§ 87. Penance and Indulgence.
Church and State. § 88. Legislation.
§ 89. The Roman Law.
§ 90. The Capitularies of Charlemagne.
§ 91. English Legislation.
Worship and Ceremonies. § 92. The Mass.
§ 93. The Sermon.
§ 94. Church Poetry. Greek Hymns and Hymnists.
§ 95. Latin Hymnody. Literature.
§ 96. Latin Hymns and Hymnists.
§ 97. The Seven Sacraments.
§ 98. The Organ and the Bell.
§ 99. The Worship of Saints.
§ 100. The Worship of Images. Literature. Different Theories.
§ 101. The Iconoclastic War, and the Synod of 754.
§ 102. The Restoration of Image-Worship by the Seventh Oecumenical Council, 787.
§ 103. Iconoclastic Reaction, and Final Triumph of Image-Worship, a. d. 842.
§ 104. The Caroline Books and the Frankish Church on Image-Worship.
§ 105. Evangelical Reformers. Agobardus of Lyons, and Claudius of Turin.
Doctrinal Controversies. § 106. General Survey.
§ 107. The Controversy on the Procession of the Holy Spirit.
§ 108. The Arguments for and against the Filioque.
§ 109. The Monotheletic Controversy.
§ 110. The Doctrine of Two Wills in Christ.
§ 111. History of Monotheletism and Dyotheletism.
§ 112. The Sixth Oecumenical Council. a. d. 680.
§ 113. The Heresy of Honorius.
§ 114. Concilium Quinisextum. a. d. 692.
§ 115. Reaction of Monotheletism. The Maronites.
§ 116. The Adoptionist Controversy. Literature.
§ 117. History of Adoptionism.
§ 118. Doctrine of Adoptionism.
§ 119. The Predestinarian Controversy.
§ 120. Gottschalk and Babanus Maurus.
§ 121. Gottschalk and Hincmar.
§ 122. The Contending Theories on Predestination, and the Victory of Semi-Augustinianism.
§ 123. The Doctrine of Scotus Erigena.
§ 124. The Eucharistic Controversies. Literature.
§ 125. The Two Theories of the Lord’s Supper.
§ 126. The Theory of Paschasius Radbertus.
§ 127. The Theory of Ratramnus.
§ 128. The Berengar Controversy.
§ 129. Berengar’s Theory of the Lord’s Supper.
§ 130. Lanfranc and the Triumph of Transubstantiation.
Heretical Sects. § 131. The Paulicians.
§ 132. The Euchites and other Sects in the East.
§ 133. The New Manichaeans in the West.
The State of Learning. § 134. Literature.
§ 135. Literary Character of the Early Middle Ages.
§ 136. Learning in the Eastern Church.
§ 137. Christian Platonism and the Pseudo-Dionysian Writings.
§ 138. Prevailing Ignorance in the Western Church.
§ 139. Educational Efforts of the Church.
§ 140. Patronage of Letters by Charles the Great, and Charles the Bald.
§ 141. Alfred the Great, and Education in England.
Biographical Sketches of Ecclesiastical Writers. § 142. Chronological List of the Principal Ecclesiastical Writers from the Sixth to the Twelfth Century.
§ 143. St. Maximus Confessor.
§ 144. John of Damascus.
§ 145. Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople.
§ 146. Simeon Metaphrastes.
§ 147. Oecumenius.
§ 148. Theophylact.
§ 149. Michael Psellus.
§ 150. Euthymius Zigabenus.
§ 151. Eustathius of Thessalonica.
§ 152. Nicetas Acominatos.
§ 153. Cassiodorus.
§ 154. St. Gregory of Tours.
§ 155. St. Isidore of Seville.
§ 156. The Venerable Bede (Baeda).
§ 157. Paul the Deacon.
§ 158. St. Paulinus of Aquileia.
§ 159. Alcuin.
§ 160. St. Liudger.
§ 161. Theodulph of Orleans.
§ 162. St. Eigil.
§ 163. Amalarius.
§ 164. Einhard.
§ 165. Smaragdus.
§ 166. Jonas of Orleans.
§ 167. Rabanus Maurus.
§ 168. Haymo.
§ 169. Walahfrid Strabo.
§ 170. Florus Magister, of Lyons.
§ 171. Servatus Lupus.
§ 172. Druthmar.
§ 173. St. Paschasius Radbertus.
§ 174. Patramnus.
§ 175. Hincmar of Rheims.
§ 176. Johannes Scotus Erigena.
§ 177. Anastasius.
§ 178. Ratherius of Verona.
§ 179. Gerbert (Sylvester II.).
§ 180. Fulbert of Chartres.
§ 181. Rodulfus Glaber. Adam of Bremen.
§ 182. St. Peter Damiani.
HISTORY of MEDIEVAL CHRISTIANITY FROM a. d. 590 TO 1517.
General Introduction to Mediaeval Church History. § 1. Sources and Literature. August Potthast: Bibliotheca Historica Medii Aoevi. Wegweiser durch die Geschichtswerke des Europäischen Mittelalters von 375–1500. Berlin, 1862. Supplement, 1868.
The mediaeval literature embraces four distinct branches;
We notice here only the first and second; the other two will be mentioned in subdivisions as far as they are connected with church history.
The Christian literature consists partly of documentary sources, partly of historical works. We confine ourselves here to the most important works of a more general character. Books referring to particular countries and sections of church history will be noticed in the progress of the narrative.
I. Documentary Sources.
They are mostly in Latin—the official language of the Western Church,—and in Greek,—the official language of the Eastern Church.
(1) For the history of missions: the letters and biographies of missionaries.
(2) For church polity and government: the official letters of popes, patriarchs, and bishops.
The documents of the papal court embrace (a) Regesta (registra), the transactions of the various branches of the papal government from a.d. 1198–1572, deposited in the Vatican library, and difficult of access. (b) Epistolae decretales, which constitute the basis of the Corpus juris canonici, brought to a close in 1313. (c) The bulls (bulla, a seal or stamp of globular form, though some derive it from boulhv, will, decree) and briefs (breve, a short, concise summary), i.e., the official letters since the conclusion of the Canon law. They are of equal authority, but the bulls differ from the briefs by their more solemn form. The bulls are written on parchment, and sealed with a seal of lead or gold, which is stamped on one side with the effigies of Peter and Paul, and on the other with the name of the reigning pope, and attached to the instrument by a string; while the briefs are written on paper, sealed with red wax, and impressed with the seal of the fisherman or Peter in a boat.
(3) For the history of Christian life: the biographies of saints, the disciplinary canons of synods, the ascetic literature.
(4) For worship and ceremonies: liturgies, hymns, homilies, works of architecture sculpture, painting, poetry, music. The Gothic cathedrals are as striking embodiments of mediaeval Christianity as the Egyptian pyramids are of the civilization of the Pharaohs.
(5) For theology and Christian learning: the works of the later fathers (beginning with Gregory I.), schoolmen, mystics, and the forerunners of the Reformation.
II. Documentary Collections. Works of Mediaeval Writers.
(1) For the Oriental Church.
Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, opera Niebuhrii, Bekkeri, et al. Bonnae, 1828–’78, 50 vols. 8vo. Contains a complete history of the East-Roman Empire from the sixth century to its fall. The chief writers are Zonaras, from the Creation to a.d. 1118; Nicetas, from 1118 to 1206; Gregoras, from 1204 to 1359; Laonicus, from 1298 to 1463; Ducas, from 1341 to 1462; Phrantzes, from 1401 to 1477.
J. A. Fabricius (d. 1736): Bibliotheca Graeca sive Notitia Scriptorum veterum Graecorum, 4th ed., by G. Chr. Harless, with additions. Hamburg, 1790–1811, 12 vols. A supplement by S. F. W. Hoffmann: Bibliographisches Lexicon der gesammten Literatur der Griechen. Leipzig, 1838–’45, 3 vols.
(2) For the Westem Church.
Bibliotheca Maxima Patrum. Lugduni, 1677, 27 vols. fol.
Martene (d. 1739) and Durand (d. 1773): Thesaurus Anecdotorum Novus, seu Collectio Monumentorum, etc. Paris, 1717, 5 vols. fol. By the same: Veterum Scriptorum et Monumentorum Collectio ampliss. Paris, 1724–’38, 9 vols. fol.
J. A. Fabricius: Bibliotheca Latina Mediae et Infimae AEtatis. Hamb. 1734, and with supplem. 1754, 6 vols. 4to.
Abbé Migne: Patralogiae Cursus Completus, sive Bibliotheca Universalis ... Patrum, etc. Paris, 1844–’66. The Latin series (1844–’55) has 221 vols. (4 vols. indices); the Greek series (1857–66) has 166 vols. The Latin series, from tom. 80–217, contains the writers from Gregory the Great to Innocent III. Reprints of older editions, and most valuable for completeness and convenience, though lacking in critical accuracy.
Abbé Horay: Medii AEvi Bibliotheca Patristica ab anno MCCXVI usque ad Concilii Tridentini Tempora. Paris, 1879 sqq. A continuation of Migne in the same style. The first 4 vols. contain the Opera Honori III.
Joan. Domin. Mansi (archbishop of Lucca, d. 1769): Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima Collectio. Florence and Venice 1759–1798, 31 vols. fol. The best collection down to 1509. A new ed. (facsimile) publ. by Victor Palmé, Paris and Berlin 1884 sqq. Earlier collections of Councils by Labbé and Cossart (1671–72, 18 vols), Colet (with the supplements of Mansi, 1728–52, 29 vols. fol.), and Hardouin (1715, 12 vols. fol.).
C. Cocquelines: Magnum Bullarium Romanum. Bullarum, Privilegiorum ac Diplomatum Romanorum Pontificum usque ad Clementem XII. amplissima Collectio. Rom. 1738–58. 14 Tom. fol. in 28 Partes; new ed. 1847–72, in 24 vols.
A. A. Barberi: Magni Bullarii Rom. Continuatio a Clemente XIII ad Pium VIII. (1758–1830). Rom. 1835–’57, 18 vols. fol. The bulls of Gregory XVI. appeared 1857 in 1 vol.
G. H. Pertz (d. 1876): Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Hannov. 1826–1879. 24 vols. fol. Continued by G. Waitz.
III. Documentary Histories.
Acta Sanctorum Bollandistarum. Antw. Bruxellis et Tongerloae, 1643–1794; Brux. 1845 sqq., new ed. Paris, 1863–75, in 61 vols. fol. (with supplement). See a list of contents in the seventh volume for June or the first volume for October; also in the second part of Potthast, sub "Vita," pp. 575 sqq.
This monumental work of John Bolland (a learned Jesuit, 1596–1665), Godefr. Henschen (†1681), Dan. Papebroch (†1714), and their associates and followers, called Bollandists, contains biographies of all the saints of the Catholic Church in the order of the calendar, and divided into months. They are not critical histories, but compilations of an immense material of facts and fiction, which illustrate the life and manners of the ancient and mediaeval church. Potthast justly calls it a "riesenhaftes Denkmal wissenschaftlichen Strebens." It was carried on with the aid of the Belgic government, which contributed (since 1837) 6,000 francs annually.
Caes. Baronius (d. 1607): Annales ecclesiastici a Christo nato ad annum 1198. Rom. 1588–1593, 12 vols. Continued by Raynaldi (from 1198 to 1565), Laderchi (from 1566–1571), and A. Theiner (1572–1584). Best ed. by Mansi, with the continuations of Raynaldi, and the Critica of Pagi, Lucca, 1738–’59, 35 vols. fol. text, and 3 vols. of index universalis. A new ed. by A. Theiner (d. 1874), Bar-le-Duc, 1864 sqq. Likewise a work of herculean industry, but to be used with critical caution, as it contains many spurious documents, legends and fictions, and is written in the interest and defence of the papacy.
IV. Modern Histories of the Middle Ages.
J. M. F. Frantin: Annales du moyen age. Dijon, 1825, 8 vols. 8vo.
Heinrich Leo: Geschichte des Mittelalters. Halle, 1830, 2 vols.
Charpentier: Histoire literaire du moyen age. Par. 1833.
R. Hampson: Medii aevi Calendarium, or Dates, Charters, and Customs of the Middle Ages, with Kalenders from the Xth to the XVth century. London, 1841, 2 vols. 8vo.
Henry Hallam (d. 1859): View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages. London, 1818, 3d ed. 1848, Boston ed. 1864 in 3 vols. By the same: Introduction to the Literature of Europe in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. Several ed., Engl. and Am. Boston ed. 1864 in 4 vols.; N. York, 1880, in 4 vols.
Charles Hardwick († l859): A History of the Christian Church. Middle Age. 3d ed. by Stubbs, London, 1872.
Henry Hart Milman († 1868): History of Latin Christianity; including that of the Popes to the Pontificate of Nicholas V. London and N. York, 1854, 8 vols., new ed., N. York (A. C. Armstrong & Son), 1880.
Richard Chenevix Trench (Archbishop of Dublin): Lectures on Mediaeval Church History. London, 1877, republ. N. York, 1878.
V. The Mediaeval Sections of the General Church Histories.
(a) Roman Catholic: Baronius (see above), Fleury, Möhler, Alzog, Döllinger (before 1870), Hergenröther.
(b) Protestant: Mosheim, Schröckh, Gieseler, Neander, Baur, Hagenbach, Robertson. Also Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Rom. Empire (Wm. Smith’s ed.), from ch. 45 to the close.
Domin. Du Cange (Charles du Fresne, d. 1688): Glossarium ad Scriptores mediae et infimae Latinitatis, Paris, 1678; new ed. by Henschel, Par. 1840–’50, in 7 vols. 4to; and again by Favre, 1883 sqq.—By the same: Glossarium ad Scriptores medicae et infimae Graecitatis, Par. 1682, and Lugd. Batav. 1688, 2 vols. fol. These two works are the philological keys to the knowledge of mediaeval church history.
An English ed. of the Latin glossary has been announced by John Murray, of London: Mediaeval Latin-English Dictionary, based upon the great work of Du Cange. With additions and corrections by E. A. Dayman.
§ 2. The Middle Age. Limits and General Character. The Middle Age, as the term implies, is the period which intervenes between ancient and modern times, and connects them, by continuing the one, and preparing for the other. It forms the transition from the Graeco-Roman civilization to the Romano-Germanic, civilization, which gradually arose out of the intervening chaos of barbarism. The connecting link is Christianity, which saved the best elements of the old, and directed and moulded the new order of things.
Politically, the middle age dates from the great migration of nations and the downfall of the western Roman Empire in the fifth century; but for ecclesiastical history it begins with Gregory the Great, the last of the fathers and the first of the popes, at the close of the sixth century. Its termination, both for secular and ecclesiastical history, is the Reformation of the sixteenth century (1517), which introduces the modern age of the Christian era. Some date modern history from the invention of the art of printing, or from the discovery of America, which preceded the Reformation; but these events were only preparatory to a great reform movement and extension of the Christian world.
The theatre of mediaeval Christianity is mainly Europe. In Western Asia and North Africa, the Cross was supplanted by the Crescent; and America, which opened a new field for the ever-expanding energies of history, was not discovered until the close of the fifteenth century.
Europe was peopled by a warlike emigration of heathen barbarians from Asia as America is peopled by a peaceful emigration from civilized and Christian Europe.
The great migration of nations marks a turning point in the history of religion and civilization. It was destructive in its first effects, and appeared like the doom of the judgment-day; but it proved the harbinger of a new creation, the chaos preceding the cosmos. The change was brought about gradually. The forces of the old Greek and Roman world continued to work for centuries alongside of the new elements. The barbarian irruption came not like a single torrent which passes by, but as the tide which advances and retires, returns and at last becomes master of the flooded soil. The savages of the north swept down the valley of the Danube to the borders of the Greek Empire, and southward over the Rhine and the Vosges into Gaul, across the Alps into Italy, and across the Pyrenees into Spain. They were not a single people, but many independent tribes; not an organized army of a conqueror, but irregular hordes of wild warriors ruled by intrepid kings; not directed by the ambition of one controlling genius, like Alexander or Caesar, but prompted by the irresistible impulse of an historical instinct, and unconsciously bearing in their rear the future destinies of Europe and America. They brought with them fire and sword, destruction and desolation, but also life and vigor, respect for woman, sense of honor, love of liberty—noble instincts, which, being purified and developed by Christianity, became the governing principles of a higher civilization than that of Greece and Rome. The Christian monk Salvian, who lived in the midst of the barbarian flood, in the middle of the fifth century, draws a most gloomy and appalling picture of the vices of the orthodox Romans of his time, and does not hesitate to give preference to the heretical (Arian) and heathen barbarians, "whose chastity purifies the deep stained with the Roman debauches." St. Augustin (d. 430), who took a more sober and comprehensive view, intimates, in his great work on the City of God, the possibility of the rise of a new and better civilization from the ruins of the old Roman empire; and his pupil, Orosius, clearly expresses this hopeful view. "Men assert," he says, "that the barbarians are enemies of the State. I reply that all the East thought the same of the great Alexander; the Romans also seemed no better than the enemies of all society to the nations afar off, whose repose they troubled. But the Greeks, you say, established empires; the Germans overthrow them. Well, the Macedonians began by subduing the nations which afterwards they civilized. The Germans are now upsetting all this world; but if, which Heaven avert, they, finish by continuing to be its masters, peradventure some day posterity will salute with the title of great princes those in whom we at this day can see nothing but enemies."
§ 3. The Nations of Mediaeval Christianity. The Kelt, the Teuton, and the Slav. The new national forces which now enter upon the arena of church-history may be divided into four groups:
1. The Romanic or Latin nations of Southern Europe, including the Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese and French. They are the natural descendants and heirs of the old Roman nationality and Latin Christianity, yet mixed with the new Keltic and Germanic forces. Their languages are all derived from the Latin; they inherited Roman laws and customs, and adhered to the Roman See as the centre of their ecclesiastical organization; they carried Christianity to the advancing barbarians, and by their superior civilization gave laws to the conquerors. They still adhere, with their descendants in Central and South America, to the Roman Catholic Church.
2. The Keltic race, embracing the Gauls, old Britons, the Picts and Scots, the Welsh and Irish with their numerous emigrants in all the large cities of Great Britain and the United States, appear in history several hundred years before Christ, as the first light wave of the vast Aryan migration from the mysterious bowels of Asia, which swept to the borders of the extreme West.1 The Gauls were conquered by Caesar, but afterwards commingled with the Teutonic Francs, who founded the French monarchy. The Britons were likewise subdued by the Romans, and afterwards driven to Wales and Cornwall by the Anglo-Saxons. The Scotch in the highlands (Gaels) remained Keltic, while in the lowlands they mixed with Saxons and Normans.
The mental characteristics of the Kelts remain unchanged for two thousand years: quick wit, fluent speech, vivacity, sprightliness, impressibility, personal bravery and daring, loyalty to the chief or the clan, but also levity, fickleness, quarrelsomeness and incapacity for self-government. "They shook all empires, but founded none." The elder Cato says of them: "To two things are the Kelts most attent: to fighting (ars militaris), and to adroitness of speech (argute loqui)." Caesar censures their love of levity and change. The apostle Paul complains of the same weakness. Thierry, their historian, well describes them thus: "Their prominent attributes are personal valor, in which they excel all nations; a frank, impetuous spirit open to every impression; great intelligence, but joined with extreme mobility, deficient perseverance, restlessness under discipline and order, boastfulness and eternal discord, resulting from boundless vanity." Mommsen quotes this passage, and adds that the Kelts make good soldiers, but bad citizens; that the only order to which they submit is the military, because the severe general discipline relieves them of the heavy burden of individual self-control.2
Keltic Christianity was at first independent of Rome, and even antagonistic to it in certain subordinate rites; but after the Saxon and Norman conquests, it was brought into conformity, and since the Reformation, the Irish have been more attached to the Roman Church than even the Latin races. The French formerly inclined likewise to a liberal Catholicism (called Gallicanism); but they sacrificed the Gallican liberties to the Ultramontanism of the Vatican Council. The Welsh and Scotch, on the contrary, with the exception of a portion of the Highlanders in the North of Scotland, embraced the Protestant Reformation in its Calvinistic rigor, and are among its sternest and most vigorous advocates. The course of the Keltic nations had been anticipated by the Galatians, who first embraced with great readiness and heartiness the independent gospel of St. Paul, but were soon turned away to a Judaizing legalism by false teachers, and then brought back again by Paul to the right path.
3. The Germanic3or Teutonic4nations followed the Keltic migration in successive westward and southward waves, before and after Christ, and spread over Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Scandinavia, the Baltic provinces of Russia, and, since the Anglo-Saxon invasion, also over England and Scotland and the northern (non-Keltic) part of Ireland. In modern times their descendants peacefully settled the British Provinces and the greater part of North America. The Germanic nations are the fresh, vigorous, promising and advancing races of the middle age and modern times. Their Christianization began in the fourth century, and went on in wholesale style till it was completed in the tenth. The Germans, under their leader Odoacer in 476, deposed Romulus Augustulus—the shadow of old Romulus and Augustus—and overthrew the West Roman Empire, thus fulfilling the old augury of the twelve birds of fate, that Rome was to grow six centuries and to decline six centuries. Wherever they went, they brought destruction to decaying institutions. But with few exceptions, they readily embraced the religion of the conquered Latin provinces, and with childlike docility submitted to its educational power. They were predestinated for Christianity, and Christianity for them. It curbed their warlike passions, regulated their wild force, and developed their nobler instincts, their devotion and fidelity, their respect for woman, their reverence for all family-relations, their love of personal liberty and independence. The Latin church was to them only a school of discipline to prepare them for an age of Christian manhood and independence, which dawned in the sixteenth century. The Protestant Reformation was the emancipation of the Germanic races from the pupilage of mediaeval and legalistic Catholicism.
Tacitus, the great heathen historian, no doubt idealized the barbarous Germans in contrast with the degenerate Romans of his day (as Montaigne and Rousseau painted the savages "in a fit of ill humor against their country"); but he unconsciously prophesied their future greatness, and his prophecy has been more than fulfilled.
4. The Slavonic or Slavic or Slavs5in the East and North of Europe, including the Bulgarians, Bohemians (Czechs), Moravians, Slovaks, Servians, Croatians, Wends, Poles, and Russians, were mainly converted through Eastern missionaries since the ninth and tenth century. The Eastern Slavs, who are the vast majority, were incorporated with the Greek Church, which became the national religion of Russia, and through this empire acquired a territory almost equal to that of the Roman Church. The western Slavs, the Bohemians and Poles, became subject to the Papacy.
The Slavs, who number in all nearly 80,000,000, occupy a very subordinate position in the history of the middle ages, and are isolated from the main current; but recently, they have begun to develop their resources, and seem to have a great future before them through the commanding political power of Russia in Europe and in Asia. Russia is the bearer of the destinies of Panslavism and of the, Eastern Church.
5. The Greek nationality, which figured so conspicuously in ancient Christianity, maintained its independence down to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453; but it was mixed with Slavonic elements. The Greek Church was much weakened by the inroads of Mohammedanism) and lost the possession of the territories of primitive Christianity, but secured a new and vast missionary field in Russia.
§ 4. Genius of Mediaeval Christianity. Mediaeval Christianity is, on the one hand, a legitimate continuation and further development of ancient Catholicism; on the other hand, a preparation for Protestantism,
Its leading form are the papacy, monasticism, and scholasticism, which were developed to their height, and then assailed by growing opposition from within.
Christianity, at its first introduction, had to do with highly civilized nations; but now it had to lay the foundation of a new civilization among barbarians. The apostles planted churches in the cities of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, and the word "pagan" i.e, villager, backwoodsman, gradually came to denote an idolater. They spoke and wrote in a language which had already a large and immortal literature; their progress was paved by the high roads of the Roman legions; they found everywhere an established order of society, and government; and their mission was to infuse into the ancient civilization a new spiritual life and to make it subservient to higher moral ends. But the missionaries of the dark ages had to visit wild woods and untilled fields, to teach rude nations the alphabet, and to lay the foundation for society, literature and art.
Hence Christianity assumed the character of a strong disciplinary institution, a training school for nations in their infancy, which had to be treated as children. Hence the legalistic, hierarchical, ritualistic and romantic character of mediaeval Catholicism. Yet in proportion as the nations were trained in the school of the church, they began to assert their independence of the hierarchy and to develop a national literature in their own language. Compared with our times, in which thought and reflection have become the highest arbiter of human life, the middle age was an age of passion. The written law, such as it was developed in Roman society, the barbarian could not understand and would not obey. But he was easily impressed by the spoken law, the living word, and found a kind of charm in bending his will absolutely before another will. Thus the teaching church became the law in the land, and formed the very foundation of all social and political organization.
The middle ages are often called "the dark ages:" truly, if we compare them with ancient Christianity, which preceded, and with modern Christianity, which followed; falsely and unjustly, if the church is made responsible for the darkness. Christianity was the light that shone in the darkness of surrounding barbarism and heathenism, and gradually dispelled it. Industrious priests and monks saved from the wreck of the Roman Empire the treasures of classical literature, together with the Holy Scriptures and patristic writings, and transmitted them to better times. The mediaeval light was indeed the borrowed star and moon-light of ecclesiastical tradition, rather than the clear sun-light from the inspired pages of the New Testament; but it was such light as the eyes of nations in their ignorance could bear, and it never ceased to shine till it disappeared in the day-light of the great Reformation. Christ had his witnesses in all ages and countries, and those shine all the brighter who were surrounded by midnight darkness.
"Pause where we may upon the desert-road,
Some shelter is in sight, some sacred safe abode."
On the other hand, the middle ages are often called, especially by Roman Catholic writers, "the ages of faith." They abound in legends of saints, which had the charm of religious novels. All men believed in the supernatural and miraculous as readily as children do now. Heaven and hell were as real to the mind as the kingdom of France and the, republic of Venice. Skepticism and infidelity were almost unknown, or at least suppressed and concealed. But with faith was connected a vast deal of superstition and an entire absence of critical investigation and judgment. Faith was blind and unreasoning, like the faith of children. The most incredible and absurd legends were accepted without a question. And yet the morality was not a whit better, but in many respects ruder, coarser and more passionate, than in modern times.
The church as a visible organization never had greater power over the minds of men. She controlled all departments of life from the cradle to the grave. She monopolized all the learning and made sciences and arts tributary to her. She took the lead in every progressive movement. She founded universities, built lofty cathedrals, stirred up the crusades, made and unmade kings, dispensed blessings and curses to whole nations. The mediaeval hierarchy centering in Rome re-enacted the Jewish theocracy on a more comprehensive scale. It was a carnal anticipation of the millennial reign of Christ. It took centuries to rear up this imposing structure, and centuries to take it down again.
The opposition came partly from the anti-Catholic sects, which, in spite of cruel persecution, never ceased to protest against the corruptions and tyranny of the papacy; partly from the spirit of nationality which arose in opposition to an all-absorbing hierarchical centralization; partly from the revival of classical and biblical learning, which undermined the reign of superstition and tradition; and partly from the inner and deeper life of the Catholic Church itself, which loudly called for a reformation, and struggled through the severe discipline of the law to the light and freedom of the gospel. The mediaeval Church was a schoolmaster to lead men to Christ. The Reformation was an emancipation of Western Christendom from the bondage of the law, and a re-conquest of that liberty "wherewith Christ hath made us free" (Gal. v. 1).
§ 5. Periods of the Middle Age. The Middle Age may be divided into three periods:
1. The missionary period from Gregory I. to Hildebrand or Gregory VII., a.d. 590–1073. The conversion of the northern barbarians. The dawn of a new civilization. The origin and progress of Islam. The separation of the West from the East. Some subdivide this period by Charlemagne (800), the founder of the German-Roman Empire.
2. The palmy period of the papal theocracy from Gregory VII. to Boniface VIII., a.d. 1073–1294. The height of the papacy, monasticism and scholasticism. The Crusades. The conflict between the Pope and the Emperor. If we go back to the rise of Hildebrand, this period begins in 1049.
3. The decline of mediaeval Catholicism and preparation for modern Christianity, from Boniface VIII. to the Reformation, a.d. 1294–1517. The papal exile and schism; the reformatory councils; the decay of scholasticism; the growth of mysticism; the revival of letters, and the art of printing; the discovery of America; forerunners of Protestantism; the dawn of the Reformation.
These three periods are related to each other as the wild youth, the ripe manhood, and the declining old age. But the gradual dissolution of mediaevalism was only the preparation for a new life, a destruction looking to a reconstruction.
The three periods may be treated separately, or as a continuous whole. Both methods have their advantages: the first for a minute study; the second for a connected survey of the great movements.
According to our division laid down in the introduction to the first volume, the three periods of the middle ages are the fourth, fifth and sixth periods of the general history of Christianity.