Imatges de pàgina
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§ 8. The Christian

Mission

aries in England.

the Teutonic settlers came to have an ideal at all, it was certain that it would be to them, as ideals are to all men, the complement of their existing acquirements. They required some view of life, which would at the same time satisfy their inarticulate needs for a higher organisation, which would tame the wild strivings of passion in the individual man, and would teach the fierce red-handed slaughterer that self-denial and self-restraint were the highest virtues of human existence. The history of the middle ages in England, as on the Continent, is the history of successive generations accepting in church and state institutions which serve to repress or tame the wild exuberance of individual violence and passion. The middle ages start from diversity and aim at unity. Their art, their literature, their temporal and ecclesiastical legislation bear this impress distinctly.

When Augustine and his fellow missionaries landed in Kent in 597, they began this work of moral order. In one sense their arrival was the first step in the undoing of the isolation from Roman ideas, in which England had been standing for a century and a half. In another sense they brought something quite new. The law and order of the empire had reposed on the swords of its legions. It had asked no assent from those upon whom it had imposed its will. The law and order of the Christian missionary rested on persuasion alone. He asked but for voluntary obedience, for that obedience which strengthens instead of weakening the sense of personality in the individual who accepts it. The old unity had crushed out individuality. The new unity would grow out of it, would found itself upon individual conscience, and harmonise individual energies for higher ends.

In the midst of the troubles which preceded and succeeded the fall of the empire in the West, Christianity

had advanced in two special directions. It was more monastic, and it was better organised, in the sixth century than it had been in the fourth. Against the faults of monasticism it is especially easy to declaim. A system which takes men out of the world and forbids them to exercise the ordinary duties of men amongst men, which acts in defiance of the strongest tendencies of human nature, instead of reducing them under discipline, and which in consequence erects a whole system of artificial duties and artificial faults, can never be regarded as a satisfactory solution of the problems which that nature presents. Nevertheless, it is impossible that a system so widely adopted, and so constantly recurredto, should have been wanting in elements fitting it at least for a time to render the highest services to mankind. The apologies which some are inclined to make for it may be dismissed as irrelevant. If we can only praise the monks because they improved cultivation, or even because they were benevolent to the poor, it is better not to praise them at all. These things are but the accidents of monasticism. Its essence was a selfish' unselfishness. It aimed at sacrificing the excitement. and vain-glory of the struggles and triumphs of the present, sometimes it may be, at escaping from the depressing defeats and miseries of life, in order to gain eternal peace in the world to come, with some firstfruits of quiet and rest in the world which was. Yet self-centred as were the thoughts of the monk, his self-seeking was of incomparably a higher order than that of the world around. Other men might provide for themselves by grasping avarice, by hasty passionate violence, by giving free rein to their most debasing passions. The monk would keep the wild animalism of his nature firmly down; and, as always happens, the effort to rise higher in one direction brought with it the power of rising

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$9. The System.

Monastic

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§ 10. The Senitential Pstem.

higher in others. The monk could not help being an example of self-denial to others, and self-denial was the special virtue which the men of that fierce age needed most to learn. The monk could not help overflowing in bounty to the poor and suffering, and turning the fountain of blessing which he had opened in his own heart into a stream by the sides of which multitudes might rejoice. He represented not the best ideal of life, but the best ideal of the kind of life most opposed to the faults of contemporary existence.

The penitential system of the Church was an attempt to implant amongst laymen something of the monastic ule. The authors of the penitential code no more thought of descending into the heart and conscience than the authors of the weregild thought of descending into the heart and conscience. They did not bid the guiltladen penitent simply to go and sin no more, nor did they proclaim the law of the gospel, 'Owe no man anything but to love one another.' His penance was measured out by weeks and years, as the weregild was measured out by shillings and pence. So much time was to be passed without tasting anything but bread and water, so much time in lighter mortification. But there was that in the penitential rules which was not in the weregild system. If the clergy made any difference between persons, it was, that the higher the clerical rank of the person who committed the offence was, the heavier was to be his penance, whilst the layman was punished more heavily in proportion to the rank of the person injured. The lay system, in short, started from the notion that vengeance was to be bought. The church system started from the idea, that an evil action polluted the actor. Man acquired in this way a moral sense which he had not before. He learned that he was accountable for his actions to a judge higher than the king or the popular

assembly, and he learned too that ill-doing was an injury done to his own soul. The idea of purity and rectitude as an object of desire for the sake of a man's own wellbeing planted itself firmly amongst men. Hence, too, the strange forms taken in the Christian imagination by the spirits and deities of the old pagan mythology. The spirit of the wood or the stream came to be the ugly horned unsavoury devil of Christian mythology. The change was a sign of the new position assigned by man to the supernatural powers of his imagination. The spirits of whom the heathen told were beings to be propitiated and. dreaded. The devil of the Christian's tale was a being with whom he himself had a conflict. There was war now not merely on the battle-field, but in the heart of every man, and the stories which he loved to tell were but the expression of his knowledge of a conflict, which, to however strange results it might lead in the immediate present, contributed incalculably to raise in the scale. of moral beings the man who struggled against his lower

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nature.

Church Or ganisation.

As Christianity was more monastic in the end of the II. sixth century than it had been in the fourth, it was also more monarchical. The authority of the pope indeed in the hands of Gregory the Great, by whom Augustine was sent to England, was not put forth with such highsounding claims to obedience as were afterwards heard. But it was becoming more and more the central force of Western Christendom. It gained strength from its being exercised from Rome, the seat of the older empire, from the personal qualities of many of the Popes, and from the tendency of the barbarian tribes to welcome a centre of unity in the midst of their weakness and their divisions. The very haughtiness with which the emissaries of Rome maintained the claims of him who sent them was an important element of success. When Augustine

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met the priests of the British Church, and alienated still further, by remaining seated in their presence, those who were already alienated from one who had preached the gospel to the hated invaders, we may be sure that he appeared more than ever worthy of respect in the eyes of the Englishmen who accompanied him. When Wilfrid reasoned against the clergy of Northumberland, who had learned from Irish teachers different modes of keeping Easter and of cutting the clerical tonsure than those which were practised in the Roman church, and which they declared themselves to have derived by tradition from St. John, through Columba, he clenched his argument, by claiming for the pope, as St. Peter's representative, the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The king, before whom he spoke, at once acknowledged the force of his reasoning. If St. Peter, he said, was the door-keeper of heaven, he would follow him lest he should be shut out when he came to the gates. As Christianity in the form in which it appeared broke through all division of ranks, and knew nothing of eorls and ceorls, of freeman, of serf, or of slave, so its institutions rose above the civil institutions of the land. When Archbishop Theodore organised the English Church at the end of the seventh century, he created or adapted institutions which were wider and more universal than those of the seven or eight kingdoms into which the original tribes had by that time coalesced. From north to south the priest took no account of divided nationality. The man born on the banks of the Tweed might find his life's work on the shores of the Southampton water, or in the secluded East Anglian peninsula between the fens and the sea. As he passed backwards and forwards on his mission of consolation and warning he was doing unconscious work in levelling national distinctions by his

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