Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

It

in his exceedingly interesting and profound work, entitled, Questions of the Soul. Assuming the great truths which underlie M. Gra try's philosophy, — that man loves as well as knows, and that every one of his thoughts is an aspiration, a real demand for good, - he shows what are the natural and unceasing wants of the soul, and that these wants cannot be satisfied out of the Catholic Church; but that in that Church Almighty God, in the excess of his bounty, has made the most ample provision for their complete satisfaction. The vain sophist, the unhappy worldling, may not believe this, but we can tell either, that it is in strict accordance with the deepest and truest philosophy.

It will be seen from what we have said, that M. Gratry has really given us a living and practical philosophy. explains our moral and intellectual constitution, and harmonizes reason and faith. It thus satisfies the intellect. It harmonizes intellect and love by showing the innate synthesis of perception and aspiration, of science and morality. He harmonizes thus our whole intellectual and moral life, and shows that, while all genuine love is rational, all rational operations have union with God, as the supreme good of the soul, or as the supreme good in itself, for their end. He does not war with the Schoolmen, but he presents their teachings in a more life-giving form to our age; and, while he is no innovator in thought, he will, we think, impress a new movement on the mind of the age, that will be as salutary as powerful. We most cordially commend his work, notwithstanding the few faults we have found with it, to all lovers of sound philosophy.

ART. II. - The Roman Empire after the Peace of the

Church. - A Fragment from a History of the Western Monks.

The Roman people, the conquerors of all nations and the masters of the world, subject for three hundred years to an almost uninterrupted succession of monsters or idiots, with only now and then a few tolerable princes, present the greatest prodigy in history of the decline and debasement

of man.

An equally great prodigy of the power and goodness of God is seen in the Peace of the Church proclaimed by Constantine in 312. Conquered by an unarmed multitude, the Empire surrendered to the Galilean. Persecution, after a last paroxysm, the most cruel of all, was followed by protection. Humanity breathed again, and the truth first sealed with the blood of a God-made man, and afterwards with that of so many thousands of martyrs, could henceforth freely take its victorious flight to the extremities of the earth.

Yet there is a still greater prodigy, — the rapid and permanent decline of the Roman world after the Peace of the Church. Indeed, if there is nothing in the annals of cruelty and corruption more abject than the Roman Empire from Augustus to Diocletian, there is something still more sad and astonishing, - it is the Roman Empire become Christian.

Why did not Christianity, drawn from the Catacombs to be placed on the throne of the Cæsars, suffice for the regeneration of souls in the temporal, as in the spiritual order? Why was it not able to restore to authority its respect, to the citizen his dignity, to Rome her greatness, and to civilized Europe the strength to live and to defend itself? Why did the imperial power, when reconciled to the Church, fall into still greater impotence and contempt? Why was this memorable alliance of the priesthood and the empire unable to prevent either the ruin of the state or the slavery and division of the Church ?

Never was revolution more complete ; for the Church not only celebrated her emancipation, when she beheld Constantine assume the labarum for his standard, but also a close and entire alliance of the cross and the imperial sceptre. The Christian religion, no longer proscribed, soon became protected, then dominant. The successor of Nero and Decius sat in the first General Council, and received the title of Defender of the Holy Canons. As a learned author has observed, the Roman and Christian commonwealths joined hands under Constantine." Sole chief, judge, and legislator of the universe, he took bishops for his counsellors, and gave to their decrees the force of law.

The world had a monarch : this monarch was absolute :

* Franz de Champagny, De la Charité Chrétienne au Quatrième Siècle.

no one thought of disputing or limiting his power, which the Church blessed and gloried in protecting. This ideal

so dear to many minds - of a man before whom all men prostrate themselves, and who, master of all these slaves, prostrates himself in turn before God, was then seen realized. It was seen for two or three centuries, during which everything went to ruin in the empire; and the Church has known no epoch in which she has been more agitated, tormented, and compromised.

Whilst imperial Rome was sunk in the mire, the Church enjoyed her grandest and noblest existence, - not, as is too often imagined, only concealed in the Catacombs, but struggling heroically and in open day, by sufferings and arguments, with courage and eloquence, by her councils * and her schools, and first and especially by her martyrs, but also by those great apologists, St. Irenæus, St. Justin, St. Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius, and Lactantius, who purified while they renewed the eloquence of Greece and Rome. War had so prospered the Church, that, when peace was offered her, she was spread over the whole earth.

But after so gloriously surviving three centuries of battle, , how will she resist the victory, and maintain her triumph after these struggles? Will she not fall, like all human conquerors, in the pride and intoxication of success? To the vigilant and fruitful education of war, to the holy joy of persecution, to the dignity of permanent and open danger, must succeed an entirely new conduct, and on a ground otherwise difficult. Associated henceforth with this same imperial power which had in vain essayed to annihilate her, she becomes in a measure responsible for a society for three centuries decaying and rotting in all the refinements of corruption. It is not enough that she rule the ancient world, she must also transform and replace it. It was a frightful task, but must not be beyond her strength. God chose this moment to send his Church a cloud of saints, pontiffs, doctors, orators, and writers. They formed that constellation of Christian geniuses, which, under the name of Fathers of the Church, has conquered the first place in the veneration of ages, and demanded the

* The collection of Père Labbe reckons sixty-two prior to the Peace of the Church.

respect even of sceptics. They filled both the East and the West with the splendor of the true and the beautiful; they brought to the service of truth an ardor, eloquence, and learning which nothing can ever surpass.

A hundred years after the Peace of the Church, they had covered the earth with good works and beautiful writings, created an asylum for every grief, a relief for every want, and lessons and examples of all truth and virtue. Yet they did not succeed in creating a new society, in transforming the pagan world. According to their own avowal, their attempt was unsuccessful. That long cry of grief, prolonged through all the pages which the saints and Christian writers have bequeathed us, breaks forth with an intensity which has never been equalled in the whole course of time. They felt themselves overrun, and, as it were, swallowed up by the corruptions of Paganism. Listen to Jerome, Chrysostom Augustine, Salvian, or any of them. They see with despair the greater part of Christians rushing into the pleasures of Paganism. The unrestrained lust for spectacles, not even arrested by the blood of the gladiator, all the shameful excesses, frivolities, and prostitutions of persecuting Rome, assailed the new converts, and subjugated the sons of the martyrs. A little later, a new Juvenal might sing the defeat of those who had reconquered the world for God, and the vengeance of the genius of evil on its conquerors :

« Victumque ulciscitur orbem." But Paganismpreserved and maintained its empire, by the nature and action of the temporal power, in the presence of the Church, even more than in the domestic and private life. No symptom appeared there of the transformation which the idea and exercise of power was one day to undergo among Christian nations. Constantine and his successors were baptized; the empire, that is, the imperial power, was not. The hand which opened to Christians the door to favor and to power was the same which laid for them snares, in which any other church than the Immortal Spouse of Christ would have for ever perished without honor. The emperors sought to become the masters and oracles of a religion of which they could only be children, or, at most, ministers. No sooner did they acknowledge its right to live, than they believed

themselves invested with the right to govern it. Baptized yesterday, they thought they must become pontiffs and doctors to-day. Not succeeding in this, they renewed in behalf of Arius the persecutions begun by their predecessors in behalf of Jupiter and Venus. Even Constantine himself, the liberator of the Church, the lay president of the Council of Nicæa, soon grew tired of the liberty and increasing authority of the newly emancipated Christians. Influenced by the ecclesiastical courtiers who surrounded his throne, he banished St. Athanasius, the noblest and purest of Christians. His successors were far worse. Hear what Bossuet says: “ The Emperor Constantius placed himself at the head of the Arians, and so cruelly persecuted the Catholics . . . . . that this persecution was regarded as more cruel than that of Decius or Maximian, and as the prelude to that of Antichrist. . . . . Valens, Emperor of the East, an Arian like Constantius, was a still more violent persecutor; and it was said of him that he seemed to grow lenient when he changed the punishment of death into banishment."

The trial must have been severe ; for then was seen what never has been seen before or since, -- a Pope yielded. According to the common opinion, Liberius, after a noble resistance to the torments of exile, yielded, and sacrificed, not indeed the true doctrine, but the intrepid defender of the truth, Athanasius. He rose again; the indefectible authority of his See is not affected, only the renown of his persecutors is compromised; † yet at his name there arises a shade which passes in front of the column of truth which guides the view of every Catholic plunging into the depths of history.

These violences, exiles, and massacres, renewed in the fifth century, were prolonged from generation to generation. Every heresiarch finds an auxiliary on the imperial throne. After Arius came Nestorius, after Nestorius, Eutyches; and thus we step from one persecution to another, to the bloody oppression of the Iconoclast Emperors, followed by the greatest of all schisms, which for ever separated the emancipated and orthodox West from the

[ocr errors]

* Bossuet, Cinquième Avertissement aux Protestans, c. 18. † Fleury, Histoire Ecclésiastique, Tom. XVI. c. 18. — Le Comte de Maistre, Du Pape, Liv. I. c. 15.

« PředchozíPokračovat »