Three Introductory Lectures on the Study of Ecclesiastical History/Lecture 1
When Christian the Pilgrim, in his progress towards the Celestial City, halted by the highway-side at the Palace of which the name was Beautiful, he was told, that—"he should not depart till they had shewn him the rarities of that place. And first they had him into the study, where they shewed him records of the greatest antiquity;" in which was "the pedigree of the Lord of the hill, the Son of the Ancient of Days" … "Here also were more fully recorded the acts that he had done, and the names of many hundreds that he had taken into his service; and how he had placed them in such habitations, that could neither by length of days nor decays of nature be dissolved. Then they read to him some of the worthy acts that some of his servants had done; as how they had subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Then they read again in another part of the records of the house, how willing their Lord was to receive in his favour any, even any, though they in time past had offered great affronts to his person and proceedings. Here also were several other histories of other famous things, of all which Christian had a view; as of things both ancient and modern, together with prophecies and predictions of things that have their certain accomplishment, both to the dread and amazement of enemies, and the comfort and solace of pilgrims."
These simple sentences from the familiar story of our childhood contain a true description of the subjects, method, and advantages of the study of Ecclesiastical History, which I now propose to unfold in preparation for the duties which I have been called to discharge. And with this object, it will be my endeavour in this opening Lecture to reduce to order the treasures which were shewn to solace and cheer the Pilgrim on his way, by defining the limits of the province on which we are about to enter.
Beginning of Ecclesiastical History.I. First, then, where does Ecclesiastical History commence? Shall we begin with the Reformation—with the framework of religion with which we ourselves are specially concerned? Or with the new birth of Christendom, properly so called, in the foundation of modern Europe? Or with the close of the first century—with the age of those to whom we accord the name of our "Fathers" in the Christian faith? In a certain sense, each of these periods may be taken, and by different classes of men always will be taken, respectively, as the boundaries of the history of the Church. But, if we are fixing, not merely the accidental limits of convenience, but the true limits involved in the nature of the subject; if Ecclesiastical History means the history of the Church of God; if that history is one united whole; if it cannot be understood without embracing within its range the history of the events, of the persons, of the ideas which have had the most lasting, the most powerful effect on every stage of its course,—we must ascend far higher in the stream of time than the sixteenth, or the fifth, or the second century, beyond the Reformers, beyond the Popes, beyond the Fathers.
Call of Abraham.… Far in the dim distance of primeval ages, is discerned the first figure in the long succession which has never since been broken,—in Ur of the Chaldees, the Patriarchal chief, followed by his train of slaves and retainers, surrounded by his herds of camels and asses, moving westward and southward he knew not whither, drawn on by a mighty destiny big with the hopes of ages,—the first Father of the universal Church,—Abraham, the Founder of the Chosen People, the Father of the faithful, whose seed was to be as the sand upon the sea-shore, as the stars for multitude.
Earlier manifestations doubtless there had been of faith and hope; in other countries also, than Mesopotamia or Palestine, there were yearnings after a higher world. But the call of Abraham is the first beginning of a continuous growth; in his character, in his migration, in his faith was bound up, as the Christian Apostle well describes, all that has since formed the substance and fibre of the history of the Church.
The History of Israel, the first period of Ecclesiastical HistoryFrom this point, then, we start, and from this shall be prepared to enter on the history of the people of Israel, as the true beginning and prototype of the Christian Church. So in old times it was ever held; to the Apostolic age it could not be otherwise; even Eusebius, writing for a special purpose, is constrained to commence his work by going back (almost in the words with which I opened this lecture) to "records of the greatest antiquity, shewing the pedigree of the Son of the Ancient of days," both divine and human; and, in spite of the ever-increasing materials of later times, the elder dispensation has been included, actually or by implication, in some of the greatest works on Ecclesiastical History. So it must be in the nature of the case, however much, for the sake of convenience or perspicuity, we may divide and subdivide what is in itself one whole. Speaking religiously, the history of the Christian Church can never be separated from the life of its Divine Founder, and that life cannot be separated from the previous history, of which it was the culmination, the explanation, the fulfilment. Speaking philosophically, the history of the religious thoughts and feelings of Europe cannot be understood without a full appreciation of the thoughts and feelings of that Semitic race which found their highest expression in the history of the Jewish nation.
Nor is it only for the sake of a mere formal completeness that we must thus combine the old and the new in our historical studies. Consider well what Its peculiar interest.that history is,—what a field it opens, what light it receives, what light it gives, by the mere fact of being so regarded. Of all histories, it is not only the most sacred, it is also (if one may use the expression) the most historical. So far from being exempt from the laws of gradual progress and development to which the history of other nations is subject, it is the most remarkable exemplification of those laws. In no people does the history move forward in so regular a course, through beginning, middle, and end, as in the people of Israel. In none are the beginning, middle, and end so clearly distinguished, each from each. In none has the beginning so natural and so impressive a preparation, as that formed by the age of the patriarchs. In none do the various stages of the history so visibly lead the way to the consummation, which, however truly it may be regarded as the opening of a new order, is yet no less truly the end of the old. And nowhere does the final consummation more touchingly linger in the close, more solemnly break away into new forms and new life, than in the last traces of the effects of the Jewish race on the Apostolic age.
The form, too, of the sacred books of the Old Testament is one of all others most attractive to the historical student. Out of a great variety of documents, sometimes contemporaneous, sometimes posthumous, sometimes regular narratives, sometimes isolated fragments, is to be constructed the picture of events, persons, manners most diverse. The style and language, of primitive abruptness, pregnant with meaning, is eminently suggestive. The historical annals are combined with rich and constant illustration, from what in secular literature would be called the poets and orators of the nation. There is everything to stimulate research, even did these remains contain no more than the merely human interest which attaches to the records of any great and ancient people.
Its religious importance in connection with Christian History.But the sons of Israel, as we all know, are much more than this. They are, literally, our spiritual ancestors: their imagery, their poetry, their very names have descended to us; their hopes, their prayers, their Psalms are ours. In their religious life we see the analogy of ours; in the gradual, painful, yet sure unfolding of divine truth to them, we see the likeness of the same light dawning slowly on the Christian Church. They are truly 'our ensamples.' Through the reverses, the imperfections, the errors, the sins of His ancient Church, we see how "God at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past to our fathers," bringing out of all the highest of all blessings, as we trust that He may still through like vicissitudes to the Church of the present and to the Church of the future.
Political principles, we are told, are best studied in the history of classical antiquity, because they are there discussed and illustrated with a perfect abstraction from those particular associations which bias our judgment in modern and domestic instances. And so, in a still higher degree, in the history of the Jewish Church we find the principles of all religious and ecclesiastical parties developed not amidst names and events, which are themselves the subjects of vehement controversy, but in a narrative of acknowledged authority, free from all the bitterness of modern watchwords, and yet with a completeness and variety such as within the same compass could be found in no modern church or nation.
Reproduce this history with all the detail of which it is capable. Recall Abraham resting under the oak of Mamre; Joseph amidst the Egyptian monuments; Moses under the cliffs of Horeb; Joshua leaning on his outstretched spear; Samuel amidst his youthful scholars; David surrounded by his court and camp; Solomon in his eastern state; the wild, romantic, solitary figure of the great Elijah; "the goodly fellowship" of gifted seers, lifting up their strains of joy or sorrow, as they have been well described, like some great tragic chorus, as kingdom after kingdom falls to ruin, as hope after hope dies and is revived again. Represent in all their distinctness the several stages of the history, in its steady onward advance from Egypt to Sinai, from Sinai to the Jordan, from the Jordan to Jerusalem, from the Law to the Judges, from the Judges to the Monarchy, from the Monarchy to the Prophets, from the Prophets to the great event to which not the Prophets only, but the yearnings of the whole nation had for ages borne witness.
Let us not fear lest our reverence should be diminished by finding these sacred names and high aspirations under the garb of Bedouin chiefs, and Egyptian slaves, and Oriental kings, and Syrian patriots. The contrast of the ancient inward spirit with the present degraded condition of the same outward forms is the best indication of the source from whence that spirit came. Let us not fear lest we should, by the surpassing interest of the story of the elder Church, be tempted to forget the end to which it leads us. The more we study the Jewish history, the more shall we feel that it is but the prelude of a vaster and loftier history, without which it would be itself unmeaning. The voice of the Old dispensation is pitched in too loud a key for the ears of one small people. The place of the Jewish nation is too strait for the abode of thoughts which want a wider room in which to dwell. The drama, as it rolls on through its successive stages, is too majestic to end in anything short of a divine catastrophe.
This is a brief but necessary sketch of the first part of our subject. This is the ancient period of Ecclesiastical History. Its full treasures must be unfolded hereafter. Its accessories belong to other departments of study. The critical interpretation of the sacred books in which the history is contained falls under the province of general Theology and Exegesis; the explanation of the languages in which they are written I gladly leave to the Professor of Hebrew and the Professor of Greek. But the history itself of the Chosen People, from Abraham to the Apostles, belongs to this Chair by right; and, if health and strength are spared to me, shall also belong to it in fact.
End of Ancient Ecclesiastical History.II. The fortunes, however, of the seed of Abraham after the flesh form but a small portion of the fortunes of his descendants after the spirit: they are, as I have said, but the introduction to the history which rises on their ruin. With the close of the Apostolic age the direct influence of the Chosen People expires; neither in religious nor in historical language can the Jewish race from this time forward be said to be charged with any divine message for the welfare of mankind. Individual instances of long endurance, of great genius, of lofty character, have indeed arisen amongst them in later times; but, since the day when the Galilean Apostle, St. John, slept his last sleep under the walls of Ephesus, no son of Israel has ever exercised any widespread or lasting control over the general condition of mankind.
Beginning of Christian Ecclesiastical History.We stand, therefore, at the close of the first century, like travellers on a mountain-ridge, when the river which they have followed through the hills is about to burst forth into the wide plain. It is the very likeness of that world-famous view from the range of the Lebanon over the forest and city of Damascus. The stream has hitherto flowed in its narrow channel—its course marked by the contrast which its green strip of vegetation presents to the desert mountains through which it descends. The further we advance, the more remarkable does the contrast become,—the mountains more bare, the river-bed more rich and green. At last its channel is contracted to the utmost limits; the cliffs on each side almost close it in; it breaks through, and over a wide extent, far as the eye can reach, it scatters a flood of vegetation and life, in the midst of which rise the towers and domes of the great city, the earliest and the latest type of human grandeur and civilization.
Such is the view, backwards, and forwards, and beneath our feet, which Ecclesiastical History presents to us, as we rest on the grave of the last Apostle and look over the coming ages of our course. The Church of God is no longer confined within the limits of a single nation. The life and the truth, concentrated, up to this point, within the narrow and unbending character of the Semitic race, has been enlarged into the broad, fluctuating, boundless destinies of the sons of Japheth. The thin stream expands and loses itself more and more in the vast field of the history of the world. The Christian Church soon becomes merely another name for Christendom; and Christendom soon becomes merely another name for the most civilized, the most powerful, the most important nations of the modern habitable world.
Relations of Civil and Ecclesiastical History.What, then, it may be asked, is the difference henceforward between Civil and Ecclesiastical History? How far are the duties of this Professorship separable from those of my distinguished friend who fills the Chair of Modern History?
To a great extent the two are inseparable; they cannot be torn asunder without infinite loss to both. It is indeed true that, in common parlance, Ecclesiastical History is often confined within limits so restricted as to render such a distinction only too easy. Of the numerous theological terms, of which the original sense has been defaced, marred, and clipped by the base currency of the world, few have suffered so much, in few has 'the gold become so dim, the most fine gold so changed,' as in the word "ecclesiastical." The substantive, from which it is derived, has fallen far below its ancient apostolical meaning, but the adjective "ecclesiastical," has fallen lower still. It has come to signify, not the religious, not the moral, not even the social or political interests of the Christian community, but often the very opposite of these—its merely accidental, outward, ceremonial machinery. We call a contest for the retention or the abolition of vestments "ecclesiastical," not a contest for the retention or the abolition of the slave-trade. We include in "ecclesiastical history" the life of the most insignificant bishop or the most wicked of popes, not the life of the wisest of philosophers or the most Christian of kings. But such a limitation is as untenable in fact as it is untrue in theory. The very stones of the spiritual temple cry out against such a profanation of the rock from which they were hewn. If the Christian religion be a matter not of mint, anise, and cummin, but of justice, mercy, and truth; if the Christian Church be not a priestly caste, or a monastic order, or a little sect, or a handful of opinions, but 'the whole congregation' of 'faithful men,' 'dispersed throughout the world;' if the very word, which of old represented the Chosen "People" (λαὸς), is now to be found in the "laity;" if the ancient maxim be correct, Ubi tres sunt laici, ibi est ecclesia; then the range of the history of the Church is as wide as the range of the world which it was designed to penetrate, as the whole body which its name includes.
By a violent effort, no doubt, the two spheres can be kept apart; by a compromise, tacit or understood, the student of each may avoid looking the other in the face; under special circumstances, the intimate relation between the course of Christian society and the course of human affairs may be forgotten or set aside. Josephus the priest may pass over in absolute silence the new sect which arises in Galilee to disturb the Jewish hierarchy. Tacitus the philosopher may give nothing more than a momentary glance at the miserable superstition of the fanatics who called themselves Christians. Napoleon the conqueror, when asked on the coast of Syria to visit the Holy City, may make his haughty reply,—"Jerusalem does not enter into the line of my operations." But this is not the natural, nor the usual, course of the greatest examples both in ancient and modern times. Observe the description of the Jewish Church by the sacred historians. Consider the immense difference for all future ages, if the lives of Joshua, David, Solomon, and Elijah had been omitted, as unworthy of insertion, because they did not belong to the priestly tribe; if the Pentateuch had been confined to the Book of Leviticus; if the Books of Kings and Chronicles had limited themselves to the sayings and doings of Zadok and Abiathar, or even of Nathan and Gad. Remember also the early chroniclers of Europe—almost all of them at once the sole historians of their age, yet, even by purpose and profession, historians only of the Church, Take but one instance—the Venerable Bede. His "Ecclesiastical History of England" begins not with the arrival of Augustine, but with the first dawn of British civilization at the landing of Cæsar; and for the period over which it extends, it is the sufficient and almost the only authority for the fortunes of the Anglo-Saxon commonwealth.
In later times, since history has become a distinct science, the same testimony is still borne by the highest works of genius and research, however much it may have been withheld by the mere hewers of wood and drawers of water, in this wide field. Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" is, in great part, however reluctantly or unconsciously, the history of "the rise and progress of the Christian Church." His true conception of the grandeur of his subject extorted from him that just concession which his own natural prejudice would have refused; and it was remarked not many years ago, by one then of note in this place, that up to that time England had produced no other ecclesiastical history worthy of the name. This reproach has since been removed by the great work of Dean Milman; but it is the distinguishing excellence of that very history that it embraces within its vast circumference the whole story of mediæval Europe. Even in that earlier period when the world and the Church were of necessity distinct and antagonistic, Arnold rightly perceived, and all subsequent labours in this field tend to the same result, that each will be best understood when blended in the common history of the Empire, which exercised so powerful an influence over the development of the Christian society within its bosom, whilst by that society it was itself undermined and superseded. And the two chief historians of France and England in recent times—M. Guizot in his Lectures on French Civillzation, Mr. Macaulay in his English History,—have both strongly brought out, as necessary parts of their dissertations or narratives, the religious influences, which by inferior writers of one class have been neglected, or by those of another class been rent from their natural context.
Never let us think that we can understand the history of the Church apart from the history of the world, any more than that we can separate the interests of the clergy from the interests of the laity, which are the interests of the Church at large.
How to adjust the relations of the two spheres to each other is almost as indefinite a task in history as it is in practice and in philosophy. In no age Points of contact between Civil and Ecclesiastical History.are they precisely the same. "Christians," it was well said by an ancient writer, "are to the world what the soul is to the body;" and it is one of the chief difficulties, as it is one of the chief delights of the historian of the Church, to detect this soul of the world under its various disguises, neither confounding the soul with the body, nor the body with the soul. Sometimes, as in the period of the Roman Empire, when this comparison was first made, the influence of one on the other is more by contagion, by atmosphere, even by contrast, than by direct intercourse. Sometimes the main interest of religious history hangs on an institution, like Episcopacy; on a war, like the Crusades; on a person, like Luther. In some periods, as in the middle ages, the combination of the secular and religious elements will be effected by the political or the intellectual influence of the clergy. The lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury and the lives of the Prime Ministers of England are for five hundred years almost indivisible. The course of European revolution for nearly a thousand years moves round the throne of the Papacy. Or again, the rise of a new power or character will, even in these very ages, suddenly transfer the spiritual guidance of men to some high-minded ruler or gifted writer, who is for the time the true arbiter or interpreter of the interests and the feelings of Christendom. In the close of the thirteenth century, it is not a priest or a pope, but a king and an opponent of popes, who stands forward as the acknowledged representative of the Christian Church in Europe: St. Louis in France, not Gregory IX. at Rome. In the fourteenth century, it is not a schoolman or a bishop that we summon before us as the best exponent of mediæval Christianity; it is not the "seraphic" or the "angelic doctor," but the divine poet Dante, who reveals to us the feelings and thoughts of the whole age respecting this world and the next. And if we pass to our own country, he must be a blind guide who would take us through the English Reformation without seeing on every stage of it the impress of the iron will and broad aims of Henry VIII.; or who would pourtray the English Church without recognising at every turn the likeness of the great Elizabeth. Or yet again, of all our brilliant English divines of the seventeenth century, there is not one who can be fairly said to have exercised as much influence over the popular theology of this nation, as has been undoubtedly exercised by a half-heretic, half-Puritan layman, the author of "Paradise Lost."
Such instances might be multiplied to any amount; but these indicate with sufficient precision the devious yet obvious path which, without losing sight of our wide horizon on the one hand, or without undue contraction on the other, gives us the true limits of Ecclesiastical History. "The kingdom of God is like unto leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened." Whatever explains the spread or the impediments Points of divergence between Civil and Ecclesiastical History.of that leaven is in the province of the historian of the Church of Christ. He must know the general qualities of the materials which the fermenting element is to penetrate; he must specially be acquainted with the progress of the fermenting element itself If we may for a moment return to our former position, and imagine ourselves overlooking the broad expanse into which the stream bursts forth from the mountains of its earlier stages, our purpose henceforth will be not so much to describe the products of the forest or the buildings of the city which have grown up on the banks of the river, but to track the river itself through its various channels, under its overhanging thickets, through the populous streets and gardens to which it gives life; to see what are its main, what its tributary streams; what the nature of its waters; how far impregnated with new qualities, how far coloured by the various soils, vegetations, uses, through which they pass; to trace their secret flow, as they go softly through the regions which they fertilize; not finding them where they do not exist, not denying their power where they do exist; to welcome their sound in courses however tortuous; to acknowledge their value, however stained in their downward and onward passage. Difficult as it may often be to find the stream, yet when it is found it will guide us to the green pastures of this world's wilderness, and lead us beside the still waters.
Three landmarks, at least, may be mentioned, by which this course of Ecclesiastical History may be distinguished from that of history generally.
First, there are institutions, characters, ideas, words, which can be traced to the religious, especially to the Christian, element in man, and to nothing besides. There are virtues and truths now in the world, which can only be ascribed to the influence of Christian society; and there are corruptions of those virtues and of those truths which have produced crimes and errors to be ascribed also, though remotely and indirectly, to the same source. There are events in the common course of history—revolutions, wars, divisions of races and nations—which in themselves can hardly be called religious, but which have at least one aspect distinctly religious. There are also institutions, customs, ceremonies, even vestures and forms of ritual, in which, though originally pagan or secular. Christian ideas have now become so crystallized as to be inseparable from them. All these it is the task of Ecclesiastical History to adjust and discriminate.
Secondly, in every age, even the worst, there has been beneath the surface an undercurrent of religious life and of active goodness, which it will be our duty to bring to light, as the true signs of a better world beyond, and of the Divine Presence abiding with us even here,—a Church, as it were, within a Church; a "remnant," to use the language of the older covenant; "a still small voice," which almost of its own nature escapes the notice of the historian whose attention is fixed on the wind, the earthquake, and the fire of the vast movements of the world.
Thirdly, the whole history of the Church, though usually flowing in the tracks marked out for it by the great national and geographical boundaries of the world, yet has a course, not always, and therefore not of necessity, identical with the channel of human civilization. In the history of the Church, as in that of the world, in the history of the Christian Church, as in that of the Jewish, there is a distinct unity of parts, an onward progress from scene to scene, from act to act, towards an end yet distant and invisible; a unity and a progress such as gives consistency and point to what would else be a mere collection of isolated and disjointed facts.
Stages of the History of the Church.Let us then, before we conclude, briefly notice the successive stages through which, eventually, our course of study must lead us, and the interest especially attaching to each.
The first period is that which contains the great question, almost the greatest which Ecclesiastical History has to answer,—1. The Transition from the Church of the Apostles to the Church of the Fathers.How was the transition effected from the age of the Apostles to the age of the Fathers, from Christianity, as we see it in the New Testament, to Christianity, as we see it in the next century, and as, to a certain extent, we have seen it ever since?
No other change equally momentous has ever since affected its fortunes, yet none has ever been so silent and secret. The stream, in that most critical moment of its passage from the everlasting hills to the plain below, is lost to our view at the very point where we are most anxious to watch it; we may hear its struggles under the overarching rocks; we may catch its spray on the boughs that overlap its course; but the torrent itself we see not, or see only by imperfect glimpses. It is not so much a period for ecclesiastical History, as for ecclesiastical controversy and conjecture. A fragment here, an allegory there; romances of unknown authorship; a handful of letters of which the genuineness of every portion is contested inch by inch; the summary examination of a Roman magistrate; the pleadings of one or two Christian Apologists; customs and opinions in the very act of change; last, but not least, the faded paintings, the broken sculptures, the rude epitaphs in the darkness of the catacombs,—these are the scanty, yet, perhaps from their very scantiness, the attractive, materials out of which the early Church must be reproduced, as it was working its way, in the literal sense of the word, "under ground,"—under camp and palace, under senate and forum,—'as unknown, yet well known; as dying, and behold it lives.'
This chasm once cleared, we find ourselves approaching the point where the story of the Church once more becomes History—becomes once more the history, not of an isolated community, or of isolated individuals, but of an organized society incorporated with the political systems of the world. Already, in the close of the second and beginning of the third century, the Churches of Africa, now The African Churchesbright for a few generations before their final and total eclipse, exhibit distinct characters on the scene. They are the stepping-stones by which we cross from the obscure to the clear, from chaos to order.
But the first great outward event of the actual 2. The conversion of the Empire; and the Eastern Church.history of the Church is its conversion of the Empire; and, in close connection with this, its first wide sphere in the face of mankind, is the Oriental world, out of which it sprang, and in which the external forms of its early organization can still be most clearly studied. In Antioch, in Alexandria, in and around Constantinople, lie its most active heresies, its chief councils, its leading characters: and in the usages of the ancient systems which have grown up on that soil—Coptic, Greek, Nestorian, Russian—we may still trace the relics, the fossilized relics, of the old Imperial Church. But the stir of an onward movement soon ceases to be heard after the clatter and repose of its first victory. One only great convulsion has broken the stagnation Mahometanism.of the Eastern forms of Christianity—itself spurious, antagonistic, retrograde, yet a development, and reaction, out of those very forms. One great character has in later years burst out of those primeval seats of religion—call him Prophet, impostor, fanatic, reformer. Antichrist; yet Mahomet, and the religion of Mahomet, whether by way of contrast or resemblance, must always arrest the attention and demand the explanation of any true historian of the Church of Christ.
With the exception, however, of this one startling episode, this one rebound of the ancient Semitic fervour into the fold of the Gentile Churches, Eastern Christianity has but little to detain us. It contains only the second act of the drama; it was but the temporary halting-place of the great spiritual migration which, from the day that Abraham turned his face away from the rising of the sun, has been stepping steadily westward.
Another and a wider sphere was in store for the 3. Invasion of the Barbarians; and the Latin Church.progress of the Church than its own native regions; another and a nobler conquest than that of its old Latin worn-out enemy on the tottering throne of the Cæsars. The Gothic tribes descended on the ancient world; the fabric of civilized society was dissolved in the mighty crisis; the Fathers of modern Europe were to be moulded, subdued, educated. By whom was this great work effected? Not by the Empire,—it had fled to the Bosphorus; not by the Eastern Church;—it had converted many for a time, but it retained its permanent hold only on one, and that till quite recently the least important, of the northern races. In the Western, Latin, Roman clergy, in the missionaries who went forth to Gaul, to Britain, and to Germany, the barbarians found their first masters; in the work of controlling and resisting the fierce soldiers of the Teutonic tribes lay the main work, the real foundation, the chief temptation of the Papacy. From the day when Leo III. placed the crown of the new, Holy, Roman, German empire on the head of Charlemagne, the stream of human progress and the stream of Christian life, with whatever interruptions, eddies, counter-currents, flowed during the next seven centuries in the same channel. As the history of the earlier stages revolved The Papacy.round the characters of the Fathers or of the Emperors, so the history of the Middle Ages, with all their crimes and virtues, revolved (it is at once the confession of their weakness and their strength) round the character and policy of the Popes. What good they did, and what good they failed to do; by what means they rose, and by what they fell, during that long period of their power,— is the main question by which their claims must be tested.
4. The Reformation.And now a new revolution was at hand, almost as terrible in its appearance, and as trying in its results, as any that had gone before. The fountains of the great deep were again broken up. New wants and old evils had met together. The failure of the Crusades had shaken men's belief in holy places. Long abuses had shaken their belief in Popes, bishops, monasteries, sacraments, and saints. The revival of ancient learning had revealed truth under new forms. The invention of printing had raised up a new order of scribes, expounders, readers, writers, clergy. Institutions, which had guided the world for a thousand years, now decayed and out of joint, gave way at the moment when they were most needed. Was it possible that the Christian Church should meet these trials as it had met those which had gone before? It had lived through the fall of Jerusalem; it had lived through the Ten persecutions; it had lived through its amalgamation with the Empire; it had lived through the invasion of the barbarians: but could it live through the struggles of internal dissolution? could it live through the shipwreck of the whole outward fabric of its existence? could the planks of the vessel, scattered on the face of the raging flood, be so put together again as to form any shelter from the storm, any home on the waters? Did the history of the Church come to an end, as many thought it would, when its ancient organization came to an end, in the great change of the Reformation?
We know that it still lived on. That it survived Protestantism.at all, is the best proof which it has yet presented of its inherent vitality; that it survived, in a purified form, is the best pledge of its future success. To Ancient Christianity, to Byzantine Christianity, to Roman Christianity, was now added the fourth and equally unmistakeable form of Protestant Christianity: like the others, clothed in an outward shape of its own, and confining itself specially to distinct branches of the European family, yet also penetrating with its spirit institutions and nations outwardly most repugnant to it. Amidst many conflicts, therefore, Ecclesiastical History still continues in the general tracks that were opened for it in the sixteenth century. Whatever political troubles have agitated the world since that time, and whatever changes may be fermenting in the inner heart and mind of the Church, none has since altered its outward aspect and divisions. But there is one wide difference between the history of Christendom as it was before and as it has been since the Reformation. Henceforward it is impossible to follow its course as a whole: each country must have its own ecclesiastical as well as its own civil history. Italy … Spain … Sweden … Holland … Geneva … Scotland … the very names have each, in theological language, a peculiar pathos and significance imparted by the Reformation. In each that great event awakened a different note, as it traversed their several chords. Still there are three countries in which, beyond all others, the religious history of Europe has been specially carried on.
TheGerman Church.Germany, … the seat of the original movement, has never lost the hold which it then first acquired on the reason and imagination of mankind. But its influence, whether for good or evil, has been almost too impalpable to attach itself to any course of events or any definite outward character.
The French Church and the French Revoloution.It is in France that the fortunes of Christianity during the last three centuries have been most visibly represented in the brightest and in the darkest colours. The Gallican Church, first the most brilliant in Europe, brilliant alike in its works of active mercy and in its almost Augustan age of great divines,—Vincent of Paul, Bossuet, Fenelon, Pascal,—lived to become the miserable parent, and then the victim, of the great convulsion which, whilst it shook the belief of the whole of Christendom, in France for eleven years suppressed it altogether. The French Revolution must always be considered as an epoch in the religious history of man. Not only was its hostility to the Christian faith the most direct that the world has seen since the days of Julian; not only did it spring, in great measure, out of the corrupt state of the French clergy—the Church of Dubois, of Maury, Sieyes, and Talleyrand; but it possessed in itself that frightful energy which, as has been truly observed by its latest exponent, can only be likened to the propagation of a new religion,—the wild fanaticism, the proselytism, the self-devotion, the crimes, as though of a Western Mahometanism,—of what its own disciples have often called it, an imitation, a parody, a new, distorted edition of the Gospel. It was itself swallowed up in the gulf which it had created. Its traces on European religion have, to all outward appearance, been almost effaced. But as a moral warning to all existing Churches it can never be overlooked; as an interpreter of the great religious storms of former ages it is most instructive; in the inward sifting and trial of the religious thoughts of men, its effects can even now be felt, not only in the country from which it sprang, but even in those most removed from its immediate influence.
And this leads us finally to the third great ecclesiastical system which stands alone and apart, yet with its own peculiar mission, in the general fortunes of the Western Church. At least for Englishmen, no ecclesiastical history since the Reformation The Church of England.can be so instructive as that of our own Church of England. To see how, out of that wide shipwreck, the fragments of our vessel were again pieced together—how far it has realized the essential condition of the ark on the stormy waters—how far it has contained within itself the necessary though heterogeneous elements of our national faith and character—how far it may still hope to do so—what is its connection with the past, what its hold upon the future—this is the last and most important task of the English ecclesiastical historian. The peculiar constitution of our State has borne the brunt and survived the shock of the French Revolution: it is the hope of the peculiar constitution of our Church, that it should in like manner meet, overcome, and absorb the shock of the new thoughts and feelings to which, directly or indirectly, that last of European movements has given birth.
Conclusion.I have been induced thus, at the outset, to dwell on this broad extent of prospect, first, because it is only by a just appreciation of the whole that any part can be properly understood; and secondly, because I wish to impress on my hearers the many points of contact which Ecclesiastical History presents to the various studies of this place. If at times it is impossible not to be oppressed with the load which has to be taken from the stores of the Pilgrim's Palace, it is a satisfaction to remember that there are many travellers passing along the same road, who will, almost of necessity, lighten the burden and cheer the journey by their common interest in the treasures borne away.
One such has been before me in this path—my lamented predecessor.
The late Professor Hussey.Personally he was almost unknown to me. In our mode of dealing with the subject before us we might have widely differed. But I cannot enter on this office, without bearing my humble testimony to the conscientious industry with which, as I have heard from those who attended his lectures, he guided them over the rugged way which he had chosen for them; without expressing my grateful sense of the characteristic forethought and munificence with which he bequeathed to this Chair the valuable endowment of his library. Still more, I should be doing wrong both to him and to the University, were I not to dwell for a moment on what I have always understood was the chief ground of the respect which he commanded in this place. He was emphatically a "just man;" he possessed in an eminent degree that rare gift of public integrity and fairness, too rare in the world, too rare in the Church, too rare in Ecclesiastical History, too rare even in great seats of learning, not to be noticed when it comes before us; especially when, as in the present case, it passes away with the marked approbation and regret of all who witnessed it. In times of much angry controversy, he never turned aside from his straightforward course to excite needless alarms. He never stooped to win theological favour by attacking unpopular names. He never allowed any religious sentiment or fancy to interfere with his manly and severe sense of truth and duty. He shewed that it was possible to be impartial without weakness, and orthodox without bitterness. May the University long remember that such was the character which she delighted to honour; may his successors in this Chair be encouraged and enabled to act and to speak, in this most important respect, according to his example.
- I am indebted for this expression to a striking sermon of Professor Archer Butler, (vol. i. p. 210).
- Tocqueville: L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution, c. iii.