Europe And The Faith/Chapter IV
European civilization, which the Catholic Church has made and makes, is by that influence still one. Its unity now (as for three hundred years past) is suffering from the grievous and ugly wound of the Reformation. The earlier wounds have been healed; that modern wound we hope may still be healed - we hope so because the alternative is death. At any rate unity, wounded or unwounded, is still the mark of Christendom.
That unity today falls into national groups. Those of the West in particular are highly differentiated. Gaul (or France as we now call it) is a separate thing. The Iberian or Spanish Peninsula (though divided into five particular, and three main, regions, each with its language, of which one, Portugal, is politically independent of the rest) is another. The old European and Roman district of North Africa is but partially re-occupied by European civilization. Italy has quite recently appeared as another united national group. The Roman province of England has (south of the border) formed one united nation for a longer period than any of the others. To England Scotland has been added.
How did these modern nations arise in the transformation of the Roman Empire from its old simple pagan condition to one complex Christian civilization? How came there to be also nations exterior to the Empire; old nations like Ireland, new nations like Poland? We must be able to answer this question if we are to understand, not only that European civilization has been continuous (that is, one in time as well as one in spirit and in place), but also if we are to know why and how that continuity was preserved. For one we are and will be, all Europeans. The moment something threatens our common morals from within, we face it, however tardily. We have forgotten what it is to feel a threat from without: but it may come.
We are already familiar with the old popular and false explanation of the rise of the European nations. This explanation tells us that great numbers of vigorous barbarians entered the Roman Empire, conquered it, established themselves as masters, and parceled out its various provinces.
We have seen that such a picture is fantastic and, when it is accepted, destroys a man's historic sense of Europe.
We have seen that the barbarians who burst through the defence of civilization at various times (from before the beginnings of recorded history; through the pagan period prefacing Our Lord's birth; during the height of the Empire proper, in the third century; again in the fourth and the fifth) never had the power to affect that civilization seriously, and therefore were invariably conquered and easily absorbed. It was in the natural course of things this should be so.
I say "in the natural course of things." Dreadful as the irruption of barbarians into civilized places must always be, even on a small scale, the conquest of civilization by barbarians is always and necessarily impossible. Barbarians may have the weight to destroy the civilization they enter, and in so doing to destroy themselves with it. But it is inconceivable that they should impose their view and manner upon civilized men. Now to impose one's view and manner, dare reges (to give laws), is to conquer.
Moreover, save under the most exceptional conditions, a civilized army with its training, discipline and scientific traditions of war, can always ultimately have the better of a horde. In the case of the Roman Empire the armies of civilization did, as a fact, always have the better of the barbarian hordes. Marius had the better of the barbarians a hundred years before Our Lord was born, though their horde was not broken until it had suffered the loss of 200,000 dead. Five hundred years later the Roman armies had the better of another similar horde of barbarians, the host of Radagasius, in their rush upon Italy; and here again the vast multitude lost some 200,000 killed or sold into slavery. We have seen how the Roman generals, Alaric and the others, destroyed them.
But we have also seen that within the Roman Army itself certain auxiliary troops (which may have preserved to some slight extent traces of their original tribal character, and probably preserved for a generation or so a mixture of Roman speech, camp slang, and the original barbaric tongues) assumed greater and greater importance in the Roman Army towards the end of the imperial period - that is, towards the end of the fourth, and in the beginning of the fifth, centuries (say, 350-450).
We have seen why these auxiliary forces continued to increase in importance within the Roman Army, and we have seen how it was only as Roman soldiers, and as part of the regular forces of civilization, that they had that importance, or that their officers and generals, acting as Roman officers and generals, could play the part they did.
The heads of these auxiliary forces were invariably men trained as Romans. They knew of no life save that civilized life which the Empire enjoyed. They regarded themselves as soldiers and politicians of the State in which - not against which - they warred. They acted wholly within the framework of Roman things. The auxiliaries had no memory or tradition of a barbaric life beyond the Empire, though their stock in some part sprang from it; they had no liking for barbarism, and no living communication with it. The auxiliary soldiers and their generals lived and thought entirely within those imperial boundaries which guarded paved roads, a regular and stately architecture, great and populous cities, the vine, the olive, the Roman law and the bishoprics of the Catholic Church. Outside was a wilderness with which they had nothing to do.
Armed with this knowledge (which puts an end to any fantastic theory of barbarian "conquest"), let us set out to explain that state of affairs which a man born, say, a hundred years after the last of the mere raids into the Empire was destroyed under Radagasius, would have observed in middle age.
Sidonius Apollinaris, the famous Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, lived and wrote his classical work at such a date after Alaric's Roman adventure and Radagasius' defeat that the life of a man would span the distance between them; it was a matter of nearly seventy years between those events and his maturity. A grandson of his would correspond to such a spectator as we are imagining; a grandson of that generation might be born before the year 500. Such a man would have stood towards Radagasius' raid, the last futile irruption of the barbarian, much as men, old today, in England, stand to the Indian Mutiny and the Crimean War, to the second Napoleon in France, to the Civil War in the United States. Had a grandson of Sidonius traveled in Italy, Spain and Gaul in his later years, this is what he would have seen:
In all the great towns Roman life was going on as it had always gone on, so far as externals were concerned. The same Latin speech, now somewhat degraded, the same dress, the same division into a minority of free men, a majority of slaves, and a few very rich masters round whom not only the slaves but the mass of the free men also were grouped as dependents.
In every city, again, he would have found a Bishop of the Catholic Church, a member of that hierarchy which acknowledged its centre and headship to be at Rome. Everywhere religion, and especially the settlement of divisions and doubts in religion, would have been the main popular preoccupation. And everywhere save in Northern Gaul he would have perceived small groups of men, wealthy, connected with government, often bearing barbaric names, and sometimes (perhaps) still partly acquainted with barbaric tongues. Now these few men were as a rule of a special set in religion. They were called Arians; heretics who differed in religion from the mass of their fellow citizens very much as the minority of Protestants in an Irish county today differ from the great mass of their Catholic fellows; and that was a point of capital importance.
The little provincial courts were headed by men who, though Christian (with the Mass, the Sacraments and all Christian things), were yet out of communion with the bulk of their officials, and all their taxpayers. They had inherited that odd position from an accident in the Imperial history. At the moment when their grandfathers had received Baptism the Imperial Court had supported this heresy. They had come, therefore, by family tradition, to regard their separate sect (with its attempt to rationalize the doctrine of the Incarnation) as a "swagger." They thought it an odd title to eminence. And this little vanity had two effects. It cut them off from the mass of their fellow citizens in the Empire. It made their tenure of power uncertain and destined to disappear very soon at the hands of men in sympathy with the great Catholic body - the troops led by the local governors of Northern France.
We shall return to this matter of Arianism. But just let us follow the state of society as our grandson of Sidonius would have seen it at the beginning of the Dark Ages.
The armed forces he might have met upon the roads as he traveled would have been rare; their accoutrements, their discipline, their words of command, were still, though in a degraded form, those of the old Roman Army. There had been no breach in the traditions of that Army or in its corporate life. Many of the bodies he met would still have borne the old imperial insignia.
The money which he handled and with which he paid his bills at the inns, was stamped with the effigy of the reigning Emperor at Byzantium, or one of his predecessors, just as the traveler in a distant British colony today, though that province is virtually independent, will handle coins stamped with the effigies of English Kings. But though the coinage was entirely imperial, he would, upon a passport or a receipt for toll and many another official document he handled, often see side by side with and subordinate to the imperial name, the name of the chief of the local government.
This phrase leads me to a feature in the surrounding society which we must not exaggerate, but which made it very different from that united and truly "Imperial" form of government which had covered all civilization two hundred to one hundred years before.
The descendants of those officers who from two hundred to one hundred years before had only commanded regular or auxiliary forces in the Roman Army, were now seated as almost independent local administrators in the capitals of the Roman provinces.
They still thought of themselves, in 550, say, as mere provincial powers within the one great Empire of Rome. But there was now no positive central power remaining in Rome to control them. The central power was far off in Constantinople. It was universally accepted, but it made no attempt to act.
Let us suppose our traveler to be concerned in some commerce which brought him to the centres of local government throughout the Western Empire. Let him have to visit Paris, Toledo, Ravenna, Arles. He has, let us say, successfully negotiated some business in Spain, which has necessitated his obtaining official documents. He must, that is, come into touch with officials and with the actual Government in Spain. Two hundred years before he would have seen the officials of, and got his papers from, a government directly dependent upon Rome. The name of the Emperor alone would have appeared on all the papers and his effigy on the seals. Now, in the sixth century, the papers are made out in the old official way and (of course) in Latin, all the public forces are still Roman, all the civilization has still the same unaltered Roman character; has anything changed at all?
Let us see.
To get his papers in the Capital he will be directed to the "Palatium." This word does not mean "Palace."
When we say "palace" today we mean the house in which lives the real or nominal ruler of a monarchical state. We talk of Buckingham Palace, St. James' Palace, the Palace in Madrid, and so on.
But the original word Palatium had a very different meaning in late Roman society. It signified the official seat of Government, and in particular the centre from which the writs for Imperial taxation were issued, and to which the proceeds of that taxation were paid. The name was originally taken from the Palatine Hill in Rome, on which the Cæsars had their private house. As the mask of private citizenship was gradually thrown off by the Emperors, six hundred to five hundred years before, and as the commanders-in-chief of the Roman Army became more and more true and absolute sovereigns, their house became more and more the official centre of the Empire.
The term "Palatium" thus became consecrated to a particular use. When the centre of Imperial power was transferred to Byzantium the word "Palatium" followed it; and at last it was applied to local centres as well as to the Imperial city. In the laws of the Empire then, in its dignities and honors, in the whole of its official life, the Palatium means the machine of government, local or imperial. Such a traveler as we have imagined in the middle of the sixth century comes, then, to that Spanish Palatium from which, throughout the five centuries of Imperial rule, the Spanish Peninsular had been locally governed. What would he find?
He would find, to begin with, a great staff of clerks and officials, of exactly the same sort as had always inhabited the place, drawing up the same sort of documents as they had drawn up for generations, using certain fixed formulæ, and doing everything in the Latin tongue. No local dialect was yet of the least importance. But he would also find that the building was used for acts of authority, and that these acts were performed in the name of a certain person (who was no longer the old Roman Governor) and his Council. It was this local person's name, rather than the Emperor's, which usually - or at any rate more and more frequently - appeared on the documents.
Let us look closely at this new person seated in authority over Spain, and at his Council: for from such men as he, and from the districts they ruled, the nations of our time and their royal families were to spring.
The first thing that would be noticed on entering the presence of this person who governed Spain, would be that he still had all the insignia and manner of Roman Government.
He sat upon a formal throne as the Emperor's delegate had sat: the provincial delegate of the Emperor. On official occasions he would wear the official Roman garments: the orb and the sceptre were already his symbols (we may presume) as they had been those of the Emperor and the Emperor's local subordinates before him. But in two points this central official differed from the old local Governor whom he exactly succeeded, and upon whose machinery of taxation he relief for power.
These two points were, first, that he was surrounded by a very powerful and somewhat jealous body of Great Men; secondly, that he did not habitually give himself an imperial Roman title, but was called Rex.
Let us consider these points separately.
As to the first point, the Emperor in Byzantium, and before that in Rome or at Ravenna, worked, as even absolute power must work, through a multitude of men. He was surrounded by high dignitaries, and there devolved from him a whole hierarchy of officials, with the most important of whom he continually consulted. But the Emperor had not been officially and regularly bound in with such a Council. His formulæ of administration were personal formulæ. Now and then he mentioned his great officials, but he only mentioned them if he chose.
This new local person, who had been very gradually and almost unconsciously substituted for the old Roman Governors, the Rex, was, on the contrary, a part of his own Council, and all his formulæ of administration mentioned the Council as his coadjutors and assessors in administration. This was necessary above all (a most important point) in anything that regarded the public funds.
It must not be imagined for a moment that the Rex issued laws or edicts, or (what was much more common and much more vital) levied taxation under the dominion of, or subject to the consent of, these great men about him. On the contrary, he spoke as absolutely as ever the Imperial Governors had done in the past, and indeed he could not do otherwise because the whole machinery he had inherited presupposed absolute power. But some things were already said to be done "with" these great men: and it is of capital importance that we should note this word "with." The phrases of the official documents from that time run more and more in one of half-a-dozen regular formulæ, all of which are based upon this idea of the Council and are in general such words as these: "So and so, Rex, ordered and commanded (with his chief men) that so and so ... should be done."
As to the second point: we note the change of title. The authority of the Palatium is a _Rex_; not a Legate nor a Governor, nor a man sent from the Emperor, nor a man directly and necessarily nominated by him, but a Rex. Now what is the meaning of that word Rex?
It is usually translated by our word "King." But it does not here mean anything like what our word "King" means when we apply it today--or as we have applied it for many centuries. It does not mean the ruler of a large independent territory. It means a combination of two things when it is used to name these local rulers in the later Roman Empire. It means (1) The chieftain of an auxiliary group of soldiers who holds an Imperial commission: and it means (2) That man acting as a local governor.
Centuries and centuries before, indeed a thousand years before, the word Rex had meant the chieftain of the little town and petty surrounding district of Rome or of some similar neighboring and small state. It had in the Latin language always retained some such connotation. The word "Rex" was often used in Latin literature as we use the word "King" in English: i.e., to describe the head of a state great or small. But as applied to the local rulers of the fifth century in Western Europe, it was not so used. It meant, as I have said, Chieftain or Chief officer of auxiliaries. A Rex was not then, in Spain, or in Gaul, a King in our modern sense of the word: he was only the military head of a particular armed force. He was originally the commander (hereditary or chosen or nominated by the Emperor) of an auxiliary force serving as part of the Roman Army. Later, when these troops - originally recruited perhaps from some one barbaric district - changed by slow degrees into a body half police, half noble, their original name would extend to the whole local army. The "Rex" of, say, Batavian auxiliaries, the commander of the Batavian Corps, would probably be a man of Batavian blood, with hereditary position and would be called "Rex Bataviorum." Afterwards, when the recruiting was mixed, he still kept that title and later still, when the Batavii, as such, had disappeared, his fixed title would remain.
There was no similarity possible between the word Rex and the word Imperator, any more than there is between the words "Miners' Union" or "Trade Conference" and the word "England." There was, of course, no sort of equality. A Roman General in the early part of the process planning a battle would think of a Rex as we think of a Divisionary General. He might say: "I shall put my regulars here in the centre. My auxiliaries (Huns or Goths or Franks or what not) I shall put here. Send for their 'Rex' and I will give him his orders."
A Rex in this sense was a subject and often an unimportant subject of the Imperator or Emperor: the Imperator being, as we remember, the Commander-in-Chief of the Roman Army, upon which institution the Roman State or Empire or civilization had depended for so many centuries.
When the Roman Army began to add to itself auxiliary troops (drilled of course after the Roman fashion and forming one body with the Roman forces, but contracted for "in bulk," as it were) the chieftains of these barbaric and often small bodies were called in the official language, Reges. Thus Alaric, a Roman officer and nothing more, was the Rex of his officially appointed auxiliary force; and since the nucleus of that force had once been a small body of Goths, and since Alaric held his position as an officer of that auxiliary force because he had once been, by inheritance, a chieftain of the Goths, the word Rex was attached to his Imperial Commission in the Roman Army, and there was added to it the name of that particular barbaric tribe with which his command had originally been connected. He was Rex of the Roman auxiliary troops called "Goths." The "Rex" in Spain was "Rex Gotorum," not "Rex Hispaniae" - that was altogether a later idea. The Rex in Northern France was not Rex Galliae, he was "Rex Francorum." In each case he was the Rex of the particular auxiliary troop from which his ancestors - sometimes generations before - had originally drawn their Imperial Commission and their right to be officers in the Roman Army.
Thus you will have the Rex Francorum, or King of the Franks, so styled in the Palatium at Paris, as late as, say, 700 A.D. Not because any body of "Franks" still survived as a separate corps - they had been but a couple of regiments or so [Footnote: We have documentary record. The greater part of the Frankish auxiliaries under Clovis were baptized with their General. They came to 4,000 men.] two hundred years before and had long disappeared - but because the original title had derived from a Roman auxiliary force of Franks.
In other words, the old Roman local legislative and taxing power, the reality of which lay in the old surviving Roman machinery of a hierarchy of officials with their titles, writs, etc., was vested in the hands of a man called "Rex," that is, "Commander" of such and such an auxiliary force; Commander of the Franks, for instance, or Commander of the Goths. He still commanded in the year 550 a not very large military force on which local government depended, and in this little army the barbarians were still probably predominant because, as we have seen, towards the end of the Empire the stuff of the army had become barbaric and the armed force was mainly of barbaric recruitment. But that small military force was also, and as certainly, very mixed indeed; many a slave or broken Roman freedman would enlist, for it had privileges and advantages of great value; [Footnote: Hence the "leges" or codes specially regulating the status of these Roman troops and called in documents the laws of the "Goths" or "Burgundians," as the case may he. There is a trace of old barbaric customs in some of these, sometimes of an exclusive rule of marriage; but the mass of them are obviously Roman privileges.] no one cared in the least whether the members of the armed forces which sustained society were Roman, Gallic, Italian or German in racial origin. They were of all races and origins. Very shortly after - by, say, 600, at latest - the Army had become a universal rough levy of all sorts and kinds, and the restriction of race was forgotten save in a few customs still clinging by hereditary right to certain families and called their "laws."
Again, there was no conception of rebellion against the Empire in the mind of a Rex. All these Reges without exception held their military office and power originally by a commission from the Empire. All of them derived their authority from men who had been regularly established as Imperial functionaries. When the central power of the Emperor had, as a fact, broken down, the Rex as a fact administered the whole machinery without control.
But no Rex ever tried to emancipate himself from the Empire or warred for independence against the Emperor. The Rex, the local man, undertook all government simply because the old Government above him, the central Government, had failed. No Rex ever called himself a local Imperator or dreamed of calling himself so; and that is the most significant thing in all the transition between the full civilization of the old Empire and the Dark Ages. The original Roman armies invading Gaul, Spain, the western Germanies and Hungary, fought to conquer, to absorb, to be masters of and makers of the land they seized. No local governor of the later transition, no Rex of Vandal, Goth, Hun, Frank or Berber or Moor troop ever dreamt of such a thing. He might fight another local Rex to get part of his taxing-power or his treasure. He might take part in the great religious quarrels (as in Africa) and act tyrannically against a dissident majority, but to fight against the Empire as such or to attempt conquest and rule over a "subject population" would have meant nothing to him; in theory the Empire was still under one control.
There, then, you have the picture of what held the levers of the machine of government during the period of its degradation and transformation, which followed the breakdown of central authority. Clovis, in the north of France, the Burgundian chieftain at Arles, Theodoric in Italy, Athanagild later at Toledo in Spain, were all of them men who had stepped into the shoes of an unbroken local Roman administration, who worked entirely by it, and whose machinery of administration wherever they went was called by the Roman and official name of Palatium.
Their families were originally of barbaric stock: they had for their small armed forces a military institution descended and derived from the Roman auxiliary forces; often, especially in the early years of their power, they spoke a mixed and partly barbaric tongue [Footnote: The barbaric dialects outside the Empire were already largely latinized through commerce with the Empire and by its influence, and, of course, what we call "Teutonic Languages" are in reality half Roman, long before we get our first full documents in the eighth and ninth centuries.] more easily than pure Latin; but every one of them was a soldier of the declining Empire and regarded himself as a part of it, not as even conceivably an enemy of it.
When we appreciate this we can understand how insignificant were those changes of frontier which make so great a show in historical atlases.
The Rex of such and such an auxiliary force dies and divides his "kingdom" between two sons. What does that mean? Not that a nation with its customs and its whole form of administration was suddenly divided into two, still less that there has been what today we call "annexation" or "partition" of states. It simply means that the honor and advantage of administration are divided between the two heirs, who take, the one the one area, the other the other, over which to gather taxes and to receive personal profit. It must always be remembered that the personal privilege so received was very small in comparison with the total revenue to be administrated, and that the vast mass of public work as carried on by the judiciary, the officers of the Treasury and so forth, continued to be quite impersonal and fundamentally imperial. This governmental world of clerks and civil servants lived its own life and was only in theory dependent upon the Rex, and the Rex was no more than the successor of the chief local Roman official. [Footnote: Our popular historical atlases render a very bad service to education by their way of coloring these districts as though they were separate modern nations. The real division right up to full tide of feudalism was Christian and Pagan, and, within the former, Eastern and Western: Greek and Latin.]
The Rex, by the way, called himself always by some definite inferior Roman title, such as Vir Illuster, as an Englishman today might be called "Sir Charles So and So" or "Lord So and So," never anything more; and often (as in the case of Clovis), he not only accepted directly from the Roman Emperor a particular office, but observed the old popular Roman customs such as, largesse and procession, upon his induction into that office.
Now why did not this man, this Rex, in Italy or Gaul or Spain, simply remain in the position of local Roman Governor? One would imagine, if one did not know more about that society, that he should have done this.
The small auxiliary forces of which he had been chieftain rapidly merged into the body of the Empire, as had the infinitely larger mass of slaves and colonists, equally barbarian in origin, for century after century before that time. The body of civilization was one, and we wonder, at first, why its moral unity did not continue to be represented by a central Monarch. Though the civilization continued to decline, its forms should, one would think, have remained unchanged and the theoretic attachment of each of these subordinates to the Roman Emperor at Constantinople should have endured indefinitely. As a fact, the memory of the old central authority of the Emperor was gradually forgotten; the Rex and his local government as he got weaker also got more isolated. He came to coining his own money, to treating directly as a completely independent ruler. At last the idea of "kings" and "kingdoms" took shape in men's minds. Why?
The reason that the nature of authority very slowly changed, that the last links with the Roman Empire of the East - that is, with the supreme head at Constantinople - gradually dissolved in the West, and that the modern nation arose around these local governments of the Reges, is to be found in that novel feature, the standing Council of great men around the Rex, with whom everything is done.
This standing Council expresses three forces, which between them, were transforming society. Those three forces were: first, certain vague underlying national feelings, older than the Empire, Gallic, Brittanic, Iberian; secondly, the economic force of the great Roman landowners, and, lastly, the living organization of the Catholic Church.
On the economic, or material, side of society, the great landowners were the reality of that time.
We have no statistics to go upon. But the facts of the time and the nature of its institutions are quite as cogent as detailed statistics. In Spain, in Gaul, in Italy, as in Africa, economic power had concentrated into the hands of exceedingly few men. A few hundred men and women, a few dozen corporations (especially the episcopal sees) had come to own most of the land on which these millions and millions lived; and, with the land, most of the implements and of the slaves.
As to the descent of these great landowners none asked or cared. By the middle of the sixth century only a minority perhaps were still of unmixed blood, but quite certainly none were purely barbaric. Lands waste or confiscated through the decline of population or the effect of the interminable wars and the plagues, lay in the power of the Palatium, which granted them out again (strictly under the eye of the Council of Great Men) to new holders.
The few who had come in as original followers and dependents of the "chieftain" of the auxiliary forces benefited largely; but the thing that really concerns the story of civilization is not the origin of these immensely rich owners (which was mixed), nor their sense of race (which simply did not exist), but the fact that they were so few. It explains both what happened and what was to happen.
That a handful of men, for they were no more than a handful, should thus be in control of the economic destinies of mankind - the result of centuries of Roman development in that direction - is the key to all the material decline of the Empire. It should furnish us, if we were wise, with an object lesson for our own politics today.
The decline of the Imperial power was mainly due to this extraordinary concentration of economic power in the hands of a few. It was these few great Roman landowners who in every local government endowed each of the new administrators, each new Rex, with a tradition of imperial power, not a little of the dread that went with the old imperial name, and the armed force which it connoted: everywhere the Rex had to reckon with the strength of highly concentrated wealth. This was the first element in that standing "Council of Great Men" which was the mark of the time in every locality and wore down the old official, imperial, absolute, local power.
There was, however, as I have said, another and a much more important element in the Council of Great Men, besides the chief landowners; it consisted of the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
Every Roman city of that time had a principal personage in it, who knew its life better than anybody else, who had, more than anyone else, power over its morals and ideas, and who in many cases actually administered its affairs. That person was the Bishop.
Throughout Western Europe at that moment men's interest and preoccupation was not race nor even material prosperity, but religion. The great duel between Paganism and the Catholic Church was now decided, after two hard centuries of struggle, in favor of the latter. The Catholic Church, from a small but definite and very tenacious organization within the Empire, and on the whole antagonistic to it, had risen, first, to be the only group of men which knew its own mind (200 A.D.); next' to be the official religion (300 A.D.); finally to be the cohesive political principle of the great majority of human beings (400 A.D.).
The modern man can distinctly appreciate the phenomenon, if for "creed" he will read "capital," and for the "Faith," "industrial civilization." For just as today men principally care for great fortunes, and in pursuit of them go indifferently from country to country, and sink, as unimportant compared with such an object, the other businesses of our time, so the men of the fifth and sixth centuries were intent upon the unity and exactitude of religion. That the religion to which the Empire was now converted, the religion of the Catholic Church, should triumph, was their one preoccupation. For this they exiled themselves; for this they would and did run great risks; as minor to this they sank all other things.
The Catholic hierarchy with its enormous power at that moment, civil and economic as well as religious, was not the creator of such a spirit, it was only its leader. And in connection with that intense preoccupation of men's minds, two factors already appear in the fourth century and are increasingly active through the fifth and sixth. The first is the desire that the living Church should be as free as possible; hence the Catholic Church and its ministers everywhere welcome the growth of local as against centralized power. They do so unconsciously but none the less strongly. The second factor is Arianism: to which I now return.
Arianism, which both in its material success and in the length of its duration, as well as in its concept of religion, and the character of its demise, is singularly parallel to the Protestant movement of recent centuries, had sprung up as the official and fashionable Court heresy opposed to the orthodoxy of the Church.
The Emperor's Court did indeed at last - after many variations - abandon it, but a tradition survived till long after (and in many places) that Arianism stood for the "wealthy" and "respectable" in life.
Moreover, of those barbarians who had taken service as auxiliaries in the Roman armies, the greater part (the "Goths," for instance, as the generic term went, though that term had no longer any national meaning) had received their baptism into civilized Europe from Arian sources, and this in the old time of the fourth century when Arianism was "the thing." Just as we see in eighteenth century Ireland settlers and immigrants accepting Protestantism as "gentlemanly" or "progressive" (some there are so provincial as still to feel thus), so the Rex in Spain and the Rex in Italy had a family tradition; they, and the descendants of their original companions, were of what had been the "court" and "upper class" way of thinking. They were "Arians" and proud of it. The number of these powerful heretics in the little local courts was small, but their irritant effect was great.
It was the one great quarrel and problem of the time.
No one troubled about race, but everybody was at white heat upon the final form of the Church.
The populace felt it in their bones that if Arianism conquered, Europe was lost: for Arianism lacked vision. It was essentially a hesitation to accept the Incarnation and therefore it would have bred sooner or later a denial of the Sacrament, and at length it would have relapsed, as Protestantism has, into nothingness. Such a decline of imagination and of will would have been fatal to a society materially decadent. Had Arianism triumphed, the aged Society of Europe would have perished.
Now it so happened that of these local administrators or governors who were rapidly becoming independent, and who were surrounded by a powerful court, one only was not Arian.
That one was the Rex Francorum or chieftain of the little barbaric auxiliary force of "Franks" which had been drawn into the Roman system from Belgium and the banks of the lower Rhine. This body at the time when the transformation took place between the old Imperial system and the beginnings of the nations, had its headquarters in the Roman town of Tournai.
A lad whose Roman name was Clodovicus, and whom his parents probably called by some such sound as Clodovig (they had no written language), succeeded his father, a Roman officer, [Footnote: He was presumably head of auxiliaries. His tomb has been found. It is wholly Roman.] in the generalship of this small body of troops at the end of the fifth century. Unlike the other auxiliary generals he was pagan. When with other forces of the Roman Army, he had repelled one of the last of the barbaric invaders close to the frontier at the Roman town of Tolbiacum, and succeeded to the power of local administration in Northern Gaul, he could not but assimilate himself with the civilization wherein he was mixed, and he and most of his small command were baptized. He had already married a Christian wife, the daughter of the Burgundian Rex; but in any case such a conclusion was inevitable.
The important historical point is not that he was baptized; for an auxiliary general to be baptized was, by the end of the fifth century, as much a matter of course as for an Oriental trader from Bombay, who has become an English Lord or Baronet in London in our time, to wear trousers and a coat. The important thing is that he was received and baptized by Catholics and not by Arians - in the midst of that enormous struggle.
Clodovicus - known in history as Clovis - came from a remote corner of civilization. His men were untouched by the worldly attraction of Arianism; they had no tradition that it was "the thing" or "smart" to adopt the old court heresy which was offensive to the poorer mass of Europeans. When, therefore, this Rex Francorum was settled in Paris - about the year 500 - and was beginning to administer local government in Northern Gaul, the weight of his influence was thrown with the popular feeling and against the Arian Reges in Italy and Spain.
The new armed forces of the Rex Francorum, a general levy continuing the old Roman tradition, settling things once and for all by battle carried orthodox Catholic administration all over Gaul. They turned the Arian Rex out of Toulouse, they occupied the valley of the Rhone. For a moment it seemed as though they would support the Catholic populace against the Arian officials in Italy itself.
At any rate, their championship of popular and general religion against the irritant, small, administrative Arian bodies in the Palatium of this region and of that, was a very strong lever which the people and the Bishops at their head could not but use in favor of the Rex Francorum's independent power. It was, therefore, indirectly, a very strong lever for breaking up the now (500-600) decayed and almost forgotten administrative unity of the Roman world.
Under such forces - the power of the Bishop in each town and district, the growing independence of the few and immensely rich great landowners, the occupation of the Palatium and its official machinery by the chieftains of the old auxiliary forces - Western Europe, slowly, very slowly, shifted its political base.
For three generations the mints continued to strike money under the effigy of the Emperor. The new local rulers never took, or dreamed of taking, the Imperial title; the roads were still kept up, the Roman tradition in the arts of life, though coarsened, was never lost. In cooking, dress, architecture, law, and the rest, all the world was Roman. But the visible unity of the Western or Latin Empire not only lacked a civilian and military centre, but gradually lost all need for such a centre.
Towards the year 600, though our civilization was still one, as it had always been, from the British Channel to the Desert of Sahara, and even (through missionaries) extended its effect a few miles eastward of the old Roman frontier beyond the Rhine, men no longer thought of that civilization as a highly defined area within which they could always find the civilian authority of one organ. Men no longer spoke of our Europe as the Respublica or "common weal." It was already beginning to become a mass of small and often overlapping divisions. The things that are older than, and lie beneath, all exact political institutions, the popular legends, the popular feelings for locality and countrysides, were rising everywhere; the great landowners were appearing as semi-independent rulers, each on his own estates (though the many estates of one man were often widely separated).
The daily speech of men was already becoming divided into an infinity of jargons.
Some of these dialects were of Latin origin, some as in the Germanies and Scandinavia, mixed original Teutonic and Latin; some, as in Brittany, were Celtic; some, as in the eastern Pyrenees, Basque; in North Africa, we may presume, the indigenous tongue of the Berbers resumed its sway; Punic also may have survived in certain towns and villages there. [Footnote: We have evidence that it survived in the fifth century.] But men paid no attention to the origin of such diversities. The common unity that survived was expressed in the fixed Latin tongue, the tongue of the Church; and the Church, now everywhere supreme in the decay of Arianism and of paganism alike, was the principle of life throughout all this great area of the West.
So it was in Gaul, and with the little belt annexed to Gaul that had risen in the Germanies to the east of the Rhine; so with nearly all Italy and Dalmatia, and what today we call Switzerland and a part of what today we call Bavaria and Baden; so with what today we call Spain and Portugal; and so (after local adventures of a parallel sort, followed by a reconquest against Arians by Imperial officers and armies) with North Africa and with a strip of Andalusia.
But one part of one province did suffer a limited and local - but sharp - change: on one frontier belt, narrow but long, came something much more nearly resembling a true barbaric success, and the results thereof, than anything which the Continent could show. There was here a real breach of continuity with Roman things.
This exceptional strip was the eastern coast belt of the province of Britain; and we have next to ask: "What happened in Britain when the rest of the Empire was being transformed, after the breakdown of central Imperial power?" Unless we can answer that question we shall fail to possess a true picture of the continuity of Europe and of the early perils in spite of which that continuity has survived.
I turn, therefore, next to answer the question: "What happened in Britain?"