Page images
PDF
EPUB

.

that they had fallen into better hands, by ameliorating their servitude. She treated them mildly, remitted labour on Sunday, and brought the possibility of freedom within reach. . . . She began to teach boldly that the difference between the serf or slave and the proprietor was a social difference only; that the eternal particle of each was of equal value; and salvation, unlike worldly honour, was to be won by means which the slave, as well as the baron, could command. Her teachings were followed by actions. She began to plead the cause of the slave in her councils. At Orleans, in 538, she directs that serfs who have sought the church as an asylum against Jewish masters, shall be bought, not restored. Again, 541, if Christian slaves of the Jews have fled their masters and demanded liberty, having given just price, they shall be set at liberty. In the same council it is ordained that if a bishop has made a number of free men from serfs of the Church, they shall remain free. At Clermont, in 549, As we have discovered that several people reduce again to servitude those who have been set at liberty in the churches, we order that every one shall keep possession of the liberty he has received; and if this liberty is attacked, justice must be defended by the Church.' In the canons of a council at London, in 1102, it is ordered that no one from henceforth presume to carry on that wicked traffic, by which men in England have hitherto been sold like brute animals.'"*

[ocr errors]

But it was not simply that Christian faith worked back from the religious renovation of the social tie to the renewal of secular ties; it gave a new life to that very literature which in Greece and Rome had died out from inanition. "If institutions could do all," says M. Guizot, contrasting the state of the civil or pagan with that of the Christian or religious society of Gaul in the fourth and fifth centuries, "the intellectual state of Gaulish civil society at this epoch would have been far superior to that of the religious society. ... Roman Gaul was covered with large schools... They were taught philosophy, medicine, jurisprudence, literature, grammar, astrology, all the sciences of the age." The Christians, he says, "had only their own ideas, the internal and personal movement of their thought." "Still the activity and intellectual strength of the two societies were prodigiously unequal. With its institutions, its professors, its privileges, the one was nothing and did nothing, with its single ideas the other incessantly laboured, and seized every thing. All things in the fifth century attest the decay of the civil schools. The contemporary writers, Sidonius Apollinaris and Mamertius Claudianus, for example, deplore it in every page, saying that the young men no longer studied, that professions were without pu pils, that science languished and was being lost." Compare with this the same writer's remarkable account of the healthy vigour Influence of Christianity on Civilisation. By Thomas Craddock. Long

mans, 1856.

[ocr errors]

of Christian literature at the same time. There is no truer sign of the health of literature than this,-that its deepest things come out quite incidentally in the discussion of occasional questions. Then, and then only, can we be sure that they constantly Occupy the mind. "Literature, properly so called, held but little place in the Christian world; men wrote very little for the sake of writing, for the mere pleasure of manifesting their ideas; some event broke forth, a question arose, and a book was often produced under the form of a letter to a Christian, to a friend, to a church. Politics, religion, controversy, spiritual and temporal interests, general and special councils,—all are met with in the letters of this time; and they are among the number of its most curious documents."

Now, does Mr. Buckle conceive that this is the picture of a life utterly unchanged by faith? Wherever we look,—to the decayed Roman, decayed Greek, or undecayed barbarian world, the picture is the same-a new society, new morality, new institutions, new literature. The effete Greek philosophy takes a new life and power in the pages of Justin, Clement, and Origen. The effete Roman eloquence gives out a new warmth of conviction in Lactantius, and a new Roman force in Ambrose. Even the tropical African blood that beats passionately in the gross and virulent invectives of Tertullian, does not urge him to seek the conflicts of civil life; for he feels that the most real passions of that day, as well as its most real thoughts, concern the spiritual world, and touch eternity more than time. And here in Gaul it is still in the Christian church that the barbarians are learning eagerly and fast, while the Roman aristocracy are rapidly deserting the schools. Here is little enough sign that civilisation arises in intellectual activity. The new faith steals away Greek and Roman from their hollow intellectual discipline, and the barbarian from his servile toil; and after it has united them in a religious society, begins to organise a new law. It holds back the hand of the master; it stirs up the lethargy of the serf; and not only remodels the relations between the powerful and the poor, but opens their minds by a new literature. If this be the spontaneous progress of the popular mind, why did it not arise in the Roman schools? why did it not start from the last antecedents of the old world? why did it not build on the old foundations? Because men believed in a new bond, because they had a new vision. The "life" had been "manifested," they said; and they saw it. And much as they degraded and narrowed what they beheld, in the process of giving it the form of a practical creed, yet their trust was living enough to give it an influence on their life. The change was slow, and often retrograde; and after the outward church had given

much, she began to take away. She had had faith to loosen and dissolve some of the most galling oppressions of secular society; and now secular society had gained faith to loosen and dissolve the most galling oppressions of the church. In the North at least, Luther restored to political, secular, and family life the freedom, and ultimately the sacredness, of which Hildebrand and the sacerdotalists had striven to rob it. Nor was it intellectual activity which gave the strength for this encounter. In Italy, where opinion first became heretical, the moral scepticism and license had too much undermined social courage to admit of a revolt; and in Germany, when the conflict came, the intellect was not the assailant. Long before Luther's time a religious fraternity had arisen in Germany, free rather in the freedom of their religious affections than in any audacity of thought. Nor could Luther have moved Germany as he did but for the moral and devotional reaction from formal and legal religion nourished in the popular school of Bonaventura, Gerson, and Tauler.* The assertion that all the civilisation of the last few centuries in England and abroad is due to sceptical inquiry is a mere confusion of terms. No doubt it is due to that sort of scepticism which challenges foreign and arbitrary authority to impose its dictum either as to right or truth on the human mind; but this is a scepticism rooted in a profound trust that self-attesting truth and right are accessible to human conscience and reason. When Mr. Buckle classes scepticism like that of Hobbes and Montaigne with scepticism like that of Chillingworth, or Locke, or even Bentham, he uses the same terms to denote opposite states of mind. The implicit belief of Locke and his school, and of many even of the grossest utilitarians in the absolute reality and attainability of truth, is utterly unsceptical. The one-sided and short-sighted externality of their views may have involved intellectual denials; but their method, their eagerness, their profound conviction that something was coming, is of the very essence of trust. The truly and profoundly sceptical schools are those of Hume and Montaigne,-schools founded in the belief that there is "nothing new, and nothing true, and no matter." And where or when was this ever found to be a bond of civilisation, or any thing but a source of indolence, apathy, and therefore of rapid corruption? Could Luther have done his work at all on Montaigne's moral ground? Was there ever yet a great social revolution effected in the face of such a storm without the help of the faith which carried Luther through?

Mr. Buckle's assertion, that faith has often fed dogmatism,

* Hallam's Literature of the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries, vol. i. p. 135.

and sometimes leads to a military-despotic tone of mind, is true enough; and yet would seem strange enough at first sight. It would seem that nothing has so much tendency to frame a weak and ill-knitted socialism as the fervour of religious piety: yet it actually drew together the strongest, widest, and most elastic system of society the world has ever seen. While it purified society, it gave it radiating centres of strength. Instead of making the individual members of the social body lean too much on the general society, as is the case with all other socialisms, the general society received all its strength from the innumerable and impregnable spiritual strongholds which were garrisoned for it every where by a mere handful of sentinels. It was a system in which all the moral nerve that had left the old civilisations was suddenly restored a thousandfold. The new trust not only gave social strength, but solitary strength-strength to the smallest groups in a proportion as full as it gave to the largest. And this strength of trust often became confidence, audacity, zeal, intolerable dogmatism, iron cruelty. In truth, it gave all the military virtues; and these were often fostered into military vices. The process is clear enough. Men did not doubt, they knew that God was ruling the world and them. They leaned upon Him; they knew that He was. There is nothing that gives such edge, such keenness, such promptitude, to self-convictions of right and wrong as this. Till you believe that God is in you, you do not feel clear about your own convictions at all; you will take any one's word that you are right, any one's word that you are wrong, however much it confuses the simple undefined perceptions of your heart; you hope that you believe, you believe that you think, you think that you feel.. All is in a mist. Any one's word is better than your own, for it adds more to the confusion. Suddenly trust comes; and then, "if your heart condemns you, God is greater than your heart, and knoweth all things." It is a word of command; if a rebuke, it is an inevitable condemnation,-a sentence to be executed and accepted. Every sentence that flashes through the heart is written also in the heavens; and, even if the sentence here is but half-legible, still elsewhere-with God-it is clear as the sun. Here is the foundation of every military virtue,-of that instant and unflinching obedience, that sense that death itself is service, that uncriticising attitude of mind towards the superior, that severity of expectation from yourself and your subordinate, which is the essence of manly conflict. And only add to it blind confidence that your conscience and spirit is the measure of every other man's; that you may judge for him what it is written for him to do,-and you have all the horrors of bigotry of which Mr. Buckle speaks as one of the two worst evils of human society. If evil be measured by suffering, no doubt it is evil

enough; but the most pitiless persecutor, who identifies for the time his own cruel will with that of God, strikes less severely at civilisation than many who help to spread the infection of a soft sneering renunciation of all law except the law of selfish pleasure. But fortunately there is no need to choose between the two. The highest trust essentially gives decision and sharpness, determination,-spring, in short, to civilisation: but not in any way at the expense of liberty; for in its most personal form it is inconsistent with judging others. The humility it cannot help inspiring, saves it from persecuting rigour. No era of intense personal trust has been a persecuting period. St. Paul persecuted while he was in the old pharisaic stage of belief in a rigid system; but trust in a living person made him the most large-minded of men. The most genuine school of personal religion throughout the history of the catholic church, up to the time of Fenelon and Madame Guyon, has been the school with a bias to mysticism-a school noted for its humility and charity. Dogmatism is utterly inconsistent with a living trust; for it believes that it is saved by the anxious elaboration of connected views; and only dogmatists have ever been persecutors. And yet we imagine the average "mystic," George Fox, for example, who was far from enlightened, would be the very pattern Mr. Buckle desires of an ignorant and holy faith. It is only at the point where faith transcends the limits of its own experience,-the limits of personal trust,-that it hardens into a dogmatic standard for the belief of others.

Mr. Buckle's book is one of encyclopædic learning and great general ability. If we have seemed to depreciate it, it is only because we have dealt rather with the philosophy than the history; and that does seem to us pale, shallow, and almost pompous. But the power of seeing the right facts to classify, and the power of classifying them, which the book contains, gives much promise for the ability of the work as a whole. The great want of the book is a little more human nature; it is humane, but not human, and smiles on men and nations with the sort of benignity with which a kind-hearted person treats tame domestic animals. Mr. Buckle has no kind of perception how frightfully dull a thing civilisation would be if it were what he describes. The refutation of the main error of the book lies within the compass of every man's own nature. We know what it is that civilises us; and we know what it is in us that resists civilisation. Intellectual activity does neither the one nor the other. It is merely the instrument of discoveries which heighten social influences a thousandfold both for good and for evil. Railways and telegraphs would not be used much, we think, by pure intellects, though they had been invented by them. And were the intellect the overmastering power Mr. Buckle believes, the volcanic forces that tend so con

« PreviousContinue »