Изображения страниц




When the Papacy began, in the sixth and seventh centuries, to lay the foundation of the Spiritual Empire, it piously rejected assistance from any of the remnants of the old institutions. It transformed them, but destroyed their character, their spirit, and their very name; and the learning of the ancients was not less objectionable than was their Theology. Gregory the Great was therefore not only an enemy to grammar and all the elegances of speech, he not only despised cases and numbers and genders, but he despised even libraries themselves, and ordered, according to general belief, the famous collection of books belonging to the Roman Emperors in the Palatine Library to be burnt, for a similar reason which prompted Omar, the Saracen, a few years afterwards, to commit the Alexandrian Library to the flames. But it was with the old Empire as it was with Jerusalem, and as if the Prophetic Spirit of the Jewish Economy had repeated on the occasion the words that apply to the Holy City:-"Go ye up on her walls and destroy, but make not a full end." Leave a seed for a future harvest. That seed was left, but not amongst the monks, for they were then only coming into existence; and like the Pontiff himself, con

temptuous of learning, they prided themselves, like St. Benedict, their founder, in "ignorant knowledge and wise ignorance." Their learning grew with the times, and their arts with prosperity, and also with corruption.

The old world being almost annihilated, the new world began, as all intellectual childhood begins, with fables and tradition-as Heathenism itselfor the world began in the Primitive Ages. It was a new birth and a new infancy, a new civilisation, and the Church was the mother and the nurse of the babe. Like a wise and prudent mother in this capacity, it devoted itself enthusiastically to baby literature, nursery tales, and fables; called philosophers naughty, and mathematics bad for health and morals; and classed mathematicians with sorcerers and necromancers. However, it cultivated the art of music most devotedly, as mothers naturally do; and the very same Pontiff who burnt the Palatine Library, and reproved the schoolmasters for teaching grammar, was the man who invented the Gregorian Chant, which is to this day the foundation of all that is grand and elevated in sacred music. He also established a school for chanters in Rome, which flourished for three hundred years. It was the Age of Orpheus and Musæus restored. Music belongs to the infancy of nations.

Along with music the cultivation of fabulous literature proceeded apace; and Bishops and such

learned men as the age contained, devoted themselves to the sacred office of collecting traditions of the miracles of the Saints, which were at that time abundant and rapidly increasing. Collections were diligently made of these traditions, and lives of Saints were compiled in incredible numbers. The Recueil des Bollandistes, a collection of these lives, by Bolland, a Jesuit, and his successors, consists of fifty-three folio volumes, and more than 25,000 lives of Confessors and Martyrs, Ascetics and Selftormentors. All these, no doubt, were workers of miracles; and a general idea may be given of their nature, from Father Jocelyn's Life of St. Patrick. We shall give the headings of a few of the 146 chapters. "The Saint confers beauty on an ugly man, and increases his stature "-"14,000 men miraculously fed "-" flesh meat changed into fishes."- "The tooth of St. Patrick shone in the river."-" Certain cheeses converted into stones."

[ocr errors]

Euchodius is cursed by the Saint, and his son blessed."—"St. Patrick's goat, stolen and eaten by a thief, bleateth in the thief's stomach."—"A tyrant transformed by the Saint into a fox."-"A stone is changed into milk, and milk into stones." Such was the nature of the popular literature which exercised the industry and commanded the faith of pious, devout, and self-sacrificing men, as well as their simple and ignorant disciples, for several hundred years. But it was not unaccompanied by the most admirable specimens of eloquence, pulpit and literary,

the true poetry of nature, pathetic appeals to the feelings, and powerful addresses to the conscience, which, without any pretensions to classical elegance or knowledge of rhetorical art, were infinitely better adapted for the purpose of pulpit oratory and popular persuasion than those cold, undevotional, classical modern discourses which too often suggest the idea of an institution that has lost its youth. Nor must we suppose that because those ages are generally known by the name of the Dark Ages, that therefore the people were either stupid or ignorant. It is modern pride and scientific arrogance that thus revile them. They were distinguished by qualities of a very high, reverential and spiritual character, and showed remarkable talent in the development of all those intellectual arts which especially belonged to their own times. Their Theology and Philosophy, generally characterised amongst the moderns by the epithet Scholastic, exhibited evidences of great intellectual activity and sublime genius; and the subjects to which they attached so much importance, though ridiculed by the moderns, reveal the possession of deep and genuine faith in Scripture and in the Mission of the Church. Indeed it was just in the Middle Ages of the Church that faith, and even Scriptural authority, seem to have been at their height. The Bible exceeded every other authority except the canonical law; but so long as a writer kept within the boundary of ecclesiastical discipline, he found his strongest ar


guments derived from the Scriptures, with which, and the logical forms of Aristotle, he endeavoured to prove all things. Do modern Christian and Protestant divines believe the Scriptures more deeply or more sincerely than Gregory the Great, or Gregory VII, or even Innocent III? We doubt it. Or do they read them more frequently and study them more earnestly than Thomas Aquinas, or Lanfranc, or Anselm, St. Bernard, Peter Lombard, or Peter the Venerable? No. Those were the ages of living faith, when the minds of men were exclusively exercised upon Scriptural ideas, and when it was rather the excess of faith than the deficiency of it, that led them into paralogical excesses; their faith not being purified by charity, and not being translated from its vulgar or limited, into its higher and more comprehensive, meaning; and the very strength of this faith, and their activity in exercising it, were the direct means of introducing the more logical and less exalted style of the succeeding era, which came down from heaven to earth with that metaphysical and controversial acuteness which it owes to the schoolmen of the middle ages.

These men wrangled and debated upon what we call trifles, because we are unwise, and do not know that to this very wrangling and debating we owe that very acuteness in which we pride ourselves. They made use of such materials of thought as they possessed, and they used them vigorously; and men collected in thousands to hear a discussion

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »