Free eBook: Getting Through the Storms in Life

Century X, Chapter II


The Propagation of the Gospel in this Century.

THE Hungarians had received some ideas of christianity in the time of Charlemagne. But, on his decease, they relapsed into the idolatries of their fathers, and the christian name was almost extinguished among them. Nor is it probable, that they had ever been much instructed in the real gospel of Christ. But toward the middle of this century, two Hungarian chiefs, whose governments lay on the banks of the Danube, made profession of christianity, and were baptized at Constantinople. These two leaders were called Bologudes and Gylas. The former soon apostatized: the latter persevered; received instruction from Hierotheus, a bishop, who had accompanied him from Constantinople; and encouraged the labours of the same bishop among his subjects. The effects proved salutary to the Hungarian nation: Sarolta, the daughter of Gylas, was given in marriage to Geysa, the chief prince of Hungary. She prevailed on her husband to receive christianity, and the gospel was once more introduced into a country through the zealous piety of a woman. Geysa, however, still retained much inclination to the idolatry of his fathers, though his conversations with christian captives and missionaries made a strong impression on his mind: but he was prevented from apostatizing, by the zeal and authority of Adalbert, archbishop of Prague, who visited Hungary tpward the conclusion of this century. Whether the king's conversion was real or nominal, the most salutary consequences attended the reception of the gospel by his subjects. Humanity, peace, and civilization began to flourish among a people hitherto fierce and barbarous in the extreme. Stephen, the son of Geysa, was baptized by Adalbert; and became a more decisive defender of the faith than his father had been. Under Stephen, HunVol. III. 32

gary was almost wholly evangelized; and nothing was omitted by this zealous prince to establish christianity throughout his dominions. There is every reason to believe that many real conversions took place, though I can give no particular account of them.

But Adalbert has been mentioned; and it will be proper to give the reader a short sketch of the life of that extraordinary personage.* Hewas born in 9 6, and ordained by Diethmar, archbishop of Prague. He beheld this same archbishop dying in terrible agonies of conscience, on account of his neglect of pastoral duty, and secular avarice. Adalbert was appointed his successor; but with so little satisfaction to himself, that he was never seen to smile afterwards. Being asked the reason, he said, "it is an easy thing to wear a mitre and a cross, but an awful thing to give an account of a bishopric, before the Judge of quick and dead." Bohemia, the scene of his diocese, was covered with idoiatrv: there were christians, indeed, in that country, but chiefly nominal ones. In vain did the pious archbishop endeavour to reform the evils and abuses. The people undesignedly gave the noblest testimony to his sincerity, when they observed, that it was impossible for him and them to have communion with each other, because of the perfect opposition of life and conversation. Adalbert, sighing over the wretched objects of his charge; and, still willing to labour in the best of causes, travelled as a missionary into Poland, and planted the gospel in Dantzic. Here his labours seem to have been crowned with good success: in visiting a small island, he was knocked down with the oar of a boat: however, recovering himself, he made his escape, rejoicing that he was counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ, and with his fellow labourers quitted the place: indeed he was forced to flee for W life; and, at length, was murdered by barbarians m Lithuania; or, as some think, in Prussia, about the year 997. Siggo, a pagan priest, was the principal in

strument of his death. He is commonly styled the apostle of Prussia,* though he only evangelized the city of Dantzic, which is in the neighbourhood of that country. Such was Adalbert; and so small is the account transmitted to us, of one of the wisest and best of men, whom God had raised up for the instruction of the species, a man willing to labour and to suffer for Christ!

Wolfang, bishop of Ratisbon, may properly accompany Adalbert, who had received his bishopric of Prague, in consequence of VVolfang's having vacated part of his diocese for that purpose. The latter was a native of Suabia, and was brought up at a school in Wurtzburg. His experience gave him an opportunity of seeing, that professors of wisdom may even be greater slaves to pride and envy than the illiterate. Wearied with the view of scholastic strifes, he sighed for solitude, but was engaged to attend Henry, his friend, to Triers, where the latter was chosen archbishop. Wolfang there taught children, and was dean of a community of ecclesiastics. In 972, he went to preach in Hungary, but had no great success. He was afterwards appointed bishop of Ratisbon: there he reformed the clergy, and was indefatigable in preaching twentytwo years. Henry, duke of Bavaria, placed under him his four children: Henry, afterwards emperor; Gisela, queen of Hungary; Bruno, bishop of Augsburg; and Brigit, abbess of Ratisbon, all eminent characters. Wolfang died in 994. See Butler, vol. x.

The plantation of the gospel in Brandenburg was begun by the zeal and victorious arms of Charlemagne; but was not completed, in a national sense, till the year 928, under Henry the fowler, the predecessor of Otho I.f

The labours of Gerard, bishop of Toul in Germany, will also deserve to be mentioned. He was himself an eminent preacher; and often commissioned zealous pastors to preach in country parishes. He cultivated

* Mosheim, cent. xi. chap. i.

t Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg, by the late king of Prussia.

learning among his disciples; but at the same time took care, so far as it lay in his power, that they should apply themselves to devotion. That he would be very earnest in these pious efforts, will admit of no doubt, if it be true, that he declared, that he found more delight in heavenly exercises during one moment, than a worldly sold finds in worldly pleasures for a thousand years. Alban Butler, vol. iv.

If we look into Scandinavia, we find that the work of God, which had begun so prosperously in the last Century, by the labours of Anscarius, had met with a severe check in Denmark, whose king, Gormo the 3d,* laboured to extirpate the gospel there intirely. His queen Tyra, however, openly professed it, arid gave it all the support which she was enabled to do, under great disadvantages. But the power and influence of the king prevailed, and most of his subjects returned to idolatry. At length, Henry I. called the fowler, the predecessor of the great Otho, led an army into Denmark; and through the terror of his arms, obliged Goimo to promise submission to the commands of the emperor. Under the protection of this last prince, Unni, then archbishop of Hamburg, with some faithful labourers, came into Denmark, and brought over many to the profession of divine truth; but Gormo himself remained inflexible. Harald, the son of Gormo, however, received the word with respect: for the instruction of his mother, Tyra, had, at least, removed all prejudice from his mind. Unni, with the consent of Gormo, visited the islands, and formed christian churches among them. The king himself was allowed by his conqueror Henry, to choose, whether he would receive christianity himself, or not; but was prohibited from persecuting the faith, in his dominions: and thus, by a singular concurrence of circumstances, a sovereign prince was, by a foreign power, prevented from committing that evil among his subjects, to which his own inclinations would have

• Centuriat. cent. x. Mosheim, cent x. c i.

led him. I cannot vindicate the imperious proceedings of Henry: the labours of Unni were, however, highly laudable, and providence smiled on his benevolent views in propagating truth and holiness.

Unni, animated with success, determined to follow the pattern of Anscarius, and to visit the kingdom of Sweden. He entered the Baltic, and arrived at Birca; there he found that the gospel had been extinct: for seventy years, no bishop had appeared among them, except Rembert, the successor of Anscarius. There probably were, however some souls then alive, who had heard the gospel with joy in former times: and it pleased God, to give large success to the ministry of Unni. He fixed the gospel in Sweden, and planted it even in the remoter parts of that northern region. And, at length, he finished his glorious course at Birca, in the year 936. The savage disposition of the princes, and the confusion of the times had tended to obliterate the traces of Anscarius's labours: but, at length, Eric, the eighth king of Sweden, and still more, his son and successor, Olaus the second, favoured the propagation of the gospel.

The former of these princes requested the archbishop of Bremen to supply his kingdom with missionaries. The archbishop sent him two persons of knowledge, piety, and integrity, Adalvard and Stephen. They laboured with much success for a time; but the natural enmity of depraved mankind will exert itself against true piety, whatever be the form of government under which men live. The nobles of Sweden were enraged to find their licentiousness of manners so restrained: and they commenced a religious persecution against both the missionaries and the king. The former were beaten with rods, and expelled from Upsai: the latter was murdered on account of his piety. His son and successor Olaus was not discouraged from cherishing christianity; and his zeal and piety were crowned with success. Cent. Magd. cent. x.

Thus were Sweden and Denmark, after a variety of changes, reduced into subjection to the form, and, no doubt, many individuals to the power of the gospel. In the latter country, after the death of Henry I. the inhabitants refused to pay tribute to Otho the great, his successor. This monarch obliged them to submit, and required Harald, the son and successor of Gormo, to receive christian baptism. All that we know of this prince, inclines me to believe, that there was no reluc tance on his part. He was baptized, together with his wife and little son, whose name had been Sueno; and, in honour of the emperor, he was now called SuenOtho. Harald, during his whole life, took every wise and salutary method to propagate divine truth among his subjects, and to restrain vice and immorality. Nor is it much to be doubted, that he would instruct his son Suen-Otho to act in the same manner, and labour to impress on his mind the power of that divine religion, which he himself seems to have felt. Be that as it may, Suen-Otho formed a junction with the chiefs of the country, who were offended at the pious zeal of Harald: in consequence of which, the latter was murdered: and Suen-Otho, renouncing even the name, which had been imposed on him, persecuted the christians with great cruelty; and, for a time, gave a predominancy to the pagan interest in his dominions. It is remarkable, however, that, like another Manasseh, in his affliction he knew that the Lord was God. Being expelled from lnVthrone, and forced to live in exile among the Scots, he was induced to remember the lessons of his childhood: he repented of his crimes; and, being restored to his throne, like the same Manasseh he laboured to destroy the idolatry, which he had supported, and, in the latter part of his life, trode in the steps of his father.

' In this century, the light of the gospel penetrated into Norway.* About the year 912, an English missionary, named Bernard, attempted to plant the doctrine of Christ in this barbarous region. Olaus, the king, listened to his discourses, and professed himself 

• Centuriat. cent. x. Mosheim, cent x. chap. i.

to be a convert; but he still attended to omens and gentile superstitions. All the arguments of Bernard were ineffectual, to cure him of his inveterate propensities: whence he was more a disgrace than an ornament to his profession. About the year 933, another king, allied Hagen, who had been educated among the English, employed certain missionaries of that nation, to instruct his subjects. But the Norwegians persisted in their idolatry; and his successor Graufeldt pursued the same plan, but without effect. Several successive princes laboured in the same cause, with the same ill success. The form of a government established in any country, from experience seems to have been of no capital moment in regard to the success of christian missions. Despotism, limited monarchy, and republicanism, have each been serviceable or detrimental in the cause; and to associate strongly any one of these forms with the progress of the gospel, is, perhaps, forming an imagination of an alliance between church and state, that has no solid foundation in nature. We see, in the case before us, that a republican form would have proved destructive to the best of causes. It is to the effusion of the holy Spirit, directing subordinate causes, and, independently of mere human politics, that the success of the gospel is ever to be ascribed. At length, Haco, king of Norway, being driven from his throne, on account of his tyrannical government, having himself also persecuted the christians in Norway, and having put himself into the protection of that same Harald of Denmark, whom we have already celebrated, became a patron of christianity among his people. For Harald both instructed him in the nature of christianity, and restored him to his dominions. Haco, humbled and enlightened, recommended the gospel in an assembly of the people, in the year 945. His zeal and solemnity were very striking; but the fierce and barbarous people were not much moved; and the remembrance of his former ill conduct would naturally prejudice their minds against his arguments. Olaus, who reigned some time after. was the most successful of all the Norwegian princes in recommending christianity. At length, Swein, king of Denmark, having made himself master of Norway, obliged his subjects universally to renounce their gods, and profess the gospel. Doubtless many compulsory methods were used by several, probably by all these princes, by no means agreeable to the genius of the gospel. Their intentions, however, seem laudable; and at least the zealous labours of the missionaries deserve to be noticed. Among these, Guthebald, an English pastor, was most eminent. The idol Thor was dragged from its place, and publicly burnt in the sight of its worshippers. In fact, Norway became christian, in the form of its religion, throughout. The Orkney islands, then subject to the Norwegian crown, received the light of the gospel, which, in some degree, penetrated also into Iceland and Greenland; and, in this century, the triumph of christianity was complete throughout all Scandinavia.

The labours of Adelbert, the first archbishop of Magdeburg, will deserve to be mentioned in this place. The Rugi, about the year 960, entreated the emperor Otho I. to send them a christian bishop. This people lived in Pomerania, between the Oder and the VVipper, and in the isle of Rugen in the Baltic. The town of Rugenwald still bears their name. They were a remarkably savage race, and had a famous temple in Rugen. Certain monks of the mission seminar)' of New Corbie, had formerly laboured with success, in various provinces of the Sclavi or Sclavonians, and in the whole isle of Rugen, the Rugi being a tribe of the Sclavi. An oratory was erected in the isle, in honour of Christ, and in memory of St. Vitus, patron of New Corbie. But the savage people soon relapsed; and making Vitus the chief of their gods, erected to him a temple and idol with sacrifices, permitting no merchant to buy or sell there, who did not first give some offering for their sacrifices, or for the temple of their god, whom they now called Swantewith. " Thus," says Helmodus, " the man whom we confess a martyr and servant of Christ, they adore as god, a creature for the Creator; nor is there any nation, who so much abhors christians, especially pastors." A memorable caution for teachers, to beware, lest their instructions of the heathen may only lead them from one species of idolatry to another. However, at their desire, Otho I. sent Adelbert to the isle. But the people were hardened: several of his fellow preachers were murdered, but he himself escaped. This fruitless mission was in 961. Adelbert was afterwards, in 970, appointed archbishop of Magdeburg, where Adelaide the empress, and widow of Otho I. passed the greatest part of her time, and gave herself up very much to his directions: she had gone through a great variety of prosperity and adversity, and was very pious and exemplary. Adelbert was an instrument of converting great numbers of the Sclavi: he supplied his diocese with able pastors for the new converts, and died in 982, having very laudably ruled the church for twelve years. See Butler, vol. xii.

In the preceding century, Rollo, a Norwegian pirate, at the head of a valiant and lawless band of soldiers, who are commonly called Normans, invaded and ravaged France. But in the year 912, Charles the simple, a monarch ill calculated to withstand so powerful an enemy, purchased a peace, by investing Rollo with the dukedom of Normandy, and by giving him his daughter Gisela in marriage, on condition that he should embrace christianity. All religions were equally indifferent to Rollo and his followers: they, therefore, professed the gospel without the least hesitation-. It seemed proper to notice this event, as introducing the famous line of Norman dukes into France, whose history, in process of time, involves so much both of French and English history. As for the rest, I know of no evidence of an effusion of the divine Spirit, which attended their reception of christianity. The Normans, however, became gradually better members of society; and, at length, began to patronize, in some

Vol. III. 33

form or other, something that bore the appearance of more serious religion.

While the nations, who had long enjoyed the forms of true religion, were slumbering in superstitions, or wallowing in gross wickedness, the Head of the church, in his providence, still reserved to himself a Codly Seed; and, by their labours, extended the pale of the gospel. Poland had hitherto remained in the thickest night of ignorance, and both an inland situation and a barbarous neighbourhood seemed to exclude it from the light of divine truth. Some Poles, however, travelling into Bohemia* and Moravia, on account of business, were struck with what they heard concerning christianity: they listened to the ministry of the word of God, and received it gladly. Returning home, they every where recommended to their countrymen the grace of the gospel. Moreover, foreigners often visiting Poland, on account of trade, preached Christ, as they were able, to the Poles. Something divinely excellent appeared to be in christianity; and the happy infection spread from heart to heart. It reached, at length, Micislaus, the king or duke of Poland; who divorced his seven wives, with whom he had cohabited, and married Dambrouca, the daughter of Boleslaus, the duke of Bohemia. He was baptized in the year 965; and, by the pious and charitable instructions of his new spouse, was induced to exert his authority in the propagation of the gospel through his dominions: in fine, Poland became a christian nation; nor is it probable that this was no more than an external profession: that it was so in some instances, there is no doubt; but, nevertheless, the circumstances of the narrative carry the appearance of something truly divine. Nor is that true, which Mosheimf asserts, that an inward change of affections and principles, was far from being an object of attention in this barbarous age. It seems most probable, that it was an object of attention in the missionaries, and in those, who zeal

ously received them. We have seen, in several instances, an evidence of zeal in preaching, and a constancy in suffering, w hich can scarce be explained on any other principle than that of godly sincerity. And we have lived to see a refined age as indifferent concerning an inward change as any barbarous period whatever.

In the year 955, Olga, the queen of Russia, sailed from Kiow to Constantinople, and received baptism, together with her attendants. On her return, she persevered in the christian religion, but could not prevail on her family and subjects, to receive the same: the Greek missionaries, however, laboured still, and gradually succeeded.* At length, Wolodomir, her grandson, in the year 961, married Anna, sister of the emperor Basil, who, by her zealous importunity, prevailed on her spouse to receive christianity. He was baptized in the year 987; and, from that time, Russia received a christian establishment, and has ever since considered herself as a daughter of the Greek church.

Ulric, son of count Hucbald, born in 893, was placed at Augsburg under the care of Adalberon, bishop of that city. He was made, at length, bishop of Augsburg, by the emperor, Henry the fowler. He comforted his people, who had been plundered by the Hungarians: he avoided the court: he kept close to his flock, and was equally renowned for devotion, and for pastoral labours. He died about 973.

Thus, in an age of proverbial darkness, that illustrious prophecy continued to receive its accomplishment; " Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers."f The regular and civilized governments in the world sustained such dreadful calamities from the irruption of pagan nations, on all sides, that their encouragement of christian missions was equally humane and prudential. The precepts of the gospel were found alone effectual to meliorate the dispositions of barbarians; and, under the influence of the holy Spirit, no doubt, this was the

happy effect on the minds of many. But, it will still be said, " the conversion of a great number was only nominal, and compulsory methods were employed, which are by no means adapted to the genius of the gospel." It must be allowed, that the latter of these assertions is strictly true, and the former, in many instances, but by no means in all. The efforts of the tenth and the three preceding centuries, to extend Christianity, had their blemishes, which have been malignantly insisted on, and even exaggerated by modern writers. Defective, however, as these efforts were, they form the principal glory of those times; and partly, by evident proofs, and a detail of circumstances, and partly by analogy and the nature of things, they appear to have been attended with the effusion of the divine Spirit, the genuine conversion of numbers, and the improvement of human society. The virtues of many, at least of the missionaries are above any encomium, which I can give; though they were born in rude ages, and are consigned to contempt and oblivion by polite historians, who lavish all their praises on heroes and politicians. If, however, the labours of an obscure individual may attract the attention of the public, the names of Boniface, Anscarius, Adalbert, Unni, and others of the same class, shall be honoured among men, and the work of propagating the gospel shall appear laudable in an extreme degree. It must appear so to all, who desire that the name of Jesus should be honoured through the earth, and that the power of his grace should be felt in every place, and in every heart. But to what lengths will not scepticism proceed? It has even been advanced, that the attempt to propagate christianity, without the consent of the government established in every country, is unlawful in its nature. A position so injurious to the character of many of the best and wisest men, whom it behooves us to celebrate in this history, and so conveniently favourable to the selfish, avaricious, indolent spirit of nominal christians, will deserve to be investigated and exposed in its genuine colours.

California - Do Not Sell My Personal Information  California - CCPA Notice