Page:Historical Lectures and Addresses.djvu/27

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and remove him from his pedestal. It is often found easier to construct for him an ornamental niche and treat him with outward marks of deference. Perhaps nothing is more capricious than the selection of worthies who are supposed to have prepared the way for the Reformation. The continuous effort for the reform of ecclesiastical abuses is one of the chief features of mediæval history. The attempt was made in various ways and was supported by various arguments. The prevalence of corruption was acknowledged by all serious men; the extent of the corruption was exposed often in exaggerated language; the causes of the corruption were fearlessly attacked. It is hard to see in some cases the line which distinguishes those who are exalted as reformers from those who are passed by unnoticed. The tendency of an age as a whole is frequently misrepresented through a desire to elevate unduly some prominent figure into a prophet of the future.

I pass on to consider the general bearings of the subject of ecclesiastical history.

If we regard the course of events since the first appearance of Christianity as an organised system in the world, we see how large, how very large a part it has played in history. In the decline of the Roman world, Christianity was the only influence which bound society together, and afforded the only possible basis for a reorganisation of the imperial system. When the decline of population and energy within the borders of the Empire invited the settlements of the German tribes, the fortunes of those tribes depended upon their power of assimilating the principles, and