Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

Century VI, Chapter IV

CHAP. IV.

Miscellaneous Affairs to the End of the Century.

JUSTIN, the nephew of Justinian, succeeded*. He recalled the bishops whom the late emperor had exiled, Eutychius of Constantinople alone excepted. The reason of this exception I cannot learn; but, after the decease of John, his successor, who held the see twelve years, Justin was prevailed on to restore Eutychius, who continued bishop of Constantinople till his death. His integrity and piety should scarce be doubted after the long course Of suffering which he sustained on account of the faith of Jesus. But, in his old age he embraced a whimsical notion, that our bodies after the resurrection become thinner than air. A notion which it would not have been worth while to have mentioned at all on its own account. But it is a specimen of the low state of christian knowledge in the east, and of the predominancy of origenism and platonism, which

* Evagrius, r. c J*

had never been exterminated in Asia, since they had gained admission into the church. For the opinion, though not so fundamentally erroneous as that of Justinian, originated from the same chimerical school: and we may see what a blessing it was to the west to have been instructed in christian doctrines of grace through Augustine, whence the purity and simplicity of the faith was preserved in a much superior manner, and fantastic notions could not so easily be received among them.*

A number of Britons having been expelled from their country by the arms of the Anglo-Saxons, who had entered the island in the year 440, crossed the sea, and settled in the adjacent parts of France. Hence the origin of the French province of Britanny. With them the faith of the gospel was preserved, as well as with their brethren in Wales and Cornwall, and some parts of Scotland and Ireland, while the major part of England was covered with Saxon idolatry. Sampson, originally a Welshman, left his own country and came into Britanny. This man founded a monastery at Dol, and was bishop of Dol himself some years. He died about the year 565, and was renowned for piety and learning in his day. He had been educated in his native country by Heltut, who was said to have been the disciple of Germanus, of Auxerre. Thus the seed sown in our island by that holy person brought forth fruit; and it is only to be regretted, that the accounts of these things are so slight and scanty. About the same time died St. Malo, who, to prevent his being appointed bishop of Winchester, forsook our island, and fled to the coast of France. To the west of Britanny there was an Island, called A letha, now called St. Malo's, the greatest part of the inhabitants of which were pagans. At the desire of the few christians who were there, Malo laboured among them, till most of the inhabitants received the gospel, and persuaded him to reside among them as their bishop, which he did till his death.f Other

• Eutychius, however, before he died, retracted his error -f Fkury, b. Ixxiv. 14.

British bishops are celebrated, who in the same age were distinguished for their piety and useful labours in Britanny.

Gildas, surnamed the Wise, another disciple of Hel. tut, was born at Dunbritton, in Scotland; he preached with much success, in the best sense, so far as appears, in his native country and in Ireland. He afterwards came over into Britanny, and built the monastery of Buis, which is still called by his name, says my author. Two of his discourses on the ruin of Great-Britain are still extant, in which he deplores the vices and calamities of the times, and with honest vehemence exhorts to repentance six British princes, ascribing the desolations made by the Saxons to the depravity of his countrymen. He addresses with much spirit the clergy of Great Britain, and rebukes them for their ignorance, avarice, and simony.

From these hints, in conjunction with what has been elsewhere related, these things are evident; namely, that there had been a considerable degree of pure religion among our ancestors before the invasion of the Saxons; that even after the declension and decay, there were still faithful pastors, who carried back into France with success that spirit of godliness which the latter country, by the means of Germanus, of Auxerre, had brought over into our island; and that the poison of pelagianism must have had a considerable influence in the production of that national decay of piety, which Gildas so feelingly deplores.

Colomban, an Irish priest in this century, came over into the northern parts of Scotland, and laboured with much success among the Picts.* The southern parts of Scotland had been evangelized long before by the instructions of Ninias, a British bishop, who had himself been instructed at Rome. Colomban lived thirtyfour years after his passage into Britain. His disciples were remarkable for the holiness and abstemiousness

• Probably they were originally Britons, who fled into Scotland from the arms of the Saxons, and were called Picts, because they painted their bodies, according to the custom of our barbarous ancestors.

Vol. III. 6

o'f their lives. Thus, while the gospel was rapidly withdrawing from the east, where it first arose, God left not himself without witness in the most distant parts of the west.

Radegunda, daughter of Bertharius, king of Thuringia, having been taken captive by the Franks in her infancy, fell to the lot of king Clotaire, who married her. This woman might have been added to the list of those pious persons of her sex, who were made highly instrumental in instructing mankind, had she not imbibed monastic ideas, the pest which infected godly persons, in general, in these times, and which, though it could not ruin their relation to God, cut off the greatest part of their usefulness. She obtained a separation from her husband, and followed the monastic rules with great austerity to her death. These rules were now grown stricter than ever; the vows were made perpetual, and we must leave this godly queen in the nunnery, who might have caused her light to shine in a blessed manner in the world.

Toward the latter end of this century the Lombards came from Pannonia into Italy, and settled there under Alboinus, their first king. They fixed tfieir metropolis at Pavia. As they were arians by profession, heresy again took root in Italy, whose inhabitants felt all the horrors and miseries which a savage and victorious nation could inflict. But the church needed the scourge: the Roman see had been dreadfully corrupt under Vigilius, and formal superstition was corroding the vitals of genuine godliness.

At the same time John Climmachus flourished, who was abbot of the monastery of Mount Sinai, in Arabia, near to which was a little monastery, called the Prison, in which all who had committed any great" crime, since they entered on the monastic state, voluntarily confined themselves. The account which Climmachus gives of it is striking. The poor prisoners spent their time in prayer, with every possible external mark of selfdenial and wretchedness. They did not allow themselves any one comfort of human life. In their prayers they did

not dare to ask to be delivered intirely from punishment; they only begged not to be punished with the utmost rigor. The voluntary torments they endured were amazing, and this voluntary humility of theirs continued till death. But I turn from the disagreeable scene to make one remark.

How precious is the light of the gospel! How gladly, we may suppose, would many of these miserable persons have received the doctrine of free forgiveness by faith in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, if it had been faithfully preached among them! How does their seriousness rebuke the levity of presumptuous sinners among ourselves, who trifle with the light! How deeply fallen was the east from the real genius of christianity, when men distressed for sin could find no hope but in their own formalities and rigid austerities!

In the year 584, Levigildus, king of the Visigoths in Spain, having married his eldest son Hermenigildus, to Ingonda, daughter of the French king, began to find effects from the marriage, which he little expected. Ingonda, though persecuted by her mother in law, the wife of the Spanish monarch, persevered in orthodoxy, and, by the assistance of Leander, bishop of Seville, under the influence of divine grace, brought over her husband to the faith. The father, enraged, commenced a grievous persecution against the orthodox in his dominions. Hermenigildus was led into the grievous error of rebelling against his father, not through ambition, it seems, but through fear of his father, who appeared to be bent on his destruction. Being obliged to fly into a church, he was induced by his father's promises to surrender himself. Levigildus at first treated him with kindness, but afterwards banished him to Valentia. His wife Ingonda flying to the Grecian emperor died by the way. Some time after, the young prince, loaded with irons, had leisure to learn the vanity of earthly greatness, and exhibited every mark of piety and humility. His father sent to him an arian bishop, offering him his favour, if he would receive the communion at his hands. Hermenigildus continued firm in the faith, and the king, enraged, sent officers who despatched him. The father lived however to repent of his cruelty; and the young prince, notwithstanding the unjustifiable step into which his passions had betrayed him, had lived long enough to give a shining example of christian piety. Levigildus, before he died, desired Leander, bishop of Seville, whom he had much persecuted, to educate his second son Recaredus* in the same principles in which he had instructed his eldest. Recaredus succeeded his father in the government, and embraced orthodoxy with much zeal. The consequence was the establishment of orthodoxy in Spain, and the destruction of arianism, which had now no legal settlement in the world, except with the Lombards in Italy. Though this account be general and external, it seemed proper to give it, as an illustrious instance of the work of divine providence, effecting, by the means of a pious princess, a very salutary revolution in religion.

I have collected in this chapter the few events which appeared worthy of notice from the death of Justinian to the end of this century, with a studied exclusion of the concerns of Gregory the first, bishop of Rome. He is a character deserving to be exhibited distinctly. And in connexion with his affairs, whatever else has been omitted, which falls within our plan, may be introduced in the next chapter.

• Gregory of Tours, b. viii. c. ult.