Miller's Church History

Chapter 14

The Spread of Christianity over Europe

The ecclesiastical system which the Italian monks introduced into England rapidly spread, and ultimately triumphed. In about a hundred years after the arrival of Augustine, it was professed and believed throughout Anglo-Saxon Britain. The English church, thus founded on the Roman model, could not fail to hold a position especially dependent on Rome. This union at an early period was promoted and strengthened by English monks, nuns, bishops, nobles, and princes, making frequent pilgrimages to the grave of St. Peter at Rome. In no country were the Roman missionaries more successful than among our Anglo-Saxon ancestors though they were considered the fiercest of the Teutonic race The British clergy, though still adhering to their old ways; and disposed to resist foreign assumption, were compelled to seclude themselves in the extremities of the land. Romanism now prevailed all over England.

Scotland and Ireland appear to have been blessed with Christianity about the same time as Britain. By means of soldiers, sailors, missionaries, and persecuted Christians from the south, the gospel was preached and many believed. But, as the early religious history of these countries is so overlaid with legends, we will only refer to names and events that are well authenticated.

The First Preachers of Christianity in Ireland

Patrick, the apostle of Ireland, is supposed to have been born about the year 372 on the banks of the Clyde. Kilpatrick is said to have taken its name from him. His parents were earnest Christians; his father was a deacon, and his grandfather was a presbyter. His mother, who sought to instil into his heart the doctrines of Christianity, was sister to the celebrated Martin, archbishop of Tours. But the young Succath for such was his original name was not seriously inclined. Some time after, his parents left Scotland and settled in Brittany. At the age of sixteen, when Succath and his two sisters were playing on the sea-shore, some Irish pirates, commanded by O'Neal, carried them all three off to their boats and sold them as captives in Ireland. For six years he was employed in keeping cattle.

During the period of his slavery he endured many and great hardships. But his sin had found him out. He became serious and thoughtful. When about the age of fifteen he had committed some great sin which now pressed heavily on his conscience both night and day. He prayed often, and wept much; indeed such was the inward fervour of his soul, that he became insensible to the cold, the rain, and other inconveniences to which he was exposed. He now thought of home, of his mother's tender words and earnest prayers; and God graciously used the remembrance of the gospel to the blessing of his soul. He was born again. "I was sixteen years old," he says, "and knew not the true God; but in that strange land the Lord opened my unbelieving eyes, and, although late, I called my sins to mind, and was converted with my whole heart to the Lord my God, who regarded my low estate, had pity on my youth and ignorance, and consoled me as a father consoles his children. The love of God increased more and more in me, with faith and the fear of His name. The Spirit urged me to such a degree that I poured forth as many as a hundred prayers in one day. And during the night, in the forests and on the mountains when I kept my flock, the rain and snow and frost and sufferings which I endured excited me to seek after God. At that time I felt not the indifference which now I feel; the Spirit fermented my heart."*

{*D'Aubigne, vol. 5, p. 25.}

If these words can be relied upon as flowing from the lips of Succath, they present a much purer testimony to the truth of the gospel than we ever find in the church of Rome. They present an exercised soul in close quarters with God Himself. The forms and priesthood of Romanism destroy this beautiful, personal, direct communion with God and with His Christ through the grace and power of the Holy Ghost. But such, no doubt, was the Christianity of these British Isles before it was corrupted by the papal emissaries.

In the course of time Succath gained his liberty, and after travelling much and preaching he returned to his family. But he soon felt an irresistible desire to return to Ireland and preach the gospel to the pagans, among whom he had found the Saviour. In vain did his parents and friends seek to detain him. He broke through all hindrances, and with a heart full of christian zeal departed for Ireland. He was now over forty years of age, and, according to some writers, had been ordained a presbyter, and was now consecrated bishop of the Irish. After this he is known as Saint Patrick. He devoted the remainder of his life to the Irish, and laboured among them with great effect, though amidst many difficulties and dangers. The conversion of Ireland is ascribed to his means. The year of his death is uncertain.

The Missionary Zeal of Ireland

The blessed fruits of St. Patrick's labours were abundantly manifested in after years. Ireland at this time is described as a kind of elysium of peace and piety; and its fame for pure scriptural teaching rose so high, that it received the honourable appellation of "the Isle of Saints." The labours of the Irish clergy, however, were not confined to their own country. Naturally fond of travelling or wandering, and being energised by a love for souls, numbers left their native country, as missionary bands, under the leadership of a loved and devoted abbot. The monasteries, it is generally said, were so filled with pious monks at this time, that there was not sufficient room in their own country for the employment of their zeal, so that they felt it was their duty to exercise their activity in other lands. Thus we see a broad silver line of God's grace in that rude people, more distinctly marked than in any other part of Christendom. The Lord's name be praised. But let us take an example to see its working.

The Mission of Columba

Columba, a pious man, of royal descent, and full of good works, became deeply impressed with the importance of carrying the gospel to other lands. He thought of Scotland, and determined to visit the country of the famous Succath. Having communicated his intention to some of his fellowChristians, who thoroughly entered into his scheme, the mission was agreed upon. About the year 565 Columba, accompanied by twelve companions, sailed from the shores of Ireland in an open boat of wicker-work, covered with skins, and, after experiencing much tossing in their rude little vessel, the noble missionary band reached the Western Isles a cluster of islands off the west coast of Scotland, called the Hebrides. They landed near the barren rock of Mull, to the south of the basaltic caverns of Staffa, and fixed their abode on a small island, afterwards known as Iona, or Icolmkill. There he founded his monastery, afterwards so famous in the history of the church. Tradition has preserved a point on the coast at which they landed by an artificial mound, faintly resembling an inverted boat, fashioned after the pattern of the currach, in which the pious monks navigated the sea.*

{*For interesting details, see "The Church History of Scotland from the commencement of the Christian era to the present time" by the Rev. John Cunningham, minister of Crieff. A. and C. Black Edinburgh. 1859.}

A goodly number of Christians, it is thought, had already found a refuge on that barren rock. At that time it must have been almost completely isolated from the abodes of men. The waters of the Hebrides are so tempestuous that navigation in open boats must have been extremely dangerous. The name Iona signifies "the Island of Waves." Besides its cross tides, its currents, and its headlands, the heavy swell of the Atlantic rolls in upon its shores. Of the monks of Iona we shall speak by-and-by; but we have not yet done with Ireland.

Columbanus, another monk of great sanctity, appears to have left his cell about sixty years after Columba. He was born in Leinster, and trained in the great monastery of Bangor on the coast of Ulster. A society of three thousand monks, under the government of its founder, Comgal, were fostered in this convent. And the church in Ireland was still free; it had not yet been enslaved by the church of Rome. They were simple and earnest in their Christianity compared with the lifeless forms and the priestly element of the papacy. Neither did the religious houses of that period resemble the popish convents of later times. Still they had travelled far away from the simplicity of apostolic Christianity.

The word of God was not their only guide. Christianity had not existed in the world six hundred years without contracting many corruptions. It had passed through many events of very great importance in the history of the church. Gnosticism, Monasticism, Arianism, and Pelagianism, were giant evils in those early days; but Monasticism was the popular institution at the close of the sixth century.

The Characteristics of a Monk Superior

A proficient in the mystic piety of that day was believed to work miracles, utter prophecies, and enjoy divine visions. He was surrounded with such a fearful sanctity, that none dared to touch the man of God. He emerged from his miserable cell as from another world, himself and his garments covered with dust and ashes; he boldly rebuked the vices of kings, confronted the most cruel of tyrants, threatened the overthrow of dynasties,` and assumed the lofty tone of superiority over all secular dignities.

Such was Columbanus. With a colony of monks he sailed from Ireland about the year 590. He had intended to preach the gospel beyond the Frankish dominions; but he landed in Gaul. The fame of his piety reached the ears of Guntram, king of Burgundy, who invited him to settle in that country. Declining the king's offer, the abbot requested permission to retire into some unapproachable wilderness. He established himself in the Vosges. For a time the missionaries had to endure great hardships. They had often for days no other food than wild herbs, the bark of trees, and probably fish from the stream. But by degrees they made a favourable impression on the people of the neighbourhood. All classes looked on them with reverence. Provisions were sent to them, especially by those who were desirous of profiting by the prayers of these holy men. The supply was described as miraculous. The piety and wonder-working powers of the abbot soon gathered numbers around him. Monasteries arose in different places, and votaries flocked in to fill them.

Columbanus presided as abbot over all these institutions. His rule was probably that of the Irish Bangor. Although his delight was ever to wander in the wild woods, or to dwell for days in his lonely cave, he still exercised strict superintendence over all the monasteries which he had formed. Work, diet, reading, time for prayer, and the adjustment of punishment, were all ruled by himself. He at length fell into disputes with his neighbours as to the time of keeping Easter. He wrote on the subj ect to Pope Gregory and to Boniface, and placed the church of Jerusalem above that of Rome, as being the place of the Lord's resurrection. He laboured also in Metz, Switzerland, and Italy; after founding many monasteries, he died in Rome A.D. 610.

The most celebrated follower of the great abbot was his countryman St. Gall, who had accompanied him in all his fortunes, but being ill when his master passed through Italy, he could not follow him, and was left in Helvetia. He afterwards preached to the people in their own language, founded the famous monastery which bears his name, and is honoured as the apostle of Switzerland. He died about the year 627. From the time of St. Patrick until the middle of the twelfth century the church in Ireland continued to assert its independence of Rome, and to maintain its position as an active living branch of the church, not owning any earthly head.* We will now turn to Scotland.

{*Gardner's Faiths of the World, vol. 1, p. 150.}

The First Preachers of Christianity in Scotland

About a hundred and fifty years before the famous Columba landed on the isle of Iona, St. Ninian, "a most holy man of the British nation," as Bede calls him, preached the gospel in the southern districts of Scotland. This missionary like almost all the saints of early times, is declared to have been of royal blood. He received his education at Rome studied under the famous Martin of Tours, and, returning to Scotland, fixed his principal residence in Galloway.

If his biographers can be trusted, we are to believe that he went everywhere preaching the word, and that the naked savages listened, wondered, and were converted. "He hastened about the work to which he had been sent by the Spirit, under the command of Christ, and being received in his country, there was a great concourse and running together of the people, much joy in all, wonderful devotion the praise of Christ everywhere resounded; some took him for a prophet. Presently the strenuous husbandman entered the field of his Lord, began to root up those things which were badly planted, to disperse those badly collected, and destroy those badly built." Thousands, it is said, were baptised and joined the army of the faithful.

He began to build a church of stone on the shores of the Solway, but, before it was finished, he received intelligence of the death of his friend and patron St. Martin, and piously dedicated the church to his honour. This is said to have been the first stone building erected in Scotland, and, from its white and glittering appearance compared with the log and mud cabins hitherto used, it attracted great attention. It was called in Saxon, whithern, or whithorn, from its appearance and so it is till the present day.*

{*Cunningham, vol. 1, p. 52.}

We know nothing of the immediate successors of St Ninian: down to the mission of Columba the history of Chris tianity in Scotland is little known. Doubtless the Lord would keep alive the fire which He had kindled, and preserve and spread the truth of the gospel which had been received by so many. Among the Picts, south of the Grampians, Ninian appears to have laboured chiefly and successfully, but with the celebrated Columba begins the most interesting period in the ancient ecclesiastical annals of Scotland.

We have already seen Columba and his colony of monks settling down in Iona. There he built his monastery, such as it was. And so famous did the college of Iona become, that it was considered for many years, nay, for centuries, the light of the Western world. Men, eminent for learning and piety, were sent forth to found bishoprics and universities in every quarter of Europe. For thirty-four years Columba lived and laboured on that solitary rock. Occasionally he visited the mainland, doing the work of an evangelist among the barbarous Scots and Picts, planting churches, and exercising an immense influence over all classes; but his great object was training men for the work of the gospel at home and abroad. A close and friendly connection would, no doubt, be maintained between the North of Ireland and the West of Scotland; indeed, at that time they were considered as identical and were known by the general appellation of Scots.

The Iona Missionaries

About the close of the sixth, or the beginning of the seventh century, missionaries began to issue from the cloisters of Iona, carrying the light of Christianity not merely to the different parts of Scotland, but to England and the continent. Augustine and his Italian monks landed in Kent a little before the famous Aidan from Iona and his monks entered Northumberland. Thus was Saxon England invaded by christian missionaries at its two extremities.

Oswald, then king of Northumbria, was a Christian. He had been converted, baptised, and received into the communion of the Scottish Church when a youth and an exile in that country. On recovering the throne of his ancestors he naturally desired that his people should be brought to the knowledge of the Saviour. At his request the elders of Iona sent him a missionary band, headed by the pious and faithful Aidan. The king assigned them the island of Lindisfarne for their residence. Here Aidan established the system of Iona; and the community lived according to monastic rule. Numbers gathered to the new monastery both from Scotland and Ireland. The king himself zealously assisted in spreading the gospel: sometimes in preaching, and sometimes acting as an interpreter, having learnt Celtic during his exile. Bede, though strongly Roman in his affections, bears hearty testimony to the virtues of these Northern clergy ''Their zeal, their gentleness, their humility and simplicity, their earnest study of scripture, their freedom from all selfishness and avarice, their honest boldness in dealing with the great, their tenderness and charity towards the poor, their strict and self-denying life."*

{*J.C. Robertson, vol. 2, p. 62.}

The work of conversion appears to have prospered in the hands of both Augustine and Aidan. The Italian monks extended their teaching and influence over the south and south-west of the kingdom, while the Scottish monks spread the truth of a clearer and simpler gospel over the northern, eastern, and midland provinces. At one time the sees of York, Durham, Lichfield and London, were filled by Scotchmen. Thus Rome and Iona met on English ground, a collision was inevitable; who would be master? Augustine, who had been consecrated primate of England by the pope, required the Celtic monks to conform to the Roman discipline: this they stedfastly refused to do, and defended with great firmness their own discipline and the rules of Iona. Serious disputes now arose. Rome could submit to no rival she was determined to hold England in her grasp.

After the death of the pious and generous Oswald, the throne was filled by his brother Oswy, who also had been converted to Christianity and baptised in Scotland during his captivity. But his princess adhered to the customs of Rome, and the family followed the mother. A strong influence was thus brought to bear against the Scottish monks; and wearied with the continual taunts and the unscrupulous conduct of the pontiff's agents, both sacred and secular, the unyielding presbyters determined to leave England and return to Iona. By far the largest and most important part of the country had been converted to Christianity by means of their labours; but the triumph of Rome at the Whitby conference in 664, through the subtlety of the priest Wilfred, so discouraged them that they quietly withdrew from the field after occupation of about thirty years. "However holy thy Columba may have been," said the crafty Wilfred, "wilt thou prefer him to the prince of the apostles, to whom Christ said, Thou art Peter, and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven?" King Oswy was present, and professed obedience to St. Peter, Lest, he said, when I appear at the gate of heaven, there should be no one to open it to me. The people soon followed their prince, and in a short time all England became subservient to Rome. But neither arguments, intimidation, nor derision, had any effect on the presbyters of the North. They refused to acknowledge that they owed any allegiance to the bishop of Rome. Scotland was still free. How to enslave her was now the great question with the Romanists. The priests, as usual, set to work with the princes. It was accomplished in this way: -

The Clerical Tonsure

Amongst the many subjects of dispute between the Celtic and Italian missionaries, the true day for the celebration of Easter, and the true form of the clerical tonsure, excited the fiercest controversies, stirred up the strongest passions, and ultimately led to the fall of the Church in Scotland, and the triumph of the priests of Rome. But, having already spoken of the Easter question in connection with the council of Nice, we will only now notice the dispute about the tonsure.

It must appear strange to our youthful protestant readers, who may never have seen a catholic priest with his hat off, that the shaving of his crown was of more weight in his ordination than either his learning or his piety. And the mere form in which it was shaven was considered of such importance that it was made a test of orthodoxy. The Scottish monks followed the churches of the East both in the observance of Easter and in the form of the tonsure. They shaved the fore part of the head from ear to ear in the form of a crescent. The Easterns claimed John and Polycarp as their example and authority. The Italians professed to be greatly shocked by such barbarity, and called it the tonsure of Simon Magus. The Roman clergy used the circular form. This was done by making bald a small round spot on the very crown of the head, and enlarging the spot as the ecclesiastic advanced in holy orders. The tonsure was made requisite as a preparation for orders about the fifth or sixth century.

Augustine and his successors in the see of Canterbury, following the writings of the most ancient and venerable Fathers, affirmed that the tonsure was first introduced by the prince of the apostles, in honour of the crown of thorns which was pressed upon the head of the Redeemer; and that the instrument devised by the impiety of the Jews for the ignominy and torture of Christ may be worn by His apostles as their ornament and glory. For more than a century the controversy raged with great fierceness. So far did matters proceed, that a man was or was not a heretic according as he made bare the crown or the fore part of his head. Rome was filled with anger; human means appeared insufficient to conquer a miserable band of presbyters in a remote corner of the island. They refused to bend before her. What was to be done? As always, finding herself unable to accomplish her object by the priest, she had recourse to court favourites, nobles, and princes. Naitam, king of the Picts, was made to believe, that by submitting to the pope he would be equal to Clovis and Clotaire. Flattered by such greatness of future glory, he recommended all the clergy of his kingdom to receive the tonsure of St. Peter. Then without delay he sent agents and letters into every province, and caused all the monasteries and monks to receive the circular tonsure according to the Roman fashion. Some refused. The elders of the rock held out for a time; but the orders of the king, the example of the clergy, and the weakness of some amongst themselves led the way to the downfall of Iona and all Scotland. About the beginning of the eighth century the razor was introduced, they received the Latin tonsure, they became serfs of Rome, and continued so until the period of the Reformation.*

{*D'Aubigne, vol. 5, p. 77. Cunningham, vol. 1, p. 90.}

Who were The Culdees?

The Culdees, as their name imports, were a kind of religious recluses, who lived in retired places. The christian community of Iona was called Culdees. And this is probably the reason why that isolated spot was fixed upon by Columba as the seat of his monastery. Though utterly free from the corruptions of the great monasteries on the continent, the life and institutions of Columba were strictly monastic. And from fragments gathered up it appears pretty certain, that "they gloried in their miracles, paid respect to relics, performed penances, fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, had something very like to auricular confession, absolution, and masses for the dead; but it is certain they never submitted to the decrees of the papacy in regard to celibacy." Many of the Culdees were married men. St. Patrick was the son of a deacon and the grandson of a priest.*

{*Cunningham, vol. 1, p. 94.}

But though these good and holy men were so far infected by the superstition of the times; the remoteness of their situation, the simplicity of their manners, and the poverty of their country must have greatly preserved them from Roman influences, and from the prevalent vices of more opulent monasteries. We would rather think of it as a seminary, in which men were trained for the work of the ministry. In after years the monks were frequently disturbed, and sometimes slaughtered by pirates. In the twelfth century Iona passed into the possession of Roman monks. "Its pure and primitive faith," says Cunningham, "had departed; its renown for piety and learning was gone; but the memory of these survived, and it was now regarded with greater superstitious reverence than ever. Long before this it had been made the burial-place of royalty, numerous pilgrimages were made to it, and now kings and chiefs began to enrich it with donations of tithes and lands. The walls which are now crumbling were then reared; and the voyager beholds these venerable ecclesiastical remains rising from a bare moor in the midst of a wide ocean, with feelings akin to those with which he regards the temples of Thebes standing half buried amid the sands of the desert."

We will now take our leave for a while of the British Isles. The first planting of the cross in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the ultimate triumph of Rome in these countries are events of the deepest interest in themselves; but as happeeing in our own country they are entitled to our special attention. From this time little outward change takes place in the history of the church, though there may have been many internal struggles from the numerous abuses and the audacious demands of Rome.

The Spread of Christianity in Germany and Parts Adjacent

It is more than probable that the cross had been planted, at an early period, in the heart of the German forests, as well as in those cities and districts which were in subjection to the Roman Empire. The names of several bishops from Germany are found in the lists of the councils of Rome and Arles held under the authority of Constantine in the years 313, 314. But it was not till the close of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh century, that it was widely spread and firmly rooted. The Britons, Scots, and Irish were honoured of God as the principal instruments in this great and blessed work. The ardent Columbanus, whose mission we have already noticed, was the leader of the earliest band who went to the help of the heathen on the continent of Europe. He first crossed over into France, then passed the Rhine, and laboured for the conversion of the Swabians, Bavarians, Franks, and other nations of Germany. St. Kilian, a Scotchman, and a most devoted evangelist, followed him. He is regarded as the apostle of Franconia, and honoured as a martyr for his christian faithfulness about the year 692. Willibrord, an English missionary with eleven of his countrymen, crossed over to Holland to labour among the Frieslanders; but like other Anglo-Saxons of the period, he was warmly devoted to the Roman See. He was ordained bishop of Witteburg by the pope; his associates spread the gospel through Westphalia and the neighbouring countries.

But the man who brought the nations of Germany like a flock of sheep under the shepherd of Rome, was the famous Winfrid. He was born at Crediton in Devonshire, of a noble and wealthy family, about the year 680. He entered a monastery in Exeter at the age of seven, and was afterwards removed to Nursling in Hampshire. Here he became famous for his ability as a preacher, and as an expositor of scripture. He felt called of God in early life to go abroad as a missionary to the heathen. He sailed to Frisia in the year 716. His labours were long and abundant. Three times he visited Rome and received great honours from the pope. Under the title of St. Boniface, and as the apostle of Germany, he died as a martyr at the age of sixty-five. But though he was a most successful missionary, a man of great strength of character, of great learning, and of saintly life, he was the sworn vassal of the pope, and sought rather the advancement of the church of Rome than the extension of the gospel of Christ.*

{*For particulars see Hardwicke's Middle Ages; J.C. Robertson, vol. 2, p. 95.}

The Great Papal Scheme of Aggrandisement

The diffusion of Christianity in this century far exceeded its former bounds both in the Eastern and Western countries. We have seen something of its triumphs in the West. In the East the Nestorians are said to have laboured with incredible industry and perseverance to propagate the truth of the gospel in Persia, Syria, India, and among the barbarous and savage nations inhabiting the deserts and the remotest shores of Asia. In particular, the vast empire of China was illumined by their zeal and industry with the light of Christianity. During several succeeding centuries, the patriarch of the Nestorians sent out a bishop to preside over the churches then in China. These interesting people reject image worship, auricular confession, the doctrine of purgatory, and many other corrupt doctrines of the Roman and Greek churches.

The Eastern or Greek church appears to have been hindered by internal dissensions from caring much for the spread of Christianity among the heathen. In the West all was activity, but alas! not for the spread of the gospel, or the conversion of souls.*

{*Mosheim, vol. 2, p. 29.}

The Transitional Period of the Papacy

We now return to Rome. Her importance and influence as a centre, claim our closest attention for a little. The spiritual dominions of the pope were now extended far and wide. From all parts of the empire bishops, princes, and people looked to Rome as the parent of their faith, and the highest authority in Christendom. But, though thus exalted to the highest spiritual sovereignty, the supreme pontiff, in his relation to the eastern empire, was still a subject. This was unbearable to the pride and ambition of Rome. The mighty struggle for political life and power now commenced. It lasted during the whole course of the seventh and eighth centuries. This was the period of transition from a state of subordination to the civil power to that of political self-existence. How this could be accomplished was now the great problem which the Vatican had to solve. But the spiritual dominion could not be maintained without secular power.

The Lombards the nearest and most dreaded neighbours of the popes and the Greek empire were the two great obstacles in the way of the pope's temporal sovereignty. The downfall of the western empire, and the absence of any truly national government, left the Roman people to look to the bishop as their natural chief. He was thus invested with a special political influence, distinct from his ecclesiastical character. The invasions of the Lombards, as we have already seen, and the feebleness of the Greeks, contributed to the increase of political power in the hands of the pontiffs. But this was only accidental, or the necessity of unforeseen emergencies. The Roman states were still governed by an officer of the eastern empire and the pope himself, if he offended the Emperor, was liable to be seized and thrown into prison, as was actually the case with Pope St. Martin in the year 653, who died in exile the following year.

The One Grand Object of the Papacy

Every day it became more and more manifest, that there could be no solid peace for Rome, no sure foundation for the spiritual supremacy already achieved, but in the total overthrow both of the Greek and Lombard powers in Italy, and the appropriation of their spoils by the holy See. This was now the one grand object of the successors of St. Peter, and the battle they had to fight. But like the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite it must be possessed by fair means or foul. Jezebel plots, and the death of Naboth is accomplished. The history of the Lombard kings, and of the great Iconoclastic controversy, during the seventh and eighth centuries, throws much light on the means used to gain this end; but of these we can only say a word as we pass along, and must refer our readers to the general histories.*

{*See especially Greenwood's Cathedra Petri.}

"There is abundant historical ground to believe," says Greenwood, "that this object had by this time shaped itself very distinctly in the mind of the papacy: the territory of its religious enemy, the Emperor, must be definitively annexed to the patrimony of St. Peter, together with as much more extensive a territorial estate as opportunity might bring within its grasp. But there remained the ardous and apparently hopeless task of wresting these prospective acquisitions from the hands of the Lombard enemy. And, in fact, the whole course of the papal policy was thenceforward directed to the accomplishment of this single object."

Pepin and Charlemagne

A.D. 741-814

The eyes of the popes had for some time been turned to France as the quarter from which deliverance was to come. The Frankish nation had been catholic from the beginning of their Christianity; but a closer connection with Rome had been lately formed by means of St. Boniface, the English monk. Filled as he was with the reverence of his nation for St. Peter and his successors, he exerted all his influence among the bishops of France and Germany, to extend the authority of the Roman See. This prepared the way for the solution of the great problem now in hand.

Pepin, who was high steward or mayor of the palace to Childeric III, King of the Franks, had long exercised all the powers of the State together with all the attributes of sovereignty excepting the title; he thought that the time was now come to put an end to the pageant royalty of his master, and assume the kingly name and honours. He possessed in full measure all the qualities which the nobility and people were accustomed to respect at that period in princes. He was a gallant warrior and an experienced statesman. By a brilliant series of successes he had greatly extended the dominion of the Franks. The poor king being destitute of such abilities sank in popular favour, and was surnamed the Stupid. Pepin, however, had the wisdom to proceed cautiously at this stage of his plans. Boniface, who played an important part in this matter, was secretly dispatched to Rome to prepare the pope for Pepin's message, and with instructions how to answer it. In the meantime he assembled the states of the realm to deliberate on the subject. The nobles gave it as their opinion, that first of all the pontiff should be consulted, whether it would be lawful to do what the mayor desired. Accordingly two confidential ecclesiastics were sent to Rome to propose the following question to Pope Zachary "Whether the divine law did not permit a valiant and warlike people to dethrone an imbecile and indolent monarch, who was incapable of discharging any of the functions of royalty, and to substitute in his place one more worthy of rule, and one who had already rendered most important service to the state?" The laconic answer of the pope already in possession of all the secrets was prompt and favourable. "He who lawfully possesses the royal power may also lawfully assume the royal title. "

The pope no doubt replied as his questioners desired. Pepin now felt secure of his prize. Fortified by the approval of the highest ecclesiastical authority, and assured of the acquiescence of the people, he boldly assumed the royal title. He was crowned by Boniface, in the presence of the assembled nobles and prelates of the realm, at Soissons, A.D. 752. But the religious character of the coronation marked the growing power of the clergy. The Jewish ceremony of anointing was introduced by Boniface to sanctify the usurper; and the bishops stood around the throne as of equal rank with the armed nobles. According to the usage of the Franks, Pepin was elevated on the shield, amid the acclamations of the people, and proclaimed king of the Franks. Childeric, the last of the Merovingian kings, was stripped of royalty without opposition, shorn of his long hair, tonsured, and shut up in a monastery.

Zachary's Sanction of Pepin's Plot

The part which Boniface and his patron the pope had in this revolution, and the morality of the proceedings, have been the subjects of much controversy. Papal writers have been at some pains to exonerate the unscrupulous priests, and protestant writers to criminate them. But if we compare their conduct with the principles of the New Testament, there can be no controversy. Every right principle and feeling, both human and divine, was readily sacrificed to secure the alliance of Pepin against the Greeks and Lombards. The violation of the sacred rights of kings, the great law of hereditary succession, the rebellious ambition of a servant, the degradation of a lawful sovereign, absolving subjects from their allegiance, are here sanctioned by the papacy as right in the sight of God, provided they are the means of raising the pope to temporal sovereignty. Such was the daring wickedness and awful blasphemy of the Roman See in the middle of the eighth century. Let the student of church history note this occurrence as characteristic of the papacy, and as a precedent for its future pretensions. It is generally related as the first instance of the pope's interference with the rights of princes and the allegiance of subjects. But the successors of Zachary made ample use of the precedent in after years. They asserted that the kings of France, from this time, held their crown only by the authority of the pope, and that the papal sanction was their only legal title. Little did either Pepin or Zachary foresee the immense effects of this one negotiation on the history of the church and the world. It was the first great step towards the future kingdom of the bishop of Rome the important link in the chain of events.

The Temporal Sovereignty of the Papacy Established

By a mutual exchange of good offices, in less than three years Pepin crossed the Alps at the head of a numerous army, overthrew the Lombards, and recovered the Italian territory which they had wrested from the Eastern empire. Justice would indeed have demanded that it should be returned to the Emperor to whom it belonged; or he might have retained it for himself. But he did neither. Mindful of his obligation to the holy See, he replied, that he had not gone to battle for the sake of any man, but for the sake of St. Peter alone, and to obtain the forgiveness of his sins. He then transferred the sovereignty over the provinces in question to the bishop of Rome. This was the foundation of the whole temporal dominion of the popes.

Astolph, king of the Lombards, having sworn to Pepin that he would restore to St. Peter the towns which he had seized, the French troops were withdrawn. But the magnificent "donation, " so far as the pope was concerned, was only on paper. He had not been put into actual possession of the ceded territories, neither had he the means of putting himself in possession of the royal gift. No sooner, therefore, had the Frankish king recrossed the Alps than Astolph refused to fulfil his engagements. He collected his scattered divisions, and resumed his attacks upon the scattered territories of the church. He wasted the country up to the very walls of Rome, and laid siege to the city. The pope, incensed as much at the evasive conduct of Pepin as at the perfidy of the Lombards, sent messages to his Frankish protectors in all haste by sea, for every way by land was closed by the enemy. His first letter reminded King Pepin, that he hazarded eternal condemnation if he did not complete the donation which he had vowed to St. Peter. A second letter followed, more pathetic, more persuasive. Still the Franks were tardy. And finally the pope wrote a third, as from St. Peter himself. The daring and assumption of this letter is so awful, that we give it entire as a specimen of the means used by the pope to terrify the barbarians into the protection of the Holy See and the advancement of her dominions. He considered all means justifiable for such high purposes. Thus it reads:

"I, Peter the apostle, protest, admonish, and conjure you, the most Christian kings, Pepin, Charles and Carloman, with all the hierarchy, bishops, abbots, priests and all monks; all judges, dukes, counts, and the whole people of the Franks. The mother of God likewise adjures you, and admonishes and commands you, she as well as the thrones and dominions and all the host of heaven, to save the beloved city of Rome from the detested Lombards. If ye hearken, I, Peter the apostle, promise you my protection in this life and in the next, will prepare for you the most glorious mansions in heaven, and will bestow on you the everlasting joys of paradise. Make common cause with my people of Rome, and I will grant whatever ye may pray for. I conjure you not to yield up this city to be lacerated and tormented by the Lombards, lest your own souls be lacerated and tormented in hell with the devil and his pestilential angels. Of all nations under heaven the Franks are highest in the esteem of St. Peter; to me you owe all your victories. Obey, and obey speedily; and, by my suffrage, our Lord Jesus Christ will give you in this life length of days, security, victory, in the life to come, will multiply His blessings upon you, among His saints and angels."*

{*For an able description of this important period, see Milman's Latin Christianity, vol. 2, p. 243.}

The Foreshadowing of the Man of Sin

Nothing could give us a more expressive idea of the fearful apostasy of the church of Rome than this letter. The one title to eternal life is obedience to the pope; the highest duty of man is the protection and enlargement of the holy See. But where is Christ? where are His claims? where is Christianity? In place of seeking to convert the barbarians and win their souls for Christ, the Lord's most holy name, and the name of the apostle are prostituted to the basest of purposes. The soldier that fights hardest for the Roman See, though destitute of every moral and religious qualification, is assured of great temporal advantages in this present life, and in the life to come the highest seat in heaven. Surely we have here the mystery of iniquity, and the foreshadowing of that man of sin, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God even of him, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders. (2 Thess. 2: 3-12)

Pepin soon had his Franks in marching order. The threatenings and promises of St. Peter's letter had the desired effect. They again invaded Italy. Astolph yielded at once to the demands of Pepin. The contested territory was abandoned. Ambassadors from the East were present at the conclusion of the treaty, and demanded the restitution of Ravenna and its territory to their master, the Emperor; but Pepin declared that his sole object in the war was to show his veneration for St. Peter; and he bestowed by the right of conquest the whole upon his successors. The representatives of the pope now passed through the land, receiving the homage of the authorities and the keys of the cities. But the territory he accepted from a foreign potentate in the form of a donation belonged to his acknowledged master, the Eastern Emperor. He had hired for a large sum, which he took care to make payable in heaven, a powerful stranger to rob his lawful sovereign for his own advantage, and without shame or hesitation he accepted the plunder. The French king may be dethroned and humbled by his servant, and the Greek Emperor may be robbed and defied by his priest, if the church be thereby aggrandised. Such has ever been the policy of Rome.

But the munificent donation of Pepin who died in the year 768 awaited the confirmation of his son, Charlemagne. In the year 774, when the Lombards once more threatened the Roman territories, the aid of France was implored. Charlemagne proceeded to their help. He arrived in Rome on Easter-eve. The Romans, we are told, received the king with unbounded demonstrations of joy. Thirty thousand citizens went forth to meet him; the whole body of the clergy with crosses and banners; the children of the schools, who bore branches of palm and olive, and hailed him with hymns of welcome. He dismounted, and proceeded on foot towards St. Peter's church where the pope and all the clergy were in waiting. The king devoutly kissed each step of the stairs, and, on reaching the landing kissed the Pope, and entered the building holding his right hand. He spent the eve of Easter in devout exercises and prayers. But when the king's heart was warm and tender, pope Hadrian opened the subject of a new deed of donation to the holy See. Charlemagne now greatly enlarged the donation which Pepin had made to the church, confirmed it by an oath, and solemnly laid the deed of gift on the apostle's tomb. After the conclusion of the Easter solemnities, he took his leave of the pontiff, and rejoined his army. His arms were victorious everywhere; nor did he pause till he had entirely and finally subverted the empire of the Lombards, and proclaimed himself King of Italy.

The Territorial Donation of Charlemagne

The actual extent of his donation is very difficult to ascertain. But it seems to be the general opinion of the historians, that it included not only the exarchate of Ravenna, but the dukedoms of Spoleto and Benevento, Venetia, Istria, and other territories in the north of Italy in short, almost the whole peninsula with the island of Corsica. Every Naboth was robbed of his vineyard, and his blood shed, for the gratification of Jezebel's ambition, and for the establishment of her throne of iniquity. But mark the consummation and seal of all wickedness in the way that the pope sought to reconcile his character as vicar of Christ, with his new position. As all men are subject to Christ, he reasoned, so likewise are they subject to His vicar and representative on earth in all that appertains to His kingdom. But that kingdom extends over all, therefore nothing belonging to this world or its affairs can be above or beyond the jurisdiction of St. Peter's chair. Our kingdom is not of this world; it is, like that of Christ, in all, above all, over all. According to this theory, no amount of temporal dominion was to be regarded as inconsistent with the Saviour's declaration respecting the nature of His kingdom. On this impious assumption thenceforward, the popes ever acted. Hence their interference with priest and people, king and subject, land and sea, all over the world.

Charlemagne visited Rome again in 781, and a third time in 787, and on each occasion the church was enriched by gifts, bestowed, as he professed in the language of the age, "for the good of his soul." Overwhelmed with gratitude, and fully conscious of his own need of a permanent defender, the pope crowned Charlemagne on the Christmas-eve of the year 800 with the crown of the Western empire, and proclaimed him Caesar Augustus. A Frankish prince, a Teuton, was thus declared the successor of the Caesars, and wielded all the power of the Emperor of the West. "The empire of Charlemagne," says Milman, "was almost commensurate with Latin Christendom; England was the only large territory which acknowledged the ecclesiastical supremacy of Rome, not in subjection to the new Western empire."* This event forms the great epoch in the annals of Roman Christendom.

{*See Milman, vol. 2. Greenwood, vol. 2.}

We must now leave the West for a time, and turn our attention to another great religious revolution which suddenly and unexpectedly sprang up in the East Mahometanism.