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Beacon Lights of History, Volume IV by John Lord

Part 4 out of 4

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of the unity of the Church has a spiritual as well as a temporal
meaning, and in that sublime and lofty sense can never be controverted
so long as _One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism_ remain the common creed of
Christians in all parts of the world. It was to preserve this unity that
he entered so zealously into all the great controversies of the age, and
fought heretics as well as schismatics.

The great work which pre-eminently called out his genius, and for which
he would seem to have been raised up, was to combat the Pelagian heresy,
and establish the doctrine of the necessity of Divine Grace,--even as it
was the mission of Athanasius to defend the doctrine of the Trinity, and
that of Luther to establish Justification by Faith. In all ages there
are certain heresies, or errors, which have spread so dangerously, and
been embraced so generally by the leading and fashionable classes, that
they seem to require some extraordinary genius to arise in order to
combat them successfully, and rescue the Church from the snares of a
false philosophy. Thus Bernard was raised up to refute the rationalism
and nominalism of Abelard, whose brilliant and subtile inquiries had a
tendency to extinguish faith in the world, and bring all mysteries to
the test of reason. The enthusiastic and inquiring young men who flocked
to his lectures from all parts of Europe carried back to their homes and
convents and schools insidious errors, all the more dangerous because
they were mixed with truths which were universally recognized. It
required such a man as Bernard to expose these sophistries and destroy
their power, not so much by dialectical weapons as by appealing to those
lofty truths, those profound convictions, those essential and immutable
principles which consciousness reveals and divine authority confirms. It
took a greater than Abelard to show the tendency of his speculations,
from the logical sequence of which even he himself would have fled, and
which he did reject when misfortunes had broken his heart, and disease
had brought him to face the realities of the future life. So God raised
up Pascal to expose the sophistries of the Jesuits and unravel that
subtle casuistry which was undermining the morality of the age, and
destroying the authority of Saint Augustine on some of the most vital
principles which entered into the creed of the Catholic Church. Thus
Jonathan Edwards, the ablest theologian which this country has seen,
controverted the fashionable Arminianism of his day. Thus some great
intellectual giant will certainly and in due time appear to demolish
with scathing irony the theories and speculations of some of the
progressive schools of our day, and present their absurdities and
boastings and pretensions in such a ridiculous light that no man with
any intellectual dignity will dare to belong to their fraternity, unless
he impiously accepts--sometimes with ribald mockeries--the logical
sequence of their doctrines.

Now it was not the Manicheans or Donatists who were the most dangerous
people in the time of Augustine,--nor were their doctrines likely to be
embraced by the Christian schools, especially in the West; but it was
the Pelagians who in high places were assailing the Pauline theology.
And they advocated principles which lay at the root of most of the
subsequent controversies of the Church. They were intellectual men,
generally good men, who could not be put down, and who would thrive
under any opposition. Augustine did not attack the character of these
men, but rendered a great service to the Church by pointing out, clearly
and luminously, the antichristian character of their theories, when
rigorously pushed out, by a remorseless logic, to their
necessary sequence.

Whatever value may be attached to that science which is based on
deductions drawn from the truths of revelation, certain it is that it
was theology which most interested Christians in the time of Augustine,
as in the time of Athanasius; and his controversy with the Pelagians
made then a mighty stir, and is at the root of half the theological
discussions from that age to ours. If we would understand the changes of
human thought in the Middle Ages, if we would seek to know what is most
vital in Church history, that celebrated Pelagian controversy claims our
special attention.

It was at a great crisis in the Church when a British monk of
extraordinary talents, persuasive eloquence, and great attainments,--a
man accustomed to the use of dialectical weapons and experienced by
extensive travels, ambitious, ardent, plausible, adroit,--appeared among
the churches and advanced a new philosophy. His name was Pelagius; and
he was accompanied by a man of still greater logical power than he
himself possessed, though not so eloquent or accomplished or pleasing in
manner, who was called Celestius,--two doctors of whom the schools were
justly proud, and who were admired and honored by enthusiastic young
men, as Abelard was in after-times.

Nothing disagreeable marked these apostles of the new philosophy, nor
could the malignant voice of theological hatred and envy bring upon
their lives either scandal or reproach. They had none of the infirmities
which so often have dimmed the lustre of great benefactors. They were
not dogmatic like Luther, nor severe like Calvin, nor intolerant like
Knox. Pelagius, especially, was a most interesting man, though more of a
philosopher than a Christian. Like Zeno, he exalted the human will; like
Aristotle, he subjected all truth to the test of logical formularies;
like Abelard, he would believe nothing which he could not explain or
comprehend. Self-confident, like Servetus, he disdained the Cross. The
central principle of his teachings was man's ability to practise any
virtue, independently of divine grace. He made perfection a thing easy
to be attained. There was no need, in his eyes, as his adversaries
maintained, of supernatural aid in the work of salvation. Hence a
Saviour was needless. By faith, he is represented to mean mere
intellectual convictions, to be reached through the reason alone. Prayer
was useful simply to stimulate a man's own will. He was further
represented as repudiating miracles as contrary to reason, of abhorring
divine sovereignty as fatal to the exercise of the will, of denying
special providences as opposing the operation of natural laws, as
rejecting native depravity and maintaining that the natural tendency of
society was to rise in both virtue and knowledge, and of course
rejecting the idea of a Devil tempting man to sin. "His doctrines," says
one of his biographers, "were pleasing to pride, by flattering its
pretension; to nature, by exaggerating its power; and to reason, by
extolling its capacity." He asserted that death was not the penalty of
Adam's transgression; he denied the consequences of his sin; and he
denied the spiritual resurrection of man by the death of Christ, thus
rejecting him as a divine Redeemer. Why should there be a divine
redemption if man could save himself? He blotted out Christ from the
book of life by representing him merely as a martyr suffering for the
declaration of truths which were not appreciated,--like Socrates at
Athens, or Savonarola at Florence. In support of all these doctrines,
so different from those of Paul, he appealed, not to the apostle's
authority, but to human reason, and sought the aid of Pagan philosophy,
rather than the Scriptures, to arrive at truth.

Thus was Pelagius represented by his opponents, who may have exaggerated
his heresies, and have pushed his doctrines to a logical sequence which
he would not accept but would even repel, in the same manner as the
Pelagians drew deductions from the teachings of Augustine which were
exceedingly unfair,--making God the author of sin, and election to
salvation to depend on the foreseen conduct of men in regard to an
obedience which they had no power to perform.

But whether Pelagius did or did not hold all the doctrines of which he
was accused, it is certain that the spirit of them was antagonistic to
the teachings of Paul, as understood by Augustine, who felt that the
very foundations of Christianity were assailed,--as Athanasius regarded
the doctrines of Arius. So he came to the rescue, not of the Catholic
Church, for Pelagius belonged to it as well as he, but to the rescue of
Christian theology. The doctrines of Pelagius were becoming fashionable
and prevalent in many parts of the Empire. Even the Pope at one time
favored them. They might spread until they should be embraced by the
whole Catholic world, for Augustine believed in the vitality of error as
well as in the vitality of truth,--of the natural and inevitable
tendency of society towards Paganism, without the especial and
restraining grace of God. He armed himself for the great conflict with
the infidelity of his day, not with David's sling, but Goliath's sword.
He used the same weapons as his antagonist, even the arms of reason and
knowledge, and constructed an argument which was overwhelming, if Paul's
Epistles were to be the accepted premises of his irresistible logic.
Great as was Pelagius, Augustine was a far greater man,--broader,
deeper, more learned, more logical, more eloquent, more intense. He was
raised up to demolish, with the very reason he professed to disdain, the
sophistries and dogmas of one of the most dangerous enemies which the
Church had ever known,--to leave to posterity his logic and his
conclusions when similar enemies of his faith should rise up in future
ages. He furnished a thesaurus not merely to Bernard and Thomas Aquinas,
but even to Calvin and Bossuet and Pascal. And it will be the marvellous
lucidity of the Bishop of Hippo which shall bring back to the true
faith, if it is ever brought back, that part of the Roman Catholic
Church which accepts the verdict of the Council of Trent, when that
famous council indorsed the opinions of Pelagius while upholding the
authority of Augustine as the greatest doctor of the Church.

To a man like Augustine, with his deep experiences,--a man rescued from
a seductive philosophy and a corrupt life, as he thought, by the
special grace of God and in answer to his mother's prayers,--the views
of Pelagius were both false and dangerous. He could find no words
sufficiently intense whereby to express his gratitude for his
deliverance from both sin and error. To him this Deliverer is so
personal, so loving, that he pours out his confession to Him as if He
were both friend and father. And he felt that all that is vital in
theology must radiate from the recognition of His sovereign power in the
renovation and salvation of the world. All his experiences and
observations of life confirmed the authority of Scripture,--that the
world, as a matter of fact, was sunk in a state of sin and misery, and
could be rescued only by that divine power which converted Paul. His
views of predestination, grace, and Providence all radiate from the
central principle of the majesty of God and the littleness of man. All
his ideas of the servitude of the will are confirmed by his personal
experience of the awful fetters which sin imposes, and the impossibility
of breaking away from them without direct aid from the God who ruleth
the world in love. And he had an infinitely greater and deeper
conviction of the reality of this divine love, which had rescued him,
than Pelagius had, who felt that his salvation was the result of his own
merits. The views of Augustine were infinitely more cheerful than those
of his adversary respecting salvation, since they gave more hope to the
miserable population of the Empire who could not claim the virtues of
Pelagius, and were impotent of themselves to break away from the bondage
which degraded them. There is nothing in the writings of Augustine,--not
in this controversy, or any other controversy,--to show that God
delights in the miseries or the penalty which are indissolubly connected
with sin; on the contrary, he blesses and adores the divine hand which
releases men from the constraints which sin imposes. This divine
interposition is wholly based on a divine and infinite love. It is the
helping hand of Omnipotence to the weak will of man,--the weak will even
of Paul, when he exclaimed, "The evil that I would not, that I do." It
is the unloosing, by His loving assistance, of the wings by which the
emancipated soul would rise to the lofty regions of peace and

I know very well that the doctrines which Augustine systematized from
Paul involve questions which we cannot answer; for why should not an
infinite and omnipotent God give to all men the saving grace that he
gave to Augustine? Why should not this loving and compassionate Father
break all the fetters of sin everywhere, and restore the primeval
Paradise in this wicked world where Satan seems to reign? Is He not more
powerful than devils? Alas! the prevalence of evil is more mysterious
than the origin of evil. But this is something,--and it is well for the
critic and opponent of the Augustinian theology to bear this in
mind,--that Augustine was an earnest seeker after truth, even when
enslaved by the fornications of Carthage; and his own free-will in
persistently seeking truth, through all the mazes of Manichean and
Grecian speculation, is as manifest as the divine grace which came to
his assistance. God Almighty does not break fetters until there is some
desire in men to have them broken. If men _will_ hug sins, they must not
complain of their bondage. Augustine recognized free-will, which so many
think he ignored, when his soul aspired to a higher life. When a
drunkard in his agonies cries out to God, then help is near. A drowning
man who calls for a rope when a rope is near stands a good chance of
being rescued.

I need not detail the results of this famous controversy. Augustine,
appealing to the consciousness of mankind as well as to the testimony of
Paul, prevailed over Pelagius, who appealed to the pride of reason. In
those dreadful times there were more men who felt the need of divine
grace than there were philosophers who revelled in the speculations of
the Greeks. The danger from the Pelagians was not from their
organization as a sect, but their opinions as individual men. Probably
there were all shades of opinion among them, from a modest and
thoughtful semi-Pelagianism to the rankest infidelity. There always have
been, and probably ever will be, sceptical and rationalistic people,
even in the bosom of the Church.

Now had it not been for Augustine,--a profound thinker, a man of
boundless influence and authority,--it is not unlikely that Pelagianism
would have taken so deep a root in the mind of Christendom, especially
in the hearts of princes and nobles, that it would have become the creed
of the Church. Even as it was, it was never fully eradicated in the
schools and in the courts and among worldly people of culture
and fashion.

But the fame of Augustine does not rest on his controversies with
heretics and schismatics alone. He wrote treatises on almost all
subjects of vital interest to the Church. His essay on the Trinity was
worthy of Athanasius, and has never been surpassed in lucidity and
power. His soliloquies on a blissful life, and the order of the
universe, and the immortality of the soul are pregnant with the richest
thought, equal to the best treatises of Cicero or Boethius. His
commentary on the Psalms is sparkling with tender effusions, in which
every thought is a sentiment and every sentiment is a blazing flame of
piety and love. Perhaps his greatest work was the amusement of his
leisure hours for thirteen years,--a philosophical treatise called "The
City of God," in which he raises and replies to all the great questions
of his day; a sort of Christian poem upon our origin and end, and a
final answer to Pagan theogonies,--a final sentence on all the gods of
antiquity. In that marvellous book he soars above his ordinary
excellence, and develops the designs of God in the history of States and
empires, furnishing for Bossuet the groundwork of his universal history.
Its great excellence, however, is its triumphant defence of Christianity
over all other religions,--the last of the great apologies which, while
settling the faith of the Christian world, demolished forever the last
stronghold of a defeated Paganism. As "ancient Egypt pronounced
judgments on her departed kings before proceeding to their burial, so
Augustine interrogates the gods of antiquity, shows their impotence to
sustain the people who worshipped them, triumphantly sings their
departed greatness, and seals with his powerful hand the sepulchre into
which they were consigned forever."

Besides all the treatises of Augustine,--exegetical, apologetical,
dogmatical, polemical, ascetic, and autobiographical,--three hundred and
sixty-three of his sermons have come down to us, and numerous letters to
the great men and women of his time. Perhaps he wrote too much and too
loosely, without sufficient regard to art,--like Varro, the most
voluminous writer of antiquity, and to whose writings Augustine was much
indebted. If Saint Augustine had written less, and with more care, his
writings would now be more read and more valued. Thucydides compressed
the labors of his literary life into a single volume; but that volume
is immortal, is a classic, is a text-book. Yet no work of man is
probably more lasting than the "Confessions" of Augustine, from the
extraordinary affluence and subtilty of his thoughts, and his burning,
fervid, passionate style. When books were scarce and dear, his various
works were the food of the Middle Ages: and what better books ever
nourished the European mind in a long period of ignorance and ignominy?
So that we cannot overrate his influence in giving a direction to
Christian thought. He lived in the writings of the sainted doctors of
the Scholastic schools. And he was a very favored man in living to a
good old age, wearing the harness of a Christian laborer and the armor
of a Christian warrior until he was seventy-six. He was a bishop nearly
forty years. For forty years he was the oracle of the Church, the light
of doctors. His social and private life had also great charms: he lived
the doctrines that he preached; he completely triumphed over the
temptations which once assailed him. Everybody loved as well as revered
him, so genial was his humanity, so broad his charity. He was affable,
courteous, accessible, full of sympathy and kindness. He was tolerant of
human infirmities in an age of angry controversy and ascetic rigors. He
lived simply, but was exceedingly hospitable. He cared nothing for
money, and gave away what he had. He knew the luxury of charity, having
no superfluities. He was forgiving as well as tolerant; saying, It is
necessary to pardon offences, not seven times, but seventy times seven.
No one could remember an idle word from his lips after his conversion.
His humility was as marked as his charity, ascribing all his triumphs to
divine assistance. He was not a monk, but gave rules to monastic orders.
He might have been a metropolitan patriarch or pope; but he was
contented with being bishop of a little Numidian town. His only visits
beyond the sanctuary were to the poor and miserable. As he won every
heart by love, so he subdued every mind by eloquence. He died leaving no
testament, because he had no property to bequeath but his immortal
writings,--some ten hundred and thirty distinct productions. He died in
the year 430, when his city was besieged by the Vandals, and in the arms
of his faithful Alypius, then a neighboring bishop, full of visions of
the ineffable beauty of that blissful state to which his renovated
spirit had been for forty years constantly soaring.

"Thus ceased to flow," said a contemporary, "that river of eloquence
which had watered the thirsty fields of the Church; thus passed away the
glory of preachers, the master of doctors, and the light of scholars;
thus fell the courageous combatant who with the sword of truth had given
heresy a mortal blow; thus set this glorious sun of Christian doctrine,
leaving a world in darkness and in tears."

His vacant see had no successor. "The African province, the cherished
jewel of the Roman Empire, sparkled for a while in the Vandal diadem.
The Greek supplanted the Vandal, and the Saracen supplanted the Greek,
and the home of Augustine was blotted out from the map of Christendom."
The light of the gospel was totally extinguished in Northern Africa. The
acts of Rome and the doctrines of Cyprian were equally forgotten by the
Mahommedan conquerors. Only in Bona, as Hippo is now called, has the
memory of the great bishop been cherished,--the one solitary flower
which escaped the successive desolations of Vandals and Saracens. And
when Algiers was conquered by the French in 1830, the sacred relics of
the saint were transferred from Pavia (where they had been deposited by
the order of Charlemagne), in a coffin of lead, enclosed in a coffin of
silver, and the whole secured in a sarcophagus of marble, and finally
committed to the earth near the scenes which had witnessed his
transcendent labors. I do not know whether any monument of marble and
granite was erected to his memory; but he needs no chiselled stone, no
storied urn, no marble bust, to perpetuate his fame. For nearly fifteen
hundred years he has reigned as the great oracle of the Church, Catholic
and Protestant, in matters of doctrine,--the precursor of Bernard, of
Leibnitz, of Calvin, of Bossuet, all of whom reproduced his ideas, and
acknowledged him as the fountain of their own greatness. "Whether," said
one of the late martyred archbishops of Paris, "he reveals to us the
foundations of an impure polytheism, so varied in its developments, yet
so uniform in its elemental principles; or whether he sports with the
most difficult problems of philosophy, and throws out thoughts which in
after times are sufficient to give an immortality to Descartes,--we
always find in this great doctor all that human genius, enlightened by
the Spirit of God, can explain, and also to what a sublime height reason
herself may soar when allied with faith."


The voluminous Works of Saint Augustine, especially his "Confessions."
Mabillon, Tillemont, and Baronius have written very fully of this great
Father. See also Vaughan's Life of Thomas Aquinas. Neander, Geisler,
Mosheim, and Milman indorse, in the main, the eulogium of Catholic
writers. There are numerous popular biographies, of which those of
Baillie and Schaff are among the best; but the most satisfactory book I
have read is the History of M. Poujoulat, in three volumes, issued at
Paris in 1846. Butler, in his Lives of the Saints, has an extended
biography. Even Gibbon pays a high tribute to his genius and character.


* * * * *

A.D. 346-395.


The last of those Roman emperors whom we call great was Theodosius.
After him there is no great historic name, unless it be Justinian, who
reigned when Rome had fallen. With Theodosius is associated the
life-and-death struggle of Rome with the Gothic barbarians, and the
final collapse of Paganism as a tolerated religion. Paganism in its
essence, its spirit, was not extinguished; it entered into new forms,
even into the Church itself; and it still exists in Christian countries.
When Bismarck was asked why he did not throw down his burdens, he is
reported to have said: "Because no man can take my place. I should like
to retire to my estates and raise cabbages; but I have work to do
against Paganism: I live among Pagans." Neither Theodosius nor Bismarck
was what we should call a saint. Both have been stained by acts which it
is hard to distinguish from crimes; but both have given evidence of
hatred of certain evils which undermine society. Theodosius,
especially, made war and fought nobly against the two things which most
imperilled the Empire,--the barbarians who had begun their ravages, and
the Paganism which existed both in and outside the Church. For which
reasons he has been praised by most historians, in spite of great crimes
and some vices. The worldly Gibbon admires him for the noble stand he
took against external dangers, and the Fathers of the Church almost
adored him for his zealous efforts in behalf of orthodoxy. An eminent
scholar of the advanced school has seen nothing in him to admire, and
much to blame. But he was undoubtedly a very great man, and rendered
important services to his age and to civilization, although he could not
arrest the fatal disease which even then had destroyed the vitality of
the Empire. It was already doomed when he ascended the throne. No mortal
genius, no imperial power, could have saved the crumbling Empire.

In my lecture on Marcus Aurelius I alluded to the external prosperity
and internal weakness of the old Roman world during his reign. That
outward prosperity continued for a century after he was dead,--that is,
there were peace, thrift, art, wealth, and splendor. Men were unmolested
in the pursuit of pleasure. There were no great wars with enemies beyond
the limits of the Empire. There were wars of course; but these chiefly
were civil wars between rival aspirants for imperial power, or to
suppress rebellions, which did not alarm the people. They still sat
under their own vines and fig-trees, and danced to voluptuous music, and
rejoiced in the glory of their palaces. They feasted and married and
were given in marriage, like the antediluvians. They never dreamed that
a great catastrophe was near, that great calamities were impending.

I do not say that the people in that century were happy or contented, or
even generally prosperous. How could they be happy or prosperous when
monsters and tyrants sat on the throne of Augustus and Trajan? How could
they be contented when there was such a vast inequality of
condition,--when slaves were more numerous than freemen,--when most of
the women were guarded and oppressed,--when scarcely a man felt secure
of the virtue of his wife, or a wife of the fidelity of her
husband,--when there was no relief from corroding sorrows but in the
sports of the amphitheatre and circus, or some form of demoralizing
excitement or public spectacle,--when the great mass were ground down by
poverty and insult, and the few who were rich and favored were satiated
with pleasure, ennued, and broken down by dissipation,--when there was
no hope in this world or in the next, no true consolation in sickness or
in misfortune, except among the Christians, who fled by thousands to
desert places to escape the contaminating vices of society?

But if the people were not happy or fortunate as a general thing, they
anticipated no overwhelming calamities; the outward signs of prosperity
remained,--all the glories of art, all the wonders of imperial and
senatorial magnificence; the people were fed and amused at the expense
of the State; the colosseum was still daily crowded with its
eighty-seven thousand spectators, and large hogs were still roasted
whole at senatorial banquets, and wines were still drunk which had been
stored one hundred years. The "dark-skinned daughters of Isis" still
sported unmolested in wanton mien with the priests of Cybele in their
discordant cries. The streets still were filled with the worshippers of
Bacchus and Venus, with barbaric captives and their Teuton priests, with
chariots and horses, with richly apparelled young men, and fashionable
ladies in quest of new perfumes. The various places of amusement were
still thronged with giddy youth and gouty old men who would have felt
insulted had any one told them that the most precious thing they had was
the most neglected. Everywhere, as in the time of Trajan, were
unrestricted pleasures and unrestricted trades. What cared the
shopkeepers and the carpenters and the bakers whether a Commodus or a
Severus reigned? They were safe. It was only great nobles who were in
danger of being robbed or killed by grasping emperors. The people, on
the whole, lived for one hundred years after the accession of Commodus
as they did under Trajan and Marcus Aurelius. True, there had been great
calamities during this hundred years. There had been terrible plagues
and pestilences: in some of these as many as five thousand people died
daily in Rome alone. There were tumults and revolts; there were wars and
massacres; there was often the reign of monsters or idiots. Yet even as
late as the reign of Aurelian, ninety years after the death of Aurelius,
the Empire was thought to be eternal; nor was any triumph ever
celebrated with greater pride and magnificence than his. And as the
victorious emperor in his triumphal chariot marched along the Via Sacra
up the Capitoline hill, with the spoils and trophies of one hundred
battles, with ambassadors and captives, including Zenobia herself,
fainting with the weight of jewels and golden fetters, it would seem
that Rome was destined to overcome all the vicissitudes of Nature, and
reign as mistress of the world forever.

But that century did not close until real dangers stared the people in
the face, and so alarmed the guardians of the Empire that they no longer
could retire to their secluded villas for luxurious leisure, but were
forced to perpetual warfare, and with foes they had hitherto despised.

Two things marked the one hundred years before the accession of
Theodosius of especial historical importance,--the successful inroads
of barbarians carrying desolation and alarm to the very heart of the
Empire; and the wonderful spread of the Christian religion. Persecution
ended with Diocletian; and under Constantine Christianity seated herself
upon his throne. During this century of barbaric spoliations and public
miseries,--the desolation of provinces, the sack of cities, the ruin of
works of art, the burning of palaces, all the unnumbered evils which
universal war created,--the converts to Christianity increased, for
Christianity alone held out hope amid despair and ruin. The public
dangers were so great that only successful generals were allowed to wear
the imperial purple.

The ablest men of the Empire were at last summoned to govern it. From
the year 268 to 394 most of the emperors were able men, and some were
great and virtuous. Perhaps the Empire was never more ably administered
than was the Roman in the day of its calamities. Aurelian, Diocletian,
Constantine, Theodosius, are alike immortal. They all alike fought with
the same enemies, and contended with the same evils. The enemies were
the Gothic barbarians; the evils were the degeneracy and vices of Roman
soldiers, which universal corruption had at last produced. It was a sad
hour in the old capital of the world when its blinded inhabitants were
aroused from the stupendous delusion that they were invincible; when the
crushing fact blazed upon them that the legions had been beaten, that
province after province had been overrun, that the proudest cities had
fallen, that the barbarians were advancing,--everywhere
advancing,--treading beneath their feet temples, palaces, statues,
libraries, priceless works of art; that there was no shelter to which
they could fly; that Rome herself was doomed. In the year 378 the
Emperor Valens himself was slain, almost under the walls of his capital,
with two-thirds of his army,--some sixty thousand infantry and six
thousand cavalry,--while the victorious Goths, gorged with spoils,
advanced to take possession of the defeated and crumbling Empire. From
the shores of the Bosporus to the Julian Alps nothing was seen but
conflagration, murders, and depredations, and the cry of anguish went up
to heaven in accents of almost universal despair.

In such a crisis a great man was imperatively needed, and a great man
arose. The dismayed emperor cast his eyes over the whole extent of his
dominions to find a deliverer. And he found the needed hero living
quietly and in modest retirement on a farm in Spain. This man was
Theodosius the Great, a young man then,--as modest as David amid the
pastures, as unambitious as Cincinnatus at the plough. "The vulgar,"
says Gibbon, "gazed with admiration on the manly beauty of his face and
the graceful majesty of his person, while in the qualities of his mind
and heart intelligent observers perceived the blended excellences of
Trajan and Constantine." As prudent as Fabius, as persevering as Alfred,
as comprehensive as Charlemagne, as full of resources as Frederic II.,
no more fitting person could be found to wield the sceptre of Trajan his
ancestor. No greater man than he did the Empire then contain, and
Gratian was wise and fortunate in associating with himself so
illustrious a man in the imperial dignity.

If Theodosius was unassuming, he was not obscure and unimportant. His
father had been a successful general in Britain and Africa, and he
himself had been instructed by his father in the art of war, and had
served under him with distinction. As Duke of Maesia he had vanquished
an army of Sarmatians, saved the province, deserved the love of his
soldiers, and provoked the envy of the court. But his father having
incurred the jealousy of Gratian and been unjustly executed, he was
allowed to retire to his patrimonial estates near Valladolid, where he
gave himself up to rural enjoyments and ennobling studies. He was not
long permitted to remain in this retirement; for the public dangers
demanded the service of the ablest general in the Empire, and there was
no one so illustrious as he. And how lofty must have been his character,
if Gratian dared to associate with himself in the government of the
Empire a man whose father he had unjustly executed! He was thirty-three
when he was invested with imperial purple and intrusted with the conduct
of the Gothic war.

The Goths, who under Fritigern had defeated the Roman army before the
walls of Adrianople, were Germanic barbarians who lived between the
Rhine and the Vistula in those forests which now form the empire of
Germany. They belonged to a family of nations which had the same natural
characteristics,--love of independence, passion for war, veneration for
women, and religious tendency of mind. They were brave, persevering,
bold, hardy, and virtuous, for barbarians. They cast their eyes on the
Roman provinces in the time of Marius, and were defeated by him under
the name of Teutons. They had recovered strength when Caesar conquered
the Gauls. They were very formidable in the time of Marcus Aurelius, and
had formed a general union for the invasion of the Roman world. But a
barrier had been made against their incursions by those good and warlike
emperors who preceded Commodus, so that the Romans had peace for one
hundred years. These barbarians went under different names, which I will
not enumerate,--different tribes of the same Germanic family, whose
remote ancestors lived in Central Asia and were kindred to the Medes and
Persians. Like the early inhabitants of Greece and Italy, they were of
the Aryan race. All the members of this great family, in their early
history, had the same virtues and vices. They worshipped the forces of
Nature, recognizing behind these a supreme and superintending deity,
whose wrath they sought to deprecate by sacrifices. They set a great
value on personal independence, and hence had great individuality of
character. They delighted in the pleasures of the chase. They were
generally temperate and chaste. They were superstitious, social, and
quarrelsome, bent on conquest, and migrated from country to country with
a view of improving their fortunes.

The Goths were the first of these barbarians who signally triumphed over
the Roman arms. "Starting from their home in the Scandinavian peninsula,
they pressed upon the Slavic population of the Vistula, and by rapid
conquests established themselves in southern and eastern Germany. Here
they divided. The Visi or West Goths advanced to the Danube." In the
reign of Decius (249-251) they crossed the river and ravaged the Roman
territory. In 269 they imposed a tribute on the Emperor Gratian, and
seem to have been settled in Dacia. After this they made several
successful raids,--invading Bythinia, entering the Propontis, and
advancing as far as Athens and Corinth, even to the coasts of Asia
Minor; destroying in their ravages the Temple of Diana at Ephesus, with
its one hundred and twenty-seven marble columns.

These calamities happened in the middle of the third century, during the
reign of the frivolous Gallienus, who received the news with his
accustomed indifference. While the Goths were burning the Grecian
cities, this royal cook and gardener was soliciting a place in the
Areopagus of Athens.

In the reign of Claudius the barbarians united under the Gothic
standard, and in six thousand vessels prepared again to ravage the
world. Against three hundred and twenty thousand of these Goths Claudius
advanced, and defeated them at Naissus in Dalmatia. Fifty thousand were
slain, and three Gothic women fell to the share of every soldier. On the
return of spring nothing of that mighty host was seen. Aurelian--who
succeeded Claudius, and whose father had been a peasant of Sirmium--put
an end to the Gothic war, and the Empire again breathed; but only for a
time, for the barbarians continually advanced, although they were
continually beaten by the warlike emperors who succeeded Gallienus. In
the middle of the third century they were firmly settled in Dacia, by
permission of Valerian. One hundred years after, pressed by Huns, they
asked for lands south of the Danube, which request was granted by
Valens; but they were rudely treated by the Roman officials, especially
their women, and treachery was added to their other wrongs. Filled with
indignation, they made a combination and swept everything before
them,--plundering cities, and sparing neither age nor sex. These ravages
continued for a year. Valens, aroused, advanced against them, and was
slain in the memorable battle on the plains of Adrianople, 9th of
August, 378,--the most disastrous since the battle of Cannae, and from
which the Empire never recovered.

To save the crumbling world, Theodosius was now made associate emperor.
And in that great crisis prudence was more necessary than valor. No
Roman army at that time could contend openly in the field, face to face,
with the conquering hordes who assembled under the standard of
Fritigern,--the first historic name among the Visigoths. Theodosius
"fixed his headquarters at Thessalonica, from whence he could watch the
irregular actions of the barbarians and direct the movements of his
lieutenants." He strengthened his defences and fortifications, from
which his soldiers made frequent sallies,--as Alfred did against the
Danes,--and accustomed themselves to the warfare of their most dangerous
enemies. He pursued the same policy that Fabius did after the battle of
Cannae, to whose wisdom the Romans perhaps were more indebted for their
ultimate success than to the brilliant exploits of Scipio. The death of
Fritigern, the great predecessor of Alaric, relieved Theodosius from
many anxieties; for it was followed by the dissension and discord of the
barbarians themselves, by improvidence and disorderly movements; and
when the Goths were once more united under Athanaric, Theodosius
succeeded in making an honorable treaty with him, and in entertaining
him with princely hospitalities in his capital, whose glories alike
astonished and bewildered him. Temperance was not one of the virtues of
Gothic kings under strong temptation, and Athanaric, yielding to the
force of banquets and imperial seductions, soon after died. The politic
emperor gave his late guest a magnificent funeral, and erected to his
memory a stately monument; which won the favor of the Goths, and for a
time converted them to allies. In four years the entire capitulation of
the Visigoths was effected.

Theodosius then turned his attention to the Ostro or East Goths, who
advanced, with other barbarians, to the banks of the lower Danube, on
the Thracian frontier. Allured to cross the river in the night, the
barbarians found a triple line of Roman war-vessels chained to each
other in the middle of the river, which offered an effectual resistance
to their six thousand canoes, and they perished with their king.

Having gradually vanquished the most dangerous enemies of the Empire,
Theodosius has been censured for allowing them to settle in the
provinces they had desolated, and still more for incorporating fifty
thousand of their warriors in the imperial armies, since they were
secret enemies, and would burst through their limits whenever an
opportunity offered. But they were really too formidable to be driven
back beyond the frontiers of the crumbling Empire. Theodosius could only
procure a period of peace; and this was not to be secured save by adroit
flatteries. The day was past for the extermination of the Goths by Roman
soldiers, who had already thrown away their defensive armor; nor was it
possible that they would amalgamate with the people of the Empire, as
the Celtic barbarians had done in Spain and Gaul after the victories of
Caesar. Though the kingly power was taken away from them and they fought
bravely under the imperial standards, it was evident from their
insolence and their contempt of the effeminate masters that the day was
not distant when they would be the conquerors of the Empire. It does not
speak well for an empire that it is held together by the virtues and
abilities of a single man. Nor could the fate of the Roman empire be
doubtful when barbarians were allowed to settle in its provinces; for
after the death of Valens the Goths never abandoned the Roman territory.
They took possession of Thrace, as Saxons and Danes took possession
of England.

After the conciliation of the Goths,--for we cannot call it the
conquest,--Theodosius was obliged to turn his attention to the affairs
of the Western Empire; for he ruled only the Eastern provinces. It would
seem that Gratian, who had called him to his assistance to preserve the
East from the barbarians, was now in trouble in the West. He had not
fulfilled the great expectation that had been formed of him. He degraded
himself in the eyes of the Romans by his absorbing passion for the
pleasures of the chase; while public affairs imperatively demanded his
attention. He received a body of Alans into the military and domestic
service of the palace. He was indolent and pleasure-seeking, but was
awakened from his inglorious sports by a revolt in Britain. Maximus, a
native of Spain and governor of the island, had been proclaimed emperor
by his soldiers. He invaded Gaul with a large fleet and army, followed
by the youth of Britain, and was received with acclamations by the
armies of that province. Gratian, then residing in Paris, fled to Lyons,
deserted by his troops, and was assassinated by the orders of Maximus.
The usurper was now acknowledged by the Western provinces as emperor,
and was too powerful to be resisted at that time by Theodosius, who
accepted his ambassadors, and made a treaty with the usurper by which he
was permitted to reign over Britain, Gaul, and Spain, provided that the
other Western provinces, including Wales, should accept and acknowledge
Valentinian, the brother of the murdered Gratian, who was however a
mere boy, and was ruled by his mother Justina, an Arian,--that
celebrated woman who quarrelled with Ambrose, archbishop of Milan.
Valentinian was even more feeble than Gratian, and Maximus, not
contented with the sovereignty of the three most important provinces of
the Empire, resolved to reign over the entire West. Theodosius, who had
dissembled his anger and waited for opportunity, now advanced to the
relief of Valentinian, who had been obliged to fly from Milan,--the seat
of his power. But in two months Theodosius subdued his rival, who fled
to Italy, only, however, to be dragged from the throne and executed.

Having terminated the civil war, and after a short residence in Milan,
Theodosius made his triumphal entry into the ancient capital of the
world. He was now the absolute and undisputed master of the East and the
West, as Constantine had been, whom he resembled in his military genius
and executive ability; but he gave to Valentinian (a youth of twenty,
murdered a few months after) the provinces of Italy and Illyria, and
intrusted Gaul to the care of Arbogastes,--a gallant soldier among the
Franks, who, like Maximus, aspired to reign. But power was dearer to the
valiant Frank than a name; and he made his creature, the rhetorician
Eugenius, the nominal emperor of the West. Hence another civil war; but
this more serious than the last, and for which Theodosius was obliged
to make two years' preparation. The contest was desperate. Victory at
one time seemed even to be on the side of Arbogastes: Theodosius was
obliged to retire to the hills on the confines of Italy, apparently
subdued, when, in the utmost extremity of danger, a desertion of troops
from the army of the triumphant barbarian again gave him the advantage,
and the bloody and desperate battle on the banks of the Frigidus
re-established Theodosius as the supreme ruler of the world. Both
Arbogastes and Eugenius were slain, and the East and West were once more
and for the last time united. The division of the Empire under
Diocletian had not proved a wise policy, but was perhaps necessary;
since only a Hercules could have borne the burdens of undivided
sovereignty in an age of turbulence, treason, revolts, and anarchies. It
was probably much easier for Tiberius or Trajan to rule the whole world
than for one of the later emperors to rule a province. Alfred had a
harder task than Charlemagne, and Queen Elizabeth than Queen Victoria.

I have dwelt very briefly on those contests in which the great
Theodosius was obliged to fight for his crown and for the Empire. For a
time he had delivered the citizens from the fear of the Goths, and had
re-established the imperial sovereignty over the various provinces. But
only for a time. The external dangers reappeared at his death. He only
averted impending ruin; he only propped up a crumbling Empire. No human
genius could have long prevented the fall. Hence his struggles with
barbarians and with rebels have no deep interest to us. We associate
with his reign something more important than these outward conflicts.
Civilization at large owes him a great debt for labors in another field,
for which he is most truly immortal,--for which his name is treasured by
the Church,--for which he was one of the great benefactors.

These labors were directed to the improvement of jurisprudence, and the
final extinction of Paganism as a tolerated religion. He gave to the
Church and to Christianity a new prestige. He rooted out, so far as
genius and authority can, those heresies which were rapidly assimilating
the new religion to the old. He was the friend and patron of those great
ecclesiastics whose names are consecrated. The great Ambrose was his
special friend, in whose arms he expired. Augustine, Martin of Tours,
Jerome, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Chrysostom, Damasus, were all
contemporaries, or nearly so. In his day the Church was really seated on
the high-places of the earth. A bishop was a greater man than a senator;
he exercised more influence and had more dignity than a general. He was
ambassador, courtier, and statesman, as well as prelate. Theodosius
handed over to the Church the government of mankind. To him we date
that ecclesiastical government which was perfected by Charlemagne, and
which was dominant in the Middle Ages. Anarchy and misery spread over
the world; but the new barbaric forces were obedient to the officers of
the Church. The Church looms up in the days of Theodosius as the great
power of the world.

Theodosius is lauded as a Christian prince even more than Constantine,
and as much as Alfred. He was what is called orthodox, and intensely so.
He saw in Arianism a heresy fatal to the Church. "It is our pleasure,"
said he, "that all nations should steadfastly adhere to the religion
which was taught by Saint Peter to the Romans, which is _the sole Deity
of the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost_, under an equal majesty; and we
authorize the followers of this doctrine to assume the title of Catholic
Christians." If Rome under Damasus and the teachings of Jerome was the
seat of orthodoxy, Constantinople was the headquarters of Arianism. We
in our times have no conception of the interest which all classes took
in the metaphysics of theology. Said one of the writers of the day: "If
you desire a man to change a piece of silver, he informs you wherein the
Son differs from the Father; if you ask the price of a loaf, you are
told in reply that the Son is inferior to the Father; if you inquire
whether the bath is ready, the answer is that the Son was made out of
nothing." The subtle questions pertaining to the Trinity were the theme
of universal conversation, even amid the calamities of the times.

Theodosius, as soon as he had finished his campaign against the Goths,
summoned the Arian archbishop of Constantinople, and demanded his
subscription to the Nicene Creed or his resignation. It must be
remembered that the Arians were in an overwhelming majority in the city,
and occupied the principal churches. They complained of the injustice of
removing their metropolitan, but the emperor was inflexible; and Gregory
Nazianzen, the friend of Basil, was promoted to the vacant See, in the
midst of popular grief and rage. Six weeks afterwards Theodosius
expelled from all the churches of his dominions, both of bishops and of
presbyters, those who would not subscribe to the Nicene Creed. It was a
great reformation, but effected without bloodshed.

Moreover, in the year 381 he assembled a general council of one hundred
and fifty bishops at his capital, to finish the work of the Council of
Nice, and in which Arianism was condemned. In the space of fifteen years
seven imperial edicts were fulminated against those who maintained that
the Son was inferior to the Father. A fine equal to two thousand dollars
was imposed on every person who should receive or promote an Arian
ordination. The Arians were forbidden to assemble together in their
churches, and by a sort of civil excommunication they were branded with
infamy by the magistrates, and rendered incapable of civil offices of
trust and emolument. Capital punishment even was inflicted on

So it would appear that Theodosius inaugurated religious persecution for
honest opinions, and his edicts were similar in spirit to those of Louis
XIV. against the Protestants,--a great flaw in his character, but for
which he is lauded by the Catholic historians. The eloquent Flechier
enlarges enthusiastically on the virtues of his private life, on his
chastity, his temperance, his friendship, his magnanimity, as well as
his zeal in extinguishing heresy. But for him, Arianism might possibly
have been the established religion of the Empire, since not only the
dialectical Greeks, but the sensuous Goths, inclined to that creed.
Ulfilas, in his conversion of those barbarians, had made them the
supporters of Arianism, not because _they_ understood the subtile
distinctions which theologians had made, but because it was the accepted
and fashionable faith of Constantinople. Spain, however, through the
commanding influence of Hosius, adhered to the doctrines of Athanasius,
while the eloquence of the commanding intellects of the age was put
forth in behalf of Trinitarianism. The great leader of Arianism had
passed away when Augustine dictated to the Christian world from the
little town of Hippo, and Jerome transplanted the monasticism of the
East into the West. At Tours Martin defended the same cause that
Augustine had espoused in Africa; while at Milan, the court capital of
the West, the venerable Ambrose confirmed Italy in the Latin creed. In
Alexandria the fierce Theophilus suppressed Arianism with the same
weapons that he had used in extirpating the worship of Isis and Osiris.
Chrysostom at Antioch was the equally strenuous advocate of the
Athanasian Creed. We are struck with the appearance of these commanding
intellects in the last days of the Empire,--not statesmen and generals,
but ecclesiastics and churchmen, generally agreed in the interpretation
of the faith as declared by Paul, and through whose counsels the emperor
was unquestionably governed. In all matters of religion Theodosius was
simply the instrument of the great prelates of the age,--the only great
men that the age produced.

After Theodosius had thus established the Nicene faith, so far as
imperial authority, in conjunction with that of the great prelates,
could do so, he closed the final contest with Paganism itself. His laws
against Pagan sacrifices were severe. It was death to inspect the
entrails of victims for sacrifice; and all other sacrifices, in the year
392, were made a capital offence. He even demolished the Pagan temples,
as the Scots destroyed the abbeys and convents which were the great
monuments of Mediaeval piety. The revenues of the temples were
confiscated. Among the great works of ancient art which were destroyed,
but might have been left or converted into Christian use, were the
magnificent temple of Edessa and the serapis of Alexandria, uniting the
colossal grandeur of Egyptian with the graceful harmony of Grecian art.
At Rome not only was the property of the temples confiscated, but also
all privileges of the priesthood. The Vestal virgins passed unhonored in
the streets. Whoever permitted any Pagan rite--even the hanging of a
chaplet on a tree--forfeited his estate. The temples of Rome were not
destroyed, as in Syria and Egypt; but as all their revenues were
confiscated, public worship declined before the superior pomps of a
sensuous and even idolatrous Christianity. The Theodosian code,
published by Theodosius the Younger, A.D. 438, while it incorporated
Christian usages and laws in the legislation of the Empire, did not,
however, disturb the relation of master and slave; and when the Empire
fell, slavery still continued as it was in the times of Augustus and
Diocletian. Nor did Christianity elevate imperial despotism into a wise
and beneficent rule. It did not change perceptibly the habits of the
aristocracy. The most vivid picture we have of the vices of the leading
classes of Roman society are painted by a contemporaneous Pagan
historian,--Ammianus Marcellinus,--and many a Christian matron adorned
herself with the false and colored hair, the ornaments, the rouge, and
the silks of the Pagan women of the time of Cleopatra. Never was luxury
more enervating, or magnificence more gorgeous, but without refinement,
than in the generation that preceded the fall of Rome. And coexistent
with the vices which prepared the way for the conquests of the
barbarians was the wealth of the Christian clergy, who vied with the
expiring Paganism in the splendor of their churches, in the ornaments of
their altars, and in the imposing ceremonial of their worship. The
bishop became a great worldly potentate, and the strictest union was
formed between the Church and State. The greatest beneficent change
which the Church effected was in relation to divorce,--the facility for
which disgraced the old Pagan civilization; but Christianity invested
marriage with the utmost solemnity, so that it became a holy and
indissoluble sacrament,--to which the Catholic Church, in the days of
deepest degeneracy has ever clung, leaving to the Protestants the
restoration of this old Pagan custom of divorce, as well as the
encouragement and laudation of a material civilization.

The spirit of Paganism never has been exorcised in any age of Christian
progress and triumph, but has appeared from time to time in new forms.
In the conquering Church of Constantine and Theodosius it adopted Pagan
emblems and gorgeous rites and ceremonies; in the Middle Ages it
appeared in the dialectical contests of the Greek philosophers; in our
times in the deification of the reason, in the apotheosis of art, in the
inordinate value placed on the enjoyments of the body, and in the
splendor of an outside life. Names are nothing. To-day we are swinging
to the Epicurean side of the Greeks and Romans as completely as they did
in the age of Commodus and Aurelian; and none may dare to hurl their
indignant protests without meeting a neglect and obloquy sometimes more
hard to bear than the persecutions of Nero, of Trajan, of Leo X., of
Louis XIV.

If Theodosius were considered aside from his able administration of the
Empire and his patronage of the orthodox leaders of the Church, he would
be subject to severe criticism. He was indolent, irascible, and severe.
His name and memory are stained by a great crime,--the slaughter of from
seven to fifteen thousand of the people of Thessalonica,--one of the
great crimes of history, but memorable for his repentance more than for
his cruelty. Had Theodosius not submitted to excommunication and
penance, and given every sign of grief and penitence for this terrible
deed, he would have passed down in history as one of the cruellest of
all the emperors, from Nero downwards; for nothing can excuse, or even
palliate, so gigantic a crime, which shocked the whole civilized
world,--a crime more inexcusable than the slaughter of Saint Bartholomew
or the massacre which followed the revocation of the edict of Nantes.

Theodosius survived that massacre about five years, and died at Milan,
395, at the age of fifty, from a disease which was caused by the
fatigues of war, which, with a constitution undermined by
self-indulgence, he was unable to bear. But whatever the cause of his
death it was universally lamented, not from love of him so much as from
the sense of public dangers which he alone had the power to ward off. At
his death his Empire was divided between his two feeble sons,--Honorius
and Arcadius, and the general ruin which everybody began to fear soon
took place. After Theodosius, no great and warlike sovereign reigned
over the crumbling and dismembered Empire, and the ruin was as rapid as
it was mournful.

The Goths, released from the restraints and fears which Theodosius
imposed, renewed their ravages; and the effeminate soldiers of the
Empire, who formerly had marched with a burden of eighty pounds, now
threw away the heavy weapons of their ancestors, even their defensive
armor, and of course made but feeble resistance. The barbarians advanced
from conquering to conquer. Alaric, leader of the Goths, invaded Greece
at the head of a numerous army. Degenerate soldiers guarded the pass
where three hundred Spartan heroes had once arrested the Persian hosts,
and fled as Alaric approached. Even at Thermopylae no resistance was
made. The country was laid waste with fire and sword. Athens purchased
her preservation at an enormous ransom. Corinth, Argos, and Sparta
yielded without a blow, but did not escape the doom of vanquished
cities. Their palaces were burned, their families were enslaved, and
their works of art were destroyed.

Only one general remained to the desponding Arcadius,--Stilicho, trained
in the armies of Theodosius, who had virtually intrusted to him,
although by birth a Vandal, the guardianship of his children. We see in
these latter days of the Empire that the best generals were of barbaric
birth,--an impressive commentary on the degeneracy of the legions. At
the approach of Stilicho, Alaric retired at first, but collecting a
force of ten thousand men penetrated the Julian Alps, and advanced into
Italy. The Emperor Honorius was obliged to summon to his rescue his
dispirited legions from every quarter, even from the fortresses of the
Rhine and the Caledonian wall, with which Stilicho compelled Alaric to
retire, but only on a subsidy of two tons of gold. The Roman people,
supposing that they were delivered, returned to their circuses and
gladiatorial shows. Yet Italy was only temporarily delivered, for
Stilicho,--the hero of Pollentia,--with the collected forces of the
whole western Empire, might still have defied the armies of the Goths
and staved off the ruin another generation, had not imperial jealousy
and the voice of envy removed him from command. The supreme guardian of
the western Empire, in the greatest crisis of its history, himself
removes the last hope of Rome. The frivolous senate which Stilicho had
saved, and the weak and timid emperor whom he guarded, were alike
demented. _Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat_. In an evil hour the
brave general was assassinated.

The Gothic king observing the revolutions at the palace, the elevation
of incompetent generals, and the general security in which the people
indulged, resolved to march to a renewed attack. Again he crossed the
Alps, with a still greater army, and invaded Italy, destroying
everything in his path. Without obstruction he crossed the Apennines,
ravaged the fertile plains of Umbria, and reached the city, which for
four hundred years had not been violated by the presence of a foreign
enemy. The walls were then twenty-five miles in circuit, and contained
so large a population that it affected indifference. Alaric made no
attempt to take the city by storm, but quietly and patiently enclosed it
with a cordon through which nothing could force its way,--as the
Prussians in our day invested Paris. The city, unprovided for a siege,
soon felt all the evils of famine, to which pestilence was naturally
added. In despair, the haughty citizens condescended to sue for a
ransom. Alaric fixed the price of his retreat at the surrender of all
the gold and silver, all the precious movables, and all the slaves of
barbaric birth. He afterwards somewhat modified his demands, but marched
away with more spoil than the Romans brought from Carthage and Antioch.

Honorius intrenched himself at Ravenna, and refused to treat with the
magnanimous Alaric. Again, consequently, he marched against the doomed
capital; again invested it; again cut off supplies. In vain did the
nobles organize a defence,--there were no defenders. Slaves would not
fight, and a degenerate rabble could not resist a warlike and superior
race. Cowardice and treachery opened the gates. In the dead of night the
Gothic trumpets rang unanswered in the streets. The old heroic virtues
were gone. No resistance was made. Nobody fought from temples and
palaces. The queen of the world, for five days and nights, was exposed
to the lust and cupidity of despised barbarians. Yet a general slaughter
was not made; and as much wealth as could be collected into the churches
of St. Peter and St. Paul was spared. The superstitious barbarians in
some degree respected churches. But the spoils of the city were immense
and incalculable,--gold, jewels, vestments, statues, vases, silver
plate, precious furniture, spoils of Oriental cities,--the collective
treasures of the world,--all were piled upon the Gothic wagons. The
sons and daughters of patrician families became, in their turn, slaves
to the barbarians. Fugitives thronged the shores of Syria and Egypt,
begging daily bread. The Roman world was filled with grief and
consternation. Its proud capital was sacked, since no one would defend
it. "The Empire fell," says Guizot, "because no one belonged to it." The
news of the capture "made the tongue of old Saint Jerome to cling to the
roof of his mouth in his cell at Bethlehem. What is now to be seen,"
cried he, "but conflagration, slaughter, ruin,--the universal shipwreck
of society?" The same words of despair came from Saint Augustine at
Hippo. Both had seen the city in the height of its material grandeur,
and now it was laid low and desolate. The end of all things seemed to be
at hand; and the only consolation of the great churchmen of the age was
the belief in the second coming of our Lord.

The sack of Rome by Alaric, A.D. 410, was followed in less than half a
century by a second capture and a second spoliation at the hands of the
Vandals, with Genseric at their head,--a tribe of barbarians of kindred
Germanic race, but fiercer instincts and more hideous peculiarities.
This time, the inhabitants of Rome (for Alaric had not destroyed
it,--only robbed it) put on no airs of indifference or defiance. They
knew their weakness. They begged for mercy.

The last hope of the city was her Christian bishop; and the great Leo,
who was to Rome what Augustine had been to Carthage when that capital
also fell into the hands of Vandals, hastened to the barbarian's camp.
The only concession he could get was that the lives of the people should
be spared,--a promise only partially kept. The second pillage lasted
fourteen days and nights. The Vandals transferred to their ships all
that the Goths had left, even to the trophies of the churches and
ancient temples; the statues which ornamented the capital, the holy
vessels of the Jewish temple which Titus had brought from Jerusalem,
imperial sideboards of massive silver, the jewels of senatorial
families, with their wives and daughters,--all were carried away to
Carthage, the seat of the new Empire of the Vandals, A.D. 455, then once
more a flourishing city. The haughty capital met the fate which she had
inflicted on her rival in the days of Cato the censor, but fell still
more ingloriously, and never would have recovered from this second fall
had not her immortal bishop, rising with the greatness of the crisis,
laid the foundation of a new power,--that spiritual domination which
controlled the Gothic nations for more than a thousand years.

With the fall of Rome,--yet too great a city to be wholly despoiled or
ruined, and which has remained even to this day the centre of what is
most interesting in the world,--I should close this Lecture; but I must
glance rapidly over the whole Empire, and show its condition when the
imperial capital was spoiled, humiliated, and deserted.

The Suevi, Alans, and Vandals invaded Spain, and erected their barbaric
monarchies. The Goths were established in the south of Gaul, while the
north was occupied by the Franks and Burgundians. England, abandoned by
the Romans, was invaded by the Saxons, who formed permanent conquests.
In Italy there were Goths and Heruli and Lombards. All these races were
Germanic. They probably made serfs or slaves of the old population, or
were incorporated with them. They became the new rulers of the
devastated provinces; and all became, sooner or later, converts to a
nominal Christianity, the supreme guardian of which was the Pope, whose
authority they all recognized. The languages which sprang up in Europe
were a blending of the Roman, Celtic, and Germanic. In Spain and Italy
the Latin predominated, as the Saxon prevailed in England after the
Norman conquest. Of all the new settlers in the Roman world, the
Normans, who made no great incursions till the time of Charlemagne, were
probably the strongest and most refined. But they all alike had the same
national traits, substantially; and they entered upon the possessions of
the Romans after various contests, more or less successful, for two
hundred and fifty years.

The Empire might have been invaded by these barbarians in the time of
the Antonines, and perhaps earlier; but it would not have succumbed to
them. The Legions were then severely disciplined, the central power was
established, and the seeds of ruin had not then brought forth their
wretched fruits. But in the fifth century nothing could have saved the
Empire. Its decline had been rapid for two hundred years, until at last
it became as weak as the Oriental monarchies which Alexander subdued. It
fell like a decayed and rotten tree. As a political State all vitality
had fled from it. The only remaining conservative forces came from
Christianity; and Christianity was itself corrupted, and had become a
part of the institutions of the State.

It is mournful to think that a brilliant external civilization was so
feeble to arrest both decay and ruin. It is sad to think that neither
art nor literature nor law had conservative strength; that the manners
and habits of the people grew worse and worse, as is universally
admitted, amid all the glories and triumphs and boastings of the
proudest works of man. "A world as fair and as glorious as our own,"
says Sismondi, "was permitted to perish." Rome, Alexandria, Antioch,
Athens, met the old fate of Babylon, of Tyre, of Carthage. Degeneracy
was as marked and rapid in the former, notwithstanding all the
civilizing influences of letters, jurisprudence, arts, and utilitarian
science, as in the latter nations,--a most significant and impressive
commentary on the uniform destinies of nations, when those virtues on
which the strength of man is based have passed away. An observer in the
days of Theodosius would very likely have seen the churches of Rome as
fully attended as are those in New York itself to-day; and he would have
seen a more magnificent city,--and yet it fell. There is no cure for a
corrupt and rotten civilization. As the farms of the old Puritans of
Massachusetts and Connecticut are gradually but surely passing into the
hands of the Irish, because the sons and grandsons of the old
New-England farmer prefer the uncertainties and excitements of a
demoralized city-life to laborious and honest work, so the possessions
of the Romans passed into the hands of German barbarians, who were
strong and healthy and religious. They desolated, but they

The punishment of the enervated and sensual Roman was by war. We in
America do not fear this calamity, and have no present cause of fear,
because we have not sunk to the weakness and wickedness of the Romans,
and because we have no powerful external enemies. But if amid our
magnificent triumphs of science and art, we should accept the
Epicureanism of the ancients and fall into their ways of life, then
there would be the same decline which marked them,--I mean in virtue and
public morality,--and there would be the same penalty; not perhaps
destruction from external enemies, as in Persia, Syria, Greece, and
Rome, but some grievous and unexpected series of catastrophes which
would be as mournful, as humiliating, as ruinous, as were the incursions
of the Germanic races. The operations of law, natural and moral, are
uniform. No individual and no nation can escape its penalty. The world
will not be destroyed; Christianity will not prove a failure,--but new
forces will arise over the old, and prevail. Great changes will come. He
whose right it is to rule will overturn and overturn: but "creation
shall succeed destruction; melodious birth-songs will come from the
fires of the burning phoenix," assuring us that the progress of the race
is certain, even if nations are doomed to a decline and fall whenever
conservative forces are not strong enough to resist the torrent of
selfishness, vanity, and sin.


The original authorities are Ammianus Marcellinus, Zosimus, Sozomen,
Socrates, orations of Gregory Nazianzen, Theodoret, the Theodosian Code,
Sulpicius Severus, Life of Martin of Tours, Life of Ambrose by Paulinus,
Augustine's "De Civitate Dei," Epistles of Ambrose; also those of
Jerome; Claudien. The best modern authorities are Tillemont's History of
the Emperors; Gibbon's Decline and Fall; Milmans's History of
Christianity; Neander; Sheppard's Fall of Rome; and Flecier's Life of
Theodosius. There are several popular Lives of Theodosius in French, but
very few in English.


* * * * *

A.D. 390-461.


With the great man who forms the subject of this Lecture are identified
those principles which lay at the foundation of the Roman Catholic power
for fifteen hundred years. I do not say that he is the founder of the
Roman Catholic Church, for that is another question. Roman Catholicism,
as a polity, or government, or institution, is one thing; and Roman
Catholicism, as a religion, is quite another, although they have been
often confounded. As a government, or polity, it is peculiar,--the
result of the experience of ages, adapted to society and nations in a
certain state of progress or development, with evils and corruptions, of
course, like all other human institutions. As a religion, although it
superadded many dogmas and rites which Protestants do not accept, and
for which they can see no divine authority,--like auricular confession,
the deification of the Virgin, indulgences for sin, and the
infallibility of the Pope,--still, it has at the same time defended the
cardinal principles of Christian faith and morality; such as the
personality and sovereignty of God, the divinity of Christ, salvation in
consequence of his sufferings and death, immortality, the final
judgment, the necessity of a holy life, temperance, humility, patience,
and the virtues which were taught upon the Mount and enforced by the
original disciples and apostles, whose writings are accepted
as inspired.

In treating so important a subject as that represented by Leo the Great,
we must bear in mind these distinctions. While Leo is conceded to have
been a devout Christian and a noble defender of the faith as we receive
it,--one of the lights of the early Christian Church, numbered even
among the Fathers of the Church, with Augustine and Chrysostom,--his
special claim to greatness is that to him we trace some of the first
great developments of the Roman Catholic power as an institution. More
than any other one man, he laid the foundation-stone of that edifice
which alike sheltered and imprisoned the European nations for more than
a thousand years. He was not a great theologian like Augustine, or
preacher like Chrysostom, but he was a great bishop like Ambrose,--even
far greater, inasmuch as he was the organizer of new forces in the
administration of his important diocese. In fact he was a great
statesman, as the more able of the popes always aspired to be. He was
the associate and equal of princes.

It was the sublime effort of Leo to make the Church the guardian of
spiritual principles and give to it a theocratic character and aim,
which links his name with the mightiest moral movements of the world;
and when I speak of the Church I mean the Church of Rome, as presided
over by men who claimed to be the successors of Saint Peter,--to whom
they assert Christ had given the supreme control over all other churches
as His vicars on the earth. It was the great object of Leo to
substantiate this claim, and root it in the minds of the newly converted
barbarians; and then institute laws and measures which should make his
authority and that of his successors paramount in all spiritual matters,
thus centring in his See the general oversight of the Christian Church
in all the countries of Europe. It was a theocratic aspiration, one of
the grandest that ever entered into the mind of a man of genius, yet, as
Protestants now look at it, a usurpation,--the beginning of a vast
system of spiritual tyranny in order to control the minds and
consciences of men. It took several centuries to develop this system,
after Leo was dead. With him it was not a vulgar greed of power, but an
inspiration of genius,--a grand idea to make the Church which he
controlled a benign and potent influence on society, and to prevent
civilization from being utterly crushed out by the victorious Goths and
Vandals. It is the success of this idea which stamps the Church as the
great leading power of Mediaeval Ages,--a power alike majestic and
venerable, benignant yet despotic, humble yet arrogant and usurping.

But before I can present this subtile contradiction, in all its mighty
consequences both for good and evil, I must allude to the Roman See and
the condition of society when Leo began his memorable pontificate as the
precursor of the Gregories and the Clements of later times. Like all
great powers, it was very gradually developed. It was as long in
reaching its culminating greatness as that temporal empire which
controlled the ancient world. Pagan Rome extended her sway by generals
and armies; Mediaeval Rome, by her prelates and her principles.

However humble the origin of the Church of Rome, in the early part of
the fifth century it was doubtless the greatest See (or _seat_ of
episcopal power) in Christendom. The Bishop of Rome had the largest
number of dependent bishops, and was the first of clerical dignitaries.
As early as A.D. 250,--sixty years before Constantine's conversion, and
during the times of persecution,--such a man as Cyprian, metropolitan
Bishop of Carthage, yielded to him the precedence, and possibly the
presidency, because his See was the world's metropolis. And when the
seat of empire was removed to the banks of the Bosporus, the power of
the Roman Bishop, instead of being diminished, was rather increased,
since he was more independent of the emperors than was the Bishop of
Constantinople. And especially after Rome was taken by the Goths, he
alone possessed the attributes of sovereignty. "He had already towered
as far above ordinary bishops in magnificence and prestige as Caesar had
above Fabricius."

It was the great name of ROME, after all, which was the mysterious
talisman that elevated the Bishop of Rome above other metropolitans. Who
can estimate the moral power of that glorious name which had awed the
world for a thousand years? Even to barbarians that proud capital was
sacred. The whole world believed her to be eternal; she alone had the
prestige of universal dominion. This queen of cities might be desolated
like Babylon or Tyre, but her influence was indestructible. In her very
ruins she was majestic. Her laws, her literature, and her language still
were the pride of nations; they revered her as the mother of
civilization, clung to the remembrance of her glories, and refused to
let her die. She was to the barbarians what Athens had been to the
Romans, what modern Paris is to the world of fashion, what London ever
will be to the people of America and Australia,--the centre of a proud
civilization. So the bishops of such a city were great in spite of
themselves, no matter whether they were remarkable as individuals or
not. They were the occupants of a great office; and while their city
ruled the world, it was not necessary for them to put forth any new
claims to dignity or power. No person and no city disputed their
pre-eminence. They lived in a marble palace; they were clothed in purple
and fine linen; they were surrounded by sycophants; nobles and generals
waited in their ante-chambers; they were the companions of princes; they
controlled enormous revenues; they were the successors of the high
pontiffs of imperial domination.

Yet for three hundred years few of them were eminent. It is not the
order of Providence that great posts, to which men are elected by
inferiors, should be filled with great men. Such are always feared, and
have numerous enemies who defeat their elevation. Moreover, it is only
in crises of imminent danger that signal abilities are demanded. Men are
preferred for exalted stations who will do no harm, who have talent
rather than genius,--men who have business capacities, who have industry
and modesty and agreeable manners; who, if noted for anything, are noted
for their character. Hence we do not read of more than two or three
bishops, for three hundred years, who stood out pre-eminently among
their contemporaries; and these were inferior to Origen, who was a
teacher in a theological school, and to Jerome, who was a monk in an
obscure village. Even Augustine, to whose authority in theology the
Catholic Church still professes to bow down, as the schools of the
Middle Ages did to Aristotle, was the bishop of an unimportant See in
Northern Africa. Only Clement in the first century, and Innocent in the
fourth loomed up above their contemporaries. As for the rest, great as
was their dignity as bishops, it is absurd to attribute to them schemes
for enthralling the world. No such plans arose in the bosom of any of
them. Even Leo I. merely prepared the way for universal domination; he
had no such deep-laid schemes as Gregory VII. or Boniface VIII. The
primacy of the Bishop of Rome was all that was conceded by other bishops
for four hundred years, and this on the ground of the grandeur of his
capital. Even this was disputed by the Bishop of Constantinople, and
continued to be until that capital was taken by the Turks.

But with the waning power, glory, and wealth of Rome,--decimated,
pillaged, trodden under foot by Goths and Vandals, rebuked by
Providence, deserted by emperors, abandoned to decay and ruin,--some
expedient or new claim to precedency was demanded to prevent the Roman
bishops from sinking into mediocrity. It was at this crisis that the
pontificate of Leo began, in the year 440. It was a gloomy period, not
only for Rome, but for civilization. The queen of cities had been
repeatedly sacked, and her treasures destroyed or removed to distant
cities. Her proud citizens had been sold as slaves; her noble matrons
had been violated; her grand palaces had been levelled with the ground;
her august senators were fugitives and exiles. All kinds of calamities
overspread the earth and decimated the race,--war, pestilence, and
famine. Men in despair hid themselves in caves and monasteries.
Literature and art were crushed; no great works of genius appeared. The
paralysis of despair deadened all the energies of civilized man. Even
armies lost their vigor, and citizens refused to enlist. The old
mechanism of the Caesars, which had kept the Empire together for three
hundred years after all vitality had fled, was worn out. The general
demoralization had led to a general destruction. Vice was succeeded by
universal violence; and that, by universal ruin. Old laws and restraints
were no longer of any account. A civilization based on material forces
and Pagan arts had proved a failure. The whole world appeared to be on
the eve of dissolution. To the thoughtful men of the age everything
seemed to be involved in one terrific mass of desolation and horror.
"Even Jerome," says a great historian, "heaped together the awful
passages of the Old Testament on the capture of Jerusalem and other
Eastern cities; and the noble lines of Virgil on the sack of Troy are
but feeble descriptions of the night which covered the western Empire."

Now Leo was the man for such a crisis, and seems to have been raised up
to devise some new principle of conservation around which the stricken
world might rally. "He stood equally alone and superior," says Milman,
"in the Christian world. All that survived of Rome--of her unbounded
ambition, of her inflexible will, and of her belief in her title to
universal dominion--seemed concentrated in him alone."

Leo was born, in the latter part of the fourth century, at Rome, of
noble parents, and was intensely Roman in all his aspirations. He early
gave indications of future greatness, and was consecrated to a service
in which only talent was appreciated. When he was nothing but an
acolyte, whose duty it was to light the lamps and attend on the bishop,
he was sent to Africa and honored with the confidence of the great
Bishop of Hippo. And he was only deacon when he was sent by the Emperor
Valentinian III. to heal the division between Aetius and Albinus,--rival
generals, whose dissensions compromised the safety of the Empire. He was
absent on important missions when the death of Sixtus, A.D. 440, left
the Papacy without a head. On Leo were all eyes now fixed, and he was
immediately summoned by the clergy and the people of Rome, in whom the
right of election was vested, to take possession of the vacant throne.
He did not affect unworthiness like Gregory in later years, but accepted
at once the immense responsibility.

I need not enumerate his measures and acts. Like all great and patriotic
statesmen he selected the wisest and ablest men he could find as
subordinates, and condescended himself to those details which he
inexorably exacted from others. He even mounted the neglected pulpit of
his metropolitan church to preach to the people, like Chrysostom and
Gregory Nazianzen at Constantinople. His sermons are not models of
eloquence or style, but are practical, powerful, earnest, and orthodox.
Athanasius himself was not more evangelical, or Ambrose more impressive.
He was the especial foe of all the heresies which characterized the age.
He did battle with all who attempted to subvert the Nicene Creed. Those
whom he especially rebuked were the Manicheans,--men who made the
greatest pretension to intellectual culture and advanced knowledge, and
yet whose lives were disgraced not merely by the most offensive
intellectual pride, but the most disgraceful vices; men who confounded
all the principles of moral obligation, and who polluted even the
atmosphere of Rome by downright Pagan licentiousness. He had no patience
with these false philosophers, and he had no mercy. He even complained
of them to the emperor, as Calvin did of Servetus to the civil
authorities of Geneva (which I grant was not to his credit); and the
result was that these dissolute and pretentious heretics were expelled
from the army and from all places of trust and emolument.

Many people in our enlightened times would denounce this treatment as
illiberal and persecuting, and justly. But consider his age and
circumstances. What was Leo to do as the guardian of the faith in those
dreadful times? Was he to suffer those who poisoned all the sources of
renovation which then remained to go unrebuked and unpunished? He may
have said, in his defence, "Shall I, the bishop of this diocese, the
appointed guardian of faith and morals in a period of alarming
degeneracy,--shall I, armed with the sword of Saint Peter, stop to draw
the line between injuries inflicted by the tongue and injuries inflicted
by the hand? Shall we defend our persons, our property, and our lives,
and take no notice of those who impiously and deliberately would destroy
our souls by their envenomed blasphemies? Shall we allow the wells of
water which spring up to everlasting life to be poisoned by the impious
atheists and scoffers, who in every age set themselves up against Christ
and His kingdom, and are only allowed by God Almighty to live, as the
wild beasts of the desert or scorpions and serpents are allowed to live?
Let them live, but let us defend ourselves against their teeth and
fangs. Are the overseers of God's people, in a world of shame, to be
mere philosophical Gallios, indifferent to our higher interests? Is it a
Christian duty to permit an avalanche of evils to overwhelm the Church
on the plea of toleration? Shall we suffer, when we have the power to
prevent it, a pandemonium of scoffers and infidels and sentimental
casuists to run riot in the city which is intrusted to us to guard? Not
thus will we be disloyal to our trusts. Men have souls to save, and we
will come to the rescue with any weapons we can lay our hands upon. The
Church is the only hope of the world, not merely in our unsettled times,
but for all ages. And hence I, as the guardian of those spiritual
principles which lie at the root of all healthy progress in
civilization, and all religious life, will not tamely and ignobly see
those principles subverted by dangerous and infidel speculations, even
if they are attractive to cultivated but irreligious classes."

Such may have been the arguments, it is not unreasonable to
suppose, which influenced the great Leo in his undoubted
persecutions,--persecutions, we should remember, which were then
indorsed by the Catholic Church. They would be condemned in our times by
all enlightened men, but they were the only remedy known in that age
against dangerous opinions. So Leo put down the Manicheans and preserved
the unity of the faith, which was of immeasurable importance in the sea
of anarchies which at that time was submerging all the traditions of
the past.

Leo also distinguished himself by writing a treatise on the
Incarnation,--said to be the ablest which has come down to us from the
primitive Church. He was one of those men who believed in theology as a
series of divine declarations, to be cordially received whether they are
fully grasped by the intellect or not. These declarations pertain to
most momentous interests, and hence transcend in dignity any question
which mere philosophy ever attempted to grasp, or physical science ever
brought forward. In spite of the sneers of the infidels, or the attacks
of _savans_, or the temporary triumph of false opinions, let us remember
they have endured during the mighty conflicts of the last eighteen
hundred years, and will endure through all the conflicts of ages,--the
might, the majesty, and the glory of the kingdom of Christ. Whoever thus
conserves truths so important is a great benefactor, whether neglected
or derided, whether despised or persecuted.

In addition to the labors of Leo to preserve the integrity of the
received faith among the semi-barbaric western nations, his efforts were
equally great to heal the disorders of the Church. He reformed
ecclesiastical discipline in Africa, rent by Arian factions and Donatist
schismatics. He curtailed the abuses of metropolitan tyranny in Gaul. He
sent his legates to preside over the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon.
He sat in judgment between Vienna and Arles. He fought for the
independence of the Church against emperors and barbaric chieftains. He
encouraged literature and missions and schools and the spread of the
Bible. He was the paragon of a bishop,--a man of transcendent dignity of
character, as well as a Father of the Church Universal, of whom all
Christendom should be proud.

Among Leo's memorable acts as one of the great lights of his age was the
part he was called upon to perform as a powerful intercessor with
barbaric kings. When Attila with his swarm of Mongol conquerors appeared
in Italy,--the "scourge of God," as he was called; the instrument of
Providence in punishing the degenerate rulers and people of the falling
Empire,--Leo was sent by the affrighted emperor to the barbarian's camp
to make what terms he could. The savage Hun, who feared not the armies
of the emperor, stood awe-struck, we are told, before the minister of
God; and, swayed by his eloquence and personal dignity, consented to
retire from Italy for the hand of the princess Honoria. And when
afterwards Genseric, at the head of his Vandals, became master of the
capital, he was likewise influenced by the powerful intercession of the
bishop, and consented to spare the lives of the Romans, and preserve the
public buildings and churches from conflagration. Genseric could not
yield up the spoil of the fallen capital, and his soldiers transported
to Carthage, the seat of the new Vandal kingdom, the riches and trophies
which illustrious generals had won,--yea, the treasures of three
religions; the gods of the capitoline temple, the golden candlesticks
which Titus brought from Jerusalem, and the sacred vessels which adorned
the churches of the Christians, and which Alaric had spared.

Thus far the intrepid bishop of Rome--for he was nothing more--calls
forth our sympathy and admiration for the hand he had in establishing
the faith and healing the divisions of the Church, for which he earned
the title of Saint. He taught no errors like Origen, and pushed out no
theological doctrines into a jargon of metaphysics like Athanasius. He
was more practical than Jerome, and more moderate than Augustine.

But he instituted a claim, from motives of policy, which subsequently
ripened into an irresistible government, on which the papal structure as
an institution or polity rests. He did not put forth this claim,
however, until the old capital of the Caesars was humiliated,
vanquished, and completely prostrated as a political power. When the
Eternal City was taken a second time, and her riches plundered, and her
proud palaces levelled with the dust; when her amphitheatre was
deserted, her senatorial families were driven away as fugitives and sold
as slaves, and her glory was departed,--nothing left her but
recollections and broken columns and ruined temples and weeping
matrons, ashes, groans, and lamentations, miseries and most bitter
sorrows,--then did her great bishop, intrepid amid general despair, lay
the foundation of a new empire, vaster in its influence, if not in its
power, than that which raised itself up among the nations in the
proudest days of Vespasian and the Antonines.

Leo, from one of the devastated hills of Rome,--once crowned with
palaces, temples, and monuments,--looked out upon the Christian world,
and saw the desolation spoken of by Jeremy the prophet, as well as by
the Cumaean sibyl: all central power hopelessly prostrated; law and
justice by-words; provinces wasted, decimated, and anarchical;
literature and art crushed; vice, in all its hateful deformity, rampant
and multiplying itself; false opinions gaining ground; Christians
adopting the errors of Paganism; soldiers turned into banditti; the
contemplative hiding themselves in caves and deserts; the rich made
slaves; barbarians everywhere triumphant; women shrieking in terror;
bishops praying in despair,--a world disordered, a pandemonium of devils
let loose, one terrific and howling mass of moral and physical
desolation such as had never been seen since Noah entered into the ark.

Amid this dreary wreck of the old civilization, which had been supposed
to be eternal, what were Leo's designs and thoughts? In this mournful
crisis, what did he dream of in his sad and afflicted soul? To flee
into a monastery, as good men in general despair and wretchedness did,
and patiently wait for the coming of his Lord, and for the new
dispensation? Not at all: he contemplated the restoration of the eternal
city,--a new creation which should succeed destruction; the foundation
of a new power which should restore law, preserve literature, subdue the
barbarians, introduce a still higher civilization than that which had
perished,--not by bringing back the Caesars, but by making himself
Caesar; a revived central power which the nations should respect and
obey. That which the world needed was this new central power, to settle
difficulties, depose tyrants, establish a common standard of faith and
worship, encourage struggling genius, and conserve peace. Who but the
Church could do this? The Church was the last hope of the fallen Empire.
The Church should put forth her theocratic aspirations. The keys of
Saint Peter should be more potent than the sceptres of kings. The Church
should not be crushed in the general desolation. She was still the
mighty power of the world. Christianity had taken hold of the hearts and
minds of men, and raised its voice to console and encourage amid
universal despair. Men's thoughts were turned to God and to his
vicegerents. He was mighty to save. His promises were a glorious
consolation. The Church should arise, put on her beautiful garments,
and go on from conquering to conquer. A theocracy should restore
civilization. The world wanted a new Christian sovereign, reigning by
divine right, not by armies, not by force,--by an appeal to the future
fears and hopes of men. Force had failed: it was divided against itself.
Barbaric chieftains defied the emperors and all temporal powers. Rival
generals desolated provinces. The world was plunging into barbarism. The
imperial sceptre was broken. Not a diadem, but a tiara, must be the
emblem of universal sovereignty. Not imperial decrees, but papal bulls,
must now rule the world. Who but the Bishop of Rome could wear this
tiara? Who but he could be the representative of the new theocracy? He
was the bishop of the metropolis whose empire never could pass away. But
his city was in ruins. If his claim to precedency rested on the grandeur
of his capital, he must yield to the Bishop of Constantinople. He must
found a new claim, not on the greatness and antiquity of his capital,
but on the superstitious veneration of the Christian world,--a claim
which would be accepted.

Now it happened that one of Leo's predecessors had instituted such a
claim, which he would revive and enforce with new energy. Innocent had
maintained, forty years before Leo, that the primacy of the Roman See
was derived from Saint Peter,--that Christ had delegated to Peter
supreme power as chief of the apostles; and that he, as the successor
of Saint Peter, was entitled to his jurisdiction and privileges. This is
the famous _jus divinum_ principle which constitutes the corner-stone of
the papal fabric. On this claim was based the subsequent encroachments
of the popes. Leo saw the force of this claim, and adopted it and
intrenched himself behind it, and became forthwith more formidable than
any of his predecessors or any living bishop; and he was sure that so
long as the claim was allowed, no matter whether his city was great or
small, his successors would become the spiritual dictators of
Christendom. The dignity and power of the Roman bishop were now based on
a new foundation. He was still venerable from the souvenirs of the
Empire, but more potent as the successor of the chief of the apostles.
Ambrose had successfully asserted the independent spiritual power of the
bishops; Leo seized that sceptre and claimed it for the Bishop of Rome.

Protestants are surprised and indignant that this haughty and false
claim (as they view it) should have been allowed; it only shows to what
depth of superstition the Christian world had already sunk. What an
insult to the reason and learning of the world! What preposterous
arrogance and assumption! Where are the proofs that Saint Peter was
really the first bishop of Rome, even? And if he were, where are the
Scripture proofs that he had precedency over the other apostles? And
more, where do we learn in the Scriptures that any prerogative could be
transmitted to successors? Where do we find that the successors of Peter
were entitled to jurisdiction over the whole Church? Christ, it is true,
makes use of the expression of a "rock" on which his Church should be
built. But Christ himself is the rock, not a mortal man. "Other
foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ,"--a
truth reiterated even by Saint Augustine, the great and acknowledged
theologian of the Catholic Church, although Augustine's views of sin and
depravity are no more relished by the Roman Catholics of our day than
the doctrines of Luther himself, who drew his theological system, like
Calvin, from Augustine more than from any other man, except Saint Paul.

But arrogant and unfounded as was the claim of Leo,--that Peter, not
Christ, was the rock on which the Church is founded,--it was generally
accepted by the bishops of the day. Everything tended to confirm it,
especially the universal idea of a necessary unity of the Church. There
must be a head of the Church on earth, and who could be lawfully that
head other than the successor of the apostle to whom Christ had given
the keys of heaven and hell?

But this claim, considering the age when it was first advanced, had the
inspiration of genius. It was most opportune. The Bishop of Rome would
soon have been reduced to the condition of other metropolitans had his
dignity rested on the greatness of his capital. He now became the
interpreter of his own decrees,--an arch-pontiff ruling by divine right.
His power became indefinite and unlimited. Just in proportion to the
depth of the religious sentiment of the newly converted barbarians would
be his ascendancy over them; and the Germanic races were religious
peoples like the early Greeks and Romans. Tacitus points out this
sentiment of religion as one of their leading characteristics. It was
not the worship of ancestors, as among the Aryan races until Grecian and
Roman civilization was developed. It was more like the worship of the
invisible powers of Nature; for in the rock, the mountain, the river,
the forest, the sun, the stars, the storms, the rude Teutonic mind saw a
protecting or avenging deity. They easily transferred to the Christian
clergy the reverence they had bestowed on the old priests of Odin, of
Freya, and of Thor. Reverence was one of the great sentiments of our
German ancestors. It was only among such a people that an overpowering
spiritual despotism could be maintained. The Pope became to them the
vicegerent of the great Power which they adored. The records of the race
do not show such another absorbing pietism as was seen in the monastic
retreats of the Middle Ages, except among the Brahmans and Buddhists of
India. This religious fervor the popes were to make use of, to extend
their empire.

And that nothing might be wanted to cement their power which had been
thus assured, the Emperor Valentinian III.--a monarch controlled by
Leo--passed in the year 445 this celebrated decree:--

"The primacy of the Apostolic See having been established by the merit
of Saint Peter, its founder, the sacred Council of Nice, and the dignity
of the city of Rome, we thus declare our irrevocable edict, that all
bishops, whether in Gaul or elsewhere, shall make no innovation without
the sanction of the Bishop of Rome; and, that the Apostolic See may
remain inviolable, all bishops who shall refuse to appear before the
tribunal of the Bishop of Rome, when cited, shall be constrained to
appear by the governor of the province."

Thus firmly was the Papacy rooted in the middle of the fifth century,
not only by the encroachments of bishops, but by the authority of
emperors. The papal dominion begins, as an institution, with Leo the
Great. As a religion it began when Paul and Peter preached at Rome. Its
institution was peculiar and unique; a great spiritual government
usurping the attributes of other governments, as predicted by Daniel,
and, at first benignant, ripening into a gloomy tyranny,--a tyranny so
unscrupulous and grasping as to become finally, in the eyes of Luther,
an evil power. As a religion, as I have said, it did not widely depart
from the primitive creeds until it added to the doctrines generally
accepted by the Church, and even still by Protestants, those other
dogmas which were means to an end,--that end the possession of power and
its perpetuation among ignorant people. Yet these dogmas, false as they
are, never succeeded in obscuring wholly the truths which are taught in
the gospel, or in extinguishing faith in the world. In all the
encroachments of the Papacy, in all the triumphs of an unauthorized
Church polity, the flame of true Christian piety has been dimmed, but
not extinguished. And when this fatal and ambitious polity shall have
passed away before the advance of reason and civilization, as other
governments have been overturned, the lamp of piety will yet burn, as in
other churches, since it will be fed by the Bible and the Providence of
God. Governments and institutions pass away, but not religions;
certainly not the truths originally declared among the mountains of
Judea, which thus far have proved the elevation of nations.

It is then the government, not the religion, which Leo inaugurated, with
which we have to do. And let us remember in reference to this
government, which became so powerful and absolute, that Leo only laid
the foundation. He probably did not dream of subjecting the princes of
the earth except in matters which pertained to his supremacy as a
spiritual ruler. His aim was doubtless spiritual, not temporal. He had
no such deep designs as Hildebrand and Innocent III. cherished. The
encroachments of later ages he did not anticipate. His doctrine was,
"Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the
things which are God's." As the vicegerent of the Almighty, which he
felt himself to be in spiritual matters, he would institute a
guardianship over everything connected with religion, even education,
which can never be properly divorced from it. He was the patron of
schools, as he was of monasteries. He could advise kings: he could not
impose upon them his commands (except in Church matters), as Boniface
VIII. sought to do. He would organize a network of Church functionaries,
not of State officers; for he was the head of a great religious
institution. He would send his legates to the end of the earth to
superintend the work of the Church, and rebuke princes, and protest
against wars; for he had the religious oversight of Christendom.

Now when we consider that there was no central power in Europe at this
time, that the barbaric princes were engaged in endless wars, and that a
fearful gloom was settling upon everything pertaining to education and
peace and order; that even the clergy were ignorant, and the people
superstitious; that everything was in confusion, tending to a worse
confusion, to perfect anarchy and barbaric license; that provincial
councils were no longer held; that bishops and abbots were abdicating
their noblest functions,--we feel that the spiritual supremacy which Leo
aimed to establish had many things to be said in its support; that his
central rule was a necessity of the times, keeping civilization from
utter ruin.

In the first place, what a great idea it was to preserve the unity of
the Church,--the idea of Cyprian and Augustine and all the great
Fathers,--an idea never exploded, and one which we even in these times
accept, though not in the sense understood by the Roman Catholics! We
cannot conceive of the Church as established by the apostles, without
recognizing the necessity of unity in doctrines and discipline. Who in
that age could conserve this unity unless it were a great spiritual
monarch? In our age books, universities, theological seminaries, the
press, councils, and an enlightened clergy can see that no harm comes to
the great republic which recognizes Christ as the invisible head. Not so
fifteen hundred years ago. The idea of unity could only be realized by
the exercise of sufficient power in one man to preserve the integrity of
the orthodox faith, since ignorance and anarchy covered the earth with
their funereal shades.

The Protestants are justly indignant in view of subsequent encroachments
and tyrannies. But these were not the fault of Leo. Everything good in
its day is likely to be perverted. The whole history of society is the
history of the perversion of institutions originally beneficent. Take
the great foundations for education and other moral and intellectual
necessities, which were established in the Middle Ages by good men. See
how these are perverted and misused even in such glorious universities
as Oxford and Cambridge. See how soon the primitive institutions of
apostles were changed, in order to facilitate external conquests and
make the Church a dignified worldly power. Not only are we to remember
that everything good has been perverted, and ever will be, but that all
governments, religious and civil, seem to be, in one sense,
expediencies,--that is, adapted to the necessities and circumstances of
the times. In the Bible there are no settled laws definitely laid down
for the future government of the Church,--certainly not for the
government of States and cities. A government which was best for the
primitive Christians of the first two centuries was not adapted to the
condition of the Church in the third and fourth centuries, else there
would not have been bishops. If we take a narrow-minded and partisan
view of bishops, we might say that they always have existed since the
times of the apostles; the Episcopalians might affirm that the early
churches were presided over by bishops, and the Presbyterians that every
ordained minister was a bishop,--that elder and bishop are synonymous.
But that is a contest about words, not things. In reality, episcopal
power, as we understand it, was not historically developed till there
was a large increase in the Christian communities, especially in great
cities, where several presbyters were needed, one of whom presided over
the rest. Some such episcopal institution, I am willing to concede, was
a necessity, although I cannot clearly see the divine authority for it.
In like manner other changes became necessary, which did not militate
against the welfare of the Church, but tended to preserve it. New
dignities, new organizations, new institutions for the government of the
Church successively arose. All societies must have a government. This is
a law recognized in the nature of things. So Christian society must be
organized and ruled according to the necessities of the times; and the
Scriptures do not say what these shall be,--they are imperative and
definite only in matters of faith and morals. To guard the faith, to
purify the morals according to the Christian standard, overseers,
officers, rulers are required. In the early Church they were all
brethren. The second and third century made bishops. The next age made
archbishops and metropolitans and patriarchs. The age which succeeded
was the age of Leo; and the calamities and miseries and anarchies and
ignorance of the times, especially the rule of barbarians, seemed to
point to a monarchical head, a more theocratic government,--a
government so august and sacred that it could not be resisted.

And there can be but little doubt that this was the best government for
the times. Let me illustrate by civil governments. There is no law laid
down in the Bible for these. In the time of our Saviour the world was
governed by a universal monarch. The imperial rule had become a
necessity. It was tyrannical; but Paul as well as Christ exhorted his
followers to accept it. In process of time, when the Empire fell, every
old province had a king,--indeed there were several kings in France, as
well as in Germany and Spain. The prelates of the Church never lifted up
their voice against the legality of this feudo-kingly rule. Then came a
revolt, after the Reformation, against the government of kings. New
England and other colonies became small republics, almost democracies.
On the hills of New England, with a sparse rural population and small
cities, the most primitive form of government was the best. It was
virtually the government of townships. The selectmen were the overseers;
and, following the necessities of the times, the ministers of the gospel
were generally Independents or Congregationalists, not clergy of the
Established Church of Old England. Both the civil and the religious
governments which they had were the best for the people. But what was
suited to Massachusetts would not be fit for England or France. See how
our government has insensibly drifted towards a strong central power.
What must be the future necessities of such great cities as New York,
Philadelphia, and Chicago,--where even now self-government is a failure,
and the real government is in the hands of rings of politicians, backed
by foreign immigrants and a lawless democracy? Will the wise, the
virtuous, and the rich put up forever with such misrule as these cities
have had, especially since the Civil War? And even if other institutions
should gradually be changed, to which we now cling with patriotic zeal,
it may be for the better and not the worse. Those institutions are the
best which best preserve the morals and liberties of the people; and
such institutions will gradually arise as the country needs, unless
there shall be a general shipwreck of laws, morals, and faith, which I
do not believe will come. It is for the preservation of these laws,
morals, and doctrines that all governments are held responsible. A
change in the government is nothing; a decline of morals and faith is

I make these remarks in order that we may see that the rise of a great
central power in the hands of the Bishop of Rome, in the fifth century,
may have been a great public benefit, perhaps a necessity. It became
corrupt; it forgot its mission. Then it was attacked by Luther. It
ceased to rule England and a part of Germany and other countries where
there were higher public morals and a purer religious faith. Some fear
that the rule of the Roman Church will be re-established in this
country. Never,--only its religion. The Catholic Church may plant her
prelates in every great city, and the whole country may be regarded by
them as missionary ground for the re-establishment of the papal polity.
But the moment this polity raises its head and becomes arrogant, and
seeks to subvert the other established institutions of the country or
prevent the use of the Bible in schools, it will be struck down, even as
the Jesuits were once banished from France and Spain. Its religion will
remain,--may gain new adherents, become the religion of vast multitudes.
But it is not the faith which the Roman Catholic Church professes to
conserve which I fear. That is very much like that of Protestants, in
the main. It is the institutions, the polity, the government of that
Church which I speak of, with its questionable means to gain power, its
opposition to the free circulation of the Bible, its interference with
popular education, its prelatical assumptions, its professed allegiance
to a foreign potentate, though as wise and beneficent as Pio Nono or the
reigning Pope.

In the time of Leo there were none of these things. It was a poor,
miserable, ignorant, anarchical, superstitious age. In such an age the
concentration of power in the hands of an intelligent man is always a
public benefit. Certainly it was wielded wisely by Leo, and for
beneficent ends. He established the patristic literature. The writings
of the great Fathers were by him scattered over Europe, and were studied
by the clergy, so far as they were able to study anything. All the great
doctrines of Augustine and Jerome and Athanasius were defended. The
whole Church was made to take the side of orthodoxy, and it remained
orthodox to the times of Bernard and Anselm. Order was restored to the
monasteries; and they so rapidly gained the respect of princes and good
men that they were richly endowed, and provision made in them for the
education of priests. Everywhere cathedral schools were established. The
canon law supplanted in a measure the old customs of the German forests
and the rude legislation of feudal chieftains. When bishops quarrelled
with monasteries or with one another, or even with barons, appeals were
sent to Rome, and justice was decreed. In after times these appeals were
settled on venal principles, but not for centuries. The early Mediaeval
popes were the defenders of justice and equity. And they promoted peace
among quarrelsome barons, as well as Christian truth among divines. They
set aside, to some extent, those irascible and controversial councils
where good and great men were persecuted for heresy. These popes had no
small passions to gratify or to stimulate. They were the conservators of
the peace of Europe, as all reliable historians testify. They were
generally very enlightened men,--the ablest of their times. They
established canons and laws which were based on wisdom, which stood the
test of ages, and which became venerable precedents.

The Catholic polity was only gradually established, sustained by
experience and reason. And that is the reason why it has been so
permanent. It was most admirably adapted to rule the ignorant in ages of
cruelty and crime,--and, I am inclined to think, to rule the ignorant
and superstitious everywhere. Great critics are unanimous in their
praises of that wonderful mechanism which ruled the world for one
thousand years.

Nor did the popes, for several centuries after Leo, grasp the temporal
powers of princes. As political monarchs they were at first poor and
insignificant. The Papacy was not politically a great power until the
time of Hildebrand, nor a rich temporal power till nearly the era of the
Reformation. It was a spiritual power chiefly, just such as it is
destined to become again,--the organizer of religious forces; and, so
far as these are animated by the gospel and reason, they are likely to
have a perpetuated influence. Who can predict the end of a spiritual
empire which shows no signs of decay? It is not half so corrupt as it
was in the time of Boniface VIII., nor half so feeble as in the time of
Leo X. It is more majestic and venerable than in the time of Luther. Nor
are Protestants so bitter and one-sided as they were fifty years ago.
They begin to judge this great power by broader principles; to view it
as it really is,--not as "Antichrist" and the "scarlet mother," but as a
venerable institution, with great abuses, having at heart the interests
of those whom it grinds down and deceives.

But, after all, I do not in this Lecture present the Papacy of the
eleventh century or the nineteenth, but the Papacy of the fifth century,
as organized by Leo. True, its fundamental principles as a government
are the same as then. These principles I do not admire, especially for
an enlightened era. I only palliate them in reference to the wants of a
dark and miserable age, and as a critic insist upon their notable
success in the age that gave them birth.

With these remarks on the regimen, the polity, and the government of the
Church of which Leo laid the foundation, and which he adapted to
barbarous ages, when the Church was still a struggling power and
Christianity itself little better than nominal,--long before it had much
modified the laws or changed the morals of society; long before it had
created a new civilization,--with these remarks, acceptable, it may be,
neither to Catholics nor to Protestants, I turn once more to the man
himself. Can you deny his title to the name of Great? Would you take him
out of the galaxy of illustrious men whom we still call Fathers and
Saints? Even Gibbon praises his exalted character. What would the
Church of the Middle Ages have been without such aims and aspirations?
Oh, what a benevolent mission the Papacy performed in its best ages,
mitigating the sorrows of the poor, raising the humble from degradation,
opposing slavery and war, educating the ignorant, scattering the Word of
God, heading off the dreadful tyranny of feudalism, elevating the
learned to offices of trust, shielding the pious from the rapacity of
barons, recognizing man as man, proclaiming Christian equalities,
holding out the hopes of a future life to the penitent believer, and
proclaiming the sovereignty of intelligence over the reign of brute
forces and the rapacity of ungodly men! All this did Leo, and his
immediate successors. And when he superadded to the functions of a great
religious magistrate the virtues of the humblest Christian,--parting
with his magnificent patrimony to feed the poor, and proclaiming (with
an eloquence unusual in his time) the cardinal doctrines of the
Christian faith, and setting himself as an example of the virtues which
he preached,--we concede his claim to be numbered among the great
benefactors of mankind. How much worse Roman Catholicism would have been
but for his august example and authority! How much better to educate the
ignorant people, who have souls to save, by the patristic than by
heathen literature, with all its poison of false philosophies and
corrupting stimulants! Who, more than he and his immediate successors,
taught loyalty to God as the universal Sovereign, and the virtues
generated by a peaceful life,--patriotism, self-denial, and faith? He
was a dictator only as Bernard was, ruling by the power of learning and
sanctity. As an original administrative genius he was scarcely surpassed
by Gregory VII. Above all, he sought to establish faith in the world.
Reason had failed. The old civilization was a dismal mockery of the
aspirations of man. The schools of Athens could make Sophists,
rhetoricians, dialecticians, and sceptics. But the faith of the Fathers
could bring philosophers to the foot of the Cross. What were material
conquests to these conquests of the soul, to this spiritual reign of the
invisible principles of the kingdom of Christ?

So, as the vicegerents of Almighty power, the popes began to reign.
Ridicule not that potent domination. What lessons of human experience,
what great truths of government, what principles of love and wisdom are
interwoven with it! Its growth is more suggestive than the rise of any
temporal empires. It has produced more illustrious men than any European
monarchy. And it aimed to accomplish far grander ends,--even obedience
to the eternal laws which God has decreed for the public and private
lives of men. It is invested with more poetic interest. Its doctors, its
dignitaries, its saints, its heroes, its missions, and its laws rise up
before us in sublime grandeur when seriously contemplated. It failed at
last, when no longer needed. But it was not until its encroachments and
corruptions shocked the reason of the world, and showed a painful
contrast to those virtues which originally sustained it, that earnest
men arose in indignation, and declared that this perverted institution
should no longer be supported by the contributions of more enlightened
ages; that it had become a tyrannical and dangerous government, to be
assailed and broken up. It has not yet passed away. It has survived the
Reformation and the attacks of its countless enemies. How long this
power of blended good and evil will remain we cannot predict. But one
thing we do know,--that the time will come when all governments shall
become the kingdoms of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; and Christian
truth alone shall so permeate all human institutions that the forces of
evil shall be driven forever into the immensity of eternal night.

With the Pontificate of Leo the Great that dark period which we call the
"Middle Ages" may be said to begin. The disintegration of society then
was complete, and the reign of ignorance and superstition had set in.
With the collapse of the old civilization a new power had become a
necessity. If anything marked the Middle Ages it was the reign of
priests and nobles. This reign it will be my object to present in the
Lectures which are to fill the next volume of this Work, together with
subjects closely connected with papal domination and feudal life.


Works of Leo, edited by Quesnel; Zosimus; Socrates; Theodoret; Fleury's
Ecclesiastical History; Tillemont's Histoire des Empereurs; Gibbon's
Decline and Fall; Beugot's Histoire de la Destruction du Paganism;
Alexander de Saint Cheron's Histoire du Pontificat de Saint Leo le
Grande, et de son Siecle; Dumoulin's Vie et Religion de deux Papes Leon
I. et Gregoire I.; Maimbourg's Histoire du Pontificat de Saint Leon;
Arendt's Leo der Grosse und seine Zeit; Butler's Lives of the Saints;
Neander; Milman's Latin Christianity; Biographie Universelle;
Encyclopaedia Britannica. The Church historians universally praise
this Pope.

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