Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/37

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common language and a common culture throughout the Western World; but she had not succeeded in making her subjects feel that they should strive actively to preserve this social and political system. This is the great failure of Rome, and it is in the shadow of that failure that the Middle Ages begin.


As the Roman Empire in the West slowly collapsed, the Christian Church emerged as the one stable institution among the ruins. The ablest inhabitants of the Empire became servants of the Church rather than the state, and they brought with them the Roman genius for administration and law. The men who were still capable of devotion to an ideal gave their loyalty to their faith rather than to their government. As a result, the Church had excellent leadership and strong popular support at a time when the state was weak in both respects.

The strength of the early Church lay in its uncompromising dogmatism, its ability to give certain and reassuring answers to a bewildered and discouraged people. The Empire, as St. Augustine admitted, was the most virtuous state which had ever existed; it represented the best which men inspired by purely secular ideals could achieve. Yet even at its best it fell far short of satisfying the aspirations of its subjects. It offered for the future only a repetition of the present — a rather dull prospect even if the present had been more attractive than it actually was. It was supposedly based on peace and justice, yet it could not prevent recurring civil war and harsh treatment of the poor. Worst of all, the Empire was unable to give any significance to the life of the ordinary individual. He played no part in politics; he had little economic opportunity; his only function was to produce wealth for the state and the ruling classes. The Church could promise a future life in which justice and peace would be realized; it could stress the overwhelming