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Monday, July 6, 2020
“The Siege of Christendom.” The early Church.
“The Siege of Christendom.” The early Church.
The function of getting into communication by travel and by letter supported and was called into being by the supreme principle of Unity; The idea that the Church was one, its doctrine one, its authority one, stood out vividly in the minds of all its members.
From the beginning, dissent was not tolerated; unity was of the essence of the thing, and in connection with this there was present at first more vaguely, later with greater definition, the conception of primacy.
One of Our Lord’s Apostles, Peter, was the head of the Apostolic College; his See had a special, if at first less defined, position in Christendom; and Rome, where Peter was last settled, where he and Paul were martyred, became the permanent seat of this primacy as it developed.
The third activity which made for the growing strength of the Church was the use of what we now call Creeds (from the Latin word,”Credo,” “I believe”).
They were called in the East where Greek was spoken “symbols,” from the Greek “symbolae,” which means things put together. They were originally called in the Latin-speaking West, “Confessiones.”
They arose in order to make sure a new candidate for admission to the Ekklesia was not tainted with heresy. He or she was required before admission to recite truths which had been defined in order that such definition might combat false ideas.
These brief recitals did not pretend to cover the Faith; they were not a summary of all, nor even of the principal, belief; for instance, the great creed of the 4th century made no mention of the most important and fundamental mystery of the new society, the Eucharist and the Real presence of Christ therein.
Of that doctrine there was ample evidence, going back to the beginning, but as it was not questioned its definition had never entered into these rebutting affirmations which the candidate was required to make.
The forth function making for unity and strength and permanence and growth was, of course that very Eucharist just mentioned.
Bread and wine were consecrated after a method, and with words handed down traditionally as those of Our Lord Himself at the Last Supper. The mystic ceremony was performed by the celebrant hierarch, or hierarchs; on its performance the bread and wine over which the mystical formulae had been uttered were belived to be no longer bread and wine but the Body and Blood of Christ Himself.
I repeat that central phrase, for it is fundamental to the whole story; so far from the Church causing the decline of Society under which the old Empire slipped into the Dark Ages, the Church saved all that could be saved
The old Roman State, be it remembered, was based on the Army; the Army was its cement, and , one might say, its principle of being.
Lastly, let it be remembered that though we must for the purposes of right history admit the continual material decline going on through those first five centuries during which the Empire turned from Pagan to Christian, the new religion brought with it invaluable compensations for evils which it had not caused, but at the advance of which it had been present.
The Catholic Church brought to the old ruined, dying, despairing Graeco-Roman world the quality of vision. It brought a motive for living and thence there came to it, sustaining all that could be sustained of that grievously weakened world, saner and more stable social arrangements.
The Catholic Church, having become the religion of the Graeco-Roman society, did among other things two capital things for the settlement of Europe on its political side, and for arresting the descent into chaos.
It humanized slavery and it strengthened permanent marriage.
Very slowly through the centuries, those two influences were to produce the stable civilization of the Middle Ages, wherein the slave was no longer a slave but a peasant; and everywhere the family was the well-rooted and established unit of Society
To sum up then, by the end of that great period, the first five centuries, extending from the Incarnation to the conversion of Clovis and the establishment of Catholic Gaul, the end of the five centuries during which all our ancestry turned from Paganism to Catholicism and during which the Empire was baptized, were centuries in which we suffered great damage: disorder, barbarism threatening our race, the fall of the arts, of great verse and of high unified administration, the worsening of roads, much loss
It is a period of five centuries-the 6th,7th,8th,9th and 10th-which have been commonly called the “The Dark Ages,” but which may more properly be called “The Siege of Christendom.”
It was the period during which the Graeco-Roman Empire, already transformed by Catholicism, fell into peril of destruction at the hands of exterior enemies.
It was assaulted from the north, from the east, and from the southeast in two separate fashions.
Hordes of wholly pagan barbarians, some issuing from Scandinavia, many Mongols, many Slavs, fiercely thrust at the boundaries of Christendom with the hope of looting it as their prey and therefore ruining it. These between them formed the eastern attack, coming from the districts we call today Sweden and Norway and Denmark, Poland and the Russian plains, Hungary and the Danube valley.
The struggle against these enemies of the Christian name and culture, who so nearly overwhelmed us, was at last successful.
The siege was raised, we carried the influence of civilization outward among those who had been our savage opponents, and we ended by taming them until they were incorporated into a new and expanded Christian civilization.
That was the work of the Christian Church in the West, the Church under the direct authority of the Western Patriarch at Rome (who is also universal primate) and of the Latin liturgy.