Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

Century IX, Chapter I

CENTURY IX.

CHAP. I.

A General View of the State of Religion in this Century.

"we are penetrating into the regions of darkness, and a " land of deserts and pits, a land of drought, and of the shadow of death;"* and we are carried, by every step, into scenes still more gloomy than the former. Here and there, indeed, a glimmering ray of the sun of righteousness appears; but it is in vain to look for any steady lustre of evangelical truth and holiness. In such a situation, to pursue the chronological course of events, would be as tedious as it is unprofitable. The plan of history for each century should be modified by the existing circumstances. And there seem to be four distinct phenomena of christian light in this period, which will deserve to be illustrated in so many chapters: namely, in the 2d, 3d, 4th, and 5th. It shall be the business of this first chapter, to premise some general observations, which may enable the reader more clearly to understand those phenomena.

Several circumstances attended the thick darkness, which pervaded this century; and they appear to be reducible to the following heads: the preference given to human writings above the scriptures, the domination of the popedom, the accumulation of ceremonies, and the oppression of the godly.f

• Jerem. ii. 6.

t Centuriat See their preface to th« 9th century. I have availed myself of some of the thoughts; the whole is ingenious and spirited.

It was now fashionable to explain scripture intirely by the writings of the fathers. No man was permitted, with impunity, to vary in the least from their decisions. The great apostolical rule of interpretation, namely, to compare spiritual things with spiritual,* was in a manner lost. It was deemed sufficient, that such a renowned doctor had given such an interpretation. Hence, men of learning and industry paid more attention to the fathers, than to the sacred volume, which, through long disuse and neglect, was looked on as obscure and perplexed, and quite unfit for popular reading. Even divine truths seemed to derive their authority more from the word of man than of God; and the writings and decrees of men were no longer treated as witnesses, but usurped the office of judges of divine truth.

The popedom also grew stronger and stronger. Ignorance and superstition were so predominant, that whoever dared to oppose the bishop of Rome, drew upon himself an host of enemies. All who looked for advancement in the church, attached themselves to antichrist. It is in this way only, that I can account for the very little resistance made to image worship. We have seen, how a large part of the west rejected it. But most persons contented themselves with a simple exposition of their creed. Idolatry, in the mean time, was practically supported by the whole power and influence of the popedom.

The great accumulation of ceremonies, the observance of which was looked upon as absolutely necessary to salvation, drew off the attention of men from christian piety. The all important article of justification was nearly smothered in the rubbish; and pastors were so much taken up with externals, that they were almost intirely diverted from intellectual improvement.

Men of eminence, both in church and state, partly through superstition, and partly through secular

views, suppressed in the bud every attempt to inform mankind. There were, however, a few who groaned under these evils, and worshipped God in spirit and in truth.

In Asia, mahometanism still reigned; and, the case of the paulicians excepted,* scarce a vestige of real godliness appeared in the eastern church, though we ought not to doubt but the Lord had His Secret Ones. Image worship was still a Subject of debate: but, at length, under the superstitious empress Theodora, it effectually triumphed in the east. Nor was there an emperor or bishop of Constantinople, in all this period, who seems to have deserved particular notice on account of vital christian knowledge, or practical piety.f The same judgment may be formed of the Roman popes. In this dark season, Pascasius Radbert introduced the absurd tenet of transubstantiation, which was opposed by John Scotus Erigena, and Rabanus, archbishop of Mentz, two of the most learned men of that age. But their learning seems to have had little connexion with godliness, however they might successfully plead the cause of common sense in the controversy just mentioned. For, they joined in opposing the doctrine of grace, concerning which a controversy of some importance was raised in this century.*

In France, the views of divine grace, revived by Augustine, were more and more darkened; and we shall presently find, that a zealous advocate for them could not be heard with candor. Ado, archbishop of Vienne, was, however, an eminent exception to this account. He was indefatigable in pressing the great truths of salvation. He usually began his sermons with these, or the like words: " Hear the eternal truth, which speaks to you in the gospel;" or " hear Jesus

* See chap. ii.

f 1 say vital ; for I am aware that Photius, bishop of Constantinople, flourished in this century; a person equally infamous for hypocrisy and ambition, and renowned for genius and ecclesiastical learning

\ See chap. iv.

Christ, who saith to you." He took particular care of the examination of candidates for orders; and was a very diligent disciplinarian. He permitted none, who were ignorant of christian principles, to be sponsors to the baptized, or to be joined in matrimony, or to be admitted to the Lord's supper, till they were better instructed. He was inflexibly vigilant against vice; and, while his own example was an honour to his profession, he enjoined his clergy to apprise him, if they should discover any slip in his conduct. Nor did king Lothaire find him obsequious to his lusts: for, through Ado's vigorous remonstrances, he was obliged to desist from a design of divorcing his queen. He sympathized, however, with sincere penitents, and was a real friend to the poor, both in a spiritual and temporal sense; and was the founder of many hospitals for their reception. See Alban Butler, vol. xii.

In England, the decline of godliness was grievous,* and, as fHuntingdom remarks, divine providence punished the Saxons by the invasion of the Danes, the most lawless and the most savage of all mortals. The great Alfred was indeed raised up to defend his eountry against them. And, one of his speeches, delivered to the soldiers, before a battle, displays, at once, much good sense and a spirit of religion. He told his people, that their sins had given their enemies the advantage: that they ought to reform their own manners, in order to engage the favour of God on their side: that in other respects they had the superiority, christians were fighting against heathens, and honest men agains robbers: that theirs was not a war of ambition or conquest, but of necessary selfdefence. In the battle which followed, he intirely defeated the Danes.

• There is reason, however, to believe, that a devotional, and, probably, an evangelical spirit prevailed in some parts of the British isles. For monks, in Ireland and Scotland, who gave themselves to prayer, preaching, and teaching in the middle ages, were called Culdees; that is, Cultores Dei. They were first known in this century by that name, at St. Andrew's particularly: but were never settled in England, except at St. Peter's in York. A. Butler, vol. v.

t Comer's Ecc. Hist. *

In *the preface to Gregory's Pastoral, a book translated into English, by this prince, for the benefit of his subjects, he observes, that when he came to the crown, there were very few, south of the Humber,f who understood the common prayers in Englbh, or, "who could translate a passage of Latin into the language of their own country. He sent copies of Gregory's Pastoral into every diocese, for the benefit of the clergy: he translated also Bede's ecclesiastical history, with the same beneficent design: he himself constantly attended public worship; and, from his youth, he was wont to pray for grace, and to use serious methods to subdue his passions. Through life he seems to have maintained a beautiful consistency of character. He endeavoured to promote the knowledge of the English tongue among all persons of tolerable rank; and expressed his opinion, that those, who meant to attain eminence in the state, should also know the Latin language. It is pleasant to see the ebullitions of genius and of strong sense in an iron age, like this before us. Alfred would, doubtless, in more auspicious times, have appeared among the first of mankind. There seems no reason to doubt the sincerity of his piety. A religious spirit had this advantage in a rude age, that it was not thought to reflect disgrace on the powers of the understanding. But, this glorious sun, after it had shone a little time through an atmosphere enveloped with vapours, and had in some degree dispersed them, was not able to illumine the region, in which it appeared: the mist prevailed again, and England was covered with darkness.

It may be proper to remind the reader, that Egbert became king of Wessex, about the beginning of this century: that in 827, he became king of all England, near 400 years after the first arrival of the Saxons; and that Alfred was his grandson.

»

• Alfred invited John Scotus, not the Famous John Scotus Erigena, from Old Saxony into England; and founded the university of Oxford. That ot Cambridge was of a date somewhat later i Collier, vol. i. b. 3.

Charlemagne of France, who had flourished in the Jast century, died in the former part of this, aged 72, in the year 814 It is scarce worth while to recount the Splendid Sins of this emperor, since his sanguinary ambition and his habitual lewdness, too plainly evince his want of christian principle. He revived the western empire in Germany, which continues to this day. He was a great instrument of providence, no doubt, in extending the pale of the church; and, at the same time, he fixed the power of the popedom on the strongest foundations. His labours, also, to revive learning, were very great; but, like those of Alfred, they failed of success. His religious and moral character bear no comparison with that of the English monarch.