The Ruin of the Roman EmpireWE have seen the church secure the enactment of laws by which she could enforce church discipline upon all the people, whether in the church or not. We have seen her next extend her encroachments upon the civil power, until the whole system of civil jurisprudence, as such, was destroyed by being made religious. We shall now see how the evils thus engendered, and like dragon''s teeth sown broadcast, with another element of the monstrous evil planted by Constantine and the bishops, caused the final and fearful ruin of the Roman empire.
Among the first of the acts of Constantine in his favors to the church was, as has been shown on page 290 of this book, the appropriation of money from the public treasury to the bishops.
Another enactment, A. D. 321, of the same character, but which was of vastly more importance, was his granting to the church the right to receive legacies. "This was a law which expressly secured to the churches a right which, perhaps, they had already now and then tacitly exercised; namely, the right of receiving legacies, which, in the Roman empire, no corporation whatever was entitled to exercise. unless it had been expressly authorized to do so by the State." -- Neander.1
Some estimate of this enactment may be derived from the statement that "the law of Constantine which empowered the clergy of the church to receive testamentary bequests, and to hold land, was a gift which would scarcely have been exceeded if he had granted them two provinces of the empire." -- Milman.2 That which made this still more magnificent gift to the church was the view which prevailed, especially among the rich, that they could live as they pleased all their lives, and then at their death give their property to the church, and be assured a safe conduct to eternal bliss. "It became almost a sin to die without some bequest to pious uses." -- Milman.3
We have seen in the previous chapter what kind of characters were chosen to the bishopric in those times; and when such a law was now made bestowing such privileges upon such characters, it is easy to understand what use would be made of the privilege. Not content with simply receiving bequests that might voluntarily be made, they brought to bear every possible means to induce persons to bestow their goods upon the churches. They assumed the protectorship of widows and orphans, and had the property of such persons left to the care of the bishop.
Now into the coffers of the bishops, as into the coffers of the republic after the fall of Carthage, wealth came in a rolling stream of gold, and the result in this case was the same as in that. With wealth came luxury and magnificent display. The bishopric assumed a stateliness and grandeur that transcended that of the chief ministers of the empire; and that of the bishopric of Rome fairly outshone the glory of the emperor himself. He was the chief beneficiary in all these favors of Constantine.
As already related, when the emperors in the time of Diocletian began habitually to absent themselves from Rome. the bishop of Rome became the chief dignitary in the city. And by the time that Constantine moved the capital permanently from Rome, through these imperial favors the bishop of that city had acquired such a dignity that it was easy for him to step into the place of pomp and magnificent display that had before been shown by the emperor. "The bishop of Rome became a prince of the empire, and lived in a style of luxury and pomp that awakened the envy or the just indignation of the heathen writer, Marcellinus. The church was now enriched by the gifts and bequests of the pious and the timid; the bishop drew great revenues from his farms in the Campagna and his rich plantations in Sicily; he rode through the streets of Rome in a stately chariot, and clothed in gorgeous attire; his table was supplied with a profusion more than imperial; the proudest women of Rome loaded him with lavish donations, and followed him with their flatteries and attentions; and his haughty bearing and profuse luxury were remarked upon by both pagans and Christians as strangely inconsistent with the humility and simplicity enjoined by the faith which he professed." -- Eugene Lawrence.4
The offices of the church were the only ones in the empire that were elective. The bishopric of Rome was the chief of these offices. As that office was one which carried with it the command of such enormous wealth and such display of imperial magnificence, it became the object of the ambitious aspirations of every Catholic in the city; and even a heathen exclaimed, "Make me bishop of Rome, and I will be a Christian!"
Here were displayed all those elements of political strife and chicanery which were but referred to in the previous chapter. The scenes which occurred at the election of Damasus as bishop of Rome, A. D. 366, will illustrate the character of such proceedings throughout the empire, according as the particular bishopric in question compared with that of Rome. There were two candidates -- Damasus and Ursicinus -- and these two men represented respectively two factions that had been created in the contest between Liberius, bishop of Rome, and Constantius, emperor of Rome.
"The presbyters, deacons, and faithful people, who had adhered to Liberius in his exile, met in the Julian Basilica, and duly elected Ursicinus, who was consecrated by Paul. bishop of Tibur. Damasus was proclaimed by the followers of Felix, in S. M. Lucina. Damasus collected a mob of charioteers and a wild rabble, broke into the Julian Basilica, and committed great slaughter. Seven days after, having bribed a great body of ecclesiastics and the populace, and seized the Lateran Church, he was elected and consecrated bishop. Ursicinus was expelled from Rome.
"Damasus, however, continued his acts of violence. Seven presbyters of the other party were hurried prisoners to Lateran: their faction rose, rescued them, and carried them to the Basilica of Liberius. Damasus at the head of a gang of gladiators, charioteers, and laborers, with axes, swords, and clubs, stormed the church: a hundred and sixty of both sexes were barbarously killed; not one on the side of Damasus. The party of Ursicinus were obliged to withdraw, vainly petitioning for a synod of bishops to examine into the validity of the two elections.
"So long and obstinate was the conflict, that Juventius, the perfect of the city, finding his authority contemned, his forces unequal to keep the peace, retired into the neighborhood of Rome. Churches were garrisoned, churches besieged, churches stormed and deluged with blood. In one day, relates Ammianus, above one hundred and thirty dead bodies were counted in the Basilica of Sisinnius. . . Nor did the contention cease with the first discomfiture and banishment of Ursicinus: he was more than once recalled, exiled, again set up as rival bishop, and re-exiled. Another frightful massacre took place in the Church of St. Agnes. The emperor was forced to have recourse to the character and firmness of the famous heathen Praetextatus, as successor to Juventius in the government of Rome, in order to put down with impartial severity these disastrous tumults. Some years elapsed before Damasus was in undisputed possessions of his see." "But Damasus had the ladies of Rome in his favor; and the council of Valentinian was not inaccessible to bribes. New scenes of blood took place. Ursicinus was compelled at last to give up the contest." -- Milman.5
Of the bishop of Rome at this time we have the following sketch written by one who was there at the time, and had often seen him in his splendor: "I must own that when I reflect on the pomp attending that dignity, I do not at all wonder that those who are fond of show and parade, should scold, quarrel, fight, and strain every nerve to attain it; since they are sure, if they succeed, to be enriched with the offerings of the ladies; to appear no more abroad on foot, but in stately chariots, and gorgeously attired; to keep costly and sumptuous tables; nay, and to surpass the emperors themselves in the splendor and magnificence of their entertainments." -- Ammianus Marcellinus.6
The example of the bishop of Rome was followed by the whole order of bishops, each according to his degree and opportunities. Chrysostom boasted that "the heads of the empire and the governors of provinces enjoy no such honor as the rulers of the church. They are first at court, in the society of ladies, in the houses of the great. No one has precedence of them." By them were worn such titles as, "Most holy," "Most reverend," and "Most holy Lord." They were addressed in such terms as, "Thy Holiness," and "Thy Blessedness." "Kneeling, kissing of the hand, and like tokens of reverence, came to be shown them by all classes, up to the emperor himself." -- Schaff.7
The manners of the minor clergy of Rome are described by one who was well acquainted with them. "His whole care is in his dress, that it be well perfumed, that his feet may not slip about in a loose sandal; his hair is crisped with a curling-pin; his fingers glitter with rings; he walks on tiptoe lest he should splash himself with the wet soil; when you see him, you would think him a bridegroom rather than an ecclesiastic." -- Jerome.8
Such an example being set by the dignitaries in the church, these too professing to be the patterns of godliness, their example was readily followed by all in the empire who were able. Consequently, "The aristocratical life of this period seems to have been characterized by gorgeous magnificence without grandeur, inordinate luxury without refinement, the pomp and prodigality of a high state of civilization with none of its ennobling or humanizing effects. The walls of the palaces were lined with marbles of all colors, crowded with statues of inferior workmanship, mosaics of which the merit consisted in the arrangement of the stones; the cost, rather than the beauty and elegance, was the test of excellency, and the object of admiration. The nobles were surrounded with hosts of parasites, or servants. `You reckon up,'' Chrysostom thus addresses a patrician, `so many acres of land, ten or twenty palaces, as many baths, a thousand or two thousand slaves, chariots plated with silver or overlaid with gold.''
"Their banquets were merely sumptuous, without social grace or elegance. The dress of the females, the fondness for false hair sometimes wrought up to an enormous height, and especially affecting the golden dye, and for paint, from which irresistible propensities they were not to be estranged even by religion, excite the stern animadversion of the ascetic Christian teacher. `What business have rouge and paint on a Christian cheek? Who can weep for her sins when her tears wash her face bare and mark furrows on her skin? With what trust can faces be lifted up towards heaven, which the Maker cannot recognize as his own workmanship? Their necks, heads, arms, and fingers were loaded with golden chains and rings; their persons breathed precious odors; their dresses were of gold stuff and silk: and in this attire they ventured to enter the church.
"Some of the wealthier Christian matrons gave a religious air to their vanity; while the more profane wore their thin silken dresses embroidered with hunting pieces, wild beasts, or any other fanciful device, the more pious had the miracles of Christ, the marriage in Cana of Galilee, or the paralytic carrying his bed. In vain the preacher urged that it would be better to emulate these acts of charity and love, than to wear them on their garments . . . The provincial cities, according to their natural character, imitated the old and new Rome; and in all, no doubt, the nobility, or the higher order, were of the same character and habits." -- Milman.9
As in the republic of old, in the train of wealth came luxury, and in the train of luxury came vice; and as the violence now manifested in the election of the bishops was but a reproduction of the violence by which the tribunes and the consuls of the later republic were chosen, so the vices of these times were but a reproduction of the later republic and early empire -- not indeed manifested so coarsely and brutally; more refined and polished, yet essentially the same iniquitous practice of shameful vice.
Another phase of the evil: Under the law empowering the church to receive legacies, the efforts of some of the clergy to persuade people, and especially women, to bestow their wealth upon the church, took precedence of everything else.
"Some of the clergy made it the whole business and employment of their lives to learn the names of the ladies, to find out their habitations, to study their humor. One of these, an adept in the art, rises with the sun, settles the order of his visits, acquaints himself with the shortest ways, and almost breaks into the rooms of the women before they are awake. If he sees any curious piece of household furniture, he extols, admires, and handles it; and, sighing that he too should stand in need of such trifles, in the end rather extorts it by force than obtains it by good-will, the ladies being afraid to disoblige the prating old fellow that is always running about from house to house." -- Jerome.10
Because of the insatiable avarice of the Roman clergy, and because of the shameful corruption that was practiced with the means thus acquired, a law was enacted, A. D. 370. by Valentinian I, forbidding any ecclesiastics to receive any inheritance, donation, or legacy from anybody; and to let the world know that he did not complain of this hardship. the great bishop of Milan exclaimed: "We are excluded by laws lately enacted from all inheritances, donations, and legacies; yet we do not complain. And why should we? By such laws we only lose wealth; and the loss of wealth is no loss to us. Estates are lawfully bequeathed to the ministers of the heathen temples; no layman is exclude, let his condition be ever so low, let his life be ever so scandalous: clerks alone are debarred from a right common to the rest of mankind. Let a Christian widow bequeath her whole estate to a pagan priest, her will is good in law; let her bequeath the least share of it to a minister of God, her will is null. I do not mention these things by way of complaint, but only to let the world know that I do not complain." -- Ambrose.11
The fact that such a law as this had to be enacted -- a law applying only to the clergy -- furnishes decisive proof that the ecclesiastics were more vicious and more corrupt in their use of wealth than was any other class in the empire. This in fact is plainly stated by another who was present at the time: "I am ashamed to say it, the priests of the idols. the stage-players, charioteers, whores, are capable of inheriting estates, and receiving legacies; from this common privilege, clerks alone, and monks, are debarred by law: debarred not under persecuting tyrants, but Christian princes." -- Jerome.12
Nor was this all. The same pagan rites and heathen superstitions and practices, which were brought into the church when the Catholic religion became that of the empire, not only still prevailed, but were enlarged. The celebration of the rights of the mysteries still continued, only with a more decided pagan character, as time, went on, and as the number of pagans multiplied in the church. To add to their impressiveness, the mysteries in the church, as in the original Eleusinia, were celebrated in the night. As the catechumen came to the baptismal font, he "turned to the West, the realm of Satan, and thrice renounced his power; he turned to the East to adore the Sun of Righteousness, and to proclaim his compact with the Lord of Life." -- Milman.13
About the middle of the fourth century there was added another form and element of sun worship. Amongst the pagans for ages, December 25 had been celebrated as the birthday of the sun. In the reigns of Domitian and Trajan, Rome formally adopted from Persia the feast of the Persian sun-god, Mithras, as the birth festival of the unconquered sun -- Natales invicti Solis. The Church of Rome adopted this festival, and made it the birthday of Christ. And within a few years the celebration of this festival of the sun had spread throughout the whole empire east and west; the perverse-minded bishops readily sanctioning it with the argument that the pagan festival of the birth of the real sun, was a type of the festival of the birth of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness. Thus was established the church festival of Christmas.14
This custom, like the forms of sun worship -- the day of the sun, worshiping toward the East, and the mysteries -- which had already been adopted, was so closely followed that it was actually brought "as a charge against the Christians of the Catholic Church that they celebrated the Solstitia with the pagans." -- Neander.15 The worship of the sun itself was also still practiced. Pope Leo I testifies that in his time many Catholics had retained the pagan custom of paying "obeisance from some lofty eminence to the sun." And that they also "first worshipped the rising sun, paying homage to the pagan Apollo, before repairing to the Basilica of St. Peter." -- Schaff.16
The images and pictures which had formerly represented the sun were adopted and transformed into representations of Christ. How easily this was accomplished can be discerned by an examination of the accompanying illustration. And such was the origin of the "pictures of Christ;" and especially of the nimbus or halo round the heads of them.
The martyrs, whether real or imaginary, were now honored in the place of the heathen heroes. The day of their martyrdom was celebrated as their birthday, and these celebrations were conducted in the same way that the heathen celebrated the festival days of their heroes. "The festivals in honor of the martyrs were avowedly instituted, or at least conducted, on a sumptuous scale in rivalry of the banquets which formed so important and attractive a part of the pagan ceremonial. besides the earliest Agapae, which gave place to the more solemn Eucharist, there were other kinds of banquets, at marriages and funerals, called likewise Agapae." -- Milman.17
These festivals were celebrated either at the sepulchers of the martyrs or at the churches, and the day began with hymns; the history or fables of their lives and martyrdom was given; and eulogies were pronounced. "The day closed with an open banquet in which all the worshipers were invited to partake. The wealthy heathen had been accustomed to propitiate the manes of their departed friends by these costly festivals; the banquet was almost an integral part of the heathen religious ceremony. The custom passed into the church; and with the pagan feeling, the festival assumed a pagan character of gayety and joyous excitement, and even of luxury. In some places the confluence of worshipers was so great that, as in the earlier and indeed the more modern religions of Asia, the neighborhood of the more celebrated churches of the martyrs became marts for commerce, and fairs were established on those holidays.
"As the evening drew in, the solemn and religious thoughts gave way to other emotions; the wine flowed freely, and the healths of the martyrs were pledged, not unfrequently, to complete inebriety. All the luxuries of the Roman banquet were imperceptibly introduced. Dances were admitted, pantomimic spectacles were exhibited, the festivals were prolonged till late in the evening, or to midnight, so that other criminal irregularities profaned, if not the sacred edifice, its immediate neighborhood. The bishops had for some time sanctioned these pious hilarities with their presence; they had freely partaken of the banquets." -- Milman.18
So perfectly were the pagan practices duplicated in these festivals of the martyrs, that the Catholics were charged with practicing pagan rites, with the only difference that they did it apart from the pagans. This charge was made to Augustine: "You have substituted your Agapae for the sacrifices of the pagans: for their idols your martyrs, whom you serve with the very same honors. You appease the shades of the dead with wines and feasts: you celebrate the solemn festivals of the Gentiles, their calends and their solstices; and as to their manners, those you have retained without any alteration. Nothing distinguishes you from the pagans except that you hold your assemblies apart from them." -- Draper.19 And the only defense that Augustine could make was in a blundering casuistical effort to show a distinction in the nature of the two forms of worship.
In the burial of their dead, they still continued the pagan practice of putting a piece of mouth in the mount of the corpse with which the departed was to pay the charges of Charon for ferrying him over the River Styx.20
Another most prolific source of general corruption was the church''s assumption of authority to regulate, and that by law, the whole question of the marriage relation, both in the Church and in the State. "The first aggression . . . which the Church made on the State, was assuming the cognizance over all questions and causes relating to marriage." -- Milman.21
Among the clergy she attempted to enforce celibacy, that is, to prohibit marriage altogether. Monkery had arisen to a perfect delirium of popularity, and "a characteristic trait of monasticism in all its forms is a morbid aversion to female society, and a rude contempt of married life. . . . Among the rules of Basil is a prohibition of speaking with a woman, touching one, or even looking on one, except in unavoidable cases." -- Schaff.22 As monkery was so universally and so extremely popular among all classes from the height of imperial dignity to the depths of the monkish degradation itself, it became necessary for the clergy to imitate the monks in order to maintain popularity with the people. And as monkery is only an ostentatious display of self-righteousness, the contempt of married life was the easiest way for the clergy to advertise most loudly their imitation of monkish virtue.
In their self-righteousness some of the monks attained to such a "pre-eminence" of "virtue" that they could live promiscuously with women, or like Jerome, write "letters to a virgin." that were unfit to be written to a harlot. The former class, in the estimation of an admirer, "bore away the pre-eminence form all others." His account of them is as follows: --
"There are persons who, when by virtue they have attained to a condition exempt from passion, return to the world. In the midst of the stir, by plainly intimating that they are indifferent to those who view them with amazement, they thus trample underfoot vain-glory, the last garment, according to the wise Plato, which it is the nature of the soul to cast off. By similar means they study the art of apathy in eating, practising it even, if need be, with the petty retailers of victuals. They also constantly frequent the public baths, mostly mingling and bathing with women, since they have attained to such an ascendancy over their passions, as to possess dominion over nature, and neither by sight, touch, or even embracing of the female, to relapse into their natural condition; it being their desire to be men among men, and women among women, and to participate in both sexes. In short, by a life thus all excellent and divine, virtue exercises a sovereignty in opposition to nature, establishing her own laws, so as not to allow them to partake to satiety in any necessary." -- Evagrius.23
The first decretal ever issued, namely, that by Pope Siricius, A. D. 335, commanded the married clergy to separate from their wives under sentence of expulsion from the clerical order upon all who dared to offer resistance; yet promising pardon for such as had offended through ignorance, and suffering them to retain their positions, provided they would observe complete separation from their wives -- though even then they were to be held forever incapable of promotion. The clergy finding themselves forbidden by the pope to marry, and finding it necessary, in order to maintain a standing of popularity, to imitate the monks, practiced the same sort of monkish "virtue" as described above. "The clerks who ought to instruct and awe the women with a grave and composed behavior, first kiss their heads, and then stretching out their hands as it were to bestow a blessing, slyly receive a fee for their salutation. The women in the meantime, elated with pride in feeling themselves thus courted by the clergy, prefer the freedom of widowhood to the subjection attending the state of matrimony." -- Jerome.24
As these associations differed from those in real matrimony "only in the absence of the marriage ceremony," it was not an uncommon thing for men to gain admission to "holy orders" "on account of the superior opportunities which clericature gave of improper intercourse with women." This practice became so scandalous that in A. D. 370 Valentian I enacted a law "which denounced severe punishment on ecclesiastics who visited the houses of widows and virgins." -- Lea.25 The law, however, had really no effect in stopping the wickedness, and "with the disappearance of legitimate marriage in the priesthood, the already prevalent vice of the cohabitation of unmarried ecclesiastics with pious widows and virgins ''secretly brought in,'' became more and more common. This spiritual marriage which had become as a bold ascetic venture, ended only too often in the flesh, and prostituted the honor of the church." -- Schaff.26
Again: in accordance with the rest of the theocratical legislation of Constantine and the bishops, the precepts of the Scripture in relation to marriage and divorce were adopted with heavy penalties, as the laws of the empire. As the church had assumed "cognizance over all questions relating to marriage," it followed that marriage not celebrated by the church was held to be but little better than an illicit connection. Yet the weddings of the church were celebrated in the pagan way. Loose hymns were sung to Venus, and "the bride was borne by drunken men to her husband''s house among choirs of dancing harlots with pipes, and flutes, and songs of offensive license." And when the marriage had been thus celebrated, and even consummated, the marriage bond was held so loosely that it amounted to very little, for "men changed their wives as quickly as their clothes, and marriage chambers were set up as easily as booths in a market." -- Milman.27
Of course there were against all these evils, laws abundant with penalties terrible, as in the days of the Caesars. And also as in those days the laws were utterly impotent: not only for the same great reason that then existed, that the iniquity was so prevalent that there were none to enforce the laws; but for an additional reason that now existed, that is, the bishops were the interpreters of the code, and by this time through the interminable and hair-splitting distinctions drawn against heresies, the bishops had so sharpened their powers of interpretation that they could easily evade the force of any law, scriptural, canonical, or statutory that might be produced.
There is yet one other element of general corruption to be noticed. As we have seen, the means employed by Constantine in establishing the Catholic religion and church, and in making that the prevalent religion, were such as to win only hupocrities. This was bad enough in itself, yet the hypocrisy was voluntary; but when through the agency of her Sunday laws and by the ministration of Theodosius the church received control of the civil power to compel all without distinction who were not Catholics to act as though they were, hypocrisy was made compulsory; and every person who was not voluntarily a church-member was compelled either to be a hypocrite or a rebel. In addition to this, those who were of the church indeed, through the endless succession of controversies and church councils, were forever establishing, changing, and re-establishing the faith, and as all were required to change or revise their faith according as the councils decreed, all moral and spiritual integrity was destroyed. Hypocrisy became a habit, dissimulation and fraud a necessity of life, and the very moral fiber of men and of society was vitiated.
In the then existing order of things it was impossible that it could be otherwise. Right faith is essential to right morals. Purity of faith is essential to purity of heart and life. But there the faith was wrong and utterly corrupt, and nothing but corruption could follow. More than this, the faith was essentially pagan, and much more guilty than had been the original pagan, as it was professed under the name of Christianity and the gospel, and as it was in itself a shameful corruption of the true faith of the gospel. As the faith of the people was essentially pagan, or rather worse, the morality of the people could be nothing else. And such in fact it was.
"There is ample evidence to show how great had been the reaction from the simple genuineness of early Christian belief, and how nearly the Christian world had generally associated itself, in thought and temper, not to say in superstitious practice, with the pagan. We must not shut our eyes to the fact that much of the apparent success of the new religion had been gained by its actual accommodation of itself to the ways and feelings of the old. It was natural it should be so. Once set aside, from doubt, distaste, or any other feeling, the special dogmas of the gospel, . . . and men will naturally turn to compromise, to electicism, to universalism, to indifference, to unbelief. . . .
"If the great Christian doctors had themselves come forth from the schools of the pagans, the loss had not been wholly unrequited; so complacently had even Christian doctors again surrendered themselves to the fascinations of pagan speculations; so fatally, in their behalf, had they extenuated Christian dogma, and acknowledged the fundamental truth and sufficiency of science falsely so called.
"The gospel we find was almost eaten out from the heart of the Christian society. I speak not now of the pride of spiritual pretensions, of the corruption of its secular politics, of its ascetic extravagances, its mystical fallacies, of its hollowness in preaching, or its laxity in practice; of its saint worship, which was a revival of hero-worship; its addiction to the sensuous in outward service, which was a revival of idolatry. But I point to the fact less observed by our church historians, of the absolute defect of all distinctive Christianity in the utterances of men of the highest esteem as Christians, men of reputed wisdom, sentiment, and devotion. Look, for instance, at the remains we possess of the Christian Boethius, a man whom we know to have been a professed Christian and churchman, excellent in action, steadfast in suffering, but in whose writings, in which he aspires to set before us the true grounds of spiritual consolation on which he rested himself in the hour of his trial, and on which he would have his fellows rest, there is no trace of Christianity whatever, nothing but pure, unmingled naturalism.
"This marked decline of distinctive Christian belief was accompanied with a marked decline of Christian morality. Heathenism re-asserted its empire over the carnal affections of the natural man. The pictures of abounding wickedness in the high places and the low places of the earth, which are presented to us by the witnesses of the worst pagan degradation, are repeated, in colors not less strong, in lines not less hideous, by the observers of the gross and reckless iniquity of the so-called Christian period now before us. It becomes evident that as the great mass of the careless and indifferent have assumed with the establishment of the Christian church in authority and honor, the outward garb and profession of Christian believers, so with the decline of belief, the corruption of the visible church, the same masses, indifferent and irreligious as of old, have rejected the moral restraints which their profession should have imposed upon them. -- Merivale.28
In short, the same corruptions that had characterized the former Rome were reproduced in the Rome of the fifth century. "The primitive rigor of discipline and manners was utterly neglected and forgotten by the ecclesiastics of Rome. The most exorbitant luxury, with all the vices attending it, was introduced among them, and the most scandalous and unchristian arts of acquiring wealth universally practiced. They seem to have rivaled in riotous living the greatest epicures of Pagan Rome when luxury was there at the highest pitch. For Jerome, who was an eye witness of what he writ, reproaches the Roman clergy with the same excesses which the poet Juvenal so severely censured in the Roman nobility under the reign of Domitian." -- Bower.29
The following quotation, though touching upon some points already made, gives others of sufficient value to justify its insertion: "The mass of professing believers were found to relapse into the grossest superstitions and practices of the heathen. . . . The old heathen cultus, particularly that of the sun (Sol invictus), had formerly entwined itself with the Christian worship of God. Many Christians, before entering the Basilica of Peter, were wont to mount the platform, in order to make their obeisance to the rising luminary. Here was an instance of the way in which the `spirit of paganism,'' had found means of insinuating itself into the very heart of Christianity. Leo could say, with no great exaggeration, in looking at the moral position of the Roman Christians, `Quod temporibus nostris auctore diabolo sic vitiata sunt omnia, ut fere nihil sit quod absque idololatria transigatur'' [In our time, by the instigation of the devil, all things have become so corrupt that there is hardly anything that is done without idolatry]. The weddings of the Christians could not be distinguished from, those of the pagans. Everything was determined by auguries and auspices; the wild orgies of the Bacchanalians, with all their obscene songs and revelry, were not wanting." -- Merivale.30
And now all the evils engendered in that evil intrigue which united the State with a professed Christianity, hurried on the doomed empire to its final and utter ruin. "The criminal and frivolous pleasures of a decrepit civilization left no thought for the absorbing duties of the day or the fearful trials of the morrow. Unbridled lust and unblushing indecency admitted no sanctity in the marriage tie. The rich and powerful established harems, in the recesses of which their wives lingered, forgotten, neglected, and despised. The banquet, theater, and the circus exhausted what little strength and energy were left by domestic excesses. The poor aped the vices of the rich, and hideous depravity reigned supreme, and invited the vengeance of heaven. -- Lea.31
The pagan superstitions, the pagan delusions, and the pagan vices, which had been brought into the church by the apostasy, and clothed with a form of godliness, had wrought such corruption that the society of which it was a part could no longer exist. From it no more good could possibly come, and it must be swept away. "The uncontrollable progress of avarice, prodigality, voluptuousness, theater going, intemperance, lewdness; in short, of all the heathen vices, which Christianity had come to eradicate, still carried the Roman empire and people with rapid strides toward dissolution, and gave it at last into the hands of the rude, but simple and morally vigorous, barbarians." -- Schaff.32
And onward those barbarians came, swiftly and in multitudes. For a hundred years the dark cloud had been hanging threateningly over the borders of the empire, encroaching slightly upon the West and breaking occasionally upon the East. But at the close of the fourth century the tempest burst in all its fury, and the flood was flowing ruinously. As early as A. D. 377 a million Goths had crossed the Danube, and between that time and A. D. 400 they had ravaged the country from Thessalonica to the Adriatic Sea. In A. D. 400 a host of them entered the borders of Italy, but were restrained for a season.
In 406 a band of Burgundians, Vandals, Suevi, and Alani from the north of Germany, four hundred thousand strong, overran the country as far as Florence. In the siege of that city their course was checked with the loss of more than one hundred thousand. They then returned to Germany, and with large accessions to their numbers, overran all the southern part of Gaul. The Burgundians remained in Gaul; the Vandals, the Alani, and the Suevi overran all the southern part of Spain, and carried their ravages over the greater part of that province, and clear to the Strait of Gibraltar.
In 410 again returned the mighty hosts of the Goths, and spread over all Italy from the Alps to the Strait of Sicily, and for five days inflicted upon Rome such pillage as had never befallen it since the day, nearly a thousand years before, when the Cimbri left it in ruins. They marched out of Italy and took possession of Southeastern Gaul from the Mediterranean Sea to the Bay of Biscay.
In May 429, the Vandals, in whose numbers of the Alani had been absorbed, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into Africa, and for ten years ravaged the country from there to Carthage, of which city they took possession with great slaughter, October 9, A. D. 439; and in 440 the terrible Genseric, king of the Vandals, ruled the Mediterranean and sacked the city of Rome.
In 449 the Saxons and their German neighbors invaded Britain, of which they soon became sole possessors, utterly exterminating the native inhabitants.
In 451-3 another mighty host, numbering seven hundred thousand, of all the barbarous nations, led by Attila, desolated Eastern Gaul as far as Chalons, and the north of Italy as far as the Rhone, but returned again beyond the Danube.
And finally, in 476, when Odoacer, king of the Heruli, became king of Italy, the last vestige of the Western empire of Rome was gone, and was divided among the ten nations of barbarians of the North.
Wherever these savages went, they carried fire and slaughter, and whenever they departed, they left desolation and ruin in their track, and carried away multitudes of captives. Thus was the proud empire of Western Rome swept from the earth; and that which Constantine and his ecclesiastical flatterers had promised one another should be the everlasting salvation of the State, proved its speedy and everlasting ruin.
It was impossible that it should be otherwise. We have seen to what a fearful depth of degradation Pagan Rome had gone in the days of the Caesars, yet the empire did not perish then. There was hope for the people. The gospel of Jesus Christ carried in earnestness, in simplicity, and in its heavenly power, brought multitudes to its saving light, and to a knowledge of the purity of Jesus Christ. This was their salvation; and the gospel of Christ, by restoring the virtue and integrity of the individual, was the preservation of the Roman State.
But when by apostasy that gospel had lost its purity and its power in the multitudes who professed it; and when it was used only as a cloak to cover the same old pagan wickedness; when this form of godliness, practiced not only without the power but in defiance of it, permeated the great masses of the people, and the empire had thereby become a festering mass of corruption; when the only means which it was possible for the Lord himself to employ to purify the people, had been taken and made only the cloak under which to increase unto more ungodliness, -- there was no other remedy: destruction must come.
And it did come, as we have seen, by a host wild and savage, it is true; but whose social habits were so far above those of the people which they destroyed, that savage as they were, they were caused fairly to blush at the shameful corruptions which they found in this so-called Christian society of Rome. This is proved by the best authority. A writer who lived at the time of the barbarian invasions and who wrote as a Christian, gives the following evidence as to the condition of things: --
`The church which ought everywhere to propitiate God, what does she, but provoke him to anger? How many may one meet, even in the church, who are not still drunkards, or debauchees, or adulterers, or fornicators, or robbers, or murderers, or the like, or all these at once. without end? It is even a sort of holiness among Christian people, to be less vicious.'' From the public worship of God, and almost during it, they pass to deeds of shame. Scarce a rich man but would commit murder and fornication. We have lost the whole power of Christianity, and offend God the more, that we sin as Christians. We are worse than the barbarians and heathen. If the Saxon is wild, the Frank faithless, the Goth inhuman, the Alanian drunken, the Hun licentious, they are, by reason of their ignorance, far less punishable than we, who, knowing the commandments of God, commit all these crimes." -- Salvian.33
"He compares the Christians, especially of Rome, with the Arian Goths and Vandals, to the disparagement of the Romans, who add to the gross sins of nature the refined vices of civilization, passion for the theaters, debauchery, and unnatural lewdness. Therefore has the just God given them into the hands of the barbarians, and exposed them to the ravages of the migrating hordes." -- Schaff.34
And this description, says the same author, "is in general not untrue." And he confirms it in his own words by the excellent observation that "nothing but the divine judgment of destruction upon this nominally Christian, but essentially heathen, world, could open the way for the moral regeneration of society. There must be new, fresh nations, if the Christian civilization, prepared in the old Roman empire, was to take firm root and bear ripe fruit." -- Schaff.35
These new, fresh nations came, and planted themselves upon the ruins of the old. Out of these came the faithful Christians of the Dark Ages, and upon them broke the light of the Reformation. And out of these and by this means God produced the civilization of the nineteenth century and the new republic of the United States of America, from which there should go once more in its purity, as in the beginning, the everlasting gospel to every nation and kindred and tongue and people.
1 [Page 499] "History of the Christian Religion," Vol. ii, Section Second, part i, div. i, par. 7.
2 [Page 500] "History of Christianity," book vi, chap. i, par. 39.
3 [Page 500] Id.
4 [Page 501] "Historical Studies," Bishops of Rome, par. 13.
5 [Page 503] "History of Latin Christianity," book i, chap. ii, par. 18, and note.
6 [Page 503] Book xxvii, chap. iii, par. 12-15, Bower''s translation, "history of the Popes," Damasus, par. 6.
7 [Page 503] "History of the Christian Church," Vol. iii, section 53, par. 3.
8 [Page 504] Quoted and translated by Milman, "History of Latin Christianity," book i, chap. ii, par. 20, note 1.
9 [Page 505] "History of Christianity," book iv, chap. i, par. 13, 13, 15.
10 [Page 506] Quoted by Bower, "History of the Popes," Damasus, par. 12.
11 [Page 506] Quoted by Bower, "History of the Popes," Damasus, par. 12.
12 [Page 506] Id.
13 [Page 507] History of Christianity," book iv, chap, ii, par, S.
14 [Page 507] Schaff''s "History of the Christian Church," Vol. ii, section 77, par. 3, 4, and the notes; Gibbon''s "Decline and Fall," chap. xxii, par. 8, note. Neander''s "History of the Christian Religion," Section Third, part ii, div. iii. par. 21-23, and the notes.
15 [Page 508] Id.
16 [Page 508] "History of the Christian Church," section 74, par. 4.
17 [Page 508] "History of Christianity," par. 14.
18 [Page 509] Id., par. 15, 16.
19 [Page 509] "Intellectual Development of Europe," Vol. i, chap. x, par. 5.
20 [Page 510] "History of Christianity," book iv, chap. ii, par. 13, note.
21 [Page 510] Id., book iv, chap. i, par. 58.
22 [Page 510] "History of the Christian Church," Vol. ii, section 32, par. 15.
23 [Page 511] "Ecclesiastical History," book i, chap. xxi.
24 [Page 511] Quoted by Bower, "History of the Popes," Damasus, par. 13.
25 [Page 512] "History of Sacerdotal Celibacy," chap. v, par. 17, and chap. iv, par. 7.
26 [Page 512] "History of the Christian Church," Vol. iii, section 50, par. 8.
27 [Page 512] "History of Christianity," book iv. chap. i, par. 58, note and 60.
28 [Page 515] "Conversion of the Northern Nations," Lecture iv, par. 10, 12, 13.
29 [Page 515] "History of the Popes," Damasus, par. 14.
30 [Page 516] "Conversion of the Northern Nations," notes and illustrations, E.
31 [Page 517] "History of Sacerdotal Celibacy," chap. v. par. 20.
32 [Page 517] "History of the Christian Church," Vol. 3, section 23, par. 2.
33 [Page 520] Quoted by Schaff, Id., section 12, par. 3.
34 [Page 520] Id.
35 [Page 520] Id. section 24, par. 2.