« VorigeDoorgaan »
ments which were the boast of those ages, capable of reflection upon the order of Providence, and fully sensible of the little hope and comfort which the despicable superstitions of their education could supply. To such men, how animating must that doctrine have been, which told them, that, in the great administration of God, they were not overlooked or forgotten; that now, in the fulness of time, a Deliverer had come who had unloosed their spiritual chains--and that, although life had no hopes to afford them, the hopes of immortality had been purchased for them! To this great body of men the Faith of the Gospel must have been peculiarly precious, and from them, in a course of ages, it mounted upwards by the force of example, and by its irresistible powers of reason and persuasion, till it found its way into the high places of society, and was at last even seated upon the Imperial Throne.
II. In this second period of the history of Christianity, we are not a little perplexed, indeed, by the corruptions into which it gradually fell; and when it was employed to cover the ambition of Princes and Priests, we in vain look
for “ the armour of light” in its native radiance and purity. Yet in this singular period, which in many particulars supplies room for the reflections both of the Christian and the philosopher, we may still see the great plan going on, of the adaptation of Divine truth to the varying circumstances of mankind, and even, amidst all its corruptions, steadily tending to its ultimate elucidation and triumph. We have seen how admirably the Gospel was fitted to make its way through persecution and suffering. When it became the Religion of the State, we find it equally well adapted to lend assistance to the powers of government, and the indissoluble connection between the Throne and the Altar has ever since been proverbial. In the first ages of the Gospel, we find its simple. truths opening upon the untutored minds of peasants and fishermen ; in the ages of which I now speak, we perceive its real or imagined doctrines giving scope to all the ingenuity and refinement of the Theologian; seeming equally to embrace the most discordant sects, yet, amidst all the infinite variety of human opinion, ever preserving unshaken the “corner-stone” of the common Faith. In the days of persecution, we behold Religion hallowing the humblest edifices in which her rites were performed, and, graced only by the piety and zeal of her ministers ;-we now behold the same Religion coming forward in all the pomp of ritual observances, enthroned in the artificial sanctity of Temples, and dazzling the eyes of the multitude with the imposing magnificence of her Priesthood. The barbarous conquerors of the North, in particular, must have been powerfully struck with the solid and splendid appearance of the wide-spread fabric of the Church, when, instead of the gloomy superstitions of their native groves, its Majestic Form met their eyes in every aspect, and won their souls to a pure and spiritual Faith, by the very means of their senses and their imagination.
It is from this admiration, natural to rude minds, that we can easily account for the gradual rise of the Papal supremacy ; and, notwithstanding the fatal corruptions which were the result of that spiritual dominion, we may yet perceive how strikingly it was accommodated to the circumstances of the times in which it rose, and what splendid purposes it has answered in the grand progress of Christianity.
through its means that the wandering eyes of barbarous, tribes were directed to one central point of Faith and of opinion that their imaginations were captivated and rivetted to one great object of visible worship—that idolatry itself conveyed to them the light of pure devotion-and that, from one common fountain of religion, learning, and civilization, those streams were gradually pouring forth which were afterwards destined to fertilize the world. The Papal dominion, in truth, united all these nations into the great commonwealth of Christendom, and gave an unity and direction to all the passions and efforts of the human mind, which, in happier times, have tended so much, both to the progress of knowledge, and to the general improvement of society.- I cannot leave these rude ages without remarking one other beautiful accommodation of the spirit of Christianity to their customs and manners. The conquerors of the North were ferocious warriors; Christianity did not set itself in violent opposition to their ruling passion, but formed a delightful union between valour and generosity. Their domestic manners were originally pure; Christianity caught hold of this favourable circumstance, and gave to the purity of domestic love, almost the sanctity of devotion. These are the qualities which throw so captivating a colouring over the romantic ages of Chivalry, and which conveyed down, in some measure, to colder and more reasonable times, still shed upon human life some of its most graceful ap
III. But I hasten, my brethren, to the third great period of the Gospel—a period, to the splendour of which I confess myself unequal, and which yet, perhaps, has only exhibited the first dawn of its glory. You understand that I speak of the Reformation, when the gaudy superstition which had veiled the simplicity of the Gospel, had now accomplished its temporary end—when the great fabric of Christian Europe was now indissolubly knit togetherwhen the hidden fountains of learning were unlocked, and the spirit of Science moved upon the face of the waters. The mind of man now felt its spring and its energy; it burst the fetters in which it was bound; it awoke like a giant from the long sleep of a thousand years, and felt, in the light of day, the delusion of the