gospel of divine fatherhood and human brotherhood, received no attention in the earliest days, so far as our sources enable us to judge.
Meanwhile the new movement spread quite naturally beyond the confines of Palestine and found adherents among the Jews of the dispersion, and at an early day among the Gentiles as well. Many of the latter had already come under the influence of Judaism, and were more or less completely in sympathy with Jewish religious principles. Among the Christians who did most to spread the gospel in the Gentile world was the apostle Paul, whose conversion was the greatest event in the history of the early Church. In his hands Christianity became a new religion, fitted to meet the needs of all the world, and freed entirely of the local and national meaning which had hitherto attached to it. According to the early disciples Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and had significance only in relation to the expected Messianic kingdom. To establish that kingdom was his one great aim. For the Gentiles he had no message except as they might become members of the family of Israel, assuming the responsibilities and enjoying the privileges of proselytes. But Paul saw in Jesus much more than the Jewish Messiah. He saw in Christ the divine Spirit, who had come down from heaven to transform the lives of men, all of whom are sinners. Thus Jesus had the same significance for one man as for another, and Christianity was meant as much for Gentiles as for Jews. The kingdom of which the early disciples were talking was interpreted by Paul as righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom. xiv. 17), a new principle of living, not a Jewish state. But Paul taught also, on the basis of a religious experience and of a distinct theory of redemption (see McGiffert’s Apostolic Age, ch. iii.), that the Christian is freed from the obligation to observe the Jewish law. He thus did away with the fundamental distinction between Jews and Gentiles. The transformed spiritual life of the believer expresses itself not in the observance of the Jewish law, but in love, purity and peace. This precipitated a very serious conflict, of which we learn something from the Epistle to the Galatians and the Book of Acts (xv. and xxii.). Other fundamental principles of Paul’s failed of comprehension and acceptance, but the belief finally prevailed that the observance of Jewish law and custom was unnecessary, and that in the Christian Church there is no distinction between the circumcised and the uncircumcised. Those Jewish Christians who refused to go with the rest of the Church in this matter lived their separate life, and were regarded as an heretical sect known as the Ebionites.
It was Christianity in its universal form which won its great victories, and finally became permanently established in the Roman world. The appeal which it made to that world was many-sided. It was a time of moral reformation, when men were awaking to the need of better and purer living. To all who felt this need Christianity offered high moral ideals, and a tremendous moral enthusiasm, in its devotion to a beloved leader, in its emphasis upon the ethical possibilities of the meanest, and in its faith in a future life of blessedness for the righteous. It was a time of great religious interest, when old cults were being revived and new ones were finding acceptance on all sides. Christianity, with its one God, and its promise of redemption and a blessed immortality based upon divine revelation, met as no other contemporary faith did the awakening religious needs. It was a time also of great social unrest. With its principle of Christian brotherhood, its emphasis upon the equality of all believers in the sight of God, and its preaching of a new social order to be set up at the return of Christ, it appealed strongly to multitudes, particularly of the poorer classes. That it won a permanent success, and finally took possession of the Roman world, was due to its combination of appeals. No one thing about it commended it to all, and to no one thing alone did it owe its victory, but to the fact that it met a greater variety of needs and met them more satisfactorily than any other movement of the age. Contributing also to the growth of the Church was the zeal of its converts, the great majority of whom regarded themselves as missionaries and did what they could to extend the new faith. Christianity was essentially a proselytizing religion, not content to appeal simply to one class or race of people, and to be one among many faiths, but believing in the falsity or insufficiency of all others and eager to convert the whole world. Moreover, the feeling of unity which bound Christians everywhere together and made of them one compact whole, and which found expression before many generations had passed in a strong organization, did much for the spread of the Church. Identifying himself with the Christian circle from the 2nd century on, a man became a member of a society existing in all quarters of the empire, every part conscious of its oneness with the larger whole and all compactly organized to do the common work. The growth of the Church during the earlier centuries was chiefly in the middle and lower classes, but it was not solely there. No large number of the aristocracy were reached, but in learned and philosophical circles many were won, attracted both by Christianity’s evident ethical power and by its philosophical character (cf. the Apologists of the 2nd century). That it could seem at once a simple way of living for the common man and a profound philosophy of the universe for the speculative thinker meant much for its success.
But it did not win its victory without a struggle. Superstition, misunderstanding and hatred caused the Christians trouble for many generations, and governmental repression they had to suffer occasionally, as a result of popular disturbances. No systematic effort was made by the imperial authorities to put an end to the movement until the reign of Decius (250–251), whose policy of suppression was followed by Diocletian (303 ff.) and continued for some years after his abdication. In spite of all opposition the Church steadily grew, until in 311 the emperor Galerius upon his death-bed granted toleration (see Eusebius H.E. x.4, and Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum, 34), and in 313 the emperors Constantine and Licinius published the edict of Milan, proclaiming the principle of complete religious liberty, and making Christianity a legal religion in the full sense (see Eusebius x. 5, and Lactantius 48. Seeck, Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, xii. 381 sq., has attempted to show that the edict of Milan had no significance, but without success).
Constantine, recognizing the growing strength of the Church and wishing to enlist the loyal support of the Christians, treated them with increasing favour, and finally was baptized upon his death-bed (337). Under his successors, except during the brief reign of Julian (361–363), when the effort was made to reinstate paganism in its former place of supremacy, the Church received growing support, until, under Theodosius the Great (379–395), orthodox Christianity, which stood upon the platform adopted at Nicaea in 325, was finally established as the sole official religion of the state, and heathen worship was put under the ban. The union between Church and State thus constituted continued unbroken in the East throughout the middle ages. The division of the Empire resulted finally in the division of the Church, which was practically complete by the end of the 6th century, but was made official and final only in 1054, and the Eastern and Western halves, the Greek Catholic and the Roman Catholic Churches, went each its separate way. (See Theodosian Code, book 16, for the various imperial edicts relating to the Church, and for fuller particulars touching the relation between Church and Empire see the articles Constantine; Gratian; Theodosius; Justinian.)
For a long time after the establishment of Christianity as the state religion, paganism continued strong, especially in the country districts, and in some parts of the world had more adherents than Christianity, but at length the latter became, at any rate nominally, the faith of the whole Roman world. Meanwhile already before the beginning of the 3rd century it went beyond the confines of the Empire in Asia, and by the end of our period was strong in Armenia, Persia, Arabia and even farther east. It reached the barbarians on the northern and western borders at an early day, and the Goths were already Christians of the Arian type before the great migrations of the 4th century began. Other barbarians became Christian, some in their own homes beyond the confines of the Empire, some within the Empire itself, so that when the hegemony of the West passed from the Romans to the barbarians the Church lived on. Thenceforth for centuries it was not only the chief religious, but also the chief civilizing, force at work in the Occident. Losing with the dissolution of the Western Empire its position as the state church, it became itself a new empire, the heir of the glory and dignity of Rome, and the greatest influence making for the peace and unity of the western world.
2. The Christian Life.—The most notable thing about the life of the early Christians was their vivid sense of being a people of God, called and set apart. The Christian Church in their thought was a divine, not a human, institution. It was founded and controlled by God, and even the world was created for its sake (cf. the Shepherd of Hermas, Vis. ii. 4, and 2 Clement 14). This conception, which came over from Judaism, controlled all the life of the early Christians both individual and social. They regarded themselves as separate from the rest of the world and bound together by peculiar ties. Their citizenship was in heaven, not on earth (cf. Phil. iii. 20, and the epistle to Diognetus, c. 5), and the principles and laws by which they strove to govern themselves were from above. The present world was but temporary, and their true life was in the future. Christ was soon to return, and the employments and labours and pleasures of this age were of small concern. Some went so far as to give up their accustomed vocations, and with such Paul had to expostulate in his epistles to the Thessalonians. A more or less ascetic mode of life was also natural under the circumstances. Not necessarily that the present world was evil, but that it was temporary and of small worth, and that a Christian’s heart should be set on higher things. The belief that the Church was a supernatural institution found expression in the Jewish notion of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It was believed among the Jews that the Messianic age would be the age of the Spirit in a marked degree, and this belief passed over into the Christian Church and controlled its thought and life for some generations. The Holy Spirit was supposed to be manifest in various striking ways, in prophecy, speaking with tongues and miracle working. In this idea Paul also shared, but he carried the matter farther than most of his contemporaries and saw in the Spirit the abiding power and ground of the Christian life. Not simply in extraordinary phenomena, but also in the everyday life of Christians, the Holy Spirit was present, and all the Christian graces were the fruits (cf. Gal. v. 22). A result of this belief was to give their lives a peculiarly enthusiastic or inspirational character. Theirs were not the everyday experiences of ordinary men, but of men lifted out of themselves and transported into a higher sphere. With the passing of time the early enthusiasm waned, the expectation of the immediate return of Christ was widely given up, the conviction of the Spirit’s presence became less vivid, and the conflict with heresy in the 2nd century led to the substitution of official control for the original freedom (see below). The late 2nd century movement known as Montanism was in essence a revolt against this growing secularization of the Church, but the movement failed, and the development against which it protested was only hastened. The Church as an institution now looked forward to a long life upon earth and adjusted itself to the new situation, taking on largely the forms and customs of the world in which it lived. This did not mean that the Church ceased to regard itself as a supernatural institution, but only that its supernatural character was shown in a different way. A Christian was still dependent upon divine aid for salvation, and his life was still supernatural at least in theory. Indeed, the early conviction of the essential difference between the life of this world and that of the next lived on, and, as the Church became increasingly a world-institution, found vent in monasticism, which was simply the effort to put into more consistent practice the other-worldly life, and to make more thoroughgoing work of the saving of one’s soul. Contributing to the same result was the emphasis upon the necessity of personal purity or holiness, which Paul’s contrast between flesh and spirit had promoted, and which early took the supreme place given by Christ to love and service. The growing difficulty of realizing the ascetic ideal in the midst of the world, and within the world-church, inevitably drove multitudes of those who took their religion seriously to retire from society and to seek salvation and the higher life, either in solitude, or in company with kindred spirits.
There were Christian monks as early as the 3rd century, and before the end of the 4th monasticism (q.v.) was an established institution both in East and West. The monks and nuns were looked upon as the most consistent Christians, and were honoured accordingly. Those who did not adopt the monastic life endeavoured on a lower plane and in a less perfect way to realize the common ideal, and by means of penance to atone for the deficiencies in their performance. The existence of monasticism made it possible at once to hold up a high moral standard before the world and to permit the ordinary Christian to be content with something lower. With the growth of clerical sacerdotalism the higher standard was demanded also of the clergy, and the principle came to be generally recognized that they should live the monastic life so far as was consistent with their active duties in the world. The chief manifestation of this was clerical celibacy, which had become widespread already in the 4th century. Among the laity, on the other hand, the ideal of holiness found realization in the observance of the ordinary principles of morality recognized by the world at large, in attendance upon the means of grace provided by the Church, in fasting at stated intervals, in eschewing various popular employments and amusements, and in almsgiving and prayer. Christ’s principle of love was widely interpreted to mean chiefly love for the Christian brotherhood, and within that circle the virtues of hospitality, charity and helpfulness were widely exercised; and if the salvation of his own soul was regarded as the most important affair of every man, the service of the brethren was recognized as an imperative Christian duty. The fulfilling of that duty was one of the most beautiful features of the life of the early Church, and it did perhaps more than anything else to make the Christian circle attractive.
3. Worship.—The primitive belief in the immediate presence of the Spirit affected the religious services of the Church. They were regarded in early days as occasions for the free exercise of spiritual gifts. As a consequence the completest liberty was accorded to all Christians to take such part as they chose, it being assumed that they did so only under the Spirit’s prompting. But the result of this freedom was confusion and discord, as is indicated by Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (see chapters xi., xiv.). This led to the erection of safeguards, which should prevent the continuance of the unseemly conditions (on Paul’s action in the matter, see McGiffert’s Apostolic Age, p. 523). Particular Christians were designated to take charge of the services, and orders of worship were framed out of which grew ultimately elaborate liturgies (see Liturgy). The Lord’s Supper first took on a more stereotyped character, and prayers to be used in connexion with it are found already in the Didachē (chapters ix. and x.). The development cannot here be traced in detail. It may simply be said that the general tendency was on the one hand toward the elaboration and growing magnificence of the services, especially after the Church had become a state institution and had taken the place of the older pagan cults, and on the other hand toward the increasing solemnity and mystery of certain parts, particularly the eucharist, the sacred character of which was such as to make it sacrilegious to admit to it the unholy, that is, outsiders or Christians under discipline (cf. Didachē, ix.). It was, in fact, from the Lord’s table that offending disciples were first excluded. Out of this grew up in the 3rd or 4th century what is known as the arcani disciplina, or secret discipline of the Church, involving the concealment from the uninitiated and unholy of the more sacred parts of the Christian cult, such as baptism and the eucharist, with their various accompaniments, including the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. The same interest led to the division of the services into two general parts, which became known ultimately as the missa catechumenorum and the missa fidelium,—that is, the more public service of prayer, praise and preaching open to all, including the catechumens or candidates for Church membership, and the private service for the administration of the eucharist, open only to full members of the Church in good and regular standing. Meanwhile, as the general service tended to grow more elaborate, the missa fidelium tended to take on the character of the current Greek mysteries (see Eucharist; Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, 1890; Anrich, Das antike Mysterienwesen in seinem Einfluss auf das Christentum, 1894; Wobbermin, Religionsgeschichtliche Studien zur Frage der Beeinflussung des Urchristentums durch das antike Mysterienwesen, 1896). Many of the terms in common use in them were employed in connexion with the Christian rites, and many of the conceptions, particularly that of sharing in immortality by communion with deity, became an essential part of Christian doctrine. Thus the early idea of the services, as occasions for mutual edification through the interchange of spiritual gifts, gave way in course of time to the theory that they consisted of sacred and mysterious rites by means of which communion with God is promoted. The emphasis accordingly came to be laid increasingly upon the formal side of worship, and a value was given to the ceremonies as such, and their proper and correct performance by duly qualified persons, i.e. ordained priests, was made the all-important thing.
4. The Church and the Sacraments.—According to Paul, man is flesh and so subject to death. Only as he becomes a spiritual being through mystical union with Christ can he escape death and enjoy eternal life in the spiritual realm. In the Epistle to the Ephesians the Christian Church is spoken of as the body of Christ (iv. 12 ff., v. 30); and Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, early in the 2nd century, combined the two ideas of union with Christ, as the necessary condition of salvation, and of the Church as the body of Christ, teaching that no one could be saved unless he were a member of the Church (cf. his Epistle to the Ephesians 4, 5, 15; Trall. 7; Phil. 3, 8; Smyr. 8; Magn. 2, 7). Traces of the same idea are found in Irenaeus (cf. Adv. Haer. iii. 24, 1, iv. 26, 2), but it is first clearly set forth by Cyprian, and receives from him its classical expression in the famous sentence “Salus extra ecclesiam non est” (Ep. 73, 21; cf. also Ep. 4, 4; 74, 7; and De unitate ecclesiae, 6: “habere non potest Deum patrem qui ecclesiam non habet matrem”). The Church thus became the sole ark of salvation, outside of which no one could be saved.
Intimately connected with the idea of the Church as an ark of salvation are the sacraments or means of grace. Already as early as the 2nd century the rite of baptism had come to be thought of as the sacrament of regeneration, by means of which a new divine nature is born within a man (cf. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. i. 21, 1, iii. 17, 1; and his newly discovered Demonstration of the Apostolic Teaching, chap. 3), and the eucharist as the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, feeding upon which one is endowed with immortality (cf. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. iv. 18, 5, v. 2, 2). In the early days the Church was thought of as a community of saints, all of whose members were holy, and as a consequence discipline was strict, and offenders excluded from the Church were commonly not readmitted to membership but left to the mercy of God. The idea thus became general that baptism, which had been almost from the beginning the rite of entrance into the Church, and which was regarded as securing the forgiveness of all pre-baptismal sins, should be given but once to any individual. Meanwhile, however, discipline grew less strict (cf. the Shepherd of Hermas, Vis. v. 3; M. iv. 7; Sim. viii. 6, ix. 19, 26, &c.); until finally, under the influence of the idea of the Church as the sole ark of salvation, it became the custom to readmit all penitent offenders on condition that they did adequate penance. Thus there grew up the sacrament of penance, which secured for those already baptized the forgiveness of post-baptismal sins. This sacrament, unlike baptism, might be continually repeated (see Penance). In connexion with the sacraments grew up also the theory of clerical sacerdotalism. Ignatius had denied the validity of a eucharist administered independently of the bishop, and the principle finally established itself that the sacraments, with an exception in cases of emergency in favour of baptism, could be performed only by men regularly ordained and so endowed with the requisite divine grace for their due administration (cf. Tertullian, De Exhort. cast. 7; De Bapt. 7, 17; De Praescriptione Haer. 41; and Cyprian, Ep. 67. For the later influence of the Donatist controversy upon the sacramental development see Donatists). Thus the clergy as distinguished from the laity became true priests, and the latter were made wholly dependent upon the former for sacramental grace, without which there is ordinarily no salvation (see Order, Holy).
5. Christian Doctrine.—Two tendencies appeared in the thought of the primitive Church, the one to regard Christianity as a law given by God for the government of men’s lives, with the promise of a blessed immortality as a reward for its observance; the other to view it as a means by which the corrupt and mortal nature of man is transformed, so that he becomes a spiritual and holy being. The latter tendency appeared first in Paul, afterwards in the Gospel and First Epistle of John, in Ignatius of Antioch and in the Gnostics. The former found expression in most of our New Testament writings, in all of the apostolic fathers except Ignatius, and in the Apologists of the 2nd century. The two tendencies were not always mutually exclusive, but the one or the other was predominant in every case. Towards the end of the 2nd century they were combined by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons. To him salvation bears a double aspect, involving both release from the control of the devil and the transformation of man’s nature by the indwelling of the Divine. Only he is saved who on the one hand is forgiven at baptism and so released from the power of Satan, and then goes on to live in obedience to the divine law; and on the other hand receives in baptism the germ of a new spiritual nature and is progressively transformed by feeding upon the body and blood of the divine Christ in the eucharist. This double conception of salvation and of the means thereto was handed down to the Church of subsequent generations and became fundamental in its thought. Christianity is at once a revealed law which a man must keep, and by keeping which he earns salvation, and a supernatural power whereby his nature is transformed and the divine quality of immortality imparted to it. From both points of view Christianity is a supernatural system without which salvation is impossible, and in the Christian Church it is preserved and mediated to the world.
The twofold conception referred to had its influence also upon thought about Christ. The effect of the legal view of Christianity was to make Christ an agent of God in the revelation of the divine will and truth, and so a subordinate being between God and the world, the Logos of current Greek thought. The effect of the mystical conception was to identify Christ with God in order that by his incarnation the divine nature might be brought into union with humanity and the latter be transformed. In this case too a combination was effected, the idea of Christ as the incarnation of the Logos or Son of God being retained and yet his deity being preserved by the assertion of the deity of the Logos. The recognition of Christ as the incarnation of the Logos was practically universal before the close of the 3rd century, but his deity was still widely denied, and the Arian controversy which distracted the Church of the 4th century concerned the latter question. At the council of Nicaea in 325 the deity of Christ received official sanction and was given formulation in the original Nicene Creed. Controversy continued for some time, but finally the Nicene decision was recognized both in East and West as the only orthodox faith. The deity of the Son was believed to carry with it that of the Spirit, who was associated with Father and Son in the baptismal formula and in the current symbols, and so the victory of the Nicene Christology meant the recognition of the doctrine of the Trinity as a part of the orthodox faith (see especially the writings of the Cappadocian fathers of the late 4th century, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil and Gregory Nazianzen).
The assertion of the deity of the Son incarnate in Christ raised another problem which constituted the subject of dispute in the Christological controversies of the 4th and following centuries. What is the relation of the divine and human natures in Christ? At the council of Chalcedon in 451 it was declared that in the person of Christ are united two complete natures, divine and human, which retain after the union all their properties unchanged. This was supplemented at the third council of Constantinople in 680 by the statement that each of the natures contains a will, so that Christ possesses two wills. The Western Church accepted the decisions of Nicaea, Chalcedon and Constantinople, and so the doctrines of the Trinity and of the two natures in Christ were handed down as orthodox dogma in West as well as East.
Meanwhile in the Western Church the subject of sin and grace, and the relation of divine and human activity in salvation, received especial attention; and finally, at the second council of Orange in 529, after both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism had been repudiated, a moderate form of Augustinianism was adopted, involving the theory that every man as a result of the fall is in such a condition that he can take no steps in the direction of salvation until he has been renewed by the divine grace given in baptism, and that he cannot continue in the good thus begun except by the constant assistance of that grace, which is mediated only by the Catholic Church. This decision was confirmed by Pope Boniface II., and became the accepted doctrine in the Western Church of the middle ages. In the East, Augustine’s predestinationism had little influence, but East and West were one in their belief that human nature had been corrupted by the fall, and that salvation therefore is possible only to one who has received divine grace through the sacraments. Agreeing as they did in this fundamental theory, all differences were of minor concern.
In general it may be said that the traditional theology of the Church took its material from various sources—Hebrew, Christian, Oriental, Greek and Roman. The forms in which it found expression were principally those of Greek philosophy on the one hand and of Roman law on the other (see Christianity).
6. Organization.—The origin and early development of ecclesiastical organization are involved in obscurity. Owing to the once prevalent desire of the adherents of one or another polity to find support in primitive precept or practice, the question has assumed a prominence out of proportion to its real importance, and the few and scattered references in early Christian writings have been made the basis for various elaborate theories.
In the earliest days the Church was regarded as a divine institution, ruled not by men but by the Holy Spirit. At the same time it was believed that the Spirit imparted different gifts to different believers, and each gift fitted its recipient for the performance of some service, being intended not for his own good but for the good of his brethren (cf. 1 Cor. xii.; Eph. iv. 11). The chief of these was the gift of teaching, that is, of understanding and interpreting to others the will and truth of God. Those who were endowed more largely than their fellows with this gift were commonly known as apostles, prophets and teachers (cf. Acts xiii. 1; 1 Cor. xii. 28; Eph. ii. 20, iii. 5, iv. 11; Didachē, xi.). The apostles were travelling missionaries or evangelists. There were many of them in the primitive Church, and only gradually did the term come to be applied exclusively to the twelve and Paul. There is no sign that the apostles, whether the twelve or others, held any official position in the Church. That they had a large measure of authority of course goes without saying, but it depended always upon their brethren’s recognition of their possession of the divine gift of apostleship, and the right of Churches or individuals to test their claims and to refuse to listen to them if they did not vindicate their divine call was everywhere recognized. Witness, for instance, Paul’s reference to false apostles in 2 Cor. xi. 13, and his efforts to establish his own apostolic character to the satisfaction of the Corinthians and Galatians (1 Cor. ix. 1 ff.; 2 Cor. x. 13; Gal. i. 8 ff.); witness the reference in Rev. ii. 2 to the fact that the Church at Ephesus had tried certain men who claimed to be apostles and had found them false, and also the directions given in the Didachē for testing the character of those who travelled about as apostles. The passage in the Didachē is especially significant: “Concerning the apostles and prophets, so do ye according to the ordinance of the gospel. Let every apostle when he cometh to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not abide more than a single day, or if there be need a second likewise. But if he abide three days he is a false prophet. And when the apostle departeth let him receive nothing save bread until he findeth shelter. But if he ask money he is a false prophet” (ch. xi.). It is clear that a man who is to be treated in this way by the congregation is not an official ruler over it.
Between the apostles, prophets and teachers no hard-and-fast lines can be drawn. The apostles were commonly missionary prophets, called permanently or temporarily to the special work of evangelization (cf. Acts xiii. 1; Did. xi.), while the teachers seem to have been distinguished both from apostles and prophets by the fact that their spiritual endowment was less strikingly supernatural. The indefiniteness of the boundaries between the three classes, and the free interchange of names, show how far they were from being definite offices or orders within the Church. Apostleship, prophecy and teaching were only functions, whose frequent or regular exercise by one or another, under the inspiration of the Spirit, led his brethern to call him an apostle, prophet or teacher.
But at an early day we find regular officers in this and that local Church, and early in the 2nd century the three permanent offices of bishop, presbyter and deacon existed at any rate in Asia Minor (cf. the Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch). Their rise was due principally to the necessity of administering the charities of the Church, putting an end to disorder and confusion in the religious services, and disciplining offenders. It was naturally to the apostles, prophets and teachers, its most spiritual men, that the Church looked first for direction and control in all these matters. But such men were not always at hand, or sometimes they were absorbed in other duties. Thus the need of substitutes began to be felt here and there, and as a consequence regular offices within the local Churches gradually made their appearance, sometimes simply recognized as charged with responsibilities which they had already voluntarily assumed (cf. 1. Cor. xvi. 15), sometimes appointed by an apostle or prophet or other specially inspired man (cf. Acts xiv. 23; Titus i. 5; 1 Clement 44), sometimes formally chosen by the congregation itself (cf. Acts vi., Did. xi.). These men naturally acquired more and more as time passed the control and leadership of the Church in all its activities, and out of what was in the beginning more or less informal and temporary grew fixed and permanent offices, the incumbents of which were recognized as having a right to rule over the Church, a right which once given could not lawfully be taken away unless they were unfaithful to their trust. Not continued endowment by the Spirit, but the possession of an ecclesiastical office now became the basis of authority. The earliest expression of this genuinely official principle is found in Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians, ch. xliv. Upon these officers devolved ultimately not only the disciplinary, financial and liturgical duties referred to, but also the still higher function of instructing their fellow-Christians in God’s will and truth, and so they became the substitutes of the apostles, prophets and teachers in all respects (cf. 1 Tim. iii. 2, v. 17; Titus i. 9; Did. 15; 1 Clement 44; Justin’s first Apology, 67).
Whether in the earliest days there was a single officer at the head of a congregation, or a plurality of officers of equal authority, it is impossible to say with assurance. The few references which we have look in the latter direction (cf., for instance, Acts vi.; Phil. i. 1; 1 Clement 42, 44; Did. 14), but we are not justified in asserting that they represent the universal custom. The earliest distinct evidence of the organization of Churches under a single head is found in the Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch, which date from the latter part of the reign of Trajan (c. 116). Ignatius bears witness to the presence in various Churches of Asia Minor of a single bishop in control, with whom are associated as his subordinates a number of elders and deacons. This form of organization ultimately became universal, and already before the end of the 2nd century it was established in all the parts of Christendom with which we are acquainted, though in Egypt it seems to have been the exception rather than the rule, and even as late as the middle of the 3rd century many churches there were governed by a plurality of officers instead of by a single head (see Harnack, Mission und Ausbreitung des Christenthums, pp. 337 seq.). Where there were one bishop and a number of presbyters and deacons in a church, the presbyters constituted the bishop’s council, and the deacons his assistants in the management of the finances and charities and in the conduct of the services. (Upon the minor orders which arose in the 3rd and following centuries, and became ultimately a training school for the higher clergy, see Harnack, Texte und Untersuchungen, ii. 5; English translation under the title of Sources of the Apostolic Canons, 1895.)
Meanwhile the rise and rapid spread of Gnosticism produced a great crisis in the Church of the 2nd century, and profoundly affected the ecclesiastical organization. The views of the Gnostics, and of Marcion as well, seemed to the majority of Christians destructive of the gospel, and it was widely felt that they were too dangerous to be tolerated. The original dependence upon the Spirit for light and guidance was inadequate. The men in question claimed to be Christians and to enjoy divine illumination as truly as anybody, and so other safeguards appeared necessary. It was in the effort to find such safeguards that steps were taken which finally resulted in the institution known as the Catholic Church. The first of these steps was the recognition of the teaching of the apostles (that is, of the twelve and Paul) as the exclusive standard of Christian truth. This found expression in the formulation of an apostolic scripture canon, our New Testament, and of an apostolic rule of faith, of which the old Roman symbol, the original of our present Apostles’ Creed, is one of the earliest examples. Over against the claims of the Gnostics that they had apostolic authority, either oral or written, for their preaching, were set these two standards, by which alone the apostolic character of any doctrine was to be tested (cf. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. i. 10, iii. 3, 4; and Tertullian, De Prescriptione Haer. passim). But these standards proved inadequate to the emergency, for it was possible, especially by the use of the allegorical method, to interpret them in more than one way, and their apostolic origin and authority were not everywhere admitted. In view of this difficulty, it was claimed that the apostles had appointed the bishops as their successors, and that the latter were in possession of special divine grace enabling them to transmit and to interpret without error the teaching of the apostles committed to them. This is the famous theory known as “apostolic succession.” The idea of the apostolic appointment of church officers is as old as Clement of Rome (see 1 Clement 44), but the use of the theory to guarantee the apostolic character of episcopal teaching was due to the exigencies of the Gnostic conflict. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. iii. 3 ff., iv. 26, iv. 33, v. 20), Tertullian (De prescriptione, 32), and Hippolytus (Philosophumena, bk. i., preface) are our earliest witnesses to it, and Cyprian sets it forth clearly in his epistles (e.g. Ep. 33, 43, 59, 66, 69). The Church was thus in possession not only of authoritative apostolic doctrine, but also of a permanent apostolic office, to which alone belonged the right to determine what that doctrine is. The combination of this idea with that of clerical sacerdotalism completed the Catholic theory of the Church and the clergy. Saving grace is recognized as apostolic grace, and the bishops as successors of the apostles become its sole transmitters. Bishops are therefore necessary to the very being of the Church, which without them is without the saving grace for the giving of which the Church exists (cf. Cyprian, Ep. 33, “ecclesia super episcopos constituitur”; 66, “ecclesia in episcopo”; also Ep. 59, and De unitate eccles. 17).
These bishops were originally not diocesan but congregational, that is, each church, however small, had its own bishop. This is the organization testified to by Ignatius, and Cyprian’s insistence upon the bishop as necessary to the very existence of the Church seems to imply the same thing. Congregational episcopacy was the rule for a number of generations. But after the middle of the 3rd century diocesan episcopacy began to make its appearance here and there, and became common in the 4th century under the influence of the general tendency toward centralization, the increasing power of city bishops, and the growing dignity of the episcopate (cf. canon 6 of the council of Sardica, and canon 57 of the council of Laodicea; and see Harnack, Mission und Ausbreitung, pp. 319 seq.). This enlargement of the bishop’s parish and multiplication of the churches under his care led to a change in the functions of the presbyterate. So long as each church had its own bishop the presbyters constituted simply his council, but with the growth of diocesan episcopacy it became the custom to put each congregation under the care of a particular presbyter, who performed within it most of the pastoral duties formerly discharged by the bishop himself. The presbyters, however, were not independent officers. They were only representatives of the bishop, and the churches over which they were set were all a part of his parish, so that the Cyprianic principle, that the bishop is necessary to the very being of the Church, held good of diocesan as well as of congregational episcopacy. The bishop alone possessed the right to ordain; through him alone could be derived the requisite clerical grace; and so the clergy like the laity were completely dependent upon him.
The growth of the diocesan principle promoted the unity of the churches gathered under a common head. But unity was carried much further than this, and finally resulted in at least a nominal consolidation of all the churches of Christendom into one whole. The belief in the unity of the entire Church had existed from the beginning. Though made up of widely scattered congregations, it was thought of as one body of Christ, one people of God. This ideal unity found expression in many ways. Intercommunication between the various Christian communities was very active. Christians upon a journey were always sure of a warm welcome and hospitable entertainment from their fellow-disciples. Messengers and letters were sent freely from one church to another. Missionaries and evangelists went continually from place to place. Documents of various kinds, including gospels and apostolic epistles, circulated widely. Thus in various ways the feeling of unity found expression, and the development of widely separated parts of Christendom conformed more or less closely to a common type. It was due to agencies such as these that the scattered churches did not go each its own way and become ultimately separate and diverse institutions. But this general unity became official, and expressed itself in organization, only with the rise of the conciliar and metropolitan systems. Already before the end of the 2nd century local synods were held in Asia Minor to deal with Montanism, and in the 3rd century provincial synods became common, and by the council of Nicaea (canon 5) it was decreed that they should be held twice every year in every province. Larger synods representing the churches of a number of contiguous provinces also met frequently; for instance, in the early 4th century at Elvira, Ancyra, Neo-Caesarea and Arles, the last representing the entire Western world. Such gatherings were especially common during the great doctrinal controversies of the 4th century. In 325 the first general or ecumenical council, representing theoretically the entire Christian Church, was held at Nicaea. Other councils of the first period now recognized as ecumenical by the Church both East and West are Constantinople I. (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II. (553). All these were called by the emperor, and to their decisions he gave the force of law. Thus the character of the Church as a state institution voiced itself in them. (See Council.)
The theory referred to above, that the bishops are successors of the apostles, and as such the authoritative conservators and interpreters of apostolic truth, involves of course the solidarity of the episcopate, and the assumption that all bishops are in complete harmony and bear witness to the same body of doctrine. This assumption, however, was not always sustained by the facts. Serious disagreements even on important matters developed frequently. As a result the ecumenical council came into existence especially for the purpose of settling disputed questions of doctrine, and giving to the collective episcopate the opportunity to express its voice in a final and official way. At the council of Nicaea, and at the ecumenical councils which followed, the idea of an infallible episcopate giving authoritative and permanent utterance to apostolic and therefore divine truth, found clear expression, and has been handed down as a part of the faith of the Catholic Church both East and West. The infallibility of the episcopate guarantees the infallibility of a general council in which not the laity and not the clergy in general, but the bishops as successors of the apostles, speak officially and collectively.
Another organized expression of the unity of the Church was found in the metropolitan system, or the grouping of the churches of a province under a single head, who was usually the bishop of the capital city, and was known as the metropolitan bishop. The Church thus followed in its organization the political divisions of the Empire (cf. for instance canon 12of the council of Chalcedon, which forbids more than one metropolitan see in a province; also canon 17 of the same council: “And if any city has been or shall hereafter be newly erected by imperial authority, let the arrangement of ecclesiastical parishes follow the political and municipal forms”). These metropolitan bishops were common in the East before the end of the 3rd century, and the general existence of the organization was taken for granted by the council of Nicaea (see canons 4,6,7). In the West, on the other hand, the development was much slower.
Meanwhile the tendency which gave rise to the metropolitan system resulted in the grouping together of the churches of a number of contiguous provinces under the headship of the bishop of the most important city of the district, as, for instance, Antioch, Ephesus, Alexandria, Rome, Milan, Carthage, Arles. In canon 6 of the council of Nicaea the jurisdiction of the bishops of Alexandria, Rome and Antioch over a number of provinces is recognized. At the council of Constantinople (381) the bishop of Constantinople or New Rome was ranked next after the bishop of Rome (canon 3), and at the council of Chalcedon (451) he was given authority over the churches of the political dioceses of Pontus, Asia and Thrace (canon 28). To the bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria was added at the council of Chalcedon (session 7) the bishop of Jerusalem, the mother church of Christendom, and the bishops thus recognized as possessing supreme jurisdiction were finally known as patriarchs.
Meanwhile the Roman episcopate developed into the papacy, which claimed supremacy over the entire Christian Church, and actually exercised it increasingly in the West from the 5th century on. This development was forwarded by Augustine, who in his famous work De civitate Dei identified the Church with the kingdom of God, and claimed that it was supreme over all the nations of the earth, which make up the civitas terrena or earthly state. Augustine’s theory was ultimately accepted everywhere in the West, and thus the Church of the middle ages was regarded not only as the sole ark of salvation, but also as the ultimate authority, moral, intellectual and political. Upon this doctrine was built, not by Augustine himself but by others who came after him, the structure of the papacy, the bishop of Rome being finally recognized as the head under Christ of the civitas Dei, and so the supreme organ of divine authority on earth (see Papacy and Pope).
Historical Sources of the First Period.—These are of the same general character for Church history as for general history—on the one hand monumental, on the other hand documentary. Among the monuments are churches, catacombs, tombs and inscriptions of various kinds, few antedating the 3rd century, and none adding greatly to the knowledge gained from documentary sources (see De Rossi, Roma sotteranea, 1864 ff., and its English abridgment by Northcote and Brownlow, 1870; André Pératé, L’Archéologie chrétienne, 1892; W. Lowrie, Monuments of the Early Church, 1901, with good bibliography). The documents comprise imperial edicts, rescripts, &c., liturgies, acts of councils, decretals and letters of bishops, references in contemporary heathen writings, and above all the works of the Church Fathers. Written sources from the 1st and 2nd centuries are relatively few, comprising, in addition to some scattered allusions by outsiders, the New Testament, the Apostolic Fathers, the Greek Apologists, Clement of Alexandria, the old Catholic Fathers (Irenaeus, Tertullian and Hippolytus) and a few Gnostic fragments. For the 3rd, and especially the 4th and following centuries, the writers are much more numerous; for instance, in the East, Origen and his disciples, and later Eusebius of Caesarea, Athanasius, Apollinaris, Basil and the two Gregories, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Chrysostom, Ephraim the Syrian, Cyril of Alexandria, Pseudo-Dionysius; in the West, Novatian, Cyprian, Commodian, Arnobius, Lactantius, Hilary, Ambrose, Rufinus, Jerome, Augustine, Prosper, Leo the Great, Cassian, Vincent of Lerins, Faustus, Gennadius, Ennodius, Avitus, Caesarius, Fulgentius and many others.
There are many editions of the works of the Fathers in the original, the most convenient, in spite of its defects, being that of J. P. Migne (Patrologia Graeca, 166 vols., Paris, 1857 ff.; Patrologia Latina, 221 vols., 1844 ff.). Of modern critical editions, besides those containing the works of one or another individual, the best are the Berlin edition of the early Greek Fathers (Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderie, 1897 ff.), and the Vienna edition of the Latin Fathers (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, 1867 ff.), both of first-rate importance. There is a convenient English translation of most of the writings of the ante-Nicene Fathers by Roberts and Donaldson (Ante-Nicene Christian Library, 25 vols., Edinburgh, 1868 ff., American reprint in nine vols., 1886 ff.). A continuation of it, containing selected works of the Nicene and post-Nicene period, was edited by Schaff and others under the title A Select Library of Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers (series 1 and 2; 28 vols., Buffalo and New York, 1886 ff.).
On early Christian literature, in addition to the works on Church history, see especially the monumental Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius, by Harnack (1893 ff.). The brief Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten, by G. Krüger (1895, English translation 1897) is a very convenient summary. Bardenhewer’s Patrologie (1894) and his Geschichte der altkirchlichen Litteratur (1902 ff.) should also be mentioned. See also Smith and Wace’s invaluable Dictionary of Christian Biography (1877 ff.). (A. C. McG.)
B. The Christian Church in the Middle Ages
The ancient Church was the church of the Roman empire. It is true that from the 4th century onwards it expanded beyond the borders of that empire to east and west, north and south; but the infant churches which gradually arose in Persia and Abyssinia, among some of the scattered Teutonic races, and among the Celts of Ireland, were at first not co-operating factors in the development of Christendom: they received without giving in return. True historic life is only to be found within the church of the Empire.
The middle ages came into being at the time when the political structure of the world, based upon the conquests of Alexander the Great and the achievements of Julius Caesar, began to disintegrate. They were present when the believers in Mahomet held sway in the Asiatic and African provinces which Alexander had once brought under the intellectual influence of Hellenism; while the Lombards, the West Goths, the Franks and the Anglo-Saxons had established kingdoms in Italy, Spain, Gaul and Britain. The question is: what was the position of the Church in this great change of circumstances, and what form did the Church’s development take from this time onwards? In answering this question we must consider East and West separately; for their histories are no longer coincident, as they had been in the time of the Roman dominion.
I. The East. (a) The Orthodox Church.—Ancient and medieval times were not separated by so deep a gulf in the East as in the West; for in the East the Empire continued to exist, although within narrow limits, until towards the end of the middle ages. Constantinople only fell in 1453. Ecclesiastical Byzantinism is therefore not a product of the middle ages: it is the outcome of the development of the eastern half of the empire from the time of Constantine the Great. Under Justinian I. all its essential features were already formed: imperial power extended equally over State and Church; indeed, care for the preservation of dogma and for the purity of the priesthood was the chief duty of the ruler. To fulfil this duty was to serve the interests of both State and people; for thus “a fine harmony is established, and whatever good exists becomes the portion of the whole human race.” Since the emperor ruled the Church there was no longer any question of independence for the bishops, least of all for the patriarch in Constantinople; they were in every respect subordinate to the emperor.
The orthodoxy of the Eastern Church was also a result of the Church’s development after the time of Constantine. In the long strife over dogma the old belief of the Greeks in the value of knowledge had made itself felt, and this faith was not extinct in the Eastern Church. There is no doubt that in the beginning of the middle ages both general and theological education stood higher among the Greeks than in more western countries. In the West there were no learned men who could vie with Photius (ca. 820–891) in range of knowledge and variety of scientific attainment. But the strife over dogma came to an end with the 7th century. After the termination of the monothelite controversy (638–680), creed and doctrines were complete; it was only necessary to preserve them intact. Theology, therefore, now resolved itself into the collection and reproduction of the teaching of ancient authorities. The great dogmatist of the Eastern Church, John of Damascus (ca. 699–753), who stood on the threshold of the middle ages, formulated clearly and precisely his working principle: to put forward nothing of his own, but to present the truth according to the authority of the Bible and of the Fathers of the Church. Later teachers, Euthymius Zigadenus (d. circa 1120), Nicetas Choniates (d. circa 1200), and others, proceeded further on the same lines; Euthymius, in particular, often uses an excerpt instead of giving his own exposition.
This attitude towards dogma did not mean that it was less prized than during the period of strife. On the contrary, the sacred formulae were revered because they were believed to contain the determination of the highest truths: the knowledge of God and of the mystery of salvation. Yet it is intelligible that religious interest should have concerned itself more keenly with the mystic rites of divine worship than with dogma. Here was more than knowledge; here were representations of a mystic sensuousness, solemn rites, which brought the faithful into immediate contact with the Divine, and guaranteed to them the reception of heavenly powers. What could be of more importance than to be absorbed in this transcendental world? We may gauge the energy with which the Greek intellect turned in this direction if we call to mind that the controversy about dogma was replaced by the controversy about images. This raged in the Eastern Church for more than a century (726–843), and only sank to rest when the worship of images was unconditionally conceded. In this connexion the image was not looked upon merely as a symbol, but as the vehicle of the presence and power of that which it represented: in the image the invisible becomes operative in the visible world. Christ did not seem to be Christ unless he were visibly represented. What an ancient teacher had said with regard to the worship of Christ as the revelation of the Eternal Father—“Honours paid to the earthly representative are shared by the heavenly Archetype”—was now transferred to the painted image: it appeared as an analogy to the Incarnation. It was for this reason that the victory of image worship was celebrated by the introduction of the festival of the Orthodox Faith.
It is consistent with this circle of ideas that initiation into the profound mysteries of the liturgy was regarded, together with the preservation of dogma, as the most exalted function of theology. A beginning had been made, in the 5th century, by the neo-platonic Christian who addressed his contemporaries under the mask of Dionysius the Areopagite. He is the first of a series of theological mystics which continued through every century of the middle ages. Maximus Confessor, the heroic defender of Dyotheletism (d. 662), Symeon, the New Theologian (d. circa 1040), Nicolaus Cabasilas (d. 1371), and Symeon, like Nicholas, archbishop of Thessalonica (d. 1429), were the most conspicuous representatives of this Oriental mysticism. They left all the dogmas and institutions of the Church untouched; aspiring above and beyond these, their aim was religious experience.
It is this striving after religious experience that gives to the Oriental monachism of the middle ages its peculiar character. In the 5th and 6th centuries Egypt and Palestine had been the classic lands of monks and monasteries. But when, in consequence of the Arab invasion, the monasticism of those countries was cut off from intercourse with the rest of Christendom, it decayed. Constantinople and Mount Athos gained proportionately in importance during the middle ages. At Constantinople the monastery of Studium, founded about 460, attained to supreme influence during the controversy about images. On Mount Athos the first monastery was founded in the year 963, and in 1045 the number of monastic foundations had reached 180. In Greek monachism the old Hellenic ideal of the wise man who has no wants (αὐτάρκεια) was from the first fused with the Christian conception of unreserved self-surrender to God as the highest aim and the highest good. These ideas governed it in medieval times also, and in this way monastic life received a decided bent towards mysticism: the monks strove to realize the heavenly life even upon earth, their highest aim being the contemplation of God and of His ways. The teachings of Symeon “the New Theologian” on these matters lived on in the cloisters; it was taken up by the Hesychasts of the 14th century, and developed into a peculiar theory as to the perception of the Divine Light. In spite of all opposition their teaching was finally justified by the Eastern Church (sixth synod of Constantinople, 1351). And rightly so, for it was the old Greek piety minted afresh.
The Eastern Church, then, throughout the middle ages, remained true in every particular to her ancient character. It cannot be said that she developed as did the Western Church during this period, for she remained what she had been; but she freely developed her original characteristics, consistently, in every direction. This too is life, though of a different type from that of the West.
That there was life in the Eastern Church is also proved by the fact that the power of expansion was not denied her. Through her agency an important bulwark for the Christian faith was created in the new nations which had sprung into existence since the beginning of the middle ages: the Bulgarians, the Servians, and the multifarious peoples grouped under the name of Russians. There is a vast difference in national character between these young peoples and the successors of the Hellenes; and it is therefore all the more significant to find that both the Church and religious sentiment should in their case have fully preserved the Byzantine character. This proves once more the ancient capacity of the Greeks for the assimilation of foreign elements.
There was yet another outcome of this stubborn persistency of a peculiar type—the impossibility of continuing to share the life of the Western Church. Neither in the East nor in the West was a separation desired; but it was inevitable, since the lives of East and West were moving in different directions. It was the fall of Constantinople that first weakened the vital force of the Eastern Church. May we hope that the events of modern times are leading her towards a renaissance?
(b) The Nestorian and the Monophysite Churches.—Since the time when the church of eastern Syria had decided, in opposition to the church of the Empire, to cling to the ancient views of Syrian theologians—therefore also to the teaching and person of Nestorius—her relations were broken off with the church in western Syria and in Greek and Latin countries; but the power of Nestorian, or, as it was termed, Chaldaic Christianity, was not thereby diminished. Separated from the West, it directed its energies towards the East, and here its nearest neighbour was the Persian church. The latter followed, almost without opposition, the impulse received from Syria; from the rule of the patriarch Babacus (Syr. Bāb-hāi, 498–503) she may be considered definitely Nestorian. A certain number, too, of Arabic Christians, believers living on the west coast of India, the so-called Christians of St Thomas, and finally those belonging to places nearer the middle of Asia (Merv, Herat, Samarkand), remained in communion with the Nestorian church. Thus there survived in mid-Asia a widely-scattered remnant, which, although out of touch with the ancient usages of Christian civilization, yet in no way lacked higher culture. Nestorian philosophers and medical practitioners became the teachers of the great Arabian natural philosophers of the middle ages, and the latter obtained their knowledge of Greek learning from Syriac translations of the works of Greek thinkers.
Political conditions at the beginning of the middle ages favoured the Nestorian church, and the fact that the Arabs had conquered Syria, Palestine and Egypt, made it possible for her to exert an influence on the Christians in these countries. Of still more importance was the brisk commercial intercourse between central Asia and the countries of the Far East; for this led the Nestorians into China. The inscription of Si-ngan-fu (before 781) proves a surprisingly widespread extension of the Christian faith in that country. That it also possessed adherents in southern Siberia we gather from the inscriptions of Semiryetchensk, and in the beginning of the 11th century it found its way even into Mongolia. Nowhere were the nations Christian, but the Christian faith was everywhere accepted by a not insignificant minority. The foundation of the Mongolian empire in the beginning of the 13th century did not disturb the position of the Nestorian church; but the revival of the Mahommedan power, which was coincident with the downfall of the Mongolian empire, was pregnant with disaster for her. The greater part of Nestorian Christendom was now swallowed up by Islam, so that only remnants of this once extensive church have survived until modern times.
The middle ages were far more disastrous for the Monophysites than for the Nestorians; in their case there was no alternation of rise and decline, and we have only a long period of gradual exhaustion to chronicle. Egypt was the home of Monophysitism, whence it extended also into Syria. It was due to the great Jacob of Edessa (Jacob Baradaeus, d. 578) that it did not succumb to the persecution by the power of the Orthodox Empire, and out of gratitude to him the Monophysite Christians of Syria called themselves Jacobites. The Arab conquest (after 635) freed the Jacobite church entirely from the oppression of the Orthodox, and thereby assured its continuance. The church, however, never attained any greater development, but on the contrary continued to lose adherents from century to century. While Jacob of Edessa is said to have ordained some 100,000 priests and deacons for his fellow-believers, in the 16th century the Jacobites of Syria were estimated at only 50,000 families.
The Monophysite church of Egypt had a like fate. At the time of the separation of the churches the Greeks here had remained faithful to Orthodoxy, the Copts to Monophysitism. Here too the Arab conquest (641) put an end to the oppression of the native Christians by the Greek minority; but this did not afford the Coptic church any possibility of vigorous development. It succumbed to the ceaseless alternation of tolerance and persecution which characterized the Arab rule in Egypt, and the mass of the Coptic people became unfaithful to the Church. At the time of the conquest of the country by the Turks (1517) the Coptic church seems already to have fallen to the low condition in which the 19th century found it. Though at the time of the Arab conquest the Copts were reckoned at six millions, in 1820 the Coptic Christians numbered only about one hundred thousand, and it is improbable that their number can have been much greater at the close of the middle ages. Only in Abyssinia the daughter church of the Coptic church succeeded in keeping the whole people in the Christian faith. This fact, however, is the sole outcome of the history of a thousand years; a poor result, if measured by the standard of the rich history of the Western world, yet large enough not to exclude the hope of a new development.
II. The West. (a) The Early Middle Ages. The Catholic Church as influenced by the Foundation of the Teutonic States.—While the Eastern Church was stereotyping those peculiar characteristics which made her a thing apart, the Church of the West was brought face to face with the greatest revolution that Europe has ever experienced. At the end of the 6th century all the provinces of the Empire had become independent kingdoms, in which conquerors of Germanic race formed the dominant nationality. The remnants of the Empire showed an uncommonly tough vitality. It is true that the Teutonic states succeeded everywhere in establishing themselves; but only in England and in the erstwhile Roman Germany did the Roman nationality succumb to the Teutonic. In the other countries it not only maintained itself, but was able to assimilate the ruling German race; the Lombards, West Goths, Swabians, and even the Franks in the greater part of Gaul became Romanized. Consequently the position of the Christian Church was never seriously affected. This is the great fact which stands out at the beginning of the history of the Church in the middle ages. The continuity of the political history of Europe was violently interrupted by the Germanic invasion, but not that of the history of the Church. For, in view of the facts above stated, it was of small significance that in Britain Christianity was driven back into the western portion of the island still held by the Britons, and that in the countries of the Rhine and Danube a few bishoprics disappeared.
This was of the less importance, as the Church immediately made preparations to win back the lost territory. On the frontier line of ancient and medieval times stands the figure of Gregory I., the incarnation as it were of the change that was taking place: half Father of the Church, half medieval pope. He it was who sent the monk Augustine to England, in order to win over the Anglo-Saxons to the Christian faith. Augustine was not the first preacher of the Gospel at Canterbury. A Frankish bishop, Liudhard, had laboured there before his time; but the mission of Augustine and his ordination as a bishop were decisive in the conversion of the country and the establishment of the Anglo-Saxon church. On the continent an extension of the Frankish supremacy towards the east had already led to the advance of Christendom. Not only were the bishoprics in the towns of the Rhine country re-established, but as the Franks colonized the country on both sides of the Main, they carried the Christian faith into the very heart of Germany. Finally, the dependence of the Swabian and Bavarian peoples on the Frankish empire paved the way for Christianity in those provinces also. Celtic monks worked as missionaries in this part of the country side by side with Franks. In England it had not been possible to bring the old British and the young Anglo-Saxon churches into friendly union; but in spite of this the Celts did not abstain from working at the common tasks of Christendom, and the continent has much to thank them for. When the first century of the middle ages came to an end the Church had not only reoccupied the former territory of the Empire, she had already begun to overstep its limits.
In so doing she had remained as of old and had yet become new. Creed and dogma, above all, remained unchanged. The doctrinal decisions of the ancient Church remained the indestructible canon of belief, and what the theologians of the ancient Church had taught was reverenced as beyond improvement. The entire form of divine worship remained therefore unaltered. Even where the Latin tongue was not understood by the people, the Church preserved it in the Mass and in the administration of the sacraments, in her exorcisms and in her benedictions. Furthermore, the organization of ecclesiastical offices remained unchanged: the division of the Church into bishoprics and the grouping together of bishoprics into metropolitan dioceses. Finally, the property and the whole social status of the Church and of the hierarchy remained unchanged, as did also the conviction that the perfection of the Christian life was to be sought and found in the monastic profession.
Nevertheless, the new conditions did exercise the strongest influence upon the character of the Church. The churches of the Lombards, West Goths, Franks and Anglo-Saxons, all counted themselves parts of the Catholic Church; but the Catholic Church had altered its condition; it lacked the power of organization, and split up into territorial churches. Under the Empire the ecumenical council had been looked upon as the highest representative organ of the Catholic Church; but the earlier centuries of the middle ages witnessed the convocation of no ecumenical councils. Under the Empire the bishop of Rome had possessed in the Church an authority recognized and protected by the State; respect for Rome and for the successor of Saint Peter was not forgotten by the new territorial churches, but it had altered in character; legal authority had become merely moral authority; its wielder could exhort, warn, advise but could not command.
On the other hand, the kings did command in the Church. They certainly claimed no authority over faith or doctrine, and they too respected doctrinal law; but they succeeded in asserting their rights to a practical share in the government of the Church. The clergy and laity of a diocese together elected their bishop, as they had done before; but no one could become a bishop against the will of the king, and the confirmation of their choice rested with him. The bishops continued to meet in synods as before, but the councils became territorial synods; they were called together at irregular intervals by the king, and their decisions obtained legal effect only by royal sanction.
In these circumstances the intrusion of Germanic elements into ecclesiastical law is easy to understand. This is most clearly recognizable in the case of churches which arose alongside the episcopal cathedrals. In the Empire all churches, and all the property of the Church, were at the disposal of the bishops; in Germanic countries, on the contrary, the territorial nobles were looked upon as the owners of churches built upon their lands, and these became “proprietary churches.” The logical consequence of this was that the territorial nobles claimed the right of appointing clergy, and the enjoyment of the revenues of these churches derived from the land (tithes). Even a certain number of the monastic establishments came in this way into the possession of the feudal landowners, who nominated abbots and abbesses as they appointed the incumbents of their churches.
With these conditions, and with the diminution of the ascendancy of town over country that resulted from the Teutonic conquests, is connected the rise of the parochial system in the country. The parishes were further grouped together into rural deaneries and archdeaconries. Thus the diocese, hitherto a simple unit, became an elaborately articulated whole. The bishopric of the middle ages bears the same name as that of the ancient Church; but in many respects it has greatness that is new.
This transformation of old institutions is the first great result of Germanic influence in the Christian Church. It continues to the present day in the universal survival of the parochial system.
In the middle ages the civilizing task of the Church was first approached in England. This was the home of the Latin Christian literature and theology of medieval times. Aldhelm (d. 709) and the Venerable Bede (d. 735) were the first scholars of the period. England was also the home of Winfrid Bonifatius (d. 757). We are accustomed to look upon him chiefly as a missionary; but his completion of the conversion of the peoples of central Germany (Thuringians and Hessians) and his share in that of the Frisians, are the least part of his life-work. Of more importance is the fact that, in co-operation with the bishops of Rome, he carried out the organization of the church in Bavaria, and began the reorganization of the Frankish church, which had fallen into confusion and decay during the political disorders of the last years of the Merovingians. It was Boniface, too, who, with the aid of numerous English priests, monks and nuns, introduced the literary culture of England into Germany.
Pippin (d. 768) and Charlemagne (d. 814) built on the foundations laid by Winfrid. For the importance of Charlemagne’s work, from the point of view of the Church, consists also, not so much in the fact that, by his conversion of the Saxons, the Avars and the Wends in the eastern Alps, he substantially extended the Church’s dominions, as in his having led back the Frankish Church to the fulfilment of her functions as a religious and civilizing agent. This was the purpose of his ecclesiastical legislation. The principal means to this end taken by him was the raising of the status of the clergy. From the priests he demanded faithfulness in preaching and teaching, from the bishops the conscientious government of their dioceses. The monasteries, too, learned to serve the Church by becoming nurseries of literary and theological culture. For the purpose of carrying out his ideas Charlemagne gathered round him the best intellects of Europe. None was more intimately associated with him than the Anglo-Saxon Alcuin (d. 804); but he was only one among many. Beside him are the Celts Josephus Scottus and Dungal, the Lombards Paulinus and Paulus Diaconus, the West Goth Theodulf and many Franks. Under their guidance theology flourished in the Frankish empire. It was as little original as that of Bede; for on the continent, too, scholars were content to think what those of old had thought before them. But in so doing they did not only repeat the old formulae; the ideas of the men of old sprang into new life. This is shown by the searching discussions to which the Adoptionist controversy gave rise. At the same time, the controversy with the Eastern Church over the adoration of images shows that the younger Western theology felt itself equal, if not superior to the Greek. This was in fact the case; for it knew how to treat the question, which divided the Greeks, in a more dispassionate and practical manner than they.
The second generation of Frankish theologians did not lag behind the first. Hrabanus of Fulda (who died archbishop of Mainz in 856) was in the range of his knowledge undoubtedly Alcuin’s superior. He was the first learned theologian produced by Germany. His disciple, Abbot Walafrid Strabo of Reichenau (d. 849), was the author of the Glossa Ordinaria, a work which formed the foundation of biblical exposition throughout the middle ages. France was still more richly provided with theologians in the 9th century: her most prominent names are Hincmar, archbishop of Reims (d. 882), Bishop Prudentius of Troyes (d. 861), the monks Servatus Lupus (d. 862), Radbert Paschasius (d. circa 860), and Ratramnus (d. after 868); and the last theologian who came into France from abroad, Johannes Scotus Erigena (d. circa 880). The theological method of all these was merely that of restatement. But the controversy about predestination, which, in the 9th century, Hincmar and Hrabanus fought out with the monk Gottschalk of Fulda, as well as the discussions that arose from the definition of the doctrine of transubstantiation of Radbert, enable us to gauge the intellectual energy with which theological problems were once more being handled.
Charlemagne followed his father’s policy in carrying out his ecclesiastical measures in close association with the bishops of Rome. He renewed the donation of Pippin, and as Patrician he took Rome under his protection. From Pope Adrian I. he received the Dionyso-Hadriana, the Roman collection of material bearing on the ancient ecclesiastical law. But the Teutonic elements maintained their place in the law of the Frankish Church; and this was not altered by the fact that, since Christmas 800, the king of the Franks and Lombards had borne the title of Roman emperor. On the contrary, Rome itself was now for the first time affected by the predominance of the new empire; for Charlemagne converted the patriciate into effective sovereignty, and the successor of St Peter became the chief metropolitan of the Frankish empire.
There were, indeed, forces tending in the contrary direction; and these were present in the Frankish empire. Evidence of this is given by the canon law forgeries of the 9th century: the capitula of Angelram, the Capitularies of Benedictus Levita (see Capitulary), and the great collection of the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals. For the moment, however, this party met with no success. Of more importance was the fact that at Rome the old conditions, the old claims, and the old law were unforgotten. Developing the ideas of Leo I., Gelasius I. and Gregory the Great, Nicholas I. (858–867) drew a picture of the divine right and unlimited power of the bishop of Rome, which anticipated all that the greatest of his successors were, centuries later, actually to effect. The time had not, however, yet come for the establishment of the papal world-dominion. For, while the power of Charlemagne’s successors was decaying, the papacy itself became involved in the confusion of the party strife of Italy and of the city of Rome, and was plunged in consequence into such an abyss of degradation (the so-called Pornocracy), that it was in danger of forfeiting every shred of its moral authority over Christendom.
(b) Central Period of the Middle Ages. Dominance of the Roman Spirit in the Church.—After the accession of the House of Saxony (919), the national ecclesiastical system, founded upon the principles of Carolingian law, developed in Germany with fresh energy. The union in 962 by Otto I. of the revived Empire with the German kingship brought the latter into uninterrupted contact with the papacy. The revelation of the antagonism between the German conception of ecclesiastical affairs and Roman views of ecclesiastical law was sooner or later inevitable. This was most obvious in the matter of appointment to bishoprics. At Rome canonical election was alone regarded as lawful; in Germany, on the other hand, developments since the time of Charlemagne had led to the actual appointment of bishops being in the hands of the king, although the form of ecclesiastical election was preserved. For the transference of a bishopric a special legal form was evolved—that of investiture, the king investing the bishop elect with the see by delivering to him the ring and pastoral staff. No one found anything objectionable in this; investiture with a bishopric was parallel with the appointment by a territorial proprietor to a patronal church.
The practice customary in Germany was finally transferred to Rome itself. The desperate position of the papacy in the 11th century obliged Henry III. to intervene. When, on the 24th of December 1046, after three rival popes had been set aside, he nominated Suidgar, bishop of Bamberg, as bishop of Rome before all the people in St Peter’s, the papacy was bestowed in the same way as a German bishopric; and what had occurred in this case was to become the rule. By procuring the transference of the patriciate from the Roman people to himself Henry assured his influence over the appointment of the popes, and accordingly also nominated the successors of Clement II.
His intervention saved the papacy. For the popes nominated by him, Leo IX. in particular, were men of high character, who exercised their office in a loftier spirit than their corrupt predecessors. They placed themselves at the head of the movement for ecclesiastical reform. But was it possible for the relation between Empire and Papacy to remain what Henry III. had made it?
The original sources of this reform movement lay far back, in the time of the Carolingians. It has been pointed out how Charlemagne pressed the monks into the service of his civilizing aims. We admire this; but it is certain that he thereby alienated monasticism from its original ideals. These, however, had far too strong a hold upon the Roman world for a reaction against the new tendency to be long avoided. This reaction began with the reform of Benedict of Aniane (d. 821), the aim of which was to bring the Benedictine order back to the principles of its original rules. In the next century the reform movement acquired a fresh centre in the Burgundian monastery of Cluny. The energy of a succession of distinguished abbots and the disciples whom they inspired succeeded in bringing about the victory of the reforming ideas in the French monasteries; once more the rule of St Benedict controlled the life of the monks. A large number of the reformed monasteries attached themselves to the congregation of Cluny, thus assuring the influence of reformed monasticism upon the Church, and securing likewise its independence of the diocesan bishops, since the abbot of Cluny was subordinate of the pope alone. (See Cluny; Benedictines and Monasticism.) At the same time that Cluny began to grow into importance, other centres of the monastic reform movement were established in Upper and Lower Lorraine; and before long the activity of the Cluniac monks made itself felt in Italy. In Germany Poppo of Stavelot (d. 1048) was a successful champion of their ideas; in England Dunstan (d. 988 as archbishop of Canterbury) worked independently, but on similar lines. Everywhere the object was the same: the supreme obligation of the Rule, the renewal of discipline, and also the economic improvement of the monasteries. The reform movement had originally no connexion with ecclesiastical politics; but that came later when the leaders turned their attention to the abuses prevalent among the clergy, to the conditions obtaining in the Church in defiance of the ecclesiastical law. “Return to the canon law!” was now the battle-cry. In the Cluniac circle was coined the principle: Canonica auctoritas Dei lex est, canon law being taken in the Pseudo-Isidorian sense. The programme of reform thus included not only the extirpation of simony and Nicolaitism, but also the freeing of the Church from the influence of the State, the recovery of her absolute control over all her possessions, the liberty of the Church and of the hierarchy.
As a result, the party of reform placed itself in opposition to those ecclesiastical conditions which had arisen since the conversion of the Teutonic peoples. It was, then, a fact pregnant with the most momentous consequences that Leo IX. attached himself to the party of reform. For, thanks to him and to the men he gathered round him (Hildebrand, Humbert and others), their principles were established in Rome, and the pope himself became the leader of ecclesiastical reform. But the carrying out of reforms led at once to dissensions with the civil power, the starting-point being the attack upon simony.
Originally, in accordance with Acts viii. 18 et seq., simony was held to be the purchase of ordination. In the 9th century the interpretation was extended to include all acquisition of ecclesiastical offices or benefices for money or money’s worth. Since the landed proprietors disposed of churches and convents, and the kings of bishoprics and abbeys, it became possible for them too to commit the sin of simony; hence a final expansion, in the 11th century, of the meaning of the term. The Pseudo-Isidorian idea being that all lay control over things ecclesiastical is wrong, all transferences by laymen of ecclesiastical offices or benefices, even though no money changed hands in the process, were now classed as simony (Humbert, Adversus Simoniacos, 1057–1058). Thus the lord who handed over a living was a simonist, and so too was the king who invested a bishop. On this question the battle began. The Church at first refrained from contesting the rights of the landowners over their own churches, and concentrated her attack upon investiture. In 1059 the new system of papal election introduced by Nicholas II. ensured the occupation of the Holy See by a pope favourable to the party of reform; and in 1078 Gregory VII. issued his prohibition of lay investiture. In the years of conflict that followed Gregory looked far beyond this point; he set his aim ever higher; until, in the end, his idea was to concentrate all ecclesiastical power in the hands of the pope, and to raise the papacy to the dominion of the world. Thus was to be realized the old dream of Augustine: that of a Kingdom of God on earth under the rule of the Church. But it was not given to Gregory to reach this goal, and his successors had to return again to the strife over investiture. The settlement of 1111 may be said to have embodied the only solution of the great question that was right in principle, since it pronounced in favour of a clear distinction between the spiritual and temporal spheres. However, a solution that was right in principle proved impossible in practice, and the long struggle ended in a compromise by the Concordat of Worms (1122). The essential part of this was that the Empire accepted the canonical election of bishops, and allowed the metropolitan to confer the sacred office by gift of ring and pastoral staff; while the Church acknowledged that the bishop held his temporal rights from the Empire, and was therefore to be invested with them by a touch from the royal sceptre. A similar solution was arrived at in England. Henry I. also renounced his claim to bestow ring and pastoral staff, but kept the right of induction into the temporalities (1106–1107). In France the demands of the Church were successful to the same degree as in England and Germany, but without any conflict. Thus the Germanic element in the law regarding appointment to bishoprics was eliminated. Somewhat later it disappeared also in the case of the churches of less importance, patronal rights over these being substituted for the former absolute ownership. The pontificate of Alexander III. (1159–1181) decided this.
Since the time of Charlemagne Germanic influence had preponderated in the West, as is shown in the expansion of the Church no less than in matters of ecclesiastical law. The whole progress of Christianity in Europe from the 9th to the 12th century was due—if we exclude Eastern Christendom—to the Teutonic nations; neither the papacy nor the peoples of Latin race were concerned in it. German priests and bishops carried the Christian faith to the Czechs and the Moravians, laboured among the Hungarians and the Poles, and won the wide district between the Elbe and the Oder at once for Christianity and for the German nation. Germany, too, was the starting-point for the conversion of the Scandinavian countries, which was completed by English priests with the assistance of native princes.
But, even while the Teutonic peoples were thus taking the lead, we can see the Latin races beginning to assert themselves. The monastic reform movement was essentially Latin in origin; and even more significant was the fact that scholasticism, the new theology, had its home in the Latin countries. Aristotelian dialectics had always been taught in the schools; and reason as well as authority had been appealed to as the foundation of theology; but for the theologians of the 9th and 10th centuries, whose method had been merely that of restatement, ratio and auctoritas were in perfect accord. Then Berengar of Tours (d. 1088) ventured to set up reason against authority: by reason the truth must be decided. This involved the question of the relation in theology of authority and reason, and of whether the theological method is authoritative or rational. To these questions Berengar gave no answer; he was ruined by his opposition to Radbert’s doctrine of transubstantiation. The Lombard Anselm (d. 1109), archbishop of Canterbury, was the first to deal with the subject. He took as his starting-point the traditional faith; but he was convinced that whoever has experience of the truths of the faith would be able to understand them. In accordance with this principle he pointed out the goal of theology and the way to its attainment: the function of theology is to demonstrate dogmas sola ratione.
It was a bold conception—too bold for the medieval world, for which faith was primarily the obligation to believe. It was easy, therefore, to understand why Anselm’s method did not become the dominant one in theology. Not he, but the Frenchman Abelard (d. 1142), was the creator of the scholastic method. Abelard, too, started from tradition; but he discovered that the statements of the various authorities are very often in the relation of sic et non, yes and no. Upon this fact he based his pronouncement as to the function of theology: it must employ the dialectic method to reconcile the contradictions of tradition, and thus to shape the doctrines of the faith in accordance with reason. By teaching this method Abelard created the implements for the erection of the great theological systems of the schoolmen of the 12th and 13th centuries: Peter Lombard (d. 1160), Alexander of Hales (d. 1245), Albertus Magnus (d. 1280), and Thomas Aquinas (d. 1275). They adventured a complete exposition of Christian doctrine that should be altogether ecclesiastical and at the same time altogether rational. In so doing they set to work at the same time to complete the development of ecclesiastical dogma; the formulation of the Catholic doctrine of the Sacraments was the work of scholasticism.
Canon law is the twin-sister of scholasticism. At the very time when Peter Lombard was shaping his Sentences, the monk Gratian of Bologna was making a new collection of laws. It was not only significant that in the Concordia discordantium canonum ecclesiastical laws, whether from authentic or forged sources, were gathered together without regard to the existing civil law; of even greater eventual importance was the fact that Gratian taught that the contradictions of the canon law were to be reconciled by the same method as that used by theology to reconcile the discrepancies of doctrinal tradition. Thus Gratian became the founder of the science of canon law, a science which, like the scholastic theology, was entirely ecclesiastical and entirely rational (See Canon Law).
Like the new theology and the new science of law, the new monasticism was also rooted in Latin soil. In the first of the new orders, that of the Cistercians (1098), the old monastic ideal set forth in the Rule of Benedict of Nursia still prevailed; but in the constitution and government of the order new ideas were at work. In the Premonstratensian order, however, founded in 1120 by Norbert of Xanten, a new conception of the whole function of monachism was introduced: the duty of the priest-monk is not only to work out his own salvation, but, by preaching and cure of souls, to labour for others. This was the dominant idea of the order of friars preachers founded in 1216, on the basis of the Premonstratensian rule, by Dominic of Osma (see Dominic, Saint, and Dominicans). It was also the basis of the order of friars minor (Franciscans, q.v.), founded in 1210. For the foundation of Francis of Assisi came into existence as a society of itinerant preachers: no one was more deeply convinced than Francis of the duty of working for others, and his own mission was, as he said, to win souls. But with this idea he fused another, namely, that it is the task of the monk to imitate the humility and poverty of Jesus; and his order thus became a mendicant order. From the earliest times the monks had renounced all private property, and no individual monk, but only the order to which he belonged, could acquire possessions. For Francis this was not enough: he put “holy poverty” in place of renunciation of private property, and allowed neither monk nor monastery to have any possessions whatever; for only thus is the following of Jesus complete. So mighty was the impression made by the poverty of the Minorites, that the Dominicans promptly followed their example and likewise became mendicant.
This alone would serve to indicate the remarkable deepening of the religious life that had taken place in the Latin countries. Its beginning may be traced as early as the 11th century (Pietro Damiani, q.v.), and in the 12th century the most influential exponent of this new piety was Bernard (q.v.) of Clairvaux, who taught men to find God by leading them to Christ. Contemporary with him were Hugh (q.v.) of St Victor and his pupil Richard (q.v.) of St Victor, both monks of the abbey of St Victor at Paris, the aim of whose teaching, based on that of the Pseudo-Dionysius, was a mystical absorption of thought in the Godhead and the surrender of self to the Eternal Love. Under the influence of these ideas, in part purely Christian and in part neo-platonic, piety gained in warmth and depth and became more personal; and though at first it flourished in the monasteries, and in those of the mendicant orders especially, it penetrated far beyond them and influenced the laity everywhere.
The new piety did not set itself in opposition either to the hierarchy or to the institutions of the Church, such as the sacraments and the discipline of penance, nor did it reject those foreign elements (asceticism, worship of saints and the like) which had passed of old time into Christianity from the ancient world. Its temper was not critical, but aggressively practical. It led the Romance nations to battle for Christendom. In the 11th and 12th centuries the chivalry of Spain and southern France took up the struggle with the Moors as a holy war. In the autumn of 1096 the nobles of France and Italy, joined by the Norman barons of England and Sicily, set out to wrest the Holy Land from the unbelievers; and for more than a century the cry, “Christ’s land must be won for Christ,” exercised an unparalleled power in Western Christendom.
All this meant a mighty exaltation of the Church, which ruled the minds of men as she had hardly ever done before. Nor was it possible that the position of the bishop of Rome, the supreme head of the Western Church, should remain unaffected by it. Two of the most powerful of the German emperors, Frederick I. and his son Henry VI., struggled to renew and to maintain the imperial supremacy over the papacy. The close relations between northern Italy and the Empire, and the union of the sovereignty of southern Italy with the German crown, seemed to afford the means for keeping Rome in subjection. But Frederick I. fought a losing battle, and when at the peace of Venice (1177) he recognized Alexander III. as pope, he relinquished the hope of carrying out his Italian policy; while Henry VI. died at the early age of thirty-two (1197), before his far-reaching schemes had been realized.
The field was thus cleared for the full development of papal power. This had greatly increased since the Concordat of Worms, and reached its height under Innocent III. (1198–1216). Innocent believed himself to be the representative of God, and as such the supreme possessor of both spiritual and temporal power. He therefore claimed in both spheres the supreme administrative, legislative and judicial authority. Just as he considered himself entitled to appoint to all ecclesiastical offices, so also he invested the emperor with his empire and kings with their kingdoms. Not only did he despatch his decretals to the universities to form the basis of the teaching of the canon law and of the decisions founded upon it, but he considered himself empowered to annul civil laws. Thus he annulled the Great Charter in 1215. Just as the Curia was the supreme court of appeal in ecclesiastical causes, so also the pope threatened disobedient princes with deposition, e.g. the emperor Otto IV. in 1210, and John of England in 1212.
The old institutions of the Catholic Church were transformed to suit the new position of the pope. From 1123 onward there had again been talk of general councils; but, unlike those of earlier times, these were assemblies summoned by the pope, who confirmed their resolutions. The canonical election of bishops also continued to be discussed; but the old electors, i.e. the clergy and laity of the dioceses, were deprived of the right of election, this being now transferred exclusively to the cathedral chapters. The bishops kept their old title, but they described themselves accurately as “bishops by grace of the apostolic see,” for they administered their dioceses as plenipotentiaries of the pope; and as time went on even the Church’s criminal jurisdiction became more and more concentrated in the hands of the pope (see Inquisition).
The rule of the Church by the Roman bishop had thus become a reality; but the papal claim to supreme temporal authority proved impossible to maintain, although Innocent III. had apparently enforced it. The long struggle against Frederick II., carried on by Gregory IX. (1227–1241) and Innocent IV. (1243–1254), did not result in victory; no papal sentence, but only death itself, deprived the emperor of his dominions; and when Boniface VIII. (1294–1303), who in the bull Unam Sanctam (1302) gave the papal claims to universal dominion their classical form, quarrelled with Philip IV. of France about the extension of the royal power, he could not but perceive that the national monarchy had become a force which it was impossible for the papacy to overcome.
(c) Close of the Middle Ages. Disintegration.—While the Church was yet at the height of her power the great revolution began, which was to end in the disruption of that union between the Temporal and the Spiritual which, under her dominion, had characterized the life of the West. The Temporal now claimed its proper rights. The political power of the Empire, indeed, had been shattered; but this left all the more room for the vigorous development of national states, notably of France and England. At the same time intellectual life was enriched by a wealth of fresh views and new ideas, partly the result of the busy intercourse with the East to which the Crusades had given the first impetus, and which had been strengthened and extended by lively trade relations, partly of the revived study, eagerly pursued, of ancient philosophy and literature (see Renaissance). Old forms became too narrow, and vigorously growing national literatures appeared side by side with the universal Latin literature. The life of the Church, moreover, was affected by the economic changes due to the rise of the power of money as opposed to the old economic system based upon land.
The effects of these changes made themselves felt on all sides, in no case more strongly than in that of the papal claims to the supreme government of the world. Theoretically they were still unwaveringly asserted; indeed it was not till this time that they received their most uncompromising expression (Augustinus Triumphus, d. 1328; Alvarus Pelagius, d. 1352). After Boniface VIII., however, no pope seriously attempted to realize them; to do so had in fact become impossible, for from the time of their residence at Avignon (1305–1377) the popes were in a state of complete dependence upon the French crown. But even the curialistic theory met everywhere with opposition. In France Philip IV.’s jurists maintained that the temporal power was independent of the spiritual. In Italy, a little later, Dante championed the divine right of the emperor (De Monarchia, 1311). In Germany, Marsiglio of Padua and Jean of Jandun, the literary allies of the emperor Louis IV., ventured to define anew the nature of the civil power from the standpoint of natural law, and to assert its absolute sovereignty (Defensor pacis, c. 1352); while the Franciscan William of Occam (d. 1349) examined, also in Louis’ interests, into the nature of the relation between the two powers. He too concluded that the temporal power is independent of the spiritual, and is even justified in invading the sphere of the latter in cases of necessity.
While these thoughts were filling men’s minds, opposition to the papal rule over the Church was also gaining continually in strength. The reasons for this were numerous, first among them being the abuses of the papal system of finance, which had to provide funds for the vast administrative machinery of the Curia. There was also the boundless abuse and arbitrary exercise of the right of ecclesiastical patronage (provisions, reservations); and further the ever-increasing traffic in dispensations, the abuse of spiritual punishments for worldly ends, and so forth. No means, however, existed of enforcing any remedy until the papal schism occurred in 1378. Such a schism as this, so intolerable to the ecclesiastical sense of the middle ages, necessitated the discovery of some authority superior to the rival popes, and therefore able to put an end to their quarrelling. General councils were now once more called to mind; but these were no longer conceived as mere advisory councils to the pope, but as the highest representative organ of the universal Church, and as such ranking above the pope, and competent to demand obedience even from him. This was the view of the Germans Conrad of Gelnhausen (d. 1390) and Heinrich of Langenstein (d. 1397), as also of the Frenchmen Pierre d’Ailli (d. 1420) and Jean Charlier Gerson (d. 1429). These all recognized in the convocation of a general council the means of setting bounds to the abuses in the government of the Church by an extensive reform. The council of Pisa (1409) separated without effecting anything; but the council of Constance (1414–1418) did actually put an end to the schism. The reforms begun at Constance and continued at Basel (1431–1449) proved, however, insufficient. Above all, the attempt to set up the general council as an ordinary institution of the Catholic Church failed; and the Roman papacy, restored at Constance, preserved its irresponsible and unlimited power over the government of the Church. (See Papacy; Constance, Council of, and Basel, Council of.)
Thus the attempt to reform the Church by means of councils failed; but this very failure led to the survival of the desire for reform. It was kept alive by the most various circumstances; in the first instance by the attitude of the European states. Thanks to his recognition by the powers, Pope Eugenius IV. (1431–1447) had been victorious over the council of Basel; but neither France nor Germany was prepared to forgo the reforms passed by the council. France secured their validity, as far as she herself was concerned, by the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges (July 7, 1438); Germany followed with the Acceptation of Mainz (March 26, 1439). The theory of the papal supremacy held by the Curia was thus at least called in question.
The antagonism of the opposition parties was even more pronounced. The tendencies which they represented had been present when the middle ages were yet at their height; but the papacy, while at the zenith of its power, had succeeded in crushing the attacks made upon the creed of the Church by its most dangerous foes, the dualistic Cathari. On the other hand it had not been able to overcome the less radical opposition of the “Poor Man of Lyons” (Waldo, d. c. 1217), and even in the 15th century stray supporters of the Waldensian teaching were to be found in Italy, France and Germany, everywhere keeping alive mistrust of the temporal power of the Church, of her priesthood and her hierarchy. In England the hierarchy was attacked by Luther. Starting from Augustine’s conception of the Church as the community of the elect, he protested against a church of wealth and power, a church that had become a political institution instead of a school of salvation, and against its head, the bishop of Rome. Wycliffe’s ideas, conveyed to the continent, precipitated the outbreak of the Hussite storm in Bohemia. The council of Constance thought to quell it by condemnation of Wycliffe’s teaching and by the execution of John Huss (1415). But in vain. The flame burst forth, not in Bohemia alone, where Huss’s death gave the signal for a general rising, but also in England among the Lollards, and in Germany among those of Huss’s persuasion, who had many points of agreement with the remnant of the Waldenses.(d. 1384), its greatest opponent before
This was open opposition; but there was besides another opposing force which, though it raised no noise of controversy, yet was far more widely severed from the views of the Church than either Wycliffe or Huss: this was the Renaissance, which began its reign in Italy during the 14th century. The Renaissance meant the emancipation of the secular world from the domination of the Church, and it contributed in no small measure to the rupture of the educated class with ecclesiastical tradition. Beauty of form alone was at first sought, and found in the antique; but, with the form, the spirit of the classical attitude towards life was revived. While the Church, like a careful mother, sought to lead her children, never allowed to grow up, safely from time into eternity, the men of the Renaissance felt that they had come of age, and that they were entitled to make themselves at home in this world. They wished to possess the earth and enjoy it by means of secular education and culture, and an impassable gulf yawned between their views of religion and morality and those of the Church.
This return to the ideals of antiquity did not remain confined to Italy, but the humanism of the northern countries presents no close parallel to the Italian renaissance. However much it agreed in admiration of the ancients, it differed absolutely in its preservation of the fundamental ideas of Christianity. But neither Reuchlin (d. 1522), Erasmus (d. 1536), Faber d’Étaples (d. 1536), Thomas More (d. 1535), nor the numerous others who were their disciples, or who shared their views, were in the least degree satisfied with the conditions prevailing in the Church. Their ideal was a return to that simplicity of primitive Christendom which they believed they found revealed in the New Testament and in the writings of the early Fathers.
To this theology could not point the way. Since the time of Duns Scotus (d. 1308) theologians had been conscious of the discrepancy between Aristotelianism and ecclesiastical dogma. Faith in the infallibility of the scholastic system was thus shaken, and the system itself was destroyed by the revival of philosophic nominalism, which had been discredited in the 11th century by the realism of the great schoolmen. It now found a bold supporter in William of Occam (q.v.), and through him became widely accepted. But nominalism was powerless to inspire theology with new life; on the contrary, its intervention only increased the inextricable tangle of the hairsplitting questions with which theology busied itself, and made their solution more and more impossible.
Mysticism, moreover, which had no lack of noteworthy supporters in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the various new departures in thought initiated by individual theologians such as Nicolaus Cusanus (d. 1464) and Wessel Gansfort (d. 1489), were not competent to restore to the Church what she had once possessed in scholasticism—that is to say, a conception of Christianity in which all Christendom recognized the convictions in which it lived and had its being.
This was all the more significant because Western Christendom in the 15th century was by no means irreligious. Men’s minds were agitated by spiritual questions, and they sought salvation and the assurance of salvation, using every means prescribed by the Church: confession and the communion, indulgences and relics, pilgrimages and oblations, prayers and attendance at church; none of all these were contemned or held cheap. Yet the age had no inward peace.
After the failure of the attempts at reform by the councils, the guidance of the Church was left undisturbed in the hands of the popes, and they were determined that it should remain so. In 1450 Eugenius IV. set up in opposition to the council of Basel a general council summoned by himself, which met first at Ferrara and afterwards at Florence. Here he appeared to score a great success. The split between East and West had led in the 11th century to the rupture of ecclesiastical relations between Rome and Constantinople. This schism had lasted since the 16th of July 1054; but now a union with the Eastern Church was successfully accomplished at Florence. Eugenius certainly owed his success merely to the political necessities of the emperor of the East, and his union was forthwith destroyed owing to its repudiation by oriental Christendom; yet at the same time his decretals of union were not devoid of importance, for in them the pope reaffirmed the scholastic doctrine regarding the sacraments as a dogma of the Church, and he spoke as the supreme head of all Christendom.
This claim to the supreme government of the Church was to be steadily maintained. In the year 1512 Julius II. called together the fifth Lateran general council, which expressly recognized the subjection of the councils to the pope (Leo X.’s bull Pastor Aeternum, of the 19th of December 1516), and also declared the constitution Unam Sanctam (see above) valid in law.
But the papacy that sought to win back its old position was itself no longer the same as of old. Eugenius IV.’s successor, Nicholas V. (1447–1455), was the first of the Renaissance popes. Under his successors the views which prevailed at the secular courts of the Italian princes came likewise into play at the Curia: the papacy became an Italian princedom. Innocent VIII., Alexander VI., Julius II. were in many respects remarkable men, but they were scarcely affected by the convictions of the Christian faith. The terrible tragedy which was consummated on the 23rd of May 1498 before the Palazzo Vecchio, in Florence, casts a lurid light upon the irreconcilable opposition in which the wearers of the papal dignity stood to medieval piety; for Girolamo Savonarola was in every fibre a loyal son of the medieval Church.
Twenty years after Savonarola’s death Martin Luther made public his theses against indulgences. The Reformation which thus began brought the disintegrating process of the middle ages to an end, and at the same time divided Western Catholicism in two. Yet we may say that this was its salvation; for the struggle against Luther drove the papacy back to its ecclesiastical duties, and the council of Trent established medieval dogma as the doctrine of modern Catholicism in contradistinction to Protestantism. (See also Papacy; Renaissance; Reformation, and biographies of popes, &c.)
Authorities.—For sources see U. Chevalier, Répertoire des sources historiques du moyen-âge (Paris, 1903); A. Potthast, Bibliotheca historica medii aevi (Berlin, 1896); W. Wattenbach, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter (7th ed., Stuttgart, 1904); A. Molinier, Les Sources de l’histoire de la France (Paris, 1901). General Treatises: Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (12 yols., 5th ed., New York, 1889–1892), vol. iv. Medieval Christianity; W. Moeller, Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte, vol. ii. Das Mittelalter (Freiburg, 1891); H. H. Milman, History of Latin Christianity (6 vols., 2nd ed., London, 1857). Particular Treatises: J. Lingard, The History and Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church (2 vols. 3rd ed., London, 1845); E. Churton, The Early English Church (London, 1878); A. Martineau, Church History in England from the Earliest Times to the Reformation (London, 1878); W. Hunt, The English Church from its Foundation to the Norman Conquest (London, 1899); W. Stubbs, Constitutional History of England (3 vols., London, 1874–1878); A. Bellesheim, Geschichte der kathol. Kirche in Schottland (2 vols., Mainz, 1883; Engl. transl. with Notes and Additions by O. H. Blair, 4 vols., Edinburgh, 1887–1890); W. Stephen, History of the Scottish Church (Edinburgh, 1894–1896, 2 vols.); W. D. Killen, The Ecclesiastical History of Ireland (2 vols., London, 1875–1878); A. Bellesheim, Geschichte der kath. Kirche in Irland (3 vols., Mainz, 1890–1891); F. Rettberg, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands (2 vols. Göttingen, 1846, 1848); A. Hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands (4 vols., Leipzig, 3rd ed., 1904); Gallia Christiana in provincias eccl. distributa (16 and 3 vols., Paris, 1715–1900); F. N. Fager, Histoire de l’église cathol. en France depuis son origine (19 vols., Paris, 1862–1873); Ughelli, Italia sacra (10 vols., Venice, 1717–1722); P. Gams, Kirchengeschichte von Spanien (5 vols., Regensburg, 1862–1879); H. Reuterdahl, Svenska Kyrkans historia (3 vols., Lund, 1838–1863); A. v. Maurer, Die Bekehrung des norwegischen Stammes (2 vols., Munich, 1855–1856); Bang, Udsigt over den norske Kirkes historie under Katholicismen (Christiania, 1887); P. Gams, Series episcoporum ecclesiae catholicae (Regensburg, 1873); C. Eubel, Hierarchia catholica medii aevi (2 vols., Münster, 1898, 1901); P. Hinschius, System des kath. Kirchenrechts (6 vols., Berlin, 1869–1896); E. Friedberg, Lehrbuch des Kirchenrechts (5th ed., Leipzig, 1903); U. Stutz, “Kirchenrecht” (Holtzendorff-Kohler, Encyklopaedie der Rechtswissenschaft, 6th ed. II. Leipzig, 1904); B. Hauréau, Histoire de la philosophie scolastique (Paris, 1872); F. Schwane, Dogmengeschichte der mittleren Zeit (Freiburg, 1882); A. Ebert, Allgem. Geschichte der Literatur des Mittelalters im Abendlande (3 vols., Leipzig, 1874–1887); C. F. v. Hefele, Conciliengeschichte (2nd ed., 9 vols., Freiburg, 1873–1890). (A. H.*)
C. The Modern Church
The issue in 1564 of the canons of the council of Trent marks a very definite epoch in the history of the Christian Church. Up till that time, in spite of the schism of East and West and of innumerable heresies, the idea of the Church as Catholic, not only in its faith but in its organization, had been generally accepted. From this conception the Reformers had, at the outset, no intention of departing. Their object had been to purify the Church of medieval accretions, and to restore the primitive model in the light of the new learning; the idea of rival “churches,” differing in their fundamental doctrines and in their principles of organization, existing side by side, was as abhorrent to them as to the most rigid partisan of Roman centralization. The actual divisions of Western Christendom are the outcome, less of the purely religious influences of the Reformation period than of the political forces with which they were associated and confused. When it became clear that the idea of doctrinal change would find no acceptance at Rome, the Reformers appealed to the divine authority of the civil power against that of the popes; and princes within their several states succeeded, as the result of purely political struggles and combinations, in establishing the form of religion best suited to their convictions or their policy. Thus over a great part of Europe the Catholic Church was split up into territorial or national churches, which, whatever the theoretical ties which bound them together, were in fact separate organizations, tending ever more and more to become isolated and self-contained units with no formal intercommunion, and, as the rivalry of nationalities grew, with increasingly little even of intercommunication.
It was not, indeed, till the settlement of Westphalia in 1648, after the Thirty Years’ War, that this territorial division of Christendom became stereotyped, but the process had been going on for a hundred years previously; in some states, as in England and Scotland, it had long been completed; in others, as in South Germany, Bohemia and Poland, it was defeated by the political and missionary efforts of the Jesuits and other agents of the counter-Reformation. In any case, it received a vast impetus from the action of the council of Trent. With the issue of the Tridentine canons, all hope even of compromise between the “new” and the “old” religions was definitely closed. The anathema of the Roman Church had fallen upon all the fundamental doctrines for which the Reformers had contended and died; the right of free discussion within the limits of the creeds, which had given room for the speculations of the medieval philosophers, was henceforth curtailed and confined; and the definitions of the schoolmen were for ever exalted by the authority of Rome into dogmas of the Church. The Latin Church, which, by combining the tradition of the Roman centralized organization with a great elasticity in practice and in the interpretation of doctrine, had hitherto been the moulding force of civilization in the West, is henceforth more or less in antagonism to that civilization, which advances in all its branches—in science, in literature, in art—to a greater or less degree outside of and in spite of her, until in its ultimate and most characteristic developments it falls under the formal condemnation of the pope, formulated in the famous Syllabus of 1864. Considered from the standpoint of the world outside, the Roman Church is, no less than the Protestant communities, merely one of the sects into which Western Christendom has been divided—the most important and widespread, it is true, but playing in the general life and thought of the world a part immeasurably less important than that filled by the Church before the Reformation, and one in no sense justifying her claim to be considered as the sole inheritor of the tradition of the pre-Reformation Church.
If this be true of the Roman Catholic Church, it is still more so of the other great communities and confessions which emerged from the controversies of the Reformation. Of these the Anglican Church held most closely to the tradition of Catholic organization; but she has never made any higher claim than to be one of “the three branches of the Catholic Church,” a claim repudiated by Rome and never formally admitted by the Church of the East. The Protestant churches established on the continent, even where—as in the case of the Lutherans—they approximate more closely than the official Anglican Church to Roman doctrine and practice, make no such claim. The Bible is for them the real source of authority in doctrine; their organization is part and parcel of that of the state. They are, in fact, the state in its religious aspect, and as such are territorial or national, not Catholic. This tendency has been common in the East also, where with the growth of racial rivalries the Orthodox Church has split into a series of national churches, holding the same faith but independent as to organization.
A yet further development, of comparatively recent growth, has been the formation of what are now commonly called in England the “free churches.” These represent a theory of the Church practically unknown to the Reformers, and only reached through the necessity for discovering a logical basis for the communities of conscientious dissidents from the established churches. According to this the Catholic Church is not a visibly organized body, but the sum of all “faithful people” throughout the world, who group themselves in churches modelled according to their convictions or needs. For the organization of these churches no divine sanction is claimed, though all are theoretically modelled on the lines laid down in the Christian Scriptures. It follows that, while in the traditional Church, with its claim to an unbroken descent from a divine original, the individual is subordinate to the Church, in the “free churches” the Church is in a certain sense secondary to the individual. The believer may pass from one community to another without imperilling his spiritual life, or even establish a new church without necessarily incurring the reproach of schism. From this theory, powerful in Great Britain and her colonies, supreme in the United States of America, has resulted an enormous multiplication of sects.
It follows from the above argument that, from the period of the Reformation onward, no historical account of the Christian Church as a whole, and considered as a definite institution, is possible. The stream of continuity has been broken, and divides into innumerable channels. The only possible synthesis is that of the Christianity common to all; as institutions, though they possess many features in common, their history is separate and must be separately dealt with. The history of the various branches of the Christian Church since the Reformation will therefore be found under their several titles (see Roman Catholic Church; England, Church of; Presbyterianism; Baptists, &c., &c.). (W. A. P.)
- Upon the spread of the Church during the early centuries see especially Harnack’s Mission und Ausbreitung des Christenthums in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten. An interesting parallel to the spread of Christianity in the Roman empire is afforded by the contemporary Mithraism. See Cumont’s Les Mystères de Mithra (1900), Eng. tr. The Mysteries of Mithra (1903).