A General View of the Church in this Century.
THE famous annalist of the Roman church, whose partiality to the see of Rome is notorious, has, however, the candor to own, that this was an iron age, barren of all goodness; a leaden age, abounding in all wickedness; and a dark age, remarkable above all others for the scarcity of writers, and men of learning.* " Christ was then, as it appears, in a very deep sleep, when the ship was covered with waves; and what seemed worse, when the Lord was thus asleep, there were no disciples, who, by their cries, might awaken him, being themselves all fast asleep." Under an allusion by no means incongruous with the oriental and scriptural taste, this writer represents the divine Head of the church as having given up the church, for its wickedness, to a judicial impenitency, which continued the longer, because there were scarce any zealous spirits, who had the charity to pray for the cause of God upon earth. I give this serious and devotional sense to Baronius, because the words will bear it, without the least violence, and the phraseology is perfectly scriptural.f
Infidel malice has with pleasure recorded the vices and the crimes of the popes of this century. Nor is it my intention to attempt to palliate the account of their wickedness. It was as deep and as atrocious as language can paint; nor can a reasonable man desire more
• Baron. Annal.
t As for instance, awake, why steepest thou, O Lord? Ps. xliv.
authentic evidence of history, than that, which the records both of civil and ecclesiastical history afford, concerning the corruption of the whole church. One pleasing circumstance, however occurs to the mind of a genuine christian; which is, that all this was predicted. The book of the Revelation may justly be called a prophetic history of these transactions; and the truth of scripture is vindicated by events of all others the most disagreeable to a pious mind.
What materials then appear for the history of the real church? The propagation of the gospel among the pagan nations, and the review of some writers of this century, form the principal materials, and shall be the subjects of two distinct chapters. But the general description of the situation of the church, can be little else than a very succinct enumeration of the means made use of to oppose the progress of popery.
The decrees of the council of Frankfort against image worship, had still some influence in Germany, France, and England. In the year 909, a council was held at Trosle, a village near Soissons in France, in which they expressed their sentiments of christian faith and practice, without any mixture of doctrine that was peculiarly popish. Many churches still had the scriptures in the vulgar tongue. The monks took much pains in our island, to erect an independent dominion on the ruin of the secular clergy. This scheme, equally destructive of civil and clerical authority, met, however, with a vigorous, and, in a great measure, a successful resistance; and the celibacy of the clergy was strongly opposed. The doctrine of transubstantiation itself, the favourite child of Pascasius Radbert, was still denied by many, and could not as yet gain a firm and legal establishment in Europe. Alfric, in England, whose homily for Easter used to be read in the churches, undertook to prove, that the elements were the body and blood of Christ, not corporeally, but spiritually. In an epistle, he asserts that this sacrifice is not made his body, in which he suffered for us, nor his blood, which he shed for us, but is
spiritually made his body and blood, as was the case with the manna which rained from heaven, and with the water which flowed from the rock. Opposition was also made by kings and councils to the authority of the pope. One of the most remarkable instances of this kind took place in the council of Rheims, which deposed a bishop without the consent of the pope. The story is tedious and uninteresting. I have looked over the acts of the synod, which are circumstantially detailed by the centuriators in their history of this century; and a few words of the discourses of Arnulph, bishop of Orleans, the president, may deserve to be distinctly quoted.* " O deplorable Rome, who in the days of our forefathers producedst so many burning and shining lights, thou hast brought forth, in our times, only dismal darkness, worthy of the detestation of posterity: What shall we do, or what counsel shall we take? The gospel tells us of a barren figtree, and of the divine patience exercised toward it. Let us bear with our primates as long as we can; and, in the mean time, seek for spiritual food, where it is to be found. Certainly there are some in this holy assembly, who can testify, that, in Belgium and Germany, both which are near us, there may be found real pastors and eminent men in religion. Far better would it be, if the animosities of kings did not prevent, that we should seek, in those parts, for the judgment of bishops, than in that venal city, which weighs all decrees by the quantity of money. What think you, reverend fathers, of this man, the pope, placed on a lofty throne, shining in purple and gold? whom do you account him? If destitute of love, and puffed up with the pride of knowledge only, he is antichrist, sitting in the temple of God."f
It is always a pleasing speculation to a thinking
• Bishop Newton, in his 3d vol. p. 161. on the prophecies, of whom I have made some use in a few foregoing sentences, assigns the words to Gerbert, of Rheims. The acts of the synod, which I have mentioned, show his mistake: they expressly ascribe them to Arnulphus.
t 2 Thess. ii.
mind, to observe the ebullitions of good sense and a vigorous understanding, exerted even in disadvantageous circumstances. It should be still more pleasing to observe them, when they are under the conduct of humble piety, as it may be presumed was the case in this instance of Arnulphus. We see here even Luther and Cranmer in embryo. The zealous and intelligent Frenchman laments, that the kings of the earth were committing fornication with the Roman harlot, and giving their power to support her grandeur. He casts his eyes toward the Netherlands and Germany, which appear to have had, at that time, a degree of light and purity unknown at Rome: he eagerly wishes to oppose this light and purity to the darkness and the profligacy of Rome. Like Luther, he is fearful of throwing all things into confusion by hasty and precipitate methods: and, like Cranmer, in the case of Henry the eighth's divorce, he wishes toappealtothe unprejudiced judgment of men more learned, and more virtuous, than any to be found at Rome, against the scandalous oppressions of that venal city. That which Arnulphus conceived so judiciously, in an age the most unfavourable to reformation, Luther in Germany, and Cranmer in England, afterwards effected. It is not, however, to be supposed, that even those magnanimous struggles for christian light and liberty were in vain. The Spirit of God was evidently still with the recent churches of Germany and the north; and France itself was by no means destitute of men, who feared God, and served him in the gospel of his Son.
There is an ultimate point of depression in morals, below which the common sense of mankind and the interests of society will not permit the scandalous profligacy of governors, whether secular or ecclesiastic, to descend. The church of Rome had sunk to this point in the present century. Not only moral virtue itself, but even the appearance of it, was lost in the metropolis: and the church, now trampled on by the most worthless prelates, and immersed in profaneness, sensuality, and lewdness, called for the healing aid of the civil magistrate. Otho I, emperor of Germany, came to Rome: and, by the united powers of the civil and the military sword, reduced that capital into some degree of order and decorum. He put an end to the irregular and infamous customs of intruding into the popedom, and confirmed to himself and his successors the right of choosing the supreme pontiff in future. The consequence was, that a greater degree of moral decorum began to prevail in the papacy, though matter of fact evinces but too plainly, that religious principle was still as much wanting as ever. The effect of Otho's regulations was, that the popes exchanged the vices of the rake and the debauchee, for those of the ambitious politician and the hypocrite; and gradually recovered, by a prudent conduct, the domineering ascendancy, which had been lost by vicious excesses. But this did not begin to take place till the latter end of the eleventh century. If a very moderate degree of christian knowledge had obtained, during Otho's time, in the christian world, the farce of St. Peter's dominion at Rome by his successors, would have been at an end. But there arose no Claudius of Turin in this century. The little specimen of the eloquence of Arnulphus, which has been mentioned, was the only effort I can find, which was made to stem the torrent of Roman tyranny. The whole western world, with Otho at its head, an emperor of upright intentions, and of shining endowments, agreed to reverence that see as supreme, which had laboured, as it were, by the most infamous practices, to degrade itself, and to convince mankind, that it could not possibly be of divine appointment. The popes were rebuked, condemned, and punished; but the popedom was reverenced as much as ever. God had put into the hearts of princes to fulfil his will; and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled* The Roman prelates, convinced of the necessity of more caution and decorum in the use of their
• Rev. xvii. 17.
power, recovered by political artifice what they had lost, and became, in the issue, more terrible and more pernicious in the exercise of their power than ever. The neglect of so favourable an opportunity for emancipating the church from religious slavery, is the highest proof of the extreme ignorance of these times, and deserved to be noticed.
This was an age of great political regulations. The choice of the German emperor was restricted to certain electors, with whom it continues to the present time. The empire had, indeed, been intirely separated from the French monarchy, in the latter end of the foregoing century. But, in this, the great Otho more firmly fixed the imperial crown, in the name and nation of Germany. He himself was sprung from the dukes of Saxony; and deserved much of all EuT rope for his memorable victory over the Turks, by which the same restraint was laid on their inroads into Germany, as had been laid in France on the inroads of the Saracens into that kingdom, by the victorious arms of Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne. The Turks were a fierce and valiantnation, who inhabited the coast of the Caspian sea, and who were let loose on mankind as a just providential scourge, on account of the contempt of divine truth, and the overflowing torrent of iniquity, which had pervaded christendom. They gradually superseded the Saracens, and seized their power and empire; but no great alteration took place in the civil situation of the east or the west on that account. For the Turks universally embraced mahometanism, the religion of the vanquished; and with that the hatred of the Saracens to the christian name; nor have they to this day acquired either politeness or science to such a degree, as might mitigate their ferocity.
In all this disastrous period, I find scarce any prince, except Otho, actuated with a spirit of religious zeal: indeed, his two successors of the same name, inherited some portion of his talents and virtues. The efforts of Otho, to purify the church, to promote learning, to erect bishoprics, to endow churches, and to propagate the gospel among the barbarous nations, were highly laudable. And so steady and sincere were his exertions of this nature, and so amiable was his private life, that I cannot but hope that he was himself a real christian. His empress, Adelaide, was no less remarkable for her zeal and liberality. But I scarce need to say, th^t the reigning ignorance, superstition, and wickedness defeated, or abused their wellmeant designs; those alone excepted, which regarded the propagation of the gospel among the pagans.
In the west the Normans, in the east the Turks,, committed the most dreadful outrages on the church. In our own island I find nothing, in all this period, but ignorance, superstition, and the ravages of northern barbarians. The state of France was not much different: the latter kings of the house of Charlemagne were dwindled into ciphers; and, towards the close of the century, the third race of French kings began in the person of Hugh Capet. This prince was himself by no means so renowned as Clpvis and Charlemagne, the heads of the first and second race; but his posterity remained on the throne for a much longer series of years than that of the two former, though the name of Capet was almost forgotten in the world. It has, however, been rendered familiar to our ears of late, by a series of transactions, which have issued in the ruin of that house, and in the exhibition of scenes, which have equally outraged every principle of religion, honour, and humanity.