Short Papers on Church History — Chapter 18

The Church-Building Spirit Revived

The beginning of the eleventh century was marked by great activity in repairing and building churches; and, but for the many uses to which these sacred edifices were applied by the poor people, they might not be worthy of our notice. We may reasonably suppose that during the past thirty or forty years there had been little disposition to engage in such works. But when the awful night was past, and when the first day of the year 1001 shone upon the world, the hopes of all nations revived. Men's minds had reached, with the close of the tenth century, the lowest point, but from that date a manifest rise was apparent: and their first attention was given to the holy buildings, by whose virtues, as they believed, judgment had been turned away, and the favour of heaven restored.

This superstitious feeling was no doubt what led to those great architectural efforts and results which characterize this period. Many of them are now standing, to attest the greatness of the plan and the solidity of the work. "The foundations were broad and deep, the walls of immense thickness, roofs steep and high, to keep off the rain and snow . . . . Tall pillars supported the elevated vault, instead of the flat roof of former days The great square tower, which typified resistance to worldly aggression, was exchanged for the tall and graceful spire, which pointed encouragingly to heaven. "*

{*James White's Eighteen Christian Centuries.}

But we must not suppose that the uses and purposes of those enormous buildings were merely as places of public worship. The village church in mediaeval times was equal to a number of separate buildings in our own day. It was large enough to enable the greater part of the population to wander in its aisles. The cottages of the poor were then miserable hovels, without windows, into which they retired to sleep. But the vast, beautiful building consecrated by religion was the poor man's mansion, where he spent his leisure time, and where he felt as if it all belonged to himself. It was like the town-hall, the market-place, the newsroom, the school-room, and the meeting-place of friends, all in one. We, who live in the comfortable houses of the nineteenth century, can have no just idea of the uses and convenience of such buildings. But all tended, like everything else in those times, to increase the power of the clergy, and the servility of the people. Not only was the sanctuary hallowed' but the priests became glorified, in the eyes of the people, and far outshone even the dignity of kings.

The Revival of Literature

The beginning of the eleventh century was not only famous for the putting forth of great architectural skill, but also for the renewed energies of the human mind in the various departments of learning. The long, dull, unquestioning belief of ages was now to be disturbed by a free and wholesome inquiry.

The intellectual energy of Europe, it is said, was in a condition of gradual decay from the fifth to the middle of the eighth century, and though the condition of the British isles, and the labours of the venerable Bede, may seem to furnish some exception to the general rule, it was then that ignorance reached its widest and darkest boundaries. Bede, we may observe in passing, is spoken of as the man who most eminently deserves to be called England's teacher. He was born in the year 673, in the village of Jarrow in Northumberland; he was a monk and a priest, but a most devout, laborious, and godly man: the instruction of youth had been one of the great objects of his life, which he continued till his latest hours: he died in the midst of his beloved scholars, May 26th, 735.*

{*Neander, vol. 5, p. 197.}

The Revival of Letters by the Arabs

We now meet with a somewhat curious and unexpected phenomenon in the history of literature during these dark ages, and though it may not properly fall within the line of our church history, it is too interesting and important to overlook. The professed teachers of Christendom were at this time, as is well known, sunk in the very depths of ignorance; but we find the Saracens had risen to be the students and the teachers of the national literature of Greece. This was the remarkable state of things at the beginning of the eleventh century.

We have already seen that in the seventh century the companions and successors of Mahomet desolated the face of the earth with their arms, and darkened it by their ignorance, and the acts of barbarism ascribed to them — such as the burning of the Alexandrian library, attest their contempt for learning, and their aversion for the monuments which they destroyed. In the eighth century they seem to have settled down in the countries which they subdued, and, with the advantages of a finer climate and a richer soil, they began to study the sciences and useful knowledge. "In the ninth [century]," says Dean Waddington, "under the auspices of a wise and munificent Caliph, they applied the same ardour to the pursuit of literature which had heretofore been confined to the exercise of arms. Ample schools were founded in the principal cities of Asia, Bagdad, and Cufa, and Bassora; numerous libraries were formed with care and diligence, and men of learning and science were solicitously invited to the splendid court of Almamunis. Greece which had civilized the Roman republic, and was destined in a much later age, to enlighten the extremities of the West, was now called upon to turn the stream of her lore into the barren bosom of Asia; for Greece was still the only land possessing an original literature. Her noblest productions were now translated into the ruling language of the East, and the Arabians took pleasure in pursuing the speculations, or submitting to the rules, of her philosophy.

"The impulse thus given to the genius and industry of Asia was communicated with inconceivable rapidity along the shores of Egypt and Africa to the schools of Seville and Cordova; and the shock was not felt least sensibly by those who last received it. Henceforward the genius of learning accompanied even the arms of the Saracens. They conquered Sicily, from Sicily they invaded the southern provinces of Italy and, as if to complete the eccentric revolution of Grecian literature, the wisdom of Pythagoras was restored to the land of its origin by the descendants of an Arabian warrior. "*

{*Waddington's Nistory, vol. 2, p. 44.}

The Learning of the Arabs Imported into Christendom

Pope Sylvester II., who filled the chair of St. Peter when the first morning of the eleventh century dawned upon Europe, formed the link between the wisdom and learning of the Arabians, and the ignorance and credulity of the Romans. He had studied at the Mahometan schools in the royal city of Cordova, where he had acquired much useful knowledge as to this life, which he began to teach and practise in Rome. But such was the dark superstition of the people generally, that they attributed his great acquirements to the arts of magic, and maintained that such powers could only be possessed through a compact with the evil one. For ages after Pope Sylvester was remembered with horror, lest the throne of St. Peter should have been filled by a necromancer. But as time passed on, and the darkness of the tenth century was more and more left behind, there arose a race of men who were distinguished, not merely for great philosophic attainments, but for the study of the holy scriptures, and for their devotedness to the progress of Christianity. To have learned to read, and to have attended to the meaning of words, at such a time, especially in connection with the sacred writings, were blessings to mankind. The superiority of the eleventh over the tenth century must be chiefly ascribed to the improvements and advancement in learning, as a means in the Lord's hands.

But we must say another word about Sylvester. It would be unfair to leave so great and so good a man under the dark shade of the people's prejudices. He is spoken of by enlightened and impartial history as the most eminent prelate of his age. His own name was Gerbert. "In learning peerless, in piety unimpeachable, was Gerbert of Ravenna," says Milman. He was the tutor, guide, and friend of Robert, the son and successor of Hugh Capet, who, by a great but silent revolution, was raised to the throne of the imbecile race of Charlemagne, in the year 987. The royal pupil seems to have profited by the instructions of Gerbert. He came to the throne of France about the year 996, and reigned till the year 1031. He was a great friend to learning, died lamented, and was surnamed the Sage. In 998 Gerbert was appointed pope by Otho III., Emperor of Germany, when he took the name of Sylvester II. He died May 12th, 1003.

Traces of the Silver Line of God's Grace

Stephen, a most pious prince of Hungary, was baptized by Adelbert, bishop of Prague, and began to reign in the year 997. He was a most zealous supporter of the gospel, schools, and missionary work. He often accompanied the preachers, and sometimes preached himself. His pious queen, Gisla, daughter of Henry III., greatly assisted him. He also introduced many social reforms, was kind to the poor, and endeavoured to suppress all impiety throughout his dominions. He lived to see, under the blessing of God, all Hungary become externally christian. He died in the year 1038. A change of government brought about persecution, and the pious labourers were interrupted in their good work.

Othingar, a bishop of Denmark, and Unwan, bishop of Hamburg, were earnest, devoted, servants of Christ, and used by Him for the spread of the truth. John, a Scotchman, the bishop of Mecklenburg, baptized great numbers of the Sclavonians, but the Prussians resisted all attempts to introduce the gospel among them. Boleslaus, king of Poland, endeavoured by force to evangelize them, but in vain. Then eighteen missionaries, under one Boniface, went to labour among the Prussians, by means of the peaceful gospel, but they were all massacred by that barbarous people. They seem to have been the last of the European nations who submitted to the yoke of Christ. Christianity had no footing in Prussia till the thirteenth century.

The reign of Olave, who became king of Sweden towards the end of the tenth century, and died about 1024, was famous for the propagation of the gospel in that country. The zeal of the English clergy embraced the opportunity, and many of them went over to preach the gospel in Sweden; among them was Sigfred, archdeacon of York, who laboured many years among the Swedes. But the zeal of Olave led him to use violent measures in the spread of Christianity, and excited a general hatred against him among the adherents of the old religion. After many struggles, and much bloodshed, the christian religion was firmly established about the end of the eleventh century. The number of churches in Sweden was increased to about eleven hundred.

The progress of the gospel in Norway had been slow from the time of Ausgar's mission; but when Olave, son of Harold, became king in 1015, he determined to carry on the good work with great zeal. Many missionaries were invited from England, at their head was a bishop named Grimkil, who drew up a code of ecclesiastical laws for Norway. But the king pursued the system — too common in those days, but always the Roman system — of enforcing Christianity by such means as confiscation and severe bodily punishments, even unto death. He often had to encounter armed resistance. At length a conference was agreed upon. The king and his missionary, Grimkil, met the heathen priest at Dalen, in 1025. Olave, it is said, spent a great part of the night in prayer The god Thor, who was represented as superior to the Christians' God, because he could be seen, was brought into the place of conference. When they met in the morning, the king pointed to the rising sun as a visible witness to his God who created it; and while the heathen were gazing on its brightness, a gigantic soldier raised his club, and broke the idol to pieces. A swarm of loathsome creatures, thus rudely disturbed, rushed forth, and, running in all directions, the men of Dalen were convinced of the vanity of the old superstition, and consented to be baptized. Olave was afterwards slain in a civil war, but it was rumoured that his blood had healed a wound in the hand of the warrior who killed him; and many other miracles were said to have been wrought by him. He was canonized, and St. Olave was chosen as the patron of Norway.

The triumphs of the gospel were especially conspicuous in Denmark towards the end of this century. "Look," says Adam of Bremen, who wrote in the year 1080; "Look at that very ferocious nation of the Danes; for a long time they have been accustomed to celebrate the praises of God. Look at that piratical people; they are now content with the fruits of their own country. Look at that horrid region, formerly altogether inaccessible on account of idolatry; they now eagerly admit the preachers of the word." History represents the Danes and the English as enjoying a kind of millennial scene at this time, through the effects of missionary labours. In mutual confidence and charity they were enjoying together the blessings of Christianity. This must have been indeed wonderful and surprising to those who had known with what savage barbarity the Danes had formerly desolated the dwellings of the English. These were the peaceful triumphs of the gospel of Christ. The preaching of the cross, attended with the energy of the Holy Spirit, is sure to effect such blessed and salutary changes in the rudest people. The gospel not only emancipates the immortal soul from the slavery and doom of sin, but it greatly ameliorates the condition of man in this life, and diffuses through the world the precepts of peace, order, and good government. These are the native effects of the gospel, but they are often marred and hindered by the natural enmity of the heart, especially by those who have the sword on their side.

Lanfranc and Anselm are names famous in church history at this time, though not so much for grace as for learning and controversy: both were archbishops of Canterbury. They had both been monks, and celebrated teachers in that humble rank. Upwards of four thousand scholars attended the prelections of Lanfranc when a monk at Caen. Anselm was of equal reputation in Normandy. Lanfranc, however has the unenviable reputation of confirming, by his great influence and learning, the dogma of transubstantiation. In the darkness of the tenth century it had made its first authoritative appearance in the church. It was attacked by Berengar of Tours, who used all the powers of his mind, and all the resources within his reach, to demonstrate its unsoundness. But Lanfranc defended it, and having the majority of the clergy on his side, Berengar was confuted, stripped of all his preferments, and condemned to a rigorous seclusion for the remainder of his life. Berengarism became a term of reproach, and was considered a heresy. Thus the mysterious dogma of the Real Presence was established about the middle of the eleventh century. Lanfranc died in 1089. William Rufus appointed Anselm to be his successor. He has the reputation of being a great divine, a sincere Christian, and most blameless in his life. He died in 1109, being the sixteenth year of his archbishopric, and the seventy-sixth of his age. Both Lanfranc and Anselm, we need scarcely say, were zealous supporters of the power of Rome.

Margaret, Queen of Scotland, was evidently a divine channel of God's grace in those days, notwithstanding the legality of Popery. She was the daughter of Ethelred, and sister to Edgar Atheling, the last of the Saxon line of princes. The rapacity and profaneness of the Norman princes, especially of William Rufus, led Edgar and Margaret to seek a safe retreat in Scotland. King Malcolm Canmore married the English princess. The most wonderful things are related of her piety, liberality, and humility. Her character was fitted to throw a lustre over a purer age. She had by Malcolm six sons and two daughters. Three of her sons reigned successively, and her daughter, Matilda, was wife to Henry I. of England, and was considered a pious Christian.

As the life and character of Margaret will give a better view or embodiment of Romish Christianity in one of its brightest examples, than we could describe, we will quote a few passages from real life. "The royal lady, who has been honoured with canonization, though very superstitious, and somewhat ostentatious in her acts of beneficence, nevertheless possessed many eminent virtues, and must be ranked among the best of our queens. She exercised unbounded influence over her brave but illiterate husband, who, though unable to read her books of devotion, was accustomed fervently to kiss them. Every morning she prepared food for nine orphans, and on her bended knees she fed them. With her own hands she ministered at table to crowds of indigent persons, who assembled to share her bounty; and nightly, before retiring to rest, she gave a still more striking proof of her humility by washing the feet of six of them. She was frequently in church, prostrate before the altar, and there, with sighs and tears and protracted prayers, she offered herself a sacrifice to the Lord. When the season of Lent came round, besides reciting particular offices, she went over the whole Psalter twice or thrice within twenty-four hours. Before repairing to public Mass, she prepared herself for the solemnity by hearing five or six private masses, and when the whole service was over, she fed twenty-four on-hangers and thus illustrated her faith by her works. It was not till these were satisfied that she retired to her own scanty meal But with all this parade of humility, there was an equal display of pride. Her dress was gorgeous, her retinue large and her coarse fare must needs be served on dishes of gold and silver, a thing unheard of in Scotland till her time.

"Fortunate in having obtained a good education, St. Margaret was particularly fond of showing her learning and knowledge of the scriptures. She often discoursed with the clergy of Scotland on questions of theology, and through her influence Lent was henceforward observed according to the Catholic institution. She did good service to religion and virtue in many ways; but the life of this good queen was shortened by the severity of her fasts. They gradually under undermined her constitution . . . .  She was lying, wasted and dying, with the crucifix before her, when her son, Edgar arrived from the battle of Alnwick. 'How fares it with the King and my Edward?' said the dying mother. The young man stood silent. 'I know it all,' she cried, 'I know it all By this holy cross, by your filial affection, I adjure you, tell me the truth.' 'Your husband and your son are both slain,' said the youth. Lifting her hands and her eyes to heaven, she devoutly said, 'Praise and blessing be to thee, Almighty God that thou hast been pleased to make me endure so bitter anguish in the hour of my departure, thereby, as I trust, to purify me in some measure from the corruptions of my sins and Thou, Lord Jesus Christ, who, through the will of the Father, has enlivened the world by Thy death, oh, deliver

me!' While the words were yet upon her lips she softly expired."*

{*Cunningham's Church History of Scotland, vol. 1, p. 97, Milner vol. 2, p. 566; Robertson, vol. 2, p. 441.}

Reflections on the Missionary Spirit of Rome

We have seen, in tracing the good work of the gospel in different countries, the activity, energy and aggressive character of the church of Rome. And although there was a fearful amount of human tradition, and many foolish absurdities, mixed up with "the gospel of God," still the name of Jesus Christ was proclaimed, and salvation through Him though not alas through Him alone. Nevertheless God in grace could use that blessed name, and give the eye of faith to see its preciousness, amongst the rubbish of Roman superstition. The full, clear, gospel of Christ was completely lost. It was no longer Christ only, but Christ and a thousand other things. They were eloquent in preaching good works, but, at the same time, they obscured the faith from which all good works should spring. "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world;" "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else;" "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;" "Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." (John 1:29; Isa. 45:22; Matt. 11:28; John 6:37) These, and such like texts, give the idea of a gospel that brings souls to Christ Himself, by faith alone; not to Christ, and rites and ceremonies innumerable, before the soul can be saved. To be converted to Christ Himself is the best of all conversions. To rest on the unfailing efficacy of the blood of Christ is sure salvation to the soul, and perfect peace with God.

There were, no doubt, many good and earnest men in the missionary field, whose spiritual state may have been much better than their ecclesiastical one, and whom God may have used to gather precious souls to Himself. But there can be no doubt that the spirit of Rome's missionaries was more of proselytizing to the church of Rome than to the faith and obedience of Christ. Baptism, and implicit, unquestioning, subjection to the authority of the pope, was the demand made on all converts, ruler or subject. Faith in Christ was not looked for. The ambition of the Roman See was to embrace the whole world, and, as far as Europe was concerned, all public profession of Christianity which professed independence of the Roman domination was to be immediately suppressed, and utterly destroyed.

Just about this time, a monk of humble origin, but of the most extraordinary character, appeared on the scene. In him were accomplished all the fond dreams of dominion over the human mind. Till now the mission of the Papacy had never been fulfilled. But as there never had been such a Pope before, and never has been such a Pope since, we must briefly sketch his unparalleled career.