What The Middle Ages Started With
Addition Of Christianity
German Conquest And The Fall Of Rome
What The Germans Added
Formation Of The Papacy
The Franks And Charlemagne
The Empire And The Papacy
Read More Articles About: Medieval Civilization
Addition Of Christianity
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
INTO this Roman empire there came the Christian religion as the first of the great influences transforming the ancient into the modern world, and adding its contribution of great ideas to those of the Greeks and Romans. It appeared just after the empire had received its organization as a monarchy ; it grew very slowly by count of numbers during the next succeeding generations, while the empire was still strong and perfecting its organization ; as the Roman power decayed it began to spread with greater rapidity, till, by the middle of the fourth century, on the eve of the German conquest, it was the prevailing religion not perhaps in actual numbers, but certainly in influence and energy and in the actual control of society.
During its early career, at least, the progress of this new faith was rendered slow by certain facts which were characteristic of it. Its adherents were few. They were from the lowest ranks of society, workmen and slaves more largely also women than men so that it attracted very little attention from persons of position and influence. Its missionaries also were Jews, a turbulent race, not to be assimilated, and as much despised and hated by the pagan Roman as by the medieval Christian. Wherever it attracted any notice, therefore, it seems to have been regarded as some rebel faction of the Jews, gone mad upon some obscure point of the national superstition an outcast sect of an outcast race.
Again, it is a permanent characteristic of Christianity that many, at least, of its external features in any particular age the points of conduct upon which it insists with the greatest emphasis are determined, we may al-most say are selected, by the character of the great evils which, for the time being, it has especially to fight. In the first age the greatest enemy to be overcome was paganism. Christianity had other truths of importance to teach, and other evils to overcome, but the one deadly foe whose complete possession of society must be first of all destroyed was the worship of many gods. This complete contrast between the new religion and the dominant heathenism led necessarily to a strictness in the teaching and practice of the monotheistic doctrine which the pagan society found it hard to understand, and which placed Christianity at a disadvantage in competition with the numerous other oriental religions which were at this time spreading over the Roman empire Christianity would seem to the observant Roman nothing more than one of this general class.
These other religions said to the Roman : Continue to worship your own gods, worship as many gods as you please, only take this one in addition ; they are good, but we bring you something better on some particular point, some more perfect statement of the common truth, accept this also. Christianity said : No. All these teachings are false, all idol worship is a deadly sin. You must abandon all these beliefs and accept this alone as the only true and exclusive faith. And this teaching the Christians carried out in their daily living even, in frequent cases concerning such minutiae as food to be eaten and occupations to be pursued. This was a demand entirely new and incomprehensible to the heathen mind, trained in the idea of an unlimited pantheon. It is not strange that the determination of the Christian to die rather than. to perform the simplest rite of pagan worship seemed to the Roman the most obstinate and insane stupidity. In other words, the native attitude of the ancient mind to-ward questions of religion must be completely revolutionized before the new faith could be victorious a task of immense difficulty, and not completely performed in that age, as we shall see when we come to consider the transformation of Christian ideas which resulted from the struggle.
And yet, notwithstanding these obstacles, and the apparently slight chance of success which it had, Christianity made extremely rapid progress in relative increase. Starting from an insignificant province, from a despised race, proclaimed by a mere handful of ignorant workmen, demanding self-control and renunciation before unheard of, certain to arouse in time powerful enemies in the highly cultivated and critical society which it attacked, the odds against it were tremendous. But within a single generation it had been successfully taught in all the central provinces of the Roman empire and far beyond its boundaries. In the second century its progress among all classes was very rapid. In less than three hundred years from the crucifixion it had become the recognized religion of the imperial court, and had been placed on a footing of legal equality with paganism throughout the empire, and be-fore that century closed it was the only legal religion. Its progress seems miraculous, and Freeman has not overstated the case in the following sentence : " The miracle of miracles, greater than dried-up seas and cloven rocks, greater than the dead rising again to life, was when the Augustus on his throne, Pontiff of the gods of Rome, himself a god to the subjects of Rome, bent himself to become the worshipper of a crucified provincial of his empire."' It must have possessed certain great compensating advantages to give it so speedy a victory in the face of such difficulties.
By far the most important of these was the definiteness and confidence of its teaching on the questions of the immortality of the soul and the expiation of sin. Whatever cause may be assigned for it, the fact is clear that the society of the empire was intensely interested in these two questions. At the end of the republic the faith of the Romans in their national mythology may have grown weak, but their interest in the deeper problems of religion had only quickened. In the early days of the empire the first-mentioned was the more absorbing question. Does the soul live after death ? Can we know anything of the future life ? and various forms of religion, chiefly from the East, like the worship of Isis, gained numerous adherents for a time, because they seemed to offer some more complete revelation upon this point. As the dark days came on, and evils crowded upon the empire, the other question demanded more attention, and the practice of various expiatory rites of oriental origin again and horribly bloody and revolting in character became frequent in the West. Of these the most prominent was Mithraism, which at one time seemed to be a serious rival to Christianity.' But for the earnest man who is seeking after help in some spiritual need, which is clearly realized, the practice of rites and ceremonies is never permanently satisfactory, and Christianity possessed an enormous advantage over its rivals in the character of its teaching upon these points, and in the confidence of its faith. The Christian teacher did not say : I believe. He said : I know. On the question of immortality he appealed to an actual case of resurrection, supported by the testimony of many witnesses the founder of his faith, not raised from the dead by some miracle-worker calling him forth by incantations, but rising, himself, by the power of an inner and higher life which was beyond the reach of death, the first-fruits of them that slept. On the question of the forgiveness of sin he appealed to the cases of innumerable individuals even of communities and tribes transformed by the power of his gospel from lives of sin and degradation to orderly and righteous living.'
The one thing which was the essential peculiarity of this teaching, as compared with other religions, was, no doubt, also the thing which was the source of the Christian's extreme confidence and of his permanent faith. This was the belief of the Christian that an intimate personal tie had been established between himself and God by the Saviour. The tender fatherhood of God, willing to for-give the sinful man, and to create in him anew the forces of a pure life, was, to the disciple, the central truth of the gospel. The love of God replaced the fear of God as a controlling principle, and became a far greater force than that had ever been. The Christian apostle did not demand belief in any system of intellectual truth. The primitive Christianity had apparently no required theology.' He did not demand that certain rites and ceremonies should be performed. The rites of the primitive Christianity were of the simplest sort and not regarded as causes. What he demanded was personal love for a personal Saviour. It was the proclamation in the one way to make it a practical force in daily civilization, not a mere theory in the text-books of scholars of the fundamental truth which all philosophy had sought, the unity of God and man, the harmony of the finite and the infinite. And it did become a great force, and remained so in pro-portion as it was not obscured by later misconceptions. There can be no question but that this personal faith in a personal Saviour, this belief in the love of God and the reality of heaven brought to thousands of the poor and ignorant, and in as high a degree, the comfort and confidence and fearlessness of fate, the calmness and consolations which philosophy brought to the highly cultured few.
This peculiar personal character of its faith was undoubtedly, as was just remarked, the source of that overbearing confidence of belief in its answer to the two great religious demands of the age which gave Christianity a decided advantage over every other religion. The completeness with which it satisfied the deepest religious needs of the time, the fulness of consolation which it brought to the wretched and sorrowing, these were the most effective causes of its rapid spread and of the permanence of its hold upon its followers.
While these are by far the most important, some few of the subsidiary causes of its rapid advance deserve mention. The study of the Greek philosophy, and especially that of Plato, led some to Christianity after it began to attract the attention of the educated classes. But here, again, it was the greater definiteness and confidence of its answer to the questions which the Greek philosophy raised which formed the decisive reason for its acceptance. The persecutions had their usual effect. They attracted the attention of many to the new faith who would otherwise have passed it by unnoticed, and they forced men to ask if there must not be something more in it than appeared on the surface to account for the calmness and joy of the Christian in the face of death. The earnestness and enthusiasm of all early converts to a new form of faith were especially characteristic of the Christians and seemed especially contagious. The effect of Christianity on the lives of those who embraced it was constantly appealed to by the early Christians as evidence of the character of their religion, and it must have been an extremely forcible argument. It would be very interesting, if space allowed us to do so, to examine in detail the ethical influence of early Christianity so far as the evidence permits. There can be no question but that, so long as it remained a pure and simple religion, its influence worked a moral revolution in those who came under it. It is only necessary to recall the ethical exhortations in the New Testament, or the lists of sins, the doers of which cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, and to remember such facts as the regulations against taking part in, or even attending, the gladiatorial games the most intensely exciting amusement of the ancient world, or the proscribing of certain occupations metal-workers, actors, sometimes even soldiers or officers of the state to realize how complete a control over conduct it attempted, and how squarely it attacked the characteristic sins of the age, and although Christianity did not succeed in destroying sin in the world, nor even within its own membership, the cases seem to have been numerous in which the process went far enough to furnish a strong argument in making other converts.
Like all great movements of the kind, the spread of Christianity is not to be explained by the action of a single cause, and others, perhaps as important as these, contributed to the rapidity of its advance. However the fact may be accounted for, the number of its adherents soon became great enough to attract to itself the attention of the state. Whatever may be true of the first century, whether or not the Roman government was conscious in that age of any distinction between Christians and Jews, or whether it had any clear idea of what it was doing in the persecutions under such tyrants as Nero and Domitian, it is certain that, early in the second century, it came to have an understanding of Christianity and its attitude toward the state religion an attitude which the conscientious Roman ruler could hardly pass unnoticed.
The action of the Roman government in respect to many of the new religions which were making their way toward the West was inconsistent. It was an alternation of careless indifference, or even apparent favor, with spasmodic attempts at repression which really accomplished nothing. But there was in Christianity an element of hostility toward the state which none of the other new religions contained. While they might lead to a neglect of the state religion by the greater interest excited in the new faith, Christianity insisted upon the entire abandonment of the national worship, not as an inferior religion but as an actual and particularly heinous sin. According to all the ideas of the Romans such a demand could be nothing but rebellion and treason. The safety of the state depended upon the fidelity of the citizens to the national worship. If the gods were duly honored and the sacrifices carefully performed, the state flourished ; if they were neglected or carelessly worshipped, misfortunes followed. Undoubtedly this belief, on its practical, if not on its theoretical side, had greatly weakened during the prosperous times of Rome's history. But it had not been abandoned, and when public misfortunes became frequent and the power of the state seemed declining, it was natural that the earnest reformer should believe the neglect of the gods to be the source of the evil and seek a restoration of prosperity by means of a restoration of the national religion ; or, if not him-self fully confident of this, it was natural that he should believe that the " reflex influence " of an earnest national worship would check the causes of decline.
It follows from this that the time of systematic and deliberate persecution comes when the real statesmen of the empire have become conscious of the deadly nature of her disease. It seems evident that we must say that, during the first century, the government had no distinct consciousness of the existence of Christianity. The second century is a time of local and temporary enforcement of the laws against the Christians. With the third century we reach an age of fearfully rapid decline and of most earnest attempts, at intervals, by clear-sighted emperors, to turn back the tide, and this is the age of planned and thoroughgoing imperial persecution. There was really no alternative for men like Decius and Valerian and Diocletian. Christianity was a vast, organized de-fiance of the law. It vehemently denounced the national religion as a deadly sin. It earnestly denied any paramount duty of loyalty to the state, and appealed to a higher loyalty to another fatherland. No restoration of earlier Roman conditions, such as the reformers hoped for, could be possible unless it was overcome.'
' The whole subject of the teaching of early Christianity upon the relation of the individual to the state, and its effect in the Roman empire, is a very interesting one. It has been repeatedly asserted that the extreme vividness with which it conceived of the higher interest of the life to come in comparison with this life, and of citizenship in the But it was too late. Christianity was now too strong. These systematic persecutions of the third century failed, and the last, Diocletian's, ended in a virtual confession of defeat. Not that the Christians were now in the majority. They were far from it, and did not become so until long afterward. No exact figures are possible, but it seems certain that at the beginning of the fourth century they were not more than one-tenth of the total population in the eastern half of the empire, nor more than one-fifteenth in the western. But they had an importance altogether disproportionate to their numbers. A gloomy and hopeless fear of the future was settling over the pagan world. It seemed to be coming to realize that its best days were past, and that its highest creations were falling into decay, and to be losing its earlier self-confident spirit and energy. But the Christians had been inspired with a new hope for the future which was wholly independent of the fate of the empire. The convulsions and revolutions of the present could only be prefatory to a better era, and the Christian community was full of enthusiasm and energy and the vigor of a new life, in marked contrast to the pagan. Again, the Christian was a distinctly city population ; that is, their numbers, however small they may have been as compared with the whole, were massed in the especial points of influence, occupied the strategic positions throughout the empire. Still further, their organization, though less close than it was soon to be, gave them means of speedy communication and common action. Undoubtedly their power was greater than their relative numbers, and probably greater than they themselves knew. But it was not long before the man came who suspected the fact, and, in turning it to his personal advantage, secured the triumph of Christianity over paganism.
That Constantine declared himself a supporter of Christianity from a conviction of its truth or from religious motives cannot be maintained. Indeed there is no evidence to show that he ever became in heart a real Christian. His motive is not hard to find. As he started out from his small frontier province with his little army to conquer the empire, the odds against him were tremendous. But there have not been many men in history of clearer political insight than he. It is not rash to suppose that he reasoned with himself that if he pro-claimed himself the protector of this hitherto illegal and persecuted sect they would rally to his support with all their enthusiasm, and that he would secure the aid of the most vigorous faction in the state. The great weakness of heathenism, in contrast with Christianity, must have been apparent to so keen an observer. Without union among its scattered forces, without leadership, believing in itself with no devoted confidence, without faith in the future, with no mission in the present to awaken energy and life, it was not the party which an ambitious and clear-headed young man would choose to lead to victory. The motive which induced him to support Christianity was purely political, and the result certainly proved his judgment correct.
But in another sense the act of Constantine has a further significance, and is a part of a wider movement.
The transformation of the Roman empire from the ancient to the medieval was made in the half-century which followed the accession of Diocletian. The changes introduced by him in forms and constitution, as modified and carried further by Constantine, marked an entire revolution, a complete change of front. The empire cut itself loose from its past. It no longer pretended to be what it had been at first. It frankly recognized the situation as it was, and no longer attempted to restore the old. It had faced the future. This change logically carried with it the recognition of Christianity. It is by no means certain that Diocletian was not vaguely conscious of this. Constantine realized it clearly enough for action, though he might not have been able to put it in this form of statement.
For Christianity, as for the empire, this was an age of transition, an age of transformation in character and in constitution, the results of which will occupy us elsewhere.
It remains for us to point out, so far as it is possible, the contributions of Christianity to our civilization, as one of the four great sources from which that civilization has been derived. What are the new elements which were brought into human life and progress by the Christian religion?
In making an attempt to do this it is necessary at the outset to notice briefly, by way of caution, two or three elementary facts which will be stated more fully in a later chapter. In the first place, we are to examine the effect of Christianity as an historical force, not as a di-vine religion. Whether its claim to an especial divine character be true or false makes no difference in this inquiry. Here we are to seek the influences which certainly follow from it as historical facts, whichever hypothesis may be adopted.
In the second place, we are concerned here neither with the results which were accomplished by the Christian theology, nor with those which followed from the church as a government or an ecclesiastical institution. In both these directions the Christian religion furnished the foundation for great historical constructions which had extremely important results. But in neither case is Christianity as a religion the really creative power, and the results which followed from the dogmatic system, or from the church, can be credited to the religion only in so far as it furnished an occasion for the action of the forces which really called them into existence. It is with the religious that we are concerned at this point, and not with the theological or the ecclesiastical.
Again, it should be noticed that influences of a religious nature, like those of pure ideas of any sort, are difficult to trace with absolute exactness. Their action is much less likely to be made a matter of record than is that of other causes which may have contributed to the common result. There can be no question, for example, but that the teachings of the gospel were decisive influences, in thousands of individual cases in the United States, in creating a public opinion against slavery before the Civil War; but it would be far more difficult to write the history of their action than to write the history of the political influences which combined with them. We are often confined to inference in such cases in the absence of positive proof, but the inference may be so obvious as to be equivalent to proof.
Taking up, then, the work of Christianity for civilization, we must first consider its influence upon the world's religious ideas in the strict sense of the word, and it will be in this direction that its most important influence will be found. Religion forms one great side of civilization, and whatever raises the world's religious conceptions to a higher level must be, it need hardly be said, among the great civilizing forces of history.'
As a contribution to the religious side of civilization the general work of Christianity is not difficult to state. The work of this new religion, which stands first in logical order, was to free the monotheistic idea which the Jews had attained from the narrow tribal .conditions which had made the general acceptance of it impossible, and to make it the ruling idea of God in the Christian world, from which it passed later to the Mohammedan. God was to be henceforth one God.
It introduced with this idea of the one only true God a wholly different conception of his character and of his relation to man from any that had prevailed before, emphasizing the fatherhood of God and his love for man. This idea of the fatherhood of God, typified and pro-claimed in an extremely effective form in the sonship of Christ, man's elder brother, brought man near to God and gave him a new point of view for all the future. Love became the great religious force of the new age. In the practical working of Christianity this idea did not remain a mere idea. It was transformed into a positive fore in history through the keen conception which the individual Christian had of the immediate personal relationship between himself and God, by virtue of which the power of the Almighty would come to his aid in his endeavor to make himself like God. In other words, Christianity not merely taught that this relationship was an ideal possibility, but it made men believe it as a fact, so that they actually lived with a sense of the divine power in them.
This was in reality, to repeat what was said in another connection, the proclamation of the unity of God and man, of the finite and the infinite, not as a philosophical idea merely, or speculative theory, but as something actually to be realized by common men. A sense of reconciliation and harmony with God might become, Christianity said, a conscious fact of daily life for every individual.
Christianity also taught, as a necessary result of the Christian conception of the relation between God and man, that religion has a direct practical mission as an ethical teacher and help. This was a new and most important step in advance. The ancient religions had made no ethical demand of the worshipper. The character attributed to the gods could not be helpful to any man. The pagan priest had never looked upon himself as a teacher of morals, or conceived of any reformatory mission for his religion. The Greek or Roman in need of ethical aid and comfort sought the philosopher and not the priest. This whole condition of things Christianity revolutionized. The pure ideal of character which it held aloft in its conception of God, its clear assertion of the necessity and the possibility of such a character for every man which it made in the gospel narrative, created an intimate bond between religion and ethics unknown before.' The religious life which Christianity aimed to create in the individual must of necessity express itself in right conduct. This was its true fruit, its external test, and to perfect this the energy of the new religion was especially directed.
It is no doubt true that these religious conceptions did not immediately and completely gain the victory over the older and cruder. The struggle between the old and the new was often obstinate and long continued, and the higher conception long obscured by persistence of the lower. But in so far as these ideas are now the possession of men, it must be reckoned to the credit of Christianity, and whoever, even if he deny to Christianity a peculiarly divine character or any finality as a religion, may yet hope that a still more perfect understanding and realization of religious truth will be gained in the future, must recognize in Christianity the foundations on which it will be built.
So much, at least, may be said with confidence upon the contribution which Christianity made to the strictly religious side of our civilization. If what has just been asserted of the connection which the Christian teaching established between religion and ethics be true, it follows that a further influence of this religion is to be traced in the direction of practical ethics.
Here is to be noticed, first of all, the lofty ideal of a pure and sinless life which Christianity held before all men in its story of the life of Christ, as a model which they were to follow, as the divinely given pattern according to which they were to shape their own lives. For Christianity did not conceive of Christ's life as the life of a God impossible for man, but as a divinely aided human life, as the life of a divine being who had been willing to become really a man and to put himself into the same conditions and limitations in the midst of which man must live in order that he might be taught to realize the possibilities of his own life. Or, as it has been finely said, this life of Christ "revealed to man both the human side of God and the divine side of man." The Christian ideal was not like the Stoic, a mere ideal which had never been attained. In this respect Christianity made a most decided advance upon Stoicism in the fact that it pointed to an actual life which had realized its ideal, as well as in its further teaching that man had not to depend solely upon the power of his own will in his endeavor to attain it.
In the second place, Christianity taught, most especially, that the duty of conformity to this ideal and of fidelity to the higher moral law was the supreme law of conduct, whatever the power might be which demanded anything to the contrary. Christianity clearly asserted that the supreme moral law was distinct from the law of the state and of a higher validity. It was not exactly a new idea that there existed a moral law separate from the law of the state to which man ought to conform. Stoicism at least perceived the fact. But that this law demanded a rightful obedience of the individual when the positive requirement of the state conflicted with it, was an advance, though certainly the pagan ethics could not have been far from this truth. But Christianity did not stop with this. It furnished a direct practical exhibition of the principle in a constant succession of the most public and most dramatic examples in every period of persecution. Within its own membership, also, it proceeded to the positive enforcement of this supreme moral law in the system of church penances, very early developed at least in some directions. The church began to hold its membership directly responsible for acts of which the state took no account. Whatever may be said of the system of penances of any later date, there can be no question but that it was in primitive times a most effective moral teacher.
In the third place, Christianity taught that the conscious relationship established between the individual and God in this life would determine his destiny in the life to come, and that, consequently, a right moral character, as the necessary product of that relationship, as the indispensable fruit and test of the harmony of the human will with the divine will, was of infinite importance. Wrong living and immoral life would destroy that harmony between God and man upon which an eternity of happiness depended. I doubt if the early Christianity anywhere formulated this teaching in exactly this shape, but if the statement was more concrete in form the ethical meaning and influence were precisely as stated.'
It followed necessarily from this belief that many actions of which the ancient law had taken no account, and which the ancient society had regarded as unimportant, or even as indifferent, morally, might have a tremendous significance as elements of permanent character, determining the attitude of the individual toward God. It is, without doubt, chiefly through the influence of this teaching, through the introduction of the idea of sin as a controlling idea in ethics, that the work of Christianity has been done in raising the general moral standard and in clarifying specific ethical judgments, as in the change, to specify one of the most striking cases, which has been brought about in the character of the judgment passed upon sexual wrongdoing.
Another conclusion from this teaching in regard to character was that the determining factor in all ethical judgment of the individual must be the inner character and not the external act ; that the external act is of importance only as a sign of what the inner character is. This also was not exactly a new idea, but Christianity put it in a far more vivid and striking form than ever before when it recorded, in the book which was read and reread as the special religious guide and manual of all believers, the impressive words of its founder in which he proclaimed, in regard to some of the most easily be-setting sins of every age, that the passion cherished in the heart carries with it the guilt of the act itself.
In the fourth place, among the contributions of Christianity to ethics--and in some respects this was its most decisive ethical influence Christianity taught a doctrine of hope to the morally depraved and debased in character. It taught that if the inner character was not right, it might be transformed by the grace of God, if the individual would accept for himself the culminating truth of its religious teaching, forgiveness of sin through faith in the work of Christ, that it might be transformed all at once, by a single supreme choice, a conscious submission of the will to God, so that the man would come to love what he had hated and hate what he had loved. And it also taught that the power which had so transformed the life would continue a constant divine aid in the moral endeavors and struggles of the new life. The essential thing to be regarded here, entirely independent of any religious significance which it may have, is the historical fact that Christianity did create in the minds of men a firm and confiding belief in such a transformation.'
It begot in the debased and despairing outcast a firm assurance that he had escaped wholly from his past life ; that its associations and temptations would no longer have any power over him, but that he was as free to be-gin a new life as if he had been born again. In this belief which it created, Christianity was introducing an entirely new factor into history. The greatest problem of practical ethics has always been, not to get men to recognize the truth intellectually, but to get them to be true in conduct to their ethical convictions. It is true, no doubt, that Stoicism taught a very high system of moral truth ; it even attempted, as a sort of missionary philosophy, to persuade men to live according to the laws of right ; but it recognized its powerlessness to make Stoics of the masses. In the work which it did in this direction is to be found one of the greatest contributions of Christianity to the ethical regeneration of the world. In the directly personal character of its central truth, Christ the Saviour of each individual man, in the firm confidence which it created that the power of God had transformed the life and would constantly aid in the struggle to keep it right, and in the creative power of love, rising in the heart of man to meet the love of God, Christianity set a new ethical force at work in the world. And it is through the emphasizing of these ideas that the transforming power of Christianity has been exercised. In proportion as Christianity has kept these truths at the front in its teaching, and realized them in its prevailing life, it has been a great force in leading men to a higher ethical level. As it has put something else in their place as the main thing to be emphasized, whether external forms or doctrinal beliefs, it has failed of its mission and limited its own power, and this has been undoubtedly the case through long periods of time. It has been said that the church never sullied the purity of its moral teaching ; but it must be confessed that there are ages of Christian history when the theoretical teaching seems to be almost the only thing that did remain pure, and when this had but little real influence upon the general life of the time. Genuine Christianity, in such an age, was certainly almost lost to sight, living on in those unpretending lives which attracted no attention at the time, but of -which we find the traces even in the darkest days, and one of the most hopeful signs of our own time is the recovery of influence and emphasis in the active Christianity of to-day which these truths have made.
It is hardly possible to overstate the importance of the new power thus brought into the moral life of the world. Science forbids us to believe it possible to add any new force to the sum total of physical forces already at work in the universe. But it would seem as if we certainly came upon the fact here that with Christianity there was added to the sum total of energies in action in human history a new increment of ethical force. Something which had not existed in the world before actually made it easier for men to escape from the bondage of evil habits, and to realize their ideals of a moral life. It may be difficult to follow through their details the results which have been thus secured, because they are realized in character and in individuals in spheres of life where record is unusual, and by forces that are silent and unobserved in action. But publicans and sinners transformed into saints of Christian history are by no means confined to the gospel days.'
There remain to be considered certain results which Christianity has accomplished, either by itself or in combination with influences from other sources, which do not naturally fall under either its religious or its directly ethical work.
The next chapter will treat more fully, under the elements of civilization which the Germans introduced, of the origin of the modern idea of the worth of the individual man as compared with the classic idea of the greater importance of the state. One source out of which the modem idea has grown is, without doubt, the supreme value placed upon the individual man in the Christian teaching of the vastly greater importance of the life to come than of this life or any of its interests, of the infinite destinies before each man, all depending upon his individual choice and character. The attitude of the early church in this matter, toward the state under which it existed, the Roman empire, was probably more extreme than its attitude toward any later government, and yet there have been some ages in which the contrast between the higher interests of the individual and those of the state has been drawn almost as sharply, and the teaching of Christianity on the point has certainly been clear and unmistakable. That this teaching led to the adoption of positive institutions in any free government cannot be affirmed. Its influence is to be found rather in the line of the ideas by which we defend our right to individual liberty.
Christianity taught also the equality of all men in the sight of God. It taught this not merely as an abstract idea. Stoicism had done that. But in the early Christianity, at least, it put the idea into practice so far as it was possible to do so. The master was held to treat his slave as a brother. They both stood on the same footing within the church, and its offices and dignities were open to both alike. If the early story that, in the third century, a slave became bishop of Rome, is doubtful, the fact that such a story came to be believed at all is significant ; and certainly in feudal days, when the church fell largely under the feudal influence, instances are not uncommon of men from the lowest classes rising to positions in the church of the highest rank. The teaching of the church always kept before men the idea of the equality in moral rights and in final destiny of all men. That it was the chiefly effective force in establishing practical equality, so far as it has been established, can hardly be asserted.'
Again, Christianity demanded the complete separation of church and state, and asserted that each must be recognized as having its own distinct and independent mission to perform. In the ancient world the two had been intimately associated, and the religious organization had been looked upon as very largely a branch of the political. This view of the relationship contained a great danger for the growing church the danger of being absorbed in the state, of losing all independence of development, and of being diverted from its own proper work to serve political ends. It was undoubtedly this danger which forced the early church to develop so clearly the doctrine of independence of state control which is involved in Christianity, and to insist upon it so strongly against Roman emperors and German kings.
That the modem complete separation of church and state, as we have it in the United States, has grown out of a protest against the position of the church itself on this question, is not a proof that the separation of church and state is not an outgrowth of Christian teaching, but furnishes us only a further instance of the fact that the later church, as a whole, did not remain true to the fundamental principles of Christianity, and that these had to be recovered by a reformation of some kind. When the church had secured its independence of the state, and perfected its organization, and grown strong, it went a step further and asserted the right of the church to control the state. That this principle in practical operation is as dangerous as the other, which absorbs the church in the state, it needs no argument to prove ; but it also needs none to prove that both are equally foreign to the teachings of Christianity.
The gain to civilization from the complete separation of church and state is easily seen. It is an essential condition of free thought and free discussion that the totally distinct spheres of the two institutions should be recognized, and without it intellectual progress, except in the realm of theory and barren speculation, would be, if not impossible, beset with almost insurmountable difficulties.
Finally, Christianity had awakened in a part of the ancient society a new hopefulness and energy and productive power even before the Germans had brought in the reinforcement of their vigorous life. How much this might have amounted to had the Germans not come, and had the conditions of the following age been favor-able, cannot be said; but it is a result deserving of notice both as showing the tendency of Christianity and as indicating undoubtedly one of the sources of a reviving civilization soon to come.
The example of this influence of Christianity, to which attention has been most frequently called, is the contrast between the contemporary pagan and Christian literatures from the third century on. The pagan is more refined and polished, but it is empty and barren, spirit-less imitation of classic models. The Christian literature of the same generations is cruder and less elegant, but it is full of spirit and vigor and energetic life. There is something to be said and some purpose in saying it.
In closing this account one cannot avoid recurring to what was implied at the outset. It is impossible not to feel the incompleteness of any statement of the influence of Christianity upon civilization. Some of the more obvious and apparent results can be mentioned, but its full work cannot be traced. This is mainly for the reason stated. Its operation lies in the realm of the silent and unobserved forces which act upon the individual character and the springs of action, but which can, in the nature of the case, leave no record of themselves for later time.