If the real church historian find it a difficult task, to extract a connected view of his peculiar subject from the ecclesiastical materials of the fourth and fifth centuries, that difficulty is multiplied a hundred fold, while he labours through the long and gloomy period, which in the present volume engages his attention.
Impressed, however, with the certain truth of the declaration made by the divine author of christianity, " that the gates of hell shall never prevail against his church," I have endeavoured all along to discover her actual existence. How far I have succeeded, the reader must determine for himself. If the fundamental doctrines of the gospel have not been exhibited, both as professed in various parts of the world, and as productive of those fruits of holiness, which are peculiarly christian, my aim has been missed, and the grand design of the whole narration has failed. But I hope the scriptural reader will see the lineaments of the church pervading these dark centuries; provided he divest himself of all partial regards for sects and denominations, ages and countries, and attend exclusively to the marks and evidences of genuine christianity. This is the right frame of spirit, which the subject before us requires; and it is what I have steadily endeavoured to preserve.
Tros Rutulusve fiiat, nullo discrimine habebo.
In the former part of the volume, Gregory I. of Rome, and the English christians, will be found obVol. III. ^ 2
viuN25i3oi ; -.... *
jects deserving our serious attention. Nor should we be prejudiced against the real church, because she then wore a Roman garb. Undoubtedly she was by this means much defiled with superstition; for that was as much the predominant evil of those times, as profaneness is of our own. The last mentioned evil admits of no coalition with christian holiness; but superstition, to a certain degree, may coexist with the spirit of the gospel. When that degree is exceeded, and general idolatry takes place, the system then becomes too corrupt, to deserve the name of the church of Christ I have marked this limit to the best of my judgment in the course of this history, have exhibited the Man Of Sin matured in all his gigantic horrors, and from that epocha I despair of discovering the church in the collective body of nominal christians. Every reader will observe the various features of antichrist described in this volume, and some may perhaps be enabled to form a more distinct and adequate conception of the nature of popery, than they had before acquired.
Leaving therefore the general church of Rome, after she had ceased entirely to Hold The Head, I either travel with faithful missionaries into regions of heathenism, and describe the propagation of the gospel in scenes altogether new, or dwell with circumstantial exactness on the lives and writings of some particular individuals, in whom the Spirit of God maintained the power of godliness, while they remained " in Babylon." The former object displays one of the brightest prospects of this whole period, and seems to rebuke the supineness of modern times, in regard to the extension of divine truth among pagan nations: the latter, I trust, will be found to afford matter of christian instruction. The pleasure and benefit, which, as I have repeatedly heard, has been derived from the
perusal of Augustin's Life and Confessions in the preceding volume, encourage me to expect, that the review of the lives and writings of Anselm and of Bernard in this, may not be without similar fruit.
The history of these seven centuries, as it has hitherto appeared in our common ecclesiastical narratives, it must be confessed, is extremely uninteresting. If I have had some advantages for enlivening and illuminating the scene, let those be ascribed to the peculiar nature of my historical plan.
The account of the waldenses, which closes the volume, belongs not to the thirteenth century exclusively; it is, however, ascribed to it, because in the course of that century most extraordinary persecutions and conflicts took place among this people, and particularly excited the attention of Europe. It was also judged proper, to give one unbroken narrative of waldensian transactions in ecclesiastical matters, till the time of the reformation.
If the reader learn some practical lessons concerning the power, wisdom, goodness, and faithfulness of God, from the review of the events, which lie before him, I shall have reason to rejoice, nor shall I think my labour to have been in vain.