A General View of the Church in this Century.
THE genuine church of Christ under the protection and influence of her supreme Head, existed indeed in this century; but it would be in vain to attempt a regular and systematical history of her progress. Some particular circumstances in different parts of the christian world, some pious and successful endeavours to propagate the gospel in pagan countries, some degrees of opposition to the reigning idolatry and superstition, and the writings of some pious and evangelical theologians, demonstrated, that the Spirit of God had not forsaken the earth altogether.
Indeed, if this century may be said, in some degree, to have excelled the last, the superiority must be ascribed to the improvements of learning. For the arts and sciences revived, in a measure, among the clergy and the monks, though not cultivated* by any other set of men. I speak in regard to the western church; for the eastern, enfeebled and oppressed by the Turks and Saracens from without, and by civil broils and factions from within, with difficulty preserved that degree of knowledge, which in those degenerate days still remained among the Greeks. I scarce find any vestiges of christian piety among the eastern christians at this time: indeed, the attentive reader must have observed how barren of that sort of events, which relate to christian history, Asia in ge
neral had been for some ages. So fatal was the influence of mahometanism, and so judicially hardened were the descendents of those, who first had honoured the religion of Jesus. Constantinople was still called a christian city, and, in learning and politeness, was superior to any part of the west: but it is in Europe we are to look for the emanations of piety. France and Italy excelled particularly in the cultivation of learning. Robert king of France, the son and successor of Hugh Capet, who began to reign in 996, and died in 10.U, distinguished himself as the friend of science. Even the ferocious Normans, whose wars and devastations were so terrible in Italy, France, and England, after they had established their respective governments, applied themselves to the cultivation of the human mind, and diffused some light among the people whom they had subdued. This was particularly the case with the southern parts of Italy, and with our own island. William the conqueror, savage and imperious as he was, restored letters to England, which, amidst the Danish depredations, had been almost extinguished. And we shall see, at least, one learned foreigner at the head of the English church, who, uniting piety to knowledge, was not unworthy of the christian name. The learning itself, indeed, was not philosophical, like that of modern times, but consisted chiefly of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. It was, however, connected with divinity: the scriptures were held in high reputation: the hardy presumption of subtile theory, and the supercilious negligence concerning piety and public worship were then unknown among men. In such circumstances, to have learned to read, to have attended to the meaning of words, and to have employed the powers of the human mind, in any manner, on the sacred writings, were blessings to mankind. In Italy and France also there were some witnesses of divine truth, who opposed the abominations of the popedom.
The great scenes of political contention in this age, were, in the east, the crusades; in the west, the disputeS between the popes and the emperors. Civil, and even, what is called, ecclesiastical history, is full of these subjects. To my province they bear scarcely any relation. The former were attended with dreadful evils, and much augmented the influence of that pernicious superstition, which commutes for offences, and taught men to indulge themselves in the worst of vices, through the hope of finding their way to heaven by the merit of a crusade. I shall, however, examine a little, hereafter, the grounds of the justice or injustice of these expeditions, because the character of some pious men of great eminence, is connected with the question. The disputes between the popes and the emperors, seem intirely barren of instructive incidents in religion. They confirm, nevertheless, the christian in the belief of those scriptures, which so accurately mark the character of antichrist.* Gregory VII. commonly called Hildebrand, began the scheme, which fifty years after was completely accomplished, namely, of rescuing the election of the popes from the emperors, and of fixing it intirely in the college of cardinals, in which it still continues. The celibacy of the clergy, and the doctrine of transubstantiation, were established by the council of Placentia in 1095. Popery, in short, reigned triumphant, and no public profession of the gospel, which professed independence of its domination, could be endured in Europe.
It will be proper to close this general view of the century with a circumstance or two concerning Africa. That once fruitful mother of the churches, who gloried in her Cyprians and Augustines, had now only two bishops. The Saracens, masters of the country, persecuted the christians there with great bitterness; yet so infatuated were the African christians with the love of sin, that they quarrelled among themselves, and betrayed their bishop Cyriacus into the hands of the infidels, who much abused him. Gregory VII.'wrote to the good bishop to comfort him in his distresses. A friendly letter, abounding with truly christian sentiments, even from so imperious and unchristian a character as Hildebrand's, might convey consolation to the mind of Cyriacus.* Piety, united with distress, stands aloof from politics, and thankfully embraces truth as sent from her God, whatever be the instrument
• Sec psrtieularly 2 Thess. ii. 1 Tim. iv
He, who seriously reflects in what glory Asia and Africa once shone before God and his Christ; how dark and idolatrous, and, at the same time, how insensible of their spiritual misery the inhabitants of those two quarters of the globe were in this century, and continue even to the present times, will see with what reverential care the jewel of the gospel should be cherished, while in our possession, lest we not only lose our own souls, but entail a curse on ages yet unborn.