Catholicism in the Middle Ages, Sketches and Fragments
by Thomas J. Shanan, 1904
WHAT do we understand by Civilization? It is usually taken to mean the refinement of man in his social capacity. Whatever uplifts, cleanses, purifies, inspires man as a member of the common human family is held by all men to be civilizing. The word, if not the idea, comes to us from the masterful Roman people. They believed that their civilitas, or civilization, the sum total and the spirit of social progress attained in their city by their laws and language, their religion and philosophy of life, was unsurpassed, was the last and highest effort of mankind.
In this they erred; and we need no better proof than the remnants of their life that have come down to us in one way or another. But they erred in noble company, for before them the Egyptian, the Assyrian, and the Persian had shared the same conviction, as they have left the same historical proofs of their self-illusion in many a great monument, many a proud inscription. Even the Greek, whose civilization is so intimately related to that of the Romans, and through them to us, was unable to protect and propagate directly the spirit and the institutions of his own admirable refinement. In all purely human work there is a response of death, a certain futility and emptiness, as a reminder by Nature of man's transitory character and functions.
Nevertheless, while the forms, the outer dress, as it were, of civilization, change from one epoch of time to another, there is forever common to all mankind an irrepressible trend, like a rising flame or a flowing current, that impels us to create and share common interests and common enjoyments, that calls forth common efforts for causes that are common and therefore higher than any or all of us. In the common gains or attainments we bring to the front the best and noblest that is in each one of us. In the common struggle we learn to admire and love the natural forces, gifts, opportunities, and institutions which have been the means of creating what each race, or people, or epoch calls its civilization. So the flag of one's fatherland arouses the holiest of natural passions, for it compresses into one cry, as it were, the whole life of a great and ancient people through many stirring centuries. So the tattered colors of the regiment whip the blood of the soldier into a rapid flow, for they nation, not to the pity or needs of rude and fierce conquerors, but to the influence and authority of the Catholic Church. Roughly speaking, we may say that the Middle Ages are that period of one thousand years that opens with the overthrow of the imperial power of Rome in Central and Southern Europe about the year 500 A.D. and closes with the discovery of America and the invention of printing, just before the year 1500. In that time, there is, in greater or lesser degree, one form of government, the feudal system, based on permanent warfare, upheld by a monopoly of the land, and the weakness of the central authority in every State. One race, the Teutonic, imposes its will on all the fair lands that were once the provinces of Rome -- Spain, Gaul, Britain, Helvetia, the Rhineland, Italy herself. Throughout Europe the warrior rules, and the public life is marked by all the virtues and vices of the camp or burg. With few exceptions, the civil power is held by an aristocracy, more or less open from below, more or less restrained by king or emperor, but always violent and proud. The habits and manners of daily life are yet largely those of the forest and the marsh and the sea whence the invaders came. It was many a long day before the English thane forgot that he was the son of Low Dutch pirates, or the Norman earl ceased to feel himself the descendant of men who had made a dozen kings to quake and emperors to do them homage. The Hidalgos of Spain, the Ritters of Germany, are long conscious that they hold their places by reason of the old Gothic and Suevic or Alemannic conquests. At the basis of this society there is always the antithesis of might and right, the strong and the weak, the brutal and ignorant against the refined and educated, the selfish and individual greed or need against the purposes and utilities of progressive society. When we look out over these ten centuries of human history, they come before us like the meeting of the turbulent sea with the waters of some majestic river, the Ganges or the Mississippi. On one side is the contribution of an orderly and regulated force, on the other the lawless impact of an elemental strength. The result is eddies and currents, islands and bars, reefs and shoals. A new and strange life develops along this margin of conflict between order and anarchy. All is shifting and changing, and yet, beneath all the new phenomena, goes on forever the original struggle between the river that personifies civilization and the sea that personifies the utter absence of the same. So it was in the civil and secular world of the Middle Ages. There were indeed periods of advancement, stretches of sunshine in a gloomy and troubled climate, individuals and institutions of exceptional goodness. If the underlying barbarism of the civil life had its vices, it had also its virtues, that both pagan and Christian have agreed in praising. It had overrun Europe like a flood, but it brought with it a rich alluvial deposit of courage and ambition, the elasticity and ardor of youth, fresh and untainted hearts, an eagerness to know and to do, an astounding energy that was painful to the sybaritic society that suffered the domination of barbarism.
For an event of so great magnitude, it is wonderful how little we know of the circumstances of the fall of the Roman authority in the West. The civilization that up to the end was heir to all the art and philosophy of Greece, all the power and majesty of Rome, suffered shipwreck almost without a historian. Odds and ends of annals and chronicles, stray remarks apropos of other things -- these are all that are left to us of those memorable decades of the fifth century, when Rome saw her gates desecrated by one barbarian horde after another. Yet enough remains to show that it was the Catholic Church which stood between her and utter extirpation, so great was the contempt and hatred of Goth and Vandal and Hun for the city that had been long the oppressor of the nations. Here a bishop turns away the wandering hordes from his town, there another encourages to vigorous resistance that is successful; here a holy virgin saves Paris from destruction, there an Italian bishop brings home a long procession of captives. Everywhere in this dark century that saw the old classic life enter on its decline, the Catholic bishop appears as the defender of the municipality and the people against every oppression. He also possesses a moral authority equally great with Roman and barbarian. Alone he is trusted by both powers, for he is the only social force left that is really unaffected by the collapse of the old world and the arrival of a new one. The bishop is the ambassador of emperor and people, as on that dread day in the middle of the century, when Leo the Great went out to Attila, on his way to Rome, and persuaded the great Hun to turn back with his half million savages and spare the Eternal City. As sorrow upon sorrow fell on the doomed cities and populations, the civil power gave way completely, and the ministers of religion were compelled to take up a work foreign to their calling, and save such wreckage as they might of the administration, art, and literature of their common fatherland. They became the premiers of the barbarian kings, the codifiers of their laws, their factotums in all things, their intimate friends and counsellors. There is not a state in Europe, and all of them go back to thus time, that does not recognize among its real founders, the Catholic bishop before whom the original conquerors bowed. There is Clovis before Remigius, Theodoric before Epiphanius and Cassiodorus, the Burgundian king before Avitus, and so many others that it is needless to detail their names or deeds. I recall the facts only to show that the very bases of our Christian society, the very foundations of mediaeval Christendom, were laid by a long line of brave and prophetic bishops and priests, who saw at once in the barbarian conquerors future children of the Church and apostles of Christianity. On the very threshold, therefore, of the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church appears as the truest friend both of the old order that was going out, and the new one that was being ushered in amid the unspeakable horrors that always accompany the downfall of an ancient and highly wrought civilization.
All civilization begins with the soil. What have been the relations of the Catholic Church to the soil throughout the Middle Ages? Everywhere man is a child of the soil. Mysteriously he issues from it. He lives on it and by it. He goes down one day to his appointed place in the mighty bosom of Mother Earth. No matter how complicated society may become, it is impossible that conditions should arise in which man can be otherwise than dependent upon the earth that God gave him for a sufficient and suitable sojourning lace. Institutions, laws, customs, and marners that sin against the God-given relations of man and the Eoil bear in them always the sure promise of death. Half, nay, nearly all the great events of history are directly traceable to the struggles for the soil, whether from within or without the State. The plebeians and the patricians of Rome create immortal principles of private law by reason of this very confict; the Roman State itself goes on the rocks because it neglected good lessons learned in its infancy. The contests of warlike shepherds in China precipitate masses of barbarian Goths and Huns and Vandals on the Roman Empire and dislocate the social fabric that the genius and fortune and experience of a thousand years had built up. For another thousand years of feudal life the land is the only source and sign of wealth. The Middle Ages, economically, are that period of Western history when a few reaped the products of the earth, when the many bore the burden of the sowing, but at the reaping went empty-handed away.
The Catholic Church is too much the Mother Church of the poor and lowly and humble, too much the Spouse of the carpenter's Son, that great Friend of all who labor and are heavy burdened, not to hear forever in her heart the tender yet puissant cry, "I have pity on the multitude." The life of the soil is really in the labor that makes it bear fruit. Until man appeared the world was indeed a bright garden, but growing wild and untrimmed, all its powers sleeping as though under a spell within its bosom. This labor the Catholic Church has always sanctified and held up as a necessary and a blessed thing. Her Founder was accounted the son of a common laboring man, Himself a toiler at the bench. Her first missionaries were working-men -- fishermen, publicans, a physician, a tent-maker. She, first and alone, uplifted on her banner the symbols of labor and declared them worthy and holy. All her early documents bear the praise of labor. All her earliest legislation enforces labor as a duty for all. But the duty of labor brings with it a corresponding right to the fruit and reward of labor, and here she came at once into contact with the existing conditions of society.
I shall say nothing of the relations of the Church to the soil under the pagan Roman Empire. Those three centuries were not unlike the three decades of the hidden life of Jesus, an epoch of divine education for her public life. But as soon as she is free we find her concerned about the treatment of the working-man in the great ranches or villas of the Roman nobles. No more underground prisons, no more stamping with hot irons the face that has been cleansed in the baptism of Christ, no more compelling of girls to go on the obscene vaudeville stage of antiquity, no more maiming or abusing of the slave. She opens vast refuges in every city for the poor and homeless driven off their estates by the growing monopoly in land. Every church door is a distributing place for the bread of the ensuing week. One quarter of the funds of every church goes to the relief of her poor. Before the empire fell one of her priests arose and wrote an immortal page that stands forever to show that it was the abuse of taxation that brought it low and not the right hand of the barbarian, which in more humane days she had always beaten down. Economically, the old Roman Empire was always pagan, even in the hands of Christian men. Its principles and methods of administration never changed. It was an omnipotent, omniscient bureaucracy, that learned nothing and forgot nothing, until one grim day the Cross went down before the Crescent on the dome of St. Sophia and the Leather Apron was hoisted above the waters of the Golden Horn. But in all those trying ages, every bishop's house was a court of appeal for the overburdened peasant, and the despotic lord or cunning middleman was very likely to hear in a summary way from Constantinople, or from the barbarian kings turned Christian. A bishop sat on the bench with the judges. He visited the prisons, his church had the right of asylum for poor debtors or oppressed men generally. He was recognized by the State as a natural-born spokesman of the people in city and country. He was the last link between the old Roman society and the new world arising on its ruins. In his person, for he was nearly always the ablest man in the city, were gathered all the best traditions of law and procedure, of traditions and good customs. In the wreckage of the State he had saved, as it were, the papers, the family records, the registers, and the like, that in an hour of peace would enable order to be brought out of chaos by younger hands. Let any modern economist or lawyer read the letters of Gregory the Great and he will be astonished to see how this great Roman nobleman, who traced his ancestry back to the Caesars, and who had been himself governor of Rome at the end of the sixth century, treats the relations of the peasant and the soil. Without interfering with the theories of the day that did not concern him, he upholds in a long series of documents the just rights of his tenants on the four hundred farms that the Roman Church then owned in Sicily. He chides his agents for rackrenting and orders the excess to be given back. He provides for an adjustment of losses between the Church and the tenants. He writes to the emperor about false measurements and exactions. Were all the noble principles he promulgates to be put into modern English, it would be seen that this ancient Bishop of Rome had asserted thirteen hundred years ago, at the beginning of our modern world, the principles that are yet basic in any society of men that pretends to stand and work well, without convulsions or revolutions. Now, Gregory was only the head of the system; he was not the inventor of those principles. He recalls them to his Italian bishops as being the purest spirit of the gospel. If we want to know what they are we have only to read the magnificent encyclical of Leo XIII. on the condition of the working- men. In it these principles are clothed in language scarcely different from that of his ancient predecessor.
These ancient bishops of the decadent empire and the incipient States of Europe compelled the great land-owners to build numerous little chapels on their estates. Thus arose around the homes of religion the little villages of France and Italy and Germany. It is no mere chance that causes the Catholic Church spire in these lands to rise from ten thousand hamlets. The hamlets grew up beneath its beneficent shadow. In those little chapels were told to the noble and serf the truths of the gospel that gradually broke down the mediaeval servage. Before those little rural altars the gospel was first divided into sections as we read it to-day on Sundays. Then again yearly the bishops in synod taught the parish priests how to comment on it, how to apply it without fear of cringing. To-day it seems a small task to speak the truth before all, but one day, long ago, it required an abnormal moral courage for the son of a peasant to stand up before the owner of the great warlike castle on yonder peak and bid him cease from vexing, bid him live with one wife, bid him stop the rioting and dissipation by which he spent in one night the earnings of the estate for a year. Behind that poor semi-illiterate hind, dressed in the garments of a priest, there stood the bishop, and behind the bishop rose the powerful figure of the Church incarnate in the supreme Bishop at Rome. Countless times the thunderbolt flew from thence, straight and true, that laid low the awful pride and the satanic tenacity of some great Frank or some fierce Lombard lord. It was indeed the Catholic bishop who saved the peasants of Europe from the fifth to the eighth century. For three hundred years he was the last court of appeal; he was the gospel walking among men; he was the only international force with power to execute its decrees. His cathedral was always in the heart of the city, and in its great doorway he sat regularly to judge justly and without price. His priests were usually the lawyers and notaries of the people. And on certain old Romanesque or Byzantine portals you may yet see in marble that lovely scene of the episcopal weekly tribunal. Around his house and in front of his church stretched the public square. He was the protection, therefore, of the little tradesman, the peasant, the pedler with his wares. To him came the pilgrim, the stranger, the wandering penitent. To him the ambassadors going east and west, the king on his annual round, the great nobles charged with the administration of justice or the collection of revenue. And when, after Pentecost, for example, or at Michaelmas, he gathered in annual synod his clergy from the villages and ranches and villas and castles, and stood at his throne, mitre on head and staff in hand, it did seem to all the assembled multitude, and it was in its own way true, that the Sun of Justice was shining among men, that every wrong would be redressed and every sorrow smoothed over, so far as it lay in the public power to do so. It is not for nothing that the Catholic episcopate won its incredible authority over the people. Such historical phenomena have always an adequate cause. Right here it was three long centuries of intelligent and sympathetic protection of the people, at a time when the feudal law was a-forming and the benefit of Roman law was in abeyance.
All this time the old conditions of the Roman provinces of Europe were being deeply modified. Industry had been extinguished and commerce paralyzed by the first inroads of the barbarians. The east fell away from the west, whose jealous kings tolerated little intercourse with Constantinople. The loveliest lands of France and Italy went without culture, and soon forests grew where palaces had lifted their proud fronts. The wild beasts wandered among the baths and porticoes and temples of the ancients, and the very names of towns that were once echoed beyond the Ganges were forgotten. Then arose another mighty force of the Catholic Church, the monks of St. Benedict. Long while only laymen, subject to the local bishop and controlled by him, they grew very numerous in time. Their rule was an admirable thing for the social needs of the day. It inculcated equally the labor of the field and the labor of the brain, and so during this period and long after, all Europe was overrun by the children of that good man whose mortal remains repose above the rushing Anio amid the sublime scenery of Subiaco. The Roman Bishop took them under his especial protection, and together they formed a religious power that worked for good in every direction without any thought of self-advancement or any conflict of an unavoidable character. They chose usually for a home the waste and desert spots of Europe. Soon the forest was again thinned out and crops were again planted. Priest and brother, the educated man and the common laborer, went down into the field together, and worked all day in silence side by side. They built the ditches, they bridged the streams, they laid the necessary roads; they increased the area of arable land in every decade, and thereby drove out the noxious wild beasts; draining and irrigation on a large scale were carried on by them. Walls and fences and grauges arose on every little estate that they had created out of nothing. The peasant, half barbarian, learned from them the traditions of old Roman agriculture, for astery. These, too, became proprietors, and on their estates the peasantry could see other principles of government than those of the rapacious feudal lord. It was an old saying in the Middle Ages that it was a good thing to dwell beneath the crozier. As a fact, the greenest fields and the richest slopes, the best vineyards, the best kept forests and fisheries, were those of bishop or abbot. Here religion forbade waste and riot, and education brought to their cultivation much knowledge handed down from the ancients. Though without wives and children, these great ecclesiastical lords, always elective, held a kind of a dead-hand over their estates. Thus were secured perpetuity of tenure, continuous culture of the fields, equality of rents, new tracts of reclaimed lands, mildness of administration, and a minimum of expense in the conduct of vast properties. The classical studies broadened their views and humanized bishop and priest and monk. The meditation on the gospel, the example of countless holy monks and hermits, the daily service of God at the majestic altars of some basilica or Romanesque church softened their hearts. Those men and women whom the bishop or the abbot daily blessed, who brought in their woes with their tithes, were his tenants, perhaps for many generations; thus there arose a certain fraternal intimacy between the most powerful men in the State and the humblest serf who delved on the hillside or tended sheep along the uplands. Whole sections of Europe were in this way reclaimed, or for the first time cultivated. Prussia, Southern Germany, most of the Rhineland, the greater part of Switzerland, great tracts of Southern Italy and Sicily, of Norway and Sweden, are the immediate creation of these churchmen. If we would have some idea of the duties of a mediaeval bishop we should have to compare him with the president of some great railroad and double that with many of the duties of the mayor of a city and add thereto the responsibilities of teacher and preacher.
The States of the Middle Ages were almost purely agricultural. Yet even in such States problems of production and distribution arose. The population increased, wants multiplied, war and travel and awakening knowledge roused curiosity and desire. The bishop's house first, and then the monastery, was the great nucleus of social life in the Middle Ages. Around the cathedral that the bishop built, perhaps in some lonely spot, if he was a missionary, or on the site of the old public buildings, if he dwelt in a once Roman town, gathered all kinds of workmen -- tillers of the field, the weavers of cloth, the builders of houses, the decorators of the cathedral, the workers in linen and embroidery. Here were to be found the stone mason, the blacksmith, the joiner, the carpenter, the gold and silversmith, every artificer, indeed, for the little community. We see at once that all the germs of a city life are here. Indeed, this is the origin of a multitude of European cities. The day will come when fierce conflict will arise between the bishops and the serfs emancipated and enriched, the latter claiming corporate cognition and a municipal constitution, freedom from imposts, and the like; the former pointing to the fact that all they had was a benefit of the Church. There are some kinds of justice so complicated that time alone can grant them. And so in the end the bishop lost his control and the cities won legal recognition. Similarly, the monasteries were centres of consumption and distribution. The revival of the cloth trade in England in the twelfth century owes very much to the consumption of black and gray cloth by the monks and the nuns, and, indeed, was long in their hands. The preservation and protection of the culture of the grape, the viniculture of the Middle Ages, was almost entirely dependent on the immense multitude of churches, chapels, and altars. The minor arts, like delicate work in silver and gold, in ivory and wood, embroideries and tapestries, were kept alive by the constant need of new church furniture.
In those days men lived much alone in castles or widely scattered hamlets. The annual fair with its products from all parts of the world was held under church auspices, about the monastery or in front of the cathedral. The wares of east and west were there hawked about; the traveller and the pilgrim hurried thither; the legal needs of the peasants -- wills, marriages, contracts -- were attended to; distant relatives met one another; all the refining duties of hospitality were exercised. And above it all arose the holy and benignant figure of Mother Church. The fair was opened with all the solemnities of the liturgy, and the fair itself was known as "The Mass” of St. Michael, e.g., or of Our Lady. Indeed, the great book-fair of Leipzig is still called "The Mass of the Books."
Thus, throughout those remote times both the monastery preserved the germs of them would have utterly general ignorance and barbarism of the lay life. It is to them that we owe directly the preservation of all the social arts and professions. how many reflect when they enter an apothecary shop that it is the outcome of the "infirmary" of the monastery where the simples and drugs were kept that were needed for the use of the inmates or the serfs, and later on the peasants of the abbey. The monks copied out the old medical manuscripts, treasured up and applied much homely domestic traditions of a better day, and, to say the least, were as useful in handing down Greek medical practice as the Arabs were in transmitting its theory. Every monastery had its brother devoted to the sick, whose practical skill was often very great. While in Italy, both north and south, there surely lingered no little scientific medicine of the past, in the west of Europe the monks were, to a very great extent, the generous physicians of the rude and uncultured populations; memories of those days still hang about the cloisters of Italy, and those who have lived there long remember how often a rude dentistry is gratuitously practised by some good Capuchin, how often the fever- stricken boy of the Campagna throws himself at the entrance of the first cloister, how the women of the hamlet get from the nuns of the neighborhood the simple remedies they need. When we pass by some brilliantly lighted window and see exposed Chartreuse, Benedictine, and the like, we may remember that these sweetened liqueurs are antique recipes of mediaeval monks, originally meant for uses of health. Convents still exist out of the Middle Ages, like the Certosa at Florence and the Carmelites of the same old town, that were, and perhaps are yet, practically the dispensaries of the city. Indeed, one might add a page to the famous lecture of Wendell Phillips on the "Lost Arts," were he to recount the benefits conferred on the medical sciences by the devotion of the medheval clergy to the plain people. Only the other day, in reading Ian MacLaren's touching stories in the "Bonnie Brier Bush," I was led to reflect how much silent heroism of the same kind was practised in the mediaeval times, when a village doctor was unheard of, and the only available skill lay down in the valley or up on the tall crag where the men of God spent their innocent and beneficent days. Thus, whatever path of history or facts we tread backward for thirteen or fourteen centuries, we shall always find that the only stanch and loyal friend of the poor man was the Catholic priest; that all the useful and indispensable arts and professions of social life were gathered up by him out of the great wreck of Graeco-Roman life, or created anew amid the turbulence and lawlessness of barbarism; that law and medicine found in him a humble but a useful bridge by which they were rescued from the flood of oblivion and ruin; that the homely utilities of the soil, of food and drink, of clothing, the more complicated processes of production and distribution, were very largely dependent on him in all parts of Europe. At the top notch of his estate he was bishop or abbot, at the bottom poor parish priest or monk, -- but ever he was a friend of the people, and he earned their gratitude by an anonymous devotion, a nameless self-sacrifice, that covered one thousand years of the infancy of our modern states and was really their period of gestation and nursing.
While the Church was developing among the youthful nations of Europe the notion of the common weal, the higher good of the commonwealth, she was also creating another entirely new institution, the Christian Law of Nations, or what is known to-day as International Law. The old Roman law did indeed recognize, gradually, a certain universal province of general rights, but it was only in the domain of private law, of the relations between one individual and another, such as contracts and obligations, wills and judgments, and the like; of a public law applicable to all peoples, higher than all and eminently fair to all, it had not the slightest inkling, and has left us no trace. Rome acknowledged no equal before the bar of mankind. The only civilization that ever withstood her, the old Persian, she pursued and harried to the death. Perhaps in that dread hour, when the grim fanatic Arab arose in his stirrup above the prostrate bodies of Roman and Persian, it dawned upon both that they would better have arbitrated their pretensions, but it was too late. On the dial of time no power can turn back the solemn finger of history. It was otherwise with the Catholic Church in the West. She was the mother and nurse of a whole brood of young and ardent peoples, full of high and vague impulses, naturally jealous of one another, but also mutually respectful of the great holy power that they felt was lifting them steadily toward the light. In their infancy their first missionaries had been sent by Rome, and bore aloft their authority from the central see of Christendom. In time one agent of Rome, after another appeared to allay the fires of domestic hatred and revenge, to put bounds to ambition, to compel the execution of treaties, to protect the injured who were without redress. Often these men were of any nationality; whatever shrewd head offered itself, whatever experience of mankind was at hand, Rome accepted. Every kingdom and great family in Europe received and welcomed these men. Every decade of the Middle Ages is filled with their good deeds. They represent a central authority, entirely moral and resting on personal conviction of its • sanctity. They appeal to the common law of the gospel and the general customs of Christian life and experience. They brought to their tasks a suavity of manner and a persistency of method that the lay world admired instinctively. The opposition they could not break down they turned. Peace was their object as war was the purpose of the feudal world. In time they created an unwritten code that governed the to say the least. It is the play of Hamlet with the noble Dane left out. A universal peace is a mockery so long as religious convictions do not dominate the ancient and natural impulses of selfishness, public and private, the cruel leonine policy of the world from Sargon to Napoleon.
It is a commonplace saying that there is no social progress possible without the recognition of authority in the State, and a respectful submission to its due and licit exercise. But of what avail is all this if there be no habitual discipline in the minds and hearts of men? It is the creation of this docile temper, this trained submission to just law and custom, that is one of the great glories of the Catholic Church. The modern world, in as far as it possesses this benefit, inherits it from her. A century of wild and incoherent efforts to base social obedience on any other lines than those she preaches has resulted in anarchy, or a practical appeal to her to help control the masses from whose hearts the balancing ideas of God, future retribution, sin, immortality, were driven by every ingenious means that could be devised. Neither Plato nor Aristotle, neither Zeno nor Cicero nor Seneca, were able to establish a code of principles that would command the willing and affectionate acceptance of all men amid all the changing circumstances of life. Only Jesus Christ could do that. Hence His gospel is not only the noblest revelation of God to man, but also a political document of the highest rank, as the centuries to come will most certainly demonstrate. Throughout the Middle Ages the Catholic Church was the sole recognized interpreter of this gospel. Her decisions were law. Her comments were final. She did not call on men to obey a human will; it was the divine figure and will of Jesus that she held up before men. It was not by preaching herself or her achievements that she compelled the unwilling submission of the most violent men the world has seen, men in whose blood the barbarian strain was still hot and arrogant. Let any one read the great "Papal Letters" of the Middle Ages, the letters of Gregory I. to King Ethelbert, of Gregory VII. to Henry IV. of Germany, of Alexander III. to Henry II. of England, of Innocent III. to all the potentates of Europe, and the magnificent letters of the nonagenarian Gregory IX. to Frederick II., and he will be astounded at the richness and abundance of pure gospel teaching, at the cogency of the texts, at the vigor and apostolic candor of their application. Judges and prophets, bishops and apostles, -- these men speak as man never spoke before. And when their utterances were heralded in a few weeks all over Europe by the swiftest processes then known to man, the innocent looked up and rejoiced, the oppressed breathed easier, those who hungered and thirsted for justice had their desire fulfilled. The tyrant shook on his throne and all the ministers of religion felt that an invincible force had been infused into them. The moral battle had been won; let gross might do its worst. Kings of every nation quailed before those dread spiritual arrows; minor potentates stifled their evil passions for very fear of Rome; the unholy and impure let go the estates that they had robbed, either from the weak or from the Church; the usurer lifted his hand from the throat of his victim; the orphans' rights were vindicated and the widows' portion restituted. The holy law of monogamous marriage, of one man to one woman, was successfully defended; kingdoms were risked, and one day lost, for the sake of a principle. To all the sacredness of life was declared again and again -- "Thou shalt not kill" -- neither thy neighbor in unjust violence, nor thyself as God's own, nor the child in the womb. In a century of savage anarchy she declared the famous Truce of God that practically prevented warfare for more than half the year. Her altars were always places of refuge against hasty and unjust vengeance. She forbade any one to mount the steps of those altars whose hand was stained with the blood of his fellow-man. In that long night of storm and conflict she was everywhere the White Angel of Peace, everywhere, like the Valkyries, a presence hovering over the multitudinous scene of battle, but not like them an urger of death -- rather the vicarious voice of God, His gentle spouse, bidding the hell of angry selfishness subside appealing, in season and out of season, to the conscience of mankind, its natural probity, above all to the love and the will of the Crucified One.
And so her own law grew, -- men called it in time the Canon Law, -- i.e. the law made up of the rules and regulations established by the authority of the Church. She disdained no human help and she loaned her strength to many a humane and good measure. But the substance of it all is the gospel; the spirit of it is one of peace, of friendly composition and arbitration where possible; its very punishments have -- what was unknown to the laws of mankind before her -- a medicinal or healing character. Hitherto men were punished as a revenge of society for transgressing its collective will. Now men are punished that they may enter into themselves and be enlightened, and seeing, be made to walk as straight as they see; that is, be corrected.
Think of this legislation gradually spreading over all Europe from Sicily to Iceland, accepted as a quasi-divine code by all, and one sees at once what a stern but enduring discipline was imposed on men's hearts. Obedience was hard, but it was useful. It was humiliating, but it cleansed and comforted. It was painful, but it made men Godlike, since it was exercised to imitate and please Him who had first given the most splendid example of obedience. The Lombard Gastaldo at Friuli, and the Duke at Spoleto, the Frank Comes at Tours or Limoges, the Exarch at Ravenna, the Herzog in the Marches, all looked on and wondered and trembled at the popular submission to one weak man's will. For the first time moral dignity prevailed, and the authoritative sentence of the successor of the Fisherman had more weight than the laws of a dozen kings. This was a great step, for it lifted the administration of justice out of and beyond the sphere of the personal and temporary into a high and serene atmosphere. It made the face of the judge to shine with a light reflected from heaven. It gave a kind of immortality to every utterance. It was like a new stringer laid on the fair and holy walls of the temple of justice. The decisions of one pope were sacred to his successor, and the wicked had the assurance that there was no reopening of their career before a tribunal that had judged them by the law of God.
Such an authority, sacred and intangible by reason of long and useful services to European society, could deal with all civil authorities on the highest level. It had nothing to gain from flattery and nothing to fear from their ill-will. It had known the gloom of the Catacombs, the turbulent and selfish fondness of the first Christian emperors, the whims and vagaries of the barbarous nations turned Christian. It is no exaggeration to say that the civil authority of the Middle Ages is the disciple of the Church. It learned from her the nature, scope, and spirit of authority. It got through her the most order. The principles of justice, the equity of war and peace, the nice points that affect the king's conscience, are decided by them. In "Henry V.," the king invokes the judgment of the bishops as to the moral character of his contemplated expedition against France.
"My learned lord, we pray thee to proceed, And justly and religiously unfold Why the law Salique that they have in France Or should or should not bar us in our claim. * * * * * * * *
And we will hear, note and believe in heart That what you speak is in your conscience wash'd As pure as sin in baptism." -- Act I., Scene 1.
The whole trend of public opinion in the Middle Ages was so overwhelmingly in this sense that it would have seemed an anachronism to have made the bishops of England assume an attitude different from what they had always held in ages gone by. So, too, in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation that theoretically dominated the political situation in Europe, the chancellor of the empire was always the Archbishop of Trier, and as such was the emperor's spiritual adviser in all that pertained to justice or equity in public affairs or enterprises. In other words, the great States of Europe grew from infancy to manhood under the solemn and public tutelage of the Catholic Church. What is good and lasting in their government they owe to her; what is faulty and imperfect to their own inordinate ambitions.
The greatest public act that could fall to a churchman to perform in the Middle Ages was the anointing and coronation of a king. It is among the solemn acts reserved to a bishop, and as such is found in the Roman Pontifical. In one of the great prayers said over the new king, the Catholic Church has herself given the character, measure, and spirit of the civil duties of a regent of the people. It is almost a summary of her own career throughout the shifting and difficult circumstances of mediaeval life.
Such a power as the Catholic Church, deeply rooted in history and in the hearts of all the nations of Europe, had necessarily a more than ordinary influence on the social life of the people and the institutions in which it manifested itself. I cannot do more than touch summarily on some important points. Those institutions that affect woman are fundamental in every society. With an instinct both true and keen, the Catholic Church, at the break-up of the old Greek and Roman world, set herself to protect the weaker sex. It was now a world in which the example of the strong and the rich was all contagious. Bravely and persistently she resisted the attempts of the aristocracy from emperor and king downward to introduce polygamy. As the great nobles grew independent they grew restless under the restraint imposed upon ordinary men and asserted for themselves immunity from the law of the gospel. But. they found in the popes and the Catholic clergy, generally, a wall of brass that they essayed in vain to overthrow. The history of her marriage legislation, of her dealing with divorce, is one of the proudest pages in the life of the mediaeval Church. In every nation of Europe the battle had to be fought over and over again, and always with the same result, "Thou shalt not." We have yet, for example, the admirable letters written by Innocent III. to Ingelberge, the repudiated wife of Philip Augustus. They furnish a sufficient commentary on the long catalogue of royal matrimonial causes that were ever before the Roman court through the Middle Ages. The impediments that she placed to certain marriages had each its own justification in history, in the relations with the civil power, or in that sure instinct of what was for the welfare of the people that I have already referred to. Thus the impediment of close relationship acted very efficaciously in preventing the accumulation of land and power in the hands of a few families, not to speak of other useful consequences. It must be remembered that, as to those impediments that she created by positive enactment or by hallowing custom, she must be judged from the view-point of the times and the circumstances. Apropos of the transmission of wealth, had the mediaeval clergy been a married clergy, the wealth of Europe would have passed to their children, their great benefices would have been hereditary, and instead of an humble class of men rising by their own efforts to the highest rank, we should have seen the great prizes of the ecclesiastical life handed down by the laws of human affection, with the invariable decay of every ecclesiastical virtue and the spiritual ruin of the European population.
If the Church built high the barrier about woman in some directions, in others she left her a freedom unknown to the ancients and opened to her a career of extraordinary utility. No one might coerce her into marriage; the cloister was ever open. Only those who know how uncertain the perpetual turbulence of the Middle Ages made the condition of woman, how sad the life of the widow, the orphan, the desolate maiden, can appreciate the benefit that these holy refuges were to women in this stormy period. Woman governed freely such institutions, and when they arose to prominence, her position was only less enviable than that of a queen. As abbess of a great mediaeval monastery, she disposed of many and vast estates and revenues, and enjoyed in her own person the highest distinctions of Church and State. In marriage the freedom of her consent was especially safeguarded; her position and rights were the same as those of the husband, and if she was inferior in what pertained to the disposition of property, it must not be forgotten that mediaeval life was in many respects different from our own, that man alone could bear the burdens of life as it was then lived. The bishop's court in the Middle Ages was another benefit to woman. Usually it was the court for wills and testaments, and well it was, for the bishop was naturally the father of the helpless and the lowly.
Of two other conditions of life I shall say but one word -- the poor and the slave. So long as a monastery existed, no poor man could go hungry, and the duty of giving to the hungry and the poor was looked on everywhere as the holiest of all. War, pestilence, famine, worked their ravages, it is true, but in ordinary life the hungry and starving poor were rare in mediaeval Europe. Nor was this accomplished by statute law, nor with painful humiliation, but in love, for Jesus' sake, because He, too, had been a poor man; because the poor man bore the likeness and image of the Creator even as his richer brother; because, after all, the rich man was only the steward of his wealth and not its absolute owner. As for slavery, the Church did not formally abolish it, but it was incompatible with her doctrine and life. It gradually lapsed into servage; the serf was attached to the soil, a great blessing for him. He was often the Church's own man, and so he gradually merged into the free peasant, very largely through the agency of local churches, only too anxious to preserve on their lands the same families, with their knowledge of the soil and their loyalty to the owners.
As to money itself and its functions, the mediaeval Church knew not our wonderful development of industry and commerce. It was an agricultural world, and money did not seem productive in itself. Usury was the supremest hardship for the poor, as it is yet felt in purely agricultural lands like Russia and India. It was forbidden under the severest penalties, and out of sympathy with the multitudes that would otherwise have suffered incredibly in a time when their little bit of land, their crops, and their implements were all that nine out of ten poor men could ever hope to own. As to the uses of wealth itself, the ideas of the Middle Ages were thoroughly humane, even grandiose. Surplus wealth was not man's, but God's. The owner was the steward, the administrator, and he was bound, after providing for the suitable support of his own, according to their estate in life, to bestow it in other good works. Moreover, thereby he could atone while yet alive for his shortcomings; he could further the relief of the poor, the weak, and friendless; he could be a helper of God in the government of this world; he could root out the ugliest of all social cancers, the cancer of ignorance; he could elevate to God's glory a noble temple; he could provide the sweet boon of education for those who would never know its uses had not some generous soul been moved by such ideas. So common were these views that it was seldom a man or woman died without making some provision for the poor, for religion, for education. These moneys in turn flowed back into the community, and a perpetual exchange of good offices went on between the individual and the institution his generosity either created or sustained. So much money was given to education in Germany just before the Reformation that Martin Luther used to say it was almost impossible for a child to go ignorant under the papacy. So education, architecture, the fine arts, the social needs, were forever provided for by the overflowing treasury of popular gift, and the Catholic people in turn escaped the danger of idealizing their wealth and hoarding it too jealously against a future that they had no means of controlling. Thus, for instance, arose countless grammar schools in Scotland and England that were so numerous before the Reformation that the poorest boy could get a classical education in his own town and thereby enter the clergy. In Germany, France, and Italy, a similar education was to be had with almost the same ease, and that meant in those days the open door to office, preferment, and wealth. Countless associations were endowed for the care of the poor, the burial of the dead, the dowering of poor girls, and the relief of every form of misery. If men made money largely, they spent it generously and intelligently. There was, perhaps, no time in the history of mankind, not even our own last few years, when men devoted to public uses so large a portion of their wealth. Not the least cause of it was the Catholic doctrine of the utility of good works for the welfare of the soul. Old churches were repaired; new ones were built all over Europe. Indeed, both Dr. Janssen and Dom Gasquet have slmwn, not only that the generosity of the fifteenth century was as great proportionately as that of any other age of the Church, but that it was extremely popular in kind, i.e. that down to the eve of the Reformation the people generally accepted the mediaeval view of the uses of money, notably for the common good. Shakespeare, who is so often the perfect echo of mediaeval thought and temper, puts into the mouth of the good Griffith as the best praise of the fallen Woolsey that he had built two noble schools for the education of youth, -- a grammar school and a university college: --
Ever witness for him Those twins of learning that he reared in you Ipswich and Oxford I one of which fell with him, Unwilling to outlive the good he did it; The other unfinished yet so famous, So excellent in art, and still so rising That Christendom shall ever speak his virtue."
-- "Henry VIII., Act IV., Scene 1.
In the early Middle Ages the sense of the common weal was very imperfect. The Wandering Nations had developed the kingship through long and permanent conflicts, first among themselves, and then with Rome. But we see on all sides among them the rudest and most original independence. Here the great unity and centralization of the Church were as models to the State, that little by little arose to a similar concept. We have only to follow, for instance, the history of France from the days of Gregory of Tours to the foundation of the Capetian monarchy, to see how the churchmen contributed to the unification and solidarity of that great State. So, too, in England, the separate little kingdoms are brought ever closer together under the influence of Canterbury, its bishops, its synods, and the general unity of ecclesiastical life that was there constantly visible since the time of St. Augustine. The mixed synods and councils of the early Middle Ages in England, Germany, France, Spain, were also a training school for the lay governors of society. They learned from the better educated ecclesiastics how to conduct popular assemblies with something more than the rude simplicity of their German forefathers by the Rhine or the Elbe.
They learned, as we have seen, the use of written records, the patient sustaining of contradiction, the yielding to the majority, the power of eloquence and learning. But they learned something holier still -- to look on public life from a moral point of view, to consider their offices as a trust from God, to become familiar with the idea that all power was from God and not from their great spears and their strong arms. Little by little generations of rulers were formed who owned enlightened consciences and listened to them, instead of the wild passions that were once their sole guides. Far deeper and more immediate than the influences of Rome and Greece on the modern state are the Christian influences. These are original and organic, the former academic and secondary. Later, indeed, the common missionary enterprises, the opposition to Islam, the Crusades, bound all Christendom together in links of common sacrifice and ideals that could nevermore be forgotten.
I have already called attention to the signal services rendered by the Church in all that pertains to the administration of justice, the cornerstone of human society. In the preservation of the Roman procedure, the new views of the nature and uses of punishment as a "medicinalis operatio," in the obstacle that the right of asylum set against unjust vindictive haste, in the introduction of written evidence, she ‘saved some admirable old elements and added some new ones to the civil life of European peoples.
The sanctity of oaths was insisted on by her, and the utmost horror of perjury inculcated. In the great mediaeval veneration for the relics of the saints and martyrs and confessors she, found a fresh means of compelling veracity and obedience on the part of the wicked and tyrannical. Many a wild baron or marauding noble cowered when he was asked to swear or promise by the relics of St. Cuthbert or St. Columbanus, St. Genevieve or St. Martin, and gave back ill-gotten gains that a king could not have taken from him.
If we would understand well the Middle Ages, we must ever keep in view that in those times public life was dominated by two great functional ideas -- the sense of personality and the sense of responsibility. Throughout those centuries, it was the universal persuasion that the final end of society was the perfection of each individual soul, or rather, its individual salvation. Not the comforts of life, nor an increasing refinement and complexity of earthly pleasures, not the scouring of earth and sea to minister to one hour's enjoyment, were the ideals of the best men and women of those times. Neither did they seek in the organic development of the collective unit, the earthly society, their last and sufficient end. To them it seemed that human society was organized, not as an end in itself, but as a means to enable men to know, love, and serve the Master on this earth and be happy with Him in the next. Whatever furthered these views of life was good, and all things were bad or indifferent in the measure that they fell away from or were useless for this end. This is why the great men of the Middle Ages are not its warriors, not its legislators, not even its great priests and bishops, but its saints. In a closer personal union with God men found the highest uses and meanings of life. It was a temperament essentially spiritual, mystic, that forever urged men and women to neglect, even despise, what was temporary or earthly, to aspire to a world beyond the low horizon of threescore-ten and the grave. Holiness, a god-like purity of mind and heart, thorough detachment from the mortal and attachment to the immortal and the divine, was the keynote of this thousand years.
During this time it is in saintly men like Patrick, Columbanus, Benedict, Boniface, Norbert, Bernard, Thomas of Aquino, Dominic, and Francis of Assisi; in saintly women like Bridget, Radegunda, Cunegonda, Elizabeth, Catharine of Sienna, that we must look for the fine flower of Christian growth. Since the Renaissance, with its reassertion of the basic principles of paganism, it has been ever more fashionable to tax the Middle Ages with an impossible mysticism, with an unjust contempt for the beauty and comfort of the human body, with a false view of man's relations to the earth on which he lives and subsists, and the society to which he necessarily belongs. It is not my purpose just now to defend the mediaeval view, other than to say that is more magnetism, more genuine inspiration, in such a world and life than in a period of golden but general elevation, when all is mediocre by the mere fact that no one rises much above the general level. Just so, there are those who believe that the rude hard life of the early history of our country developed more superior character than the cosmopolitan perfection we now enjoy; that the strenuous days of the pioneers brought out more virtue than the finished municipal organism of the present; that the true use of history consists in the great characters it reveals and uplifts; that one view of the solitary white peaks of the Rockies is worth a week's journey across the fat plains of the Red River or Manitoba.
Just because the view of life popular in the Middle Ages pivoted on personality, it was replete to the saturation point with a sense of responsibility. How this affected the relations of man with God I have just indicated. It was the true source of sanctity, and its prevalence is shown by the great multitude of holy men and women who meet us on every page of mediaeval history and in every stage of its evolution. In man's dealings with society, it affected profoundly his concept of public office. According to Christian teaching all power comes from God and is held for the benefit of one's fellow-mortals. It is not a personal inheritance, a thing transmissible or to be disposed of by private will. Power over others is vicarious, the act of an agent, and as such its use is to be accounted for. The Church had not to go far to impress that idea on the clergy. It was brought out in letters of gold in the pastoral epistles of St. Paul, who only develops the idea set forth in the gospel. It was otherwise with the civil power. The lucky soldier who rose to wear the imperial purple had no education save that of the camp. The fierce Frank or Burgundian noble who had waded through blood to the high seat of Merovingian kingship thought only to enjoy the fruit of his courage and good fortune. But they met a priest at the foot of the throne who warned them that the power was not theirs, but a trust from God; they heard a voice from the altar on holydays depicting the true kingship, that of David, of Solomon, of Constantine, of Gratian. They met at the council-table venerable bishops and abbots who discussed all methods from a view-point of divine revelation — notably of Christian history and the spirit of Jesus Christ. There was anger enough at this perpetual schooling, wild outbursts of passion that they could have no peace with these obstinate priests, fierce excesses of cruelty and periods of reaction. But the Catholic clergy succeeded in stilling the furnaces of passion that were the barbarian royal hearts, and in creating a public opinion in favor of an ideal Christian ruler. And when once a great ruler like Charlemagne had risen to incarnate so many Christian public virtues of a master of men, his memory was held in benediction by all, and his shadow fell across all the centuries to come, blotting out the irregular and bloody past, and forecasting the great royal saints of a later day -- a Henry of Germany, an Elizabeth of Thuringia, an Edward of England, a Stephen of Hungary, a Louis of France, a Wenceslaus of Bohemia. In time, this practical education of mediaeval rulers became academic, and we have a long catalogue of "instructions" for kings, "warnings" for kings, beginning with the golden booklet of the deacon Agapetus to his master the great Emperor Justinian, and coming down over seven hundred years to the fine treatise attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, "On the Government of Princes." You will see little reference to such. in the ordinary histories of pedagogy. Yet they have had profound influence in forming royal youth at a time when the happiness of peoples depended much on the personality of their rulers. Public office was therefore a quasi-priestly thing in the Middle Ages, a trust, a deposit, and the proper administration of it a knightly thing, something to affect the conscience almost like the honor of the soldier or the good name of woman.
No doubt there was plenty of human weakness, plenty of hideous contradiction of those ideals. But the ideals themselves were held up and even realized. Thereby no European people could fall into utter servitude morally and mentally like the subjects of imperial Rome or the millions of bureaucratic China. In the resplendent gospel of Jesus Christ, in the self-identical and constant teachings of His Church, in the great and shining examples of His saints, there was a source of self-judgment and self-uplifting that could never be quite dried up, and which, from time to time, the Angel of Reform came down and touched with salutary effect.
There is a story told of Ataulf, the general of the Goths and the successor of Alaric, the conqueror of Rome, at the beginning of this period, that he had long meditated the extinction of the and the principles, of social authority in the State, such as it had been evolved at Rome in the long conflict of peoples and races that kept steadily widening from the Tiber to the extremities of the habitable world. The homely republican virtues of Old Rome, the humane and discriminating soul of Greek philosophy, the vast ambitions of the Orient, the tradition of a golden age of equality and simplicity, the profound knowledge of the average human mind and its norms of action, a religious respect for distributive justice, a great sense of the utility and loveliness of peace and harmony -- all these are so many visible traits or elements of the Roman law that render it applicable in all times to all mankind -- what St. Augustine used to call "human reason itself set down in writing."
This law the Catholic Church through Europe elected to live by herself, at a time when every barbarian had the rude law of his own forest or mountains. Wherever a Catholic bishop governed, or a priest went as a missionary, he bore with him the fulness of the law of Rome. It clung to his person when the civil centres were laid desolate, Rome, Milan, London and York, Saragossa, Paris, Trier, Cologne. The law of contracts, the law of last wills and testaments, the laws that govern the life of the citizen in the walled town and the peasant in the open field, the general principles and the practical case-law that Rome had been creating from the Rhine to the Euphrates and from the Grampians to Mount Atlas, were now in the custody of the same hands that bore aloft the gospel through the forests of Germany, or uplifted the Christian sacrifice over the smoking ruins of the proudest cities of ancient Europe.
It is owing to the Catholic Church that we now enjoy a regular procedure in the administration of law. Our legal procedure is substantially that of the Roman law. The barbarian peoples long detested the regular slow order of Roman justice. They despised the written proof, the summoning of witnesses, the delays, exceptions, and appeals that secure the innocent or helpless from oppression, and compel even the most reluctant to acknowledge the justice of condemnation. In all these centuries the Church applied this procedure to her own clerics in every land, and embodied it in the Canon Law that was the same the world over, as Roman law had been the same the world over. The justice of the barbarian was summary, violent, and productive of endless vendettas. The terrible German Faustrecht, the Vehmgerichte of the Middle Ages, like the work of our lynching committees, were a last relic of what was once universal. After the fall of the Roman power, there was no one but the Catholic Church to represent the social authority as such over against the wild and savage feelings of a multitude of barbarians, intoxicated with the glory of conquest and the riches of the degenerate but luxurious world of Gaul and Italy. When Clovis, the founder of the French monarchy, was distributing the booty after a great battle, he set aside for himself a tall and precious vase. Thereupon a great Frank stepped out of the ranks, and with his spear shattered the vase in pieces. "O King, thou shalt have thy share," he cried, "and no more!" Clovis swallowed his wrath. The next year while reviewing his army, he passed before his bold contradictor, and noticing some negligence about his dress, bade him correct it. As the latter stooped to tie the string of his shoe, the king lifted his own huge spear and drove it through the neck of the soldier. Thus a victorious king administered justice, and it is typical of what went on for centuries through Europe.
It was the bishops of the Church who induced the barbarians to temper their own laws and customs with the law of Rome. And whatever laws we study -- those of France, or Germany, or Spain, or England, or Ireland -- we shall find that when we come to the line where they emerge from barbarism or paganism, the transition is effected by Catholic bishops and priests. Throughout the Middle Ages all law was looked on as coming from God, as holy, and therefore in a way subject to the approval and custody of the Church. It was the crown of the moral order, the basis of right conduct, and hence the royal chanceries of Europe were always governed by an ecclesiastic, whose duty it was to enlighten the king's conscience, and to see that neither the gospel nor the spirit of it were infringed.
The hasty, vindictive quality of barbarian justice was long tempered by the Right of Asylum, which the churches and great monasteries afforded. The greatest criminals could find shelter there, as in the Cities of Refuge of Israel, if not against punishment, at least against punishment without trial or defence.
On the judge's bench one could often see the Catholic bishop, sometimes administering the law of the State by order of the king, sometimes the counsellor of a soldier or noble ignorant of law and procedure, sometimes the defender of a town or city overburdened with taxes or tributes, sometimes the lawyer of the oppressed and the innocent. He is the real man of law, the real representative of order and justice, and for many long centuries the whole fabric of society depended on the succession of good and devoted men in the hierarchy of the Church throughout Europe. They kept alive the sanctity of oaths, without which there is no sure justice. The latter is based on the fear of God, and only the Catholic Church could emphasize that idea in those ages of bloodshed and violence. It was well that such men feared something -- the anger of God, the wrath of the saints over whose relics they swore, the pains of hell --otherwise there would have been no bounds to the arbitrary excesses of a feudal aristocracy that despised all beneath it, and was ready to cut down with the sword any attempt to dominate it. Let any one read the private lives of some Merovingian. and Caroling kings, or the annals that tell the story of Italy in the tenth century and again in the fourteenth, and he will see to what depths of impious blasphemy the mediaeval man could sink when he once lost his fear of the Catholic Church.
It was the Catholic clergy who taught these barbarians how to administer society, who wrote out the formulas of government, the charters, the diplomas, the numerous documents needed to carry on the smallest community where there is any respect for property, office, personal rights and duties. From the registry of fields and houses to the correspondence between king and king, between emperor and pope, all the writing of the Middle Ages was long in the hands of the clergy. Thereby they saved to the commonwealths of Europe in their infancy no little remnant of old Roman habits of government, traditions of economy, order, equity, that they had taken over from the hands of the laymen of Rome during the fifth century, when the empire was breaking up every year, like a ship upon cruel rocks in a night of storm and despair.
In these centuries the frequent synods and councils of the bishops and priests were to the world of Europe what our Parliament and Congress are to-day. The brain and the heart of Europe was then the Catholic clergy. In their frequent meetings the barbarian could see how to conduct a public assembly, the distinction of rank and office, the uses of written records and documents, the individual self- assertion, and the vote by majorities, the appeals to experience, to history, to past meetings, to the law of God in the Old and New Testament. He could see the stern and even justice dealt out by the ecclesiastics to their own delinquent members -- deposition, degradation, exile. He could see how these churchmen, when gathered together, feared no earthly power, and asserted the rights of the poor and the lowly against every oppression, however high placed. He could see how they feared no condition of men, and reproved popular vices as well as royal lust and avarice. He could see how every order and estate in the Church had its right to representation in these synods and councils. The day will come in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when civil parliaments will arise -- the first germs of the great legislative bodies of our day -- but their cradle will always remain the mediaeval meeting in which churchmen, and often the laymen with them, laid the first beams of constitutional government.
When we say that the Catholic Church was the principal almost the only educator of the Middle Ages, we assert a fact that to all historians is as evident as sunlight. To begin with, all the schools were hers. Such schools as were saved here and there in Southern France and Northern Italy out of the wreck of the Roman State and Empire were saved by her. Her bishops, indeed, from the fifth to the eighth century were more bent on the defence of the weak and the poor than on aught else, on the conquest of the barbarian character, the quenching of its fires of avarice, luxury, lawlessness. Nevertheless, many were patrons of learning, like St. Avitus of Vienne, from whose writings Milton did not disdain to borrow more than one beauty of his "Paradise Lost"; St. Caesarius of Aries, a patron of learning whose relative, St. Caesaria, was one of the first to impose on the nuns of her community the copying and illumination of manuscripts; St. Nicetius of Trier, St. Gregory of Tours, and many other similar men. But, generally, all such men considered that they were in a conflagration, in a storm; the principal education was that of their wild and ferocious masters. Let any one read the pages of Gregory of Tours in his Ecclesiastical History of the Franks, or the charming volume of Augustine Thierry on the Merovingian kings and their courts, and he will understand what a great and hard task lay before these Gallo-Roman bishops, who stood for law and order and civilization, as well as religion, against victorious barbarians whose veneer of refinement only hid the hottest fires of human passion.
The schools which every Catholic bishop from the beginning necessarily conducted, in order to keep up an enlightened clergy, were never abandoned. The archdeacon, in this savage time, looked after them. They are numerous in Gaul, in Italy, in Spain. The classics are studied in them, the history of the Christian Church, the laws of the Church and the State. Schoolmasters arose, like Boethius, Cassiodorus, and later the saintly Bede, Isidore of Seville, and Alcuin, not to speak of the multitude of Irish masters. The manuals and teaching of these men lasted in many places fully one thousand years. It was not the highest standard of learning, but it was all that could be hoped for, and much more than the great majority wanted in a period of blood and iron, when society was a-forming again, and men could seriously ask themselves whether one hour of bestial enjoyment was not worth a century of study. Side by side with the numerous episcopal schools went the little schools of the new monasteries, where the novices of the Benedictines, the children of their peasants, those of the nobles who had any idealism, could and did learn the principles and elements of reading, writing, arithmetic, eloquence, music, geometry, and geography. The art of handwriting was kept up, and the skill of the ancients in decorating manuscripts was saved. Out of it, as out of a chrysalis, shall one day come a Raphael and a Michael Angelo. The bishops profited by the good dispositions of Charlemagne and other upright kings, like Alfred of England, to inculcate a love of learning and to keep alive their schools and the supply of masters -- no easy thing in the darkest days of the Middle Ages, when culture was timid and stay-at-home. Much refinement was kept alive within the peaceful precincts of the nunneries all over Europe. The noble pages of Count Montalembert on the Anglo-Saxon nuns ought to be read by all. The art of embroidery, of lace-working, of delicate handiwork in cloth and leather, the skill in illuminating and the covering of books, the domestic art of cooking, the arts that flourish in the immediate shadow of the altar, and those nameless graces of adornment that woman bears everywhere with her as an atmosphere -- all flourished in these homes of virtue, calm and reserved amid the din of war, themselves an element of education in Christian eyes, since they upheld the great basic principles of our religion -- self-restraint and self- denial.
We shall leave to the Arabs of Spain the merit and the credit honestly due them for their refinement and their civilization at a time when Christendom was surely inferior in many ways. But the Christendom of the ninth and tenth centuries was necessarily armed to the teeth against these very Spanish Arabs, in whose blood the new tinge of Greek culture, caught from learned Jews and Oriental Christianity, was too weak surely to withstand the hot current of the desert that surged successfully within them. Christianity has what no other religion has - - a divine power of reform, which is nothing else than an uplifting of the common heart to its Divine Founder, a cry of Peccavi, and an honest resolution to live again by His spirit and His principles. It cannot, therefore, sink beneath a certain level, cannot become utterly sensual, utterly barbarous and pagan.
The Middle Ages had two schools, wherein the individual heart could always, at any and every moment, rise to the highest level -- the worship of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and the loving veneration of His Blessed Mother. The former was a perpetual spring of noble conceptions of life, a spur of godliness, an incentive to repentance, a live coal on every altar, whose perfume penetrated all who am proached, and attracted and consumed with the holiest of loves the very susceptible hearts of mediaeval men and women not yet "blas‚s" with the deceptions of materialism, yet living in and by faith, yet believing in God, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. All the architecture and fine arts of the Middle Ages are there. They are thank-offerings, creations of love, and as such, stamped with an individual something, a personal note that disappears when faith grows cold. In the "Lauda Sion Salvatorem," of St. Thomas, we hear the most majestic expression of the influence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament on the daily spiritual life of mediaeval Europe, just as the Duomo of Orvieto reflects His action upon the hearts of the artists of Italy, and the feast of Corpus Christi enshrines forever His plastic transforming power in the widening and deepening of the Christian liturgy.
As to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Middle Ages were solicited on all sides by the mystery and the beauty of this type. Only once did it enter the mind of man to imagine in one and the same woman the serenity of the noblest matron, the pathos of the most loving motherhood, and the white splendor of stainless maidenhood! Only once did the heavens bend so close to the earth, and leave a human heart glorified as a pledge of their love, as an earnest of their value and their reality, as a souvenir of long-forgotten days of primal innocence and joy! With an unerring Greek sense of order and beauty, the earliest Christian artists seized on this new, transforming, moulding idea. They saw in it something sacramental, something that was at once a symbol and a force. Jesus had proclaimed that God was love, and His religion therefore a service of love. In the Maiden Mary that idea of love was tangible, immediate, eloquent, in our poor human way.
True, there was the supreme beauty of the Godhead, of Jesus Christ! But that was an original, flawless, essential beauty. It shone all too remotely, too sternly and solemnly; the earthly element was there, indeed, but suffering, shot through with hideous streaks of sorrow and debasement.
But here in this type of the Mother and Child that divine love which is the root and the crown of Christianity, its sap and support, is brought within human reach. We can handle its strong fires, as it were, without being scorched or wasted by them.* Between the puissant Maker, the omniscient Judge, and our littleness there is interposed a thoroughly human figure of sympathy, pity, and tenderness all made up, herself the most lovely creation of the divine hands, and yet the most human of our kind.
I make only passing reference to the great universities of the Middle Ages. Every one knows that from Paris to Glasgow, from Bologna to Aberdeen, they are papal creations, living and thriving on the universal character and privileges they drew from the papal recognition. Only a universal world-power like the papacy could create schools of universal knowledge, and lend to their degrees a universal value. I hasten to bring out some less familiar views of the influences of Catholicism as an educational force. There are many kinds of education, and not all of it is gotten from books or under the shadow of the pedagogue's severe visage.
It is true that the education given by the Catholic Church was very largely for ecclesiastics. Still, there was a great deal more of lay education than is usually admitted, especially in France and Italy. From the renaissance of the Roman law in the twelfth century, laymen had the most distinguished careers open to them, and as time went on they practically monopolized the great wealth that always follows the complication and intricacies of the law. However, the churchmen used their education, on the whole, for the popular good. Every cathedral in Europe was a seat of good government. There traditions of justice and equity were administered with an eye to the new needs of the times. There was learning with charity, affection for the multitudes with inherited practice of self-sacrifice. Often the only power to resist the excesses of feudalism and to insist on the common rights of man was the bishop. In his immortal tale of the "Promessi Sposi," Alessandro Manzoni has drawn with a master-hand the portrait of a great bishop in conflict with a feudal master. That this bishop was really Fed erigo Borromeo, a near relative of St. Charles Borromeo, does not detract from the truth or interest of the portrayal. Every monastery was a home of the peaceful arts, domestic and agricultural. The great educational virtues of order, economy, regularity, division of labor, foresight, and the like, were taught in each together with other useful virtues, like patience, humility, submission -- those elements of the poor man's philosophy that are as useful to-day when a Tolstoi preaches them, as they were when Christ gave the example that alone makes them practicable, and as they will be when the hot fevers of our changing conditions have burned out, and we settle down again to one of those long cycles of social immobility that have their function in the vast round of human life, as sleep has in the daily life of the individual. By its very nature, the details of the popular education of the Middle Ages escape us. There are no written annals for the poor and the lowly. Yet all over Europe there went on daily a profitable education of the masses as to their true origin and end, the nature value and uses of life, the nature and sanctity of duty, calling, estate. Every church was a forum of Christian politics, where the people were formed easily and regularly by thousands of devoted parish priests, whose names are written in the Book of Life, who walked this earth blamelessly, and who were the true schoolmasters of European mankind in the days of its infancy and first helpless youth. Let any one read "Ekkehard," the noble historical romance of Victor Scheffel, and the still nobler poem of Weber, "Dreizehnlinden," and he will see, done by two hands of genius, the process that is otherwise written in all the chronicles and laws of Europe; in all its institutions, and the great facts of its history as far as they affect the interests of the people. The countless churches, chapels, oratories, were like so many open museums and galleries, where the eye gained a sense of color and outline, the mind a wider range of historical information, and the heart many a consolation. They were the books of the people, fitted to their aptitudes, located where they were needed, forever open to the reaper in the field, the tired traveller on his way, the women and children of the village or hamlet. They were so many silent pulpits, out of which the loving Jesus looked down and taught men from His cross, from His, tabernacle, the true education of equality, fraternity, patience -- all healing virtues of His great heart.
From Otranto tp Drontheim, from the Hebrides and Greenland to the Black Sea, there went on this effective preaching, this largest possible education for real life. In it whole peoples were the pupils, and the Catholic Church was the mistress. When it was done, out of semi-savages she had made polite and industrious nations; out of ignorant and brutal warriors she had made Christian knights and soldiers; out of enemies of the fine arts and their rude destroyers she had made a new world of most cunning artificers and craftsmen; out of the scum and slime of humanity that the Roman beat down with his sword and the Greek drew back from with horror, she had made gentlemen like Bayard and ladies like Blanche of France and Isabel of Castile.
In the history of mankind this was never seen before, and will, perhaps, never be seen again. How was the wonder accomplished that the Slav, dreamy and mystical, should feel and act like the fierce and violent Teuton; that the highly individual and romantic Keltic soul should suffer the yoke of Roman order and discipline? How came it about that all over Europe there was a common understanding as to the principles of life, of mutual human relations, of the dealings of one society with another? How could it be that the word of an aged man at Rome should be borne with the swiftness of the wind to every little church, to every castled crag, to every forgotten hamlet and remote valley of the Alps or the Pyrenees, and be listened to with reverence and submission? How was this absolute conquest, for conquest it was, of the human heart accomplished? Very largely by the Liturgy of the Catholic Church. It was a conquest of prayer, the public prayer of the Catholic Church. This organized worship of God lies at the basis of all European civilization, and it is the just boast of Catholicism, that such as it is, it is her work. When we take up a Roman Missal, we take up the book that more than any other transformed the world of barbarism. In it lie the ordinary public worship of the Catholic Church, the service of the Mass, the gospels broken up into short paragraphs, the marrow of the life-wisdom of the Old Testament, the deposit of world-experience that her great bishops and priests had gained, profound but true comments of the Church herself, hymns of astonishing beauty, tenderness, and rapture, prayers that are like ladders of light from the heart of man to the feet of his Maker. It is this public prayer that ensouled every church, from the wooden chapels of Ireland or Norway to the high embossed roof of Westminster or Cologne. This prayer first inflamed the heart of the priest, and put into his mouth a tongue of irresistible conviction, and, therefore, of unction and eloquence. After all, it was nothing but the Scripture of the Old and the New Testament; but it was the Scripture announced, spoken, sung, preached; the Scripture appealing to the public heart with every art that man was capable of using to make it triumph. There was never a more profound historical error than to imagine that the Middle Ages were ignorant of the Scriptures. Let any one who yet labors under the delusion read the epoch-making book of two learned writers, Schwarz and Laib, on the Poor Man's Bible in the Middle Ages.
So there grew up the concept of solidarity, of a Christian people bound together by ties holier and deeper than race, or tongue, or nationality, or human culture could create -- a sense of mutual responsibility, a public conscience, and a public will. What is known as public opinion is in reality a mediaeval product; for then first the world saw all mankind, of Europe at least, possessed of common views and conscious of their moral value and necessity.
In so far as public opinion is an educational force, it is the result of those frequent appeals that the clergy of the Middle Ages made to a higher law and a higher order of ideas than human ingenuity or force could command -- it is the result of a thousand conflicts like those about royal marriages and divorces that at once rise to a supernatural level, of as many dead-locks like that between Henry IV. of Germany and Gregory VII., where the independence, the very existence, of the spiritual power was at stake. The only weapons of the Church were moral ones, popular faith in her office and her rights, universal popular respect for her tangible and visible services, popular affection for her as the mystical Bride of Christ, a popular conviction that she alone stood between armed rapacity and the incipient liberties of the people.
There is a very subtle and remarkable educational influence of the Catholic Church that is not often appreciated at its full value -- I mean her share in the preservation and formation of the great modern vernaculars, such as English, German, Irish, the Slavonic tongues. Even languages like French, Italian, and Spanish, the Romance tongues, formed from the everyday or rustic Latin of the soldiers and the traders of Rome, her peasants and slaves, owe a great deal to the affection and solicitude of the Church. In all these tongues there was always a certain amount of instruction provided for the people. The missionaries had to learn them, to explain the great truths in them, and to deal day by day with the fierce German, the turbulent Slav, the high-spirited Kelt. It has always been the policy of the Catholic Church to respect the natural and traditional in every people so far as they have not gotten utterly corrupted. From Caedmon down, the earliest monuments of Anglo-Saxon literature are nearly all ecclesiastical, and all of it has been saved by ecclesiastics. The earliest extensive written monument of the German tongues is the famous Heliand or paraphrase of the gospel, all imbued with the high warlike spirit of the ancient Teutons. All that we have of the old Gothic tongue, the basis of German philology, has come down to us through the translation of the Bible by the good Bishop Ulfilas out of the Vulgate into Gothic, or from the solicitude of St. Columbanus and his Irish companions to convert the Arian Goths of Lombardy. These languages were once rude and coarse; they got a high content, the thought of Greece and Rome, through the Catholic churchman. They took on higher and newer grammatical forms in the same way. Spiritual ideas entered them, and a whole world of images and linguistic helps came from a knowledge of the Scriptures that were daily expounded in them. Through the Old Testament the history of the world entered these tongues as explained by Catholic priests. Their pagan coarseness and vulgarity were toned down or utterly destroyed. St. Patrick and his bishops and poets, we are told, examined the Brehon Law of the Irish and blessed it, except what was against the gospel or the natural law. Then he bade the poet Dubtach put a thread of verse about it, that is, cast it into metrical form. The first Irish missionaries in Germany, like St. Gall and St. Kilian, spoke to the people both in Latin and in German, and it is believed that the first German dictionary was their wqrk, for the needs of preaching and intercourse. Some shadow of the majesty of Rome thus fell upon the modern tongues from the beginning, sbme infusion of the subtleness and delicacy of the Greek mind fell to their lot. The mental toil and victory and glory of a thousand years were thus saved, at least in part. The Catholic Church was the bridge over which these great and desirable goods came down in a long night of confusion and disorder. The great epics of France and Germany, the Chansons de Geste, were saved in the monasteries or with the connivance of monks, to whom the wandering singers were very dear in spite of their satire and free tongues. The "Chanson de Roland," the "Lied of the Nibelungs," the "Lied of Gudrun," the great Sagas and Edda of the Northland, owe their preservation and no little of their content, color, and form, to the interest of monks and churchmen in the saving of old stories, old fables, and old genealogies, especially after the first period of national conversion had gone by. We have yet in Irish a lovely tale, the "Colloquy of Ossian with St. Patrick," in which the average sympathy of the Old Irish cleric for the relics of the past and his just sense of their spirit and meaning are brought out very vividly and picturesquely.
It is in the Romance languages that the noble institution of chivalry that L‚on Gautier has so perfectly described found its best expression; that the roots of all modern poetry that will live are now known to lie; that the introspective and meditative phases of the literary spirit first showed themselves on a large scale; that the intensely personal note of Christianity comes out quite free and natural, unattended by that distracting perfection of form that the classic Latin and Greek could not help offering; that purely personal virtues like courage, honor, loyalty in man, fidelity, tenderness, gentleness, moral beauty in woman, are brought out as the highest natural goods of life, in contradiction to the Greek and Roman who looked on the great political virtues and the commonwealth, the State itself, as the only fit ideals of humanity. Thereby, to say the least, they excluded the weaker sex from its due share in all life and from public recognition of those excellencies by which alone it could hope to shine and excel. One day the labor of ages blossomed in a perfect and centennial flower, the "Divina Commedia" of Dante, that has ten thousand roots in the daily life, the common doctrine and discipline of the Catholic Church, and remains forever an unapproachable document of the medheval genius, indeed, but also the immortal proof of how thoroughly the Catholic Church had educated the popular mind and heart in all that was good, true, and worthy of imitation, in antiquity as well as in the history that then as now men were making from day to day. He was conscious himself that heaven and earth had built up the poem in his great heart. Perhaps he was also conscious that God was making of him another Homer, another Vergil, out of whose glorious lines all future ages should, even despite themselves, drink a divine ichor -- the spirit of Jesus Christ as exemplified in Catholicism.
Under the aegis of this extraordinary power of the Church, there grew up a common mental culture,based on religion and penetrated with its spirit. There was one language of scholarship and refinement -- the Latin -- that often rose to a height not unworthy of its original splendor. Something common and universal marked all the arts, and the workman of Italy or Germany might exercise his craft with ease and profit in England or Spain. Within the Catholic fold the freedom of association was unlimited, not only for religious purposes, but for all economic and artistic ones as well. Human energy essayed every channel of endeavor, and in some, notably in architecture, has never soared so high in the centuries that followed.
One result of this solidarity of thought and purpose was the creation of what we call the Western mind and spirit, a complex ideal view of life that differs from the past views of Greek and Roman, as it is in many respects opposed to the life-philosophy of the Eastern world. Human liberty and equality, hopefulness in progress, a spirit of advance, of self-reliance --an optimism, in other words -- are among its connoting marks. All this is older and deeper than anything of the last three or four centuries. It was in the Catholic Italian Columbus, venturing out upon the unknown ocean, and his Portuguese predecessors, in the Conquistadori, in the endless attempts to penetrate China and the East from Marco Polo and the Franciscan missionaries down, in the Crusaders, in the long and successful resistance of Hungary, Poland, and Austria to the advance of Islam. Here, indeed, the Western world owes a debt of gratitude to those who arrested the teachings and the spirit of the camel-driver of Mecca. No one saw better than the bishops of Rome that the world might not stand still; that the eternal antithesis of the East and West was on again; that the fierce impact of Islam breaking against the walls of Constantinople was nothing in comparison with its boglike encroachments at every point of contact with Europe. It is a pathetic tale -- their tears, implorings, and objurgations. Something they accomplished. But if the Oriental problem is still quivering with life; if Western civilization, that is in all essentials Catholic civilization, has to go again at the mighty task -- but this time from the setting sun instead of from Jerusalem and St. Jean d'Acre -- it is because one day, shortly after the fall of Constantinople in 1452, the powers of Europe left the Bishop of Rome at Ancona call on them in vain to go out with the little pontifical fleet and retake from the unspeakable Turk the city of Constantinople. Pius II., not the kings of Europe, was the real statesman, as every succeeding decade shows. However, the popes estopped the fatalism and dry rot of Islam from the possession of the Danube; they loaned indirectly to the Grand Dukes of Muscovy the strength out of which they one day. carved the office of Czar; their influence was felt in all the Balkan peninsula; their city was the one spot where an intelligent and disinterested observation of events by the Golden Horn went on. Better, after all, a thousand times, a Europe torn by domestic religious dissension, than a Europe, perhaps an America, caught in the deadly anaconda-folds of Islam, that never yet failed to smother all mental and civil progress, and has thereby declared itself the most immoral of all religious forces known to history!
Other phases there are of Catholicism as a plastic formative power in the life of the peoples of Europe, as the creator of their distinctive institutions; they may come up for brief notice at another time. Thus, the institution of chivalry, with its mystic idealization of woman; the ever-increasing authority and influence of woman herself; the honor of saintly character, essentially, like woman, unwarlike; the function of the pilgrim, the monk, the papal envoy, as disseminators of general views and principles; the publication of great papal documents, with their lengthy arguments; the multitude of friars drawing their office and authority from a central source and upholding. its prestige at every village cross; the history of the Church as related from ten thousand pulpits; the genuine influence of the great festivals, general and local; the public penances; the frequent striking renunciation of high office and worldly comforts; the frequent reformation of manners; the increasing use of objects of piety, of the fine arts, as a spur or a lever for devotion -- all these and other agencies were everywhere and at once at work, and helped to give the mediaeval life that intense charm of motion, color, and variety that every student of history must always find in it.
* "Rugged and unlovely, indeed, was all that the outward aspect of religion at first presented to the world; it was the contrast presented by the dim and dreary Catacombs underground to the pure and brilliant Italian sky and the monuments of Roman wealth and magnificence above. But in that poor and mean society, which cared so little for the things of sense and sight, there were nourished and growing up -- for, indeed, it was the Church of the God of all glory and all beauty, the chosen home of the Eternal creating Spirit -- thoughts of a perfect beauty above this world; of a light and a glory which the sun could never see; of types, in character and in form, of grace, of sweetness, of nobleness, of tenderness, of perfection, which could find no home in time -- which were the eternal and the unseen on which human life bordered, and which was to it, indeed, 'no foreign land.' There these Romans unlearned their old hardness and gained a new language and new faculties. Hardly and with difficulty, and with scanty success, did they at first strive to express what glowed with such magnificence to their inward eye, and kindled their souls within them. Their efforts were rude -- rude in art, often hardly less rude in language. But that divine and manifold idea before them, they knew that it was a reality; it should not escape them, though it still baffled them -- they would not let it go. And so, step by step, age after age, as it continued to haunt their minds, it gradually grew into greater distinctness and expression. From thb rough attempts in the catacombs or the later mosaics, in all their roughness so instinct with the majesty and tenderness and severe sweetness of the thoughts which inspired them -- from the emblems and types and figures, the trees and rivers of Paradise, the dove of peace, the palms of triumph, the Good Shepherd, the heart no longer 'desiring,' but at last tasting 'the waterbrooks,' from the faint and hesitating adumbrations of the most awful of human countenances -- from all these feeble but earnest attempts to body forth what the soul was full of, Christian art passed, with persistent undismayed advance, through the struggles of the Middle Ages to the inexpressible delicacy and beauty of Giotto and Fra Angelico, to the Last supper of Leonardo, to the highest that the human mind ever imagined of tenderness and unearthly majesty, in the Mother and the Divine Son of the Madonna di San Sisto." -- Dean Church in "Gifts of Civilization" (1892), pp. 208-9.
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